|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
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
This is one of the most sublimely beautiful pieces of music ever written, in my opinion…a soul crying from the depths of loss and pain. There is a slow buildup but the heart-rending prayer begins at around 9:40. Always brings me to tears.
Alto Rhapsody, op. 53
by Johannes Brahms
Bob Dylan at Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village in 1961.
Photo Credit: http://folkcityatfifty.blogspot.com/2013_04_01_archive.html
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.)
When last we spoke, DJ Shadow reminded me that the internet is not our savior. He might as well have added that saviors do not exist. Of course, that doesn’t mean we haven’t stopped looking for them, especially from the hip hop that DJ Shadow — known to the I.R.S. as Josh Davis — so thoroughly redefined on releases like “The Private Press,” “Preemptive Strike” and especially his foundational 1996 debut “Endtroducing…..” the first samples-only album in history. Like a needle on the planet’s spinning record, the defiant Davis has leapt from groove to groove, style to style and paradigm to paradigm as conformity and complacency have settled into pop and hop, challenging himself and even his fans, who still hold onto “Endtroducing…..” like a life raft to a former world.
To wit, although he has been historically sanguine about the internet, DJ Shadow has nevertheless chosen this complicated moment to launch his own imprint, Liquid Amber, through which he will release his own music, as well as sonics from others that stir his interest. His imprint’s first single, the future bass compendium “Ghost Town,” was naturally released online first, and there’s a good chance that will be the case with many of Liquid Amber’s future releases, including his forthcoming full-lengths. Signs of the times, and all that.
But the vinyl culture he exhaustively preserves and represents is simultaneously landing much love: On Sept. 3 in Boston, DJ Shadow and his fellow archivist/experimentalist Cut Chemist’s Renegades of Rhythm tour begins schooling the U.S., using the legendary Afrika Bambaataa‘s prodigious record collection as textbooks. And what vibrant, relevant texts they care: Bam’s vinyl collection, pushing 40,000 and permanently archived at Cornell University, is so influential and educational that its astounding diversity has earned its curator honorifics like the Godfather of Hip-Hop, the Father of ElectroFunk and many, many more. And just like Bam encoded disparate styles like punk, J-pop, krautrock and beyond into hip hop’s sprawling DNA from the ’80s to today, Davis is bringing Bam’s socially conscious, purposefully inclusive cultural power to the people. He’s also making positive future music from an uncomfortable present.
These are the important points to note, as Davis steps into another complex decade even as some critics and fans lean too heavily on those already behind him, waiting for “Endtroducing 2.0″ even though such a thing is an impossibility. Meanwhile, Davis is content to spread the social and artistic gospel handed down to him from Bam, Public Enemy, KRS-One and other heavyweights of postmodern scripture, while creating joy for himself through his own music, on his own label, on his own terms.
Salon recently spoke with the soft-spoken Davis about postmodern scripture, vinyl culture, digitalism and more.
Let’s start with the new Liquid Amber cuts. I’m hearing serious digitalism on “Ghost Town.”
I feel like I’m just trying to be consistent in the way that I approach music and try different things. Sometimes when you try to make music that’s different, you’re set far apart from everybody else, in terms of what they’re expecting or what they want to hear. And then other times, almost out of coincidence, you hit the mark a bit closer. I’m fine with either. The “Liquid Amber” EP represents what’s been inspiring me over the last year, as opposed to 30 years ago.
Back then, hip hop spawned drum ‘n’ bass, trip hop and various permutations that reflected our widening interests. But our interests today seem more narrowly digital, so your new music feels more electronic to me.
Sure. I think part of it is that I’m just trying to say different things with samples in different ways. I mean, I still use samples, but if you don’t use a chunky, trashy drum break, your music is just going to sound different. And like other artists, I just sort of go,”Well, I’ve kind of done that and now I want to explore.” I always just assume that everybody is on the same page in terms of artistic license .
The flip side of that digitalism is your tour with Cut, which is a bow to Bambaataa’s vinyl culture and influence, and there’s great synergy between the two. Both spring from the desire to reach forward into the future of music, while fully incorporating its diverse past, as Bam did.
That’s exactly right. I mean, you nailed it on so many levels. Because Bambaataa is one of those voices in my head pushing me to do different work. If you follow his career, you find that it was not easy in 1981 or 1982 for him to bust out Public Image Ltd, Liquid Liquid and a bunch of downtown New Wave. That was radical. Now, 30-plus years later, everybody is still basically adding to a narrative that he started. He started the narrative, and that was inspiring to me. Obviously, his “Planet Rock” electrofunk wasn’t something other people were doing. That was his idea. He was always at the forefront. And not everything Bam did resonated with me or the mainstream or critics, but every artist goes through that.
