I watched “Boyhood” last night. Didn’t think I could deal with a film running nearly three hours focused on the reality-based coming of age theme. I was, however, much impressed by the epic technical achievement the film represents, and I was deeply moved by the genuinely human intimacies shared throughout. The ending was a powerful insight into the human condition.

Got me to thinking about the values of the tech-fueled Bay Area where I live.

I really loath, truly hate, the materialistic, money-fueled tech culture that has enveloped San Francisco. And it’s not the technology per se. I’ve been using and building computers since 1985. It’s the disgusting excess and glorification of same.

Interestingly, watching “Boyhood” last night reminded me that there are other, more appealing, lifestyles and choices still available in the country. The main character in the film was not obsessed with tech. He questions the value of the ubiquitous smart phone. He works after school. Middle class. He doesn’t dream of going to Stanford or MIT, etc., to get a degree in CS and code. Hell, he wants to be an artist. He’s interested in the meaning of life. Like people I used to know in school and throughout my life. He represents my American Dream. Not this SF version with conspicuous consumption and phony hipster culture.



Chappie: Is the sum greater than the parts?

By Christine Schofelt
21 March 2015

South African-Canadian director Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie is set in a 2016 Johannesburg plagued by violent street crime. Through the deployment of battalions of robotic police, crime rates are cut dramatically and orders for scores more robots are placed with weapons manufacturer Tetravaal, which produces the machines.


When the young scientist who developed the robots, Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), brings company president Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver) a program that will render the robots sentient, giving them the ability to think independently and, among other examples he excitedly cites, appreciate art, she flatly refuses to allow him to upload the program or even experiment with it. Bradley declares with barely disguised amusement that he must realize he has entered the office of a “publicly traded” military equipment company proposing to create a robot that writes poetry.

Undaunted, Deon steals a robot that had been slated for the scrap heap. On his way home he is kidnapped by Amerika (Jose Pablo Cantillo), Ninja and Yolandi (Ninja and Yo-landi Visser of rap group Die Antwoord [“The Answer” in Afrikaans], for whom Blomkamp developed the roles), small-time criminals who need the clichéd “one big heist” to clear themselves of debt and get out of crime for good.

The somewhat hackneyed question in all stories involving artificial intelligence (AI) boils down to: Can a robot have a soul? Chappie treats the question as having been answered, and that answer being “yes,” but not in a religious sense. It goes further in its trans-humanistic outlook in stating that this is the next evolutionary step. Life, in whatever form, metal or flesh, is important. What is “inside” must be preserved.

The world the criminals inhabit is brutal. Miserably poor, despite being surrounded by stolen equipment of great value, the group lives in an abandoned industrial complex in Soweto. Ninja is a desperate, angry man, and models this behavior for the resistant, but eager-to-fit-in robot-child, Chappie (Sharlto Copley). Ninja’s coming to grips with a different way of communicating—the robot is frightened off by violence and refuses to commit crimes, due to a promise he’d made to Deon—and his development of a sense of remorse regarding his actions toward Chappie are realistically drawn. The relationship develops unevenly, with setbacks that seem natural and gains that are honestly arrived at.

Yolandi treats the robot as if it were her child. At one point reading it a book, explaining what a black sheep is—how the outside of a person doesn’t matter—and telling the robot she loves it. She is a bright young woman trapped in horrible circumstances, and one gets the sense of someone who belongs to a lost generation, mired in poverty and crime.


There is an unexpected innocence to the interactions between these characters, all of whom are well drawn, and the rest of the world. Blomkamp, in several interviews, has stated that the idea of “What if Die Antwoord were criminals raising a robot” provided the genesis for the film, so this is to be expected. Given free artistic reign, though sticking to the script, the group members act with a surprising naïveté, and are in many ways little more than children themselves. These are people who are doing everything they can to survive in a sector of society that has completely broken down. Their loyalty is to each other, but anything beyond that is questionable.

On the other hand, we have Tetravaal and the people who work for it. Here the characters are very clear-cut—to the point of being stereotypes. Deon, the good scientist dreaming of a better future, has an enemy in Vincent Moore (an almost unrecognizable Hugh Jackman).

In an interview, Blomkamp notes that he and Jackman wanted to make the character an outrageous parody of a certain type of Australian, yet—stylistic flourishes aside—the ex-SAS killer turned contractor, hyper-Christian bully is of a social type that could find a comfortable home in many countries. His combination of militaristic bloodthirstiness and reactionary religious horror regarding the advance in AI Deon has achieved is unnerving to watch at times. Weaver’s Michelle Bradley is simply a bottom-line businesswoman primarily concerned with the company’s shareholders.

