Vulture Craig Jenkins looks beyond DaBaby being dropped from Lollapalooza after some public homophobic comments: "The connectivity the internet allows made it so people who grew up siloed in their like-minded communities now have to hear from the people on the margins, and the people on the margins got smart and organized and are starting to creep into positions of power and greater visibility, and the blowback for this has been unsubtle and retrograde and base and disgusting. A lot of people want things to stay the way they used to be and seem unable to grasp that the way things were required marginalized people to suck it up and live as second-class citizens in a country clearly built for someone else. There’s no going back to sucking it up. Here’s the thing: This ends one of two ways. We all die hating each other, or we start acting like other people exist and are deserving of the same respect and consideration that we demand for ourselves".

It just a transfer of ones and zeros anyhow
July 29, 2021

Is it possible to release an album an hour after it's been finished?

Last Thursday Kanye West had an album-release party, and the day after his 10th album 'Donda' was to be released. It didn't come out. Vice explores "how quickly could 'Donda' - or any other record, for that matter - actually hit streaming services after it’s finished? The answer depends on who you ask, and who you are".

"Last week, Kanye West hosted a 'Donda' album listening party for 40,000+ fans at the Mercedez-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Kanye sold 40,000+ tickets for this event on three days' notice. Tickets were $20 or $50. He gave away around 5,000 seats, but still, he likely made at least $1 million from paid tickets. Plus merch sales. Plus the record-breaking Apple Music livestream. And all he did was press play and walk around the stadium. Only a handful of artists can pull this off" - Dan Runcie looks back at the release party of the album that wasn't released.

"What do musicians who blend fact and fiction owe their real life subjects?" - NPR's Ann Powers writes exploring "self-referential musicians making waves in 2021 not only because so many notable current songs tread this ethically shaky ground between self and other, true and imagined, but because that's what songwriters who perform their own work have been doing for at least a half-century... What unites these artworks is a thrilling immediacy that comes at the risk of their makers' dignity and their close companions' right to anonymity". A clever text about the sensitive issue.

"Murder ballads are part of Appalachian, hillbilly, and country music traditions. But they also exist in blues, spirituals, and slave song traditions" - the author of excellent podcast Songs in the Key of Death writes in the Esquire on the origins of murder ballads. Courtney E. Smith argues there's segregation beneath: "Ice-T still faces derision for writing a song from the point of view of someone who is fed up with abuse from the police ['Copkiller'] but Johnny Cash is a hero for singing the lyric 'I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die'".

Jaubi

In 1956, the US introduced the Jazz Ambassadors Tour, a showcase that sent American musicians overseas to parts of the world that were perceived to be under threat of Soviet influence. It was believed that jazz performers who were spearheading the civil rights movement would help generate a positive image of the US to newly independent nations. One of the countries the US focused on was Pakistan, so Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and Dave Brubeck were among the performers at state-funded gigs during the 1950s and 60s. These concerts wove jazz into Pakistan’s musical fabric and through its traditional instruments, resulting in sounds that remain relatively unheralded yet are still flourishing today, with bands like Jaubi, or previously Badal Roy, Tafo Brothers and Zohaib Hassan Khan, as Guardian points out.

Plenty of strings attached
July 19, 2021

Essay: Guitar sounds all over hip-hop

H.E.R.

"Electric and acoustic guitar sounds have spread onto more hip-hop records, through an assortment of production techniques, including an increased employment of loops and loop makers, who create short melodies for producers to build beats around" - Vice points out the new trend in hip-hop production. "On the Polo G’s latest album, 'Hall of Fame', nearly half of the 20 songs include a guitar sound in the beat. On H.E.R.'s 'Find a Way' the R&B artist H.E.R. uses a crystalline electric guitar as a canvas for her voice. On J. Cole's 'Pride is the Devil', a simple and somber guitar riff carries the beat"...

