Epic Records Whips Up Hit Album Out of Thin Air (and Online Streams)

August 9, 2016

By JOE COSCARELLIAUG. NYTimes.com 8/08/16

You technically can’t buy the digital compilation album from Epic Records featuring hits by French Montana and DJ Khaled that has been a steady presence on the Billboard chart this summer. In fact, the album has sold a total of zero copies since its quiet release seven weeks ago.

Yet thanks to an updated formula for determining positions on the Billboard 200 that accounts for online activity, as well as some savvy opportunism from the label, the album, “Epic AF,” has become a disruptive presence on the charts, landing in the Top 10 four times by exploiting — or mastering — the new system.

It works like this: Since late 2014, Billboard has counted 1,500 streams or 10 paid downloads of a song as the equivalent of one album sold. But if a hit single comes from an album that is unreleased, the millions of plays it tallies on services like Spotify, Tidal and Apple Music go nowhere.

Epic has collected its album-less artists’ most popular summer songs across streaming services — “Lockjaw” by French Montana and Kodak Black, “Don’t Mind” by Kent Jones, “Pick Up the Phone” by Travis Scott and Young Thug — into one digital playlist, giving it a hip title and some generic cover art. In 2016, that’s enough to call it an album.

Now, when Billboard counts the weekly plays for “Don’t Mind,” which has 139 million Spotify streams to date, they are attached to the album, catapulting the digital compilation over traditional albums from artists on competing major labels. Chart position equals bragging rights — and its own form of marketing via brand visibility.

Dave Bakula, a senior analyst for Nielsen Music, which supplies the data Billboard uses for its charts, said that some could see the tactic as “trying to manipulate the charts.” But “if they’re living within the rules, good for them in being creative and having enough of a stable of big-name artists and big songs,” he said.

“It feels a little bit like a ‘Now’ record for streaming services,” he added, referring to the “Now That’s What I Call Music!” CDs, which peaked in the early 2000s.

Billboard declined to comment on Epic’s methods. But this week, the chart company opted to change its rules slightly so that paid downloads of singles included on this album do not count toward its chart position but streaming numbers do.

Still, the system is flexible.

The album which has added tracks since its initial release, includes current hits from DJ Khaled (“For Free,” “I Got the Keys”). Before the release of DJ Khaled’s own album “Major Key” on July 29, the streams for those songs were going toward the compilation album. This week, however, they were counted toward “Major Key,” which hit No. 1. (As a result of losing those streams and all song sales, the compilation album dropped to No. 32 from No. 5, having accomplished its goal as a placeholder hit.)

“It did what it was supposed to do,” said Celine Joshua, a senior vice president for commerce at Epic and its parent company, Sony Music Entertainment, who oversaw the project.

“It was born out of a need and a problem,” she said. “I was thinking about our hot roster and the cycles of which content was coming out when, albums that were around the corner and how young fans on these platforms are behaving — consuming in the playlist manner.”

For hip-hop and R&B especially, streaming has become the dominant mode of consumption. Streaming activity nearly doubled in 2015 as traditional sales and digital downloads fell; this year, on-demand audio streams are up another 97 percent. As a result, the online discovery of new artists increasingly comes from streaming playlists like Spotify’s influential Rap Caviar, with its more than four million subscribers.

“Why don’t we design a product that behaves the way our consumers do?” Ms. Joshua said she had asked, bringing the idea to Epic’s chief executive, L. A. Reid, who gave the green light and helped to pick the track list. (The associated costs — “none,” Ms. Joshua said — helped the process along.)

Buoyed by the label’s biggest names, including Future and Puff Daddy, the album also features lesser-known artists, like Lotto Savage and Rory Fresco, who the label hopes will take off with young fans.

The album title, which includes a popular online abbreviation for a vulgar phrase, was designed to speak to millennials as well, Ms. Joshua said.

Assuming Billboard does not further adjust its rules to block digital-only label compilations, imitators can be expected. Already, within Sony Music, more versions are planned, including another from Epic featuring more pop-leaning acts, and a potential follow-up from sister label RCA.

“Streaming,” Ms. Joshua said, “is the now and the future.”

Why Superstar Artists Like Beyonce and Bruno Mars Are Replacing Powerful Managers With Salaried Staffers

July 18, 2016

Why Superstar Artists Like Beyonce and Bruno Mars Are Replacing Powerful Managers With Salaried Staffers

By Billboard.com 7/14/16
Why Superstar Artists Like Beyonce and Bruno Mars Are Replacing Powerful Managers With Salaried Staffers

Paul Tuller

The idea of the artist as mogul is no longer a novel concept. But where that has meant clothing lines, lifestyle brands or other endorsements, some acts are turning their attention to the traditional music management structure, trading commission-based representatives for salaried employees.

In February, Ariana Grande split with Scooter Braun and handed managerial duties to her mother, Joan, and Stephanie Simon at management company Untitled Entertainment, with whom she has worked for the past eight years (though sources say Braun stayed on as a consultant and is involved creatively). In May, Bruno Mars cut ties with manager Brandon Creed after nine years to start his own in-house company. That puts them in the same category as Taylor Swift and Beyoncé, superstars who make decisions with a tight-knit team and retain complete control over their careers.

Despite the recent spate of high-profile defections, insiders agree that commission deals, in which a manager typically makes 15 to 20 percent of an artist’s gross revenue, are still the industry standard for acts of all sizes. And for young and emerging artists seeking a foot in the door, the connections, influence and experience of a top-level manager are invaluable.

But for the superstar elite, employee managers seem to be an increasingly enticing prospect. “If you want somebody good and you have enough money to pay a generous salary and don’t need an upside, sure,” says one representative of major pop acts. “But most artists can’t do that. The Taylor Swifts of the world can write a check, but Taylor is very business-savvy — she’s like a female Jay Z — and she’s the rare exception.”

Still, there are those hands-on artists who are so heavily involved in making their career decisions, like Swift or Beyoncé, that they see no financial advantage to retaining a manager on a percentage basis, opting instead to pay anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000 annually for day-to-day services. (For Swift, who earned $73.5 million in 2015, topping Billboard’s annual Money Makers list, a 15 percent cut would be $11 million.) Others, such as Sean Combs and Jay Z, run multifaceted businesses like corporations and handle the responsibilities of a CEO. Some veteran musicians may assign trusted family members a salary. And for strong-willed acts such as Grande retaining a high-profile manager like Braun, whose roster includes Justin Bieber and Kanye West, makes little sense if his counsel isn’t heeded.

“I’ve spoken to artists before that aren’t looking for advice or management; they have their own vision,” says Myles Shear, who manages Kygo and Thomas Jack. “It all comes down to what the artists feel makes sense, and what they feel is fair.”

But those who can balance business decisions with artistic expression are a rarity. Several industry insiders tell Billboard that, with the advent of social media and the changing structure of the music industry, managers today handle more aspects of an artist’s career than ever. One former major label executive estimates there are only a half dozen artists on the planet who would be able to juggle being an artist without a traditional manager successfully — and that it only works for the top of the top.

“You can’t pitch and catch at the same time; the ball moves too fast,” says Charles Chavez, whose roster has included Pitbull and Magic! “I wish those artists and managers luck.”

“Every artist that I manage, the ultimate decision is theirs; I’m here to advise and guide,” says Maverick Management partner Clarence Spalding, who works with Jason Aldean, Rascal Flatts and more. “And I think that a lot of times — not all the time — a person who is an employee of the band is more reticent to push back.”

Prince may be the classic example of the pitfalls that come with total control. In 1988, he fired longtime managers Steve Fargnoli, Robert Cavallo and Joseph Ruffalo, installing a series of employees as de facto reps in their stead (one a former bodyguard). The move coincided with the commercial flops, critical failures and high-profile battle with Warner Bros. Records over ownership of his masters that lasted for a decade, a period that resulted in waning relevance and a decline in the quality of his releases. Queen and Billy Joel faced similar challenges after bringing their management in-house in the ’80s.

Prince may have been “unmanageable,” as one industry veteran put it, but his business dealings shine a light on the importance of having an outside advocate, even for a once-in-a-generation talent. One longtime manager relates a story of an act that left their manager and, after taking advice from others, promptly lowered ticket prices for their next tour believing they’d sell more tickets: “All that did was lower their gross, which lowered their guarantee,” the source says.

“There are shrewd, sharp managers that make decisions and add value,” says another source. “Bieber couldn’t manage himself without Scooter; he wouldn’t be the same. Mariah Carey? Forget it.”

“It’s just greed,” scoffs another veteran manager. “Acts go up and down, and talent is only half the game when it comes to having a successful career. When you’re paying someone a percentage, they’re there for the long haul.”

Peter Rudge: ‘The greatest asset a manager can give an artist is honesty’

July 17, 2016

By Tim Ingham Musicbusinessworldwide.com 6/07/16

MBW’s Manager Of The Month celebrates some of the artist managers doing great things in the global business. This month, we’re delighted to sit down with Peter Rudge (pictured) – a key player at Vector Management and a man whose career has seen him look after The Who, The Rolling Stones and Diana Ross.

Rolling Stones“Everything’s groundhog day in this business. There’s no situation you can throw at me that I haven’t, at some point or another, dealt with in the past.”

Peter Rudge holds a pedigree of working with true rock’n’roll royalty.

A Cambridge graduate with a degree in history, British veteran Rudge has combined a sharp intellect with shrewd deal-making across more than four decades in the music biz – earning the loyalty of some of the biggest acts on earth.

After leaving university in 1968, Rudge joined the London-based Track label, whose roster included Jimi Hendrix and Marc Bolan.

From there, he built relationships with two huge artists as tour manager for the Rolling Stones and The Who – going on to manage both groups outright for most of the ’70s, while also working with Roger Waters, Duran Duran and Madness.

“With The Stones and The Who I was lucky,” says Rudge. “In that instance, I managed to work with bands that could have done it without me.”

This was a heady time for the young exec, who also worked with Diana Ross and even produced Andy Warhol’s US cable TV show.

However, Rudge‘s career hasn’t been without its sadness.

In 1977, he was managing an on-the-rise Lynyrd Skynyrd. Just as the Southern rock band stood on the verge of a worldwide breakthrough, they were involved in a tragic plane crash in Mississippi, killing three members of the group.

Understandably, it’s the moment Rudge marks as the toughest of his professional and personal life to date.

In the modern era, Rudge has shown himself to be a smart operator – and, crucially, one who knows his limits.

“I Was lucky with the stones and the who – they could have done it without me.”

In the late ’90s, he merged his own management roster with marketing giant Octagon, where he began working with the likes of record-breaking operatic group Il Divo – whom he continues to represent today.

He went on to launch Proper Artist Management in conjunction with Live Nation – before Proper itself merged with Vector Management (The Kings Of Leon, Kesha, Emmylou Harris) in 2014.

These days, Rudge looks after the likes of Imelda May, currently working on a new record with T Bone Burnett, and Nick Mulvey – the Fiction-signed, Mercury-nominated singer/songwriter who, we’re told, is tinkering in the studio with Brian Eno.

Then there’s also Il Divo, who recently sold out five dates at the Budokan in Tokyo, and Alfie Boe – currently starring on Broadway in Finding Neverland, and readying a new project with Michael Ball signed up by Universal/Decca.

Yet the artist with whom Rudge is most closely associated today is a band he’s worked with for 30 years: Tim Booth-fronted Manchester heroes James.

The reason for Rudge‘s status as MBW’s Manager Of the Month becomes clear: James are currently romping around Europe on a sold-out tour, following the successful release of latest album Girl At The End Of The World, which recently hit No.2 on the Official UK chart – a smidgen behind Adele’s 25.

The release was put together on an ‘artist services’ basis with BMG, whose Korda Marshall says: “Peter’s experience has been a real benefit to the strategy and planning of the campaign. I think our respective teams have learned a lot from each other.

“Peter combines experience with a freshness and enthusiasm to get things done.”

“He combines that experience with a freshness and enthusiasm and desire to get things done.

“I think what he likes at BMG is that its a very honest and open working relationship. And you have to remember he has managed the band for 30 years – his standards are high.”

