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Below is part two of a five-part series breaking down music’s value as an asset in the business. Read part one here In the last article, we left off on a brief history of how music has created value in the markets. The question is, how do popular streaming services provide value? They provide huge libraries of millions of songs that are accessible, downloadable, and affordable. Streaming services are built on freemium models, and they earn revenue through advertisements, paid subscriptions, and acquisitions of related properties. But without the access to these music libraries, there is very little in terms of value that these services provide. With the exception of Spotify’s very recent venture into original podcast production, these streaming services don’t produce any music of their own. Rather, they serve merely as hosts for electronic music distribution.The music is what provides the value for these services, so it stands to reason that streaming platforms would pay accordingly for these assets, right? Let’s take a look. Spotify pays artists on their platform, on average $0.0032 per stream. To put that into perspective, a solo artist would need 3,770,110 streams on Spotify in order to make the US minimum wage annual salary of $15,080.40 . Apple Music pays $0.0056 per stream, Deezer pays $0.00436 per stream, and Tidal pays $0.0099 cents per stream. You can find the detailed report on these numbers at soundcharts.com for more of a nuanced description. But the main takeaway here is that these numbers focus solely on the payout to the recording owners, and it doesn’t capture the full scope of the expense side of the streaming business. Indeed, these services will strike a deal with content rights owners and negotiate a payout rate with them (usually between 60 and 70%). These groups include record labels, publishers, and other rights holders. The percentage comes out of the total pool of revenue and is distributed to the rights holders who go on to distribute money to their artists accordingly. When you stream the song “Dreams” on your way to the cranberry juice stand, you aren’t paying Stevie Nicks, Lyndsey Buckingham and the rest, you are throwing a third of a penny into a pool that goes to Warner Music Group who distribute at their discretion based on numbers of streams on the platform, total DSP revenue pool, and the negotiated rate as a percentage of revenue. Remember when I talked about the sheer volume of data that Spotify has on my listening habits? They use this information to help determine their payout scheme. I pay for the student version of Spotify Premium, which is $5/month. Spotify has 96 million paying users as of December 2018, but 207 million active users on the platform. Spotify also boasts an average revenue per user (ARPU) of $4.81, of which $0.51 is contributed by ad-supported users. This means that, while my streams are considered “more valuable,” ad-supported streams dilute the power and impact of my usage. Additionally, these prices change based off of the markets that streaming services operate within. Spotify knows that I live in Indiana, and thus they price the service accordingly at $5/month. But if I slice off the tag, and live in India, the price of Spotify Premium would fall to $1.70/month. However, if India were still under British rule, the premium price would jump to $13/month. This flexibility in price keeps Spotify competitive in a market where local services set the expectation for users in terms of economic contributions and relative values. You might notice something that makes no sense whatsoever. When you compare streaming service payout rates, you will see that the highest payout rate belongs to Napster. Before you scurry about and drop $100 for a year’s worth of Napster, let me highlight one more element about the payout rate. In simple terms, the payout rate equation is balanced: if I pay $5 for Spotify and I play 1 song a month, my individual payout rate is $5 to the artist. But if I play 5000 songs a month, my individual artist payout rate is a tenth of a cent. The equation is balanced because there’s no variation in the input, as I am putting in $5 each month without change. As user engagement on the platform goes up and total streams increase, the payout rate per stream decreases to balance it out, making the rate somewhat stable. When you see a higher payout rate from a streaming service, it is more often a sign of low user-engagement than fairness to the artists. Those of you who are plugged into the music scene will notice that I haven’t mentioned the Chad of all music libraries that is Bandcamp. The reason that I haven’t mentioned them thus far in our discussion of streaming is because Bandcamp really isn’t a streaming service. Honestly speaking, the revenue model of Bandcamp functions more as an online record store. This is because they operate on an artist-centered model rather than a streaming-centered model. You buy music directly from the artist rather than putting your money in a central pool, and the user interface and UX of Bandcamp support this model. Bandcamp serves purely as a middle-man in purchases made on the platform, taking the typical agents cut of 10-15%, while other streaming services are the item you're purchasing to enable access to the songs. While music is still an asset on Bandcamp just as anywhere else, it is the main resource creating value on the site. In the next installment, we break down ownership and music licensing, and detail how Taylor Swift’s music is one of the most interesting assets on the market.
The music business is a dark, entangled web of SAT vocab and intersecting business lingo. But the way the music industry works is crucial to understanding how we can become more ethical music consumers. This is the beginning of an article anthology where we will take a look at how music is treated as an asset within the business. We will break open the different payment schemes of various streaming services, the battle that embroils artists regarding ownership of their intellectual property, and a firm that is disrupting the very way we think about music as a commercial product. This is the basis of my argument: music is an asset. It would be helpful to attach a definition to this somewhat nebulous word. Assets are any resources that are either owned or controlled by a business, and create or add value. A simple example of an asset is a house. When you go to buy a house, the house’s value is broken down in units of currency. This value is based on tangible characteristics such as square footage, amenities, and craftsmanship; as well as intangible characteristics such as location, school systems, and home values of the immediate community. When you purchase this house, you become the controlling entity, and it adds value to your net worth. Not only is the home’s value inherent in your purchase, but the house is able to produce further value, such as renting out a room or hosting events. For these reasons, music can also be regarded as an asset. Music is a resource that creates and adds value. There are several intangible value additions that music provides: music creates an emotional response in us, from ebullience to melancholy, from appealing to challenging. Without music, life would be that much less emotional, and a less emotional life is not one worth leading. Unfortunately, businesses and economics don’t care about your feelings, as much as they care about what your feelings make you do, actions that often result in some level of participation in the economic system. Here are a few examples: You’re feeling upset because your girlfriend left you. You buy a pint of ice cream and cry while watching The Princess Bride. Not only did you purchase the ice cream, but you purchase a subscription to a streaming service that enables you to watch the film In working out your feelings over the breakup, you begin attending therapy. You participate in the system through your procurement of therapeutic services, and the therapist’s value to the market is represented through the cost of the session You realize that your hatred is not at your ex, but rather at a large corporate enterprise subliminally manipulating you. You participate in the system out of hate and drive the price of GameStop to over $400 a share. This is an example of consumers behaving irrationally, and it shows how emotions can drive economic participation. This is a system that, at least in the West, is built on the notion that your worth and value is contingent upon the value that you provide to the market. Here’s a brief history of music’s value in Western-style economics: The earliest iterations of music as an asset in the market date back to the use of chant in the Dark Ages of Europe. Monk composers would provide value to services by writing music, and in return they would have lighter work around the monastery. Into the Middle Ages and through the Classical era, rich patrons and institutions would buoy the careers of musicians: the musicians provided value to various proceedings through their music, and in return, they were paid and/or kept on retainer. As the Romantic era saw the democratization of music, the value of the music was measured through concerts and recitals: ticket prices and commissions alike determined the composer's addition of value to the market. With the advent of sound recording, physical sales of records and record players became an easy way to measure music’s economic value. Radio play served as another metric: radios ran advertisements, so if your music could draw listeners to the station, they could sell more ad time. As physical media evolved, the one stagnant piece of the puzzle was the purchase of music. Until .mp3s and Napster disrupted the system with no-pay P2P file sharing. While it was shut down, the digitalization of music remained, bringing us to streaming services today. In the next installment of “Music as an Asset,” we tackle how streaming services place value on music through payout streams, subscription plans, and user experience.
The Weather Station’s new record is a collection of brooding folk rock songs about climate change. Suitable that a band called The Weather Station would take on this challenge, no? Many listeners may gloss over the record because it is not immediately gratifying, especially for those who do not pay close attention to detail. But this is regrettable, because with quality time it becomes transfixing. Both production-wise and lyrically, Ignorance is complex and wrought with utmost care. Ignorance positions itself in many ways, directly and subtly, in the long tradition of environmentalist and anti-capitalist music. The song title “Parking Lot” calls back to Joni Mitchell’s fundamental “Big Yellow Taxi.” Although lyrically, it is most directly channeled in “Tried To Tell You:” “You know you break what you treasure / I tried to tell you.” As if accepting the metaphorical baton from Mitchell herself, frontperson Tamara Lindeman gives her own spin on the classic “you don’t know what you got ‘till it’s gone” line. Other songs with more anti-capitalist leanings recall fellow Canadian artist U.S. Girls’ incisive lyricism. Album opener “Robber” is a slow burn that details Lindeman’s realization that she is guilty of being a capitalist bootlicker. The robber is a stand-in for the greedy capitalist who fuels our rapid environmental deterioration and is historically responsible for the genocide of indigenous people in the Americas. The lyrics are rich with implication: “I never believed in the robber / Nobody taught me nothing was mine / If nothing was mine, taking was all there was.” Ignorance becomes virtuous in a culture where education is whitewashed, and capitalism is king. What distinguishes Lindeman from past efforts is her pointed focus on the anxious feelings that arise in our modern environmental dilemma. She explores the tragic way in which something so highly abstract as climate change can have devastating effects on one’s psyche. Hopelessness is a natural response. So is impotence: “In my stupid desire to heal / Every rift, every cut I feel / As though I wield some power here” (from the track “Separated”). On another track, “Heart,” the singer becomes pitifully self-deprecating, dubbing herself “dumb” twice. “My dumb eyes turn toward beauty” … “My dumb touch is always reaching for green, for soft” She sings as if wanting to reconnect with the natural world in this day and age is an act of folly. A strain of doubt runs rampant through the album, raising questions on the value and role of art. “This is what the songs are for” (“Tried To Tell You”), “I am not poet enough to address this” (“Parking Lot”), “Did I take this way too far?” (“Subdivisions”) are all ruminating moments scattered throughout the track list. Is writing an album about the problem going to do enough? Is she qualified enough to be the one to say it? Like much of Lindeman’s lyricism, these urgent thoughts are presented in the most nonchalant manner. If you blink, you might miss them. That talent is what makes such a difficult subject manageable for The Weather Station. Many of the songs begin to unpack the totally bizarre nature of our modern reality. We are fragmented and polarized by social media, projecting images of put-togetherness, and pretending that living with total disconnect to the natural world is fine. At this seemingly irreversible juncture in human history, is it the most rational for the powerless individual to just be blissful? The second track “Atlantic” explores this possibility: “I should get all this dying off of my mind / I should really know better than to read the headlines.” Even while the present reality is still beautiful, with a glass of red wine in hand, Lindeman’s mind wanders toward apocalypse. She zooms in on the most minute of details, like a single flower petal, and mourns its imminent loss. Just like in nature, the beauty of her music is in the details. This album burns slow. It definitely could be more accessible for those who do not want to look up lyrics on Genius or postulate about the meaning of couplets. But for those who are prone to getting stuck in their own head, romanticizing the small things, or worrying about the grave danger that is two degrees Celsius, it will be a rewarding endeavor.
