Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Hit Men

Thursday, September 26th, 2019

Hit Men by Fredric Dannen is a wonderful and sobering read on the music industry from WWII to 1991.

It left me looking up at the sky. There are some nuggets about race relationships. Music is all about that, after all. After WWII, Black American music takes over the world: it’s selling like crazy in the country and it’s influencing absolutely everyone (wealthy white UK folks would import those black records –blues, R&B- and create bands like the Beatles, if you didn’t know).

“The separate designation of pop and R&B bears explaining. Pop in the record industry is an euphemism for white; R&B means black. Until 1949, Billboard listed music by black artists as “race” records, but then a staffer named Jerry Wexler coined the term rhythm and blues. This is about all that has changed (though the industry has found other euphemisms, including “soul” and “urban”). A rock record by a black act is automatically R&B –regardless of its sound–unless white radio plays it and white people buy it, at which point it is said to “cross over” to the pop charts. Since white record buyers outnumber blacks by a large margin, a crossover hit means a bigger payoff.”

The built-in discrimination! Wonderful. Because meanwhile in white culture R&B is considered the worst shit when at first, it was pinned just to stop using the term “race” records because that’s a bit offensive and not very marketable.

R&B was simply a marketing term and became the symbol of “bad” black music, for no reason at all. It is messed up.

Then there are the stories of artists getting screwed over:

“The seventies provided some classic horror stories from this scenario. When Teena Marie was signed to Motown in 1976 by founder Berry Gordy, she had no attorney at all. When she asked to take her contract home before signing it, she later testified, a Motown official admonished her: “Don’t you trust us?” Motown assigned as her manager the common-law wife of Berry Gordy’s brother. Result: two of her albums made an estimated $2 million for Motown, while the label paid her about $100 a week for six and a half years.”

Ruthless. George McCrae was owed $100K in royalties by the label and was ready to hurt the boss. The boss gave him a few thousand dollars cash and the keys to the Cadillac outside. The car was rented.

The entire industry has been based on screwing over people. Whatever it takes (many executives were war vets, basically soulless mfs). Payola is rampant and the labels basically control the top 40 radios by the mid 70s. And then, a very important thing happens: disco.

“The Network [people bribing radios] took root in 1978, the peak year of disco. It was no coincidence. Disco created the climate that made the Network possible. The dance music breathed new life into the Top 40 format, after a decade of strength in album-oriented radio. More important, the disco phenomenon was fueled by hype, by the mistaken belief that hits are bought, not born. Of course, you can buy a hit, but not profitably. It was going to take the record industry a long time to figure this out.”

Hype. This is all there is in music from then on. It’s all about artists that can create hype. Hype is dangerous: yes, when it works bam, 30 million copies of Saturday Night Fever sold. But that’s impossible to reproduce the next year and the year after. It’s unpredictable. And then video games happened:

“In 1980 the Atari unit grossed $513 million, almost twice as much as the year before, while sales for the records group increased to $806 million. And the Atari’s unit hadn’t even existed five years previous. Overnight success breeds shortsightedness, and Warner Communications began to believe that video games were a better business than records.”

They reverted back real quick after 1983 and the video game crash. Hype is dangerous.

Oh did I mention the strong links between the music industry and the mafia? Man there are some details in this book and now I understand that it’s not so weird that they found some narcotics ring going on at a famous music label back in 2011. In the book no one was ever convicted. The government tried, with the help of the FBI, but it never went anywhere. The music industry is very powerful.

So, if you think there’s actual demand for an artist, there’s none. It’s all marketing money. Is the artist bankable? Then yes, you’ll see that artist a lot.

If you think charts are a pretty accurate picture of the market, they are not. They are completely fabricated to fuel hype and advance marketing plots. And if they were that much gamed in the mid 70s, I can’t even imagine the mental gymnastics they’re doing to produce today’s charts. It’s all bogus.

If you think only good artists survive, well, it depends.

Sometimes it feels like the entire entertainment business only exists to funnel money for some future real estate firms which will steamroll the earth.

Music is dope though.

Disco

Friday, August 2nd, 2019

The Disco Sucks movement and its backlash were so toxic, people in the industry –people who were eating off of the record sales coming from dance music- were all afraid to be associated with anything disco, even the word on a small sign above a door. Something about that really enraged me. Until then I believed I was part of a wonderfully elite group who marched to their own beat. I had worked hard to get there. We were free. We all did what we wanted, said what we meant. We were the music business.

-Nile Rodgers in 1979, after selling millions of Chic records and realizing that that disco sucks thing was way more than a not very funny joke.

From his autobiography, that I recommend very much. Nicely written and candid. Amazing life.