MBW sat down with Peter to grab some insight into these high standards – and to discover what the best part of half a century in management has taught him…

You’ve been with James for over three decades. That’s a long time to work with any rock star…

I know – you get less for murder! I’ve worked with James from 1992 and it’s been one of my career’s great privileges.

I was brought in to look after America because I was spending most of my time there back then.

As luck would have it, that was during the time they were recording Laid, which of course was a seminal record in America – at one point we’d shipped over a million albums.

“As sit down has become a rite of passage for young people in the UK, Laid has become in America.”

As Sit Down has become a rite of passage for young people in the UK, Laid [the track] has become in America, helped by the fact it’s used in the American Pie films.

For the past 11 years, Meredith Plant’s been my co-manager on James and she should take much of the credit.

We’ve managed the live thing very well over the years. It helps that we’ve had one promoter forever: Simon Moran.

James were one of the first bands Simon ever promoted when he started, and we all think a lot of him – he’s been as much as partner as anybody.

We also work with John Giddings at Solo, who’s done a great job.

Why have you signed James to BMG – and on an artist services deal – for their past two albums?

We’ve been playing at this ‘artist services’ thing for some time. Funnily enough, James’s Hey Ma album, which came out on Mercury [in 2008], was actually released on a similar model.

We realised that a band which has managed to have a lifespan this long eventually hits a glass ceiling. As we all know, it’s a very fickle industry.

When that happens at the major labels, you’re consigned almost immediately to the commercial marketing divisions – repackaging this and that, budget pricing…

We went to Mercury for Hey Ma, who had our catalogue, and tried to design something similar we have with the BMG Rights thing now.

We did a joint venture deal with Mercury; [Universal’s] Adam Barker was really good, as was Jason Iley [now Sony Music UK boss], who was in charge of the label back then.

“Like many bands, James usually won’t allow an A&R into the parking lot, let alone the studio!”

The model we picked was a little bit of a hybrid – it felt like the runt of the litter within the Universal system. However, it showed us that this may be the way to go. We took a rest, and then started talking to BMG.

It was pretty apparent from the beginning that BMG’s ambition was right, the model was interesting, but they didn’t quite have the resources they do today [for the release of previous James album, La Petite Morte in 2014)]. That’s why we partnered with Cooking Vinyl – with Martin [Goldschmidt].

That album was pretty successful. We liked it, James were allowed creative input [into the campaign]; it was a very respectful relationship.

Then, to BMG’s credit, they brought Korda Marshall in. Also, Thomas Haimovici had been there a while and, I have to say, immediately related to the group well.

James, like many bands, usually won’t allow an A&R guy in the parking lot, let alone in the studio! But Thomas got their trust and respect – he was very helpful and didn’t undermine anything.

Then Korda, coming from Infectious, arrived at BMG with a philosophy that was very akin to James’s own. And that also brought in Pat Carr and Jo Power, who are both great marketing people.

We’ve now signed a new deal, including options. Most [services] deals are on a one album basis, but we’ve established a long-term relationship.

Let’s talk about your business experiences. Why did you merge your company Proper with Live Nation?

In the late ’90s, I’d teamed up with Octagon, an IPG company. I thought then, and I was right, that you could see the writing was on the wall for small management companies.

As the labels imploded, management companies would have to take up much of the slack and smaller ones without resource wouldn’t be able to survive.

I looked at Octagon, and thought, ‘That’s the new landscape.’ I needed to be in bed with someone that had access to [ad agencies] Deutsch, McCann Erickson etc.

In the end, it didn’t really work because [advertising] operates on a totally different timeline to music; it’s a very different world – and a different culture. It was a great learning experience for me, though.

I hooked up with Il Divo during that time, which frankly I probably wouldn’t have got without the promise of McCann Erickson and [ad] companies investing in them.

“irving Azoff is a great manager – a fantastic manager.”

One of my oldest friends in the business, Irving Azoff, was then Live Nation’s management division.

We bumped into each other and he said: ‘Why don’t you come and be with us?’ And I knew that was where I wanted to go.

There are a lot of stories and a lot of opinions about Irving, but he’s a great manager – a fantastic manager. Always has been.

Then Irving left [Live Nation in late 2012] and [Michael] Rapino took over the management side. Although I was operating as Proper, Live Nation still owned a chunk of my business.

After Irving went, Rapino re-calibrated the artist management platform and built it around three central parts: Roc Nation, Maverick and Vector.

I’d been a friend of [Vector President] Jack Rovner for years since when I used to manage Roger Waters. We decided to go into partnership together, and I set up Vector over here in Europe.
How do you find being part of Live Nation – both before the Vector move and now – when you’ve been an independent force for much of your career?

To be honest, I get the best of both worlds. It’s essentially given me what any manager now needs: a larger footprint internationally, and a much larger bandwidth.

I can access resources that I would never have been able to use before – in the digital world, in the branding world, in the sync world. I’m lucky.

I’ve been a manager for 40 years in this business. I’ve got my own relationships; people know me.

“It’s funny: I must have lived through 25 presidents of Columbia during my career, while dealing with the same promoters in the UK and US.”

My track record means I’m usually seen as a safe pair of hands.

My Rolodex is big; I’m two or three calls away from anybody. That’s the only good thing about getting old – you grow up with everybody else!

It’s funny: I must have lived through 25 Presidents of Columbia Records during my career, while dealing with the same promoters in the UK and US for pretty much the entire time.

That tells you something about the live business; it’s just a different DNA.

Management’s very lonely.

Success has many fathers, and failure none. Before you put every album out the artist thinks it’s going to be No.1, or go down brilliantly.

After a record has collapsed when you’ve had high expectations, when the phone stops ringing and everyone moves on to the next release, it’s hard.

Sometimes it feels like labels sell products, while managers try to develop careers. There’s been some lows because of that.

The first thing I ever did in the music business of any substance was The Who with Tommy – and the first gig I ever did in America was The Who at Metropolitan Opera House.

I was 23 years old, looking through the Yellow Pages to find the Met. I got through to the General Manager, and talked him into allowing me to see Rudolph Bing who was running the Met in those days. I completely blagged it.

Rudolph agreed for The Who to play [the Met] on July 7, 1970. Pete Townshend smashed his guitar on stage that night, leaving a room full of people gasping.

That to me was my greatest achievement – but then it was my first one and I’ve tried to live up to it ever since.

“Sometimes it feels like labels sell products, while managers try to develop careers.”

A perfect bookend to that story is that we are now in negotiations to stage the classical version of Quadrophenia at the Met next year; the version of the show which opened with the fantastic Alfie Boe playing Jimmy at the Royal Albert Hall last year, a show featuring Pete Townshend, Phil Daniels, Billy Idol and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

I’m also very proud of Il Divo – we’ve sold over 30 million albums across the world with barely a spin at radio or a single bit of positive press. Working with them has taught me more about selling records than any other project I’ve done. We’re into our 13th year together and they’ve remained on Syco the entire time.

And of course I’m very proud of being part of keeping James in the game for 30 years. Most of their contemporaries from that Manchester scene have either disappeared or are just going around and around [on reunion tours].

James still push themselves to be contemporary and relevant – and that’s something which has been authenticated with this album.

My saddest moment was obviously the Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash. I’d been part of taking them from a club band up and up – I put them on The Who tour and it was a big moment.

We did really well; Southern Rock was still pretty parochial at that stage.

Two weeks after that plane crash they were due to headline the Madison Square Garden in front of 18,000 people. It was never to be.

On a personal level, that plane crash is the worst thing I’ve ever experienced, period.You have worked with some strong characters! How do you deal with it when things go wrong?

I always say to any prospective client that my greatest value to an artist is honesty and objectivity.

People will tell me things they’ll never tell you, as an artist, and it’s my job to be straight with you.

Just as in life, a relationship is never tested until you disagree.

“Just as in life, A [Management] relationship is never tested until you disagree.”

For me to disagree with you as an artist doesn’t mean to say I don’t believe in you. I understand what you’re saying, but I recommend another course of action.

I’m in the industry 24/7. I have been for 40 years. I know how this business works. As an artist, you come in and out of it – sometimes every two or three years.

When you explain that, artists tend to respect you. They don’t always like you, but there are too many people in this business who say yes, yes, yes – and it comes back to bite you on the ass.

What advice would you give young managers today?

Don’t kid yourself that you have all the answers – no-one does.

You should find an ally, and if it’s necessary for you to partner with someone who you feel has more experience or relationship that will help your artist, it will only help you in the long run.

There’s no doubt that young guys who were there at a start of a success often get removed [by bigger or more experienced players] so you need to try and neutralize that before it has a chance of happening.

“Don’t kid yourself you have all the answers – no-one does.”

That’s why finding a home or a nest is not a bad idea. No-one’s going to take all the money so long as you deal with the right people.

But the first port of call with all young managers is: go find a lawyer who’s going to protect you, advise you and make sure the paperwork is right.

Don’t be adamant to do it all yourself if you don’t feel qualified.

You were 70 a few weeks ago. I’m sure you could spend your life on a beach if you liked. Why do you still keep doing what you do in music?

I’m still really enjoying it. A month like the past month with James is everything I ever wanted to do.

30 years with a great band like that, and still seeing them get a nod, it means a lot to me.

That’s all I ask for as a manager – for my artists to get the shot they deserve.

Beyoncé, Inc: How Airbnb, Warby Parker, And Others Are Finding Inspiration In Lemonade

July 17, 2016

Inspiration In Lemonade

A deep dive into how Beyoncé is wowing business executives—and 10 lessons every company can learn from her.

J.J. McCorvey Fastcompany.com 06.20.16


A thunderous bang quiets the roughly 40,000 fans who’ve gathered at Houston’s NRG Stadium. The lights click off, plunging the venue into darkness. A spotlight appears, silhouetting a figure on the stage. Beyoncé, sporting a wide-brimmed black hat and clad in a shimmering, rose-colored bodysuit, is flanked by a dozen dancers.

She starts bobbing her head along to the now-familiar twanging noise that opens her politically charged single “Formation.” It takes a few moments to notice that the sparkly image displayed across her chest is a black panther, baring white teeth through its roaring red mouth. “If you came to slay tonight, say, ‘I slay!’ ” she shouts. Her acolytes obey, screaming the words in unison as the music soars.

It’s around 9 p.m. on a Saturday night, and Beyoncé’s latest album, Lemonade, has been out for two weeks—almost to the hour. Unveiled during an April 23 HBO special that had been advertised as a “world premiere event” (with no further details), the 12-song collection was streamed 115 million times in the first six days alone. Each song has a unique music video, and together they make up a 65-minute film that weaves evocative imagery, wrenching poetry, and a rumored-to-be-autobiographical story line about infidelity. Lemonade debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart, making Beyoncé the first artist in history to hit the top spot—and also the first to debut at No. 1—with her first six albums.


Yes, Beyoncé knows how to slay. And her impact is much greater than even these statistics imply. She has become one of the world’s most distinctive brands, a single-name powerhouse. She’s not only redefining how artists market themselves, building an uncommonly loyal customer base known as the Beyhive, but her successes are reverberating more broadly across the business landscape, too—prompting a reevaluation of rules, tactics, and strategies as enterprises large and small consider the pros and cons of cultivating their own Lemonade moment.

Beyoncé’s career has both closely tracked the rise of the digital age (her first solo album, 2003’s Dangerously in Love, came out five weeks before the launch of MySpace) and encouraged its evolution. No pop star has better navigated the tectonic shifts in the music industry, from iTunes to YouTube, Facebook to Spotify. What’s more, she has traversed the ever-more-complex tendrils of global culture with cleverness, discipline, and sophistication. “As a product, she is incredibly consistent—every album, stage performance, video, interview, and marketing deal,” says Jonathan Mildenhall, chief marketing officer at Airbnb. “On top of that, she has something that not a lot of contemporary artists have, and that’s an understanding of how to evolve the brand. The brand of Beyoncé shapes and leads pop culture.”

Beyoncé is unique. (It helps to be one of the world’s great singers and performers.) But that doesn’t mean we all can’t learn from her moves. Not unlike Steve Jobs during his triumphant stewardship of Apple, Beyoncé offers a window into a new, more modern way of approaching the marketplace.