But what I find inspiring about his 30 years under the microscope is that he’s always looked forward. I think there’s a time and a place to celebrate the past, in the way that Cut and I are doing with this set. But I think it’s also important to keep one foot forward as well, and I feel Bambaataa would agree with that sentiment. I mean, I’ve never really seen him be like, “Oh, everything used to be so much better back in the day.” That’s not something he ever really voiced. He’s excited about all eras, and his record collection reflects that. He doesn’t say, “Well, I’m just going to keep playing breakbeats.” He kept growing, he kept evolving, and that in itself is one of the most powerful concepts in his definition of hip hop.
For Bam, even in the early ’80s, hip hop was from the future, like jazz was for Sun Ra. They were taking stock of what was happening around them, but always had their mind on evolving everything forward.
Right, and it’s always that give and take, that push and pull. People want to go further. They want to move faster, but feel on a certain level that they have to hold back from going as far as they really want to go, because they don’t want to lose everybody. And that’s another thing that resonates with me: I want people to enjoy what I do musically, but if I make something that people aren’t into or have a problem with, I can respect that. All I’ve ever asked in return is that they respect my desire to follow my own muse. We’re not always going to be on the same page. Nobody is. No artist is. And at a certain point, I think artists that try too hard to please end up falling short because their music ends up formulaic and stale. That’s why Bambaataa’s career is so fascinating to me. He kept doing what he wanted to do. He was popular and his music had hits, and then for a time they didn’t. He was relevant, then he wasn’t, then he was, then he wasn’t again. I mean, I’m not him and I don’t know for sure, but I get the impression he’s at peace with all that.
I’d put you two together that way. When your earlier work came out, it felt so forward-looking. Now here you are in the future, with a vinyl tour schooling kids on the past, as well as your own imprint entering a mostly digital marketplace.
Yeah, and to your earlier point, which I appreciate, for me that’s my ideal state. To be able to simultaneously occupy both spaces, hopefully authentically. You know what I mean? It just so happened that this ended up working out the way it did, but I like it. I like when I’m able to do something for one part of the day that’s hopefully pushing everything forward, or continuing to navigate unchartered territory. And the other challenge, the other half, is to say something new with time-worn, classic material. Both are challenging for different reasons.
Speaking of challenging, Bambaataa was heavy on social awareness, and your work like “In/flux“ also has that. That type of activist spirit could come in handy now in Ferguson and other flashpoints.
I read a 1984 interview with Bambaataa yesterday, where he was trying to help the interviewer understand where the term “rap” came from. And he pointed to socially conscious rappers like The Last Poets, as well as H. Rap Brown and Stokeley Carmichael. I mean, I’m sitting here looking right now as some of Bambaataa’s Last Poets records, and they were obviously much loved by him, because he kept buying them through time. They resonated with him, so just as he perpetuated James Brown’s message, he also perpetuated the messages of Nikki Giovanni, Malcolm X and others that were socially conscious thinkers when he was growing up.
Flash forward to me as a 10-year-old, hearing Bambaataa’s views on social issues, as well as hearing Public Enemy, X Clan, Brand Nubian and the conscious wave of the ’80s. You know, some kids had punk rock, some had hardcore, some had heavy metal. You name it. But for me, it was rap. Things I learned from Chuck D, Rakim and KRS-One helped set me on a course as a young man living in America, trying to fit into the society of that time. But it also became a roadmap that never left me. There are certain quotes I still fall back on in the same way other people fall back on scripture. These were my teachers. I’m not going to say for my generation, because so many people were into different things. But for me, and my clique, these were our teachers.
Do you think hip hop still has that appeal for social change, handed down from generations, in today’s marketplace? I hope it does, given tragedies in Iraq and Fergsuon, but I’m unconvinced.
It’s hard to say because people take in information in such different ways now. When Howard Beach, Rodney King and other flashpoints of the ’80s and ’90s happened, there was no internet. Few even had cable at that time, so most everyone got their information from identical sources. Perhaps three different options, in terms of ABC, NBC and CBS, but everyone received their information concurrently, and everyone was given the same filter through which to understand it. After that, it was up to the speakers of that time, from Al Sharpton to Phil Donahue to anyone you were inclined to listen to, to give their opinions on what was happening.
