Music Artists Take On the Business, Calling for Change

August 2, 2015

BEN SISARIO http://www.nytimed.com 7/31/15

Musicians are known for speaking out on issues like human rights, politics and the environment. They are less known for speaking out about how the music business itself should operate.

That may be changing.

When Taylor Swift publicly rebuked Apple in June over royalty payments, the company reversed its position and Ms. Swift’s move was celebrated throughout the music world as a victory. But it was only the most prominent example of a growing trend of industry-focused activism undertaken by a range of artists, from big stars who take a principled stand to middle-class musicians who need to worry about paying the bills.

“We’re at a turning point,” said the singer David Byrne, formerly of Talking Heads, who has been vocal on the economics behind digital music. “Musicians, their managers and many others are frustrated. The black box of hidden transactions in the music business, while maybe not illegal, is a recipe for chicanery.”

The activism has taken different shapes. Jay Z, for example, paid $56 million for the subscription streaming service Tidal, though his efforts to market it as an artist-friendly alternative have been criticized as clumsy. Prince, Neil Young and Ms. Swift have withdrawn their music from some streaming outlets, and various musicians have called for greater transparency in how the music industry operates.

Over the last few weeks, dozens of acts, including R.E.M., Common and Chuck D of Public Enemy, took to social media to support a bill that would require radio stations to pay royalties to performers.

The debate has been enabled by social media and reflects changes in many artists’ attitudes toward the online economy over the last 15 years or so — a period that stretches from the rise of Napster and iTunes to online streaming outlets like YouTube, Pandora and Spotify, and has been accompanied by enormous changes in how money flows through the industry.

“The support that we’re seeing, in terms of the range and number of artists, whether it’s from somebody who’s a working-class musician to somebody who’s very successful, it’s unprecedented,” said Ted Kalo, the executive director of MusicFirst, a lobbying coalition that includes record labels and musicians’ groups and that helped organize the social media campaign.

The economics behind downloads is relatively simple: Typically about 70 percent of a song’s retail price goes to a record company, which then pays its musicians according to its contracts. But with streaming, the system is complex and often opaque, as became apparent in May, when an outdated licensing contract between Sony and Spotify was leaked online, showing the elaborate formulas used in computing streaming rates.

Public relations missteps in the early 2000s kept many musicians from speaking out about economic issues, artists and executives said. Those include the music industry’s lawsuits against thousands of fans for online file-sharing, and the pillorying that the band Metallica received after it sued Napster for copyright infringement. But the shift toward streaming in recent years has prompted many musicians to investigate the changes in the business and comment online. Among them are independents like David Lowery of the band Cracker; Zoë Keating, a cellist who has documented her online royalties; and Blake Morgan, a singer-songwriter who owns a small record company and started an online campaign, #IRespectMusic, to draw attention to the issue.

At the same time, musicians and songwriters of all stripes have begun to complain, often bitterly, of low royalty payments from streaming music. Last year, for example, Bette Midler spoke out against Pandora and Spotify, and Aloe Blacc said that he earned just $4,000 in songwriting royalties from 168 million streams on Pandora of Avicii’s hit “Wake Me Up,” which Mr. Blacc helped write.

In response, many streaming outlets point out that their actions are a legal and rapidly growing source of income for the industry as sales of CDs and downloads plunge. Pandora says it has paid nearly $1.5 billion in royalties since it started a decade ago, and Spotify, which went online in 2008, says it has paid $3 billion. Yet how much of that money makes its way into musicians’ pockets remains hotly debated.

Melvin Gibbs, a jazz bassist in New York who is the president of the Content Creators Coalition, said that declining royalties — he recalled once getting a check for 3 cents — were a factor that led him to study the business models of Internet companies that offer abundant music free or at low subscription prices.

“None of these companies that are supposedly in the music business are actually in the music business,” Mr. Gibbs said. “They are in the data-aggregation business. They’re in the ad-selling business. The value of music means nothing to them.”

Several years ago Ms. Keating, who controls her own recordings, began posting detailed royalty statements from Spotify, and she has also reported on private negotiations with YouTube in which that company appeared to pressure her into signing a contract for its new music-subscription service.

Despite growing complaints from middle-class musicians, it is still the stars who have the most impact. As Apple prepared last month to release its new streaming service, Apple Music, independent labels around the world said that the company’s refusal to pay royalties for trial streams was unfair. But Apple did not budge until Ms. Swift scolded the company in a blog post — whereupon Apple changed course in a matter of hours.

Lobbying has become another battleground. In April, the Fair Play Fair Pay Act was introduced to Congress, which would require AM and FM radio stations to pay royalties to performers, in addition to songwriters. The bill has been hailed by musicians and opposed by broadcasters, who have long argued that by playing a song on air they give it valuable promotion.

But a side controversy has emerged over the MIC Coalition, a Washington advocacy group that includes Pandora, the National Association of Broadcasters and others that have frequently opposed the music industry over royalty matters. In June, Amazon withdrew its membership, and a senior executive told Billboard magazine that the company’s primary interest in transparency was “getting lost in the wilder noise surrounding rate-setting.”

Two weeks ago, National Public Radio also dropped out of the coalition after complaints from the Content Creators Coalition, which accused it of “working in Washington to deny fair pay to the very artists it purports to celebrate on their air.”

A spokeswoman for the MIC Coalition — whose name stands for Music, Innovation, Consumers — said that the group had not taken a position on the Fair Play act, though many of its members had as individuals. Michael Riksen, NPR’s vice president for policy and representation, declined to say why the organization had left the MIC Coalition. But he said that he “viewed the coalition as a way for the voice and values of public radio and NPR to be part of a broad-based conversation about copyright reform.”

“Had it taken a position” on the bill, Mr. Riksen added, “we wouldn’t have joined in the first place.”

The political chances are also unclear for the Fair Play bill, whose other provisions include paying royalties to artists for recordings made before 1972, which are not covered by federal copyright. Similar efforts have failed in the past, and the National Association of Broadcasters says that 203 members of the House and 19 senators have signed a nonbinding resolution opposing it.

Still, Mr. Byrne and other musicians pushing for the bill say they are undeterred.

“This one can be won, then we can move on to the harder ones,” Mr. Byrne said. “Why this time? Can’t point to anything specific. It feels right, and as musicians that’s what often drives us.”

Open the Music Industry’s Black Box

August 2, 2015

By DAVID BYRNE NY Times 7/31/15

THIS should be the greatest time for music in history — more of it is being found, made, distributed and listened to than ever before. That people are willing to pay for digital streaming is good news. In Sweden, where it was founded, Spotify saved a record industry that piracy had gutted.

Everyone should be celebrating — but many of us who create, perform and record music are not. Tales of popular artists (as popular as Pharrell Williams) who received paltry royalty checks for songs that streamed thousands or even millions of times (like “Happy”) on Pandora or Spotify are common. Obviously, the situation for less-well-known artists is much more dire. For them, making a living in this new musical landscape seems impossible. I myself am doing O.K., but my concern is for the artists coming up: How will they make a life in music?

Melvin Gibbs is a jazz bassist and the president of the Content Creators Coalition. “None of these companies that are supposedly in the music business are actually in the music business,” Mr. Gibbs said. “They are in the data-aggregation business, they’re in the ad-selling business. The value of music means nothing to them.”

It’s easy to blame new technologies like streaming services for the drastic reduction in musicians’ income. But on closer inspection we see that it is a bit more complicated. Even as the musical audience has grown, ways have been found to siphon off a greater percentage than ever of the money that customers and music fans pay for recorded music. Many streaming services are at the mercy of the record labels (especially the big three: Sony, Universal and Warner), and nondisclosure agreements keep all parties from being more transparent.

Perhaps the biggest problem artists face today is that lack of transparency. I’ve asked basic questions of both the digital services and the music labels and been stonewalled. For example, I asked YouTube how ad revenue from videos that contain music is shared (which should be an incredibly basic question). They responded that they didn’t share exact numbers, but said that YouTube’s cut was “less than half.” An industry source (who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the information) told me that the breakdown is roughly 50 percent to YouTube, 35 percent to the owner of the master recording and 15 percent to the publisher.

Before musicians and their advocates can move to enact a fairer system of pay, we need to know exactly what’s going on. We need information from both labels and streaming services on how they share the wealth generated by music. Taylor Swift, when she forced Apple to back off a plan not to pay royalties during the three-month free trial period for its new streaming service, Apple Music, made some small progress on this count — but we still don’t know how much Apple agreed to pay, or how they will determine the rate.

Putting together a picture of where listeners’ money goes when we pay for a streaming service subscription is notoriously complicated. Here is some of what we do know: About 70 percent of the money a listener pays to Spotify (which, to its credit, has tried to illuminate the opaque payment system) goes to the rights holders, usually the labels, which play the largest role in determining how much artists are paid. (A recently leaked 2011 contract between Sony and Spotify showed that the service had agreed to pay the label more than $40 million in advances over three years. But it doesn’t say what Sony was to do with the money.)

The labels then pay artists a percentage (often 15 percent or so) of their share. This might make sense if streaming music included manufacturing, breakage and other physical costs for the label to recoup, but it does not. When compared with vinyl and CD production, streaming gives the labels incredibly high margins, but the labels act as though nothing has changed.

Consider the unanswered questions in the Swift-Apple dispute. Why didn’t the major labels take issue with Apple’s trial period? Is it because they were offered a better deal than the smaller, independent labels? Is it because they own the rights to a vast music library with no production or distribution costs, without which no streaming service could operate?

The answer, it seems, is mainly the latter — the major labels have their hefty catalogs and they can ride out the three-month dry spell. (The major labels are focused on the long game: some 40 percent to 60 percent of “freemium” customers join the pay version after a trial period.)

I asked Apple Music to explain the calculation of royalties for the trial period. They said they disclosed that only to copyright owners (that is, the labels). I have my own label and own the copyright on some of my albums, but when I turned to my distributor, the response was, “You can’t see the deal, but you could have your lawyer call our lawyer and we might answer some questions.”

It gets worse. One industry source told me that the major labels assigned the income they got from streaming services on a seemingly arbitrary basis to the artists in their catalog. Here’s a hypothetical example: Let’s say in January Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” accounted for 5 percent of the total revenue that Spotify paid to Universal Music for its catalog. Universal is not obligated to take the gross revenue it received and assign that same 5 percent to Sam Smith’s account. They might give him 3 percent — or 10 percent. What’s to stop them?

The labels also get money from three other sources, all of which are hidden from artists: They get advances from the streaming services, catalog service payments for old songs and equity in the streaming services themselves.

Musicians are entrepreneurs. We are essentially partners with the labels, and should be treated that way. Artists and labels have many common interests — both are appalled, for instance, by the oddly meager payments from YouTube (more people globally listen to music free on YouTube than anywhere else). With shared data on how, where, why and when our audience listens, we can all expand our reach. This would benefit YouTube, the labels and us as well. With cooperation and transparency the industry can grow to three times its current size, Willard Ahdritz, the head of Kobalt, an independent music and publishing collection service, told me.

There is cause for hope. I recently spent two days on Capitol Hill, with the help of Sound Exchange, a nonprofit digital royalty collection and distribution organization, to discuss fairer compensation for artists via the Fair Play Fair Pay Act, which would force AM and FM stations to pay musicians when their recordings are broadcast, as most of the world does.

Rethink Music, an initiative of the Berklee Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship, released a report last month that recommends making music deals and transactions more transparent; simplifying the flow of money and improving the shared use of technology to connect with fans.

Some of these ideas regarding openness are radical — “disruptive” is the word Silicon Valley might use — but that’s what’s needed. It’s not just about the labels either. By opening the Black Box, the whole music industry, all of it, can flourish. There is a rising tide of dissatisfaction, but we can work together to make fundamental changes that will be good for all

The Gud Life: Michael Gudinski on 40 years of rock’n’roll

July 30, 2015

http://www.Pias.com 7/28/15

When most fledgling labels put out their first ever release, it’s a case of dipping their toe in the choppy waters of the music business.

A short EP, perhaps a limited 7” – even just a single track online. All very sensible ways to get started.

Michael Gudinski’s never been very good at dipping his toe. He’s a jump-in-and-see-how-the-water-is type of chap.

It’s a big reason why the Australian has become such a music biz legend over the past five decades.

Gudinski’s first release on his Mushroom Records in 1973 was about as lavish as you could get: a triple live album of Australia’s Sunbury Rock Festival.

Mushroom, still housed in Gudinski’s home city of Melbourne to this day (as The Mushroom Group), bounded from strength to strength from there.

It furnished a reputation for signing interesting rock with a mainstream appeal, conquering Australian year-end charts with the likes of Skyhooks and Split Enz – a vehicle for the brothers who would become Crowded House, Neil and Tim Finn.

Yet what really put Mushroom on the map worldwide was a single, iconic name: Kylie.

Mushroom’s diversion into pure pop music surprised some critics, but Gudinski saw something special in Australia’s homegrown songstress – and he couldn’t have been more correct.

Before the end of Mushroom’s first decade, an ambitious 20-something Gudinski had launched ancillary businesses with a foot in live – an extremely sharp move in hindsight.

Following the success of the Premier Artists Agency in Melbourne, The Harbour Agency was started in 1978. The formation of Gudinski’s Frontier touring company followed in 1979.

Both remain part of Gudinski’s modern Mushroom Music Group, and muscular competitors to the likes of Live Nation and WME in the exec’s backyard.

Frontier is now the third biggest promoter in the world in annual ticket sale terms behind AEG and Live Nation.

On November 28 this year, it will host three giant gigs in Oz simultaneously: Sam Smith in Perth, Taylor Swift in Sydney and Ed Sheeran in Brisbane.

(“I think that’s made a real statement to the world,” Gudinski tells us. “Worldwide, Live Nation are really trying to take over. If they get much more powerful I don’t think it will be good for the overall business. It’s cheque book rock’n’roll – they buy a lot of artists.”)

Within Mushroom 2015, these businesses join a merchandising operation (Love Police ATM), a services hub for international labels (Liberator), second-to-none promotions and marketing companies plus a wealth of exciting labels and publishing outfits (I Oh You, Liberation, Ivy League, Illusive and many more).

This holistic approach to the business has served Gudinski well, even after he shocked the indie label community by selling 49% of the original Mushroom Records to Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd in 1993 – before flogging the rest to Murdoch six years later.

Korda(In between, Mushroom set up a UK company. Gudinski eventually hired Korda Marshall – pictured – to run it, and scored huge successes from the likes of Garbage, Peter Andre and Ash.)

Having sold his beloved Mushroom Records, it didn’t take Gudinski long to return with all guns blazing. In 1999, he launched Liberation Music; to this day, the central record company within Mushroom.

Signings including The Temper Trap, Vance Joy and Violent Soho put Liberation on the map, and success has continued in typical style ever since.

As for modern day Michael?

As you can read below in his recent chinwag with [PIAS]’s Kenny Gates, he’s preparing himself for a “crazy year” – with his Frontier touring company now establishing itself as one of the world’s most significant live promotion powerhouses.

To me you’re the guy who invented the ‘360’ model. Your first record was a triple live album – that said everything.

Thank you. It’s nice to hear that, but it’s important to say that we never man-handled artists.

We didn’t take on rights we couldn’t manage properly like some people have since – we had companies to take care of each part.

“We never man-handled artists or took on rights we couldn’t properly manage.”

We would never put acts in a position if they weren’t comfortable that they had to be with the agency or the merchandising company.

It was a long time ago. Fortunately for me I was in the business very young – when a concert ticket cost much less than an album.