Written by the WIUX Web Content Team / Curated by Ian Ausdal There's almost no point in repeating it: 2020 has been an absolute trainwreck. With no shortage of unpleasant surprises, this past year has caused a mass upset in the lives of every individual from every corner of the globe. But above all the loss and sorrow, the hardships we faced caused many of us to shed our soft skin and reveal a new, stronger, more prudent version of ourselves. And while the world took the seldom-found opportunity for celebration last week to ring in the New Year, with conditions beginning to look up as the COVID-19 vaccine slowly makes its rounds across the states, it is presently clear that there is still much (much) to be worked on. And that is why it is important for everyone to find joy in the things that they already have. In fact, this is a skill that many of us have newly acquired over the past few months. As we all continue to evaluate the true value of things, It should be no surprise to anyone that chief among the things that people hold near and dear to their hearts is music. While material things come and go, and people can be removed from your life, music is one of the few constants that can be consistently relied upon to lend support and comfort. The power of music has been greatly affirmed over the course of the pandemic, with viral videos of impromptu balcony concerts popping up across the internet and a countless number of bands and artists hosting livestreams to sate the voracious appetites of their fans for live music. With the scientific research to back it up, there is no question that music acts as one of the greatest contributors to the goodness of life. That being said, the events of 2020, as trying as they were, have deepened the many individual connections that we all have with music. As we say our goodbyes to this wretched year and work toward a more promising future, we would like to take a moment to reflect on the albums that have given us the most during periods where we felt like we had the least. These are the albums that saved our lives. Quadrophenia by The Who (1973) Ian Ausdal What do Macklemore and The Who have in common? Both wrote songs that made riding around in a motorized scooter somehow seem glamorous. Released in 1973, Quadrophenia is a double LP concept album revolving around the story of a working class mod named "Jimmy" in early 1960s England. The songs on this album beautifully string together to tell a coming-of-age story that is all too real. Jimmy's troubled life is fraught with dead-end friends, lifeless jobs, experiments with drugs, toxic relationships, gang involvement, parental strife, and the heartbreaking realization that his boyhood idol is just as human as he is. Despite all the confusion in his story, there is an underlying sense of empowerment in Jimmy's journey toward discovering his self-worth that highlights the strange, twisted beauty of Youth. Full of catharsis and anger, this album builds and builds to an ending that is left irresolute, reminding the listener that they are truly the ones in charge of determining their own destiny. A Love Supreme by John Coltrane (1964) Duncan Holzhall I feel unable to capture the sheer impact of this album with my words. In times of disillusionment, disorientation, and emotional strife, the playing of John Coltrane's Quartet is a proclamation of clarity, re-centering my spirit to the North Star. The passion and fervor of belief is intermingled with moments of transcendent tranquility. Only through this art can my mortal self glimpse the iris of God. She Is by Jonghyun (2016) Tony George She Is is the first full-length solo album released by K-pop idol Jonghyun of the boy group SHINee. This album features Jonghyun’s distinctive vocal talents as well as his skill with music production and lyricism. This album is very dynamic—blending together influences from various genres including R&B, EDM, and dance, as well as inspiration from musicians such as Prince and Maxwell. She Is always pulls me into the atmospheric and lush world that Jonghyun created, reminding me of his ability to communicate powerful yet universal emotions with passion and honesty. It’s one of the albums that solidified my appreciation for K-pop, and it serves as an excellent entry point for those who are interested in exploring the world of K-pop further. Stranger in the Alps by Pheobe Bridgers (2017) Sam Bowden With Stranger in the Alps, Phoebe Bridgers became the patron saint of sadgirls and sadboys everywhere. Sparing no details with her confessional songwriting, this stellar debut became a world in which to seek refuge and get lost. There, one can feel validated that they’re not the only one having vivid nightmares, thinking about death a bit too much, or having a tough time growing old. "Busted" from Phineas and Ferb (2008) Cas Regan Less of an album as a whole and more just a specific song, "Busted" from Phineas and Ferb may sound a little weird, but it's still important to me. Vanessa Doofenshmirtz singing that song for me was what many people refer to as my "Gay Awakening". I didn't fully connect the dots until a couple years later, but Vanessa Doofenshmirtz singing the acclaimed duet with Candace was definitely the kickstarter. Worlds by Porter Robinson (2014) Rachel Fisher Worlds came out in 2014, so this past year fans celebrated the album's 6th anniversary! I was going through a rough time when it was released, so being able to listen all the way through was super calming, and, through those tough times, the album inevitably became a staple piece in my listening library. It was also a very pivotal work for the entire electronic music genre, as Porter Robinson broke away from the "traditional" style (if you will) that many artists at the time were making that were more in the realm of club bangers/festival ragers etc. But Worlds is gorgeous and never fails to make me emotional; it's still as beautiful as it was the first time I heard it. Ed Buys Houses by Sidney Gish (2016) Clare Barnes It was a hard choice between this one and Sidney Gish's sophomore album, No Dogs Allowed. Both were played on repeat during my first year in university, but because Gish wrote this album during her freshman year (? maybe sophomore? anyway, its earlier than the other) in college, it seems more appropriate. I found myself struggling with school for the first time, so the song "Hexagons and Other Fun Materials" was especially relatable. Then listening to her recent live sessions singing these songs after graduation with a rougher, brasher tone felt like an interesting look into the future. Badlands by Halsey (2015) Atticus Jolley I came across Badlands during a very difficult few years of my life and I related to a lot of her lyrics about her mental health. Knowing that there was someone else out there who could put those same thoughts and feelings I had into words helped me feel less alone. I would also highly recommend listening to this album while driving through the actual Badlands in South Dakota.