Today, a lot of people don’t even watch television, and news they get on the internet is filtered according to what they are looking and watching for. So I think everyone gets alternative views of the news, or no news if that is what they are into. And that I think is the difference. As a consequence, in some ways it is more difficult for music to become a lightning rod, or a sounding board, for the same reasons. Music is so marginal now, in terms of how it is disseminated. You actually first have to want to find it, and then seek it out. That’s the difference.
While we’re on the means of production, when last we spoke you told me the internet is not our savior. But now you’ve got your own imprint in a digital era that finds selling physical copies a challenge. How has what you’ve learned in your 20-year career about both vinyl and digital culture influenced the way you’re approaching your art as commerce?
Well, I think that like so many others, especially musicians, were all just trying to grope in the dark, to do what we love for a living, make ends meet, and be joyful in what we do. And I definitely don’t have all the answers, but part of the process for me is going, “OK, this is the way things are.” On a certain level, you have to just push forward. I want to project positivity in what I’m doing. I want to project constance and joy in the music. And what I’m doing today might not be what I’m doing six months from now, and might be different than what I was doing the last time we spoke. But that’s part of the journey.
I’m trying to fit in these pieces into this puzzle. I’m the last person to ever say I’ve got anything figured out. I just want the music to have a chance to be what it is, without me having to put a bunch of stuff on it. If people are going to hear it whatever manner they hear it, that’s great. I hope they like it, you know what I mean?
|Global Digital Music Sales Decrease Could
Pose Major Threat To Apple’s iTunes
Apple Inc. potentially could lose a significant amount of iTunes sales because of the global slowdown in recorded music sales. According to research conducted by Morgan Stanley, the sale of recorded music touched $15 billion in 2013. However, as reported by Stockwise Daily, digital download sales were down by $1.5 billion as compared to 2012 – and thus far in 2014 sales have been alarmingly lower.
The Morgan Stanley research suggests the iTunes Store would generate less than 50% of the online services revenue of Apple Inc. this year, with revenue falling to 47% of all online services in the fourth quarter of 2014 and 44% in the first quarter of 2015. The report clearly indicates customers are cutting their music purchases and the majority of customers are looking for music channel subscriptions.
According to Billboard, Q2 2014 had an average 4.55 million weekly album sales as compared to 4.75 in Q1, a figure that has dropped to an average 4.2 million per week through the first two months of Q3. U.S. album sales have declined 14.6% vs. last year, with a corresponding 12.8% decline in track sales and 11.7% decrease in digital album sales. Declining music sales is a major concern for the record labels, and Apple alone may not be be to reverse this trend – at least not in the near future.
|TheStreet.com: Streaming Won’t Stop The Bleeding, But It Could Be Industry’s Lifeline
Streaming music won’t stop the music industry’s bleeding, but it may slow it just enough to let both artists and labels figure out their collective future. That’s the word from TheStreet.com analyst Jason Notte, who this week said a new report from Juniper Research indicates the digital music industry will see global revenue growth from $12.3 billion this year to $13.9 billion in 2019. “Juniper’s research indicates this growth hinges on the streaming music sector bringing in more cash as sales of digital downloads, ringtones, and ringback tones continue to plummet,” he wrote on the company’s website.
Notte points to recent Nielsen Soundscan figures that suggest on-demand streams through both audio and video services (e.g., YouTube, Vimeo, Spotify, Pandora, and Apple’s Beats Music) are up 42% from the same period last year. “That’s a jump from 49.5 million total streams to more than 70 million, and includes a 50% leap in audio music streaming to 33.6 million,” Notte says. Still, he points out that these figures “lag behind video streaming, which accounted for 36.6 million music streams in early 2014 and jumped 35% from last year.”
All this streaming growth comes at a time when “any album that isn’t released on vinyl dies a horrible death,” Notte observes, somewhat cynically. Explaining that Nielsen Soundscan equates 2,000 streams to one album, he says album sales are down 3.3% through June. “Take streaming out of that mix and you’re looking at a 14.3% drop from the same time last year. The nearly 20% drop in compact disc sales over the last year is almost expected as CDs continue their post-’90s free fall, but the 11.6% drop in digital album sales and 13% drop in digital track sales is far more troubling.”
|Universal Music’s First Half Revenues
Slipped 10.4% To $2.63 Billion
Universal Music Group’s revenues in the six months (through June 30) were approximately €2.0 billion ($2.63 billion U.S.), down 10.4% on the €2.23 billion ($2.93 billion) the company posted for the same period in 2013. Recorded music made up €1.6 billion ($2.10 billion) of the €2.0 billion figure, down 11.8% year-on-year from €1.8 billion ($2.36 billion) in 2013. Parent company Vivendi blamed this drop on “the accelerated transformation of the recorded music industry and phasing of key releases vs. H1 2013.” Digital music revenues grew 3%, with Vivendi confirming that a “significant growth in subscription and streaming” offset a decline in download sales.
