With Grammys Near, Will Prince’s Music Make a Big Return?

February 7, 2017

Ben Sisario NY Times.com 2/6/17

At the Grammy Awards next month, the biggest question for fans may be whether Adele or Beyoncé takes home the prize for album of the year. For the music industry at large, however, perhaps an even bigger question is whether the show will finally usher Prince fully into the streaming age.
The Grammys ceremony, on Feb. 12, is the focus of a major marketing campaign set up by the music companies that have rights to release Prince’s songs, and by the streaming services that have been hungry to carry the music but were blocked from doing so by Prince himself before he died last year at 57. (Currently, Prince’s albums are only available on Tidal.)
If all goes according to plan, Prince’s music will be made available on virtually all streaming services around the time of the Grammys, where an all-star musical tribute to Prince is expected to be one of the show’s splashiest moments.
To promote the music’s availability online, Spotify is expected to run a number of promotional spots, including, perhaps, a television ad during the broadcast and a series of online teasers to begin as early as next week, according to several people with direct knowledge of the plans who were not authorized to speak about them. Spotify declined to comment.
But when it comes to managing Prince’s music, nothing is easy.
Despite the eagerness of the music industry to promote Prince’s music online, many issues with the estate remain unresolved. As a result, the plan to offer Prince’s music around the Grammys, first reported by Bloomberg News, remains uncertain and could still fall part, these people said.
“The drivers of what will happen with Prince will be the estate,” said L. Londell McMillan, a lawyer who represented Prince and is one of two experts advising the estate’s administrators on entertainment deals. “When you are looking to release product, you’re looking for the right moments. The Grammys may represent a moment in time, but it’s not certain that that’s going to be the case.”
Here is a look at some of the complications about the estate and the legacy of Prince’s music.
A Complex Estate
Since Prince died without a will, a Minnesota court is overseeing the estate, whose value has been estimated at up to $300 million. Major tasks still need to be completed, like valuing assets and confirming heirs, although the judge overseeing the case has indicated that the heirs will likely include Prince’s sister, Tyka Nelson, along with five half-siblings.
Those presumptive heirs have split into two camps over the management of the estate. One group, including Ms. Nelson and Omarr Baker, one of Prince’s half-brothers, have nominated Van Jones, the CNN commentator, to be a “co-personal representative,” a role similar to an executor. The other four favor Mr. McMillan.
In a nod to the feuding and finger-pointing of the proceedings, the judge, Kevin Eide, ruled last week that he would not appoint anyone to the role unless all heirs agreed and questions of conflicts of interest are sorted out. The estate’s next step, expected next week, will replacing one bank with another as administrator, a move that will bring in yet another round of lawyers and other overseers.
Music executives who have dealt with the estate say that these issues have not interfered with deal-making, but they raise questions about how the estate will be managed in the future and who will benefit from its business.
A Tangle of Rights
Prince maintained close control of his music rights, and wielded them to an extent few other musicians can. For instance, he used his ownership of music publishing rights — the copyrights for songwriting — to block his music from appearing on YouTube, Spotify and other streaming outlets.
But that control led to problems after his death. Prince withdrew his membership from Ascap, the organization that manages performing rights, and it was not until the very end of 2016 that his estate signed a new deal with Global Music Rights, a boutique competitor to Ascap. Performing rights are essential to having music played on the radio or streamed online.
Randy Grimmett, a Global Music Rights executive, said that before he died, Prince had been considering managing his performing rights himself, a burden that few musicians could manage. “He would have been the first — and only — major artist that I know of to have taken that on,” Mr. Grimmett said.
In November, the Universal Music Publishing Group announced that it had made a deal with the Prince estate to act as administrator for the publishing catalog, and signaled that it was ready to release his music widely. But as with most deals, it still needs approval from the estate.
A Vault of Recordings
The estate still has one more major musical asset to offer: the recordings Prince released after leaving Warner Bros. in the mid-1990s, as well as his storied vault.
That trove of unreleased recordings, including hundreds or even thousands of songs, was stored in two actual vaults at his Paisley Park complex outside Minneapolis, and has been the subject of fan fascination for years. The estate has shopped this material to the major record labels, but no deal has been struck yet; executives briefed on those talks have noted the difficulty setting a value for such a range of material, and Warner Bros. still has rights to a large part of it.
Some unheard recordings, however, are set to come out soon. After putting one long-bootlegged track, “Moonbeam Levels,” on a hits compilation last year, Warner Bros. is set to release a new version of Prince’s biggest album, “Purple Rain,” this spring, with a full disc of unreleased material.
A Lawsuit With Jay Z
When it comes to Prince and streaming, the estate faces a question in court: whether or not Tidal, Jay Z’s streaming service, has exclusive streaming rights.
Tidal and Roc Nation, Jay Z’s management company, have argued in court that Prince granted Tidal rights to his catalog. But the estate disputes that point, and in November sued Roc Nation for copyright infringement, saying that Jay Z’s companies have produced no evidence of a deal.
The suit has become a tantalizing sideshow; one document filed in court shows a lengthy marketing presentation for Roc Nation apparently intended to woo Prince. But so far it does not seem to have slowed down deal activity.
What Would Prince Have Done?
Even if the estate is able to get Prince’s music available on all streaming services, is that what Prince would have wanted? He was well known for policing his catalog carefully, pulling it down from services he found unappealing. “Spotify wasn’t paying, so you gotta shut it down,” he told Ebony in 2015.
But associates who worked with him say that Prince’s true intentions could be hard to divine. After writing the word “slave” on his cheek in protest of his Warner Bros. contract in the 1990s, he returned to the label in 2014 to make a deal that was highly favorable to him.
A high-ranking entertainment executive who worked closely with Prince said that after pulling his catalog down from streaming services in 2015, Prince continued to discuss with them the possibility of returning it. He was in those talks until the end of his life, said this executive, who spoke anonymously to avoid revealing details about working with Prince.
Alan Leeds, Prince’s tour manager in the 1980s and later the president of Prince’s label, Paisley Park Records, said that Prince’s attitudes toward technology in particular could be unpredictable but were focused on protecting his interests.
“Prince’s wishes were subject to change,” Mr. Leeds said. “His attitude toward technology was that when it served him he embraced it, and when it didn’t he turned his nose up. It varied day to day, depending on his mood.”

