Not enough culture factory
October 22, 2021

Vinyl records so popular it's getting hard to press them

"Left for dead with the advent of CDs in the 1980s, vinyl records are now the music industry’s most popular and highest-grossing physical format, with fans choosing it for collectibility, sound quality or simply the tactile experience of music in an age of digital ephemerality" - The New York Times looks into the trend (via New York Today). However, "there are worrying signs that the vinyl bonanza has exceeded the industrial capacity needed to sustain it. Production logjams and a reliance on balky, decades-old pressing machines have led to what executives say are unprecedented delays. A couple of years ago, a new record could be turned around in a few months; now it can take up to a year, wreaking havoc on artists’ release plans... Consumption of vinyl LPs has grown much faster than the industry’s ability to make records. The business relies on an aging infrastructure of pressing machines, most of which date to the 1970s or earlier and can be costly to maintain".

Mobile payment service Cash App launched Cash App Studios, an initiative designed to help independent creatives, including artists, musicians, directors, and designers, fund their projects. Any artist working with Cash App will retain ownership of their work and won’t have to pay back the cash. It all sounds great, but there's a back side of this story, explained by Trapital's Dan Runcie who sees the initiative largely as a marketing play—an extension of Cash App's hip-hop influencer strategy—while taking note of the Tidal/JAY-Z connection, as Matty Karas points out.

Jaimie Branch

South Arts, a nonprofit arts organization based in Atlanta, will award grants ranging from approximately $25,000 to $40,000 to 52 jazz artists, all summed-up $2 million to dozens of musicians like Damon Locks, Jaimie Branch, and Kip Hanrahan. Matty Karas compares this amount to hundreds of millions of dollars being paid out to pop and rock stars for their back catalogs: "Which of these sounds like the more meaningful contribution: the one designed to enrich music's one percenters and Wall Street speculators, or the one designed to support the ongoing, life-affirming work of music's vibrant middle class? Which will result in the creation of better music? Which will do more to sustain that creation, and enrich the rest of us, in the years ahead?".

"The ability of a machine to do or outdo something humans do is interesting once at most" - Jan Swafford writes in her review of Beethoven's X symphony, which was finished by AI in the last two years. "Artificial intelligence can mimic art, but it can’t be expressive at it because, other than the definition of the word, it doesn’t know what expressive is. It also doesn’t know what excitement is, because there’s a reason people call excitement 'pulse-pounding', and computers don’t have pulses".

"The giants of the financial world are now really waking up to the modern music business’s true value – and they’re throwing billions at it", Music Business Worldwide writes announcing a major shift in music rights. New York-based investment management titan Apollo Global Management is investing up to $1 billion in HarbourView. Investment company Blackstone is about to launch a new joint entity with Hipgnosis, that will have a billion dollars or significantly more to spend on music copyrights. KKR (& Co Inc) – which already has an existing billion-dollar investment vehicle in music running with BMG – has a portfolio of assets under its management worth $234 billion.

"One of the primary reasons most musicians—not just the top .01 percent—need to make money outside of recorded music is because the economics of streaming make it incredibly difficult to make a living, much less generate wealth, off listening alone. This is why the music business must fundamentally reconsider the potential for interactivity, community building, and immersion" - Dave Edwards, head of revenue at the music streaming platform Audiomack, notes in an analysis for tech blog Future.


Game-streaming platform Twitch has been the victim of a leak, with leaked documents appearing to show Twitch's top streamers each made millions of dollars from the Amazon-owned company in the past two years, Eurogamer reports. However, as music and technology analyst Cherie Hu points out, the top gamer on Twitch earns ~10x more per year from direct tips and subs than the top music artist on the platform. xQcOW made $752,467 in September 2021, whereas the top paid musician Kenny Beats has made $677,00 in the two-year period from Aug 2019 to Oct 2021.

