It’s been an amazing few years writing content on this site, but it’s time to take it to the next level. Beginning this week, I’ll be blasting out a brief email (and may come back here to post some deep dives into artists) with a simple format:
four emerging songs + an artist spotlight
I’m constantly asked about the best songs / artists that haven’t hit mainstream yet. This letter will be the forum to expose those artists, and share content around the world.
I get why Tidal is ‘good’ for artists – cut out the middle man, own your content (well, at least it’s good for the established artists anyway). But I’m still at a loss as to what the consumer proposition of Tidal actually is? Where is the value to the consumer? Better sound quality…huh? Would love to see some examples of direct to consumer models (where the ‘disrupting’ companies weren’t that different from competitors) that START right off the bat with a subscription model. Yes, iTunes started with subscriptions, but I’d argue they had a stickiness factor for a time with the iPod…that is, before streaming services made the music listening process even easier/convenient. Artists can complain all they want about the middleman, but arguably, it’s the consumer way of thought that matters. Just confused as to why Tidal doesn’t build /scale its subscriber base first (i.e. offer the service for free, unlimited), before going after the direct revenues.
That said, when everyone is complaining about your startup, but paying attention at the same time…perhaps that’s the affirmation you need to believe you’ve got something special.
Today’s post features a musician on tour right now that you may have heard of: Stevie Wonder. Not to be too dramatic here, but I think seeing Stevie Wonder in concert should be at the top of the bucket list for anyone who appreciates music and the powerful impact it can have on the world. There is little debate that Stevie will go down as one of the greatest musicians of all time…but it’s not just his gift for music that he’ll be remembered for; he’ll also (and perhaps moreso) be remembered for his heart.
I had the pleasure of seeing him in concert. While he often deviated from the intense Songs in the Key of Lifealbum that the tour is based on, his speeches about love, “hate no one,” justice and equality reverberated around the stadium, and I hope it continues to penetrate the world. In particular, he sang the below song – “If It’s Magic,” with the background harp played by Dorothy Ashby who died of cancer at the tender age of 55.
Stevie Wonder is one of those artists that takes you into another place and another time when he sings. He has an incredible gift that cannot be duplicated.
It’s interesting to see the amount of streaming services coming to the market this year – particularly led by the support of the musicians themselves. Feels like it was just yesterday when artists were complaining about streaming / unlimited subscription fees, doesn’t it?
As outlined by the Atlantic, several subscription services are hitting the market that may change the industry…
The latest is Jay Z’s Tidal, announced a week ago with a splashy press conference involving some of today’s most popular musicians. In the coming months, Google will take its YouTube Music Key service out of beta and Apple will put on an ambitious relaunch of Beats Music.
Right. So that’s three huge market disruptors arriving in the space of one year. More competition means more choices for consumers, but possibly more confusion…
In an interview with Billboard, Jay Z made clear that Jimmy Iovine, the legendary record executive who now works with Apple, had been competing with Tidal for celebrity-musician endorsements. This might explain why big names like Taylor Swift and Drake didn’t join their friends Nicki Minaj and Madonna at last week’s press conference; it’s possible they’re aligned with Beats instead.
So what do you do? Go for Taylor or Nicki? (Nicki clearly) …should consumers have to make a choice? My view is that there is a fundamental problem with artists shifting from one platform to another. Artists themselves are the product being sold (yes, artists are a product, a brand, an image defined by the work they create…) I’m all for giving artists power over their work, but it seems they are indirectly about to engage in a competition with one another. And in truth, I’m not down with doing an easter egg hunt to try to listen to my favorite ones.
Then again, maybe there’s another issue here. The last line of the article puts it well…
When artists lament Spotify’s meager payouts, the real culprit isn’t the streaming service, which pays out 70 percent of its revenue to labels and musicians—it’s the fact that streaming doesn’t make a whole lot of revenue to begin with. The most likely way for that to change is for there to be more paying users in the system. So if the golden age of simplicity for streaming’s early adopters is coming to an end, the health of the music industry might be worth it.
