Sonic Youth founder talks legacy, why artists can’t expect to get rich, Brooklyn — and his great new solo album

Thurston Moore: Sonic Youth “wasn’t really surprising anymore”

Thurston Moore: Sonic Youth "wasn't really surprising anymore"
Thurston Moore (Credit: Matador/Phil Sharp)

The centerpiece of Thurston Moore’s fourth solo album, “The Best Day,” is an 11-minute pagan guitar jam featuring some of the boldest lyrics the man has ever written: “You draw a circle around the holy fortress,” he sings. “Animals they sing and adore you.” With its tensely churning guitars and occultic imagery, “Forevermore” summons Tolkein and Crowley and even Hammer Horror icon Christopher Lee to show the weird and world-conjuring power of romantic desire. In other words, it’s a love song—or at least Moore’s version of a love song. Any treacle or schmaltz or heart-on-sleeve professions of devotions are elbowed aside by noisy guitars and an engagement with weird corners of pop history from Zeppelin to “The Wicker Man.”

Last year Moore moved to London—specifically, to a small village on the city’s outskirts called Stoke Newington—after more than 30 years in New York, where he served as an avatar of the city’s boho sensibilities. Whether that move was motivated by the need for a change of scenery or by the dissolution of his marriage to Sonic Youth bassist/singer Kim Gordon is largely beside point. What matters is that the transatlantic relocation has given Moore a whole new underground to explore. He’s part expat, part anthropologist.

Just as “Low” was David Bowie’s Berlin album, “The Best Day” is Moore’s Stoke Newington album, a collection of songs defined by the particulars of locale. The music is steeped in British history and culture—in its folk, pop and even metal scenes. Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley is the only other Yank in Moore’s band, which features guitarist James Sedwards (of Nought, The Devil and Zodiac Youth) and bassist Deb Googe (of My Bloody Valentine). Several tunes feature lyrics penned by a local poet named Radiuex Radio.

“The Best Day” is not a dramatic reinvention by any means; in fact, Moore admits it sounds in some ways like a Sonic Youth album, but adds that such similarities are inescapable. Instead, the album reveals once again Moore’s motivating restlessness and curiosity, showcasing an artist forever twisting expectations. From his new home across the Atlantic, he spoke to Salon about… well, pretty much everything: the gentrification of New York City, the revolutionary act of cutting your hair, the radical activism of the 1970s, the differences between writing a poem and writing a song, even the DIY punk scene in Bloomington, Indiana.

How do you like London so far?



What everyone says about living in England, specifically the weather is so shitty, is actually mistaken. It can be gray and rainy here for period, but we don’t have ice storms here like we did in New York. And it’s not like Vietnam in the summer. I dig it. It’s consistently nice here, but you have to live here to know that. When I used to visit, it would be incredibly rainy and gray and horrible, and I could never understand why anybody would want to live here. I guess you have to plant your feet here for a while to see that. But I’m not really here that much. I travel and tour quite a bit, which is okay but can be annoying because I feel like just when I’m getting into being here and discovering all there is to discover about this city, I get uprooted.

There’s obviously a lot of music to discover in London, although I think most of your fans associate you with New York that it feels a little like we lost a landmark or something.

There’s always been a pretty direct relationship between New York and London in my time. I moved to New York City in 1977. I’d been going there since 1976 and most of the information in New York was coming via London—more so, I think, than the rest of America. That didn’t really happen until later, when more regional and suburban activity started happening in the hardcore and underground scenes in the early ’80s. All of a sudden, those American scenes were more interesting than what was happening in England and Europe. But for me London seemed so exciting and glamorous to fantasize about, even while I was living in New York. I had this idea that I would fly to London and live there as a 19-year-old. It’s a good thing I didn’t. New York is three miles wide and twelve miles long—or something like that. And London is the size of Rhode Island. It’s huge.

Has the city been welcoming?

I don’t feel transplanted. I don’t feel like I’m trying to infiltrate England or anything. I found it incredibly welcoming. There’s a very active music underground here, and people get really interested in and excited by anybody who’s doing anything. Of course, it has the shelf life of about a day, but if you have some kind of vision, they’ll let you exist. I have a lot of history, so when I came here, people seemed happy about it. I got out and see bands and go to venues. I do things here. It reminds me a little more of what New York was like in the ’80s. It’s a little less sold out, although it’s still expensive to live here. It’s gritty, and there’s a street culture. It’s a very different kind of culture because everything shuts down at midnight. So it’s interesting in that respect. Plus, people read here. There are bookstores everywhere, which I like a lot. I dig it. But I still love New York City. It’s my home. When I go there, I feel like I’m going home. I know every little corner and aspect of it, even if I’m removed from it in a way because there’s a new generation there. It’s a more moneyed generation.

New York definitely seems like a different place than it was even 10 years ago.

For sure. Manhattan is still really bewitching in a way. There are certain areas that are off the commerce grid, way down in the tip of the island, that you can get lost in. It used to be that the whole area below 16th Street was our apocalyptic playground, but that doesn’t exist at all anymore. And there’s Brooklyn, which is its own entity. It’s great how Brooklyn has had this amazing resurgence of people coming in there and starting businesses and making it this fun capital. But that’s not my scene. It’s a younger person’s scene. It’s also a high-rent scene, so I don’t find it too attractive in that sense.

Brooklyn certainly prices you out if you’re trying to start something up. You’re almost better off going to Detroit.

The whole Detroit thing is great. To actually take that leap, go to Detroit, and do something on a big plot—that’s pretty radical. But it’s too cold for me. New York is cold, too, but Detroit is really cold. I’m in my mid 50s. I grew up in cold weather, but now I can see why old people go south. I can see why Iggy Pop lives in Miami Shores or wherever he lives. I get it. It’s time to worship the sun for a while. Where are you? Are you in New York?

I’m in Bloomington, Indiana, actually.

Cool. I have a bit of a connection to Bloomington, because there was this scene going on there in the mid ’70s, a bit of an art-rock scene coming out of the university. So, when I was 16 years old, I was pen-palling with these guys in Bloomington. There was a fanzine called Gulcher, and the first time I ever got published was a photo-booth photo of me looking tough and smoking a cigarette and talking about punk bands that I saw at Max’s Kansas City. I was writing back and forth with Eddie Flowers, who had a band called the Gizmos. I actually wrote to him in ’76 and said, Maybe I’ll come out to Bloomington and join you guys. And he said, No! Don’t do that. We have enough people in the band. I think MX-80 Sound came out of Bloomington, too. They were a really weirdo art-rock hippie punk band at a time when nobody knew how to cut their hair yet.

That was the whole thing, trying to figure out how to cut your hair and whether to wear straight-leg pants or not. It was a big deal. When I first started going to New York, even the Ramones had long hair. Lenny Kaye had this great long hair in the Patti Smith Group. There are early pics of Blondie where everybody has long hair. That didn’t last too long. I think it’s when people first see Television onstage with Richard Hell. That was really shocking. I remember that the audacity of anybody getting onstage to play rock music was just insane.

Now it seems odd that anyone would get upset about a musician’s haircut.

The identity of youth culture was all about hair. Hence the Broadway play. Hair was the flag. For somebody to cut it off and make this radical music early on, they had better have something to stand on. And there was. There was this whole attitude of change. It wasn’t just Television. It was people like Jonathan Richman—this idea of being a math nerd onstage was really wild. Alienated geeks could respond to people who were smart and looking for intellectual kicks. They knew they couldn’t look like Robert Plant, but they could look like Jonathan Richman. It was a necessary change.

Tell me about the artwork for “The Best Day.” That’s a very striking image on the cover.

The dog’s name was Brownie, and the woman is my mother. Her name is Eleanor. The picture was taken by my father when they were courting in the 1940s. It was down in Florida, around Miami. I found that photo among her photos earlier this year. When I saw it, I thought of different titles for the photo and the record, and I came up with “The Best Day.” I thought there must be a thousand other albums called “The Best Day,” or at least a thousand songs called “The Best Day.” I did a little research and could find only one song, a Country and Western song from years back. I didn’t listen to it. I was afraid to. But I had this other song I wrote, an instrumental, and having an album title already, it allowed me to write lyrics to the title song of the record. I felt good about having a title that’s about goodness instead of anger.

It certainly puts these songs in an almost literally sunnier context.

And my mother is still alive. The dog is no longer with us. My father’s no longer around either. In that respect you just think about how we all have these amazing days in our lives, but we have so much else—a lot of difficulty, a lot of stress. To me, it was like I was acknowledging that those times do exist and celebrating them. So there it is, on the cover. But you know, there’s always this underlying wistfulness in these things. We’re all wistful creatures.

The best day ends at midnight and then an okay day starts. Or a bad day. That push and pull between contentment and melancholy can make for a dynamic album.

We all have bad times in our lives. That’s a commonality among everybody, so to contemplate it is good, especially if you’re doing it as an artist. It’s an emotional expression, whether you’re doing it in music or visual art or literature. For me it feels like there’s a bit of self-medication to it, for want of a better word.

I would imagine that it would make them easier to live with for the next several months, when you’ll be playing them every night.

