The Brazilian Bus Magnate Who’s Buying Up All the World’s Vinyl Recor

August 28, 2014

MONTE REEL 8/08/14

Paul Mawhinney, a former music-store owner in Pittsburgh, spent more than 40 years amassing a collection of some three million LPs and 45s, many of them bargain-bin rejects that had been thoroughly forgotten. The world’s indifference, he believed, made even the most neglected records precious: music that hadn’t been transferred to digital files would vanish forever unless someone bought his collection and preserved it.

Mawhinney spent about two decades trying to find someone who agreed. He struck a deal for $28.5 million in the late 1990s with the Internet retailer CDNow, he says, but the sale of his collection fell through when the dot-com bubble started to quiver. He contacted the Library of Congress, but negotiations fizzled. In 2008 he auctioned the collection on eBay for $3,002,150, but the winning bidder turned out to be an unsuspecting Irishman who said his account had been hacked.

Then last year, a friend of Mawhinney’s pointed him toward a classified ad in the back of Billboard magazine:
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Freitas is a wealthy businessman who, since he was a child, has been unable to stop buying records. ‘I’ve gone to therapy for 40 years to try to explain this to myself.’

RECORD COLLECTIONS. We BUY any record collection. Any style of music. We pay HIGHER prices than anyone else.

That fall, eight empty semitrailers, each 53 feet long, arrived outside Mawhinney’s warehouse in Pittsburgh. The convoy left, heavy with vinyl. Mawhinney never met the buyer.

“I don’t know a thing about him — nothing,” Mawhinney told me. “I just know all the records were shipped to Brazil.”

Just weeks before, Murray Gershenz, one of the most celebrated collectors on the West Coast and owner of the Music Man Murray record store in Los Angeles, died at 91. For years, he, too, had been shopping his collection around, hoping it might end up in a museum or a public library. “That hasn’t worked out,” The Los Angeles Times reported in 2010, “so his next stop could be the Dumpster.” But in his final months, Gershenz agreed to sell his entire collection to an anonymous buyer. “A man came in with money, enough money,” his son, Irving, told The New York Times. “And it seemed like he was going to give it a good home.”

Those records, too, were shipped to Brazil. So were the inventories of several iconic music stores, including Colony Records, that glorious mess of LP bins and sheet-music racks that was a Times Square landmark for 64 years. The store closed its doors for good in the fall of 2012, but every single record left in the building — about 200,000 in all — ended up with a single collector, a man driven to get his hands on all the records in the world.

In an office near the back of his 25,000-square-foot warehouse in São Paulo, Zero Freitas, 62, slipped into a chair, grabbed one of the LPs stacked on a table and examined its track list. He wore wire-rimmed glasses, khaki shorts and a Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt; his gray hair was thin on top but curled along his collar in the back. Studying the song list, he appeared vaguely professorial. In truth, Freitas is a wealthy businessman who, since he was a child, has been unable to stop buying records. “I’ve gone to therapy for 40 years to try to explain this to myself,” he said.
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His compulsion to buy records, he says, is tied up in childhood memories: a hi-fi stereo his father bought when Freitas was 5 and the 200 albums the seller threw in as part of the deal. Freitas was an adolescent in December 1964 when he bought his first record, a new release: “Roberto Carlos Sings to the Children,” by a singer who would go on to become one of Brazil’s most popular recording stars. By the time he finished high school, Freitas owned roughly 3,000 records.

After studying music composition in college, he took over the family business, a private bus line that serves the São Paulo suburbs. By age 30, he had about 30,000 records. About 10 years later, his bus company expanded, making him rich. Not long after that, he split up with his wife, and the pace of his buying exploded. “Maybe it’s because I was alone,” Freitas said. “I don’t know.” He soon had a collection in the six figures; his best guess at a current total is several million albums.

Recently, Freitas hired a dozen college interns to help him bring some logic to his obsession. In the warehouse office, seven of them were busy at individual workstations; one reached into a crate of LPs marked “PW #1,425” and fished out a record. She removed the disc from its sleeve and cleaned the vinyl with a soft cloth before handing the album to the young man next to her. He ducked into a black-curtained booth and snapped a picture of the cover. Eventually the record made its way through the assembly line of interns, and its information was logged into a computer database. An intern typed the name of the artist (the Animals), the title (“Animalism”), year of release (1966), record label (MGM) and — referencing the tag on the crate the record was pulled from — noted that it once belonged to Paulette Weiss, a New York music critic whose collection of 4,000 albums Freitas recently purchased.
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For the truly compulsive hobbyist, there comes a time when a collection gathers weight — metaphysical, existential weight.

The interns can collectively catalog about 500 records per day — a Sisyphean rate, as it happens, because Freitas has been burying them with new acquisitions. Between June and November of last year, more than a dozen 40-foot-long shipping containers arrived, each holding more than 100,000 newly purchased records. Though the warehouse was originally the home of his second business — a company that provides sound and lighting systems for rock concerts and other big events — these days the sound boards and light booms are far outnumbered by the vinyl.

Many of the records come from a team of international scouts Freitas employs to negotiate his deals. They’re scattered across the globe — New York, Mexico City, South Africa, Nigeria, Cairo. The brassy jazz the interns were listening to on the office turntable was from his man in Havana, who so far has shipped him about 100,000 Cuban albums — close to everything ever recorded there, Freitas estimated. He and the interns joke that the island is rising in the Caribbean because of all the weight Freitas has hauled away.

Allan Bastos, who for years has served as Freitas’s New York buyer, was visiting São Paulo and joined us that afternoon in the warehouse office. Bastos, a Brazilian who studied business at the University of Michigan, used to collect records himself, often posting them for sale on eBay. In 2006, he noticed that a single buyer — Freitas — was snapping up virtually every record he listed. He has been buying records for him ever since, focusing on U.S. collections. He has purchased stockpiles from aging record executives and retired music critics, as well as from the occasional celebrity (he bought the record collection of Bob Hope from his daughter about 10 years after Hope died). This summer Bastos moved to Paris, where he’ll buy European records for Freitas

Bastos looked over the shoulder of an intern, who was entering the information from another album into the computer.

“This will take years and years,” Bastos said of the cataloging effort. “Probably 20 years, I guess.”

Twenty years — if Freitas stops buying records.

Collecting has always been a solitary pursuit for Freitas, and one he keeps to himself. When he bought the remaining stock of the legendary Modern Sound record store in Rio de Janeiro a couple of years ago, a Brazilian newspaper reported that the buyer was a Japanese collector — an identity Bastos invented to protect Freitas’s anonymity. His collection hasn’t been publicized, even within Brazil. Few of his fellow vinyl enthusiasts are aware of the extent of his holdings, partly because Freitas never listed any of his records for sale.

But in 2012, Bob George, a music archivist in New York, traveled with Bastos to São Paulo to prepare for Brazilian World Music Day, a celebration that George organized, and together they visited Freitas’s home and warehouse; the breadth of the collection astonished George. He was reminded of William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate who lusted after seemingly every piece of art on the world market and then kept expanding his private castle to house all of it.

“What’s the good of having it,” George remembers telling Freitas, “if you can’t do something with it or share it?”

To help him locate records in his personal collection, Freitas uses objects like “Star Wars” cards (Disney LPs) and a Heineken bottle (soccer LPs). Credit Sebastián Liste/Noor, for The New York Times

The question nagged at Freitas. For the truly compulsive hobbyist, there comes a time when a collection gathers weight — metaphysical, existential weight. It becomes as much a source of anxiety as of joy. Freitas in recent years had become increasingly attracted to mystic traditions — Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist. In his house, he and his second wife created a meditation room, and they began taking spiritual vacations to India and Egypt. But the teachings he admired didn’t always jibe with his life as a collector — acquiring, possessing, never letting go. Every new record he bought seemed to whisper in his ear: What, ultimately, do you want to do with all this stuff?

