Did D’Angelo do “a Beyoncé”?

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It had been nearly 15 years since the iconic album Voodoo came out. Everyone knew a new album was in the works and had been for a long time. D’Angelo started touring again 2 years ago and played new material here and there. But the release of a new album was only expected for next year by hopeful fans. A song appeared on Soundcloud last Saturday.

Suddenly, on sunday, a really private industry listening party was organised by Red Bull Music Academy (they’re everywhere!) and by the end of the day, Black Messiah was available on iTunes. CD copies were available in stores as soon as monday. And it’s everything we were hoping for! Another Soul lesson by one of the masters, singing on infectious grooves with a fat bottom end expertly delivered by the likes of Questlove, Pino Paladino and Chris Dave. None of the traditional month-long promotional rollout had been done prior to the release. Only a mysterious 15 seconds teaser was posted on Youtube last Friday, reminiscent of Columbia’s announcement of Daft Punk’s last album. Only they had done it a month or two before release in order to create buzz and an important demand.

So is this a Beyoncé-inspired surprise release strategy by RCA Records? (The superstar had released her self-titled visual album with no promotion at all last December). Absolutely not . In a insightful article, the New York Times told the story behind the release and confirmed many people’s idea that the album was dropped early in response to the current protests happening across the US. The piece explains how a month ago, D’Angelo, shocked and troubled by the decision of a Ferguson grand jury decided not to indict the cop responsible for unarmed Mike Brown’s fatal shooting, called his manager Kevin Liles : “Do you believe this? Do you believe it?” At this point, the singer and his record label decided to rush the release of the album. Black Messiah is not a fully political album, but it does contain a certain social commentary. It was then natural for the singer to decide to release it in this context of social tensions and protests.

D’Angelo himself explains it best in a statement provided to the listening party’s guests: “Black Messiah is a hell of a name for an album. It can be easily misunderstood. Many will think it’s about religion. Some will jump to the conclusion that I’m calling myself a Black Messiah. (…) It’s about people rising up in Ferguson and in Egypt and in Occupy Wall Street and in every place where a community has had enough and decided to make change happen.”

Pop Superstar + Jazz Singer Born in 1926 = Great Idea

The first time I witnessed the names Lady Gaga and Tony Bennet in the same sentence, it was in the sky – on an aerial banner. I see these very often, especially during the summer, so I almost ignored it as I always do. But then I looked up again. First of all this form of advertising is highly unusual for musical projects. And second… Lady Gaga and Tony Bennet? Really?

Lady Gaga sang with Tony for the first time for “The Lady is a Tramp”, a single in recorded 2011. This came his just after Bennett’s “Duets II” album which featured a wide range of artists such as Mariah Carey, Willie Nelson and Queen Latifah. The Bennet Gaga single was a success, so much that this year they decided to release a full length album together. Its called “Cheek to Cheek”, and its quite good. If you are wondering what style of music the two play when they collaborate, it’s all jazz. Gaga sounds very natural as a jazz singer, especially on the track “I Can’t Give you Anything but Love”, which she sings with a strong, bluesy confidence.

This collaboration is actually a terrific idea. Obviously “Cheek to Cheek” hasn’t sold in numbers anywhere near what Lady Gaga usually does, (in the first week it sold 131000 copies – about half of what “Artpop” did, and a small fraction compared to “Born this Way”) but for Tony Bennett, an 85 year old jazz singer, these types of collaborations have proven to be a huge boost in sales. Meanwhile, Lady Gaga gets a boost in respect and credibility for performing with the one and only Tony Bennett.

The brains behind this project? Danny Bennet. The singer’s son and manager, Danny is always thinking of new ways to keep sales rising despite the low popularity of jazz and the prevalence of streaming and illegal downloads. Collaborations have proven to benefit not only domestic sales but also foreign sales with “Duets II” peaking at #2 on the Canadian Albums Chart and at #5 in the UK. Danny also made an effort to increase international sales with the release of the trilingual “Viva Duets” in 2012.

