The Album Is in Deep Trouble – and the Music Business Probably Can’t Save it Sales are plummeting, and the music industry is returning to the era of track-led consumption. Is the LP doomed?

November 11, 2018

Tim Ingham 11/09/18
• The Album Is in Deep Trouble – and the Music Business Probably Can’t Save it
• Spotify Can’t Keep Losing More Than $1 Billion a Year. Can Podcasts Rescue Its Business Model?
Make no mistake, the album is fighting for its life.
Sales of music’s most beloved format are in free fall in the United States this year. According to figures published by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), the value of total stateside album sales in the first half of 2018 (across download, CD and vinyl) plummeted by 25.8 percent when compared with the first half of 2017.
If that percentage decline holds for the full year, and there’s every indication it will, annual U.S. album sales in 2018 will end up at half the size of what they were as recently as 2015. To put it more plainly, U.S. consumers will spend around half a billion dollars less on albums this year than they did in 2017.

The CD album is, predictably, bearing the brunt of this damage. After a comfortable 6.5 percent drop in sales in 2017, in the first half of 2018, revenues generated by the CD album in the USA were slashed nearly in half – down 41.5 percent, to $246 million.

It’s not hard to see why. 2018 will go down as a landmark year for the acceleration of the decline in physical album sales: The likes of Drake, Eminem, Cardi B, Travis Scott, Migos and Kanye West have all released hotly anticipated new LPs exclusively on digital services in their first week. All brought physical formats into play only after their records’ initial “sales” rush was over.
Hip-hop’s biggest names, it seems, are actively turning their back on the CD (and on brick-and-mortar retailers) — instead focusing on the likes of Spotify and Apple Music, where their genre is currently the king of kings.
None of this, of course, is a big shock.
Back in 2014, you may remember, Spotify co-founder Daniel Ek had an awkward public sparring match with Taylor Swift, following the superstar’s decision to pull her back catalog from his service. Facing down accusations that Spotify was “cannibalizing” the album, Ek wrote, “In the old days, multiple artists sold multiple millions [of albums] every year. That just doesn’t happen anymore; people’s listening habits have changed — and they’re not going to change back.”
He wasn’t wrong. As we all know, the music business held hands with Ek and dived profit-first into a streaming-led industry.
Now, however, a murmur is quietly breaking out: In the rush to follow the money, did the music business sacrifice something more valuable than it could have realized?
Sure, hits on streaming services make a lot of people a lot of money. But as the death knell rings for the album — and the music industry returns to the pre-Beatles era of track-led consumption — are fans being encouraged to develop a less-committed relationship with new artists?

The answer to that question ultimately depends on how those fans are consuming music on Spotify, Apple Music, et. al. One thing’s for sure: Not all new music is created equal — and the stats bear it out.
Take Drake’s Scorpion, the biggest album in the U.S. market this year. In a clear bid to rack up as many streams possible (and break multiple records in the process), Scorpion is 25 tracks long. Yet, according to numbers I’ve obtained and crunched from Spotify-monitoring site Kworb, some 63 percent of global streams from Scorpion on Spotify since the album’s release in June have come from just three songs: “God’s Plan,” “In My Feelings” and “Nice for What.”
In fact, just six songs on the album (also including “Nonstop,” “Don’t Matter to Me” and “I’m Upset”) have claimed 82 percent of its total streams. The other 19 tracks get just 18 percent of the spoils between them — an average of less than 1 percent each.
It’s a similar story with the biggest album of the first half of the year in the U.S.: Post Malone’s beerbongs & bentleys, from which just three tracks (“Rockstar,” “Psycho” and “Better Now”) account for 62 percent of worldwide Spotify streams.

You could argue that things have always been this way — that fans in previous eras would buy albums and then simply rinse and repeat their favorite individual tracks, ignoring what they deemed to be duds.
Additionally, you could argue that streaming has been wonderful news for the album — any fan anywhere in the world can now legally consume albums for “free” via Spotify, rather than shelling out a potentially prohibitive expense on CDs or downloads. If the experience of listening to full albums was compelling enough in 2018, therefore, the format should be thriving.
Yet industry machinery has certainly propagated this dismantling of the LP. The Billboard 200, still the most recognized album chart in the world, has, since December 2014, bundled together streams of individual tracks from an LP as “streaming-equivalent albums.” Billboard’s current, much-debated formula: 1,250 paid-for streams from the likes of Apple Music or Spotify Premium count as one album “sale”, as do 3,750 streams from ad-funded services like YouTube or Spotify’s free tier.
This has led to some pretty odd situations: Drake’s Scorpion, for instance, sold 160,000 true album units (via download sites) in its opening week, but, according to Billboard/Nielsen, more than three times this amount (551,000) came via “streaming-equivalent albums.”
In Scorpion’s second week on the Billboard 200, the potential silliness of “streaming-equivalent albums” came home to roost: The album sold (as in actually sold) just 29,000 copies on iTunes, etc., yet nearly 10 times this “sales” volume (288,000) was cobbled together from single-track streams.
The music industry is facing a bit of an existential crisis, then: How can something (streaming) be considered the “equivalent” of something else (an album sale) when, by your own measure, the former now completely dominates the latter?
In 2018, “streaming-equivalent albums” seems like daft phrasing. It is e-mail-equivalent faxes. It is car-equivalent steeds. It is Netflix-equivalent Betamax.
The death of the album track, if not the album itself, is having a significant commercial impact.
Lucas Keller is the founder of Milk & Honey in Los Angeles, a management firm that looks after some of the hottest behind-the-scenes pop songwriters and producers in the modern marketplace. He told Music Business Worldwide this week that the days of his clients making any real money from non-hit album tracks are now “pretty much over.” Keller commented, “I sit at a dashboard . . . showing the publishing revenue across the board on all of my clients, and I have a really good idea what Track 9 isn’t worth.”
The music industry is waking up to this fact, and it’s keen to to arrest the devastation. On Saturday, October 13th, the U.K. music business clubbed together to launch a nationwide campaign: National Album Day.
This was a big deal. The major labels (via the BPI), the independent labels (via AIM), the Official Charts Company and a vast network of U.K. music retailers joined forces to push their crusade to the public. It got wall-to-wall coverage on the radio channels of the BBC — another key partner.
The idea was to ape some of the magic of Record Store Day, the annual initiative that sees a yearly surge in physical music-buying on both sides of the Atlantic. Can you guess what happened?
Despite everyone’s best efforts, U.K. album sales fell slightly in the week of National Album Day.
As predicted by Daniel Ek four years ago, the public is obviously growing increasingly comfortable with its playlist-driven, track-led music-consumption habits. The music industry, however, is starting to question whether it’s quite so sure.


October 6, 2018

Ariel Hyatt 10/04/18
Should my child become a professional musician? This is the question I get most often from conscientious dads/moms who want to make sure their child chooses a field that will enable them to have stable income and employment.
1. If you are looking for economic stability in your chosen field, music is probably one of the worst fields to choose.
No explanation necessary, this is the very reason why people ask this question.
2. When something you love becomes your profession you will have to do a number of tasks that do not relate to your passion.
A successful music career involves spending a large part of your day on non-musical tasks. For example:
curating social media content
updating your website
booking performances/ scheduling with musicians
researching venues, music blogs, music services,
promoting your performances
and the list goes on and on and on
Popular advice right now is to spend 50% of your work time on music and the other 50% on the business side of your career.
Question if you would be better served by keeping music as a hobby where you can focus on only the parts of it that you like.
3. Revenue streams are drying up:
How many CD’s have bought lately? How much music in general have you and your friends purchased lately? When I was growing up, every spare cent was allocated towards the newest cassette or CD purchase at Tower Records, Coconuts, or Sam Goody (none of which exist anymore – hint,hint)
4. It’s very difficult to become established as a solo artist:
The sheer amount of individuals and groups putting out original music now makes it very difficult to cut through all of the noise and to get heard in order to build an audience. A vast majority of people who attempt to make a career of their own music do not succeed. It’s hard to find accurate statistics, but surveys like the following suggest that over 90% of artists are “undiscovered.”

