Taylor Swift: The Best Selling Digital Artist of All Time?

Taylor Swift is annoying. There’s no denying it. She looks shocked every time she accepts her umpteenth award, and her face shows up on the big screen at award shows more than the person who’s hosting it. But there’s no denying one simple fact:

She is single-handedly dominating the music industry.

Yes, Taylor Swift, not Beyonce. And you can’t hate…

..nor should you

In their latest cover story, Businessweek analyzes just how much she is dominating the industry right now, and there are a few lines in there that made me understand why she’s always juggling so many awards…

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1. Swift’s new album, called 1989, sold 1.29 million copies in its first week. That was 22 percent of all album sales in the U.S.

2. 1989 sales represent the largest sales week for a record since Eminem’s The Eminem Show in 2002, and the biggest release in the past two years by far, topping Beyoncé, Coldplay, and Lady Gaga.

3. Before 1989, this year’s biggest album was Coldplay’s Ghost Story, which has sold a TOTAL of 737,000 since its release in May

4. Spotify is on track to pay Swift $6M in 2014 (this is a lot considering they pay a fraction of a penny per song)

5. sales of CDs for the first half of 2014 were 56M, that’s down from 681M in sales in 2002 (remember the streaming age article?)

And if all of this doesn’t phase you, take a look at Billboard right now. Swift claims two of the top 5 spots on the Hot 100. Shake it Off dropped from #1 to #3 as she beat her own hit with Blank Space (jumped from #13 to #1 post the AMAs).

Taylor Swift may just be the best digital sales artist of all time.

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Music for the Weekend: A Look at Otis Redding’s Dock of the Bay

Sittin’ in the morning sun
I’ll be sittin’ when the evening comes
Watching the ships roll in
Then I watch them roll away again, yeah

I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Watchin’ the tide roll away, ooh
I’m just sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Wastin’ time

I love Otis Redding’s ‘Dock of the Bay,’ and after getting it stuck in my head after Scandal last week, I decided to look at the history behind it….

The song was written three days before Redding died in a plane crash on a rainy, foggy night in 1967. It was released in January 1968 and became his only single to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100, and the first posthumous number-one single in US chart history (first to reach #1 after the death of an artist) . Along with his death, the record label that he helped build saw its demise as well (albeit seven years later).

That label, Stax Records, was not only a big competitor of Motown’s, but also encompassed both blacks & whites at a time when the racial divide was growing wider and wider in American society. Between 1960 and 1975, Stax had 167 Top 100 pop hits and established the careers of Redding, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, Sam & Dave, Booker T & the MG’s and Wilson Pickett. Nevertheless, the label failed to gain rights to Redding’s discography, which instead belonged to Atlantic Records. Regarding “Dock of the Bay”, which was released so soon after Redding’s death, his guitarist Steve Cropper recalled:

We got a call from Atlantic saying, “We’ve got to rush something out. What have you got?” And I immediately said, “We need to put our hit out.”

‘They hadn’t even found Otis’s body yet.’

Cropper threw himself into completing Dock Of The Bay. He added electric guitar, seagulls, and the sound of waves.

‘Trying to work on something like that, when you don’t even know where one of your closest friends is, is difficult.’

‘Everybody was walking around staring at their feet for two months after that,’ says Stax musician Marvell Thomas.

‘There was true sadness at that place. Stax was usually a happy, peppy place, there was conversations in the hallways and songwriters over here and a demo going – that all stopped.’

Case of the Mondays – Kirko Bangz “Rich”

I had an interesting conversation with my father the other day. The summarized version of the convo went like so:

Dad: “All kinds of doors open when you have money,”

Me: “Not really…Mo money, mo problems” (clever response, I know)

Dad: “I’d rather have money and problems than no money and no problems”

Me: “Wait what?”

Dad: “You know what I mean…”

 

The moral argument in life is that you should do what you love – that money shouldn’t be the goal. One of my favorite takes on this idea comes from Aristotle, who beautifully argued in his Nicomachean ethics that happiness is the only thing that is a goal in and of itself:

And of this nature Happiness is mostly thought to be, for this we choose always for its own sake, and never with a view to anything further: whereas honor, pleasure, intellect, in fact every excellence we choose for their own sakes, it is true, but we choose them also with a view to happiness, conceiving that through their instrumentality we shall be happy: but no man chooses happiness with a view to them, nor in fact with a view to any other thing whatsoever.