Universal Music Publishing Group’s revenues were up year-over-year, increasing 1.3% from €303 million ($398 million) in H1 2013 to €307 million ($403 million) in H1 2013. Vivendi said this boost was “in part due to a reclassification of income from recorded music.” On the flip side, UMG’s EBITA was up 7% year-on-year to €153 million ($201 million).
Vivendi said UMG’s sales “benefited from higher digital revenues (+3%) but were more than offset by lower physical revenues.
|Multicultural Millennials Listen To Less Radio, More Streaming On Mobile Devices
According to Nielsen’s “Listen Up: Music & the Multicultural Consumer” study, multicultural consumers (identified as African-American, Asian-American or Hispanic) are more likely to attend live concerts and music festivals, spending $50 on live music annually, compared with $48 for non-Hispanic white consumers. Multicultural consumers also prefer customizing playlists on streaming services more than the total population, and they also share what they find on social media. Almost half (48%) “like” Facebook posts from musical artists and bands (vs. 42% for the total population), and 43% share music through Facebook, Twitter, email or other digital media (vs. 37%).
In an expansion of a report released earlier this summer, Nielsen says 53% of the U.S. multicultural population is under age 35, and they use using social media and technology to connect – whether it’s with the artists they listen to or with each other. Technology is part of the millennial identity as a generation, since they’re the first to come of age with cable TV, the internet, and cell phones. Furthermore, when asked what makes their generation unique, millennials ranked “technology use” first (24%), followed by “music/pop culture” (11%), “liberal/ tolerant” (7%), “smarter” (6%), and “clothes” (5%).
As reported by Nielsen, multicultural consumers are less likely than the total population to listen to music on traditional radios and home stereo systems. By contrast, smartphones play an important role in bridging the digital divide and providing an online connection in many homes that have bypassed home-based internet services. And while the overall reach of radio is larger with this population sement, multicultural consumers are more likely to listen to music on mobile devices such as Android smartphones, iPhones, and PC laptops. Half of all multicultural music listeners listen to internet/streaming radio services (vs. 44% for the whole population), and 18% use on-demand audio streaming (vs. 14%).
For further details, click here.
|T-Mobile Adds More Streaming Services To
Music Freedom Platform, More To Come
T-Mobile, the fourth-largest mobile carrier in the U.S., has added a variety of streaming radio services – including Rdio, Songza, and Grooveshark – to its Music Freedom program, a service that eliminates all data charges from streaming music offeredthrough popular services. As reported by Billboard, the initiative began in June with a group of seven services that included Pandora, Spotify, iTunes Radio, iHeartMusic, Slacker, Rhapsody, and Samsung’s new Milk Music. T-Mobile says customers are streaming more than 5 million more songs per day than from the pre-Music Freedom days; some industry analysts are anticipating another addition to the line-up sometime next week.
“T-Mobile’s Music Freedom and services like Grooveshark are about bringing music accessibility to the consumer,” Sam Tarantino, co-founder and CEO of Grooveshark, told Billboard. “We believe the combined global audiences of millions represents a new and engaged audience for Grooveshark on T-Mobile.”
Though the Music Freedom program itself is free, users still have to pay subscription fees for the individual streaming services. Other services included on the mobile platform are AccuRadio, Black Planet, and Radio Paradise, and T-Mobile says it is close to adding Google Play Music later this year.
|Pandora Launches Google Glass App
Pandora last week announced the launch of its new Google Glass app, allowing users to access the online radio platform’s multitude of stations with a single voice command. As reported by C/NET, the Pandora app was developed through an internal “hackathon” project, and is designed to play music for its wearers in three possible ways: 1) Via a built-in speaker and bone conduction, with no headphones required; 2) With a single earbud included in the device’s kit; and 3) With a double-earbud accessory functioning as a micro-USB headset.
The app allows listeners to access their personalized radio stations by selecting an existing station, or creating a new one. Tapping the touchpad can perform the “thumb-up” and “thumb-down” functions, as well as pause, skip, and stop songs.
“We can live in a world where people will have a closer connection to their music because they’re wearing it somewhere on their bodies,” said Pandora’s head of business development, Ian Geller, who noted the point of the Glass app was to see how wearables and radio work well together – and where they flop. “It’s less about us than about making bets on winners. We’re trying to figure out the ultimate use.”
