Larry Fitzmaurice: 37 Thoughts on Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Music Writing, Animal Collective, Indie, Grizzly Bear, the XX, and How Things Change
A great summary of the shift in music writing and coverage around 2013 as music publications shifted to covering more pop music (and did it in a more take-based fashion) and pop music itself made a comeback critically.
Noah Yoo: Buy Music Club Gives Playlist Lovers a Community-Driven Alternative (Pitchfork)
With more people making lists on BMC since the start of Bandcamp Fridays, the way people are organizing music on the site is expanding, too—from themed lists to collections based around geography or era, all with a natural bent towards the lesser-known. “Over the past year, we’ve seen a lot of growth that we didn’t anticipate,” says Reynaldo. “On Juneteenth, when there was a big focus on finding and supporting music from Black artists, we had a huge influx, hundreds of lists getting made in a single day.”
What’s immediately appealing about BMC is how sparse and self-contained it is. You don’t have to make an account to publish a list. There are no social media-style features to speak of—you can’t follow users or individual lists, you can’t track your engagement, and you certainly can’t pay for promoted exposure. Outside of selected homepage picks by the site’s team of volunteers, the only way you can sort new lists (for now) is by “Most Recent,” which can make using BMC feel like sifting through the world’s most egalitarian record shop.
Anne Helen Petersen: Inside Enya's Irish Kingdom (Buzzfeed)
Over the course of three decades and with 80 million records sold, Enya has morphed into more than musician: She's her own adjective. What makes her music — and the mysterious woman behind it — appealing to so many? Anne Helen Petersen visits the reclusive singer in Ireland.
Shawn Reynaldo: DJ Sets Are Going Online—But Is Anyone Getting Paid? (Pitchfork)
A look at the perilous economics of electronic music during the coronavirus pandemic.
The monetization aspect is particularly important, as Twitch already has an established tipping culture. Although it’s primarily a gaming platform, musicians have increasingly started testing it out, hoping that viewers will pay to subscribe to their channel or tip them directly. Artist and tech researcher Mat Dryhurst has referred to this practice as “e-busking,” as it represents a new paradigm in which performers will have to earn a living by virtually singing for their supper, over and over again.
When DJs play their records on various livestream platforms, the people who made those records aren’t necessarily being compensated properly, if at all. As music technology journalist Cherie Hu recently reported, the question of rights and licensing in regard to livestreams is a legal minefield. In theory, any DJ who’s doing a livestream should be licensing each and every track they play ahead of time, a process that could take weeks, even for music industry professionals. Given most DJs’ lack of expertise (and interest) in the finer points of copyright law, it’s no surprise that their compliance is practically nonexistent.
Barring a major revamp of licensing requirements, along with significant improvements in both music recognition software and song reporting to relevant rights organizations, it’s hard to imagine widespread improvement in terms of livestream-related royalty payments. DJs themselves have little incentive to entangle themselves in legal minutiae, and the artists whose records are being played aren’t likely to kick up a fuss over payments that might not add up to much anyway. Still, when some DJ livestream events are bringing in tens of thousands of dollars, even for a good cause, it does raise questions about the ethics of capitalizing on artists’ work without their permission.
During the first ReConnect event, which drew 8.5 million viewers, 79 percent of all of the tracks played were identified. In theory, this should have generated thousands of dollars in royalties, but due to the lack of proper licensing infrastructure around livestreaming, the collective payments from the broadcast may only add up to mere pennies.
New platforms and an increased focus on accurate reporting are steps in the right direction, but the immediate economic outlook for livestreaming DJs and the artists whose music they play isn’t promising. People are tuning in—and donating money—but that hasn’t yet translated into anything resembling a reliable source of income for artists. “But for now,” says Plastician, “it’s the closest thing to a new revenue stream I’m going to have.”