Find Your Leverage

The core of Beyoncé’s business is Parkwood Entertainment, a relatively small operation perched on an upper floor of an unremarkable office tower in an unglamorous neighborhood just south of Times Square. Parkwood’s employees quietly guide an enterprise that has an enormous impact: from music to film to ancillary businesses such as the exercise-clothing line Ivy Park that she recently debuted in collaboration with British retailer Topshop. Beyoncé is the CEO and has been known to sit in on meetings and walk from office to office to query her deputies on details of upcoming projects. “There’s nothing that happens in that organization, either businesswise or artistically, that Beyoncé doesn’t fully sit on top of,” says former HBO president of programming Michael Lombardo, who helped negotiate the Lemonade TV special. (Beyoncé and her team declined to speak on the record.)

Though Beyoncé’s label, Columbia Records (a subsidiary of Sony Music), is a partner in Parkwood, the company still approaches business like a startup, leveraging its scale in all kinds of ways.

One of Beyoncé’s key vehicles is video. As digital culture has become ever more fixated on moving images—at a conference last fall, Facebook ad exec Ted Zagat said he thinks in less than two years the platform will be mostly video—Beyoncé has intuitively grasped the form’s power. “I see music; it’s more than just what I hear,” she once said. “When I’m connected to something, I immediately see a visual or a series of images that are tied to a feeling or an emotion, a memory from my childhood, thoughts about life, my dreams, or my fantasies.”

When Beyoncé released the “Formation” single in February, the accompanying music video made powerful use of imagery nodding to issues of police brutality and black pride, including a particularly pointed shot of a young, hoodied black boy dancing in front of cops who have their hands raised. “[It’s] clearly reminiscent of ‘Hands up, don’t shoot,’ and instantly strikes a chord in us that generates emotion,” says Sophie Lebrecht, whose company, Neon Labs, analyzes images and predicts their virality. When people react emotionally to something, Lebrecht says, especially something visual, their instinct is to share it. And they did: A search for “Beyoncé Formation” on the GIF-indexing site Giphy yields more than 14,000 results.

Beyoncé has long experimented with ways to amplify video’s impact. With her second solo effort, 2006’s B’Day, she released an alternate “visual album” version that included a separate video for each track—something she would repeat with her self-titled 2013 album. In hindsight, it’s clear that Beyoncé was testing video’s potential, getting comfortable with the format in a post-MTV digital world as a way to expand her artistic vision and marketing muscle. Her 2008 song “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” with its Bob Fosse–inspired black-and-white video, is among the earliest—and biggest—examples of music-video-as-Internet meme, transforming the song from a hit into a phenomenon.

Lemonade is the next turn in this evolution, tapping name-brand music-video directors such as Mark Romanek and Jonas Åkerlund and collaborators like Serena Williams. “The role of video in pop culture is just going to get increasingly valuable for brands and content creators,” contends Airbnb’s Mildenhall, who increasingly relies on video to help promote prospective rentals and offer information about neighborhood amenities. “Video is the most important form of content for any brand that has a narrative they want to share. [When there’s] a visual narrative, it goes deeper and deeper into your own psychology.”

Own Your Narrative

Two years ago, Beyoncé appeared in another video. This one, however, she would have preferred nobody ever watched. Security-camera footage from inside an elevator at the Standard Hotel in New York, obtained by TMZ, caught Beyoncé’s younger sister, Solange Knowles, punching and kicking brother-in-law Jay Z as Beyoncé stood in the corner. Much of the ensuing speculation about the incident focused on the possibility that Jay Z might have cheated on Beyoncé, prompting Solange’s fury. The incident was an ultrarare breach in the famously guarded couple’s personal life.

Most successful brands deal with public blowback at some point. Recently, Chipotle has been scrambling to overcome fallout from a series of food-poisoning incidents, while Facebook is battling the perception that its news-feed system privileges liberal content over conservative posts. There are lots of ways to deal with these kinds of PR debacles, of course—crisis management is an entire public-relations subindustry. But Beyoncé’s response to the elevator video has been a fascinating experiment in PR disaster–as-opportunity narrative redefinition—a transformation of lemons into Lemonade.

Though she hasn’t explained the genesis of Lemonade or how much of it is truly autobiographical, many Beyoncé fans have read it as an album-length exploration of whatever led up to the elevator incident (and its aftermath). A big reason Lemonade has connected is that it makes fans feel closer to Beyoncé—like they’re part of her struggles rather than outside observers. Sure, she’s made a great piece of confessional art, but she’s also, by opening up her life (or at least appearing to), changed the story: No longer are fans gawking at gossip; they’re now emotionally invested themselves.

The effect has been to reclaim all that bad press and retroactively use it as part of the album’s narrative. “The marketing for Lemonade started back in that elevator,” says Kelly Schoeffel, director of brand innovation at advertising agency 72andSunny. “I don’t think we’ll ever know the truth [about what happened], and that’s part of the excitement of it all.” What’s more, Lemonade has made Beyoncé—not previously known for self-revelation—more human, strengthening the bond with her audience. Beyoncé’s example illuminates the potential of redefining the narrative, as well as the deftness it takes to make it work.

Don’t Be Afraid To Fire (Some Of) Your Fans

In the process of repairing one PR problem, Lemonade ended up generating a whole new controversy. Beyoncé has always been a strong voice for female empowerment, but she’s generally avoided political topics in her songs. With “Formation” and Lemonade—as well as her February Super Bowl performance, during which she appeared with dancers in Black Panther–inspired garb who formed a giant X and raised their fists, Black Power–style—the singer embraced stickier subject matter, wading into the Black Lives Matter movement, police shootings of unarmed black men (the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, and Eric Garner appear in the video for “Freedom,” Lemonade’s galvanizing, modern-day Negro spiritual), and other subjects.

Queen Bey

A by-the-numbers look at Beyoncé’s impact on everything from Red Lobster to lemon emojis—not to mention the Billboard charts


Albums sold in the U.S., including with Destiny’s Child


Hits on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart, including with Destiny’s Child


Lemon emojis used on Twitter the day after Lemonade came out—up from about 40,000 the day before the album’s release


Solo albums that hit the top spot on the Billboard 200, making her the only artist to reach No. 1 with their first six albums


Total plays of her track “Drunk in Love” on Spotify (as of May 27)


Average price for a Formation tour package that provides front-row seats and a preshow reception—but no meet-and-greet

1.8 million

People who attended the 126 concerts on her 2013–2014 Mrs. Carter World Tour, generating $212 million


Peak tweets-per-minute during her 2013 Super Bowl halftime show


Spike in weekend sales at Red Lobster following the release of “Formation,” which mentions the chain restaurant

115 million

Streams Lemonade racked up in its first six days. The album was also purchased 485,000 times

The backlash was immediate. Police groups organized protests and called for a boycott, and the FCC received a deluge of complaints, which the agency released online. “Up until last night, I was a fan of Beyoncé,” wrote one typical disgruntled viewer. Beyoncé didn’t retreat, which made sense from an artistic standpoint—but also, counterintuitively, from a business one.

“Don’t alienate your customers” seems like one of business’s givens. But sometimes taking a stand is the right move. Sure, Beyoncé might have lost some fans over her political statements, but she also no doubt earned new ones. And the loyalists who remain feel even more bonded to her. “The thing she does really well is understand the importance of true movement-building,” says Hugh Evans, cofounder and CEO of the Global Poverty Project, at whose Global Citizen Festival Beyoncé has performed for the past two years.

Target is going through something similar with its stand against transgender discrimination (the retailer announced in April that its customers could choose which bathroom to use based on their gender identity, a rebuke to the recent law in North Carolina). The ensuing outcry might hurt temporarily, but it is also likely to endear the company to customers who strongly support LGBT rights, contributing to a general sense that Target is a progressive brand worth patronizing. Harry Román-Torres, cohead of strategy at Droga5—which recently produced a campaign for Honey Maid that celebrated families of diverse ethnicities and sexual orientations—cautions that brands should only tackle polarizing issues if they have good reason to do so. “[Brands should] ask themselves, What’s my credibility in this space?” Román-Torres says. “What’s the currency we have in this, and what is my relevancy? If you don’t have those questions answered, then you shouldn’t touch these things.” Beyoncé wasn’t just diving into a hot-button topic to get attention. She and Jay Z have demonstrated interest in these issues, joining a crowd of hundreds in New York for a 2013 “Justice for Trayvon” protest and reportedly spending tens of thousands of dollars bailing protestors out of jail during uprisings in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri.

At Beyoncé’s May 7 Houston concert, a police group protested nearby. Though a few news organizations picked up the protest story, it barely registered in the sold-out venue. The only visible sign of controversy was a quintessentially Beyoncéan reclaiming of the narrative: At the venue’s official merch tables—where fans scooped up posters and phone cases—the superstar was offering $45 T-shirts that screamed, in red all-caps block letters: boycott beyoncé. That ironic embrace of her detractors’ outrage might have been the loudest statement of the night.

Marketing Is A Product—And A Product Is Marketing

Traditionally, the promotion around a product release has existed on a separate plane from the product itself. With Lemonade, Beyoncé blurred the lines between them—to the advantage of both.

For Lemonade, Beyoncé orchestrated a clever strategy that combined the HBO special, the surprise album release, and the conversation-sparking music videos as a cohesive string of smaller parts that added up to something much bigger. “She developed a concept,” says Wieden+Kennedy managing director Neal Arthur. “Story line and concept become really important because it can play across different media. It played out on television. It plays out in video form. It plays out in social. It plays out in editorial.” (It even plays out on the red carpet: At this year’s Met Ball in May, Beyoncé wore a dress that, according to much Twitter speculation, might have contained subtle references to Lemonade’s now-infamous villain, “Becky.”)

As a result, Lemonade’s imagery, ideas, and sensibility have developed into its own brand—a shorthand for a certain emotional and cultural mind-set. In early May, Candice Benbow, a young doctoral student, made a free downloadable syllabus that lists hundreds of black and feminist authors and literary works to be used as a companion to Lemonade. Soon #LemonadeSyllabus was trending on Twitter, and 40,000 people downloaded it in less than a week.

Lemonade is bigger than a mere product: It’s a cultural space that fans feel a part of. That approach has proven highly successful for other brands, Apple being perhaps the most prominent example. Eyeglass purveyor Warby Parker, another practitioner, has created a recognizable sensibility—young, smart, design-driven—that defines everything it does. “We’re experience-focused but medium-agnostic, from the moment somebody thinks about the brand: their decision to shop, waiting on the frames to arrive, understanding that [if you buy a pair] another pair goes to somebody in need,” says Neil Blumenthal, Warby’s cofounder and co-CEO. “Similarly, Beyoncé thinks about the entirety of the experience.”

Create Urgency

“Surprise!” With that single word—posted to her Instagram account at midnight on December 13, 2013—Beyoncé changed the music business. Accompanying the text was a video clip promoting the singer’s self-titled fifth album, which she’d just secretly dropped on iTunes.

It was a bold move for a superstar artist. No prerelease hype, no late-night TV appearances, no magazine covers, no advertising, no fanfare whatsoever. And yet this unusual approach was brilliantly tailored to the new realities of how information gets disseminated online. With hype-weary consumers increasingly wary of prerelease marketing, Beyoncé circumvented buildup fatigue by ditching it altogether.

In the days before the album came out, the singer’s team visited Facebook’s headquarters to negotiate a deal for the platform to alert users as soon as the album hit iTunes. The ensuing excitement felt like something new. “She’s changed the way superstar artists have looked at dropping music,” says Steve Stoute, founder and CEO of brand marketing firm Translation and a former record-company executive who once worked at Columbia Records, Beyoncé’s label. “That element of surprise and getting it all at once—she found a way for artists to do that digitally.” In the first 12 hours after the album came out, it was the subject of roughly 1.2 million tweets, and it became iTunes’ fastest-selling album of all time. Soon other big stars—including Drake and Kendrick Lamar—adopted the surprise-album model.

Of course, that sort of release works best for well-established brands—and it certainly helps if what you’re hawking is a genuinely great product. But the concept is really about something much broader: creating urgency. To make consumers covet a new product, brands need to convince them they’ll be missing out on a cultural moment if they don’t participate. It’s all about shared experience: Most people want to be part of the conversation.