Sometimes I see bands whose whole oeuvre is based on anger and their own pissed-offed-ness. Every song is, I’m fucking losing it! Any kind of hard punk/metal thing is all about anger and negative vibes. Man, you have to express that anger all the time when you’re on tour. I find I don’t want to do that. There’s a lot I could scream about, but I’d rather transmute it in a way and try to turn it around. Put some light onto it, make it humorous, and see what happens. Maybe not talk about the bad, but talk about the good.

Yoko Ono said to me once, Let’s not talk about these people who are doing such bad things on the earth, be it Putin or whoever. When you talk about them, you name them, and when you name them, you give them this energy and this power. So don’t talk about them. Talk about the people who are doing good things. Let’s name them and give them the power. There’s something very ancient and Buddhist-centric about that kind of thinking, obviously, but I find it to be a very good rule of thumb in writing and presenting yourself as a public figure. That did have an effect on me.

Is that where “Detonation” comes from? Some people might look at the subject matter—political activism in the UK during the late 1960s and early 1970s—and see something very negative. But that song actually celebrates that kind of radicalism?

Those activists were university students, poets, and artists who wanted to make a point without harming anyone. They wanted to create some damage in the face of this imbalance of power in the cities. It was young men and women together—very gender-balanced. They were thrown in jail for being rabble-rousers and anarchists, and most of them continued their radical lives when they got out of jail. Some of them even lost their lives. That kind of devotion is really intense. They just couldn’t walk away from the cause, and that impresses me. I live in a little village called Stoke Newington, and there was a group here called the Angry Brigade, who were imprisoned for putting explosives in different places that were identified with the war machine. They made sure nobody got hurt; it was complete theater. Still, they were caught and thrown in the pokey.

That song looks at their creative lives. I didn’t write the lyrics. It was written by this transgender poet friend of mine who lives here named Radiuex Radio. She wrote three lyrics on the record—that song, a song called “Vocabularies” and another called “Tape.” I did do a little editing, which I’ve never done. In Sonic Youth we would trade lyrics. Someone would write a song for Kim [Gordon] to sing, and I would take some lines from her and use them in a song I would sing. So this kind of collaboration is nothing new.  “Detonation” was one of the first songs from this record that was composed, and there’s another song called “Speak to the Wild” that warns against falling in line with authority. I always thought “question authority” was the great badge of my era of ’70s, ’80s, ’90s punk. I always thought it made sense.

This whole album seems to be concerned with your relationship to authority.

I’ve always had a problem with being told what to do. I don’t know why. I think it’s because of my family unit. My parents weren’t especially authoritative. My dad was a typical father coming out of the Eisenhower era. He would spank you as a kid if you were acting up, but he was certainly not a mean guy. He was actually a very nice guy. But he passed away when I was a teenager. My mother was very liberal and open to me having experiences. She wouldn’t lay down the law. She would just worry. So I think what happens when I come into contact with some kind of expectation of authority, I kind of bristle. I feel like I want to create some kind of independence in reaction to it. I think that’s why I was really into hardcore music, because it was rebellious and it wore its rebellion and its emotions on its sleeve. Steve Shelley [Sonic Youth’s drummer] was in a band called the Crucifucks. They were a Midwestern hardcore band that I thought were fabulous, and they had these songs like “Democracy Spawns Bad Taste” and “Who Are All These Men in Blue Pushing Us Around?” My favorite, actually, is “Hinckley Had a Vision.”

Is there a point for you when the rebellion becomes the authority? Do the codes of rebellion become so ingrained that they become the thing to rebel against?

You do have to be careful. Rebellion becomes pretty chic and everybody falls in line with it. I think I’m more interested in unique independence. My favorite musicians were always the outliers, the ones who are beyond category: people like Sun Ra and Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, these itinerant people who had a singular voice as opposed to a groupthink mentality. On the other hand, I really like the groupthink of the initial punk movement. I like the idea of community, when a certain music sounds the same or has the same laws of composition, like reggae or Country and Western or different genres of jazz. When people say all reggae sounds the same, I’m like yeah, because this is a really unified idea. And I like that idea of unity, but the people who really attract me are the ones doing something singular. Obviously that’s what I wanted Sonic Youth to be. That’s who we wanted to be, and I guess that’s who we were.

Any band with a catalog as large and a legacy as long as Sonic Youth’s will necessarily meet certain expectations from fans and critics. Do you feel a need to rebel against those expectations of what the band was or could be?

Always. I feel like I don’t want to be decoded. The type of songwriting that was going on in Sonic Youth I think at some point was fairly well figured out. When we used to tour, the audience always had this kind of question mark over its head, but that kind of disappeared later on because they figured us out. People could dig the music, but it wasn’t really surprising anymore. The very few reviews I’ve read of “The Best Day” say that it sounds like a Sonic Youth record. Well, there are reasons for that. I do extend myself into other places where I play completely improvised music  or get involved with genre bands like Twilight, but for what I do as a songwriter, sitting alone with my guitar writing a song, it’s going to come out a certain way and sound a certain way. And I’m not going to try to change that just so it’s not recognizable.

In a way it should be recognizable, but it’s certainly not new. You’re only new once with what you’re doing, but that’s a great thing about being in a band—that initial impact that you have. Oh, this is a new sound. By your third or fourth record, it’s been decoded. I think it took a little while longer with Sonic Youth because we learned how to play as we existed. We learned to play in our own way, and we would settle into motifs for a few record. Those would progress and develop as years went by, but there would never be any radical changes. It wasn’t like, let’s go out and all play pianos. I don’t know what would have happened if we had done that. We would have lost our management and our booking agents.

When we did the record “Washing Machine,” it was in my mind to not have our name on the record, and just have the name of the band be Washing Machine. We were supposed to tour with R.E.M. when that record came out, and I asked if we could be listed as Washing Machine. No way. Nobody would go for it. So I had to settle for saying to people that we were called Washing Machine and the name of the album is “Sonic Youth.” But that didn’t fly either. I didn’t push it. I do side with reason. I’m not a complete nut.

It seems like you address some of those impulses with side projects and collaborations, like the “Caught on Tape” album with John Moloney and the chapbook with Tim Kinsella.

I do, and I allow all of those things to inform each other as well. The most separate thing is definitely working with writing. I teach writing courses in the summer at Naropa University, in the poetry workshop there that Allen Ginsburg and Anne Waldman founded in ’74. The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, they call it. That vocation is separate from the music activity, although I think there’s a wish that I’ll bring my guitar and play a little bit. But I don’t do it, because I want to be here teaching writing as a writer. I know I’ll never be looked upon as a writer, because I already have this history as a musician. I’ve learned how to deal with that. I like the idea of people being able to do whatever they want to do as artists. There’s always this dictum that says you shouldn’t spread yourself too thin across different disciplines. I disagree with that. I think you should be able to do what you want to do. That’s what John Cage was all about. You do whatever you do in an expressive medium to the best of your abilities, regardless of what medium it is. He called it interdisciplinary art.

So writing a poem doesn’t come from the same creative impulse as writing a song.

They can be different impulses. I’ll work on writing poems for the sake of writing poems, because they have a certain discipline—the way the line breaks, or the meter of the line, or just the visual nature of the poem on the page. I’m not writing with any intention for it to be a lyric in a song, but a lot of times when I’m writing songs, I’ll go back to a poem and try to sing the poem without having to modify or adjust it. Nine times out of ten I’ll have to modify or adjust it to fit the song. Sometimes I’ll take lines from different poems and create a third kind of piece that will become the lyrics to a song. I’ll ransack notebooks. When I write lyrics that are primarily for a song, it’s all about rhyme schemes. Rhyme schemes don’t really exist for me when I’m working with poetry. Rhyming in poetry is mostly outdated, but you can still utilize it to some degree. But you don’t want to do moon-june-spoon in poetry.

People generally think of writing as a solitary pursuit, yet you’ve managed to make it a collaborative endeavor. In fact, almost all of the art you create seems to be created socially.

To some degree. Sonic Youth worked best as a really democratic model. I always thought we worked best when nobody was coming in with song ideas. We would just get together and play, and we would hear things happening that we would focus on and create a song out of. That’s where the most interesting and magical stuff happened. But a lot of times one of us would come in with song ideas. I spent a lot of time writing songs and thinking, What am I going to do with these? So I would bring them in to Sonic Youth rehearsals and everybody would write their own parts and it would become a Sonic Youth song. But with the solo stuff, I show people what I’m doing and I don’t really allow much invention with it. It’s not, do whatever you want to do. It’s more like, I’d like you to play in unison with me here. Or I’d like you to do this on bass. It’s a different relationship than I had with Sonic Youth, because that band started with people who wanted to make something together. The band on “The Best Day” formed with me making phone calls to three people and asking if they would play this music I’m writing.

I always want to collaborate with people that I’m really interested in. When I started playing Lydia Lunch, I was so aware of what she was in the early ’80s, so it was incredibly startling to have this invitation to work with her. And then I had this whole history of working with Patti Smith and Merce Cunningham and Cecil Taylor. These people are giants to me, and all of a sudden I was partnering with them. It still happens today whenever I connect with someone who’s significant to me. I’ve always been a huge enthusiast of other people’s works, and I hold it in high regard. Those are teaching materials for me.

