Month: June 2016
Despite what many wizened rave veterans would like you to believe, ecstasy is more popular in the UK now than it’s ever been before. Not content with quantity, the quality is better than ever too, with purity levels on the rise. The thing about drugs, though, is that while we’re pretty sure that everyone’s taking them, short of turning up to a mate’s flat on a Saturday night in a lab coat, armed with a pen and clipboard, recording the habits of drug users in the UK and further afield is a task beyond comprehension.
Luckily for us, we don’t have to comprehend it for ourselves, because the Global Drug Survey (GDS) have gone and done it for us. Over the past couple of years the GDS have surveyed over 100,000 drug users, including 50,000 users of MDMAto get a snapshot of how the recreational landscape’s looking. While the survey isn’t necessarily representative of the global drug habits in a wider sense, it’s a offers a broadly accurate look at who is taking MDMA, and how much they are using. The GDS sent THUMP it’s finding with regards to MDMA use in the UK. This is what we learnt.
The attention-grabbing stuff—that news that the drug is of higher purity and better value for money than ever before—is interesting, but we’re also intrigued in the demographic information offered up by the survey’s results, with specific reference to UK users of MDMA. For example, 62% of users are male, and the average of user is 25.4 years old. There are also revelations about the number of pills people are consuming, which on average in the UK is 1.67 per session. The data gathered also indicates that most clubbers use MDMA less than ten times a year, while those who took it more than ten times were more likely to use it alongside alcohol, ketamine or cocaine.
The GDS suggests that MDMA users start with half a pill as a result of increased levels of purity (image via Global Drug Survey)
Sightly dishearteningly, however, the survey also indicates that in the UK an average of 1.2% of users sought emergency medical care after taking MDMA. In addition to this, it raises the fact that female users are generally two to three times more at risk based on the numbers admitted to hospitals—although the GDS were keen to add that this is not linked to either body weight or consumption rate. It’s this point about emergency care that the GDS are most keen to press on, with pills containing more MDMA than ever before, in their words “taking too much has never been so easy.”
That’s why the GDS are launching a campaign encouraging people to take smaller doses of MDMA. It’s sage advice. Just because pills are purer than ever before doesn’t mean they are safer. As the GDS are keen to stress, if pills contain more MDMA then it’s important to adjust the amount accordingly. The GDS have phrased this as “Don’t be daft, just take half,” which just about sums up the logic. Perversely, pills of a higher “quality” could end up being more dangerous, if consumed at the same rate as lower purity MDMA.
The GDS’ Adam Winstock also mentions the advice of ex-government advisorProfessor David Nutt in his report, who pointed out that for maximum enjoyment users were best off leaving a month between MDMA sessions in order to give their serotonin levels a chance to recover. The benefits of a “less is more” approach to chomping pills applies not only to safety but also to general well-being.
Just to really make the message loud and clear, the GDS even sent us five crystal clear reasons why less is better when it comes to MDMA.
1) More enjoyable experience.
2) Better value for money.
3) Less risk of unwanted effects.
4) Less severe comedown.
5) Less risk of seeking emergency medical treatment.
So, in short, pills definitely are better than ever, but if you’re going to really enjoy them, you’re better off with half.
With festival season in full swing, marketers and brands are eager to capitalize on the throngs that gather for various festivals seemingly every weekend throughout summer. Not all attendees purchase equally, however: new insights from Nielsen reveal that concertgoers at Coachella, Lollapalooza, and Bonnaroo have unique tastes and distinct spending habits.
“Two festivals may look very similar demographically, but if I’m a brand manager trying to pick a festival I can sponsor to promote my bourbon brand, it would be important for me to know if the Bonnarroo fan or the Coachella fan is a more active bourbon drinker,” explained Nielsen-branded film and music director Matt Yazge. He went on, “And knowing what behaviors these fans engage in when they’re at the festival would help me understand if it’s more important to include a Snapchat Geofilter as part of my activation, or promote a brand hashtag on Instagram.”
Check out the infographic below.
The dominoes keep falling in the mobile phone industry as another major producer of smartphones had decided to forgo an analog audio port for its flagship product. The Moto Z and Moto Z Force both are lacking a 3.5mm headphone jack. While they do come with a USB-C adapter in the box, the 5.2mm thick phones are only slightly thicker than the adapters they possess, so from an engineering point of view, there aren’t many benefits to the change in listening design.