"Despite disco’s rep as a frivolous trend, it was a fundamental chapter in American music and cultural history. Born out of Black music and queer subculture, it went on to influence generations of musicians. But disco also inspired a fierce backlash, and a concerted effort to write it off as nothing more than cool beats and bad fashion. That narrative stuck, and disco is just now starting to get its due" - the latest Quartz Weekly Obsession reads. It looks back at the start and the meaning of disco.

Betty Buckley, the actress who sang 'Memory' in the original New York production of 'Cats' tries to find some reason in Donald Trump's somewhat bizarre love for the song. "So, like, Trump was a handsome kid, but his dad was a bully, so he became a bully, just trying to impress Daddy. I can’t win with charm, he thought . . . and he’s always felt outside. In his heart of hearts, there’s this tremendous need, an insatiable need, to be loved, the love he never received from his father or mother. So that is in that song: that incredible longing to belong, to connect, to not be rejected, that’s what this whole thing is. All these years, I had no clue why that song touched him, but now, with this book . . . I get it, I get it!” - she tells the New Yorker.

The latest MusicREDEF newsletter points out the obvious - the similarities between Lil Nas X and Little Richard: "Nas, like Richard, is a theatrical musician who combines sexualized Black art and gender-bending provocations. They both thrived in a time when the taboo nature of what they do had loud sociopolitical resonance. Like Little Richard making everything from bluesy covers of Wilbert Harrison's 'Kansas City' to seductive slow drags like 'Valley of Tears', Lil Nas X's singles since his debut hit have expanded in a scattershot of directions. They've awed and frightened a lot of adults and served as a clarion call to free-thinking, progressive-minded ribaldry".

"In the digital era, when everything seems to be a single click away, it’s easy to forget that we have long had physical relationships with the pieces of culture we consume. The way we interact with something — where we store it — also changes the way we consume it, as Spotify’s update made me realize. Where we store something can even outweigh the way we consume it" - Kyle Chayka writes in an essay about the meaning of collections in a time of digital music. "While we have the advantage of freedom of choice, the endless array of options often instills a sense of meaninglessness: I could be listening to anything, so why should any one thing be important to me?".

"Banning Kelly’s music would be a form of censorship, and whatever metric is used to justify that ban should by all rights be used against others. But where does one draw that line? Kelly’s music continues to earn royalties, presumably millions each year. And stretching the question further, who exactly should be penalized? Should every songwriter, producer, or instrumentalist convicted of a certain felony category have each of their songs banned?" - Jem Aswad asks the essential question in Variety following R Kelly's conviction. Gives one possible answer: "Great art is sometimes made by horrible people, and whether or not a person is morally comfortable consuming that art, and earning money for that horrible person, is up to them". Jim DeRogatis, the journalist who brought the R Kelly story to the light, looks at the victims: "The verdict leaves several questions unanswered, including how the many people Kelly victimized will begin to heal".

Stream isn't live enough
September 27, 2021

Cherie Hu: Music livestreaming is a losing battle

"With live shows slowly returning, we’re seeing a fundamental contradiction play out: Even as livestreaming platforms continue to raise more funds and announce marquee celebrity partnerships, demand for music livestreams has gone down significantly from its peak last year" - Cherie Hu looks at the (last year's) promising new live music domain. "There are two possible reasons for this stagnation. One is that music livestreams just haven’t really innovated as a format to the point where fans are continually willing to pay for them... Maybe fans are just more interested in seeing these artists perform in person".

New York Times Magazine published an essay by Carina del Valle Schorske, 'Dancing Through New York in a Summer of Joy and Grief', which centers on the desire of people who've spent months in lockdown to be with others - "I needed my physique to affect and be influenced by different our bodies — this time not as a vector of illness however as a vector of pure feeling". Dada Strain looks somewhat deeply into it - "not just people’s need for simple contact, but for mass movement in improvised unison, for socially engaging rhythm, and for devising instants of momentary intimacy, locking into primordial practices of celebration and mourning".