Stem Helps Split Royalties, and Takes Off as Music Distributor

February 7, 2017

By BEN SISARIO NY Times.com 2/5/17

When Frank Ocean’s album “Blonde” came out in August, it went straight to No. 1 and became the talk of the music business because it was released completely outside the usual channels of the recording industry. The mystery was how Mr. Ocean and his team did it.
One answer was revealed on Sunday in an online ad promoting “Blonde” as one of the most acclaimed releases of 2016 and noting that it was “powered by Stem.”
That service, which began only a year ago, has quickly become a player in a fast-growing corner of the music industry: online platforms that cater to independent artists by distributing their music to streaming services and organizing the many strands of royalties that accumulate from fans’ clicks.
Stem, founded by three 20-somethings in Los Angeles, has attracted a clientele of young artists who operate independently yet tend to collaborate frequently with other acts, some of them stars. For them, Stem’s attraction is its ability to easily manage the complex “splits” — the divvying up of royalties among multiple parties — that result from such collaborations. Stem Disintermedia, the company behind it, has raised $4.5 million from investors, including Upfront Ventures and Scooter Braun, who is the manager for Kanye West and Justin Bieber.
The indie music sector already has a well-established network of alternative distribution companies like TuneCore and CD Baby, which deliver unsigned artists’ work to online services for what is usually a small fee. But those services have no means to divide the royalties if a song has, say, two producers and five writers, an example of the kind of collaboration that is now common in pop. Instead, the main performer would be responsible for accounting.
Stem eliminates that burden by tracking every collaborator on a song, and requiring all parties to agree on percentage splits. Milana Rabkin, Stem’s chief executive and one of its founders, compared the service to online payment apps that let friends easily split a restaurant tab.
“In a world where Venmo exists,” Ms. Rabkin said in an interview, “why isn’t there a Venmo for Apple and Spotify?”
Stem’s consensus model, however, could also be its Achilles’ heel, since it will not allow any party to be paid until all agree on the splits, a process that gives holdouts bargaining power. Ms. Rabkin said that most projects reached consensus in a few days and that the longest had taken “a couple months.” The service takes a 5 percent cut on royalties.
Representatives of Mr. Ocean declined to comment on exactly how he had used Stem. But aside from the album’s initial appearance on Apple Music — when it was delivered directly to Apple — Stem appears to have been the vehicle used to release “Blonde” to most major services. Stem distributes music to Spotify, Apple, YouTube, Amazon, Tidal, SoundCloud and several other outlets.
While Stem’s model was novel when it first appeared, it now has competition. In December, CD Baby quietly introduced a new distribution service, Soundrop, which, like Stem, tracks royalty splits — although without the consensus requirement — and caters to a generation more likely to post songs on YouTube and think about making money later.
“It’s an opportunity to reach a demographic that wants to create differently,” said Kevin Breuner, the vice president of marketing at CD Baby. “Music distribution is a secondary thought to them.”
Stem, by contrast, is catching on among a class of young professionals who often operate independently but may be involved in the highest creative levels of the business. Its clients include Childish Gambino and the electronic producer Deadmau5. The company says it has distributed 6,000 pieces of content that have been streamed 500 million times.
Dina LaPolt, a lawyer representing Deadmau5, said her client was using Stem to track his music on YouTube, but explained that Stem’s royalty-tracking system was particularly important to artists in managing the otherwise daunting task of tracking royalty splits.
“Music is the only business in the world where the artist is responsible for doing all the paperwork,” Ms. LaPolt said.
Among Stem’s most vocal advocates is Anna Wise, 28, a singer and songwriter who won a Grammy Award for her work with Kendrick Lamar. She was working as a nanny before she began using the service, which she said had provided her with a steady income — “enough to pay Brooklyn rent,” she said — and devote herself fully to making music. Her latest album, “The Feminine: Act II,” released through Stem, comes out on Feb. 17.
The company’s system, she said, allows her and friends to quickly and transparently arrange deals among themselves, maintaining control and minimizing any disruption to creativity.
“It’s essentially like a smart contract,” Ms. Wise said. “It’s easier and simpler, and I love easy and simple.”

Bruce Springsteen, Beyoncé post top-grossing tours of 2016

January 2, 2017

Randy Lewis, LATimes.com 12/29/16

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band navigated “The River” 35th anniversary tour all the way to the bank in 2016, pulling in $268.3 million globally to score the top-grossing concert trek of the year worldwide, according to Pollstar, the concert industry-tracking publication.

Beyoncé nipped close at the E Streeters’ heels, grossing $256.4 million from her Formation world tour, followed by Coldplay ($241 million), Guns N’ Roses ($188.4 million) and Adele ($167.7 million) to round out Pollstar’s top five.

“In what has been a banner year for the concert business, the Top 10 Tours alone grossed a combined $1.67 billion,” Pollstar editor Gary Bongiovanni noted in a statement. “That is significantly better than the $1.5 billion in 2015.”

It is, in fact, an 11.3% increase.

Adele is one of just two performers to have emerged in the new millennium to make the Top 10, the other being Justin Bieber, whose tour grossed $163.3 million, placing him at No. 6 on the list.

That’s a bit of a come down from last year, when Taylor Swift had the top-grossing tour of 2015 worldwide and the Top 10 also include such relative newcomers as One Direction  and Ed Sheeran.

Following Bieber on the 2016 roster, Paul McCartney posted a worldwide gross of $110.6 million; Garth Brooks, $97 million; the Rolling Stones, $90.9 million; and Céline Dion, $85.5 million.

Coldplay, however, sold the most tickets, moving almost 2.7 million during the year, followed by Springsteen at 2.4 million and Beyoncé at 2.2 million.

Dion easily had the top average ticket price of $146.26, followed by McCartney at $127.43, the Stones at $122.33, Beyoncé at $114.59 and Springsteen at $111.48.

In terms of average gross per show, however, the Stones dwarfed the competition, taking in an staggering $9.1 million from just 14 performances in 10 cities. Beyoncé finished second with an average of nearly $5.6 million at 49 shows in 46 cities, then Coldplay at just under $5.5 million from 60 shows in 44 cities and Guns N’ Roses at almost $5.4 million from 44 shows in 35 cities.

Brooks can claim the most affordable tour among the Top 10 finishers, tickets averaging just $69.29 for the 102 performances he gave in 25 cities.

Pollstar is still finalizing figures for its annual ranking of the Top 200 tours globally and in North America; results will be posted in its Jan. 6 edition.

Bongiovanni noted that Beyoncé took top honors for the highest-grossing North American tour of 2016, but the figure for that portion of her world tour was not released.

Both Springsteen and Beyonce surpassed Swift’s field-leading gross of $250.1 million in 2015.

Streams? What Streams? For Newvelle Records, Vinyl Is the Future

December 27, 2016

By GIOVANNI RUSSONELLO  NYTimes.com 12/26/16

PEEKSKILL, N.Y. — The jazz pianist Elan Mehler hovered over a vinyl-cutting lathe at Masterdisk studios as a mastering engineer laid a blank disc onto the plate and paused for a moment, listening for hints of interference as the blade sliced across the surface.

The men were here, an hour north of New York City, to cut master recordings for Newvelle Records, the small label that Mr. Mehler, 37, founded two years ago with his business partner, Jean-Christophe Morisseau. The discs will be sent to France to be replicated en masse and mailed to Newvelle’s subscribers.

Well, sort of en masse. Like everything at Newvelle, these records will be released only on vinyl, in small releases of 500. No CDs, no digital downloads, no streaming.

It’s all part of Mr. Mehler’s plan to produce first-rate jazz recordings in the digital age. That the music will reach only a small handful of listeners, at least initially, is a necessary downside, Mr. Mehler said

“It’s a model that sustains the music,” he said. “I came to this idea of how to record because of how difficult it is to make a record as a jazz musician.”

Jazz accounted for just 1 percent of all record sales in the United States in 2015, according to Nielsen’s year-end report. But jazz buyers do purchase actual albums: Almost half of those jazz records were bought in physical form. And across all genres, vinyl sales continue to rise; according to Nielsen’s midyear report, in the first half of 2016, vinyl accounted for 12 percent of physical album sales, up 3 percent over the same period a year ago.

Mr. Mehler first had the idea to start a label that would marshal the appeal of vinyl a few years ago, while living in Paris. He mentioned it to Mr. Morisseau, 48, a French businessman who was taking piano lessons from him. They started meeting regularly and sketched out a plan.

Musicians would receive a flat fee to record their albums, with Newvelle fronting the cost of production at a world-class studio in Lower Manhattan. The label would retain exclusive rights to the music for two years, offering it only on elegantly packaged vinyl and only to subscribers, who would pay $400 for a year’s worth of recordings: six in all, sent at two-month intervals.

After two years, the artists would have the right to release the music independently, as long as Newvelle retained exclusive vinyl-distribution privileges.

Mr. Mehler and Mr. Morisseau released their first season over the past year, reaching about 200 subscribers, and in November they completed a Kickstarter campaign to finance the second. That drive signed up about 50 subscribers and raised over $25,000.

Newvelle’s records adhere to the kind of gossamer, “chamber jazz” aesthetic that characterizes most of Mr. Mehler’s work as a pianist, but they feature a range of musicians, from jazz’s nobility to its rising stars.

For the first season, the pre-eminent drummer and sometime keyboardist Jack DeJohnette recorded his first solo piano album, “Return,” a collection of gentle but austere compositions, often in a plaintive minor key. Noah Preminger, a young tenor saxophonist with a dusted and blossoming tone, made a ballads record with an all-star quartet.

Each album in the first season featured images by the French photographer Bernard Plossu, and poems from the Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy K. Smith were printed in the liner notes. This season, which is priced at $360, the albums will feature photos by the French collective Tendance Floue. The novelist Douglas Kennedy is writing a short story that will be serialized across the six records, with a different portion on each album cover.