This is typical of Blomkamp, as we saw in Elysium, in which Jodie Foster’s scheming, fascistic Delacourt was likewise simplistically drawn. In the face of such characters, we are given leave to shake our heads and tsk-tsk, but little light is shed on the conditions and social relationships that give rise to these anti-human elements. To explain “bad” actions through “bad” people is a tautology that explains little.

After Vincent creates a crisis to provoke the deployment of his own rejected killing machine, The Moose, we are treated to scenes of utter mayhem in the streets of Johannesburg. Here there is an element of cynicism—the rapidity with which the criminal element forms a rioting mob on word that the police robots have been taken offline is questionable at best.


While it is clear from the portrayal of Tetravaal and its CEO that Blomkamp bears no love for the military industrial complex, far from it, what does he make of the majority of the South African population?

And what is the filmmaker’s attitude toward the massive police deployment—human or otherwise—apparently needed to quell a situation described more than once as the “city eating itself”?

One is struck by the wasted opportunities, or only half-developed themes and material, in Blomkamp’s works. The subject matter chosen for his three major films— Elysium, involving issues of social inequality; District 9, with its themes of immigrants and poverty; and now Chappie with severe poverty, crime and a militarized police force—is obviously serious, but it begs for more profound and critical treatment.

Science fiction is entirely capable of exploring and exposing social problems. When Blomkamp dismisses in interviews the notion that his films have any socio-political intentions or significance and when he takes artistic shortcuts in character and plot development, he devalues his own work, ultimately offering the equivalent of a dismissive and self-deprecating “just kidding.”




RIAA: U.S. Digital Streaming Revenue

Surpassed CD Retail Sales In 2014


Green Dollars      The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) this week reported that music streaming has eclipsed the sale of physical CDs and is closing in on digital downloads as the largest source of revenue in the U.S. recorded music industry. According to RIAA figures, revenues from subscription streaming (e.g., Spotify and Rhapsody) and streaming radio services including Sirius XM hit $1.87 billion in 2014, a 29% increase vs. 2013 and equivalent to 27% per cent of total music industry revenues. CD sales slipped 12.7% to $1.85 billion. As noted by the Financial Times, downloads have been the U.S. music industry’s largest source of digital revenue for a decade, but they peaked in 2012 and have been in decline ever since. In 2014, download revenues fell 8.7% vs. 2013 to $2.58 billion, equivalent to 37% of total industry revenues.

“The music business continues to undergo a staggering transformation,” RIAA Chairman/CEO Cary Sherman said in a statement. “Record companies are now digital music firms, earning more than two-thirds of their revenues from a variety of digital formats.”

In aggregate, the various kinds of streaming outlets generated $1.87 billion, up nearly 29% from the year before – and, for the first time, slightly more than the total for CDs. That figure includes not only paid subscription outlets like Spotify, Rdio and Rhapsody, but also such internet radio services as Pandora, which does not let users pick exactly what songs they will hear, and outlets like YouTube and Spotify’s free tier, which let users pick specific songs and are generally supported by advertising.

Performance royalty fees paid by streaming radio services grew sharply from $590 million in FY:13 to $773 million last year. All physical music sales together – including CDs, vinyl and music videos – slipped below a third of the industry’s total revenues for the first time, falling from 35% in 2013 to 32% last year. Total U.S. retail revenues were flat for the fifth year in succession at $6.97 billion. 

Shift From Sales To Digital Streaming

Is Causing Growing Pains For Artists


     This week the RIAA reported streaming music services have begun to overtake sales of physical CDs and music downloads in revenue (see story, above), a shifting business model that has many artists seeing red in more ways than one. While advertisers, listeners, and some label execs are embracing this change, the money collected via subscription and ad-supported license fees slows to a trickle by the time it reaches the music creators. That’s one reason Taylor Swift pulled her tracks from Spotify when she released her 1989 album last fall, and other artists continue to withhold their catalogs from the service.

How worrisome is the drought caused by the shift to streaming? As AdWeek pointed out this week, Pharrell’s “Happy” arguably was the song of 2014, topping the charts in the U.S. and selling 6.45 million copies. It also was in heavy rotation on the digital radio platform Pandora, streaming 43 million times in the first quarter alone. Despite all that exposure, Sony/ATV Music Publishing says it received just $2,700 from Pandora for plays of the tune during that period, which it split with writer Pharrell Williams.

