All posts by Stephen Macaulay

Three Useless Things to Know

As the weather turns, the vaccinations increase, and people’s interest turns to. . .outside seating at bars, perhaps a few trivial things may help you win some bar bets:

First musical instrument

Let’s face it: horns are not a big part of rock. There was certainly a period when there were brass-led bands that made some significant music—the prime example of this is the original Blood, Sweat & Tears, formed by Al Kooper, which should not be confused with the Blood, Sweat & Tears of “Spinning Wheel” (although it should be acknowledged that lineup of the band did perform at Woodstock). And for a resonant experience, just listen to the opening of Otis Redding’s cover of “Try a Little Tenderness” (Redding performed at Monterey Pop in 1967 and probably would have played two years later at Woodstock, had he not died in a light plane crash on the way to a gig in ’67).

Turns out that the first musical instrument—one from 17,000 year ago—may have been a horn. Back in 1931 a conch shell was discovered in a cave in France. The cave had various human remains, including drawings on the walls. The shell had a hole in one end. It was thought that the hole, at the end of the shell, had simply been broken off. After all, the thing is 17,000 years old.

Earlier this year a paper was published in Science Advances, “First record of the sound produced by the oldest Upper Paleolithic seashell horn.”

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Everyone Into the Pool! (Except Songwriters)

According to the description of Cancun on TripAdvisor:

“The international capital of spring break

“‘Spring break forever’ could be Cancun’s motto. It’s all sun, sand, and good vibes. Here flip flops and board shorts count as “dressed,” and the club beats are thumping 24/7. Swim-up bars keep the cocktails coming to the twentysomething crowd. But families can find their own paradise at one of the many resorts with kids’ clubs and gigantic pools.”

So what do we have:

• Spring break. Which could include those ages 18 to 24, from high school seniors through undergraduates
• Twentysomething crowd that are partial to swim-up bars
• Families

Which makes me wonder about the potential crowd for “Playing in the Sand,” the three-day event that will feature Dead & Company.

Two points: (1) the name of the “destination concert experience” will be held in Cancun next January, a period when there isn’t a spring break; (2) the name of the event is a play on the title of a Grateful Dead tune that was released in 1971, making it 50 years old, which means that it was out 21 years before the oldest twentysomething was born.

Who’s coming?

The packages aren’t inexpensive. They start at $2,112.50 per person (yes, this includes a room at the Moon Palace Cancun Resort) and go up to $9,000. Starting prices.

Presumably, given that most people haven’t been vacationing much (except for thousands of springbreakers this year) due to COVID, by next January they’ll be ready for an event at a resort.

But one thing strikes me as a bit odd about this, and not that the Grateful Dead was a band that is more associated with grilled cheese sandwiches and drum circles than fine dining and a Jack Nicklaus golf course.

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Listening to What Elliot Scheiner Thinks Is Worthwhile (circa 2008)

Several years ago I had the opportunity and honor to meet and spend some time talking with Elliot Scheiner, a producer and engineer who has been behind the board for an array of musicians, most of whom are acutely aware of the importance of the sounds that we hear when we listen to their recorded music. A recording engineer is the person to takes all of the tracks that have been recorded during a session (realize that there are as many as 96 channels on a sound board, and multiple recordings of each instrument and vocal) and orchestrates them—perhaps a slice here, a bit there—into something that we think is a done-in-one work. It is the ear of someone like Scheiner that creates a seamless tapestry.

I had in a box a third generation iPod nano circa 2008 that contains music that Scheiner had selected. I’d forgotten about it. Needless to say, when I excavated it, there was no power and it seems that the battery is no longer able to hold a charge.

But I pulled out a connector and plugged it in.

And listened. . . .

“Take Me to the River,” Al Green. No, not Talking Heads. It was written by Al Green and Mabon Lewis Hodges. Hear Al’s scream between verses and you’ll not listen to Byrne again. “The sixteen candles burning on my wall/Turning me into the biggest fool of them all.”

“Eight Days a Week,” The Beatles. Shocking to realize that it was released in 1965. Actually, it was ’64 in the UK, but the world wasn’t small then, so it was a few months later. Eight days, but the band’s seventh #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100. The the phrase allegedly came from a chauffeur, describing how much he was working. Work. Not Love.

