June 22, 2015

Taylor Swift uses her power for the good of musicians everywhere, but the fans have to act if real change is to take place

By now I am sure you heard yesterday Taylor Swift posted an "open letter" to Apple about their upcoming streaming music service. In summary, Apple Music will rival Spotify and for around $10 a month you will get unlimited streaming access to most of the popular music in the Western world. Apple Music supposedly will give artists a little bit more per stream than Spotify does, but this compensation will still really only be pennies (or fractions of pennies). I have said before I think Spotify is the devil, but maybe all streaming music is the devil?

Screenshot of Taylor Swift's Tumblr


One of the promotions Apple was going to offer was that their new service would be free for three months. Which meant that for three months the artists whose music was being streamed would not be compensated. This would be especially damaging to any artist that was releasing new music during that three month time period.

This sickened me, and thankfully Taylor Swift had the same reaction. But Taylor Swift actually has a voice because she is the most popular musician in the world right now. So unlike the 100 people that will read this post, thousands read her letter (edit: a few hundred people have read this now).

Swift does not allow her music on Spotify, which is a decision I have praised previously. Essentially what that means is that you have to buy her albums in full, either on iTunes, Amazon, etc. and either as digital downloads or in physical format. I actually bought 1989 as both a digital download (pre-ordered), and then later I bought it again on vinyl because the album is that good.

In her Father's Day letter Swift told Apple that if they did not compensate artists during that three month period, she would not allow her music on their new service. Well, Taylor is queen, and so less than 24 hours later Apple responded. Apparently the three month free trial will continue, but now Apple will compensate artists for streams (here is Apple's official response). Once again, this compensation is negligible and in no way would allow a musician to make a living off their art unless they are Taylor Swift. (Even Swift explained in her letter that her primary income is from touring, not from album sales. But even with her sales I am sure she would be very wealthy.)

Now I assume Swift plans to allow her music on Apple Music, yet still not on Spotify. Unless Apple's artist compensation model is MUCH better than Spotify's, this seems hypocritical to me. If Swift really opposes streaming music services (with negligible artist-payout models), then she should boycott ALL of them. Swift and I see eye to eye on Spotify being the devil, but does she share my new expanded music that all streaming music is the devil?

(To try and understand how much artists make on streams, start here. I put up this chart on my blog in 2011 to help explain, and a new version of the chart was published in April and can be seen on the left below. To see the full size version follow the link to the original website.)

Swift is not the only popular artist who has boycotted Spotify. Radiohead has also kept some of their music (All of their music? I don't even know because I refuse to create a Spotify account) off the service for the same reasons. Not only do they object to the model industry-wide, they want fans to buy their music directly from them. This is the band that self-released an album online and you could literally pay whatever you wanted to the band to download it in 2007. They made millions of dollars off this model and got 100% of the profits. Of course, it was their 7th album and they were arguably the most popular rock band in the world when they pulled off this experiment.

Now, part of me wants Taylor Swift, Radiohead, and all of the popular artists in the world to boycott all streaming music. Like has been discussed, this is not how these artists are making their living, and their is no reason for them to use these extra services. If Taylor Swift were to only sell her music on her website, everyone would go there to get it. If hundreds of artists pulled their music from Spotify and Apple Music, eventually these services would no longer exist because consumers wouldn't subscribe. However, there is a much better solution to this problem.

The problem is not with the musicians; it is with us: the fans and consumers. We are lazy and cheap. What is music worth? What is one song worth? What is an album of 10 songs worth? Those questions have been answered for decades by record labels and the industry, and if we allow those entities to continue to determine the value of music, it is going to be worth less and less because the labels and industry are pouring all their resources into streaming services.

Now, here is where the problem starts. We are cheap, so we want cheap music. If we can pay $5-10 a month to a streaming service and have access to everything we want to listen to, we do it. But, we have to stop. Because if we don't start paying the artists more (or any) money, eventually there will no longer be very many artists around to give money to. (And actually, I know plenty of people that listen just about all the music in the world on a free streaming music service. What free streaming music service? It's called YouTube and is that really large pink circle at the bottom of the infographic to the left.)

When you pay a monthly subscription fee to a streaming service, you are paying for the convenience, not for the music. It is simple for you and all the music is in the same place. But you are not paying for the art, as there are many other ways to listen to that same music. The money you pay, for the most part, is going to the service or a record label.