A publication of Bunzel Media Resources © 2014
David Lowery has become both beloved and notorious over the last year as one of the musicians most critical of the ways musicians are paid in the digital era. The Camper van Beethoven and Cracker singer brings an artist’s rage and a quant’s detached rigor to his analysis of the music business.
He’s currently fired up about a federal lawsuit filed in New York in which several record labels have sued Pandora (and before that, Sirius FM) for neglecting to pay royalties for songs recorded before Feb. 15, 1972. Here’s how Billboard summarizes the suit: “The labels say both digital music services take advantage of a copyright loophole, since the master recording for copyright wasn’t created federally until 1972. … But the labels claim that their master recordings are protected by individual state copyright laws and therefore deserve royalty payments.”
Lowery thinks the loophole provides a way for Pandora to simply not pay older musicians for their work — while profiting from it themselves. The case could get bigger and change in strange ways, with broad implications.
And he’s similarly frustrated with the rise of streaming services, which are in part owned by the major labels. “For us, it’s the worst-case scenario,” he says. “The old boss and the new boss have joined hands, they’re singing ‘Kumbaya,’ and they’ve changed the words to, ‘Fuck the songwriters! Fuck the performers!’ ”
We spoke to Lowery from a studio in Wisconsin, where he was recording a new Cracker record.
There’s a sort of complicated and technical case in New York right now, involving musicians’ royalties from before 1972: It’s a lawsuit that the general public doesn’t know that much about, but it’s important for musicians, especially for older musicians. Tell us what’s going on.
Back in 1971, there was a series of legislative actions. Before 1972, copyrights for the sound recording weren’t federal, they were [handled at the state level]. So we had some copyright reforms in the ‘70s, which adjusts for technology and things like that. They basically created a federal copyright for sound recordings. And for many, many years people just had assumed — and many of these services had acted as if — the intention of the act was to federalize all sound recordings, not really making a distinction in 1972. But somehow, in the last few years, probably starting in 2009, a few of the digital services have decided that there is no federal copyright for sound recordings created before 1972 — so they’ve just stopped paying these artists.
That includes a lot of legacy artists, like Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin — the writer and main performer of “Respect.” So you have these services that — not all of them, but some of them — just decided that they weren’t going to pay royalties on this. The general public might look at this and go, “This is just companies, and this is how they work, and they try to save money, and so they’re just doing what they can do.”
“They’re just doing what corporations always do.”
They’re just trying to minimize their expenses and stuff like that … But if you really look at this, you’ll see that it’s much, much more complicated than that. They’re making a very weird argument, right? Because ultimately, they lose either way.
The digital services, so Pandora, Sirius, Clear Channel, Digital Operations, whatever they may be. It’s not really clear — it’s definitely Sirius and Pandora — but it’s not really clear which other ones are there. But it’s a strange argument because they lose either way. Because if it’s not covered by federal law then it’s covered by state law. So if they win, and it’s covered by state law and suddenly these very large companies need a license from each individual state, essentially. Which would require them to negotiate with each copyright owner individually. And so there are a lot of people scratching their heads on this one, because why would they pursue a strategy like this? They lose either way. And they could lose really big on this.
So you look at this stuff and like a lot of things that happen with companies that are Wall Street-backed, there’s an incentive to keep the stock price high. And certainly in the case of Pandora — they’re kind of my bête noire, but you know, I feel like they deserve it — but you wonder if a lot of the time these kind of moves, they’re just sort of designed to keep the stock price high in the short-term. And in the long-term they’re creating these enormous liabilities that will just … They’re not only screwing song owners, to me this is one of the most important issues that I’ve come across since I’ve been advocating for artists’ rights. Because it ends up not only screwing songwriters but it could create these huge liabilities that ultimately cost pensions, and little old ladies their savings and stuff like that.
You say it could contribute to these digital-music companies collapsing? Because there’s been a lot of speculation that webcasters don’t have the business model that allows them to earn profits. There’s been speculation that they won’t be around along despite the conventional wisdom that they are saving the music business.
Exactly, and that’s kind of what I’m getting at; in a way, this is much bigger than songwriters’ rights. They don’t really win either way, in my opinion. I mean, yeah, it’s possible that they eke out some kind of financial advantage, but if federal law did not federalize sound recording copyrights, then we revert to state law. And that’s going to be a nightmare for everybody; it’s going to be a nightmare for artists, even your old AM/FM radio station.
