Billions and Billions: Stars & the Strip

It is sometimes difficult to wrap one’s mind around the kind of money that music is related to today, whether it is from what the labels are reporting (yes, they are still reporting quarterly returns in the billons: for Q3 2023 Universal Music Group reported that its overall recorded music revenues were $2.21 billion, and while that is a large number, Sony did even better in its music business, with a haul of $2.33 billion) or what the streaming services are taking in (although not necessarily making money: in the third quarter of 2023 Spotify reported its first profit in more than a year, with net income of $69.1 million, from 574 million monthly active users (MAUs), and just to give you a sense of how many people that is, if you add the population of the 10 largest cities in the world—Tokyo, Delhi, Shanghai, Dhaka, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Cairo, Beijing, Mumbai, and Osaka—it sums to about 251 million people, or about 44% of the Spotify monthly MAUs).

So let’s narrow this to something more comprehensible. The earnings of the Las Vegas Sphere*, the venue that opened on September 29. It is 366 feet tall and 516 feet at its widest point.

On the exterior there are 580,000-square feet of LEDs. The LEDs are segmented into pucks, of which there are 1.2 million. Each puck includes 48 LED diodes. Can you say “advertising”?  The people at MSG (as in “Madison Square Garden”) Networks and Sphere Entertainment Company can. During its Q1 2024 earnings call (no, this is not something that happens in the future; fiscal years don’t necessary track with calendars as we know them), James Lawerence Dolan, executive chairman and CEO of Sphere Entertainment said that early in September, before the venue was opened, the exterior (which they call the “Exosphere”) promoted NFL Sunday ticket. “This was quickly followed,” he continued, “by other prominent brands, including PlayStation, Meta, Xbox, and Coca-Cola.” Dolan added, “We have a healthy pipeline of advertising commitments for the Exosphere and over the coming months you will see a constant rotation of impactful campaigns from many prominent global brands.” Of course.

Continue reading Billions and Billions: Stars & the Strip

Taylor Swift Sells Another Million Albums (Taylor’s Version)

Just last year, after Taylor Swift released Midnights, we wondered if we would ever again see anybody sell a million copies of an album in a week. After all, people are purchasing fewer and fewer albums every year and since Soundscan — now “Luminate” — began tracking sales in 1991, only 22 albums had done it. Well now it’s 23.

Taylor Swift’s 1989 (Taylor’s Version) sold 1.359 million copies in the week ending November 2. This is the largest sales week for any of her albums, and it’s the sixth-largest sales week for any album in the Soundscan era. Her previous high was the original 1989 album with 1.287 million sold in the week ending Nov. 2, 2014.

The fact that 1989 (Taylor’s Version) is available in 15 different physical formats didn’t hurt, of course. But come on. How can anybody continue to inspire their fans to shell out real money at this level? It’s remarkable. Swift is the only artist in Soundscan history with six different albums to each sell at least 1 million copies in a single week

That 1.359 million includes 693,000 copies on vinyl (a new record) and 554,000 CDs (nuts!). The rest are digital downloads and cassettes.

Along with the sales figures, the album earned 1.653 million “equivalent album units” (the multi-metric consumption measure where each unit equals one album sale, or 10 individual tracks sold from an album, or 3,750 ad-supported or 1,250 paid/subscription on-demand official audio and video streams). There were 375.49 million on-demand official streams of the set’s 21 songs (wow!) and 60,000 individual track sales (who still downloads songs?!?). Billboard’s main album chart, the Billboard 200, is based on these “equivalent album units” because nobody other than Taylor Swift sells albums anymore.

Continue reading Taylor Swift Sells Another Million Albums (Taylor’s Version)

Paul McCartney & the Gedankenexperiment of Music

Because this isn’t just any record, there’s still more. . .