“Streaming services are going to be the major method in the way music is accessed [but] I don’t think enough money trickles down to the songwriters,” says Sony/ATV CEO Marty Bandier.

By contrast, Pandora argues that its model is justified, with CEO Brian McAndrews insisting that “we want to be an indispensable partner to music makers, and that involves paying a tremendous amount in royalties.”

Of course, AM/FM radio has never paid performance royalties to labels or artists, but the difference here is that digital streaming appears to be replacing music sales, while traditional radio served to promote it. As AdWeek asks (somewhat rhetorically), are music streaming services in as much trouble as the record business they were meant to give new life to? Or are these merely the growing pains of an emerging medium?


Forbes: Internet Radio Poised To

Be “Ad Opportunity Of The Future”


     Owners of AM/FM radio stations might not agree (or even want to read further), but internet radio has the potential to be the most ubiquitous form of media ever – and the biggest advertising opportunity of the future. That’s the word from Forbes, which this week detailed the reasons digital streaming – no longer a fledgling medium – is set to become an essential part of the targeted media mainstream. As the magazine’s David Porter points out, one third of Americans used their phones to stream music last year, and those 18-24 listened to internet radio more than terrestrial. Additionally, two of the top five most-popular apps in the U.S. (Pandora and Youtube) are used for streaming music, which increasingly is becoming personalized to individual listening tastes and experiences.

“Internet radio will need to match every part of your day,” Porter wrote in an industry analysis this week. “Imagine passively being pushed the right music that helps you wake up, motivates you to run faster, work more productively, and more. This type of personalization has already begun in advertising…[and] the barriers to this type of hyper-personal internet radio are slowly being eliminated. The swath of personal data that comprise our tastes is growing, which in turn means we are also able to better understand the tastes of similar people.”

Porter explains that, with the decreasing costs of streaming, collecting and storing large sums of data – as well as growth of powerful tools to analyze it – the ability to explore and draw inferences from this wealth of information is seemingly endless. “With the inevitable growth of internet radio, as we continue to shift digitally, the abundance of listener data will provide advertisers improved targeting, as well as awareness of their demographic,” he says. “This new paradigm will offer companies an unprecedented opportunity to connect with the right listeners at the perfect moment. The only question remaining, what will your station look like?”


iTunes Has Banned “Soundalikes”

Designed To Fool Paying Customers


     Apple’s iTunes store last month responded to a surge of “soundalikes” – cover tracks designed to mimic the original song – by aggressively banning them from the online store. As reported by Forbes writer Shawn Setaro, soundalikes are meant to fool listeners into thinking they’re the real deal, and streaming services are flooded with them. Example: The Cheer Squad’s soundalike of Katy Perry’s “California Gurls,” both of which can be found on virtually every streaming music platform.

While someone listening to a streaming service typically can skip to the next song if a soundalike comes on, iTunes customers pay for the track, which can fool consumers into buying the wrong download. Hence, iTunes has sent notices to digital distributors laying out new guidelines that ban titling songs in the search-friendly way common to soundalikes: Having the artist’s name in the song’s title, for example, and nixing phrases like “originally performed by” and “in the style of.” The guidelines called these practices “deceptive and misleading.”

Setaro says these guidelines apply only to iTunes, but they probably will affect all digital music services. Example: Such digital distributors as TuneCore put songs on all the digital music services at the same time, so if a song has one title for iTunes, it has to have the same one for all the other streaming services.


Sony Music Buys The Rest Of

The Orchard For $200 Million


     Sony Music Entertainment has purchased the remaining equity stake in the Orchard from Dimensional Associates for about $200 million. According to an SEC filing, the Orchard is currently owned by Orchard Assets Holdings, believed to be a joint venture between Dimensional Associates and Sony. According to Billboard, Sony bought what has been consistently described as a majority stake in the Orchard in March 2012. While the exact percentages of Sony’s stake have never been publicly disclosed, sources say Sony owed 51% of the company and Dimensional held the remaining 49%.

The new deal requires regulatory approvals and is expected to close after March 31, 2015. In addition to the Orchard, Sony Music Entertainment also owns RED, widely considered to be one of the biggest indie U.S. distributors.

The Orchard was founded by songwriter/producer Richard Gottehrer and digital music executive Scott Cohen in 1997, and currently has annual revenues of $200 million. 