1. Perhaps your stability job isn’t that stable after all:
Every day there are new stories in the news about other fields that will be destabilized by technology – truck drivers, lawyers, cab drivers, food service workers, retailers, have already felt the changes. You may end up choosing a job for security only to realize there is no security to be found – now you have the worst of both worlds.
2. New revenue streams are being created:
Sites like Patreon, Indiegogo, Kickstarter, Pledgemusic, and more are allowing music to connect with fans directly for support.
You can make passive income for years with songs that are streaming on platforms like: spotify, tidal, apple music, and pandora.
3. If the idea of reading this and making a pragmatic decision about whether to go into music or not makes you furious and nothing can dissuade you.
Use that passion to fuel your career in music everyday and will your way to a successful career.
4. If you can’t do anything else: you think of, dream of, music all day every day and you believe that it’s what you’re put on earth to do.
There’s nothing stopping someone who will not be denied from having success in the music industry. If you show up hungry every day and do whatever it takes you will succeed. However, don’t expect that you will succeed immediately. You need to be able to give it at least a couple of years. If you don’t find the success that you are looking for in 6 months and are discouraged, perhaps you don’t have the passion that you thought you had for it.

Israeli music scene jolted by international boycott movement

September 11, 2018


JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s Meteor Festival was meant to bring together indie groups from around the world in what organizers billed as a Woodstock-like “cutting edge musical journey that surpasses borders and distorts time and space.”
Instead, some 20 acts, including headliner Lana Del Rey, withdrew at the last minute amid apparent pressure from a Palestinian-led international boycott campaign.
The cancellations turned the weekend festival, held in the bucolic setting of an Israeli kibbutz, into the latest battleground between Israel and the boycott movement that says it seeks to end Israeli rule over Palestinians.
Campaign organizers claimed success, saying it reflects growing opposition to Israeli government policies among international millennials.
“The fact that these artists are canceling is showing just how different the younger generation is viewing Israel,” said Diana Buttu, a Palestinian analyst who supports the movement known as BDS.
The campaign, founded in 2005, calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli businesses, cultural institutions and universities.
BDS says it seeks to end Israel’s occupation of lands captured in the 1967 Mideast war and what it describes as discrimination against Israel’s Arab minority. It calls for the “right of return” for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to homes their ancestors fled or were expelled from in the 1948 war over Israel’s creation.
The campaign compares itself to the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and its nonviolent message has resonated with audiences around the world.
Israel says the campaign masks a deeper aim of delegitimizing or even destroying the country.
“The fact that these artists are canceling is showing just how different the younger generation is viewing Israel.”
Although BDS says it’s pushed some companies and investment funds to curtail their activities in Israel, its economic impact appears to be modest. Israel’s high-tech economy is humming along, making it an attractive base for corporate giants like Google, Apple, Microsoft and others. World leaders visit regularly to promote business ties.
Culture and academia have been easier targets. Virtually any artist who plans to perform in Israel these days can expect to come under pressure on social media to cancel.
A growing list of performers, including Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman and singer Lorde, have canceled appearances in Israel in recent months out of concern over Israeli policies.
Del Rey joined that list on Aug. 31 when she announced that she was withdrawing from the Meteor Festival after an intense BDS lobbying campaign. In a statement on Twitter, the Grammy-nominated singer said she was “postponing” until she could perform for both Israeli and Palestinian audiences.
Other no-shows included “of Montreal,” a popular indie band that previously performed in Israel.
“Now is not the time for escapism and celebrations,” it said on Facebook. “Now is the time for activism and protests against Israeli apartheid, Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the human rights atrocities being carried out every day in Gaza by Israeli forces.”
It is difficult to quantify the impact of BDS pressure.
Del Rey did not explicitly endorse the boycott message, and Portman said outright that she does not support BDS. Del Rey and several artists who skipped the Meteor Festival did not respond to interview requests.
Meanwhile, numerous A-listers, including Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Justin Timberlake and Justin Bieber, have performed in Israel in recent years. Later this month some of the world’s top DJs are expected to converge on Tel Aviv for the DGTL festival. Last year, the Australian musician Nick Cave accused the boycott movement of trying to “bully” artists who played in Israel.
“Now is the time for activism and protests against Israeli apartheid, Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the human rights atrocities being carried out every day in Gaza by Israeli forces.”
Still, the movement’s inroads have raised alarm in Israel.
Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs spends millions of dollars fighting BDS and has banned some activists from entering the country. Israel and its supporters also run outreach programs on U.S. college campuses in the battle for hearts and minds.
This comes at a time when opinion polls indicate waning support for Israel among American millennials.
A survey by the Pew Research Center earlier this year found that 32 percent of Americans under the age of 30 sympathize more with Israel, compared with 23 percent who sympathized more with the Palestinians. The poll found that older Americans are much more sympathetic to Israel.
The numbers are not surprising.
Opinion polls indicate that American millennials tend to be more liberal than their parents on issues ranging from race to same-sex marriage to immigration. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s close ties with President Donald Trump, his alliance with conservative evangelical Christians and a nationalistic agenda that includes a Jewish nation state law widely seen as sidelining Arabs all risk alienating younger liberals.
In the case of the Meteor Festival, Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry said a “small minority” of musicians backed out, arguing that they had fallen prey “to the incitement and hate-filled agenda of the Israel boycott movement.”
Festival organizers argued that music should unite people and that BDS “insanely politicized our event.”
The Jerusalem Post newspaper, which opposes BDS, said Del Rey’s cancellation should be a wake-up call for those in Israel trying to play down the potential dangers posed by the campaign.
“Artists like Del Rey and Lorde, and DJs like Leon Vynehall and Python are followed by millions of impressionable fans who are totally ignorant of the complexities and nuances of the Middle East,” it wrote in an editorial. “The only thing they know is that their favorite artist is more sympathetic to Palestinians than to Israelis.”
In the end, thousands of people attended the Meteor Festival.
Many camped out under the stars, and fans enjoyed an eclectic mix of dozens of artists over three days. Media critics gave it warm reviews, barely mentioning the BDS issue.
“There was a good atmosphere and people enjoyed themselves. They were excited about the artists who were coming and didn’t notice that much who was missing,” said Nitzan Amitay, 25, a volunteer festival organizer.
Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement, said the campaign against Meteor had succeeded “beyond expectations,” estimating that roughly 40 percent of international artists pulled out. He said fans of such bands are a natural audience for his message.
“The common denominator is younger fans that are more progressive and liberal,” he said.
BDS now has its sights on a more high-profile target — the Eurovision Song Contest. Israel is expected to host the hugely popular event next year, and last week dozens of European artists, led by former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, signed a letter calling for the contest to be moved to another country.
“The common denominator is younger fans that are more progressive and liberal.”
“If Eurovision is hosted by Israel, and this is still quite uncertain, it would art-wash Israel’s regime of occupation and apartheid,” Barghouti said.


The Assembly Line

August 28, 2018

Today’s biggest pop stars are harvesting hits, and sometimes their entire personas, in songwriting camps.

Steve Knopper Vulture .com

At a studio in 2016, Dave Longstreth was working by himself on a chord progression, as he usually does when writing for his band, Dirty Projectors. “It’s normally a pretty solitary process,” he says now. But that time, Solange was there, as were Sampha, a British songwriter and producer; Blue, Solange’s engineer; and a bunch of other creative people, all part of what Longstreth calls “the camps,” to make Solange’s 2016 album, A Seat at the Table. “I’d have a melody from her, and would be just harmonizing on it, and she would come over and say, ‘Ooh, I really love this chord and that chord, but this one is too dissonant,’ ” he recalls. “To be just a spoke on the wheel was a novel experience, and to be thinking in a collective way was just really fresh for me.”