“Like a Star,” Corinne Bailey Rae. It isn’t a good thing when you do a Google search and the “People also ask” box has as its first question “What happened to Corinne Bailey Rae?” Good question. Probably more well known for her “Put Your Record On,” this song is subtle-yet-intricate. And leads you to wonder “What happened to Corinne Bailey Rae?”

“Fly Me to the Moon,” Diana Krall. It takes a lot of guts to do a cover of a song associated with Frank Sinatra and Count Basie. Yet Krall has vocally and musically more than the stuff to stand up to it. What’s interesting is that her voice isn’t sweet but strong. And it works.

“The Great Pagoda of Funn,” Donald Fagen. Steely Dan released Aja in the fall of ’77. Fagen released Morph the Cat, the album that includes this cut, in March 2006. I defy you to listen to this song and not hear Aja. With the current non-existence of Walter Becker, Fagen could tour doing this album and fully satisfy Dan fans. Or maybe he could call it “Steely Dann.”

Continue reading Listening to What Elliot Scheiner Thinks Is Worthwhile (circa 2008)

The Disturbingly Small Numbers

The $15 minimum wage is a contentious issue. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. It was established in 2009. 2009 was Windows 7.

Yes, you’d think it would be time for a change.

According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a minimum wage increase would impact the following:

• More than half (51%) of workers who would benefit are adults between the ages of 25 and 54; only one in 10 is a teenager.
• Nearly six in 10 (59%) are women.
• More than half (54%) work full time.
• More than four in 10 (43%) have some college experience.
• More than a quarter (28%) have children.

The issue here is one of people earning a living.

If we’ve seen anything in the past year it is that people who are working at grocery stores and doing food delivery services were putting themselves at considerable health risk. Odds are they didn’t want to. But it was their job and they had to do it. $7.25.

If someone works 40 hours per week, that is 2,080 hours per year. So at $7.25, the annual wage is $15,080.

And according to the EPI, were a raise to $15 per hour occur (it is worth noting that this wouldn’t necessarily be an instantaneous increase but that there would be a stepped approach, going to $9.50 in 2021 and reaching $15 in 2025) a full-time worker employed year-round would earn $31,200.

To put that into some perspective, know that the average price of a used car—remember, these people need to get to work in order to earn anything—is over $23,000. And that, of course, would mean the need for car insurance, on top of rent, utilities, food, clothing, etc., etc.

At this point—or far earlier—you may be wondering if you’ve accidentally stumbled onto a website dedicated to economics, not music.

Hang on. We’re getting there.

Continue reading The Disturbingly Small Numbers

Music for Parking Lots

If you’ve gotten into a new car recently, you’ve noticed that there is a change that has occurred over just the past few years. As there is a high likelihood that the vehicle is started by a keyfob rather than a key that is inserted into a cylinder on the steering column or on the instrument panel, the car “recognizes” that you have the fob. In fact, in the case of many vehicles, before you open the door, the car “wakes up” and will automatically unlock the door and if it is dark out, initiate a lighting routine so that your visibility is enhanced.

Upon getting behind the wheel, the car “greets” you. This is where the big change has happened. There is likely to be a message on a screen that welcomes you. And there is a series of sounds that acknowledge that you have arrived in the vehicle.

These sounds are an interesting thing. The beeps and buzzers that have long been characteristic of cars (e.g., seatbelt warning; you’ve left the lights on after you’ve shut off the vehicle; your door is ajar) have given way to more mellifluous sounds. These are not some random noises that have been selected for activation. There are sound signatures that identify the brand (were you to climb in another vehicle of the same vintage from the same brand—say a 2021 Kia Sorrento and a Kia K5—you would hear the same micro melody), as well as the various whooshes and whirs that are to make you think that you’re not just getting ready to go to the store to buy some milk but to be whisked away on some sort of magical adventure.

The company that has made an absolute art of the musical sounds within a vehicle is Lincoln. It didn’t hire some little-known creator of digital sounds that are encoded on a chip that is part of a vehicle’s body control module in order to create the audio ambience. Rather, Lincoln hired musicians from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for the automotive soundscape that is part of its vehicles’ signature. The company even has a position called “supervisor, vehicle harmony.”

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Ain’t We Got Fun?

Edvard Munch, a Norwegian artist, painted The Scream in 1893. Fast forward 128 years and there could be the sound of a wail heard from the fjords: Jack Dorsey purchased “a significant portion” of streaming service Tidal from Shawn Carter for $297-million. One assumes that when you’re dealing with that kind of money “Jay-Z” isn’t on the paperwork. Carter bought what was to become Tidal from its Norwegian founders for $56 million in 2015. Lock, stock and smoking barrel for $56 million; a “portion” for $241-million more.

