Joey Bien-Kahn takes a revealing look at the interwoven business history of two modern day moguls: Jay-Z and Master P …
2013 was a bad year for Jay-Z the Rapper. Magna Carta … Holy Grail had none of the dark elegance of Reasonable Doubt, none of the club slaps of The Blueprint and not even any of the royal over-indulgence of Watch the Throne. It didn’t have a club hit, wasn’t committed to artistry, and some of the lyrics read like stroke-induced gibberish (“I’m in the ocean/I’m in heaven/Yacht!/”Ocean’s Eleven”).
But 2013 was a great year for Jay-Z the Mogul. Once again, Jay made money for himself and his friends, while remaining squarely in the public eye. He presold a million copies of Holy Grail for early download on Samsung smartphones and tablets (check out that promo below). He toured North America with Justin Timberlake, bringing in $69.75 million. And his protégées J. Cole and Kanye West put out two of the best studio albums of the year, while his wife won the Pop Star Wars with an unprecedentedly unexpected album drop that defied the Age of Internet Leaks.
Stadiums: sold. A million records: sold. Samsung smartphones: sold. Say what you want about Jay’s rap output since The Blueprint (2001); just don’t say a thing about his business savvy. Let’s be honest here—Jay-Z the Mogul has been the more impressive side of Shawn Carter for much of his career. Remember: He’s not a businessman; he’s a business, man.
Time for another of our great in-depth features from our BAMM.tv London correspondent Zakia Uddin. This time around, Zakia looks at the state of modern radio …
Musicians have been singing about the death of commercial radio for over thirty years, but it’s only now that the rest of the entertainment industry is in agreement. Todd Pringle of the online curation app Stitcher can think of few advantages that terrestrial radio has over online radio: “There aren’t too many – from a user perspective, terrestrial radio is pretty poor. You’re beholden to a particular schedule which may or may not fit with yours, often have to stop listening at inopportune times (i.e. arrive at work), and can’t go back and pick up where you left off.”
The projected future of online radio has long been curation. Has curation been displaced by the driving force of personalisation, at a time when we trust algorithms more than DJs? Some of the BAMM.tv team were way ahead of the curve back in the days of Open Thread Radio. One of BAMM.tv’s predictions for 2013 was the rapid growth of online radio and streaming services. The picture online is even more dynamic now, and threatens to change radio as we know it. Has radio failed to stay relevant? And if that is the case, what did manager and business mogul Troy Carter mean earlier this year when he said that radio is ripe for “disruption”?
The phrase ‘Big in Japan’ has always been a bit condescending. Being successful there is supposed to be easy, because of the island’s famed love for anything different and western. The stock description has also been used to imply the artist in question just isn’t very good. But we hear it less and less, as the so-called borderless internet makes it impossible for stars to moonlight as rubber duck pedlars and credible musicians (check the two shameful examples below).
Are the musicians who only become successful abroad actually less cool? Is it just harder to get a successful career off the ground in the diminished pop markets of the US and the UK? And does it even matter anymore where you’re successful, when the music industry is in such a fragile state?
‘Get down, stay down’ may sound like a direct command (imagine your clichéd ‘give me fifty’ drill instructor barking it in your ear) – but such straightforward bludgeoning really isn’t the style of Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, the San Francisco act who just happen to be BAMM.tv’s new Artist Of The Month.
This isn’t to say that there’s no immediacy to their music. Thao Nyugen and her mainstay cohort Adam Thompson (the band members have previous included Frank Stewart and Willis Thompson) have crafted a body of work which – while loosely fitting within umbrella terms like alt-rock and folk-rock – opens up with multiple listens to reveal rewarding intricacies, unique vocal and musical flourishes, and melodies within melodies.
You may think you’re getting everything with a surface listen – and an enjoyable surface listen it definitely is – but sentiments like ‘you are a dead man/I just have to shoot the gun’ (‘Body’) and ‘I come back because the punches always hit the same’ (‘Trouble Was For’) show off a beguiling complexity. Think of similar creative multi-taskers like Broken Social Scene, Jim Ward, Cat Power, Fiona Apple and Feist – not a bad line-up to be mentioned alongside – and you’ll be close.