You are the son of Russian immigrants. Do you speak Russian?

No. I’ve always felt very lucky to be Australian.

I was an after-thought; my father was 45 when I was born.

“I can’t imagine that if I was born in russia I’d be doing anything like this.”

I was the only Gudinski born in Australia at that point.

I can’t imagine that if I was born in Russia I’d be doing anything like I’m doing now.

Did your parents help you?

Not really. They were old school Eastern Europeans – the rest of my family was very well-educated.

I was the black sheep of the family; I didn’t enjoy school very much and I was already running dances when I was 15 in the school holidays. I had the music bug.

About three of four months before my last day of school I was already making a fair bit of money and after being offered a job in the music business, I left.

“I was the black sheep of the family… My father threw me out of the house.”

A few of my friends thought I was absolutely insane; they still talk about how bad they feel because they tried so hard to talk me out of it.

My father came back from travelling and just threw me straight out of the house.

That sounds horrific, but it wasn’t; it toughened me up.

They wanted you to be a doctor, lawyer..?

My sister was over-educated. Her husband has been knighted – he’s the top arthritis professor in the world.

My father thought the music business was like Monopoly.

“The music business in australia was still a backyard, shonky operation.”

It was happening in America but in Australia it was still a backyard, shonky business with a fly-by-night operators.

That’s why we started with a triple live album with outrageous packaging. We wanted to have major impact.

When you were successful, did your parents realised you’d made it?

My mother saw it. My father still wasn’t convinced; I had a company that went into liquidation when I was young.

To him it was confirmation that I was a bum.

“It doesn’t matter how hip you are as a label If you can’t pay the bills.”

Most entrepreneurs in the music business get into financial trouble at some stage – particularly independents.

It sounds strange but for it to happen to me when I was very young, in those early days, was helpful; it’s a lot different if it happens later in your career.

It taught me that no matter how hip or cool we were, if we couldn’t pay our bills we were shit.

That’s still the case now!

I took everything on board from those early days.

When I was 16 I went on the road for the first time with a pop band called The Valentines; they had two lead singers and one of those singers was Bon Scott.

He was just a great guy. He inspired me. I kept in touch with him until his tragic death.

Unfortunately AC/DC were never with Mushroom – it would have made life very different.

“Your first two bosses in any business are very important. You can’t learn the music business in college.”

Your first two bosses in any business are very important to you. Learning from that was pretty important. You can’t learn the music business in college – certainly not in those days.

I used to put up posters, hand out leaflets, work in a cloakroom. You’ve got to get in there and be with an organisation that will help you to learn.

[PIAS] has developed some of the best staff to come out of Europe, and it’s the same with us in Australia.

Thank you – I would agree with that. Today you are described as ‘The Godfather Of Australian Rock’n’Roll’: the title of a new book all about your life. How does that make you feel? Are you proud?

‘Godfather’ makes me feel a bit old but let’s face it, as long as I’m relevant – and [The Mushroom Group] feels more relevant than ever – it’s all a compliment.

The book you mention is unauthorised; people who are waiting to hear the great stories of Gudinski on the road – the legends – will be sorely disappointed to hear I’ve had my lawyers go through it with a fine-tooth comb.

“The book is unauthorised. Those waiting for the great stories will be sorry to hear my lawyers have gone through it…”

I believe what goes on the road stays on the road.

Some of the people who’ve fallen out with me over the years probably talk the most in the book, but I’ve got pretty thick skin.

You’re a survivor.

Yes I suppose I am. I’m very proud and I’ve been very lucky.

I know I’ve been a big fish in a small sea – that might have been different had I moved to America but I wanted to bring my family up around where I grew up.

I’ve got an Order of Australia; it was quite humbling to think that could happen considering the business I’m in; the Government made me the first entertainment person to win the Melbournian Of The Year Award, which was also quite special.

“I’ve gone through a couple of periods where I’ve lost the plot a little bit…”

I try to keep myself in the position of still getting excited about breaking artists. You’ve got to stay pretty real.

I’ve gone through a couple of periods where I’ve lost the plot a little bit. That’s when you need good people around you.

You must have seen it all. How have things changed on the road?

It’s funny, that’s where a lot of people in the music business don’t realise how competitive it’s become.

When an artist gets the chance to have the [media] sunshine on them, they’ve got to take advantage of it.

“When an artist gets the chance to have the sunshine on them, they’ve got to take advantage of it.”

The days of TVs being thrown through hotel windows, sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, are really long past.

You can still have a bit of fun but you’ve got breakfast TV to do in the morning.

What were the tough times for you and Mushroom?

It was a very hard time when we set up Mushroom in England.

We made a lot of mistakes and spent a lot of money – this was when we were in business with Rupert Murdoch and News Ltd.

“I often wonder what a f*cking disaster it would have been had I shut down the UK office when I had the chance.”

I was about to shut the English office down then we had three No.1 albums in three months; Garbage, Peter Andre and Ash.

I often wonder what a fucking disaster it would have been had I shut that office down when I had the chance.

Which brings us on to Korda Marshall…

Korda and I have an amazing relationship. We’ve worked together a number of times.

We’re different characters, but we both have a very strong passion for music. We’ve rarely had a disagreement.

“I hope things go well for Korda at BMG. But if not, I’ll be there waiting…”

I hope things go really well for him at BMG. But if not, I’ll be waiting, and ready to go again.

One of the new Infectious acts is also ours [The DMA’s] and I’ll be there from day one.

elvis-presleyWhat was the first record you ever bought?

My first two singles were Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison. I was about 12 or 13.

My parents wouldn’t let me see The Beatles; they thought I was too young. That just drove me more towards music.

The first concert I went to was a lunchtime [gig] in Berk Street in Melbourne by a band called The Loved Ones.

“My parents wouldn’t let me see the beatles. That just drove me more towards music.”

I bought their publishing many, many years later.

There was a song of theirs called The Loved One, which INXS recorded and it was a hit everywhere.

I approved the royalty rate for the guys, and it was a very good investment!

What about Kylie – she wasn’t a typical Mushroom artist at the time…

There’s a lot of bullshit in that book you mention about Kylie; who did what and how.

The label was very rock and alternative, so Kylie was not the kind of act you’d expect – they said, ‘It’s the death of Mushroom!’ I laugh about it now.

The one thing about Mushroom is that we’ve always been very diverse. To be honest, I thought she might be a one or two-hit wonder.

I had a great big beard and crazy hair then. I was very concerned to get the right people in the office to meet her parents!

[Kylie’s family] were very tight and they remain very tight to this day.

“I’m a bit brash – I don’t have time for bullshit. So I’m extra proud to say that kylie and I have never had an argument, ever.”

For the first few years she was never really a live artist, and now she’s become one of the greatest touring artists in the world.

She put us on the map internationally. I could talk for hours about that girl. She’s so committed, dedicated and she’s such a great person.

To see her headline Hyde Park this year with Grace Jones and Chic and get her first five star review in The Times was fantastic and so important – particularly after her short time with Roc Nation.

I’m famous for being a bit brash and arrogant – sometimes I don’t mean to be. There’s just a lot on my mind and I don’t have time for bullshit.

So I’m extra proud to say that Kylie Minogue and I have never had an argument, ever. I saw her the other week and she is just a gem. It’s great to see her happy. I’ve been through a very big health scare with her and she’s been through one with me.

‘The death of Mushroom’? It makes me laugh. It was the complete opposite. Sometimes you have to be very careful not to listen to the wrong people.

ian_james_cropWhat’s the secret to Mushroom’s success?

I’ve had a good knack at picking great people. I give them a lot of rope, and a few of them have hung themselves.

But that way you find out pretty quickly how good they are.

We’ve got iconic names with us at the company. But it’s not just about Ian James (pictured), Warren Costello and now Nick Dunshea, who’s really brought in a very strong team.

It’s about a new attitude, one that ensures the Mushroom companies work closely together. After all, we’ve got enough companies trying to compete with us out there!

“I get a lot of credit, but the people make mushroom happen.”

It’s well known that David Geffen started out in the mailroom of William Morris.

I get a lot of credit and my son says I micro-manage, but the people are the thing that makes Mushroom happen.

The thing I’m really proud of in the last few years is setting up such a super promotion department. I could see the record business was changing so in order to have the strongest promotion department in the country, I combined all the touring and record people into a super-promotion team.

40 years of rock’n’roll. 40 years of partying. 40 years of artists. How do you survive that?

The partying has obviously slowed down an immense amount. I had a very big health scare and the doctors were fortunately very wrong. It was a shake-up for everyone.

I had a good attitude about it, I thought if I was over I had a great life.

Like it or not, in the ‘80s and ‘90s, partying was part of the business – especially going to America.

I’m glad the industry has grown up since then. I was lucky that I was my own boss, because realistically if I hadn’t been the boss I’d have been fired ten times over.

“partying hard worked in our favour. I was lucky I was my own boss. Otherwise I’d have been fired ten times over.”

The partying worked in our favour. When people come to Australia they’re usually a long way from home, so if you look after them they don’t forget it.

I’ve always had a policy that if I was going to go and see an act, I’d try not to see them in LA, New York or London – I’d turn up in Buffalo, Carolina, somewhere where all of a sudden you’re important and remembered.

As you know, reputation is paramount in this business. I’m very proud to say we’ve never been to court with an artist. Mind you, we did settle on the steps twice!

But it’s still an incredible accomplishment when you think about all the legal shit that goes on in this business.

Who are your mentors – people who really inspired you?

The late and great Alan Healy, who ran Festival Records, was like my second father.

When Mushroom went through hard times he’d come and stay with me. He was a very straight guy – you could say the opposite to me – but he really helped me so much.

Festival was owned by Rupert Murdoch, who must have walked in there three times in 30 years. He was already on a mission with newspapers, Fox etc.

Another one was Tom Ross who head of music at CAA in America who helped me a hell of a lot.

And then Elliott Roberts, one of the great managers in America. And also Paul Schindler of the legendary music law firm Grubman, Indursky and Schindler, was a great supporter.

I was one of the first six clients of theirs. I tended to gravitate towards people who found me interesting.

“Jerry Moss looked after me in America. I couldn’t believe his house. It was like a fantasy land.”

That thing about looking after people when they come to Australia was definitely true with Jerry Moss. When he first came to Australia with Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass, they’d had a hit single with The Lonely Bull.

After we took care of him, when I went over to America, I got picked up from the airport in a Rolls Royce and I went to [Jerry’s] house with all the Gauguins on the wall and the rest of it.

I couldn’t believe it. It was like a fantasy land. He signed a couple of my acts, I don’t know if that was a favour or not.

And then Chris Wright and Terry Ellis from Chrysalis were pretty supportive.

I got on very well with Terry at first, then Chris and I became friends for life. There were other independents from that time who were a great help too.

What about Seymour? He could be your brother from America!

You know, you’re right. We get on well.

We did a little bit together in the early days. You’ve got to be a leader not a follower and Seymour Stein is certainly a leader.

Before he became a bigshot, Tommy Mottola was also pretty helpful to me in the early days.

Tell me about the Mushroom Records sale. You sold to News Ltd?

Yeah. I didn’t push Rupert Murdoch for it. Initially I went to see him about an idea I’d had to buy some radio stations [together], which to this day could have been the greatest thing I’d ever set up. However, it wasn’t to be.

They were called the Triple-M network, which to me stood for More Mushroom Music.

But there were very strong broadcasting laws in Australia about cross-ownership [that prevented Mushroom buying them].

I went straight to Rupert Murdoch and he was just a genius. He saw the whole big picture. He’d never been in the radio business. In order to do it, he’d have had to park the shares with someone else.

“Rupert murdoch is a genius. He saw the whole picture.”

But all his honchos were so pissed off with me that I’d gone direct to Rupert Murdoch that they fucked it up. That deal would have made AUS $125m easy.

During those discussions, he said to me: ‘If you’re ever going to sell, please let me have the opportunity.’

A Japanese company, I think Fuji Pacific, were very keen and eventually they made me an offer to buy 25%.

I went to Rupert, showed him the offer and he said: ‘I’ll match it, but I want 50%.’

I said I’d do it on one condition – that I had the casting vote [retaining 51%]. That was the smartest thing I ever did.

Do you regret selling?

I have mixed feelings. I knew what I was doing, and the money set me up in my life. But I thought much more would come out of it from [Murdoch’s] Fox connection and News Ltd. That’s where it was a letdown.

The power they could have put behind it was huge. But even their own companies in those days were hardly in sync either.

We still had all the other [Mushroom] companies, remember – we only sold the label.

A lot of people thought I was a genius because I could see the record industry was going to fall apart. I think that’s giving me a bit too much credit.

What was really disappointing was when I sold the other half to them [in the late ‘90s], it took a long time to get the deal done.

“The power we’d have had if we pulled off that radio deal! And I like power…”

You go to bed wondering if the deal’s on or off. That went on for 18 months and it could have been done in three.

Rupert’s son James was involved; I have little respect for the way he does business. I’ve got nothing against Lachlan or Rupert – if Rupert walked in here now he’d shake my hand.

A lot of people don’t realise that [News Ltd.] actually approached me and that I’d had this fantastic radio idea.

The power we would have had if we pulled it off! And I like power…

They dismissed me [as a employee after Mushroom was sold]. I was naïve enough to think I was going to stay around and help.

It was incredibly frustrating. I’d have loved to have stayed on and ensured that Mushroom became the saviour of Festival. However, James Murdoch didn’t see it that way.

So because of that, the minute my non-compete was up I came back with a vengeance [with Liberation Music]… and pissed away a lot of money.

In true Gudinski form, we’ve survived again and done very well.

I don’t think I could work with anyone again. I’ve had so many people try to buy the touring company, the publishing company. No way.

Are you a punk or a hippy?

A hippy.

Why do you still do this?

I love it. What else am I going to do? Now my son’s there, my wife knows I’m going to make sure the Mushroom legacy continues.

I’d like to slow down a bit but I’ll never retire.

I suppose, as would be expected, I’ve gone through periods where I’ve zoned out a bit. I’m too old to use the excuse, ‘I’ve been on tour – don’t hassle me.’

What about, ‘Gone fishin’?!

Haha. Not me mate. I hate fishing. Golf’s more my scene!

You can see just sitting here talking I get excited by what I do.

Whether you’re a plumber, electrician or a pilot, if you’ve got a job you enjoy, you’ll be better at it and you’ll be happier in life.

“If you’ve got a job you enjoy, you’ll be better at it and you’ll be happier in life.”

That’s the simple philosophy.

You don’t need a masters degree to work that out, but you and I know so many people who don’t like their jobs and that reflects into their life, I reckon.

Are you a romantic?

Yes.

Are you a hopeless romantic?

No. One of the greatest things in my whole life has been my wife.

She has been my absolute balance.

She ensured I never came close to being a ‘rock’n’roll casualty’.

We are so looking forward to the future together.

I was a hippy – I never planned to live to 50, let alone have kids.

“If it wasn’t for my wife, I’d have fallen off the edge. I’m certain of it.”

My wife came out of radio industry so she knew [the music business].

She’s just been such a strength for so long.

If I hadn’t had that balance throughout all that time, I’d have fallen off the edge. I’m certain of it.

I can’t give my wife enough credit.

Can the Weeknd Turn Himself Into the Biggest Pop Star in the World?