Rufus Reid, an esteemed bassist, has recorded an album for the coming season, featuring his jazz trio alongside the Sirius String Quartet. He said he was grateful for the opportunity to produce a graceful product and to see his ambitions encouraged rather than resisted. “I think there’s been a longing for people to listen more intently, and the vinyl kind of makes you do that,” he said, adding, “Other labels aren’t really putting out any cash for the whole kit and caboodle of recording an album.”

In its focus on vinyl and its distinctive, brand-coherent album art, Newvelle is a kind of throwback to jazz’s midcentury glories. But it’s also timely. Vinyl is becoming the quintessential luxury item for a music business in transition. And across industries, small companies like Newvelle are using subscription services to market niche products.

“The vinyl form, for Elan, really represented this idea of a pure sound, something that’s very high-quality and that every artist is very keen on,” Mr. Morisseau said. “So my idea was to say, ‘O.K., let’s treat the vinyl and the music like a luxury good.’”

For Newvelle’s musicians, the studio does not serve as a conduit to a broad audience so much as a site for the celebration of their craft. It does little to emulate the bandstand, jazz’s onetime breeding ground, but it does suggest a survival technique for jazz in lean times. And it signals that when jazz becomes a luxury item, product may matter more than populism

How Streaming Is Changing Music (Again)

December 15, 2016

by Michael Luca and Craig McFadden hbr.org 12/12/16

Beyoncé made history with her album Lemonade, which was streamed a record 115 million times in its first week. Just one week later, Drake broke that record when his album Views was streamed 245 million times. The age of streaming music has arrived in full force, displacing both physical sales (e.g., CDs) and downloaded songs (e.g., iTunes). As streaming has taken hold, U.S. album sales, both physical and digital, have plummeted from a peak of 785 million in 2000 to just 241 million in 2015. The change comes from people switching from purchasing full albums, either online or offline, to listening to individual songs through a streaming platform such as Spotify, Tidal, or Pandora (where one of us works, full disclosure).

This shift has the potential to reshape both the music people listen to and the music that artists create. For example, will the concept of albums survive in the age of streaming, or will artists simply release their best singles? (History buffs will note that the concept of recorded albums is itself relatively new.)

As music fans, we wanted to get a sense of the evolving music landscape. Looking at the academic research on the topic and our own data set of 2,400 top-selling albums from 1992 to 2015, two patterns about music quality emerged.

The “Long Tail” Is Easier to Find and Cheaper to Make

Digitization has brought new strategic challenges, and falling revenue, to the industry. Yet it has also brought new opportunities to a wider variety of artists. By reducing search costs, the digitization of music makes it easier to discover new artists and albums.

Despite early concerns that falling revenue (and online piracy) would reduce the availability of music, research by economists Luis Aguiar and Joel Waldfogel shows that the number of music products created between 2000 and 2008 tripled. Skeptics may worry that quantity is coming at the expense of quality. Music quality is, of course, in the eye of the beholder, and some people surely think that music has been on the decline since the death of Tchaikovsky. Focusing on the narrower context of recorded popular music albums from 1960 to 2007, Waldfogel created metrics aimed at capturing the quality of music, such as whether an album ended up on critics’ lists of all-time best albums and the extent to which an album continues to be listened to in future years. (These metrics capture things such as critical acclaim and staying power in the eyes of listeners, focusing on how new and older music compare.) The data suggests that the quality of music has actually improved in the digital age. It is easier to find and less costly to release new music, leading to unpredictable successes from artists who might not have been discovered or produced an album in an earlier era.

While music is still an industry associated with superstars, a greater variety of artists are producing best-sellers over time. Looking at the data, the sales going to the top 100 albums has dropped by about 20% over the past 20 years — nontrivial gains for other artists.

With subscription pricing and the ability to easily skip among artists (as opposed to per-album or per-song charges, which were the norm), streaming pushes users to listen to explore new artists. This has the potential to reduce the concentration of the very top artists and albums, while also helping music lovers find what economists refer to as the “long tail” of the industry. In other words, it’s easier than ever before to find an artist like Julia Nunes, a ukulele player doing cover songs of pop bands who was first discovered through YouTube.

Average Album Length Has Changed Over Time

The quantity and quality of music are not the only things that are changing. In 1992 cassette tapes were the predominant form of consumption in the U.S. and albums averaged about 12.5 tracks. The rise of compact discs brought about better functionality to skip around to different tracks and to know what song you were listening to. (Hidden tracks also suddenly became not so hidden.) As compact discs became the norm, the number of songs per album increased, averaging 15.8 at its peak in 2003.

Around this time, online music started becoming popular and album length began to fall — today it’s about 14.17 tracks. It has been holding steady for about five years but may still be in flux, as artists are figuring out how to adjust to the streaming age.

While many factors affect album length, this raises the potential of adjusting creative content in response to new modes of distribution. When albums are less popular relative to, say, song downloads, albums might become shorter. “Filler” tracks, less popular songs that are not released as singles, serve a diminished purpose. For example, all 12 tracks on Lemonade debuted on the Billboard Hot 100.

What’s Next?

For the industry, these changes raise strategic questions, not only about contracts and pricing but also about which types of artists will thrive and what content artists should be producing. Artists like Drake and Beyoncé show that the concept of an album is still relevant, in part because of innovations such as the visual album. Beck’s 2013 book of sheet music, Song Reader, was innovative in a different way, leading fans to post their own versions of the album online. For example, there are now dozens of versions of the song “Old Shanghai” on YouTube, on instruments ranging from a toy piano to a ukulele.

The Chainsmokers show an alternative path to the album. First known for their 2014 hit “#Selfie,” the band has foregone full-length albums and instead released 10 separate singles and official remixes, which have sold 2.6 million downloads and been streamed over 600 million times on Spotify alone.

For artists, it is a time of reflection and increased strategic options. And for music lovers, it is time to sit back and listen.

December 11, 2016

My Headphones, My Self

By JACOB BERNSTEIN  NYTimes.com 10/10/16

You see them on every block: people being propelled through their routines listening to their own individualized soundtracks, with the outside world serving as a stage set.

Headphones are now fashion statements. Status symbols. Fetish objects on par with luxury watches and limited-edition Nikes.

William Crosson, a 28-year-old executive recruiter and part-time D.J., wears V-Moda Crossfade Wireless headphones, a $270 set that looks like something a cyberhooligan might wear to a Berlin disco.

Alexander Gilkes, a member of Vanity Fair’s best-dressed list and co-founder of the auction site Paddle8, wears $400 headphones made by Master & Dynamic.

Martin Gaynor, a 27-year-old freelance app developer for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, wears Symphonized 2s, a pair of wood-covered, over-the-ear headphones that he bought on Amazon for $53. “The wooden earthy look just seemed to complement the subdued classical look I have on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “It just matched.”

Don’t forget the cultural bellwether Beyoncé. In her “Lemonade” video this year, she belts out “Sandcastles,” a ballad of a woman scorned, while wearing $550 Prymas.

Global headphone sales hit a peak of $8.4 billion in 2013, and two years later, that figure rose to $11.2 billion, according to the research firm Futuresource Consulting. The company predicts that sales will rise another $2 billion by 2018, meaning we have yet to reach Peak Headphone.

The combination of the iPhone and headphones in many varieties (in-ear, over-the-ear, shaped-to-your-ear and so on) gives city dwellers the ability to largely avoid an experience that was once arguably the whole point of living in the crowd — interacting with others.

In a fraught public sphere, headphones provide a measure of privacy. Those who fall deeply into a Spotify playlist or the latest installment of an addictive podcast enter a cocoon-like zone all but impenetrable to tourists, beggars and those do-gooders with clipboards.

“Headphones are the front line of urban social defense,” said Julie Klausner, a comedian, actor and writer. “I’m introverted and socially anxious by nature. My worst nightmare is sitting next to someone on a plane or someone who wants to strike up a conversation on an elevator.”

But Ms. Klausner knows she opens herself to experiences she may otherwise miss when she leaves the headphones at home.

“The other morning, I forgot my headphones and was on the 2 train going to physical therapy when I spilled water over my own seat,” she said. “Then this smiling older woman came over to talk. If my headphones had been on, that probably wouldn’t have happened.”