I think about people who lead ascetic lifestyles where they get into this state of no belongings and they just have this loss of self. In a way I have a lot of problems with that. I’m intrigued by that kind of life—you can have loss of self, but you’re always going to be imprisoned in your own consciousness. You have to deal with that. I find that the documents are my communications with the real world. I feel like I have plenty of connection with the metaphysical/spiritual world, too. I don’t feel a need to get rid of my belongings just so I can have this unattached lifestyle. I like the attachments. I find them to be friendly and interesting and exciting. I’m thinking of a whole new Buddhism where you surround yourself with mountains of paper.

Is that harder to do when music and culture are becoming less physical and more ephemeral?

Just by the fact that something is digital, it’s automatically insubstantial. I have no feeling for it. For me it’s there for a service and an immediacy of interaction, but it doesn’t turn me on. I don’t think it’s a threat to the more vibratory materials, like books and records and things you can actually touch. Because your senses are not involved in the digital. Even your hearing is negated because you’re just hearing digital output, which is numerical. Your brain doesn’t have much fun with it. It just processes it as information. I don’t get turned on by information. I get turned on by the mystery. But I don’t think these things are disappearing. There’s a lot of replacement going on, but there’s still plenty to deal with. It doesn’t disturb me.

It is a little harder to make a buck. It definitely puts a crimp in a lot of people’s lifestyles, people who made good money being in bands. There’s a certain humbling that I think is significant. Why should being in a band make you more money than any other job? Just because you have a guitar and you’re onstage doesn’t mean you have the privilege of being a millionaire. I never had that privilege, but it’s happened to a lot of people. Would I have accepted it? Certainly. Anybody could use the coin. But I always thought it was a distorted situation where people in the arts should have that ambition of great wealth. It would be nice, but it’s completely unnecessary to the craft.

I try not to have that define me or my pursuits at all. I say that, but at the same time, I’m very clear on how I tour and what is sustainable and what makes more sense financially. You can make more money playing this festival than playing this cool underground club. What are you going to do? I’m going to play the festival. I have to pay the rent just like anybody else.

 

http://www.salon.com/2014/10/18/thurston_moore_sonic_youth_wasnt_really_surprising_anymore/

 

DIGITAL MUSIC NEWS

Judge Slashes $48 Million Verdict Against

MP3Tunes Founder Michael Robertson

 

     A federal judge this week slashed record label EMI’s $48 million jury verdict against defunct music storage service MP3Tunes and its founder by about $33 million, ruling many of EMI’s claims were “just too big to succeed” and were backed by very little actual evidence. U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III tossed out most of the jury’s findings of secondary infringement against MP3Tunes and founder Michael Robertson under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The judge also cut common law punitive damages from $7.5 million to $750,000, and additional elements of the ruling could reduce the total amount to just over $10 million.

Earlier this year a Manhattan jury found MP3tunes and Robertson liable for copyright infringement and awarded $48.1 million in damages. EMI Group Ltd originally contended in its 2007 lawsuit that MP3tunes and another website known as Sideload.com enabled the infringement of copyrights in sound recordings, musical compositions, and cover art. Since that suit was filed EMI was split up, with Vivendi SA’s Universal Music Group acquiring its recording music business and a consortium led by Sony Corp purchasing its publishing arm in 2012.

In his ruling, Judge Pauley excoriated attorneys on both sides of the case. Slamming EMI’s lawyers, he wrote, “Despite this Court’s efforts to winnow the issues, the parties insisted on an 82-page verdict sheet on liability and a 331-page verdict sheet on damages that included dense Excel tables, necessitating at least one juror’s use of a magnifying glass. While the jury did its best, their assignment was beyond all reasonable scale.” Judge Pauley then turned his attention to Robertson, noting that he “created a business model designed to operate at the very periphery of copyright law.”

The plaintiffs now can either accept the decision or embark on a new trial on punitive damages, the judge said. He gave both sides until Oct. 17 to submit proposals for a final judgment. [Read more: Global Post Hollywood Reporter

Judge Hits Grooveshark In

Federal Copyright Infringement Case

 

Gavel      A federal judge in New York this week ruled that Grooveshark, an online music service long vilified by the major record companies, infringed on thousands of their copyrights. Judge Thomas P. Griesa of United States District Court in Manhattan said the digital music platform was liable for copyright infringement because its own employees and officers – including Samuel Tarantino, the chief executive, and Joshua Greenberg, the chief technology officer – uploaded a total of 5,977 of the labels’ songs without permission. Those uploads are not subject to the “safe harbor” provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The case stems from Grooveshark’s claim that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act protects websites that host third-party material (content posted by users and not company employees) if they comply with takedown notices issued copyright holders. Grooveshark and its parent company, Escape Media Group, insisted in court documents and testimony that all of the music files on its servers had been uploaded by its users.

But Judge Griesa didn’t buy that argument, and on Monday said, “Each time Escape streamed one of plaintiffs’  recordings, it directly infringed upon plaintiffs’ exclusive performance rights.” He also found the company destroyed important evidence in the case, including lists of files that Mr. Greenberg and others uploaded to the service.

As reported by The New York Times, the next step of the case will be to set damages, and the possibility of a multimillion-dollar ruling against Grooveshark puts the service’s future in doubt. When asked for a comment about the summary judgment decision, John J. Rosenberg, a lawyer for Grooveshark, said, “The company respectfully disagrees with the court’s decision and is currently assessing its next steps, including the possibility of an appeal.” 

Judge Rules Expert Testimony In Apple’s

Alleged “Monopoly” Case Can Be Included

 

Monopoly man      Unbelievably, the class action suit that claims Apple Inc. is guilty of monopolistic practices because of an iTunes update continues to move through the court system. According to Courthouse News Service, a federal judge has ruled the Cupertino, CA-based tech giant cannot exclude a key expert for the plaintiffs who are accusing it of monopolizing digital music and music players between 2006 and 2009.

The lawsuit, filed in 2005, alleges Apple illegally acquired a digital music player monopoly with an iTunes update that made it impossible for iPods to play songs purchased from another online music store. As part of their case, the plaintiffs asked Stanford economist Roger Noll to testify that the update made it more costly for an iPod user to switch media players because it would be harder to collect music that could be played on all devices. Noll said the update also encouraged iPod owners to only buy music from iTunes.

The resulting monopoly allowed Apple to charge more for iPods, causing $305 million in damages to the class, Noll told the court. Apple had asked the judge to exclude Noll’s testimony in December 2013, but U.S. District Judge Yvonne Rogers last week denied that motion. She also denied a motion by Apple for summary judgment. 

Digital Streaming Revenue Grew In First

Half While Overall Revenues Slipped 4.9%

 

     U.S. music revenues slipped to $3.2 billion in the first half of 2014, a 4.9% drop from the $3.35 billion the industry tallied in the first half of 2013. According to the latest figures released by the Recording Industry Association Of America (RIAA), digital music revenue declined about 0.5% to $2.203 billion, from $2.214 billion in the first half of 2013. Meanwhile, subscription revenue jumped 23.2%, to $371.4 million from $301.4 million, and ad-supported streaming jumped 56.5% to $164.7 million from $105.2 million. CD sales fell 19.1% to $715.6 million from $994.1 million, while the sale of vinyl product – an infinitesimal line item – jumped 41% to $6.5 million, from $4.8 million in the same period last year.

The RIAA says paid subscription services averaged 7.8 million U.S. subscribers in the first six months of the year, up from an average of 5.5 million subscribers in the first half of 2013. Download sales of albums and tracks fell 11.8% to nearly $1.3 billion from $1.47 billion. Distribution of performance royalties collected by SoundExchange grew 21.3% during the same period, from $266.5 million in the first half of 2013 2013 to $323.4 million in H1 2014.

As noted by Billboard, the RIAA for the first time also provided an overall market volume for wholesale. Typically, the RIAA numbers add up the value of units for each album by that album’s list price, not the wholesale price that the labels receive when they ship the albums to retailers. But converting their data to wholesale values for downloads and the physical formats, RIAA estimates the U.S. music marketplace at $2.2 billion, down from $2.3 million at mid-year 2013.

 

Spanish Broadcasting System, 7digital

Launch Digital Content Partnership

 

Handshake      Spanish Broadcasting System has entered into a partnership with 7digital to provide SBS’ LaMusica.com with secure content management technology and a royalty reporting system to support additional music products beyond the site’s current streaming content. LaMusica.com currently streams 14 of the broadcasting company’s Spanish-language radio stations, and also provides a variety of entertainment, news, and cultural offerings leveraged from SBS’ radio network, television, and live entertainment properties.

“We continue to invest in strengthening our LaMusica.com portal and extending the robust content offerings we provide to the nation’s Latino music fans,” SBS Chairman/CEO Raul Alarcón, Jr. said in a statement. “Our agreement with 7digital will provide us with additional tools to maximize the LaMusica.com experience, further building on our momentum as we seek to fully capitalize on our strong media brands and close ties to the vibrant Latino music community.”

“We are pleased to partner with fast-growing entertainment services such as LaMusica.com to enhance the infrastructure that is required to deliver comprehensive and seamless digital entertainment offerings,” Simon Cole, 7digital’s CEO, commented in the same statement. “SBS has an exceptional history in creating top-ranked media brands attracting large and loyal audiences in the nation’s biggest Hispanic media markets, and we look forward to playing a role in expanding LaMusica.com’s operating platform.”

