Awards season is fast-approaching. This year’s list of Emmy nominations dropped Thursday and it’s becoming clear that top networks like HBO have something to worry about. Netflix’s vast expansion of original streaming content is growing and growing. And with that, so are the Emmy nominations. Netflix has nabbed a total of 112 noms for their originals, which just beat HBO’s 108. It’s impressive to say the least. Thanks to their originals—such as GLOW, The Crown, and Stranger Things to name a few—Netflix has jumped from their 2015 bottom spot on the nomination list to the top in 2018.
Why Netflix is Now a Top Contender for The Emmys’
It took Netflix about five years since they debuted their first original to climb to the top of the nomination charts. According to an article from The Verge last year, Netflix “has only climbed the ladder by strategically playing the odds. The company is almost doubling its nomination count every year, but it’s also producing a mind-boggling 600 hours of content and spending $6 billion a year to do so.” The success can also be attributed to the streaming interface allowing Netflix to track viewer habits, and thus provide more original content based upon viewer preferences. Well played, Netflix, well played.
As the technology landscape grows larger, the state of music changes from the physical to the digital. From being able to see the cassette or CD spin round, to now holding our entire music libraries or accessing them via Internet/Cloud-storage is definitely a sign of the times. What this means for us as the listener, the artist and those behind these platforms, varies upon each release and public perception.
As the Cassette Turns
Can you remember your first piece of music? I can. I was about five or six, and received two cassettes: Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” and Celine Dion & R. Kelly’s “I Am Your Angel.” That was back when record labels still released entire tapes for one promotional single, and the music quality never wavered. The art of the tangible is a real thing for some people, as being able to see, hold and interact with something gives it meaning. For music aficionados, may it be a vinyl record, tape or CD, having this and being able to find them (I was lucky to find some gems even in our local library), is highly important. With the release of the mp3 player, companies were dangling “unlimited access” in our faces. Some took the bait, finding no qualms with paying either $1.99 for a single song on iTunes, taking time and transferring their music libraries to their devices, or being the first to have the new album at the touch of their fingers. The rise of the Internet in the early 2000s caused debate among fans and artists, or artists and these new and budding music platforms. “Can I find and play that song at any time or do I have to do the work to upload it myself?” “Will I receive fair compensation for making my music available this way?”
The Catch Up Chart
Of course the shift from CDs to MP3 players meant there was less focus on physical units and more on digital streaming. The smartphone made it worse, focusing on Internet access, increased storage and touch surface area. Although CD stocks dwindled or phased out, the gap between longstanding organizations such as the RIAA and Recording Academy during the rise of streaming, narrowed. Music charting systems like Billboard created additional charts determining overall positions on the Hot 100 (Digital Songs, top weekly digital sales) and Streaming Songs (top weekly radio streamed, or viral videos or songs). Music certifications like the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) now recognize digitally streamed songs for platinum or gold certifications, and among The Record Academy, could also receive various industry nominations. Artists like Macklemore, Chance the Rapper and even PSY are examples of artists that found digital popularity and made their way into traditional radio streaming.
Right Here, Right Now
We’ve gone from sharing sites like Limewire and Napster to iTunes. Tried out and fought over recommendation-streaming like Pandora, but now with so many user-curated services like Apple Music, Spotify, and Google Music, the ball is in a listener’s court. If the general public didn’t seem to lean toward the digital world with curiosity, perhaps places like FYE, the Virgin Mobile store or Borders wouldn’t be so dead.
Maybe. But because issues of copyright will always be the question in the music world, artists continue to push for more control over having their catalogue available on these services and fighting for fair compensation. Regardless of what goes on behind the scenes, the state of music today, just means some are greedy and don’t care about the backstage battles. So long as the music is available, it can be said we will be around to listen, ready to take test how unlimited our access really is. But what if simply having our music streaming this way, isn’t enough?
Perhaps in the future, an audio-implant device? Too much? Maybe.
Read more Music Articles on ClicheMag.com. The State of Music: From Physical Sales to Digital Streaming. Featured Image provided by Flickr CC License.
