The Recording Academy has called a halt to its annual 'Grammy Nominees' CD series after 25 years of featuring artists nominated for the American Academy award. Fifteen volumes in the annual series made the top 10 on the Billboard 200, with two volumes - in 2013 and 2014 - climbing as high as No. 2. The main franchise sold 9,8 million copies, with sales dwindling in recent years, Billboard reports.

A heart-warming story in the Pitchfork about Fiona Apple and her long-lost school friend Shameika Stepney, a theme in Apple's great album 'Fetch the Bolt-Cutters' with a reoccurring line "Shameika said I have potential". It goes back to when Apple was in third grade and trying to make friends with other children in her school, who in return rejected her. Shameika, then a fourth-grader, was passing by, saw something going on, and leaned down and said "Hey, why do you care about them? You have potential". Two women reunited this year for Shameika's song 'Shameika Said' featuring Fiona Apple.

Fender is expecting a record year this year as guitar sales have grown 17% during the pandemic and are expected to rise to $700 million, from $600 million last year, CNBC reports. Fender's CEO Andy Mooney attributes the rise in sales to housebound consumers looking for new hobbies. The company also offered Fender Play, the online video platform for learning guitar, bass and ukulele. Introduced in July 2017, it was free for 90 days to the first 100,000 subscribers. Fender hit that mark the very first day, reached a half million sign-ups the first week and settled at about 930,000 subscribers by June. In similar, yet less positive news, Guitar Center, the largest American retailer of musical instruments, has filed for bankruptcy, CNN reports.

Judging the cover by its cover

A great video: The power of album covers

YouTuber and album-cover lover Nathan Zed explains the power of album covers, through examples of great and lousy covers, with wit and sensitivity. A great short video.

There's a clear divide between the old industry and the new industry when it comes to gender and race issues, publicist dr. Lucy O'Brien says in Music Journalism Insider interview. "Power in the old industry was consolidated in a very male-dominated network across the major labels and in live music. It was a kind of power that put the onus on women to use their sexuality to increase sales, and in that sort of reductive environment women found it difficult to progress as artists" - O'Brien says about the "old industry", whereas "the new industry that has grown with the arrival of the internet is much more exciting and diverse, with women less reliant on major labels to get their music heard. Now all kinds of voices are coming through".

"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".

The Pogues were the most dangerous band in Britain and Ireland - the Quietus says in a review of the new documentary about the Irish punk band's frontman. 'Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane MacGowan' tells the singer's story with the help of IRA's Gerry Adams, and goes into two directions - "it reminds the viewer what incredible talent MacGowan had during the 1980s, and also just how dangerous he was considered by the establishment".

Pa Salieu

Alfie Templeman, Pa Salieu, Baby Queen, Biig Piig, Bree Runway, Griff, Holly Humberstone, Ivorian Doll, JOESEF, Olivia Dean, Bklava and others were chosen UK Amazon Music Programming Team as destined for big things in 2021, Music Week reports. These 25 acts will receive support and promotion across the platform over the next 12 months. The list is rounded-up by Berwyn, Christy, Cleopatrick, Dan D’Lion, Dutchavelli, Eli Brown, George Moir, Girl In Red, India Jordan, Joesef, Kamal, Mysie, Olivia Dean, Sharna Bass, Tamera and Zoe Wees.

The critics are loving the new George C. Wolfe movie 'Black Bottom' about one afternoon recording session in 1920s Chicago where a band of musicians await trailblazing performer Ma Rainey. Guardian's Peter Bradshaw calls it "ferociously intelligent and violently focused, an opera of passion and pain", and "a detonation of pure acting firepower", while LA Times' Justin Chang says "it’s a feast of inspired talk that leaves an audience, in turn, with no shortage of things to talk about".

"I think of Metallica as being a pop band. A lot of metal is just metal to be metal - but Metallica write real songs" - Phoebe Bridgers told Rolling Stone in their Musicians on Musicians series, while talking to Metallica's Lars Ulrich. She also said how she thought Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister was already dead when she heard the news of him passing. Some other bands that she liked - "I have dabbled in the Slayer world. And then, weirdly late for me, I got super into Nine Inch Nails".

Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, The Weeknd, and Dan + Shay were the top winners at the American Music Awards, winning three awards each, Variety reports. With three nods from last night, Taylor has now won 32 AMAs, the most awards in the show’s 47-year history (Michael Jackson has 24). Swift won artist of the year for the sixth time, extending her record in that category. She also won favorite female artist - pop/rock for the fifth time, setting a new record in that category; Taylor accepted her awards via video since she is busy re-recording her first six albums. Bieber won favorite male artist - pop/rock for the fourth time, a record. See the full list of all winners - here.