Also to maximize profitability, Danny emphasizes timing and packaging. He makes exclusive distribution deals with retailers such as Target (for limited edition versions of “Duets II”) and Barnes and noble (for “Tony Bennett: The Complete Collection”). Releases usually fall around the holiday season, or just before a major tour. Danny also loves bringing a video camera to the studio, so there’s plenty to check out on Youtube.

http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/news/1163817/managing-dad-how-danny-bennett-helped-take-tony-bennetts-duets-ii-to-no-1

Shaping Disco

If the Bee Gees’ folk rock phase didn’t make you smile, then I have an early Christmas present for you. It’s time for disco.

By this point, the Bee Gees have demonstrated success in folk, pop, and rock – but that’s not enough. With the emerging of disco, the Bee Gees hop on board and are at the front of the movement. As you’ll hear, and as we’ll discuss, their music changes dramatically, but they still manage to maintain their core sound. Let’s listen to our last two samples of the year: “You Should be Dancing” (1976) and “Stayin’ Alive” (1977).

In this number, you can hear a funkier groove emerging than we’ve heard in the past. There’s a more nasal quality to the vocals, and the heavy vibrato is gone, replaced with falsetto. Similarly to their rock period, the Bee Gees are selective about where to place harmonies in their songs – sticking mainly to using them for embellishments and emphasis. I especially like the horn feature in the middle.

Probably their most famous song, “Stayin’ Alive” is a little slower… its 103 bpm, a brisk walking speed (also perfect for administering CPR, apparently). Like “You Should be Dancing,” this song has a bit of funk, similar use of harmonies, and an even stronger falsetto sound.

I find both these songs interesting, because they incorporate an orchestral backing, even though electric instruments are becoming more prevalent in their sound (contrasted against early works, and even the sound they had in our rock examples). The two sounds are expertly paired, enhancing each other.

In summation, the Bee Gees:

  • Kept their harmonies, but tempered them over the years
  • Exchanged Robin’s vibrato for Barry’s falsetto
  • Embraced new instruments and genres while maintaining their signature sound and balancing the old/know sounds (acoustics and orchestrations) with the new (electronic instruments and sounds)

Merry Christmas, and goodnight.

Future Business Models: When brands go beyond endorsements. Part 6: Guiness Amplifiy

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Not just another brand jumping on the music bandwagon, Guiness launched this year an exciting program for young musicians thirsty not only for stout, but for success too. The beer giant put together an exciting program in multiple steps to boost emerging talent in their beloved country of Ireland. Guiness Amplify (which was also organised in two big asian markets, Malaysia and Indonesia) aims to aid these talents gain exposure and reach their full potential with several activites: concerts, studio time, workshops and masterclasses with industry specialists and established artists.

Similarly to Converse, they opened applications online and selected hundreds of Irish acts. Acting as a massive booking agency, they then linked up with hundreds of pubs accross Ireland and organized Guiness Amplifiy Live nights in all these venues, with tens of simultaneous gigs across the country every week during September and October. As a special treat for the pubs and their patrons, several of these events had surprise established headliners such as Bastille, Disclosure, Rudimental, Ellie Goulding, George Ezra and many more. Pub managers, like Paul Boyd couldn’t be more delighted: “What a night! When we heard about Guinness Amplify we really wanted to be part of it, as it benefits both the musicians and the pub but we never thought we’d end up hosting two of the biggest names in music! Having Disclosure, Duke Dumont and Daithí was a very special experience that we will talk about for years to come.”

Guiness Amplify’s panel of music professional then also selected the strongest acts and offered them free professional studio time. All applicants could also all sign-up for workshops and master classes. Finally, in February, the projects best participants will be showcased on some of the countries most iconic venues.

This ambitious operation undoubtedly offers great support and opportunities for emerging artists. The only downside to it is that the young talents supposed to be discovered through this are totally overshadowed by the guest stars on the brand’s Youtube video content, a non-negligible channel when it comes to gaining exposure. Music lovers have to find their way to the Guiness Amplify website to discover the flood of talent. Hopefully, the traction gained to the Youtube channel through the special guests videos will be used to showcase the best talents due to play on the big stages in February.