As you may recall, the plan that Jay-Z had when establishing Tidal was to get a group of musicians—including Madonna, Kanye, Daft Punk, Jack White, Beyoncé—and give them a piece of the action (~3%) in order for them to create Tidal-specific music. That way there would be a solid reason for fans to go to that outlet rather than other venues.

In terms of the subscriber base, however, Spotify is doing exceedingly well and Tidal, music catalog notwithstanding, is not sweeping away the competition for dollars and ears. Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music account for about 70% of the market, leaving the rest to others—and the rest isn’t just Tidal.

Dorsey, the man behind Twitter, is also the co-founder of Square, the financial services company that offers clever point-of-services devices (portable, pedestal-based) through which people buy things, as well as the backend software to make the transactions complete. Swipe. Tap. Voila!

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Listen to the Sound of Income

While it has been quite some time since I have been in a movie theater, the remembrance of sitting in a seat waiting for the show to begin is something that sticks with me for the simple reason that (1) when going to a theater with general admission I would generally get there sufficiently early such that I would be able to get a seat that didn’t put me in a spot where the sightlines were less-than ideal (e.g., off to the side or in a row near to the screen that would require an uncomfortable neck torque for a not-inconsiderable amount of time) and (2) theaters, which make more money off of concessions (i.e., pre-pandemic, theater chains made about 50% on the price of a ticket and 80% on the concessions, so if you want to know why that bucket of popcorn takes a bucket of cash to buy, there it is), decided that given the captive audience, selling ads to play before the trailers was a lucrative move.

You might imagine that because you are paying to see something specific (i.e., the movie) you would not be subjected to watching something that the proprietor is making money on. To be sure, for years pre-movie there would be the cartoon of the hotdog, beverage and popcorn box strutting across the screen encouraging you to go get a snack, but it got to the point that you were encouraged to do everything from joining the Army to buying car insurance. And while those ads tended to be well produced, there are even those sold locally to plastic surgeons and car dealers that appear to have been shot and produced by someone’s Uncle Gus.

According to SiriusXM, “SiriusXM is unique because we stay true to the artists and their music by broadcasting 100% commercial-free music. So, unlike traditional radio, all of our original music channels have no commercials – ever!” However, elsewhere it acknowledges, “While all of our music channels are 100% commercial free, subscribers may hear commercials on some of the Sports, Talk and News channels.” That verb may, expressing possibility, is a bit of a dodge. What’s more, while the music channels are without commercials in the sense of things that are promoting the goods and services of a third party, there are more than a few interruptions on the music channels trying to get you to listen to the Billy Joel Channel or a special, limited-duration channel from some performer that you’d prefer Novocain-free dental work rather than listening to. What SiriusXM is doing is trying to keep you within its sphere so that it is going to make money from subscription renewals. Realize that they have built out an infrastructure (e.g., satellites, office buildings) that needs to be maintained, to say nothing of the contract with Howard Stern that is said to be worth as much as $100-million a year through 2025. You need a lot of subscribers to support that kind of outgo.

On February 22, Spotify conducted its “Stream On” event, which it describes as how it “is continuing to go all in on the limitless power of audio—the opportunity and the potential it represents for Spotify, creators, and fans everywhere around the world.

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“God Only Knows”

One of the more enjoyable TV series of the late ‘00s was “Leverage,” an Americanized version of a better British show, “Hustle.” Both are about grifters. The American cast is led by Timothy Hutton, who plays the “brains” of the operation. During each episode they would find someone who did some innocent wrong in some mean, devious financial way, and then the crew would go after that person in an unexpectedly imaginative way.

Depending on the circumstance of the con, Hutton’s character, after devising the plan, would say, “Let’s go steal a _________.” The object would always be something outrageous in scope, such as a museum or a mountain or a carnival or a town.

That phrase came to mind, albeit in a somewhat different form, when I read that Irving Azoff, long-time manager of The Eagles, started a company, Iconic Artists Group. . .and bought the Beach Boys.

“Let’s go buy a band.”

The purchase from Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine and the estate of Carl Wilson, includes masters, part of the publishing (Universal owns the music from the 1960s), the brand, and Beach Boys memorabilia.

While we’ve seen musicians from Dylan to Young selling publishing rights of late, this is different.