Metaphorically, we live moving forward. The future is ahead. The past is behind. The future is something that we can potentially change based on decisions or actions taken in the now. Once a decision or action has been made, the consequences of that are fixed, at least to the extent that an alternative is no longer in play, as it is behind us. However, back in the early 1950s Erwin Schrödinger, he of the cat-in-the-box fame, posited that the “wave function” that he described in equations doesn’t necessarily collapse as a result of observation. Or said another way, when someone opens the box the cat is either dead or alive, which would seem to make the “wave function” come to an end, but he argued that the “wave function” continues to exist, such that in another universe the cat is in a condition that it isn’t in the other. This gave rise to the Many Worlds Interpretation, which basically has it that there is an infinite number of universes such that a decision that “you” make is being made alternatively elsewhere. (And the MWI also gave rise to Marvel making billions of dollars on its movies.)

Still, this has it moving forward: If this, then that. So even if you didn’t decide to quit your job and move to Tahiti and that happens in another universe, it has still happened: cause/effect.

But there is another idea that Schrödinger was involved with and which has continued to gain the support of several quantum mechanics is “retrocausality.”

As Lisa Zyga wrote in an article on

“. . .it does not mean that signals can be communicated from the future to the past—such signaling would be forbidden even in a retrocausal theory due to thermodynamic reasons. Instead, retrocausality means that, when an experimenter chooses the measurement setting with which to measure a particle, that decision can influence the properties of that particle (or another particle) in the past, even before the experimenter made their choice. In other words, a decision made in the present can influence something in the past.”

“A decision made in the present can influence something in the past.”

If we consider the MWI, John Lennon didn’t die in 1980, George Harrison didn’t in 2001, and the Beatles hadn’t dissolved in 1970. (All of these things may have happened in separate universes.)

Continue reading Paul McCartney & the Gedankenexperiment of Music

New Beatles: Now And Then

Video: Beatles – “Now And Then”

Directed by Peter Jackson. Single out now.

Like millions of other teenagers in 1964 my mom bought the “I Want to Hold Your Hand” single after she saw them on the Ed Sullivan show. I still have her copy.

I’ve loved the Beatles for as long as I can remember but the weekend after John Lennon was murdered, I went to Pando to learn to ski and as I went up and down the bunny hill the loudspeakers were blaring a local radio station that was playing nonstop Beatles music in memoriam. That’s the first time I heard “I am the Walrus” and that’s when they became my favorite band. I was nine.

Paul McCartney has mourned the loss of John Lennon for over forty years. To see him and Ringo in this new Peter Jackson-directed video interacting with their old friends (and old selves) is touching in a way that surprised me. I’ve gotten old and grumpy. I wasn’t even particularly excited about the idea of a “new” “Beatles” song. I had heard John’s original demo. It was dreary.

And I had already been fooled by “Free as a Bird.” It sucked. And “Real Love” was unnecessary; the version on Imagine: John Lennon (1988) was better. So now Paul has resurrected the third song from those 1995 sessions, the song that they abandoned because George thought it was “fucking rubbish.” How could it possibly be anything but embarrassing?

Well it turns out it’s pretty good.

Through demixing technology they were able to isolate John’s vocal from the piano on his shitty cassette and clean it up with the same A.I. that Peter Jackson’s team used so successfully on the audio footage in Get Back. They released a 12-minute film about how they did it.

None of that would matter if the song was rubbish. And it’s not. Not anymore. Paul ditched John’s terrible, unfocused bridge and an unfinished second verse. And those edits make the song better. Way better. Plus there’s a pretty, George Martin-esque orchestral score and a slide guitar solo that Paul plays in the style of George Harrison, another tribute to an old pal. There’s a lot of love put into this. As Stephen Thomas Erlewine put it, “a way of communing with the departed.”

And the video plays on all of that. It seems like this kind of CGI would be goofy but it works. There’s a scene where 80-year-old Paul is listening to a playback and you can see his emotions in his face, see him playing back memories in his mind. You want so badly for him to be able to hang out and goof off with his young friends again like he can in this video. You can tell that Paul misses those guys so much and misses making music with them. Peter Jackson’s video gives him (and us) the opportunity to visualize it. It takes the past and mixes it up with the present in a way that can only exist in our imagination.

