Songs gon' be alright
November 23, 2020

How did trap and drill become protest music of this year?

"Openly confrontational trap and drill songs like 'Faneto' have bled into the consciousness of this summer's rebellion, capturing crowds through their fusion of righteous anger and unbothered celebration" - Scalawag magazine writes in an interesting essay about what constitutes a "protest song" today. It's a complete change of perspective, Scalamag argues - "these songs know that our systems cannot be purified through an uplifting mantra, a catchy tune, or even a structural reform—only a committed, unrelenting program of insurgency could begin to address the atrocities at the core of the state".

King Von, recently killed at his album-release party

"There are many fans with no proximity to the streets who are seeking for a vicarious thrill through music. These people think they’re supportive fans of Black artists, but they’re really dehumanizing them. They prefer artists to be live-action manifestations of violence, not just out of a disregard for the artist’s well-being, but for that of real-life victims of gun violence and substance abuse" - Complex writes in a great essay about authenticity in rap. "No one wants to see anyone get hurt, and we carry sympathy for artists who have been victims of violence, but too many rap fans then revere the next artist for being an 'official' aggressor of the same acts. It’s time to detonate that dissonance".

"I think the most important part of being a singer is the will to communicate something" - Bang Si-hyuk, founder and CEO of Big Hit Entertainment, has said about his concept of making stars. He encouraged members of his biggest project, BTS, to have personal social media accounts and to communicate freely with fans. Mark Mulligan, a music-business analyst and managing director of MIDiA Research, thinks this concept has led to a seismic change: "Big Hit monetizes fandom. In some ways, it's not even the artist that is the product; it's the fan which is the product". An excellent read in NPR about BTS, Big Hit, and fandom in general.

Some of the bands picked up by Stereogum for their best of new bands of the year list:

Dogleg - cathartic high-octane emo-punk

Anjimile - like Tracy Chapman attempting Sufjan Stevens songs and ending up with something startlingly unique

Porridge Radio - wistful melodies, raw self-reflections

Backxwash - a refreshingly new texture in the rap landscape

Sault - a tapestry of Black art and Black experience across time and borders

Bartees Strange - nobody sounds like him, and nobody could...

Shed Eeran coming soon...
November 09, 2020

Google and Spotify getting into deepfake music

“As a piece of engineering, it’s really impressive” - an electronic musician and academic dr Matthew Yee-Kin says to the Guardian about audio deepfakes - “they break down an audio signal into a set of lexemes of music – a dictionary if you like – at three different layers of time, giving you a set of core fragments that is sufficient to reconstruct the music that was fed in". The G in convinced, rightly so, deepfake music is set to have wide-ranging ramifications for the music industry - any company that wouldn't want to pay the market rate for using an established artist’s music, they could create their own imitation. And big companies are getting into it: Google is working on it within their Magenta Project; startup Amper Music is producing custom, AI-generated music for media content; Spotify employed François Pachet, former head of Sony Music’s computer science lab, in its AI research group...

"Spotify has to keep three competing interest groups - investors, audiences, rights-holders and creators - happy or it does not have a business. As it gets bigger and more established, however, it feels that it can afford to make moves that may antagonise rights-holders / creators and audiences but that will keep investors happy" - Music Industry Blog writes in an analysis of the new Discovery Mode Spotify announced this week (offers artists and labels more play for lower royalty rate). "The logic is that Spotify is getting so big that those two audiences cannot do without it (the ‘too big to fail’ stage) but that investors have many other places to put their money. So, investors are more ‘at risk’ than the others".

Me, myself and I
November 03, 2020

User-generated content - the future of audio

An excellent text by Matthew Ball about the connection between technology and music, how the development of tech has changed or steered the way through the future of music. He predicts that the next big step in the development of technology and music will be based on user-generated content, somebody just has to find the right model. His argument is that "almost all new music today, with exception of indie rock, is 'all digital' and thus fully separable by instrument, beat, vocals, etc. In many cases, a hit track is made up of numerous samples, beats, and sounds that come from a patchwork of creators", so everything is already there, except the model.