Alone Together

On a recent Thursday in Midtown Manhattan, Grimaldi Perdomo, 37, an architect, was on his way to work, wearing a Burberry trench coat and listening to the Weeknd’s new album, “Starboy,” on his Parrot Ziks, popular $400 black and titanium headphones designed by Philippe Starck.

A look through Mr. Perdomo’s black Banana Republic bag revealed that he, like other urban warriors, has headphones for all occasions.

Tucked into a small cardboard box was a pair of white Jaybird wireless in-ear headphones for the gym. Should the Jaybirds fail, Mr. Perdomo had a backup: trusty white Apple earbuds, the minimalist sound-delivery system that was all the rage not so long ago but has increasingly been replaced by more garish accessories. At home, Mr. Perdomo said, is an old pair of Beats.

“I like my music,” he said.

All the same, he believes something has gotten lost as many people navigate public spaces under the spell of the private experiences encouraged by digital media.

“Technology has ruined us,” Mr. Perdomo said. “You go to a restaurant and look around, and maybe 80 percent of the people are looking at their phones.”

Please Go Away

The experience of intense private listening in public settings is nothing new. It goes back to teenagers communing with the Shangri-Las via the earpieces connected to transistor radios in the 1950s and ’60s. It recalls the Sony Walkman craze of the ’80s.

But the latest round of headphones popularity may be an expression of our disaffected times, coming during a season when people holding different views on matters political and cultural struggle to open their mouths without triggering an argument.

Some headphones are chrome and accentuate the bass. Others are gold and boost the treble. The companies producing them can go from obscure to white-hot overnight.

Enormous growth has taken place for headphones priced from $99 to $500. But companies like HiFiMan, Audeze and JH Audio have built substantial businesses selling headphones that retail for as much as $3,000.

Alexander Wang and Proenza Schouler are collaborating with brands like Beats and Master & Dynamic on limited editions. Canali teamed with Pryma. Barneys, Neiman Marcus, Colette and Opening Ceremony all stock headphones.

There is even a Broadway show, “The Encounter,” by Simon McBurney, experienced through headphones. It opened to rave reviews in September, with its fancy listening devices given, free of charge, by the German headphones brand Sennheiser. The irony of “The Encounter” is that it relies on state-of-the-art technology to deliver a lament against it.

“For Sennheiser, it’s product placement and an indictment,” Mr. McBurney said.

Did they mind?  “I don’t think so,” he said.

The Shift

The paradox of the headphone experience — which somehow brings together, as Mr. McBurney suggested, isolation and intimacy — did not seem to be on the mind of Val Kolton, 39. A sports-car-obsessed techno fanatic, he founded a headphones company in 2004, naming it V-Moda because “‘moda’ means fashion,” he said, and all his favorite brands were Italian.

“Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Versace,” he said. “And I was really into motorsports. Lamborghini, Ferrari, Ducati.”

Before starting his business, Mr. Kolton was living in San Diego and working at Aviatech, a digital marketing company. Then he had an awakening on a dance floor in Ibiza, Spain.

“We were doing antismoking commercials, and I heard we were going to do another for Mothers Against Drunk Driving,” Mr. Kolton said one evening this fall, as he sat on a black leather sofa in his West Hollywood offices. “And I was having a drink and a smoke, and I thought: ‘You know what? Why am I doing all these “anti” campaigns? What’s next? An antisex campaign? Dance music is going to break through. House music is here!’”

Two years later, Mr. Kolton’s parents gave him money to produce candy-colored $99 earbuds. At the time, Apple was scheduled to release the first iPhone, with a recessed headphone jack that was incompatible with most headphones on the market.

Mr. Kolton got the bright idea of manufacturing his line to Apple’s market-busting specifications. He flew to Cupertino, Calif., and made the pitch. He figured he would be one of many entrepreneurs with Apple in mind, but that was not the case.

The market got more crowded after Beats by Dr. Dre, founded by Andre Young, known as Dr. Dre, and the music producer and executive Jimmy Iovine, introduced its first $300 headphones in 2008.

“Before Beats, $300 for a headphone was considered an outrageous amount of money to spend,” said Jamey Warren, the chief executive of Headphone.com. “You could buy a Sennheiser HD 600 over-the-ear headphone for $300. It was considered the world’s best, and it was a stretch for most folks except audiophiles.”

Increased demand isn’t the only thing fueling the boom. Crowdfunding sites have given potential entrepreneurs new routes to capital, while manufacturing costs have fallen. The 2014 sale of Beats to Apple, for $3 billion, also ushered in a new wave of headphone hopefuls.

Steve Guttenberg, a contributing editor to the digital products review site CNET and a high-fidelity expert, explained how the business has changed.

“Thirty years ago, when someone said, ‘I want to make a headphone,’ he would probably try to make it here in the United States, or he might design it and then get on a plane and say to the people who make headphones in China: ‘Here’s the design. Can you execute it?’” he said. “Now, we’ve eliminated the first two steps. The requirement, quote unquote, is that the person who’s running the show knows what it should sound like and look like and feel like and is able to say, ‘Keep showing me your samples until I find it.’

By the time Jonathan Levine, 54, a former investment banker at Lehman Brothers, started the headphones company Master & Dynamic in 2014, it was clear that design and marketing were key.

Mr. Levine settled on the brand name Master & Dynamic because it sounded similar to established audio brands such as Bang & Olufsen, Astell & Kern, and Bowers & Wilkins. “‘Levine’ didn’t exactly scream luxury,” he said.

To get out the message for his 1950s-inspired, produced-in-China headphones, with its cognac-colored headband, he hired Carolina Clouet, a Balenciaga-clad former consultant for Barneys and Neiman Marcus, as his director of sales.

In October 2014, Bergdorf Goodman, Opening Ceremony and Colette received the first shipments of Mr. Levine’s pièce de résistance, the $399 MH40. In December of that year, Mr. Levine’s team sent them as freebies to Art Basel Miami Beach attendees at the Edition hotel and the Standard Miami.

After David Beckham began wearing them around Los Angeles, GQ proclaimed them “The Most Stylish Headphones Money Can Buy.” By the end of 2015, Master & Dynamic’s staff increased to 36 employees, from eight, who now work in a loftlike space in the garment district, where the walls are adorned with artwork by Christian Marclay and Terry Winters. There is even a Chuck Close portrait of Philip Glass, who, Mr. Levine was pleased to say, wears Master & Dynamics.

While many celebrities serve as brand endorsers, unwitting or not, others are trying to become the brand. This year, Will.i.am, a longtime minority partner in Beats, started Buttons, a $200 set of wireless, in-ear headphones shaped like small saucers and sold through Apple. The fashion stalwart André Leon Talley is the creative director, styling the ads and the boxes, which star Naomi Campbell and Kendall Jenner.

“Nobody has made a fashion headphone that’s in-ear,” Will.i.am said by phone while on a break from taping the British edition of “The Voice.” “They’re all big headphones that sit over your head. The reason we went with earbuds is because we were designing it to be like jewelry.”

The countless options can be paralyzing to customers. The writer and radio host Kurt Andersen said he had trouble picking the right headphones as he perused CNET’s exhaustive review section recently.

“I like that the over-the-ears are not as dorky as they once were,” he said. “The ones from Beats seem fine. But then do I look like someone trying to be young, with groovy, hip-hop headphones?”

The Holdouts

A challenge for the industry is getting women interested in its high-end gear. Amy Uaarmorn, a 31-year-old staff member at the Chateau Marmont hotel in Los Angeles, received a free pair of Master & Dynamic MH40s last year. Yet she said she seldom wears them and cannot imagine spending any more than $50 or $100 on headphones

Never mind that Ms. Uaarmorn’s former boyfriend, Brannan Mason, 24, happens to be the co-owner of Noble Audio, a three-year-old Santa Barbara company that has received glowing notices for its in-ear earphones with prices that begin at $300 and go to $2,700.