Rhapsody Subscribers Now Can Share

Music Tracks With Twitter Followers


     Rhapsody this week announced its subscribers now can share songs from with their Twitter followers, who will be able to play them in full without leaving the social media site – even if they don’t pay for a Rhapsody subscription. Rhapsody claims it’s the first streaming music service to offer full-track playback on Twitter, using its Audio Cards feature. The music is fully licensed by Rhapsody, with a percentage of revenue going to artists, labels, and publishers.

Rhapsody says one reason for the approach – which will be available only in the U.S. – is “to reinforce that music isn’t free.” The streaming music company is testing the feature to see if it can recoup the licensing fees, over time, by converting the Twitter exposure into new subscribers for its $9.99/month music service. “It’s going to be a huge experiment in how we make music social again,” Rhapsody CFO Ethan Rudin said in an interview with Geek Wire. “We’re extraordinarily confident in the success we’re going to have in converting people to loyal Rhapsody subscribers. If there is the opportunity to fine-tune and make sure this is economically viable in perpetuity, we want to have the proof points to get it right.”

Rudin says Rhapsody will collect audience data and share the results with its industry partners in an effort to find an approach that works. 


A publication of Bunzel Media Resources © 2015

City of Austin Braces For Massive Influx of Nerds

The city of Austin has begun bracing for the arrival of what experts are predicting will be a record-breaking number of nerds. Residents have grown accustomed to the annual migratory patterns of nerds, particularly the mid-March influx, which most attribute to the South by Southwest festival. But what has baffled locals of late is the sheer diversity of the strains of nerd infiltrating the Texan capital.

Studies have found that what was originally identified as a homogeneous nerd population has now split into several distinct subspecies. A lead researcher explained, “What were once typical nerd signifiers—thick glasses, an obsession with gadgets, a certain loveable gawkiness—are no longer reliable markers. While all nerds originate from the same family (Nerdus loserus sapiens), they now display a wide range of character traits.”

One of the most prominent breeds, the music nerd, has long thrived in Austin. At times mistaken for a cool person, the music nerd is identifiable by the speed at which he or she informs you that SXSW “used to be about the music, man.” One such music nerd was found outside of the Spotify House wearing a made-to-look-vintage Talking Heads tee purchased in 2012. “It’s just a damn shame, you know?” she said, ashing her cigarette. “South-by was our oasis from all of the mainstream bullshit out there, a place where we could celebrate raw sound. I mean, people who don’t know the history don’t even realize that John Mayer was discovered here.”

Yet music nerds have faced challenges at SXSW following the rise of their natural enemy, the tech nerd. Tech nerds tend to exhibit fewer traditional nerd characteristics as they amass more wealth than other nerds could ever imagine. Outside the convention center, one tech nerd struggled to untangle his badge from his new Apple Watch, pausing to say, “Obviously the Apple Watch isn’t out yet, but I’m basically boys with Tim Cook.” He later followed up on LinkedIn: “Hey, if you plan on quoting me in your piece, please specify that I was wearing the expensive kind of Apple Watch, not the one for poors.”

One of the fastest-growing yet most difficult-to-classify types of nerd is the corporate-brand nerd. A relative newcomer to the Nerdus family, the corporate-brand nerd hides in plain sight, wearing expensive denim and Oxford shirts in whimsical colors, like salmon. Typical traits include a love of harnessing the power of human emotion and leveraging data to drive interactions. Asked how it felt to represent corporate-brand nerds at SXSW, one individual replied, “I actually reject the ‘nerd’ characterization. The personal brand that I’ve cultivated for myself is more that of an avant-garde tastemaker, or #AvanTastemaker. Do you need me to spell that?”

This year, Austin city officials have assured the public that they are taking extra precautions to keep the nerds contained. Authorities have already instituted fines for the overuse of words such as “disrupt,” “drones,” and “passionate storytellers” in public spaces. Later this week, anti-nerd task forces will begin to roll out their most drastic initiative—random WiFi outages.

Yet even with these preëmptive measures in place, new strains of nerd are expected to crop up every day at SXSW. One of the most dangerous types is already multiplying rapidly along Sixth Street: the dad nerd. Long thought to be extinct in these parts, dad nerds most successfully reach maturation in a cage of familial obligation and conference calls. When allowed to roam freely in new pastures, dad nerds are famous for going out too hard and overdoing it. Asked how he was enjoying Austin, one dad nerd exclaimed, “I loooooooooooove SXSWALDSJFASLKDJRELKDCCKKFRD!”



Lincoln Speaks: Words That Transformed a Nation

Exhibition at New York’s Morgan Library

By Fred Mazelis
13 March 2015

At the Morgan Library and Museum, New York City, January 23 through June 7, 2015

With the approach of the 150th anniversary of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, followed less than a week later by the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, attention is once again focused on the US Civil War, and on the president who led the military and political struggle that ended with the abolition of slavery.

