SNL Takes A Chance

After forty years of hosting some of the biggest names in music history, a true anomaly occurred last Saturday at Saturday Night Live. For the first time ever, SNL hosted an unsigned artist as their musical guest of the night. Unsurprisingly that artist just so happens to be one of the biggest names in music these days: Chance The Rapper.

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Since releasing his debut album, Acid Rap, in 2013, Chance The Rapper has become infamous for his anti-label approach to the music industry. Though the Rapper is not featured on streaming services like Spotify or Pandora, he is perhaps Hip Hop’s hottest new star. Speaking to Billboard in 2014, Chance gleefully remarked, “I can do whatever I want…I can do whatever videos I want, I can play whatever shows I want, I can release when I want, talk how I want, freely about any subject.”

This is of course not the case for many signed artists. For instance, in 2007, pop singer Kelly Clarkson and then-Sony-BMG head Clive Davis publicly clashed over the direction of Clarkson’s album, My December. Though Davis wanted Clarkson to work with Pop-hitmakers, Clarkson stood her ground and came out with an edgy rock-oriented album. Though the outcome was what Clarkson wanted, along the way she had to deal with bureaucratic obstacles, galore.  Davis literally told her, she was a “shitty writer” and she should “shut up and sing”.

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Perhaps Chance’s success is routed in the fact that he has no Clive Davis breathing down his neck for more releases. In my opinion, the authenticity and originality Chance projects are what makes him such an attractive artist. The unsigned approach simply allows that attitude to shine. Nonetheless, it is truly encouraging that an artist with no label ties is able to come to fruition on such a large scale. To tie this into my continuing series of hip hop-related happenings, my first thought (and hope) is that this could be the start of a new generation of hip hop–one without any de facto industry obligations to be signed. If this is the case, what could come next? Artists who were previously too intimidated by domineering labels could look at Chance’s model and try to emulate it. I think it’s a great sign for hip hop and music, overall.

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Secondary Ticketing Needs to Change

As an advocate of the future of Live Music as both a consumer and provider I would like to express my frustration in secondary ticketing. In May of 2014 I remember sitting down at my computer to purchase a ticket to my favorite band, Zac Brown Band at Fenway Park. It was an hour after the tickets went on sale that I went to select “purchase” but soon realized I was an hour too late. 70,000 tickets had been sold within thirty minutes. A ticket that went from a reasonable price of $60 with a decent view, quickly jumped to $170.

The secondary ticket market in 2012 was about a $3 billion to $5 billion business, growing at a rate somewhere between 12 percent and 24 percent. As of 2013, only a few states prohibited reselling tickets or made it unreasonable to do so. The practice is prohibited in Kentucky and Michigan, although Kentucky doesn’t establish any penalties for a violation. Massachusetts limits the markup to $2 but allows a broker to add a service charge to recoup the expense of buying the ticket. Rhode Island and North Carolina both limit the amount charged above face value to $3. New Jersey has a more generous policy that enables brokers to charge up to 150 percent of the ticket’s face value. In Hawaii, Indiana, and Maryland it is currently illegal to resell a ticket for a boxing match at more than its face value (according to the Maryland Code, this law only applies if you are an event “promoter”). Indiana also prohibits the resale of tickets to any sparring or other unarmed combat match for more than face value, while Maryland limits it to boxing, wrestling, and kickboxing. Although, selling a ticket for any other type of event is legal in those three states.

Radiohead have announced a partnership with ethical ticketing company Ticket Trust. The issue of secondary ticketing has become a hot topic, with noise being heard far and near, a number of bands have stepped into the fray. Radiohead’s management issued a statement blasting the practice of secondary ticketing. “Secondary ticketing is wrong on so many levels… the band’s enjoyment of their own shows has been marred by the knowledge that a great many of their fans have been obliged to pay well over face value for their tickets”.

With new ethical ticketing companies such as Ticket Trust there is no reason why artist shouldn’t be protecting themselves. If there is money to be had, then the artist is deserving of it. And as an artist supported by fans of all different economic standing,  one would hope to be represented as an artist that doesn’t rip off their fans. Music is to be enjoyed and accessible to all, not survival of the fittest or… the richest.

Rick Ross: A Ghostwriter All Along

A dull moment is never something one would associate with Rick Ross. With his eighth studio album, Black Market, on its way, slated for release December 9th, Ross has been very vocal about one of the album’s tracks, “Ghostwriter.” Naturally, the song discusses its namesake and its author’s role as an uncredited writer of many of today’s top rap verses.