July 28, 2015

He had millions of Internet fans for his strange, profane R.&B. Then he decided he wanted more.
By JON CARAMANICA NYTimes.com 7/27/15

The scene backstage last November at the American Music Awards, that annual gathering of pop perennials and idiosyncratic arrivistes, was carnivalesque: Niall and Liam of One Direction toddled about trying to snap a picture with a selfie stick, while Zayn, their bandmate at the time, smoked coolly out of frame; Ne-Yo was there in a leopard-¬print blazer two sizes too small; Lil Wayne was wandering around, alone, wearing absurd shoes. In the middle of it all, Abel Tesfaye, better known as the Weeknd, remained calm, slow ¬motion to everyone else’s warp speed.
Allergic to these sorts of scrums, he found his way to his trailer to hang with his friends, five or so fellow Canadians, all of them art-goth chic, wearing expensive sneakers and draped in luxurious, flowing black. Tesfaye, 25, was dressed down by comparison, in a black corduroy jacket and paint-¬splattered jeans (Versace, but still). He stands 5-foot-7, plus a few more inches with his hair, an elaborate tangle of dreadlocks that he has been growing out for years, more or less letting it go where it wants. It spills out at the sides of his head and shoots up over it, like a cresting wave. Casually, Tesfaye did some vocal warm-ups and sat indifferently as his underutilized makeup artist dabbed foundation under his eyes and balm on his lips.
He’d just had his first flash of true pop success: ‘‘Love Me Harder,’’ his duet with Ariana Grande, the childlike pop star with the grown-up voice, cracked the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100. He was scheduled to make a surprise cameo here at the end of a Grande medley. Until that song and, in a sense, that moment, Tesfaye had been a no-hit wonder: a cult act with millions of devotees and almost no mainstream profile.

When Tesfaye came out from the shadows midway through Grande’s performance, the crowd screamed. For two minutes, the singers traded vocal riffs and unflinching eye contact, Grande playing the naïf and Tesfaye the aggressor. The performance was quick and sweaty, and seconds after it was over, Tesfaye was already speeding for the exit, stopping only for a quick embrace from Kendall and Kylie Jenner. When he reached the parking lot, a yappy talent wrangler for an entertainment-¬news show sensed an opportunity and asked for an interview. Tesfaye gave him an amused half-smile and kept walking. ‘‘Hey!’’ the guy shouted in desperation, fumbling for a name before landing on the wrong one: ‘‘A$AP Rocky!’’ Tesfaye turned his head and said, ‘‘C’mon, man,’’ arching an eyebrow, then picked up the pace.
Even though he had just performed for an audience of millions, Tesfaye was still, to many of them, a total stranger. When he began releasing music in 2010 — murky Dalí-esque R.&B., sung in an astrally sweet voice, vivid with details of life at the sexual and pharmacological extremes — Tesfaye chose to be a cipher. The only photos of him in circulation were deliberately obscured; he didn’t do interviews. His reticence was an asset — fans devoured the music without being distracted by a personality. Their loyalty was to the songs and, in a way, to the idea of the Weeknd. He was happy to stay out of the way.
Tesfaye slowly began revealing himself in 2011 with a handful of live performances. By last year, he was a fringe superstar, selling out shows at huge venues like the Barclays Center, the Hollywood Bowl and the O2 Arena in London. Still, he began to feel that he had hit a ceiling — a high one, and maybe even a sustainable one, but a ceiling nonetheless.

The old Weeknd was comfortably, even enthusiastically, numb — the poet laureate of ruinous nights ending in bleary sunrises. His approach to songwriting, both in subject matter and production choices, was characterized by obscurity and darkness. But he began to wonder if there was another way. ‘‘I felt I had to change who I was,’’ he says. His new album, ‘‘Beauty Behind the Madness,’’ is the end result of a year’s worth of molting old habits, a creative upheaval that has begun to teleport him from the margins right to pop’s center.
By taking his old, gloomy gestures and repackaging them in ¬ec¬static, radio-¬friendly arrangements, he has made one of the most sonically ambitious pop albums of the year, full of swaggeringly confident music indebted to the arena-¬size ambition of the 1980s, from Guns N’ Roses to Phil Collins to Michael Jackson.
Above all, it is Jackson in Tesfaye’s cross hairs. ‘‘These kids, you know, they don’t have a Michael Jackson,’’ he says. ‘‘They don’t have a Prince. They don’t have a Whitney. Who else is there? Who else can really do it at this point?’’
Tesfaye was slumped in the back of his Mercedes S.U.V. one evening last December while being driven through Scarborough, a dreary suburban district of Toronto just a short ride from his luxury apartment downtown. The vehicle pulled into a parking lot behind a low-slung apartment complex, and he pointed at an upstairs window, to the flat he used to share with his mother and grandmother. ‘‘It’s a small apartment,’’ he said, ‘‘about the size of this car.’’
His parents emigrated from Ethiopia in the 1980s, when the country was reeling from civil war and drought, and came to Toronto. They never married, and after they split up, Tesfaye’s mother moved with him to this dull expanse northeast of the city center. His father wasn’t in the picture, and the two haven’t spoken since he was a boy. Tesfaye found the stillness in Scarborough to be, by turns, bucolic and sinister. ‘‘Like a Coen brothers movie,’’ he said, staring out the window.
Scarborough was stifling, and he constantly plotted ways to leave. He dropped out of high school when he was 17 and persuaded his best friend, La Mar Taylor, to join him. They met the first day of high school — Tesfaye noticed Taylor’s pink polo shirt — and the two quickly became partners in creative endeavors and, eventually, self-¬destruction. One day they pulled up in a van at Tesfaye’s home. Tesfaye went to his room, grabbed his mattress, dragged it out of the house and threw it in. His mother watched him grimly. ‘‘The worst look anyone could ever have,’’ he recalls. ‘‘She looked at me like she had failed.’’
Tesfaye and Taylor and their friend Hyghly Alleyne moved into a one-¬bedroom apartment in an old Victorian in Parkdale, an about-¬to-¬be-¬gentrified neighborhood that was populated at the time, Taylor says, by ‘‘students and crackheads.’’ They paid the $850 monthly rent with money from welfare checks. They were still teenagers, and they lived like it. During the days, they would shoplift food at a nearby supermarket. Some nights they would walk to the Social, a neighborhood bar. Occasionally, they would get into fights. Most nights, they would get high on whatever was around — MDMA, Xanax, cocaine, mushrooms, ketamine. ‘‘ ‘Kids,’ without the AIDS,’’ Tesfaye said. ‘‘No rules.’’

Tesfaye sold a little weed, but for the most part he was broke. Eventually the three were evicted, so Tesfaye bed-¬hopped. When he needed a place to stay, he would tell a girl he loved her. ‘‘There was, like, three girls that thought legit that I was their boyfriend,’’ he says. He found a square job, folding shirts in an American Apparel downtown. Around that time, he began writing and recording songs — at first for others, but when there were no takers, for himself.
When Tesfaye wasn’t high, he wasn’t happy, so he did his best to avoid coming down. And when he began writing songs, he found inspiration in that haze, penning lyrics about the dystopian, bacchanalian nights that he and his crew were having. He worked with a young musician, Jeremy Rose, on moody, sinister beats. The combined result was something like ‘‘American Psycho’’ with a soundtrack by Prince, sonically gauzy and verbally blunt, with Tesfaye cast as both villain and victim.

Taylor uploaded Tesfaye’s first three songs — ‘‘The Morning,’’ ‘‘What You Need’’ and ‘‘Loft Music’’ — to YouTube in the fall of 2010, posting the links to their friends’ Facebook walls and hoping for the best. The clips were audio only, accompanied by black-and-white photographs of not-quite-dressed women. Tesfaye’s likeness was nowhere to be found; you had to dig to find his name. He had wanted to call himself the Weekend, but there was already a rock band in Ontario called that, so he dropped a letter. His anonymity was so complete, he says, that his co-workers at American Apparel would listen to his music while he was working without realizing it was his.
At the end of that year, Oliver El-¬Khatib, now the rapper Drake’s co-¬manager, posted that first batch of Weeknd songs on the blog of Drake’s label, October’s Very Own, and Tesfaye instantly became the subject of international fascination. Soon after, he retreated to the studio to finish ‘‘House of Balloons,’’ the first of three planned mixtapes, which he released free online the following March. Meanwhile, Drake recruited Tesfaye to work on his 2011 album, ‘‘Take Care,’’ which included versions of three songs Tesfaye says he had initially written for ‘‘House of Balloons.’’ Over the next nine months, Tesfaye released the second and third free Weeknd mixtapes, ‘‘Thursday’’ and ‘‘Echoes of Silence.’’
A&R representatives and label heads had been flying to Toronto to woo him since those first songs were posted, and Tesfaye’s reluctance proved advantageous again. In May 2012, still unsigned, he played the Fonda Theater in Los Angeles. Monte Lipman, the chief executive of Republic Records, a division of Universal Music Group, took Rick Rubin for added ammunition. ‘‘I look to my left, it’s the Interscope crew, the Atlantic crew, the Columbia crew,’’ Lipman says. ‘‘It was like the Five Families all in one room.’’
Three months later, Tesfaye entered into a partnership with Republic, and for his first act he remastered the three mixtapes and sold them in a small box set called ‘‘Trilogy.’’ This collection of music — already available free online — went platinum.
At the time, R.&B. — the genre to which the Weeknd notionally belongs — had atrophied. Years of hybridization had left it a submissive sibling to hip-hop, a bland side dish. But as Tesfaye was emerging, so were similarly heretical soul singers like Frank Ocean and Miguel. They made R.&B. laden with references to indie rock and psychedelia for a younger generation accustomed to unexpected juxtapositions. The Internet had made novelty stars, and it had made mash-ups. But with this class of singers, it began to make auteurs.
Tesfaye’s music was a miasma of sensual, slithering rock and soul, cut with melancholic samples of Siouxsie & the Banshees and Cocteau Twins. He also imported hip-hop’s low rumble and vulgar mind-set, molding them to his sound. He moved at a crawl, his sound a dark vortex. In part, this left-field approach was strategic — he has a beautifully rogue voice far from the full–bodied, gospel-¬influenced traditional soul bellow. Instead, it suggests curdled anxiety, savage recrimination, the strain of pleasure and collapse. There are flashes of Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson, even Robert Plant. Tesfaye attributes some of his signature vocal gestures to the Ethiopian influences of his childhood. (He still speaks Amharic, which he learned from his mother and grandmother.) The way he softly reaches for a high note, then falls back, then buzzes around it for a bit — that’s an inheritance from Aster Aweke, a veteran Ethiopian pop star.
This avant-¬R.&B. was a hit with critics, but it didn’t always translate into commercial appeal. Tesfaye’s first major-¬label album of original material, ‘‘Kiss Land,’’ came out in 2013. It was a Technicolor version of his mixtapes, full of long, fluid, semistructured, absorptive songs about desire and suspicion, but it sold only 268,000 copies, and none of the several singles the label pushed to radio took hold. His fervent fan base remained steady — when he toured, they filled arenas for him — but the Weeknd was a superstar act only inside his own universe.

Stymied, he turned to Wendy Goldstein, the head of urban A&R at Republic, for advice. ‘‘The underperforming of that record in his own expectations of what it was supposed to do shook him to his core,’’ she says. ‘‘I said, ‘You wanna be the biggest in the world?’ He said, ‘I absolutely wanna be the biggest in the world.’ ’’ She and the newly malleable Tesfaye got to work. First, she arranged for him to record the duet he would perform with Ariana Grande at the A.M.A.s, ‘‘Love Me Harder.’’
That track came from the studio of Max Martin, the Swedish producer whose influence on 2000s pop is matchless — his guiding hand firmly behind the careers of Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson and Katy Perry. He works with a large team of writers and producers out of a sprawling residential compound in West Hollywood that was once home to Frank Sinatra. Martin’s hit–factory typically solicits little creative input from the talent, who show up when it’s time to sing. This process was alien to Tesfaye, who had always written his own lyrics and was unsure that he would be a good match for Grande’s good-girl gleam. When he saw the lyrics that were sent to him, he found them to be tepid. He rewrote his verse, recorded it and sent it back.
What could have been a contentious exchange was actually edifying for both parties: Martin liked Tesfaye’s changes and kept them; Tesfaye realized he could make sleek, accessible pop on his own terms. He asked Goldstein to secure Martin’s services for his next album. ‘‘If I’m gonna be the biggest in the world,’’ he told her, ‘‘I need a handful of songs like that.’’
When Tesfaye went to Martin’s complex last fall to begin work, he set up in a wing where Marilyn Monroe used to live. Martin’s team presented Tesfaye with a selection of prewritten material, and he rejected it all. They worked from scratch instead, and the first song they wrote was ‘‘In the Night,’’ the new album’s most electric moment, a homage to and an updating of peak-era Michael Jackson. Before going into the studio, Tesfaye was listening to ‘‘Copacabana,’’ the 1978 Barry Manilow disco jaunt about the showgirl Lola, the bartender Tony and the murder that took his life — and, in a sense, hers too. Its exuberant arrangement is a
As we can see The Weeknd has came from nothing to somthing. He is now the most liked pop music maker now, and with a mind like his we will…
‘‘In the Night’’ moves in similar horror-¬story fashion. ‘‘She was numb, and she was so codependent,’’ he sings, pulling back from the notes with a splash of Jackson’s vocal agility. The music suggests celestial escape. Later, Tesfaye reveals the wound: ‘‘She was young, and she was forced to be a woman.’’ Underneath its sunbeam-¬bright euphoria hides a tale of childhood sexual abuse. For Tesfaye, ‘‘In the Night’’ was the sort of compromise he was excited to make, a glistening surface salving the wounds that are his stock in trade. When he first played the song for Ron Perry, the president of Songs Music Publishing, which handles Tesfaye’s publishing, Perry couldn’t contain himself: ‘‘It’s ‘Billie Jean’! It’s ‘Billie [expletive] Jean’!’’
In his dressing room before concerts, Tesfaye plays Jackson’s ‘‘Off the Wall’’ for energy. Musically, though, Tesfaye’s fixation with Jackson has often been obscured by foggy production and his reluctance to conform to conventional song structure. On his early recordings, he says, his producers ‘‘would always try to structure it, make it more into a song, and I was always a punk: ‘I hate major chords. I hate structure. I want this song to be eight minutes long.’ It would kill them.’’ Jackson’s lessons seeped in, though. ‘‘My head-space now is, I love choruses,’’ Tesfaye says. ‘‘A chorus is not easy.’’
Jason Quenneville, who is known as DaHeala and is Tesfaye’s engineer and longtime musical collaborator, calls this album Tesfaye’s ‘‘O.K., fine, I’ll play ball’’ moment. ‘‘ ‘Kiss Land’ was, ‘O.K., let’s play baseball,’ but you’re swinging a plate of spaghetti,’’ he says. ‘‘Now it’s like, ‘Fine, I will apply myself, play ball with a ball and stick.’ ’’ Tesfaye has embraced pop’s soothing strictures. He speaks of songs in terms of major and minor keys, prehooks and hooks and bridges. ‘‘In that area, he’s even stronger than I thought,’’ says Jimmy Iovine, who tried to sign Tesfaye before leaving Interscope Records for Apple Music. ‘‘You would think he’d be breathing his own exhaust and shutting the world out, and he’s not doing that.’’
Instead, over the last six months, the Weeknd has become one of the most reliable hitmakers in pop. ‘‘Earned It,’’ a soothing ballad he wrote for the ‘‘50 Shades of Grey’’ soundtrack with, among others, Stephan Moccio, a songwriter who has worked with Celine Dion, went to No.3 on the Billboard Hot 100. By mid-July, Tesfaye had three songs in the Top 20 — ‘‘Earned It,’’ as well as the first two singles from the new album, ‘‘The Hills’’ and ‘‘Can’t Feel My Face.’’ Radio, so long hostile to his voice, had fully embraced him, yanking Tesfaye from the dark into the light.
But success means having fewer places to hide. One sticky night in early June, as Tesfaye left the Trump SoHo New York hotel, a couple of paparazzi lurked outside, braving spurts of rain. They asked him to stop for a picture — they certainly knew his name by now — but he didn’t, instead heading for one of four black S.U.V.s idling curbside, waiting to drive him and his crew uptown for a performance at the Museum of Modern Art. Moments later, the 18-year-old model Bella Hadid stepped out of the building, her black jacket draped over a sheer black top. She was asked to stop for one, too. She demurred, wordlessly ducking into one of the other trucks.
Tesfaye and Hadid have been the subject of tabloid attention and online speculation for most of the spring. There is at least one Instagram account dedicated to documenting every instance the two have shared space, be it physical or virtual. (If one of them liked the other’s Instagram photo, it’s captured here.) For an artist who thrived on emotional detachment, love poses a threat. ‘‘Probably my and my manager’s biggest fear is if this kid falls in love, we’re done, we’re finished,’’ Tesfaye had said in December.
Once the caravan arrived at MoMA, everyone spilled out of the S.U.V.s and surveyed the room. Hangers-on began clustering around Tesfaye, so he scurried to an elevator and the safety of his green room. Hadid gave him a quick kiss, then went with her friends to stand at the side of the stage.
A couple of weeks later, Tesfaye refused to talk about Hadid. Asked if he was in love, he replied: ‘‘I don’t know, to be honest with you. I don’t think so. Maybe. It’s no, it’s yes, it’s maybe.’’ He is telling a more complete story on the album: ‘‘It’s about me being who I am and stepping out of my comfort zone to try to feel something else besides what I’ve been feeling the past four years,’’ Tesfaye said last month in Los Angeles. ‘‘Ups and downs,’’ he said. ‘‘In my past albums, there were never ups.’’
The closest recent analogue to ‘‘Beauty Behind the Madness’’ is probably ‘‘1989,’’ Taylor Swift’s pop coming-¬out party from last year, which also pulses with 1980s pomp, and which Martin had a heavy hand in, too. Like Tesfaye, Swift spent the early part of her career cultivating a finicky audience and then cut bait and re-¬established herself at the very center. But Swift had, in essence, been making pop music all along, in terms of subject matter and structural approach. Tesfaye’s transformation is a more precarious balancing act, reframing his past without abandoning it, teaching his hard-core fans not to mind when the new ones show up to cheerily sing along. So far, it seems to be working; when Swift played at MetLife Stadium in July, she invited Tesfaye out to duet with him on ‘‘Can’t Feel My Face.’’
As he sees it, he is walking in the footsteps of artists of previous eras who, from an R.&B. foothold, rocketed into the stratosphere. So it didn’t come as a surprise when Tesfaye was visibly (and uncharacteristically) thrilled to relate the story of how he first met the legendary producer Quincy Jones. The two were at a club called Drai’s in Las Vegas, where Tesfaye performs frequently. The owner introduced him to Jones, 82 years old but still spry enough for the club. The two sat down next to each other. ‘‘He knew about me,’’ Tesfaye said, beaming. ‘‘You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.’’
Tesfaye says that when he was working in the studio with Martin, he often thought of how Jones and Michael Jackson had pushed each other to greatness. Jones was there for the three seminal Jackson solo albums — ‘‘Off the Wall,’’ ‘‘Thriller’’ and ‘‘Bad’’ — and when Jones and Jackson first worked together, each was already well established. But in Jones’s hands, Jackson transcended race and style and spun pop gold out of the darkest subject matter.
Sitting next to Jones, Tesfaye said, he resisted the urge to badger him for old stories. Instead, he recalled, it was Jones who had a question for him: ‘‘What’s that one song, that more up-tempo song?’’ He was asking about ‘‘Can’t Feel My Face,’’ which Tesfaye had performed earlier in the night.
‘‘Yeah, I used to make music like that,’’ he told Tesfaye. ‘‘Sounds good.