Father AND the fathers of the nation
July 17, 2021

Commentary: The far right is trying to hijack #FreeBritney movement

Earlier this week, right-wing congressman Matt Gaetz arrived at the #FreeBritney rally demanding "freedom and liberty" for the singer, constrained "through guardianship and conservatorship”, Rolling Stone points out. "The #FreeBritney movement has also more broadly served as a talking point within the mainstream GOP. National Republican Congressional Committee has been using Spears’ case as part of its text message fundraising efforts, referring to her in texts to donors as 'a victim of toxic gov’t overreach & censorship'; Gaetz and other Republicans, including QAnon supporter Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, have also issued a formal invite to Spears to testify before Congress about her conservatorship struggles. And within far-right circles on the internet, the #FreeBritney case has been a flashpoint of discussion, in large part due to the issues it raises of sovereignty and bodily autonomy. A number of anti-vaccine accounts on Instagram have also shared content comparing Spears’s tearful testimony that she was forced by her father and handlers to have an IUD, to being forced to take a COVID vaccine".

New figures out of the US this week suggest that biggest hits are increasingly becoming smaller, Music Business Worldwide suggests, based on the latest streaming figures. The industry’s biggest streaming hit at the mid-year point of 2021 is significantly smaller than its biggest streaming hit at the mid-year point of 2020, of 2019, and of 2018. The biggest hit of H1 2021 in the US was Olivia Rodrigo’s 'drivers license', which attracted 460 million on-demand audio streams during the six months. In 2020 the biggest hit was Roddy Ricch’s 'The Box' with 728 million streams in the first half of the year, the prior year it was Lil Nas X’s 'Old Town Road' with 596 million streams, whereas in 2018 Drake’s 'God’s Plan' pulled in 655 million audio streams. This is all especially odd, of course, when you consider the massive growth in streaming’s popularity between 2017 and 2021. MBW offers a few explanations - it's a Covid-inspired anomaly, or maybe people are listening more to catalog music (older than year and a half).

Country's music
July 14, 2021

Rolling Stone: Morgan Wallen is America

"Morgan Wallen's 'Dangerous' is far and away the biggest album of 2021 in the US so far: It has netted 241,000 album sales and 2.3 billion audio streams, blowing out of the water any of the runner-ups" - Rolling Stone looks back at the numbers of the album stained by the racial slur scandal. What does that mean?: "Wallen is not a dysmorphic product of a toxic genre or niche fanbase growing like fungus in the armpit of some much healthier and more noble thing. He’s America. America loves him. Nobody wants to say it".

"Many acts are looking a year or more ahead as they lock in itineraries for long-delayed road trips to support albums released even before the pandemic" - Pitchfork writes announcing touring-boom in the US. "Gigs in large cities are the primary goal for most national and international artists, but as open dates quickly fill up, markets [in smaller]towns within easy reach of big cities stand to play a key role in keeping tours on track".

"There's good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, but there isn't good payola and bad payola. There's just payola" - Music REDEF's Matty Karas argues about Spotify's Discovery Mode, which allows indie artists to chose which songs they want to be played more on the streaming service, in return for a lower royalty rate. "If major labels have a built-in advantage on Spotify playlists, another way to put indie artists on an equal playing field would be to allow them to single out tracks for playlist consideration and *not* charge them for it. Call it Discovery Mode and don't change a thing about it except the price" - Karas points out. Two law professors on Billboard argue it's not really band kind, whereas Future of Music Coalition sees it through the lens of payola.

More money - more problems, no money - no music
July 06, 2021

Podcast: The impact money has had on music-making through the centuries

The latest episode of The Listening Service podcast explores how our transactional economy underpins centuries of music-making from Notre-Dame’s patronage of the polyphonic Perotin, over Beethoven writing a symphony for £100 and Wagner losing over a million on the premiere of his operatic masterpiece The Ring cycle, to Pet Shop Boys singing about everything reduced to financial value.

THe coffee folk
July 06, 2021

Essay: How Starbucks suburbanized music

Jezebel analyses Starbucks' history in music, from its humble starts to the million-making business: "The Starbucks compilations were utterly suburban in feel. Neat, inoffensive, and modern in their convenience, they presented a skin-deep assessment of the genres they represented. They gestured toward what it was to be cultured while requiring none of the time or work it actually took to be so. They commodified the grit of the ’60s coffeehouse and encased it in plastic".

Ministry of sound
July 06, 2021

Is politics bad for the London club scene?