Stoute points to Nike as a master of this strategy. The shoe company has learned how to build buzz by producing high-end, limited-edition sneakers that have fans queuing up for hours. Sales from these connoisseur offerings are less the point than the excitement that trickles down to the company’s mass-produced wares. In January, customers braved near-arctic temperatures in cities like Chicago and Philadelphia, forming blocks-long lines just to snag a pair of Air Jordan Retro 2 “Just Don” sneakers (retail price: $650). Nike limits production to ensure the sneakers sell out fast—and get huge attention on Instagram.

With Lemonade, Beyoncé again created must-have excitement. Rather than repeating her previous album’s surprise release, she tweaked the formula, finding a new tactic by partnering with HBO for the special. As Steve Jobs proved, the best way to keep your brand relevant is to continually intrigue your customers. She even connected her high-wire project to cultural hotbed Game of Thrones, which had its season premiere on HBO the same weekend. Notes 72andSunny’s Schoeffel: “It is so hard to surprise people these days, you know?” But that’s exactly what happened.

Beyoncé, onstage in Atlanta, is inspiring brands far beyond the music world. Photo: Kevin Mazur, WireImage, Getty Images

Take Risks—With Discipline

When disruption hits, some businesses cling to the old, hoping to ride things out. Others race to the new without fully comprehending the implications. Beyoncé straddles both approaches.

The music business has been in a state of disruptive chaos for years, and lately, confusion has only accelerated as listeners have rushed to adopt streaming—leaving artists, labels, and music-download retailers struggling to adjust. In the same way Facebook and Apple use their clout to influence behavior, some music superstars have tried to push the industry in new directions. Taylor Swift yanked all of her content from Spotify in protest of its free-tier model, which she believes deprives artists of income. Other artists have signed exclusive deals that limit highly sought-after albums to a single outlet (such as Drake and Radiohead, whose recent albums were initially only available on Apple Music). Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, which came out in February, was originally intended as an exclusive on the streaming service Tidal. West tweeted that Pablo “will never never never be on Apple. And it will never be for sale,” which drove new users to sign up for Tidal. Six weeks later, West reneged on both promises, prompting a class-action lawsuit. “In the model of exclusivity, the fans get lost in the process,” Stoute says. “Big companies are fighting for market share, forcing fans to make a decision by holding their favorite artists hostage.”

Because she is married to Tidal’s primary owner and is herself an investor in the business, Beyoncé easily could have fallen into the Kanye West hole. But with Lemonade, she forged a smarter strategy. Nobody would have been surprised if the album had been a pure Tidal exclusive. But she realized that you don’t have to disrupt everything to be disruptive, and as aggressive as she’s been taking risks with her marketing, she’s also recognized that if you go too far, you’re more likely to cause problems than to reap rewards.

Beyoncé’s fan-friendly compromise: Though Tidal was the only place to stream Lemonade, it was widely available a short time later as a download on iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere. And unlike most HBO content, the Lemonade TV special wasn’t walled off from nonsubscribers either. That weekend’s programming was open to every cable subscriber, and Lemonade was also available via a 30-day free trial on HBO Now. The strategy worked. Beyoncé steered fans to Tidal, which attracted 1.2 million new users (including free trials) in the week after Lemonade’s debut; the album and its songs became iTunes best sellers.

Opportunity Comes From Within

Beyoncé’s career has had several inflection points where she’s boosted herself to a new level of popularity and cultural clout. Surprisingly, those moments haven’t always come when she’s reached out to the mainstream. Instead, she’s often defined herself by making unconventional choices.

Her first solo album, after Destiny’s Child had evolved into a pop-chart juggernaut, was a return to hip-hop and R&B, which both distinguished her from her group’s recent work and helped define the kind of solo artist she wanted to be. Lemonade, similarly, is not just a personal album in terms of subject matter; it also explores sounds and themes that are less targeted at broad audiences. She’s emphasized a distinctive artistic vision—not what focus groups and big data might predict—and it’s worked: People are talking about Lemonade not because Beyoncé is reaching out, but because she’s looking within.

It’s an approach that applies beyond the music world. GE vice chair Beth Comstock has recently grappled with a tension between her brand’s heritage and a desire to reach the broadest possible audience. The result has been a series of clever (and much-discussed) ads in which the company gently tweaks its own fuddy-duddy image—and in the process makes itself seem cooler. “For us it’s being comfortable with who you are,” says Comstock. “We decided that at this stage as a company and brand, we’re just geeks. That’s who we are. I like the word vulnerable. You don’t think of that in terms of branding because everybody thinks brands have to be perfect: so packaged, so produced. And in some ways Beyoncé got that right—she’s so well packaged. At the same time, she exposed herself to some criticism. She’s opened herself up to a lot of scrutiny. Brands have to be more open—there’s a vulnerability. You’re saying to people, ‘Come with me, I’m going to go figure it out.’ People want to know you’re not perfect.”

Courage Takes Planning

Multiplatform triumphs like Lemonade aren’t just rare for creative reasons: They’re also expensive. Creating an epic 65-minute film along with an album requires major front-end investment with no guarantee it will ever pay off. It’s a situation companies often face: Do we have enough faith in this vision to accept the risk involved?

Taking big leaps isn’t just about guts; it also requires careful planning. Beyoncé’s 2012 endorsement deal with Pepsi is a powerful example. She had worked with Pepsi previously, but this time broadened the partnership to include a multimillion-dollar “creative development fund” that she could tap for various projects—Pepsi-related or otherwise. Neither Beyoncé nor Parkwood have confirmed that money from this fund went toward Lemonade, but what’s important is less the specifics of the Pepsi deal than the foresight it indicates. As a business, you need to build the likely necessity of future risk-taking into your strategy from the start.

Play The Long Game

Beyoncé has avoided the kind of slap-your-name-on-it partnerships that many celebrities favor. Instead, she responds to opportunities where her marketing and cultural know-how can add legitimate value. Ivy Park, the line of stylish performance wear that she launched with Topshop in April, could have been a one-off collaboration, but Beyoncé opted to form a joint company, Parkwood Topshop Athletic—and she reportedly tried on each one of the 220 items herself during the design process. “It would have been easy for Beyoncé to jump on the athleisure bandwagon, quickly bang a collection out, and ride the hype,” says Clare Varga, active director at U.K.-based fashion consultancy WGSN. “But they took their time finding the right designers from performance-sport backgrounds and invested in design and R&D. She’s playing a longer game.”

Her discipline has prompted Beyoncé to walk away from deals, too. In late 2010, the singer pulled out of a planned video game called Starpower: Beyoncé because, she claimed, the developer had not secured the level of financing that she’d expected. That precipitated a lawsuit (which was settled out of court). She chose to deal with the controversy rather than attach her name to what she feared would be an inferior product.

Make Your Own Lemonade

As Beyoncé’s first stadium-only headlining tour continues across the country—with her perfectionism on glorious display—it’s not a stretch to wonder what her restless mind is planning to do next. How do you top Lemonade? What will be as electrifying, as unexpected and game-changing and awe-inspiring?

“We’re asking ourselves, ‘So what’s our Lemonade?’ ” says Airbnb chief marketing officer Jonathan Mildenhall. “Because we don’t ever want to become predictable.”

She isn’t the only one wrestling with those kinds of questions. Throughout the business world, marketers are looking at Lemonade’s success and wondering how to concoct something similarly effective and iconic. “We’re asking ourselves, ‘So what’s our Lemonade?’ ” says Airbnb’s Mildenhall. “Because we don’t ever want to become predictable. Every time we engage with our consumers, our target audience, our community, we want to surprise them, to inspire them, to delight them. And we want to do it in a way that then drives a disproportionate share of popular conversation.”

And that’s really what it all comes down to—owning the moment. Beyoncé’s vision and business acumen are inspiring people far outside the music world, challenging executives to up their game and offering an example of how they can better cut through the overwhelming information roar of our ever-noisier culture. “Since it came out, pretty much every creative presentation I’ve seen has had some reference to it,” says 72andSunny’s Schoeffel. “It’s really interesting to see—overnight—a work of art just rock the way creative minds think. It gets your competitive and creative juices fired up. It’s made a lot of us pick our heads up and be like, ‘We have to try harder.’

Popular music and the Loss of Anger

July 16, 2016

By Lorraine Ali LATimes.com 7/15/16

When Beyoncé released her album “Lemonade” earlier this year, it took America by surprise, and not because she dropped it unexpectedly on a Saturday evening, or that it fueled speculation that her marriage was in trouble.

The singer’s newest work stood out because it was unapologetically angry.

Though popular music has historically served as a barometer of youth culture’s discontent, and almost every meaningful evolution in pop, rock and hip-hop has come from a place of disillusionment or outrage, pop music is now one of the few areas in American culture where anger is in short supply.

EDM, celebratory club music that’s often lyric-free, has hands-down been the biggest draw at music festivals over the last few years. The top rapper in the country, Drake, is a docile Canadian. And if you’re R&B’s the Weeknd (also Canadian), introspection means recounting all the ways in which you feel worthless for partying too hard the night before.

While pop has managed to celebrate as the rest of the world burns, television and film have increasingly channeled the ire of a shrinking middle class (“Breaking Bad,” any given Trump or Sanders rally), institutional racism (“Selma,” “Fruitvale Station”) and the numbness caused by bad news overload (“Mr. Robot,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”).

“Every single era has had escapist music: In the 1950s, there was the pop that came after Little Richard,” says Billie Joe Armstrong, singer and songwriter of Green Day, arguably the last major rock band to turn fury and indignation into a top 10 album with 2004’s “American Idiot.”

“After the turbulent ’60s, you got ’70s schlock — quiet and boring [music], lots of earth tones — then punk came around. Music goes through these cycles, but this happens to be the longest cycle I remember without someone breaking through on a meaningful level; someone who really has something to say.”

There are some small signs that music is waking from its stupor.

Beyoncé’s rage about being deceived, rapper Kendrick Lamar’s artful commentary on inequality and other notable releases by artists such as Kanye West and Rihannah have expressed outrage and dismay in ways that challenge the passivity of their peers.

The Black Lives Matter movement has propelled stars like Snoop and Drake to express their anger at protests and on social media. Jay Z and Miguel recently released their own tracks about unarmed black men being killed by police.

But it’s all a proverbial drop in the bucket, given that anger – from the fury of talking heads on Fox News and CNN to heated congressional sit-ins over gun control — is now a common currency in American discourse.

There is plenty of music out there with a healthy sense of moral outrage, but it isn’t trending on iTunes or Spotify. It’s underneath a billion other choices competing for your attention, bumping up against popular tastes, waiting for the shift that will upend music’s current stalemate.

Traditionally, pop music has been the most nimble medium when it comes to reflecting the national mood, simply because making an album or single is quicker and less expensive than producing a film or TV show. But as free streaming services, YouTube and the like continue to deplete record industry revenue, major labels are less inclined to take risks on music that might alienate its young base.

“The reason we think of popular music as being more revolutionary in previous decades is because now, pop is aimed at a younger audience than it was,” says the Boston Conservatory at Berklee’s Joe Bennett, a forensic musicologist who analyzes popular music. “There was always [bubblegum pop] for younger fans, but there was lots of other stuff too, like rock, that tended to appeal to an older audience. That’s an audience who may have burgeoning political sensibilities and antiwar sentiments.”

The target music consumer of today is a millennial born between 1983 and 2003. Millennials are the largest generation in U.S. history, taking over that distinction from their boomer parents. They’re also an optimistic group that appears to have nothing in common with the angsty Gen-Xers who came before them.

“The visible manifestation of anger, just getting mad at someone, plays out differently in different age brackets,” says Neil Howe, author of “Millennials Rising” and a sociologist who specializes in generational changes.

“Millennials find that angry punditry on Fox or MSNBC is an old person’s thing,” Howe says. “They are more trusting of the system, they’re more optimistic about the future, and they believe strongly in community. That’s why they like EDM — you enjoy it in a group, and that’s totally in sync generationally. It’s also totally happy and escapist. Millennials aren’t interested in introspecting and devising new social movements through music. Music is just fun to them and not much more.”