How Hip-Hop Is Becoming the Oldies

July 20, 2015

ALEX FRENCH NYTimes.com 5/17/15

Less than a year ago, the Indianapolis radio station WRWM, then known as Indy’s i94, was the 15th-most-popular station in the Central Indiana market. It played a forgettable mix of Maroon 5, Sam Smith and other staples of what in radio lingo is called hot adult contemporary — the sort of stuff that drivers might alight on for a song or two but rarely add to their presets. For the last six months of 2014, among listeners ages 6 and older, the station’s Nielsen ratings hovered around a 2.0 share, meaning roughly 2 percent of radio listeners in the market tuned in.

I94’s corporate parent, Cumulus Media — a conglomerate that owns about 460 radio stations in 90 U.S. markets — thought it could do better. Last fall, Davey Morris, a Cumulus program director at one of the company’s branch offices in Providence, R.I., called Jay Michaels, the station program director at i94, to discuss a number of ideas for revamping the floundering station, up to and including a format change. Changing formats is something radio stations avoid as best they can: It’s expensive and, for corporate-owned stations, usually involves extensive market research. If i94 changed, it would be the station’s 10th switch in 21 years.

The 93.9 slot in Indianapolis hadn’t enjoyed any real success since it first went live in 1993. That year, it began as Ecstasy (WXTZ), an independently owned easy-listening station. It switched to a solid-gold soul format in 1996, then to smooth jazz the next year. It switched again in 1997, to country, and that year it was acquired by a conglomerate called Susquehanna Radio. Susquehanna moved its country station (104.5 the Bear, WGRL) down the dial to occupy the 93.9 frequency, before switching it to ’80s hits in 2001, and from that to contemporary Christian in 2004.

The station became syndicated talk radio in 2006, and later that year Susquehanna was acquired by Cumulus Media. Along the way, there were dalliances with stunt formats and place holders: Christmas music and TV-show themes for days on end; nothing but construction noises at one point; at another, ‘‘The Lonesome Road,’’ by Dean Elliot & His Big Band, and ‘‘Swans Splashdown,’’ by Jean-Jacques Perrey, played on a loop. Late in 2007, Cumulus switched to the somewhat gross call letters WARM, with 93 hours of commercial-free easy listening and soft-rock. In July 2009, after the station finished 21st in the local ratings, it switched to a Top 40 format and changed its name to i94. Two years later, the station became ‘‘Indy’s i94’’ and added older hits to its mix, thereby becoming hot adult contemporary. ‘‘We’d [flipped] so many times, it was really hard to build a fan base,’’ Morris said. ‘‘We were never anybody’s first choice. We were their fourth choice.’’

Morris and Michaels started talking about what Indianapolis radio needed. The market was saturated: Emmis Radio had country, news/talk, soft adult-contemporary stations and sports; iHeartMedia had classic rock, alternative and sports covered; Radio One had a gospel station, plus three contemporary hits stations; Entercom had two of those, plus sports. One of the ideas the two came up with was a variation on a new format: classic hip-hop, pioneered just a month earlier by a Radio One station in Houston called Boom 92.1. By playing hit ’90s rap records, Boom tripled its audience, and Radio One had begun to duplicate the strategy in other markets.

The two men brought the idea to Cumulus’s executive vice president of content and programming, John Dickey. Around the same time, Dickey caught word that Radio One was planning to launch a Boom clone in Indianapolis. He was determined to beat them to market. He told Morris to do a ‘‘classic hip-hop holiday weekend,’’ to test listener reaction and stake their claim to the format in Indianapolis.

Michaels dropped the needle on Naughty by Nature’s ‘‘Hip Hop Hooray’’ at 3 p.m. on Dec. 19. LL Cool J’s ‘‘Around the Way Girl’’ followed, then ‘‘Move,’’ by Ludacris. ‘‘We set up a voice-mail box for listener feedback,’’ Michaels said. ‘‘I was expecting lots of complaints. We went from playing Maroon 5 to ‘Me So Horny.’ ’’ The phone rang so much they had to clear the mailbox every day. Callers were ecstatic. The station never returned to its old format.

In three weeks, 93.9 made the improbable jump from 15th place in Central Indiana to first. Two weeks later, i94 officially became 93.9, the Beat. Ratings for January showed 93.9 with a 7.7 share. It ranked first among people ages 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54; women 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54; and men 18-49 and 25-54. ‘‘Literally nobody in the Top 50 markets in this country has ever done a format change, then in the next full month shot to No. 1,’’ Tom Taylor, the publisher of a popular radio-industry newsletter, told Indianapolis Business Journal. ‘‘Certainly no station in the last decade has done what [WRWM] has.’’ The Beat stole a huge piece of the listenership of Radio One’s top urban stations in Indianapolis, too: WTLC-FM 106.7, ‘‘Indy’s R & B Leader,’’ dropped to 4.5 in January from a 6.6 in December. WHHH-FM 96.3, Radio One’s mainstream urban station, saw its share plummet to 3.9 in January from 5.1 in December. Meanwhile, the Beat’s advertising rates grew by 150 percent.

Ever since the earliest days of rock ’n’ roll, time has corroded yesterday’s musical radicalism into today’s pabulum. Thirty years ago, young listeners of hip-hop, with its predilection for violent imagery and unprintable language, might have thought it impervious to this process. But radio conglomerates are proving them wrong. As its listeners grow up and memories of Tipper Gore grow dim, hip-hop is now taking its final step toward respectability: It now qualifies as oldies.

I sat with Jay Michaels one morning this spring while he worked on the Beat’s weekend playlist. His office is tiny, airless and cluttered with Hello Kitty lunchboxes, promotional teddy bears, novelty coffee cups and rubber duckies. On his computer, he had loaded Stratus, Cumulus’s proprietary music-­scheduling software. He pressed a button, and dozens of songs populated a grid on the screen, color-coded in a pattern that Michaels refused to explain. Michaels and Morris are cagey about Stratus, which is used companywide but customized by each station. They refer to the software as their ‘‘secret sauce.’’ What I gleaned through later conversations is that Michaels has broken hip-hop down by region and into subgenres, and the Beat uses these metadata tags to keep its playlist diverse.

On Cumulus’s version of the format, you’ll never hear back-to-back-to-back Southern rap hits or a cluster of R & B songs with female vocalists; the Beat will break up a block of tunes by harder artists like Ice Cube or DMX with a Mariah Carey track. ‘‘Without flow, this format is a train wreck,’’ Michaels said as he sifted through the computer’s selections, massaging the playlist. ‘‘It’s me being overly anal. I have my own rules.’’ Among them: Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac should never be played back to back (it might call to mind their deadly feud), and a Biggie song should never be played before or after ‘‘I’ll Be Missing You,’’ the tribute song Puff Daddy recorded after Biggie was killed. Michaels also won’t play Outkast next to Ludacris — it just feels weird.

The Beat is just one of several stations experimenting with the format now, and certainly such rules differ in each city. But the basics of the formula are the same that were developed by Radio One in October. That was the month the company unplugged a failing news station in Houston, 92.1 KROI-FM, dismissed all the employees and started playing Beyoncé songs, commercial-free, 24 hours a day. Beyoncé’s fans — the BeyHive — went bonkers. News outlets from all over the country called with questions about the odd format. On the afternoon of the fifth day, the station paused for a commercial and then played ‘‘Mind Playing Tricks on Me’’ by the Geto Boys, arguably Houston’s most famous contribution to rap music. Notorious B.I.G. followed, then Tupac, then Salt-N-Pepa.

The early ratings returns were astounding. The station’s audience shot to 802,000 from 245,000, and its Nielsen share went to 3.2 from 1.0. Shortly after that, Radio One started similar stations in Philadelphia and Dallas and saw a gain of 200,000 listeners in each of those cities. Soon, 15 more stations, including 93.9, made the switch.

A cynical but not inaccurate way of thinking about radio formats is as a tool to segment the population for advertisers. Ancient and unglamorous as it may be, radio remains a potent vehicle for advertisers to access consumers. According to a 2015 Nielsen Audio Today report, 91 percent of Americans age 12 or older listen to the radio each week, and the vast majority of those listeners are in the work force (which means they have money to spend). According to another Nielsen study, advertisers achieve more than $6 of incremental sales for every $1 spent on the radio. For radio-station owners, the business plan is simple: Attract the broadest possible audience to your programming and then do everything you can to keep them listening. This is why radio professionals talk about musical genres in ways normal human beings do not; no one believes she listens to rhythmic adult contemporary, but in aggregate, millions of people between the ages of 25 and 54 do.

The Beat, and stations like it, target listeners in their mid-20s to mid-40s: people who grew up during rap’s golden era. This is a subset of the population that is outgrowing contemporary hip-hop radio (which targets the 18-34 demographic) but is mostly too young to be nostalgic for ’70s and ’80s stations and too hip for adult contemporary. They are also entering the prime spending years of their lives — marriage, children, car buying and homeownership — and radio, like all forms of media, is figuring out how to catch them.

In a sense, classic hip-hop is following a radio trend that began in the early 1970s, when the first dedicated FM oldies stations started up in Phoenix, playing records by old crooners and doo-wop quartets. The format was a hit, and it quickly spread to Los Angeles and New York, and everywhere else. Oldies reached its zenith in the 1980s, just as classic rock — a new iteration of the same concept — was born. Same story: The format grew as programmers looked for new ways to keep grown-up baby boomers tuned in.

Over the years, people in the radio business have discovered that even these seemingly static formats are quite pliable. Davey Morris told me about B101, a once-venerable oldies station in Providence, R.I. ‘‘When I first started listening, they were playing hits from the ’50s and early ’60s,’’ he said. ‘‘Now they’re playing the Police.’’ The Crests, the Platters and the Chordettes are being shoved aside, saved for Saturday-night specialty shows. At the same time, the leading edge of classic-rock stations continues to slide forward, and many are adding ’90s acts to their rotation: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Green Day and others. ‘‘If classic rock wasn’t careful, it was going to age itself out of the buying demos,’’ Jon Miller, vice president of audience insights at Nielsen, told me. ‘‘It would be left with an aging audience that isn’t appealing to Madison Avenue.’’

One person at the Beat told me that the station’s ideal listener is a woman between 35 and 44 who is a homeowner and her family’s decision maker. As of now, around 50 percent of the Beat’s audience is white, 45 percent is black and 4 percent is Hispanic (just 10 percent of Indianapolis is Hispanic). By contrast, the city’s top contemporary hip-hop station, WHHH, has an audience that is 68 percent black, 6 percent Hispanic and around 25 percent white. With the Beat, Dickey said the station had achieved universal likability. ‘‘The format is multicultural,’’ he said. ‘‘Anybody — black, white or Hispanic — can claim ownership of this music.’’

Though they’re in the odd position of creating something like a canon for rap music, Morris and the other programmers I spoke with made it clear that they don’t see themselves as stewards of the genre. Their job is to play the hits. Morris, in particular, is looking forward to the summer, when he thinks the Beat’s true potential will be realized. ‘‘People are going to drive around with their windows down and this music blasting,’’ he said. ‘‘They’re going to play it at the beach and at parties. It’s going to be like popcorn and bonbons: We’re just going to keep feeding them hits.’’

Today, that’s easier than ever. Using something called a Portable People Meter, which looks like a beeper, Nielsen collects listening data from its survey participants by detecting hidden tones in a station’s audio stream. The meters can tell which station the panelists are listening to, whether they’re at home or away and how long a listener stays on a station. Independent analysts can provide even more granular data than that, allowing radio programmers to gauge which songs people respond well to and which tracks push them to change the station.

