All posts by Stephen Macaulay

No Filter

So what do you do?

The bank is full, regardless of how many ex-spouses that need to be paid, regardless of how many progenies are on the loose.

There is, of course, always the potential that things could go pear-shaped.

Perhaps a Bernie Madoff-type makes off with a sizeable chunk of doubloons. Perhaps there is an ever-increasing compulsion that results in an ever-decreasing amount hidden under the bed.

Things that could cause a need for more money.

What do you do?

Much of your life has been spent somewhere.

Sometimes you don’t even know where is there. Someone needs to tell you. Or at least remind you.

Things have gotten to the point where it is a different room and when you get up at night you’re not twigged to where in the suite the bathroom is located.

But that’s the life. And you remember when it was something where you were in a caravan and simply had to use the nearest tree or wall.

At one point it got old. Tired. Really old. And then you were young.

But like the sound barrier, you broke through and now you are on the other side.

Always on the other side.

At this point there is no going back.

And you ask yourself what exactly it might be that you’d be going back to.

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Does This Sound Like the Real Thing or What Is Real?

“Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be. This unique existence of the work of art determined the history to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence. This includes the changes which it may have suffered in physical condition over the years as well as the various changes in its ownership.” —Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” 1935

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One of the things that is absolutely taken for granted is the ubiquity of the arts in our daily lives. Music comes from everywhere and while much of it doesn’t necessarily rise to the levels that one would imagine would have required the invocation of Euterpe, think only of the situation of someone 200 years ago:

One of the least expensive, most common instruments, the harmonica, wasn’t invented until 1821.

While we associate harmonicas with blues performers and hobos, it is a pretty good bet that back in the first half of the 19th century Christian Friedrich Ludwig Buschmann’s instrument wasn’t an inexpensive item.

Hearing music–which we don’t even think about–was certainly something special for much longer than it hasn’t been.

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Some Days in July and The Beatles

According to The Beatles Bible, “Lennon was a notoriously bad driver.” On July 1, 1969, the day that recording was to begin for Abbey Road, Lennon, Yoko Ono, her daughter Kyoko and his son Julian were involved in a car accident, as Lennon drove into a ditch in Scotland. He would have probably been better off had he (1) been a better driver or (2) had a better work ethic, such that he’d show up in the studio, which is located in London, on July 1.

He did make it to the studio on July 9. As Yoko sustained more injuries than John, a double bed was ordered from Harrods and delivered to the studio, so she could be on hand in order to provide her insights into the music. Their first bed-in protest against the Vietnam War had occurred a few months earlier, in March, in Amsterdam. May 26-June 1 they had their second, in Montreal. Perhaps this bed was a protest about something else.

The first day Lennon was in the studio the band did takes 1 to 21 of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” The following day they did overdubbing and mixing of the tune.

Lennon, evidently, missed Ringo’s 29th birthday, which was on the 7th.

The song in question is about a serial killer. That Macca is quite the crack-up.

Apparently John was completely dismissive of the song, reportedly not participating. George and Ringo didn’t much like it, either, but they performed on it.

One of the reasons they weren’t chuffed about it was that it took three days to complete. A three-minute, 27-second ditty. Three days.

Paul must have really been invested in it.

Bang! Bang!

Continue reading Some Days in July and The Beatles

What Does My Little Pony Listen To?

Some people might think that some of the things that I’ve been writing of late are, well, rather odd, looking at some of the financial aspects of the music industry, and it is an industry the same way that the airline industry is an industry or the automobile industry is an industry or an. . . .You get it.

But here’s something that I find to be absolutely unusual.

Hasbro.

Yes, as in the company that is associated with Play-Doh, Playskool, My Little Pony, Nerf, and more.

A toy company.

But nowadays being a company that makes things like toys (or presumably damn near any other product, be it airliners or automobiles) is completely insufficient.

Turns out that Hasbro is a “content” company, too.

And up until last week, part of its content portfolio included Entertainment One, a.k.a., eOne. Hasbro bought the company in 2019 for $3.8 billion.

eOne Music happens to own the libraries of Artemis Records, Death Row Records and Dualtone Records. And as a result of label or management association, eOne is (or was) involved with Boston, Brandy, Cypress Hill, Shakey Graves, Snoop Dogg, Tegan and Sara, Wu-Tang Clan and more.