 

Yes, eMusic Is Still Around…And

It’s Returning To Its Indie Roots

 

     For years eMusic – one of the first MP3 download services on the web – positioned itself as specializing in independent label content and, in fact, thrived (somewhat) as a music subscription service, whereby users paid a set fee each month to download a set number of tracks.

Over the years, however, the company grdually aligned itself with the major labels in order to survive, but iTunes and Amazon eventually cornered the mainstream download market, leaving eMusic to languish in the nether regions between major and indies. In fact, most industry execs more or less forgot eMusic still existed, except when it popped up as a sponsor at various industry events.

So imagine the surprise of eMusic’s small but loyal user base this week when they received an announcing the service was ending its partnerships with the majors, and returning to its roots as a hub of indie label content. In fact, the email said that beginning today (Oct. 1, the start of the fourth quarter), eMusic “will be exiting the mainstream music business and exclusively offering independent music. The company’s goal is to build the most extensive catalogue of independent music in the world.” While Complete Music Update calls that an admirable goal, it does raise the question of whether it’s too little, too late, for two reasons: 1) Much of eMusic’s small user base has drifted to the subscription streaming services, and 2) The indie labels that 10 years ago would have applauded this move are now focused on trying to get a piece of that same streaming revenue.

 

A publication of Bunzel Media Resources © 2014

DIGITAL MUSIC NEWS

CA Judge Rules SiriusXM Is Liable For

Pre-1972 Turtles Performance Fees

 

Gavel      A federal judge in Los Angeles this week agreed with 1960s band The Turtles that the recorded music industry can collect performance royalty fees for copyrighted recordings made prior to 1972. In a summary judgment ruling published Monday (Sept. 22), U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez ruled SiriusXM had violated California state law by performing 15 recordings of The Turtles dating from before 1972 without a license. The original lawsuit, filed by singers Flo & Eddie, argued that even though Federal copyright laws only covered recordings made after 1972, various state laws provided copyright coverage for works prior to that year.

The Los Angeles ruling thus gives the music industry and its pre-1972 legal theory a major boost. In reaching his conclusion, Judge Gutierrez examined a California law that was enacted in 1982 and meant to address pre-1972 recordings. As reported by Billboard, the statute – passed in the aftermath of U.S. Congress’s decision to expand federal copyright law – was silent on whether “exclusive ownership” of pre-1972 sound recordings carries within it the exclusive right to publicly perform the recording. As such, the judge had to determine whether California’s law was inclusive or exclusive, and the judge’s reading of the law is that other than the exception for cover songs, there’s nothing exclusive about it.

GigaOm called Monday’s ruling the worst-case outcome for SiriusXM and other digital music services because it will likely expand the scope of music on which they must pay royalties. It also could add a further layer of costs for the digital services that traditional AM/FM radio stations do not have to incur. 

SiriusXM Pre-’72 Copyright Ruling

May Mean Nothing Outside California

 

Lawsuit      U.S. Federal Court Judge Philip Gutierrez’ decision that SiriusXM violated the Turtles’ pre-1972 master copyrights is considered a big win for the music industry…but does it have any meaning beyond California, where the original lawsuit was filed? Many legal experts today are scratching their heads and wondering whether Monday’s ruling has any significant implications for other ongoing court cases that argue state laws apply even though the master recording copyright didn’t exist until 1972 in federal law. SiriusXM, Pandora, and other digital music services say they have the right to play pre-1972 recorded music without licensing or paying royalties to record labels and the artists, while labels and artists maintain these services must comply with individual state laws, where they exist.

The Copyright Royalty Board originally said federal law exempts SiriusXM from making such copyright payments, but the CRB’s ruling doesn’t extend to state statutes. This led to the Turtles’ Flo & Eddie to claim copyright protection under California law; subsequent lawsuits also were filed in Florida and New York. Additionally, SoundExchange filed a claim against SiriusXM in federal court in the District of Columbia, while the three major labels filed a lawsuit on the same issue against the satcaster in California state court and against Pandora in New York state court.

Interestingly, last month a different judge ruled the wording in California state law on master recordings is ambiguous and may protect against unlicensed duplication and distribution. “Plaintiffs [the major labels] have not cited any authority for the proposition that the state law rights in pre-1972 sound recordings included rights in public performances of the sound recordings,” Judge Mary Strobel wrote.

“The Flo & Eddie judge [Gutierrez] surely read the interim ruling and said ‘balderdash,'” one senior label executive told Billboard

Apple Denies Rumors Of Beats Closure

 

     In what may have been a major Mark Twain moment, the reports earlier this week that Beats Music was dead may have been greatly exaggerated. While the social media blogosphere was buzzing that Apple Inc. had decided to shutter the service it acquired only four months ago for $3 billion, Hollywood Reporter says Apple claims the story simply is not true. In fact, Apple has been typically silent about how it plans to integrate Beats into its current iTunes offerings, and the service was largely ignored when executives took the stage at a special media event less than two weeks ago to reveal the new iPhone 6.

Still, HR says Apple’s Eddy Cue gave a wink to Beats during his presentation on Apple Pay, and CEO Tim Cook gave the streaming service a shout-out when announcing the launch of the new U2 album. That said, the Beats app, which allows people to access curated streaming music playlists, is noticeably absent from the new iPhones.

So what gives? Actually a source with “knowledge of the situation” says that Apple “is fully committed to offering a subscription service, though changes to any existing products are always a possibility.” Closing Beats Music would leave co-founders Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre available to focus on other initiatives for the tech firm, and would support reports that surfaced at the time of the acquisition that Apple paid a premium to sign the music moguls to long-term development deals.

Editor’s note: It’s been clear from the start that Apple has big plans for certain elements of the Beats technology and the team that brought it to fruition. CEO Tim Cook and the innovators in Cupertino obviously have a vision for the Beats technology that far exceeds simply plugging it into its existing iTunes Radio system. Keep in mind that, for every Apple product that has ever shipped in a box, there has been a team of minds that first thought outside that box. 

U2 And Apple Reportedly Are Developing

New Digital Music “Audiovisual” Format

 

     Expanding on the rumor that Apple Inc. has closed Beats Music, Time magazine this week reported the company actually is working with U2 to develop a new digital music format that “will prove so irresistibly exciting to music fans that it will tempt them again into buying music – whole albums as well as individual tracks.” Fresh off the surprise release (and subsequent partial recall) of U2’s new “Songs of Innocence” album, the band’s legendary frontman Bono told Time that the new music format is designed to be something that “can’t be pirated” and that could limit both illegal downloading and legal streaming, activities Rolling Stone says “have chipped away the music industry from a sales perspective.”

“It’s going to get very exciting for the music business,” Bono said, adding that the format will be “an audiovisual interactive format for music that can’t be pirated and will bring back album artwork in the most powerful way. You can play with the lyrics and get behind the songs when you’re sitting on the subway with your iPad or on these big flat screens. You can see photography like you’ve never seen it before.”

Bono said the new format is about 18 months away, which could potentially align it with U2’s planned “Innocence” follow-up “Songs of Experience.” While U2 is championing this new format, the files are more likely to help younger, lesser-known artists than global superstar acts, as the format gives listeners incentive to actually buy music. “Songwriters aren’t touring people,” Bono said. “Cole Porter wouldn’t have sold T-shirts. Cole Porter wasn’t coming to a stadium near you.” 

Japan’s Love Affair With CDs Boosts

Global Sales, But Could Slam Record Biz

 

     Japan is considered be one of the world’s perennial early adopters of new technologies, but its continuing attachment to the CD puts it sharply at odds with the rest of the global music industry. That’s the word from The New York Times, which reports that, while CD sales are falling worldwide, they still account for about 85% of sales in that country, compared with as little as 20% in some countries. By contrast, digital sales are quickly eroding in Japan, going from almost $1 billion in 2009 to just $400 million last year, according to the Recording Industry Association of Japan. Meanwhile, such streaming music services as Spotify and Rdio, widely seen as the industry’s best new hope for new revenue, have stalled in their efforts to enter Japan, where homegrown pop idols by far outsell Western acts.

Analysts contend peculiarities of Japan’s business climate have shaped its attachment to the CD, but cultural factors may also be at play. For instance, Japanese consumers have a love affair with collectible goods, which means that “Greatest Hits” albums do particularly well in Japan, perhaps because of the elaborate, artist-focused packaging. Cross-promotional activities also abound; for example, the hugely popular girl group AKB48 pioneered the sale of CDs containing tickets that can be redeemed for access to live events. This strategy is credited with propping up CD sales, because it can lead the biggest fans to buy multiple copies of an album.

Digital sales in the U.S. have surpassed physical sales a few years ago, but CDs still account for 41% of the $15 billion recorded music market worldwide. Much of this lingering sales strength comes from Japan (as well as Germany), an attachment that worries analysts who contend that if those countries do not embrace online music, an inevitable decline in CD sales will further damage the industry. “If Japan sneezes and Germany catches a cold, that’s it – we’re done,” Alice Enders, a media analyst with Enders Analysis, told the Times

Music Industry Could Learn A Thing

Or Two From Digital Marketing 101

 

     As the digital music industry becomes increasingly competitive (and, perceptually at least, disjointed), record labels wrestle with a disruped digital ecosystem made up of many seemingly disconnected parts. As a result, consumers have the potential to get lost in the mix, leaving many to wander aimlessly through a morass of traditional, digital, and social media in their quest to discover new music and even listen to what they already know. As Mashable noted earlier this week, music is a breed of its own, where cookie-like tracking tools simply don’t exist yet and artists don’t know their true reach and can’t discover comprehensive insights into their listeners.