Nielsen recently analyzed four months’ worth of airplay data at 11 new classic hip-hop stations all over the country (including Boom), from Philadelphia to the San Francisco Bay Area, to determine the Top 50 songs in the format. The songs cover the 13 years from 1991 to 2004, with a pronounced feel-good bent and subtle West Coast bias. The Top 5 are: Luniz, ‘‘I Got 5 on It’’; Ice Cube, ‘‘It Was a Good Day’’; Snoop Doggy Dogg, ‘‘Gin and Juice’’; Notorious B.I.G., ‘‘One More Chance’’; and 50 Cent, ‘‘In Da Club.’’ Tupac’s ‘‘How Do U Want It,’’ ‘‘I Get Around’’ and ‘‘California Love’’ are in the Top 25; his more barbed songs, like ‘‘Brenda’s Got a Baby’’ and ‘‘2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted,’’ aren’t even in the Top 50. The Wu-Tang Clan is represented only by Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s crossover hit ‘‘Got Your Money.’’ Somehow, Chingy’s ‘‘Right Thurr’’ has the No. 33 spot.

There has always been a tension in hip-hop between those songs that are made for radio play and songs that were made for the real fans. But the classic hip-hop format seems to act like a sieve that catches only the most radio-friendly of the past’s radio-friendly records. Take, for example, ‘‘It Was a Good Day.’’ That song wasn’t even Ice Cube’s biggest hit in 1993, the year it came out; ‘‘Check Yo Self’’ was. But ‘‘Check Yo Self’’ is a song typical of early ’90s Ice Cube — angry and violent, with jokes about S.T.D.s, guns and prison rape — and ‘‘Good Day’’ is downright happy go lucky. In it, Ice Cube eats a halal breakfast; wins at basketball, dice and dominoes; and sees his name written in lights on the Goodyear blimp.

In May, I visited WRWM and sat in on its drive-time program. Notorious B.I.G.’s ‘‘Juicy’’ played as we approached the 3 o’clock hour. Manning the boards was Zack Babb, a.k.a. Zakk, who hosts a show, weekdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Zakk, who is 27, tall and blond, wore board shorts and canvas sneakers and spent his downtime watching the traffic on Interstate 465 out the window. He watches it stack up every day, he told me. He seemed thrilled by it.

There are just three on-air personalities at the Beat, including Zakk, who did just about everything but decide which song came next. While the music played, he recorded and edited the other elements that go into radio: sweepers, bumpers, ramps, promos. In preparation for a prescheduled spin of Mark Morrison’s ‘‘Return of the Mack,’’ Zakk recorded a ramp: ‘‘Remember hearing this one at United Skates of America? Some guys at the rink used to do a cool backward shuffle to this song. Every time I tried it, I fell on my butt.’’ (Roller-skating, he explained to me, was huge in and around Indianapolis in the 1990s.)

As hours in the studio glided by, so did the utterly irresistible blend of rap and R & B hits: Outkast’s ‘‘Hey Ya!’’ led to Wreckx-N-Effect’s ‘‘Rump Shaker.’’ Then Keith Sweat’s ‘‘Make You Sweat’’ played into Coolio’s ‘‘Fantastic Voyage.’’ When ‘‘Still Fly,’’ by Big Tymers, came on, Zakk fondly recalled blowing out his dad’s speakers as a kid. Each hour was announced by a new classic hip-hop standard. At 4 p.m., it was Tupac and Dr. Dre’s ‘‘California Love.’’ At 5, as traffic on Interstate 465 slowed, it was Jay Z and UGK’s ‘‘Big Pimpin’.’’ Snoop took us into cocktail hour with ‘‘Gin and Juice’’ at 6.

The traffic on the Interstate had halted by then, and I marveled out loud at the symmetry of the scene. We were sitting in a radio station, gazing out at people held prisoner with nothing to do but listen. I asked Zakk to look out the window and tell me the first thing that came to mind. He grinned widely and said, earnestly: ‘‘I imagine all of those people in their cars dancing.’’

Why Taylor Swift will not fight with YouTube

July 13, 2015

By Christine Lenzo @KrysiaLenzo 7/11/15 cnbc.com

Taylor Swift has become the poster child for defending the rights of all artists from tech giants like Apple and Spotify, who are looking to give away music through their free streaming services.

The singer-songwriter’s viral post on June 21, “To Apple, Love Taylor,” on her Tumblr page called out the company for its decision not to pay musicians, writers or producers during Apple Music’s three-month trial period. Within hours Apple made a U-turn and announced that it was reversing its policy.

“To go up against the most powerful company in the world takes tremendous courage,” said Jeffrey Rabhan, chair of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University and a music executive who has been in the industry for more than 20 years. He added, “Her post was written in an articulate and clearly conceived way. I have a lot of respect for her.”

Swift’s disapproval of Apple’s decision is not the first time she openly expressed her feelings about the music-streaming industry. Late last year, Swift also pulled her music from Spotify in an effort to stress the negative ramifications of free streaming on the future of the music business.

But there is one platform in which Swift does not have “Bad Blood”: YouTube. The seven-time Grammy winner has yet to write an open letter on her Tumblr page to Google-owned YouTube about her disapproval of its free service and actually wants listeners to download her music from the video-sharing website.

So why is YouTube receiving seemingly preferential treatment?

The simple answer is, the economics of YouTube make more sense for the 25-year-old and other artists looking to protect their future revenue, because YouTube videos serve a major promotional purpose. On YouTube, Swift is able to monetize her videos in more ways than Spotify and Apple can provide.

“YouTube is still the place to go to discover and consume music.”
-Larry Miller, professor of music business, NYU’s Steinhardt School

“For much of the country, YouTube is still the place to go to discover and consume music. As a promotional platform, it has become as important as, or more important than, terrestrial radio,” said Larry Miller, professor of music business at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

“I think that the reason why she is not going against YouTube has to do with the perceived marketing and promotional clout of this type of media relative to the perceived marketing and promotional clout of interactive streaming services like Spotify and Apple,” said Miller.

Marketing is a large component of YouTube, because it’s a way for artists to get noticed and earn money. Artists who may be excluded from the radio or top 20 countdowns can post their songs on YouTube to gain greater visibility.

Compared with Spotify, which has over 75 million users, YouTube has more than 1 billion in its user base, which is continuously growing, partly in thanks to Swift. After leaving Spotify, her official videos and user-generated content on YouTube almost doubled from 12.5 million daily views to 24 million views over the course of about a week. In addition, pages that feature Swift’s music have iTunes or Amazon links where users can easily buy a digital download.

Swift can also increase her $200 million net worth by uploading her videos to Vevo, a site hosted by YouTube with the goal of monetizing music videos through ads. Launched in 2009, Vevo is a joint venture with Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Abu Dhabi Media that is considered the Hulu for music videos. YouTube invested about $50 million in the video site as part of an effort to keep Vevo’s 140,000 music videos on YouTube.

Typically, musicians like Swift, whose independent label Big Machine is distributed by Universal Music group, have their own Vevo channel on YouTube where their team can upload the latest videos. YouTube does not disclose royalty percentages; however, industry experts estimate videos with ads make approximately $0.50 to $2 for every 1,000 views.

Swift has a successful presence on YouTube. Her latest song, “Bad Blood,” featured on the Taylor Swift Vevo YouTube Channel has over 230,000,000 views since it was posted a month ago and won Vevo’s 24-hour record by obtaining 20.1 million views on the first day of its release.

In 2014 she placed second on Vevo’s top 10 earning channels based on the number of views and subscribers. The No. 1 most profitable channel on YouTube for the same time period was DisneyCollector BR, which streams videos of hands playing with children’s toys.

YouTube provides another economical outlet for Swift through its user-generated content that includes her songs. For example, if Swift’s song “Shake It Off” is incorporated into a funny YouTube skit by a fan, she has the ability to demand its removal from the site. But, prior to asking for that removal, artists can use YouTube’s “Content ID” tool to decide if they want to license their song, thereby supporting fans’ creativity while getting a cut of the royalties.

A new music model

Swift is vehemently against a model that does not charge users to listen, because despite Spotify’s Premium service, the company offers a free level of streaming that she dismisses as a “grand experiment.” Swift stated in an interview with Yahoo that she is not willing to contribute her life’s work to any part of Spotify, because she would be perpetuating the perception that music is free and has no value.

“Spotify has been made out to be the bad guy,” said Rabhan. “It got all of the appropriate licenses to stream music, and over 70 percent of Spotify’s revenue goes to the rights holders. The artists just did not gain as much from these deals.”

Additionally, Spotify claims it has paid more than $2 billion to record labels, and rights holders can make between $.006 to $.0084 per stream. However, the payout model is not as profitable for artists as YouTube, which also allows users to stream music for free.

So while she is fervent in her beliefs about streaming, Taylor gets greater value from keeping her music videos on YouTube.

Miller of NYU’s Steinhardt School agrees. “It would be a stretch to say that YouTube could be her next target.”

Stop Using My Song: 34 Artists Who Fought Politicians Over Their Music

July 9, 2015

From Springsteen vs. Reagan to Neil Young vs. the Donald
BY EVELINE CHAO RollingStone.com 7/08/15

In 1932, FDR became the first presidential candidate to use a pre-existing popular tune for a campaign when he embraced “Happy Days Are Here Again” for his White House bid. It was a move that set future politicians on a collision course with the artists whose songs they adopted.

Rock List: Readers’ Best Protest Songs »
The first major collision took place in 1984, when Bruce Springsteen objected to President Ronald Reagan’s plans to use “Born in the U.S.A.” during his reelection run. But it was hardly the last. Springsteen ushered in a new dimension to the campaign-song hit parade: the practice of speaking out against, and sometimes suing, mostly Republican politicians who appropriated tunes without the musicians’ endorsement.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with money. It has to do with the political viewpoint of the artist or songwriter or publisher,” Chuck Rubin, founder of Artists Rights Enforcement Corporation, tells Rolling Stone. “But they do have the right to either say yea or nay.” The fact that politicians feel compelled to link themselves to particular songs, he adds, “just goes to show how powerful music can be.”
The issue of who gets to decide how that power is used, politically, flares up every campaign season, it seems – most recently when Neil Young took Donald Trump to task over the latter playing “Rockin’ in the Free World” at the kickoff event for his presidential bid. “I do not trust politicians. . . I trust people,” the rocker stated on Facebook, expressing the shared sentiments of many of his fellow musicians. “So I make my music for people, not for candidates.”
Here, to make battles past, present and future just a little less confusing, is a history of artists taking a stand against politicians using their songs.

Bruce Springsteen vs. Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and Pat Buchanan

When: 1984, 1996, 2000
Song: “Born in the U.S.A.”
Controversy: Springsteen’s 1984 classic has become an election-season go-to for politicians who don’t seem to get the biting critique behind the song’s ostensibly jingoistic title and chorus. The misappropriation began right out the gate, just after the single and its album became monster hits. A Reagan advisor asked if they could use the song in the president’s reelection campaign, and Springsteen said no. Even so, Reagan referenced the musician in a stump speech: “America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside our hearts. It rests in the message of hope in the songs of a man so many young Americans admire: New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen. And helping you make those dreams come true is what this job of mine is all about.” Springsteen began to speak out against Reagan, questioning during a show whether Reagan actually listened to his music, and later telling Rolling Stone, “I think people have a need to feel good about the country they live in. But what’s happening, I think, is that that need – which is a good thing – is getting manipulated and exploited.” Later, Bob Dole and then Pat Buchanan also used the song in their campaigns, until Springsteen objected.
Result: At least one commentator has argued that being co-opted by Reagan is in large part what politicized Springsteen, making him the outspoken liberal he is today. Whether this is the case or not, Bruce inarguably paved the way for other artists to take a stand by telling politicians to stop using their songs.

Bobby McFerrin vs. George H.W. Bush

When: 1988
Song: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”
Controversy: The VP used the a cappella chart-topper as his presidential campaign theme, but McFerrin was a Dukakis supporter, and asked team Bush to stop. The Republican candidate went on a charm offensive, telling McFerrin he loved the song and inviting him to dinner, but the singer was unmoved. To drive home the point, he even stopped performing the song for a while.
Result: The Bush campaign dropped the tune, and “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie became its official song instead.

Isaac Hayes vs. Bob Dole

When: 1996
Song: “Soul Man”
Controversy: In 1996, Sam Moore recorded a new version of the 1967 Sam and Dave classic for the Dole campaign, in which “I’m a soul man” became “I’m a Dole man.” The reworking also included digs at opponent Bill Clinton, like, “And he [Dole] don’t have no girl friends, no!” The Dole campaign loved it and used it regularly, including at that year’s Republication convention. It turned out, however, that the rights to the song were not Moore’s to give. “Soul Man” was written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, and some rights were also held by Rondor Music (whose owners were liberals). Rondor sent the campaign a cease-and-desist letter, threatening to sue for $10,000 each time the song was used. Hayes told the New York Daily News, “Nobody gave any permission here,” adding, “It also bothers me because people may get the impression that David [Porter] and I endorse Bob Dole, which we don’t.” As the controversy raged, one journalist, Charles Memminger, wrote in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, “Connecting Bob Dole to ‘Soul Man’ is like connecting Jeffrey Dahmer to ‘Feelings.'”
Result: Dole stopped using the song, and no further legal action was taken. Searching for new music to use, the campaign decided on Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” until Springsteen protested via an open letter. Eventually the Dole camp settled on “American Boy” by country singer Eddie Rabbitt, who gladly gave permission.

Sting vs. George W. Bush

When: 2000
Song: “Brand New Day”
Controversy: Sting’s upbeat hit was on regular rotation at Bush events until the artist asked the campaign to stop playing it. Salon quoted manager Miles Copeland as saying that, as a Brit, Sting simply didn’t want to take sides in U.S. politics. But the song was being heavily used by the Gore campaign too, and though Copeland claimed in the Salon piece that Gore’s folks would soon be asked to stop as well, such action never came to pass.
Result: The Bush folks pulled the plug on the song, and in 2009, Sting and Al had brunch.

Boston vs. Mike Huckabee

When: 2008
Song: “More Than a Feeling”
Controversy: During primary season, one-time Republican frontrunner and amateur bass player Huckabee capped off many of his events by playing “More Than a Feeling” with his band Capitol Offense – sometimes with former Boston guitarist Barry Goudreau laying down a guest solo. “More Than a Feeling” writer and Boston founder Tom Scholz took exception to this, penning an open letter to Huckabee in which he said that he was “impressed” that the candidate had learned his bass guitar parts but nonetheless felt like he’d been “ripped off, dude!” “Boston has never endorsed a political candidate,” wrote Scholz, who personally backed Obama, “and with all due respect, would not start by endorsing a candidate who is the polar opposite of most everything Boston stands for.”
Result: Huckabee’s campaign – and therefore his use of the song – ended shortly thereafter when he conceded the Republican nomination to John McCain.

Sam Moore vs. Barack Obama

When: 2008
Song: “Hold On, I’m Comin'”
Controversy: In a rare instance of a Democratic candidate being asked to cease and desist from using a song, Moore – the tenor voice in R&B duo Sam and Dave – asked Obama to stop playing “Hold On, I’m Comin'” at rallies (where audience members sang, “Hold on, Obama’s comin'”). The singer wrote, “I have not agreed to endorse you for the highest office in our land. . . . My vote is a very private matter between myself and the ballot box.” He added, however, that he found it “thrilling” to see a man of color run for the presidency.
Result: The Obama team stopped using the song, and all was apparently forgiven. The following year, Moore performed with Sting and Elvis Costello at an inaugural ball for the newly elected president. And in 2013, he played at the White House as part of a PBS music series.