AC/DC are back at the top of Billboard of 200 with their latest album 'Power Up' starting with 117,000 equivalent album units earned in the U.S. in the week ending Nov. 19, Billboard reports. Physical album sales comprise the majority, 111,000 album units, of all sales. AC/DC also had the largest sales week of 2020 for a rock album. Other news from the top of Billboard 200 charts - Future and Lil Uzi Vert’s collab album 'Pluto x Baby Pluto' and Chris Stapleton’s 'Starting Over' bow at Nos. 2 and 3, Queen's 'Greatest Hits' reaches the top 10 for the first time and YoungBoy Never Broke Again logs his fourth top 10 of 2020 with 'Until I Return'.

UK sales of vinyl have gone up almost 10% this year, which puts it on track to break the £100 million mark by the end of 2020, making for the best year since 1990, the Guardian reports. Sales by volume are also set to beat last year’s 4.3 million figure. Cassette sales are also up 85% so far this year, putting total sales on course to hit £1 million for the first time since the format received renewed interest.

Album 'Double Fantasy' that John Lennon signed for his killer Mark David Chapman prior to his murder, is going up for auction, with a starting price set at $400,000. The record’s cover features Lennon’s signature and the year 1980 written on Ono’s neck, as well as various police markings on the front and back sides of the jacket, since the album was submitted as evidence during Lennon’s murder investigation. The record is an iconic artifact from one of the most significant tragedies in rock and roll history, being a symbol of obsessive fandom. On the morning of December 8th, 1980, Chapman approached Lennon outside of his New York apartment and asked him to sign the newly released 'Double Fantasy'. After signing, Lennon and Ono trekked off for a day at the studio, but when they returned five hours later, Chapman shot Lennon dead.

AC/DC have gone to No. 1 on charts in eight countries with their latest album 'Power Up', Loudwire reports. Their new album currently sits at No. 1 in Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Notching up 62,000 chart sales, the band have comfortably taken their place at the top of the 2020 leaderboard of fastest-selling albums in the UK this week, UK Official Charts reports.

A long-lost trove of Bob Dylan papers - privately held by the late American blues artist and a longtime Dylan friend and confidante Tony Glover - has sold at auction for a total of $495,000. Majority of the key pieces went to a bidder whose identity was not made public, Boston.com reports. The collection included transcripts of Glover’s 1971 interviews with Dylan and letters the pair exchanged. The interviews reveal that Dylan had anti-Semitism on his mind when he changed his name from Robert Zimmerman, and that he wrote 'Lay Lady Lay' for Barbra Streisand.

California singer-songwriter Emily Jane White has shared a new video for her song 'Surrender' from her last-year's album 'Immanent Fire'. White explains 'Surrender' is about "the global connections between humanity's addiction to fossil fuels, resource extractivism, and climate change, specifically highlighting the fires induced by climate change occurring in Northern California between 2018 and 2020". The video was directed, filmed & edited by Bobby Cochran, who filmed it near White's childhood home on the Mendocino Coast as this year's fires commenced.

The first trailer for the first feature-length film about Bee Gees, 'How Can You Mend A Broken Heart' has been released. Directed by Frank Marshall, who produced 'The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button', the documentary promises an intimate look and the stratospheric rise of Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb, Deadline reports. The docu features rare performance and archival footage of the group, as well as new interviews with Barry Gibb (Maurice died in 2003 and Robin died in 2012), as well as friends, collaborators and other pop musicians like Justin Timberlake and Coldplay's Chris Martin, as well as Noel Gallagher and Joe Jonas who talk about being in bands with siblings.

Atlanta MCs Gucci Mane and Jeezy kicked off Season 2 of Verzuz battles on Thursday night with a hits-packed match. Staggering 1.8 million viewers - a new Verzuz record - tuned in through Instagram, as many more watched through Apple Music. Billboard breaks down the battle and declares a winner. CNN says that Gucci Mane-Jeezy Verzuz was, unlike previous live-streams, aggressive and actually more of a battle.

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".

Tones And I’s 'Dance Monkey' is the most Shazamed song with more than 36 million Shazams since its release in May 2019, according to the music identifying platform, Variety reports. Rounding out the top three is Lilly Wood & The Prick & Robin Schulz’s 'Prayer In C' and Passenger’s 'Let Her Go'. Check out the Top 100 - here.

von Henselt statue

'Piano Concerto Op. 160' by virtuoso pianist and composer Adolf von Henselt was too hard to play even for Russian pianist virtuoso Anton Rubinstein who called Henselt "a freak”. Von Henselt's fingers had an unusual elasticity that allowed him to achieve a technique most players cannot hope for no matter how much they practice - Ludwig van writes as it chooses 7 most difficult classical music pieces to perform.

Music creators in the UK will lose 65% of their income in 2020 due to Covid-19, according to the new annual Music By Numbers report by UK Music. The effective shutdown of concerts and festivals will also cause live music revenues to fall by 85% this year. UK music industry contributed £5.8 billion to the UK economy in 2019, and employment in the industry hit an all-time high of 197,168, NME reports.

"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.

