Spinrilla, DatPiff, My Mixtapez Apps Offer Illegal Access To Music, And Record Labels Won’t Touch Them

October 6, 2015

By Max Willens ibtimes.com 10/03/15

If you found yourself worried about missing out on the Drake-Future mixtape “What a Time to Be Alive,” which dropped exclusively on Apple Music two weeks ago, you were not alone. And if you happened to be one of those people who illegally downloaded it using a mixtape app, you weren’t alone, either. According to a source at Universal Music Group who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter, “What a Time to Be Alive” was illegally downloaded more than a million times in less than a week via Spinrilla and My Mixtapez — two sites that are part of a subset of popular mixtape sites and apps that provide users with access to huge archives of amateur, occasionally illegal music for free.

Unlike on-demand streaming services like Spotify, which offer users access to millions of songs and albums, or radio-style services like Pandora, mixtape sites offer on-demand access to hip-hop mixtapes, compilations of unofficial or leaked material often built out of other artists’ hit songs.

These sites and apps, many of which have been around for a decade, are an entrenched part of music consumption. According to data from App Annie, six of the 25 most popular music apps on iOS last month were mixtape apps, and some of the top sites, like DatPiff, have generated more than $1 million in annual advertising revenue. But they are also an intrinsic part of hip-hop’s musical culture dating back decades, and they occupy a complicated place in record labels’ worlds. Those labels and publishers — which have found a way to monetize most of the music we can find online in one way or another — don’t see a cent.

They also don’t want to talk about them, because a number of top hip-hop recording artists, including the aforementioned Drake and Future, regularly and routinely put their songs on these sites with their labels’ blessing. The major labels, however, all declined to comment on the relationship they have with these sites.

“It was one of those necessary evils,” said Shawn Prez, the head of Power Moves Inc. and the former vice president of promotions at Bad Boy Records. “Mixtapes were incredibly important to breaking artists.”

The mixtape played a vital role in hip-hop’s cultural and economic history. In the late 1970s, when the art forms of rapping and DJing were growing up in parks and recreation centers in New York, people would trade recordings of DJ sets and people rhyming. In the 1980s, when club promoters were afraid of booking hip-hop acts or DJs, those same DJs would produce tapes in home studios and either give them away or sell them.

Later, DJs looking for new ways to stand out from the pack would cozy up to artist managers, producers and artists looking to get their hands on unreleased material that they could offer exclusively. DJ Clue, the first mixtape DJ to sign a major-label recording contract, would frequently hang around outside recording studios waiting for individual songs to be finished so he could release them before anyone else.

The tapes became so popular that they circled the globe. Copies of some of the most popular tapes, like Doo Wop’s “ ’95 Live,” made their way halfway around the world, showing up in collector hands in Japan and England and Brazil.

And as mixtape culture grew, the market for commercially released hip hop grew along with it. Label owners took notice. “The music industry embraced the mixtape DJ,” Prez said. “Those guys were essentially on the front lines of breaking our music.”

Legal Gray Area

The fact that every DJ was technically breaking the law was beside the point.

Irrespective of whether they sold their tapes or gave them away, mixtape DJs were all doing something illegal by distributing copyrighted material that they had not secured a license to distribute. “Whether you give it away or sell it, it’s still a copyright violation,” said Robert Meloni, a partner at Meloni & McCaffrey, who represents a number of prominent artists, including Drake and Lana Del Rey.

Beyond the legal red tape associated with giving away songs that were somebody else’s property, plenty of hip-hop music, especially songs made in the genre’s earlier years, relies heavily on samples of pre-existing hits, which also needed to be cleared with rights holders legally. Those hip-hop tracks, all made by younger artists and producers who lacked the business know-how, resources or inclination to clear those samples, rarely did. “In most case, people don’t get permission,” Meloni said.

But because mixtapes were unquestionably helping labels shift units, executives didn’t seem to mind. They began allocating resources to ensure their artists were well represented in that black market. “There was always a budget for mixtape promotion,” said Sommer Regan McCoy, founder of the Mixtape Museum and former manager of the Clipse. “Always.”

Before long, the label support for mixtape culture became even more institutional. Atlantic Records, home to artists like Curren$y, Wiz Khalifa and a number of other artists who put out mixtapes regularly, was one of the first sponsors of the Justo Mixtape Awards, the first awards show to recognize and celebrate the country’s most popular mixtapes, artists and producers.

Digital World

Inevitably, the world of mixtapes moved online. In 2004, the Boston DJ Clinton Sparks launched MixUnit, a site that became a kind of marketplace for mixtapes from all over the country. A year later, a site called DatPiff launched, and both businesses flourished. Five years after it went live, DatPiff’s parent company, Idle Media, filed for an initial public offering.

But as piracy squeezed the music business, some labels began to change their tune. DatPiff was named in a number of lawsuits filed by artists for facilitating the distribution of songs that violated their copyrights, and in 2007, the Recording Industry Association of America went went to war with the mixtape industry, arresting popular mixtape DJs and producers Don Cannon and DJ Drama and jailing record store employees at shops that carried the tapes. While the RIAA is not currently in the middle of a full-scale offensive against these sites, their stance on them remains unchanged.

“Many mixtape sites and apps like these appear to operate under the misconception that they can distribute any content they choose to characterize as a mixtape and the burden is on the copyright owner to complain about each work. That is wrong,” Brad Buckles, the RIAA’s executive vice president of anti-piracy, wrote in an email. “These sites frequently engage in massive infringement of copyrighted works. They are unlicensed music services plain and simple and cannot hide behind the DMCA” — the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Partners In Crime

Yet despite the widespread infringement and the lawsuits, the sites continued to operate, and artists, who saw the sites and apps as a proven place to grow their fan bases, continued to feed them. “Artists do what they want to do,” McCoy said. “They’ll leak to tapes. They’re notorious for it.”

Thanks partly to the arrests and the suits, and partly to changing tastes, the mixtape and hip-hop evolved too. Producers moved away from blatant use of recognizable samples; mixtape DJs became more cautious in the material they used; and artists, following the example of stars including 50 Cent and Lil Wayne, started putting out album-length releases of original material and labeling them mixtapes. “Once upon a time, the mixtape was a playlist, a collage of old music, new music, all kinds of artists,” Prez said. “Nowadays, 90 percent of the mixtapes done are like artists dropping their own albums.”

Prez argues a large amount of the content that’s filling sites like DatPiff and Spinrilla isn’t owned by any of the labels that might once have rightfully felt infringed. But every once in a while, a release like Drake and Future’s will pop up on one. And even if it doesn’t, tracks featuring the beats or vocals from those hits will appear, often within days of the official release.
Yet despite the collaboration and interdependence, the prospect of an economic partnership feels stalled. Neither the three major labels nor Merlin, the digital rights agency that negotiates on behalf of independent labels, has any licenses in place with mixtape sites. According to a person with knowledge of the negotiations, Universal Music Group has tried to compel a number of the sites to sign a blanket licensing deal, though those talks were unsuccessful.

Similarly, the prospects of killing these sites in court are dim. “You cut off that one head, and 10 more pop up,” Prez said.

Why Beyoncé Has Stopped Doing Interviews

October 6, 2015

The woman with all the answers simply does not answer to anyone.
By Jia Tolentino theFader.com Sept/oct

Beyoncé has achieved the American Dream. Not just the money part, although she’s reportedly worth $450 million. Not just accruing property, although her newborn daughter is said to have a nursery suite in Barclays Center that costs $1 million per year. Not even just the dream about the perfect family, though her “Drunk in Love” duet with Jay Z at the 2014 Grammys revived the institution of marriage in a way unmatched until SCOTUS cast a rainbow over history this year. No: on top of all this, there’s one American Dream that Beyoncé claims almost uniquely, a type of power that eludes even (and especially) the very powerful, summed up best by a sentence in a New York Times article from May 2015: “Beyoncé, a representative explained, has not answered any direct questions for more than a year.”

Her representative meant questions from journalists, presumably. (The Times article was about her vegan meal delivery service; Beyoncé supposedly “dodged” phone calls for a month before finally opening her email correspondence with: “It’s important you know I’m not a vegan.”) For a pop star—and a female one—to not only make herself unavailable to the New York Times but also to insist, as she did when Amy Wallace profiled her for GQ in 2013, that she be the one to record her interviews with journalists, it’s a remarkable refusal. While the President of the United States is going on podcasts and doing Twitter Q&As, Beyoncé has simply stopped answering questions altogether. She’s a woman from whom everyone wants everything, yet she does not have to answer to anyone at all.