Another funny thing: We are one of the only democracies in the modern world that doesn’t pay royalties to performers on terrestrial radio. We’re one of six countries in the world, and the only modern democracy, that doesn’t pay performers royalties for getting played on the radio. I’m a songwriter, too, so I get royalties as a songwriter, but I don’t necessarily get royalties as a performer for terrestrial radio. Anyway, to me, this is just corporate sleaziness. It’s, “We’re going to fight this case that we’re going to lose, to basically save 6 or 10 percent of our expenses, and stick our shareholders, possibly, with these huge liabilities down the road.” Because if they create the situation by which they do not have the copyrights for thousands of songs that they’re streaming, theoretically, they could be charged $150,000 in damages each time it plays one of these songs. So that’s the story that goes all the way down in the weeds of what is going on.
You’re saying this could be a real time bomb.
Let’s go back to the artists for a second. I think a lot of consumers might look at this and say, “Well, the Beatles and the Stones don’t need more royalties, and Otis Redding is dead. Why does this matter? Who’s really going to suffer if just songs from before 1972 don’t produce royalties for the artists?”
Well, yeah, that’s what Chris Harrison from Pandora said. I think he said something like that, “These people never expected to get royalties.” I mean, really? Plenty of those artists are not rich, you know? I just saw Wanda Jackson play —she’s almost 80 and she’s out touring. And she made these iconic rock ‘n’ roll recordings.
Some of the first rockabilly records.
I mean, if Pandora is going to stream these things and if Sirius is going to broadcast these things, why shouldn’t they get paid? We’re America, we’re a fair country. We’re not a country like China, where we just go, “Here’s a politically well-connected elite, we’re just going to hand them the rights to something that somebody created.” Just so the politically well-connected can get richer. It’s really funny to me — look, I’m not really a lefty or liberal, I’m basically a little right of center in my politics — and it’s just funny to see consumers sort of rallying around the rights of corporations and against the rights of individuals.
Well, that is what’s happening.
It is! It would have been like the students in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s protesting for the war. Or for the defense contractors … You know what I mean? “We still need that rice from the Mekong Delta. We need cheap rice from the Mekong Delta, let’s protest against these draft dodgers.” On behalf of … I don’t know—
Dow Chemical or something.
That’s literally what the public is doing now. I’ve said this before, and I don’t think people quite get it.
The Internet has become cargo cult. People worship the Internet like a cargo cult. It’s this thing that they have that brings them free stuff, and they think it’s magic. It’s beyond rational thought and reason, right? And they have no sense that behind all that free stuff are the drowned ships and sailors. They don’t want to hear that behind the way you get this free stuff, some really actually fucked-up things have happened to individuals and their individual rights.
And that there are people getting rich off this stuff. Look, people used to go crazy and you’d always hear people talk about how the record labels were so bad to artists back in the ‘50s. They paid them really minimal royalties and stuff like that. But look, these guys are even worse. It’s way, way worse.
Well, let’s extend that a little bit. Since the last time we spoke, it seems like there’s been a dozen new streaming services launched. And streaming is now discussed as the savior of the record industry. We have a new Amazon service, Google has announced one, and Beats service was bought by Apple. There’s surely going to be others by the end of the month. Do these new services seem to be, from an artist’s point of view, an improvement? Or do we just not know?
Well, it’s going to depend on what kind of artist you are. First of all, let’s just take that face-value statement, that streaming will save the music industry. Well, it will if the music business is the kind of music business that’s basically just built around Top 40 songs.
If you don’t want to ever have Captain Beefheart and Miles Davis and — one of my favorite bands — the gloom-stoner, doom-metal band Sleep. If you don’t ever expect to have those kind of bands anymore. And the reason is because streaming flattens and commoditizes the spin. So you just have one price for every spin of a song across the entire spectrum, whether it’s some kind of avant-garde classical work or whether it’s a Miley Cyrus song. So that will work if you have lots and lots of spins. But it won’t work if you have just a few spins. So what that will do is push out — and you already see that happening — it will push out any sort of niche or, you know …
Any specialty genres.
Specialty genres. Because people might have gone into the stores and gone, “Well, all the albums are between $9.99 and $17.99, they sort of all hover around $12.99, or whatever. It’s always been that way.” Well, yes and no, because something like a Miley Cyrus song might get spun a whole bunch — you might play that record a whole bunch until you’re sick of it whereas an Art Blakey record you might play four times a year. Those, in effect, were more expensive, and when you look at the normal, real, non-magical unicorn part of the economy, niche products cost a lot more than mass-market products.