It is some serious privilege to be able to disrespect something that allows you to live the life you live. It also shows a pretty serious lack of conviction and integrity to “ban” a certain kind of music, just because of its association with minorities.

The act of dancing has never ever been the same since those Disco Sucks days. It’s a loss.

The more I read about that moment in time, the less I get it, the more I understand.

Keep your music offline

Monday, March 25th, 2019

MySpace just lost 12 years worth of music. It’s quite unprecedented. It’s also scary and sad. There probably was some excellent stuff in those 50 million songs from 14 million artists.

I’ve always been on the fence with uploading my music to services. I am slowly getting back to sharing directly. I don’t trust any of the services we have out there. Even when paying. Even when they’re big.

MySpace used to be gigantic. It is now clear that those companies don’t care for a second about people’s creations.

Peter has a great comment:

This isn’t just about individual backups, but the larger question of how digital music is distributed archived in our society. And reflecting on this it’s actually pretty stunning to me how far *backwards* we’ve gone.

Just a few things to consider:

1. While P2P stuff like torrent and Napster may have been illegal, one thing about distributing music that way is that the content then exists more than one place. By comparison, corporate consolidation means we have very little real redundancy. With or without the blockchain business, *any* distributed scheme for content would work very differently.

2. This isn’t just about data reliability, either – it’s also about uptime. If we’re overly dependent on one provider, like Facebook, an outage or your government deciding to put up a firewall or that provider false flagging a copyright claim – any of those things can be utterly devastating, say, if you’re an independent artist/label trying to make a release date work.

3. There’s no library. When I got started, I was advised to register copyright for my scores to the US government, and eventually audio, too. That means the US Library of Congress archives those works and makes them available to researchers and so on. Not to mention, I grew up checking out tapes and CDs from the local library. Now this ‘cloud’ business means things are lost and inaccessible.

I could go on. Backups are important, but a backup isn’t a public archive, which is why the Internet Archive reference is relevant.

Creators are careless and consumers have no sense of legacy or continuation anymore. A pretty awful equation.

R-Kel

Monday, January 7th, 2019

Watched the whole thing.

I didn’t really want to because of the added drama (music and edits). It grosses me out but Twitter being so loud, I watched.

It’s a story about not listening. The music industry is well known for being abusive towards women.

It’s a story about corruption of the mind, and greed. People will do anything to get “the bag” (more like amenities and plane tickets) while they agree to give up their souls, their integrity and their bodies. Fans and fandom are terrible things, they will make you do things you wouldn’t do otherwise. Like believe that a trial for child pornography doesn’t mean anything or that a jury’s decision is the truth. And then you regret.

It’s not a new story. I always think about Marvin Gaye because he got a pass. He still was a piece of shit, who at 33 started to date a 17 year old foster girl that he abused and tortured for years. That story never really came out. She wrote a book about it. No one has ever tarnished Marvin’s legacy with this horrendous fact. I only heard about it very recently, in the past few years. It’s still a fact. He was “lucky” that it happened in the 70s and 80s and that of course, he died before today’s world.

Yes, in the society we’re living in money buys anything, anyone, all the time. The delusion that people will never trespass some principles like trust is naïve yet understandable. Thinking that a teenager is telling you the truth, for important matter, is not being responsible even though you think you are.

I’m amazed at what music can do. These black girls and women fans were not believing these black girls and women over there. Music brings so much to one’s self that we deny anything that goes against it. Music is sorcery.

Hopefully everyone in those stories can heal. Stop buying his music goddamn.

Aretha

Saturday, August 18th, 2018

Gone. It was going to happen. It always will happen. Death is coming to all of us.

But there’s this really haunting thought about performers and musicians of the generation of Aretha: they created everything we’re building new music on. They created everything we’re using in our software. And they’re about to leave this earth.

It’s so bizarre. I’m still processing Prince’s as what would he be doing these days. George Duke, my god. It’s just unreal how much stellar musicianship there is with just those two artists. All the feelings in the world expressed in a dozen of musical styles from pop to hardcore free jazz. There are a few dozens of those artists and they will pass in the next decade or so.

All of them.

It’s just going to be a massive extinction of very high quality craftsmanship in music.

We know that music has become such a a commodity that stars these days are more about charisma than talent. The public has accepted that. The music industry has become a LaCroix dispenser for the past twenty years. You (want to) believe it tastes something. Even more so in the past five years. Everything sounds the same, everyone is using the exact same machines. We forget about tracks and it doesn’t even matter, a new one pops out with the same chords. It’s not right or wrong, it’s ultra-efficient.

And music, although doing well with efficiency –great pop music is universally loved-, is larger than that. A whole lot wider.

Azealia

Saturday, July 7th, 2018

I think she’s amazing and I’d totally love to produce some tracks for her.