Written by Sam Bowden In 2020, music was there for us in our pre-pandemic bliss, during our most isolated times, and at our most anxious and frustrated moments. As an avid music listener, I have sought refuge in music throughout the year to live vicariously and seek a bygone sense of normalcy. In this special edition of Double Feature, I sorted some of my favorite albums from the year into distinct pairs for your listening leisure. Listen to one, two, even all of them, to catch up on some of the best music from this year. I would suggest visiting whichever of these categories resonates with you the most! There are some obvious omissions, these albums simply stood out as refreshing and worthwhile. Listen to these albums… If you need a meditative space, or want to pretend like you know what meditation is: Haux – Violence in a Quiet Mind In an Instagram post, Woodson Black thanked Pitchfork for “articulating so beautifully what this album is about… so well [he] had to break out the dictionary a few times.” This gracious post made me laugh and realize why I enjoyed the album so much: Black’s authenticity and simplicity in songwriting provokes without being pretentious. “Hold On” and “Heavy” are personal highlights from an album tailored for anxious, introverted souls. Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud “I’m wiser and slow and attuned” Katie Crutchfield sings on one of the best songs of the year, “Fire.” Overcoming addiction, battling codependency, and examining one’s self all come to center in these songs about healing. Indie rock with a bit of southern twang, Saint Cloud has a little bit for everyone and a whole lot of wisdom. If the sitting president refuses to concede the election and you want to go off the grid: Adrianne Lenker – songs / instrumentals Lenker’s latest sounds like the forest, which is where it was recorded. Humbly titled, it transports the listener into a grand world fraught with bittersweet memories. As always, her signatures are her frail but confident vocals and magical fingerpicked guitar. Fleet Foxes – Shore Instead of taking us to the wilderness once again, Fleet Foxes take us to the coast with their new sound. There, we can wade in waist high water, revel in the sunlight, and abandon our worldly stressors and anxieties. If you long for a messy pregame where you are stumbling before you even get into the Uber: Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now Seconds into the album, Charli states plainly what we’re all longing for: “I just wanna go real hard” (“pink diamond”). Written and released entirely in early quarantine, Charli XCX’s latest project summarized our collective feelings about the pandemic: missing affection, our friends, long nights, all over glitchy electropop beats. Chloe x Halle – Ungodly Hour “I beat my face / Moving fast ‘cause the Uber on the way” Chloe and Halle Berry sing on album highlight “Do It.” The album reaffirms the duo’s talent and it’s a travesty that we weren’t able to play songs like “Tipsy” before going out to our favorite bar with the girls. If you miss the peculiar camaraderie of the line to the bathroom at the Root Cellar Lounge: Yaeji – WHAT WE DREW 우리가 그려왔던 In Yaeji’s addictive house music, she raps in both English and Korean and invites a wide array of lesser-known collaborators to contribute. Much of the album is about fostering community amongst marginalized groups. “SPELL 주문” highlights her diverse palette, featuring Brooklyn-based G.L.A.M. and Tokyo-based YonYon who together rap in three different languages-- and it slaps. Róisín Murphy – Róisín Machine Róisín Murphy’s sultry voice sounds like she’s the new omniscient narrator to your life. The Irish disco queen has been around for years, but as she sings on the opening track “Something” and later bop “Murphy’s Law,” she feels “[her] story is still untold.” These tracks pulse with kinetic energy and transport you back into the lusty, cathartic setting of the pre-pandemic club. If, in all senses except physical, you are “baby”: Samia – The Baby Never would I have expected that my favorite debut album of the year would come from the daughter of a Hocus Pocus witch and a Hangover actor, but it did. Within the first song of The Baby, Samia delivers stingers like “I’m afraid that I need men” and “Are my legs gonna last / Is it too much to ask?” It’s a revelatory album for people navigating the anxieties of aging, self-confidence, and youthful relationships. Soccer Mommy – color theory Indie rock favorite Soccer Mommy provides once again on her second album color theory, a synesthetic journey through nostalgic memories and personal struggles. It’s a gorgeously heartfelt listen that for me, only provokes an infantile response: I’m baby. If you are constantly disappointed by the world and need the sweet release of scream singing: Flo Milli – Ho, why is you here? In Flo Milli’s world, everyone is an “opp,” your boyfriend is in her DM, and even if she was on crutches she would still walk around “Like That B****.” Her unbridled confidence is infectious, and her signature tagline, while too explicit to publish, will surely get stuck in your head and become an intrusive thought. Also, I would trade anything to go back and hear the opening line of “In the Party” for the first time. Porridge Radio – Every Bad A very different approach to frustration, British band Porridge Radio’s latest is a scream into the abyss. Lead singer Dana Margolin’s voice is silky and wrought with anxiety as she delivers lyrics like “My mum says that I look like a nervous wreck because I bite my nails right down to the flesh” (“Sweet”). The record is dynamic, wavering between explosive punk and intimate confessionals. If you want to slip into a wig and have a 2 A.M. bedroom recital: Yves Tumor – Heaven to a Tortured Mind Yves Tumor’s new album is equal parts lively glam rock and chilled out instrumentals, a perfect 2 A.M. listen. To me, their vocals call to mind legends Lenny Kravitz and Prince, while the production carries the music into an otherworldly experimental realm. Put this one on late at night and channel the artist’s signature extravagance. Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure? From the ballroom grandeur of “Spotlight,” the pulsing disco of the title track and “Save a Kiss,” to the sensual R&B of “Adore You” and the “The Kill,” Ware’s new album is sprawling, danceable, and euphoric. If you need a new pop act to lend your stan card to, look no further.
Written by Duncan Holzhall ‘Tis the season, without reason, for awards to be granted, and soapboxes to be ranted. Indeed they are here, it’s that time of year, for another Grammy fix, and here are my picks. Only the big four, I won’t write more, for reading is a chore, and I don’t wish to bore. Alas now it seems, in a year full of “Dreams,” that the Grammys are worthless, who could’ve guessed? Quit all your whining, and I’ll quit my rhyming, we’ll get down to brass tacks, and predict the winning tracks: Record of the Year Ethel Brixby She has been an undeniable force to reckon with this year. Between palming you a $50 at Thanksgiving and being more understanding than your parents about COVID travel plans, Brixby has come through and defined the zeitgeist of the year. Combined with a relatively weak field against her, she is a shoe-in for the Record of the Year category. Album of the Year Cloddagh O’Meara O’Meara was rather unknown before 2020, given that she lives in Tuscaloosa and you rarely get the chance to visit. However, she showed remarkable prowess in learning how to work the iPad and surprised the industry by dropping an automatic slideshow of the blurriest posed photos of the family. The shift from analogue to digital demonstrated how forward thinking O’Meara has been, and her work provides a blueprint for the business to come. Song of the Year Doreen Marian Falsworth While she faces stiff competition from Ethel Brixby in this category, I believe that Falsworth displayed a more nuanced approach to her practice. Her snickerdoodle production showed massive improvements from her previous catalogue, and her line of questioning how often you go to church was one of the wittiest to be released this year. Not to mention that, between her travel agency closing down and her friend Beth from high school passing away, Doreen could use a big win this year. Best New Artist Ruth Springbaumer Although my personal preference for this award would be Cloddagh O’Meara, The Academy will likely award Springbaumer with the accolade. She left your grandpa thirty years ago, but she’s made huge waves breaking into the mainstream this year. Even though the all-expenses-paid trip along the Seine was delayed among label disputes, her choice to independently front the project showed a dedication to her craft. Springbaumer has positioned herself in the favor of The Academy voters.
Written by Ian Ausdal 2020 is a year unlike any other that the students of IU have experienced. But despite the *nuances* of this fall semester, one thing has remained consistent: WIUX’s annual Pledge Drive. This does not mean the festivities took off without their fair share of complications, however. Rain delays, COVID exposures, and the general state of things in the world all seemed to come together in an attempt to dampen everyone’s spirits. Despite such issues, the student body’s propensity for having a good time coupled with everyone’s shared attempts to be safely distanced and bemasked ensured that it is indeed possible to have fun in the midst of a global pandemic. Pledge Drive 2020 took place across three non consecutive nights between Oct 21st - Nov 2nd. Here are the highlights: After the events scheduled for Oct 19th and 20th had been cancelled due to bad weather, the WIUX DJ Team treated us to a live visual/audio performance on the lawn of the Hamilton Lugar school. Led by the station's very own Anthony Gosling, the team provided an onslaught of lethal bangers and remixes of throwback goodies. On night two, we returned to the HLS lawn with entertainment provided by the Bloomington Delta Music club. BDM is no stranger to WIUX, as they performed for the station's Culture Stream series this past summer (which you can find here). The group opened with a brief acoustic set, followed by an electric set featuring a wide variety of instruments and a multitude of talented singers to build a truly dynamic performance. The group performed covers ranging from the jazz staples of Cannonball Adderley and Herbie Hancock, to Pop classics from The Beatles, and into more contemporary material as well. after a brief interim period, Pledge Drive continued on Nov 2nd with Leaky Bucket. Along with a venue change, the evening presented us with lower-than-ideal temperatures. But the frigid air was no match for the fortitude of the concertgoers and the band's punk rock energy. Leaky Bucket performed a variety of covers, but the highlight of the show was their performance of their single original piece: a song dedicated to Frankie Lymon, a 1960s R&B singer who tragically passed away from a drug overdose in his grandmother's bathroom at the age of 25. The song was carried by a classic-sounding doo-wop guitar riff, which, aided by the 35ish degree weather, provided for a tingling experience. Unbeknownst to us at the time, Leaky Bucket ended up being the final event of Pledge Drive 2020. Two events that were previously scheduled to host Midnight Snack Comedy and the Women of Delta along with Rosegirl had to be cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. As disappointing as this news was, it all seemed to be consistent with the main theme of the year - Adaptability. As easy as it could have been to cancel Pledge Drive, or to move the events to an entirely virtual platform, the hard work and optimism of all the directors, performers, and patrons involved made it so that the events of this year are something everyone can look back fondly on. As we all plow forth into the new year, and regular in-person events get closer to becoming a reality, Pledge Drive 2020 will stand out a monument to the fun that can be had in the midst of hard times. Check out the Pledge Drive video montage on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aW7-D8JSnYQ Be sure to follow all of these wonderful artists and organizations on their social media: Bloomington Delta Music Leaky Bucket Midnight Snack Comedy Rosegirl