The Beatles: web,amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

Continue reading New Beatles: Now And Then

New Kurt Vile: Another good year for the roses

Video: Kurt Vile – “Another good year for the roses”

Directed by KV + Drew Saracco. From Back to Moon Beach, out November 17 on Verve.

It took me way too long to get the joke that Kurt Vile’s name was a goof on Kurt Weill. I felt pretty smart until today when I learned that it’s actually his real name. So now you know. He was born Vile.

He’s a goof. His upcoming release is an hour-long, ten-track collection that he calls an E.P. Six songs are “new to the world, with one foot in the not-too-distant past and the other with one tiny toe pointing toward the future.” And the other four include covers of songs by Bob Dylan, Wilco, and Charli XCX.

“Another good year for the roses” is a classic Kurt Vile jam, lazily rambling around its groove, in no hurry to get anywhere. “By the way, everybody knows that was the greatest country song / Sung by a man possessed like the devil.” He’s talking about George Jones, of course, whose “A Good Year For The Roses” is indeed a stone-cold classic.

Kurt Vile: web, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

Continue reading New Kurt Vile: Another good year for the roses

Ars longa, vita brevis, more or less

One of the collaborations that has become pretty much a part of antiquity is the art created for records (generally for LPs and then possibly adapted from the 12 x 12-inch canvas of the album cover to a 7 x 7-inch version for the 45, though not always).

Consider, for example, the cover of The Velvet Underground and Nico, created in 1967 by Andy Warhol. Arguably that banana theme was carried over by Warhol to his work for the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers album art (1971).

In 1967 the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released with an incredibly crowded cover that was executed by Peter Blake and Jann Haworth. The band (the Beatles, not Pepper) had been introduced by Blake and Haworth by a gallery owner, Robert Fraser.

Fraser was to introduce them to Richard Hamilton. I would (and do) argue that Hamilton was more important as an artist than Warhol as he actually created Pop Art in 1956, with a collage he created, “Just What Is It that Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?” No Pop and Warhol might have simply continued with Bonwit Teller window displays. (Hamilton also made a major contribution to the world of art through his curation of a retrospective of the work of Marcel Duchamp at the Tate in 1966.)

Hamilton created the art for The Beatles (a.k.a., The White Album). What’s more, he suggested the name for that album. Hamilton recalled that he’d been paid some £200 for his work on the album. The album that has subsequently racked up sales of some 24 million copies. (McCartney is known to be thrifty. This takes it to a whole new level.)

Continue reading Ars longa, vita brevis, more or less

New Jason Isbell: King of Oklahoma

Video: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – “King of Oklahoma”

Directed by Rahul Chakraborty. From Weathervanes, out now.

Another feel-good pick-me-up lil ditty from Jason Isbell! Just kidding it’s a tear-jerking gut-punch. Of course it is and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Nobody does empathy better than Isbell and the characters in his songs are always fully formed and heartbreaking.

“King of Oklahoma” tells the story of a down-on-his-luck guy with a plan to pull off the perfect heist. “Meet me here at midnight / They ain’t got a camera or a guard.” Why’s he stealing? Because after an accident, he got addicted to pills. “Now my back’s still hurting / and I’m too weak for working / and I can’t keep up with all the bills.”

The chorus recalls the better days:

She used to wake me up with coffee every morning
and I’d hear her homemade house shoes slide across the floor
She used to make me feel like the King of Oklahoma
but nothing makes me feel like much of nothing anymore.

Crying yet? It gets sadder. The heist that was going to solve his financial woes is over before it even started. “Some bastard beat me to it / Ain’t a copper pipe left on the lot.” And it’s all downhill from there.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we love sad songs so much? Do we like to wallow in self-pity a la Nick Hornsby (“Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?”) or do sad songs actually make us feel better a la Neil Diamond (“Me and you are subject to the blues now and then but when you take the blues and make a song, you sing them out again.”)? Both? Is it possible to feel sad and to feel good at the same time?

By the way, the video comes with a trigger warning: The following film contains graphic depictions of substance abuse and domestic violence that some viewers may find disturbing or traumatizing.