A very useful article by Henry Prince about monetisation features at the biggest platforms for artists and managers turning to live-streaming. The article provides artists with a beginner’s guide to ways of making money from live streaming at Twitch, YouTube, TikTok and Twitter...

The excellent Cherie Hu highlights three major themes not just in how big-tech music strategies are constructed, but also when and why their execution falls short. Her latest blog post:

  1. The commoditization of music streaming is nothing new, but must be acknowledged in any conversation about big tech’s role in the music industry.
  2. Thinking about the impact of content-driven music strategies, three interlocking parts come to mind: Licenses, ecosystems and interfaces.
  3. No corporation is a monolith, but most of them are generalists

Genres are strange, when you're strange
October 30, 2020

Vice: Hyperpop - a genre tag for genre-less music

Charli XCX

Hyperpop pulls heavily from SoundCloud rap, emo, lo-fi trap, PC Music label, as well as from trance, dubstep and chiptune, Vice writes about the fluid genre. They hear Charli XCX, sonic fusionists/chaos-makers 100 gecs, glitchy rappers David Shawty, and animated electronic producers Gupi as representatives of hyper-pop. What is distinctive with this new genre is that its "identity is less rooted in musical genetics than it is a shared ethos of transcending genre altogether, while still operating within the context of pop".

Vice started a series called Unpaid Royalties about the myriad ways that the music industry exploits Black artists, and what's being done to change them. They started with the three most common types of contracts an artist might sign today, offering a window into how the “bad deal” isn’t an anomaly - it’s by design.

Both the No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 - 24kGoldn feat. Iann Dior's 'Mood', and the No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 albums chart - Pop Smoke's 'Shoot For the Stars, Aim For the Moon' were aided by massive popularity on TikTok. Fleetwood Mac have climbed to the Top 10 of the albums chart after going viral on the video-sharing service. Billboard staff discusses the impact of the video platform on its charts.

New kids on the Tok
October 22, 2020

Indie rock becoming popular on TikTok

TikTok seemed like a space mainly for hip-hop and pop artists, but this year the door was opened for indie-rock as well, Water & Music reports on the change of trends. Mitski’s song 'Me and My Husband' went from roughly 100,000 streams a month to 100,000 streams a day, thanks to a TikTok trend. The most popular song on Spotify for indie-rock legends Pavement is a 1997 B-side called 'Harness Your Hopes', an unofficial, uncredited clip of which is currently included in over 20,000 videos on TikTok. The second most-streamed song on Spotify by the band The Front Bottoms is a 2014 deep cut 'Be Nice to Me', which, thanks to being featured in over 47,000 TikTok videos through an unofficial clip, is currently dwarfing every song from the band’s brand new record. There's an issue looming over TikTok's head - figuring out how to properly pay royalties on user-generated content.

Complex delves into the power of (non)streaming, with the prime example of Brooklyn rapper: "6ix9ine fully leaned into the idea that in today’s era, any attention is good attention. A hate-click is still a click. He knew that getting someone to stream his song out of pure curiosity would put just as much money in his pocket as a stream from an avid fan who actually enjoys the music... To keep operating as he was, 6ix9ine desperately needed revenue from streams. And to get streams, he needed attention, whether it was positive or negative. Getting flat-out ignored was his biggest fear".

Lookin' forward for some future melodies
October 16, 2020

What will music look like in 2040?

Cherie Hu, one of the biggest authorities on music technology and music industry, predicts the future of music business and technology for Beats & Bytes blog. Hu sees futuristic brain-computer interface for music consumption, and the rise of "fake" artists like algorithms, holograms, vocaloids...