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wpHzsmqrjA&ab_channel=Codeine-Topic Written by Max Power This track is “Castle” by Codeine. In my opinion, Codeine’s best track, but funnily enough it didn’t appear on any of their records; it was only released on a collection of demos included in the reissue of their catalogue that was put out in 2012, more than a decade and a half after their breakup. Codeine was a band of Oberlin students who signed to Sub Pop in 1990 and released two albums and an EP before disbanding in 1995. They are considered by most to be the first full-fledged Slowcore band. To start out, the intro is one of the best I’ve ever heard - with the inertia from that frantic call-and-response guitar slamming the listener headlong into a rough-hewn wall of distortion. Walls are the lyrical topic of this song – “There’s a castle in her heart/the walls go up for miles”. Each strum and cymbal stroke does indeed stretch on for miles, seemingly reaching up into a black and gloomy sky. A curious lyric comes at the bridge, and we know it to be the lynchpin of the song in the way the music escalates in order to platform it upon the highest terrace, and the way it is drearily but insistently repeated: “She’s the king in Wittgenstein’s world”. That must be referring to early 20th century German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, which is perhaps an odd reference to hear coming from a rock band, but I cannot think of a better philosophical counterpart to Codeine’s music than Wittgenstein, whose meticulous attempts to rectify what he called “linguistic confusion” in philosophy perfectly mirror the meticulous, brittle, and ponderous music of Codeine. There is a mathematical precision to Codeine, mirroring Wittgenstein’s liberal utilization of mathematics in his work. Both deconstruct and react to the traditions which precede them with a painstaking reevaluation of their tropes and presuppositions; they stretch everything apart so that all can be examined, understood, and organized. Each beat and each word is given enormous weight, the burden of which accounts for the two’s torpor. Ludwig Wittgenstein But this is a Sisyphean task, as the fatalistic tone of both camps attests. By the end of his life, Wittgenstein had denounced almost all of his prior work and almost thrown up his hands in exasperation at the prospects of creating a coherent epistemological system out of language, which is infinitely self-referential and paradoxical. It’s also a lonely and alienating task. This “Wittgenstein’s world” which Codeine paints in this track is reminiscent of Theodore W. Adorno’s and Max Horkheimer’s assessment of the analytic tradition in philosophy in their work “Dialectic of Enlightenment”, a critique of Enlightenment thought, and, by extension, the logical positivism of those such as (early) Wittgenstein. To them, Enlightenment modes of thinking directly reflect the structure of the society of lordship. From a distance, from his stronghold, from the tower where “you can see everything” as per the song, the Lord dominates his carefully delimited property of fields, gardens, granaries, storerooms, barracks, etc., populated by his diligent servants who tend to and defend it in his stead. Quote Adorno and Horkheimer, “The self which learned about order and subordination through the subjugation of the world soon equated truth in general with classifying thought, without whose fixed distinctions it cannot exist”. In this “classification”, everything is “kept apart”, just as the subject of Codeine’s song “keeps everything apart” from the castle in her heart. Philosophy and thought itself become mere instruments, and eventually are rendered as autonomous and automatic as the machines they themselves produce, tending to the system in the Master’s stead. Drawing from Hegel, Adorno and Horkheimer argue how this mindset is alienating not only for the servants who are dominated, but also for the Master. The “autocratic intellect”, the subject, distances itself from the object; it becomes sequestered inside its immovable castle around which everything else is congregated. It looks out from this castle but cannot venture forth and engage itself directly through sensuous experience, it must erect walls and moats and monitor carefully what is allowed in and out – like the example Adorno and Horkheimer use of the Odyssey, wherein Odysseus ties himself to the mast of the ship so that he can receive the sirens’ song and satisfy his curiosity and listen for any information which may assist his journey without being enthralled by it, while meanwhile the rowers’ ears are plugged with wax so that they cannot hear but may continue dutifully rowing. The traveling jesters are allowed into the court so that the King may be entertained for an evening, but the purpose is only temporary alleviation of the monotony of isolation, and they bring him only a glimpse of the lands beyond the walls which he can never journey to, as he is bound to his duties and his realm. Such is the state of art in Enlightenment society. It is like the siren’s call. We are bound inescapably to our economic endeavors – just one example being our jobs, in which we lord over our workspaces and are lorded over in turn – and are allowed to hear the siren’s call of music, but we cannot ever break free from our bonds and plunge ourselves with abandon into the ocean. We have to content ourselves with the experience of the unbearable ache which it evokes within us. True art is a “limit experience”, according to Georges Bataille, thus called because these experiences bring us to the limit of what is known and to the edge of the unknown, into the “night of non-knowledge” as Bataille calls it. Adorno and Horkheimer show how Enlightenment cannot reconcile with art, doesn’t know what to make of it, precisely because Enlightenment is the pathological aversion to the unknown. The only things which it can extract from art are those things that are useful; Bataille would concur that in the cross back from the night of non-knowledge into the day of knowledge the only things which don’t evaporate in the sunlight are useful things. Thus art becomes a tool just like everything else under the instrumental reason of Enlightenment. At most innocuous, it is merely used as a stress reliever or to educate; at most insidious, it becomes an instrument of pacification or propaganda. But never is total immersion permitted, nor really is it possible; the Master must remain tied, and the servant keep rowing. Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer In the first exegesis of Dialectic of Enlightenment, titled “The Concept of Enlightenment”, Adorno and Horkheimer quote Schelling to illustrate the enlightened bourgeois attitude towards art: that it is “the prototype of science” [Schelling], it comes into play “where knowledge forsakes mankind” [A + H]. Just as how the shaman carefully draws the ritual circle within which his magic is effective, science draws its circle around the “actual”, the “concrete”, the “measurable”, “existence”, and is unable to bring any bearing upon what lies outside. This is strikingly similar to some comments Wittgenstein made: his famous quote which closes the Tractatus, “that whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must pass over in silence”, is an early example of the realization of this limit, but he formulates it most clearly in a letter to his friend Paul Engelmann regarding a poem he had been sent by him, “Count Eberhard’s Hawthorn” by Ludwig Uhland (which I recommend you quickly look up and read – it’s a short but beautiful piece). In the letter, Wittgenstein praises the poem with these words: “And this is how it is: if only you do not try to utter what is unutterable, then nothing gets lost. But the unutterable will be -- unutterably -- contained in what has been uttered!” In this, Wittgenstein acknowledges the ability of art to say something beyond what is contained in the words themselves, an ability which language and science cannot attain, and if ever they make the attempt, they invariably spoil this extra-textual content. It cannot reckon with it - it is incommensurable. From the tower of Codeine’s castle, “you can see everything, but she shows me nothing” – she is incapable of “showing rather than telling” (telling as in making crudely perceptible). Better to leave the unutterable unuttered – art knows how to gesture towards, and not to say outright. But this is anathema to Enlightenment and its pathological aversion to the unknown, to ambiguity, and to the imperceptible. The sparseness and obliqueness of Codeine’s lyrics, and the vocals’ consignment to the backseat as merely another instrument meant to contribute their meager content to the overall impression of the ensemble, acknowledges this limit which Wittgenstein so well explains. Codeine chooses to allude, rather than to state outright. Adorno and Horkheimer have been criticized for lumping Wittgenstein in with the Anglo positivists. This is perhaps rightly so, though it’s worth noting that, at the time of Dialectic of Enlightenment, only Wittgenstein’s first work, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, had been published. In the paper “On Ladder Withdrawal Symptoms and One Way of Dealing with Them”, T. P. Uschanov argues for an idiosyncratic reading of Wittgenstein which posits him as in fact a satirical writer of sorts, where the Tractatus is a reductio ad absurdum of logical positivist philosophy, a comedy of errors, a demonstration of “how little is achieved when these problems are solved” (Wittgenstein’s own words in the Tractatus). Amusingly, according to Uschanov, he is misinterpreted by analytic philosophers who take his words at face value, for whom the style of the text – parodying their own dogmatic, just-so sort of language – is too convincing. The members of Codeine. From left: Chris Brokaw (drums), Stephen Immerwahr (bass, vocals), John Engle (guitar) Similar is Codeine, about which Chris Brokaw, original drummer, has said “people couldn’t get past how impossibly slow the music was, when to me, we were about much more than that”. The style, an extension of rock bombast and melodrama, channeled into its dreariest and most sad-sack proclivities, is almost an impediment to understanding the deconstructive nature of Codeine, a deconstruction that borders on parody of the rock idiom, and demonstrates how little is accomplished thereby, how futile it is. Codeine feels like “the last rock band”. Any artist succeeding them has merely failed to properly reckon with them, else they would surely give up rock music entirely; just like Wittgenstein and the logical positivists. In fact, Wittgenstein is a rebuttal to the Enlightenment thought that Adorno and Horkheimer so vituperatively critique in Dialectic of Enlightenment. Uschanov elaborates in the article upon the uncanny, eerie thought experiments which Wittgenstein often used in his work – “a mouse is born spontaneously of grey rags and dust… chess pieces move by themselves and memories of their places also change… God creates for two minutes an area in the middle of a desert that is an exact copy of a part of England, including all the events that happen in that part of England”. These glimpses which Wittgenstein entreats us to take into a surreal world in which anything that is could be otherwise are precisely glimpses into the incommensurable world, into the “night of non-knowledge”, the “unutterable” element which Enlightenment is willfully nescient of and incapable of penetrating into. Wittgenstein, beyond demonstrating for the positivists how clumsy and inadequate their tools are, tries to present to them what is neglected by these tools, what is the wrench in their apparatus, the undefinable variable in their equations, which leads them to bizarre conclusions and threatens to topple all their work at any moment. In Codeine’s castle, “the TV’s somehow wrong, nothing seems to fit” – the TV is this window into a world where everything is somehow wrong. Nothing seems to fit because this world cannot be assimilated into the Enlightenment gestalt. Castle by Codeine, then, is an aural depiction of “Wittgenstein’s world”, the one which Wittgenstein held up in warning to philosophy and to the world at large, but that he nevertheless necessarily occupied himself. It’s a warning that has not been properly heeded, as today we only persist, locked in our course, in the Enlightenment project, whose brittle presuppositions threaten to buckle under the weight that’s been incessantly constructed on top of them the next time its insatiable gullet imbibes something it cannot digest. Rock music could also stand to heed Codeine’s forewarning by example of its fate (a fate it seems to have fallen into regardless) and be much invigorated thereby -- its lassitude finally remedied. The Max Power Hour is on 99.1 WIUX every Friday from 9 to 10 PM EST while IU is in session. Tune in for more music and commentary like this. More written articles to come.