99.99% of your subscription fee is going to a corporation of some kind. And the minuscule percentage that is left over is so small that some artists would rather you steal the music or just use YouTube to listen because that way at least the corporations aren't getting the bulk of your money. Derek Webb, musician and founder/owner of NoiseTrade, has publicly stated he would rather you illegally download his music for free than subscribe to Spotify.

NoiseTrade is an interesting model because you can legally download music for free by providing your ZIP code and email address. You have the option to "pay what you want", and this money goes almost entirely to the artist or to a charity they have chosen. However, as Derek Webb has explained, you should not feel guilty for entering a "0" in the donation box because your location and contact information is very valuable to the artist. Derek Webb, like Taylor Swift, makes most of his money off touring and playing his songs live, not selling albums.

However, artists can make money off selling albums. But they key is us fans and consumers buying, not streaming, the albums in full. There are lots of ways to do this. The best way out there right now--for both fans and musicians-- is Bandcamp.

Bandcamp provides a variety of services to artists, but essentially it is a store front for buying music. Primarily it is a way to buy digital music, but artists can also sell their physical music on the site, such as vinyl or CD's. But, what makes it special, is that it also provides streaming services based on the artists' preference. Meaning that each musician on Bandcamp can select how many of their songs you can stream (sometimes maybe 3 of the 10 tracks), and they can select how many streams you get. For example, recently I discovered a new band on Bandcamp and I was able to stream the album three times for free and then I either had to stop, or pay for it as a digital download. I payed the $8 and downloaded the music.

Why is this all so important to me? Because most of the music I listen to is not Taylor Swift or Radiohead. While I like both those artists and own digital downloads, CDs, and vinyl records from both Swift and Radiohead, most of the musicians I listen to are indie or underground. I buy albums from musicians I like because I want them to make more music. If an independent artist had to rely on streaming services to make money, they wouldn't. And then they would stop making music. (Recently one of my favorite bands of all time made a 5th album ONLY because 250 fans gave them money to do so; and this is not an isolated incident.)

Why else do I care? Because I love music and I find great value in it. I think a great song is worth at least one dollar. I think a great album is worth at least ten. If an album really connects with me, I have no problem paying $20 or more for the vinyl release because it is WORTH it.

We as fans and consumers have the ability determine the value of music, not the corporations. If music is worth nothing to you, then continue to use a streaming service. If do you think it has value, and if you do think a musician deserves to make some money off their art, start here:

1. Cancel your Spotify subscription. After all, Spotify is the devil.

2. Don't subscribe to Apple Music (and don't use the free trial). (There is an opposing view that Apple Music will be good for indie artists. However, most are recommending indie artists not sign up for it.).

3. Use YouTube and Pandora only to sample music, not as your primary methods of listening. Honestly I wish YouTube would just stay a VIDEO service and remove all the music on their site that isn't from live videos from concerts or music videos. I haven't even really mentioned Pandora here, because you can't stream full albums thankfully. But the same rule applies: if you like something you hear, find a way to pay the artist directly...

4. Start using Bandcamp and figure out which artists you like are on it. If they artist isn't on Bandcamp head over to Soundcloud because at least there you can preview full songs rather than the clips on iTunes or Amazon.

5. After you discover music you like, commit to buy the WHOLE ALBUM. Bandcamp or the artist's website is preferred, because they get most all the profit.

6. If the methods in step 6 don't work, use a larger retailer like Amazon or iTunes, and buy the full album; either as a digital download, CD (sometimes the same price as the digital download, plus you get the artwork, which is hopefully great) or vinyl.

7. Go back in time (pre-2000) and go to an awesome record store and buy CDs, cassettes, or vinyl records. Actually, stores like this still exist! Here is the best one I am aware of.

8. Go to a concert and buy merch! This is by far the best way to support an artist. I discuss this in much more detail here.

July 23 update: After discussing this post with many, I do think there is one way Spotify, Apple Music, etc. could work. I mentioned it briefly when describing Bandcamp; the key is for those services to limit the number of streams per song. For example, after you have streamed a song 2-3 times, I think it should be "blocked", meaning the only way to listen to the song again would be to buy it. These services of course aren't going to do that, so how about you try it yourself? If you use Spotify or Apple Music, and if you listen to a song or album twice or more and enjoy it, take this challenge: BUY IT!