Abraham Lincoln

A small but informative exhibition at New York City’s Morgan Library and Museum makes use of portions of Lincoln’s correspondence, speeches and notes to illuminate the life of its subject, which has already been treated in some 15,000 books as well as about 200 film and television productions, including most recently Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (2013).

Lincoln Speaks: Words That Transformed a Nation, on view through June 7, was organized by the Morgan Library and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, which has amassed some 60,000 documents held at the New York Historical Society. About two-thirds of the 80 letters and other original items in the current show, most of them in Lincoln’s hand, were loaned by the Institute, with most of the remaining documents coming from the Morgan itself.

It is fascinating to see this material up close, and to read the remarkably clear handwriting of Lincoln himself in many of his letters, military orders and other documents. The Civil War comes alive and the democratic and revolutionary content of Lincoln’s words is vividly displayed.

The exhibition is divided into nine somewhat overlapping sections, each dealing with a period of Lincoln’s life or career. These include, among others, “Lincoln the Reader,” “the Politician,” “the Emancipator,” “Commander-in-Chief,” “Lincoln in the Eyes of the World” and “A Man For All Time.”

Lincoln’s passion for reading and knowledge, from an early age, is illustrated with references to the King James version of the Bible, Blackstone’s Commentaries, dealing with the development of English law, and especially the works of Shakespeare, much of which Lincoln knew by heart. One of the volumes of Shakespeare owned by the future president is opened to Macbeth, which Lincoln knew best of all of the plays.

This reading was crucial in shaping Lincoln’s thought and language as he embarked on a political career that would bring him to the White House at the most crucial moment in 19th century American history. The language and style of his letters and speeches were marked by an extraordinary combination of the simple and even homespun with elevated and elegant prose, which inspired his readers and listeners.

Lincoln had no love for the grandiloquent and flowery oratory for which US senator and statesman Daniel Webster and others were noted. He strove for cogency, without a trace of demagogy or oversimplification of the issues and principles involved. He connected with his listeners, and never talked down to them. The clarity and simplicity is illustrated in the relative brevity of his speeches, most famously the 272 words of the Gettysburg Address.

As is well known, Lincoln proceeded extremely cautiously on the question of abolition. However, he made no attempt to hide his hatred of slavery and this finds expression in the exhibition in a speech fragment from 1858, in which he praises the British abolitionists William Wilberforce and Granville Sharpe.

When the Civil War began in April 1861, Lincoln threw himself into the details of military strategy in addition to dealing with the political crisis. He mixed easily with Northern troops and there was nothing that smacked of militarism or ceremony in his actions in office, something that was shown effectively in Spielberg’s film. The reverence for Lincoln among the troops is illustrated by a letter from John Jones of the Illinois Infantry, who wrote, in response to the news of the Emancipation Proclamation: “The name of Abraham Lincoln will be handed down to posterity as one of the great benefactors of this country, not surpassed by the immortal Washington himself.”

Lincoln’s could also be absolutely single-minded and even ruthless in the prosecution of the war against secession. Some of the documents in the Morgan exhibition express the ruthless logic of the bloody war—the “irrepressible conflict”—and how it put all of the political protagonists to the test. Lincoln met this revolutionary test, and that is above all why he remains, perhaps alongside Jefferson, the greatest of American presidents.

One example of Lincoln’s leadership, and the shifts in his thinking and actions as the war progressed, can be found in his March 1863 letter to Tennessee Governor Andrew Johnson, the same individual who became vice president after Lincoln’s reelection about 18 months later. “The colored population is the great available and yet unavailed force for restoring the union,” Lincoln wrote. “The bare sight of 50,000 armed and drilled black soldiers on the banks of the Mississippi would end the rebellion at once.” These words revealed a growing understanding of the revolutionary character of the struggle, which constituted the greatest expropriation of private property until the Russian Revolution more than half a century later.

Another illustration in the Morgan Library exhibition is General Order No. 252. In response to attacks by Confederate forces on freed slaves, Lincoln ordered, “For every black soldier killed by Confederates, a rebel soldier shall be executed; and for every one enslaved by the enemy or sold into slavery, a rebel soldier shall be placed at hard labor.”

Among the other documents on display are a printed copy of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, delivered in March 1865, only weeks before he died, and a signed copy of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude, and first adopted by the Senate in 1864.