Gretchen Peters vs. Sarah Palin

When: 2008
Song: “Independence Day”
Controversy: Peters won a CMA Song of the Year award for her powerful 1993 country tune, which was recorded and released by Martina McBride. When the track was used to introduce Palin at a rally, the songwriter lashed out, saying, “The fact that the McCain/Palin campaign is using a song about an abused woman as a rallying cry for their Vice Presidential candidate, a woman who would ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest, is beyond irony. They are co-opting the song, completely overlooking the context and message, and using it to promote a candidate who would set women’s rights back decades.”
Result: Instead of suing the campaign to make them stop playing the song, Peters donated all of the election season royalties from “Independence Day” to Planned Parenthood. She also encouraged others to make similar donations under the name “Sarah Palin.” The organization raised a million dollars during that period.Jackson

Browne vs. John McCain

When: 2008
Song: “Running on Empty”
Controversy: After the McCain campaign used a snippet of “Running on Empty” in an ad mocking Barack Obama’s statements about gas conservation, longtime Democrat Browne filed a lawsuit against the candidate and the Republican Party. “The misappropriation of Jackson Browne’s endorsement is entirely reprehensible,” the musician’s lawyer stated, “and I have no doubt that a jury will agree.”
Result: Browne won an undisclosed cash settlement and a public apology from McCain. The New York Times called the suit, along with David Byrne’s successful 2010 suit against Charlie Christ, a “turning point” in the long history of politicians using pop tunes without artists’ permission. The controversy also helped McCain earn the dubious d

Orleans vs. John McCain, George W. Bush

When: 2008, 2004
Song: “Still the One”
Controversy: McCain’s use of “Still the One” following his New Hampshire primary win was unsurprisingly met with condemnation from one of the song’s co-writers, former Orleans member John Hall – who happened to be a Democratic congressman at the time. Four years earlier, Hall had discovered that the Bush-Cheney campaign was using the same song when he was watching Ohio coverage on TV. “My wife and I were looking at each other with our mouths hanging open,” he told Rolling Stone.
Result: Hall sent cease-and-desist letters, both in 2008 and 2004. The McCain campaign had no comment; Bush-Cheney stopped using the tune.

Foo Fighters vs. John McCain

When: 2008
Song: “My Hero”
Controversy: An Obama supporter, Dave Grohl did not consider McCain to be his hero nor worthy of using the Foos’ 1998 single during his presidential run. “It’s frustrating and infuriating that someone who claims to speak for the American people would repeatedly show such little respect for creativity and intellectual property,” the band said in a statement, referencing the numerous other instances when the McCain camp used songs against the artists’ wishes. “The saddest thing about this is that ‘My Hero’ was written as a celebration of the common man and his extraordinary potential.”
Result: “The McCain-Palin campaign respects copyright,” a spokesman said, repeating the campaign’s well-practiced response to such disputes. “Accordingly, this campaign has obtained and paid for licenses from performing rights organizations, giving us permission to play millions of different songs, including ‘My Hero.'”

Heart vs. Sarah Palin

When: 2008
Song: “Barracuda”
Controversy: Vice presidential candidate Palin – whose nickname from high school basketball was “Sarah Barracuda” – used the Heart track at the Republican National Convention as her theme song. The Wilson sisters were not amused and sent a cease-and-desist letter to the Republicans. “I feel completely fucked over,” Nancy Wilson said. “Sarah Palin’s views and values in no way represent us as American women.”
Result: Sarah Barracuda still felt like the song represented her, however, and the McCain campaign continued using it at rallies, claiming that they had the right to do so through a blanket ASCAP license.

Van Halen vs. John McCain

When: 2008
Song: “Right Now”
Controversy: The self-proclaimed “maverick” candidate used one of the dullest tracks from the Van Hagar era during a televised rally; the brothers Van Halen jumped. They issued a statement saying, “Permission was not sought or granted nor would it have been given.” While not necessarily a McCain supporter, Sammy Hagar – the song’s singer and co-writer – said that he got goose bumps, in a positive sense, from the candidate playing the song. “I was honored that a potential president of the United States used those words in a positive sense, like, ‘We gotta act now!'” he enthused.
Result: McCain kept using the song. What’s perhaps more important is that the incident actually inspired Eddie Van Halen to call up Hagar, even though the two ended up just playing phone tag.

John Mellencamp vs. John McCain, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan

When: 2008, 2000 and 1984
Songs: “Our Country,” “Pink Houses”; “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.”; “Pink Houses”
Controversy: McCain used the tunes at rallies to underscore his “Country First” message. Mellencamp – who has called himself “as left-wing as you can get” and performed at a John Edwards rally during the 2008 Democratic primaries – asked that the presidential hopeful cease and desist. The rocker also asked Bush to stop using “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” in 2000, and told Salon that he discouraged Reagan from using “Pink Houses” as his campaign song in 1984 when reps reached out.
Result: Four days after Mellencamp’s request was made, McCain’s campaign announced that it would no longer play either “Our Country” or “Pink Houses” at events.

Abba vs. John McCain

When: 2008
Song: “Take a Chance on Me”
Controversy: The Swedish pop group did not take a chance on McCain. Though the Republican is a noted Abba fan – his favorite song is “Dancing Queen” – the band sent his campaign a cease-and-desist letter for playing its hit at events. “We played it a couple times and it’s my understanding [Abba] went berserk,” said McCain.
Result: No word on whether McCain told the band, “If you change your mind, I’m the first in line.” In any case, the campaign stopped playing the song.

Bon Jovi vs. Sarah Palin

When: 2008
Song: “Who Says You Can’t Go Home”
Controversy: After the song was played at several Palin rallies, Jon Bon Jovi – who has thrown a $30,800 per plate dinner for Obama at his home – complained in a statement. “We wrote this song as a thank you to those who have supported us over the past twenty-five years,” he wrote. “The song has since become a banner for our home state of New Jersey and the de facto theme song for our partnerships around the country to build homes and rebuild communities. Although we were not asked, we do not approve of their use of ‘Home.'”
Result: No legal action was taken, and the McCain campaign pointed out that venues pay blanket licenses, entitling many songs by a variety of artists to be played at public events.

MGMT vs. Nicolas Sarkozy

When: 2009
Song: “Kids”
Controversy: The indie band’s song was everywhere in 2009 – including two online videos for the French president’s UMP (Union for Popular Movement) party. The American psychedelic rockers threatened to sue, and the UMP said it had used the song by mistake and offered a token one euro in compensation. The band’s French lawyer, Isabelle Wekstein, rejected the offer as “insulting.” Ironically, at the time, Sarkozy was pushing a bill to crack down on Internet piracy.
Result: The UMP party settled for around 29,000 more euros than originally offered (a U.S. sum of $39,050), which MGMT donated to an artists’ rights organization. Meanwhile, the Internet piracy bill, known as the “three strikes law,” was rejected twice before finally passing in September 2009.

Joe Walsh vs. Joe Walsh

When: 2010
Song: “Walk Away”
Controversy: One Joe Walsh is a guitarist for the Eagles; the other Joe Walsh is an Illinois congressman. A lawyer for Eagles Joe Walsh sent politician Joe Walsh a cease-and-desist letter for making a commercial in which another Joe – Joe Cantafio of the band 101st Rock Division – sings a version of the James Gang number “Walk Away” rewritten as “Lead Away.” The letter was the epitome of snark, admonishing, “Now, I know why you used Joe’s music – it’s undoubtedly because it’s a lot better than any music you or your staff could have written. But that’s the point. Since Joe writes better songs than you do, the Copyright Act rewards him by letting him decide who gets to use the songs he writes.”
Result: The congressman responded with a letter stating that the song was performed as a parody and thus constituted fair use under copyright law. He also mused, “I hope the Democratic National Committee and Nancy Pelosi didn’t put you up to this.”

Rush vs. Rand Paul

When: 2010
Songs: “The Spirit of Radio,” “Tom Sawyer”
Controversy: Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is both a libertarian and an ardent Rush fan – he’s quoted their lyrics in speeches and played their songs at a victory rally and in a campaign video. The prog rockers were known libertarians too – they praised Ayn Rand in the liner notes to their album 2112 – but nonetheless, the band hit Paul with a cease-and-desist letter. At the time, Rush’s attorney said the action was taken due to copyright issues and that, as Canadians, the group had no desire to mix music with politics.
Result: Five years after the controversy, Paul continues to suffer the indignity of hearing just how much his favorite band dislikes him. Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart is now an American citizen and recently told Rolling Stone that he would never vote for Paul and that it’s “very obvious” that the politician “hates women and brown people.”

Don Henley vs. Chuck DeVore

When: 2010
Songs: “All She Wants to Do Is Dance,” “The Boys of Summer”
Controversy: By 2010, musicians had taken politicians to trial over non-approved use of their music, but when Henley sued DeVore, it marked the first time that such a court case involved a parody. The California Republican senatorial candidate had turned Henley’s song “The Boys of Summer” into a takedown of Obama and liberalism called “The Hope of November.” The rocker, an Obama supporter, asked YouTube to remove videos featuring the reworking of his song, upon which DeVore not only demanded that they be restored, but also insisted that his versions were legal as parodies. And he went on to turn Henley’s “All She Wants to Do Is Dance” into “All She Wants to Do Is Tax.”
Result: The two sides went to court, and after parsing the differences between “parody” and “satire,” U.S. District Court Judge James Selna wrote that DeVore’s versions of Henley’s tunes failed to mock the songs and songwriter – which would have made them allowable as parody. DeVore wound up settling and apologizing.

David Byrne vs. Charlie Crist

When: 2010
Song: “Road to Nowhere”
Controversy: Like Survivor’s Frankie Sullivan, Byrne is one of the few artists who’s gone so far as to sue a political candidate over song use. He took Crist to court for no less than $1 million over an attack video against the senatorial candidate’s then-opponent Marco Rubio that featured 1985 Talking Heads single “Road to Nowhere.”
Result: Crist agreed to pay an undisclosed sum and also posted an apology video on YouTube. Byrne said in a statement afterwards, “It turns out I am one of the few artists who has the bucks and [guts] to challenge such usage. . . . my hope is that by standing up to this practice maybe it can be made to be a less common option, or better yet an option that is never taken in the future.”

Journey vs. Newt Gingrich

When: 2011
Song: “Don’t Stop Believin'”
Controversy: Maybe Newt was obsessed with that Sopranos finale too, because four years after the landmark HBO series cut to black to Journey’s motivational anthem, the conservative politician blasted the song at a campaign event. Legal reps of the band’s classic-era singer Steve Perry sent a cease-and-desist letter. “They just think music is free like a lot of other people on the planet,” his lawyer, Lee Phillips, told Variety.
Result: Gingrich was no longer able to “hold on to that feelin'” when he dropped out of the presidential race the following year.

Katrina and the Waves vs. Michele Bachmann

When: 2011
Song: “Walking on Sunshine”
Controversy: After finding out that Bachmann was playing the song at campaign events, the New Wave band issued a statement on its website, making it clear that the group did not endorse the politician’s appropriation of its music. Singer Katrina Leskanich told Rolling Stone, “If I disagree with the policies, opinions or platforms for [my song’s] use, I’ve no choice but to try and defend the song and prevent its misuse. Music can be both powerful and moving and sometimes even a little dangerous.”
Result: The Washington Post’s Joe Heim took it upon himself to find Bachmann new campaign music, and learned that Ted Nugent was happy to lend his song “Stranglehold” to her cause. “Michele Bachmann is clearly a Great American,” the Nuge wrote in a hilarious e-mail to the newspaper. “Her words have iron, her spirit is indefatigable and her beauty contagious. In a perfect world her ultimate campaign theme song would be WANG DANG SWEET [expletive] just to fire up America and prove that political correctness is laughable.”

Tom Petty vs. Michele Bachmann, George W. Bush

When: 2011, 2000
Song: “American Girl,” “I Won’t Back Down”
Controversy: After Republican presidential hopeful Bachmann played Petty’s “American Girl” at a rally, Petty immediately sent the campaign a cease-and-desist letter. Eleven years earlier, he also posted a notice to the Bush campaign telling them to stop using “I Won’t Back Down.”
Result: Despite Petty’s letter, the Minnesota congresswoman continued playing the song – including on the day right after receiving the cease-and-desist notice. Bush, however, did back down, and Petty later made his political leanings clear when he performed “I Won’t Back Down” at a private concert in Al Gore’s home the night of his concession speech. Tipper Gore reportedly played drums.

Survivor vs. Newt Gingrich

When: 2012
Song: “Eye of the Tiger”
Controversy: Survivor band member Frankie Sullivan is one of the handful of artists who have actually brought suit against a politician for using their music. He alleged that Gingrich has been playing the Rocky III theme song, which he co-wrote, at public appearances as far back as 2009. (The group also complained about the McCain-Palin campaign using the same tune in 2008.) At one point during the brouhaha, former Survivor frontman Dave Bickler appeared on The Colbert Report and sang passages from Gingrich’s book A Nation Like No Other to the melody of “Eye of the Tiger.”
Result: Gingrich insisted he had the right to use the song and initially fought back with several court motions, but, perhaps losing heart when his campaign began to tank, eventually settled.

The Heavy vs. Newt Gingrich

When: 2012
Song: “How You Like Me Now?”
Controversy: Gingrich was served with a cease-and-desist notice by Montreal-based music publisher Third Side Music on behalf of the Heavy, for playing their song at a rally in Florida. The British indie-rock band posted on its Facebook page, “If you heard ‘How You Like Me Now?’ being used by Republican, Newt Gingrich, in his campaign, we’d like you to know it had fuck all to do with us and we are trying to stop it being used. TWATS.”
Result: The group didn’t pursue any further legal action, but Gingrich was smacked soon after with a lawsuit for using Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.”

Cyndi Lauper vs. Democratic National Committee

When: 2012
Song: “True Colors”
Controversy: The DNC, led by chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schulz, used Cyndi Lauper’s 1986 classic in an attack ad against Mitt Romney titled – surprise! – “True Color.” When Lauper found out, she expressed her displeasure on Twitter, writing, “I wouldn’t have wanted that song to be used in that way” and “Mr. Romney can discredit himself without the use of my work.”
Result: Mitch Stewart, the Battleground States Director for Obama for America, responded on Twitter, “Cyndi Lauper has never spoken truer words.” The ad was removed from YouTube.

Dee Snider vs. Paul Ryan

When: 2012
Song: “We’re Not Gonna Take It”
Controversy: Things Dee Snider likes: big hair and working out. Things he doesn’t like: Paul Ryan. When the Twisted Sister frontman learned that the Republican vice presidential candidate was opening campaign stops with the glam-metal classic, he issued the following statement: “I emphatically denounce Paul Ryan’s use of my song ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ as recorded by my band Twisted Sister. There is almost nothing on which I agree with Paul Ryan, except perhaps the use of the P90X.” Snider wasn’t the only rocker whose hackles Ryan raised during the 2012 campaign: Tom Morello also spoke out against the VP hopeful when the politician expressed his love of the guitarist’s band Rage Against the Machine.
Result: A Ryan spokesperson told Politico in an e-mail: “We’re Not Gonna Play It anymore.”

