Usurping Artistry

Dec 10 2011

Artists are one of the fundamental parts of the music industry. So much so they are the chicken to the egg of the business itself; no one knows which came first. This exact question or rather confusion has crafted the current climate of music today. Who is the artist? The term itself is styled in such a cursory manner that anyone who walks within five feet of any medium is in danger of being titled so. No industry is more subject to this phenomenon than the music industry. We live in an age of instant fame, where attracting tabloids supplements talent more so than garnering admiration for their craft. It seems that “artists” are now those who create a buzz as opposed to creating anything substantive. It’s for that very reason the music industry has become complicit in the dilution of the term artistry and its function.

In the past, the term artist held enormous weight to a musician.  No matter what genre, anyone who dared to take up that mantel had to prove themselves worthy. That was made especially clear when it came to the music industry. To be an artist, one had to be undeniably gifted. Although those who simply performed had similar functions, those deemed “artists” provided the rare glimpse of vocal and musical perfection that all others sought in their craft. The likes of Edith Piaf, Frank Sinatra, Shirley Bassey, and The Beatles set the standard for the artistry we revere in the likes of Anita Baker, Elton John, Prince, and Celine Dion. There is no doubt that these people have actively embodied and expressed a unique and individual talent. The music industry served to foster and amplify these artists. There was no serious need to augment, manipulate, or create the perception of talent through production. This is not to say that the industry did not have any direct impact on the development of their talent, but it was a tangible product that was easily ready for distribution.

Being informed of the historical markers of true artistry, how have we found ourselves in this current predicament? The title of “artist” is doled out almost indiscriminately. It very well seems that anyone who so chooses can be an “artist”. The music industry recognized the desire of the masses to be uniquely creative as an untapped market. It shifted its model from promoting ‘exceptionalism’ to feigning accessibility. With the use of advanced technology and a well-oiled public relations machine, “artists” don’t have to be skilled. Couple this with the viral video and social networking craze almost anyone can stake their claim to fame. This has produced a crop of recording artists who cannot sing, write songs, or play a single musical instrument. They simply possess that “it” factor that for whatever reason garners the attention which generates sales. Now, the rarities are the child singer we watched progress or the café singer who got a lucky break. A career in the music industry is now an option for every celebrity and public personality regardless of singing ability.

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Considering the vast array of music services that were launched this year, including Amazon Cloud Drive, Spotify, and Google Music, it seems a new order for the consumption of music is taking shape. Indeed, legislation is being reformulated to facilitate new forms of music consumption, with consumers substituting piracy practices and moving to legal services. However, the existing music rights management architecture is being challenged. The difficulty is to know exactly who all the copyright owners of a song really are–and where they can be located. Transactions for the appropriate licenses cannot happen without this knowledge.

For each song recorded there are two copyrights involved: one for the composition itself (©) and one for the sound recording (℗). The first one is owned and controlled by different songwriters and publishers, while the other is usually owned by record labels and performing artists. When each of those rights are owned by a significant large group of people, someone needs to locate all of them in order to obtain licenses that need to be negotiated on a case-by-case basis. Additionally, many popular artists are now emerging outside traditional corporate structures, and not having them in the current databases of copyright ownership impedes the legal consumption of music. Two recent examples are Choruss and SoundExchange. Choruss, an experiment meant to allow college students across the country to download an unlimited amount of music in exchange for a small fee built into the their tuition, was not able to gain traction because of the difficulty in finding out exactly who it had to compensate. SoundExchange, a Performance Rights Organization created to collect royalties from digital music services, has had millions of dollars stuck in its accounts for some time now because it simply cannot find the appropriate right owner.

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Marc Senasac is Senior Music Engineer at Sony Computer Entertainment. He has worked on Disney productions, engineered the critically acclaimed “Uncharted 2,” and recorded the thrash metal band Exodus. He is currently working with the Playstation music team on ”Infamous 2”, a large collaborative project involving funk band Galactic, drummer Brian “Brain” Mantia,  Jim Dooley, and music director Jonathan Mayer.

MBJ:  What do engineers need to know to keep pace with technology?

Marc Senasac:  Some fundamentals never change, i.e. the speed of sound, how sound travels, or how electricity works.  It also helps to keep an open mind. Movies and games are glamorous, but there are also podcasts, regular broadcasts, and news programs to mix for. Look at the production value of sports television.  Every time I watch a sports game I am blown away by all the transitions and segues.  Do not limit yourself by making your target market too small.

MBJ:  What other traits are necessary for an audio engineer today? 

MS:  Music engineering, which is mostly what I do, is subject to trends, be they in games, CDs, or records. What sounds cool today, and what people want in their music production, is not what they wanted fifteen years ago. Being flexible and understanding this is very valuable.

MBJ: I understand that the music for Playstation’s “Infamous 2” is dissonant and heavily layered. Can you tell us more about it? 

MS: I’m a facilitator of the project.   Jim Dooley, for instance, would compose something, ship it to us, we’d mix it, and then we’d send it out to “Brain” or Galactic.  There’s been a huge exchange of creativity.   The music’s role is mostly to provide a structure for collaboration to happen.  Not all of it was in person- some of it was Galactic recording in their studio in New Orleans, and some of it was us recording with a couple guys here in San Francisco, and Jim is in Los Angeles.  So there is some travel, some stuff recorded live, and some virtual stuff.