Maybe we could look at food: Fast food costs less, going to the farmer’s market costs more. But people have decided, increasingly, that it’s worth paying a little more for healthier, fresher, local, whatever food. What you’re saying, I think, that the economic structure of streaming means that everybody’s —
Everything is the same price.
Well, there’s no incentive to make anything besides mass-market —
The most mass-market stuff, exactly. It’s as if all T-shirts — my analogy is like it’s as if the government mandated that all T-shirts were going to cost $3. We would all be wearing semi-ironic, American flag T-shirts from Wal-Mart because nobody would make anything else. Because it has to appeal to the mass market. And yeah, you may not see it right now, but I don’t know what you’ll see 20 years from now. Maybe other systems will come up to fix it but I don’t think it bodes very well for anything other than the most mass-market kind of music.
Anyway, since when does the federal government basically step in and say, “You entire class of people who do this one thing — people who write poetry to music — this one class of Americans who write songs. We’re going to make it so that your songs have to appear on these services. You can’t really get out. You have to sell these songs on your services.” It’s a weird thing we’ve done as a country.
You’re unusual in some ways in your sentiments. A lot of the people fighting for artists’ rights are on the political left. Your argument, I think, is that what we have now is a kind of unpleasant combination of the marketplace and government regulation — kind of a worst of both worlds?
Yeah, it’s like some sort of corporate socialism, yeah. We basically mandate that individuals give their songs to these companies. I really feel like this is a simple problem to fix. There should just be an opt-out. You should just be able to serve notice with the copyright office that six months in advance, as of 2015, I’m the owner of these songs, I am opting out of all of these services.
And why can’t musicians opt out so easily?
There’s no way for songwriters really to opt out. There have been a couple of people who have pulled these really weird tricks where essentially their songs are not really published so therefore, they’re sort of not public and then they forgo performance fees but that’s really complicated, how they did that.
Performers, if you own your own recording, you can opt out of streaming services which are on-demand, but you can’t opt out of webcasting services which are not quite on-demand. You can opt out of Spotify but not Pandora. You can opt out of Spotify on the on-demand side, but you can’t opt out on the — you know how they have a Pandora-like radio service too? Your songs will still be played in there.
As a performer, you have this really narrow place where you can opt out. But as a songwriter that’s not possible anywhere.
Right. And if you have a deal with the label it’s even more complicated …
Yeah, because the label will just put your stuff in there. But I want to tell you this. I know for a fact that one of the heads of one of the major labels is freaking out on streaming and realizing that what his/her underlings told them about what was going to happen with streaming is not in fact true. And they are very pissed off about that. I can’t disclose my source, but they’re one of the major labels. They completely have buyer’s remorse right now. In fact, you could describe them as being in emergency management mode right now over what they’re going to do about streaming because of the streaming revenues. Because streaming is clearly cutting their sales but it’s not making up the difference in revenues. So even for the record labels — I mean, it’s terrible for artists, but even the record labels are realizing they have fucked themselves; at least one of the major labels has realized that they fucked themselves.
Which, actually, I take some delight in. I can’t help it. They got into this.
Because the deals are opaque, we’ve had to speculate, and I guess we still have to speculate on what the deals between the streaming services and the labels were. That isn’t public so we don’t know what kind of sweetheart deals were made between them. We do know that the artists have been largely left out of the process.
Let’s look at it this way. Say we own an apartment together, and we’re going to split whatever money we make off this apartment when we rent it out to somebody. But I go out to this renter and I say, “I tell you what, instead of you giving me $1,500 a month for this little studio apartment, we’ll charge you $750 rent but you basically give me $8,000 per year personally off the book and I’ll give you this cheap rent under the table.”
And then you’re splitting with me just that $750 and keeping the eight grand for myself. That’s what happened when the record labels traded equity for lower royalty rates. And I don’t know how long it’ll take, but there will be a class action eventually over that, but it may be too late.
Is it your sense that the streaming services will survive? There’s some worry that most of them haven’t turned a profit and that they don’t have a working business model.
I think they’ll survive but they’ll be part of Apple, part of Google, part of Amazon. They’ll be part of other services that make money in other ways. I think the same sense for the webcasters too as well. I just don’t see how they can really get the ship righted. They’ll need to charge more for their services.