"Have UK clubs benefited from embracing the concept of the Night-Time Economy, or is an emphasis on financial growth and political optics bleeding the life out of dancefloors?" - DJ Mag wonders in their interesting piece about the connection of politics and club scene, especially in London. "Club culture is fundamentally rooted in youth culture, and the cultures of communities excluded from the political mainstream: its vitality stems ultimately from those groups imagining and creating utopian alternatives to existing power structures, not replicating them. When we think about where these conversations might go next, perhaps the answer is for those on the front lines of dance music to seize this debate for ourselves, instead of outsourcing it to landlords, career politicians or baby boomers".

"The question of control has surrounded Britney Spears from the start of her career. How much was she being manipulated by the powerful men who stood to profit from her image? To what extent was her existence manufactured by the demands of the system around her?" - The New Yorker asks in a long-read after the disturbing testimony pop star gave at the Los Angeles court about her conservatorship. "Many of the most harrowing revelations in her testimony had been visible to anyone who cared to look closely. She told the court that she’d wanted to express them for a long time but had been afraid to do so in public - 'I thought people would make fun of me'”.

Country not big enough for smaller bands
July 02, 2021

Crowded stage: Indie bands having trouble booking shows

"Live Nation and AEG executives aren’t exactly running to answer calls from indie bands, while chart-topping acts like Twenty One Pilots and Tame Impala are much safer bets, guaranteed to sell out reopening arenas" - Rolling Stone points out to the issue of over-crowded touring calendar, in the US at least. "Venues are being queried by dozens of agents for the same slots and have to make pragmatic bottom-line decisions. And since Covid threw the staggered album-release cycle out of whack, concert dates on the entire docket right now are essentially a free-for-all".

In 2008 Katty Perry released her hit-single 'I Kissed A girl'. "For as groundbreaking as it felt to hear a woman explicitly singing about being with another woman then, it would take another 13 years for a man explicitly singing about being with another man to appear on the charts — enter Lil Nas X’s 'MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)'" - The Pudding goes into the history of same-sex lyrics in pop songs.

The global dance music industry in 2021 is worth $3.4 billion, The 2021 IMS Business Report shows. The number is culled largely from the sales of software and hardware, which were up 23% this year as a result of the pivot to livestreaming, giving a total of $1.1 billion, along with music sales and streaming - valued at $1 billion, artist earnings - $0.3 billion, and clubs and festivals, hich accounted for $1 billion, a number based on Q1 being largely normal and China being open for more than a quarter. The IMS Report valuation is at the lowest it has been in a decade and is a sharp decline from the 2020 valuation of $7.3 billion and the all-time high valuation of $7.4 billion in 2016. There's also good news: the value of festival tickets sold is up 123% when comparing March through May of 2021 to March through May of 2019, Billboard reports.

Streaming gives the artists an opportunity to break out from obscurity, but makes it exponentially more difficult to have a follow-up hit. That’s because like so many other viral hits, the song, not the artist, became the asset - Vox writer Charlie Harding says in an interesting essay about the artist and the album in the age of never-ending flow of music. “Streaming is a great way to make an artist faceless” - says Lucas Keller, the CEO of the entertainment management company Milk & Honey, who adds - “the song becomes bigger than the artist”. Emily Warren, who has written hits for Dua Lipa and the Chainsmokers among many others, said that she knows songwriters with hundreds of millions of streams and Grammy nominations who still drive Uber for a living. But she says that a songwriter with just two big radio hits is set up to retire.

Blazin' arrows
June 29, 2021

Gift of Gab - "born to rap"

"Have you ever started listening to something and knew that you were different after? That’s how I was with 'Nia'" - The Root writer Panama Jackson in a loving tribute to Gift of Gab, Blackalicious MC who died last week, and who "seriously, seemed as if he was literally born to rap. He tried things, clearly in the name of hip-hop".

"If the pandemic gave the general public an insight into touring life minus the hour onstage – ie, drinking earlier and earlier in the day to alleviate the tedium of being stuck in cramped, largely identical rooms with the same three or four people for months on end – for many musicians it had the opposite effect. By removing the social gigging element of their lives and careers, lockdown starkly exposed dependencies they’d previously been able to disguise as a typical rock’n’roll lifestyle" - music journalist Mark Beaumont wrote in the Independent introducing his piece about musicians who stopped drinking in the pandemic: members of Royal Blood, Deadletter, You Me At Six, Wu LYF and others.