He found a possible model in George, who in 1985 converted his private collection of some 47,000 records into a publicly accessible resource called the ARChive of Contemporary Music. That collection has grown to include roughly 2.2 million tapes, records and compact discs. Musicologists, record companies and filmmakers regularly consult the nonprofit archive seeking hard-to-find songs. In 2009 George entered into a partnership with Columbia University, and his archive has attracted support from many musicians, who donate recordings, money or both. The Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards has provided funding for the archive’s collection of early blues recordings. David Bowie, Paul Simon, Nile Rodgers, Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme all sit on its board.

Freitas has recently begun preparing his warehouse for his own venture, which he has dubbed Emporium Musical. Last year, he got federal authorization to import used records — an activity that hadn’t been explicitly allowed by Brazilian trade officials until now. Once the archive is registered as a nonprofit, Freitas will shift his collection over to the Emporium. Eventually he envisions it as a sort of library, with listening stations set up among the thousands of shelves. If he has duplicate copies of records, patrons will be able to check out copies to take home.

Some of those records are highly valuable. In Freitas’s living room, a coffee table was covered with recently acquired rarities. On top of a stack of 45s sat “Barbie,” a 1962 single by Kenny and the Cadets, a short-lived group featuring the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson on lead vocals and, as backup singers, Wilson’s brother Carl and their mother, Audree. In the same stack was another single — “Heartache Souvenirs”/”Chicken Shack,” by William Powell — that has fetched as much as $5,000 on eBay. Nearby sat a Cuban album by Ivette Hernandez, a pianist who left Cuba after Fidel Castro took power; Hernandez’s likeness on the cover was emblazoned with a bold black stamp that read, in Spanish, “Traitor to the Cuban Revolution.”

While Freitas thumbed through those records, Bastos was warning of a future in which some music might disappear unnoticed. Most of the American and British records Freitas has collected have already been digitally preserved. But in countries like Brazil, Cuba and Nigeria, Bastos estimated, up to 80 percent of recorded music from the mid-20th century has never been transferred. In many places, he said, vinyl is it, and it’s increasingly hard to find. Freitas slumped, then covered his face with his hands and emitted a low, rumbling groan. “It’s very important to save this,” he said. “Very important.”

Freitas is negotiating a deal to purchase and digitize thousands of Brazilian 78 r.p.m. recordings, many of which date to the early 1900s, and he expects to digitize some of the rarest records in his collection shortly thereafter. But he said he could more effectively save the music by protecting the existing vinyl originals in a secure, fireproof facility. “Vinyl is very durable,” he said. “If you store them vertically, out of the sun, in a temperature-controlled environment, they can pretty much last forever. They aren’t like compact discs, which are actually very fragile.”

Borges “Universal Library” comes to mind here. Good thing there’s a meditation room, though I hope it’s not hexagonally shaped.

As a vinyl collector/hoarder getting on in years, I’ve been wondering what to do with my LPs (mostly classical & show tunes). How does one…

I love and collect vinyl but my criterion is only records, or bands I like.It’s wonderful that new releases are now nearly always issued on…

In his quest to save obscure music, Bastos told me, Freitas sometimes buys records he doesn’t realize he already owns. This spring he finally acquiesced to Bastos’s pleas to sell some of his duplicate records, which make up as much as 30 percent of his total collection, online.

“I said, ‘Come on, you have 10 copies of the same album — let’s sell four or five!’ ” Bastos said.

Freitas smiled and shrugged. “Yes, but all of those 10 copies are different,” he countered. Then he chuckled, as if recognizing how illogical his position might sound.
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Freitas and the interns joke that the island is rising in the Caribbean because of all the weight he has hauled away.

In March, he began boxing up 10,000 copies of Brazilian LPs to send to George in an exchange between the emerging public archive and its inspirational model. It was a modest first step, but significant. Freitas had begun to let go.

Earlier this year, Freitas and Bastos stopped into Eric Discos, a used-record store in São Paulo that Freitas frequents. “I put some things aside for you,” the owner, Eric Crauford, told him. The men walked next door, where Crauford lives. Hundreds of records and dozens of CDs teetered in precarious stacks — jazz, heavy metal, pop, easy listening — all for Freitas.

Sometimes Freitas seems ashamed of his own eclecticism. “A real collector,” he told me, is someone who targets specific records, or sticks to a particular genre. But Freitas hates to filter his purchases. Bastos once stumbled upon an appealing collection that came with 15,000 polka albums. He called Freitas to see if it was a deal breaker. “Zero was asking me about specific polka artists, whether they were in the collection or not,” Bastos remembered. “He has this amazing knowledge of every kind of music.”

That afternoon, Freitas purchased Crauford’s selections without inspecting them, as he always does. He told Crauford he’d send someone later in the week to pick them up and deliver them to his house. Bastos listened to the exchange without comment but noted the destination of the records — Freitas’s residence, not the archive’s warehouse. He was worried that the collector’s compulsions might be getting in the way of the archiving efforts. “Zero isn’t taking too many of the records to his house, is he?” Bastos had asked a woman who helps Freitas manage his cataloging operation.

No, she told him. But almost every time Freitas picked up a record at the archive, he’d tell a whole story about it. Often, she said, he’d become overwhelmed with emotion. “It’s like he almost cries with every record he sees,” she told him.

Freitas’s desire to own all the music in the world is clearly tangled up in something that, even after all these years, remains tender and raw. Maybe it’s the nostalgia triggered by the songs on that first Roberto Carlos album he bought, or perhaps it stretches back to the 200 albums his parents kept when he was small — a microcollection that was damaged in a flood long ago but that, as an adult, he painstakingly recreated, album by album.

After the trip to Eric Discos, I descended into Freitas’s basement, where he keeps a few thousand cherry-picked records, a private stash he doesn’t share with the archive. Aside from a little area reserved for a half-assembled drum kit, a couple of guitars, keyboards and amps, the room was a labyrinth of floor-to-ceiling shelving units filled with records.

He walked deep into an aisle in search of the first LP he ever bought, the 1964 Roberto Carlos record. He pulled it from the shelf, turning it slowly in his hands, staring at the cover as if it were an irreplaceable artifact — as if he did not, in fact, own 1,793 additional copies of albums by Roberto Carlos, the artist who always has, and always will, occupy more space in his collection than anyone else.

Nearby sat a box of records he hadn’t shelved yet. They came from the collection of a man named Paulo Santos, a Brazilian jazz critic and D.J. who lived in Washington during the 1950s and who was friendly with some of the giants of jazz and modern classical music. Freitas thumbed through one album after another — Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Leonard Bernstein, Dave Brubeck. The records were signed, and not with simple autographs; the artists had written affectionate messages to Santos, a man they obviously respected.

“These dedications are so personal,” Freitas said, almost whispering.

He held the Ellington record for an extended moment, reading the inscription, then scanning the liner notes. Behind his glasses, his eyes looked slightly red and watery, as if something was irritating them. Dust, maybe. But the record was perfectly clean.

What are these folks doing ?

August 27, 2014

What are these people doing ?

Bedroom Rockstars: How Peter Hollens Got A Major Record Deal Without Ever Leaving Home

August 27, 2014

Ari Herstand 8/25/14

“My fan base knows I’m a geeky guy,” YouTube star Peter Hollens joked to me over Skype. With his quirky A cappella videos covering everything from Shenandoah to the musical Wicked, Hollens has amassed over 750,000 YouTube subscribers and just signed a deal with Sony Music Masterworks.

Hollens perfectly embodies what the new music industry is shaping up to look like. He did not get a lucky break. He was not “discovered” by a record company exec in night club or from a viral music video. He built a self-sustaining career on his own – making a fantastic living and supporting his family solely on his music.

Like Marcus Grant, a manager at The Collective, said:
“You’re not going to get a record deal by asking for a record deal.”

And Hollens never asked for one. He was offered it only when he didn’t need it. And still doesn’t.

Why did he take a record deal? He is following in the footsteps of another Sony Masterworks artist, The Piano Guys. “It worked really well for them,” Hollens proclaimed. Their “5 Guys, 1 Piano” viral video of their One Direction cover has over 34 million views to date. Most of their videos feature the two founders, Jon Schmidt on the piano and Steven Sharp Nelson on the cello, and have views in the millions. The Piano Guys YouTube channel currently has over 3 million subscribers. Signing with Sony Masterworks enabled all three of their Sony releases to peak at #1 on the Billboard Classical charts and break the top 50 on the Billboard 200. They have also charted in Germany and Austria.