Some of the ultraexpensive headphones are made to fit your ear exactly. To get a pair, you see an audiologist, who takes impressions of yours ears using a Play-Doh-like substance and ships them off to a manufacturer like Noble Audio.

This variety, known as CIEMs (short for custom in-ear monitors), started with touring musicians, who use them to block ambient noise and monitor their own sound.

Julie Glick, an audiologist who has a practice on Park Avenue, operates almost like a pharmaceutical rep for Noble Audio and other brands that specialize in custom, in-ear headphones. Matt Stone, a creator of “South Park,” and Daniel Villano, a colorist at Frédéric Fekkai, are among her clients who pop in to test demo units. When a sale is made, she earns a commission.

The trend really took off when JH Audio, a big player in this area, began posting photos of its famous customers and their CIEMs on Facebook and Instagram

But even as the boom shows no sign of abating, there are those who, like Ms. Uaarmorn, have no interest in spending hundreds or thousands of dollars for a perfect listening experience.

Julie Klausner is also sticking to the basics.

“Apple earbuds,” she said. “I don’t really need anything else.”

 

Tony Visconti Talks The State Of The Music Industry And Producing For David Bowie

December 9, 2016

Hugh McIntyre Forbes.com 11/29/2016 @

Tony Visconti is a name known to anybody who has been in the music industry long enough to appreciate not just the biggest and brightest stars that have ever lived, but those that helped get them to the top. While not known as an artist himself, Visconti has produced and written music alongside the likes of Morrissey, Anti-Flag, Adam Ant, Elaine Paige, Iggy Pop, Sparks, and most notably and memorably, David Bowie, with whom he worked for decades, up until the beginning of this year when the rock star passed away. Visconti is a true rock and roll legend, and despite the fact that he could probably jump into the studio with anybody he’d like to, he opts to continue to discover new talent and work with lesser-known figures, simply because he finds them more interesting.I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Visconti at this year’s Reeperbahn Festival, where he was a judge at the first annual Anchor Award. Thankfully, he didn’t hold back when it came to topics like the new music economy, and what made artists he’s worked with so special.Hugh McIntyre: You have been producing music for decades now. How have things changed in your line of work from when you began to when you go into a studio now?
Tony Visconti: I started out in the days of 4-tracks, multitracks. 4-tracks weren’t a lot, but if you listen to, say, Sgt. Pepper’s or Revolver, you can hear that you can do amazing things with 4-track, or two 4-track machines. It’s a very inconvenient way of working, and as soon as the higher numbers of tracks were invented, things got easier, but essentially nothing has changed except the technology.But, something strange has happened. The better the technology, the lower the quality of the musical content . That might be related to how convenient it is to work nowadays, and how many more people have their hands on recording equipment who shouldn’t even be let near a piece of recording equipment. I think there is much more mediocre music in the world today. There are very few iconic people making music.You might have digital workstations and Pro Tools and Logic and all that, but people still want microphones that are 50 years old, and they pay a lot of money for them. They want equipment that has tubes in them that are rarely made these days. They’ll pay a fortune for something that was probably built in the ‘50s. These things, they sound beautiful. It’s like an old car that’s been well-maintained. People like analog tape nowadays. The trend is going back to analog, back to vinyl. It’s nice that the younger generation values these things, because when my generation dies, we have to hand on this legacy. There was never anything wrong with the old way of recording, and people are now just learning how to do it.
I just came from Kingston University, and I think the oldest student I taught was about 23 years old. We worked on analog machines for five days and they were just in heaven. Nothing’s changed really.McIntyre: Do you find it odd that young people value and will pay for an instrument or a piece of recording equipment, but not an album? They’d rather stream.
Visconti: It’s interesting. This entitlement to having music for free is really ruining a lot of things. The ideal situation for any artist is to earn a living from their art. If an artist has to do a 10 hour job so they can support their music, there’s the law of diminishing returns. The artist should spend all day making their music, and that’s not easy. Nowadays music is more simple, and more basic. It’s maybe because people just don’t have the brainpower to stay with it all the time. Not because they’re stupid, but because they just don’t have the time. There are so many distractions. A lot of young people are struggling to make a living. There are internships all over the place that don’t pay. You might find people as old as 27, they’re still doing internships. These are terrible times. I’m not talking about my generation, I’m talking about yours. You deserve better. If you want people to be like David Bowie, his last real job was when he was 19 years old, and he spent the rest of his life as a paid artist. Of course, it paid off.

People need to make a living making music. When you go to a pub with your band, you should make money. You shouldn’t do it for the exposure. A bank teller doesn’t work for the exposure. A doctor doesn’t work for the exposure. A scientist doesn’t work for the exposure. Music isn’t taken seriously, and it should be. Every part of our lives is affected by music. If you walk down any street in any city, people have earbuds in, and they’re listening to music. If you get married, you have certain music for your wedding. You die, you have certain music for your funeral. You have sex, you have certain music for sex. It’s behind every human activity. People sing, they dance…whether they are going to do it professionally or not. It’s really a shame how it’s been devalued.
People pay big bucks for a blockbuster film like the new Star Wars. They might even see if three times and pay. Music doesn’t have that respect anymore, and that’s a very sad situation.

McIntyre: From the behind the music side of it, how has the business of creating music or producing changed?
Visconti: Again, that’s not changed too much. That structure still exists where producers still get money. I get hired all the time, still. I get paid very well because I have a legacy. I’m proven. I’ve got a track record. Young producers are making a lot of money, EDM people. A lot of pop music. I love pop music. I’m not a snob. I don’t have to listen to prog rock or something. I love good pop music when it’s done well. I think they’re doing well because if you go into a studio, it costs a lot of money to build a studio, even a digital studio. You don’t use tape and all that, but a basic digital studio that’s really good and that’s really going to do all the necessary jobs, and a bank of microphones–that’s hardware, expensive hardware—and everything else not in the box, that’s going to set you back $25,000. Then these things become obsolete, and you have to buy the latest computer, the latest plugins. They’re getting cheaper and cheaper. I remember when a plugin used to cost around $600, and now some of those very same plugins are about $50.

There’s an economy involved, and it’s important to support that system. That system is directly supported by royalties, which are dwindling because companies like Spotify, and to some extent iTunes, feel that they don’t have to pay for the stuff because, we’re getting back to that word again, “exposure.” That’s your payoff. You find more money is actually made playing live gigs. I think that’s a healthy thing, but I don’t see why your recording income should be cut. I know a lot of big labels are taking percentages of the live gigs now because they can’t make money selling records. They’re actually stealing money from their artists. They’re saying, “We’ll take 30% of your door.” Well, what are you doing for it? “Nothing, but we want it if you want to be on our label, you have to give us that.”

The business of music right now is in an upheaval. It needs a really well-timed revolution, because the music business isn’t like the U.S. government. It’s just a business, and the healthiest thing for businesses is when you have competition. We have to build an alternative music business, which a lot of people have taken on anyway. There are so many self-released artists. You can go through iTunes, but you can also still sell CDs and vinyl at your gigs. The minute you put your signature to a contract with a label, you owe them money.  You’re in debt from day one. If you don’t do that and you sell 5,000 CDs, it doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but it’s all your money. It all goes back into your band and your pocket. This alternative music business has already begun, but if it gets organized, it will leave the big labels standing saying, “Oh we missed out again.” They missed out on downloading when downloads and piracy first came out, they fought it instead of finding out how they could be a part of it, as if it was going to go away. Anyone who had a computer, which those old guys didn’t have, realized that this wasn’t going to go away. This was the future.

I’m in a funny position, I’m old school and new school. I reap the benefits of both in my work, but I feel for those that are just starting out. They practice in earnest and they write good music. This is my future, too, because when I retire, which will probably never happen, I want to hear good music when I turn on the radio or when I turn on TV! I want to hear really good bands and good singers who can sing really well, and not just have their only training be in the shower. I’d like people to take singing lessons again. Everyone does, and not say they do. All of the big stars have vocal coaching and all that, and I think that’s wonderful.