Silversun Pickups vs. Mitt Romney

When: 2012
Song: “Panic Switch”
Controversy: With lyrics like, “When you see yourself in a crowded room?/Do your fingers itch? Are you pistol-whipped?/Do you step in line or release the glitch?,” Silversun Pickups’ 2009 alt-rock hit doesn’t seem particularly well suited for a political jingle. The band certainly didn’t think so, sending the Romney campaign a cease-and-desist notice for using the Swoon single at an event. “We were very close to just letting this go because the irony was too good,” the L.A. alt-rockers said in a statement. “While he is inadvertently playing a song that describes his whole campaign, we doubt that ‘Panic Switch’ really sends the message he intends.”
Result: A Romney rep told the L.A. Times that the song was played “inadvertently” during set-up at a rally but was covered anyway under their blanket license. The campaign never played it again.

Al Green vs. Mitt Romney

When: 2012
Song: “Let’s Stay Together”
Controversy: After the Obama campaign released an ad that featured Mitt Romney singing “America the Beautiful,” Romney’s side retaliated with a spot in which Obama sings the Al Green classic “Let’s Stay Together.” Within a day, the ad, as well as footage of the original Obama performance, disappeared off YouTube, due to a copyright claim from BMG Rights Management on behalf of Green, an Obama supporter.
Result: YouTube restored the video after receiving an appeal letter from the Romney campaign, agreeing that it constituted fair use.

K’naan vs. Mitt Romney

When: 2012
Song: “Wavin’ Flag”
Controversy: The Somali-Canadian musician’s song, featuring assists from Will.i.am and David Guetta, gained traction in the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and then took off even more when Coca-Cola used a version of it as the anthem of the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. When Romney played it during a victory rally in Florida, K’naan was deluged with Twitter messages accusing him of selling out to a conservative politician. The musician threatened legal action against the Romney campaign, explaining, “I’m for immigrants. I’m for poor people, and they don’t seem to be what he’s endorsing.” He also added that he would “happily grant the Obama campaign use of my song without prejudice.”
Result: Romney reps insisted they had permission through blanket licenses purchased from ASCAP and BMI, but said they would stop using the song out of respect for K’naan’s views.

Eminem vs. New Zealand National Party

When: 2014
Song: “Lose Yourself”
Controversy: Eminem doesn’t usually involve himself with New Zealand politics, but last year the rapper and his publishing company filed a copyright infringement suit against the National Party after Prime Minister John Key used the hip-hop star’s “Lose Yourself” in a reelection campaign ad without permission.
Result: The National Party insisted they had obtained the right to use to the song through an Australian production company but stopped using the track. Nonetheless, Eminem is still seeking damages. The case was scheduled to go to court last February, but was put on hold; according to recent reports, it may be reset for any day now.

Dropkick Murphys vs. Scott Walker

When: January 2015
Song: “I’m Shipping Up to Boston.”
Controversy: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker walked out to the song at an event in Iowa for presidential hopefuls, and the Celtic punk band responded with one of the bluntest tweets ever: “@ScottWalker @GovWalker please stop using our music in any way. . . we literally hate you !!! Love, Dropkick Murphys.” It wasn’t the first time the group had spoken out against the politician. In 2011 the Boys from Beantown released the song “Take ‘Em Down” to express support for Wisconsin union workers, who were protesting a Walker budget bill that would have taken away their right to collective bargaining. And in 2012, then-Assembly speaker Jeff Fitzgerald walked out to “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” during the Wisconsin GOP convention, after which the group called him a “crony of anti-union governor Scott Walker” and said that his music choice was “like a white supremacist coming out to gangsta rap.”
Result: The band stated on its Facebook page that “this isn’t a legal issue to us – we’re not looking to sue someone,” but also said, “We feel that we have the right to ask to not be associated with certain events or people.” It remains to be seen whether Walker will continue to use the song.

Axwell and Ingrosso vs. Marco Rubio

When: April 2015
Song: “Something New”
Controversy: At his presidential campaign kickoff rally in Miami, Rubio walked off stage to the Swedish electronic duo’s dance-floor smash. The group shortly thereafter stated to Business Insider, “Axwell ^ Ingrosso didn’t give their permission for this song to be used and don’t want to be affiliated with a particular party during the upcoming presidential race.” Rubio is a noted hip-hop enthusiast but recently told TMZ he’s “gotten into” EDM, dropping names like David Guetta, Axwell and Ingrosso and the duo’s former outfit Swedish House Mafia.
Result: Axwell and Ingrosso have not indicated any plans to sue, and Rubio, no hip-hop flip-flop, assured TMZ that he’s “still a Nicki Minaj fan.”

Neil Young vs. Donald Trump

When: June 2015
Song: “Rockin’ in the Free World”
Controversy: On June 16th, the halls of Trump Tower reverberated with “Rockin’ in the Free World” – on repeat – when the Donald announced his plans to “be the greatest jobs president that God ever created.” Young’s manager released a statement afterwards saying that Trump was “not authorized” to use the song, and that “Neil Young, a Canadian citizen, is a supporter of Bernie Sanders for President.” Trump reps, however, claimed they had permission to use the song through a licensing agreement with the performance-rights organization ASCAP.
Result: Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told Rolling Stone that the Republican candidate continues to be a Neil Young fan, regardless of the musician’s political views, and as such “will respect his wish and not use [‘Rockin’ in the Free World’] because it’s the right thing to do.” Presumably with Young’s approval, Sanders has begun using the song.

Why Films About Musicians Leave So Much Music Off Screen

July 9, 2015

Ann Powers http://www.redef.com 7/07/15

For anyone more interested in Amy Winehouse’s music than in her martyrdom, the most shocking images in Asif Kapadia’s new documentary Amy may not be the ones showing her strung out and terrifyingly thin at the end of her short life, nor those capturing her turn into serious addiction in filthy, paraphernalia-strewn rooms she shared with her enabler and eventual husband, Blake Fielder-Civil. The early footage of Winehouse playing music is what proves electrifying, even though it’s been available on YouTube for years. It’s revelatory to be returned to a time before her international fame, when Winehouse was still feeling out her sound. She’d stand behind a microphone, intently listening to her bandmates as she shaped those trademark rough melismatic vocal lines. She’d smile as she moved her long fingers over the fretboard of her Fender Stratocaster.

Amy Winehouse played guitar. It’s something few people talk about, partly because by the time of her second, breakthrough, tragically final studio album, Back To Black, she’s put it aside in performance, instead focused on balancing the beehive on her delicate head. But the instrument was essential to her musical development. She didn’t really play like a rock or even jazz guitarist; more like a singer exploring phrasing in a different way. The Stratocaster was her personal decoder, translating the complex rhythms and tones of instrumentalists she loved, like John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk, into lines she could grasp and incorporate into her vocals.

The guitar also made her feel strong. “I guess it must be akin to having a dick,” Winehouse once said in an interview not excerpted in Kapadia’s film. “It must be that. When I go onstage and I’ve got a guitar, I feel like no one can touch me — not in an ‘I’m so good’ way, it’s just all my strength, right here [gesturing to her lower torso, what believers in kundalini know as the second chakra, or pleasure center]. To me the guitar represents my music that’s inside me, but external, you know what I mean? So I guess that’s why it’s like having a dick. It’s like, myself, but out.”

This explanation says a lot about Winehouse as a woman who fell in love with musical worlds (jazz and hip-hop, her favorites) grounded in the idea that competition among male geniuses is the source of innovation and real meaning. She came up in a club milieu where she had to hold her own with male collaborators whose technical self-confidence outshone her own — she told that interlocutor, “I’ve never had a dick, obviously,” and her laugh was rueful. Music was her first challenger and champion. “She had the most personal relationship to music, the most emotional relationship to music,” Sam Beste, her longtime keyboardist and fellow teen genius, told Kapadia. “She needed music as if it were a person … she would die for it.”

Beste’s observation cuts through the sordid details that make up so much of Amy. It resonates partly because it puts Winehouse’s love of music first, a rarity in a story more focused (in service of sad truth, it seems) on her preoccupation with bad romance and self-destruction. Yet Beste’s analogy also applies to the world of music films in general, and exposes what most viewers have been conditioned to seek from them. Films “about” music, in short, tend to focus on everything surrounding the ineffable art, without delving too deeply into its core.

Music-focused cinema could provide something radical: a close view of the processes of composing and performing that reveals the work behind what seems, to listeners, like magic. Instead, like almost any other kind of cinema, it tends to focus on human relationships: on the interpersonal, not the inner personal. This understandable tendency has resulted in many great explorations of how musicians get along with each other, cope in the world, affect social change and build legacies. Yet it means that most music films (with a few exceptions) still sidestep what’s unique about music-making: the mix of obsessive practice and spontaneous experimentation; the balance between listening and self-expression; the sensual experience of living through the ears. Making music a character allows us as viewers to relate to these narratives, but it also simplifies something worth keeping complicated.

Amy, as touching and necessary as it is, remains true to convention. The film’s first third does, happily, remind us that Winehouse was in love with that rascal, song. Candid footage shows her among her bandmates, happy, hilarious, constantly vocalizing, that empowering guitar at the ready. After fame and the horrifically blank Fielder-Civil enter her life, Amy becomes a more familiar celebrity disaster flick. Stalked by fame and her own compulsions, she wastes away. At the end, there’s a moment when music reappears via a valiant potential emancipator: Tony Bennett nurtures a strong studio performance out of Winehouse, despite her intense insecurity. In an offscreen interview, The Roots drummer Questlove notes that Winehouse hoped to form a jazz-fusion group with himself, rapper Yasiin Bey and guitarist-songwriter-producer Raphael Saadiq. But she’s too far gone, and in 2011 the distinctly anti-musical experience of being forced to perform stale hits in front of a huge Serbian festival crowd does her in. In the end, Amy is a horror story about a girl who lost her magic instrument in the forest of renown, and is eaten by demons talent alone can’t defeat.

Some critics have been frustrated by Amy’s downplaying of Winehouse’s music itself. In his New Yorker review, Anthony Lane notes that the film barely includes any Winehouse performances, with most interrupted “to make way for a juicy quotation in voiceover. All this strikes me as an opportunity missed,” he drily comments. True — but perhaps it was also Kapadia’s plan to stay clear of the knotty matter of Winehouse’s creative trajectory, and for more than the usual reasons filmmakers work around such matters. Winehouse’s cultural allegiances bring up different demons: particularly, the specter of white appropriation of black musical styles, which for all of Winehouse’s clear musicality still often surfaces as caricature, in the way she slurs her words and turns her phrases, not to mention her willing absorption of the most abject version of the abused blueswoman persona, victimized by love. Kapadia’s less complicated revisionist take on Winehouse — that she was a music nerd, as intellectual in her approach as, say, her producer Mark Ronson, and genuinely drawn to collaborate with black musicians, not just exploit them — is redemptive. But it leaves troubling questions about Winehouse’s occupation of a pseudo-“transracial” persona unanswered. They just don’t fit within Kapadia’s quest to show Winehouse as an innocent corrupted by men and pop success.

Of the current spate of music films attracting attention in multiplexes and on streaming services or premium television, Amy is the most old-fashioned in its tragic arc. The others do suggest that cinema about music might, in fact, be turning more musical, or at least more interested in serving as a form of music criticism. Liz Garbus’s What Happened, Miss Simone? dwells on performance clips and the words of its subject, Nina Simone, to examine how an artist becomes radical and then infuses that political spirit into her songs. The similarly constructed Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, directed by Brett Morgen, harkens back to psychoanalytic literary theory in its linking of the Nirvana frontman’s artistry with his childhood traumas. And Bill Pohlad’s lovely Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy makes a fascinating leap by suggesting that the Beach Boys auteur constructed his inimitable soundscapes as a way of dealing with auditory hallucinations — making pop songs that go deep, in part, because they were designed to converse with the voices in his head.

The stories these films pursue share much beyond music. Each centers on a person struggling with a psychiatric disorder and a family that either can’t cope or actively makes the situation worse. These troubled heroes live through volatile cultural shifts — for Simone and Wilson, the ’60s of civil rights becoming black power and psychedelic experimentation becoming bad trips; for Cobain, the indie-to-corporate ’90s that birthed grunge, also drug-addled. These environments first inspire them, but later exacerbate an essential alienation that drives them toward self-destruction. Each film also turns on a vanishing — Cobain’s suicide; Winehouse’s death by alcohol and bulimia, Simone’s African self-exile and temporary abandonment of both music and her daughter; Wilson’s depression-darkened hermit years. These human stories are important. They show how abuse or rejection can push a fragile ego into serious instability. They critique capitalism’s stranglehold on art. And they argue that people — their health, their sincere love — are more valuable than things, even if those things (songs, for example) prove immortal. But what do they have to say about music? And how do they manage to say it?

One strange thing about these particular music films is that they all avoid contextualizing their subjects within larger musical communities. Garbus’s film is the most accomplished in terms of framing the genius of its star through her interactions with other creative people, including writers and political activists, but also some fellow players. Simone’s longtime guitarist, Al Schackman, gets the space to talk about their seemingly telepathic bond, and to share what he witnessed, as a musician, when Simone went on her most inspired flights in performance. His comments on her 1960 Newport Jazz Festival rendition of the old “Southern dialect song” “Lil’ Liza Jane” illuminate how the fiercely proud Simone confronted, altered, and finally found a way to master this racist text — as a player and a singer, not simply as an ideologue.

Garbus also includes much performance footage, which lets Simone’s emphatic but sly style speak for itself. Her main idea about Simone’s music is supported by what this great rabble-rouser did onstage. What Happened, Miss Simone? portrays an artist always pushing against the frame others would put around her self-expression — a pugnacious, necessary act, this film suggests, rooted in Simone’s early rejection from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. That rejection, Simone came to understand, was racially motivated. Taking on popular music, she resented it and maintained her high-art prejudices, only to eventually find in it a way to upend the very hierarchies that initially shut her out.

Simone turned to jazz and blues, she says in a clip in the film, because “I needed money.” When she finally arrived at Carnegie Hall — her lifelong goal, achieved in 1964 — she tells a reporter, “I’m in Carnegie, finally — but I’m not doing Baaaach.” Simone’s righteous anger at being forced into the servitude of entertainment, instead of enjoying the freedom of high art, caused her to reinvent pop music. The musical story Garbus presents is of Simone’s resistance against the racist vernacular, then her warming to it by uncovering its buried blackness, and finally her blending it in tense and fascinating ways with the classical traditions she so values. This is crucial. Garbus never overtly states this theme, but it lends authority to Garbus’s main focus on how politics can both inspire and thwart art.

Music never feels like a comfort in Simone’s story, though performing did clearly make her happy. Because she coped with bipolar disorder, only medication allowed her the mental stability to function in the world. For the Brian Wilson of Love & Mercy, shaping sound is clearly a self-protective act, one that literally orders his psyche. The startling insight of this film, which adheres closely to well-known biographical details, is one that can make even lifelong Beach Boys fans hear Wilson’s music anew. Pohlad and main screenwriter Oren Moverman show how the precocious producer’s magnificent studio creations were responses to the inner distortions that constantly destabilized him: The songs we listeners treasure are, for him, exquisite containers for the noise of life, which both entranced and terrorized him. Wilson wasn’t “in his right mind” when making masterworks like Pet Sounds and “Good Vibrations,” but on some level, isn’t all music an auditory hallucination? It’s risky to romanticize mental illness, yet Love & Mercy achieves real empathy by showing how it can spur creativity. The score Atticus Ross assembled using fragments of Beach Boys songs further enforces this message, as does Paul Dano’s embodiment of the young Wilson as a man gifted with a unique level of aural receptivity and determined to turn the noise into beauty because his life depended on it. In the scenes that take place in recording studio, Love & Mercy shows better than perhaps any other portrayal of an artist how music-making can truly become a way to survive, one with the blessed side effect of changing and even saving the lives of later listeners.