Jayson Greene: How Indie Went Pop—and Pop Went Indie—in the 2010s (Pitchfork)
Your unconscious mind, it turns out, does not care what label a piece of music comes out on. It doesn’t care much about the artistic ethics behind it, either. Which means that the artists having the most fun in this new playground, at least creatively speaking, are the ones like Charli and Vernon—the ones who make the most of collaborative possibilities and don’t ask anyone listening to make distinctions about where any of their influences came from. That may sound jarringly utopian for a mostly dystopic moment, but if there is one thing we still want from pop music, even if the lyrics are downcast, it is a sense of possibility, of endless horizons.
Marc Hogan: Is There a Fairer Way for Streaming Services to Pay Artists? (Pitchfork)
As some of the pro-user-centric arguments hint, which option you prefer is partly a decision about cultural values, not economic cost. When you buy an album, no matter how many times you play it, you are making a conscious choice that it’s worth your hard-earned cash. With the existing streaming model, your money is not a direct investment—it is at the mercy of collective listening habits. Whether we want a system that rewards the conscious choices of individuals—versus, say, algorithms piping in modern-day muzak 24/7—is a question about more than dollars and (fractions of) cents.
Noah Yoo: How Artist Imposters and Fake Songs Sneak Onto Streaming Services (Pitchfork)
Ultimately, the problem at hand is greater than the risk of lost royalties. The prevalence of leaks on established streaming services has a significant impact on an artist’s sense of ownership over their life’s work. The lines become blurred as to whether something actually “exists” in an artist’s canon if they never gave permission for it to be released. So while diehards might feel a thrill, circumventing the system and listening to unreleased songs by their favorite musicians, the leaks ultimately hurt those same artists.
Eric Harvey: How Smart Speakers Are Changing the Way We Listen to Music (Pitchfork)
Indeed, many of the most pressing issues of the streaming music economy—artist compensation, statistical transparency, sexism—remain untouched, if not deepened, by the rise of the smart speaker. Moreover, as Amazon, Apple, and Google continue to carve out their spaces in the voice marketplace, music consumers and musicians alike will continue to fight against the companies’ preferred walled-garden approach to exclusivity. And though there’s no real reason to sympathize with Tidal or Spotify, the idea that the smart speaker industry might become the exclusive province of massive firms with enough capital to experiment (and huge captive audiences to use as guinea pigs) is significant reason for pause, no matter how little one is interested in owning the devices. A world in which three of tech’s “frightful five” become the equivalent of the major labels, with exclusive holdings in hardware and software, and plenty of incentive to lock competitors’ products and content out of their systems, is a chilling idea, and not as far-fetched as it might seem.
Brand playlists are advertisements, even if Spotify strives to imbue them with so-called editorial integrity. Such uncompensated advertorial playlists are harmful in that they offer artists no option to opt-out, but also because they undercut what can sometimes be a valuable source of revenue for artists. If brands can align themselves with artists without having to pay specifically for individual tracks or artist appearances, what do we think they’ll do? Can we at least give people the option to sell out if they want?
Jillian Mapes: Why Spotify’s New Policy on Hateful Conduct Is a Flawed Step Forward (Pitchfork)
Here in late capitalism, our only real power is as consumers, en masse. We need organizing forces like #MuteRKelly. But can a company that is still making money off the person they are protesting ever really play that role?
Mark Richardson: Three Points Missing From the Streaming Media Debate (Pitchfork)
1. It’s almost impossible to compare past and present because of lack of data.
2. Art has always been a terrible way to make money.
3. It’s less about there being "no money" and more about where the existing money flows.
Eric Harvey: Taylor SwiftTaylor Swift’s Spotify Decision Means Nothing for Smaller Artists (Wondering Sound)
Taylor Swift is one of the rarefied 0.01 percent of modern musicians whose charisma and talent, combined with an exorbitant promotional machine, can sell a million copies of an album in a week. She assumes this holds for all musicians in the same way that a wealthy politician tells lower middle-class citizens that they can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and achieve the American Dream, too.