Jason Isbell: web, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

New Garden Flowers: Ghost of the Forest

Video: Garden Flowers – “Ghost of the Forest”

Directed by David E. Lane. From Garden Flowers Vol. I & Vol. II, out now.

New jangle pop from the Pacific Northwest. Garden Flowers is the latest project from Portland, Oregon’s Carrie and Joel Roth. You might recognize Joel from his other band Daystar who we’ve featured a lot. Along with Carrie and Joel, Garden Flowers also features Daystar bassist Kelly Simmons and Brian Kramer on drums.

“Ghost of the Forest” is two and a half minutes of catchy hooks and the video is silly and fun. Watch in amazement as Cass Wild frolics in the woods and rides her flying motorcycle over the mountains and through the seasons of rural Oregon.

Take flight!

Disclosure: GLONO co-founder Derek Phillips is in Daystar and contributed acoustic guitar to “Someday” on Garden Flowers Vol. II.

Garden Flowers: bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

New Brandy Clark: Dear Insecurity

Video: Brandy Clark – “Dear Insecurity” (ft. Brandi Carlile)

Directed by Trey Fanjoy. From Brandy Clark, out now.

This is a great song and a sad, moving video. Brandy Clark trades verses with Brandi Carlile, who produced the album.

Clark said, “I can see myself and my insecurities in every single character and I think you might also.”

You think? I remember being about 12 years old and my mom telling me, “You’ll have so much more fun when you stop caring about what everybody thinks of you.” My visceral reaction was immediate: You have no idea what you’re talking about.

Of course she was right. Adolescence sucks. And now most of the time I don’t give a fuck what anybody thinks about anything. Except when I do. And then I’m a 12-year-old again, slinking down in the passenger seat of the Buick Skylark so nobody can see me going through the Burger King drive-thru with my embarrassing mother.

But most of my current middle-age insecurities aren’t about what other people think, but what I think of myself. I’ve seen enough of the world to know what is exceptional and what is good enough. And what isn’t. When I was young I thought I was as brilliant as Jack Kerouac and that one day I would rightly claim my seat at the table with the greats as soon as the world woke up and recognized my brilliance. Spoiler alert: I wasn’t a genius; I was just young. The fleeting window of overconfidence has passed and now I am left with the knowledge that I’m just a regular guy, plodding along like everybody else. But that’s okay. And doggone it, people like me! There’s a thin line between insecurity and acceptance.

We’re all alright.

Brandy Clark: web, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

Artificial Authors & Blank Bands

“Finding my books on the Books3 data set was disappointing and disorienting: writing is how I’ve made my life, artistically, and—this is important—practically too. . . . Books and writing are how I pay my mortgage, my children’s tuition, my grocery bill. To see my work so cavalierly stolen and used, without my consent, by corporations eager only to increase their own profits, is frankly terrifying.”—Elisabeth de Mariaffi, in The Walrus

Books3, if you’re not familiar with it, is a dataset of books—thousands of them (as in around 183,000)—that were downloaded from pirated sources—so the authors received nothing for their work—and then used to train the AI language models of several companies, including Meta and Bloomberg.

Odds are, you’ve not heard of de Mariaffi.

Odds are, you have heard of Mark Zuckerberg and Mike Bloomberg.

Bloomberg is estimated to be worth $96 billion. Zuckerberg? About $115 billion.

Neither probably thinks about making their mortgage payments or the size of the grocery bill.

There are lawsuits against Books3 by authors and other interested parties.

There are lawsuits against OpenAI for illegally using authors’ works. There are some more famous writers—Jodi Picoult, George R.R. Martin, George Saunders, John Grisham, Jonathan Franzen—involved in suits, as are some, well, outliers, like Mike Huckabee and Sarah Silverman.

While the name brands probably aren’t too concerned about the price of a gallon of milk, what is notable about these undertakings is that these people are trying to protect their work from the potential unfair reuse of manipulated variants thereof that would lead to increased corporate profitability and no benefit redounding to them.

Think about it: Books3, used by humongous corporations, didn’t even plunk down $20 for a copy of The Firm.

Continue reading Artificial Authors & Blank Bands

Rock and roll can change your life.