June 10, 2015

New Mates of State EP, "You're Going to Make It", streaming in full

No surprise, the EP is excellent, but it leaves me yearning for more. Mates of State made a statement a few months ago that they would only be doing EPs for the rest of their career, which is a TERRIBLE idea. Honestly I would rather wait another year or two for an LP, than have EPs more frequently. Thankfully, Rumperbutts, the Mates of State feature film was just released, and can be watched on iTunes or Amazon. I haven't seen it yet, but plan to rent or buy it soon. The soundtrack is 12 tracks, most of which are new, original Mates of State tunes, releases on July 10 and can also be found on iTunes and Amazon for $8.99.

June 2, 2015

Bully; and thoughts on female-fronted rock bands

I briefly mentioned the band Bully in February as a part of a post about all the great female-fronted rock bands I have discovered in 2015. I read an interesting article about Bully this morning, and as their debut album approaches on June 23, here is a video about their band:



I have read in countless interviews that female musicians hate to be classified by their gender, and that is understandable. However, I can't help it.  I LOVE the sound of female vocals, and I personally classify female vocals as genre in my head and have done so for decades (despite the diversity of styles and sounds within that grouping). My February blog post got me thinking, and I eventually created three mixes, all with female vocals: the 90's, the 00's, and the 10's. It resulted in 65 total songs.

I listened to all three mixes in one day as I drove from Kandern to Frankfurt and back. I made some fascinating discoveries, and I apologize in advance if these are over-generalizations (some definitely are). Number one, there was an aggression found in female-fronted rock in the early 90's that was lost for almost 15 years. It wasn't until the past couple years that aggression and intensity returned, and Bully is a perfect example. Other recent examples are Speedy Ortiz and Cayetana.

Another discovery is that 90's bands with female vocals were primarily a bunch of guys with a girl singer. There are exceptions of course (Veruca Salt, That Dog), but SO many of those 90's bands (Sixpence None the Richer, Dakoda Motor Co.) the girls just sang. I have no problem with that, because I love their music no matter what the roles of the band members are. I recently wrote an article about two female-fronted rock bands that had a huge impact on me in the 90's:

Fleming & John’s ‘Delusions of Grandeur’ and Hoi Polloi’s ‘Happy Ever After’

In the 00's women seemingly began fronting bands more often--meaning not only did they sing--they wrote the songs, played guitar, etc. (Tegan & Sara, Eisley, Rilo Kiley). But as I mentioned, these bands were "clean" and "slick." Once again, I don't have a problem with that, as I love their music and the "prettiness" of some female-fronted music is undeniable and awesome. And a lot of this was just the style of the decade.

But now in the 10's we have both the aggression, intensity, and female leadership. Alicia Bognanno (Bully), Sadie Dupuis (Speedy Ortiz), and Augusta Koch (Cayetana) write the songs, play the guitar, sing lead vocals, and sometimes produce and record the music itself- and it is INTENSE:



Finally, using my iTunes as a database, I created a playlist of 70 female-fronted (or solo) rock artists that I love, and that I am forming my opinions with. So when I talk about loving female vocals, this is my point of reference. There is at least one album from every year from 1991 to the present, and no artist is listed more than once. (Sorry about the formatting; struggling to find the best way of getting the data out of iTunes into a post.)

If you have any recommendations on artists I am missing and unaware of, please comment!