This is also, of course, the basic definition of a queen. And the name Queen Bey feels barely hyperbolic for Beyoncé, who is outsized and legendary not by lineage but by her own will and design. She commands her Beyhive, the most rabid fan base in existence; she inspires Illuminati jokes that don’t feel entirely like jokes; she signifies such broad sexual power that bell hooks called her both “slave” and “terrorist.” While black women in America are still politically erased and economically devalued to a degree that makes every exception notable, Beyoncé—rich, powerful, seemingly invulnerable, and nearly universally celebrated, desired, and admired—seems both to forecast a better future and to bring it closer within reach.

Through a decade where the nature of pop celebrity has shifted wildly, Beyoncé has won her position by exerting an unprecedented level of control. She dictates the means of production: there was the legendary surprise album drop, its production surely requiring a forest of NDAs. She manages her image compulsively, Instagramming constantly but only ever tweeting eight times. She will refuse to do interviews even for her own cover stories, as she did with T magazine in 2014. She was on this year’s coveted September cover of Vogue, but gave no quotes; instead, the accompanying story was populated by praise from collaborators and friends. She swerves her narratives: though people still whisper that she faked her pregnant belly with Blue, she shut down rumors of a second pregnancy with a single uncaptioned photo posted to her Tumblr in which she sat on Jay Z’s lap and drank a bowl-size glass of red wine. And, by releasing an extended promo reel and calling it an “HBO documentary” (2013’s Life Is But a Dream), she made it clear that her story is not a conversation but a monologue. Willing to present herself but never explain, Beyoncé is an object lesson in the specific, underused power of sheer withholding; she’s also a reminder of how long and perfectly you have to grind to even get to a place where you can give this tactic a try.

Beyoncé, after all, has spent three times as much time in the music business as the eight years that God gave her to get ready. (And when those eight years were up, they were up: her dad used to make her run a morning mile while singing to build up her endurance.) At 33, she’s a better vocalist and dancer than anyone else working, with her phenomenal natural talent continually honed by the fact that she’s such a professional—and/or perfectionist—that she watches concert footage after every show, like an athlete reviewing tape. She said, in her GQ profile, that she critiques herself, her outfits, her hair, her dancers, and her cameramen in her hotel room and that, in the morning after the show, everyone gets their notes.

The control Beyoncé exerts on her image and narrative is self-perpetuating. She has arranged her looks, angles, abilities, and performances so that the biggest possible crack will still be infinitesimal; she has fixed media expectations so that everyone knows that Queen Bey is going to detachedly get her way. The effect, in practice, is flawlessness, which further enlarges her legend: as she becomes even more legendary, she gains ever-increasing power to further her own control.

This feedback loop can be somewhat terrifying. As the American political machine gears up for its next presidential election, Beyoncé’s self-produced, self-directed documentary seems to foreshadow a world in which we get a pre-packaged narrative or nothing at all. But Beyoncé, like any contemporary politician, is careful; she’s pinned her name to fundamental ideals. Who can argue with sex, money, hard work, family, and hip-hop? Who can argue with feminism when it’s Beyoncé proclaiming it? After the 2014 VMAs performance that felt like the crown jewel in her PR strategy—her royal body silhouetted against the word “FEMINIST” written sky-high—she seemed far above the “is she or isn’t she” identity-politics games that play out on the internet. The image was indelible, and Beyoncé didn’t have to explain exactly what she meant.

It’s by sticking to images, ultimately, that Beyoncé’s iron-fistedness will help her last. On her Instagram account, she wordlessly conveys the personality that came out in early interviews, the shy girl with an electric undercurrent of ego. Sometimes she’ll post a photo that looks doctored, like her thigh gap was carved out in Photoshop. But who would be surprised by that? It’s part of Beyoncé’s genius that, to some extent, she’s open about the fact that her perfection is won with considerable effort. “Pretty Hurts” and “Flawless” managed a trick that, today, perhaps only Taylor Swift can replicate: using vulnerability to signal solidarity with her audience while simultaneously asserting her supremacy over all. The strategy has a good amount of duplicity baked in—pretty hurts, maybe, but it sure seems to be working for her. Still, as Swift and Beyoncé both prove, we’re happy to settle for heavily crafted intimacy; replicating their strategies on our own Instagrams and iPhones, we’re increasingly unable to distinguish that intimacy from any other kind.

The incident in which Beyoncé’s supreme image control revealed itself to be essentially beyond public comprehension was the elevator fight—that grainy footage, appearing to show her famous sister lashing out at her famous husband as Beyoncé stood silently in the corner. Whether she was in shock or performing, there was no crack in her demeanor, even when the family exited the elevator: Beyoncé’s smile was set, as it frequently is in public, to an almost chemical calm. Anyone clamoring for a different response from Beyoncé after the incident—something real, but in an ugly way for once—would get nothing; eventually, her family issued a terse and informationless three-sentence statement. Then, a few months later, Beyoncé mentioned the incident on the Nicki Minaj remix of “Flawless.” Of course sometimes shit go down when there’s a billion dollars on an elevator. Rumors about the incident were still floating—infidelity, divorce—but rumors are always floating about Beyoncé, and her non-explanations always override them. Today, no one talks about the elevator anymore. Among all the ways Beyoncé’s control works for her, this is the realest: when you don’t answer direct questions, you can’t lie. You never have to.

Blank Space: What Kind of Genius Is Max Martin?

October 1, 2015

By John Seabrook http://www.newyorker.com 9/30/15

Among the stranger aspects of recent pop music history is how so many of the biggest hits of the past twenty years—by the Backstreet Boys, ’NSync, and Britney Spears to Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and the Weeknd—have been co-written by a forty-four-year-old Swede. His real name is Karl Martin Sandberg, but you would know him as Max Martin, if you know of him at all, which, if he can help it, you won’t. He is music’s magic melody man, the master hooksmith behind no fewer than twenty-one No. 1 Billboard hits—five fewer than John Lennon, and eleven sternward of Paul McCartney, on the all-time list. But, while Lennon and McCartney are universally acknowledged as geniuses, few outside the music business have heard of Max Martin.

Presumably this is because Martin writes all of his songs for other people to sing. The fame that Lennon and McCartney achieved by performing their work will never be his, which no doubt is fine with Martin. (He still gets the publishing.) He is the Cyrano de Bergerac of today’s pop landscape, the poet hiding under the balcony of popular song, whispering the tunes that have become career-making records, such as “… Baby One More Time,” for Britney Spears, “Since U Been Gone,” for Kelly Clarkson, and “I Kissed a Girl,” for Katy Perry. The songs he co-wrote or co-produced for Taylor Swift, which include her past eight hits (three from “Red” and five from “1989”), transformed her from a popular singer-songwriter into a stadium-filling global pop star. (The “1989” tour recently passed the hundred-and-fifty-million-dollar mark.)

Martin has thrived in the ghostwriter’s milieu, where the trick is to remain as anonymous as possible, because the public likes to believe that pop artists write their own songs. That the Swede happens to bring to the table an exceptionally large dollop of Jantelagen, the Scandinavian disdain for individual celebrity, makes him especially well-suited to his vocation.

Still, even for a Nordic, it is a powerful act of self-denial to forego the pleasure (and, yes, the fame and attendant adulation) of recording your own songs, and give all your beautiful tunes to other people, who become famous instead. This path is especially difficult when you possess a beautiful singing voice of your own, which Martin does. As one of his early collaborators, the Swedish artist E-Type, says in “The Cheiron Saga,” a 2008 Radio Sweden documentary about Martin and his former colleagues at Cheiron Studios, in Stockholm, “With his own demos, Max Martin singing himself, those would have sold ten million or more, but he wasn’t an artist; he didn’t want to be an artist.”

And yet Martin is known to insist that the artists he works with sing his songs exactly the way he sings them on the demos. In a sense, Spears, Perry, and Swift are all singing covers of Max Martin recordings. They are also among the few people in the world who have actually heard the originals. Countless self-proclaimed performers on YouTube sing Max Martin songs, but there is not a single publicly available video or audio recording of Martin performing his own stuff. (In the course of researching my book “The Song Machine,” I got to hear an actual Max Martin demo, for “… Baby One More Time,” when a record man who had it on his phone played it for me. The Swede sounded exactly like Spears.) Martin’s demos are the missing originals of our musical age—the blank space at the center of the past two decades of pop music.