Hollens hopes for similar, chart topping success.
Not all record deals are created equally

It’s common knowledge that signing to a record deal with very little clout can leave the artist open to lots of dirty label tactics, screwing the artist out of lots of money. Unfortunately, this is not news. But what most people don’t realize, if you actually have clout and don’t need the deal, they’ll bend the f over backwards for you.

He can’t share many details of his deal, but he told me “this is a partnership. Sony Masterworks thinks it’s a partnership. The execs at Sony Masterworks are very intelligent and very progressive.” His deal is far from normal.

“I would straight up tell people not to try to be signed to a label. Build it yourself and have them come to you. Because then you have more power in the negotiations and you can walk at any point. If you no longer need them, then what they bring to you has significant value.” – Peter Hollens

Peter Hollens started off singing in an A cappella group he founded at the University of Oregon. He later went on to sing with them on the TV show, The Sing Off. Hollens admitted though, “The Sing Off did very little for me in terms of online influence.”

For years, Hollens built up a mobile studio business where he traveled around the country recording, producing and mixing other A cappella groups. He never thought to track his own music until his father asked him to.

“I started recording my own music because my father was on his death bed and was dying of brain cancer and he asked me to record music for him. He never heard me do my own stuff,” Hollens remembers. So he started a YouTube channel and began recording his own A cappella videos, by himself in his home studio. His father passed away 9 months after he started his channel.

To pay tribute to his father, Hollens and his wife Evynne (who was a singer in another A cappella group at the University of Oregon – where they met), recorded the classic, “The Prayer,” his father’s favorite song.

Peter Hollens was slowing building his channel and was at about 15,000 subscribers when the violin sensation, Lindsey Stirling, got in touch with Hollens to collaborate. “I owe everything to Lindsey,” Hollens explained. “She helped me go from part time to full time.” Hollens mentioned that their recording of “Skyrim” released in April 2012, which currently has over 38.7 million views, still helps pay for a large portion of his mortgage. He said he went from about 15,000 subscribers to nearly 80,000 almost overnight. “I can’t say enough good things about her. She handled her rise to fame so gracefully. I am where I am because of her. I would like to get to a point where I can evoke that kind of change.”

Hollens was one of the earliest adopters of the on-going crowd funding service, Patreon and the stand-alone store (and digital distribution company) Loudr. Through Patreon, with 938 “patrons,” Hollens makes a maximum $4,820 per video he releases. He usually releases about 2 videos a month. With Patreon, along with his iTunes and Loudr download sales, Hollens has been making a very comfortable living for the past couple years.

Hollens is currently working on his debut album for Sony Masterworks. Most of the songs will be re-releases of his most popular songs.

Hollens attends the various YouTube fan conferences around the country, including the gargantuan VidCon each year, where he is greeted by hoards of screaming fans – something quite unfamiliar to someone who hasn’t performed live, outside of these conferences, in nearly 4 years.

Hollens has proven that a self-sustaining, middle-class music career is possible in the new industry. He is still without a manager and continues to record all of his music and shoot all of his videos from his home studio.

While Hollens’ baby was crying during our Skype call, he excused himself to help his wife out the door, while calming their child.

The life of a rock star is quite different today than it was in the era of sex, drugs and free love. If Hollens has proven one thing, it’s that the old rules of the industry don’t apply anymore. He found a way to make a comfortable living creating the kind of music he does best without the help of any gatekeepers.

Hollens is not an anomaly. There is thriving musical universe outside of the Biebers, Swifts and Beyonces of the mainstream. If you dig deep enough, you’ll find that the working musician class of Millennials is paving the way for the true future of the music industry. And it isn’t found on the radio.

Popular and Free, SoundCloud Is Now Ready for Ads

August 21, 2014

BEN SISARIO 08/21/14

SoundCloud is the ubiquitous wild child of the digital music world. Without paying artists or record companies, it lets people freely upload and stream any kind of audio, and musicians have embraced it as a way to share their hottest work with fans.

Lorde, the teenage pop star from New Zealand, rose to fame after posting her song “Royals” there.

Even in a market saturated with competitors like iTunes and Pandora, the six-year-old SoundCloud has managed to reach a huge scale with a catalog of unusual, often exclusive content. According to the company, about 175 million people listen to music on its platform each month — more than four times Spotify’s global audience.

“We have listeners in every single country in the world — and in space,” said Alex Ljung, SoundCloud’s chief executive, referring to recordings of the International Space Station posted by a Canadian astronaut

Now SoundCloud has decided it is time to grow up. On Thursday, as part of a new licensing deal with entertainment companies, SoundCloud will begin incorporating advertising and for the first time let artists and record labels collect royalties. Eventually, it plans to introduce a paid subscription that will let listeners skip those ads, as they can with Spotify and other licensed services.

In many ways the move is a reaction to industry pressure to license content and produce revenue. It also reflects SoundCloud’s complex relationship with record labels, which use the service to promote new releases and even hunt for new talent but have been irritated by their inability to make money from SoundCloud’s millions of listeners.

As part of their licensing talks, major labels and some independents are negotiating with SoundCloud for equity stakes in the company; in exchange, the labels will agree not to sue SoundCloud over past copyright infringements, according to numerous people involved in the talks. Such deals could make SoundCloud an alluring acquisition candidate; earlier this year Twitter considered buying it, but ultimately decided against it.

One risk for SoundCloud as it goes more mainstream is losing some of its cool factor, as well as the good will it has built among artists.

In June, Kaskade, a star American D.J., set off a heated debate when he said that dozens of his SoundCloud tracks had been blocked because of copyright violation notices from labels. In an interview this week, he still seemed awed by SoundCloud, calling it “so beautiful, so elegant” in the way the platform works with social media. But he also criticized it over how it handled the copyright notices, which he and others say have increased sharply in recent months.

“They got this incredible service up and running off all these people that have been trusting it, and then they yanked the rug out from under them,” said Kaskade, whose real name is Ryan Reddon.

Founded in Berlin by Mr. Ljung, 32, and Eric Wahlforss, 34, two Swedish engineers steeped in the world of electronic music, SoundCloud quickly found a home in that city’s technologically savvy dance culture. “In true Berlin fashion, we pushed the launch button from the middle of a dance floor at a club at midnight,” Mr. Ljung recalled.
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The company has raised more than $100 million in venture financing from blue-chip investors including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Index Ventures and Union Square Ventures. Fred Wilson, a Union Square partner who has also invested in Twitter and Tumblr, said that he saw potential for SoundCloud as an alternative to the retail-like structure of other music services.

“I saw that this wasn’t about music in the iTunes sort of way,” Mr. Wilson said. “It was about music in the YouTube sort of way, where anybody could participate. It was a bottom-up approach.”
Lorde gained fame after posting her song “Royals” on SoundCloud. Credit Theo Wargo/Getty Images

SoundCloud has evolved as a dynamic outlet for all kinds of music and audio, with content coming and going as users see fit. It is particularly dominant in the fast-moving genres of electronic dance music and hip-hop. Last week, for example, the rapper J. Cole used SoundCloud to release a tribute to Michael Brown, the 18-year-old killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. Within hours the song was a viral hit.

The company says that 350 million people encounter SoundCloud’s audio files each month on the web and on mobile devices, and 175 million of them click play at least once. Despite that enormous audience, however, its revenues have been minuscule to date, as the company has made money only from the fees it charges some of its most active providers. According to public filings in Britain, where SoundCloud has an office, it had about $13 million in revenue and $20 million in net losses in 2012, the most recent year for which its accounts are available.

For its new program, Premier, SoundCloud will sign licensing agreements with music companies that will allow it to run advertising on its service. Most of the revenue from those ads will go to the content provider, said Jeff Toig, SoundCloud’s chief business officer, although he declined to be more specific.