"With his damning journalism and thorough documentation of Hernandez's real-life gangster activity, Gandhi chips away at such sympathy and alters how to look at someone who wants to always be seen" - a review on RoberEbert.com says about ’69: The Saga of Danny Hernandez’, a documentary about controversial (to put it in mildest terms) New York rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine. Indie Wire says the director Vikram Gandhi "manages to deliver a thoughtful primer on the Tekashi story as it currently stands, and gives this serial troublemaker the tragic documentary he deserves". Hollywood Reporter praises the story for picturing a "funny, energetic and driven kid [being] consumed by the disease of celebrity".

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Guardian goes into a quest to find the heaviest music ever made, measured "in terms of the intensity of the music itself, the atmosphere it generates and how quickly it liquefies your innards". There are a few equally deserving candidates - Motörhead, Swans, Black Sabbath, Merzbow, Sun O)))...

Rolling Stones guitarist said he has taken up gardening to keep him occupied during the lockdown, leading to a “more normal way of life” after years of living as one of rock’s most notorious hell-raisers - "which is un-normal”. He told Goldmine Magazine, according to Contact Music: “I spent the whole summer actually admiring the garden and also doing a bit of gardening myself – watering the veggies and the stuff... I saw the garden grow – really quite unbelievable".

Queen have shared an image of the time their original lineup met Maradona backstage in his home country. A March 8, 1981 performance at José Amalfitani Stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina saw the band draw a crowd of 300,000 people. Among them was a 21-year-old Maradona, who Queen sought to meet. Freddie Mercury invites Maradona onstage during Queen's performance to the crowd's delight: "Right now, I'd like do introduce a friend of yours — and ours — tonight. I'm sure you all know him". "I want to thank Freddie and Queen for making me so happy," Maradona said, ahead of leading bassist John Deacon into 'Another One Bites the Dust'.

Tame Impala, Sampa The Great, Amy Shark and Archie Roach were among the big winners at the 2020 ARIA Awards, with Kevin Parker's psychedelic pop band taking home five awards including best group and album of the year for 'The Slow Rush'. Sampa The Great made history in 2019 when she became the first woman of color to win the ARIA for best hip-hop release, this year - she got it again. The singer and rapper also took out best female artist and best independent release for her debut full-length album 'The Return'.

"I feel like we exist at the behest of other people, but, yeah, I feel like I don't exist" - Phoebe Bridgers said about life in lockdown while talking to her new friend Bettye LaVette, who responded - "isn't it beautiful that we don't exist until the light come off and everybody applauds". Bridgers added - "I feel like my social life is built so heavily into music where I hire all my friends, I tour with my friends, so I don't even know how to exist at home". Listen to the funny conversation of the two ladies for the Talkhouse podcast.

"An exhaustive, highly informative, and impossible-to-put-down" - PopMatters says in a review of a book about the "strange, mysterious, obscure" album 'Ghetto: Misfortune's Wealth' by the 1970s R&B and funk band 24-Carat Black. It chronicles the unfortunate fates of its many members and the delayed praise that it would eventually gain, as a sample-vault for many stars, including Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Kendrick Lamar.

Dua Saleh

Dua Saleh is in-between genres on 'Angel Rock', driven by strings; Lana Del Rey covered 'Summertime', this time George Gershwin's original; Gilles Peterson's Brownswood released electro-jazzy rap 'I Know You See Me' by Kassa Overall; singer-songwriter Postdata shared 'Twin Flames'; Fana Hues presents her great voice on 'Snakes x Elephants'; Dueling Experts deliver hip-hop old school NY-style on 'Revolve Around Sciences'; Kelly Rowland goes for and - gets a pop smash with 'Hitman'; Ash Koosha explores the “hallucination of a machine” on 'Hallucinato' (30 mins).

EDM producer i_o has passed away at the age of 30, after a short experimental pop solo career, and a pop highlight this year, EDM.com reports. Throughout his career, i_o explored new methods of music production and dissemination with an artistic philosophy rooted in the idea that "everything can be hacked". This year he released three EPs for mau5trap, the independent record label founded by deadmau5, and collaborated with Grimes on 'Violence' from her record 'Miss Anthropocene'.

Actor and director Alex Winter got lucky - he was the first author to get access to Frank Zappa's immense vault, and he made the first authorised documentary on Zappa based on the never-before-seen footage of the legendary rock polymath he found there. "The resulting film", Guardian says, "presents a nuanced and authoritative portrait of an artist who may have spoken prodigiously to the media during his lifetime about his music and politics but who remained oddly aloof as a person".

The current system of payment for music streaming is threatening the future of music in the UK - Elbow’s Guy Garvey said in front of the UK parliament committee on the first day of an inquiry into the impact of streaming on the music industry. Garvey, and musicians such as O’Brien of Radiohead, Tom Gray of Gomez, and Nadine Shah have put forward equitable remuneration, increased transparency and user-centric streaming models as ways in which the industry could be reformed and made fairer for artists.

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