Sandberg was born in Stenhamra, a suburb of Stockholm, in 1971. His father was a policeman. He later recalled the handful of recordings his parents had in their collection: Elton John’s “Captain Fantastic,” the best of Queen and Creedence Clearwater Revival, “the Beatles one where they look down from the balcony,” Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” and Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.” Put them all altogether and you’ve got Max Martin.

Sandberg’s older brother was a glam-rock fan, and “he brought home old Kiss cassettes,” Sandberg recalled, in a 2001 interview in Time magazine, which was the first and last time he took part in an English-language profile. Listening to those tapes made young Karl Martin Sandberg want to be a rock star. “I was a hard rocker at that time, and listened to nothing but Kiss,” he told the Swedish documentarian Fredrik Eliasson, in a follow-up to “The Cheiron Saga” that ran on Radio Sweden earlier this year. “I mean, nothing but Kiss. It was like we belonged to a cult: if you listened to anything else, then in principle you were being unfaithful.”

Sandberg learned music through Sweden’s excellent state-sponsored music-education programs, receiving free private lessons in the French horn. (Thirty per cent of Swedish schoolchildren go to publicly funded after-school music programs.) “I first began with the recorder in our community music school,” he remembered in a Radio Sweden interview. “After that I played horn, and participated in the school orchestra. I remember that I started playing brass not so much because I had a calling but because I thought it looked cool.” Eventually, he moved on to drums, then keyboard. He has credited Sweden’s musical-education system with his success, telling Eliasson, “I would not be standing in this place today if it weren’t for the public music school.”

In the mid-eighties, Sandberg became the front man and main songwriter of a glam-metal band called It’s Alive, adopting the stage name Martin White. In the video for the group’s song “Pretend I’m God,” White plays Jesus and enacts a pseudo-crucifixion, doing his best Ozzy Osbourne imitation. While the song must be considered a work of juvenilia, it does at least explain why eighties metal seems to lurk beneath the surface of so many of today’s pop hits.

But Sandberg had a terrible secret, one that he couldn’t share with the rest of the band. He loved pop music. At home, he listened to Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough” and the Bangles’s “Eternal Flame,” which he later told Time was an all-time favorite. “I couldn’t admit to my friends that I liked it,” he said.

In 1994, he met his mentor, a Swedish d.j. who called himself Denniz PoP and co-founded Cheiron Studios. (His real name was Dag Krister Volle; friends called him Dagge.) Denniz realized that Sandberg’s talents lay in songwriting, not performing, and showed him how to use the studio. Denniz was coming off the major hits he had produced for Ace of Base, “All That She Wants” and “The Sign”; one of Sandberg’s first production credits was on “Beautiful Life,” the group’s final hit. By then his mentor had renamed him Max Martin, a drab, forgettable disco name that is almost as bad as Denniz PoP.

Unlike Denniz, who neither wrote nor played music, Martin knew music theory and musical notation. “Martin was very schooled; he could read the notes, write partitions, and do musical arrangements,” E-Type says in “The Cheiron Saga.” “Dagge would say, ‘We need a new influence, so Martin, make us something pretty while E-Type and I run out for some sushi.’ We’d come back and find something so gorgeous that we both almost fell backwards.”

Martin worked by theory, Denniz by feel. “Dagge was driven by his instincts,” E-Type says in the documentary. “If there was something that worked, well, then, that’s what he’d do, always. Martin was the musician, and he got the principles around funk, and with those abilities was able to take it a step further.”

That next step was presented by a boy band that was unknown at the time, the Backstreet Boys. The songs Martin wrote for them, including “We’ve Got It Goin’ On,” “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely,” and the timeless “I Want It That Way,” made the group world-famous. They also created a template for the Max Martin sound, which combines ABBA’s pop chords and textures, Denniz PoP’s song structure and dynamics, eighties arena rock’s big choruses, and early-nineties American R. & B. grooves. On top of all that is Sandberg’s gift for melody, which owes as much to Edvard Grieg’s dark Norwegian musical fable “In the Hall of the Mountain King” (a.k.a. the “Inspector Gadget” theme song) as to any contemporary influence. Like many of ABBA’s tunes, these Backstreet Boys songs use major and minor chords in surprising combinations (going to a minor chord on the chorus, say, when you least expect it), producing happy songs that sound sad, and sad songs that make you happy—tunes that serve a wide variety of moods.

Perhaps the greatest advantage that Sandberg and his Swedish colleagues enjoyed was their relative freedom from the racial underpinnings of the long-established American distinction between R. & B. and pop. Rhythm and blues, a term coined by the Atlantic Records co-founder Jerry Wexler, back when he was a writer for Billboard, in the fifties, replaced the frankly racist category of “race records,” but the underlying race-based distinction remained: R. & B. was music by and for black people, whereas white performers were “pop,” even if their music was heavily indebted to R. & B. A white American songwriter composing R. & B. tunes was not likely to get very far on the balkanized pop-music scene in the U.S., but a Swedish writer, free of the racist legacy of the R. & B./pop dichotomy, could create music that combined both, and that is just what Martin has done. The resulting hybrid, one could argue, has become the mainstream sound on Top Forty radio today. SiriusXM’s recent rebranding of its pop channel, Venus, which now plays “rhythmic pop” (R. & P.?), is just one measure of this Swedish-led transformation.

The Backstreet Boys were on Jive Records, the label founded by the reclusive South African record man Clive Calder, who is, and for the foreseeable future will be, the richest man the record business has ever produced. (He cashed out of Jive and Zomba, his publishing company, for close to three billion dollars, in 2002.) So when, in 1997, Jive signed a young girl named Britney Spears and was looking for danceable pop songs, it naturally thought of Max Martin.

As it turned out, Martin had a song for Spears. He had composed it with Rami Yacoub, a Swedish-Moroccan beatmaker who was part of the Cheiron team. The song, initially called “Hit Me Baby (One More Time),” had been written for TLC, the three-woman R. & B. group. When Martin sent TLC a demo, which featured the Swede doing four-part harmonies all by himself, the trio had rejected it. Years later, T-Boz, the leader of the group, recalled the decision in a MTV interview: “I was like, I like the song, but do I think it’s a hit? Do I think it’s TLC? … Was I going to say, ‘Hit me, baby, one more time’? Hell, no!”

“Max, at that point in his career, thought he was writing an R. & B. song,” Steve Lunt, the Jive A. & R. man who was assigned to the Spears project, told me. “Whereas, in reality, he was writing a Swedish pop song. It was ABBA with a groove, basically.” There is a funky bass slap in the song that sounds urban, and on the demo Martin does that cowboy-sounding “owww” made famous by Cameo and beloved by Denniz PoP. “But all those chords are so European, how could that possibly be an American R. & B. song?” Lunt continued. “No black artist was going to sing it.” He added, “But that was the genius of Max Martin. Without being fully aware of it, he’d forged a brilliant sound all his own, and within a few weeks every American producer was desperately scrambling to emulate it.”

When TLC rejected the song, Martin offered it to Robyn, the Swedish artist, but nothing came of that, either. After meeting Spears in New York, he went back to Stockholm, worked on the song a little more to tailor it for Spears, made a copy, and mailed it to Jive. (Although his career as a performer was over, Martin still looked like Martin White, the hirsute glam-metal front man, and his appearance initially alarmed Spears, who said, “I thought he was from Mötley Crüe or something.”) All the hooks in the song were worked up to their finished state, but most of the verses were unfinished, often mere vowel sounds. There was no bridge yet, because, as Lunt put it, “Max would say, ‘If you don’t like the song by then, fuck you’—in his polite Swedish way, of course.” When the demo reached Jive, everyone thought, “Holy shit, this is perfect,” according to Lunt.

“Hit Me Baby (One More Time)” is a song about obsession, and it takes all of two seconds to hook you, not once but twice, first with the swung triplet “Da nah nah” and then with that alluring growl-purr that Spears emits with her first line (following Martin’s trace vocal): “Oh, baby, bay-bee.” Then the funky Cheiron backbeat kicks in, with drums that sound like percussion grenades. Next comes Tomas Lindberg’s wah-wah guitar lines, which signal to one’s inner disco hater that it can relax: it’s a rock song, after all.