Future Business Models: When brands go beyond endorsements. Part 5: Converse Rubber Tracks

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Like Hard Rock and Red Bull, Converse have recognised the marketing power of partnering with musicians. The century-old shoes and clothing brand are also offering their support to rising artists in a humbler (yet just as welcomed) way than the other two companies: in 2010 they built and opened the Rubber Tracks Studio in the hip neighbourhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

You will have guessed it, it’s free of use for any band who successfully goes through the application process on their website. Trying to accommodate as many young musicians as they can, the Converse Rubber Tracks team select the best applicants every week and invite to them to records for 1 or 2 days with a professional team of sound engineers. Recently, the brand has also started touring a pop-up Rubber Tracks Studio in several cities across North America, with the same application process.  Even though artists used the facilities for free, they own any master recording made in the studio and are offered the option to authorise the use of their music on Converse’s website and social media profiles.

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Naturally, most artist who were given to opportunity to record for free will be inclined to authorise converse to use their music. Moreover, appearing on a major brand’s online platform can only result in additional exposure. This provides Converse with an unlimited source of cool content to share on their Soundcloud and Youtube pages, helping the brand to tap into the indie culture and capture more credibility with the key young and cool demographic.

This act of music philanthropy, along with several other musical operations events involving already established indie artists (such as Rubber Tracks Live concerts), certainly has a greatly positive impact on the cool factor of the brand and has also arguably played a part in the recent radical growth of the company, which has seen its revenues jump from $ 205 million in 2002 to $ 1.4 billion in 2014!

Future Business Models: When brands go beyond endorsements. Part 4: Red Bull Records Act III

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We’ve seen how attractive Red Bull Records are to artists who want to benefit from a certain level of artistic control and have the tools and time to develop their sound and their career on a serious long-term plan. But on top of their amazing facilities and great artist development team, does the label actually have the power and reach to generate revenue for their artists? This was probably the weakest point in the case of Hard Rock records, which offers great financial support to their bands but ultimately doesn’t seem too interested in album sales.

As you’d expect, Red Bull went all the way when founding their label and the imprint has a complete offer for their roster. The releases are distributed by Sony Music’s RED Distribution in North America and EMI in Europe. The label handles everything: marketing, publishing, radio-plugging, sync licensing and so on. Due to the diversity of their roster (showcased yet again by their latest singing Itch) Red Bull Records has only decided to outsource Public Relations work.

It seems like the answer to the question above is a big Yes. Red Bull Records’ contracts offer the artists with the prospect of several revenue streams well managed and collected by the label, making it one of the most attractive record companies out there. Quietly growing, with a genuine passion for music that makes us forget that they are ultimately selling cans of energy drink, Red Bull Records is to be watched closely as it becomes one of the top independent labels in the world.

Some studio evidence… Nayvia!

This is some footage from the recording session we had last Sunday in Berklee Valencia studios. You can appreciate the highlights of that day. I’m currently working with some pics I made for Nayvia. Also, I officially invite you to follow my artist on Facebook! We launched it around one week ago:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Nayvia/380532015447358?fref=ts

Feel free to comment and make suggestions.

Shortly the photo session.

The Freshest Voice in Jazz

Steve Cohen is the founder and CEO of Music + Art Management Inc. The firm represents several talented artists from different genres. But one of his clients, the main reason I am interested in Cohen’s work, happens to be a jazz musician that everyone is talking about – Vijay Iyer. Aptly dubbed, “The Freshest Voice in Jazz” in his 60 Minutes feature, Vijay has captured the attention of jazz musicians and listeners everywhere, especially young ones.

In an interview with CelebrityAccess, Steve Cohen boasts that all of his artists are “on the ascending portions of their careers”. This is certainly true for Vijay. He recently became a professor at Harvard University and signed a publishing deal with Schott Music. At 43 he is not only a MacArthur Fellow, but he is the only jazz musician to win the Downbeat Critic’s Poll “Quintuple Crown” (winning Artist of the Year, Pianist of the Year, Jazz Album of the Year, Jazz Group of the Year, and Rising Star Composer) for 2013.