For a few years now, the rumor mill has been churning out stories about Spotify going public. The Swedish streaming giant has finally put an end to all the talk by filing the necessary paperwork with Securities & Exchange Commission in late December of 2017. The catch? The company, which is currently valued to be worth around $19 billion, has forgone a traditional public offering in favor of a direct listing‒an unprecedented move for a company this large.
Typically, a company’s initial public offering (IPO) is greatly influenced by an investment bank, which is hired to issue shares and then subsequently sell them. In this scenario, new investors are able to get involved with the company, and there is the potential to raise an immense amount of capital. However, by filing for a direct listing, Spotify has decided to skip this process. Once their company goes public‒which is set to occur in either March or April‒they plan to simply list their shares on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and allow trading amongst their private stockholders.
This has been met with equal amounts of awe and suspicion. So far, Spotify has been commended for its power play, which turns traditional investment banking on its head. By cutting out the middleman‒the investment bank‒the company will potentially be saving upwards of $300 million, according to Wall Street Journal. For reference, that’s the same amount of cash that ad revenue brings in annually from the roughly 70 million users that choose not to pay for the service.
At the same time, seasoned investors are skeptical about the company’s (possibly baseless) display of confidence. For a direct listing to be successful, especially one of this scale, the company operates on the assumption that investors are already keenly aware of its value and do not need to be convinced by an investment banker. This could prove to be a risk.
While it is financially leaps and bounds ahead of streaming competitors like SoundCloud, who was recently bailed out, Spotify still remains an unprofitable company. The funds brought in from users alone pales in comparison to what running the service actually costs, and Spotify has yet to enact its plans to break into lucrative worlds of podcasting and multimedia news. That, combined with the price of several high-profile lawsuits regarding licensing in 2017, could be enough to lure in cloudy skies over the company’s parade. Although Spotify’s growth has been highly anticipated, its future still remains uncertain.
However, if successful, Spotify’s move will undoubtedly have a ripple effect on all other streaming services and, ultimately, the music industry as a whole. At this point, it is safe to say that Apple and Amazon are Spotify’s biggest competitors on the music streaming market (sorry, SoundCloud and Pandora!). What is giving Spotify the edge it needs to stay afloat is the fact that it entered the world of music streaming‒which now dominates overall music consumption‒earlier than its competitors, and has more paying subscribers than competitors. Unfortunately, that’s not all it takes anymore.
In order to become a more profitable company, Spotify is going to have to diversify its services and work in between the artists and their fans by offering services like artist development and promotion, which are traditionally left to record labels. Unsurprisingly, labels aren’t too pleased with this notion and likely won’t be jumping out of their seats to cooperate with another iTunes level monopolization of the industry. Consequently, the company won’t be relying on the music business for any favors.
Other than the IPO, Spotify has used the last year to take a few dramatic steps towards turning a profit. Most notably, paying users will now have earlier access to certain albums than their ad-listening counterparts. Basically, unless a user is willing to shell out the $9.99 monthly fee, they will be restricted from new albums for up to two weeks after a release. On a less abrasive note, users may have also noticed the appearance of the Merchbar on an artist’s page, signalling the beginning of a partnership with the merchandise provider.
Speculation about what move the company is going to make next is currently at an all time high, especially as investors anticipate the coming IPO. It is clear that Spotify isn’t going anywhere, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to have to make some concessions. While the company is adamant about continuing to provide its free features, it still has a lot of obstacles to cross‒specifically, navigating the competition while avoiding the alienation of record labels. Going public was just one way of doing so.
When SoundCloud was founded in 2007, it was not necessarily the first streaming service of its kind. Before, there was YouTube and Napster, but what made SoundCloud different was its devotion to creativity. In its initial form, not only was streaming completely free, but also entirely user-friendly. Laissez-faire copyright laws made it easy for unsigned artists (specifically DJs) to post original remixes of popular tracks, which allowed listeners to fall for the romantic notion that maybe music can be free. Now, after a decade, the Berlin-based streaming service has taken quite a few blows—a few of which have steered it away from this original idea of free creativity. However, a closer look at its original values shows why we still need SoundCloud.