My Bloody Valentine Loveless Blown A Wish 1991
Curve Doppelgänger Wish You Dead 1992
The Cranberries Everybody Else Is Doing It So Why Can't We? Dreams 1993
Dakoda Motor Co. Welcome Race Fans Alive 1994
Letters To Cleo Aurora Gory Alice Here & Now 1994
Veruca Salt American Thighs Seether 1994
Fleming & John Delusions Of Grandeur I'm Not Afraid 1995
Hoi Polloi Happy Ever After Tiptoe 1995
The Innocence Mission Glow Speak Our Minds 1995
No Doubt Tragic Kingdom Sunday Morning 1995
Raspberry Jam Oceanic Can I 1995
Sixpence None the Richer This Beautiful Mess Love, Salvation, The Fear Of Death 1995
Tess Wiley Splendora- Bootleg Pre-Release Version Skinny Little Line 1995
Aleixa Honey Lake Whirling Within 1996
Morella's Forest Ultraphonic Hiss Silver Syrup 1996
Jejune Junk Radical Firepower 1997
Jill Sobule Happy Town Bitter 1997
That Dog Retreat From The Sun (GBG Deluxe Edition) Never Say Never 1997
Velour 100 Of Color Bright Clouds 1997
The Cardigans Gran Turismo Hanging Around 1998
Hole Celebrity Skin Awful 1998
K's Choice Cocoon Crash Believe 1998
Plumb Candycoatedwaterdrops Damaged 1999
Ashen No Other Comfort Autopilot 2000
Over the Rhine Films For Radio Give Me Strength 2001
The Anniversary Your Majesty Devil On My Side 2002
Halo Friendlies Get Real Milwaukee 2002
Mates of State Our Constant Concern 10 Years Later 2002
The Reputation The Reputation The Stars Of Amateur Hour 2002
Rilo Kiley The Execution Of All Things Spectacular Views 2002
Rocking Horse Winner Horizon Orange Blossom 2002
Brown Feather Sparrow Wide Awakens Everything A Box Of Spring 2003
Cat Power You Are Free Free 2003
Evanescence Fallen Imaginary 2003
The New Pornographers Electric Version All For Swinging You Around 2003
Pretty Girls Make Graves The New Romance Something Bigger, Something Brighter 2003
Tegan & Sara So Jealous Speak Slow 2004
Cruiserweight Sweet Weaponry Goodbye Daily Sadness 2005
Sarah Hepburn Stars and Haze Hey…OK! 2005
Sleater-Kinney The Woods Entertain 2005
Headlights Kill Them With Kindness Put Us Back Together Right 2006
Rainer Maria Catastrophe Keeps Us Together Life of Leisure 2006
Great Northern Trading Twilight for Daylight Our Bleeding Hearts 2007
Via Audio Say Something Say Something Say Something We Can Be Good 2007
The Bridges Limits of the sky Pieces 2008
Juliana Hatfield How to Walk Away The Fact Remains 2008
Thao We Brave Bee Stings and All Swimming Pools 2008
Camera Obscura My Maudlin Career French Navy 2009
Best Coast Crazy For You Boyfriend 2010
Eisley The Valley Watch It Die 2011
Gemma Hayes Let It Break There's Only Love 2012
Hospitality Hospitality Friends Of Friends 2012
Lana Del Rey Born To Die Off To The Races 2012
Metric Synthetica Youth Without Youth 2012
Sarah Jaffe The Body Wins Glorified High 2012
Sleigh Bells Reign of Terror Crush 2012
CHVRCHES The Bones Of What You Believe Gun 2013
Echosmith Talking Dreams Come With Me 2013
Haim Days Are Gone If I Could Change Your Mind 2013
Alvvays Alvvays Archie, Marry Me 2014
The Casket Girls True Love Kills the Fairy Tale Ashes & Embers 2014
Cayetana Nervous Like Me Serious Things Are Stupid 2014
Haley Bonar Last War Bad Reputation 2014
Stars No One Is Lost Are You OK? 2014
Stranger Kings Stranger Kings All Of Everything 2014
Vekora Vekora Back For Lapse 2014
Bandit Of Life Losing In A Sense 2015
Bully Feels Like I Remember 2015
Football, etc. Disappear 7" Sunday 2015
Speedy Ortiz Foil Deer Puffer 2015

June 1, 2015

Thrice coming to the UK

So I'm still pretty pumped about Thrice's return, and even though I have seen them live 3 times, I can't stop watching YouTube videos of recent performances. Here is a great one...

 

I listened to the Alchemy Index recently, and while it has always been my #1 Thrice release because of it's diversity and length (24 songs!) it never quite hit me that the songs on the Fire EP are definitively the heaviest, most brutal songs Thrice has ever recorded. My hope and dream is that when Thrice gets in the studio again they record the hardest album they have ever done. Dustin has his solo career to do the more melodic stuff, so maybe he can release some angst and aggression through Thrice. I am sure his bandmates wouldn't mind.

This morning I began researching Hevy Fest, which is in the UK in August. There are a number of other bands I would also like to see, and I haven't been to a festival of any kind since 2007.


It is only about an 8 hour drive from my corner of Germany, but it would be significantly cheaper to fly. I found flights through Ryan Air and EasyJet for less than $60 round-trip, while that is what it costs to send my car through the Chunnel ONE WAY. So if I go, flying will definitely be the best route. Anyway, fun to think about, and maybe I'll be able to see Thrice again in 2 months.