In the section of the exhibition on “Lincoln in the Eyes of the World,” emphasis is correctly given to the relationship between the fight to end chattel slavery and the ideals of the Enlightenment. The relationship between the Civil War and the American and French Revolutions of the past century was widely understood at the time. Just as important, the anti-slavery struggle was inseparably bound up with struggles of the working class, above all in Englandof the Victorian era. The abolition of slavery had a worldwide impact, and the murder of Lincoln met with an outpouring of grief not only in the US but around the world.

Among the interesting items here is an autograph manuscript of Frederick Douglass in 1880 in which the most famous escaped slave, the eloquent orator and abolitionist, paid tribute to Lincoln as “one of the noblest wisest and best men I ever knew.” Also on display is an autograph copy of Walt Whitman’s famous “O Captain! My Captain!” the 1865 poem inspired by Lincoln’s death. And noted as well is the famous tribute paid by Karl Marx to Lincoln as “the single-minded son of the working class.”

Also presented are the words of two subsequent US presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and later Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose speech at the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1938 is displayed.

The appearance of Bill Clinton in a short video presentation that forms part of the exhibition only demonstrates the gulf between the leaders of American capitalism today and the president who helped lay the basis for the rapid economic and social development of the United States when capitalism still had a progressive role to play.

Clinton emphasizes Lincoln’s determination to “bind up the nation’s wounds” after the Civil War—true enough, but this entirely leaves out the revolutionary character of the period. He also speaks of Lincoln as representing “equality of opportunity—the right to rise.”

The representatives of the financial oligarchy in the US today cannot possibly explain the role of Lincoln and of the Civil War. In this regard, the role of Richard Gilder and Lewis Lehrman, the founders of the Gilder Lehrman Institute, should be noted. Both are wealthy Wall Street figures and right-wing Republicans, associated with such reactionary outfits as the Club for Growth. Their passion for American history is bound up with notions of “American exceptionalism.” For them the Civil War is to be celebrated as the triumph of capitalism, the supposed summit of human civilization. Clinton of course associates himself with this view.

The documents in this exhibit speak for themselves. They show that Lincoln led a revolutionary struggle to destroy an outmoded social order. This is why Marx, the founder of scientific socialism, enthusiastically welcomed this Second American Revolution, and lauded Lincoln for his resolve and leadership. Lincoln stood in the tradition of his revolutionary forebears, including Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine. The struggle for equality in the 19th century, with which the name of Lincoln will forever be associated, resonates in the struggle against outmoded capitalism today.




The beloved fantasy author died at age 66 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease

Terry Pratchett (Credit: AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Prolific fantasy author Sir Terry Pratchett has passed away at the age of 66, after being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2007. He continued to write throughout his illness, completing the 40th “Discworld” book last spring, which he did through the help of dictation and speech recognition software. He has often spoken publicly about his illness and became a staunch advocate for assisted death after his diagnosis (according to a source at the Telegraph, he died of natural causes).

Pratchett has written more than 70 books over his long career, including 41 books in the popular Discworld series, and has sold over 85-million books worldwide. He is the second most widely-read writer in the UK — and was, for a long time, the first, before being unseated by J.K. Rowling. He has many other accomplishments to his name, including the Carnegie Medal for his Discworld kids book “The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents”, as well as the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement and a Knighthood, not to mention enriching the lives of millions of readers across the globe.

Pratchett’s death was announced via a series of tweets from his Twitter account, describing an encounter with Pratchett and “Death,” who was a character in the Discworld novels.

“The world has lost one of its brightest, sharpest minds,” read a statement from Larry Finlay at Pratchett’s publishing company Transworld. “In over 70 books, Terry enriched the planet like few before him. As all who read him know, Discworld was his vehicle to satirize this world: He did so brilliantly, with great skill, enormous humour and constant invention. Terry faced his Alzheimer’s disease (an ‘embuggerance’, as he called it) publicly and bravely. Over the last few years, it was his writing that sustained him. His legacy will endure for decades to come.”

Anna Silman is Salon’s deputy entertainment editor. Follow her on Twitter:@annaesilman.




Marvin Gaye’s Estate Awarded

$7.4 MillionIn “Blurred Lines” Suit


Justice      Homage or copying? That was the question presented to a jury of five men and three women in a high-profile (and big-money) trial that pitted musicians Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, and T.I. against the estate of soul/R&B legend Marvin Gaye. At issue was whether the three infringed on the copyright of Gaye’s 1977 recording “Got To Give It Up” with their 2013 mega-hit “Blurred Lines.” The eight-member jury yesterday (March 10) voted unanimously that Thicke et al infringed on the 1977 Gaye song, and they subsequently awarded nearly $7.4 million to Gaye’s family. His children – Nona, Frankie and Marvin Gaye III – were present in court when the verdict was read.