Chris Molanphy: Senior Moments: Why More Albums by Middle-Aged Artists Like Tom Petty and "Weird Al" Are Hitting No. 1 (Pitchfork)
It’s clear that senior artists have had their chart stats boosted by a music business where fewer acts sell albums, period. And it’s also true that older stars are more likely to have fans who still buy music. But guys like Tom Petty, Tony Bennett or Neil Diamond aren’t topping the album chart just because their buyers are loyal or because “the classics” will never die. They’re pulling it off because they’re not afraid to work a little for a hit. What’s true for millennial artists is true for the old guys: Can’t knock the hustle.
Mara Robinson: Wax and Wane: The Tough Realities Behind Vinyl's Comeback (Pitchfork)
More and more people are buying vinyl; sales hit a record 6.1 million units in the U.S. last year. But as demand increases, the number of American pressing plants remains relatively fixed. No one is building new presses because, by all accounts, it would be prohibitively expensive. So the industry is limited to the dozen or so plants currently operating in the States.
Beyoncé seized the powers of a medium characterized by its short attention span to force the world to pay attention. Leave it to the posterchild of convention to brush convention aside and leave both sides feeling victorious.
Jana Hunter: Last week I wrote a review of the new King Krule record…
I’m saying the current model for sharing and more importantly for publicizing music is detrimental. Here’s what happens: young musicians make okay records that show they’ve got something but haven’t yet figured out what. The music industry then sells the shit out of it while the music press hypes it equally to death.
Nitsuh Abebe: Jana Hunter, King Krule, and when musicians are "ready" for the public
I’d like to think that, once we mentally calm ourselves and remember that reading a lot about an artist for a couple months is not a very big deal, we can imagine and try to foster a music world where a teenager can make a small splash with an interesting new sound and then, perhaps, grow and develop across his or her career until that first record is the footnote or rarity that only hardcore fans seek out. Today’s climate doesn’t foster that sort of thing very well, but I don’t think the answer is for everyone to woodshed longer. The answer might be to place a lot less importance on the marketing cycle around a record’s release, and keep in mind how unimportant it might look a few years down the line. Given enough time, the narrative of the musician is always larger than whatever people said for a month about a single release.
Neill Jameson: Low Fidelity: The Reality of the Record Business, circa 2013 (Decibel Magazine)
There’s a certain romance about record stores, an idea that the employees sit around and listen to music they love and meet and have intimate discourse with others who share their passion. Let’s end this horseshit idea.
Jessica Hopper: Why Won't Anyone Manage My Fledgling Music Career? (LA Weekly)
You have to show up for all the annoying hard work kind of stuff and just dig in, network, play shows that no one is at but make sure the four people who saw you remember your name when they leave. You gotta work all your angles and be a dude that people like helping, and that makes it that much easier and more likely opportunity will come to you.
What might be keeping the music industry from developing successful new networked models is the centralized holding of a majority of existing music rights in the hands of a very few. Apple, Spotify, Pandora, and all those to come in their wake have only to negotiate with the major labels before launching products that the rest of us have to accept or reject. A true 21st-century partnership for the music business would include musicians and music fans in a far more substantive role.
David Peisner: Captive Audience: The Music Business in America's Prisons (SPIN)
"Part of our mission is to offer opportunities for change," she says as we walk back out into the visiting area near the facility's front gate. "We figure at least 90 percent of our offender population is going to be getting out. Someday, one of these guys will be your neighbor." She smiles. "It's our responsibility to make sure that is a better person leaving here than it was coming in."
I endured repeated listens of a record I could not understand or stand because I had nothing else to do but work out why it mattered to someone I worshiped and not to me. That will never happen again, not the way we’re set up. You will click away the second a song loses you, and you’ll never learn anything about yourself. I mean it: you will never unlock or awaken new neural paths in your brain if you continue to gravitate toward music that satisfies your expectations. That is Easy Listening.