Category Archives: Music Musings

I know this is mainly a political blog, but I love to write about music too. This wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t.

CONFIRMED: Tidal Music Streaming Counted On Billboard Charts

Anyone that has been following the music industry knows that the 2010s have been an exciting, yet turbulent time.  The digital age has led to a mass democratization of nearly every possible information source, but few areas have been rocked by that impact like music.  Once a dependable source of revenue, physical sales of albums have dwindled to fractions of their former strength for all but a few superstar artists. Even while artists and chart hounds continue to boast about massive amounts of streaming activity, the truth is these plays earn just cents on the dollar when compared to physical sales.  To turn a profit today, artists have had to get rather creative.

One leap in that creative space was Tidal, formally launched on March 30th, 2015 by rapper Jay Z and other Artist Owners.  Tidal’s goal was to set a standard for paying artists a larger percentage of royalties than mostly free streaming titan Spotify at the time.  And while Tidal has actually kept that promise (able to pay between twice and 6 times per stream what an artist would receive on Spotify, dependent on their record label’s contract terms), the service has had a tough time building a sizeable subscriber base.  With no free tier for music listening, Tidal subscribers have to pay a minimum $9.99 per month to utilize the service.

Another significant set back for Tidal?  The service’s streaming data was not previously counted on any of Billboard’s official charts.  In other words, if an artist released music exclusively to Tidal, they would be unable to claim success on the charts.

But after months of confusion and social media debate, Billboard has finally confirmed that Tidal streaming data is now factored into their charting methodology.  On the strength of Jay Z’s explosive new album 4:44 being certified platinum by the RIAA in less than a week, Billboard gave this clarification

According to an RIAA spokesperson, a sale can count towards a certification if purchased directly by the customer, or a business can purchase the album or song and offer it to customers. In the latter case, customers must take affirmative steps to acquire the album or song (submitting an email address and promotional code, for example).

Note: for Billboard charting purposes, as per the current pricing policy, the Sprint-supported downloads would not count towards 4:44’s chart ranking. However, any streams reported by Tidal to Nielsen Music for the album’s songs in the week ending July 6 would contribute to the album’s ranking based solely on streaming equivalent album units.

So by next week, fans should expect to see Jay Z’s new album somewhere on the Billboard charts, even if it doesn’t place as high as it would if streamed on all services.

For those confused as to how a platinum certification is even possible if the album’s not “for sale”, here’s the breakdown…

  1. As part of Tidal’s mammoth deal  with Sprint, Jay Z gives exclusive rights to the music to Tidal subscribers for a window of time.
  2. Upon release of the Album, Sprint offers its customers a free 6 month trial of Tidal and attach the album as a free download, as long as they actively sign up using their email address.
  3. Tidal can then report these sign ups as equivalent sales, with Sprint being the sole purchaser of the content.  And they clearly got over a million people to sign up.
  4. It’s worth noting that before anything was even posted on Tidal, Jay Z probably made far more from the Sprint deal than he ever could have in traditional album sales or digital downloads.  Even under the old sales model of $15/cd ($15 million) an artist would be lucky to net even a quarter of that sum after paying product costs, distribution, the co-writers and artist performers and the label.

But this victory is only one in a much longer fight.  Though the launch of Tidal and Apple Music have improved the dismal profits of streaming since their low point in 2014, audiences continue to prefer the ‘freemium model’ of music consumption via Spotify, or illegal piracy.  And while Tidal’s superstar artist owners like Jay Z, Madonna and Beyoncé have the power and influence to be able take risks and discover innovative new methods of revenue generation, less known artists are still caught in a challenging situation to profit from their craft.  Just like the political landscape, the music industry’s future is a lot more complicated than one success.

We’ll see what comes next for Tidal.

 

 

Encore!! Houston Classical Music Gains Dedicated Radio Coverage

Recent years have proven challenging for Houston’s incredible Arts Scene.  After KUHF’s Award-Winning program The Front Row closed its doors in 2013, the city’s diverse collection of artists and musicians lost one of their greatest champions.  In the years since, Houstonians have been wondering what will become of the once robust local music and arts coverage that was offered on public radio.