I think this is one of the examples of a new product that didn’t really exist a while ago.  They call it a game, but it’s really an adaptive movie/entertainment experience that reacts to what you do.  It’s like a movie in so many ways, but you can control what you’re watching.  The scores in games like this, or Uncharted 2, or God of War 3, have a production value comparable to a film.

We do record differently because in film, it’s a static medium, so they can get away with recording the whole orchestra only once, or they record the orchestra in passes.  But the end result, the end target, is hearing the music all at once.   In our case, we record the orchestra or other in layers, and then the game engine mixes that in real time. If there’s a high-tension moment in the game, like a fire fight, we can tell the game engine to bring in the brass.  It makes things very complex.  For me it’s very exciting and more interesting.  There’s much more going on than a static medium, and we have to account for many events when we’re recording .We have to ask, “Hey what will this sound like when it’s played by itself?  Will it sound cool?”  In a 24 track tape or some kind of multi track piece, when you solo a track it may or may not sound interesting. In our case, we’re trying to create something that is always interesting when taken apart.

MBJ:  In February, history was made when “Baba Yetu”,  a piece by Christopher Tin from the game ‘Civilization IV’, won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying  Vocalists. What is the significance of the event?

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In 2008, the Department of Commerce urged Congress to expand the statutory royalty scheme for digital music streaming to include terrestrial radio transmissions, arguing that this would: (1) level the playing field between satellite, Internet, and terrestrial broadcasters, (2) increase the incentives for performers and record companies to produce new recordings, and (3) make it possible for U.S. record producers and performers to receive substantial amounts of foreign performance royalties that have previously been held back by foreign PROs.  Public performance royalties would also replace some of the mechanical royalties that record producers and performers have lost due to the proliferation of unauthorized downloads.

The Obama Administration’s support for performance rights in sound recordings is consistent with the position that the Copyright Office has argued for decades.  However, opposition from the broadcasting industry has consistently scuttled legislation designed to achieve this goal.  Until the U.S. enacts a broader public performance right for sound recordings, domestic performers and record companies will be unable to claim their share of foreign performance royalties (a share which probably exceeds $100 million per year), because most countries (or their collecting societies) impose a reciprocity requirement which U.S. law does not satisfy.  It is ironic that the country that produces the most popular sound recordings in the world is unable to collect the royalties from those overseas performances.   KEEP READING

 

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Jim Vellutato is Vice President of A&R for Sony/ATV Music Publishing in Los Angeles. He is one of the most recognized executives in the field. Vellutato was involved in placing and releasing songs for many hit artists, including Pink, Carrie Underwood, David Cook, Josh Groban, Fergie, Leona Lewis, JLS, the Black Eyed Peas, Fantasia, and Daughtry. Under Vellutato, and in part because of him, well over 75 million albums have been sold worldwide. His current roster of hit songwriters is made up of J.R. Rotem, John Shanks, Walter Afanasieff, Rune Westberg, Zac Maloy, Evan Bogart, Chantal Kreviazuk & Raine Maida, Midi Mafia, Louis Biancaniello and Billy Mann.

MBJ: Where did you start?

Jim Vellutato: I graduated from UCLA, and then worked in the tape room at Chappell Music.  This was 1984 and I have been in the music business ever since.

MBJ: What is a typical day of a music publisher like?

JV: Music is really a worldwide industry, and I see this day to day. In the morning

I make calls to New York, Nashville and London and catch up on current news with Billboard and other media. My job is all about connecting people, so I spend a lot of time calling A&R personnel and managers to see what songs their acts are looking for.  Then I speak with songwriters, and find out their availability. After a few days of going back and forth (where, when, and how much it will it cost), I look for a budget approval. I set up sessions, check that they run as scheduled, and that people are showing up on time. I spend most of my time putting what I feel is the best combination of artists, writers and producers together.  READ MORE

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By Evan Kramer

Social media, in all its varieties, is making a big impact on consumer buying habits and becoming a legitimate promotional medium for businesses of every size. Yet, traditional marketing sometimes sits uncomfortably with social media. In particular, the six elements of the classic marketing mix, i.e. advertising, personal selling, public relations, publicity, direct marketing, and sales promotion, have to be reconsidered in the light of this new paradigm shift. It requires marketers to keep their products and, more importantly, their brands relevant and ever present in the minds of consumers.

A traditional marketing mix allows marketers a high level of control over the content that is communicated, and more importantly withheld, from their consumers. For example, paid advertising can be crafted and molded down to the finest detail while placement and volume of the content can be regulated on seemingly infinite parameters, such as income level, location, and gender, just to name a few. In addition, coverage in newspapers and television reports, while not completely under control, can be heavily influenced.