So clearly, Vijay’s talent is to be credited here, but Steve Cohen seems to be doing is his job as well.

Steve got started in the industry playing bass in a regional Upstate NY band, the Units. He worked as manager and agent for the unsigned band, learning the ins and outs of the bands. Eventually, when his performing career never really took off, he took a job as the personal assistant of Linda Goldstein, manager of Bobby McFerrin. He took the job very seriously and eventually promoted to Vice President of the firm, which is called Original Artists. During this time he worked with Bela Fleck, Dianne Reeves, and David Byrne, in addition to McFerrin. Finally after 9 years, he decided to start his own firm, Music + Art Management. Today he represents DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid, and poets, Carl Hancock Rux, and Haale, in addition to Vijay Iyer.

In the interview, he described the job of a manager in a nutshell: “Getting all of the zillion details right while still having the time to brainstorm and contemplate the big picture.” He also advised aspiring industry professionals, “Don’t go into this business to make a lot of money. Get into it because you can’t bear to stay out of it.”

http://vijay-iyer.com/

Developing into the (Folk) Rock Scene – The Bee Gees Grow Up

If “Timber” sounded a little juvenile to your ears, you’ll be pleased to know that the Bee Gees grew up quickly. The group quickly developed into the rock scene – mostly folk and soft rock. Let’s listen to two samples, and compare them against the Bee Gees’ early works.

“Massachusetts”

You’ll hear that we still Robin’s distinct vibrato, but not as pronounced as before. There are not as many harmonies; they function as embellishments instead of the core structure. You’ll also notice the incredible orchestration of this song (done by Bill Shepherd) – they give a whole new layer to the Bee Gees’ music.

“Saw a New Morning”

This song opens with a thin guitar sound, but grows into another beautiful orchestration. Like “Massachusetts,” there is a lot more unison singing than in the band’s earlier work, but the vocals grow into the harmonies we all associate with the Bee Gees. Barry joins Robin to share the lead vocals in this song – which balances out the vocals and tones down Robin’s recognizable vibrato.

Generally speaking, this period of the Bee Gees has a much ore controlled and grown up sound than their earlier works (like “Timber”). The songs include different uses of vocal harmonies, broader and more robust orchestrations, and more complex arrangements. This allows a greater capacity for storytelling and growth both in the musical composition, as well as the lyrics.

Future Business Models: When brands go beyond endorsements. Part 3: Red Bull Records Act II

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Red Bull Studios in London

If the successful team and artist roster of Red Bull records was not enough for you to see them as big players, let’s take a further look at their amazing offer. With their own state of the art recording facilites around the world, Red Bull allows a multitude of artist to achieve professional results. Spread across 4 continents, the 9 beautifully designed and equiped Red Bulls Studios are put to good use for up-and-coming artists through the multitude of music programs and competitions ran by the brand. And obviously, the labels roster benefits from unlimited access to the facilities, a luxury which other record companies may not always be able to offer. And that is another strong asset for the label’s strong culture of artist development, and a deal-maker for artists, as expressed by Aaron Bruno of AWOLNATION: “I wasn’t looking for a lot of money, I wanted control. I always wanted to produce my own record. Red Bull is the only one that came to me and said, ‘We like you and we’ll let you do what you do. We want to help your vision.’ Not to mention that they have a really great studio that I can use whenever they don’t have acts in there. I’ve had endless amounts of hours in that studio and it doesn’t cost anything for me to use it.”

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Red Bull Studios, Sao Paolo

With a focus on cutting-edge artists and the right facilities for them to develop their novel sounds, the label really puts music at the center of it all: “We look for artists who can have a cultural impact, who are left of center but ultimately have the potential to reach a larger audience,” says managing director Greg Hammer. “Our goal is to find artists that don’t sound like everyone else. We don’t aim to be a ‘niche’ label, but we try to find diverse artists musically, that are truly talented, but may take a bit more time and effort to find an audience.” Clearly the label isn’t worried by the same financial constraints as the rest of the industry. Thanks to the resources of the brand, and a budget that gives you wings.