Past live performance from KUHF’s The Front Row featuring members of the Houston Ebony Music Society, 2012.  Performers are DuWayne Davis, Adavion Wayne, Wayne Ashley and Leon Turner with Dr. John Cornelius at the piano.  

Even with excellent intermittent feature stories from the great folks at Houston Public Media’s Houston Matters and the dedicated work of Arts and Culture reporter Amy Bishop and TV8 program Arts InSight, Houston Arts have dearly missed the programming options and connectivity that our former program schedule provided, and have been left wondering if there will ever be additional options.

Luckily with 2017, part of that open question is getting answered, as Houston Public Media premieres a new program dedicated to classical music in the area.  Here’s more from Clifford Pugh of CultureMap

Fans of Houston’s classical music scene will have a new outlet as Houston Public Media debuts a new weekly radio show and podcast that highlights performances of local concert organizations. Encore Houston premieres Saturday at 10 pm, with an encore performance Sunday at 4 pm on Classical 88.7 HD-2 and online at houstonpublicmedia.org/listen-live.

The first episode features Mercury‘s performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, also known as the “Choral” Symphony, from May 2016, along with commentary and details about the chamber orchestra’s upcoming performance from Houston Public Media classical host and producer Joshua Zinn.

[…]

Other classical groups that will be featured during the first season are KINETIC, Chamber Music Houston, DaCamera, Ars Lyrica, Houston Early Music, Context, Musiqa, Bach Society, Houston Chamber Choir, River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, and St. Cecilia Chamber Music Society. The length of each show varies according to the concert performance; most shows will run between one and two hours.

Like other HPM program offerings, each episode of Encore Houston is also available via podcast, so if you’ve missed the debut, you can always go back and check out the previous shows.  Beyond listening, you can also show your support for Encore Houston (and any possibilities of future arts coverage) by posting about the program on social media.  Host and producer Joshua Zinn is on Twitter as @HPMZinn, and though there’s no Facebook page for the specific show yet, you can always like the Houston Public Media page and like/comment on posts about the new show.

After a noticeable drought of music and arts coverage, it’s great to see those resources slowly reforming in the community.  Encore, indeed!

Music Musings: BET Celebrates The Obamas

As America prepares for a new President and uncertain times, many across the nation have had a tough time accepting the inevitable.  In the coming days, the Obama Presidency will end.  Even as folks do their best to sound reasonable and put on a brave face, the coming Inauguration is going to be difficult for a large part of this nation.

But thankfully, a much-needed healing agent is available to soothe us in our grief.  If you missed BET’s Extraordinary Salute to President and First Lady Obama at the final White House musical event of his Presidency, it is highly recommended.  Top notch performances abound from Jill Scott and Janelle Monae, to Usher, Common and De La Soul, Kierra Sheard, Yolanda Adams and Michelle Williams, this event might leave you crying, but it may also fill the soul with hope for the future.  BET pulls all the stops to let our nation’s President an First Lady know that they are loved, and will be missed.  As the President said himself, “thank you for coming to MY Block Party”!!

None of us can know what lies ahead, but we can be thankful for what this First Family has accomplished over the last 8 years:  always graceful, always thoughtful, and ALWAYS taking the high road despite all of the challenges thrown their way.  That is definitely worth a celebration.

Janet Jackson: The First Millennial

If you’re going by much of the press regarding the Millennial generation, it’s easy to think that all of us are lazy, overly opinionated, and self-involved.  Of course this is simply not the case… this generation is one of incredible knowledge and skills, and has unmatched command of the digital sphere.

But sadly, those skills have been hampered by some difficult times.  Unlike the Gen Xers and Baby Boomers before us, Millennials have come of age in an era of economic uncertainty.  Though we have much to contribute, many opportunities for advancement were put on the back burner in the wake of September 11th, and the Great Recession.  Lacking the access lanes of our older counterparts, Millennials instead have chosen a different path.  A generation of global citizens, we choose to not only focus on ourselves, but also spend much time tackling some of the world’s most difficult problems.