"The only way forward for me is to leave the band. I hope in distancing myself from them I am able to speak my mind without them suffering the consequences. I leave with love in my heart and I wish those three boys nothing but the best" - Mumford & Sons banjo player Winston Marshall wrote in a Medium blog post officially announcing his departure from the band. The pressure he felt has started after he supported controversial right-wing figure Andy Ngo. Marshall believes it had also started to be "distressing" for his bandmates as well.

Streaming music services Apple Music and Amazon Music are upping their audio game with their various versions of High-Res Audio, and Global News argues, however, this is not all good news. A critical listen will reveal that the vocals get lost in the mix, reducing the singer to just another part of the song, fighting for attention with all the instrumentation. How many people will even notice the better audio since the last couple of generations of music fans were brought up on MP3s, often heard over boomy headphones, cheap earbuds, or laptop speakers. Also, fans won’t hear anything with wireless headphones since the signal requires more bandwidth than Bluetooth can provide, and iPhones and a few other Android units don’t come with headphone jacks anymore.

The strategies of the Big Three record labels - Universal Music Group (UMG), Warner Music Group (WMG), and Sony Music Entertainment (SME) - dictate the future, even for companies outside of the major label system. They are investing billions of dollars to keep your attention for as long as possible. Their moves signal the best opportunities, and the areas getting slept on - Trapital's Dan Runcie goes behind the moves of the labels which hold 69% of the recorded music revenue.

K-politics
June 21, 2021

K-pop fans fighting for Palestine

A month ago, during the latest Palestine-Israeli crisis, the K-pop Twitter account @sceneryfortae, dedicated to BTS' member V donated an undisclosed amount to iF Charity, a UK-based organisation that has been working to address the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza strip since 2002, and posted the screenshot of the receipt with the hashtags #SaveSheikhJarrah and #SavePalestine. The tweet set off a wave of similar acts of solidarity across Taehyung’s global fanbase, who donated various amounts to organisations worldwide. This set off a wave of actions - numerous accounts have been spreading awareness about the plight of Palestinians and pointing their followers towards resources to educate themselves, petitions to sign, and on-the-ground organisations to donate to. Huck Magazine goes to explain the power K-pop fans have demonstrated on the politics scene in the last few years.

The Face looks into the revival of pop punk with artists such as Machine Gun Kelly, Meet Me @ The Altar, Pinkshift, Lil Uzi Vert, and others, yet this time around the ecology of the genre is different. The artists breaking through 15 years ago were almost exclusively straight, white and male. But the new wave of pop-punk artists coming from many sides of society are eager to make the scene a safe space.

Between 2011 and 2015 in Argentina more than four million students received a computer, a netbook - measuring in at 10 inches, with a 1.66 Ghz processor, a 300K pixel camera, one to two-GB of RAM, the netbook didn’t pack much of a technological punch. But, for most kids, it meant they didn’t have to ask for permission to use a computer for the first time. And - these were exactly the years that saw the rise of a budding generation of rappers, trappers, and freestyles. The Rest of the World tells the encouraging story.

Someone does it right
June 17, 2021

What can music learn from video games?

Video games is a sector which targets fundamentally the same market as music, and has done so outrageously well over the past two decades, Music Business Worldwide argues and looks to find lessons for music. MBW picks out five potential areas:

1. Embracing technology -  every great new technology ultimately expands the market for entertainment

2. Diversity of channels - the increasingly overwhelming dominance of premium streaming means music is well on its way to being effectively a single format business again

3. Proactive marketing at all demographics - music may be universal but only a minority have an active commercial relationship with it

4. Deal with the limitations of exclusive rights - copyright needs to be used to facilitate new ideas, rather than to block them

5. View the consumers as an equal - more than ever, popular culture is about the fan as much as it is about the art itself

6. Music needs to embrace its future - the example of the games business shows the benefits of developing a portfolio of channels to market

Boomer rock acts such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac and Paul Simon have made the biggest splash selling their music catalogs for 9-figure sums. Synchtank explores the possibility of catalogs of hip-hop artists reaching those levels. Trapital's Dan Runcie believes hip-hop catalogs are indeed undervalued and that the "music that came out from the mid-90s to mid-2010s will be especially popular with the Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z. Some investors may undervalue hip-hop because they identify more with Paul Simon than Paul Wall. Another group of investors will recognize the opportunity".

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