McIntyre: Since you brought it up, what would you consider a good pop song or album today?
Visconti: 
It’s a couple of years back, but Amy Winehouse was a beacon in the dark. There was a woman who could sing, who could write. She had a lot of character, a lot of personality. She was a great pop star, really a great one. Adele to some degree is as big a personality, though it’s not my taste in music. Amy Winehouse was wonderfully retro, and yet recorded in a modern context, which was a great feat to pull off. I had high hopes for her. I was very sad the day she died.

McIntyre: Do you feel that the future of music, this revolution, is all direct to fan? It’s all artists running things as entrepreneurs?
Visconti: 
I think it’s inevitable. Artists have to run it as entrepreneurs, and the fans are very loyal. Fans buy the music. They know it’s important to have the t-shirt and the CD and all that, and to pay for the downloads. Then in their own little private world they exchange bootlegs, but this is all very healthy. This has been going on for years, that aspect of it. I just met some young girls on the street who saw my South By Southwest hoodie. They must have been about 20 years old. They go to SXSW, and they want to learn about new music by going to festivals like this. They are now at the Reeperbahn Festival to see new bands. I believe you have to keep reinventing the music business. It is so important to have a festival like this.

More direct communication with the public, not from the ivory towers at the labels. Music venues in most cities are thriving. Little clubs. I go to them. You never know what you’re going to find. Usually run of the mill stuff, but occasionally… I think the next Freddy Mercury, the next David Bowie, the next Kate Bush, they’re all out there. That’s not going to happen once in the history of the universe. There are a lot of talented people at that level. Those people, unfortunately, are going to have to boost themselves through self-promotion and self-enterprise, because labels aren’t signing geniuses anymore. They don’t recognize it, it’s been devalued. They are following yesterday’s hits. They would rather have soundalikes and lookalikes. I’ll tell you something, if that system worked, you’d see sales rising. Sales every year are diminishing, even downloads.

Vinyl,  that’s making it go back up again, but that’s a medium, that’s not a genre. Vinyl is the thing that’s cool to put on your wall. You have to make vinyl these days to get more sales, but even that, that’s a fad. I’m glad that vinyl is now an option that exists. You can actually buy vinyl. There was a 10-year period where they just stopped manufacturing it. Nowadays, there are only three plants in the whole world, and they are backlogged by as much as six months. So if I wanted to put a vinyl out tomorrow, I’d have to get in the queue.

Then the labels are thinking, “Oh, that’s going to save the business!” That’s really small. It’s not going to save anything. What will save this industry is if they realize that people like Bowie, Kate Bush, and all that, were weird. They were very weird. Some people gravitate towards that. They are tired of the same old thing. They’re tired of their father’s music. They want to hear something of their own generation. Those people are out there. You’re not going to find them on a major label. I heard a rumor that the major labels are looking for weird people now, but I haven’t heard or seen any evidence of that.

McIntyre: It doesn’t seem like it .
Visconti:  Well, if Adele sells so many records, they clearly are looking for more Adeles. They would rather have more Adeles if such a thing is possible, but that’s pretty much an insult to Adele, who came up and decided to have this big voice and sing these big, dramatic songs. She was a little bit weird. That wasn’t de rigueur .

McIntyre: You have produced many genres of music. Rock, world music, pop, and several others. How do you decide what you’re going to do, even if you’ve never worked in that genre before?
Visconti:  My criteria is that I look for uniqueness. I still do. I still have faith in it. I’ve been offered a lot to do a run of the mill thing many times. To do the backing, put the singer up front, tune his or her voice and make it sound great. I find that I’ll get very bored doing things like that. I still look for a person who has a voice that’s unlike any other voice. In my history, for example, I’ve worked with Morrissey, who sounds like nobody else. Bowie, who sounds like no other person. Marc Bolan, who sounds like no other person. Even in my folky days, I worked with Mary Hopkin, who I married eventually, she had a great, great voice.

I nearly worked with Kate Bush. That would have been nice. I had a couple of meetings with her and a very long lunch all about working together. She transitioned into self-producing after that. She said, “I would work with you if I wanted a producer.” She called me, I didn’t call her. I gravitate towards that kind of person. There are plenty of people to work with.

McIntyre: Is there somebody you hear now where you think, “That’s an original voice! That person is unique! I would love to work with them!”
Visconti:  I just worked with such a person, Esperanza Spalding. I did her whole last album. I did the whole thing and then she went off and self-produced a few more tracks. I think about seven of my tracks are on there. There is a person who is quite unique in every way.

McIntyre: That was quite a weird album, I have to say. Very unexpected for her.
Visconti: 
Yeah. That’s her attempt at being more widely accepted. If you listen to her earlier work… I think she did an R&B album once before. She is true to herself. She has no shortage of fans. She’s touring all the time, makes big bucks, plays to big audiences. She’s definitely not a top 10 pop artist, but she sells a lot of records. There are a lot of people who sell a lot of records who don’t make the top 10. They have their own specific audiences. Heavy metal doesn’t make the top 10, but they sell hundreds of thousands, millions.

That’s my point. Big labels are concentrating on pop more than anything, and they’re concentrating on this imagined teenage audience with loads of cash to spare. It’s an old model. It’s not working anymore. They’re signing artists that they think teenagers are going to go for, but there are people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s that actually have good jobs and they’re making good money. They would spend money on good, new music if it was presented to them, and if they knew where to find it. If it was marketed the way records were marketed in the ’70s and ’80s. Some people go out and buy the best clothes that they can afford. They’re buying quality. They don’t go to a real cheap clothes store, unless that’s all they can afford. We live in a society now where people do have a lot of cash to spend. They take holidays. If you take holidays, you’re making a good wage. They’ll spend money on quality, and it’s wrong to just target the teenage market, who by the way, know how to download anything for free. It’s a no-brainer.I think in the ’70s, the difference was a label might sign 50 new acts a year and give them enough money to make their album. They would sign those acts on the basis of their uniqueness. It was already proven that the freaky artists eventually became the biggest stars.

Bowie is a weird, one of the strangest artists. He has two different colored eyes… Everything about him is out of the ordinary. He’s probably one of the biggest stars that ever lived. He started out as a very strange musician. When I met him, he was laughable. He’d been around the block a few times. He’d submitted a few demos and the labels thought, “He’s weird, we don’t want him. We don’t know what to do with him.” “We don’t know what to do,” I’ve heard that so many times. Then he busted through with “Space Oddity.” He did the first thing that nobody had ever done: he invented a stage persona. Everyone would go on as themselves, and he went on stage as this character Ziggy Stardust. Ingenious. I’m telling you, we have people like that. That can happen again, and again, and again in different forms. It’s something I haven’t thought of yet, something you haven’t thought of yet. There’s some band of geniuses that will come up with new formulas and that will come up with new ways to make music.

RICHARD GRIFFITHS: MODESTY WITH A HINT OF IRONY

December 8, 2016

Richard Griffiths has worked in the music business for more than four decades. After breaking in as a London-based booking agent, he founded Headline Artists and became the first international agent for AC/DC. He went on to hold a series of senior executive positions on both sides of the pond, including Epic, CBS Records, BMG, Virgin Music and Sony Music. Griffiths and Harry Magee set up U.K. offices for The Firm in 2001, forming Modest! Management two years later. The company took off seven years later when Simon Cowell chose Griffiths and Magee to manage fledgling boy band One Direction, which he had assembled from contestants on the original U.K. edition of his show The X Factor. Griffiths and his partner haven’t looked back since, playing key roles in the development and breaking of clients 5 Seconds of Summer worldwide, as well as Olly Murs and Little Mix in the U.K. In the summer of 2015, Modest! simultaneously had #1 singles on 5SOS, Little Mix and L.A. teen quartet Hey Violet. Griffiths and Magee are now in the initial stages of guiding the career of 1D alumnus Niall Horan.


At what point did you know you wanted to leave the label sector and go into management?
I didn’t want to leave the label. That fucking idiot Rolf Schmidt-Holtz fired me and Harry Magee. We almost immediately decided to go in to management business together. Jeff Kwatinetz got in touch and we set up a London office for The Firm. Unfortunately, that fell apart soon after we started, so we set up Modest!