Speculative Saturdays: Twitch is Getting Bodyslammed by DMCA Takedown Notices. They Should Have Seen It Coming
Written by Duncan Holzhall Warning: Legal jargon and acronyms lie ahead. Proceed with caution. Many of us are familiar with the tropes of cowboy and Western films. One such trope is the small-town saloon, where the rabble-rousers go to drink and gamble. A grizzled cowboy sits at the bar, nursing a whiskey amidst the noise. Everyone knows who he is and knows better than to bother him: he is the man in charge, but he’s also a man on the run. Suddenly, the swinging doors burst open, and in struts an imposing figure. His spurs clank with each plodding step, and he points to the cowboy. He’s a bounty hunter, and he’s come to capture his quarry. The cowboy now has two choices: face down the bounty hunter or comply with his demands. Anyway, the cowboy is Twitch, and the bounty hunter is the DMCA. What is Twitch? If you are unfamiliar with Twitch, it is a prominent live-streaming platform with over 7 million streamers and 40 million users. The content on the platform is as varied as the creators, ranging from popular offerings such as e-sports and video games to more niche categories in the realm of live podcasting. Music-oriented creators are popular on the platform as well, whether giving live performances or criticizing new releases. The ephemeral nature of livestreaming, combined with the niche market for the platform, has allowed the platform to outpace legislation around intellectual property use. But as the platform grows, and as streams are archived, rights administrators are taking notice of the platform. What is the DMCA? Unfortunately, the DMCA is not nearly as simple to understand. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a piece of legislation passed in 1998, and it criminalized the production and distribution of services or products that circumvent controlled access to copyrighted material (or, in plain English, Internet privacy). One of the primary protections in the law is an exemption from liability of Online and Internet Service Providers for criminal copyright activities of their users. For example, in the infamous case of Napster and other peer-to-peer file sharing services, the DMCA ensured that America On Line (AOL) wouldn’t be held liable for the criminal activities of Sean Parker and Napster. The aim of the DMCA has been to ensure that rights holders are fairly compensated for the use of their materials, helping some creators while hurting others. CONFUSION ALERT AHEAD! One of the most infamous enforcement methods of the DMCA is the issuance of a takedown notice. When a copyright holder believes that someone is using their content without permission, a takedown notice is issued. This notice is in line with the purpose of the law, as the use of copyrighted material (ex: a song) without owning the rights (ex: either owning the rights to song/master or being covered by a licensing agreement) would be seen as circumventing access to the rights (ex: using a song without paying for it). Before May, Twitch received fewer than 50 music-related DMCA notices. However, in the past month, they have been flooded with thousands of notices on archived streams on the platform. Where is Twitch messing up? As it stands right now, Twitch does not have a master use license with major record labels. Twitch does hold a public performance license, which protects streamers who perform live concerts on the platform. Thus, if a guitar player plays a cover of “Hey Bulldog” by The Beatles, they won’t receive a takedown notice because the performance of a cover is protected by a public performance license. However, the guitar player could NOT play a recording of “Hey Bulldog” on stream because, in addition to the music and lyrics being copyrighted, the sound recording (AKA a master) has separate copyright protections. Twitch does not have a master use license, so streamers cannot play recordings on the platform. But what if the streamer uses Spotify Premium or a similar subscription? Don’t they pay for the rights to access that music? It is true that the streamer pays for unrestricted access to music via popular streaming services. However, this subscription only allows the user to have access. By playing music over livestream, the streamer is “distributing” the music to users that do not pay for it. Under the law, this counts as a circumvention of access. Who does this affect? The recent string of takedowns primarily affects music-oriented streamers. Very few of the takedown notices have been in response to the use of video game music on streams, because a vast majority of video game scores are created as “works-for-hire.” As such, the composer forfeits their claim to copyright benefits (such as royalty payments) in exchange for a larger salary. Since Twitch has licensing agreements with the creators/rights holders of these games, the music comes as a package deal. As previously mentioned, musicians who perform originals and covers will not be affected severely, unless they play covers of songs by publishers who do not have a performance license with Twitch. Primarily, these DMCA takedowns will affect streamers who play copyrighted music outside of the context of their primary niche (ex: Fortnite players who listen to Spotify). Additionally, this could cause a sharp decline in music-video-game streams. Guitar Hero is a game that is structured on master recordings, masters that Twitch does not have a license to protect. Finally, a majority of DMCA takedowns have targeted archived streams on the platform. Because these can be considered “replayable material,” archived streams are enforced in the same way as a YouTube video, for example. Could Twitch have predicted this? Unquestionably. The DMCA has been in effect since the late 1990s, and Twitch was founded in 2011. The Internet is nothing new, and the ramifications of the DMCA on the Internet were made clear by the beginning of the 2010s. After a highly publicized battle with YouTube on the matter, the DMCA had cemented its authority over copyrighted material on the Internet. The founders of Twitch would have been well-aware of the legal battle, and they had to have considered the broad variety of creators that could use their platform. Twitch should have seen this coming. What’s next for Twitch? Tying back to the cowboy example, Twitch can face down the bounty hunter or comply with their demands. They have instructed streamers to stop using copyrighted material in their streams due to the surge in DMCA takedowns. The service has announced that they are in talks with major record labels to brainstorm potential solutions to the problem. Whether this results in a blanket master use license or a specialized deal, the direct deal with rights holders is the most straightforward approach. However, Twitch has noted that since many streamers are not music-oriented, they may not even pursue this idea at all. The other, more difficult option would be to craft a legal challenge to work around the DMCA. This likely won’t work, given that the DMCA is structured to prevent workarounds. In this realm, the DMCA is quicker on the trigger.
Written by Sam Bowden The Taiwanese indie rock quintet Sunset Rollercoaster have become a low-key favorite of several of us here at WIUX. Over the course of two albums and a few EPs, the band has become known for their omnivorous taste and eclectic inspirations. They dabble with jazz, dreampop, “subtropical vibes,” plenty of ‘80s synthpop, and even some funk. With their latest SOFT STORM, the band further experiments with their eclectic sound to make a concept album with some new collaborators and solid songs. The album expectedly begins with the calming sounds of a soft storm before some ‘80s synths and airy guitar enter the mix. The first track, “Soft Storm,” as well as later tracks “Overlove (Rehab)” and “Midnight with Paul” are three interludes in a nine track album. This is not a negative comment, however. Some of their most affecting work comes through in their instrumentation, as the band has become proficient at curating good vibes. These are tunes that could perfectly fit on a “chill beats to study to” playlist, but they also bear undercurrents of anxiety and longing. The album was meant to sonically reflect and channel memories of typhoons from their childhoods in Taiwan. What better time for this concept than 2020, where everyone is similarly seeking safe refuge inside from the brooding storm that is the pandemic. As always, Sunset Rollercoaster deliver their signature lovelorn lyrics, where their sentiments come through in idealistic statements: “I wanna live with you in the teahouse” (“Teahouse”). Some highlights from the new record include “Passerby” with fellow dreampop artist Michael Seyer. The song nicely pairs the two singers’ soft voices and culminates in a sweet jazzy guitar solo. “Farewell passerby / It’s your lullaby / There’s no forgetting you.” It’s hopeless-romantic lyrics like these, combined with satisfying instrumentals, that come together to make a really good Sunset Rollercoaster song. The final track “Candelight” with South Korean artist OHHYUK is also a solid track. It makes the overarching (storm as a parallel with love) concept stick, with lyrics like “Now those moments we’d had / All snuffed out like those candelights.” This one is darker and more brooding than their typical track, the throaty vocals from OHHYUK sounding like they could be from Hozier. The tune is catchy, too, and upon revisiting the album you realize this is the synth line that is introduced in “Soft Storm.” Who doesn’t love a good bookend? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kb0whVogBkI There are definitely some highlights, but the album still leaves me wanting that deeply satisfying dopamine rush of their standout Jinji Kikko EP (2016). Some tracks become fairly forgettable despite being pleasant sounding. Overall, the album reaffirms what we already knew. Sunset Rollercoaster defy genre and continuously prove they are great instrumentalists. In the best way possible, their songs usually sound something like glorified elevator music. If you’re down with that, they might be for you.