To that end, the website offers several modern marketing concepts to see how they apply – or don’t – to the ever-changing music business:

  • Marketing technology. Deeper insight into user behavior is crucial for an industry that bears the brunt of every new disruptive technology.
  • Real-time reporting. Radio is a music research black hole. Activity on Pandora comprises a huge and growing percentage of listening in the United States, the world’s biggest music market. However, like offline radio, there’s no real-time or detailed tracking of  music consumption.
  • Building relationships on social. Marketing’s key theme also applies to the music industry: success is all about having a relationship with the consumer (in this case, the listener). As Taylor Swift pointed out in her recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, artists are starting to get record deals because they have fans, not the other way around.

As Mashable says, “The missing links that’ll ultimately power the business of the music industry will fall into place with innovation. Every individual stars in their own movie complete with the soundtrack to their life. By leveraging the innovation seen in digital marketing, artists can understand in which scenes their music is featured.”

 

A publication of Bunzel Media Resources © 2014

DIGITAL MUSIC NEWS

Pandora Finalizes Publishing Deal With BMG

 

Handshake      Not content to wait for the greater music industry to enact significant changes, Pandora last week announced it has signed a direct deal for music rights with BMG, the world’s fourth-largest music publisher. The arrangement includes the portions of its catalog represented by ASCAP and BMI, the two major licensing groups that have long handled the rights for millions of songs in the U.S. As reported by The New York Times, BMG’s large roster includes songwriters who have written major hits for such performers as Adele, One Direction, Beyoncé, and Frank Sinatra; the company is part of German media conglomerate Bertelsmann.

Even though BMG remains a member of ASCAP and BMI, Pandora bypassed them by making the direct deal for what analysts believe is a higher royalty rate than those two organizations – which are governed by decades-old federal regulation – are able to obtain on their own. In exchange, the deal gives BMG and its songwriters unspecified “marketing and business benefits,” according to a statement issued by Pandora.

Last month Pandora struck a similar deal with Merlin, which represents thousands of independent record companies in digital licensing negotiations. That agreement is expoected to pay the record labels slightly better royalty rates than would be available through the compulsory licensing terms available to Pandora under United States copyright law, and also give the labels access to valuable marketing insights from Pandora’s vast collection of user data. “We believe direct deals with labels offer better content cost visibility in the longer term, and we think they improve relations between Pandora and the artists,” Nomura analyst Anthony DiClemente wrote in a research note following the BMG announcement. 

Liberty CEO: Sirius XM Is Eyeing Streaming

Expansion To Drive Competitive Growth

 

Sirius XM      It appears Sirius XM finally may be realizing digital streaming technology is leap-frogging right past satellite radio distribution. While the Liberty Media-backed company entered the streaming audio space several years ago, recent comments made by President/CEO Greg Maffei indicate the satcaster is studying the growth curves of other streaming music services and determining how to compete on a major scale.

“We are watching what happens in streaming,” Maffei said at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference in New York last week. “Taking Sirius XM’s unique content beyond the car in the home and in the office, it’s an opportunity we’ve not yet attacked.”

His comments make it clear that Sirius XM, which depends heavily on subscribers getting satellite-radio receivers in their cars, is interested in becoming a bigger player in the internet-based streaming space. According to the New York Post, subscribers who prefer to listen to the service on their mobile devices can get a stand-alone online radio package for $14.99 a month, less than the current “all-access” package, which costs $18.99. 

No Big Surprise, Really: Clear Channel

Changes Its Name To iHeartMedia

 

     Yesterday’s announcement that Clear Channel Media & Entertainment was changing its name to iHeartMedia seemed to cause a heart attack throughout the broadcasting industry, but a few analysts actually saw the change coming months ago. The company increasingly was using the “iHeartRadio” line to brand its stations on the local level, and the Clear Channel name – associated with billions of dollars of debt – was considered clunky by many folks inside the radio business and on Wall Street. While the “heart” part of iHeartMedia itself may seem a decade out of date, the name change re-brands the company among younger listeners (and ostensibly, media buyers) who associate it with the iHeartMusic Festival which, not coincidentally, begins Friday (Sept. 19) in Las Vegas.

The name-change is “a reflection of  the fact that the company has changed radically over last several years,” Clear Channel Chief Executive Robert Pittman said in a statement. “We have massive consumer reach and influence across our platforms because we know how to program the live content people want to hear. Right now we are the largest mobile media company in existence, and we deliver more live programming than any other media company today.”

Indeed, the aforementioned iHeartRadio Festival attracts tens of thousands of fans each year, and the TV broadcasts last year drew millions of viewers. Also televised are the iHeartRadio Jingle Ball, iHeartRadio Pool Party, and several iHeartRadio concerts a year. Additionally, Clear Channel’s inaugural iHeartRadio Music Awards on NBC in May attracted 5.5 million viewers.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, much of the public has come to equate the Clear Channel name with corporate consolidation of the radio and concert industries. However, according to a recent study released by Edison Research, iHeartRadio’s brand is second in recognition in audio streaming, behind Pandora’s 31% share with 9%, and ahead of iTunes Radio’s 8% share. While the name change affects all former Clear Channel radio stations and its digital audio platform, the company’s outdoor business will retain the name Clear Channel Outdoor. 

Apple’s U2 Music Giveaway Breaks Bad

 

     It all began with U2’s appearance with Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook last week. As the company made its predicted announcement of the new iPhone 6 and a new wearable wrist device, the company blundered into what Upstart Business Journal called an “unforced error” with its decision to automatically add the band’s new album “Songs of Innocence” to 500 million iTunes accounts. This meant that, if a user’s device was set to automatically download newly-purchased music, the brand-new U2 album would be sitting on the iPhone, iPad, etc.

One week later, in the midst of a massive backlash from angry iTunes customers, Apple has been forced to put up a special page for users who want to erase “Songs of Innocence” from their libraries with a removal tool that indicates how wrong a seemingly good idea can go. “Nothing pisses off the audience more than pushing something they don’t want and didn’t ask for,” media analyst Bob Lefsetz said in a newsletter. “They’d have been better off releasing it on YouTube; that’s where the digital generation goes for music. iTunes is a backwater. It may be the number one sales outlet, but it’s not the number one music platform… not even close.”

The stunt did little to help U2’s chart prospects, either. Billboard last week announced its refusal to count the album release on its charts, even though Apple paid $100 million to get it there. “While U2 surprised the music world by releasing its new album, ‘Songs of Innocence,’ as a free download to iTunes Store account holders and for streaming on Beats Music, you won’t see it on the Billboard 200 albums chart for another month and a half,” the industry magazine said in a statement.

“Free or giveaway albums are not eligible for inclusion on Billboard’s album charts and do not count toward sales tracked by Nielsen SoundScan. “Once ‘Songs of Innocence’ goes on sale beginning Oct. 14, it will then set its sights on Billboard’s sales charts. On that date, the album will be available in both standard and deluxe editions to physical and digital retailers, as well as on streaming services other than Beats. Until then, only current or new iTunes or Beats account holders will have access to the album.”

 

Deezer Launches High-End Audio Service

To Compete With Spotify And Beats

 

     French music streaming company Deezer has launched an elite service with what it calls higher sound quality for audiophiles as it tries to differentiate itself from rivals Spotify, Pandora, and Beats Music. According to the Financial Times, the company said it plans to launch the service in the U.S. through a partnership with Sonos, the speaker manufacturer that specializes in wireless audio.

Deezer ostensibly is betting that high-fidelity audio will enhance its appeal in an increasingly crowded and competitive market. The new service, to be called Deezer Elite, will stream “lossless” audio files at a standard of 1,411 kilobits per second. The higher the bitrate of a file, the more detailed the sounds, and Deezer’s high rate is more than four times the top bitrate of Spotify. The service will cost up to $19.99 a month, twice the $9.99 a month Spotify charges.

In a statement, Deezer North America chief executive Tyler Goldman said the company was “focused on super-serving the needs of underserved market segments” such as audio enthusiasts. Many audiophiles have shunned streaming services because their sound quality is usually inferior to that of high-quality downloads, vinyl albums, or CDs, he said.

Still, the market for high-end audio streaming may be limited, because of higher subscription and bandwidth charges costs, and the fact that most people stream music through smartphones and computers, which do not have the capability for high-end audio.

 

Warner Music Consolidates Biz-Dev Unit

 

     Warner Music Group this week consolidated its global business development functions under a single leadership team, with COO Rob Wiesenthal overseeing the company’s digital business development efforts while continuing to report to CEO Steve Cooper. At the same time, the label promoted Jonathan Dworkin to EVP of digital strategy and business development. Dworkin will report to Wiesenthal and continue working on “building global-minded partnerships that expand WMG’s success with artist development.”

