Billboard charts and market share charts point to a decline of hip-hop in recent years, however, it's not that simple, Dan Runcie points out. Lil Uzi Vert’s 'Pink Tape' will be the first 2023 hip-hop album to top the Billboard 200, which will be the furthest in the calendar year it took for a hip-hop album to top the Billboard 200 since 1993 (that year, Cypress Hill’s 'Black Sunday' topped the chart on the week of August 7). Billboard argued it is due to the lack of hip-hop stars who released albums, less room to grow than other genres, the impact of deaths, drugs, and legal issues, chart stagnation, and the return of club music. Runcie on the other hand argues "If hip-hop’s global impact were categorized appropriately, no one would talk about a 'decline'. Latin music is one of the fastest-growing regions in the world, and most of that revenue is generated by artists who, like Bad Bunny, consider themself hip-hop".

A great long-read in the Mix Mag which explores the connection between the rising living costs and the downfall of clubbing. It also takes into account the societal, political, and behavioral factors, and sets forth some ideas as to how to deal with it. Finally, it tries to guess what this change will mean in the broader society.

Expect the unexpected
April 24, 2023

"What does an artist 'owe' their fans?"

Culture and music editor Eleanor Halls looks into Frank Ocean's Coachella unique performance which had left fans disappointed and enthralled. She draws comparison to Elvis Presley and Lauryn Hill in this regard. "What happens when an artist refuses to play ball?" - Halls asks, and wonders whether fans should really be disappointed.

Andy Chatterley of MUSO, a London-headquartered technology firm providing anti-piracy services and market analytics for music companies, discusses the hot topic of the recent "fake Drake" song that appeared on streaming platforms, only to be soon taken down from them.

He's got a few questions about it:

  • "How can we be certain the ‘fake Drake’ track is AI and not a canny marketing tool?
  • If this is indeed AI, [and] if musicians and/or content creators are being used as source data for an AI model, should they be compensated?
  • How do you prove, as a creator, that your work has been used as source material for AI?
  • Who owns the AI in any given case?
  • How do you sue something that has no name, no social security number and no company number?
  • Do you sue the prompt engineer who inputs the command to make the track?"

An amazing story by Ted Gioia, who has discovered, with a little help from other music lovers, a song that has over 50 different titles, and over 50 different writers credits attributed to it on Spotify. There were other instances of the same phenomena on other streaming platforms, with other songs as well (mostly short and lousy). What's going on? "Spotify may be working to switch listeners from songs released by major labels to generative music, which could be licensed at low royalty rates or even purchased as a work-for-hire. Under this scenario, a streaming platform could lower its costs substantially, and improve profitability—but with the result of less money paid to flesh-and-blood musicians."

"For all its ostensible simplicity, techno is a genre with a complicated history that can mutate and shift depending on whom you’re talking to" - The New Yorker looks into the origins of techno music. The author finds the first threads both in Detroit and Frankfurt, however, it points out that many techno pioneers feel that Black and queer artists in Detroit have been overlooked at the recently opened Museum of Modern Electronic Music (MOMEM) in Frankfurt’s Hauptwache square,

The MusicREDEF newsletter author shares his thoughts on the latest developments regarding A.I., trying to keep up with the subject: "I can imagine 'a future where Drake licenses his voice, and gets royalties or the rights to songs from anyone who uses it.' But I'm not looking forward to that future, and I’m all for resisting it. I want a future where artists freely use AI (as much or as little as they choose), not a future where AI freely uses artists."

Use it, don't abuse it
April 18, 2023

Dan Runcie: How the music industry can embrace A.I.

After a few A.I.-generated songs that sound like Drake, The Deeknd, and Ice Spice appeared online, the music industry reacted with demands for these songs to be blocked on streaming services. "This feels like Napster in 1999. New technology is here and the industry’s protocol is to resist" - Dan Runcie points out in his memo, suggesting the labels shouldn't fight back, but rather embrace it. "It’s in the superstar artist and record label’s best interest to enable experimentation—as long as there’s a fair way to compensate the artist and rights holder. Their work would be the most-accessed music for generative songs anyway, so why not lean in?".

The Face is wondering whether artificial intelligence is going to take our jobs: "Again, as long as we value human emotion, creativity and connection, there’s only so far AI can take us. Like music, for example. Sure, AI can churn out catchy TikTok songs which makes for genuine competition when it comes to already-manufactured pop tunes. But we value music for the meaning, person and creativity behind it, all of which would be massively diluted if made by robots, who, to put it simply, can’t feel anything. That goes for DJs, too. We happily pay to watch a human spin some tracks in a sweaty club – would you pay to listen to a machine to the same?".

