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