And yet the vocal hook, irresistible as it was, sounded odd. You weren’t sure it was O.K. to sing it out loud. It was hard to imagine that anyone for
whom English is a first language would write the phrase “Hit me, baby” without intending it as an allusion to domestic violence or S & M. That was the furthest thing from the minds of the gentle Swedes, who were only trying to use up-to-the-minute lingo. Jive, concerned that Americans might get the wrong idea, changed the title to “… Baby One More Time.”

The song was Martin’s first Billboard No. 1. “I don’t really think we understood what we had done,” he says in “The Cheiron Saga.” “I actually remember that specific moment; I remember sitting in the studio when they called me to let me know that my song had made No. 1 in the U.S.A. And that was incredible, but I also remember that I had so much going on with everything else right then, I didn’t really grasp the meaning of it.”

Although Martin may be sui generis, he is by no means the only disciple of Denniz PoP to go on to chart-topping success. Others, including Andreas Carlsson, Jörgen Elofsson, and Per Magnusson, also have long track records of hits; they’ve been especially successful with U.K. boy bands. According to Marie Ledin, the managing director of the Polar Music Prize, Sweden’s musical Nobel, Swedish songwriters and producers were partly responsible for a quarter of all Billboard Top Ten hits in 2014, an astonishing accomplishment for a country of fewer than ten million people. Clearly, there is more at work here than individual genius. Apart from the country’s musical-education system, what qualities and characteristics make Swedes so good at producing pop songs?

Generally speaking, there is a flowing melodic element in Swedish folk songs and hymns (the national anthem, “Thou Ancient, Thou Free,” even sounds a bit like a pop song) that has rooted itself in the sensibility of many a musical Swede. More specifically, the relative computer literacy of the population, combined with the country’s excellent broadband infrastructure, has allowed Swedes to excel at making music on computers, and collaborating with other composers over the Internet, which has become the standard method of pop songwriting today. Added to that is Sweden’s xenophilia—its love of other cultures, in particular Anglo-American cultures. In Sweden, American TV isn’t translated into the local language, as it is in France and Italy, say, and the music you hear on the radio is more likely to be sung in English than Swedish. More than ninety per cent of Swedes speak English.

But, while knowing English is clearly an advantage to songwriters and producers seeking success in the U.S. and the U.K., a lack of facility with the finer points of the language is equally important. Swedish writers are not partial to wit, metaphor, or double entendre, songwriting staples from Tin Pan Alley through the Brill Building era. They are more inclined to fit the syllables to the sounds—a working method that Martin calls “melodic math”—and not worry too much about whether the resulting lines make sense. (The verses in “I Want It That Way,” for example, completely contradict the meaning of the chorus lines.) Fans of Cole Porter may see this development in roughly in the same spirit that “Downton Abbey” fans might view “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”—with horror—but one can argue that this very freedom from having to make sense lyrically has allowed the Swedes to soar to such melodic heights.

Finally, while Sweden has a strong songwriting culture, it lacks an equally strong culture of performing. Klas Åhlund, a successful Swedish songwriter and producer in his forties, who is also a performer (in the rock band Teddybears), told me, “Swedes are very musical, and they love to write songs. But it’s a big country, and it has very few people in it. So you had these farmers out there who were good at writing songs but had no one to sing them. Songwriting was just a thing you did on your own when you were watching the cows, a kind of meditation. You didn’t focus as much on your ability as a performer as you did on the structure and craft of the songs. Which is really not the case in the U.S., where your charm and your voice and your powers as a performer come immediately into play.”

A nation of songwriters endowed with melodic gifts, meticulous about craft but reluctant to perform their own songs, is a potential goldmine for a nation of wannabe pop stars who don’t write their own material, which is often the case in the U.S. By hooking up the two countries, musically speaking, Martin and his peers changed pop songwriting.

Martin’s legacy must be measured not only by the number of hits that he and his Swedish colleagues have created but also by the songwriting methods that they have instilled around the world. (Many K-pop songs are the result of collaborations between Korean and Swedish songwriting teams.) A strong part of Denniz PoP’s vision for Cheiron was that songwriting should be a collaborative effort; no one was supposed to be proprietary about his work, and Martin has passed these principles on to two generations of songwriters. Songwriters are assigned different parts of a song to work on; choruses can be taken from one song and tried in another; a bridge might be swapped out, or a hook. Songs are written more like television shows, by teams of writers who willingly share credit. In a Swedish TV documentary called “The Nineties,” E-Type describes the working conditions at Denniz PoP’s studio. “I get this feeling of a big painter’s studio in Italy, back in the fourteen-hundreds or fifteen-hundreds. One assistant does the hands, another does the feet, and another does something else, and then Michelangelo walks in and says, ‘That’s really great; just turn it slightly. Now it’s good; put it in a golden frame, and out with it. Next!’ ” The description might apply equally well to Martin’s home studio, in Los Angeles (Frank Sinatra once lived there, and he sublet the pool house to Marilyn Monroe), where he is now the master.

Lennon and McCartney wrote almost all of their hits with each other, and while they had assistance from others in their solo careers, the level of collaboration was nothing like their former partnership. Martin, on the other hand, has consistently sought out new, fresh collaborators when the heat of a previous partnership begins to cool, which is why his magic touch has lasted longer than even Sir Paul’s. These protégés—Dr. Luke is the best known, but by no means the only one—often go on to be major hitmakers in their own right, and acquire and mentor their own protégés, who become hitmakers, too, spreading Swedish methods further and further into the songwriting mainstream. Martin is their Obi Wan.

And yet, for all his success and influence, there is something missing in Martin’s oeuvre, when compared to the Beatles’s. It’s not the quality of the songs—history will judge whether they have what it takes to endure. It’s the absence of a broader political and cultural framework in which to place the songs. The story of the Beatles, from “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to “Let It Be,” is a story of the sixties—politics, war, protest, drugs, free love, and how the songwriters responded to those forces. The hits are embedded within albums that offer rich, complex musical statements, and insights into the artists’ personal development and changes. What story does Martin’s string of No. 1s tell, from “… Baby One More Time” to “Can’t Feel My Face,” his most recent? What changes do they trace? The songs are all about the same thing, more or less, which is not the same thing at all.

Hip-Hop and R&B Fans Embrace Streaming Music Services

September 29, 2015

BEN SISARIOS NYTimes.com 9/28/15

On this week’s music charts, “What a Time to Be Alive,” a new mix tape by the star rappers Drake and Future, opened at No. 1 by a wide margin, it was announced on Monday — a victory for Apple, which had an exclusive deal to release the album first.

But the album’s success is also the latest example of the extraordinary popularity of hip-hop on streaming music services. Throughout 2015, on outlets like Spotify, Rhapsody and Apple Music, releases by hip-hop and rhythm-and-blues acts including Drake, Kendrick Lamar, ASAP Rocky and the Weeknd have consistently posted far higher numbers than those in other genres.

Those results reflect a banner year for hip-hop and R&B music, with a crop of acclaimed albums and a generation of influential stars. But music executives say they are also an indication of the way that listeners consume music these days, with hip-hop’s younger, mobile-connected audience leading a shift away from downloads.

Songs from “What a Time to Be Alive,” which came out Sept. 20, were streamed 40.3 million times around the world in its first week, including 35.1 million times in the United States, according to Apple. Earlier this year, Drake’s “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” was streamed 48 million times in one week, according to Nielsen. Mr. Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” opened with 38 million and the Weeknd’s “Beauty Behind the Madness” started with 57 million one week and 52 million the next.

By comparison, the best week for a rock act this year was Mumford & Sons’ “Wilder Mind,” with 15.4 million in May. Back in 2012, Mumford & Sons set an early record on Spotify when its album “Babel” opened with eight million streams in the United States.

Steve Berman, the vice chairman of Interscope Records, which released Mr. Lamar’s album and Dr. Dre’s “Compton: A Soundtrack,” said the trend reminds him of the arrival of the tracking service SoundScan in the early 1990s, when more accurate data from retailers showed that rap albums by acts like N.W.A. were far more popular than had been thought.

“What we’re seeing is the truth about consumption,” Mr. Berman said.

Unlike downloads or CD sales, which are both slowing, streaming services show how many times fans actually listen to the songs they select. For the first eight months of the year, hip-hop and R&B songs — which are often connected on so-called urban radio formats, and tracked together by data services — represented 17 percent of album sales, but 26 percent of all streams, according to Nielsen.