As long as there has been indie rock, songwriters have worked in their own band bubbles — it’s hard to imagine Michael Stipe taking a break from R.E.M.’s Document in 1987 to string together a few verses with George Michael while lounging in the south of France. But over the past decade, the genre’s biggest names, including Longstreth, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, Father John Misty, and Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, have substantively contributed to albums by Beyoncé, Rihanna, Kanye West, Lady Gaga, and others. Many of these connections happen by serendipity — Beyoncé’s “They don’t love you like I love you” hook in “Hold Up,” widely thought to be about her husband Jay-Z’s infidelity, was actually the result of Koenig tweeting a slightly misremembered line from Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ 2003 single “Maps,” then recording it with Diplo.


Songwriting camps have convened since the early ’90s, when Police manager and I.R.S. Records chief Miles Copeland invited heavy hitters such as Cher and Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook to his French château. For Rihanna’s 2009 album Rated R, Def Jam Records chief Antonio “L.A.” Reid hosted what John Seabrook, in his book The Song Machine, called “the mother of all song camps.” Camps have multiplied since then: In June, Alicia Keys held an all-female retreat, called She Is the Music, at Jungle City Studios overlooking the Manhattan skyline; publishing giant Warner/Chappell Music invited 45 writers to Las Vegas; and independent label and publishing company Concord Music Group held one with 87 songwriters in Nashville to create music for movies, ads, trailers, promos, and TV shows (and has made $3 million so far from songs written at these “synch” camps). At an ASCAP camp in France, three veteran country writers penned “Somethin’ Bad,” which turned into a Grammy-nominated duet for Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood; Dua Lipa’s 2018 hit “IDGAF” came out of a Warner/Chappell camp in Las Vegas. “If you’ve got a huge song coming out of the camp, it’s definitely paid for the camp and probably beyond that,” says Kara DioGuardi, who has written hits for Pink, Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears, and others and recently purchased a Nashville building to hold camps and other music-business events.

The camps, or at least the collaborative songwriting process, have fundamentally changed the way pop music sounds — Beyoncé’s Lemonade was a strikingly personal album, full of scorned-lover songs, but it was conceived by teams of writers (with the singer’s input and oversight). Key moments came from indie rockers, including Father John Misty, who fleshed out “Hold Up” after Beyoncé sent him the hook. Similarly, West’s Ye deals with mental illness and other intimate themes, but numerous writers, from Benny Blanco to Ty Dolla $ign, helped him turn those issues into songs. (Father John Misty, Parker, Vernon, Koenig, and other indie-rock stars refused interview requests.)

“Those artists still have a heavy hand in what songs they pick,” says Ingrid Andress, a Nashville singer-songwriter who is readying new solo material and regularly attends camps for pop stars. “But people forget that not just Beyoncé feels like Beyoncé. I guarantee all the people who wrote for Beyoncé’s record are coming from a place of also being cheated on, or angry, or wanting to find redemption in their culture.”


The camps aren’t for everyone. Madonna, who tends to collaborate with one or two producers at a time, recently complained on Instagram that she wanted to be “allowed to be a visionary and not have to go to song writing camps where No one can sit still for more than 15 minutes”; Oasis’s Noel Gallagher piled on Ed Sheeran and “the little fella from One Direction” for collaborating with numerous songwriters at a time. But Madonna and Gallagher are missing the central point of the camps — they’re not corporate factory farms where major labels crunch songwriting parts together and come out with chicken nuggets; they’re just another way to find that elusive spark, just as combos of jazzmen do onstage, or John Lennon and Paul McCartney once did when they stumbled onto the B7 chord in “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” DioGuardi compares them to the Brill Building, which housed songwriters like Carole King and Neil Diamond in the ’50s and ’60s. And Longstreth says, “When people look at things like that — ‘Oh my gosh, there’s 17 writers, what is music?’ — it’s a little bit misleading.”

“All the walls came down,” says Brett Williams, who manages Dirty Projectors and other indie acts. “Ten years ago, it wasn’t necessarily a trendy thing to do — have guys who wrote cool music also be writing songs for Britney Spears. Now it’s a selling point.”

When I walked into a room at the Lakehouse Recording Studios in Asbury Park, New Jersey, in late June, my eyes took a few seconds to adjust from the fluorescent hallway lighting. Through flickering candles, I made out Chelsea Jade, a New Zealand singer-songwriter, dressed in black, singing in a high, glassy pitch; Danny Mercer, a Colombian-American guitarist and singer, tapping out a Depeche Mode–style riff on a keyboard; and Randy Class, a Bronx producer, capturing everything on a laptop and looping it back. This was the BMI songwriters’ camp, which split up ten top writers into groups of three or more with the hope of regurgitating multiple daily songs. In this case, it was entirely songwriters and producers in their 20s and 30s; BMI put them up at a downtown hotel and arranged activities like a day of surfing. They worked hard (three writers struggled for half an hour over the line “This feels like a movie, right?”) and partied hard (my Friday-night interviews were full of background whooping).

At first, in their dark room, Jade, Mercer, and Class seemed disconnected, respectfully arguing about whether a man or woman should sing a line about crying, but they abruptly changed course and were now physically facing the same direction. Jade improvised: “I’m a psychopath.” Class quickly discerned a double meaning about a “psycho’s path.” Mercer fleshed out the melody with Spanish-guitar runs. I left before they finished, but it sounded like something Ellie Goulding could sing to airy dance rhythms.

The next room I went in had a different ambience. Four songwriters were jammed onto a couch, as producer Tim “One Love” Sommers cranked out synth chords near the doorway and caffeinated Joe Kirkland of the veteran songwriting duo Whiskey Water bounced around the room. I could see a half-finished bottle of tequila on top of one of the speakers. Singer-songwriters Olivia Noelle and Andress shouted the chorus: “I’m still fucked up from last night!” The other songwriters were all men, and they were waving their arms excitedly, adding to the momentum with lyrics and “whoa-ohs.” Kirkland came up with a chorus: “Who cares / Not me / We’ll make / It up / Eventually.”

Andress, 26, was the dominant figure in the room. She has an endearingly raspy voice (or did on that night), and her colleagues went silent when she spoke up. The Nashville singer had just been to Keys’s songwriting camp in New York, and I found out later from BMI executives that she had been the key “get” — the other writers agreed to attend the camp when they heard she would be there. Andress told me afterward she had a love-hate relationship with songwriting camps because she felt like she was sometimes writing for new artists who didn’t have a musical identity and relied on songwriters to establish it for them. “They’re artists! They don’t have time to experience real life!” she says. “I can’t even imagine having to be camera-ready all the time and then write a heartfelt song. I only write for artists who have a good idea of who they are. Otherwise, I can’t help them.”

Andress does, however, enjoy writing songs with friends, no matter who might eventually record them, and she was enthusiastically participating in the Friday-evening session. Amid cheers and chants in the room, she threw out this lyric: “I should say sorry, but Bacardi and me don’t ’pologize.”

The song sounded like something Kesha might have recited when she had the dollar sign in her name. At one point, Kirkland seemed to hint at who could sing it: “Bangerz! Bangerz! That’s the reason my dog is named Miley!”

Even before the songwriters took off on a Saturday afternoon, Samantha Cox, BMI’s vice-president of creative for New York, had been working her connections. She took a break from Asbury Park one day to hang out in New York with rising pop star Bebe Rexha, whom she knows, and her A&R man Jeff Levin. After she mentioned the camp, Levin told her: “I want to hear the songs.” Cox advises writers in camps to agree in advance to equally split song shares — a point Andress strongly agreed with — although once managers and attorneys get involved, negotiations often happen later. Writers may not get paid until the song begins to generate money through sales or licensing. “Is it going to cost me £1,000 to send the songwriter to the camp?” asks Kim Frankiewicz, Concord’s executive vice-president of worldwide creative. “We weigh it all up.”