Shiny happy people
March 31, 2023

Michelle Lhooq: Thai weed is in its indie era

Thailand has recently legalized marijuana, so Michelle Lhooq, the drug & parties expert had to go visit, with her parents! Small weeds shops have opened all over the place in recent months, but they just might soon get endangered. Hugely popular US weed brand Cookies opened its first dispensary in Bangkok in January, and there are fears the market will soon be dominated by foreign companies that will put small mom-and-pops out of business. Lhooq points out that the current legal uncertainty around Thai cannabis has prevented international interests from entering the scene, however, companies like Cookies are paving the way for a franchise model where US brands team up with local partners to sell name-brand weed.

"We are waving goodbye to the first 100 years of the music business (from music halls, to radio, MTV and download stores) and racing into what will drive the next 100" - Conrad Withey of the indie-artist service Instrumental, writes in his op-ed for the MBW. He also shares 9 ideas a "modern, data-driven record label founder may want to embrace to free them from the shackles of the past:

No more expensive music videos

No more risky deal

Lower music production costs

No more stressful playlist meetings or New Music Friday-obsession

No more wasted, speculative marketing spend

No expensive office space

No more A&R scouts on your payroll

Don’t worry about reviews

You don’t need to offer an artist tour support – and they certainly don’t need to sign a 360 deal"

Great words by Chris Cohen in GQ about Apple Music Classical, the newly launched Apple service dedicated to, obviously, classical music. "I have been endlessly frustrated with how the big streaming platforms (Spotify, in my case) handle classical music. And after playing around with it for a day, I am ready to issue a snap judgment: Assuming you don’t already have a Lydia Tár-scale collection of rare Decca LPs, Apple Music Classical is the best way to immediately listen and learn... Tthe success of the app hinges on solving a boring, technical problem: metadata. Pop music relies on just a few variables to identify a piece of music: artist, album, song. In the classical world, more pieces of data matter, like the composer, the conductor, the performer, or the dates of composition, recording, and release... A usable classical streaming service needs to figure out how to display all of that information, and make it searchable". That's what Apple Music Classical has done.

Decential shares an interesting outtake from the latest Water & Music academy on global music rights: "To be fully licensed a startup would have to speak to about 150 entities and spend between $500,000 to $750,000 in legal fees. And being licensed then means you have to pass about 85 percent of your revenue straight to the rightsholders – one of the reasons Spotify has such slim margins. So unless you’re a massive platform with a savvy team, there’s not much you can do to disrupt entrenched power dynamics". “Music innovation only stays innovative until they start to touch rights and licensing, Is it any wonder that the last great innovation was Spotify?” - Dan Fowler, director of Open Source Projects at HIFI Labs and author of newsletter Liminal Spaces, said. The solution the academy has offered? Web3.

"Tickets today cost two to three times as much as inflation-adjusted tickets from a few decades ago" - Wren Graves argues in his excellent Consequence text about where the live music industry is heading. "This is hardly the first period of human history with great wealth inequality, but it’s one of the first times that the middle-class and 1% are competing over the same seats... There are only so many seats and many more people who wish to sit in them. In this environment, what does a fair ticket price even look like?".

A great point by Matty Karas in today's newsletter about music being illegal, and weapons legal: "In Tennessee, it will be illegal as of April 1 for male or female impersonators to perform in the presence of children or within 1,000 feet or schools, parks or places of worship. This would include, for example, any male Dolly Parton impersonator who 'appeals to a prurient interest,' as plenty of the Tennessee country queen’s songs do... It’s legal, on the other hand, for most people over the age of 21 to open-carry handguns without a permit almost anywhere in Tennessee".

"Private gigs is an underreported yet booming business that has had great breakdowns. The more I look at the trends though, the more I believe that these gigs say a lot about where music is heading" - Trapital's Dan Runcie points out in his latest memo. While he does approve of the idea, Runcie believes that "for musicians, there’s less correlation than ever between 'who pays me the most' and 'who loves me the most'".

  • "Everything gets faster. That’s why TikTok creators are speeding up their songs and visuals.
  • Everything gets shorter. That’s why song duration is shrinking—the 3-minute pop song has been replaced by the 2-minute pop song.
  • Everything new soon seems old. Trends come and go as users churn through novelties.
  • Everything gets dumber. Hey, just look around you.