Or, y’know, just listen to them. (click ‘more’ to continue)
Here’s another of our in-depth articles from our London-based correspondent Zakia Uddin. This time, she looks at the increasingly prevalent modern phenomenon of the comeback artist …
Justin Timberlake announced his comeback this year – yes, JT. Put it this way, the 32-year-old’s first release was back when Dubya had been in power for less than a year and the first dot com bubble had just exploded (‘Like I Love You’, below).
The comeback has always occupied a special place in the world of music. Unlike political comebacks, musical ones rarely the same renewed vigor. You don’t humour a politician (or at least we don’t think we do) but the force of nostalgia is enough to get people excited about a singer or band’s return. We’re never quite sure whether to take it seriously – arguably, we’re even more cynical about musicians’ abilities than we are about those of politicians. Will they be as passionate as they used to be? What if they aren’t as good as we remember? What does that say about us? Worst of all, they remind of us how old we’re getting.
There was a more (or less) cynical time – depending on your point of view – when making a comeback was like doing an encore. Or comebacks were only for the kind of musicians who did encores, who couldn’t get enough, and were willing to spin out the old hits for an unimaginative audience. So what’s changed? It’s a real truism that touring is the only way to generate money – correspondingly many bands have sucked it up and gone touring together, including legendary fall-outs like the Stone Roses (below).
Generally, rock music comebacks have always seemed more dignified. It involves a different kind of struggle, as though they just didn’t want to come back until they were truly inspired. Click on ‘more’ to continue!
Time for another BAMM.tv Artist Of The Month feature: a selection of great music, exclusive articles and prize giveaways (among other things) from one of our favorite up-and-coming artists. This month we put San Francisco singer-songwriter Diana Gameros under the spotlight …
Soulfulness is a hard thing to quantify. People are a varied breed, and experience tells us it would be foolish to go all-out and categorise emotional response – music that leaves one listener cold may well prove to save the life of another. Music may be universal but the gamut of reactions works on a far more personal level – an innate form of relativism that both unites and separates us all.
Sometimes, though … sometimes you just have to appreciate the resonance of an artist. Opera may not do it for you, but you can’t help but quiver at the bombastic authority of a tenor or soprano. Heavy rock could well be the last thing you’d listen to, but you’ve have to be a cultural zero-mark not to marvel at a virtuoso guitar solo. As for emotive, Latin-tinged, classical acoustic songwriting? That might be outside your sphere altogether, but – frankly – if you’re not massively moved by the heart-stopping performances of Diana Gameros, then you might as well nail that coffin lid down now.
Luckily – here at BAMM.TV – we are big fans of emotive, Latin-tinged, classical acoustic songwriting. And we’re even bigger fans of the heart-stopping performances of Diana Gameros.
Does one novelty pop song herald a musical revolution? When “Gangam Style” whinnied into the charts and a billion YouTube views at the end of 2012, music from South Korea, and “K-pop” in particular looked as though it was on the verge of a lasting breakthrough. Before PSY’s arrival, despite its straightforward charms and regional appeal, beyond the East Asian context, it was always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
Trans-Atlantic music journalists momentarily praised the song’s global domination—and in usual fashion, the same sources seemingly moved swiftly on to herald its imminent death a few trends later. Is the excitement about global music generated by K-pop’s success just a flash in a pan? Freya Bigg, co-founder of United K-Pop, told BAMM.tv: “PSY isn’t typical of K-pop, so I don’t know if he is really is a good representative of the genre, but he has definitely opened minds to the Korean language at least. If anything changes, it might be that people are less hesitant to try listening to K-pop when introduced, because they’ve already had experience of it, despite it not being typical.”
So, have Western conceptions of Eastern pop radically changed? And does it even really matter, when domestic markets in East Asia and other regions are growing bigger by the minute?
這首歌能在世界上得到認可，就連大西洋音樂記者現在都稱讚,記者們平時在一首歌熱墦的時候會討論一段時間,但很快便慢慢淡忘,很多人對這首歌這樣興奮,k-pop成功是否短期成功?Freya Bigg, United K-Pop的含夥人向BAMM.TV說:”PSY不知是否一個k-pop典型的代表,但是至少會令人們願意接受韓語歌,若流行音樂世界再有韓語歌,人們會更加快接觸韓語歌.因為之前巳有收聽韓語歌的經驗.”