This new lane of collaborative songwriting for pop stars comes at a crucial time for veteran indie stars — rock sales and streams have plunged from 29 percent of the overall record business in 2016 to just 21 percent last year, according to Nielsen Music. Meanwhile, Vampire Weekend hasn’t scored a gold record since 2014 and Father John Misty and Dirty Projectors have never sold more than 500,000 copies of an album. It can’t be bad financially for someone like Longstreth, whose music is idiosyncratic and full of off-kilter harmonies, to score a writing credit with Rihanna, McCartney, and West on 2015’s platinum-selling “FourFiveSeconds.” Longstreth and his manager, Williams, won’t say how much he made from that collaboration, which sprang from an impromptu gathering of writers and producers West held at a house in the Hollywood Hills, but it has streamed 475 million times on Spotify and another 393 million on YouTube.

“It can be lucrative, but it’s just a gamble,” Williams says. “Typically, our artists would take the lion’s share of a song — 80 percent or more. But Dave is in a room with Kanye, and Paul McCartney’s involved, and Rihanna, and all these other producers — you’re happy to get 10 percent.” If Longstreth’s cut truly had been 10 percent, the Spotify and YouTube streams of “FourFiveSeconds” would have made him around $25,000 or $35,000, depending on whom you ask in the music business. But, he says, “Economics has never been a super-driving measure of my choices, career-wise.”


Pop songwriting has been moving in a more collaborative direction for years, leading behind-the-scenes creators to scramble for credits — production duo Cool & Dre told Billboard that collaborating on an instrumental loop on the Carters’ Everything Is Love was “life-changing.” Drake’s “Nice for What” and Cardi B’s “Be Careful” list 16 and 17 writers, respectively. (Some are not new collaborators but authors of samples in the songs.) “Looking at the charts, nine times out of ten, pretty much everything is co-written,” BMI’s Cox says. “There’s at least three to four to five writers on every song that’s out there right now.”

Ben Dickey, manager of Future Islands, Washed Out, and other indie-rock stars, believes the trend begins with hip-hop, in which artists are more experimental and willing to take chances than those in any other genre. Whereas a songwriter in a rock band can be stuck in a routine, collaborating with the same people in the same configurations, West, Drake, and Beyoncé pick the best material from whoever inspires them at the time. “You come up with what can be a really interesting song that has way more diverse influences than what one singular singer-songwriter would come up with — then you have Kanye or Drake come in and rap over it,” Dickey says. If a songwriter swept up in their nets happens to be an established indie star, like Longstreth or Koenig, so be it.

Longstreth returned from his Solange and West camps inspired, telling reporters about the creative benefits of listening to music jointly with friends and collaborators. (With Solange, he got to work in New Orleans, Ghana, and elsewhere; Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, working on West’s 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, went to Hawaii. The high-end travel is no small perk for a songwriter.) To make Dirty Projectors’ recent album Lamp Lit Prose, Longstreth went back into solitary-songwriter mode, but he’d be enthusiastic about returning to a camp if he received an invitation. “There’s no real jamming as a songwriter, you know what I mean?” he says from his L.A. home. “This brought a feeling of spontaneity and improvisation to the process.”


The Chorus Girl

August 28, 2018

By Nate Jones 8/06/18

Taylor Swift has entered Chicago. Pedicabs swirl around Millennium Park blasting her hits as thousands of midwestern pop-music fans make their pilgrimage to Soldier Field, where they will be treated to glittery flights through the air, towering inflatable snakes, and an exploding mansion. But before they can see all that, they’re going to see Charli XCX. Well, some of them are. When Charli takes the stage at 7:10 p.m., the arena is about a third full. If this were one of her own shows, she would have pregamed, but not on the Swift tour. “It feels weird to get really wasted and go onstage in front of a load of 5-year-olds and their parents,” she says beforehand. “It’s a bit like hiring a drunk clown.”
Tonight, Charli does seven songs. Three of them are her big hits, though only one of them — her opener, 2014’s “Boom Clap” — is technically a Charli XCX song. Her second, 2012’s “I Love It,” she gave away to the Swedish duo Icona Pop, but that hardly matters when everyone in the stadium is pogoing all at once. Her big finish is Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy.” Charli mostly just dances along to audio of Iggy rapping, until the hook, when she and everyone else — including a young man in the audience dressed up as Heath Ledger’s Joker — belt along. After dutiful shoutouts to Swift and the other opener, Camila Cabello, Charli XCX leaves the stage.
On one level, Charli might seem like an offbeat choice for the Reputation tour. “I Love It,” “Boom Clap,” and “Fancy” charted in the Top 10, but she hasn’t had a song make the Hot 100 since 2015. If we use Instagram followers as a proxy, she’s about a tenth as famous as Cabello and 2 percent as much as Swift. Aspiring pop stars are warned never to let a song become bigger than themselves, but Charli seems to have made her peace with it. “A lot of people know the songs I’ve written but not necessarily who I am,” she says. “I am massively aware of that.”
Charli does not generally struggle with self-awareness. When I ask what she brings to the tour, her answer is “a little bit of I-don’t-give-a-fuck energy, I suppose.” Then, a beat later: “It’s a bit cringey when you say it yourself, though.”
On the bright side, the tour is great exposure for Charli. She’s learning things, too, like how to perform without making terrible faces that are blown up on the colossal video screen behind her. Plus, the workload is relatively modest; by the night of the Chicago concert, Charli has done only eight shows in three and a half weeks, flying home between dates. It’s essentially a summer internship in being an A-list pop star.
“I am living a double life right now,” Charli says. Or maybe it’s a triple life. There’s the performer Charli XCX you get on the tour. Then there’s what you could call her day job as a songwriter-for-hire, responsible for tracks like Selena Gomez’s “Same Old Love.” Together, these allow Charli the artistic and financial freedom for her other identity, the voice and creative force behind a wave of new tracks Pitchfork has called “an uninhibited, anti-algorithm vision of what pop music could be.”