There’s something rare about miss Banks: she’s pure intersection. At times bad bitch, at times cute naïve girl. She innovates and next second she’s timeless and classic. The mix of house, hip-hop R&B and garage punk is hers. She masters that shit. She has her own way of eating words, changing her accent, inventing meaning and breaking lyrics convention while empowering and dissing over dance music. It’s overwhelming, dense and I love it.

I feel her when they compare other acts to her energy and skills: please don’t? She’s artistically way better.

Her social media stuff? Whatever. Social media is about getting engagement and lights on you too. And there’s the circus of media engaging people over what the “crazy” Harlem artist said, profiting. Read about Marvin Gaye’s late personal life and see if you can still hum his stuff.

What’s a bit annoying to me is her output is scattered. Some producers don’t get her and the track will be OK but not bang. The all remix/EP then album re-using some tracks from those, that’s annoying. It’s hard to make consistent albums though. And, it’s probably hard to keep a direction with a multi-faceted talent like Azealia. But also, labels and contracts. That shit is crazy and will delay and water down your output.

Treasure Island, her last single, is dope af.

Bellabass

Thursday, June 14th, 2018

Composed and recorded in one quick shot. Best to listen to it in a calm environment at low volume.

Close your eyes.

Betty Davis

Saturday, May 26th, 2018

There’s a documentary out this year about her.

Betty’s music has been on regular rotation in my life since the early 2000.

I have the hardest time to swallow the fact that Miles Davis abused her. She transformed him, Miles, one of the most important musician ever. She introduced him to Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone music. He beat her up.

The music industry beat her up closed the door on her. Too carefree. Not pop enough. Whatever.

Her music is good. Sometimes absolutely great. Her presence on stage looks like you needed a whole fire department next to the building, ready to hose it down.

Her artistic and production choices were on point. She and her collaborators really had her sound. Big Ass Drums. Growling Bass. Dynamic. I’ll always imagine what she could have done later on.

She truly doesn’t give a fuck. She didn’t disappear to be found. No one really knew anything about her life for decades. Now older, she is ready to tell her story.

If you read this Betty, I love you. You’re the best. You’re the inspiration for many, many things and people. Thank you.

I am Charlie Wilson

Sunday, March 11th, 2018

I had always wondered why the GAP Band was in this weird zone, universally praised and known while being completely obscure and different.

I had always wondered why so many of those grooves and amazing anthems sounded so similar.

All the answers are in his book. I read it months ago and it still makes me sad. They got robbed. They got pissed. Brotherhood might not be what you think it is.

The GAP (standing for Greenwood, Archer and Pine, where the Tulsa riots happened) Band is huge. Charlie’s voice’s enthusiasm is unmatchable. I feel him when he talks about learning music and how he was fascinated by harmony while teachers were telling him to focus on melody. I had the same shit happening to me when I learned piano. Stacked notes over sequences of notes any day, I don’t care.

I’m glad you’re at peace now man. Thank you for the absolute bangers you guys created and thank you for writing it all down, uncle Charlie.

On that music and Mars thing

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

The Grapevine. IS BRUNO MARS A CULTURAL APPROPRIATOR?

I mean, yeah. He’s one of the best-selling artist of all times already. It’s not just that he’s known. He’s making mad money and started by impersonating Elvis, the dude who stole black people’s moves and music. Patterns.

That’s how music business works. Music sells primarily to white people, in a much bigger volume to white people. Since about the 40s so it’s been a while.

For this reason, artists need to cater to that market. And there’s nothing better to cater than to look alike, especially since videos are how the word spreads out (and the reason why I don’t like them: music is about listening, fuck watching).

It’s no coincidence if Rihanna and Beyoncé are not dark skin women. That Drake is very white. The Wknd. That Bruno is even whiter. There is an absurd amount of talented black artists who were/are too black for TV. It all started to really hurts with the rise of MTV almost 40 years ago.

So many originators of black music –that is being used in various ways in ALL pop music- have never been heard or seen. I dig them online, listen to their music, find their pictures and love them. Music will always be more important than faces.

I think that’s the core argument: most black artists were making their own shit, creating their lanes. Trying things out. On the last Prince’s album he toys with house music and dubstep, but it’s still a Prince song with his guitar licks and ways of arranging horns and keyboards. MJ’s Bad album is fucking unique in so many ways. You can recognize a GAP Band groove from miles away.

Bruno copy/paste shit and says shout out to the OGs. It’s a different vibe. But yeah the song 24 Magic slaps and it’s annoying. It itches.

The worst part is that this entire appropriation phenomenon makes black people hate their black skin when their black skin is perfectly fine. Black skin is a symbol of creating timeless music genres and songs. Be proud of it.