2017: Saxophones No, Flutes Yeah

The Outline:

There’s no song in the Top 40 right now with a saxophone solo. There’s hardly a defined saxophone part on any of those songs at all, which is incredible because for most of American popular music’s history, the saxophone was the backbone of making a song a hit. In today’s pop, the saxophone is used sparingly, because instead of seeming cool and propelling singles, it runs the risk of making you look corny.

{A} shift — toward electronic production and away from acoustic, as exemplified by the rise of disco in the ’70s — was notable. The saxophone thrived in jazz fusion with guys like Grover Washington Jr., Tom Scott, David Sanborn, and Michael Brecker. But as the genre became gentrified, there was a definite move away from saxophone sections and horn sections, to the sexy saxophone solo.

Big name ’80s pop stars started using the saxophone to create hooks that were catchy, but inescapable and incredibly annoying. And that use took it from being a cool instrument with a strong sound, to being a weird, almost tacky gimmick. Saxophone historians skim over this section of the sax’s perception in spite of the fact that it was the site of a major turn. When George Michael used the saxophone as the intro to “Careless Whisper,” its grooving, sensual riff became a parody quickly. Much to the dismay of saxophone lovers, the indelicate saxophone riffs of ’80s pop became the instrument’s primary associations, and the instrument fell out of fashion.

“I’d say once we hit the 2000s, it’s almost like the saxophone had become extinct,” {professor of woodwinds at Berklee College of Music Jeff} Harrington said. “It’s like a dinosaur now.”


Flutes are an incredibly wack instrument. Possibly the wackest. Instruments like the oboe and the clarinet are more sonically irritating, and the douchiness of intentionally complicated instruments like the Chapman stick exceeds the flute's pompous reputation (which it held well before Jethro Tull inflicted itself on the world). But the flute stands alone at the intersection of irritating sound and annoying personality.

And yet in the hands of "Mask Off" producer Metro Boomin, the historical weight of every shrieking prog rock flute solo and "Actually the term is flautist" ever inflicted on the world evaporates in a cool, blunt-scented breeze and the mournful soul of Tommy Butler's Selma soundtrack. Through some powerful occult maneuver, Metro's made the flute not only tolerable, he's made it bang.

In fact, the flute's become one of the stickiest trends in hip-hop production. It probably has something to do with the inevitable aural fatigue that audiences developed from Southern mixtape rap's years-long reliance on maximalist bombast and blaring, Inception-style horn arrangements (something Metro Boomin once specialized in). It might also be related to the surging interest in gentle New Age sounds that's popped up in other genres like indie rock and dance music.

Or maybe we've just been wrong about the flute for all these years. Maybe we let prancing prog rockers and irritating small-time band-class divas get in the way of a perfectly fine and exceptionally chill instrument when we could have been letting it soothe our ears with its mellow tones. Whatever the reason is, it's starting to seem like this is going to turn out to be the Year of the Flute, and I'm not even a little mad at it.

Blockchain and the Rights Management Renaissance

Mediachain Labs blog, one year ago:

The problem is simply that no central database exists to keep track of information about music. Specifically, there are two types of information about a piece of music that are critically important: who made it and who owns the rights to it. Right now, this information is fiendishly difficult to track down, to the great detriment of artists, music services and consumers alike.

If we want to enable maximum value flow and creation, we’ve got to solve the data problem first. Given that context, we should view a blockchain solution as a simple metaphor for shared, networked, media metadata.

Platforms like Spotify and Soundcloud have an incentive to find a reliable, long-term solution to the fractured data problem in order to avoid future lawsuits. Spotify seems to be leading the charge, having recently committed to “fix the global problem of bad publishing data once and for all”. They also have the scale and technical resources to ensure the availability and operation of the network.

Mediachain Labs is leading the open source development of Mediachain, a decentralized data network that aims to make it simple for organizations, creators, and developers to share and reuse information about creative works. As a shared metadata network for music, Mediachain offers a uniform interface to data contributed by multiple participants with no central authority. Because Mediachain is open source and decentralized, all participants remain in control of their data and there is no central point of failure.

TechCrunch, today:

Spotify has acquired the Brooklyn-based blockchain startup Mediachain Labs, whose team will join the company’s office in New York where they will work on developing better technology for connecting artists and other rights holders with the tracks hosted on Spotify’s service.

This is an area where Spotify can use some help, as it turns out. Last year, Spotify settled a licensing dispute with the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) in the U.S. over unpaid royalties. Spotify had claimed that it didn’t pay out the royalties because it simply didn’t have the necessary data to help it figure out whose claims were legitimate, or even how to locate the parties. It said it lacked an authoritative database that covered all existing music rights. This opens it up to litigation, which is obviously not the ideal way of managing these payments.