“Right now, I feel free,” Nona Gaye said after the verdict. “Free from … Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke’s chains and what they tried to keep on us and the lies that were told.”

Via a spokesperson, Williams told USA Today, “While we respect the judicial process, we are extremely disappointed in the ruling made today, which sets a horrible precedent for music and creativity going forward. Pharrell created ‘Blurred Lines’ from his heart, mind, and soul and the song was not taken from anyone or anywhere else. We are reviewing the decision, considering our options, and you will hear more from us soon about this matter.”

Thicke and Williams both denied that “Blurred Lines,” which earned them more than $5 million apiece, in any way was a copy of Gaye’s work. While both are credited as its songwriters, Williams wrote the song in about an hour in 2012, and the pair recorded it in one night, according to testimony.

Nashville entertainment law attorney Richard Busch, who represented the Gaye estate, said his clients were thrilled with the verdict. “This is as satisfying or more satisfying than any case I’ve ever had,” he said in a statement. “Winning the Eminem digital download case was obviously a very big deal. But winning this might be more satisfying because of the machine we were up against and who Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke are.”


Reports: Apple’s Streaming Music

Service Is Set To Launch In June


Apple      Apple’s much-anticipated streaming music service that integrates iTunes Radio and Beats will debut in June, most likely as part of the company’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference. The new music service is designed to integrate some of the Beats-style personalization and recommendation features with Apple’s existing digital music platform, but without the Beats branding. The service is expected to be available across all computer and mobile applications, including Android. In fact, it’s the Android app that reportedly is delaying the launch to June rather than this month.

As noted by TechCrunch, a cross-platform offering makes a lot of sense for Apple, which has a history of reaching out to competing platforms, as it did with iTunes for Windows. Also, as has been widely reported, Apple is seeking to offer more attractive pricing than other on-demand pay services, pricing its new service at $7.99 per month. That’s $2 less than the going rate for paid subscriptions to Spotify and Rdio.

Additionally, Apple has a massive existing user base that should make it an instant giant in the music streaming business. While Spotify recently hit 60 million users and 15 million paying customers, Apple is expecting to tap into hundreds of millions of iPhone, iPad, and Mac users, and also has an estimated 800 million credit cards on file, making it easy for customers to become paid subscribers.

There’s one more thing that stands to make Apple an instant leader in the streaming universe: The company currently has an estimated $180 billion in cash, allowing it to sign exclusive deals or convince hesitant artists to get on board with streaming. One example is Taylor Swift who, after her much-publicized clash with Spotify, has cozied up to iTunes amidst rumors that the company may be looking at acquire her record label, Big Machine.


Washington Set To Fix Music Industry’s

“Broken “Business”…But Can It?


Capitol Building      “The music business has been screwed up for a hopelessly long time, but change is afoot as Congress, the courts, and the Justice Department are all poised to shake up how companies and consumers pay for music.” That’s the word from GigaOm‘s legal and technology reporter Jeff John Roberts, who says this recent flurry of activity could produce a rational royalty system…”or just make the existing rat hole even deeper.” Here are some factors Roberts says could change the rules of the game for performers, streaming services, radio broadcasters, and everyone else with a stake in music.

Activity In Congress: The last month has seen the return of two proposed bills in Congress. One is the Local Radio Freedom Act, which would ensure that traditional AM/FM stations don’t have to start paying performance royalties on top of the songwriter fees they currently pay. The other is called the Songwriter Equity Act, which would tweak the way so-called “rate courts” calculate how much people who write songs should get paid. “Both bills have appeared before in one guise or another, but never passed,” Roberts points out. “This time, the outcome will be determined in part by whether Congress takes up the issues at stake on its own, or as part of a larger royalty reform effort.”

Justice Dept.: The DoJ held a hearing yesterday (March 10) over so-called consent decrees that essentially are antitrust orders that apply to ASCAP and BMI. The decrees have been a boon to everyone from cover bands to bars to radio stations because they provide an easy, efficient way to clear copyrights. But music publishers say they are getting short-changed and want the orders, which date from the 1940’s, to be changed or abolished outright.

     Digital Music On Trial: The most contentious of these cases involve an aggressive series of class action lawsuits, brought by record labels and former members of the band The Turtles. If these cases go any further, they will have huge financial and legal implications not just for Pandora and SiriusXM, but for any other service that plays old music on the internet.