Music writer Ted Gioia is longing for more substance in our lives in his latest newsletter, as opposed to shots of dopamine served on social media. He compares it to intermittent reinforcement - a theory based on an experiment with rats that showed that they could be manipulated more easily if rewards and punishments were sporadic and unpredictable. Gioia is hopeful - "most people crave something more enriching than a quick dose of dopamine from their handheld Skinner Box. Once they’ve tasted the real thing, a meaningful number of them—a decisive majority, in my opinion—will refuse to give up the riches of their music, books, movies, museums, and other repositories of glory and genius"

One step beyond
March 24, 2023

Endel: AI is the future of music

"AI’s most groundbreaking role will likely be as a new medium that will shift music into more adaptive, responsive formats" - Oleg Stavitsky of Endel, an AI-powered sound wellness company, writes in his MBW Op/Ed. "Generative AI can provide the next revolution in music mediums. Medium is the message: the way the music is delivered to us today influences the format and music itself" - Stavitsky shares his general idea about the issue, and looks ahead - "AI-powered adaptive functional soundscape version of your favorite music is the future available to us today. It opens up new opportunities for artists to create and monetize their art, for platforms to offer additional revenue streams, and for labels to breathe new life in their catalogs. Best of all: it can peacefully coexist with traditional pre-recorded music that we know and love."

"Starting about 12-18 months ago, something shifted in music consumption patterns" - music writer Ted Gioia takes notice of a change, underpinned by six recent studies showing an unexpected increase in classical music listening. How did this happen? "Maybe that old orchestral and operatic music now sounds fresh to ears raised on electronic sounds. Maybe the dominance of four-chord compositions has created a hunger for four-movement compositions. Maybe young people view getting dressed up for a night at the opera hall as a kind of cosplay event. Or maybe the pandemic had some impact on music consumption... And it’s true, the pandemic did cause a major increase in the purchase of musical instruments. People got serious about music—so much so that they wanted to play it themselves. Perhaps it changed listening habits too".

"A lot of the discussion on music being under-monetized has focused on streaming rates, Spotify’s pricing, and equity stakes in streaming services. It’s all valid, but it’s one piece of the broader opportunity" - Trapital's Dan Runcie points out in his latest memo, adding that artists "have more opportunities to buy and sell products at every level of the demand curve. An artist can release music on Spotify, promote their tour with AEG Presents, sell tickets on Ticketmaster, perform at Rolling Loud, sell an NFT on OpenSea, sell VIP access on Patreon, and host members-only live streams on Twitch. For most artists, each part of their demand curve is supported by a different company". Runcie sees opportunities in gamified features and collectibles, user-generated content, A.I. as a service, and in-app purchases in digital environments.

A great read in Guardian by singer, musician, and frontwoman Courtney Love about "sexist gatekeeping... purposeful ignorance and hostility" of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: "If so few women are being inducted into the Rock Hall, then the nominating committee is broken. If so few Black artists, so few women of colour, are being inducted, then the voting process needs to be overhauled. Music is a lifeforce that is constantly evolving – and they can’t keep up... If the Rock Hall is not willing to look at the ways it is replicating the violence of structural racism and sexism that artists face in the music industry, if it cannot properly honour what visionary women artists have created, innovated, revolutionised and contributed to popular music – well, then let it go to hell in a handbag".

Non-futureable tokens?
March 16, 2023

FWB: Should musicians keep believing in NFTs?

"The market for non-fungible tokens (NFTs) may have collapsed over the last year, but independent musicians are still minting. Is this because the... other revenue options for musicians in a post-pandemic, inflationary economy, in which media is free for everyone with a data connection, have dried up?" - composer and strategist Marc Moglen asks in his FWB piece. "NFTs hold great promise — especially for musicians looking to supplement existing or dwindling monetization opportunities, and especially if enterprising companies manage to crack the code of usability, standardization, and bridging the 'one-way chasm'.”

"Can't make a living" doesn't really resonate
March 16, 2023

First Floor: Streaming should pay more, but how?

"No matter how much cost cutting Spotify and the other streaming companies do, there’s likely only one way for them to increase revenue to a point where significantly higher streaming payouts would be possible: raising prices... Artists need consumers to pay more for streaming, but here’s the question that even the harshest streaming critics often refuse to ask: what if they don’t want to?" - music writer Shawn Reynaldo asks the ultimate question in his latest newsletter. "Consumers didn’t create this system, but in 2023, they are accustomed to it, and if their current spending habits are any indication, they don’t seem terribly bothered by how streaming has negatively impacted artists or larger musical landscape."

They only come out at night
March 14, 2023

Is it possible to have rock concerts at noon?!?

