Social Media Got You Down? Be More Like Beyoncé

September 29, 2016


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.

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.

Fans still prefer music live to digital, Nielsen Music 360 report finds

September 17, 2016

By Randy Lewis 9/15/16

How do people most like to enjoy their music? Live, at least according to the Nielsen Music firm’s latest edition of its Music 360 report, which tracks how consumers take in music in today’s fractured, multi-platform world.

Of all the ways to experience music, Nielsen found, 36% of consumers’ money spent goes toward live events, far and away the most popular way of consuming music.

Of course, that no doubt partly reflects the fact that the cost of tickets for most live events far outpaces the cost of buying downloads, CDs or paying for a monthly streaming subscription.

But in an intriguing facet of the study into the changing habits of fans in an era in which music is increasingly defined by streaming services, 21% of overall music spending still goes toward physical CDs or downloaded digital singles and albums, compared to only 6% to streaming service subscriptions.

Among 13- to 17-year-old consumers, 38% of their money is spent on physical and digital albums and tracks, with a higher-than-average 9% for streaming services, and just 5% for satellite radio subscriptions.

Those are just a couple of highlights of the report, which Nielsen has excerpted for public consumption from the full paid study that goes out this week to its entertainment industry subscribers.

“Fans are interacting with music differently,” the report’s summary states, “but their passion for music remains strong. In fact, listeners are spending more time and more money on music-related expenses in 2016 than they did in 2015.”

On the streaming front, Nielsen reports that 80% of music listeners used such a service during the 12 months preceding the study. The report was conducted from July 14 to Aug. 5 of this year, among 3,554 consumers “reflective of the population of the United States.”

That figure is up five percentage points from a year earlier, when 75% of respondents said they had used a streaming service in the prior year.

In terms of the time spent listening to music, Nielsen reports that radio is still the most popular method, accounting for 27% of the time people spend listening by format. Digital music collections accounted for an additional 20%, followed by streaming of on-demand audio (12%), programmed audio (11%), and music video and physical music collections (tied at 10% each).

Demographically, Hispanic consumers (as defined by Nielsen) spent on average 90% more on music than the general population and also scored higher numbers than average for attending DJ events and smaller live music sessions.

Hispanics also posted higher numbers than teens or millennials (ages 18 to 34) for attending live concerts with one main headliner, small live music sessions, live concerts with multiple headliners, music festivals, club events with DJs and club events with a specific DJ.

The survey also explored music preferences broken down by political affiliation, with Democrats scoring higher than the general population in money spent on club events with DJs (124% more than average), small live music sessions (+54%), digital music (+43%) and video on demand or pay-per-view services (+38%).

Republicans, meanwhile, spent more on premium TV subscriptions (76% above the general population), comedy performances (+65%), sports events (+35%) and satellite radio services (+32%).

Entertainment options that appeal the most to independent voters were video games (+42%), live music concerts (+31%) and paid online streaming (+14%).

The study also digs extensively into how consumers respond to branding affiliations at concerts and festivals they attend, with nearly two-thirds of festivalgoers saying they viewed a brand more favorably if they offered product giveaways at live events and nearly as many (64.8%) saying the same if a brand sponsors an air-conditioned tent at a festival.

More than half (53.7%) said their estimation of a brand improves when that brand sponsors an existing festival, while 46.3% said they view the brand more favorably for producing its own music festival.

Songwriters Sue Justice Department Over Licensing Rules

September 14, 2016

By BEN SISARIO 9/13/16

When Michelle Lewis, a Los Angeles songwriter, gets her quarterly royalty statements from Ascap, she receives a stark reminder of how songs are valued in the digital age. The tunes she writes for TV shows like Disney’s “Doc McStuffins” bring in thousands of dollars, but streaming outlets like Pandora and Spotify yield less than $100 combined.

“The honest truth is that if it weren’t for the TV stuff, I’d be working at Starbucks,” said Ms. Lewis, who has writing credits on pop hits by Cher, Little Mix and Katharine McPhee. “There is no way I could afford to be a songwriter just on streaming and digital radio.”

As the reach of streaming music has grown, songwriters — an essential but often invisible part of the music world — have become increasingly vocal about their unhappiness with the amount of compensation they receive from digital outlets. Those complaints have reached a peak since last month, when the Justice Department ruled that Ascap and BMI, the two largest royalty clearinghouses, must change their licensing procedures to comply with federal regulations.