How did working at CBS/Sony prepare you for becoming an effective manager?
Working for Tommy Mottola changed my life. I was running Virgin Publishing in L.A., signing all the hit CBS acts. Tommy was getting pissed off, so we met and he offered me a job running Epic. Working directly with Tommy taught me so much, as well as dealing with Sharon Osbourne, Roger Davies and others. Even though we were rivals at Columbia and Epic, Donnie Ienner and I had a great working relationship.

Back in the Sony days with Ozzy Osbourne and band, Sharon Osbourne, Dave Glew, Michele Anthony and Tony Martell.

Who was your first client?
Lemar, who came third in a talent show called Fame Academy. He had three double-platinum albums, but we could never break him outside of the U.K.

Which label execs have you worked with most closely and effectively?
Steve Barnett and I have worked together both at Epic, where I brought him in to run international, and subsequently when he was at Columbia and now Capitol. We’ve shared huge success together over the years. I love working with Rob Stringer, who was the Epic label manager in London when we first met. Nick Raphael and Jo Charrington at Capitol U.K.—we had massive success with JLS, Olly Murs and now 5SOS. We have had a great working partnership with Sonny Takhar at SYCO. His influence on the career of 1D and Little Mix has been huge. We will miss him.

What role did Simon Cowell play in the evolution of your company?
Simon worked for me when I was President of BMG Europe. When he wasn’t sure about going on TV, I encouraged him. We have a strong personal friendship. He came to Harry and me when the first two series of The X Factor failed to produce an artist of merit. The first year together, we got Leona Lewis and broke her around the world. There followed five years of unparalleled success, JLS, Olly, Little Mix and, of course, One Direction. Working with Simon established Modest!, but at the same time we helped The X Factor break worldwide artists. I’m sure it’s a coincidence, but that hasn’t happened since we stopped five years ago!

What are your plans for 5SOS?
They are on a well-deserved break after finishing their tour last week. They did 102 arena shows and have sold over 750,000 tickets and 1.3 million albums. They are in a great place. The band will be around for a long time.

Do you have a strategy for breaking Little Mix in the U.S.?
I really believe we are going to break Little Mix big time with this album—not only in America but around the world. We’ve been close before but never quite got there. My good friend Scooter Braun has given us the Ariana Grande tour in the first quarter of 2017. I think this is going to be the perfect platform. No one works harder than those girls.

How does managing Niall differ from managing 1D?
Less cars for a start! Obviously, the guys were very young when we started so that was always a major consideration. Niall is now a young man with six years-plus experience at the coalface of the business, having had phenomenal success, so the approach is different. With 1D, for example, the writing was condensed and recording was mainly done in hotel rooms whilst on tour. Niall is writing and recoding at his own pace, which he is loving, and the results are a testament to his growth and emergence as a world-class solo artist.

Do you think 1D will ever reunite?
Not in the foreseeable future. They are all out there enjoying being themselves. I’m sure Harry and Liam will make records and have great success. Louis has some interesting projects he’s developing. But never say never to a reunion.

What are the biggest challenges for breaking a new act right now? How do you attack those challenges?
The new world that we inhabit evolves and changes on a weekly basis. Having a hit has become harder and harder due to the dominance of the major players that the streaming model favors. New acts need a mobilized fan base before going full-throttle. They need more time than ever to grow and develop.

Where did you get the name Modest! from?
When England beat Germany 5-1 in Munich, we registered FiveOne as a company. Then Ged Doherty, who was Chairman of Sony U.K., called me and asked me what name we were going to use. I told him, and he said, laughing “Why don’t you call it ‘modest’?” We loved the idea, but added the exclamation point to make it clear it’s ironic.

Who’s in your pantheon of great managers?
Irving Azoff, Sharon Osbourne, Roger Davies, Scooter Braun, Simon Fuller, Jeff Kwatinetz, Louis Walsh (that’s a joke!), Bill Curbishley, Cliff & Peter.

What can you depend on the major labels for today?
Well, it’s a very different world. Gone are the days when you could just hand a record over to a major and get them to spend too much money and you’d get a hit. It’s a far more collaborative process now. One big change is the labels are under-resourced and management must supplement their deficiencies. Modest! has a bigger digital department than any U.K. label; probably the same with branding. We have to do that because the labels are so understaffed. Also, so many of their people have no understanding of how hard an artist works. They sit in their offices coming up with stupid schedules because they have never experienced what an artist is going through.

What are some of the most difficult issues facing managers today?
The basic and most challenging issue is that it now takes much longer to break new acts. That obviously means more investment both financial and in terms of time. The other issue, which is also obviously both a gift and curse, is that campaigns now need to be thought through from a global perspective from the outset.

Is the impact of streaming on the branding process mitigating the impact of radio?
Not so much mitigating but providing another lane. The long tail theory hasn’t really materialized in the streaming world, however, so the same rules still apply—the big artists and songs dominate. There is no doubt that radio is going to have to revaluate its playlist strategies in the streaming world.

What are the most enjoyable and most gratifying parts of your job?
I still get a thrill from breaking a new artist. I love having #1 records and sold-out shows. Bill Curbishley once said the definition of management is doing the unnecessary for the ungrateful! That is true by and large, but we’ve been fortunate to work with some wonderful artists who work really hard, do a great job and say thank you. And then there’s the management rider. We say promoters have to provide two bottles of fine red wine. Simon Moran and David Zedeck know more about wine now than they ever thought possible.

What changes do you foresee taking place during the next five years, for the business and for yourself?
It is much harder and is taking much longer to break new artists. This makes our job even more challenging, but never has the role of the manager been more important. On a personal note, I’d love to find and break a great rock band. That’s where I came from, and while I love that we are the Princes of Pop, I miss a bit of headbanging!

Beyoncé Raised the Bar With ‘Lemonade.’ Now Others Are Leaping, Too.

September 29, 2016

By JOE COSCARELLI NYTimes.com 9/27/16

Does every pop star these days need a “Lemonade”?

Among Beyoncé’s more influential tactics at the moment is her insistence that an album should not be just an auditory experience and that the standard music video — a sort of trailer for an artist’s current sound or creative era — is far from enough. “Lemonade,” her sixth solo album, had its premiere in April as an artsy and provocative hourlong film on HBO, raising the bar set by “Beyoncé,” the surprise “visual album” that came with videos for every track in 2013.

As the value of digital music continues to hover near free for many consumers, some brand-name acts are following Beyoncé’s blueprint with high-concept mini-movies that can add artistic heft to projects competing for attention in an infinite pile of content. These extended videos, with their headline-grabbing cameos and high production values, have also become the latest theater in the music streaming war as services like Tidal and Apple Music function not just as platforms but as creative partners (and sometimes financial backers) with artists, in exchange for exclusivity.

On Sunday night, Apple Music released “Please Forgive Me,” a 22-minute video with a loose action-movie plot that strings together hits from Drake’s “Views,” the biggest album of the year so far. Shot in the Soweto area of Johannesburg, “Please Forgive Me” is available only as an Apple stream — even screenshots have been disabled, minimizing Drake’s usual meme-ability — and credits Larry Jackson, the service’s head of content, as a producer and co-writer. It follows the release last month of Frank Ocean’s “Endless,” a 45-minute “visual album” and musing on the artistic process that was also exclusive to Apple. (The “Lemonade” film is available for streaming and downloading only on Tidal.)

“We are living in such a visual time, social media-wise, with Snapchat and Instagram, that every project needs to have some sort of multimedia component,” said Jeff Rabhan, a veteran artist manager and the chairman of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University. But a single with an accompanying four-minute video “just doesn’t cut through the noise,” he said.

By advertising “Please Forgive Me” as a film that was “inspired by the album” — not simply a long music video — Drake and Apple cryptically telegraphed the premiere as an event à la “Lemonade” instead of another step in the “Views” marketing plan. In fact, by aiming for prestige, artists may sacrifice some commercial impact: “Please Forgive Me” came in lieu of an earlier stand-alone YouTube video for Drake’s chart-topping summer single, “One Dance,” which could have juiced its Billboard statistics and extended its reign. (Streams have been a significant part of Drake’s success now that Billboard counts them, along with album sales, when calculating chart positions.)