Bad influence
September 25, 2021

Podcast: Music copyright has gone too far

A very interesting podcast on The Verge about music copyright and how it has supposedly gone too far with lawsuits based on similarities between songs, rather than plagiarism. "We have seen a shift where the music industry has gone from being a physical goods business to an intellectual property business. When a song starts to succeed, we see all kinds of public lawsuits and private settlements to make sure that in order to recoup on your intellectual property, which is currently earning probably negligible revenue in streaming and other places, but when there’s an opportunity for a big thing that has hit at radio or might have a big sync license in a film, yeah, you’re going to go and see if you can get a piece of it. If you look at the public record of songs which are currently under litigation, they’re only songs which are succeeding overwhelmingly".

Mickey Guyton

"It’s no secret that for nearly a century, the country music market has been almost exclusively the domain of white performers – even as the genre owes tremendously to Black musical traditions. But today, in spite of the hurdles, the path for Black voices in country music appears more open than ever" - Tennessean writes in a long-read about the issue of race in country music. There are a few names presenting the Black community in the country ecosystem - platinum-selling star Kane Brown, two-time chart-topper Jimmie Allen, recent Grammy nominee Mickey Guyton, Allison Russell, Amythyst Kiah, and Yola among others.

Somebody not doing their job
September 23, 2021

UK government refuses to solve the paying for music streaming problem

Music Business Worldwide does a great job analysing the UK government's inaction about the payment for music streaming issues. In July, the UK parliament's Department of Culture, Media & Sport Committee published a report which called for government action on a number of music industry issues regarding streaming payouts. The standout recommendation from the DCMS report was that the majors’ dominance of the UK record industry be referred to the UK’s competition watchdog – the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA). The UK government response was less than lame - it has declined to announce any legislative measures, and has also not officially referred the issue of major label-dominance to the CMA.

An important article in the Van Music Magazine about body-shaming in the opera world. “Diversity applies to pretty much everybody except fat people,” opera critic Uwe Friedrich tells the magazine. "The pressure to conform to a societal ideal of beauty has 'increased enormously' in recent years".

A great read in The Ringer about the cases of too similar songs, of which their creators aren't aware of: "We’re now squarely within a new era of music copyright litigation, signaled by a steep wave of fresh cases and settlements arriving on top of what was already a steadily rising tide. But while plagiarism has never been a larger industry issue than it is today, it also has never been more poorly defined. And given the way songwriters often borrow ideas without realizing that they’re borrowing—a documented artistic tendency that is likely increasing in frequency in our chaotic online world—this latest squall of disputes may be just the beginning of an even larger storm". The latest such case has involved Lorde's 'Solar Power', and Primal Scream's 'Loaded'.

You have been googled!
September 21, 2021

Dan Runcie: Why Genius sold for less money than it raised?

"Last week, Genius was sold for $80 million in a fire sale to MediaLab.AI, which is less than it raised! It's a disappointing exit for a company once valued near $1 billion, but it's a reminder of the importance of platform dependency" - Trapital's Dan Runcie looks back on the business model of the lyrics site, and gives reasons why it didn't work out.

"It’s worth repeating: the song is the currency of our business. Yet the songwriter — who delivers the most important component to the success of a record company, publisher, promoter, manager, agent, music venue, radio station, broadcaster et al – is the lowest paid person in the economic equation. An equation that has made the modern music industry a juggernaut" - Hipgnosis Fund's Merck Mercuriadis writes in an open letter to the music industry, and then he scores comparing this to sports: "Imagine in football or basketball if athletes that were responsible for a league’s success were the worst paid people in the economic equation". Music Business Worldwide published the whole letter.

A good piece of investigative journalism by Rolling Stone. Country singer Morgan Wallen has in July pledged $500,000 to black-led groups, in a move to make amend for his racial slur earlier in the year. The Black Music Action Coalition had received some money from Wallen, they said the $500,000 number “seems exceptionally misleading”. RS reached out to 56 other state, regional and national Black-led or Black-founded charities. None of them reported receiving any money from Wallen.

