April 12

Streaming is King

In my lifetime, I have gotten to see an extremely rapid music evolution. First were the CDs (that I remember), but it really did not take long for the mp3 player to take hold with the rise of the iPod and other products, and pretty soon most people owned all of their new music on a digital library like iTunes. In a turn of events that I think few predicted, owning music has even become obsolete (of course there is also the return of vinyl, but that’s just for the nostalgia factor). Now, most people pay a monthly subscription fee of about $10 for unlimited access to music, and I think that that’s a victory for the consumer. The most popular services are Spotify and Apple Music. If you listen to music as much as I do, this is far more cost effective than buying your music. However, we are left to consider how this has affected the providers of the content, the artists.

The past few years have seen Taylor Swift explode with popularity, mostly because she continues to defy expectations with each new album. She has arguably one of the biggest fanbases in the world, and as such she has tremendous influence. Her stance on streaming services has been complicated. It started in 2014 when she published an essay in the Wall Street Journal displaying her feelings on music ownership. In her words, “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is.” She managed to make an issue out of something that is a non-issue for her, and then made a critically wrong prediction about the future.

Then, she pulled all of her music off of Spotify, which she justified by saying that streaming services are not the future. “[A]ll I can say is that music is changing so quickly, and the landscape of the music industry itself is changing so quickly, that everything new, like Spotify, all feels to me a bit like a grand experiment. And I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music. And I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free… I thought, ‘I will try this; I’ll see how it feels.’ It didn’t feel right to me.”, she said in a statement. This is understandable and more justifiable, because she does mention the fact that Spotify offers music for free to users who listen to ads. It seems that her stance is completely anti-streaming , probably because she has built her living off of selling music and it feels non-traditional to do away with ownership. However, Swift has to accept the reality that this is the way that things are going to be now, and that Spotify and Apple Music are not just a “phase” for teenage America.

However, amongst all of this talk she did manage to make a difference at some point. Apple Music announced in June 2015 that they would not be paying artists royalties for songs that were listened to during a three month free trial period. To this, Swift reacted that she was shocked that such a profitable tech company would refuse to pay these royalties when it was clearly economically feasible. They finally agreed to heed her recommendations, a victory for smaller acts that needed those royalties to get out of debt.

Finally in June 2017 Taylor released all of her music to all streaming services, surrendering to the direction that the industry is going. However, after the release of her last album Reputation, she still held out for a few weeks before allowing it to be released on Spotify, just to emphasize the fact that she could pull everything at any time (in my opinion). After this incident, we should be aware that we are at the mercy of these streaming services and the artists as well.

Sources:

https://www.theverge.com/2017/6/9/15767986/taylor-swift-apple-music-spotify-statements-timeline

http://www.businessinsider.com/taylor-swift-explains-why-she-left-spotify-2014-11

March 22

Tensions between Country Music and the NRA

As the year progresses and the fatalities from mass shootings continue to rise, gun control is for good reason one of the most talked about issues today. People from all walks of life have unfortunately become victims, forcing the public to address the fact that these tragedies are increasing in frequency and severity. As we all know, proponents of gun control are eager to discuss this matter and push lawmakers towards legislation that would attempt to reduce the amount of freedom available to Americans when purchasing guns, whereas more conservative people tend to want to keep gun laws as they currently are in order to protect the right to bear arms.

Unsurprisingly, the world of country music has always been firmly rooted in more right-wing ideals, considering the kind of audience that it attracts and the subjects of most songs. Certainly, evidence supports the fact that the genre draws more conservative fans than any other, with sixty percent identifying in that way according to a Gallup poll from 2004. The National Rifle Association noticed this correlation as an opportunity, and so in 2010 NRA Country was founded in order to more effectively reach out to country music fans and garner their support for the organization. The mission of the organization is differentiated from the NRA, though, in the fact that they focus more on a “light-hearted, fun and open conversation about the outdoor lifestyle and not so much about the controversial, heated conversation about the Second Amendment.” NRA Country focuses on their Artist of the Month campaign

All of this does not necessarily mean that the artists that make up the genre are all on board with the NRA’s platform, and this is becoming evident especially in recent past. Previously, country artists that spoke out about more liberal views often faced criticism for fans and jeopardized their careers, like the Dixie Chicks, who said that they were “ashamed” that President George W. Bush was from Texas. These comments led to significant backlash from fans and drove them out of the mainstream. Now, however, more liberal artists are actually quite common, and very popular. Tim McGraw and Garth Brooks are just a few of the most vocal. Nowadays, these artists are able to speak their minds publicly and still sell their music widely.