The reasons for this disparity are not entirely clear, executives say. In addition to the young demographic of the hip-hop audience, one reason may be the genre’s increasing turn toward promotion on social media; acts like Drake and Nicki Minaj, for example, are highly active on social media, and streaming sites like SoundCloud have become the preferred outlets for new acts.

Another factor may be the influence of Apple Music, the company’s new streaming service. According to one analysis last month, the programming on Beats 1, the company’s Internet radio station, has leaned heavily toward hip-hop and R&B acts like Drake, the Weeknd, Fetty Wap and Dr. Dre. “What a Time to Be Alive” was first promoted on Beats 1, where Drake has his own show.

“This isn’t limited to just the biggest new releases,” said David Bakula, a senior analyst at Nielsen. He pointed out that more than 60 percent of the streams in R&B and hip-hop involve songs that are over 18 months old. “It shows that fans of the genre are streaming the latest hits as well as songs from prior years,” he said.

On Spotify, hip-hop’s share of the top 500 artists is up 16 percent over last year, and 24 percent since 2012, according to that service. On Pandora, the leading Internet radio service, four of the top five acts with the most “station adds” — the number of times listeners choose their names of the artists, or their songs, for listening — are hip-hop and urban; the only other top act is Taylor Swift, according to Next Big Sound, a data-tracking service owned by Pandora.

Over all, the number of songs listened to on streaming services like Spotify, Rhapsody and Apple Music, where users choose the songs they listen to, doubled in the first eight months of 2015 compared with the same period last year, according to Nielsen, while song downloads were down 10 percent and album downloads were flat.

The growth of streaming has moved so fast, said Mr. Berman of Interscope, that it is hard to set the numbers for what counts as a breakout hit.

“It’s too early to set the benchmarks,” he said. “They’re changing too fast”.

HIT CHARADE: Meet the bald Norwegians and other unknowns who actually create the songs that top the charts.

September 21, 2015

Nathaniel Rich http://www.theAtlantic.com 10.15

The biggest pop star in America today is a man named Karl Martin Sandberg. The lead singer of an obscure ’80s glam-metal band, Sandberg grew up in a remote suburb of Stockholm and is now 44. Sandberg is the George Lucas, the LeBron James, the Serena Williams of American pop. He is responsible for more hits than Phil Spector, Michael Jackson, or the Beatles.

After Sandberg come the bald Norwegians, Mikkel Eriksen and Tor Hermansen, 43 and 44; Lukasz Gottwald, 42, a Sandberg protégé and collaborator who spent a decade languishing in Saturday Night Live’s house band; and another Sandberg collaborator named Esther Dean, 33, a former nurse’s aide from Oklahoma who was discovered in the audience of a Gap Band concert, singing along to “Oops Upside Your Head.” They use pseudonyms professionally, but most Americans wouldn’t recognize those, either: Max Martin, Stargate, Dr. Luke, and Ester Dean.

Most Americans will recognize their songs, however. As I write this, at the height of summer, the No. 1 position on the Billboard pop chart is occupied by a Max Martin creation, “Bad Blood” (performed by Taylor Swift featuring Kendrick Lamar). No. 3, “Hey Mama” (David Guetta featuring Nicki Minaj), is an Ester Dean production; No. 5, “Worth It” (Fifth Harmony featuring Kid Ink), was written by Stargate; No. 7, “Can’t Feel My Face” (The Weeknd), is Martin again; No. 16, “The Night Is Still Young” (Minaj), is Dr. Luke and Ester Dean. And so on. If you flip on the radio, odds are that you will hear one of their songs. If you are reading this in an airport, a mall, a doctor’s office, or a hotel lobby, you are likely listening to one of their songs right now. This is not an aberration. The same would have been true at any time in the past decade. Before writing most of Taylor Swift’s newest album, Max Martin wrote No. 1 hits for Britney Spears, ’NSync, Pink, Kelly Clarkson, Maroon 5, and Katy Perry.

Millions of Swifties and KatyCats—as well as Beliebers, Barbz, and Selenators, and the Rihanna Navy—would be stunned by the revelation that a handful of people, a crazily high percentage of them middle-aged Scandinavian men, write most of America’s pop hits. It is an open yet closely guarded secret, protected jealously by the labels and the performers themselves, whose identities are as carefully constructed as their songs and dances. The illusion of creative control is maintained by the fig leaf of a songwriting credit. The performer’s name will often appear in the list of songwriters, even if his or her contribution is negligible. (There’s a saying for this in the music industry: “Change a word, get a third.”) But almost no pop celebrities write their own hits. Too much is on the line for that, and being a global celebrity is a full-time job. It would be like Will Smith writing the next Independence Day.

Impressionable young fans would therefore do well to avoid John Seabrook’s The Song Machine, an immersive, reflective, and utterly satisfying examination of the business of popular music. It is a business as old as Stephen Foster, but never before has it been run so efficiently or dominated by so few. We have come to expect this type of consolidation from our banking, oil-and-gas, and health-care industries. But the same practices they rely on—ruthless digitization, outsourcing, focus-group brand testing, brute-force marketing—have been applied with tremendous success in pop, creating such profitable multinationals as Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Taylor Swift.

The music has evolved in step with these changes. A short-attention-span culture demands short-attention-span songs. The writers of Tin Pan Alley and Motown had to write only one killer hook to get a hit. Now you need a new high every seven seconds—the average length of time a listener will give a radio station before changing the channel. “It’s not enough to have one hook anymore,” Jay Brown, a co-founder of Jay Z’s Roc Nation label, tells Seabrook. “You’ve got to have a hook in the intro, a hook in the pre, a hook in the chorus, and a hook in the bridge, too.”

Sonically, the template has remained remarkably consistent since the Backstreet Boys, whose sound was created by Max Martin and his mentor, Denniz PoP, at PoP’s Cheiron Studios, in Stockholm. It was at Cheiron in the late ’90s that they developed the modern hit formula, a formula nearly as valuable as Coca-Cola’s. But it’s not a secret formula. Seabrook describes the pop sound this way: “ABBA’s pop chords and textures, Denniz PoP’s song structure and dynamics, ’80s arena rock’s big choruses, and early ’90s American R&B grooves.” The production quality is crucial, too. The music is manufactured to fill not headphones and home stereo systems but malls and football stadiums. It is a synthetic, mechanical sound “more captivating than the virtuosity of the musicians.” This is a metaphor, of course—there are no musicians anymore, at least not human ones. Every instrument is automated. Session musicians have gone extinct, and studio mixing boards remain only as retro, semi-ironic furniture.

The songs are written industrially as well, often by committee and in bulk. Anything short of a likely hit is discarded. The constant iteration of tracks, all produced by the same formula, can result in accidental imitation—or, depending on the jury, purposeful replication. Seabrook recounts an early collaboration between Max Martin and Dr. Luke. They are listening, reportedly, to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps”—an infectious love song, at least by indie-rock standards. Martin is being driven crazy by the song’s chorus, however, which drops in intensity from the verse. Dr. Luke says, “Why don’t we do that, but put a big chorus on it?” He reworks a guitar riff from the song and creates Kelly Clarkson’s breakout hit, “Since U Been Gone.”

Pop hitmakers frequently flirt with plagiarism, with good reason: Audiences embrace familiar sounds. Sameness sells. Dr. Luke in particular has been accused repeatedly of copyright infringement. His defense: “You don’t get sued for being similar. It needs to be the same thing.” (Dr. Luke does get sued for being similar, and quite often; he has also countersued for defamation.) Complicating the question of originality is the fact that only melodies, not beats, can be copyrighted. This means a producer can sell one beat to multiple artists. The same beat, for instance, can be heard beneath Beyoncé’s “Halo” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Already Gone,” hits released within four months of each other in 2009. (The producer, in his defense, claimed they were “two entirely different songs conceptually.”) As Seabrook notes, although each song was played tens of millions of times on YouTube and other platforms, few fans seemed to notice, let alone care.

Once a hit is ready, a songwriter must find a singer to bring it to the masses. The more famous the performer, the wider the audience, and the greater the royalties for the writer. Hits are shopped like scripts in Hollywood, first to the A-list, then to the B-list, then to the aspirants. “… Baby One More Time,” the Max Martin song that made Britney Spears’s career, was declined by TLC. Spears’s team later passed on “Umbrella,” which made Rihanna a star. The most-successful songwriters, like Max Martin and Dr. Luke, occasionally employ a potentially more lucrative tactic: They prospect for unknowns whom they can turn into stars. This allows them to exert greater control over the recording of the songs and to take a bigger cut of royalties by securing production rights that a more established performer would not sign away.