Royalty Fees: The inequity between what different music services pay in performance royalty fees likely will come to a head this year. There’s a possibility that the entire fee collection process could be recalibrated from the ground up to fix major imbalances in how money is collected and paid. The first imbalance involves a seemingly irrational distinction in how the law treats AM/FM stations and digital radio.

For more insight into what to expect out of Washington this year, please see Bunzel Media Resources’ Radio 2015.


While Apple Watch Has Limited Storage,

It Could Work Wonders For Music Business


     Both the tech world and mainstream media were buzzing this week about the new Apple Watch, which has significant implications for the future of the recorded (and streaming) music industry. While certainly not as robust as a the typical smartphone or tablet, the device has 8GB of memory – 2 GB of which has been set aside for music storage. This means a user can store close to 500 music tracks on his/her wrist and listen to them via simple Bluetooth connection.

As noted by Forbes, the Apple Watch also has the ability to make streaming even easier than it already is. Until now users had to access music via a phone or desktop, requiring them to keep at least one hand free – and pay full attention – to access a desired song. The Apple Watch makes it possible to listen with just the flick of a finger or a voice command, meaning faster and easier song access.

“The Apple Watch will go hand in hand with the industry’s continued shift to streaming delivery,” Forbes‘ Bobby Owskinski says. “It offers enough features to make millions of people want to buy one without it having to be a fashion accessory (although it clearly can be that as well), and it’s only a matter of time until its users discover the ease at which they can access the music they love. While artists continue to complain about the low royalties received from streaming services (which requires a post all by itself), anything that makes the pie larger can only be good for everyone involved in the business. The Apple Watch could go a long way to making that happen.” 

Google Offers $3.00 Trial For

Its All Access Music Service


     The Google Play Store turns three this week and the tech giant is celebrating by offering a $3.00 trial of Google Play Music All Access, which was launched in May 2013. The subscription service has mostly been left out of discussions about the battle for the streaming music market, but Google is hoping to change that just as rumors continue to mount about the pending launch of Apple’s re-vamped digital music platform. Despite its size, Google has experienced difficulty entering a market dominated by Spotify, Rdio, Pandora, and even Google’s own YouTube Music Key.

Last fall the service (weighed down by its unwieldy name) unveiled a number of upgrades, including the integration of YouTube’s library and a deep suite of playlists built by Songza, which Google acquired in late June 2014 for $39 million. As the International Business Times reports, measuring All Access’ progress since then has been difficult. Most Android devices come pre-loaded with Google Play Music, an app that allows users to purchase songs and albums individually.

Google execs clearly are hoping the birthday promotion will nudge customers to consider streaming rather than buying their digital music, a move that labels and artists worry could significantly depress income from recordings. 

Samsung Expands Milk Music

Digital Service To Web Browsers


     Samsung announced this week it is offering its free Milk Music streaming radio service to web-based listeners via Slacker’s internet platform. As initially revealed in January, users will have access to over 200 curated radio stations across a variety of genres, although the company has not provided a lists of artists or albums associated with the Milk Music service. Instead of the dial interface that’s part of the mobile app, the web version uses a radio-style tuning bar so users can switch between genres and songs.

In addition to the free version, Milk Music also offers a premium subscription feature that gives users the option to pay $3.99 per month to listen to music uninterrupted by ads and skip unlimited songs. Premium subscribers also can play music on the mobile device without an Internet connection.

Milk Music was originally limited to Samsung Galaxy phones, so expanding it to the web and making it available to everyone means new and existing users can use it across all digital platforms.


Samsung Expands Milk Music

Digital Service To Web Browsers


     Samsung announced this week it is offering its free Milk Music streaming radio service to web-based listeners via Slacker’s internet platform. As initially revealed in January, users will have access to over 200 curated radio stations across a variety of genres, but the company has not provided a lists of artists or albums associated with the Milk Music service. Instead of the dial interface that’s part of the mobile app, the web version uses a radio-style tuning bar so users can switch between genres and songs.

In addition to the free version, Milk Music also offers premium subscription option that gives users the option to pay $3.99 per month to listen to music uninterrupted by ads and skip unlimited songs. Premium subscribers can also play music on the mobile device without an Internet connection.

Milk Music was originally limited to Samsung Galaxy phones, so expanding it to the web and making it available to everyone means new and existing users can use it across all digital platforms.


A publication of Bunzel Media Resources © 2015


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