At 26, Charli has spent nearly half her life performing. She started writing songs as a teenager, and after a discovery on MySpace led to gigs in East London’s warehouse scene, she signed with Asylum Records at age 18. (“XCX” comes from her first screen name.) One early song called “Gravity” stayed in the vaults forever thanks to an uncleared OMD sample; eighteen months ago Blondie came calling and wound up recording it, sans sample, for their 2017 album Pollinator. Listen to “Gravity” now and you can hear vestiges of Charli’s old sound – four chords, a vocal performance that’s at least 40 percent sneer. This was the sound that was going to make her a star, and did, for a time. On her first two albums, 2013’s True Romance and 2014’s Sucker, she married her indie-pop sensibilities to maximalist, synth-driven production — and “predicted the sound of modern radio more than [she’ll] ever get credit for,” says New York’s critic Craig Jenkins.
Charli’s new music is different. The hooks remain, but they’ve gotten blunter and more repetitive, sung by a multitude of voices (both Charli’s AutoTuned avatar and her cadre of international collaborators) that often blend into one. Some tracks, like June’s hazy trap single “5 in the Morning,” wouldn’t be out of place on a Rihanna album. Others get weirder: “Unlock It,” from her December mixtape Pop 2, feels like the soundtrack to a shopping spree in a futuristic anime, while another, called simply “Track 10,” sounds like the musical equivalent of scooting a malfunctioning pop-up window across your desktop as it multiplies into infinity.
Talking to Charli about her recent stuff, two names keep coming up: A. G. Cook, head of enigmatic pop collective PC Music (and also son of British neo-futurist architect Sir Peter Cook), and Sophie, the Scottish musician-slash-producer-slash-DJ. The pair’s non-Charli work is marked by a proudly synthetic approach to pop music, and they’ve been the pivotal collaborators on her evolution from Next Gwen Stefani to digital deconstructionist.
Charli calls her collaboration with the pair “a 360 thing.” When they make a song together, they’re thinking not just about the chorus and verses but also the music video, the album artwork, even the font on the label. (It helps that she has a mild synesthesia, and sees each of her songs as colors.) Sometimes the way Charli talks about Sophie and A.G. makes them sound almost more like life coaches than producers. “They’ve made me more confident in who I am as an artist,” she says, “in my ability to commit, make decisions, and be fearless.” (Confidence is a funny subject with Charli. She confesses to feeling insecure around people like Sophie, but she also worries that she feels herself too much. “Whenever anyone is like, ‘Who are you listening to?’ I’m like, ‘Myself.’ ”)
Charli’s work with Sophie and A.G. have earned her rave reviews, as well as a spot on the New York Times Magazine’s list of “25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music Is Going,” but so far the trio hasn’t produced any songs that young men in Joker makeup are likely to sing along to in football stadiums. Part of this is personal — Charli says she’s a lot happier now that she’s not chasing radio hits — and part is business. In recent years, hip-hop has taken pop’s space as the lingua franca of mainstream culture; it’s the source of our biggest characters, most popular dance crazes, and hottest memes. As a result, pop now is just a niche like any other. The Taylor Swifts of the world will be fine, but Charli, as well as artists like Carly Rae Jepsen and Tove Lo (both of whom appear on Pop 2), faces a conundrum: What is pop music without hits?
When I ask Charli about this, she shrugs. It’s possible that, looking back from decades in the future, our time will sound much more interesting, she says. And besides, “if you’re into being freaky and not worrying whether you fail or succeed, it doesn’t matter.” Streaming lets you “be whoever you want to be. Your success isn’t dependent on whether someone’s going to buy your CD at Target.”
As for the downsides of streaming — that all music is now in the hands of unaccountable tech companies — Charli deals with this the same way that many of us deal with the prospect of climate catastrophe: by trying not to think about it. But it’s hard to avoid entirely. Lately, pop-writers rooms have been preoccupied by the metric of “skip rate,” the time it takes someone on Spotify to click to the next song. “Everybody’s like, ‘Get to the chorus before 30 seconds; make sure the intro is two seconds long,’ ” Charli says. “Why the fuck are we thinking about that when we’re writing a fucking song?”
Charli prefers not to think about much when she’s writing a fucking song. She puts down lyrics in a rush of inspiration and loathes revisiting her work. She’s fond of a piece of advice she got secondhand from Max Martin, that “the sound of a word is part of the hookiness of a song.” Usually she gets in the vocal booth with a bunch of Autotune and starts scatting over a beat, then tries to turn the vowel sounds in the scratch melody into actual phrases. “I’m just trying to create cute imagery and write dumb stuff,” she says. “Either it’s good or it’s not.”
In her songwriting, Charli loves extremes, like “taking the most shiny, formula–educated pop producer and putting them with someone underground.” Her favorite vibe is what she calls “happy-sad,” where “the chords are major, but there’s something very sad about it.” She has mixed feelings about key changes, as well as the word gold, her placeholder lyric when she gets stuck. She hates long vocal runs, and jazz chords make her “skin crawl.” But other than that, she says,“ ‘No rules’ is the best way for me to write. The second I set boundaries, it gets a bit boring.”
Where she confesses to being a bit “snobby” is in the producers and songwriters she works with. “I hate going to work with somebody and they’re like, ‘Let’s sit down with a guitar and talk about feelings.’ I just freak out. You know how people are always like, Write what you know? That’s bullshit.” For Charli, a pop song is simply a vessel for listeners to channel their own experiences through. It’s not worth getting precious about.
Still, she has fun making her mass confections. She remembers how her old single “Break the Rules” came together at a writing camp, with the nine songwriters and producers wandering in and out of the studio, each contributing one tiny piece to the whole. Occasionally she and her collaborator and friend, the songwriter Noonie Bao, rent a castle in Sweden to put on their own camps. “Ten people in one room screaming and dancing and writing a song,” Noonie says of the scene.
“You don’t really know if it’s night or day.”
Charli says she’s happy with the life-mix she’s got going on now: a little songwriting, a little studio time, a little touring: “I like the hectic energy that surrounds doing ten things at one time.” It’s only when she’s doing too much of the ancillary stuff — photo shoots, music videos, interviews like this one — that she entertains the thought of chucking it all away and enjoying the stress-free life of a full-time songwriter. “There’s no responsibility,” she says. “You write this song, somebody else sings it, and if there’s any controversy around the song, they have to deal with it.”
It’s hard not to see this as a reference to “Girls,” the recent Rita Ora single Charli guested on alongside Bebe Rexha and Cardi B. With a chorus that proclaimed “Sometimes I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls / Red wine, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls,” the ostensible bisexual anthem struck some as a shallow depiction of same-sex attraction. As pop star Hayley Kiyoko put it, “I don’t need to drink wine to kiss girls; I’ve loved women my entire life.”
The mostly male team who wrote the song were able to duck out of the way of the backlash, as the burden of response fell to the four women on the mic. Ora and Cardi apologized and were more or less forced to come out as bi to defuse the controversy. (Rexha, who is from Staten Island, was less contrite, calling the song “true to who I am.”) Charli was in an awkward position: A lot of the artists slamming the song were people she respected, but she didn’t want to betray Ora either. In an interview with Rolling Stone, she spoke very carefully, apologizing to the LGBT community (without whom, she said, “my career would not really be anything,”) and at the same time defending Ora’s right to tell her own story.
By all accounts, Charli handled it well, but it’s still a tense subject.
Later, I ask Charli what she thinks explains the gap between how “Girls” was intended, and how it was received. She peers out from under her wig and looks me in the eye: “Are you just asking me why I think people didn’t like the song?”

The day after the Swift concert, Charli invited me to accompany her to a pop-up event happening during Pride Month that she headlined in Logan Square. The show is intended as an antidote to what its organizers say is Chicago’s overwhelmingly male gay scene, and the lineup includes the queer pop artist Dorian Electra, who’s dressed as a “femme bot”; Cae Monae, a visual artist and musician whose latest release is a “transsexual amateur sextape” called DICKGIRL; and drag queen Lucy Stoole, “Chicago’s black bearded lady,” who lip-syncs an early Charli song. In the VIP section, someone’s kindly left a pair of (unused) Hitachi vibrators on the table. There are multiple women wearing T-shirts that say dyke, and plenty of exposed nipples. (Later, Charli steals my notebook. Next to the bit about nipples she writes, “V great!”)
Here Charli’s in her element, rapping lyrics into one ecstatic young fan’s face and eventually inviting everyone into the VIP section. “I’d always have dreams about going to parties and hearing music really loud, being immersed in it and feeling that euphoric partying vibe,” she’d told me earlier. Tonight is that dream come true.
When it comes to writing songs, Charli doesn’t think anything about herself or her life actually matters. But when it comes to performance, she agrees that kind of thing absolutely does. The difference is a good illustration of what you could call star power, like how Selena Gomez brought all the weight of dating Justin Bieber to “Same Old Love,” or how Rihanna made “Work” a hit despite the song having only, Charli says in awe, “one fucking word.” This is not Charli XCX’s mode of pop stardom. “I don’t ever feel like I need to be the fucking front and center of shit, like ever,” she says a few weeks later. She mentions the Chicago rapper Cupcakke, who has a feature on Pop 2. “I knew Cupcakke’s verse was gonna be ten million times better than mine, but I was ready for that,” she says. “I wanted that.”
After the Pride event, Charli and her entourage head to a low-key bar, the kind that plays Predator on the TV. She’s in the silver-purple wig and full-body mesh dress she wore to perform, though no one seems to pay her any mind. I tap out around 4 a.m., but Charli stays on. She just released a song called “5 in the Morning,” and she’s got a reputation to uphold

How to Write a Great Rock Lyric

August 28, 2018

Lane Brown

For the past dozen years, Arctic Monkeys songwriter Alex Turner has reigned as one of pop’s best lyricists, from his band’s early records, on which he sardonically documented after-hours pub life in Sheffield, England, to its new one, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, a concept album about a resort on the moon. Backstage before a concert at Forest Hills Stadium last month, he explained how he does it.