At its best, Soundcloud was an avenue for musical discovery. Made up of mostly lesser-known artists, the service allowed users to scratch beneath the surface of popular music. Artists were allowed to make music without the burden of conventionality weighing on their shoulders while they recorded tracks.
SoundCloud was not about making money or recording instant hits. It was about self-expression within a community of like-minded individuals—a huge deal in the music world, considering major labels and record producers were busy cultivating a harsh climate of cutthroat deals, limited contracts, and perfectionism. This is what made SoundCloud as a platform so liberating: It freed artists from this pressure cooker of artificiality.
This isn’t to say, however, that SoundCloud artists were fated for a life outside the realm of the mainstream. Take SoundCloud’s poster child Chance the Rapper. In 2011, after having his musical aspirations mocked by peers and teachers, he spent a 10-day school suspension recording his first ever mixtape, 10 Day.
In his own words, he chose SoundCloud because it was the only platform that allowed him to upload his work without asking for a subscription payment. As a result, free, accessible music became his purpose (he doesn’t make songs for free, he makes them for freedom). Later came Acid Rap and Coloring Book, two mixtapes that have received wide commercial success despite the fact that he remains unsigned. At the young age of 24, Chance remains one of the most conventionally successful rappers of his time, regardless of the fact all his albums are available for free download.
Chance isn’t the only rapper to find fame through free streaming. More recent overnight sensations include Ugly God, who just dropped his debut album following the instant success of SoundCloud hit “Water,” Post Malone, Lil Pump, and Smokepurpp, among others. It would be nearly impossible to list all the rappers who have benefitted from this free platform because, when it comes to SoundCloud, fame isn’t the only indicator of success. There’s something to be said about a song you recorded in your bedroom being labeled art, even if it’s just by one person.
The community aspect of the service fosters a positivity that is missing from the critical “real” world. In this way, SoundCloud operates as a sort of escape from the unforgiving industry. It is a microcosm of the larger industry—one without all the “X out of 10” album reviews, Hot 100 charts, or sale numbers.
Rap isn’t the only genre to flourish under SoundCloud’s guiding hand, either. Perhaps the most unique aspect of the SoundCloud platform was its freedom from copyright infringement laws, which allowed DJs to elevate electronic music to new heights. Unlike YouTube (a competitor with SoundCloud for best free streaming service), SoundCloud allowed DJs to post remixes of pre-existing tracks without fear of their content being removed.
For instance, look at Kygo, whose remix of Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire” received over 50 million plays on SoundCloud. This was his jumping-off point, and it resulted in his release of “Firestone” on the streaming service, which led to critical and commercial acclaim. His personal success snowballed after this, as did the legitimization of house and electronic music as an artform. In 2016, he became the first house music producer to perform at an Olympics closing ceremony.
It is no secret that this is a very idyllic look at a corporation that has strayed very far from its roots. Since its creation, SoundCloud’s intentions have become much foggier. The corporation has negotiated deals with major labels and artists, allowing at least a portion of contributors to make money on advertisements (a move that betrays the idea of “all music is created equal” in its entirety).
In 2016, they introduced SoundCloud Go, a paid subscription service. Ironically, all of this failed them financially. They had almost gone under this year, but their saving grace was emergency funding. But just because the company is safe financially does not mean that everything that made it great is. It’s quite the opposite; SoundCloud does not only need a bailout, they need to return to the values that made them great. Otherwise, free music is doomed, and they’re going down with it.
Bands Interviewing Bands is one of my absolute favorite features to conduct and to read, and the reason is simple: there’s nothing quite like two artists interviewing one another. They understand each other in a way that only an artist can, and they come up with compelling, vibrant questions that allow us the deepest insight into their careers and their personalities—who they are at heart. Our latest installment finds Brooklyn songstress Juliet K and Bay Area’s Lake Lady interviewing one another about their respective music scenes, the stigma of the ukulele, and their songwriting process. Check it out below. Lake Lady: Where are you living in Brooklyn? Are you from there?
Juliet: I live in Williamsburg/East Williamsburg, but I’ve only been here for three years. I’m originally from the lower Hudson valley, in a small suburb outside of NYC.