Long before the Millennials developed their sense of identity, many of these same traits showed up in one pivotal GenX artist.  Though born into a family of extraordinary fame and privilege, Janet Jackson was less apt to the headlines than others.  She may not have had access to cell phones, internet or social media, but she nonetheless grew up as an ultimate observer and seeker of knowledge, as her siblings provided the youngest Jackson a crash course on how to be famous and successful.  Inspiring as it was, this situation was also a challenge for Jackson, as she had to struggle with how to find her  voice in the long shadow of her family.  After a few unsuccessful attempts, Jackson finds her lane on the Control album, thanks in part to the talents of legendary producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.

The trio may have established a new lane with Control, but it was their next project which would catch the whole world’s attention and set an example for future generations.  Released on September 19th 1989, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 departed from the safety of pop music’s typical subject matter, and put focus on some of the world’s toughest challenges (most of which still plague us today).  Even today, the lyrics from title track Rhythm Nation read as an anthem for the modern global citizen

With music by our side
To break the color lines
Let’s work together
To improve our way of life
Join voices in protest
To social injustice
A generation full of courage
Come forth with me
People of the world today
Are we looking for a better way of life
We are a part of the rhythm nation
People of the world unite
Strength in numbers we can get it right
One time
We are a part of the rhythm nation
This is the test
No struggle no progress
Lend a hand to help
Your brother do his best
Things are getting worse
We have to make them better
It’s time to give a damn
Let’s work together

Interestingly enough, even as Jackson longed for equality over the song’s infectious beat, she was also keenly aware of how unequal the world was, especially for Black communities.  From the ‘RN’ album cover, to the videos to its overall theme, Jackson wanted to provide a positive image for Black America to combat the negativity being constantly thrown their way.  Here’s Ms. Jackson’s quote on the subject.

The color black has become increasingly important to me. It hurts my heart to watch the television special ‘Black in White America,’ when the Black girl picked the white doll over the Black. That’s why I decided the color scheme for Rhythm Nation – the costumes, the cover art, the overall feeling – would be positively, uncompromisingly Black.

In the Millennial generation, these same sentiments have led to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Forth from it’s title track, ‘RN’ continues to heed the call for social change.  State of the World tells stories of homelessness and prostitution (concepts too easy to ignore in pop music), while The Knowledge gives listeners the one key to improving these tough circumstances which can’t be taken away.  After watching news coverage of an horrific murder of school children, Janet Jackson felt compelled to write the ballad Livin’ In A World (They Didn’t Make) to speak out against gun violence.

Once the business is handled, Jackson, Jam and Lewis also know how to have some fun, and talk about love.  Like any Millennial of today, Janet shows in the rest of ‘RN’ that she’s much more complex than commander of social change.  Fun romps like Miss You Much,  Escapade and soothing ballads like Lonely bring this album back to an intimate connection.  An interesting oddity that the latter ballad seems a near perfect fit for the typical Millennial love struggle

As we all know, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 was a huge success… a Grammy Award winner, the best selling album of 1990, 4 Number 1 hits across 3 calendar years, and a record-setting 7 top 5 singles.  But even a full 27 years since its debut, this work continues to resonate where many others have fallen away.  From the timeless beats and instrumentation to the important message, ‘RN’ has proven an important voice across four decades and two centuries.  That’s no small feat in the fickle world of pop music.  As Millennials continue their journey to prominence, they will find much to discover in the work of Ms. Jackson.

rn

 

Music Musings: Pentatonix & Dolly Parton– Jolene

What happens when you combine a ground-breaking hit a capella group with one of the music world’s most CRUCIAL legends singing a country classic?

A new reason to celebrate.

Fresh off the Oceanic leg of their world tour, the Pentatonix team up with the incredible Dolly Parton to deliver a rousing rendition of her hit 1974 country hit Jolene.   Parton is just months shy of celebrating 50 years as a solo recording artist, with her debut album Hello, I’m Dolly released February 13th, 1967.  But you sure couldn’t tell it from looking or listening, as Parton’s sweet sounds meld flawlessly into the Pentatonix’ fresh new arrangement.  Take a listen for yourself, and be sure to get the song on iTunes or your favorite streaming service!