With rumors swirling around that the Apple iPhone 7 will be following the same trend of shipping without a 3.5mm jack for the last few months, slowly but surely more and more of the industry is moving in this direction. Lenovo’s possible motive behind switching over is that its main competitor LeEco had already announced that its 2016 product line would be devoid of the analog jack as well as being driven by the need to push the better quality and overall performance of the wavelengths via the USB-C port.
The distaste for the move over to digital is obvious among customers who have heard the news. Eliminating something so basic with a less than reliable replacement by requiring an adapter is not the solution. All of this seems a little premature given the market limits right now even with the upside of improved audio quality.
Source: The Verge
For several years, the streaming music game was pretty much a three-horse race between Spotify, Google Play Music, and Deezer, which has remained popular in Europe. Since then, more and more players, like Tidal and Apple Music, have joined the fray. Now, according to sources from Amazon, the online retailer will also toss their hat in the ring with their own standalone streaming service.
The sources who are close to the situation, according to Reuters, say that the service differs from its current music service Amazon Prime Music, which really only is marketed towards Amazon Prime users. Instead, this new streaming service will compete with the aforementioned services at a cost of $9.99 a month.
Details about the new service are sparse at this point in time, so we can’t really speak to whether the catalog will look more like Spotify or more like Tidal. But as of now, Amazon is still in the process of finalizing the required licenses, meaning that we’re still probably several months away from the service’s launch. Amazon also reported a 20% growth in sales from last quarter bolstered primarily by Prime, and by extension Prime Music, making it a good time to enter this market.
Sources say that Amazon plans to pair the service with Amazon Echo, which will allow you to use voice commands to manipulate the player.
H/T: Android Authority
The Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival is currently celebrating its 15th anniversary in Manchester, Tennessee, and while the attendees are enjoying themselves, reports like more than 100 attendees being arrested on the festival’s first day are putting a negative spotlight on the event. The latest tragic news to come out of the festival is the death of a 22-year-old attendee, who was struck and killed by two cars on a highway near the festival site.
The victim, identified as Casey J. Young, jumped over a guard rail near the McMinnville Highway Exit on Interstate 24 near Grant Park, Bonnaroo’s venue, right after 1 a.m. early Saturday morning. After jumping over the guard rail, a tractor trailer struck Young and bounced him into the path of a Jeep Cherokee, which fatally hit him. Investigators presume Young as a Bonnaroo attendee due to wearing both a 2016 wristband and a festival t-shirt. According to Sgt. Alan Bailey of the Tennessee Highway Patrol, both involved drivers are cooperating with the investigation and Young’s body will undergo an autopsy to test for drugs and alcohol.
H/T: The Manchester Times
Organizers behind the week-long event have announced a recent purchase of a property north of the Burning Man grounds called Fly Ranch. The property is 3,800 acres, cost a lofty $6.5 million (from donations, not from ticket revenue) and will likely be home to future events that the Burning Man Project hope to introduce throughout the duration of the year before and after the event.
“As a year-round site, Fly Ranch has the potential to expand Burning Man Project’s activities and existing programs, as well as amplify Burning Man’s cultural impact into the wider world beyond Black Rock City,” the Burning Man website post reads.
Burning Man, however, will not be relocated to Fly Ranch and will remain an annual week-long event that takes place in Nevada towards the tail end of summer.
In fact, it may be a while before Burners are able to experience whatever may be in store for Fly Ranch as organizers have explained the first step is to “lay down the groundwork” and ensure that the space will be sustainable for years to come.
[Photo: Galen Oakes]
Valerie Lee is Mixmag’s US Digital Editor. Follow her on Twitter here
Japanese tech brand Korg has just released its new plugKEY, a miniature widget plug designed for producers on the move.
The plugKey is a portable device that features an audio output, a MIDI input compatible with any keyboard or controller to use on iOS music applications and a lightning connector for charging and volume control.
Korg’s new piece is designed for iPads and iPhones and is the first accessory of its kind to feature all types of connectivity.
Learn more about the Korg plugKEY here.