The passionate songs that have gained traction with millennials, such as Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” come from a more tempered place than say, Alanis Morissette’s 1995 smash hit “You Oughta Know” or the Who’s 1971 track “Baba O’Riley.”

“Angry songs are now nearly all enraged breakup songs,” says Bennett. “Why did you dump me? Which speaks much more to individualism than societal indignation as rage.”

Since every new generation strives to set itself apart from the one that came before, there is an argument that the relative silence is millennials’ reaction to the anger engulfing our nation.

“Ignoring it, that’s their statement,” says Armstrong, whose kids are now 18 and 21. “That’s their anger. You’re making me angry, so I’m turning my back on you. They’re done dealing with it all. They’re like, ‘I’m going to binge-watch zombies eating each other.’ ”

Top-grossing musical genres have also evolved recently in kinder and gentler ways — confrontational styles such as punk, gangsta rap, metal and grunge have given way to a proliferation of teen sensations and party-friendly hip-hop.

“It’s not usually the case that songwriters write to the market, but the market does decide what it wants to buy,” says Bennett. “In that regard, pop music fans are going to gravitate toward what they feel and what they’re thinking about at that time. Pop is merely reflecting the moods of their time, rather than steering it, and that mood will change.”

Adds Armstrong, “It’s come to the point where artists are backed into a corner where there’s really no other place for them to go. You look at what’s happening with the news, and everything that’s going on in the world, and it’s kind of like ‘The Walking Dead.’ it’s coming right at you. You better write something about it.”

Young Performers Look to Apps for Stardom

July 6, 2016

By BEN SISARIO NYTimes.com 07/04/16

ANAHEIM, Calif. — At VidCon, a sprawling conference here for the young stars of online video, success has a particular sound: a sudden, earsplitting shriek, signaling that a legion of tween-age fans have spotted one of their idols and are making a frantic selfie run.

Hailey Knox, a 17-year-old singer from Carmel, N.Y., who was visiting VidCon late last month to promote her debut EP, “A Little Awkward,” has not cracked the shriek level of fame. But the team of music and technology executives behind her is betting that, based on her budding popularity online, she could soon be enjoying a screamfest of her own.

Ms. Knox is one of the stars of YouNow, a live-streaming mobile app on which she broadcasts a few times a week, usually from her bedroom. She plays quirky cover tunes, along with earnest songs she’s written herself, all the while interacting with her 80,000 followers. Her popularity on the app helped her land a record deal and a tour, and now Ms. Knox is poised to become the live-streaming world’s first crossover music star.

“There’s social media fame, and then there’s Justin Bieber fame,” Ms. Knox said at VidCon. “I’d love to break out the way Justin Bieber has, through his YouTube to where he is now. That would be cool.”

Pop stars were once crowned on “American Bandstand” and MTV, but in the YouTube era the connection to fans has been much more personal. The newest talent incubators are apps like YouNow, Musical.ly, Flipagram, Snapchat and Vine, which satisfy millennials’ preference for rapid-fire interactivity.

“This is the new farm club,” said David Hyman, a longtime digital music executive whose latest enterprise, Chosen, is a talent-contest app.

Hailey Knox broadcasts on the mobile app YouNow a few times a week, usually from her bedroom. She plays quirky cover tunes and earnest songs she’s written herself, and interacts with her 80,000 followers.

Increasingly, the apps are also live, giving users a sense of taking part in something immediate, and creating a new class of performance stars on Facebook Live, YouNow and Twitter’s Periscope app who may make music, dance or simply chat.

Their clientele is very young. On YouNow, where the broadcast streams are festooned with emoji and comments, 74 percent of the users are between 13 and 24, according to the company. Musical.ly, which has bite-size videos of teenagers lip-syncing to pop hits, said it has 90 million users, and Flipagram, which attaches soundtracks to slide shows, said it has 200 million.

“This generation was born with screens all around them,” said Adi Sideman, the founder and chief executive of YouNow, which said it streams 50 years’ worth of video each month. “Performing live, and being live, is completely natural to them.”

The music industry got a taste of the power of video apps a year ago when 16-year-old Shawn Mendes, who got his start on Vine, had a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 chart. Few other acts have graduated from the app world to significant sales, but that may be less important as the music industry shifts toward a streaming model that makes money from every click.

YouNow also lets performers make money from virtual gifts from fans; one performer, Brent Morgan, a 28-year-old from Alabama, said he makes $10,000 a month from these tips.

“There’s a perception among brands that all of a star’s audience will migrate from their YouTube channel or Instagram feed,” Ms. Johnson said, “but what we are seeing is that those numbers don’t always meet expectations.”

Ms. Knox’s label, S-Curve Records, wants to position her as a credible singer-songwriter whose experience as a live streamer can prepare her for wider audiences.

Petite but with a snarky edge, Ms. Knox began playing guitar when she was 7. By age 12, her YouTube videos had attracted two experienced producers, Mike Mangini and Peter Zizzo, who have worked with artists like Avril Lavigne and Joss Stone.

They decided then that she was too young, but a couple of years ago — just as she was beginning to use YouNow — they reconnected with Ms. Knox and began bringing her to New York for regular writing and recording sessions. With her parents’ blessing, Ms. Knox left school during her senior year and is finishing her course work online to focus on her music career. At VidCon, her entourage included her mother and father, a police officer whose job at the conference was carrying his daughter’s guitar, and her younger sister, Samantha.

In the more than 300 videos she has made through YouNow, she banters with other users, mugs for the camera on her phone, plays guitar with surprising polish and uses a feature of the app to perform split-screen duets with her viewers. In one video from April, she sat at a deli, eating a salad and fielding questions.

She has learned that singing viewers’ names as they watch her helps keep her play counts high, but that what works best is simply “being yourself.”

“Showing my goofy personality,” she said. “People can relate to that.”

A year ago Ms. Knox signed with S-Curve, whose founder, Steve Greenberg, has worked with acts like Hanson, Ms. Stone and, most recently, Andy Grammer. Mr. Greenberg described YouNow as an accelerated way for an artist to develop the skills of performance and crowd interaction.

“In the old days, an artist would have to find some club to get good about relating to an audience,” he said. “With YouNow she can just go online and play, whether it’s for hundreds or thousands of people, and get real-time feedback.”
Ms. Knox’s career so far has been a mix of do-it-yourself online promotion and connections in the traditional music business. Her manager, Darin Harmon, used to work with Coldplay, and she secured a slot this fall opening for Charlie Puth, known as the guest singer on one of last year’s biggest hits, Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again.”

Yet Ms. Knox has also rejected parts of the Hollywood machine. She was approached to be a contestant on “The Voice,” “American Idol” and “America’s Got Talent” but turned them all down, favoring YouNow and the freedom to sign with a label of her choosing, according to her mother, Jamie.

At VidCon, Ms. Knox shuttled between performances, promotional appearances and impromptu broadcasts at YouNow’s dedicated booth, but she seemed most excited about meeting other young live-streamers, most of whom she had developed extensive online relationships with.

“It’s funny seeing faces that I’ve seen before all over the internet,” she said.

At the YouNow booth, while Ms. Knox performed on a couch with two new friends, Nick Bean, a 21-year-old who is part of 5quad, a performance group made up of YouNow heartthrobs, described the importance of the app to his growing business portfolio, including an app of his own that he said he was on his way to San Francisco to pitch to tech investors.

“When I’m live, I’m relevant,” Mr. Bean said.

Given all that, is simply releasing an album a little, well, old-fashioned?

“Not really,” Ms. Knox said. “They’re all just ways of promoting yourself.”

Lyor Cohen On Launching His New Label, Surviving Failure and “Bumping Into Genius”

June 28, 2016

by Abby Schreiber papermag.com 6/2/16

After getting his start as a road manager for rap greats Run-D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys, Lyor Cohen has gone on to have one of the most storied careers in the music industry. Having previously served as the president of Def Jam and the CEO and president of recorded music at Warner Music Group, Cohen has gone on to co- found 300 Entertainment, an independent record label and self-described “music- based content company” that represents artists like Young Thug, Fetty Wap, Highly Suspect, ASTR, Coheed and Cambria, Migos and more.

Have you ever had a mentor?

My mentor was the game, the hustle. Russell [Simmons] and I had the unique ability to learn from our mistakes. Because for seven years, the majors thought rap music was a fad — simply a fad. We made every possible mistake there was to make. And yet, we survived. But as for a human mentor, I would say Russell [Simmons] and Ahmet Ertegun. Russell [taught me] about the spirit of light and curiosity. Ahmet [taught me] the importance of song. He had a very special saying that when someone asked him, “how are you successful in the music business?” he would say, “well, you put your head down and you keep walking until you bump into genius.”

What would you consider your biggest mistake or your biggest failure, and what did you end up learning from that experience?

My biggest mistake was staying at [’80s and ’90s era after hours club] Save the Robots too late.

Tell me more about when you were launching 300; what were some of the things that you wanted to make sure you were doing differently this time around from any of the other positions or labels or companies you had worked with?

Discipline! Discipline. Discipline.

In what sense? In every sense?

In all senses. But primarily, discipline not to get caught in the noise, but still get caught in the music.

300 has so many different kinds of artists — hip-hop, rock, electronic, R&B. When you’re scouting new talent, what do you look for? Is it all instinctual?

So, we’re always looking for an artist that when they walk in the room, they change the molecules of that room. And that goes to the discipline. But we are a modern music business that also has to recognize data and the will of the people. We have two masters: the fans and our mission statement.

When you look back on your career so far, is there one moment or one person that you think launched everything?

I rarely look back. I’m not interested in history at all — I’m only interested in how I can contribute today — but there are three significant moments in my career. During one period, I signed every bad act there was to sign and that didn’t sell anything. The artist that saved me from going under was Redman. The next [significant moment] was when I was being tossed out of Sony, I had this little record called “Regulate” by Warren G that ended up selling 4 million albums and gave PolyGram the confidence in Def Jam. And the last one was when I invented December. Before my releases, the traditional record industry refused to release big albums in December because the retailers were too busy stocking and unstocking. I broke that pattern by dropping Ja Rule, Jay Z, DMX and Method Man all in the same month.

What do you do to relax and clear your head after you’ve had a busy day?

I don’t feel like I need to relax, because I’m so fully passionate about the process of building a modern-day music-based media business. I love bumping into the people that I work alongside, and I adore the challenges and the creativity that my artists offer me every day. So I don’t feel [anxious], or tense or a need to relax. But I love being a parent. I love hiking, sailing, golfing and reading. I read primarily nonfiction, historical characters…

Are you reading anything good right now?

I’m adoring reading Hamilton. My last book before that was Stalin. And I’m just so fascinated by different periods of time. Before that, it was the Medici family.

What were you like as a child?

I’m from the first batch of [kids from the] Ritalin case study. It’s very fashionable now, ADHD or whatever they call it, but I was part of that original batch of Ritalin kids. I’ve always, always, always, as far as I can remember in time, had a profound understanding of time. And I remember that being an incredibly advanced and mature thing that I had and the other little kids didn’t. I understood that we have a beginning, middle and an end. And I’m never not on time; if I’m not on time, I will let people know. The essence of who I am is that I want to know what lies beneath. I have zero interest in seeing or understanding what everybody’s able to see. I’m not interested in the veneer, but I’m interested in why and how come.

What would you consider your greatest achievement, or the thing that makes you proudest?

Well, my son is about to graduate college, and I can’t think of a more proud moment. Also, my daughter was born deaf, profoundly deaf, so that means the deafest of the deaf. There’s no one deafer than her, and you could actually play with those words, as in D-E-F, because that’s what I call her, the deffest of the def. And I found a miracle device called the cochlear implant, and now she’s an auditory girl, so that was a really remarkable thing that I wake up to every day — I’m just blown away that I wake up to a miracle every day. So it’s between those two things and my capacity to love — I’m in love with [my fiancée] Xin Li.

What has been your biggest career obstacle?

I don’t see obstacles.

Have you always been like that, or is that sort of a philosophy that developed over time?

No, no. I don’t see obstacles.