It’s pretty hard to argue against the idea that most of what we do is with an aim towards happiness (though the definition of happiness itself can be debated, at least in my opinion). Whether you work a 9 to 5, play sports, have children, etc. – almost everything we do in life is with an aim towards self-fulfillment – even making others happy (or miserable, if you’re that cruel) reverts back to one’s own happiness.

On the other side of the coin however, it seems like society constantly perpetuates materialistic things as the primary means by which one achieves happiness. And to attain these materialistic things, you need money. This idea really came to mind as I was walking through Jeff Koons’ exhibit at the Whitney Museum this past weekend. He has to be one of the most ‘oxy-moronic’ artists alive today. Most of his pieces seem to take a jab at the over-indulgence of the consumer, yet the consumer is the one that pays millions for his work…and he walks to the bank. I found this quote below particularly interesting:

I’ve always tried to use materialism to seduce the viewer and to try to meet the needs of the viewer, just like the church uses materialism. Every industry uses it, but the church is the great master and a great manipulator of materialism. If somebody walks into a church and they’re hungry and they do not feel secure with their own economic position in the world, they’re not in a position in the world, they’re not in a position to have a spiritual experience. So the church uses the Baroque and the Rococo, you just go in there and you feel like you’re participating in social mobility. This is how the Baroque and the Rococo were used; so that the public felt their needs were being met. I’ve always tried to do the same thing with my works.

So, he uses materialism to try to meet the needs of the viewer. The viewer of today, is a consumer who indulges in materialistic things to fulfill what? Happiness? Or are the materialistic things the goal in and of itself? For as my dad pointed out above, money does open up a lot of doors, and never has the economic disparity in America felt as large as it does now. You just have to wonder if there’s a shift in the mindset of the consumer occurring in our world right now. And as shown by our case of the Mondays song, if music is perpetuating it.

 

Kirko Bangz, “Rich.” Full disclaimer: I actually really like this song.

Music for the Weekend: Esperanza Spalding

Little Fly
Thy summer’s play,
My thoughtless hand
Has brush’d away.

Am not I
A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?

For I dance
And drink & sing;
Till some blind hand
Shall brush my wing.

If thought is life
And strength & breath;
And the want
Of thought is death;

Then am I
A happy fly,
If I live,
Or if I die.

-William Blake

 

It’s a little strange how I stumbled upon Esperanza Spalding again. While she’s an extremely talented musician, I haven’t encountered her music since she won a Grammy for Best New Artist a few years ago (where she was the first jazz artist to do so). To be frank, the only reason I stumbled upon her music is Pandora. I needed some help sleeping last night, so I gave my Pandora a spin and put on the ‘jazz’ genre. Later (must have not been that much later since I hadn’t got the “we try not to play to an empty room” notice yet), I found my dream being interrupted by a beautiful song. Have you ever felt like you were half asleep, yet half awake? Well, that was me. “This sounds so wonderful,” I thought…I subsequently rolled over, pressed my iPhone and tried to find the like button through my blurry vision.

Ironically, I didn’t remember that I did this until about an hour or so ago. Our subconscious has a funny way of thinking doesn’t it? What’s even better, here are some of the lyrics of the song:

 

They say if you live in a dream,
You’re hopelessly lost
Well this ain’t just any old dream
For our paths have crossed
And I may be hopelessly lost
But somehow I’ve managed to find heaven

I briefly found heaven in this song, and as always, thought I’d share (video below). Hopefully she makes a comeback one of these days…though, as we know, artists are always disappearing from the mainstream scene. If you’re in NYC, Esperanza will be playing this weekend at the Jazz Standard ($30). See here for more: http://www.jazzstandard.com/

New Song: Brika – Options

I can’t stop playing this song. It’s so good, that I’m going to let the music speak for itself on this one. But in case you’re curious about the artist, here’s a bio from Brika’s VEVO page:

Brika can best be called a product of her unique surroundings. She was born and raised in Miami and despite her eclectic taste, her primary influence is Coldplay. Her music can best be likened to a Pollock painting or a Rauschenberg collage; overflowing with fast, temperamental bursts of creativity, imbued with a daring sense of honesty, and charged with a damning refusal to be categorized or quelled for the sake of fitting a description. Her natural charisma and traveler’s air lend an impulsive and nomadic tone to a body of work characterized by simple, cryptic lyricism and minimalistic production. Thematically, her mind seems attached to a few key fixations (loss, psychology, and the nature of truth), all expounded on in fresh and innovative ways through the power of song. A true iconoclast, Brika is a talented singer-songwriter with enough rawness and accessibility to enthrall audiences the world over.