NRA Country used to be so firmly connected to the artists, but within the past month (probably in light of the Parkland school shooting), they have pulled the page from their website where they list the specific artists that they have worked with in the past. One has to wonder, does this mean that the industry is officially moving away from its ties to the NRA? Interestingly, Brantley Gilbert, an avid supporter of gun ownership, refuses to associate himself with the organization so as to make sure he is the only person that controls the public image of his beliefs. This kind of viewpoint is usually lauded, because it makes it easier to define for oneself what kind of boundaries gun control can push and what it must preserve. NRA Country has refused to comment on the significance of this restructuring of their website.

Most notably, the shooting at the Jason Aldean concert in Las Vegas last year probably had the largest impact on how many country music stars think about their position with the NRA. This incident was the deadliest shooting in modern American history, with 59 deaths. The country music community seemed to be almost completely silent for weeks, but eventually slowly began to speak out, if not gingerly. Evidently, it is difficult for a community that is culturally rooted in gun ownership to speak out against even the most extreme cases, like how civilians are allowed to purchase AR-15s even though these are military-grade weapons. Hopefully, whatever their opinions are, artists will feel more comfortable in the future with articulating their viewpoints on such a sensitive topic, and perhaps try to bridge the gap between the NRA and the left by engaging in meaningful dialogues about gun control and how to protect the 2nd amendment rights of Americans.

Sources: https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2018/03/20/595327341/is-country-musics-relationship-with-the-nra-shifting

https://www.rollingstone.com/country/news/inside-country-musics-uneasy-relationship-with-gun-control-w514170

February 1

Kesha vs. Dr. Luke

In light of the recent #MeToo movement and the Grammy Awards, I wanted to take this post as time to discuss an important case that occurs at the heart of the music industry, between a producer and a musician. For the past almost four years, pop artist Kesha has been locked into a kind of legal battle with her long-time producer Dr. Luke (Lukasz Sebastian Gottwald) and his record label. It would be surprising to me if anyone had not heard of this longstanding controversy, but I thought it was important to bring to light especially when many people are criticizing the world of music for not addressing movements regarding sexual assault.

This whole ordeal began in October of 2014 with a civil lawsuit against Dr. Luke, with Kesha claiming that he had abused her for about ten years, the duration of their professional relationship. Specifically, she said that she experienced “sexual assault and battery, sexual harassment, gender violence, unfair business practices, and infliction of emotional distress.” from her producer. In addition, Kesha’s mother alleged that Dr. Luke had pressured her into developing an eating disorder and as a result seeking treatment in 2013. The singer alleged a disturbing instance where she unknowingly took date rape drugs and then woke up in Dr. Luke’s bed the next morning. The goal of this lawsuit was to free Kesha from her contract with her producer’s company, Kasz Money. This contract obligated her to record six albums with the label, and prohibited her form releasing any music outside of it. Whether or not she was lying, Kesha did say in a deposition in 2011 that Dr. Luke had never made any sexual advances toward her, which complicates the issue.

Unfortunately, a New York court denied an injunction that would allow Kesha to record with other labels and producers while the legal proceedings were being decided. The California court that heard her case decided that it would be moved to a court in New York due to contract requirements. After that happened, Kesha dropper her California suit, but filed a counterclaim in New York. Dr. Luke is still proceeding with his countersuit of defamation, and both sides are reportedly collecting evidence at this point in preparation for their arguments.