On Tuesday, Ms. Lewis and Songwriters of North America, an advocacy group she helped found a year ago, sued the Justice Department, saying that the agency overstepped its authority and that its ruling violated the property rights of songwriters by potentially nullifying private contracts between writers who have worked on the same song. The suit is the latest step in an extensive campaign by the music industry to fight the ruling, but it is the first organized response by songwriters.

In the suit, Ms. Lewis was joined by two other songwriters with extensive résumés: Tom Kelly, who helped write hits like “True Colors” and “Like a Virgin,” and Pam Sheyne, who was a writer on Christina Aguilera’s hit “Genie in a Bottle.”

“Songwriters want to have a seat at the table,” said Dina LaPolt, an entertainment lawyer who is advising Songwriters of North America on its suit.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Last month’s ruling by the Justice Department has to do with one of the most complex — and most bitterly disputed — issues in music copyright. For songs to be played on the radio, on streaming services or even in public places like restaurants and retail stores, performing rights organizations like Ascap and BMI collect royalties for songwriters and music publishers. In the United States, these fees amount to more than $2 billion a year.

But the music industry has long been unsatisfied by the rates paid by online companies, and two years ago Ascap and BMI asked the Justice Department for changes to the regulatory agreements that have governed the organizations for decades. Last month, the agency declined those requests, and instead ruled that to comply with their existing rules, Ascap and BMI must institute what is known as 100 percent licensing: When a song has multiple writers, the organizations must have the legal clearance to represent the entire song or remove it from their catalogs.

Broadcasters and digital companies hailed the ruling as a cleareyed application of copyright law. But music industry groups said it would disrupt decades of practice and cause tumult throughout the business. (Songwriters don’t always belong to the same rights organization, meaning broadcasters and digital outlets would have to have deals in place with various groups.) BMI has said it will challenge the rule in federal court, with a hearing expected on Friday.

The lawsuit by Songwriters of North America contends that the Justice Department’s ruling on 100 percent licensing violates the property rights of songwriters, since it would mean that private contracts among songwriting collaborators — a common arrangement — might not comply with the new rule. In its announcement last month, the Justice Department suggested that writers with such agreements would need to renegotiate those deals.

The songwriters’ lawsuit argues that this change violates the Fifth Amendment by removing property rights without due process and seeks a declaration that the new rule is unlawful. In addition to the Justice Department itself, the suit names as defendants Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and Renata B. Hesse, who oversees the agency’s antitrust division.

“The 100 percent mandate,” the suit says, “is an illegitimate assertion of agency power in gross violation of plaintiffs’ due process rights, copyright interests and freedom of contacts, and needs to be set aside.”

In preparing its suit, Songwriters of North America was also advised by Jacqueline C. Charlesworth, a former general counsel of the United States Copyright Office, which has argued that 100 percent licensing would conflict with copyright law. The songwriters are represented in their suit by Gerard P. Fox, a Los Angeles lawyer known in music circles for representing the Isley Brothers when they successfully sued Michael Bolton for copyright infringement in the 1990s.

Mr. Fox is representing Songwriters of North America on a pro bono basis, Ms. Lewis said. The organization has about 200 members, and it began with a meeting early last year when Ms. Lewis and other writers, confused and exasperated by their minuscule online royalties, asked Ms. LaPolt to explain to them the complex system of online copyright licensing.

Ms. Lewis said she hoped the lawsuit would reveal more about the lives of songwriters, who, even when they write major hits, are often little known to the public.

“We are the worker bees churning out the songs,” Ms. Lewis said.

Amazon and Pandora to Gauge Music’s Value in the Internet Age

September 12, 2016

By BEN SISARIO 9/11/16

How much are people willing to spend for streaming music?

For years, thanks to rigid pricing structures at streaming services, the answer has been stuck at $10 a month or nothing. But that model may soon be challenged by two giants of online media: Amazon and Pandora Media.

Both companies are set to introduce new versions of their streaming services in coming weeks, charging as little as $5 a month, according to multiple people with direct knowledge of the plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the process was ongoing. The plans will put pressure on incumbent players like Spotify and Apple Music and offer the music industry a major test regarding the value of streaming music — including the crucial question of whether discounts will be enough to entice people to pay anything when virtually every song is also available free.