As reported by Billboard, Cooper said the new unified structure will give artists a portfolio of “unmatched” innovative services and opportunities. “This move recognizes that digital technology is a driving force across all aspects of our business, and that the pace of change – both globally and locally – requires nimble experimentation,” he said in a statement.

Wiesenthal joined WMG in early 2013 to oversee the company’s partnership with Shazam, and also spearheaded the deal with Clear Channel to become the first U.S. major label to receive artist performance royalty payments when their master recordings are played on the radio. This new role at the label creates an opportunity to “establish new business approaches for artists, and build on WMG’s reputation as the most ambitious and progressive music company in the world,” he said in a statement.

 

A publication of Bunzel Media Resources © 2014

 

 

DIGITAL MUSIC NEWS

Spotify Launches Online Video Ads

For Mobile And Desktop Apps

 

     Spotify this week launched two new marketing platforms – one for desktops and one for mobile devices – that will stream video advertising to listeners of its free digital music service. Video Takeover ads appear in the desktop app during regular ad breaks and are only played if the client is in view, while Sponsored Sessions lets marketers play 15- and 30-second spots within 30-minute ad-free mobile sessions. Spotify video-ad launch partners in the U.S. include Kraft Foods, Target, and Wells Fargo, while worldwide launch partners are Universal Pictures, Coca-Cola, Ford, and McDonald’s.

As reported by Variety, Spotify says its users spend an average of 84 minutes per user per day on the service streaming. Among those who use the service across multiple devices, the average is 146 minutes daily. “Our audience is incredibly engaged, so we are delivering an advertising experience that enhances their time spent on Spotify and connects them to the music and brands they love,” Spotify chief business offer Jeff Levick said in a statement. “We think about video as one of the most dynamic forms of content that advertisers have, and that brings great relevance to Spotify. “Brands have clearly stated it’s of interest to them.”

Spotify actually pitched the new video ads to Cannes attendees in June. As a result of those discussions, Spotify added a post-roll element to the Sponsored Sessions that reminds a user of the brand that paid for the ad-free music. “That’s a direct result of the conversations in Cannes,” Levick said, noting there’s a possibility Spotify could use that message to lead someone into a second ad-free session sponsored by that brand.

For years radio broadcasters have lamented the fact that they can’t display a product in their advertising, but digital platforms have broken down that barrier. Any AM/FM station that streams programming should take note. 

Judge Rules ReDigi Founders Could Be

Responsible For Significant Royalty Fees

 

Lawsuit      Remember ReDigi? That was the company that was founded on the theory that what works for selling coins and old cell phones on Craigslist would work for selling “used” digital music online. Not so fast, as Judge Richard Sullivan ruled in 2013, when he declared that – unlike actually handing someone a copy of a CD or book – computers enable a person to copy a digital file and sell one, keeping the other for him/herself. Sullivan ruled this practice violates the Audio Home Recording Act, which states royalties must be paid every time an audio recording is copied, and Capitol Records claimed they weren’t being paid for ReDigi’s sales.

Since that ruling was handed down, ReDigi has kept its site running, as founders John Ossenmacher and Larry Rudolph said they were improving their technology so it only accepted “used” music that can be verified to have been  purchased legally. That effort apparently wasn’t enough to satisfy either plaintiff Capitol Records or Judge Sullivan, who last week accepted a motion to hold the two responsible for all unpaid royalties. He explained that the pair “personally conceived of the infringing business model and technology at issue in this case, were the ultimate decision makers concerning the development and implementation of [the] infringing activity, and directed and approved all key aspects of ReDigi’s activities found to infringe Capitol’s copyrights.”

This development means that not only is the company in digital limbo, but Ossenmacher and Rudolph could be held liable for a significant amount in royalties to the record label. The lawsuit almost certainly will drag on for many moons, but things aren’t looking good for the company or its founders. As reported by Forbes, this case is of special importance because it will help shape the direction of the digital marketplace, and it affects much more than the music industry. 

Rdio Launches “Freemium” Service In

Move To Become Spotify-Pandora Hybrid

 

     In what has been called a Spotify-Pandora hybrid, San Francisco-based Rdio has launched a new “freemium” version of its subscription-based platform that allows users to listen to an ad-supported version of the service. The change to a free model is designed to help the company compete against the above-mentioned services, as well as Beats Music and Google’s Play Music All Access. “What we’ve learned collectively over the last few years is that the most successful models are freemium models,” Anthony Bay, Rdio’s chief executive, told the New York Times.

As noted by the Times, Rdio’s move is a result of an arrangement with Cumulus Media. The radio broadcasting company last year was granted an equity stake of at least 15% in Pulser Media, Rdio’s parent company, in exchange for providing content and promotional services that Cumulus says are worth $75 million over five years. “This is the most exciting internet radio product we’ve seen and provides a compelling complement to our nationwide broadcast radio platform,” Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey said.

Users of the new free service will see the web and mobile apps place near-total emphasis on Rdio’s ad-supported radio stations, including more than 60 programmed by human curators, while seeing fewer promos to upgrade to the premium version. All users will have access to the service’s useful new “Home” feed, which offers Facebook-like stories about trending and notable artists, songs, and albums. Users scroll through their feed to find songs their friends are listening to in real time, albums that are trending in the user’s network, and albums from artists that the listener has not yet listened to. 

TuneCore Opens Nashville Office; Hires Music

Veteran Shelby Kennedy As VP To Run It

 

     Independent digital music distribution and publishing company TuneCore announced this week it will open a Nashville office and has hired Shelby Kennedy to serve as VP/ entertainment relations. Kennedy reportedly will work closely with musicians and songwriters to “create career-building opportunities” outside the perceived confines of the major record labels. “Nashville is one of the most creative cities in the world, and Shelby Kennedy has deep relationships and broad expertise in the music industry,” TuneCore CEO Scott Ackerman said in a statement. “As TuneCore expands our support for the increasing number of musicians and songwriters who choose independence to take control of their careers, both are a natural fit.”

According to Billboard, Kennedy is a well-known figure in Nashville, having previously held roles at ASCAP, BMI, Lyric Street Records, and Wide Open Music Group. For the past 18 years he’s operated his own company, Porch-Pickin’ Publishing, and he’s the son of legendary guitarist Jerry Kennedy and brother of songwriter Gordon Kennedy. “I hope to tap my experience spanning the spectrum of roles across the business – from songwriter to performer to business executive – to act as a catalyst in driving opportunities for artists, songwriters, and other key partners,” he said in the same statement

TuneCore is a digital distributor and music publishing administrator for independent artists. It distributes recordings to such digital music services as iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and Rhapsody. Its music publishing administration division collects publishing royalties from digital services and also handles requests for synchronization licenses.
 

AccuRadio Raises $2.5 Million In Funding

 

     Kudos to Kurt Hanson and the rest of the AccuRadio team for securing $2.5 million in a Series A round of funding that comes from NantWorks LLC, a company headed by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong. AccuRadio is an online digital music platform similar in delivery to Pandora, but it’s demographically different in that it targets upscale, educated, at-work 35-64 year-olds. The funding reportedly will be used to expand the streaming service to a broader audience via a new PR and marketing campaign.

“We’re delighted to finally be able to bring marketing support to our product,” says CEO Hanson, who also publishes Radio And Internet Newsletter (RAIN). “AccuRadio has industry-leading measures of customer satisfaction, including Average Time Spent Listening in Webcast Metrics and its iOS and Android app.” The platform also is a two-time winner of the Webby Awards’ “People’s Voice” award for Best Radio.

AccuRadio was founded in 2000 and, while weathering tumultuous industry change, has remained profitable for several years.  [Full story: Digital Music News

Sony Unveils Hi-Res Walkman, Headphones

To “Wrap You In A Sumptuous Experience”

 

     While Apple Inc. was making its usual global tech splash this week, Sony rolled out several new devices designed to bring high-fidelity sound to audiophiles who care about those things. Specifically, the company launched its new Walkman NWZ-A17 hi-res audio digital music player and MDR-1A hi-res headphones, both of which a hype-infused company statement claimed “brings you closer to the spirit and soul of the artist’s original performance – just as you’d hear it on stage or in the recording studio…setting an exciting new benchmark in sound and style…to wrap you in a sumptuous, unparalleled listening experience.”

“As digital audio emerged and allowed consumers to more easily and accessibly enjoy music, audio quality was inadvertently sacrificed,” Sony VP/Sound Division Michael Woulfe explained in the statement. “Sony’s commitment to hi-res audio continues with the new Walkman and MDR-1A headphones. Music lovers no longer have to choose between audio quality and portability – they can finally listen to their music library on-the-go, with the quality that the artist intended.”

The Walkman A17 will be available in November for a suggested retail price of $299.99 at Sony stores and other authorized dealers nationwide. The MDR-1A Hi-Res headphones will be available at the end of September for the same suggested retail price of $299.99. [To read the full statement and product specs, click here]

 

A publication of Bunzel Media Resources © 2014

 

Bob Dylan In New York City Before Anyone Knew Him

The Year of Wine, Women, Song and Protest

Before folk and rock merged, Dylan had the attitude.