The first advertisers include Red Bull, Jaguar and Comedy Central, whose ads will run only in conjunction with licensed content. Among the initial content partners are two major music publishers, Sony/ATV and BMG; the distributors INgrooves and Seed; the comedy site Funny or Die; and a number of independent artists, including the Washington rapper GoldLink.

“GoldLink and his fan base have been built from the ground up on SoundCloud,” said Matt Colwell, one of GoldLink’s managers. “Now, with it progressing to monetization, it’s the natural next step for us.”

Despite months of negotiations, the three major record companies — Universal, Sony and Warner — have not completed licensing deals. People briefed on those talks say that in some ways the vibrancy of SoundCloud’s platform is part of the problem: There are so many D.J. mixes, mash-ups and other hybrid works, shared and remixed so frequently, that appropriate licensing terms have not yet been fully worked out. After all, how do you split the money from a three-minute dubstep mash-up of Britney Spears, Eurythmics, Beethoven and a dozen others?

SoundCloud and the labels declined to comment on their negotiations.

With SoundCloud maturing, there is the question of whether its users, accustomed to ad-free music, will accept the new direction. According to Mr. Ljung, the artist-centered history of the company will help in that regard.

“People know that SoundCloud is very much a creator platform,” he said. “They understand that if they hear an ad, then a creator is getting paid for it as well.”

Taylor Swift Maximizes Use of Social Media in Release of New Album

August 19, 2014

BEN SISARIO 08/19/14

For most pop stars, the announcement of a new album is a pretty routine affair. But most pop stars are not Taylor Swift.

Demonstrating her mastery of online media, and of the aggressive yet folksy style of self-promotion that has made her one of the most successful acts of her generation, Ms. Swift on Monday released a new music video and announced that her next album, “1989,” would come out Oct. 27.

The announcement took the form of a talk-show presentation with cheering fans that was streamed live by Yahoo, with the simultaneous premiere of the video for her new song, “Shake It Off,” on the online music service Vevo. During the brief announcement, Ms. Swift, who started out firmly in the country world but has gradually moved closer to pop, chatted breezily about the inspirations for her new music and called “1989” her “very first documented, official pop album.” She also answered questions from fans that came through Instagram, Skype and Twitter.

Ms. Swift, 24, also directed fans to her website, where they could preorder different versions of the album, named for the year of her birth.

With the announcement, Ms. Swift seemed to be taking the next step in a constantly evolving game of album promotion by pop stars. For her last release, “Red,” in 2012, she relied heavily on partnerships with consumer brands like Target, Walgreens and Papa John’s pizza, a strategy that helped the album sell 1.2 million copies in the first week of its release.

But since then, other big albums have been accompanied by ever more inventive release plans. Jay Z put out an album through a smartphone app, and Beyoncé’s came out on iTunes with no advance warning — a strategy so novel that it became a news story on its own. Last month, Weird Al Yankovic helped make “Mandatory Fun” the first No. 1 album of his three-decade career by releasing a video a day for eight days straight, complete with a Twitter hashtag that increased the videos’ viral appeal.

Ms. Swift stoked interest in the days leading up to her announcement by appearing on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon and posting teases to her Instagram account, which has 10.4 million followers. (Her Twitter account ranks fifth in terms of followers, with 42.7 million.)

Yahoo did not immediately respond to a question Monday evening about how many times the video had been watched. But within minutes of Ms. Swift’s announcement, Twitter had ranked her as a top discussion trend.

Why do we love the music we heard as teenagers?

August 18, 2014

Mark Joseph Stern 8/12/14

As I plod through my 20s, I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon: The music I loved as a teenager means more to me than ever—but with each passing year, the new songs on the radio sound like noisy nonsense. On an objective level, I know this makes no sense. I cannot seriously assert that Ludacris’ “Rollout” is artistically superior to Katy Perry’s “Roar,” yet I treasure every second of the former and reject the latter as yelping pablum. If I listen to the Top 10 hits of 2013, I get a headache. If I listen to the Top 10 hits of 2003, I get happy.

Why do the songs I heard when I was teenager sound sweeter than anything I listen to as an adult? I’m happy to report that my own failures of discernment as a music critic may not be entirely to blame. In recent years, psychologists and neuroscientists have confirmed that these songs hold disproportionate power over our emotions. And researchers have uncovered evidence that suggests our brains bind us to the music we heard as teenagers more tightly than anything we’ll hear as adults—a connection that doesn’t weaken as we age. Musical nostalgia, in other words, isn’t just a cultural phenomenon: It’s a neuronic command. And no matter how sophisticated our tastes might otherwise grow to be, our brains may stay jammed on those songs we obsessed over during the high drama of adolescence.

To understand why we grow attached to certain songs, it helps to start with the brain’s relationship with music in general. When we first hear a song, it stimulates our auditory cortex and we convert the rhythms, melodies, and harmonies into a coherent whole. From there, our reaction to music depends on how we interact with it. Sing along to a song in your head, and you’ll activate your premotor cortex, which helps plan and coordinate movements. Dance along, and your neurons will synchronize with the beat of the music. Pay close attention to the lyrics and instrumentation, and you’ll activate your parietal cortex, which helps you shift and maintain attention to different stimuli. Listen to a song that triggers personal memories, and your prefrontal cortex, which maintains information relevant to your personal life and relationships, will spring into action.

But memories are meaningless without emotion—and aside from love and drugs, nothing spurs an emotional reaction like music. Brain imaging studies show that our favorite songs stimulate the brain’s pleasure circuit, which releases an influx of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and other neurochemicals that make us feel good. The more we like a song, the more we get treated to neurochemical bliss, flooding our brains with some of the same neurotransmitters that cocaine chases after.

Music lights these sparks of neural activity in everybody. But in young people, the spark turns into a fireworks show. Between the ages of 12 and 22, our brains undergo rapid neurological development—and the music we love during that decade seems to get wired into our lobes for good. When we make neural connections to a song, we also create a strong memory trace that becomes laden with heightened emotion, thanks partly to a surfeit of pubertal growth hormones. These hormones tell our brains that everything is incredibly important—especially the songs that form the soundtrack to our teenage dreams (and embarrassments).

On its own, these neurological pyrotechnics would be enough to imprint certain songs into our brain. But there are other elements at work that lock the last song played at your eighth-grade dance into your memory pretty much forever. Daniel Levitin, the author of This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, notes that the music of our teenage years is fundamentally intertwined with our social lives.

“We are discovering music on our own for the first time when we’re young,” he told me, “often through our friends. We listen to the music they listen to as a badge, as a way of belonging to a certain social group. That melds the music to our sense of identity.”

These songs form the soundtrack to what feel, at the time, like the most vital and momentous years of our lives.

Petr Janata, a psychologist at University of California–Davis, agrees with the sociality theory, explaining that our favorite music “gets consolidated into the especially emotional memories from our formative years.” He adds that there may be another factor in play: the reminiscence bump, a name for the phenomenon that we remember so much of our younger adult lives more vividly than other years, and these memories last well into our senescence. According to the reminiscence bump theory, we all have a culturally conditioned “life script” that serves, in our memory, as the narrative of our lives. When we look back on our pasts, the memories that dominate this narrative have two things in common: They’re happy, and they cluster around our teens and early 20s.

Why are our memories from these years so vibrant and enduring? Researchers at the University of Leeds proposed one enticing explanation in 2008: The years highlighted by the reminiscence bump coincide with “the emergence of a stable and enduring self.” The period between 12 and 22, in other words, is the time when you become you. It makes sense, then, that the memories that contribute to this process become uncommonly important throughout the rest of your life. They didn’t just contribute to the development of your self-image; they became part of your self-image—an integral part of your sense of self.

Music plays two roles in this process. First, some songs become memories in and of themselves, so forcefully do they worm their way into memory. Many of us can vividly remember the first time we heard that one Beatles (or Backstreet Boys) song that, decades later, we still sing at every karaoke night. Second, these songs form the soundtrack to what feel, at the time, like the most vital and momentous years of our lives. The music that plays during our first kiss, our first prom, our first toke, gets attached to that memory and takes on a glimmer of its profundity. We may recognize in retrospect that prom wasn’t really all that profound. But even as the importance of the memory itself fades, the emotional afterglow tagged to the music lingers.