The Beach Boys become a “thing” that will be brought to market via brand development and the ever-important brand monetization.

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“The Middle”

One of the all-time best Super Bowl commercials, and certainly the best-ever ad for a car company, was aired 10 years ago during Super Bowl XLV. The ad, known both as “Born of Fire” and “Imported from Detroit,” shows Eminem rolling through the streets of Detroit. The images were not all chamber-of-commerce shiny and bright. The edge nature of the crumbling environment, a situation that led to people visiting to see the post-industrial archelogy in front of their eyes (not exactly Pompei-like ruins, but certainly not necessarily a place you’d like to take a Sunday walk). The soundtrack is an instrumental version of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” He is driving what was then a new Chrysler 200.

You see the Robert Graham “Monument to Joe Louis,” a sculpture that is better known around these parts as “The Fist,” which is located at the foot of Woodward at Jefferson, and you know that Detroit is not a city that is like any other.

Eminem drives the 200 to the Fox Theatre, a classic movie house opened in 1928 and completely rehabilitated by the company that owns Little Caesar’s Pizza (yes, that is from Detroit, as is Domino’s), where the marque outside reads “Keep Detroit Beautiful.” The narrator to that point had talked about how Detroit isn’t New York, Chicago, Vegas, “And we’re certainly no one’s Emerald City.”

He walks down an aisle of the theater, which has long been a music venue rather than a movie house, and on the stage there’s the Selected of God choir, wearing their Sunday robes and singing, as the instrumental “Lose Yourself” builds.

Eminem turns to the camera, accusatorially points his finger, and says, “This is the Motor City and this is what we do.”

“God damn right,” Detroiters everywhere nodded.

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From the Legal Desk: The Earth Is Round

One of the more brilliant bits of writing is found in the Introduction of the lawsuit–SMARTMATIC USA CORP., SMARTMATIC INTERNATIONAL HOLDING B.V., and SGO CORPORATION LIMITED, Plaintiffs, -against FOX CORPORATION, FOX NEWS NETWORK LLC, LOU DOBBS, MARIA BARTIROMO, JEANINE PIRRO, RUDOLPH GIULIANI, and SIDNEY POWELL, Defendants—filed in the Supreme Court of New York.

It includes:

1. The Earth is round. Two plus two equals four. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the 2020 election for President and Vice President of the United States. The election was not stolen, rigged, or fixed. These are facts. They are demonstrable and irrefutable.

2. Defendants have always known these facts. They knew Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the 2020 U.S. election. They knew the election was not stolen. They knew the election was not rigged or fixed. They knew these truths just as they knew the Earth is round and two plus two equals four.

3. Defendants did not want Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to win the election. They wanted President Donald Trump and Vice President Michael Pence to win re-election. Defendants were disappointed. But they also saw an opportunity to capitalize on President Trump’s popularity by inventing a story. Defendants decided to tell people that the election was stolen from President Trump and Vice President Pence.

4. Defendants had an obvious problem with their story. They needed a villain. They needed someone to blame. They needed someone whom they could get others to hate. A story of good versus evil, the type that would incite an angry mob, only works if the storyteller provides the audience with someone who personifies evil.

5. Without any true villain, Defendants invented one. Defendants decided to make Smartmatic the villain in their story. . . .

6. Those facts would not do for Defendants. So, the Defendants invented new ones. . . .

Not only is this simplicity potentially devastating for the defendants (perhaps not uncoincidentally, Lou Dobbs’ show was canceled by Fox the day after the suit was filed, which tells you something), but the opening is a good description of law suits of all types. Subtract the specifics of the claim, the individuals involved, and note how there are simple things that are known and that people have a tendency to make things up to their advantage. Sometimes the creation of the fiction is predicated simply on the people involved not knowing better. Sometimes it is to try to gain an advantage. (Which is the case in this case: weaving a conspiracy that includes the election equipment and software company in a nefarious undertaking to prevent their Dear Leader from holding on to his position was undoubtedly thought to be good for ratings, and ratings mean money, and Smartmatic’s is a $2.7-billion defamation lawsuit that will undoubtedly make Rudy sweat more than he did outside the Four Seasons Lawn & Landscaping building.)

While it isn’t nearly to the degree of the Smartmatic lawsuit, the CEO of Evermore Park in Pleasant Grove, Utah, has filed a lawsuit against Taylor Swift because she released an album named “Evermore.”

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