Now also in the eOne acquisition was Peppa Pig, which seems to make a whole lot of more sense.

But Hasbro sold eOne Music to a private equity firm, Blackstone, for $385 million. Note that there is more to eOne than just the music portion, so it isn’t like Hasbro took a bath (although there is probably an array of bath toys within its remaining portfolio) on the sale.

Blackstone?

Well, according to its boilerplate, “Blackstone is one of the world’s leading investment firms and seeks to create positive economic impact and long-term value for investors, the companies they invest in, and the communities in which they work. Blackstone does this by using extraordinary people and flexible capital to help companies solve problems. Blackstone’s $649 billion in assets under management include investment vehicles focused on private equity, real estate, public debt and equity, life sciences, growth equity, opportunistic, non-investment grade credit, real assets, and secondary funds, all on a global basis.”

Surely doesn’t sound a whole lot of rock and roll to me, but then Hasbro didn’t seem like it would be in the music business, either.

Continue reading What Does My Little Pony Listen To?

The Excerpted “WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty”

In 1996 the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which, as of 2019, had 192 states as signatories, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, established a treaty with the objective of developing and maintaining “the protection of the rights of performers and producers of phonograms[*] in a manner as effective and uniform as possible. . . . Recognizing the profound impact of the development and convergence of information and communication technologies on the production and use of performances and phonograms, Recognizing the need to maintain a balance between the rights of performers and producers of phonograms and the larger public interest, particularly education, research and access to information.” Yes, a treaty that takes into account the provisions of both the Berne Convention (1971) and the Rome Convention (1961).

It is a 38-page document.

So here are a series of excerpts from it, which, may provide some insights into the rights of performers, which, somehow, seem to be almost equal to those of producers.

All of this may be worthwhile keeping in mind as the issue of remuneration for performers vis-à-vis streaming services continues to roil the music industry.

Keep in mind, however, that this treaty was established in 1996, a year after the Fraunhofer Society released the mp3 digital audio coding format and three years before the creation of Napster.

Mutare tempora, as they used to say some 1,520 years before the treaty was signed.

Article 1

Relation to Other Conventions

(1) Nothing in this Treaty shall derogate from existing obligations that Contracting Parties have to each other under the International Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organizations done in Rome, October 26, 1961 (hereinafter the “Rome Convention”).

(2) Protection granted under this Treaty shall leave intact and shall in no way affect the protection of copyright in literary and artistic works. Consequently, no provision of this Treaty may be interpreted as prejudicing such protection.

(3) This Treaty shall not have any connection with, nor shall it prejudice any rights and obligations under, any other treaties

Article 2

Definitions

(a) “performers” are actors, singers, musicians, dancers, and other persons who act, sing, deliver, declaim, play in, interpret, or otherwise perform literary or artistic works or expressions of folklore;

Article 5

Moral Rights of Performers

(1) Independently of a performer’s economic rights, and even after the transfer of those rights, the performer shall, as regards his live aural performances or performances fixed in phonograms, have the right to claim to be identified as the performer of his performances, except where omission is dictated by the manner of the use of the performance, and to object to any distortion, mutilation or other modification of his performances that would be prejudicial to his reputation.

Continue reading The Excerpted “WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty”

Do the Work

“With the democratization of music performance, we are all music inventors now. Anybody with a laptop and the ability to whistle a tune may invent the next musical genre without ever finding her way to a rehearsal room.”

That’s Bill Bruford. Former drummer for King Crimson, Yes and an array of his own combinations, Bruford got off the stage in 2009 and went on to acquire a Ph.D from the University of Surrey.

“We are all music inventors now.” That’s the definition of irony.

In an essay appearing in The Absolute Sound, Bruford makes many salient points about how many people want to be musicians without putting in the effort that it takes to be a musician that can actually move the art to where it hasn’t been.

Among them:

• “Before the digital world arrived, you were Liszt or Liberace, Satriani or Santana, Hendrix or Holiday, Marley or Madonna, violinist, bassist, or saxophonist, or you aspired to being one of those, or assisted one of them in your role as a skilled support instrumentalist. Now that facsimiles of all these people are in our laptops, are we still making fresh ones?”

• “To master a musical instrument to a level that affords minimal creative options is seen as literally unaffordable because it takes too long.”