“For an artist who is really wanting a body of work to be examined as a conceptual whole, this creates that environment in a singles-driven world,” Mr. Rabhan said.

Beyond the artistic-credibility incentive, the immersive experience of an extended video can also serve as “a commercial for the tour,” he added. “Drake, Beyoncé — they’re not making their money on streaming or sales. They’re making money when we spend $180 to go to Citi Field and watch ‘Lemonade’ in person.” (With Drake as its most prominent artistic face, Apple Music has also partnered with him on a Beats 1 online radio show and sponsored his “Summer Sixteen” tour with Future, another Apple-affiliated artist.)

While high-concept promotional music films and event videos date back to the Beatles and Michael Jackson, with Lady Gaga and Kanye West picking up the torch to begin the post-MTV YouTube era, more recent video projects have taken advantage of new outlets for distribution, knowingly sacrificing wider audiences by partnering with closed digital platforms thirsty for buzzy products.

Tom Connaughton, the senior vice president for content and programming at Vevo, the online music-video platform that provides some of the top clips on YouTube, said that a video is twice as likely to be shared on social media than an audio track, according to his company’s data. As a result, he said, “You’re seeing big multinational companies involved in a music streaming war using video in addition to audio to drive their agenda.” That includes luring subscribers with exclusives.

And while a major label may be reluctant to fund big-budget music videos in leaner times, ambitious artists can capitalize on their clout with streaming services that are willing to shepherd and promote such projects.

“There’s an element of competitiveness among top-tier pop stars to making bigger, flashier delivery systems for their music,” Mr. Connaughton said. “They all want to outdo each other.”

Social Media Got You Down? Be More Like Beyoncé

September 29, 2016

By JENNA WORTHAM  NYTimes.com 9/27/1

In Gary Shteyngart’s 2010 novel, “Super Sad True Love Story,” characters carry around smart devices called äppäräts, which are something like iPhones on meth. The book is set in the near future. Staten Island is the new Brooklyn, and all the characters use their äppäräts to chat and shop and beam their lives out to the world, nonstop. Äppäräts are also equipped with a program called RateMe Plus, which constantly calculates (and broadcasts, of course) a status ranking based on users’ jobs, financials and online popularity, which is gauged by the quantity and quality of what they share. Live-streaming the most intimate details of your life is the only way to get ahead — job promotions and romantic prospects depend on it.

Shteyngart’s extrapolations from first-generation social media are beginning to prove surprisingly prescient. The biggest companies are now slaving away to bring his vision ever closer to real­ity. It’s not a philosophical or ideological statement on their part; it’s just that their business model is predicated on sharing, and finding new ways to extricate more and more from us. This spring, Facebook introduced its 1.7 billion users to a new feature called Live, which allows anyone to broadcast his or her life in a real-time stream to friends and family. The company also said it would prioritize personal posts like Live over those from brands or news organizations — a sign that, like Shteyngart, it thinks people are far more invested in voyeurism than in anything else. (And in theory, it should know.) In August, Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, followed suit with a feature called Stories, allowing users to post photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours. The company described it as a way to “share all the moments of your day, not just the ones you want to keep.”

It all feels like harmless fun, but our online lifestyles have begun to make a real impact in our offline worlds, a trend that doesn’t seem to be reversing. In 2014, Facebook talked with lenders about the possibility of linking profiles to credit scores, and one recent survey showed that 40 percent of college-admission officers now say they peruse applicants’ social-media profiles in addition to evaluating G.P.A.s and essays.

Social media has, in its own way, provided us a means of generating other selves. We just haven’t yet learned to set them free. Beyoncé has.

Social media tends to reward those who share the most — which means we tend to see way more from certain people than we want to see. You probably already know what I mean, and have seen it in your own feeds, as friends, co-workers and complete strangers faithfully transcribe their inner monologues in a never-ending stream. Even those who make a living in the public eye aren’t immune to the perils of oversharing — on the contrary. Two recent examples come to mind: Jennifer Weiner, a very successful author by any measure (her 2002 book, “In Her Shoes,” was made into a movie starring Cameron Diaz), recently wrote an embarrassingly long diatribe on Facebook blasting Oprah for not selecting her latest novel for her book club; and the rapper the Game has posted obscene, near-nude selfies on Instagram that emphasize an enormous bulge in his underwear that may or may not be Photoshopped.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with either example — but they each clearly underline the ways that social media has stripped away our ability to tell what is O.K. to share and what is not. It’s not just that watching people vie for your attention can feel gross. It’s also that there’s a fine line between appearing savvy online and appearing desperate.

In high-definition contrast, let’s look at Beyoncé for a moment. Unless televised live performances count, she has never live-streamed a day in her life. She rarely gives interviews, so what we know is scraped from her social-media presence — which isn’t much. I can tell you what outfit and hairstyle Beyoncé posted on social media last week, but I couldn’t tell you where in the world she was, what the inside of her house looks like or even which continent her primary residence is on. Her images tend not to be location-tagged, or even look as if they were taken with a cellphone. I couldn’t tell you who took the photos of her, because, unlike most celebrities, Beyoncé rarely posts selfies. I have no idea who comes to her pool parties, if she has a pool or has ever been to a pool party. I couldn’t guess what she wears to bed. And yet, when I speak about her, it’s as if we’ve been attached at the hip since birth. I feel, very intimately, that I know her. Beyoncé’s feed is the rice cake of celebrity social-media feeds: low in caloric content but mystifyingly satisfying.

Most people treat social media like the stage for their own reality show, but Beyoncé treats her public persona more like a Barbie — she offers up images and little more, allowing people to project their own ideas, fantasies and narratives about her life onto it. Take, for example, her response after a video leaked of her sister, Solange, attacking Beyoncé’s husband, Jay Z, in a hotel elevator. Rather than posting rapid-fire tweets explaining the whole thing, Beyoncé simply posted a series of photographs of herself and her sister having fun, quelling any rumors of a rift.
Photo

The Beyoncé we follow on social media is an illusion that feels intimate and real, one that (probably) provides the real Beyoncé space to exist privately. Credit Photo illustration by Adam Ferriss. Source photograph: Larry Busacca/Getty Images.

This logic extends to her creative work too. Earlier this year, she spent an entire album, “Lemonade,” stoking rumors of marital strife with Jay Z. Lines like “You’re gonna lose your wife” seemed to confirm that her once-dreamy relationship was on the rocks. The release of that album felt cathartic, an answer to questions about her personal life that her fans had been obsessing over for months. But then, before the fervor over that album faded, news of another album leaked: this time, a duet album. With her husband. In a single calendar year, Beyoncé managed to reveal what seemed to be a lifetime’s worth of secrets and pain, without it being clear whether she had revealed anything at all. If anything, that only made people want more.

Conventional wisdom casts Beyoncé as a control freak, and perhaps she is, but control isn’t such a bad thing. Lately, I’ve been thinking about her bifurcated self in the context of somewhat-forgotten cyberfeminist theory. In the 1980s, academics believed that technology would introduce profound changes for humankind, especially women. Donna Haraway, emerita professor of the history of consciousness and feminist studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an inspiration for cyberfeminism, wrote that new technologies could liberate women from patriarchy and other oppressive systems. In the distant future, she believed, people could assume virtual bodies, allowing for “permanently partial identities” that could exist beyond gender, beyond reproach and without limits.

The internet preserved many of the same biases and hierarchies Haraway so desperately hoped we could escape. And there are no true cyborgs yet. But social media has, in its own way, provided us a means of generating other selves. We just haven’t yet learned to set them free. Beyoncé has, in her own way. The Beyoncé we follow seems to live and breathe, and provokes a real emotional reaction. It’s an illusion that feels intimate and real, a hologram self for us to interact with that, in theory, provides the actual Beyoncé space to exist away from our prying eyes.

This isn’t a strategy that works for only the incredibly rich and famous. I believe it’s a useful way of thinking about how we could all behave online. Why fret about oversharing, or undersharing, or to what extent our online selves are true to our ac­tual self? We could instead use social media as a prism through which we can project only what we want others to see. We can save the rest for ourselves — our actual selves.