Black women matter
October 15, 2020

Megan Thee Stallion: I’m not 'the new' anyone

"Black women struggle against stereotypes and are seen as angry or threatening when we try to stand up for ourselves and our sisters. There’s not much room for passionate advocacy if you are a Black woman" - Megan Thee Stallion wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Times, adding - "In every industry, women are pitted against one another, but especially in hip-hop, where it seems as if the male-dominated ecosystem can handle only one female rapper at a time. Countless times, people have tried to pit me against Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, two incredible entertainers and strong women. I’m not 'the new' anyone".

Bobby Shmurda

NPR’s new podcast Louder Than A Riot is the story of the “interconnected rise of hip-hop and mass incarceration” in America where "rhyme and punishment go hand in hand". From Bobby Shmurda to Nipsey Hussle, each episode explores an artist's story to examine a different aspect of the criminal justice system that disproportionately impacts Black America. It goes from the point of power - the power the music industry wields over artists, the power of institutional forces that marginalize communities of color, the power of the prison industrial complex and the power dynamics deep-rooted in the rap game.

"The worry is that the next generation of performers will come only from certain sections of society. It felt as if the chancellor was rebranding the arts sector as some sort of luxurious, decadent hobby, and now it was time for everyone to get their hands dirty – perhaps literally, as we are very short of people to pick fruit" - Tim Burgess of the Charlatans wrote for the Guardian commenting on UK chancellor Rishi Sunak's words that artists should look for other jobs. Burgess reminds the politician that in 2018 alone, the music industry contributed more than £5bn to the UK economy, and it employed 296,000 people.

MixMag questions the moral dilemma of reopening clubs during the pandemic. Some believe it is not worth the risk of transmission, and possible lockdowns, the others say we need to start reopening our societies. The magazine talked to promoters from Italy, Czechia, Germany and UK about their experiences and attitudes.

Guitarist Joe Satriani shared his thoughts on Eddie van Halen with the Billboard, after the virtuoso guitarist's passing: "The little technical things that guitar players can talk about for hours, they get picked up by a million people in a second. Everybody can copy the technical bits, but nobody could put the heart and soul and personality into each little bit like he could and no one delivered it like he did. He wrote great songs that were fun". Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello looked up to him: "Eddie Van Halen was one of the greatest, most inventive, truly visionary musicians of all time. He was an unparalleled titan in the annals of rock & roll". Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan was also an unexpected fan: “I am truly saddened by his loss; and isn’t it strange that a man who played an instrument spoke directly to so many in an unmatched way that rivals only a few: Coltrane, Hendrix, Parker, Miles, Django”.

A small group of Donald Trump supporters played Bruce Springsteen's 'Born in the USA' outside Walter Reed Medical Center, where the American president is being treated for Covid-19 infection. Consequence of Sound explained how completely bizarre that is: "To emphasize for what has to be the bajillionth time, 'Born in the USA' is not a pro-patriotism song. It’s a lament for a country addicted to feeding its working class populace into pointless wars, only to leave them neglected once they return. So the fact that these people were blasting this protest song outside of a military hospital, where actual members and veterans of the military are trying to rest and be cared for, crosses irony over to actual ignorant cruelty".

Just a space-filler, without anyone to appreciate it
September 30, 2020

Conductor Mark Wigglesworth: Music doesn't exist without anyone listening to it

"A musician’s need to be heard is not just psychological inspiration, needy approbation, or box office compensation. We need audiences because without anyone listening, the music doesn’t exist – merely proverbial trees falling unheard in the distant forest" - conductor Mark Wigglesworth wrote in the Guardian ahead of a public concert this week with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. The communal quality of music goes broader, he argues - "though listening to a piece privately can bring great solace or joy, the original purpose of music is to be connected by sharing something together as a community".

Don't vaste of taste!
September 30, 2020

A lovely essay: How taste gets made

"I’m talking about just knowing what you like and having a lot of room to like it. I’m talking about hanging out in that space and having time to continuously renovate it. I’m talking about pleasure, of course, but also self-definition: part of who I am is my love for these things, even if you think they’re bad" - author Anne Helen Petersen wrote in an announcement of her new book 'Can't Even'. She describes how her music taste made her as a person, and how the change in music consumption made her taste less firm.