With Mediachain, Spotify potentially has a solution on its hands – but instead of building out a centralized database with music rights information, it looks like it will build a decentralized one. Mediachain says it will turn over the technology it had already built to the open source community as it moves to Spotify.

There's this announcement – and the dotBlockchain Music Project's recent alliance with SOCAN, Songtrust, CD Baby, and FUGA – and ASCAP, SACEM, and PRS for Music collaborating on a blockchain-powered "shared decentralized database of music work metadata with real-time update and tracking capabilities" … could we be on the cusp of a rights management renaissance?

Previously and Previously.

Update: CMU Daily once again with the definitive take:

How do you convince the music industry that you’re taking the data issues that continue to hinder the streaming business seriously? Tell em you’re going to fix it via the blockchain and ‘boom’, no one knows what you’re taking about, but boy are they impressed.

Hitting the Links: Paper Synths, The Velvet Underground, and Cuban Numbers Stations

Perhaps a budding Sunday tradition? Once again, I present five online articles that caught my fancy over the past week:

Meet The World's Most Obsessive Fan Of 'The Velvet Underground and Nico’

Satlof's collection began in earnest in 1987: a $90 autographed copy from "a record dealer in an antiques mall on Canal Street," with a scrawled signature that the seller said was Warhol's, but turned out to be Reed's. Satlof casually picked up more of the albums over the years, paying "$10, $20, like $100 for ones with the full banana." He stresses that his hobby is due to the brilliance of the music and his love for it. But really: 800 copies?

Miniature Analogue Papercraft Synthesizers by Dan McPharlin

Each miniature synthesizer is meticulously handcrafted from framing matboard, cardboard, paper, plastic sheeting, string and rubber bands. Rather than replicating the existing machines, the focus was more about creating a revisionist history where analogue technology continued to flourish uninterrupted.

In Pictures: The 10 Most Stunning Places to Make Music

Some of the best making-of-the-album stories are those where a wild, remote or inspiring location becomes a powerful inspiration on the music-making - The Rolling Stones at the Cote D'Azur mansion Villa Nellcôte for Exile on Main St.; Can at Schloss Nörvenich for Tago Mago; Killing Joke inside one of the Great Pyramids at Giza. In those cases, the band brought their own recording equipment with them. For the less intrepid, the world has many ready-made, custom-built, luxurious studios in gorgeous locations to fire up creativity.

Cuba’s Mysterious Numbers Station Is Still On The Air

While evidence suggests HM01 is operated by the Cuban government, it's virtually impossible to tell who it's sending to, which is one of the main tactical advantages of numbers stations: You can easily see the intended recipient of an email, but you can't prove someone listened to a radio broadcast unless you catch them in the act.

The Word-Of-Mouth Resurgence of Arthur Russell

Shortly before his death, Russell and his family took a small boat out to Baker Island, a flat rock half-covered by seaweed, four miles off the coast of Maine. The musician sat on a slab of granite and recorded the sound of the waves breaking against the shore. The next year, the Russells scattered his ashes from the same rock, and they watched as the waves slowly pulled him away. On summer nights, for decades, unbeknownst to Russell or his family, locals have boated out to this same rock. They play music, and move together under moonlight. They call the place the Dance Floor.

Ninja Tune's Peter Quicke: "Spotify is our Biggest Revenue Source"

[PIAS]'s The Independent Echo blog regularly posts wonderful and informative interviews with various record label managers. The latest features Ninja Tune's Peter Quicke who has been managing that label for 25 years. It's always interesting to hear the perspective of a label that once made its bacon through vinyl and CD sales, now that we are well on our way into the streaming age. Says Quicke:

Spotify is our biggest revenue source. Would it be better if streaming never existed and we carried on selling vinyl and CD? I don’t know. In a way, the reverence for the artifact is tied up with the emotions of the music. Streaming is gradually breaking that down – people’s relationship with music is possibly becoming more incidental and less involved and emotional. But on the other hand, it makes it possible for people to listen to music all the time.

{Spotify feels} like an honest broker paying a fair royalty. But the other thing they’re doing is making the long-tail thinner and probably making the pool of music that gets listened to thinner. That’s not a good thing. It’s the tyranny of choice. People don’t know what to listen to so they listen to the Spotify playlists. From our point of view it’s fine [with a large catalogue], although we’re always learning what works and what you have to be careful of. Whether culturally it’s good long-term is an interesting debate.

It probably is harder now {to start a successful label}. But when I started doing this, for years I worked all day and all night, and it was fucking hard. Nobody wanted to review our records. There were a few fans, but nobody cared. We sold 2,000 or 3,000 at best. It’s hard whenever you start a record label. In a way it’s easier now because you don’t have to spend loads of time fretting over manufacturing. Starting a label at any time in history is just shit-tonnes of work for years.

Be sure to read the full interview HERE.