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Rick Ross Mastermind Press photo 2014

Recently, in an interview with Time, Ross elaborated on the topic. The hip hop mogul states, “I finally wrote a record telling the way it feels for me to be a ghostwriter, and not only a ghostwriter, but one of the biggest in the rap game.” He goes on to put his role as a ghostwriter in the context of his one career, justifying the practice as something that made sense due to his status. “Because of my own personal success I’ve always been able to keep that in the shadows. On this record, I just felt it was so current. It was needed.”

Ross further added his take on the discrepancy between ghostwriting in pop music versus that of traditional hip hop. In his eyes, the practice is more acceptable in the former, which places its emphasis on the music as an entire entity as opposed to the latter. Specifically citing the rap of artist, DMX, Ross claims ghostwriting is less morally sound to its focus being on the lyrics–words, which in this case, aren’t authored by the stated performing artist.

To put the issue in the context of record label operations, at the end of the day, the artist who performed the lyrics will be the one making the bulk of the song’s consequent revenue. In the Rick Ross conceptualization of ghostwriting perhaps this is only fair with some artists as lyrics solely contribute a piece to the puzzle that is the song as a whole. However, imagine a rapper who’s main selling point is the craft and wit of his lyricism. If these lyrics are not truly authored by that artist, it would seem that the artist’s publishing and recording earnings should be split between the performer and the writer. At least that’s how it works in traditional songwriter scenarios. With ghostwriting, the compensation is different. It is not dependent on the revenue generated from record sales, but rather the compensation is awarded in a one time lump sum prior to the record hitting the shelves. With some artists, such as MF Grimm, who in an interview with Forbes revealed, “I think I set a rate, every bar a thousand dollars”, the payment could be severely disproportionate to the song’s eventual earnings. Additionally, aside from the the money, an artist builds their fan base on the records under their name. If an artist is only writing songs for other artists, how can their own performance career come to fruition?

All this said, I am approaching this from an outsider perspective. In no way have I ever been involved in the hip hop industry and thus, perhaps their are legitimate benefits to being a ghostwriter. Maybe this is the ultimate sign of credibility in terms of hip hop lyricism? Maybe this is the only way to break into the business? Whatever it is, the tradition of ghostwriting is certainly as prevalent as ever with the biggest artists in the world–i.e. Rick Ross–taking part in the practice.

 

Sources:

http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/the-juice/6770409/rick-ross-ghostwriter

http://www.forbes.com/sites/natalierobehmed/2015/09/22/phantom-rappers-inside-the-business-of-ghostwriting/

Life with a Sound Track

Imagine if your everyday life had a soundtrack. The places you visited from Paris to Hollywood, the same everyday route you took to school or work, the local park down the street or even the closest beach you jog in the morning had a specific soundtrack associated to that location.

Musicians and music lovers alike have had a form of doing this for years through playlist. A group of college students going on a road trip might construct a playlist, or a compilation album that would then become the sounds of a memory forever associating to that road trip. A sixteen year old girl going through a break-up might decide to create a playlist of heartbreaking pop hits.

Adding location awareness to music apps is fast becoming a major mobile trend, as is evident by a rash of new mobile music apps hitting app stores of late. Use of location technology is taking many forms. Many, if not most, are designed to let users tag a location with a song. The result can be a localized, crowdsourced playlist, add context to the discovery of a new song or even be used as a way to find concerts and live shows. Other apps flip it around a bit by letting users in the same area determine what the venue should play. Think about the data local businesses could collect.

For those Spotify Premium listeners, Spotfiy early this year created a new feature for their mobile device app that has tempo detection to the rhythm of your Stride. Here is how it works: Pick from a playlist, such as “Recommended For You,” “Pop Hits,” or “Electronic Moves,” and you’ll hear a woman’s voice say, “Start running to detect tempo.” Your stride shows up as pulses on the green circle until she says that she knows your stride. It takes a few seconds—about ten paces. Then you’ll get a track with matching beats per minute. Genius.

Imagine if these two amazing app features together in one. As a provider of music and sound catalogs such as Spotify, this would open up a whole new world of revenue for musicians. This would create jobs for composers, DJs, playlist makers from all over the world giving them the opportunity to compose and invent infinite sounds/compositions for streaming services. This could re-inspire the consumers value of music and appreciation for it; along with allowing non musicians to compose and create the film score of their own life using the catalog provided by the service.