 

ptx-d

Artists Rally Around Appeal of Controversial ‘Blurred Lines’ Verdict

As the unofficial close of Summer 2016 draws near, today’s news might have many people recalling Summer 2013.  During that year, the mega-hit Blurred Lines ruled the airwaves.  Not only was the song a mega-hit in the United States for 12 weeks, it also topped the charts in over 25 other countries.

Like much of contemporary music, the hit was heavily inspired by great songs that came before it, which is why the family of Marvin Gaye took artists Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams to court for copyright infringement in 2015.  The Gaye family won the case, at much to the surprise and shock of the entire music industry.  If a song like Blurred Lines, which contains no direct content (sample) from Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit ‘Got to Give It Up’ could be sued for infringement, is the whole pop music world in trouble??

As Randy Lewis of the Los Angeles Times report, this saga is far from over…

More than 200 musicians have signed a legal brief supporting Pharrell Williams’ appeal of the $5.3-million judgment handed down against him and Robin Thicke in 2015 after a jury decided that their hit, “Blurred Lines,” was lifted from Marvin Gaye’s 1977 song “Got to Give It Up.”

That verdict stunned many in the music industry, among them music mogul Irving Azoff, who noted that such cases typically are decided by music experts, not juries, because they can involve nuanced elements of music theory and composition.

[…]

These musicians, the filing states, “are concerned about the potential adverse impact on their own creativity, on the creativity of future artists, and on the music industry in general, if the judgment in this case is allowed to stand. The verdict in this case threatens to punish songwriters for creating new music that is inspired  by prior works.

“All music shares inspiration from prior musical works, especially within a particular musical genre,” according to the brief. “By eliminating any meaningful standard for drawing the line between permissible inspiration and unlawful copying, the judgment is certain to stifle creativity and impede the creative process. The law should provide clearer rules so that songwriters can know when the line is crossed, or at least where the line is.

“Quite clearly, the verdict in this case, if based upon the music at all, was based upon the jury’s perception that the overall ‘feel’ or ‘groove’ of the two works is similar, as songs of a particular genre often are. In essence, the Appellants have been found liable for the infringement of an idea, or a series of  ideas, and not for the tangible expression of those ideas, which is antithetical to Section 102(b) of the Copyright Act.”

As revealed in the Amicus Brief, the artists in support of the appeal are from various backgrounds.  From mega-hit pop singer/songwriters like Bonnie McKee and R. Kelly to producers like Stargate, all have a vested interest in protecting their freedom to create and innovate.

Beyond the particular case at hand, there have been a host of other criticisms heaped upon Blurred Lines.  The songs racy videos caused outrage among the public, and turned some of its most ardent fans into fairweather supporters at best.  But while those battles lie mostly in the past, the song Blurred Lines has found new relevance in the fight to protect artist.

ICYMI, check out this comparison video of Blurred Lines (2013) and Got to Give It Up (1977).  Even with key and tempo adjustments to help the songs have a closer match, to my ear the case still lies firmly  with Thicke and Pharrell on this one.  As well illustrated in the Brief, the two songs have different melody, verses and harmonic progression, and even a slight difference in beat.  Heavy inspiration does not make a direct sample or cover.  Leave your thoughts below in the comments.

Blurred Lines

 

Music Musings: President Obama’s Summer Playlist

Even those with the toughest jobs need some regular ways to unwind and escape.  That includes the nation’s best known elected official.

In the midst of what is surely a much needed summer vacation, President Obama has given the people a quick ear into some of his current favorite sounds.  The 2016 Summer Playlist dropped via his @POTUS Twitter account.

Here’s more from Rolling Stone

President Barack Obama has shared his 2016 summer playlist, which boasts a wide array of artists from Jay Z, D’Angelo and Nina Simone to the Beach Boys, Courtney Barnett and Caetano Veloso.

Like last year, Obama organized his tracks into two collections — songs for daytime and nighttime — and both are available to stream on Spotify.

From Wale and Charles Mingus in the Daytime, to Ledisi and THE Janet Jackson in the Nighttime, the President’s Jams are definitely legit.  Peep the full list directly from the White House.

Summer Playlist

So will you be giving the Summer Playlist a spin?  If so, share your thoughts in the comments.

Floetry says it best… all you gotta do is Say Yes.