About Charts and the Disparity of Pop Music

This morning on our Slack channel (message me if you might want in) I was having a discussion with Jon Curtis, newly responsible for the wonderful blog A Poke in the Ear (With a Sharp Stick). Jon posted an article about the apparent inevitability of Spotify windowing out big new releases from their free tier. I commented that this might somewhat curtail the recent phenomenon of multiple songs from a single album release simultaneously filling up the pop charts, now that streaming numbers affect position. I shared a link to an article in The Guardian about Ed Sheeran doing just that, with 16 album tracks in the UK top 20.

Jon Curtis:

The takeaway: "The problem isn’t so much the charts as what streaming is doing to music itself. The vast gap between pop’s behemoths and everyone else is a problem that the medium only compounds." The charts were always about popularity … initially number of products sold, now number of products streamed. This skews the playing field dramatically. And, like most questions that are posed in online headers {in this case: "Can the charts be fixed?"}, the answer is no, they can't be fixed.

My response:

I don’t know if I agree with the quote. I think the disparity of ‘pop behemoths’ vs. the second tier is reflective of such growing (and troubling) disparity overall in our society, and there are other factors unique to our time – such as rampant media consolidation and the fact that there are now three ‘major labels’ – mainly to blame. But, on the flip-side, there are now more people making a living in creative fields due to the democratizing effect of the internet (which includes streaming) then there ever were. The most disappointed are those feeling they’ve been cheated out of their Led Zeppelin-style private jet because it’s not like it was in 1975 (spoiler: it wasn’t like that actually).

Regarding charts: I managed a major retail store during the introduction of Soundscan and saw firsthand how that stuff was gamed. But now that we’ve got a million easy-to-access niches (and many self-released artists making a reasonable, lower middle class living off music streaming and such) things like ‘charts’ are even less relevant. I think the Ed Sheeran bit above is hilarious, and it’s fine with me. If that’s how they want to set the metric for their charts then so be it … all this does is send true music fans away from traditional outlets (charts, corporate radio, etc) and into avenues of discovery.

I also admitted that even I'm strangely fascinated by my recurring mix of optimism and cynicism.

The Tale of Vulfpeck's Silent Album

Today I Found Out just posted a video detailing Sleepify, that fascinating crowdfunding ploy by Michigan band Vulfpeck:

An important bit that's mentioned in passing is that Vulfpeck encouraged sleeping fans to play the silent album on repeat overnight (thus, Sleepify) to add to the playcount coffer. Though this tactic was initially creative and effective (really, hats off to 'em), I do think Spotify were justified in putting a stop to the potential trend of 'silent album'. There would certainly be hundreds of uninspired copycat 'silent albums' with a sole money-making purpose if this was tolerated (Spotify's already dealing with new ridicule for a preponderance of "karaoke versions" and the like mucking up the works).

I also think it's unfair to compare Sleepify to John Cage's "4'33"" as Cage's purpose in 'writing' that piece wasn't to raise funds for a tour. But, I'll go one further and say that "4'33"" shouldn't be on Spotify either … it only truly resonates when performed live:

Road Maps, Rainy Days, and Digital Streaming

Spotify, Waze, and road trips, via Endgadget:

Drivers use their smartphone for both navigation and music, so why not put the two together? Waze and Spotify have announced that they've done just that: You can now navigate with Waze within Spotify and access Spotify playlists from Waze. After you set up a playlist, it'll automatically play when you start your journey, while letting you "easily" change songs. At the same time, you can browse playlists (and switch from one app to the other) when your vehicle is at a full stop.

The partnership is somewhat surprising, as Waze is owned by Google, which has its own Play music-streaming service that competes with Spotify. However, Spotify's 50 million-strong subscriber base dwarfs Google Play (and every other music service), so it could be a way for Google to prod all those users into trying the Waze platform.

Spotify, The North Face, and rain, via The Verge:

The Austin-based band White Denim has a new song out today, but you can only listen to it if it’s raining where you are. The North Face is releasing the track, called “No Nee Ta Slode Aln” as part of a partnership with Spotify. The whole thing is a gimmicky way to sell a rain jacket.

The streaming service is using geo-targeting to make the song available only in areas of the United States experiencing drops of water falling from the sky. If that’s not happening in your area, you’re out of luck. It’s currently not raining where I am, which means the song isn’t showing up on my Spotify.

Just as digital streaming has opened up endless options for defining a 'release' or an 'album', we're now starting to see this creative freedom applied to music promotion and integration. More of this, I say.