What will it take to get more users to pay for streaming services? There are people dropping close to $1000 at Coachella…I’m struggling to believe that the price of streaming really the problem. Maybe it’s just the experience? Perhaps people do want to support artists, who often get paid a lot more doing shows than making albums. Paying Spotify / Pandora just feels distant…like paying for the convenience of using a big machine.
my friend is hosting an awesome event series titled Art We All (Human) at 3:15 pm EST today (update: it will be hosted every week). Details below. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like the location
Art We All (Human) is an inter-genre collective of millenial artists looking to use the power of artistic expression to activate social change and challenge the status quo. In a salon setting, artists meet to discuss and deconstruct notions of power and privilege, and then use collective energy to create fluid, conscious art.
Rules of Engagement
Open minds build movements
No bigotry, no hatred, no subversive power plays. We are all here to make something beautiful, and can only do that in a space where we all feel free.
YOUR truth, not THE truth
This is space where vulnerability and honesty are inextricable from the final product. Speak your truth to the extent that you are comfortable, but please don’t take it upon yourself to make that normative.
Embrace the Awkward
We will always open our space to new voices. Embrace the awkward conversations, talk to the new guy – everyone in the space has a gift to give.
This is a project centered on the creative commons. The work we do is the product/journey of the collective, and we will always come back to the commons as a locus of self. So, be self-aware and self-interested but never self-ish. If one of us wins, we all will – this is not about a profit margin.
By the people, for the people, of the people
The art will always speak to whatever moves those in the room, but the responsibility of the collective will always be to the community.
Do you have any questions after this?
Is it too wishy-washy?
How it Works
a) 15 artists are invited at random, from a larger cohort of 30-45 artists
Every quarter, there will be a larger, open session with an open mic component
c) Each session will have a theme, all participants will be advised of it before the session in an invitation email
d) Each session will have a different facilitator from the group – keeps it honest/non-hierarchical (first few will be me, once we have a reliable amount of people involved I will hand it over)
[is this naïve? Should I retain control? Very anti-hierarchical spaces but it needs to work, every time]
e) Each session will be documented in some way – photographer, visual artist, videographer, writer etc (appointed in the email)
Each session will last three hours, comprised of the following
Free thought exercise (20 minutes)
All attendees will be asked to provide a statement around the theme (can be a line of song, small picture, actual line, line of poetry, whatever) – theme will be put up on the board and the other items will surround it (20 minutes)
Introductions (15 minutes)
Name, craft of choice
Updates + Theme (55 minutes)
Participants update the group on current projects/projects from the last session
Space for participants to vocalize what they’re looking for in the space
Participants can talk about their feelings on the theme/issues that have come up with existing projects in a group setting
Studio Session (1 hour)
Break away from the group into individual/studio sessions (people can do what they want, work together in groups from the last time)
The Come-Down (30 minutes)
Take someone’s initial thought/experience from the beginning and use it to express where you are now.
Follow up email called the After Thought (circulated a few days after the meeting)
Provide the dropbox link to the group (will contain whatever the documentarian has chosen to create to honor the session)
Provide a dope quote/video/picture to the group
Provide the contact list for everyone in attendance so attendees can follow up if needed
Allow participants to opt-in a referral (invite someone to come to the next one)
Why do record labels still make money today? In fact, why do they even exist? Technically, they are the ‘middle man’ – the man that delivers the artist’s content to the consumer. And technically, this role has become obsolete in the third wave of the tech revolution.
Think about it. The first wave of the tech revolution was PC/desktop internet (1Billion users); the second was mobile (2B); and the third is the Internet of Things, or IoT (IoT refers to the billions of robots making our lives easier…wearables, Nest thermostat, autonomous cars, precision agriculture, etc.).
Industry analysts estimate that ~30B of devices will be wirelessly connected to the IoT by 2020. That’s a lot of devices, especially for a world suffering from mobile addiction, and it will ultimately change how people consume everything.
So let’s discuss why this is this important for music. We’ve previously walked through how streaming (which was and is being facilitated by the second wave of the tech revolution – mobile), has altered the way that consumers listen to music. This has in turn altered the way artists deliver music. Artists no longer have to beg a radio station to play their track, or stand outside of a record label trying to prove their ‘dedication.’ They can simply build a fan base online, that – if it grows big enough – will ultimately get them a record deal.