But the masters of star creation remain the record-label executives. The greatest of them all, Clive Davis, whose career has run from Janis Joplin to Kelly Clarkson, is an avuncular, charming presence throughout The Song Machine. He tells Seabrook that the key to pop longevity is “a continuity of hits,” a phrase Davis imbues with the gravity of scripture, though it means only what it says: lots of hit songs. More telling is the record executive Jason Flom’s reaction to meeting a young Katy Perry: “Without having heard a note of music, I was sure that Katy was indeed destined for stardom”—a statement that says more about the nature of the industry than about Perry.

In the music industry, the performers are called artists, while the people who write the songs remain largely anonymous.

Most memorable—and instructive—is the story of the obese, oleaginous Orlando entrepreneur Louis Pearlman. A luxury-plane magnate, he met the New Kids on the Block in 1989 when they chartered one of his jets. Upon learning that they were earning more than Michael Jackson, Pearlman decided to cast his own boy group. After Pearlman hired Denniz PoP and Max Martin to write their songs, the Backstreet Boys went from playing in front of Shamu’s tank at SeaWorld to selling out world tours. Millennium, released in 1999, is one of the best-selling albums in American history. Pearlman then decided to start an identical boy band, performing songs by the same songwriters. “My feeling was, where there’s McDonald’s, there’s Burger King,” Pearlman tells Seabrook on the phone from the federal prison in Texarkana, where he is serving a 25-year sentence for defrauding banks and investors in Ponzi schemes. Pearlman was a poor businessman but a savvy promoter. ’NSync, led by Justin Timberlake, formerly of The Mickey Mouse Club, was even bigger than the Backstreet Boys. Next, seeking his own Debbie Gibson, Pearlman scouted another ex-Mouseketeer: Britney Spears.

Many of Pearlman’s strategies continue to dominate the construction and marketing of pop acts, particularly in the one pop market more delirious than the United States. Seabrook credits the Backstreet Boys’ 1996 Asian tour with helping to inspire a Korean former folk singer, Soo-Man Lee, to create K-pop, a phenomenon that gives new meaning to the term song machine. Lee codified Pearlman’s tactics in a step-by-step manual that guides the creation of Asian pop groups, dictating “when to import foreign composers, producers, and choreographers; what chord progressions to use in particular countries; the precise color of eye shadow a performer should wear in different Asian regions, as well as the hand gestures he or she should make.”

In K-pop there is no pretension to creative independence. Performers unabashedly embrace the corporate strategy that stars in the United States are at great pains to disguise. Recruits are trained in label-run pop academies for as long as seven years before debuting in a new girl or boy group—though only one in 10 trainees makes it that far. This level of control may seem eccentric to American readers, but Seabrook reveals that the careers of stars like Rihanna and Kelly Clarkson are almost as narrowly choreographed.

By the end of The Song Machine, readers will have command of such terms of art as melodic math, comping, career record, and track-and-hook (a Seabrookian neologism). One term remains evasive, however: artist. In the music industry, the performers are called artists, while the people who write the songs remain largely anonymous outside the pages of trade publications. But can a performer be said to have any artistry if, as in the case of Rihanna, her label convenes week-long “writer camps,” attended by dozens of producers and writers (but not necessarily Rihanna), to manufacture her next hit? Where is the artistry when a producer digitally stitches together a vocal track, syllable by syllable, from dozens of takes? Or modifies a bar and calls it a new song?

Hitmakers today don’t only create hits. They create “artists.” The trouble comes when successful performers believe their press and begin writing their own songs, or when songwriters try to become stars themselves. Taylor Dayne—who, against Clive Davis’s advice, demanded to write her own songs, and bombed—is a cautionary example of the former. Ester Dean, who has had mixed success as a solo act, is an example of the latter. “To be an artist, that’s another story,” says Mikkel Eriksen of Stargate. “You can be a great singer, but when you hear the record it’s missing something.” Esther Dean, a prolific writer of melodies and lyrics, is an artist, but Ester Dean is not making it as an “artist.”

What is that ineffable something that separates pop stars from the rest of us? What is the source of Rihanna’s magical powers? Eriksen, trying to pin it down, describes it as “a sparkle around the edges of the words.” A K-pop star proposes another theory: “Maybe it is because of our great good looks?” Seabrook lands on a more subtle quality: an “urgent need to escape”—escapism as a matter of life or death. Rihanna was desperate to escape an abusive father; for Katy Perry it was her family’s repressive evangelical faith; for the Backstreet Boys it was Orlando. The perfect pop star creates a desire loop between audience and performer. We abandon reality together, meeting in a synthetic pop fantasy of California Gurls and Teenage Dreams. Only they are not really our teenage dreams. They are Karl Martin Sandberg’s.

After the Grateful Dead, Phil Lesh Shows He Has a Head for Business

September 20, 2015

By CLAIRE MARTIN BY Times.com 9/19/15

A few times a month, Sam Satenstein lines up outside Terrapin Crossroads, a music hall and restaurant in San Rafael, Calif., for performances by the band Phil Lesh and Friends. The hall is owned by Mr. Lesh, the 75-year-old Grateful Dead bassist, and his wife, Jill. Mr. Satenstein is almost always first in line; when the doors open he rushes in to secure a spot on the side of the stage favored by Mr. Lesh. He plops down on the floor to protect the space.

“You can feel Phil’s giant bass when you’re standing up there, so I try to get that spot right up at the front,” said Mr. Satenstein, a 32-year-old online retailer who sells vape pens and lives a couple of miles from the hall. As soon as the band starts, Mr. Satenstein and others let loose, bobbing their heads and grooving to meandering renditions of Grateful Dead songs.

The Leshes consider Terrapin Crossroads to be an extension of their home, said Ms. Lesh, adding that Mr. Satenstein “has become like family now.” The venue is named after the Grateful Dead’s ninth studio album, “Terrapin Station.” The Leshes opened it in 2012 after Mr. Lesh decided to end his relentless touring schedule of the last 50 years. He was not interested in retiring, or even in performing less. He just wanted to stick close to home. Ms. Lesh had spent 30 years on the road with him, and she managed Phil Lesh and Friends.

The Grateful Dead was well ahead of its time in encouraging fans to record its music, taking the emphasis off its album sales and instead relying on live concerts for its main source of revenue. After disbanding upon Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995, the group’s remaining members continued touring for decades with new bands such as the Other Ones, Furthur and Phil Lesh and Friends. By staying put, the Leshes were putting a new spin on the band’s live-performance business model.

In the mid-1980s, the Grateful Dead briefly contemplated making a similar shift when a concert hall in another part of Marin County came up for sale. But the band decided to keep touring. Around 2010, Mr. Lesh began feeling road-weary again. That year, he played at the barn in Woodstock, N.Y., that his friend Levon Helm, a former member of the Band, had converted to a 240-seat concert hall. Mr. Lesh realized that he preferred the intimacy and “community vibe” of Mr. Helm’s barn to the stadiums and large theaters he had grown accustomed to. “You’re in a bubble with like-minded people who love the music just like you do,” Mr. Lesh said. “That’s what the Grateful Dead’s always been about, and I realized we had lost touch with that.”

In a quest to create a similar place of their own, the Leshes searched for real estate near their home, eventually finding a restaurant space with a separate ballroom, located on a canal. In just six weeks they remodeled it and then reopened it as Terrapin Crossroads — a frantic push that Ms. Lesh says created a start-up-like work environment. Their sons, Grahame and Brian, and a few of their friends, all musicians in their 20s, were hired to man the doors or work as lighting or sound technicians. They pitched in on other tasks, as needed. “Everybody did everything,” said Ms. Lesh.

The Leshes saw their new venture as a community gathering space first and a business second. “We had no idea whether it was ever going to be profitable,” Mr. Lesh said. Yet they wanted Terrapin Crossroads at least to sustain itself financially.