  1. Write Early, or Late

“Lyrics usually come to me in the morning, in the first 15 minutes of the day, or when I’m out in the middle of the night,” says Turner. “I carry a notebook, and I’ll write a line down in a bar, then maybe the next day I’ll look at it and think, Ah, that’s interesting, I’ll put this in a song. But other times, it just says ‘John Lennon is a TV chef’ or something.”

  1. Location Matters

“I wrote most of the new album in my house in L.A. in a room where I don’t think anyone can hear me,” says Turner. “I’ve never written a song in the van on the way to someplace. I’ve never written much on the road, and anything I’ve written near a body of water has always been bad as well. Also, I couldn’t tell you how, but when I lived in New York, I think the grid system made me write differently. I had never written above the first floor, and then I wrote [2011’s] Suck It and See in a fifth-floor apartment, and that’s the odd one out among our albums.”

  1. Write the Music First

Since Turner’s songs are verbally dense, most assume he writes the lyrics before the music, but that’s not always the case, he says. “For me, it’s the sound of the music I write that leads the way and helps suggest the words. The melody is what makes you commit to saying shit. Some people think that writing words just to fit a melodic idea makes those words meaningless, but I think the opposite is true. There’s a line in Leon Russell’s ‘A Song for You,’ one of the greatest songs of all time: ‘If my words don’t come together / Just listen to the melody for my love’s in there hiding.’ That makes a lot of sense to me.”

  1. Stick With It, Even If It Takes a While

According to Turner, the hardest part of songwriting comes after the initial idea, “when the game becomes How do I get myself to see this through to completion?, you have to find ways to trick yourself into focusing and staying with it. I don’t really get the ‘I wrote the whole song on the back of a cigarette packet in 20 minutes’ sort of thing. Some of my early songs were written quickly, but not that quickly.”

  1. Play With a Band

“Hearing your lyrics in context helps you commit to them,” says Turner. “I remember when we were kids, I’d get into the rehearsal room [with Arctic Monkeys] and I’d be playing so loud that it gave me confidence to just let it all out. And then only later, I was like, What did I just say? When you’re forced into it by playing together with the band, it’ll lead you down the path.”

  1. Record Yourself

If you don’t have a band, try GarageBand. “One trick I used to finish the songs on this new album was starting the recording process at home,” Turner says. “I had a piano, drum kit, and a Vox Continental organ. I used an eight-track recorder, a Tascam 388, and I sat with all my instruments and recorded the songs into the machine. That way, I could hear everything at once, whereas in the past it was all in my imagination until I could play the songs with the band. So it wasn’t just an acoustic guitar and a vocal; there was a sound to it that helped keep me inspired and moving through ideas.”

  1. Get Carried Away

The sixth song from Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is “Four Out of Five,” which includes the line “Lunar surface on a Saturday night.” Explains Turner: “The lunar surface is what my friends nicknamed the room in my house in L.A. where I was doing all this writing and recording. I like the idea that records can sometimes feel like places the listener can go and get lost. And a lot of the chords and music in these songs felt lounge-y in a way that just seemed, to me, to fit on the moon. So then I was in outer space, and I just kept going.” The song’s chorus — “Four stars out of five,” which is sung from the perspective of the owner of a moon-based taqueria bragging about his restaurant’s reviews — “is a bit of a pun, with the stars,” says Turner. “I may have gotten a bit carried away there.”

  1. But Not Too Carried Away

“My songs tend to have a lot of words, but you have to be careful because you can pack too much into a song,” says Turner. “I had a song that didn’t make this record with lyrics that mentioned both Bing Crosby and Randy Newman. And I just thought, You can’t do that. You can have one or the other. Just fucking calm down! You don’t want to make a song too lumpy.”

  1. Write Placeholder Lyrics

“I sometimes use the ‘scrambled eggs’ method,” says Turner, referring to Paul McCartney’s original lyrics for “Yesterday” — “Scrambled eggs / Oh my baby how I love your legs” — i.e., improvised nonsense words that were swapped out later. On Tranquility Base, the first verse of “Four Out of Five” begins, “Advertise in imaginative ways / Start your free trial today / Come on in, the water’s lovely / Look, you could meet someone you like / During the meteor strike / It is that easy.” “Originally,” says Turner, “the words were ‘Karaoke and raspberry beret, in imaginative ways, and I get signed right then and there by a hotshot executive / I wasn’t expecting it that easy.’ ” Also, he’d intended to replace the first lyric on the album — “I just wanted to be one of the Strokes / Now look at the mess you made me make” — “but then I realized that it was the truth and that that line was probably right where it needs to be. And there was probably a bit of, like, ‘Oh, you daren’t leave that there.’ So I just left it.”

  1. Give Yourself a Deadline

“I would keep adding or changing words forever if somebody didn’t stop me, and that only seems to be getting worse as time goes on,” says Turner. “I trust our producer, James Ford, to tell me when I’m not making things better anymore. In the studio, I do like to work on lyrics right up until the last possible minute. And while I’m doing that, the band is always messing about, changing all my lyrics to make them into, like, Christmas tunes. I haven’t even recorded the songs yet and they’ve already changed the words to something funny.”

  1. Sometimes Let the Lyrics Write Themselves

At most shows on their current tour, Arctic Monkeys have been performing “Cornerstone,” a song from their 2009 album Humbug in which Turner’s narrator searches a series of pubs for his former lover but finds only look-alikes; three of the four verses end in disaster when he asks his ex’s doppelgängers, “Can I call you her name?” “That song has a neat and tidy story,” says Turner. “I was listening to a lot of country music when I wrote it, and it had that formula where the verses always end the same way. That happens a lot in Patsy Cline tunes. I started with the line ‘I smelt your scent on the seat belt.’ In reality, I was sitting in the back of a taxi and I got this scent in my nostrils of whomever I was longing for. I may have also had the names of the pubs in mind. Not to sound like a wanker, but with that song, I had an idea and it wrote itself. I’m not sure how I ended up with the girl’s sister in the last verse, though. When I was in school, I think I probably fancied my girlfriend’s sister or something.”

How The Foo Fighters Earned As Much As Drake This Year

July 23, 2018

Zack O’Malley Greenburg Forbes.com7/20/18

NEW YORK, NY – JULY 16: Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters performs in concert at Madison Square Garden on July 16, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)
Earlier this week at one of their two shows at Madison Square Garden, the Foo Fighters played several covers—The Ramones’ “Blitzkreig Bop” and a quirky mashup of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Van Halen’s “Jump,” to name a few—but by far the most unexpected was Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right.”
“We don’t really know that song,” frontman Dave Grohl admitted after playing a snippet of the 1980 hit. “But we’re in Billy Joel’s house, so we gotta give him a little somethin’ somethin’.”
They may have been in Joel’s home arena over the past week, but the Foo Fighters out-earned the Piano Man on this year’s Celebrity 100, pulling in $47 million to claim the No. 53 spot on the list of the world’s highest-paid entertainers (Joel ranked 64th with $43.5 million). Perhaps even more surprisingly, the Foos earned just as much as Drake, the most-streamed artist on the planet.
The alignment of the two acts’ paydays has nothing to do with similarities of genre or business strategy. Rather, it shows a pair of starkly different ways major musicians can make money in the music business today.
“We live in a world where artists don’t really make the money off the music like we did in the Golden Age,” as The Weeknd explained in last year’s Celebrity 100 cover story.
Drake, by most measures, is the most popular musician on the planet at the moment. He seems to set a new chart record every week and has clocked some 6 billion streams over the past year, more than ten times the Foo Fighters’ total. But he only played 10 shows during our June 2017-June 2018 scoring period, making the bulk of his bucks on music and endorsements.
The Foo Fighters took the opposite approach. Though the band’s new album, Concrete And Gold, did reach the top of the Billboard charts, the record failed to earn gold certification in the sales department. No matter: the Foos and their extensive catalogue have been hitting the road hard, playing 71 shows in our 12-month range, with an average gross north of $1 million per stop.
“We got too many songs,” Grohl declared during the show. “We gotta play as many songs as we can in this little bit of time.”
Realistically, Drake will probably earn more than the Foo Fighters in the coming year, boosted by new album Scorpion and a big tour with fellow hip-hop superstar act Migos. But if Coldplay is staking its claim as the pop-rock heir apparent to U2, Grohl and friends are putting themselves in the running to take on the Rolling Stones’ rock-and-roll mantle. In fact, the Foos out-earned the Stones ($39 million), though the latter played only 17 shows in our scoring period.
It remains to be seen whether or not Drake can become a hard-ticket stadium act on that level, but the Foos have already proven they can fill huge buildings by themselves—ballparks from Citi Field to Wrigley Field in the U.S. and countless stadiums abroad–as perhaps leading emissaries of their genre. And Grohl, strutting around in his black jeans and t-shirt, howling in a smoky voice that’s aging like a fine whiskey, knows it.
“Ladies and gentlemen, did you come here to rock and roll?” he asked the crowd at the Garden. “Guess what? I play rock and roll!”