At 10AM on a Friday morning in April, several friends and I jumped on Ticketmaster’s website and mobile app. Tickets for the Madison Square Garden stop of Radiohead’s latest tour had just gone on sale, priced at $80 each. After staring at the loading bar for a nerve-wracking 10 minutes, though, we all saw the same message: no tickets available.
I went straight to StubHub, a leading ticket resale website, where the same seats were already listed—for about $350 a pop. Frantically Googling “cheap Radiohead tickets” took me to a lesser-known site called TicketDown, where I bit the bullet and bought four tickets for $300 each—a 400 percent markup from the original price.
In about 10 minutes, I had been reduced from a (supposedly) fiscally responsible adult to a desperate groupie. I messaged my girlfriend: “I feel a bit sick.”
“There is that frenzy, and you’re frustrated—that’s when scalpers get you.”—Dean Budnick, co-author of Ticketmasters: The Rise of the Concert Industry and How The Public Got Scalped
Ticket scalping is nothing new; it’s practically ancient. “The greatest evil that theatergoers in this city have to contend with is the ticket speculator,” wrote a New York City magistrate in 1901, during the arraignment of a man caught hawking tickets outside the Garden Theater. “They are practically highwaymen and hold up everybody that goes to a place of amusement.”
You can still spot dogged profit-chasers loitering outside music venues, but in the digital age, street scalping is old-school. Thanks to the growth of online marketplaces, accessible technology for getting around security restrictions, and the decriminalization of ticket resales in some states, scalpers can cash in without leaving their living rooms. Profits are ripe for the taking: according to data from Northcoast Research, the secondary ticket market—meaning anything outside official channels, including resale sites like StubHub, as well as Craigslist, eBay, and other ticket broker websites—was worth $5 billion dollars as of last year.
Despite constant complaints and outrage from artists and fans alike, the ticket scarcity problem only seems to get worse—with neither the authorities nor the music industry seemingly able to keep up with increasingly sophisticated scalpers. In the online era, making money off our thirst to see our favorite acts has become a frighteningly efficient process. How did it get so bad—and why can’t anybody stop it?
A street scalper (Photo via Flickr)
No one I know was able to get Radiohead tickets at their original price that morning, likely because of bots—computer programs used by scalpers to scoop up the best seats on official sites like Ticketmaster and Eventbrite quicker than any human can. Scalpers quickly flip these prime tickets for a profit on resale sites like Stubhub, which generally market themselves as “fan exchange sites,” claiming to offer a reliable marketplace for music lovers with tickets to spare. Still, my bank statement revealed the tickets I bought were sold not by fellow fans, but by two private companies seemingly set up with the sole purpose of reselling tickets at higher prices: StubStop LLC in Chicago and Swagg Seats in La Jolla, California.
Professional scalpers like these generally call themselves “ticket brokers.” The rules governing them are somewhat flimsy: there is no federal law against reselling tickets for profit, and while some states still outlaw the practice, those laws are often outdated and focused on street sales.
Due in part to lobbying by ticket scalpers, many states now favor regulation over criminalization. In New York, for instance, scalping tickets was illegal until 2007, when it was decriminalized in an effort to better monitor and tax the underground resale market. As a result, many formerly illegal scalpers moved above ground, becoming licensed brokers who have to pay a $5000 annual fee to the state and abide by certain guidelines, including disclosing sales to the state regulator and offering insurance against fake tickets.
Using bots to buy tickets is still illegal in New York, outlawed in 2010 on the grounds that they give an unfair advantage to brokers over regular fans. (Legislation has been proposed to criminalize bots on a federal level as well). But according to a January 2016 report by the New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, bots are still widely used by scalpers—and they’re becoming more sophisticated than ever.
The Ticketmaster bot page on Ticketbots.com
Getting your hands on bots to bulk-buy tickets is easy. On Ticketbots.net, a website that claims to have provided brokers with “literally everything you need to skyrocket your business profits” for a decade, the best-selling Ticketmaster bot will set you back a cool $990.