The pricing model of $10 a month, the standard rate charged by most on-demand streaming services, has been compared to the 99 cents that Apple charged for song downloads when it opened the iTunes music store in 2003 — a simple and comprehensible amount that established in consumers’ minds the value of music in the internet age.

But many in the business have argued that $10 a month is too high for casual listeners. At $120 a year, it costs more than most people have historically paid for music. According to MusicWatch, a market research firm, the average music customer in the United States will pay about $67 this year on recorded music, up from $55 last year but down from $80 in 1999, around the peak of the CD market.

“Even with the presence of free, you can still get tens of millions to pay for streaming services — and possibly much more — in the event that you get the price much lower,” said David Pakman, a venture capitalist and former digital music executive who has long argued that lower prices would lead to greater sales over all.

The streaming market is divided between internet radio services like Pandora, which offer songs tailored to listeners’ tastes but do not let them choose exactly what songs to hear, and so-called on-demand services, like Spotify and Apple Music, which let users pick specific songs and create playlists.

Pandora is expected to make the first move by unveiling, perhaps as early as this week, an expanded version of its $5 subscription platform. That service, which is currently limited to removing ads on its internet radio streams, will soon begin offering customers new features like the ability to skip more unwanted songs and store several hours’ worth of playlists online, according to three people with direct knowledge of the company’s plans.
By Christmas, according to these people, Pandora wants to introduce a fully developed competitor to Spotify and Apple Music, with a catalog of tens of millions of songs that a listener can gain access to on demand. That version is expected to cost $10 a month, in line with the current market.

Amazon’s ambitions may pose more of a challenge to the existing services. The company already offers a limited catalog of on-demand music to members of its Prime program, which costs $99 a year for free shipping, streaming movies and other perks. But in coming weeks, Amazon is also expected to introduce a music service with a full catalog, charging $10 a month or about half that amount for customers who use the Echo, Amazon’s voice-activated speaker system, according to several people who have been briefed on the plans.

For both companies, the new streaming offerings represent variations on the existing models, with a mix of new features that are intended to entice casual listeners into paying a minimal fee without eroding the ranks of customers who are willing to pay more.

Amazon and Pandora have spent months negotiating new licensing terms with record companies and music publishers to allow their new streaming offerings, and they are close to completing those deals, according to the people briefed on the plans. Representatives of both companies declined to comment.

To some degree, these deals reflect a new willingness among the major record companies to experiment with pricing and shore up a wide field of competitors. Just last year, when Apple was negotiating with record labels over Apple Music, its streaming service, the company wanted to charge customers $8 a month. But the labels balked and held out for $10, giving Apple no price advantage over competitors like Spotify, Rhapsody and Deezer.

That episode, technology executives say, was a window into a little-understood reality of the streaming business: that prices are indirectly enforced through the licensing contracts that services sign with record companies.
Yet while the headline prices have been stuck at $10 a month, analysts and music executives say that a range of discounts and promotions has made it difficult to gauge what customers are really willing to pay. Most offer family plans, student discounts and introductory trials.

Other services have also made brief and inconclusive attempts to offer online music at lower prices. Last year Rdio, a struggling streaming outlet, introduced a $4 subscription plan that let users listen to 25 songs of their choosing each month. But by the end of the year the company had gone bankrupt, and its assets were acquired by Pandora.

Another service, Cür Media, announced its intentions this year to introduce limited streaming plans for as little as $2 a month. But by the summer, it appeared that the company had been unable to raise the $15 million that it said it needed for expenses like licensing deals with record companies. Last month, in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Cür Media reported that it had laid off all of its employees, and that its chairman and chief executive had resigned. Attempts in recent days to reach any representatives of the company were unsuccessful.

Major corporate players like Amazon and Pandora do not face such basic questions of financial viability. But there are still doubts about whether lower price points will make any difference to consumers. YouTube makes virtually any song available free, and, much to the chagrin of the record companies, it is widely considered the most popular online source for music around the world. Spotify, in addition to its $10 premium service, also has a free version supported by advertising.