Pandora Premium Takes the Service On-Demand

As we're talking a little about Pandora, I would be remiss to not mention the company's long-awaited foray into on-demand streaming is launching this week …

Fast Company:

The idea of launching a new music subscription service in 2017 would be utterly insane if it weren’t for one detail: Pandora already has 78 million monthly active listeners. If the company has a shot at competing, it will come primarily from its ability to upsell some of these listeners to its new $10 subscription tier. The rollout of Pandora Premium will be iterative and targeted. It begins this week and will continue through mid-April in phases, selectively coaxing existing Pandora users that might be likely to sign up based on their listening activity. People who hit the song-skipping limit or frequently thumb-up songs by the same artist, for instance, are prime targets for the new service.

Pandora is peddling a very polished, well-designed product, but it’s unlikely to reel in many people who are already committed to a service like Spotify or Apple Music. That’s because there’s very little here, aside from aesthetics and a legacy of smart music curation, that can’t be found on other services. Even perks like personalized new releases and the “add similar songs” button found their way into Spotify in the time that’s passed since Pandora acquired Rdio. Unfortunately for Pandora, Spotify has vastly improved its own curation and discovery features over the last year and a half. Pandora Premium is solid, but if you’re already invested in another service, you’re likely to find enough here to

Macworld on what, if anything, sets this service apart from the others:

Pandora Premium offers automated playlist generation: You choose one or two songs and the service creates a full playlist based on their properties. Other services have similar features. Apple’s iTunes Genius, for example, automatically creates playlists from a user’s personal playlist. The advantage for Pandora, however, is that its ability to match songs is widely considered superior to what other services can do {due to the company's long involvement in the Music Genome Project -ed}.

The company is also very proud of Premium’s search capabilities and even managed to throw some shade at other services when discussing it. “Pandora’s team of curators, music analysts and data scientists have sifted through tens of millions of tracks to help you quickly find what you really want,” Pandora said in its announcement. “No more wading through covers, karaoke versions or tribute tracks to get to your favorite tune.” Spotify’s vast catalog includes numerous karaoke, cover, and tribute tracks that often come up in a search before the song by the original artist.

Update: Jim Dalrymple over at The Loop is optimistic about Pandora's offering, citing a focus on catering to the listener as the key to making it a potential improvement over other services.

SoundCloud Headed for the Cut-Out Bin?


Sources say {SoundCloud} has been trying to raise more than $100 million since last summer, without success. It has also talked to potential acquirers, including Spotify, without closing a deal.

The upshot, according to people familiar with the company: SoundCloud is now at a point where it may sell for less than the $700 million investors thought it was worth a few years ago. One source thinks it will consider bids, as long as they’re above the total investment it has raised to date — about $250 million.

SoundCloud’s struggle is taking place while there’s renewed investor interest in streaming music. Even though the industry’s economics are challenging, users have embraced streaming, and are even willing to pay for it: Spotify, which would like to go public next year, says it has more than 50 million paid subscribers worldwide. Apple Music says it has more than 20 million paid subs. {SoundCloud} says it has 175 million monthly unique users, but it hasn’t updated that number since 2014.

With Pandora experiencing similar woes, it would seem that a tech company wanting to enter the music landscape could make a big splash by acquiring both SoundCloud and Pandora at a good price and combining their users. Maybe one of these will be interested?

Update: SoundCloud forges ahead … this just in from Hypebot:

Beginning today, SoundCloud is inviting DJs and producers who create sets, remixes and other forms of creative works to join its Premier program to earn revenue for the tracks they share on SoundCloud.

Premier creators can monetize their content and earn a portion of the revenue generated by subscriptions and advertising on SoundCloud. Acceptance is still "invite only," but you can apply here.

SoundCloud has not shared how many artists are Premier members, its criteria for acceptance, or how revenue is shared with creators.

A Twelve Hour History of Spiritual Jazz

Courtesy of NTS Radio, here's a four part / twelve hour overview of 'spiritual jazz' that will be on repeat in this office for a while:


During the tumultuous '60s, there was a religious revolution to accompany the grand societal, sexual, racial, and cultural shifts already afoot. Concurrently, the era’s primary African-American art form reflected such upheaval in its music, too: Jazz began to push against all constraints, be it chord changes, predetermined tempos, or melodies, so as to best reflect the pursuit of freedom in all of its forms. Rather than the Tin Pan Alley standards, modal explorations, and cool poses that previously defined the genre, there was now chaos, noise, and tumult to be found. And amid the disorder out on the street and on the bandstand was also a quest for a spiritual center, a search for communion with the divine.

This musical exploration was epitomized by tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, whose 1965 album A Love Supreme was conceived as “a humble offering to Him, an attempt to say ‘THANK YOU GOD’ through our work.” Coltrane soon began to break through the boundaries of jazz even further on albums like OM, Meditations, and especially 1966’s Ascension, which featured a collective improvisation by an 11-piece band that included many leading luminaries of what would be called “The New Thing” in jazz.