Written by Duncan Holzhall I am willing to admit that I spend a lot of time watching YouTube. Many of my close friends tease me for the amount of time I spend streaming fitness, comedy, and music content on the app. Whether over a bowl of oatmeal in the morning or winding down before bed, I would say that I spend a solid two hours a day perusing YouTube. With the help of one of the best video recommendation algorithms available, I tend to find some new content everyday that catches my attention. Over the weekend, I saw a video entitled “ d y i n g a l o n e “ under a static-laden image of Bojack Horseman. The video itself was scored by a lo-fi hip hop beat, interspersed with visuals and dialogue from the show. It captured a feeling of ennui that I have seen in other manifestations on the app, a feeling that is insular to the YouTube atmosphere. Without further ado, here is a brief history of youthful melancholy on YouTube, its origins, and how it could evolve. https://youtu.be/HXcTe7odijI The Bojack Horseman example serves as a good template for the main elements of sad YouTube edits. First, there is the musical element. Lo-fi hip hop has a storied history on the platform, with the ChilledCow livestream of beats to relax/study to gaining notoriety for its ambient atmosphere, garnering thousands of viewers at any given time. The soft lull of the beat does not fight to be at the forefront of your attention, but rather decorating your atmosphere subconsciously. Just as important to the video is the visual accompaniment to the music. Filtered through distortion and color saturation, the clips from the show highlight snippets of dialogue centered on Bojack’s battle with existentialism. The theme of grappling with a sad existence despite enormous privilege is explored throughout the show, delivered through a darkly comedic lens. This specific brand of “Weltschmerz” (world-weariness) is elevated by the visual effects and soundtrack to recontextualize the material in a unique way. Recontextualization is central to capturing the youthful melancholy of YouTube, and no phenomenon better highlights this than Simpsonwave. The building blocks of the genre are not dissimilar to the Bojack example: visual element and musical element. Simpsonwave sources its name from the consolidation of these two elements, The Simpsons for the visuals and vaporwave for the music. Many of the images for Simpsonwave videos come from the late 90s to early 00s, considered the “golden age” of the sitcom. For viewers now who were born just as these episodes were airing, these clips capture a feeling of nostalgia, nostalgia which is amplified through the filtration of VHS tape crackles and interference. As for the musical element, the sounds of vaporwave are steeped heavily in nostalgia. Whether 80s synths, muzak saxophones, or drum machines, the genre is a collage of vintage sounds that is simultaneously modern and out-of-date. The combination of this music with episodes of The Simpsons encapsulates an awareness of time gone by. https://youtu.be/rTfa-9aCTYg While the above examples are recontextualized in an additive fashion (combining elements and adding filters), two prominent examples of YouTube ennui recontextualize songs in a manipulative fashion, intentionally changing the genetic fabric of the music. One of these movements is the now-infamous “slowed + reverb” genre. True to the name, songs in this realm are physically slowed and washed out in reverb. Unlike the previous examples we’ve discussed, the styles of music covered are far wider, ranging from trap and electropop to R&B and indie. Additionally, there is an interest within “slowed + reverb” to feature artists who have passed away, with some of the most popular tributaries being Juice WRLD, Lil Peep, and XXXTentacion. These songs are superimposed with calming animated visuals, roses falling or a midnight drive on an abandoned highway. The calming effect of the slower tempo, the warm stereo atmosphere of the reverb, the hypnotic looping of the animation, and the memory of artists who may have passed blend into a pastiche of youthful melancholia. https://youtu.be/txq2Q-nD2CU Another manipulative recontextualization of music is the _______ but you’re _______ movement. This movement originally started with Childish Gambino’s “Redbone” but has since branched off into several other songs. With these songs, the audio of the track is manipulated to emulate a specific setting, as well as the emotional stakes of such a setting. Popular examples of Redbone include crying in the bathroom (low-pass filter and added crowd noise/sobbing), sinking at the pool party (low-pass filter, added crowd noise, and water ambience), and having too much lean (psychedelic alterations to the audio). YouTube clips in this genre serve to allow younger high-school/college audiences to live vicariously through the clip, engaging with a feeling through nostalgia or surrogacy. https://youtu.be/nH9iO0AI61M Why is this movement so prevalent on YouTube, and how will it evolve? According to a 2018 Pew study, 85% of American teenagers reported using YouTube, a percentage of the demographic that is higher than Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook. With such a high percentage of representation, their taste and interest will undoubtedly influence the content on the platform. Emotional vulnerability is on the rise in younger generations, with the APA reporting that Gen Z people are more likely to report mental health concerns. Additionally, younger generations are more likely now to be vocal and open about their emotions, allowing others to provide emotional support. Finally, puberty causes emotions and moods to be more frequent and intense than in childhood or adulthood. Combine the intensity of potentially negative emotions with emotional vulnerability and social media engagement, and you have a population likely to indulge in content that resonates with these emotions. It is unlikely that sad YouTube edits will come to an end anytime soon. The concept has progressed through multiple mutations already, each capturing the same general feelings with fine-tuned nuances between the movements. There will likely be a cultural shift that sparks a new generation of nostalgia, such as the potential ten years down the line to encounter tearful Adventure Time edits. It is also unlikely that this phenomenon will venture away from YouTube. The movement has been around long enough that, if there was a sufficient demand outside of YouTube for this content, it would have been met. There is also a critical visual element to these videos that would be missing on other digital platforms. Overall, sad YouTube edits have such a strong association with the YouTube environment that they will prosper for a long time on the platform. If you or someone you know is suicidal or in emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-8255. Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Written by Sam Bowden Earlier this year, the song “death bed (coffee for your head)” by Powfu went completely viral on the social media platform Tiktok. The song was a chilled out, soft rap song with a sample from beabadoobee’s “Coffee.” At the heart of this song’s success was beabadoobee’s lovely voice. The lo-fi, earworm chorus helped propelled the song to nearly 800 million Spotify streams to date. This was many a fans’ first introduction to the filipino-British artist, whose full name is Bea Kristi, but her bedroom pop songs had already garnered attention from big name artists. She had already gone on tour supporting Clairo and was signed to The 1975’s record label Dirty Hit. On her debut album under the label, Fake it Flowers, the artist takes a turn from her more lo-fi sound to more sophisticated grunge rock, with plenty of Y2K nostalgia. Entering the 2020s, the grunge rock and bubblegum pop of the turn of the century are now far enough in the past to resurface as sonic inspiration. Just this year, the bubblegum pop of labelmate Rina Sawayama’s SAWAYAMA and the post-punk of Porridge Radio’s Every Bad come to mind. Fake it Flowers exists somewhere between these two polarities, which some critics have labeled “bubblegrunge”. For the most part, the sound suits her well. Album opener “Care” is one of her best songs to date, evidence of an artist growing into their sound. Some call back to the bedroom pop of her first four EPs, including “Back to Mars,” an acoustic love song that is far too short. Later, “How Was Your Day?” is another standout, a simple saccharine tune that easily gets stuck in your head. Other songs bring her into new territory, including the smash-the-patriarchy grunge of “Dye it Red” and the self-aware and personal “Emo Song.” At times, the artist’s simple lyrics and repetitive structures can become cheesy. The final track, “Yoshimi, Forest, Magdalene,” is a totally kitschy one where she spouts the names of her potential future children. But moments like these are part of the charm of beabadoobee, and her homage to the hopeless romanticism of ‘90s/’00s rom-coms. This collection of songs is about working through trauma and mental health issues of the past, growing up and growing into one’s self, and being unapologetic in doing so. Most of the songs state plainly the emotions she is trying to encapsulate, no songwriting frills. On “Care,” she asks for those around her to stop faking that they’re concerned about her struggles. On “Sorry,” she apologizes that she couldn’t help a friend who was having it even worse than her. “Charlie Brown” brazenly rejects her past with self-harm. Through these earnest songs, Kristi invites us into her world by making grand statements out of personal experiences. Talking about the first song in a track by track walkthrough of the album, she says it is “an angry-girl anthem that I want chicks to rock out to in their bedroom, and to dance to, and to cry to if they feel sad.” By and large, she is successful in that wish throughout the whole record. Fake it Flowers is a lovely debut that marks a new trajectory of how to become a star in 2020. Like similar artist Clairo, beabadoobee has followed the path of making intimate music in her bedroom (and incidentally achieving viral fame) to seamlessly making a more sophisticated studio debut. She certainly looks different than the typical rock star, too. An adorable, young, soft-spoken girl who doesn’t shy away from singing about her mental health issues is refreshing to see jamming out. It wouldn’t be surprising, however, if this soon becomes the norm.