The half of Love & Mercy that’s about the older Wilson, brutally separated from music-making by his family’s betrayals and his own chemical indulgences, isn’t really about music. It’s a fine, small love story tenderly enacted by John Cusack as the older Wilson and Elizabeth Banks as his redeemer and second wife, Melinda. As Kapadia does with Amy, Pohlad avoids a big sticking point by narrowing the plot: There’s no real talk about the fact that the Beach Boys continued without Wilson for decades, a moneymaking machine representing how great music can be emptied of its original significance. On the other hand, the other Boys are slighted throughout Love & Mercy. Their fans, and those interested in 1960s music in general, may be frustrated with the way that all of Wilson’s influences are ignored beyond a few comments voiced by a shaky Dano about how The Beatles raised the bar with Revolver.

But then, magical individualism is the coin of today’s movie realm. Wilson, Winehouse, Cobain, Simone — they’re the Fantastic Four, a compendium of misfits-become-superheroes. They fit right in with the neurotic messes who bring in the throngs at the multiplex everytime a new Marvel movie comes along. Unlike films that explore whole music scenes (and there are many about the same milieus, from The Black Power Mixtape to Hype! to The Wrecking Crew to BBC4’s Northern Soul: Living For the Weekend) today’s music movies seem more akin to this summer’s Pixar hit, Inside Out, which takes place inside a tween girl’s brain, or the indie horror favorite It Follows, whose Freddie Kreuger figure may truly be a figment of its victims’ imaginations.

The current music film that most effectively (or egregiously, a viewer deep into ’90s rock might think) portrays its hero from the inside out is Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, Morgen’s impressionistic, formally inventive study of the fruitful subconscious of Kurt Cobain. Montage of Heck goes into excruciating detail about the Nirvana frontman’s youth spent shuffling among relatives, none of whom wanted him, and it intimately reveals his love affair with Courtney Love, thanks to poignant home movies the family provided. But commentary from Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl isn’t even included in the film. Bassist Krist Novoselic is identified as Cobain’s “friend,” and there’s almost no mention of the other Seattle bands who were part of the ’90s rock explosion. A brief scene shows Cobain making fun of Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell’s moustache; a page from his notebooks, projected onscreen as part of a collage, makes reference to his time as a roadie for heavy rockers the Melvins. Nirvana’s cover of the Vaselines song “Molly’s Lips” takes a plum spot but isn’t identified. Most problematically, the film skips over Cobain’s formative years in Olympia, where his then-girlfriend Tobi Vail and others in the riot grrrl scene schooled him about feminism, turned him on to much of the indie rock he loved, and gave him a name for the song that made him a superstar.

These omissions seriously mar Montage of Heck. The film cannot serve as a definitive statement on Nirvana. But this clearly wasn’t Morgen’s goal, anyway. He has his one musical point to make, too: Morgen is interested in how Nirvana’s sound and Cobain’s lyrics reflect Cobain’s lifelong struggle with shame, which also, his movie asserts, led to his suicide. He juxtaposes examples of Nirvana songs that use the language of violation and abjection (“Rape Me,” “Something In the Way”) with perverse Cobain drawings and other artwork, and with chaotic performance clips, to illustrate how Nirvana’s kind of punk rock represented not social rebellion so much as an uprising against physical existence itself.

Cobain, who was given Ritalin as a preschooler, was sexually awkward by his own admission and suffered from chronic stomach pain, wrote the most intense rock songs of the ’90s partly because his refusal of norms was rooted in his own strong ambivalence about his own body — an uncertainty that his peers, the first generation to grow up in the full shadow of both the AIDS crisis and the Antioch rules, deeply understood. Cobain’s shame, exacerbated by heroin use, ultimately made him suicidal. But it was centrally connected to his creativity, and that’s what Morgen gets right.

A second viewing of Montage of Heck, one less concerned with catching what details Morgen shares or ignores, reveals something else. The movie itself hits like a Nirvana song. Its structure is musical: Its narrative is fragmented and dynamically jarring, like the famous Nirvana soft-LOUD-soft song structure, and the images that splatter across the frame and sometimes repeat are ultimately gross and beautiful. Morgen’s film may not serve well as music history, and its narrow focus as music criticism will continue to provoke arguments. It doesn’t show anything about how rock musicians in the ’90s gave the genre back its brio. (Try Instrument, the groundbreaking Fugazi documentary by Jem Cohen, or The Punk Singer, about Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna, which — full disclosure, includes commentary by yours truly. Or enjoy an evening with Grohl’s fun tribute to his fave recording studio, Sound City, truly a music nerd’s delight.) But Montage of Heck smells like real music. And that’s the best that a film about this most provisional, ethereal, impactful art form can accomplish.

Quincy Jones: Honey, we have no music industry

July 6, 2015

Michal Lev-Ram Fortune.com 7/01/15

Taylor Swift isn’t the only outspoken skeptic in the music industry. As legendary producer Quincy Jones tells it, the record biz is broken—though not beyond repair

Before Apple and Taylor Swift and even the Moog synthesizer were born, there was Quincy Jones. Over the last six decades, the legendary composer and former record company exec has amassed 79 Grammy nominations (winning 27 actual awards) and produced hit albums like Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Today, he is involved with several projects. One of his latest? An online music-learning tool called Playground Sessions, which recently kicked off a fundraising campaign via Crowdfunder. But his role as co-creator of the self-proclaimed “Rosetta Stone” of music doesn’t mean he believes the Internet has had a positive affect on the record industry—a topic he remains as opinionated as ever about. Fortune caught up with Jones to ask for his take on new digital music distribution models and why he got involved with Playground Sessions. Read below for an excerpt of the recent conversation.

FORTUNE: Is the music industry better or worse than it was 50 years ago?

Jones: Honey, we have no music industry. There’s 90% piracy everywhere in the world. They take everything. At the recent South by Southwest [an annual music festival in Austin], they had over 1,900 musicians, but fans didn’t know where to go. You can’t get an album out because nobody buys an album anymore.

What about some of the newer, online distribution models. Doesn’t that give artists more ways to get music to fans?

That doesn’t mean anything. They sell 4.5 million albums and they think it’s a hit record. It’s a joke. We used to do that [sell 4.5 million records] every weekend in the 80s. Today, you don’t get paid.

Why did you help create Playground Sessions?

You want to see kids getting into music instead of shooting each other. I’m very frustrated with America. After being creators of jazz and blues, we’re the only country in the world without a minister of culture. Americans don’t know the sources of their own music, from bebop to doo-wop to hip-hop.

We have only 12 notes. From Beethoven all the way to Bo Diddley, all of them had just 12 notes. That’s all we have and Playground Sessions is the perfect platform for teaching what we want to do with them.

Do you remember learning music?

Of course. I started at age 13 in Seattle, and met Ray Charles when he was 17. He was an amazing musician. It was never about money or fame back then. We just thought about what gave us goosebumps.

You must get requests from various music startups and projects. How do you decide which ones to pick?

I just go with Malcolm Gladwell’s book—Blink. And I’m not one of those “back in the days” kind of guys. I think when it all pools together it [the music industry] will be twice as good. And Playground Sessions will help bring it all together, it’s all there.

Generation YouTube: Today’s fastest-rising stars aren’t coming out of Hollywood

June 30, 2015

Thanks to the popularity of online media sites like YouTube, mainstream entertainment soon may look more like that kid clowning around in front of a laptop camera.

by Joan E. Solsman CNet.com 4/23/15

Hanging out on a graffiti-coated movie set in Los Angeles in October, Anthony Padilla and Ian Hecox laugh as they recall the first time they were recognized in public.

It was 2005, and the two were visiting a Subway shop in their hometown of Sacramento, Calif., when a customer spotted them as the “Mortal Kombat guys” from YouTube.

Calling themselves Smosh, the shaggy-haired teens had lip-synched the video game’s theme song and pretended to high kick each other in a mock fight staged in Padilla’s childhood bedroom. The sandwich buyer told them what he thought of their 3.5-minute video — his review included an expletive and the word “sucked” — and then asked: “You guys take that shit seriously?”

They certainly do, and they’re not the only ones.

Smosh’s send-ups of video games and movies have spawned a multimillion-dollar brand for the now 27-year-olds. Their Mortal Kombat takeoff has been watched more than 27 million times, while their channels on Google’s YouTube video site have tallied more than 7 billion views. Their fan base sometimes swarms into mobs the pair calls “scary.” Today, more than 20 million people subscribe to their main YouTube channel.

If that sounds outlandish, are you old enough to rent a car?

Thanks to the popularity of online media sites such as YouTube, today’s fastest-rising stars aren’t coming out of Hollywood. They’re teens hamming it up or breaking it down in front of a computer to create a new kind of entertainment.

Star quality

These stars might be nobodies to many viewers over 25, but that won’t last long. Baffled by how to reach the most coveted and commercially influential audience — 16- to 34-year-olds — Hollywood’s biggest players are starting to back these invisible celebrities.

“The star-making machine is outside big corporations for the first time,” says Jason Hirschhorn, a longtime digital media executive and CEO of news curation site Redef. “The idea of what something costs or the craft that’s involved … is totally lost on the younger generation. They look at whatever entertains them.”

What entertains them can be found more often on the Internet. Today’s younger audience watches more than a third of their “TV” online, nearly triple the percentage viewed by people 35 to 64, according to a Verizon survey last year. Young people also put more stock in stars like Smosh than in big-name celebrities.

Padilla and Hecox have amassed more than 4 billion views of videos on their Smosh channel.

YouTube
A study commissioned last year by Variety measured the Q scores — a media-industry gauge of familiarity and appeal — of YouTubers and traditional stars among US teens 13 to 17. The best five scores? All online video stars, with Smosh ranking No. 1, ahead of celebrities such as actress Jennifer Lawrence and singer Katy Perry.

For consumers, what passes for “premium content” will look more and more like that kid clowning for a laptop camera.

The power of creators

Want to behold the mania of on­­line fandom? Head to VidCon, an annual confab held in Southern California where the biggest You­Tubers — the term for anyone making a career through the site — draw their most obsessed fans.

The three-day event attracted more than 19,000 attendees last year, up from 1,400 visitors four years ago when it began.

“It’s absolutely nuts,” says Smosh’s Hecox. “Every You­Tuber, it’s required for them to get a security escort.”

Teen girls make up the core at gatherings like VidCon and other live “social star” events, including DigiTour and DigiFest. Thousands flock to see their beloved icons from YouTube and Vine, Twitter’s video service of six-second clips.

Teenybopper fan crazes are nothing new, and today’s parents may be just as perplexed by YouTube stars as their parents were by MTV, even as Beatle­mania stumped the previous generation. But with The Beatles, the older crowd knew the Fab Four were those floppy-haired boys on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Today, many don’t know who these online stars are, says Meridith Valiando Rojas, co-founder and CEO of DigiTour Media, which organizes performances for online stars. DigiTour expects its 2015 slate of 141 stage shows and concerts to attract 350,000 attendees, up from 120,000 last year.

“If I can’t name a social star, how can they be so famous?” she says, explaining the typical view of online celebrity.

But famous they are.

Andrea Russett, a teen who kept her YouTube videos a secret from her Fort Worth, Ind., classmates for fear of being teased, has millions of followers who chase her down the street like Britney Spears.

The 19-year-old has collected 2 million subscribers over six years of video blogging, or vlogging. When she moved to LA after turning 18, her YouTube clips of teen-life opinions and high jinks reeled in sponsorships from Pizza Hut and Sour Patch Kids.

“This is our business,” Russett says of the vlogs she and her three roommates, also YouTubers, create.

With top online stars, business can be big.

Money talks

Beauty vlogger Michelle Phan started posting makeup tutorials in 2007 after being turned down for a job at a Lâncome beauty counter. Those tutorials evolved into a YouTube channel with more than 7 million subscribers and more than 1 billion views. Her explainers are now the foundation of a mini-empire that includes a L’Oréal makeup line, a book of beauty tips, and a $10-a-month service called Ipsy that delivers “glam bags” of cosmetic samples to more than a million subscribers.

“As my YouTube following grew, I was soon earning as much from advertising revenue as from waiting tables, so I quit my job,” says Phan. “My boss thought I was crazy, which just made me more determined.”

Phan, 27, hasn’t disclosed revenue from her ventures, but Ipsy’s subscriber base alone suggests an annual sales rate of about $120 million.

Missing the point

Though it has turned some online stars like Phan into moguls, YouTube’s economic draw still pales in comparison to broadcast and cable TV. Spending on all interactive marketing last year was about two-thirds of the $84.5 billion in advertising revenue that US TV networks pulled in, according to Forrester Research.

That money problem, and a lack of understanding about digital media, explains why many of Hollywood’s traditional players have been slow to recognize the economic potential of online entertainment.

Take Alexis G. Zall, whose talent agency was unimpressed when her YouTube channel of comedy vlogs reached 100,000 subscribers. Hitting that subscriber mark is a key milestone for landing lucrative product placement deals.

“They were like, ‘It’s just the Internet,’ ” says the 16-year-old aspiring actress, who writes, produces and edits her videos while taking online college courses. “They didn’t see the business possibilities.”

Forrester estimates spending on interactive marketing will eclipse TV ad revenue next year. And nothing beats YouTube for reach. With more than 1 billion unique visitors a month, YouTube attracts one out of every seven people on the planet. Stats like that have the old guard paying attention.

Joining the mainstream

Maker Studios is the most eyebrow-raising example of how traditional Hollywood is starting to value online video and why this content won’t be invisible to the mainstream for long.

An online content creator and curator, Maker oversees a network of 55,000 YouTube channels that attract more than 10 billion monthly views. Walt Disney bought Maker for $500 million last year, with the total deal value at nearly $1 billion if Maker meets performance targets. Disney CEO Bob Iger says he wanted Maker in part for its expertise in creating and distributing “short-form videos.”

Courtney Holt, chief strategy officer at Maker Studios, says his conversations with traditional Hollywood forces no longer focus on justifying YouTube content. “I don’t have to apologize anymore because it’s undeniable how much demand there is,” he says.

The takeover also highlights a growing trend: mergers and acquisitions driven by fear of missing out on an entire generation of viewers.

In May 2013, DreamWorks Animation bought teen-skewing channel AwesomenessTV for $33 million. In July 2014, Viacom took a minority stake in Defy Media, which bought Smosh in 2011 for an undisclosed sum. In September 2014, media executive Peter Chernin and AT&T bought a majority stake in Fullscreen, a rival to Maker, that values it at as much as $300 million.

Language lessons

The deals are a recognition that Hollywood’s biggest media companies need to speak the digital language, says Laura Lee, YouTube’s head of North American content partnerships. “Sometimes if you can’t build it, you have to buy it.”

When media’s gatekeepers rush in, no audience — young or old — will be oblivious to this new form of entertainment, notes Kevin Mayer, the executive vice president who spearheaded Disney’s Maker purchase.

“They’re going to have to care,” he says. “That’s the kind of content they will be consuming.”

For proof, look at Smosh. They just shot their first full-length film, which will be distributed this year by Lions Gate Entertainment — home to “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight” blockbuster film franchises.

“When we first started, people were like, ‘Ha ha, you make cat videos’ … But we felt that there was something there,” Padilla says in between publicity photos at the LA film lot. “I’m going to do this for the rest of my life.”


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