Blinding Music Fans with Science


While I’m passionate about music, it’s rare that I don headphones and pop in a CD to inspire me during the workday. Perhaps I should change my tune.

Turns out there’s a melodious connection between music and productivity. Check out this Business Insider story to see – and hear – for yourself.

The story offers several approaches to boosting productivity. One involves choosing songs that feature sounds of nature:

Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute recently discovered that adding a natural element could boost moods and focus.

Sounds of nature can mask intelligible speech just as well as white noise while also enhancing cognitive functioning, optimizing the ability to concentrate and increasing overall worker satisfaction, the researchers found. The mountain stream sound researchers used in their study also possessed enough randomness that it didn’t distract test subjects.

Other examples include listening to songs you enjoy, songs you don’t really care about (the horror!), songs without lyrics, songs with a specific tempo and songs played at medium volume.

Let’s rock!

Folk Fest in Indy to Draw Many Bands, Raise Funds for a Great Cause on May 9

folkfestSome socially conscious business owners and volunteers in Indy’s Fountain Square area are working hard to promote the inaugural Virginia Avenue Folk Fest, which will raise funds for Trusted Mentors. Set for May 9, the festival will feature over 70 local bands and is already creating quite the buzz.

I’m proud to say that I was involved with Trusted Mentors as an adult mentor for three years, and now serve on its board of directors.

The program creates mentor/mentee matches to help at-risk adults establish stable lives by reducing the chaos brought about by poverty, homelessness, under-employment and the effects of incarceration. These person-to-person mentoring relationships improve lives by developing life skills and positive social networks that empower people to:

  • Remain housed
  • Make a positive contribution to the local community
  • Remain or become employed
  • Advance their education
  • Stay out of jail
  • Improve parenting skills

For more details about the event, check out this helpful FAQ. And we could still use more volunteers as well!

Hope to see you there, and please help us spread the word if you plan to attend by using the hashtag #folkinupindy. Folk yeah!

Harmonizing Music History with Worker Productivity

19188345Technology improvements are generally associated with getting the same amount of productivity with fewer workers. But something called the “quartet effect” – with links back to the lyrics of the Grateful Dead – instead emphasizes enhancing what people do with their time. Governing reports:

In the foreword to David Dodd’s The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics, Robert Hunter, the band’s “lyricist in residence,” wrote that the song “Uncle John’s Band” represented “the first lyric I wrote with the aid of that newfangled gadget, the cassette tape recorder. I taped the band playing the arrangement and was able to score lyrics at leisure rather than scratch away hurriedly at rehearsals, waiting for particular sections to come around again.”

What Hunter was describing, of course, was an improvement in productivity resulting from the application of new technology. Productivity is usually measured in terms of the labor cost per unit of production, and in most cases improvement is achieved by using new technology to reduce head count. For instance, a steel mill that once employed 10,000 workers produces the same tonnage with only a thousand employees, bank tellers are replaced by ATMs and elevator operators become a thing of the past. But in Hunter’s application of new technology, no one’s position was eliminated. It’s an example of what has been called “the quartet effect” at work.

When you reduce the head count of a musical quartet, you have not improved its productivity. If what you wanted was the music of a quartet, you have destroyed the product. The technology Hunter employed is the kind that, rather than eliminating jobs, allows existing staff to make better use of their time and gives them the opportunity to create higher-quality products.

How is this relevant to government? For most local governments, public safety constitutes the largest single category of expenditures, typically accounting for about 60 percent of total costs. For states and for some local governments, education is the dominant cost category. But it’s important to remember that within these areas, personnel costs — the salaries and benefits of police officers, firefighters and school teachers — are the real cost drivers. Personnel costs typically represent 80 percent or more of the total cost of a police department, for example. Few would argue that taking cops off the streets or teachers out of classrooms improves productivity.

Throwback Thursday: An Outlook for the 1990s

In digging through our archives, I discovered the June/July 1990 edition of Outlook — the bimonthly Indiana Chamber publication that preceded BizVoice magazine. The edition featured some predictions for the future with its segment, “Human Resources: What the 1990s Will Bring?”