Russ Crupnick, the managing partner of MusicWatch, the market research company, said his research showed that subscribers to premium services like Spotify were pleased with the product and willing to pay. Furthermore, such customers were also likely to pay for other media subscriptions, like to Netflix, Showtime and so on.

But for less engaged consumers, he said, particularly those who are satisfied with radio or free streaming on YouTube, it may take much more to get them to buy a subscription.

“I don’t know that you get the casual listener to automatically be a superfan just by lowering the price,” Mr. Crupnick said.

People May Be More Cooperative after Listening to Upbeat Music

September 7, 2016

Study subjects hearing songs like “Yellow Submarine” shared more than others hearing hard metalcore


By Kathryn Doyle

(Reuters Health) – The right mood music can influence how well people work together, a new management-oriented study suggests.

Many retail establishments carefully select the music they play in order to influence consumer behavior, such as encouraging shoppers to buy more, the authors write. But employees hear the same music and its effect on them hasn’t been studied.

“In our case, the new article focuses attention on the role of music in relation to management questions,” said lead author Kevin M. Kniffin of Cornell University in New York.

In the first of two studies, 78 participants were randomly divided into two groups: a “happy music” group that heard songs like “Yellow Submarine” by The Beatles and the theme from the television show “Happy Days,” and an “unhappy music” group that heard less familiar heavy metal songs like “Smokahontas” by Attack Attack!

The participants in each group used a computer application in which they played a sort of economics game with other unidentified participants in the same room, but players didn’t speak to one another.

In the application, each person was given 10 tokens corresponding to monetary value and was paired with two other people. Over 20 rounds of decision-making, each person was prompted to either keep their tokens or allocate them to a group pool which would be split among the participants at the end. Tokens in the group pool were valued 1.5 times as much as those held individually.

Consistently, people listening to happy music contributed more to the group pool.

In a second study, the researchers repeated the design with an added no-music group, and also measured participants’ moods.

Again, those hearing happy music contributed more to the group pool than those hearing unhappy music or no music at all. Unhappy music elicited a worse mood than both other conditions, and a happier mood was tied to more token contributions to the group, according to the results in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

“The bottom line is that emotions count,” said Neal M. Ashkanasy, professor of management at The University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, who was not part of the new research.

People in a positive mood are more cooperative and more creative, while those in a negative mood tend to narrow in on solving individual problems rather than group problems, Ashkanasy told Reuters Health.

“Interestingly, we find that mood helps to explain some of the relationship – such that people’s moods get lifted by happy music – but we also find a statistically independent effect for happy music in relation to cooperation,” Kniffin told Reuters Health by email.

“Given that having a good rhythm is a definitional feature of happy music, our article suggests that people are partly motivated to cooperate when happy music is being played because of the rhythm’s tendency to get people into sync with each other,” he said.

Retail outlets already use things like music, lighting, paint color and even smell to influence customer behavior, in some cases encouraging lingering in the store and in other cases encouraging “churn” through the doors, Kniffin said.

“Our article calls on people to recognize that the atmospherics — including but not limited to music — that are designed to influence consumer behavior should be recognized for their potential importance in relation to — and potential conflict with — employee behavior,” he said.

“In terms of the potential for ‘bad music’ to adversely affect employees in the workplace, it is interesting that in the context of our lab experiments, at least, there was no harm done in relation to cooperative decision making when Screamo music was played when compared with no music,” Kniffin said.

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

August 9, 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still, the system is flexible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 18, 2016

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

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

Paul Tuller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 17, 2016

By Tim Ingham 6/07/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Management’s very lonely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What advice would you give young managers today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 17, 2016

Inspiration In Lemonade

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

J.J. McCorvey 06.20.16


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

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

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


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

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

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

Find Your Leverage

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

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

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

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

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

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

Own Your Narrative

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

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

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

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

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

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

Queen Bey

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

1.8 million

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


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


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

115 million

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

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

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

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

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

Marketing Is A Product—And A Product Is Marketing

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

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

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

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

Create Urgency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take Risks—With Discipline

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

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

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

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

Opportunity Comes From Within

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

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

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

Courage Takes Planning

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

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

Play The Long Game

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

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

Make Your Own Lemonade

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

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

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

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

Popular music and the Loss of Anger

July 16, 2016

By Lorraine Ali 7/15/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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