Why You’re Hearing More Borrowed Lyrics and Melodies on Pop Radio

July 12, 2018

Anne-Marie’s “2002,” Portugal. The Man’s “Feel It Still” and more – inside the new wave of pop interpolation

Elias Leight 07/05/18

Anne-Marie’s “2002” is the biggest solo release of her career, a multi-week Top Five single in the U.K. built around a simple, effective gimmick: cribbing lyrics from songs that were hits between 1998 and 2003. “Oops, I got 99 problems singing bye, bye, bye,” Anne-Marie sings on the track, released in April. “Hold up, if you wanna go and take a ride with me/Better hit me, baby, one more time.” Anyone with memories of Top 40 radio from 15 years ago will recognize the references to Jay-Z’s “99 Problems,” ‘NSync’s “Bye Bye Bye,” Nelly’s “Ride Wit Me” and Britney Spears’ “… Baby One More Time.”

This sort of borrowing, in which an artist employs a snippet of an already-recorded song in the creation of something new, is known as an interpolation. (Think of how DJ Khaled’s “Wild Thoughts” swipes its melody from Santana’s “Maria Maria” or Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” riffs on Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise.”) “Blatant lyrical or melodic callbacks appear to be in vogue at the moment for pop acts, and not just in unabashedly nostalgic songs like “2002.”

The Anne-Marie track was co-written by Ed Sheeran, who is a master of interpolation: He also lifted TLC’s “No Scrubs” on his own “Shape of You” and borrowed from Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me” on “Strip That Down,” a hit he gave to Liam Payne. Other major recent examples of interpolation-based records that soared at pop radio include, but are not limited to, Portugal. The Man’s “Feel It Still” (source material: the Marvelettes), Machine Gun Kelly and Camila Cabello’s “Bad Things” (Fastball), the Chainsmokers’ “Closer” (the Fray), Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road” (Flo Rida) and Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” (Right Said Fred).

Of course, this isn’t a new practice. Pop songwriter Jamie Hartman calls interpolations “old as the hills.” The border between interpolation and theft can be highly contested, with the latter sometimes becoming the former thanks only to a grudging, after-the-fact acknowledgment. The Beach Boys were forced to add Chuck Berry as a writer on “Surfin’ U.S.A.” Led Zeppelin are infamous for stealing and repurposing the work of others and only crediting them when faced with lawsuits. George Harrison lost a suit alleging that “My Sweet Lord” was based very closely on the Chiffons “He’s So Fine.”

The former Beatle would later state that, “99 percent of the popular music that can be heard is reminiscent of something or other,” and recycling in this manner is partially inevitable. “You know the saying there’s nothing new under the sun,” Hartman says. “I think there are sometimes new things, but there’s only a certain amount of notes, a certain amount of chords.” And from a commercial perspective, “if it’s worked before, why wouldn’t it work again?”

Because interpolation is commonplace, pop’s appetite for it at any given moment is hard to quantify. “I hear a lot of interpolating on pop radio today,” says Joe Khajadourian from production duo the Futuristics, who have had major hits with three interpolation-based records (“Bad Things,” Natalia La Rose’s “Somebody” and Flo Rida’s “I Cry”). “But it’s always been there – I think sometimes it’s hidden, and sometimes it’s more in your face.”

Now appears to be one of those “in your face” moments. The crowd-sourced site WhoSampled likely contains the most comprehensive database of sample and interpolation information anywhere; curious listeners trying to determine what they think they heard – was that Nelly? – can search the site to find out for sure. In 2017, of the 50 most-visited entries on WhoSampled, five were pop or rock tracks based around prominent interpolations (six if you count J Balvin’s “Mi Gente,” which was played heavily on pop radio), according to data provided by WhoSampled Head of Content Chris Read.

Five isn’t many compared to the 40-plus rap or R&B tracks that appear in the site’s top 50 annually. But in four of the last 10 years, only one pop or rock track appeared in WhoSampled’s year-end top 50, and in two of those years, there wasn’t a single pop or rock entry. In the past decade of the site’s data, only 2008 and 2014 come close to 2017 in terms of having major pop records based around interpolations – with three apiece songs in those years that were popular on WhoSampled.

One of the reasons that interpolations in pop may be appearing more often in WhoSampled’s data is just because they’re being credited more, not because they’re actually more common. “As they say, get a hit, get a writ – if you get something that really works, you get a lawsuit,” Hartman says. Following a 2015 court ruling, upheld in March after an appeal, that forced Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams to pay Marvin Gaye’s estate millions for infringing on the copyright of Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” with their own hit “Blurred Lines,” there’s reason to believe that writers may be more nervous than before.

(The bitter irony: In a 1985 biography of Gaye, Divided Soul, author David Ritz wrote about Gaye facing a suit for allegedly stealing ideas from his own musicians. The singer’s retort: “He volunteered his chords. I didn’t steal them.” Ritz also had to sue Gaye’s estate to be credited as a writer on “Sexual Healing.”)

“For ‘Blurred Lines,’ [the writers] didn’t credit the inspiration, and thus we had a grey area and the lawsuit,” says Ezekiel Lewis, executive VP of A&R for Epic Records. “Maybe as a result of that being a big case, you’re seeing more of a trend of people giving credit to others.” Vaughn makes a similar point: “Post-‘Blurred Lines,’ people are being overly cautious about clearing samples and interpolations even down to drum sounds.”

Still, not all melodies are credited – Hartman points out that parts of Sheeran’s “Shape of You” suggest the Beatles; Lennon and McCartney are not credited on the track. In June, Sheeran was sued for $100 million by a group alleging that the singer-songwriter’s “Thinking Out Loud” relies on a chord progression that’s “functionally equivalent” to the one in Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”

And though a hostile legal environment might lead to fewer high-profile interpolations, the evidence seems to point in the opposite direction. The examples of rap and R&B, now the most-consumed genres of music, may help explain why pop writers and producers are willing to ignore their possible legal jeopardy. “The fact that hip-hop and R&B records rely on sampling has influenced how Top 40 artists make their records,” says Lewis. Jeff Vaughn, VP of A&R at Artist Partners Group, agrees. “With hip-hop becoming the dominant musical form, pop music is reflecting that,” he says. It’s hard to imagine Swift using a blatant interpolation or teaming up with the rapper Future in 2010, when turbo-pop was commercially ascendant. She did both in 2017, now that rap rules consumption metrics.