Introducing BAMM.tv’s Artist Of The Month feature: a selection of great music, exclusive articles and prize giveaways (among other things) from one of our favorite up-and-coming artists. This month we put San Francisco three-piece Geographer under the spotlight …
Crack open the dictionary for a second. There’s something interesting about the definition of the word Geographer – “one who partakes in the study of the earth and its features and of the distribution of life on the earth, including human life”, and also charts an “ordered arrangement of constituent elements.”
Now, we’re not going to pretend that this definition is news to you (we hope you’ve proven yourself to be something of a smartypants by downloading the BAMM.tv app anyway, so we’re sure your literary skills are up to scratch). But think about it. Or – to be more specific – take a listen to Geographer’s music, then think about it.
Ordered arrangement? Yep – carefully crafted ciphers through which all sorts of melodic twists emerge. Constituent elements? Yep – an amalgamation of different sounds, instruments and genres fused to a cohesive and gripping whole. Human life? Oh yeah – like all great music, there’s a helluva lot of universal soul in there.
Not that they’d be so analytical about it. “We want to make good-sounding records,” they state, “and we want to play for people.”
So: are you one of those people yet? And if not, why not?
There are major shifts waiting to happen this year in how we consume music. 2013 is likely to see the expansion of trends from last year – the shift towards streaming, the rise of social television, and increasing use of video content online.
But the impact of all of these factors means the shape of the digital music landscape will dramatically change before the year is out. Will personal music collections be entirely displaced by portable libraries? Will crowd-funding become a standard procedure for tours? We consider these possibilities and more in a roundup of this year’s expected trends.
Ownership versus accessibility
This year sees big developments in the streaming subscription market with the arrival of Google, Microsoft and Apple’s new loan services. They are all keen to take on the growing might of Spotify, which has so far managed to take the largest share of the market via its partnership with Facebook. Owning music could become secondary to portability and accessibility across multiple devices. Arguably, ownership might even be seen as a burden given syncing and copyright issues.
What does this mean for musicians, given the negligible rates given by streaming services? Last year, Damon Krukowski of Galaxie 500 highlighted how 680,462 plays of his record ‘Tugboat’ (above) garnered only a soul-destroying $9.99. It’s unlikely the margins will grow – though some might argue a bigger market with more competitors will create more revenue for everyone. However, it could also make it harder for musicians to claim fees as companies compete to keep subscription charges low. Pandora is currently contesting the fee paid out to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers for digital radio plays of artists. It is likely only the biggest artists will benefit from keeping their music away from streaming services – as shown by the high sales enjoyed by Adele and Coldplay.
It’ll be interesting to see how many major musicians make their music available and the correlation between sales and their music’s availability on the streaming services. Either way, the year will mark the decisive break with the ownership culture as the biggest technology creators become effectively lending libraries of content.
The first ever fully-sponsored album?
Here on BAMM we’ve previously discussed the increasingly close relationship between brands and bands. Even the most credible of musicians have lent themselves to one-off projects by companies. One of the weirdest collaborations this year has been ‘Gatwick: The Departure Lounge Sessions’, which featured a 30-minute track by Benga which corresponded to the 30-minute journey between Gatwick and London Victoria.
Could we see an extension of that trend so that musicians end up writing whole entire albums themed or inspired by brands? What’s certain is that it’s not just the obvious suspects who would be up for doing product placement. At the moment, it may be musicians who are getting the best end of the deal. Working with brands guarantees a payout at a time when sales are so low. Brands are also stepping in to nurture and develop musicians from the outset, creating long-term relationships in order to tap into younger audiences. Conversely, consumers may take to personalising brands in ways that make image control near-obsolete. Given the power of social media and Facebook, even the coolest brands may have to roll with the punches.
The return of MySpace
MySpace’s acknowledged strengths were always its music sharing and DIY aspects. For many bands, trying to cut out the noise of Facebook activity to get a few ‘likes’ is too difficult. New MySpace has had mixed reviews but its music functionality is better than ever. The new site (as trailed below) is clearly aimed at a younger ‘creative’ demographic – which is ideal for bands who want to take a hands-on approach to their promotion.