And because he is a drummer:

• “Drummers are well placed to resuscitate, to breathe life, to bring life to collective performance, but they remain too ready to abandon training, instinct and intuition at a moment’s notice, to accommodate another’s worldview. They tinker away in the engine room of the music to little effect—an abandonment of their traditional area of influence that borders upon a dereliction of duty. Such dereliction cedes power to others (client/producer/programmer) and eliminates the participatory discrepancies that make a performance unique. . . . To follow that road for a few more years will rightly consign the drummer to oblivion and do a calamitous disservice to popular music.”

But the only drummers who are likely to take stands, to create something that they are confident of, are those who have honed their capabilities. And that takes time. Sure, there is talent, but talent not tested through time is ephemeral.

While it might be thought that Bruford is just a crabby old man bitching about digital technology, yes, he is an old man, 72 years old, but it is hard to imagine that a guy who goes from being a performer on some of the biggest stages to the world to a classroom to get a degree in Music is in some way mentally ossified. Odds are he used a keyboard not a quill to write his essay.

Continue reading Do the Work

In My Room: On the Sound of Music

Anyone can record a song from their living room and put it out. That over-saturation of music, it’s a good thing.—Zak Bia, Cool Hunting

Forget the big budget records, more and more music is being made by individuals in bedrooms, home studios, on a budget.—Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter

The first quote is from a guy who has started his own recording company, Field Trip Records. The context isn’t so much about recording per se as it is about breaking artists. Obviously, last year was pretty much a wash in terms of what he calls one of “the best ways to break artists”: “through live shows and showcases.” So it was a matter of recording (“I signed this kid when he was 15, and he was doing all this on his own from his bedroom”) and getting the music out into the environment at large.

Presumably that is now much easier, although it is probable that given the number of people who were recording in their homes because there was little else to do after March 2020 there is going to be a tremendous glut of music to choose from. Which will either lead to people (1) accepting things that are less than first-rate because they are interested in anything new and different or (2) ignoring much of the available output, wanting only the best audio fidelity.

Which leads me to the point being made by Lefsetz. In his case he was writing about Spatial Audio on Apple Music. His beef is that existing recordings are being remixed via Dolby Atmos. According to the Dolby website, Atmos “It starts with the artist. Dolby Atmos technology lets them place each voice, instrument, or sound in its own space. Wherever you hear it, you’re in the center.”

The question at hand is whether the “artist” is involved—or even the engineer—in reformatting the music from its original format—probably stereo—to Atmos.

And these audio changes are something that Lefsetz decidedly does not like: “Actually, the more I listen to these Spatial Audio cuts, the more offensive they become. . . . . These are not the original records, they’ve been messed with, they’re not even facsimiles, they’re bastardizations.”

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Print Publishing & BTS

It seemed rather strange to me. Yes, I have written before about Rolling Stone offering me a tote bag were I to subscribe, as though the publication founded in 1967 was now taking the route of my local PBS station during a fund drive. What, exactly, would someone carry in their official Rolling Stone tote? Presumably not “Downton Abbey” swag. But maybe that is, indeed, what is carried.

There was a clue, however, in the email solicitation recently sent by RS. It indicated that were I to subscribe before the time was up, I would “Get the BTS Issue guaranteed.” There was a photo of the cover of that issue with the seven Korean boys on the cover with a headline above the logo reading “THE FUTURE of MUSIC ISSUE.” Which seemed to be something of a disconnection: wouldn’t the future provide something like a fan with a USB plug on the end that would allow someone to catch a breeze while getting “Instant Access” to:

–Exclusive interviews
–Award-winning features
–Trusted music, TV, and movie reviews
–In-depth political commentary

A tote bag?

As the pandemic is fading, there are an increasing number of people who are out in the market buying things, which is leading to some rather startling numbers. For example, take the Honda HR-V, a small utility vehicle. In May its sales were up 115.8% percent compared with May 2020. Sure, May 2020 was when many people were inside, calculating how to use the available toilet paper to make it last (this is something that deserves deep economic and sociological analyses: how did an allegedly advanced, 21st-century country like the U.S. suddenly have shelves bereft of Charmin and even off-label bog rolls?).