Juliet: How did you end up in the Bay Area?
Lake Lady: My husband and I are nomadic spirits. We’d started our relationship after a month-long national tour in a band by moving to Austin, TX. After 3 years there, we were yearning for something new and wanted to be closer to family. In the fall of 2014, we got married in Southern California where both of us have relatives and decided it was time to return to the West Coast. Long before we knew each other, both of us had visited the Bay Area briefly and liked it, so I did some research and we opted for Oakland. It seemed like a happy medium between East and West Coast vibes. Now that I’m here, I realize it has a vibe and culture all its own and we absolutely love it. Juliet: What does your local music scene look like?
Lake Lady: We’ve only been here a year, but I can say that it is rich and diverse and growing (partly because of artists getting priced out of SF – although, people are starting to have to move farther and farther out here in Oakland, too. But we’re fighting to stay!). There’s a great sense of community here and activism, all of which filters into the art. There is a rich history of blues, jazz, hip hop, spoken word. There’s rock, folk, electronica, world music, soul, RnB, you name it. I love going to the practice spaces here and listening to all the different sounds coming from our city. Lake Lady: What was your recording process like?
Juliet: It was strange but cool! There were two elements to it—most of the recording happened in six days when me and four guys who played very multipurpose roles as instrumentalists/engineers/producers were holed up in a house with a recording setup that Paul Johnson, the primary engineer, brought. The rest was done in scattered sessions with Kevin Blackler in Brooklyn. It was really incredible in some ways because the people I was working with were so wonderful and the material really evolved, but it was also very intense.
Juliet: What was your recording process like? Did it change your understanding of the songs at all?
Lake Lady: I wouldn’t say my understanding of my songs changed with this project because I recorded and produced the songs myself first and found someone who was onboard for my vision. But with “Will Your Feelings Change?” Midnite Tiger produced that one on his own. I had a hook and when we met, I wrote a keys part in the room and he just ran with it. That was our first collaboration and it was such a breeze that we decided to do a whole EP and add four more of my songs to the mix!
For all of the other songs, Midnite Tiger imported my home recordings, remixed them, and we re-recorded my vocals in his studio in the Oakland Music Complex. We’d only have a couple hours in the morning before the metal bands would come in and drown us out so we had to work fast. It was fun. Lake Lady: How did you select which two songs to have available for streaming?
Juliet: I picked “Live With Me” as a first single to release because it’s probably the most upbeat on the album, and the most classic alt-folk song, and I think it’s pretty catchy and fun for the kind of music I make. I picked“Nebulous Space” in part because I feel really pleased with how it turned out, but also because it’s pretty different than the first single. Very different mood.
Lake Lady: What can we expect from the rest of the album?
Juliet: It’s a pretty diverse thing! I think what’s most consistent across the board is the themes and lyricism. This album definitely has a sense of imagism really grounded in place. Also none of the released songs so far have ukulele on them, which a handful of the ones on the album do.
Lake Lady: Awesome, uke players unite! Juliet: Maybe this is just my experience, but I feel like there’s sometimes a stigma against the uke as not a serious instrument, when obviously it’s an instrument with a long tradition of incredible musicianship. I think this is in part a gendered thing, that it’s become seen as feminine and undervalued as such. I obviously love it though; I think it has a really wonderful quality of its own. What’s your relationship to the uke? What made you gravitate towards it and how do you think you use it?
Lake Lady: My first show with the ukulele someone asked me what I instrument I was playing. I told them ukulele and they said, “Yeah I thought you said that. I didn’t realize that was a real instrument – it sounded great!” So yes, there is most certainly a stigma around ukuleles and, I’ve discovered, accordions, too! I’m not sure what the joke is with accordions, but with ukuleles I think it’s the size and the fact that the soprano and sopranissimo models, which are the ones that most people are familiar with, are used in music education just because they are easier for little ones to hold. Ukulele is also used in children’s music, I think because of the joyful nature of its sound. So these are the things that people associate with it, even musicians.
Juliet: How do you place yourself in a genre?