Focusing on sound
The rise of the visual is unquestionable – we have ever bigger screens on all our devices to accommodate more video content and visual information. But sound-only platforms have a role to play. Soundcloud has enjoyed its biggest year yet with more exclusives and streaming from performers like Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent. One of the major appeals for musicians is the convenience of uploading a track, without the faff of a big launch or shoot. Given low marketing budgets, more musicians could start using sound-only platforms to reach out directly to fans and reward them with special cuts and additional work.
More ethical models
The fightback has begun already. BAMM leads on the way on this trend, giving artists a fair rate for their tracks. Some sites such as Bandcamp are giving bands the chance to sell their music and merchandise directly to fans, taking a much smaller cut of the proceeds than sites such as iTunes.
Digital radio and personalised radio
BAMM was in on this early with its Open Thread radio. The internet has breathed new life into the radio medium. The trend will explode in 2013 with the development of multiple streams, podcasts, and local digital radio stations redefining the relationship between the global and the local. Radio is also relatively low-tech, opening it up to more DIY producers and labels. Personalised radio will continue to grow, but there should be platforms designed entirely for sharing carefully compiled and curated tracks with friends.
While platforms like Pandora and Last FM are dominated by more hardcore fans of music, sites such as Turntable FM (above) which combine gaming and social networking could bring together new audiences. In short, personalised radio platforms could appeal to the entire music-buying community, by offering the chance to discover and customise in easy ways.
More sophisticated music discovery and curation
Music discovery apps, including BAMMs, will become ever more complex and vital to get through the sheer volume of material online. The FOMO (fear of missing out) syndrome is the web’s newest disease, and the best way to tackle it is to call in the curators. Music discovery apps will not only select the best material, they will also order it for you, so that you don’t have to wade through numerous disorganised links.
Apps will have to be able to configure music in different ways – for example, adopting mood-based curation as well as genre and decade. They could also take the place of traditional tastemakers such as magazine websites. Expect a lot of morphing between the two formats.
The rise and rise of video
Despite Youtube’s success, few media outlets have really gone for exclusive video. This could change massively in 2013 with predictions from Cisco that video will grow to drive 80 per cent of traffic across the internet. Music will play a major part of this, given that most songs neatly fit the three to four minute limit for a standard online video. Services like XBox Music (below) have also made playing music, watching video and gaming on one device manageable for even the biggest technophobe.
No barriers cosmopolitan music trends
Gangnam Style (below) has become the most popular Youtube video ever uploaded (please let’s not talk about Ai Wei Wei and the Anish Kapoor versions). While Psy has been dismissed as unrepresentative of Korean music or a novelty act, the music has actually seen a wave of interest in non-Western pop.
More specialised crowdfunding
There are already dedicated music crowdfunding platforms, but none which specialise in concert funding yet. Touring is still a tried and trusted way to build up a fanbase. The ideal platform could enable networks of fans to chip in together to bring musicians over, making more bands perform off the traditional tour route.
Outlier trends: The hologram trend
The biggest comeback of 2012 was also the least expected. Tupac appeared at last year’s Coachella, giving rap a genuinely hair-raising edge. The most astonishing thing was that the company Digital Domain Media Group animated the entire performance, rather than pulling it from an archive. Could this be the beginnings of a niche industry, devoted to reanimating and choreographing holograms for old fans and newcomers? You can’t buy charisma but you sure as hell can try to project it.
Tupac (above) was an obvious candidate for revival – in fact, the hologram (when first spoken about) appeared to be a smart joke about the fact that the late rapper sold more after his death than he did before it. The music industry is pretty unconscionable when it comes to making money off the back of its deceased stars, so who knows how far the trend will go?
The deluxe album
The trend for artisan goods shows no sign of abating. Like the similar trend for slow food and slow living, the deluxe album signals leisure time. The box set used to be something to buy the fangirl or fanboy in your life for Christmas. Now almost every physical release aims to be special, limited and good enough to put on your minimalist bookshelves. The physical album has almost become a statement. Beck released his album ‘Song Reader’ as sheet-music only (above) , reminding us that the format is only a vessel for the real work.