The bot cheats the system by taking advantage of a grace period Ticketmaster gives customers to confirm their seat and complete their orders. During this short interval of time, seats are effectively closed off to other customers, allowing scalpers grab hundreds of tickets simultaneously and choose the best ones before ordinary humans get a chance. (Ticketmaster did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)
Then there’s the Insomniac browser, which claims to help music fans better their chances of getting tickets by allowing them to browse for seats across multiple tabs. If you’ve ever tried to snag in-demand tickets by using multiple devices like your iPhone and iPad at the same time, you’re probably already familiar with this method, which theoretically gives you several spots in the queue rather than just one. Problem is, the Insomniac browser has no way of distinguishing between real fans and scalpers.
“The fact that there are regular Joes out there scalping is a large part of the problem.”—Dean Budnick
Services like the Insomniac browser and ticketbots have lowered the barrier to entry for scalping, making it possible for anyone with an internet connection to become an amateur ticket broker.
“Not only do people have to compete with professionals, they also have to compete with a whole range of amateurs,” says Dean Budnick, a music journalist and co-author of Ticketmasters: The Rise of the Concert Industry and How The Public Got Scalped. “The fact that there are regular Joes out there scalping is a large part of the problem.”
Another problem, says Mark McIntyre, chief technology officer at online concert ticketing site SongKick, is that trying to stamp out scalping is like playing whack-a-mole. “Whatever step you put in to block malicious activity, you will always find a service popping up to get around it,” he says.
More advanced bots can get around the most common security defenses, including automatically solving CAPTCHAs—those annoying boxes that force you to type a distorted word to prove you’re a real human—and using multiple IP addresses, credit cards, and post boxes to masquerade as different purchasers in order to get around limits on how many tickets one person can buy. According to the same Schneiderman report, one professional scalping firm grossed $40 million in 2013 by using bots to sidestep these sorts of restrictions.
SongKick claims to have some of the best defenses in the industry, but even so, McIntyre says that within the first few minutes of sales opening, it’s not uncommon to see 80 percent of the site’s traffic coming from suspicious sources—namely, specific IP addresses that have been active on the site for weeks in advance, likely searching for weaknesses in its armature and customising bespoke software to exploit them.
“Long before the sale happens, the scalpers are already ahead,” McIntyre says. “Their level of operation is way beyond the ability of real fans.”
An anti-scalping sign (Photo via Wikipedia)
There are signs that authorities are cracking down on scalpers not playing by the rules. In April this year, Schneiderman’s team fined five ticket brokers a total of $2.7 million for using bots and reselling tickets without proper licenses. Schneiderman later proposed legislation to increase fines and punish the use of bots as a criminal offense (rather than a civil one, as it is currently), saying, “Ordinary New Yorkers deserve a fair shot to see their favorite performers and teams, and protection from those that use illegal software to rig the system.” The legislation was passed by the state Senate in May 2016 and is awaiting further approval.
But the more disturbing reality is that bots are just a small part of the ticket scarcity problem. Schneiderman’s report found that on average, only 46 percent of concert tickets in New York go to the public; pre-sales account for 38 percent, with the remainder going to insiders like the artists’ friends and family. Which means that before official sales even begin, most of the proverbial pie is divvied up in advance between industry insiders, fan clubs, licensed brokers, and credit card companies—leaving the public fighting for leftover crumbs.
Joe Cassito, director of broker relations at TickPick, a relatively new fan exchange site, explained how brokers negotiate deals for early access: “They get a certain allocated number of tickets for the entire tour, or they promise the venue to buy tickets for a certain portion of events that year and get guaranteed tickets.”
While these arrangements might seem like savvy deals, they result in a fixed system where fans end up losing out. Darnell Goldson, a director at an online ticket marketplace called TicketNetwork, assured me the brokers his company works with are “trustworthy businesspeople who provide a much sought-after service: providing hard-to-get seats.” But when I asked him why those seats were so elusive in the first place, he pointed me to a section in Schneiderman’s report that explained how brokers work the game by securing tickets in advance.
So ticket brokers help create the problem (scarcity of tickets), and then make a profit from solving it (making those tickets available again for a higher price). While you can’t deny that is a very efficient business model, it’s not exactly ethical.
LCD Soundsystem at Madison Square Garden (Photo via Rebecca Taylor/MSG Photos/Madison Square Garden)
Beyond evolving technology, insider deals, and the lack of consistent regulation, the most sensitive issue driving up scalping might also be the most deeply systemic: the way tickets are priced when they go on official sale.