Written by Sam Bowden I keep the six-disc CD changer in my car fully stocked. It’s my favorite, if not slightly outdated, way to consume music on the road. Recently, occupying the third and fourth slots were two albums that I felt were strangely destined to be played back to back. The third was SZA’s Ctrl (2017), a genre-defying meditation on modern dating that has practically become canon for Gen Z-ers and twentysomethings. And in the fourth was Dolly Parton’s Jolene (Expanded) (1974), a sadgirl country-pop classic that has been cemented as one of the legend’s greatest works. As “20 Something,” the bittersweet final track of Ctrl, transitioned into the titular track of Jolene, I realized that these two albums have a number of parallels. Nearly fifty years between them and genres apart, SZA and Dolly Parton both share with emotional honesty their experiences as young women in complex relationships. I don’t think much case needs to be made for the popularity of Solana Rowe (SZA). For many young women and men alike, her album Ctrl is the closest thing to scripture in our lives. Over the course of three mixtapes and an LP, she went from a musically ambitious high school student making alternative R&B to full-on pop star celebrity. Her 7M Instagram followers are devout, and with each passing day the pleas of “Where is the new album?” grow more desperate and hostile. Dolly Parton naturally has a different demographic of listeners, seeing that she has been at it for so long. She well might have fizzled out, at least music-wise, if not for a resurgence in a young fanbase over recent years. Many of us who fit in SZA’s target demographic “discovered” Parton through her cameos on the Disney Channel series Hannah Montana. Just like she did for Miley Stewart, she became our “Aunt Dolly.” Many of us ventured to revisit her classic tunes when we grew older; I for one impulse-bought a copy of Jolene during a visit to Nashville, TN celebrating my 21st birthday. The main thematic parallel that ties the two albums together is messy relationships. In both of their worlds, there are cheating men, other women, and heartbreak galore. Take “Another Woman’s Man” and “Barbara On Your Mind” from Jolene, for a couple example. In the first, Parton is conflicted by her being in love with a taken gentleman, and she “won’t be the one to break her heart.” In the second, Parton’s lover calls her the wrong name in bed half-asleep—a classic dilemma of infidelity. These sorts of issues are all throughout Ctrl, too. In “Supermodel,” SZA is officially leaving her man because he’s being dishonest and secretive. But even heroines have flaws, and she’s “been secretly bangin’ [her man’s] homeboy” as well. In “The Weekend” we get the 21st century update to the famous “Jolene,” where it’s not just one woman but multiple women that SZA has to share a man with. And one can’t help but make a lyrical callback to Dolly’s beloved worker’s anthem when we hear SZA sing “you’re like 9 to 5 / I’m the weekend.” Another thread tying the two works together is a sense of insecurity about their status as a twentysomething young woman. Ctrl was released when SZA was 26; Jolene when Parton had just turned 28. At this point, the women are still navigating insecurity and self-doubt in their youth. SZA just wants to be a “Normal Girl,” could swing being a “Supermodel” if need be, and is searching for guidance to make it through her “20 Something”s. Parton can never compete with other women (“Jolene”), and feels the “lonely dripping down her face” (“Lonely Comin’ Down). These insecurities are only heightened by the fact that they can feel when their partners are letting them down. SZA knows her lover doesn’t mean it in “Garden (Say It Like Dat),” and Parton knows “there’s nothing quite as sad as a one-sided love” (“When Someone Wants to Leave”). But it’s not all bad for our heroines. Love is a constant, and they know they will grow from these experiences. In “Broken Clocks,” it’s “still love, nothin’ but love for you.” In the song that Whitney Houston made famous, but Parton penned, the title alone says it all: “I Will Always Love You.” Near the end of Parton’s version, in a conversational tone that makes the words all the more poignant (much like the voicemail recordings of SZA’s mother and grandmother), she says: “I hope that life treats you kind / And I hope that you have all you ever dreamed of.” As young women in clearly fractured relationships, both SZA and Parton seem to be at peace. Through their songs, they find emotional maturity amidst the unfairness of love. Optimism is fleeting and hope comes through in idealistic statements. SZA “promise[s] to get a little better when [she] get[s] older” on album standout “Prom,” and Parton knows that “somewhere there’s a garden where only love grows” in “River of Happiness.” If you are in love with one of these albums, I strongly urge you to visit the other for quite a vibe change-up. The experience, however, will be familiar. You will hear young women being wronged by some man child. You will hear stories of being anxious, lonely, and uncertain. You will search for peace alongside them. Through all of these things, one can find guidance and a sort of maternal comfort in our protagonists. If these big-haired, beautiful, glamorous women are going through it, maybe it’s not so bad that we’re going through it, too. ______ "Double Feature" is a column where writer Sam Bowden compares two seemingly incompatible records, usually one new and one old, to highlight peculiar coincidences in music’s history
Written by Duncan Holzhall A few weeks ago at the NAACP virtual convention, Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris was asked who she believed to be the greatest rapper alive. Without hesitation, Harris answered “Tupac.” Though she has admirable taste, the slight issue with that statement is that Tupac Shakur has been dead since 1996. The fact that Tupac was dead didn’t stop Coachella from booking him, though. In 2012, a specter of the late rapper performed at the festival alongside Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg in a celebration of West Coast Hip-Hop. The crowd descended into bedlam as the emcee materialized in front of their eyes. This awestruck reaction has been shared by audiences of Frank Zappa, Roy Orbison, and Whitney Houston hologram performances. However, the novelty of the hologram concert does not outweigh the damage that could ripple out across the industry as a result of their proliferation. One of the downsides of the hologram is logistical and economical. Right now, the technology required for this presentation is either rudimentary or too costly for a typical venue. The presentation of the Tupac hologram, as well as Michael Jackson and Roy Orbison performances, was achieved through the use of a Pepper’s ghost. Pepper’s ghost is an illusion technique that involves two rooms: the stage room and the hidden “blue room.” A piece of Plexiglas is placed at an angle to reflect the view of the blue room. It was a novel technique when it was introduced in 1862, but Jeff Jampol (manager of Tupac’s estate at the time of his Coachella performance) says “to watch a 19th century technology of a poor-quality film broadcast on a sheet of mylar that’s the same over and over again, I’m not getting it.” Other ventures have taken holograms a step further into realism, such as Eyellusion. They have designed a special stage that places the ghost in the center, being flanked by LED screens and supporting musicians. But, save for a few stadia, many venues do not have the technical capabilities or the economic resources to stage these performances on a regular, sustainable basis. Another issue that arises with the hologram is the potential to extort the artists’ image postmortem, occasionally in a way that is antithetical to the artists’ personal philosophy. Many industry insiders, artists, and relatives have voiced their concerns about the situation. Musi journalist Simon Reynolds called it “ghost slavery”; Dionne Warwick called Whitney concert “stupid”; and Amy Winehouse’s ex-husband called her tour a “moneymaking gimmick.” Additionally, Tupac is an artist who is remembered for elevating hip-hop into a complex art form, and he stood as the embodiment of Black rebellion against a consumerist society. Considering this legacy, it is doubtful that Shakur would participate in such a celebration of excess as Coachella (while the festival itself isn’t necessarily consumerist, the demographics of those who can afford to attend Coachella speak volumes about the ethos of the festival). An auxiliary ripple effect of hologram performance is the bust of the tribute band economy. While the tribute band bubble faces its own scrutiny in profiteering off of the image and originality of another artist, tribute bands often serve as a bridge, connecting the tribute artist to a localized audience that otherwise wouldn’t have been reached. Going so far as to dress and act like the artists they portray, tribute bands are full of talented musicians who would be out of a job without their tribute gig. Tribute bands already serve the purpose of the hologram, dedicating themselves to preserving the live performance of past artists. Finally, a music scene with regular hologram concerts would enable older audiences to create an epistemic bubble, inhibiting the progress of new artists trying to break into the industry. The older artists being immortalized through holograms will always be appreciated by the nature of their initiation into the popular music canon. But their popularity came with a specific historical moment, a moment that ends when the artist passes on. And while everyone is entitled to their personal taste, not being exposed to new sounds (both good and bad) causes creative growth and innovation to stagnate in the art form. Without a continuous involvement in the new sounds of the present day, future generations will inherit an increasingly venerable canon, to the point where one day Prince might be regarded in the same way that Bach is today. To be clear, this is not a typical boomer “Technology bad” slam against hologram concerts. The technology of holograms can help innovate in the realm of live musical performances. But too often, technology progresses at a much faster pace than the ethics of its usage. We’ve seen this story play out with social media giants, and it has the potential to spiral out with concert booking businesses. Let’s take a breath and think this through before we make the dead breathe again.
Speculative Saturdays: Why Soundcloud Fashion Will Work, and Why Other Streaming Platforms Can’t Emulate
Written by Duncan Holzhall In an effort to inspire creativity during the COVID-19 pandemic, Soundcloud has been making big money moves. Last month, Leon Sherman (global editorial director of Soundcloud) announced a collaboration with DC-based company GRVTY. Together, they will embark upon the first official fashion drop for the streaming service. While Soundcloud has experimented in one-off merch drops, this effort acts as their first foray into fashion. Let’s take a look at the Soundcloud drip, and why other streaming services won’t be able to genuinely release fashion of their own. Soundcloud The first collection, made in partnership with GRVTY, features T-shirts, hoodies, shorts, and even a Pelican case with Southwestern-influenced psychedelic designs. Throughout the drop, there are phrases peppered in, such as “Pure and Wondrous Sounds,” “Exalted Sonically,” “Futuristic Frequencies and Advanced Vibrations,” and other inspiring phrases. Conceived during the pandemic, GRVTY co-founders Marshall Tan and Orlando Urbina leaned into Soundcloud’s ability to empower their artists, as well as music’s more general abilities to help cope and heal, to inspire this drop. There are several reasons that this expansion works in the favor of Soundcloud. Firstly, Soundcloud has historically had issues with raising the funds necessary to support the platform. After several failed acquisition attempts, failed valuation fundraising rounds, and mass layoffs, the monetization model of the service had to be altered. That being said, having a diverse income stream through fashion drops like these can help the company stay afloat during this transitional period. Secondly, many of the artists that come from Soundcloud have cultivated a unique aesthetic and persona (unique enough to have an entire genre named after them). The aesthetic of Soundcloud rappers and musicians includes an interest in streetwear and hype-based fashion. As such, a fashion drop on behalf of the streaming service that propelled these stars to the spotlight would be in line with the aesthetic atmosphere of the Soundcloud brand. Just because it’s in the playbook, though, doesn’t mean you should call it. Here are several other streaming services and why a fashion drop would not work. Apple Music It is impossible to separate the Apple brand from its visionary founder Steve Jobs. In addition to his brilliant approach to technological innovation, Steve Jobs wore the most iconic drip in Silicon Valley. Jobs sourced his famous black turtlenecks from Issey Miyake, a Japanese designer known for his technological influences in his design. With Jobs fashion inspiring everyone from Elizabeth Holmes to Travis Scott, an Apple Music fashion collection would be caught in a Catch-22: fall in line with Jobs and fool nobody, or distance from the founder and risk undermining the value of the brand. Tidal Tidal is in the same predicament as Apple Music on the fashion frontier. Both the founder of Tidal (JAY-Z) as well as one of its associated artists (Kanye West) have their own fashion ventures in Rocawear and Yeezy, respectively. While Rocawear doesn’t have much sway in the streetwear world at large, Yeezy is arguably the most prominent fashion line in the music industry. Tidal’s brand hangs on the image of its founders, so any fashion rollout from the service would result in comparisons drawn to the collections of their roster. They wouldn’t attract any new customers, and hypebeast subscribers to Tidal would be more likely to purchase fashion items from another streetwear collection. Spotify Looking at the attached image of a staff meeting at Spotify, you might notice that the style of the company is like oatmeal: plain on its own, with the ability to be spiced up. There are no bold colors, but rather a symphony of muted pastels in a business casual wrapper. The buttoned-up “adult” of streaming services, Spotify is busy pursuing larger seismic shifts in the music industry. The company would find themselves out of their element in the fashion industry, given the lack of apparent interest in style on behalf of the staff. Additionally, boasting such a large and diverse catalogue of artists leaves Spotify without a distinct artistic image. Unlike Soundcloud and Tidal, the brand aesthetic of Spotify doesn’t lie with the artists, but with the UX and the company’s business model. While world domination is certainly in the cards, fashion is not their forte. Pandora A fashion drop for Pandora would be a failure because customers would be forced to order on shuffle and pray that they receive something they like. Deezer Deezer drip would be the Kirkland Essentials version of a Spotify collection.