Continue reading about talking through social media…

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Amazon In The Cloud

Jun 10 2011

By Athena Frost

Amazon in the cloud, Music Business Journal 

The launch of Amazon Inc.’s new cloud drive and cloud player services has both the tech world and the music industry in a frenzy. Although it was the next logical step in music technology, experts have expressed their surprise that it was Amazon and not Apple or Google to get things going.

The term “cloud” refers to files that have been uploaded to the Internet and are available from any computer. This is the sole function of Amazon’s cloud drive; creating one spot for you to host you music files so that they can be accessed from all of your personal and work computers and even your Smartphone. “These are all separate collections you have to manage,” said Brian Coley, the Editor of CNET. “What Amazon is saying is keep it all on the cloud, which means just on the internet, and access it through any laptop, any Smartphone, any tablet and connected cars. So you’re moving it from a bunch of hard drives to one place on the internet.”

The first deal Amazon is offering includes 5Gb of free storage space, which is only a little more than 1000 songs. However, with the purchase and download of any one of Amazon’s MP3 albums you receive 20Gb storage for the first year. After that deals start at 20Gb for $20 a year, which is infinitely less than you would spend on multiple external hard drives when backing up your files. Continue reading…

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In December 2010, Peter Spellman, head of Berklee’s Career Development Center, produced a listing of salary ranges for US music positions in performance, writing, business, audio technology, education, and music therapy. Here we reprint, with permission, the business salaries. The complete report can be found HERE, in PDF format, or below. The MBJ staff has not ascertained the accuracy of the data. Sources are listed at the end.

Music Industry Salaries

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Rebecca Black, Music Business Journal

Without dispute, Rebecca Black and the song “Friday” have taken the world by a storm. The video was made in January and uploaded to YouTube on February 10th.  Up until mid-March, the video hardly drew attention, receiving only about 4,000 views. The success of the video took a drastic change when comedians Daniel Tosh and Michael J. Nelson posted it to their websites, and overnight, it received more than 200,000 hits. As of April 13th, “Friday” surpassed 100 million views– a feat that has been achieved by less than 50 videos on YouTube.

“Friday” was created by vanity record label Ark Music Factory (AMF). The LA-based company was founded by producer Patrice Wilson, in an effort to give aspiring singers a taste of life as a superstar: working with a songwriter, recording a song with a producer-engineer, and shooting a professional music video. AMF charges $2,000-4,000 for their services and keeps the publishing rights, while the singer retains the master recording rights.

While it may seem innocent to provide young dreamers with this opportunity, the glimpse of fame comes accompanied by all of the negative aspects associated with being a celebrity. Black, who is only 13-years-old, was certainly not prepared for the serious cyber bullying and emotional trauma that resulted from “Friday.” During an interview on Good Morning America, she revealed the most hurtful response: “I hope you cut yourself and I hope you get an eating disorder so you’ll look pretty, and I hope you go cut yourself and die.” Ultimately, Black is not a professional, and neither are the rest of AMF’s juvenile clients.  They are teenagers who are unprepared for the media attention that could result from their relationship with AMF. “I feel bad that Rebecca has been getting so many people criticizing the song because it was me that wrote it,” said Wilson.

“Friday” is only one of several productions by AMF. Each song utilizes a typical formulaic pop structure, with its main focus on achieving “catchy” quality. Each video strives to create a glam star aesthetic. Most of the other videos have received thousands to millions of views, but nowhere near the 102 million that “Friday” has amassed. If each song and video is based upon the same structure, then what set “Friday” apart?  Read the rest of OUR ESSAY ON REBECCA BLACK

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by Evan Kramer

Muisc Business Journal pic, Emi, Citigroup, by Evan Kramer

Ever since private equity firm Terra Firma purchased the EMI Group in 2007, the label and publishing giant has been caught in a proverbial purgatory of sorts; too substantial and progressive to falter, yet too financially uncertain to move forward.  Having finalized the acquisition on the eve of that year’s economic credit crunch, Terra Firma quickly found itself pulling rabbit ears out of its pants pockets in the face of a $3billion loan from its lender, Citibank.  Terra Firma Chairman, Guy Hands, then filed a lawsuit with Citibank claiming that his loan officer, David Wormsley, had misrepresented the label and effectively duped him into purchasing the company.  November 4th 2010 saw the conclusion of a four weeklong battle in the New York Supreme Court that favored Citibank. Guy Hands’s Terra Firma was made responsible for the full amount of EMI Group’s debt. Now, to stay in control of EMI, Guy Hands had to find the necessary funds to pay the debt—an improbable occurrence.

EMI and Citigroup

Following the New York Supreme Court’s decision, therefore, the transfer of EMI ownership had an air of inevitability.  However, at the time of ruling, it was assumed by most that the transition would not take place until EMI’s March 31st, 2011 fiscal year-end, the time when Terra Firma was expected to default on its final loan payments.  In an effort to expedite the process, and seize immediately control of the record label and publisher, Citibank asked for a solvency test that it expected EMI to fail. It did. As a result, Guy Hands and Terra Firma were removed early from the company and lost any stake they had in it. Research by Private Equity News would put Guy Hand’s Terra Firma’s loss at $2.7 billlion—perhaps the largest ever in the history of private equity.

Continue reading about the Music Business (references list available)

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