Actress Jamie Lee Curtis recently said she would love to go see Coldplay "at 1 p.m." since at their usual gig time she's already tucked in. Billboard wonders if the idea od matinee rock concerts is even possible. "Most of our margin is on drinks. It’s hard to sell drinks at 1 p.m.” - says Peter Shapiro, owner of Relix magazine, as well as the Brooklyn Bowl venues in New York, Las Vegas and Nashville and a number of other clubs. The majority of ticket revenue and service fees go to the band and ticketing agencies, the headliners take home most of the night’s haul, leaving the venue to live off ancillary revenue, most of which comes from the bar. Shapiro says there is another crucial element keeping shows after dark - mystique. “You can see a show in the afternoon, but at the end of the arc of the day it works going to a show in darkness. It’s the arc of the day, the moon… rock n’ roll lives at night. It’s in the DNA of rock n’ roll

Ticket prices for the Taylor Swoift and Bruce Springsteen tours caused an outrage as they went into the four digits. However, as it was investigated by the New York Times, you cas easily get those kind of tickets for $200 or much less. You just have to - be patient "If you want tickets to a big, highly promoted arena show, whether it’s Bruce or Beyoncé, set a budget and register for the sale. If there are tickets you can afford, buy them. If not, log off and bide your time. Decent seats may well be available at better prices when the concert date nears. (Demand is usually highest when tickets first go on sale.) If you register, you’ll generally be notified if more tickets go on sale. Or you can simply set a calendar reminder to check availability as the date approaches."

The MBW breaks down the numbers Spotify shared in their Loud & Clear report about how much it pays in royalties, and to whom. The number of artists generating $50,000 or more a year stood at 17,800 in 2022, up by 1,300 from the prior year. However, in 2021, that same category grew year-on-year by 3,100, more than double its rate of increase in 2022. The $50k is the amount "generated" by artists, their royalties will inevitably be reduced once they’ve paid their distributor/publishing admin company/publisher/record company a fee, commission, recoupment charge, etc. Still, it's a monthly paycheck allowing the musician a decent living from cre

Happy being older
March 13, 2023

"Nostalgia is a trampoline"

"Our nostalgia remains intimate, personal and fragile, it’s 'a sentiment of loss and displacement, a romance with one’s own fantasy'" - Washington Post's Chris Richards recently wrote a beautiful text about reunited post-hardcore bands at the Numero Twenty music festival. "Instead of a tomb, nostalgia became a trampoline — something you could jump onto with both feet, rebounding into an open future... The festival’s other big memory-smudge was out in the crowd where young attendees were outnumbered by their elders, but maybe only 3 to 1 — a division that felt most acute when the youngest ears in the house pressed toward the stage for Codeine, a band best known for making its tremendous slowness feel stark and colossal... There’s a prevailing idea that the most stylish members of today’s youth are obsessed with retrieving the lost ’90s, but let’s not forget that they’ve grown up in an over-connected century in which boredom no longer seems to exist. My guess is that the Codeine kids at Numero Twenty didn’t come to commune with the past so much as slow down the present".

"Music is one of the most valuable forms of self-expression out there" - Trapital's Dan Runcie insists in his latest memo. He also shares his thoughts on what the music industry can learn from gaming and monetize its popularity:

  • Do-it-yourself music sampling - make it easier for fans to remix their own versions of songs, separate the stems, upload their versions to the streaming or short-form video platform of their choice, and ensure that the original artists get paid for the underlying work

  • A.I. as a service - I can see software like ChatGPT packaged up as a $10.99 monthly subscription service for songwriters and musicians. Users pay a monthly fee to access their royalty-free music for commercial use

  • In-app purchases in digital environments - 23% of Gen Z gamers (and 16% of all gamers) wish they could purchase music they hear in a game or be able to add it to a playlist

Sign o' the times
March 06, 2023

Mixmag: Has dance music got harder and faster?

Dance music has got so hard and fast recently, Mixmag believes and tries to find clues as to whether it has really happened and - if so - why. “My whole take on the faster, harder side of things is that people turned 18 over the pandemic. They’d heard about techno, but they’d never experienced a club [and] they were listening to stuff in the house, coming from maybe hard dance, or hardcore or ravey happy hardcore stuff. Then they burst into a club and want to hear things at 100 miles per hour because they haven’t heard anything different" - Glasgow DJs and producer Quail shares his thoughts. Techno artist Sunil Sharpe thinks part of the reason is also down to a loss of clubs: “In ways the traditional nightclub environment used to regulate tempo but as the amount of clubs has thinned out over the last decade, it feels like the scene has moved more towards locations that capture the original spirit of rave culture when tempos were faster."

Sampling the law
March 06, 2023

Dan Charnas: It’s time to legalize sampling

"Hip-hop turns 50 this year. Institutions that once ignored the genre are getting in on the celebration... But the way hip-hop makes music remains completely unprotected by law. Over the past four decades, even as hip-hop’s method of sonic collage became a basic mode of music making across genres, the legal conception of what music is, and what constitutes authorship, remains rooted in our pre-digital past. As we move into the second half of the hip-hop century, it’s high time to change that" - music writer Dan Charnas insists in Slate's piece about sampling. "The landscape is far too precarious for creators, and so we need two things: a clearer, broader conception of fair use and, for everything else, an expanded compulsory license law, which would ideally clear up that gray area, creating rules for engagement that avoid legal wrangling, ensuring owners’ rights and income without stifling new creativity."

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