A stat that is perhaps more remarkable than that is the according to Nikkei Asia, in Q4 2020 Big Hit Entertainment had an increase of 122% year-over-year, as the firm made 52.5 billion won. Big Hit is a Korean company. That number in U.S. dollars is $47 million.

And the biggest contributor to that was BTS. That’s right, the band of the future is making big money for Big Hit, accounting for 87.7% of Big Hit’s revenue for the first half of 2020.

Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V, and Jungkook are crushing it.

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The Sorry (Economic) State of Performance

Of course it is like this. The Save Our Stages Act, S.4258, which allows the Small Business Administration “to make grants to eligible live venue operators, producers, promoters, or talent representatives to address the economic effects of the COVID-19 (i.e., coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic on certain live venues”—and we’re talking real money, an initial grant up to $12-million that can be supplemented by one equal to 50% of the initial grant—has been passed. Months ago.

But according to recent reporting in Variety, there is one non-trivial snag: the venues haven’t gotten any money.

The problem? Oh, probably the website.

A representative of the Small Business Administration is quoted by Variety saying, “the SBA is committed to quickly and efficiently delivering this pandemic relief to help our theatres, music venues, and more get the help they need. While there continues to be some fine-tuning of technical components of the program, we expect SVOG Priority 1 (90% revenue loss) awards to tentatively begin next week, kicking off a 14-day priority period. We will then move on to begin processing Priority 2 awards.”

Possibly by the time you read this some of the $16 billion (yes, with a “b”) will be making its way to a venue near you.

But think about that for a minute: a given operation has experienced a 90% revenue loss? This isn’t a short, one-time event, like having a lemonade stand: one day it is hot and the sales are brisk; the next day there are torrential storms and the stand gets no customers; the following day it is back to sweltering and the thirsty return. That middle day there is a 100% loss. But the pandemic has lasted for more than a day. Obviously.

Certainly things are opening with a feeling of freshness, like throwing open the windows after a long winter of dealing with steam heat.

But let’s not lose sight of the fact that for far too many small businesses—such as bars and clubs—the winter has been too long, and what seemed as though it would be at least a way to recover somewhat so far isn’t helping. One wonders whether it will be able to help at all for some of these venues or the life preserver will be thrown in the water after the third time the operation has gone down.

Continue reading The Sorry (Economic) State of Performance

TV, Movies & Concerts

With the exception of both (one always; one frequently) being staged in theaters, the movies and concerts have only slight crossover. Of course, one thing to be kept in mind that both are keenly entrenched in economics, as in “the film industry” and “the music business.” Pull at our emotions though the good ones do, it is still about making a return.

And there is undoubtedly going to be a return to something akin to what had been the case, though in the case of the film industry things may be somewhat different than will be the case vis-à-vis concerts.

After World War II, when life underwent a profound change, with people moving to new places that are now the familiar suburbs, a device that had been around since the late 30s but expensive and not particularly useful came onto its own: the television set. By 1948 there were multiple network broadcasts. Because the movie theaters tended to be in city downtowns and not in the suburbs, there was a decrease in the number of people who went to the movies. They could simply stay home and watch TV.

While television didn’t kill the film industry, as some had feared, there was at least a change in the nature of the execution of movies. There were new approaches to how movies were filmed and shown—as in things like Cinerama—and there were early “blockbusters,” like the Cecil B. DeMille movies that were “epic” in scope.

As time went on there was something of an entente between the two mediums.

In terms of technology, there were repeated efforts to make the movie “experience” more worth going to a building with screens, such as 3D and IMAX. But at the same time there was a huge growth in the number of consumers who were buying increasingly large and capable screens and sound systems that allow them to have something of a wide-screen filmic experience without having to pay $10 for popcorn. Channels like HBO and Showtime brought nearly new releases into homes.

Hollywood struck back with things like the Marvel-based films that are like those of DeMille: Seeing them on something that is measured in feet rather than inches is an experience onto itself.

But then there was COVID and suddenly Hollywood discovered that their outlets were shut down. People were sheltering at home with their massive TV screens. What could they do with their “product”? Disney+ had Hamilton in the can, so it came up with a plan to offer it exclusively on its channel, which led to a huge boost in subscriptions to the service. Then with Mulan it tried to do one better by adding an additional fee to watch it, a Disney+ subscription acting only as a means to get to the ticket window. Somehow they had to get as much ROI as the new prevailing conditions allowed.

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