The great thing about music is that it penetrates every part of our lives. Whether you listen to music on a road trip with friends, fall in love with the soundtrack to a movie, or listen the performance of a breakthrough artist on a TV show. I thought about this after watching the Saturday Night Live 40 year anniversary show. From the very beginning, the team has included musical performances as a part of the show, speaking to how important music is in the world of entertainment. Village Voice recently ranked Saturday night Live’s Forty Essential Music Moments, Continue reading →
Somewhere somebody must have some sense. Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love.
–Martin Luther King Jr., “Loving Your Enemies Speech”, Nov. 7, 1957
In honor of MLK Day 2015, today’s Case of the Mondays post features four songs that were written and performed in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Some of these were written to advocate for establishing MLK Day as a national holiday, and provide yet another example of how music continues to influence and create our history.
Stevie Wonder – Happy Birthday, 1981
Stevie Wonder was very involved in the fight for making MLK Day as a national holiday. “Happy Birthday” was a popular song he used to garner support for his campaign. The song was released in 1981, and Reagan signed the holiday into existence in 1983.
Public Enemy – By the Time I Get to Arizona, 1991
This song was written by Public Enemy’s Chuck D as a direct reply to Arizona officials, including John McCain and Fife Symington, for rejecting the federal holiday celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.
Nina Simone – Why? (The King of Love is Dead), 1968
Recorded on April 7, 1968, live three days after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and performed at the Westbury Music Fair. Nina Simone dedicated her performance to King’s memory.
U2 – Pride in the Name of Love
“Early morning, April 4/Shot rings out in the Memphis sky/Free at last, they took your life/They could not take your pride.” – U2
And I would be remiss if I did not send a Happy belated birthday to Aaliyah, who would have turned 36 this year. Frank Ocean posted an incredible cover of her song “At Your Best” (originally by the Isley Brother’s) on Saturday. Check it out on his tumblr.
Happy 2015 everyone! New year, new beginnings means…
we will all try to lose weight for a few days before giving up.
BUT it also means new music. If you’re like me, you’re tired of playing the same songs on Spotify to cure your “sickness.” And you’re hoping for something fresh, because seriously, you don’t really want to be like Kanye. SO hip-hop junkies, music fest addicts, anti-Grammy category advocates, people who appreciate realness, and really just love to hear everything before the world does (*takes deep breath*) will ALL love this list of top 10 artists to watch in 2015:
“If Sia, Miley, and Rihanna had a vocal baby, Kat Dahlia’s voice would be it”
It’s been a long road for Kat Dahlia and her fans, but after two years of anticipation, her album MyGarden will finally be released on January 13, 2015. A pseudocyst found on her vocal cord was the reason Dahlia was forced to take a musical hiatus, cancelling her first US headlining tour, a series of club dates in key cities on the East Coast, and delaying the spring 2014 release of her album. Since then however, she’s fully recovered, and notably, has penned every song on the album (including one in Spanish) with the exception of “Crazy”. If you want to hop on the bandwagon before everyone else, check out her music videos “Gangsta” (below) and “Crazy.” And take a listen to her album which was just released to be streamed on NPR yesterday (you’re welcome).
Raury is an 18-year old Atlanta native whose music has been compared with the likes of Andre 3000, Bon Iver and Kid Cudi. He dropped his debut project Indigo Child at the end of August, and has already impressed Kanye West. Similar to an artist like Lorde, his sound doesn’t exactly fit into a genre. And quite frankly, that’s what makes him interesting. While some of his lyrics still encompass the marks of a teenager with room to grow, 2015 could be a year he breaks out into the mainstream.
I’ve been waiting, I’ve been sitting thinking ’bout this situation / Like I’m MLK, I’m speaking out against the segregation
I can make it through the gate and open it for all my brethren / I don’t mean to ruffle feathers, n*ggas talkin’, b*tches hatin’
Contemplatin’ every single move you make and study you / Ready boo, n*ggas go through Earth and Hell and Heaven for a story based on Raury / Far important tryin’ to force me to a category
Chet Faker is one of those artists that makes you wonder if the Grammy’s should get rid of music categories altogether. He’s a 22 year old Australian that hails from a set of parents who had different tastes in music, which ultimately shaped his own. “My mum was listening to a lot of Motown…” he describes in one interview, “I think that’s where I got my love for a good hook, a good soul hook…and then my dad would listen to the chilled out Ibiza CDs; all that super down tempo female vocal kind of stuff.” While his real name is Nick Murphy, Chet says his stage name is an ode to Chet Baker and the mood of music he used to play. So who knows what we’re dealing with here…a Motown-EDM infused genre? Either way, it’s fascinating, and his “No Diggity” cover truly speaks to the changing times. He’s popular in Australia, but let’s see if he gains some traction in the US in 2015.