In that record’s wake, there arose a crop of jazz artists who strove for the transcendent in their work. Some embraced the sacred sound of the Southern Baptist church in all its ecstatic shouts and yells, while others envisioned a Pan-African sound or sought enlightenment from Southeastern Asian esoteric practices like transcendental meditation and yoga.

Hitting the Links: Grace Jones, Italian Futurists, and the Radical Politics of Love

For your weekend, I present five intriguing missives from across the digital cosmos:

Stevie Wonder and the Radical Politics of Love

Here are three songs, from three albums recorded in three consecutive years, all from the Nixon era. Each year, the lyrics get more pointed, more obvious in their contempt. But it’s a contempt mingled with understanding, and grounded in a deep, deep love for the people most affected by political failure.

Brian Eno’s Latest Isn’t An Album - It’s A Process

The price point corroborates that, asking for the worth not of an album but of a piece of software. But even then, it poses challenges. We expect a certain amount of utility for our buck; I own one other app that costs $40, for example, and it is a cloud-based productivity suite, which is about as utilitarian as it gets. You don’t do anything with Reflection, and it doesn’t do anything for you. What sort of software is that?

Partying With Grace Jones

On May 19, 1978, Jamaican-born model and singer Grace Jones turned 30. On June 7, she released her second studio album, Fame. Five days later, she celebrated with a combination birthday/album release extravaganza at LaFarfelle Disco in New York. The fun and debauchery were captured on film by notorious paparazzo Ron Galella, who was famous in his own way for relentlessly pursuing celebrities and getting his teeth knocked out by Marlon Brando.

20 Dynamic Paintings From The Italian Futurists

Italian writer Filippo Tommaso Marinetti founded Futurism when he published his Futurist Manifesto in Parisian newspaper Le Figaro on 20th February 1909. Futurism was a key artistic and social development in 20th Century art history, originating and most active within Italy, but also a movement whose ideas spread to Russia, England and beyond.

Stop Saying ‘I Feel Like’

This is what is most disturbing about “I feel like”: The phrase cripples our range of expression and flattens the complex role that emotions do play in our reasoning. It turns emotion into a cudgel that smashes the distinction — and even in our relativistic age, there remains a distinction — between evidence out in the world and internal sentiments known only to each of us.

Mechanical Royalty Rates Revisited

Complete Music Update:

America’s Copyright Royalty Board yesterday got around to thinking about what the country’s mechanical royalty rates should be for the next five years.

Mechanical royalties – paid to songwriters when recordings of their songs are copied and distributed – are covered by a compulsory license Stateside. Which means songwriters and music publishers are obliged to license third parties making and distributing those copies at a statutory rate, so that rate-setting processes like this one are rather important.

Traditionally the main customers of mechanical rights have been record companies, which need a license from the relevant songwriter or music publisher every time they press a CD.

In the US, unlike in Europe, it was the label which paid the mechanical royalties on downloads too, so that iTunes didn’t have to worry about making sure the owner of the song copyright was paid their share of any income.

However with streams, where both the mechanical and performing rights of the copyright are exploited, it is the digital platform that is the licensee and which therefore pays the mechanical royalties directly to the writer or publisher (or not as the case may be, as those songwriter lawsuits against various streaming services have demonstrated).

Discs and downloads also remain a decent part of the recorded music business for now of course, but – after a bit of a stand off – the US record industry reached a deal with the music publishers on mechanical royalty rates last year. Which means that the CRB hearing is very much focused on the rates paid by the streaming services, which are, after all, where all the growth is in recorded music these days.

Music Business Worldwide:

The tech giants are expected to argue to reduce the amount they pay, while the National Music Publisher’s Association and the Nashville Songwriters Association International will lobby for an increase.

NMPA wants songwriters to be paid each time their song is played, or each time a user purchases a subscription. It also wants to share the profits from the sale of technology and subscriptions that include access to music.

The US government has been setting mechanical royalty rates for over 100 years, beginning in 1909 when Congress determined that the rights would be subject to a compulsory license. This means that anyone can record a songwriter’s work for a fixed rate without permission or approval. Congress used to set this rate, but has since delegated the task to the CRB judges. The current rates were set over ten years ago when digital streaming was just starting to take off.

That Music Rights Shell Game


With the release of iOS 10, song lyrics are now displayed within Apple Music. Apple have received incredibly positive feedback from members, who can now follow along during playback of their favourite songs. To ensure songwriters are paid Apple is obtaining the licenses required to display lyrics in Apple Music. Apple rely on accurate songwriter and composer data to efficiently obtain these licenses.



Apple says to “make sure the ownership of your song is registered with a publisher, and that they have registered ownership with relevant publishing agencies such as ASCAP, BMI, PRS, Harry Fox and Music Reports.” That obviously is misleading.