On the other hand, I’m not necessarily against the streaming services. I think something like Spotify is useful and it’s kind of a good deal under certain circumstances. If I put my sound recording of “Low,” and if it was only behind the paywall, the premium-paying wall, I would get more than a penny and a half per spin. So for that song, I think having it on Spotify makes a lot of sense — if it was behind the paywall. It’s just that I don’t want my entire catalog, the entire album, for free on the service.
And you don’t have a choice right now as to whether you do?
We don’t have a choice. There are technicalities and there are ways certain artists can remove their recordings but you have to not have a record deal and frankly, I was part of the first wave of indie musicians in the 1980s. We had our own label — Pitch Tent Records. We are one of the pioneers of indie rock. And, you know, I’ve had this happen before in my 30-year career of being an independent and being on my own label and a major label. Because sometimes frankly it’s like “I don’t want to do the promotion on my own record.”
There’s an advantage to being on a label sometimes. It’s just really interesting to me. I don’t really see labels totally going away. Some people say, “Well, the labels will figure it out, they’ll figure out when it makes sense for artists.” Some people on the record side of the business are like, “Well, when we aggregate all these rights together we’ll know the best way to exploit these recordings and these copyrights.” I don’t necessarily see that happening and that’s why I just feel like there should be a right for artists to opt out of these services.
We’ve spoken a little about the government. We’ve spoken a little about these big corporations — Google, Amazon — who either own streaming services or webcasters or whatever. Let’s bring it together for a second. Part of what we’re describing is a kind of monopoly capital. We do have part of the federal government that’s supposed to be on the lookout for monopoly behavior — the Department of Justice.
And they are. They’re very vigilant on that. They’ve put the songwriters under monopoly supervision since 1941! They completely have monopoly backwards.
I’m gonna do something that breaks the law right now. I’m a songwriter who has my own publishing company. I think all songwriters should hold out for 10 percent of revenue from Pandora. I urge all songwriters to hold out for 10 percent of revenue from Pandora. I have just violated the consent decree. I am in contempt of court. Someone arrest me!
Because the DOJ doesn’t let songwriters do that. We’re under anti-trust supervision. But look at the companies that we’re [supposedly] colluding against — against Pandora which is 77 percent of the market for streaming. We might collude against Google and YouTube, right? There’s nobody close to them on online video. Let’s see, Spotify is [huge] as far as streaming goes.
Basically, the federal government has monopoly backwards. So you have the monopolies getting together on Capitol Hill and calling for Congress to not only keep the consent decree, but to expand it. It’s pretty crazy. It’d be funny if it wasn’t Kafka-esque.
Since Reagan, the Department of Justice has focused on what they see as defending consumers, keeping prices low — and they’ve gone pretty easy on big corporations, music and technology corporations included. Do you think the DOJ, for instance, will start paying attention to the effect Amazon and Google are having on the making of culture?
I think they will once somebody sues them and it goes to the Supreme Court. This is a thing I am very seriously considering. I think the consent decree acts as what’s called a writ of attainder. Because essentially, as soon as I write my first song, I’m guilty. There’s no court proceedings. I’m under Department of Justice supervision. There’s no court proceeding. There’s no legislation. My rights are limited by extrajudicial, extra-legislative [rules] … Our Founding Fathers were very, very, very much against this thing. I think the point is that somebody has to sue the Department of Justice for violation of our constitutional rights, and then they’ll stop.
I think it’ll have to go to court. If you look at it, if a judge really looks at it, they’ll go — essentially the way the consent decree works is that it’s a court case that’s been open since 1941. It hasn’t been closed. And as soon as I wrote a song, I’m part of that court case. I demonstrated the limitation of my rights by showing how I’m in contempt of court by saying I think songwriters should hold out for 10 percent for Pandora.
When did I ever get a hearing, right? I never got a hearing on that. When was the law ever passed? The judicial branch can’t make law? They’re making law, by that consent decree they’ve created essentially a statutory right for broadcasters to have our songs.
And really, people are like, “Songwriters, I understand they’re being screwed, but it’s just a small portion of Americans.” If they can do this to our songs, they can do this to your photos that you post on the Web. There’s a law, there are proposed laws that generally fall under the title “orphan works” for photographs that essentially would allow that.
Once people start thinking that, well, if songwriters songs can be collectivized for the good of these for-profit corporations without a trial or legislation or anything like that, they can do the same thing with what you write on your Facebook account or the photo you post on Twitter. You know what I’m saying? It’s eventually going to get to everybody.
Scott Timberg, a longtime arts reporter in Los Angeles who has contributed to the New York Times, runs the blog Culture Crash. His book, “Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class” comes out in January. Follow him on Twitter at @TheMisreadCity