As fun as these theories may be, their logical conclusion—you’ll never love another song the way you loved the music of your youth—is a little depressing. It’s not all bad news, of course: Our adult tastes aren’t really weaker; they’re just more mature, allowing us to appreciate complex aesthetic beauty on an intellectual level. No matter how adult we may become, however, music remains an escape hatch from our adult brains back into the raw, unalloyed passion of our youths. The nostalgia that accompanies our favorite songs isn’t just a fleeting recollection of earlier times; it’s a neurological wormhole that gives us a glimpse into the years when our brains leapt with joy at the music that’s come to define us. Those years may have passed. But each time we hear the songs we loved, the joy they once brought surges anew.

Why the Summer Music Festival Bubble is About to Burst

August 8, 2014

By Grayson Haver Currin 08/05/14

Ali Hedrick seems surprised by the extent of the festival database she keeps. An agent for nearly two decades at Billions, one of the country’s highest-profile booking agencies for what might very broadly be termed independent music, Hedrick helps compile an annual, ever-evolving list of North American fests. The events are tiered, she explains, based on the potential capacity of each and the Billions acts they might be able to afford.

And right now, she’s simply trying to reach the bottom of the list.

“Hold on, I’m scrolling through it,” she says. She pauses for five seconds and slows her words, as though reading from a broken teleprompter.

“For just North America…I’m still scrolling.” She stops, pausing longer this time. “Let me see here. For just North America, we have a list of 847 different festivals.”

The index is so exhaustive and exhausting that a team of interns works to build it each year, updating festival dates and adding each new event that a presenter can conjure.
‘During the last dozen years, music festivals in North America have undergone a total transformation that’s not only overhauled the concert business but also altered philosophies on record releases, promotional strategies and advertising-and-branding approaches at large.’

After stints as an upstart band manager, club talent buyer and record label intern, Hedrick arrived at Billions in 1995, only six years after the company began in Chicago. Billions now has six offices across North America and a sister company in Australia. With a roster of more than 200 acts, Billions books some of the most notable bands in indie rock — Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, Vampire Weekend and St. Vincent, to name a few. Hedrick personally handles more than three dozen of those, including the New Pornographers and Neko Case, Sufjan Stevens and Shearwater. For each of those acts, she says, what’s inside that festival database is paramount to how they structure their years. Bands build tours around the high paydays of festivals, and they schedule album releases around the most conspicuous appearances.

When Hedrick first became a Billions agent, she says, she would have never predicted this festival phenomenon. But now, the trend constitutes a major part of her business.

“When I started booking bands, the Internet wasn’t even invented yet,” she says, laughing at her own hyperbole. “I didn’t have an email address or an internet connection. Everything was done by the phone, fax and pagers. Zero of my bands played festivals.”

And now, of course, they all depend on it.

During the last dozen years, music festivals in North America have undergone a total transformation that’s not only overhauled the concert business but also altered philosophies on record releases, promotional strategies and advertising-and-branding approaches at large. These events have metastasized from enormous gatherings of tens of thousands of people near major markets — the giants of the festival world — into a battalion of smaller, no-less-ambitious events in cities across the country — the new Meltasia between Atlanta and Nashville, the small-but-intriguing Basilica Sound Scape in upstate New York, or Hopscotch, a Raleigh festival that I helped to build and co-directed for four years until resigning earlier this year. But there are signs that the exponential curve of festival growth is a path to an unsustainable scenario, where too many festivals overshoot talent costs and overrun the ability of fans to buy tickets at all.

Just how much can the American festival circuit continue to swell before that bubble bursts, if it does at all?

“It’s an economics question. Especially in the United States, when anyone has any success, a million people come in and copy it and do it again,” says Todd Cote, a longtime booking agent in San Francisco who handles bands such as Swans and the Dodos. “How many energy drinks do we need? Once there’s an established new way to make a profit, people mimic it. And then they overload the system.”
‘In 2013, six of the top 10 grossing festivals in the world were American events, all established in the last 15 years.’

For decades, the American image of rock festivals was limited to the naked, stoned and dangerous events of a very brief period in the late ’60s. Fantasy Fair and Monterey International Pop in 1967, Newport Pop in 1968 and Newport Jazz in 1969, Woodstock and Altamont at the edge of the ’70s: Those gatherings of hundreds of thousands of Baby Boomers were considered the crest of Americans going outside for music. Especially through the ’90s, amphitheaters ruled the outdoor concert market, with bands on tour commanding crowds of 20,000 or so every summer.

Festivals were considered passé at worst, something that simply happened in Europe at best. Across the Atlantic, entire regions compensated for a lack of venue infrastructure by loading fields with bands and fans and having a party. In America, though, festivals remained a function of the niche communities of jam bands and their ilk, high-profile promotional stunts for large companies, large-scale industry gatherings such as South by Southwest, or quick ways to lose a lot of money. The stars of roving national festivals like Lollapalooza and H.O.R.D.E. rose and, in a matter of just a few years, fell. One-off spectacles like Woodstock ’94 and the Tibetan Freedom Concert remain memorable in part because they were largely unparalleled during their own time.

More or less, recurring rock festivals in America just didn’t exist. “When we first did Bonnaroo, the conventional wisdom was that this was not a good idea. We were met with some combination of horror, amusement and disbelief,” explains Ashley Capps, a cofounder of Bonnaroo and the president of Knoxville, Tennessee, company AC Entertainment.

Capps had been booking clubs, theaters, arenas and small outdoor events in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina for more than two decades before the idea of Bonnaroo seemed feasible. At first, it didn’t

“The overwhelming success of the first Bonnaroo took us all by surprise,” he says.

Indeed, around the turn of the millennium, a spree of massive stateside festivals — Austin City Limits, Bonnaroo, Coachella, Sasquatch, Ultra — proved that the idea of thousands of fans gathering for several days to sample hundreds of bands could turn major profits. Those spectacles have continued to generate increased momentum. In 2013, six of the top 10 grossing festivals in the world were American events, all established in the last 15 years. At No. 10, Sasquatch earned more than $9 million; at the top of the list, Coachella broke $67 million.

A month after Coachella 2011, producers actually announced that, beginning in 2012, their three days in the desert would expand to two identical, consecutive weekends. This year, according to Billboard, the strategy smashed their previous gross profit records, generating more than $78 million from nearly 600,000 attendees.
‘Though sales of recorded music have slumped during the last dozen years, there’s been a sort of festival gold rush during that same period.’

The reasons for this growth are both speculative and myriad: Thanks to easy online distribution and promotion of music, an upstart act can find an international audience with as little as one song to their credit. Festivals aggregate such acts, one booking agent told me, to create a sampler that reflects digital patterns of consumption. Capps himself says that music fans seem a bit bored with plug-and-play concerts in clubs; they want a social experience. Meanwhile, sponsor dollars have shifted toward already-engaged audiences, the kinds that arrive at weekend-long festivals, money in hand.

Whatever the causes, the symptom is clear.

“The festival business has continued to grow in importance,” explains Gary Bongiovanni, the founder of Pollstar, a concert-industry-data aggregator and analyzer. “And it probably continues to represent the best value for music fans.”

Though sales of recorded music have slumped during the last dozen years, there’s been a sort of festival gold rush during that same period. Last year, Billboard reported that, in 2013, promoters had launched the most new festivals ever. They proclaimed that many of them would fail in a tide of Darwinian selection. This year’s Global Festival Events Calendar, an annual Pollstar publication, offered listings for more than 1,200 events in 70 countries. It’s an overwhelming register, a list so long that you’re prone to find an event you didn’t know existed in a region you’ve called home your entire life. Still, the guide is incomplete, admits Bongiovanni, a testimonial to the sheer volume and steady growth of the industry.

“It comes out in December,” says Bongiovanni, “but even at that early date, if you look at the stuff that’s scheduled for the July or August weekends, you’d be hard-pressed to find a weekend where there aren’t 10 major festivals.”