Hey mister taliban, give 'em a break
September 18, 2021

Musicians in Afghanistan face uncertain future

"The Taliban's anti-democracy regime, which regained control over the country last month, after the U.S. ended its 20-year war in Afghanistan and began pulling troops from the region, has already had a devastating impact on local music. Over two decades of democracy, Afghan musicians had slowly developed bands and orchestras, from a classical and traditional school called the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) to the reality-TV talent show Afghan Star to concert festivals and DIY scenes for hip-hop, hard rock, black metal and other genres. But under the Taliban, all that is gone now" - Billboard wrote in its piece about the troubled country.

"Whether or not you think Lil Nas X’s musical chops match his promotional acumen, you won’t be able to miss 'Montero'" - GQ points out in their piece about Lil Nas X and his use of media, concluding that this long, constantly viral rollout of 'Montero' tops even Drake and Kanye.

True when sad
September 18, 2021

Why do we like sad songs?

“When we watch something or listen to something that undeniably does make us feel sad at some level, it’s not like we’re only seeking to feel sad” - Mary Beth Oliver, PhD, a professor of media studies at Penn State University Oliver told Elemental. “I think we’re trying to have a greater insight into the bigger questions — the purpose of life, or of human virtue” - sha added. Rather than “sad", she said she prefers terms like “meaningful” or “poignant” or “bittersweet”. “It’s absolutely possible to feel good about feeling sad sometimes,” she said. “Our emotions are much richer than some of these blunt terms we use”.

Ex-Rolling Stones tour manager and author Sam Cutler describes his friend Charlie Watts' funeral in a lovely Mirror article: "It's fitting to learn that Charlie Watts’ funeral – held last week in Devon, the place that he loved best – was modest and private. It perfectly reflects the man he was, and I completely understand the choice that was made. He would have hated a fuss and the commotion that involving the public would have meant". Cutler describes his friend's character further on - "Charlie, was in some senses, an anomaly. In the entertainment industry where bluster, fluster and muster are all, Charlie remained quietly confident, almost serene in his laid-back attitude, and possessed of an evergreen sense of humour". Cutler remembers a dinner with Watts: "As the meal progressed, I noticed a fan hovering nervously nearby with an autograph book and as he neared our table I rose to intercept him, asking him to come back after the meal was finished... Charlie intervened and happily signed the man’s book, and we regained our seats. He looked me kindly and said in that softly civilised voice of his, 'Sam, never forget, it’s the fans who pay for dinner'”.

"In the history of American orchestras, only one woman has risen to lead a top-tier ensemble: Marin Alsop, whose tenure as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra ended last month. Her departure has ushered in an unsettling era for the country’s musical landscape. Among the 25 largest ensembles, there are now no women serving as music directors" - The New York Times (via Art Daily) takes out the ugly truth. But, change is (maybe) about to happen...

With a little help from my dead friends
September 10, 2021

The future of dead celebrity discourse - chatting on Twitter?!

Rolling Stone goes into the new trend of rock stars tweeting as if they're still alive. This week George Harrison and John Lennon both tweeted through an online listening party celebrating the 50th anniversary of 'Imagine'. It's not only the Beatles breaking the space-time continuum - Tom Petty recently mourned the death of Charlie Watts.

Doja Cat

"Interpolations have run rampant in the strange year of 2021. Just ask Olivia Rodrigo, Ava Max, Lorde and Doja Cat, who’ve all made charting or platinum records in the past year borrowing beats and melodies from older hits. As a musical concept, interpolations are a cousin to sampling, the art of sticking sound snippets of older songs into new projects that has defined so much of hip-hop. Rather than lifting or modifying a recorded track, though, an interpolation cribs only from a song’s written composition — whether that’s lyrics, a melody, a riff or a beat" - Rolling Stone goes into the story of interpolating old songs for new hits.

YouTube has surpassed the milestone of 50 million YouTube Music and Premium subscribers, growing its subscriber base by around 20 million in the past 11 months, or around 1.8m subscribers per month since October 2020, MBW reports on the music stat. YouTube's biggest rival Spotify's global Premium Subscriber base grew to 165 million in Q2 2021, which was up 20% year-on-year. Apple Music in June 2019 announced it had surpassed 60 million subscribers.

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