Since your interview is part of our ‘Sexy Issue,’ what qualities do you find sexiest in a person, or in a romantic partner?

Their laugh, confidence and outlook on the world.

Have you ever been driven to succeed by the desire to impress a potential romantic partner?

No, I never pull [that card] … that card is not interesting because if I go to a club and they don’t recognize me, I’ll stand at the back of the line. I’m never going to say, “hey, my name is Lyor Cohen.” Even if I’m throwing the party.

How is it that you don’t worry about those kinds of things or don’t have an ego about that?

I think I’m so souped up that I don’t need any additional reminders or acknowledgement. I am so personally souped up that if someone recognizes me, cool; if someone doesn’t, cool…

What do you think is the sexiest quality about yourself?

The fact that it doesn’t take long to see the truthfulness of who I am.

You’re authentic.

Thank you — that’s a good word. Authenticity.

Scooter Braun: On his Career

June 28, 2016

interview by Abby Schreiber Papermag.com 6/27/16

As the founder of SB Projects, Scooter Braun has launched and managed the careers of clients like Justin Bieber, Carly Rae Jepsen, Psy, Karlie Kloss, Black Eyed Peas, Steve Angello, CL, Martin Garrix, Tori Kelly, The Knocks and, most recently, Kanye West. Along with music management, SB Projects also includes a record label (Schoolboy Records), a music publishing division (Sheba Publishing) and several film/TV and technology ventures.

Is there any singular moment or experience for you that you credit with launching your career?

I would say Jermaine Dupri’s mother firing me. The story always goes that me and Jermaine parted ways, that I sort of left, so that’s for the best. But the truth is that I had talked with him a couple of months earlier about [the fact that] I was thinking about leaving, and I had all of these ideas and I didn’t think that they were listening to me. We were like brothers, and it was a really easy conversation, and he said, “No, I don’t think you need to [leave], we’ll figure it out.” So I was already kind of planning to depart, and one day his mom was in the office — his mom ran it — and she was saying how we all just take advantage of her son, [she was] just joking around. But it got to a place where it became insulting. And something was said that was incredibly insulting, and I told her that it wasn’t appropriate. And I was very kind and cordial about it, but I was like, “I’m not going to be OK with what you said.” It was extremely inappropriate, and it [wasn’t] OK. And the next day I came in and she put a letter in my mailbox saying that I was fired. Jermaine told me, “Oh, I’ll be here in a couple of weeks,” but he wasn’t going to stand up for me. And I looked at the letter again, and I realized that he had signed it. And he was like, “Oh, give it a couple of weeks, Mom’s just upset,” you know, and I just said to myself, “This is why I need to start my own thing again, and I need to believe in myself.”

I was very confused, and my brother happened to be backpacking in South America, living in $5-per-night hostels and taking 15-hour bus rides across South America, and I wrote him an email that he got in a café, and he said that I really needed to backpack. So I went to the store, bought the stuff, and got a one-way ticket to Chilé, and I didn’t return for 5 weeks. And that was my reset button. I came back a new man, and that was a very big turning point. And within three months of coming back I discovered Asher Roth, and four months after that, Justin Bieber.

Do you or did you have a mentor?

You know, coming up in Atlanta, I didn’t really have a mentor. My mentor was my father. I’ve always turned to my father for advice, but he knew nothing about my business, and he had no friends in that business. So my mentor was reading a lot. I read books about David Geffen and Richard Branson. I read interviews with Jeffrey Katzenberg and Lucian Grainge and Doug Morris. And what ended up happening was [that] my career continued to grow, and I had people like Chaka Zulu, who managed Ludacris, he helped put me in the business, and I had friends like Shakir Stewart, rest in peace, who really looked out for me. I had people like Steve Rifkind, who gave me my first record deal for Asher Roth and who I became very close with. But what ended up happening was that when I became successful, I started to meet the people I studied. So I met Lucian Grainge, and we became very, very close. I met Jeffery Katzenberg, I met Richard Branson, and then one day my phone rang and my assistant said, “You know, you have lunch with David Geffen next week.” He was one of those people who was like, “Yeah, we should get together,” and I was like, “Well that’s never going to happen.” And then it turned out that he had his assistant set it up. And I would say that Jeffrey Katzenberg, David Geffen and Lucian Grainge, these are all guys that I talk to at least once a month now. It’s come full circle. I studied them, and now I have them in my life and they’ve become mentors. But still, to this day, I would say my father is the person I speak to the most.

What do you consider your biggest accomplishment to date?

My son.

What would you say is the biggest motivator for you in terms of achievement or success?

Now? My son [laughs].

What about before you had him?

I just think that before I had a child, my motivation was [that] I wanted to leave an impact on the world, because David Geffen told me, “You know, in a hundred years no one’s going to remember me, so they sure as hell won’t remember you, so don’t have an ego.” And that was great advice. But the thing that I disagreed [on] with David was that I believe in legacy, and yeah, they may not remember me, but they can feel my impact. And that’s good enough [for] me. Because when I die, I die. I’m not here to see if they remember my name. But I want to leave an impact on the world that is worthwhile, that’s significant and makes a difference. And I want to close my eyes on that last day of life and know I did that. And when I had my child, you know, I was actually able to feel my mortality for the first time. Because I thought to myself, “Here I am, holding this person in my arms. I’ve never met them, I don’t know them, I don’t know their personality, they don’t know me. And for 33 years I’ve worked so hard to be a man in this world, and this person doesn’t know me, yet I love them more than anyone I’ve ever met in my life.” For the first time in my life since I was 22 years old, I have an employer. I work for my kid. I wake up every morning with a purpose of trying to be somebody in this world that he can look up to.

What do you do to relax and clear your head?

I play basketball to clear my head, I meditate and also … my wife taught me the difference between micro and macro time, and sometimes people think, “Oh, that person’s successful because they’re so busy.” Just packs the schedule, boom boom boom. But I like to plan more in the macro time, where I tell myself, “Look, this block of time, plan nothing.” And that’s like an hour or two where I don’t make any plans and I’ll just sit around. I might go on Instagram or Facebook or read something or watch a game or FaceTime with a friend or literally just sit and put my head down to think. And it’s those moments when I have real innovation. It’s those moments when I have moments of clarity, where I come up with something. Because when you’re going back to back to back, you don’t have time to think…

What has been your biggest career obstacle?

My biggest career obstacle … That year and a half with Justin [Bieber] was very hard. You know, I love that kid, and I had never been through anything like that before with someone. And for a year and a half, I felt like a failure. Every single day was a battle. That was the hardest moment in my career, because it was also very personal. I learned a lot about life, about success, about people. And I’m really proud that he came out on the other side, and I’m really proud of the people on our team — we were all really like family [to] him. And no one gave up, no one budged. And when you look at who’s around him now when we’re having this huge success, it’s the same people that were around from the very beginning. And, you know, the people that came in between, they’re all gone. And I think it’s because we held firm by our values and our integrity, that we were not OK with it. And when he needed to turn somewhere, when he was ready, we were the people that he turned to. And you know, I actually received a lot of credit for the turnaround, but I would like to repeat what I said to you, which is that for a year and a half, I failed. The reason why things have turned around and why Justin is having the success that he is now is because he made the decision to change. And the person who deserves the credit is him.

He made the decision to be ready to change.

Yeah, something happened. He woke up one day, and he called me, and he said, “Can you come see me?” And we were not on great terms, because we were fighting every day. And he looked at me and said, “I don’t want to be like this.” And we figured it out, but I had been trying to figure it out for a year and a half. The change happened when he decided he was going to change.

Now that you’re working with Kanye, what things would you say you’ve learned from him, and what things do you think he’s learned from you?

I would say that one of the big misconceptions about him is that people think he’s selfish, but he is one of the most giving human beings I’ve ever met in my entire life. That guy would give you the shirt off his back. My job in this relationship is to be a balance for him, and to push him, because he pushes me like nothing else and also to help with the politics of things, and to protect him. To be someone that can say “no,” especially to a lot of people who take advantage of him. Because he’s a true artist, a true genius, and he is the ambassador to creativity. If someone is creative and has an idea, he will stop at nothing to have that idea see the light, because he loves it, but sometimes, because the stuff costs money, that’s my job to help in that category — to help run it like a real business, because the upside is just tremendous. It was something I wasn’t sure if I was going to do at first, and I’m very, very glad that I decided to do it, because I can tell you: He truly is a genius, and it’s inspiring every single time you’re around him and talk to him. And I talk to him a lot now [laughs], but I also can tell you that he’s literally all heart, and he’s one of the kindest people I’ve ever met … I think my help with Kanye is that he likes honesty and I’m brutally honest. And I think that he appreciates that, and because I have no problem challenging him, he has no problem challenging me. That’s why we respect each other. I can tell you, he is a very, very, very special person, and culturally so incredibly important. And I feel like one of the things I want to do in my time working with him is to make sure people get to see the guy that I get to see.

What were you like as a child? Was there anything about your personality or interests growing up that could have predicted the path you ended up taking?

I was a little bit rebellious and I was very social, but I was also a homebody. I never really changed. I mean, I’m 34 and I still call myself “Scooter,” right? But when I’m home, I kind of like to be alone for a little while, and I like to think about things by myself. When I’m out, I’m very social, and I’ve kind of always been that way since I was a kid. But I always do things my own way, which when I was a kid would always get me in trouble. You know, I remember when I was a kid and the teacher thought I was cheating because I had the answer on the math test, but when she looked at my work it didn’t make any sense to her. And I said, “No, I didn’t [cheat], let me show you,” and I showed her, like, this roundabout way that I solved the equation. And she said, “Why would you ever do it like that?” and I said, “Why wouldn’t I?” I’ve always wanted to do things the way I want to do them.

Is there anything you regret?

It’s funny, I just spoke at a school last week and they asked me this question, and there’s one thing I regret, yeah. And it literally was a very defining moment in my life. I was probably in 8th grade and I was at basketball camp — it was like one of those 5-day sleepaway camps where you go to play basketball, and these three guys were really cool at the camp, and they were a year older than me. And they befriended me because I was good and I was going to play in the all-star game at the end of the week, and they liked me because I could play. And I thought it was so cool that these older guys [liked me]. And I went to their dorm and they were talking shit about this kid in the dorm who was my age who I hadn’t met yet, because, I don’t know, he was quiet. And they were like, “Let’s break into his dorm and fuck with him.” And I was like, “Really?” So they kind of pushed in his door, and then they threw all of his shorts in a pile, and they were like, “Yo Braun, pee on it!” And I knew it was wrong, and it was completely out of my character. I had never allowed bullies [to peer pressure me] as a young kid, but for some reason that day I succumbed to peer pressure and I peed on the kid’s shorts. And I was ashamed of myself. And, you know, the kid had to wear a bathing suit, and the camp basically was like, “Who did this?” And I felt so guilty, I just couldn’t live with myself, so I turned myself in. But I wouldn’t name the other boys, I wouldn’t turn them in, I wouldn’t rat them out. I only turned myself in. And the camp said because I turned myself in they would let me stay, but I would no longer be allowed to participate in the all-star game at the end of the week. And turns out, I stopped being friends with those guys instantly, because I no longer thought they were cool, and I became friends with the kid [whose shorts I peed on] because I apologized to him, and I told him how sorry I was.


And we became friends. And at the end of the week, even though we were friends, his mother came up to me and started yelling at me that I was disgusting. And my dad came over and said, “Why are you talking to my son like this?” And she said, “He peed on [my son’s shorts],” and my dad said, “My son would never do anything like this,” and he turned to me, and he said, “Right, Scott?” And I just looked at him and he knew instantly, “Holy shit, my son is guilty.” And he was not pleased, obviously, but that moment I have never, ever, ever forgotten. And that’s the only moment of my life that I’ve ever regretted. Because I think being embarrassed and having regret is only when you do something malicious. You know, I’ve made mistakes, but [except for that] they were never malicious. I don’t regret those [kinds of mistakes] because I learned from them. I regret this one because I knew better. And it was malicious, and I knew what I was doing was wrong. And I just promised myself from that point on that no one would ever peer pressure me into feeling like that again … [Since then, in my career,] the amount of drugs I saw, the amount of offers I’d been given, I had never ever [accepted] … I take pride in telling someone, “That’s not me.” And, you know, the one regret I have is that I was weak in that moment, and that was the one time in my life I gave in — that moment.