That decade-plus of festival growth suggests this might be America’s new musical manifest destiny, where 3 million-plus square miles serve as an incubator for throngs of weekend listeners. But there’s more resource competition than simply finding an open public square or club network on some sunny weekend.

“Everyone is pulling from the same talent,” Bongiovanni continues. “And that is the problem: Everyone is chasing the same pool of talent, not just in the United States but globally. If they’re playing Yugoslavia, they’re not available in Arizona.”
‘For a festival to land a good lineup and make a grand public statement, they have to get in early, even if doing so gets expensive. Booking music festivals can become a sort of silent bidding war, where interested parties enter early and increase often.’

That’s where the trouble starts. With so many festivals pressing to book similar bands within a finite timeframe, many acts are able to command a higher price than they’d generally get for playing the same market. That is, they cost more than they’re worth. These higher numbers are a primary reason festivals have become such a boon for touring bands: They can use the high payout of one massive outdoor event — bolstered by sponsors and dozens of other bands that help move more tickets — to offset the costs of a larger tour. Or they’ll simply fly in for a few dates and a relatively large payoff.

Large festivals, Hedrick explains, begin booking their acts for the next year the weekend after the event concludes. Those festivals must compete with free municipal events — parties in public squares, concert series in parks and the like — for the same talent. Agents tend to give such festivals price quotes that presume a band’s appearance will be a one-off, a factor that multiplies the cost several times. For a festival to land a good lineup and make a grand public statement, they have to get in early, even if doing so gets expensive. Booking music festivals can become a sort of silent bidding war, where interested parties enter early and increase often.

“I have to quote money based on everything being a fly-in. If you have 12 people touring with a band, you have to say that’s three full days of salary for 12 people to come into your city,” Hedrick says. “You’re going to have maybe $25,000 extra just because it’s a one-off. But for the festival, it’s an investment in selling tickets.”

And talent is only the most obvious line item of festival expense sheets that can grow incredibly long. Festivals pay for venues and grounds, amplifiers and transportation, lighting and sound, security and sanitation.

There are fewer ways to make the ends meet, though, as most music festivals depend only on two major revenue streams: ticket and sponsorship sales. People pay to see bands or, many experts agree, experience the “festival atmosphere,” while companies pay to associate their brand with (and expose their brand to) cool kids with disposable income and cultural cachet.

Most events have found ancillary streams of income to bolster their budgets, whether that means incorporating options for cosmopolitan camping, or “glamping,” at rural festivals, well-appointed VIP tents or, more simply, festival merchandise and beer sales. Some festivals benefit from municipal or arts grants, too. After a four-year break, for instance, Knoxville’s Big Ears festival returned in March with the help of a long-term grant from the Aslan Foundation, a group with assets of nearly $100 million that is “focused on preserving and enhancing the natural beauty, assets and history of the Knoxville area.” Their $300,000 contribution to Big Ears this year helped to not only revive the festival but boost it into the black for the first time.
‘Still, as the festival numbers grow, they begin vying for those limited income sources. The overwhelming-and-still-climbing festival ranks suggest a bubble swelling to ominous proportions.’

Still, as the festival numbers grow, they begin vying for those limited income sources. The overwhelming-and-still-climbing festival ranks suggest a bubble swelling to ominous proportions.

In Cincinnati, Ohio, the MidPoint Music Festival has drawn largely major local sponsors — this year, a regional pizza chain and Bioré, a Japanese-owned cosmetics company with a significant Ohio manufacturing presence. But executive producer Dan McCabe says that this is a luxury for his festival that most others don’t have. Other events must build the backbone of their budget by pleading with out-of-town companies, arguing that their festival experience offers the best boost for the brand — in exchange for lots of money, of course.

Finding those funds, McCabe says, is largely possible because of shifts in marketing. Companies from Scion and Mountain Dew to Tylenol and Nike now pay to be positioned with bands; they become smart curators commissioning edgy art (in the instances when they book their own festivals or run their own labels, like Mountain Dew’s Green Label Sound) or cash-flush corporations helping to pay for as much (like when they sponsor entire stages at most every festival you can name).

Music festivals — essentially, a mass of young people who have paid to be in a certain place — offer hotbeds for putting that strategy to work. It’s called experiential marketing, which takes a brand’s logo off of festival posters and banners and puts the product in front of a captive crowd. Representatives rove festival grounds, passing out samples. Companies spend money on infrastructure, production, drinks, talent and more to create miniature villages, filled with their goods. At festivals across the world, attendees take photos in front of company-branded backdrops and tag them on social media for the chance to win some low-investment contest. According to AdAge, budgets for such experiential marketing rose as much as 10 percent in the last year alone.

“Festivals are able to pop up everywhere because brands are becoming more integrated with music. It is a way to carry the brand,” says McCabe. “And they’re becoming more savvy in activating experiential marketing. As opposed to when I started knocking on doors in 2008, they have budgets specifically for that [now]. It makes it easier to start.”

But those dollars aren’t endless. “Competing for those sponsor dollars is either first or second in what you’re going for,” McCabe continues. “There’s talent to go around, but getting your foot in the door with their sponsors and trying to get them to spend their money with you is a competition.”
‘The supply of festivals is at an all-time high, but no one knows if that’s necessarily true of demand. If demand hasn’t actually increased, higher ticket prices violate one of the most elementary rules of economics.’

That’s not the only competition that an increase in festival density entails. For these events to succeed, attendees must be able to afford the tickets. An increase in the number of festivals doesn’t necessarily equate to an increase in the amount the average person can allocate to attend those festivals, many of whose prices continue to climb as bookings agents fight for a critical mass of bands. Pushing for more impressive and expensive lineups means charging consumers more.

Doing so represents the potential breaking point for the entire festival model. The supply of festivals is at an all-time high, but no one knows if that’s necessarily true of demand. If demand hasn’t actually increased, higher ticket prices violate one of the most elementary rules of economics.

Andrew Morgan, who books artists such as Angel Olsen and Sleep from Billions’ Chicago office, is not sure how soon we’ll locate the festival bubble, or if it even exists. But there’s no quicker way to find out, he insists, than to perpetuate a cycle of one-upmanship that attaches ticket prices to a rocket.

“There will eventually be too many festivals for any given market to sustain, because there aren’t that many people with that much disposable income. There are only so many $300 festivals that people can go to, if any at all,” Morgan says. “That might be the thing that eventually breaks the camel’s back — not too many festivals, but too many festivals that are too expensive for a demographic. As soon as it starts happening, it sours ticket buyers, and it sours artists. That’s it.”

One way forward might be to lower or localize expectations, or to realize that every new event will not be the next Coachella or even the next Fun Fun Fest. Seth Fein, for instance, launched the Pygmalion Music Festival in the student-heavy, central Illinois region of Champaign-Urbana a decade ago. He had attended AthFest — a locally focused nonprofit event in Athens, Georgia — to see one of his clients, the surly post-rock group Maserati. He’d grown up in Champaign-Urbana, idolizing both its past and present music scenes, from Braid and Irving Azoff to Hum and Headlights. A small-scale festival, he reckoned, was a logical extension.

He hadn’t actually been to a major music festival since Lollapalooza a decade earlier, but how hard could it be?

“My goal was to do something that Champaign-Urbana as a community would be excited about,” he explains. “I worked with eight different venues in town putting on shows, and I thought I could put shows in each of those venues and curate it the best I could. Hopefully, the people in Champaign-Urbana would be happy about that.”

In the decade since, that simple approach has worked. Pygmalion has proven to be humbly sustainable, with a small but strong lineup that points to Fein’s personality without aggrandizing it. On both the map and the calendar, much larger festivals surround Pygmalion. Forecastle is only four hours to the southeast, while Midpoint occurs the same weekend as Pygmalion, just three hours due east. Two hours to the north, in Chicago, there’s Pitchfork and Lollapalooza, Riot Fest and the Hide Out Block Party. But Fein tries not to worry about the moves they’re making — the million-dollar headliners, the Outkast reunions, the Ferris wheels.