Imogen Heap using Blockchain Technology for the Future of the Music Industry

Singer/songwriter Imogen Heap recently is taking a stance to the way in which she wants to sell her music, use her music, and expand her music. Imogen heap is best known for her unique sound and use of musical gloves in recent performances and more importantly an award-winning songwriter and performing who, so far, is the only female artist to have won a Grammy for engineering. After reading an article on The Guardian earlier today I found that Heap, like many artists, is fed up with not being compensated for her work and furthermore not having her work used and listened to as intended. Soon after releasing her album Sparks Heap looked into new ways of releasing her music and came across blockchaining. Blockchaining is broadly used amongst programmers and tech geeks and is used as a peer-to-peer payment system done through a uniquely created database cutting out the extra people involved in a company and instead linking individuals through verifying transactions. In a musical sense, Heap is looking to do this through sharing her music between other artists, film directors, commercial use, and the common music consumer. Through having her music on her own platform, which she calls Mycelia, she can connect one on one with other creators looking to use or branch off of her work. Another benefit to showcasing her work like this is that it also gives the artist more ownership of their work by having simple contracts that state what terms the music would be used to download for. This gives her a record of who is using it for what and a better way to have a latch of her own music. She looks to creating a community of music lovers combined with artists a like to share interest and learn from others work. Heap takes it a step further with making her lyrics, photographs, instruments used, and names of other musicians she’s played with accessible to the public.

More and more artists are taking steps like these to ensure they are getting what they want out of their work and ultimately bringing together a group of people who want to work and learn together. At first it has to start with bigger name artists that have a following and once it is recognized globally newer artists can tag along.

I personal feel that this also gives other in the industry and fans a better understanding of what that artist is like and see a more personable side to them. As is, that is what we are losing a bit more now a days with streaming. Before you would hear a song, look up the artist, listen to more of their songs, buy their album and fall in love with them. We need that back in order for artists work to be appreciated. Fortunately and unfortunately artists have more power than they think, just ask Taylor Swift. They just need to be the ones to make a stance, broadcast it to their fans, and make that difference in the industry we have been waiting for.

If you’d like to hear more about Imogen Heap’s input on the matter along with a team of others in the industry take a look at the video below.

The Launch & Quick Tear Down of Aurous; The ‘Popcorn Time for Music’

This past Monday Aurous, known as the ‘Popcorn Time for Music’, launched Alpha. This streaming service, like many before it, offers a completely free, on-demand way to listen to music. The biggest attraction to this service is that not only is it ad-free but also allows the user to pull together playlist from multiple platforms whether that is off the internet, Spotify, or from the users own library of music. Creator Andrew Sampsons announces that Aurous has teamed up with ProTip, a tipping services that uses bitcoin’s blockchain technology to pay rights holders so that in this way, users will be able to compensate artists. What seems a bit unclear is whether or not users are forced to pay through listening to a song at a time or are given the option of paying per song.

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See Aurous layout / interface above.

Essentially illegal to most label and artists a like, Sampson points out that there is a portal for rights holders to take their music off the service if they would like. The idea behind this is simple but is it legal?

According to reports this morning the RIAA has quickly cracked down on Aurous claiming that this service is not only pulling music from companies that to not negotiate with record labels to have their music played on but also with illegal websites that put up free music illegal such as MP3WithMe and VK. Published today on 20KHZ, the RIAA said quote, “This service is a flagrant example of a business model powered by copyright theft on a massive scale.” Sampson earlier mentioned that his intent was geared for users to take off of ad-supported services such as YouTube or paid streaming services.

Although this service seems like a great idea, there are still a clear amount of problems to figure out. Piracy is already a overwhelming problem enough. In my opinion the way in solving this is to make a portion of the website that detects when content is converted from an illegal source that way the company and the user don’t get in trouble pushing the user to legal means of service.

Who Run The Industry?

Sadly, unequivocally, and unsurprisingly: men. Whether you’re scanning the Top 40 list, or searching for the names of the people in charge of your favorite record labels, you’re more than likely to read an overwhelming amount of male names. We have our lady diva pop stars, sure. And there are people like Michele Anthony and Julie Greenwald– but the thing is, women on top are few and far between in any industry. And these two aren’t even the head honchos- they’re assistants to them. “How progressive,” said Peggy Olson.

Billboard cultivated the Women In Music awards as well as a series of articles on their website in 2007 in order to shed some well-deserved light on the female musicians, executives, and everyone in between in the industry. You’d recognize Taylor Swift, Beyonce, and others who have won the award- but skimming their list of the 50 Most Powerful (Female) Executives from last year, after first being blindly impressed, you begin to realize something terrifying- you’ve never heard of any of these people.