First of all, we can’t be that surprised that Apple has this impression because as we all know, it is frequently lost on HFA and MRI that neither of them is in fact the government. However, given that Amazon, Google, Pandora and others are sending millions upon millions of NOIs to the Copyright Office claiming to have no idea who owns songs by very well known artists, it should make it obvious that the one place you need to “register” your song copyright ownership is with the U.S. Copyright Office.

It’s also misleading to state that you have to have “the ownership of your songs…register[ed] with a publisher” which may happen frequently, but is not required to enjoy ownership rights.

That unified music metadata database (Blockchain, etc) that keeps getting bandied about can't come soon enough.

DJ Set Monetization Platform Dubset Gets Monetized

We haven't heard much from Dubset in a while. Like all good start-ups, they've been biding their time collecting cash. Via Hypebot:

Dubset Media has scored a $4 million Series A funding round, led by Cue Ball Capital. Founded in 20o8, the company had previously closed two funding rounds for undisclosed rounds from investors including Rhapsody and Three Six Zero.

Dubset's MixBANK technology identifies musical recordings used in mixes and remixes, determining the appropriate rights holders (a DJ mix could have as many as 100 different rights holders), and simultaneously clearing the mix or remix across all rights holders. That enables record labels and music publishers to set permissions for access via a simple rules-based system which enables catalogs to be efficiently monetized and precludes the need to conduct time consuming searches and initiate claims.

Music Business Worldwide:

Dubset enables record labels and music publishers to set permissions for access via a rules-based system which aims to prevent the need for time-consuming searches and initiate claims.

Last year, the company signed agreements with Spotify and Apple Music for its system to be used on their platforms – potentially allowing user-generated/amateur remix content to be uploaded onto the services for the first time.

We're still waiting for this technology (or something like it) to make serious waves in the monetization game.

Previously and Previously.

Speed It Up and Start Again


There are a number of ways that music streaming services can set themselves apart from one another. This can be done through price, the size of their catalogue, and also exclusives. However Tidal seems to be going one step further and that is through features where they will now allow users to edit song length and tempo.

Dubbed “Track Edit”, this feature is basically what its name suggests. Users who feel that certain songs could do without a lengthy intro or could be faster can now edit these songs and save the edited versions to a playlist.


While playing a song in the Tidal app, you can change the length and speed with the new Track Edit feature from the options menu. To make any tempo adjustments, you will need to select a segment of a song before you can do so. The tool also allows you to make changes to how the song fades in/out.

This is novel, but I doubt many artists outside of the dancier genres would approve of their songs being manipulated in these ways (especially the ability to dramatically speed up the tempo). Prince – who until recently was touted as a Tidal exclusive artist – would certainly be unhappy with the prospect. I wonder if catalog can be excluded when an artist wishes his or her songs to remain untouched by Tidal's users.

Dark Days for College Radio


One of the remaining bastions of the college-rock era has fallen silent, at least for now. For the second week in a row, CMJ has not published its weekly college radio charts, calling into question the fate of an institution that has tracked the music played by college stations around the country since 1978. No date has been set for when the venerable—and, once, invaluable—charts will resume.

The chart hiatus is just the latest in a series of setbacks for CMJ. The last-known remaining employee, Lisa Hresko, recently took a new job with indie-label trade group A2IM. And last year’s lack of a CMJ Music Marathon, for the first time in the event’s 35-year history, came despite {CMJ owner Adam} Klein’s assurance it “absolutely” would happen in 2016.

Also from Pitchfork:

The rise of CMJ coincided with the heyday of college radio during the late 1980s and early ’90s. Though initially used as an education tool for broadcasting lectures, by the end of the ’80s college radio had become an indispensable musical tastemaker, with trade magazines and multiple nationwide charts tracking the growing popularity of the market. Bands including U2, R.E.M., the Cure, the Smiths, Dinosaur Jr., Hüsker Dü, Minutemen, the Replacements, and more were first broadcast by enterprising students with open ears.

The influence and relevance of college radio has undoubtedly diminished since the ’90s, challenged by new outlets for musical discovery and listening that began with the rise of blogging, file sharing, and widespread broadband access around the turn of the century. The entire economy of critical and economic success for musicians has changed so rapidly in the last 25 years that exposure on college radio can seem quaint in 2017.

Starting around 2010, a growing number of colleges began transferring their FM broadcast licenses to larger conglomerates for a short-term economic windfall. While each case is informed by different circumstances and buyers, they are united by the administrative opinion that students don’t really care that much about radio anymore (and that fast cash can be made).

When licenses are sold, the process can be messy, divisive, and upsetting. Such sales can also have further consequences, cutting off exposure for nearby businesses and artistic communities. That said, administrators are not necessarily wrong in doubting terrestrial radio’s continuing relevance. College radio has always occupied a very tiny space, and most stations are so small they don’t even show up on the ratings system that measures listenership. And last year, a nationwide survey on media consumption found that only 9 percent of people in the 12-24 age bracket use AM/FM radio as their source for keeping up with music; the same demographic was more likely to use YouTube (22 percent) or streaming platforms like Pandora, Spotify, and SiriusXM (11 percent in total across the services) to find their favorite new artists.