You’ve never forgotten it.

I’ve never put myself in that position since. And I regret it, but at the same time it was a very defining moment in my life that helped me become a man.

Lastly, since we’re interviewing you for the ‘Sexy’ issue, have you ever been driven to succeed by the desire to impress a romantic partner?

Hell yeah! [Laughs] My wife. I’ve been driven to convince her to marry me! My wife is out of my league, she’s spectacular, she’s smart, she’s beautiful, she’s wonderful, like, she’s such a better person than me. So when I looked at her, I was like, “That’s it, I’m done.” I was not trying to get married, I was not even trying to be in a relationship. I was out of a relationship, and I was going to take the next couple of years to just be single — and by the way, I was living the single life — but I met my wife and I told her on the first date, “I think I’m done. I think you’re it.” And I canceled all the other dates. And yeah, I was driven to have a real life because I met the person I could finally have it with.

Music World Bands Together Against YouTube, Seeking Change to Law

June 1, 2016

By BEN SISARIO  NYTimes.com 5/31/16

A few years ago, the biggest enemy of the music industry was Pandora Media. Then Spotify became the target.

Now it is YouTube’s turn.

In recent months, the music world has been united to a rare degree in a public fight against YouTube, accusing the service of paying too little in royalties and asking for changes to the law that allows the company to operate the way it does. The battle highlights the need to capture every dollar as listeners’ habits turn to streaming, as well as the industry’s complicated relationship with YouTube.

The dispute has played out in a drumbeat of industry reports, blog posts and opinion columns. Stars like Katy Perry, Pharrell Williams and Billy Joel have signed letters asking for changes to copyright laws. Irving Azoff, the manager of artists like the Eagles and Christina Aguilera, criticized YouTube in an interview and in a fiery speech around the Grammy Awards.

Also, annual sales statistics were released showing that YouTube, despite its gigantic audience, produces less direct income for musicians than the niche market of vinyl record sales.

“This is the result of an explosion of views of music videos on YouTube against a backdrop of decline in the recorded music business in general,” Larry Miller, an associate professor of music business at New York University’s Steinhardt School, said of the fight.

With more than a billion users, including the youngest and most engaged music fans, YouTube has long been seen by the music business as a vital way to promote songs and hunt for the next star. At the same time, music executives grumble that it has never been a substantial source of revenue and is a vexing outlet for leaks and unauthorized material.

It may not be a coincidence that the major record labels are also in the midst of renegotiating their licensing contracts with YouTube this year.

In its newest effort, the music industry has asked the federal government to change the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, saying that the law, which was passed in 1998 and protects sites like YouTube that host copyrighted material posted by users, is outdated and makes removing unauthorized content too difficult.

Cary Sherman, the chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America, says that even when songs are taken down, they can easily be uploaded again.

“This is a new form of piracy,” he said. “You don’t have to go into dark corners and sell stuff out of your car. You can do it in plain sight and rely on the D.M.C.A. to justify that what you’re doing is perfectly legal.”

Europe’s copyright protections are also under review, and last month, Andrus Ansip, the European Commission’s digital chief, called on YouTube to pay more for its content. But so far, YouTube does not seem shaken.

In an interview, Robert Kyncl, YouTube’s chief business officer, said that since its inception in 2005, YouTube has paid $3 billion to the music industry around the world. (In earlier statements, YouTube has said that Google, its parent company, paid that amount across all of its sites, but Mr. Kyncl now says that YouTube alone has contributed that sum and that other Google services have added even more.)

“Music matters tremendously to us,” Mr. Kyncl said. “Artists matter to us. We are connecting artists and fans on our platforms.”

He also pointed to the site’s new subscription plan, YouTube Red, and said YouTube’s copyright protections were functioning as they should. Content ID, the site’s proprietary system, lets copyright owners keep track of their material, and when the system detects a new video including a tracked song — whether in a full music video or just the background of a user-uploaded clip — the owner can choose to keep the video online or take it down.

According to YouTube, 98 percent of copyright claims on its system are made through Content ID, and 99.5 percent of the claims related to music are handled automatically. YouTube says about half the money it pays in music royalties is related to user-generated videos that incorporate music processed through Content ID.

“We are working to create what has become the most significant revenue generator in the entertainment industry,” Mr. Kyncl said, “which is a dual revenue stream where you monetize all people: heavy users through subscription, and light users through advertising.”

But the music world argues that YouTube’s financial contributions have not kept pace with the popularity of its streams. In March, the recording industry association’s annual report of sales statistics, usually a dry financial summary, criticized YouTube harshly. It said that free ad-supported sites like it, which let users pick specific songs on demand, paid $385 million to record labels in the United States — less than the $416 million collected from the sale of just 17 million vinyl records.

Spotify paid about $1.8 billion last year for music licensing and related costs, according to the company’s annual returns, although the average royalty rates for its free tier are not much different from YouTube’s, by some estimates.

The fight over the Digital Millennium Copyright Act has touched a nerve. The music industry is bracing for what may be a high-wattage lobbying battle reminiscent of the one over the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill that was abandoned in 2012 after opposition from technology activists and Internet giants like Google and Wikipedia.

The copyright law gives “safe harbor” to Internet service providers that host third-party material. While music groups criticize the law, some legal scholars and policy specialists say any change to it would need to be considered carefully, particularly to preserve protections like fair use.

“Anything that rewrites the D.M.C.A. isn’t just going to affect YouTube,” said James Grimmelmann, a law professor at the University of Maryland. “It is going to affect blogs. It is going to affect fan sites. It is going to affect places for game creators and documentarians and all kinds of others.”

In December, the United States Copyright Office asked for comments about D.M.C.A. as part of a review of the law, and filings by record companies show how laborious copyright policing can be. Universal Music said that after Taylor Swift’s album “1989” was released in late 2014, the company devoted a team of employees full time to search for unauthorized copies; to date, the company said, it has sent 66,000 takedown notices to various sites about “1989,” in addition to 114,000 blocks on YouTube made automatically through Content ID.

Maria Schneider, a Grammy-winning jazz composer, said in an interview that the problem was particularly acute for independent acts like her, who do not have Content ID accounts, and that the D.M.C.A.’s takedown process discouraged lawful requests.

YouTube says that about 8,000 companies and organizations have access to Content IDand that independents may get access through affiliated companies and industry groups. Mr. Kyncl said the steps in the takedown process were meant to ensure the accuracy of requests and deter false claims.

Mr. Azoff said that after the Copyright Office made its request, he and other managers asked artists they represented whether they wanted to sign a letter calling for changes to the law.

“Not one artist declined,” he said.

“But if there are creators who like their music on YouTube and SoundCloud, that’s fine,” Mr. Azoff said. “The whole point is choice: Artists should be able to choose

Which Rock Star Will Historians of the Future Remember?

May 24, 2016

Chuck Klosterman NYTimes.com 5/23/16

The most important musical form of the 20th century will
be nearly forgotten one day. People will probably learn
about the genre through one figure — so who might that be?
Classifying anyone as the “most successful” at anything tends to reflect more on the source than the subject. So keep that in mind when I make the following statement: John Philip Sousa is the most successful American musician of all time.

Marching music is a maddeningly durable genre, recognizable to pretty much everyone who has lived in the United States for any period. It works as a sonic shorthand for any filmmaker hoping to evoke the late 19th century and serves as the auditory backdrop for national holidays, the circus and college football. It’s not “popular” music, but it’s entrenched within the popular experience. It will be no less fashionable tomorrow than it is today.

And this entire musical idiom is now encapsulated in one person: John Philip Sousa. Even the most cursory two-sentence description of marching music inevitably cites him by name. I have no data on this, but I would assert that if we were to ask the entire population of the United States to name every composer of marching music they could think of, 98 percent of the populace would name either one person (Sousa) or no one at all. There’s just no separation between the awareness of this person and the awareness of this music, and it’s hard to believe that will ever change.

Now, the reason this happened — or at least the explanation we’ve decided to accept — is that Sousa was simply the best at this art. He composed 136 marches over a span of six decades and is regularly described as the most famous musician of his era. The story of his life and career has been shoehorned into the U.S. education curriculum at a fundamental level. (I first learned of Sousa in fourth grade, a year before we memorized the state capitals.) And this, it seems, is how mainstream musical memory works. As the timeline moves forward, tangential artists in any field fade from the collective radar, until only one person remains; the significance of that individual is then exaggerated, until the genre and the person become interchangeable. Sometimes this is easy to predict: I have zero doubt that the worldwide memory of Bob Marley will eventually have the same tenacity and familiarity as the worldwide memory of reggae itself.

But envisioning this process with rock music is harder. Almost anything can be labeled “rock”: Metallica, ABBA, Mannheim Steamroller, a haircut, a muffler. If you’re a successful tax lawyer who owns a hot tub, clients will refer to you as a “rock-star C.P.A.” when describing your business to less-hip neighbors. The defining music of the first half of the 20th century was jazz; the defining music of the second half of the 20th century was rock, but with an ideology and saturation far more pervasive. Only television surpasses its influence.

And pretty much from the moment it came into being, people who liked rock insisted it was dying. The critic Richard Meltzer supposedly claimed that rock was already dead in 1968. And he was wrong to the same degree that he was right. Meltzer’s wrongness is obvious and does not require explanation, unless you honestly think “Purple Rain” is awful. But his rightness is more complicated: Rock is dead, in the sense that its “aliveness” is a subjective assertion based on whatever criteria the listener happens to care about.

This is why the essential significance of rock remains a plausible thing to debate, as does the relative value of major figures within that system (the Doors, R.E.M., Radiohead). It still projects the illusion of a universe containing multitudes. But it won’t seem that way in 300 years.

The symbolic value of rock is conflict-based: It emerged as a byproduct of the post-World War II invention of the teenager, soundtracking a 25-year period when the gap between generations was utterly real and uncommonly vast. That dissonance gave rock music a distinctive, nonmusical importance for a long time. But that period is over. Rock — or at least the anthemic, metaphoric, Hard Rock Cafe version of big rock — has become more socially accessible but less socially essential, synchronously shackled by its own formal limitations. Its cultural recession is intertwined with its cultural absorption. As a result, what we’re left with is a youth-oriented music genre that a) isn’t symbolically important; b) lacks creative potential; and c) has no specific tie to young people. It has completed its historical trajectory. Which means, eventually, it will exist primarily as an academic pursuit. It will exist as something people have to be taught to feel and understand.

I imagine a college classroom in 300 years, in which a hip instructor is leading a tutorial filled with students. These students relate to rock music with no more fluency than they do the music of Mesopotamia: It’s a style they’ve learned to recognize, but just barely (and only because they’ve taken this specific class). Nobody in the room can name more than two rock songs, except the professor. He explains the sonic structure of rock, its origins, the way it served as cultural currency and how it shaped and defined three generations of a global superpower. He shows the class a photo, or perhaps a hologram, of an artist who has been intentionally selected to epitomize the entire concept. For these future students, that singular image defines what rock was.

So what’s the image?

Certainly, there’s one response to this hypothetical that feels immediate and sensible: the Beatles. All logic points to their dominance. They were the most popular band in the world during the period they were active and are only slightly less popular now, five decades later. The Beatles defined the concept of what a “rock group” was supposed to be, and all subsequent rock groups are (consciously or unconsciously) modeled upon the template they naturally embodied. Their 1964 appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” is so regularly cited as the genesis for other bands that they arguably invented the culture of the 1970s, a decade when they were no longer together. The Beatles arguably invented everything, including the very notion of a band’s breaking up. There are still things about the Beatles that can’t be explained, almost to the point of the supernatural: the way their music resonates with toddlers, for example, or the way it resonated with Charles Manson. It’s impossible to imagine another rock group where half its members faced unrelated assassination attempts. In any reasonable world, the Beatles are the answer to the question “Who will be the Sousa of rock?”

But our world is not reasonable. And the way this question will be asked tomorrow is (probably) not the same way we would ask it today.