HiFadility is an artist that you must watch out for in 2015. He’s a classically trained jazz pianist whose projects blend the genres of electronic and hip hop that oftentimes, will paint a landscape in your head that you can’t describe to someone else. Unsurprisingly, his accolades are countless, from winning Boston’s Next Hot Music Producer Competition in March 2014, to displaying his avant garde jazz and hip hop sound at the Museum of African American history in 2014 for a standing ovation. What makes him especially exciting this year however, is the new project he is set to release in March titled “The Queens”. I’ll let the music speak for itself rather than go into details about the meaning here, but trust, it will be worth listening to.
In about a week Tink will celebrate her 20th birthday, and the Chicago-hailed singer/rapper/songwriter will have a lot to toast about. She recently released her second mixtape, Winter’s Diary 2 and has a Timbaland-produced album on the way. In fact, Timbaland compares Tink to Lauryn Hill, and while that remains to be seen she does seem like the real deal. In an interview last year, the artist voiced her opinion on hip-hop: “People expect us, female rappers, to just talk about bullshit [or] sex. People stereotype female rappers a whole lot. They expect us to talk a certain way, to look a certain way [and] dress a certain way. And I’m not with that. When you listen to my songs you hear messages and real stories.” Keep it real Tink, we’re watching.
This one seems a bit ironic to write since many blogs featured Sampha as an artist to watch in 2014. While his popularity has risen from his feature on Drake’s songs (“Too Much” and “The Motion”), along with SBTRKT’s songs “Temporary View” and “Wonder Where We Land,” it seems the world is still waiting for him to make it big. His last EP titled Dual was released in 2013, and it’ll be interesting to see what he has to offer this year – will he become the breakout artist we’re hoping for, or choose to stay on the sidelines and feature on other songs? Only time will tell.
P. Reign is another Drake-derivative (admit it, it’s a thing), with many new fans hopping on his bandwagon after hearing the song “DnF,” which features Drake & Future. The Canadian-born artist is due to turn 29 in January, but has a long road ahead of him if he can continue the momentum. He dropped a much anticipated EP in September of this year, and so far fans seem to love him. Doesn’t hurt that his second most popular song “Realest in the City” features up-and-coming artist PARTYNEXTDOOR (yes, another Drake-derivative).
Let’s go way underground for a second, and step into the world of Alina Baraz, a 21 year old Cleveland native. Baraz dropped out of college and re-located to LA to pursue her career in music (why not go all out right?). Aspiring artists should take note: Baraz was discovered by Danish producer Galimatias via SoundCloud after creating the song titled “Drift” over one of his productions. Since then, they’ve released Make You Feel and are expected to release an EP Urban Flora this fall. Her music reminds me of a dream-like sequence, a Michelangelo painting, or as her EP cover suggests – a work of art.
Raw, soulful, truth. Just a few words that will come to mind when you take a listen Brika’s beautiful voice and powerful lyricism. She’s been featured on this site before for her song ‘Options,’ but she deserves another go around here after the release of her EP Voice Memos in December 2014 (remember those things you used to leave on your iPhone…or maybe still do?). Point blank, much like Sam Smith, Brika could sing “blah blah blah” and it would still sound relatable.
Zhu was one of the fastest emerging artists of 2014, but with his debut album set to hit next year, we think he deserves a spot in 2015’s rising stars. His marketing campaign has been genius, to be frank. He prefers anonymity, and while his identity is now known, he continues to perform in the shadows and let his music speak for itself. In just one year Zhu has had a hit single in 10 territories, a US deal with Columbia Records and a booking at HARD Day of the Dead directly preceding Deadmau5. With the soaring popularity of live music shows, especially in the summertime, Zhu is in the perfect spot to sell some records.