Remember the First iPod?

Next month, October 23, 2014 will mark the 13th anniversary of Steve Jobs’ introduction of the iPod. Given the upcoming release of Apple’s new iPhone 6 on Sept 18th, it seems like a perfect time to look back on the day when Steve Jobs unveiled this device. Arguably, this was the presentation that marked the beginning of a new era for music, technology, and our world.

People hate change, even when it’s necessary. So perhaps it wasn’t exactly surprising to see the amount of naysayers that emerged on the back of this release. CNET’s post after the event was titled:

Apple’s iPod spurs mixed reactions

Comments on macrumors, which seems to hail Apple as a god these days, were pretty bad to say the least…

NO! Great just what the world needs, another freaking MP3 player. Go Steve! Where’s the Newton?!

I still can’t believe this! All this hype for something so ridiculous! Who cares about an MP3 player? I want something new! I want them to think differently!

 

OH NO! Just checked Apple Store – they want $399.00 for this thing…Ouch!!!

 

All that hype for an MP3 player? Break-thru digital device? The Reality Distiortion Field™ is starting to warp Steve’s mind if he thinks for one second that this thing is gonna take off.

Just another MP3 player right? Little did they know, that iPod’s sales would not only look like this

iPod

…but would also change the face of both music as we knew it. Indeed, iTunes + iPod spurred a revolution in the music industry – from the way labels release music, to the way consumers listen to it.

Steve Jobs was a visionary. And the success of his $600B market cap company adds testament to the fact that you cannot let the opinion of others change your vision…something perhaps said better by the man himself:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.

Every week, we aim here to discover new music & pieces of culture, to try to go against the “normal way” of thinking. Apple is a tech company, but it is ever so present in music and even the fashion/design industry. So, perhaps it’s important to not only come up with new ideas, but also to transcend sector boundaries – allowing one to broaden his or her horizons and way of thinking.

Really, our time is limited, so Think Different.

One of those Days? Take a Listen to Kait Dunton

Every once in a while, you get that feeling of exhaustion. You just want to fall backwards onto the floor, spread your arms out wide like an angel’s arms and slowly whisper, “why me?”

If today’s one of those days for you, then take a listen to Kait Dunton. Kait is an incredibly talented pianist/composer whose music tells a story…and while us millennials have seemed to stray away from the jazz age in favor of something more “electronic”, sometimes — when it’s one of those days — raw music is all you need. Here’s a snippet from Kait’s bio:

KAIT DUNTON is a Los Angeles based jazz pianist and composer. Kait’s music pushes the definition of jazz into new realms with her expansive and richly compositional concept for piano trio and other ensembles. Her love of story and travel imbue her music with a sense of journey and imagination, inviting listeners through her sonic creation of narrative and mood – and on the bandstand, Kait and her trio radiate with musical joy and energy.

My favorite is “Real & Imagined” …

Chance the Rapper Samples the Theme Song from ‘Arthur’…and it’s Beautiful

ONE: I used to love Arthur as a kid. Seriously, he even inspired me to read – which is a tough task when you’re 5 years old.

PLUS

ONE: I also love pianos, and dissonant tri-tones and minor keys…

EQUALS TWO: where 2 is Chance the Rapper’s new song titled Wonderful Everyday: Arthur, featuring the Social Experiment. Listen all the way through because it sounds strange at first. Seriously, I had to pause to make sure I wasn’t listening to two songs at once by accident. It gets pretty epic around 2:00. Epic’s probably not the right word, but you’ll see what I mean.

Doesn’t it sound like one of those songs where you feel like you should be walking along with an angel who shows you flashes of your childhood? Or something?