Bob Dylan at Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village in 1961.
Photo Credit: http://folkcityatfifty.blogspot.com/2013_04_01_archive.html

 (What follows is an excerpt from the newest book by Dennis McNally, On Highway 61: Music, Race and The Evolution of Cultural Freedom (Counterpoint, 2014) which traces the culture and history of American music from Old South through the 1960s.)

Naturally, Dylan went straight to Greenwich Village. The Village had been receptive to folk music at least since the Almanac Singers had lived on West Tenth Street, and it was a genuine community. It wasn’t about money, he’d write a couple of years later. “Instead a bein drawn for money you were drawn / for other people.”

Soon Bob hooked up with a blues player named Mark Spoelstra, and they worked at the Café Wha? as a duo in the afternoons. Before long he was playing other basket houses (so-called because the only pay came when someone passed a basket around the audience), often three or four in a day, working from noon to 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. He began to develop a hip, funny stage act that went along with the songs. He also played anywhere else that would let him unpack his guitar, especially at parties and at Israel “Izzy” Young’s Folklore Center.

He had a voice—not a conventional voice, not the sweet voice of Minneapolis, but what one of his biographers called “a tonsilly scranch, a dry, throaty tenor, ‘with all the husk and bark left on the notes.’” He also had a persona as a baby Woody Guthrie, and he was always in character. His closest friends weren’t sure if he was playing Woody or being himself—ultimately, he was always inscrutable—until after a while, it was clear that he’d become what he imagined.

The bluesman Big Joe Williams would say of Dylan, “Bobby didn’t change, he just growed.” Quite so. Small, baby-faced, and charming yet ravenously ambitious, he was no innocent, but full of what Raymond Chandler called “the hard core of selfishness which is necessary to exploit talent to the full.” He grew famous for spinning fantasy tales about his past that weren’t entirely lies but what Andrew Loog Oldham meant when he wrote, “It wasn’t an act, even if it was.”

He was also at heart a moralist, very much part of the world of the songs he sang, “hard-lipped folk songs with fire and brimstone servings,” as he wrote later. “They weren’t friendly or ripe with mellowness . . . They were my preceptor and guide into some altered consciousness of reality, some different republic, some liberated republic.” They were “weird,” Dylan said later, “full of legend, myth, Bible and ghosts.”

A song like “Barbara Allen” poses fundamental questions: Why are people cruel, why is life so hard? The answer is that it’s a mystery—and, Dylan added elsewhere, “Mystery is a fact, a traditional fact.” The magic’s in the mystery; the mystery is magic. And the mystery is spiritual. Folk songs, black and white, were what he would later call his “lexicon and my prayer book. All my beliefs come out of those old songs . . . I believe in Hank Williams singing ‘I Saw the Light.’”

To top it off, Bob played the folk songs with what he called a “rock ’n’ roll attitude. That is what made me different and allowed me to cut through all the mess and be heard.” Rock ’n’ roll, the white derivative of the black musical ethos, would always be an essential part of his oeuvre.

As soon as he could, he went off to find Woody, going first to his home in Brooklyn, where he charmed Woody’s thirteen-year-old son, Arlo. Arlo sent him to Bob and Sidsel Gleason’s fourth-floor walkup in East Orange, New Jersey. The Gleasons were loving fans whose home had become a Woody Guthrie salon. On Sundays, they would bring Woody from the hospital, and his wife and son Marjorie and Arlo, Alan Lomax, Woody’s former manager Harold Leventhal, Pete Seeger, and Cisco Houston when around, perhaps some of the younger Village players, would all gather to eat, talk, and sing.

Healing the body politic and wringing wisdom from a social commitment were the more subtle aspects of the salon, and Bob soaked it all up. He also had the privilege and joy of having his idol validate what he was doing. “The boy’s got it! He sure as hell’s got it!” By now, Woody was so terribly ill that some questioned how much he could actually relate, but most witnesses were clear that a strong bond grew between the boy and the man. Dylan began to visit Woody at Greystone, bringing him Raleigh cigarettes and playing “Tom Joad” as the other patients passed by—the shufflers, the man who licked his lips, the poor fellow chased by spiders.

Humility would never be Dylan’s strongest virtue, but Woody’s suffering taught him “that men are men / shatterin’ even himself / as an idol . . . for he just carried a book of Man / an’ gave it t’ me t’ read awhile / an’ from it I learned my greatest lesson.” In mid-February he came back to the Village from one of the sessions at the Gleasons’ and wrote his first really good song, “Song to Woody,” an honest and moving tribute from a protégé who accepts a link and does so without ego.

He spent a great deal of time now with Hugh Romney, the Beat poet much influenced by Lenny Bruce who was the MC and entertainment director at the Gaslight. “Dig yuhself,” Hugh kept saying, but he also introduced Bob to the work of Lord Buckley, whose “Black Cross” would become part of Bob’s repertoire.

The Gaslight was a dark, tiny, crowded basement room below the Kettle of Fish Bar where a musician had to learn to avoid hitting one’s head on the pipes above the stage. It had once been a coal cellar, and it was still the filthy home of rats and cockroaches. It had begun by featuring poetry—Allen Ginsberg had read there—but switched to folk music when the tides of commerce had so dictated. The coolest part of the Gaslight was the Room, a closet backstage, where the players gathered. Since they could do only three songs each, this meant there was plenty of traffic, and while waiting to go on they played penny poker. It was another classroom for Dylan.

Actually, all New York had things to teach him, and he was alert to the possibilities. On Sundays he’d go to the old Madison Square Garden on Fiftieth Street for gospel shows, seeing the Soul Stirrers and the Mighty Clouds of Joy. Then the Clancy Brothers exposed him to another kind of folk music. Paddy and Tom Clancy were actually Broadway actors who started doing Midnight Special shows at the Cherry Lane Theatre to raise money for a production they wanted to put on. Their brother Liam and friend Tommy Makem joined them in New York in the mid-’50s, and they recorded an album of Irish rebel songs, The Rising of the Moon. They slowly became singers more than actors, and on March 12, 1961, they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and were such a hit that John Hammond signed them to Columbia. Dylan thought Liam was the best ballad singer he’d ever heard. They shared a common joy in escaping repressive small towns and a taste for drink and good company at the White Horse Tavern, where Dylan’s education proceeded.

There was the Commons, a basement club on the west side of MacDougal Street near Minetta Lane, later known as the Fat Black Pussycat. Around the corner on Bleecker Street was the Bitter End, a more legitimate club with a bigger stage and a real backstage. There was Izzy Young’s Folklore Center, packed with records and books in front, instruments on the walls, Izzy on the phone saying “schmuck” a lot, and musicians in the back teaching each other songs.

And there was Washington Square on Sunday, “a world of music,” Dylan wrote. “There could be fifteen jug bands, five bluegrass bands, and an old crummy string band, twenty Irish confederate groups, a Southern mountain band, folksingers of all kinds and colors singing John Henry work songs . . . drummers of all nations and nationalities. Poets who would rant and rave from the statues.”

There was also Gerde’s Folk City at 11 West Fourth Street. Izzy Young had tried to run it but it had reverted to the bar owner, Mike Porco. It had a tiny stage—bluegrass players had to choreograph getting to the microphone to sing—and didn’t look like much, but it was going to be a very important place to Dylan. In mid-March 1961 it featured Lonnie Johnson, and Bob saw him whenever possible, crediting him with influencing the way Bob would play “Corinna, Corinna.” Big Joe Turner was there too—Bob was conscious that he was an heir to these men, and he was paying attention while he could.

And not just to folk musicians. Dylan would spend a significant amount of time listening to jazz, from Cecil Taylor, with whom he once played, to Red Garland and Don Byas. Bird had been gone six years, but lots of people who’d known him were around, and it seemed, Dylan said, “like he had transmitted some secret essence of life to them.” As the poet Ted Joans had written on the wall for all to see, “Bird Lives.” Thelonious Monk was at the Blue Note, and Dylan would recall dropping in on him once and introducing himself as playing folk music up the street. “We all play folk music,” said Monk. Folk clubs and jazz joints sat side by side, and the Beat tradition brought jazz and poetry together onstage. “I was close up to that for a while,” Bob would recall.

On April 11, Dylan began his first regular paid gig in New York at Gerde’s, opening for John Lee Hooker, who was advertised as a “country blues singer,” having recently released The Folk Blues of John Lee Hooker. Bob got $90 a week, which was satisfying, and he loved Hooker, going to his hotel with wine and a guitar and talking until late. “What he was doing was blues,” said Hooker, “but it was folk-blues. He loved my style and that’s why he got with me and we would hang out together all the time.” He performed well, and the Gleasons, Tom Paxton, New York Times folk critic Robert Shelton, the Clancy Brothers, and Dave Van Ronk all showed up to hear him, bespeaking an impressive status after just three months in town.

Van Ronk was an important part of Dylan’s life at this point. His wife, Terry Thal, was Bob’s first manager of sorts, although her efforts to get him a record deal were not fruitful. Moe Asch at Folkways wasn’t interested. Manny Solomon at Vanguard said no.

More significantly, Van Ronk was by far the premiere blues singer among the Village folkies, and he taught Dylan songs like “The House of the Rising Sun,” “Poor Lazarus,” and Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.” Van Ronk was five years older than Dylan and sang, Bob thought, “like a soldier of fortune and sounded like he’d paid the price.” The Gaslight was his fiefdom, and he made Bob welcome, “brought me into the fold” there.