Lake Lady: I’ve never been one to fit into a box in society. My music is the same. It’s always a hybrid of a lot of things and my ultimate goal is to carve out my own sound. Within that though, I think my songs generally have a pop like structure with leanings in different directions, depending on what I’m working on. This EP is a soulful singer-songwriter sound with electronica infused beats. Follow Juliet K (for fans of: Sharon Van Etten, Julia Holter) Pre-Order Album / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram Follow Lake Lady (for fans of: Massive Attack, Portishead) Official Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Pre-Order ‘Better Day’
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Bands Interviewing Bands: Juliet K and Lake Lady. Photo credit: Andrew Piccone on Juliet K (left) Photo credit: Nye’ Lyn Thoon Lake Lady (right)
For years now, media companies such as NPR, Pitchfork, Stereogum, and Consequence Of Sound have been promoting early-access album streams for fans to get a full preview of new music from the bands they love. This is beneficial for artists and the blogs; the artists get more exposure and the blogs get pageviews. Then, in December 2013 Beyonce came in and disrupted the whole system with a surprise album release. We’re getting used to it now. Artists such as J Cole, D’Angelo, Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt, and Wilco have all released albums on a surprise date this year, with more likely to come from Kanye West and Rihanna. This has been a great marketing strategy for most of these artists—it builds a ton of hype and sends fans and new listeners alike flocking to Spotify to hear what all the talk is about. However, it’s also shaking the music industry and forcing us to rethink how we consume music and how it should be promoted. Friday, July 17 was a perfect example of those two worlds colliding. It was supposed to be Tame Impala’s big day. The band’s highly anticipated album Currents was set to come out after what seemed like an endless media frenzy including three early released singles, a number of long-form features trying to explain the perfectionism behind frontman Kevin Parker, and the group’s album going up for streaming a week ahead of time on NPR. Yet, when Friday came around, the headlines shifted. Seemingly out of nowhere, Wilco dropped their ninth studio album, Star Wars, for free download, stealing the attention for themselves.
Both strategies are totally legitimate, but Wilco’s approach was more convenient for the consumer and gets it out to as many people as possible. The music industry is just shooting itself in the foot with these media wars. Taylor Swift still makes headlines about how her music isn’t on Spotify. Tidal and Apple Music are trying to gather up exclusive artists when all that really does is exclude people searching for new music. Neil Young is pulling his catalog from nearly all streaming services over some misguided mission about audio quality when he could be reaching a younger audience. We can argue about whether or not all music should be free, but there’s no doubt it should be available.
Music is more available than ever before, but it used to be so simple. A widely talked about album could be picked up at any store, more obscure CDs could be picked up at your local record store or online. Now that the expectation is instant access to all music, it’s frustrating when the artist you input into the search bar doesn’t show up immediately. We bicker over which store pays the most, has the best sound quality, has the best mobile interface or the best radio service, and we should, but access should not be the issue. All it’s doing is hurting the artists and the fans who just want to hear good music.
From now on, can’t we just release an album everywhere? Why bother putting it up on NPR First Listen a week in advance? It just stands to shut out those who don’t listen to music on their laptops and confuses the whole timing of the release. Plus, NPR’s media player frustrated me because I can’t see what track I’m on. Drake, I know you signed a deal with Apple, but your “Energy” video would get so many more hits on YouTube and spread your music to more ears. Apple Music touched 11 million subscribers in less than a month, but Drake’s “Started From The Bottom” music video touts 184 million views on YouTube.
“We consider ourselves lucky to be in the position to give you this music free of charge, but we do so knowing not every band, label or studio can do the same. Much of the ‘music business’ relies on physical sales to keep the lights on and the mics up. Without that support, well, it gets tougher and tougher to make it all work.” The band went on to list some of its recent favorite albums and encourage fans to buy them. That’s a move that understands how to grow an audience rather than corner it off, and I wish artists with that level of influence would do it more. Let’s do away with early access to streaming albums. Let’s do away with fights over exclusive content. I know everyone is worried about how all of these new streaming services are paying artists (and they should be worried), but the most important question should be how many people are listening. Everything else will fall into place. Read more music articles at ClicheMag.com Images courtesy of Consequence of Sound and Vulture. Arranged on befunky.com.