Okay, perhaps you’re a little more well-versed in music industry businesspeople than I am and you do recognize them. But chances are, each name is equally unfamiliar and frankly disturbing in this right. But it’s easy to rattle off the names of Brian Eno, Quincy Jones, Mark Ronson, and so many others.

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That’s why organizations like Women In Music are so important. We need more females not only stepping up as musicians, but on the business side of things as well. Started in 1985, Women In Music is a collective of women in all fields of the music industry, working to make what they do seem more attractive and plausible. They host events such as workshops and panels to encourage girls to break into the industry, no matter how off-putting it can be.

Although, it’s worthwhile to note the growth we’ve seen in the past few years. With pop powerhouses like Beyonce and rap queens like Nicki Minaj promoting feminist ideals (more on that in another post) in their music, and heartwarming singer songwriters like Taylor Swift proving that girls can pick up a guitar and make a song just as catchy as any flannel-clad, horn-rimmed glasses wearing guy can, this past decade has certainly seen lots more girl power. Not that girl groups or female-fronted groups haven’t been present in the past- each decade has certainly been host to some talented ladies. It’s just that we seem to be on the cusp of an estrogen fueled revolution in the music industry, as well as the world. There’s recently been a noticeable influx of these female artists, and certainly more of them stepping up in business.

And we can’t lose momentum. Billboard took a step in the right direction with their awards, Women In Music is a beautifully empowering organization that only has room to grow and everything to gain, and there are emerging publications like She Shreds that showcase some talent that might not get picked up in Rolling Stone. More and more ladies are picking up the microphone, the guitar, the drum sticks, you name it. But we need more. We need to keep going until Queen Bey is satisfied, and the industry, and maybe some day the world, is run by girls.

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Technology Changes Everything.

If there is one thing that has become quite obvious is that technology has the power to change everything. It has certainly transformed the music industry throughout the years! From the way we make music to the way we produce it. From the way we source music to the way we listen to it. It can be said that technology has affected the music industry in both positive and negative ways. The short clip above provides an excellent example of this.

If you were to type “technology and the music industry” into the multiple search engines that are available to us, you would soon discover that the majority of the articles out there focus on the negative effects technology has brought to the music industry. It is important to point out that technological advances have not only affected music but also publishing, television, radio, and the news. While it is true that perhaps technology has had a negative impact on the music industry (as well as other industries), there are many other changes that have been positive.

Today, I am choosing to focus on the positive as it is important to recognize favorable disruption. Let’s look at the short clip below.

Positive changes in the music industry (thanks to technological advances) include: consumers having access to music more than ever before, online music education availability, new musical instruments, access to digital tools (by both artists and consumers), artist collaboration increase, artistic control and independence, artist and fan communication/interaction via social media channels, crowd funding platforms, etc. All these changes continue to ultimately shape the music industry today.

Though there are many who feel nostalgic when thinking about the way the music industry used to be, it is important to appreciate the way the music industry is now. It will never be the way it used to be. In other words, it is important to see the good and bad (without specifically focusing on the bad). I am not saying the music industry is perfect. In fact, there are many things that could be improved. I am simply saying that technology should not to be seen as evil. It is important to embrace it and welcome the changes technological advances may continue to bring.

From Musician to Cultural Icon in a Technology Driven Age

Have you ever stop to think about what it would be like if the everyone would simply embraced this technology driven age we live in instead of fighting it so much?

Amanda Palmer showed the world the beauty of embracing the unknown. She went from musician to cultural icon when her Kickstarter campaign raised 1.2k!! Pretty impressive, right? Watch her TED talk below as it will help you understand exactly what I mean.

“Palmer is set to join Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails as the artists people mention when they talk about the new music business.” — Billboard

While everyone constantly takes the time to put down the online world, and artists like Taylor Swift oppose tech driven services like Spotify for her own personal reasons, Amanda decided to embrace it all. She strongly believed that a strong relationship with her fans is what the music journey should always be about, and emphasized that this technology driven age can allow us all to create deep connections if we are willing to ask.

Palmer has become the poster girl for dipping not only your toe, but your whole body, because you never really know what will happen. In her case, the road less traveled led her to find incredibly positive results. Her kickstarter campaign, TED talk, recently published book, and unique music have all had great success because Amanda took a chance to welcome the changes the technology driven age has introduced instead of questioning them.