Early on, Mr. Lesh’s presence at Terrapin Crossroads was crucial for business. In a single day, he could be seen playing in the bar, eating in the restaurant and jamming late into the night in the Grate Room, the former ballroom, which was refurbished to reflect his acoustic preferences. As Mr. Helm, who died in 2012, had in Woodstock, Mr. Lesh began inviting well-known musicians to join him onstage. Guests have included John Mayer, Gregg Allman and the former Grateful Dead and Furthur member Bob Weir. Nearly every Phil Lesh and Friends concert has sold out; tickets are $79. Unlike Grate Room performances, music sessions in the bar are free.

Around the time Terrapin Crossroads opened, Mr. Weir became an investor in Sweetwater Music Hall in nearby Mill Valley. According to Aaron Kayce, the general manager and talent buyer, Mr. Weir performs there occasionally. Mr. Lesh has played there as well.

The music side of the business came easily to the Leshes, but their lack of restaurant experience proved to be a challenge when making decisions such as whether to cater to Marin County locals or Deadheads. “They like certain kinds of food,” Mr. Lesh said of the Deadheads — things like burgers, fish and chips, and vegan offerings. “It’s not fine dining.” The Leshes realized that they needed a flexible staff that could adapt to menu changes and last-minute schedule adjustments — for instance, Mr. Lesh’s impromptu jam sessions in the bar.

In February, Terrapin Crossroads began turning a profit. It also received a significant bump because of this summer’s sold-out stadium concerts by former Grateful Dead members. The performances, timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the band’s founding and billed as a final reunion, pulled in an estimated $55 million. Terrapin Crossroads live-streamed the shows. In further homage to the anniversary, it is hosting a series of shows in which Mr. Lesh and other musicians revive the set lists from memorable Grateful Dead performances. The business experienced a 50 percent increase in revenue this July over last July.

Terrapin Crossroads also sells merchandise like tie-dyed T-shirts and Phil Lesh bobblehead dolls. And it offers a $7 live stream for each of Mr. Lesh’s Grate Room performances along with $25 thumb drives loaded with recordings of them.

But Mr. Lesh’s shows at Terrapin Crossroads are not full-scale band reunions; if that is what some customers expect, they could be disappointed. And since the band’s influence may dwindle over time, it is important to broaden the customer base beyond the Deadheads, said Timothy Calkins, a marketing professor at the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management.

“The Grateful Dead is an incredibly powerful brand, but it’s not out there on a day-to-day basis,” Mr. Calkins said. “So you can’t plan over the long run to rely on the connection back to the band to sustain the venue. You’ve got to create a new, distinct brand that’s going to stand for its own thing.”

To that end, Terrapin Crossroads books national touring bands in the Grate Room and has assembled a corps of in-house musicians that rotates through the bar, including the Leshes’ son Grahame. And the Leshes are adding an outdoor stage in an adjacent park for free community concerts, along with an area for bocce courts and campfire pits. It will open in the spring. Already the restaurant has pulled ahead of the concert hall in profitability, Ms. Lesh said.

Over all, she said, the business “would be very, very profitable, even if Phil didn’t play there again.”

YouTube ‘Dancing Baby’ Copyright Ruling Sets Fair Use Guideline

September 15, 2015

BEN SISARIO NYTimes.com 9/14/15

In February 2007, Stephanie Lenz, a mother in Gallitzin, Pa., went on YouTube and uploaded a 29-second video of her toddler dancing while Prince’s song “Let’s Go Crazy” played in the background.

Prince’s publishers objected, Ms. Lenz filed a lawsuit, and for more than eight years the case has been symbolic of the clashes over copyright online.

On Monday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, cleared the way for the case to go to trial, and set a guideline that may change the way media companies police their holdings online. In its decision, the three-judge panel ruled that copyright holders must consider fair use before asking services like YouTube to remove videos that include material they control.

The suit, known as the “dancing baby” case, has become famous for its focus on the kind of Internet activity that millions of ordinary people engage in, posting candid videos of family and friends that may only incidentally include copyrighted media like songs. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group that represented Ms. Lenz in her lawsuit against Universal, called the judges’ decision a victory for Internet users.

“Today’s ruling sends a strong message that copyright law does not authorize thoughtless censorship of lawful speech,” Corynne McSherry, the foundation’s legal director, said in a statement.

A spokesman for the Recording Industry Association of America, Jonathan Lamy, said, “We respectfully disagree with the court’s conclusion about the D.M.C.A. and the burden the court places upon copyright holders before sending takedown notices,” referring to the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

In her suit, Ms. Lenz argued that her use of Prince’s music was protected by fair use, which allows the use of copyrighted material under certain conditions like commentary, criticism or news reporting.

The case also came to represent the split between Hollywood and Silicon Valley over copyright.

The Motion Picture Association of America and the R.I.A.A. both supported Universal, which argued that fair use should be considered an “affirmative defense” only when part of an infringement suit. On the other side of the issue, Google, Twitter and Tumblr rallied behind Ms. Lenz.

The judges ruled that fair use was “uniquely situated in copyright law so as to be treated differently than traditional affirmative defenses,” and copyright holders like Universal must consider fair use before issuing takedown notices.

Even paying “lip service” to the consideration of fair use is not enough, and could expose a copyright holder to liability, the judges ruled.

A Vinyl LP Frenzy Brings Record-Pressing Machines Back to Life

September 15, 2015

BEN SISARIO NYTimes.com 9/14/15

The Rocky Revival of Vinyl Records
The owners of Independent Record Pressing expect to churn out up to 1.5 million records a year. Their challenge won’t be finding business, it will be keeping the antiquated machinery running.

BORDENTOWN, N.J. — The machines at Independent Record Pressing whirred and hissed as they stamped out a test record. The business’s owners waited anxiously for Dave Miller, the plant manager, to inspect the still-warm slab of vinyl.

“That’s flat, baby!” Mr. Miller said as he held the record, to roars of approval and relief. “That’s the way they should come off, just like that.”

Independent Record Pressing is an attempt to solve one of the riddles of today’s music industry: how to capitalize on the popularity of vinyl records when the machines that make them are decades old, and often require delicate and expensive maintenance. The six presses at this new 20,000-square-foot plant, for example, date to the 1970s.

Vinyl, which faded with the arrival of compact discs in the 1980s, is having an unexpected renaissance. Last year more than 13 million LPs were sold in the United States, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, the highest count in 25 years, making it one of the record business’s few growth areas.

But the few dozen plants around the world that press the records have strained to keep up with the exploding demand, resulting in long delays and other production problems, executives and industry observers say. It is now common for plants to take up to six months to turn around a vinyl order — an eternity in an age when listeners are used to getting music online instantly.

“The good news is that everyone wants vinyl,” Dave Hansen, one of Independent’s owners and the general manager of the alternative label Epitaph, said on a recent hot afternoon as the plant geared up for production.

“The bad news is everything you see here today,” he added, noting that the machines had to be shut down that afternoon because of the rising temperature of water used as a coolant. To replace an obsolete screw in one machine, Independent spent $5,000 to manufacture and install a new one.

The vinyl boom has come as streaming has taken off as a listening format and both CDs and downloads have declined. The reasons cited are usually a fuller, warmer sound from vinyl’s analog grooves and the tactile power of a well-made record at a time when music has become ephemeral.

Most surprising is the youth of the market: According to MusicWatch, a consumer research group, some 54 percent of vinyl customers are 35 or younger. Mr. Hansen and Darius Van Arman, a founder of Secretly Group, a consortium of small record companies that is a partner in Independent, said they believed their customers were often discovering new music through streaming and then collecting it on LPs.

“None of this was supposed to happen, and yet it’s happened,” said Michael Fremer, a senior contributing editor at Stereophile magazine and a longtime champion of vinyl as a superior medium for sound.

Independent’s machines tell some of the history of the modern music business. Mr. Miller, 62, helped build them as a young man in the 1970s, and they were used for decades at the Hub-Servall plant in Cranbury, N.J.; Mr. Miller recalled pressing copies of the “Saturday Night Fever” and “Grease” soundtracks there.

In 2007, Hub-Servall’s presses were sold to RIP-V, a new plant in Montreal that took on Epitaph as a client. RIP-V shut down last year, and Independent bought six of its 14 machines and brought them back to New Jersey. (The rest went to other plants.) Mr. Hansen said that he and Secretly had invested $1.5 million in the venture.

For the music business over all, vinyl is still a niche product, if an increasingly substantial one. According to Nielsen, LPs now represent about 9 percent of sales in physical formats. But for indies like Epitaph and Secretly, vinyl has become essential: Both now take in nearly as much revenue from LPs as they do from CDs.