Van Ronk had come to folk through Duke Ellington and the stride pianists and then become a “moldy fig” New Orleans–style banjo player. He became a close friend of Clarence Williams, who’d once produced Bessie Smith and was now retired to the Harlem Thrift Shop, which was more of a hangout than a store, playing duets there with friends like Willie “The Lion” Smith. It was no wonder that Van Ronk introduced Dylan to the Vanguard, the Village Gate, and the Blue Note, the jazz clubs that shared the Village with the folkies.

Dylan went out of town to New Haven on May 6 to play the Indian Neck Folk Festival, a small gathering put on by some Yale students. There he encountered players from the Cambridge folk scene, including a young artist and singer from Ohio named Bob Neuwirth. They clicked over a common love for Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, and Jimmie Rodgers and bonded fast. Neuwirth would take him up to Cambridge, and although it would never be a central part of his life, a couple of people there would have their effect on him.

The Cambridge scene centered on Club 47, a coffeehouse at 47 Mt. Auburn Street in Harvard Square. The owners had thought to make it a jazz place when they opened in 1958, but Joan Baez soon changed their minds. There was also the Café Yana and the Golden Vanity near Boston University, the Turk’s Head on Charles Street and the Salamander on Huntington. It was a much more relaxed place than New York, of course. “You could be loose in Cambridge and not have your head kicked in,” reflected Neuwirth.

The music was fairly eclectic. Inspired by the New Lost City Ramblers, the Charles River Valley Boys—Bob Siggins, Clay Jackson, Ethan Signer, Eric Sackheim—played bluegrass. Eric Von Schmidt was an aspiring illustrator who’d heard Lead Belly and fallen in love with music. Ten years older than most of the folkies, he played a wide range of blues and country music, and his apartment became a regular gathering place for the scene. Neuwirth would bring Dylan to visit Von Schmidt, and in between the red wine and games of croquet—Dylan was the worst player Eric had ever seen, he said—he introduced Dylan to a blues song called “Baby Let Me Follow You Down.”

As the summer of 1961 passed, Bob got a week’s gig opening for Van Ronk at the Gaslight and met comedian Bill Cosby’s manager, Roy Silver, who signed him to a management contract. He also spent time watching foreign movies, particularly Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player, about a talented piano player who lived for music and women. “Everything about the movie I identified with,” he said. More importantly, on July 29 he went to Riverside Church, where a new radio station, WRVR, was celebrating its debut with an all-day folk music program. The show featured Van Ronk, Tom Paxton, the Reverend Gary Davis, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, newly returned from five years in Europe, and Victoria Spivey.

One of the audience members at WRVR was a seventeen-year-old folk fan named Suze Rotolo. The child of left-wingers, she’d been raised on the Woody/Pete/Lead Belly canon, listening to Oscar Brand’s Folksong Festival radio show with her sister Carla, she said, “while still in our cribs” (the show debuted in 1946 when she was just two and, amazingly, was still running actively in 2010). She’d attended the socialist Camp Kinderland as a child and at fifteen took part in a 1958 antisegregation March on Washington organized by CORE (the Congress of Racial Equality). Her father’s death that year had left her vulnerable, as had a car accident in 1961 that damaged an eye. She was intellectual, cultured, passionate, pretty, politically sophisticated, a little naïve, and at loose ends emotionally. Bob took one look and was smitten.

Later he’d write, “Meeting her was like stepping into the tales of 1,001 Arabian nights.” It would not be a tranquil relationship. Dylan was secretive and complex, and as Suze put it, “neither one of us had any skin growing over our nerve endings.” But when it worked, their romance was a thing of beauty. Suze opened up New York even more for him, and together they devoured the cultural buffet that was the city. Afternoons they went to MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) to see Picasso’s “Guernica.” Her favorite artist—and soon Bob’s—was the young multimedia artist Red Grooms, whom Bob would later dub the “Uncle Dave Macon of the art world.” Evenings they went to see Off Broadway productions like the Living Theater’s The Connection. Suze’s sister Carla worked for Alan Lomax, and between her and the Gleasons, Bob would have access to all the folk music he could imagine. Having read the Beat poets in Minneapolis—Ginsberg, Corso, Ferlinghetti, and Kerouac—he now joined with Suze in digging into the French poets Rimbaud, Verlaine, and above all Villon, a rowdy fifteenth-century brawler who delighted Bob.

Suze connected Dylan to something even more profound. Her day job was at CORE, and in 1961 it was action central for the burgeoning civil rights movement in America. CORE had been at the heart of the Montgomery bus boycott and had grown enormously in the wake of the Greensboro lunch counter sit-in in early 1960 and the subsequent actions in Nashville. These early activists were spiritual warriors who acted on love and would not respond to the violence directed at them. “They were to be teachers,” wrote their biographer, David Halberstam, “as well as demonstrators.”

Something special took place in Nashville in 1960, and the events would affect the national civil rights movement for years to come. After months of sit-ins and hundreds of arrests at the department stores in Nashville, white resistance escalated. A bomb went off at the home of black attorney Z. Alexander Looby in April 1960. Thousands gathered and marched silently downtown to meet the mayor at the courthouse steps.

As they waited for him to arrive, Guy Carawan, a folk singer from the Highlander Folk School, led them in a song. The song had once been a Baptist hymn, “I’ll Overcome Someday.” It had been modified by Pete Seeger and passed to Carawan. It was called “We Shall Overcome,” and it became the activists’ anthem. Singing had always been at the center of black culture, and now it became a pivotal part of the movement. The mayor arrived and was challenged by Diane Nash, one of the student leaders. At some length, she forced him to agree to oppose segregation. Victory!—and it came with a song.

The weekend before the bombing, black students from across the South had gathered at a conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, and formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC (pronounced Snick). Early the next year, CORE ran an ad in the SNCC monthly seeking volunteers to test the recent (December 1960) decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, Boynton v. Virginia, which banned segregation in public transportation. On May 4, 1961, the Freedom Riders set off from Washington, D.C., aiming to arrive in New Orleans on May 17, the seventh anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. It was a very brave act, for they had no allies; President Kennedy was cool and uncommitted—he presided over a Democratic Party full of very senior, very racist Southern senators—and the FBI was commonly assumed to be sympathetic to the white South.

Although there were beatings at certain stops, there was little major violence until May 14, when the Klan attacked and firebombed one of the two Birmingham-bound buses in Anniston, Alabama. No one died, but only because the head of the Alabama State Police, Floyd Mann, was an honest cop. He’d planted an undercover officer named Eli Cowling on the bus, and Cowling’s gun dissuaded the Klan from finishing off the passengers who stumbled away from the burning bus. When the second bus arrived in Birmingham that day, all hell broke loose as a Klan-led mob beat media members and Freedom Riders alike (law enforcement in Birmingham was controlled by city police).

Birmingham’s leading civil rights activist, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, drove to Anniston and collected the Riders, and everyone gathered at his home. The head of CORE, James Farmer, was convinced that continuing the rides was going to kill people, and he threw in the towel. The Nashville/SNCC students, as represented by Freedom Rider John Lewis, saw it differently. The federal government could not ignore the unfolding events—it was only a month after the debacle at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba and the president was about to meet with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev; he needed to show that he was in control. President Kennedy had his attorney general, brother Bobby, send his assistant, John Seigenthaler, to Birmingham. Seigenthaler told Diane Nash, running the situation from Nashville, “You’re going to get your people killed.” She replied, “Then others will follow them.”

On May 20, the bus arrived in Montgomery, where the Klan was waiting, having been promised a fifteen-minute open season by Birmingham Police Chief Eugene “Bull” Connor. By now the American media was out in force, and the station was thronged with TV and photographers. The Klan attacked the Riders, but also the photographers and press in general. Women swung heavy purses and little children clawed with their fingernails at the faces of Riders who’d been knocked to the ground. “It was madness,” wrote John Lewis. “It was unbelievable . . . Everywhere this crowd was screaming and reaching out and hitting and spitting. It was awful. They were like animals.”

John Seigenthaler’s skull was broken. Lewis would have been killed but for the presence of Floyd Mann, who fired a gun into the air, which started breaking things up. Violence makes great TV, and scenes of the attack went around the country—and the world. Eventually, the federal government would intercede for real, and after failing to convince the students to stop, the bus would move out of Montgomery escorted by a convoy of National Guard soldiers, helicopters, and Border Patrol aircraft. When the Riders reached Mississippi and all got arrested and sent to Parchman Farm, hundreds more followed in their wake and filled up the jail cells in Jackson.

The most dramatic events in black-white relations since the Civil War would send out reverberations for decades. For Dylan, falling in love with a young woman who was at CORE headquarters was going to affect him to the depths of his being.

(Copyright 2014, Dennis McNally. Excerpted with permission. All rights reserved.)

Dennis McNally is a cultural historian with an interest in Americans who challenged conventional mainstream thinking – Jack Kerouac (“Desolate Angel/Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation, and America,” 1979), the Grateful Dead (“A Long Strange Trip,” 2002), and in October 2014 from Counterpoint Press, “On Highway 61/Music, Race, and the Evolution of Cultural Freedom.”

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