Joseph Asaro, head of security at StubHub, argues that exorbitant resale prices are a function of basic economics—namely, a lot of people vying for a limited number of seats. You cannot put more seats in Madison Square Garden or the O2 Arena—although you can add more shows, as LCD Soundsystem did in 2011 after scalpers gutted fans for tickets; or, in the case of some venues, deliberately oversell the show on the down-low and slap on more dates later.
“What could look like unjust profiteering is in essence just a flat marketplace,” Asaro explains. “If there is demand, you see upward price pressure.”
This fixed supply makes pricing tickets a delicate process: charge too much, and you won’t sell out; charge too little, and demand goes off the charts. Scalpers are good at spotting when the balance isn’t right, which is often; when popular artists sell tickets for accessible prices, demand will almost always outstrip supply.
Scalpers will thrive as long as artists and promoters set official prices at levels that are too low compared to what people are really willing to pay, says John Zhu, a former HSBC economist. Zhu argues that changing how tickets are sold, including better security measures, cannot fix this underlying pricing mismatch. “You can perhaps imagine better technological protections in the queuing process, or simply change the first-come first-serve system to a random ballot system—itself open to questions of fairness,” he posits. “But you still haven’t solved the fundamental problem of matching supply and demand.”
Sites like Stubhub claim they have made it easier for this supply and demand seesaw to play itself out through enabling people to sell tickets at the market price, while allowing others to attend last-minute without resorting to shady street scalpers. But they also provide a more efficient sales platform for scalpers—and normally charge a fee from both buyer and seller.
(Photo via Alux.com)
Still, the system could be fairer—and some companies are paving the way in making it so. A relatively new resale site called TickPick, for example, only charges sellers (who are usually professional ticket brokers) a service fee, not buyers. It also allows buyers to bid on tickets, resulting in a fairer picture of where prices should be.
Resident Advisor’s ticketing platform tries to cut scalpers out entirely. In August 2014, the site added a new feature allowing fans to return unwanted tickets for a refund. When an event sells out, these spare tickets are offered at the same price as the final release tier, with the event promoter pocketing the difference.
“It comes down to simplicity and confidence,” says Paul Clement, co-founder of RA. “Most fans with unwanted tickets are happy to just get their original investment back and will opt for the simplest way of doing that. Buyers need confidence that the ticket they are buying is legitimate.” RA’s system, Clement continues, results in a marketplace with happy buyers and sellers on both sides.
However, outside closed systems like RA’s, nothing can protect you from market prices and the desperation you feel when your favorite artist comes to town. Buying tickets for a concert or rave is an emotional purchase. It’s not like a new pair of shoes, a car, or even a house; you’re buying into a communal experience, and the returns on your investment are intangible. Scalpers count on this emotional vulnerability to drive you into their arms. “There is that frenzy, and you’re frustrated—that’s when they get you,” Budnick puts it.
“Ordinary New Yorkers deserve a fair shot to see their favorite performers, and protection from those that use illegal software to rig the system.”—New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman
But knowing more about the dynamics at play in the ticketing market offers two benefits. First, it helps you decide how and when you should buy (hint: sign up to fan clubs and credit card reward schemes, and don’t rush to the secondary market straight after official channels sell out, because that’s when prices tend to spike—wait till the frenzy dies down instead.)
Second, it helps you manage your expectations: if you know you’re unlikely to get tickets at face value, you can at least prepare yourself for the pain of parting with more cash.
The one thing this knowledge can’t fix is the feeling that scalpers and the industry players they work with are making live music experiences—supposed to be open and unifying—less accessible and more divisive. And by playing along with their game, we are all complicit in perpetuating a broken system.
Then again, perhaps the fact that such a brutal scalping market exists is a testament to the power of music and the innate human desire to experience it together—no matter what the cost.
“If it’s a band you really love, you kind of just accept it,” says Brendan Lorbach, a New Yorker who goes to several gigs a week. “When you actually get there, any negative feelings are gone.”
“Unless the band plays an awful set,” he says with a chuckle. “Then I’d be pissed off.”