Mr. Hansen started Independent as a 50-50 partnership with Secretly to serve other independent labels — companies that often find themselves squeezed out of the production line by bigger players.

“One of the problems that independent labels are facing,” Mr. Van Arman of Secretly said, “is that some of the bigger plants might get an order for an Eagles box set, and everyone else is put on hold.”

Independent’s initial order list includes records by Vampire Weekend, Pavement, the XX
and Mac DeMarco, all indie acts that are steady sellers on vinyl. Mr. Hansen’s ownership is separate from his employment at Epitaph, and both he and Mr. Van Arman said that releases on their labels would get no special treatment.

Independent has taken over a spot in a small industrial park in this town about six miles south of Trenton. The company expects to employ seven full-time workers and a small part-time crew to assemble the finished records and sleeves; some of those part-timers will be moonlighting employees of a Netflix DVD fulfillment center next door where similar work is done, Mr. Hansen said.

When it is operating at full capacity, Independent should produce up to 1.5 million records a year, Mr. Hansen and Mr. Van Arman said. But first the machines must be fully restored and tested, and after several months they are still not quite ready.

Vinyl pellets are poured from a bucket into an extruder, and then formed into a small lump of vinyl that is placed between metal stampers forming the shape of each side of the record. The machine then presses the stampers together with 150 pounds per square inch of pressure. If the temperature, pressure or consistency of the vinyl is off, the result is an imperfect record that is scrapped.

“This is the dirty, brutal side of the record business,” Mr. Miller said. “Nobody realizes the work it takes to actually make a record.”

There is now a global rush to set up more plants and find existing presses, but the few that have been tracked down are often in poor shape. This year Chad Kassem of Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., found 13 disused machines in Chicago — “they looked like scrap metal to anybody but me,” he said — and he hopes to restore five of them within six months

Fat Possum, another indie label, also started a new plant in Memphis this year to meet its own demand, with nine machines. “Now I can go and push my own stuff to the front,” said Matthew Johnson, Fat Possum’s founder, who said that in recent years he had been faced with frustrations like thousands of records held up in customs as they came in from manufacturers in Europe.

Yet talk of a possible bubble hangs over the vinyl business, and some plants seem to be bracing for a decline even as they expand. United Record Pressing in Nashville, one of the biggest plants, has 30 presses running 24 hours a day and has acquired 16 more machines. Yet the plant, overwhelmed by demand, has stopped taking orders from new customers.

“It’s difficult to turn people away, especially when it is maybe an independent artist,” said Jessica Baird, a representative of the company. “But we are trying to do the best we can for people who have been loyal to us for years, and that we hope will stick with us when the ebb and flow comes again.”

Mr. Hansen, 52, said he wasn’t sure whether the vinyl gold rush would continue, either, but he has staked a considerable personal investment in it and called the plant part of his retirement planning.

“The dream is to build capacity for our label and provide a service for the indie labels that I love and respect so much,” Mr. Hansen said, “and at the same time, make a few bucks too.”

How Pop Stars Make Money Now

September 13, 2015

By Andrew Hampp Vulture.com  9/11/15

The week of July 2, 2015 marked a turning point for the music industry. Not only was it the first week that album releases moved to Friday from Tuesday, it was also the same week that Taylor Swift’s 1989 crossed the 5-million-copies-sold mark at a time when the rest of the industry was down a crushing 7.8 percent in overall sales year-to-date, according to Nielsen Music, making 1989 the fastest-selling album in over a decade.
Swift stands to make upwards of $5 million from 1989, but that’s far from her only source of revenue these days. After all, in a business increasingly reliant on revenue that’s fractions of pennies-per-stream from services like YouTube, Spotify, and now Apple Music, Swift has been placing her bets far and wide as have many of her emerging peers like Tori Kelly, Fifth Harmony, and Martin Garrix, each of whom had multiple major endorsement deals to their name before their debut albums had even been released.
To wit: Swift’s current 1989 Tour features sponsor support from American Express and xFinity, whose combined eight-figure spending stands to net Swift a cool $1 million in endorsement fees on top of a total tour take that will easily exceed the $30 million she personally grossed from 2013’s Red Tour.
How does that stack up next to, say, the hottest rapper du jour, Fetty Wap? The 25-year-old Paterson, New Jersey, native, signed to 300/Atlantic in a partnership with his own indie RGF Productions, has already charted four hits in the top 20 of Billboard’s Hot 100, led by his breakthrough “Trap Queen,” a viral sensation that’s already grossed more than $700,000 in revenue from views on YouTube alone, according to industry estimates. But could Fetty, who recently boasted about having five addresses while on tour with Chris Brown, be sitting even prettier with a few other alternative income sources to his name?
Vulture crunched the numbers, speaking with agents, managers, and industry vets on how today’s artists make their mint, if not record sales. The numbers we received were all ranges, but they do to capture the earning potential of an artist today, both well-established and emerging.
Type Superstar Emerging artist
Concerts $200K – $400K (Per Show) $15,000 max for opening acts (Per Show)
Festival Performances $600K – $4M (Per Show) $15K – $100K (Per Show)
Tour Sponsorship $1M – $10M (Per Tour) $100K – $10M (Per Tour)
Music-Video Sponsorship $50K – $1M (Per Video) $1K – $50K (Per Video)
Endorsement Deal $100K – $5M (Per 1- to 2-Year Deal) $5K – $100K (Per 1- to 2-Year Deal)
Paid Social-Media Posts $1K – $10K (Per Post) $500 – $2K (Per Post)
TV/Film Appearance $10K – $1M (Per Role) $1K – $50K (Per Role)
Singing Competition Coach/Adviser $1M – $17.5M (Per Season) $0
Equity Ownership of Consumer Product Line $100K – $100M $0

Why Major Music Labels Still Matter

September 13, 2015

By Annie Lowrey Vulture.com 9/9/15

Reports of the music industry’s death have been greatly — or at least slightly — exaggerated. Yes, album sales are down from their peak of 785 million in 2000 to 476 million in 2014; and global music sales have fallen by $5 billion over the past decade; and, in theory, technology has given artists the tools to create, distribute, and promote their music without interference from traditional record companies. But the major labels have stubbornly continued to exist, even as old business models erode and listeners embrace streaming services like Spotify, Tidal, and Apple Music.

How is this possible? Though the occasional upstart manages to hit it big without a label (e.g., Rebecca Black), record companies still provide services for the majority of artists streamed on Spotify, and, given the chance, most musicians are still eager to sign with one. “These people are professionals,” says Russ Crupnick, founder of MusicWatch, an industry-analysis group. “Even assuming that you’re a good musician and have the time and interest to actually make a record, doing it yourself is the equivalent of sitting with a pencil and trying to do your own taxes.”

The three major labels — Sony, Universal, and Warner — remain deeply involved in deciding who hears what, often carefully engineering successes that seem viral or organic. Just this summer, Billboard blew the whistle on a Spotify payola pseudo-scandal: Labels were spending tens of thousands of dollars to get their songs on the service’s popular playlists. Spotify banned the practice, but the Big Three have other ways to get their artists heard. Each owns a playlist-curation service — Filtr (Sony), Digster (Universal), and Topsify (Warner) — that works within Spotify’s app and churns out mixes, featuring its artists, designed for driving, workouts, and other activities.

But what’s in this for the labels? Artists like Taylor Swift and Thom Yorke have complained about the meager royalties they receive from streaming — but their record companies actually make out pretty well on the deal. With Spotify, for example, labels get paid three different ways: First, they collect a lump-sum advance payment when they license their catalogue to the service. (Sony’s 2011 three-year deal with Spotify reportedly netted it an advance of $42.5 million, which it was not obligated to split with artists.) Second, a label gets a small payment every time one of its songs is streamed, a portion of which goes to the artists. (Spotify pays about 70 percent of its revenues to music owners.) And third, since Sony, Warner, and Universal are all investors in Spotify, they’ll cash in if Spotify should ever become profitable.

All of which is giving record labels hope, for the first time in a while, that digital revenues might someday make up some of what they lost when downloading overtook sales of physical media. The real-life music business won’t look like the one on Empire anytime soon — in 2002, more than 150 million Americans bought at least one CD; currently, only 8 million have a paid Spotify subscription — but it’s a start. “We’ve only scratched the surface in terms of monetizing streaming,” says Crupnick.


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