In Western culture, virtually everything is understood through the process of storytelling, often to the detriment of reality. When we recount history, we tend to use the life experience of one person — the “journey” of a particular “hero,” in the lingo of the mythologist Joseph Campbell — as a prism for understanding everything else. That inclination works to the Beatles’ communal detriment. But it buoys two other figures: Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan. The Beatles are the most meaningful group, but Elvis and Dylan are the towering individuals, so eminent that I wouldn’t necessarily need to use Elvis’s last name or Dylan’s first.

Still, neither is an ideal manifestation of rock as a concept.

It has been said that Presley invented rock and roll, but he actually staged a form of primordial “prerock” that barely resembles the post-“Rubber Soul” aesthetics that came to define what this music is. He also exited rock culture relatively early; he was pretty much out of the game by 1973. Conversely, Dylan’s career spans the entirety of rock. Yet he never made an album that “rocked” in any conventional way (the live album “Hard Rain” probably comes closest). Still, these people are rock people. Both are integral to the core of the enterprise and influenced everything we have come to understand about the form (including the Beatles themselves, a group that would not have existed without Elvis and would not have pursued introspection without Dylan)

Pretty much from the moment it came into being, people who liked rock insisted it was dying.
In 300 years, the idea of “rock music” being represented by a two‑pronged combination of Elvis and Dylan would be equitable and oddly accurate. But the passage of time makes this progressively more difficult. It’s always easier for a culture to retain one story instead of two, and the stories of Presley and Dylan barely intersect (they supposedly met only once, in a Las Vegas hotel room). As I write this sentence, the social stature of Elvis and Dylan feels similar, perhaps even identical. But it’s entirely possible one of them will be dropped as time plods forward. And if that happens, the consequence will be huge. If we concede that the “hero’s journey” is the de facto story through which we understand history, the differences between these two heroes would profoundly alter the description of what rock music supposedly was.

If Elvis (minus Dylan) is the definition of rock, then rock is remembered as showbiz. Like Frank Sinatra, Elvis did not write songs; he interpreted songs that were written by other people (and like Sinatra, he did this brilliantly). But removing the centrality of songwriting from the rock equation radically alters it. Rock becomes a performative art form, where the meaning of a song matters less than the person singing it. It becomes personality music, and the dominant qualities of Presley’s persona — his sexuality, his masculinity, his larger‑than‑life charisma — become the dominant signifiers of what rock was. His physical decline and reclusive death become an allegory for the entire culture. The reminiscence of the rock genre adopts a tragic hue, punctuated by gluttony, drugs and the conscious theft of black culture by white opportunists.

But if Dylan (minus Elvis) becomes the definition of rock, everything reverses. In this contingency, lyrical authenticity becomes everything; rock is somehow calcified as an intellectual craft, interlocked with the folk tradition. It would be remembered as far more political than it actually was, and significantly more political than Dylan himself. The fact that Dylan does not have a conventionally “good” singing voice becomes retrospective proof that rock audiences prioritized substance over style, and the portrait of his seven‑decade voyage would align with the most romantic version of how an eclectic collection of autonomous states eventually became a place called “America.”

These are the two best versions of this potential process. And both are flawed.

There is, of course, another way to consider how these things might unspool, and it might be closer to the way histories are actually built. I’m creating a binary reality where Elvis and Dylan start the race to posterity as equals, only to have one runner fall and disappear. The one who remains “wins” by default (and maybe that happens). But it might work in reverse. A more plausible situation is that future people will haphazardly decide how they want to remember rock, and whatever they decide will dictate who is declared its architect. If the constructed memory is a caricature of big‑hair arena rock, the answer is probably Elvis; if it’s a buoyant, unrealistic apparition of punk hagiography, the answer is probably Dylan. But both conclusions direct us back to the same recalcitrant question: What makes us remember the things we remember?

In 2014, the jazz historian Ted Gioia published a short essay about music criticism that outraged a class of perpetually outraged music critics. Gioia’s assertion was that 21st‑century music writing has devolved into a form of lifestyle journalism that willfully ignores the technical details of the music itself. Many critics took this attack personally and accused Gioia of devaluing their vocation. Which is odd, considering the colossal degree of power Gioia ascribes to record reviewers: He believes specialists are the people who galvanize history. Critics have almost no impact on what music is popular at any given time, but they’re extraordinarily well positioned to dictate what music is reintroduced after its popularity has
The greatest sacrilege was when the Beach Boys used the melody of “Sweet Little Sixteen” for “Surfin’ USA” and had a No 1 hit with it. …

“Over time, critics and historians will play a larger role in deciding whose fame endures,” Gioia wrote me in an email. “Commercial factors will have less impact. I don’t see why rock and pop will follow any different trajectory from jazz and blues.” He rattled off several illustrative examples: Ben Selvin outsold Louis Armstrong in the 1920s. In 1956, Nelson Riddle and Les Baxter outsold “almost every rock ’n’ roll star not named Elvis,” but they’ve been virtually erased from the public record. A year after that, the closeted gay crooner Tab Hunter was bigger than Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino, “but critics and music historians hate sentimental love songs. They’ve constructed a perspective that emphasizes the rise of rock and pushes everything else into the background. Transgressive rockers, in contrast, enjoy lasting fame.” He points to a contemporary version of that phenomenon: “Right now, electronic dance music probably outsells hip‑hop. This is identical to the punk‑versus‑disco trade‑off of the 1970s. My prediction: edgy hip‑hop music will win the fame game in the long run, while E.D.M. will be seen as another mindless dance craze.”

Gioia is touching on a variety of volatile ideas here, particularly the outsize memory of transgressive art. His example is the adversarial divide between punk and disco: In 1977, the disco soundtrack to “Saturday Night Fever” and the Sex Pistols’ “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols” were both released. The soundtrack to “Saturday Night Fever” has sold more than 15 million copies; it took “Never Mind the Bollocks” 15 years to go platinum. Yet virtually all pop historiographers elevate the importance of the Pistols above that of the Bee Gees. The same year the Sex Pistols finally sold the millionth copy of their debut, SPIN magazine placed them on a list of the seven greatest bands of all time. “Never Mind the Bollocks” is part of the White House record library, supposedly inserted by Amy Carter just before her dad lost to Ronald Reagan. The album’s reputation improves by simply existing: In 1985, the British publication NME classified it as the 13th‑greatest album of all time; in 1993, NME made a new list and decided it now deserved to be ranked third. This has as much to do with its transgressive identity as its musical integrity. The album is overtly transgressive (and therefore memorable), while “Saturday Night Fever” has been framed as a prefab totem of a facile culture (and thus forgettable). For more than three decades, that has been the overwhelming consensus.

But I’ve noticed — just in the last four or five years — that this consensus is shifting. Why? Because the definition of “transgressive” is shifting. It’s no longer appropriate to dismiss disco as superficial. More and more, we recognize how disco latently pushed gay, urban culture into white suburbia, which is a more meaningful transgression than going on a British TV talk show and swearing at the host. So is it possible that the punk‑disco polarity will eventually flip? Yes. It’s possible everyone could decide to reverse how we remember 1977. But there’s still another stage here, beyond that hypothetical inversion: the stage in which everybody who was around for punk and disco is dead and buried, and no one is left to contradict how that moment felt. When that happens, the debate over transgressions freezes and all that is left is the music. Which means the Sex Pistols could win again or maybe they lose bigger, depending on the judge.

“There is a justice-driven part of my brain that believes — or needs to believe — that the cream rises to the top, and the best work endures by virtue of its goodness,” argues the music writer Amanda Petrusich, author of “Do Not Sell at Any Price,” a dive into the obsessive world of 78 r.p.m. record collectors. “That music becomes emblematic because it’s the most effective. When I think of rock and who might survive, I immediately think of the Rolling Stones. They’re a band that sounds like what we’ve all decided rock ’n’ roll should sound like: loose and wild. Their story reflects that ethos and sound: loose and wild. And also, they’re good.”

This is true. The Rolling Stones are good, even when they release records like “Bridges to Babylon.” They’ve outlived every band that ever competed against them, with career album sales exceeding the present population of Brazil. From a credibility standpoint, the Rolling Stones are beyond reproach, regardless of how they choose to promote themselves: They’ve performed at the Super Bowl, in a Kellogg’s commercial and on an episode of “Beverly Hills, 90210.” The name of the biggest magazine covering rock music was partly inspired by their sheer existence. The group members have faced arrest on multiple continents, headlined the most disastrous concert in California history and classified themselves (with surprisingly little argument) as “the greatest rock and roll band in the world” since 1969. Working from the premise that the collective memory of rock should dovetail with the artist who most accurately represents what rock music actually was, the Rolling Stones are a strong answer.

But not the final answer.

NASA sent the unmanned craft Voyager I into deep space in 1977. It’s still out there, forever fleeing Earth’s pull. No man‑made object has ever traveled farther; it crossed the orbit of Pluto in 1989 and currently tumbles through the interstellar wasteland. The hope was that this vessel would eventually be discovered by intelligent extraterrestrials, so NASA included a compilation album made of gold, along with a rudimentary sketch of how to play it with a stylus. A team led by Carl Sagan curated the album’s contents. The record, if played by the aliens, is supposed to reflect the diversity and brilliance of earthling life. This, obviously, presupposes a lot of insane hopes: that the craft will somehow be found, that the craft will somehow be intact, that the aliens who find it will be vaguely human, that these vaguely human aliens will absorb stimuli both visually and sonically and that these aliens will not still be listening to eight‑tracks.

But it did guarantee that one rock song will exist even if the earth is spontaneously swallowed by the sun: “Johnny B. Goode,” by Chuck Berry. The song was championed by Ann Druyan (who later become Sagan’s wife) and Timothy Ferris, a science writer and friend of Sagan’s who contributed to Rolling Stone magazine. According to Ferris, who was the album’s de facto producer, the folklorist Alan Lomax was against the selection of Berry, based on the argument that rock music was too childish to represent the highest achievements of the planet. (I’m assuming Lomax wasn’t too heavily engaged with the debate over the Sex Pistols and “Saturday Night Fever” either.) “Johnny B. Goode” is the only rock song on the Voyager disc, although a few other tunes were considered. “Here Comes the Sun” was a candidate, and all four Beatles wanted it to be included, but none of them owned the song’s copyright, so it was killed for legal reasons.

The fact that this happened in 1977 was also relevant to the song’s selection. “Johnny B. Goode” was 19 years old that year, which made it seem distinguished, almost prehistoric, at the time. I suspect the main reason “Johnny B. Goode” was chosen is that it just seemed like a reasonable track to select. But it was more than reasonable. It was, either deliberately or accidentally, the best possible artist for NASA to select. Chuck Berry may very well become the artist society selects when rock music is retroactively reconsidered by the grandchildren of your grandchildren.

Let’s assume all the individual components of rock shatter and dissolve, leaving behind a hazy residue that categorizes rock ’n’ roll as a collection of memorable tropes. If this transpires, historians will reconstitute the genre like a puzzle. They will look at those tropes as a suit and try to decide who fits that suit best. And that theoretical suit was tailored for Chuck Berry’s body.

Rock music is simple, direct, rhythm‑based music. Berry made simple, direct, rhythm‑based music.
Rock music is black music mainstreamed by white musicians, particularly white musicians from England. Berry is a black man who directly influenced Keith Richards and Jimmy Page.
Rock music is preoccupied with sex. Berry was a sex addict whose only American No. 1 single was about playing with his penis.
Rock music is lawless. Berry went to prison twice before he turned 40.

Rock music is tied to myth and legend (so much so that the decline of rock’s prominence coincides with the rise of the Internet and the destruction of anecdotal storytelling). Berry is the subject of multiple urban legends, several of which might actually be true and which often seem to involve cheapness, violence and sexual defecation.

“If you tried to give rock and roll another name,” John Lennon famously said, “you might call it Chuck Berry.” That quote is as close as we come to a full‑on Sousa scenario, where the person and the thing are ideologically interchangeable. Chuck Berry’s persona is the purest distillation of what we understand rock music to be. The songs he made are essential, but secondary to who he was and why he made them. He is the idea itself.

Chuck Klosterman is a writer and journalist.


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