 

Music Streaming is Growing Fast, and Record Labels are Taking a Bigger Share of the Pie

When’s the last time you downloaded a song off of iTunes?

If you’re a millennial, then chances are, you had to think long and hard about the answer to that question. You probably spend more time on Pandora, Spotify, or some other streaming music service rather than sifting through iTunes trying to decide what song you want to own for the rest of your life.

unlimited is what is en vogue today. Unlimited data plans, unlimited downloads, unlimited access to music. It’s great for the consumer, but over the past decade, we’ve seen record labels complain, file lawsuits, and complain some more about losing control over their industry. On the other hand however, we’ve also seen ticket sales for concerts skyrocket. For example, from 1999 to 2009, concert ticket sales in the US tripled from $1.5 billion to $4.6 billion. And from 2004 to 2013, revenues from digital music globally grew from $400M to $6B…that’s a 15 fold increase (see chart below).

Global digital music revenue from 2004 to 2013

music sales

So has streaming been that bad for the music industry? Not really, one could argue. It’s better than illegally downloading music right? In fact, it seems like the only real losers in this process have been established artists.

There’s an interesting article out today from the WSJ that brings to light just how much music labels are winning from music streaming, and how much some established artists are seemingly losing. Right now, record labels pay artists a fairly standard royalty rate on digital downloads and CD sales—generally between 10% and 20%, but there’s a growing debate around how much they should pay artists for streaming services. Some artists (the good negotiators, I think) are getting paid as much as 50% of streaming revenue, arguing that licensing their music to these services is more akin to placing it in a film or advertisement, in which case artists typically get half the fee.

in the mix

One issue though lies around something called “breakage.” Basically, some labels demand advances far in excess of what they are likely to earn from actual royalties pegged to usage. The author writes:

Earlier this month in Washington, where lawmakers are considering a broad overhaul of copyright law, indie label co-founder Darius Van Arman noted how significant breakage can be. Testifying at a music licensing hearing, Mr. Arman said that independent record companies were set to receive $1 million in breakage from two licensing deals. In one deal, he said, the breakage was more than half of what was earned in royalties, and in the second deal, the breakage was almost five times what was earned.

Why is this important? In 2013, revenue generated from subscription services was $1.1B, up ~50% from the year prior, making it the fastest growing piece of the $15B music industry. Most artists don’t seem to be aware of how much they are getting of the breakage fee, which could be an issue as subscription streaming continues to grow. Let me say (write) that again, they don’t know how much they are getting of the breakage fee. Per the article:

Some artists signed to labels that claim to share breakage say they have never seen digital breakage show up on their income statements, though such an item could be easily missed, as the statement for a single work nowadays may tabulate hundreds of thousands of individual payments.

We’ll have to keep an eye out to see how this goes, and whether this starts to play out in Washington (as it should). For all of the artists negotiating royalties now though, this is something you should definitely bring up.

 

 

Case of the Mondays – Focus Artist: Jakubi

AYO to Mrs. couch potato, she’s in her own world in the state of San Diego…

 

I’m sure we can all agree that Mondays seem like the perfect time to be a couch potato. But alas, this society of ours dictates that we MUST get up and make a living for ourselves.

That’s why we need music like Jakubi’s newly released ‘Couch Potato’ – to remind us that we can dream of being lazy, sleeping, dreaming….

In all seriousness though, I love this new single by Jakubi, an Australian band that has garnered a strong online following and is set to tour through America in just a few weeks. They uploaded their first track ‘Can’t Afford It All’ to Soundcloud in 2013, and since then, they have over a million plays via YouTube and SoundCloud. According to their kickstarter:

“Jakubi have signed with Melbourne’s 123 Agency and are represented by New Frontier Touring in the U.S. Jakubi’s unique flavour is made up of an irresistible combination of jangle guitars, hip hop beats and sailing synth rhythms. From melding the sounds of a talk box one minute, to reggae-inspired guitar the next – the band’s diversity is reinforced through their infectious, experimental collection of songs.”

Also check out their kickstarter video to learn a bit more about the band. They’re apparently on track to record an EP with a ‘major producer,’ which means…you should probably go see their show while it’s still cheap. I haven’t been able to find their tour dates, but when I do, I’ll be sure to update this post.