College radio may be the only hold-over from the music industry's fading recent past that gets me wistful and nostalgic. My time as a college radio DJ and music director is incalculably responsible for what I'm doing today. Even before that, discovering new sounds on static-filled college radio signals beaming in from faraway cities changed my young life … I grew up in the middle of nowhere and actively sought out these distant stations, often only picking them up in the middle of the night. Here in Orlando we're lucky to still have a freeform college station, WPRK 91.5 FM – one of the oldest college stations in the USA. I really should tune in more often.

But I'm also heartened by the democratization of broadcasting, whether it's from podcasts on Mixcloud, or shows on internet radio stations, or even meticulously crafted playlists bursting with esoterica. I know, it's not the same, but all is not lost either. To pull another quote from the second article, "if anything, the platform’s loose mission of promoting discovery, serendipity, and community has persevered despite setbacks because the desire for those very things will continue …". As long as there are freaks like me (and those I grew up listening to) who obsessively crave not only finding the latest sounds but also sharing them with others there will be something like college radio. Unfortunately (or not?), it just might not have anything to do with college.

The Endurance of Hype Machine

Technical.ly Brooklyn:

The Greenpoint-based Hype Machine is a website that conglomerates music blogs and forms music charts out of what the blogs are covering. The more blogs are writing about a particular song, the higher it is on the Hype Machine’s Popular chart. As music blogs tend to be on the early adopter side of the industry, the songs you hear on the Hype Machine’s popular playlist are unlikely to be those you hear on the radio, or Spotify for that matter.

The site grew to become a place where tastemakers would go to hear new music, and, thus, a critical part of the music industry. In 2008, Billboard described the Hype Machine as “One of today’s most groundbreaking online music services … emerging as a juggernaut of growing influence.”

But the world moves on. Where Hype Machine was well-positioned in the new universe of music blogs, the industry has continued changing. People still write and follow music blogs, to be sure, but not as they once did, when Vampire Weekend went from unknown to indie kings off the strength of blog buzz.

“It definitely changed the type of blogs that are out there, it’s way more professional [now],” said Volodkin. “And that’s another thing I’m thinking about, too. If we don’t have blogs in the same way we did what are some other ways we can accommodate?"

It may surprise you how popular the aged (in internet years) Hype Machine is among young starting-out independent artists. Getting massive blog notice and thus moving up the Hype Machine chart is a strategic priority among the SoundCloud set, even more so than Spotify plays and Pitchfork reviews. As the article alludes, it's one of the last outlets for breaking emerging / unsigned artists. However, the purity of the process has been tainted by pay-for-play blogs and repost channels, and many young artists have no problem ponying up for a blog placement.

Facebook's inevitable foray into music streaming could harness some of Hype Machine's approach by utilizing social media shares, posts, and mentions to build its own automated music charts (much like Hype Machine presently does with its Twitter chart). Integrating a streaming service with an already vibrant social media community has innovative potential and, somehow, is uncharted territory.

Delving Into HyperNormalisation

Acclaimed documentarian Adam Curtis is at it again with HyperNormalisation, another stab at explaining the many forces responsible for the confounding state of our present world. Hyperallergic has a fascinating analysis of Curtis's latest project and pulls this frightening / enlightening quote from the documentary's narration:

The liberals were outraged by Trump, but they expressed their anger in cyberspace — so it had no effect. The algorithms made sure it only spoke to people who already agreed with them. Instead, ironically, their waves of angry messages and tweets benefited the large corporations who ran the social media platforms. As one analyst put it, ‘angry people click more.’ It meant that the radical fury that came like waves across the Internet no longer had the power to change the world.

Going a bit off path (if you'll indulge me, as this is primarily a music biz blog), we can also read this as a warning against putting all of one's promotional efforts into social media. There are indeed many potential listeners to reach through, say, Facebook but there are limits. And those limits – determined by an algorithm you can't control, and reaching into a bubble of the already converted – won't give your project much expansion outside of your current circle. It's low hanging fruit in the short term as you're hitting those who are into 'similar music' (at least those that pay attention to Facebook), but once that's exhausted there's nowhere to go, at least organically. Your own site and outside promotional efforts should always be a focus, with social media simply a tool to point the way. Treat social media like another – albeit quite effective – form of newsletter, instead applying the bulk of your energy where it matters and potentially affecting more people.