A surprised man in a Covid world
September 28, 2020

Mark Beaumont: Ninja approach to award ceremonies - the shake-up they need

Inspired by the stealth approach of the Mercury Prize ceremony last week, NME's Mark Beaumont writes today that all the awards ceremonies should be conducted that way - "Most of music’s award ceremonies have become so formulaic, dreary and smugly ‘establishment’ that the ninja approach necessitated by corona might well be the shake-up they desperately need". There's several benefits, one of which is - stars caught off guard: "At a stealth award ceremony, you’d really get an insight into the true natures of the stars... The cult rock band, with no time to rehearse their snarled acceptance shrug, might break down and weep like Paltrow in an Oscar factory at the unexpected honour".

Back in the USA
September 25, 2020

TikTok - the sound of the future?!?

Charli D'Amelio

"Is the very sound of pop changing to adapt to TikTok? And can these new viral [TikTok] stars become anything more than one-hit wonders?" - LA Times writes about the increasingly popular social network. Labels are very keen on signing artists trending on TikTok stars - Columbia has signed indie-pop Ritt Momney, the emo-rap yowler 24kGoldn, and the raunchy ppcocaine, Arista Records has signed the San Bernardino-based WhoHeem, and Republic Records the slyly cheerful Claire Rosinkranz. Some of the numbers at TikTok are staggering - TikTok’s most-followed personality, 16-year-old Charli D’Amelio has 88 million followers and can charge as much as $40,000 to dance to a track in a video.

Definitely maybe not right
September 21, 2020

What's with the Brit-pop stars and masks-denial?

Noel Gallagher

The Oasis pop star Noel Gallagher announced his suspicion of masks last week proclaiming - “There’s no need for it… They’re pointless”. Former Stone Roses singer Ian Brown declared: “NO LOCKDOWN NO TESTS NO TRACKS NO MASKS NO VAX”. Tommy Scott of Space, did not disappoint. “I do not believe in any germs. If they are real, and there’s loads, why don’t they have a smell?”. Guardian tries to explain the "reasoning" behind - "it is asking a lot of the Britpop stars of yesteryear to believe in laws. Dominic Cumming’s [chief adviser to UK prime minister] lockdown drive to Barnard Castle, undertaken to 'test his eyesight', eroded the rules". Plus, it's not really their field of specialties...

Paper's white, but the notes are black?!?
September 10, 2020

Great video: Is music theory just kinda racist?!?

Another great video by Adam Neely about white supremacy and music theory. A great topic to talk about (whether you agree with the thesis or not), starting with a comparison of Lady Gaga and Tchaikovsky.

All that race
September 07, 2020

Georgia Anne Muldrow: Jazz IS about race

Fewer than 10 percent of the students who graduate with jazz degrees from American universities are Black, although they make 12,7% of general population, and in 2017 only 1 percent were Black women (over 6% in general population), New York Times reports about the issue of race in music, jazz in particular. It says that "over the past 50 years, the music has become entrenched in academic institutions. As a result, it’s often inaccessible to, and disconnected from, many of the very people who created it: young Black Americans". Georgia Anne Muldrow, a student in the jazz program at New York's New School, goes deeper with her insight about the very character of jazz taught in schools: "At the center of the teaching would always be the idea that jazz is not about race. And it absolutely is. It was absolutely about where people weren’t allowed to go, which made them travel in their music".

Enslaved

The Guardian is reporting on new wave of Norwegian black metal scene, represented by Ulver, Enslaved, and Emperor frontman Ihsahn, who are staying true to Norwegian black metal’s original rebellious and forward-thinking spirit, while rejecting its violence. They're also expanding beyond the genre - into prog, folk, synth, etc.

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