Written by Duncan Holzhall There is currently a huge amount of hype around the livestream concert realm. When we are physically separated from our favorite artists and fellow fans for as long as we have, it is only natural to assume that livestreams are going to be the new normal. But let’s not kid ourselves: when it is safe to attend live concerts, there will be no hesitation which choice most music fans will make. Many of the issues that have arisen with livestream concerts concern capturing the live atmosphere, an admirable goal that will not be replicated in the near future. When live concerts return, there will be a decrease in revenue generated from livestream concerts as fans flock to packed nightclubs and stadiums. Livestreams won’t go away, however. There’s been too much progress and innovation over the past seven months within the field, and the ritual of sitting on the couch to tune into a virtual concert has become commonplace in many households. The question is: what role will livestream concerts play when the live music industry returns? In order to understand how livestreams will function in the music ecosystem, we need to understand the different revenue models that they can follow. Back in 2018, one of the most prominent ventures into the virtual concert realm was Coachella. An electronic music festival, the event took place entirely on a server in the popular game Minecraft (a game that is acclaimed for its ambient soundtrack, among other things). In line with the general ethos of the Minecraft teams’ goals, the festival charged no admission fee, with the only direct revenue coming from the purchase of the game. The artists for the festival broadcast their concerts using Mixlr, a live-broadcast service along the lines of Twitch and Open Broadcasting Service (OBS). As such, the familiar revenue streams of one-off donations, subscriptions, and advertising royalties were all at play during Coachella. One of the side effects of playing a virtual concert is a boost in traditional revenue generators, primarily in streaming royalties. Quickly becoming one of the most popular and prominent players in the virtual concert realm, Epic Games has been using its popular Fortnite platform to host performances. According to Nate Nanzer, head of global partnerships for Fortnite, “[i]f you’re on tour, you want to stop on the Fortnite stage. It’s a unique way to get in front of an audience that maybe you’re not reaching through other means.” To this end, it is the hope of Epic Games that Fortnite will assume a similar position within the industry as Saturday Night Live, where performers will use the performance as a promotional tool. Given that there is no official confirmation of direct earnings from Epic, we will discount that as a stream of revenue. But how effective is this method of generation? In the five day span surrounding Travis Scott’s record-breaking Fortnite concert from April 23rd to 25th, he earned $370,401.11 in streaming revenue from Spotify. While this cannot be solely attributed to the concert, and understanding that Travis Scott is one of the most popular acts in music today, there was unquestionably a noticeable increase in streaming revenue that correlated with his appearance on the Fortnite stage. If you are confused by streaming, royalties, and advertising, there are still other livestream models that follow a more straightforward approach. When the pandemic shuttered the live industry, Erykah Badu set right to work in developing a unique livestream experience. For an initial admission fee of $1, audience members were granted an interactive concert where they could vote on which songs the band would perform, what genre or style they would perform it as, and even changes in costuming. With each style, there was a different room designed to evoke an atmosphere in line with the selected genre. For Badu, she sees this method as the height of her creativity: combining performance, direction, and production, her livestreams take on a uniquely intimate feeling and allow her 100,000 tuned-in fans to feel that their voices are heard. With subsequent concerts, she plans on increasing the admission fee in the interest of making profit past covering overhead, and a livestream company is in the works. Given the choice, Badu would never go on tour again, instead broadcasting these unique concerts from home. Now that we have taken a thorough look at different revenue models for the livestream industry, how will they adapt to the return of in-person concerts? Ultimately, the industry will reach a balance between the two mediums of performance. The preference of performance platform will depend on the status of the artist. For superstars in the upper echelon of profit-making, they will benefit most from live performances in terms of revenue, occasionally dabbling in a livestream to boost their passive income streams (just because they can). For legacy acts (Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, AC/DC, et cetera), they will balance both methods: livestreams for the same mobility reasons as Erykah Badu, and live performances for the old-school thrill of performing for people. And for indie acts and other low-revenue artists, a high-quality livestream will generate a greater profit than a live tour (touring is rarely a profitable venture to begin with), with live performances used to deepen community roots and engage with local fans. Most of us have accepted that things will not “go back to normal” after COVID-19. The pandemic has forced the world to change the way it operates, and the music industry is no exception. When live performances return, there will still be plenty of room in the music scene for livestream concerts. As long as we continue to invest in the development of this alternate performance medium, the music industry will be healthier for it.
Recently, a handful of correspondents at WIUX received the great privilege of participating in an exclusive press conference with prolific R&B musician Duckwrth to discuss the release of his newest studio album, SuperGood. Brandishing a fresh new mop of traffic cone-orange hair and sporting the screenname “VOLDEMORT” on the zoom call, Duckwrth (Born “Jared Lee”) proved himself to be an incredibly lively and down-to-earth presence. The conversation shed light on the inspirations and songwriting process for Duck’s latest album, as well as the artist’s own personal takes on the state of the music industry and the United States in 2020. SuperGood was released through Republic Records on August 21st of this year. This release follows 2019’s EP THE FALLING MAN and a number of other albums, singles, and mixtapes ranging back to Duck’s first LP Nowhere in 2015. More recently, Duck has been shooting up the ranks of his genre while touring with giants like Billie Eilish and Anderson .Paak and received broad public exposure with popular releases such as 2017’s “MICHUUL.” and “Start a Riot” from the movie Spider man: Into the Spider-Verse. While much of his discography boasts several hard-hitting and bass-heavy tracks, SuperGood marks a notable shift toward a smoother, almost acoustic sound. This inclination is exemplified on tracks like “Too Bad” and “Money Dance”. In fact, many of these songs are quite reminiscent of classic R&B tunes of the 1970s – which is no coincidence. Duck cited the 1970s as a key point of inspiration for the album, giving a strong sense of cohesion to all its songs. Minnie Riperton’s album Come to my Garden was specifically mentioned as a source of inspiration. Even SuperGood’s cover art echoes the glory days of the early ‘70s (Compare the cover of SuperGood to something like Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get it On). Duck described the early 1970’s as an “era of celebration” for the black community, basking in the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement that came before in the late 1960s. Yet even with these classic elements in his music, Duck melds several other musical styles together to create a unique and progressive sound. When asked what his biggest musical influences are, Duck responded by calling himself “a smoothie” – an amalgamation of eclectic styles and eras blended into a beautiful, tasty result. In addition to the 1970s connection, artists like Outkast have made an impact on Duckwrth’s sound. “Gospel and Jazz” are used as source material for Duck to meditate on, while the energy he draws from it is channeled through his creative mind and executed in a “punk” performance. If ever there were a person to take the historic richness of classic R&B and transform it into something fresh and palatable, Duckwrth is that person. Despite the noted progressiveness of SuperGood, Duck admits that it was not at all composed in response to the current events of 2020. In fact, the bulk of the album had already been written by March of this year – but this does not mean Duck does not have a lot to say about what is going on in the world today. Duck is very outspoken in his support for the new Civil Rights Movement. In this conversation, he expressed dissatisfaction with the state of the U.S. and its treatment of BIPOC individuals, but at the same time offered optimism for the movement going forward. “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced” – This is one of the closing remarks Duckwrth left us with. Whether it was intentional or not, this tone of optimism reverberates fervently in SuperGood, and serves as a reminder that there are always reasons for celebration. You can find SuperGood available on major streaming services.