“I do my best to remind myself that my only real goal is to put on the best possible festival for Champaign-Urbana within the structure of what I can afford. It’s in the discussion of festivals, but it’s also in Champaign, Illinois,” he says. “For better or worse, I’m in a position where I don’t have to work to have a better lineup than Pitchfork or Riot Fest. I’m not going to get a Ferris wheel. I don’t even know where I’d go to get a fucking Ferris wheel.”

Fein has learned to feed off of the swell of other festivals, too. He could afford Chvrches, who headline this year’s Pygmalion, only because they were already going to be on tour in America, performing as one of the top-billed bands at Austin City Limits a week later.
‘In some cases, festival organizers are either overextending their audience or overburdening their market. In March, Sasquatch announced that it had canceled its plans to expand into a biannual festival by adding a Fourth of July event to its traditional Memorial Day fest.’

Routing acts from festival to festival is an important component of the business of Sam Hunt, a booking agent at the Windish Agency in Chicago. Hunt’s firm boasts an au courant roster that can be described as summer festival bait, from the xx and tUnE-yArDs to Cut Copy and Flying Lotus. Each year, Hunt submits an assortment of bands to festivals across the country based upon what’s realistic for that market, the amount of money a festival might be able to spend, and how many fans one event can accommodate. He books 45 bands of widely varying style and popularity — poster-toppers like Animal Collective and Major Lazer, middle-of-the-lineup meat such as Killer Mike or Deerhunter, bottom-row rookies like Blessed Feathers and Lido. Recognizing those strata and how they relate to the festival landscape is important for him in getting his bands gigs; it’s important for festivals, because it reflects their status and what they can afford to survive and advance.

“Sometimes you don’t need to be the absolute cream of the crop [to succeed],” Hunt explains. “Not every car is a Rolls Royce. Some people have to drive shitty cars, too, and that’s fine. They’re cheaper, and the people making them make less money. But they still get you from Point A to Point B.”

But it appears that a growing number of festival organizers might not have taken that analogy to heart: In some cases, they are either overextending their audience or overburdening their market. In March, Sasquatch announced that it had canceled its plans to expand into a biannual festival by adding a Fourth of July event to its traditional Memorial Day fest.

“The Sasquatch! community has spoken. They continue to support the traditional Memorial Day Weekend event with great enthusiasm,” the president of Seattle’s Live Nation branch wrote. “Unfortunately, the second weekend was not embraced.”
Lollapalooza crowd

And in Asheville, North Carolina, a mid-sized mountain city and tourist destination, two large upstart events have found that an annual music festival wasn’t sustainable, at least as they’d planned. In 2010, AC Entertainment — the Knoxville company that co-founded Bonnaroo and helms Big Ears and Forecastle — launched Moogfest, an electronics-heavy long weekend that took hold of the city’s venues around Halloween. They’d partnered with Moog Music, the Asheville manufacturer famous for its synthesizers, to offer a series of compelling daytime panels, in addition to the nighttime concerts. The first year surpassed sales expectations and made money, but they lost a substantial amount of cash in year two. They managed to break even in year three.

And that’s when the woes began: AC Entertainment and Moog Music parted ways, with each organization subsequently announcing that they’d launch separate events in a city whose population doesn’t even rank among the top 10 in the state. AC Entertainment would keep the same October weekend and rebrand itself Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit, a phrase lifted from one of the company’s pre-Bonnaroo forays into festivals. Moogfest would return the next April with the help of several new partners and a redirected focus as a “festival of ideas,” featuring more panels and lectures.

Mountain Oasis canceled its 2014 event by the time Moogfest could happen. And Moogfest, which lost $1.5 million and was unanimously denied an increase in public funding, announced that it would be shifting to a biennial format beginning in 2016.

Emmy Parker, the senior marketing and brand manager at Moog Music, insists that the company did not plan on making money during the festival’s first few years. Moogfest is a promotional event — one designed to share Robert Moog’s story and standards and sounds, not to become Coachella in the mountains. The move away from every April, she explains, has more to do with the company’s limited personnel and how taxing running an event of that magnitude can be.

“We knew going into it that this is definitely not the way to make money, and we had to decide if that is something we were comfortable with. We wouldn’t have moved forward if it wasn’t,” she says. “With Moogfest moving forward, how do we maintain the spiritual, emotional and physical health of the company and also have Moogfest on the landscape?”

And Capps contends that he never detected one-upmanship between the two organizations as they staged separate events in the same town. They didn’t try to spend more and book the bigger lineup to run the turf. He’d been working to book Trent Reznor long before the split occurred, and an appearance by Neutral Milk Hotel, their first announced show in more than 15 years, was a happy accident. Rather, as hotel room prices skyrocketed and ticket sales nosedived, he simply thinks Mountain Oasis ran into the limits of what Asheville could support.

“The fan reaction was fantastic. There was love and appreciation there, and that makes you want to keep trying,” he says. “But the challenges of staging an event in that market and the perceived competitiveness — at some point, you use the ‘Pause’ button and don’t continue to beat your head against the thing.”

In the end, whether or not they were engaged in a faceoff hardly matters. Both Moogfest and Mountain Oasis were rather new events clamoring to quickly break into the top tier of Ali Hedrick’s festival database back at Billions — that all-important, sacrosanct “Top 75 Festivals in North America” category. Many of the tickets cost more than $200, and some of the headliners suggested those of established events in major markets.

And now the future of both is, at best, a string of question marks.

“We have Forecastle this weekend in Louisville, and then we’re not doing anything else in 2014,” says Capps, sighing with relief after a three-festival year. “In the meantime, we’re busy on several new projects — all in other cities

Five Lessons the Faltering Music Industry Could Learn From TV

August 7, 2014

Ted Gioia 8/03/14

As record labels repeat tired formulas and watch their business model collapse, they should turn on the television to see how another outmoded industry came back from the brink.

Of all the lies told to musicians, here’s the biggest lie of them all: you have to give your talent away for free.

Creative people in a wide range of fields keep hearing the ridiculous mantra that “content wants to be free.” The music industry is the worst offender. Many label execs tell artists—maybe the execs even believe it themselves—that musicians shouldn’t expect to generate income from their recordings. But no worries, mate, you will make it all up by selling T-shirts at your gigs.

The experts who offer this bad advice need to watch some more TV. While record labels have been shrinking, TV networks have reinvented themselves by selling content via a profitable subscription model. TV has reversed the trend: households once got it for free, but now they are willing to pay for it. Yes, you can still get broadcast TV channels without paying a monthly fee, but only seven percent of American households go that route.

Not only has TV switched successfully from “giving it away” to a subscription model, but the shift has also spurred a new golden age of television. The same economic pressures that are killing the music business have led to the highest quality shows in the history of the medium.

Film director Bernardo Bertolucci recently declared that TV series are now better than Hollywood movies. I am forced to agree, and much to my own surprise. After graduating from college, I lived for 15 years without even owning a television set. I never missed it, except when breaking news stories or a major sporting event made me wish I had a “boob tube.” I certainly had no interest in the formulaic, brain-dead content on most TV dramas and sitcoms.

I never expected a TV renaissance. But when I finally stumbled on The Sopranos, I was awestruck. Something had changed in the world of TV, and I needed to check it out. A host of outstanding shows followed in the Sopranos’s wake, and for the first time since I was in fourth grade, TV became a key part of my life. From The Wire to Breaking Bad to True Detective, the new golden age of television came to life under my shocked and delighted eyes.

Music is the only branch of the entertainment world to embrace progressively inferior technologies.

What happened? Well, the same thing that is happening in the music business right now, namely the need to convince people to pay for what they previously got for free. HBO and its peers have proven that consumers will embrace a subscription-based model for content, but you need to give them a reason to do so.

Let me spell out how it’s done. Here are the five lessons the music business needs to learn from TV.

1. Target adults, not kids.

This should be obvious to the music execs, but somehow they haven’t figured it out yet. Fourteen-year-olds will not support a subscription-based model for music. HBO realized that the dumbing down of network TV left a large group of consumers under-served, namely sophisticated grown-ups—and these were the same people with the most disposable income to spend on entertainment.