Meanwhile, Kesha is making music as a means to deal with the stress of having to stay in contract with Dr. Luke and come to terms with her past. Despite these terms, she has managed to make what many are calling the best music of her career with her new album “Rainbow”, which she sings about being empowered and fighting through the past three years. The hit track “Praying” seems like a direct attack on Dr. Luke with the lines ” I’ll bring thunder, I’ll bring rain, oh/When I’m finished, they won’t even know your name”, among others. She did, however, release this album under Dr. Luke’s record label, even though Sony Music claims that they kept the process of making the album as safe as possible for her.

This situation is a perfect example of what the #MeToo means to so many women. Kesha felt like her producer would use his power to silence her claims, as he is currently trying to do by countering her suit. That’s exactly what this movement is about, men that can leverage their position over a woman to force her to suppress claims of sexual assault. People that say that women who accuse men of assaulting them only want attention should always be weary when saying these things, but they can’t say this about Kesha especially. She didn’t need to accuse Dr. Luke in order to gain fame; her musical talent is certainly enough to provide fame and notoriety. As with many victims, they don’t come forward immediately after the incident occurs because they are scared of not being believed.

I am left with questions about what the court system can do with a civil suit against Dr. Luke. Since this is not a criminal lawsuit, what good would it do to convict him of sexual assault (if there is enough evidence)? Would this release her from her contract? Also, why was the injunction to make music under a different label denied?

Sources:

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/kesha-and-dr-luke-everything-you-need-to-know-to-understand-the-case-20160222

https://www.vox.com/culture/2017/8/14/16135214/kesha-new-album-lawsuit

https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/music/2017/08/10/legal-experts-kesha-dr-luke-lawsuit-new-album-rainbow/549846001/

January 25

The Drug Problem in Hip-Hop

The opioid crisis is on everyone’s tongue lately. We’re talking about the drug problem in America all the time now, but will that ever be enough to stop it? I think that the hip-hop industry has incredible power to reverse the trend in addiction to opiates and shows promising signs right now, but the culture of drugs is strongly rooted in history and will be hard to uproot.

In the fall of 2017, “emo rapper” Lil Peep was found dead from a supposed overdose on fentanyl and Xanax, and later it was revealed that he had several other drugs in his system as well. He had only just begun his career and was 21 years old. People were shocked mainly for the reason that he had just entered the rap scene. This problem has existed in every music industry, but the reason that I am talking about hip-hop is because the artists weave their stories of drug and alcohol abuse into their music so much that these stories tend to characterize the genre.Other genres contain references too, but they remain disguised by cryptic lyrics usually. The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face” is about the feeling one gets when they do cocaine, which is a numb face. It dates back into the 1980s, as this Genius article shows, with marijuana quickly becoming the most popular drug mentioned in music. Things got worse, however, when cocaine took this title. Artists like Jay-Z rapped about their experiences doing cocaine and gained immense popularity. Finally, lean rose to prominence in the early 2000s and has remained very popular since, despite the death of DJ Screw in 2000. “Lean” refers to a mixture of cough syrup, which contains the drug codeine, and soda (usually Sprite). Recently, there has been a spike in mentions of prescription medications like Xanax and Percocet by high profile rappers Future and Post Malone, who greatly elevate the popularity of these terms even though not many other people are mentioning them.

Macklemore, of popular rap duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, was addicted to cough syrup at one point in his career, but he found sobriety and is extremely vocal about it in his songs. “Otherside” is about his journey to getting clean. His story is inspirational, but not without pitfalls. He later released the track “Starting Over” about his relapse and how it affected him in the public eye.

However, it seems like there’s hope for the upcoming generation of rappers, this article claims. Although there have been those that have taken a stand against drugs for years, they usually did not gain much popularity. Now, young rappers that refuse to take drugs are actually mainstream. These include Lil Yachty, Vince Staples, Kendrick Lamar, and Logic. Lil Yachty is self-proclaimed straight-edged, meaning he doesn’t do drugs or drink alcohol. Personally, this seems really encouraging for the future. I would love it if the music industry could unite against this great problem. Maybe if hip-hop artists could unite more universally, cases like Lil Peep’s would be more rare.