Hope you’ve found some hidden gems in this list. If you want to follow what I’m listening to, check me out on soundcloud.
If you’re not from Cuba and weren’t alive in the ‘50s, this question could have some validity to it. And it’s one my brother asked when I told him I was writing this post.
Since President Obama’s announcement that the US will look to strengthen its diplomatic relations with Cuba, countless articles have been written speculating about the impact this will have on Cuba’s economy. Americans can now bring back up to $100 in Cuban cigars, investors are rushing to gather real estate, and collectors are getting set to bid on artwork that they see as undervalued.
But you have to wonder how Cuba’s music fits into all of this.
Search Cuba’s cars on the internet and you’ll feel like you’ve entered a time-warp that, in truth, summarizes how a 50-year embargo has put this country’s economic advancement on hold.
Cars like this 1952 Buick are often passed down through families. Source: CNNMoney
Arguably however, music hasn’t faltered as much — unlike cars and buildings, which are physical objects that can be embargoed — music, and other cultural ‘necessities’ have continued to be exported. In America alone, we’ve had several music pioneers of Cuban descent such as Gloria Estefan, Celia Cruz, and Tito Puente (and even Pitbull). But one could also argue that most of the ‘influential’ Cuban American music artists were witnessed during the ‘50s mambo craze, or before the embargo was implemented – a time that many find hard to recall now.
So why should you care about Cuban music?
If the travel embargo is lifted, we may see a shift in how promoters begin to view Cuban artists. While Cuban artists do have the ability to tour through America, they often face many obstacles. One immigration lawyer and producer in California described a Catch-22 that he witnesses in his line of work: “ ‘The promoters were saying, ‘I’m not signing the contracts until they get visas,’ and the artists were saying, ‘We can’t get the visas until we have contracts.’ ”
Only time will tell whether we do indeed get an influx of talent from Cuba, but the importance of Cuba’s music can’t be underestimated, as it shows up in genres that we listen to today, from the likes of jazz to salsa. Still, rather than bore you with an encyclopedia of Cuba’s music history, here’s a list of ten milestones in Cuba’s music history that may intrigue you to dig into the underground world of Cuba’s music…
1. In the 16th Century, the diseases that Christopher Columbus and his explorers’ carried wiped out Cuba’s native population, erasing virtually all of the history of Cuba’s native music, called areito
(depressing I know, but important to note)
2. Son was the most popular Cuban music and dance genre of the 20th century. The earliest surviving Cuban son (son de la Ma Teodora) was created in the 1570s.
Below shows a typical son band, performing son de la loma
3. Sugar plantation owners imported nearly 20,000 slaves to Cuba in the 1780s, strengthening African-derived religious practices on the island, namely santería and palo.
And an interesting fact about Santería: slaves were forbidden to practice non-Christian religions in Cuba, but did so secretly by worshipping Catholic saints in form only, understanding them to be disguises underneath which existed their traditional African deities. Santería was very influential in Cuban music due to its drumming practices.
4. In the 1870s, rumba emerged in Havana, and spread to other lower-class neighborhoods throughout Cuba
Example of rumba:
5. 1870: danzón first appears in Havana and reigns as the national dance of Cuba until the 1930s
6. 1930:Don Azpiazu’s Havana Orchestra performs on Broadway, giving mass audiences in the United States their first taste of authentic Afro-Cuban music
7. 1945: mambo appears in the United States. The word “mambo” means “conversation with the gods” in Kikongo, the language spoken by Central African slaves taken to Cuba. The Cha-cha-cha, a kind of mambo created by Cuban violinist Enrique Jorrin later swept through NYC in 1954 and the rest of the world.
Below is a scene from the 1992 film Mambo Kings, a story about two brothers and aspiring musicians who flee from Cuba to America in the hopes of reviving their failed musical careers.
8. 1947: Dizzy Gillespie’s performance of Afro-Cuban jazz at Carnegie Hall gives overnight status to Latin jazz
9. 1966: Pete Seeger’s recording of “Guantanamera” popularizes guajira music throughout the world
10. early 1970s: salsa becomes the commonly-used word to describe Cuban-derived dance music in the United States