Pop artists aren’t just trying to catch up to rap and R&B; they’re also looking for ways to stand out in an environment where listeners have more choice than ever before, even within genres. “With a very competitive market and incredible amounts of content, so many songs being released every week, the scramble for things like New Music Friday [Spotify’s biggest playlist] – to find a point of difference, people are relying on tried and trusted,” Hartman says.

When writers rely on component parts of an old hit, though, that doesn’t automatically create a new smash. “If it’s familiar, that’s nice, but there’s probably also a higher burn rate – if it’s too familiar, then people don’t want to listen to it as often or as long; there are less Easter eggs in the song to create high replay value,” Vaughn says. “Some interpolations are treated more like remixes – that was cool, but on to the next.”

And while the artist and the label stand to benefit from a hit record that rockets up the charts thanks to a savvy interpolation, the songwriters’ income suffers. “Labels get paid well for streams; artists get paid for streams; the writer doesn’t get shit,” Hartman says. Interpolating means that songwriters have to split an already-reduced pie into smaller pieces, because the creators of the original record also get a cut. As a result, he tries to avoid writing over sampled tracks.

But others are less cautious. “You should never be worried about [using an interpolation],” the Futuristics’ Alex Schwartz insists. “It’s better to have a little bit of a hit record then no record.” “If an interpolation is going to make the record special,” Khajadourian says, “it has to stay in.”

At the moment, more writers seem to share Khajadourian’s opinion than Hartman’s, so pop’s current interpolation fad will likely continue. “It’s just the changing nature of creativity – less people are playing instruments, they’re more accustomed to hearing sample flips,” Vaughn says. “It’s something we’ll be seeing more and more of,” Hartman concedes. “People are scouring for old melodies and ways of flipping them – ’cause it works.”

Nielsen Music’s Mid-Year 2018 Charts: U.S. Vinyl Album Sales Grow 19%, Led by Jack White

July 12, 2018

by Keith Caulfield 07/06/18

In the first half of 2018, vinyl album sales grew 19.2 percent in the U.S., according to Nielsen Music — as compared to the first six months of 2017.
In total, for the tracking period of Dec. 29, 2017 through June 28, 2018, there were 7.6 million vinyl albums sold; up from 6.4 million in the comparable frame a year ago (Dec. 30, 2016 through June 29, 2017).
Notably, the vinyl format’s 7.6 million albums sold in 2018, so far, represent 11.2 percent of all albums sold (68 million) and 18.7 percent of all physical albums sold (CD, vinyl, cassette, etc.; 40.6 million).
In the full year of 2017, vinyl album sales hit another Nielsen Music-era record high, as the format sold 14.32 million copies (up 9 percent compared to 2016’s then-record haul of 13.1 million). 2017 marked the 12th straight year of growth for vinyl album sales. (Nielsen Music began tracking sales in 1991.)
Vinyl sales in 2018 have also been aided by the usual surge of sales generated by the annual Record Store Day festivities. The 11th annual indie music store holiday, staged on April 21, helped yield a whopping 733,000 vinyl albums sold in the week ending April 26 — a record for Record Store Day week, and the third-largest weekly sum for vinyl albums since Nielsen Music began tracking sales in 1991.

2018’s Mid-Year Top 10 Selling Vinyl Albums
1. Jack White, Boarding House Reach (37,000)
2. Kendrick Lamar, DAMN. (30,000)
3. Soundtrack, Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1 (28,000)
4. Michael Jackson, Thriller (28,000)
5. Fleetwood Mac, Rumours (28,000)
6. Panic! at the Disco, Pray for the Wicked (26,000)
7. Justin Timberlake, Man of the Woods (26,000)
8. Prince and the Revolution, Purple Rain (Soundtrack) (25,000)
9. Amy Winehouse, Back to Black (25,000)
10. The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (23,000)

Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period of Dec. 29, 2017 – June 28, 2018.

Hip-Hop + R&B Account for 1 Out of Every 3 Music Streams In America

July 12, 2018

Paul Resnikoff/

Rap, hip-hop, and R&B account for more than one-third of all music streaming this year, according to Nielsen Music. But rock n’ roll isn’t nearly as dead as you think.
If you’re wondering why Spotify so quickly retired its ‘Hate Conduct Policy,’ here’s your answer. That’s right, the data on rap is overwhelmingly strong, which means Spotify’s moral crusade would have been a costly one.
According to data shared with Digital Music News by Nielsen Music this morning, more than one-third of all music streaming comes from the uber-genre of rap, hip-hop, and r&b. More specifically, 36.4% of all on-demand music streams counted by Nielsen came from the ‘Hip-Hop/R&B’ genre, which also encompasses Rap as a sub-genre.
Even more astounding: 37.5% of all audio-only on-demand streams come from the genre, particularly on Spotify and Apple Music.
But even YouTube’s music streams are dominating by hip-hop n’ r&b. According to the Nielsen dataset, 34.2% of all on-demand video streams come from the genre.
Amazingly, R&B/Hip-Hop accounts for 12.2% of physical albums, and 31.2% of all music sales in the US.

Here’s a quick genre breakdown for the first half of 2018 — for all formats.
As you can see, good ol’ rock n’ roll is still holding its own. Pop and Latin are also trending well across on-demand streaming platforms, though EDM is decidedly fringe.
For the classical and jazz aficionados, it looks like more people listen to Migos than Mozart or Miles Davis. But the finer genres are still on the charts, and may always remain solid niches.



We don’t have a similar dataset for internet radio, technically referred to as ‘non-interactive digital streaming’ (sexy name).
But Nielsen did note that non-interactive platforms like Pandora were dominated by artists like Drake, Post Malone, Cardi B, and Khalid. In fact, the two most-played songs during the first half of 2018 were Drake’s ‘God’s Plan’ and Post Malone’s ‘Psycho,’ with Bazzi’s ‘Mine’ coming in 3rd.
Of course, one can correctly quibble that Bazzi is categorized as Pop. But a quick listen to the beat of ‘Mine’ blurs that definition a bit in the direction of hip-hop. Woe is she who attempts to silo genres.

Of course, one can correctly quibble that Bazzi is categorized as Pop.  But a quick listen to the beat of ‘Mine’ blurs that definition a bit in the direction of hip-hop.  Woe is she who attempts to silo genres.

Swing over the top 10 songs list happening across on-demand streams, and the story shifts a bit.

Taking a step back, overall on-demand streaming boomed 43.6% during the first half of 2018.
That is, to a very powerful 403.4 billion streams. Of that, audio-only streaming on platforms like Apple Music and Spotify boomed 45.4% to 268.2 billion streams. Video on-demand streams jumped 34.7% of 135.2 billion streams, which is roughly half of audio-only plays.
That last statistic will be a very interesting one to watch, especially as the music industry kvetches over YouTube’s outsized influence on streaming valuation. Perhaps a greater shift towards audio-only on-demand streaming will shift the negotiating table a bit, though Google’s recent victory over Article 13 means that YouTube’s user-generated loophole will continue indefinitely.
It should also be noted that these YouTube figures may be seriously underrepresented. Separate data shows an eclipsing YouTube total, with the video hub often regarded as the biggest music listening platform in the world.
Outside of vinyl, pretty much every other ‘traditional format’ is plunging.
That includes paid song downloads, which tanked 27.4% to 223.1 million units. That suggests a serious plunge towards zero, with platforms like Apple’s iTunes becoming irrelevant next to streaming.
Digital album downloads were in the same leaky boat, with a 21.7% drop to 27.5 million.
On the physical side, vinyl LPs bumped another 19.2% in the US, according to the stats. In total, Nielsen counted 7.6 million LPs sold during the first half, with Record Store Day undoubtedly playing a critical role in that bump. Also getting kudos is Jack White, who has now emerged as vinyl’s most charismatic spokesman.
Appropriately, White’s Boarding House Reach topped the US-based LP chart for the first half, with 37,000 units.
Actually, the whole ‘rock is dead’ mantra took another twist in 2018. Expectedly, the format totally over-performed in categories like physical albums and paid album downloads.