What I am wondering is, how can these artists change what audiences want to hear most? It seems like some artists put on the facade of drugs and crime just to fit in with what sells the most. If all sober artists could figure out to be as successful as Lil Yachty while still keeping their message clean, maybe they could figure out how to change the reputation of the industry, turning the opioid crisis into a cause that music helps, not hurts. Also in his song “Otherside”, Macklemore raps: “The fact of it is most people that rap like this talkin’ about some sh*t they haven’t lived/ Surprise, you know the drill/ Trapped in a box, declined record sales/ Follow the formula “Violence, Drugs, and Sex” sells/ So we try to sound like someone else”. He is saying that rappers conform to the style of the industry in their songs because their records won’t sell. This is the essence of why I am concerned. Why does the average music consumer seem to crave the “formula” that Macklemore talks about? Do they feel like it’s not true rap music if drugs and alcohol aren’t mentioned? All listeners are guilty of falling into the trap of supporting artists who promote drug use, but something needs to change.

 

January 17

Cultural Boycott of Israel: Right or Wrong?

For my first post on the issue of how politics play a role in the music world, I chose a recent story surrounding one of my favorite artists, Lorde. In her upcoming world tour, she was scheduled to play a concert in Tel Aviv, Israel on June 5th, 2018. Only six days after, the singer announced that she would cancel the show due to urging from a variety of sources, namely the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which is a group of people that promote a boycott of all things Israel. They cite human rights violations against Palestinians by the Israeli government as a reason for their movement. Lorde, or Ella Yelich-O’Conner, is only twenty-one years old, but she is under intense public scrutiny due to the success of her first two albums, one of which was nominated for a Grammy for Album of the Year. The fact that she chose to support the boycott is a major victory for the BDS movement because it drew the attention of a younger crowd that is worldwide. Shortly after cancelling, she issued a public statement, saying “I pride myself on being an informed young citizen, and I have done a lot of reading and sought a lot of opinions before deciding to book a show in Tel Aviv, but I’m not proud to admit I didn’t make the right call on this one.”

Initially, I was outraged at this action. I thought about thousands of young girls like me who admire her just as I do who would be denied the awesome experience that is live music. In my eyes, the fans that had certainly supported her music were not responsible for the policymaking in Israel that had caused the cultural boycott. Why should they be punished for the country they live in? As with any controversy, there are two very compelling arguments, and I needed to know the full story.

So, why a cultural boycott? How are they hoping to improve things by this method? The BDS movement says that by playing shows in Israel, artists help to legitimize Israel as a “normal country”. By cancelling their shows and pledging to support the movement, musicians draw attention to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The most vocal of these artists seems to be Roger Waters, a co-founder of Pink Floyd. Other prominent figures are U2, Snoop Dogg, and Lauryn Hill. On the other hand, several big names have played shows in Israel among the same calls to cancel: Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Madonna, Bob Dylan, Jethro Tull and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The BDS movement has an enormous presence on social media, so I think that this has caused young people like myself to believe that support for it is stronger than in reality. As a young artist, Lorde probably felt this pressure as well. I wish I could know if her decision was sincere, or if it was pushed on her by the people that surrounded her and contacted her online. In a situation like this, I feel as though even those with strong viewpoints can buckle. Ironically, Lorde’s first album, Pure Heroine (read my analysis of this album here!), seemed to focus a lot on how her life was changing in the public eye. One of my favorite lines is the last thing you hear on the album “Let ’em talk”. However, she said that she was talking to many people with different viewpoints about this decision, signaling to me that she felt lost in the opinions of others.

Now, I want my readers to consider the impact of this decision on the world. Is this a contamination to the music industry to make something as joyful as a concert taboo? Is the BDS movement correct in saying that playing music in Israel legitimizing the country, or is that just something that detractors use to gain more media attention? After writing this article, my viewpoint has changed, but now I feel sad for both fans and artists who would rather keep music out of the political spotlight. I think that any decision that she would have made would decrease her popularity, and other artists may take this as a lesson in the future to avoid the controversy by not scheduling a tour date in Israel to begin with. Overall, it looks like the BDS movement is gaining ground and this could help them to turn the tide.

 

Sources: https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2018/03/20/595327341/is-country-musics-relationship-with-the-nra-shifting

https://www.rollingstone.com/country/news/inside-country-musics-uneasy-relationship-with-gun-control-w514170