The article outlines expectations in areas like employee rights, education and training, changing demographics, work relationships and productivity issues. That’s all nice and good, but here’s what it didn’t predict about the 1990s:

Clear Pepsi: People bag on it, but it wasn’t the worst thing. And it challenged everything you thought you knew about soda technology.
Epic Boyz II Men ballads: In all my a cappella groups, I generally call All-Time Bass Voice Guy Who Talks Over the Other Guys Who Are Singing … “Girl, you know I love you. But I saw you behind the bleachers with my friend, Jeremy. Yeah, that’s right. Shoot. That’s ok, I’ll still take you back…”
Hypercolor shirts: Hormonal teenagers just begging for someone to touch them.
JNCO jeans: I wore these. It looked like I was “busting a sag,” but they were actually secured around my waste line; they just had low pockets. So I could be cool, but also a respectable future young professional with dreams and goals.
The rise of Bill Clinton: We all know the story.
The corresponding rise of Newt Gingrich: Clinton’s arch-nemesis — we all know that story too. No shortage of egos in this feud.
Grunge music: RIP Kurt Cobain. A fellow southpaw, he inspired me to start playing a right-handed guitar upside down — so I sounded extra angsty/awful.
My senior dinner party: I moonwalked in front of my fellow seniors at Lebanon High School. For reference, I tried moonwalking again just last week and tweaked my meniscus.

BoilerRockers Create ‘Haunting’ Wireless Guitar Pedal

Purdue University is no stranger to high level engineering. In fact, it’s kind of known for it. But still, this story on a new wireless "Ghost Pedal" could change the way electric guitar players rock out for years to come. The video tells the story, and hats off to the ingenuity of these forward thinking students in West Lafayette.

Hat tip to Inside INdiana Business on the story.

Fort Wayne Businessman Honored with Lifetime Achievement Award

Earlier this year, the University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne honored Chuck Surack, founder and president of Sweetwater Sound, with the School of Creative Arts’ Lifetime Achievement Award. The school’s alumni newsletter, "Broadstrokes," explains:

A native of Fort Wayne, Chuck is recognized worldwide as a leader in the field of electronic music. He serves as a consultant and lecturer for manufactuers in the audio, music and computer industries. He has designed recording studios and provided custom design for professional musicians including Stevie Wonder, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Mel Tillis, Emerson Lake and Palmer, and Aerosmith as well as for hundreds of audio and video recording studios worldwide.

He is well known for integrating electronic music instrument technologies, computers and traditional music practices into a modern art and science…

Also, you can read about Sweetwater Sound’s remarkable growth and its partnership with St. Francis in BizVoice.

Hat tip to Chamber staffer/St. Francis grad Tony Spataro.

Popular Band Doing Away With Album Concept, Continuing Evolution of Music Business Paradigm

The band that brought you such ear-pleasing anthems as "Creep" and "Karma Police" announced this week that it plans to stop making albums, and focus on singles. Interesting concept, and it might prove fruitful. Although, I fear my life would have been far less enjoyable had Born to Run been released as a series of unconnected singles. On the upside, we probably never would have been introduced to Chris Gaines if the album concept hadn’t existed — so I guess it’s a push. At any rate, The New York Times has the story:

So, when Mr. Yorke announced a change of course for the band, saying it planned to stop making full-length records and turn its attention to singles, it sounded like an epitaph for the album, the broken backbone of the record industry’s longtime business model.

“None of us wants to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again,” Mr. Yorke told the Believer, a literary magazine based in San Francisco. “Not straight off. I mean, it’s just become a real drag. It worked with ‘In Rainbows’ because we had a real fixed idea about where we were going. But we’ve all said that we can’t possibly dive into that again. It’ll kill us.”

Radiohead’s shift to singles reflects a change in music fans’ preferences. Instead of buying whole albums, they now stream or download just the songs they want. That, along with unauthorized copying, has decimated industry revenues.

According to Nielsen SoundScan, U.S. sales of albums, in physical and digital form, fell 14 percent last year, continuing a multiyear decline. While consumers bought more than a billion individual digital tracks in the United States, which accounts for a majority of online sales worldwide, they bought only 65 million digital albums in 2008.

Efforts are under way to try to make albums less of a drag. Apple and the major record companies are reportedly working on projects to include liner notes, lyrics, artwork, music videos and other extras with digital downloads.

They could start by examining Radiohead’s experiment with “In Rainbows.” The band’s publisher, Warner Chappell, reported that more than three million copies of the album were distributed in the first year, in digital and physical formats. Some people paid nothing, but the album still made more money than either of the band’s previous two records, Warner Chappell said. And the marketing buzz from the “pay what you want” model helped drive the CD to the top of the charts.