In contrast, the major record labels are still stuck in kiddie land. No wonder they’re convinced they have to give away their product for free: their core target market is the poorest demographic group in the country—and also the group with the time and know-how to use complicated pirating tools.

Put simply, the recording industry needs to grow up, because the high-potential consumers they need to survive have already done so.

2. Embrace complexity.

Have you noticed how complex the hot new TV shows are nowadays? A few days ago, Malcolm Gladwell pointed to TV as proof that attention spans aren’t getting shorter. “Thirty years ago,” he explains, “you could go and get a sandwich in the middle of a Kojak episode, come back and still follow it. Today, if you get a glass of water in the middle of Homeland you have to pause and go back.”

Complexity appeals to the sophisticated grown-ups mentioned above. But also, more complex content inspires repeated listenings and greater long-term loyalty. The subscription TV networks have figured this out. Meanwhile the music industry is hoping that simple songs, without harmonic modulations and built on repeated-note melodies, will solve their problems. They won’t.

3. Improve the technology.

Fifty years ago, most households still owned clunky black-and-white TV sets. The picture quality was lousy, and the set was always breaking down. How times have changed! Television has gone high tech with big screens, crystal-clear pictures, and concert-hall audio.

Meanwhile, the music business has moved in the opposite direction. In a telling repudiation of its corporate priorities, serious music fans increasingly want to own vinyl from 50 years ago. It’s a hassle tracking down those old albums, but who can blame these audio junkies? They are tired of the flattened, compressed sound from today’s digital devices, and want something better.

Think about this: music is the only branch of the entertainment world to embrace progressively inferior technologies. Movie theaters have upgraded their experience. Video games have achieved unprecedented standards of visual quality, far beyond what the inventors of Pong and Pac-Man ever dreamed of. No one wants to watch TV shows on a 1964 console. But music devices sound worse than they did a half-century ago.

4. Resist tired formulas.

My big gripe with the old TV shows was their reliance on predictable formulas. How many times can you watch a sitcom featuring a family sitting in the living room insulting each other? How many times can you sit through the predictable cowboy shoot-out, medical cure by the star doctor, or even arrest by the good-looking crime scene investigator?

Every one of the old shows suffered from the same obvious problem: you could predict how the story would end even before it started, so why watch at all? But the beauty of the smart new TV shows is that you still aren’t sure how it ended, even after you’ve seen it—hence the endless debates about the conclusion of The Sopranos or Breaking Bad. At every step in the process, the masterminds behind the award-winning new TV show are resisting the formulas of the genre, and striving for fresh, unpredictable narratives.

The music industry should learn from this. Every album and song nowadays is marketed as part of a genre—rock, hip-hop, country, jazz, etc. But the very decision to sell songs to targeted genre fans has turned into an aesthetic straitjacket. The labels rely on formulas and rules because their genre categories are defined by them. Yet much of the best new music defies genre classification; great artists take chances and cross boundaries. Record labels struggle to promote and sell this music because they have created an entire downstream system defined by the old formulas. They need to emulate the boldness with which the leading pay TV networks have sabotaged genre recipes.

5. Invest in talent and quality.

An amazing battle between two different philosophies has taken place on our TV screens during the last 15 years. The reality TV model, embraced by broadcast networks, is built on the radical view that you don’t need trained actors or high-priced talent. You can take Snooki off the streets of New Jersey and turn her into a celebrity star.

HBO and its peers have adopted the opposite approach. They believe in traditional metrics of talent, and are willing to pay for those who measure up. HBO spent $18 million to get Martin Scorsese behind the pilot of Boardwalk Empire. In recent years, they’ve hired Jonathan Franzen, Michael Chabon and other leading literary authors to work on pilots and series. When Netflix decided to back House of Cards, they were willing to pay top dollar for Kevin Spacey—Snooki wasn’t good enough. These were both daring and expensive moves, and not all of them worked, but the overall impact of investing in highly-trained talent has been decisive. The new renaissance in television would never have happened without this commitment to excellence.

The music industry is still stuck in the old model. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told that traditional standards of musicianship don’t matter any more. Singers don’t really need to know how to sing, because Auto-Tune will fix it all. You don’t need a real drummer, because a cheap machine can do the same thing. We can argue about each of these statements, but you can’t debate what’s actually happening at the major labels. Do you see them hiring the best graduates from Juilliard or Berklee? They would laugh at you if you even suggested it. They know that the Snooki path to celebrity is the model to follow, because the public doesn’t really care about musicianship and those tired traditional metrics of talent.

Maybe they are right. But, then again, maybe the music execs ought to turn on their TV set, and pay close attention. Some folks are backing old-school talent. And guess what? They don’t have to give their content away for free.

Year to date sales

August 1, 2014


Why You Couldn’t Escape Weird Al’s Marketing Blitz

July 28, 2014

Artist Hedged Bets With Multiple Partners for ‘Mandatory Fun’ Launch

By Max Willens. 7/21/14

People with internet connections have probably noticed a lot of Weird Al Yankovic songs popping up in their feeds lately.

Every day for the past seven days, the reigning king of pop parody has released a new music video, each produced in partnership with a different content studio or artist, to promote “Mandatory Fun,” his first album in three years.

Some videos were produced with some of the largest content portals on the Internet, including College Humor, Funny or Die, Yahoo Screen and Nerdist, which worked on “Tacky,” the star-studded parody of Pharrell’s “Happy.” Others, like “Word Crimes,” were produced by independent artists like Jarrett Heather, whose work Mr. Yankovic admires.

In each case, the partner entity footed the bill for production, and in most cases gets to keep any ad revenue the video generates.

Today, the last video of the bunch, “Mission Statement,” goes live, capping off a promotional push that’s worked out tremendously well for an artist nearly 30 years into his career — the videos have piled up more than 20 million views in just a week’s time.

“I think I kind of stumbled on my formula for the future,” Mr. Yankovic said.

Music videos have been tremendously important to Mr. Yankovic’s career. His parodies of hits like Michael Jackson’s “Bad” (“Fat”) were mainstays on MTV during the ’80s and ’90s, and fan interest in that side of his work has endured; to date, Mr. Yankovic’s Vevo channel has piled up more than a quarter billion views, or about a hundred million more than modern viral video masterminds OK Go.

So when Mr. Yankovic’s label, RCA, informed him that it was unwilling to pay for videos to promote “Mandatory Fun,” he realized he’d have to find partners willing to help create them instead.

He started looking early. So early, in fact, that when he reached out to the comedy content hub Funny or Die about partnering up on a music video, he didn’t have any parody songs completed. In fact, he barely had any lyrics written.

“As soon as I had a concept for the song, I’d reach out,” Mr. Yankovic said. “For the ‘Sports Song’ video, I think I might’ve at best had a demo.
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Mr. Yankovic chose to work with numerous content partners rather than just one for a number of reasons.

“I’ve got relationships with lots of portals,” Mr. Yankovic said. “I thought it would have overburdened one portal to be responsible for all of them.”

“Not only is it sort of hedging my bets, but it allows me to involve as many people as possible.”

Even though he didn’t have a finished product ready, and even though he’d be sharing the work with lots of others, content providers lined up to work with Mr. Yankovic.

“He comes to the table with an incredible amount of credibility,” said Aaron Borns, who handles Mr. Yankovic’s marketing at RCA.

Not getting a cut of ad revenue is an arrangement that Mr. Yankovic is familiar with. He has never seen a dime of the ad revenue some of his most famous videos have generated now that they live on the web, and he never will. Those videos are the property of his label, RCA, and the label takes that ownership seriously.

“I get a cease and desist notice when I try to put my own videos on my YouTube channel,” Mr. Yankovic said.

Moving forward, Mr. Yankovic said he will be looking to build a more robust video presence on his own YouTube channel.

But as he embarks on this next phase of digital content creation, would he consider producing songs or videos in partnership with a brand?

“I don’t wanna draw a line in the sand and say I’d never do it,” Mr. Yankovic said, “but that’s nothing that I’d actively go after.

“Some bands that I respect quite a bit have done it,” he continued, “and I don’t think any less of them for it.”


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