Tag Archives: Features

There Is Always a “But”: Music in the Time of COVID

While I had thought that writing about the effects on the global pandemic on the music industry was done, that the folks from Pfizer and Moderna had put the proverbial pin in it with the remarkable release of their vaccines, here we are again.

On a seven-day rolling average, the number of COVID cases in the U.S. the last week of July 2021 was higher than the number during the same period in July 2020 according to the Centers for Disease Control, 72,790 vs. 68,700. That’s right. Even though vaccines didn’t become available until December 2020, there are more cases now than there were before that date.

Still, it seems as though it is over. Seems.

Last week I attended a business conference at which there were some 400 attendees who spent several hours in a large room. These were primarily mid- and upper-level managers; were someone to have walked into the room and shouted, “REO Speedwagon is playing in the casino down the street!” there would have been a stampede the likes of which would have made George Costanza seem like a fire marshal.

The number of masks on the attendees could have been counted on one hand. The size of the room and the number of participants offered reasonable distancing, but there were chairs setup such that you could sit as close to the person sitting next to you as you would like. The lunches—the organizers boasted that they were “plated” rather than buffets—were setup as though it was a large wedding circa 2019.

Maybe this is what could be described as “whistling past the ICU.”

It’s over, right?

See the second paragraph, above.

What got me thinking about this was news out of the UK this week that the Johnson government is establishing a £750-million insurance plan that will go into effect next month, the purpose of which is cover concert promoters should government restrictions cause the cancellation of concerts.

Good, right?

Not everyone agrees.

Continue reading There Is Always a “But”: Music in the Time of COVID

The Black Widow Effect

This is not about music. At least not directly.

It is about performance, pay and distribution. All things that are absolutely germane to those who make a living via musical performances.

The first goes to the lawsuit filed by Scarlett Johansson (or precisely, Periwinkle Entertainment, Inc., F/S/O [which means “for services of”] Scarlett Johansson) against the Walt Disney Company.

Quick: Where is the Walt Disney Company as a legal entity located?

1. California
2. Florida
3. Delaware

Yes, Delaware. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the entertainment business is big business so Disney, like a majority of Fortune 500 companies, incorporate in Delaware, largely because Delaware legislatively keeps its corporation statutes up-to-date regarding the world as it exists today, not at some hoary point in the past; it also operates a special court, the Court of Chancery, that rules on corporate law disputes sans juries.

(That said, the suit was filed in L.A.)

The opening line of the suit is worth pondering: “Over the past decade, Scarlett Johansson’s work has generated billions of dollars for Marvel Studios, and, by extension, its parent company, Disney.”

Billions of dollars over the past decade.

The lawsuit contends that her latest, Black Widow, would provide Johansson with money that would be based, in part, on box office receipts but the amount of those receipts was reduced because Disney didn’t just make Black Widow a “theatrical release” (i.e., in move theaters), but, on the day that it opened in theaters, made it available to subscribers of Disney+ (for $30).

Back in 2017 Johansson and Marvel Studios entered into an agreement in which “that guaranteed her a share of ‘box office receipts’” and “To protect her financial interests in these box office receipts, Ms. Johansson obtained from Marvel a valuable contractual promise that the release of the Picture would be a ‘wide theatrical release.’” The idea–remember, this is 2017–is that Black Widow would play in a whole bunch of cineplexes for what was an industry standard of 90 to 120 days, after which there could be other outlets.

In other words, she would make bank primarily during the time it was in theaters.

But because it was released on Disney+ as well, the number of people who would pay at the box office was reduced.

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Playlist: The GLONO History of Rock and Roll

Nerds like to argue about the first rock and roll song. There’s no definitive answer. But it’s older than most people think it is. Way before Elvis Presley stepped into Sun Studio. Maybe before he was even born.

A few weeks ago I was thinking about Sister Rosetta Tharpe and some of the unheralded founders of rock and roll. Or under-heralded anyway. Tharpe had a big hit with Lucky Millinder and his orchestra in 1942 with a song called “Rock Me” but I learned that she had released a version in 1938 with just her and her guitar. 1938! Wow, right? I started wondering how far back we could go and find stuff that could reasonably be considered rock and roll.

Pretty far, it turns out.

Of course, I have long subscribed to the Billy Joel method of genre classification: Hot funk, cool punk, even if it’s old junk, it’s still rock and roll to me.

So I made a playlist. One song per year without repeating artists. My criteria were straightforward: The song had to be good, preferably featuring guitar, ideally with sinful lyrics in some manner or other. Bonus points if they mentioned “rocking” and/or “rolling.”

I sought out stuff that combined elements of country/hillbilly with blues/race music and vice versa: the musical miscegeny achieved by marrying those two deeply American forms together.

These were the guiding principles for the pre-Elvis years anyway. After that, it got wigglier.

But there are so many great songs released every year. How do you pick just one? It’s hard. It’s frustrating. And it’s painful to leave off songs and artists you love and you know are important.

Continue reading Playlist: The GLONO History of Rock and Roll

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.

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

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.

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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.”

Continue reading In My Room: On the Sound of Music