Amanda was strategic in her approach though. She made sure to establish a strong fan base before using technology to her advantage. In fact, it is her strong fan base that helped her raised 1.2k via Kickstarter. She beautifully mastered “the art of asking” as she likes to call it. She turned to her fans for help her and they provided more help than she ever imagined. It is very exciting to learn about her story however, it is also important to understand that not everyone will be able to do what she did. Because truth be told, there is only one Amanda Palmer.

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80% of the crowd funding campaigns that manage to be successful only raise about $10,000. This, however, is $10,000 more that artists can receive because of the changes this technology driven age has introduced. Crowd funding is not a magic path to stardom or riches. Artists must work extremely hard for crowd funding campaigns to succeed. Crowd funding platforms and success stories like Amanda Palmer do create a wonderful point though. Technology is not always evil. Technology can be an incredibly good ally. It can allow artists to use the power of music combined with the power of fans to acquire additional funding. Changes like these are why technology continues to shape the music industry.

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Lecrae, Part II: Laying the Groundwork (albums 1-5)

Today, we are examining Lecrae’s musical development in his early career. I’ve picked one song from each album as a representative of Lecrae’s style for that album.

We’ll be listening to:

Take Me As I Am (Real Talk)

Prayin’ for You (After the Music Stops)

Don’t Waste Your Live (Rebel)

Just Like You (Rehab)

Battle Song (Rehab: The Overdose)

Lecrae’s first two albums, Real Talk and After the Music Stops were his introduction as a rapper to the Christian community. Released in 2005 and 2006, they maintain solid technique and his lyrics demonstrate the elements Lecrae held most valuable: his faith.

Let’s listen to “Take Me As I Am” from Lecrae’s first album, Real Talk:

As with many of he songs on this album, “Take Me As I Am” is autobiographical, and is themed around a biblical message. His beats are comfortable, though not particularly exciting; and his songs are primarily rhythmic with very little melodic or harmonic work (there’s a basic underlying chord structure, and a brief reoccurring melody in the synth).

Lecrae’s biggest selling point on Real Talk is the style and content of the rapping itself. He has an enjoyable flow and presentation, and manages to take the style of rap where it hand never been successfully exploited before: the Christian and Gospel audience. Because Lecrae raps about deep struggles he remains authentic to the themes of rap, even though the struggles his lyrics allude to are spiritual as opposed to more common themes.

Lecrae’s style doesn’t change very much for his second album, After the Music Stops. The main differences you can note by listening to “Prayin’ for You,” are the inclusion of a female vocalist in the background, as well as a few extra instruments.

“Prayin’ for You” from After the Music Stops:

The first remarkable stylistic change doesn’t come until Lecrae’s third album, Rebel. When you listen to “Don’t Waste Your Life,” you’ll notice something new: the chorus is sung. In addition, the underlying beats have a much more robust harmonic structure and instrumentation – Lecrae is expanding and developing his musical style. I believe that his expanding musical style is what helped him to be well received in the 8 different charts he made it onto (see Part I).

Take a listen to “Don’t Waste Your Life” from Rebel:

In Rehab, Lecrae makes a huge stylistic change, which I enjoy. We’ll listen to “Just Like You” first, then discuss.

“Just Like You” from Rehab:

I love what Lecrae has done with the introduction of this song… he’s incorporated a beautiful instrumental, then a sung melody. It is expressive and musical. He still raps for the bulk of it, but he is intentional about using his rapping style to control the mood of the piece.

Even though his style is growing in harmony, melody, and instrumentation; and even though he us making different artistic choices about how he uses his voice when he raps; Lecrae holds true to the autobiographical and religious themes he has aligned with since the beginning of his career.

To me, this development is a sign of artistry. It is one thing to be good enough at rapping (or any skill, for that matter), but it is true artistry when you are able to alter how you use that skill in order to more effectively communicate through your craft. With the huge artistic strides Lecrae made in Rehab, is no surprise that he was nominated for a Grammy, or that he topped 3 charts (Gospel, Christian, and Independent). It should be noted that Lecrae collaborated with several other artists for Rehab.

These musical styles and collaborations continue to grow Lecrae’s follow up album, Rehab: The Overdose. Check out “Battle Song,” featuring Suzy Rock as an example.

Tracing back to Real Talk (Lecrae’s first album), you can hear a dramatic shift in the harmonic and melodic elements, as well as Lecrae’s developing artistry as a rapper. In Part III, we will examine the albums to follow.

To be continued…