But I digress. HyperNormalisation is fantastic though IMO not as masterful (or convincing) as 2015's Bitter Lake. But that's a high bar, and HyperNormalisation is effective and affecting, with many brilliant examples of Curtis's hallmark montages and expert music selections working in tandem to wordlessly implant his message. I watched it before the presidential election and its themes continue to haunt (and scar) my thoughts afterwards. If you're in the UK you can view HyperNormalisation now on the BBC iPlayer. If you're not, have a look on YouTube and you might just see it pop up now and again.

Artspace recently interviewed Adam Curtis, focusing on HyperNormalisation's assertion that a rise in individualism (epitomized in the film by Patti Smith and the '70s NYC art scene) created an un-unified weakness in liberal movements.

{Curtis:} We look back at past ages and see how things people deeply believed in at the time were actually a rigid conformity that prevented them from seeing important changes that were happening elsewhere. And I sometimes wonder whether the very idea of self-expression might be the rigid conformity of our age. It might be preventing us from seeing really radical and different ideas that are sitting out on the margins – different ideas about what real freedom is, that have little to do with our present day fetishization of the self. The problem with today’s art is that far from revealing those new ideas to us, it may be actually stopping us from seeing them.

This might be quite a difficult one to get over, but I think this is really important: however radical your message is as an artist, you are doing it through self-expression – the central dominant ideology of modern capitalism. And by doing that, you’re actually far from questioning the monster and pulling the monster down. You’re feeding the monster. Because the more people come to believe that self-expression is the end of everything, is the ultimate goal, the more the modern system of power becomes stronger, not weaker.

That whole Artspace interview is a mindfuck, as is pretty much Adam Curtis's entire output. If this is new to you then prepare yourself for the rabbit hole.

Jaki Liebezeit's Eternal Rhythm

Can drummer and founding member Jaki Liebezeit shuffled off this mortal coil yesterday at the age of 78. As far as drummers go, I can't think of anyone more influential on my own music-making. I'm not alone.

The Guardian:

Along with Klaus Dinger, a founder member of Neu! and inaugurator of the “motorik” beat, Can’s Jaki Liebezeit was responsible for restructuring rock’s basic rhythm, influencing countless bands including early Roxy Music, Talking Heads and Joy Division. He devised a more continuous, open-ended alternative to the Anglo-American blues-based, verse-and-chorus model. In the late 60s and early 70s, while a new generation of heavy rock and prog instrumentalists were showing off their virtuouso prowess, Liebezeit and fellow Can members – including keyboardist Irmin Schmidt and bassist Holger Czukay – devised a way of playing and jamming that was about creating space, rather than soloing pointlessly. Theirs was a style, developed on albums such as Tago Mago, Future Days and Ege Bamyasi, that achieved its ends through loops and repetition, creating a cumulative intensity. When they played, with Liebezeit’s percussion in full flow, circling like rotor blades, they achieved a kind of lift-off.

{In his final years} he worked in a small studio in an arts complex on the edge of Cologne, where he kept a dazzling collection of percussion instruments from around the world. By rights there ought to have been a statue of him in the market square and a day of national mourning declared for him in Germany, so colossal has been his influence, but he went about his home city entirely unrecognised.

I've written here about my fascination with artists who are hugely influential while the general public are, for the most part, completely unaware. I seem to gravitate towards these solitary figures for my own inspiration and, from what I know about them, they are largely content and appreciative of their status.

The Quietus:

A rare innovator that saw the unlimited possibilities that rewarded a little altered thinking, Liebezeit – who first began his musical career as a trumpeter and later as Germany’s leading jazz drummer, playing with the likes of Chet Baker – helped pioneer the style of Motorik polyrhythms that came to define the genre. Where Can’s textures and compositional freedom blended Cage's spontaneous music and Schoenberg's dissonant explorations, Liebezeit’s craft – which he regularly said was influenced, above else, by machines – took repetition, accuracy and unusual rhythms to fashion stark, thrashing, hypnotic grooves that simultaneously married an open-ended jazz mindset with distinctly metronomic precision.

While Can's Holger Czukay once said Liebezeit was "more inhuman than a drum machine” the drummer himself said it best when he told an interviewer back in 2014, “I can play a little bit like a machine but the difference between a machine and me is that I can listen, I can hear and I can react to the other musicians, which a machine cannot do.” By simultaneously marrying rhythmic precision with percussive vision, his ultra-disciplined, hypnotic approach has influenced generation after generation of musicians as mottled as various techno pioneers and punk bands, as well as the likes of Sonic Youth, Stereolab, The Fall, Beak> and countless others besides.

I'm pretty sure the very first drum sample I ever looped and used in a song (around 1990, pre-Q-BAM) was from Can's "Mushroom". "Mushroom" contains just one of Liebezeit's many baffling (in a good way), kosmische-ly groovy rhythms, and that's only the first time that I lovingly borrowed from him. The 'he lives on' cliché is undisputedly apt here as his beat is the heartbeat of many artists and producers, now and still to come.