The times, they are a-changin’

Bob Dylan, one of the most iconic singer, songwriters of our era, is cashing in. Today it was announced that Dylan was selling his song library to Universal Music Group for upwards of $200M (some are reporting closer to $300M). With more than 600 songs spanning a career of nearly 60 years, Dylan’s prolific contribution to folk, pop, and rock music is unmatched. You don’t have to take my word for it: Dylan is the only songwriter in history to win a Nobel Prize for Literature, “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

The massive deal is a great example of why copyright of intellectual property exists. Without copyright protection, Dylan’s musical accomplishments would be worth a mere fraction of its market value. And without the financial incentives provided by copyright protection, artists would be less motivated to create original work.

It does seem counter-intuitive that the counter-culture icon would sell out to a corporate media conglomerate. Universal Music Group is owned by French media oligopoly Vivendi. According to NPR, “[the company] will collect money any time another musician covers any of those songs, and it will earn revenue for allowing the songs to be used in commercials and movies as well as when the songs are streamed, sold commercially on such formats as CDs, or broadcast.” But Dylan has always resisted labels…even the label of non-conformist.

Again according to NPR, citing Universal, “Dylan’s songs have already been recorded by other artists more than 6,000 times, including such famous versions as Jimi Hendrix’s cover of ‘All Along the Watchtower‘ and Guns N’ Roses’ version of ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.‘”

Led Zeppelin Wins Copyright Lawsuit

You may not be familiar with the ’70s rock legends Led Zeppelin or the song Stairway to Heaven, but you’ve probably heard some version of it from a friend who was learning to play guitar. The classic rock ballad was released in 1971 and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2003.

According to Variety, “The Zeppelin case began in 2014, when journalist Michael Skidmore filed suit on behalf of the estate of Randy Wolfe, the late frontman of the band ‘Spirit.’ The lawsuit alleged that the iconic opening instrumental riff in ‘Stairway to Heaven’ was lifted from Spirit’s 1968 song ‘Taurus.’”

Now that that distraction is behind us, take a minute and enjoy Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart and their version of Stairway to Heaven, performed live at the Kennedy Center on Dec. 2, 2012. You can thank me later.

Grammy Time

The 2019 Grammy Awards will air this Sunday, Feb 10, on CBS. The three and one-half hour program will host a range of live performers including: Cardi B, Monáe, Camila Cabello, Brandi Carlile, Miley Cyrus, Dan + Shay, H.E.R., Little Big Town, Post Malone, Ricky Martin, Shawn Mendes, Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Diana Ross, Chloe x Halle, Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Travis Scott, Dua Lipa and St. Vincent, and Yolanda Adams, Fantasia and Andra Day. Alicia Keys will have the honor of hosting the show so don’t expect as many laugh-lines as we got from James Corden last year.

The four biggest award categories: album of the year, song of the year, record of the year and best new artist, each have 8 nominees so the list of nominees is long and fairly diverse.

Winners are determined by an online vote by members of the recording academy. According to Vox, there are four ways to become eligible to vote for Grammy winners:

  1. Have been credited with 12 physical or digital tracks released online only and currently available for purchase, with at least one track in the past five years
  2. Have six credits on commercially released tracks currently available for sale and distributed through physical distribution outlets (such as record stores), with at least one track in the past five years
  3. Have won a Grammy before
  4. Get an endorsement from a current voting member

You can find out more about the voting process here. According to the Academy, the awards honor “artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence in the recording industry, without regard to album sales or chart position.”

UPDATE: Just discovered that Grammy Awards have a connection to Colorado. Check it out!

Documentaries Target Music Greats

The late great Michael Jackson

Leaving Neverland, a new documentary about to premiere at Sundance Film Festival, is shining a light on allegations of child molestation by the late Michael Jackson. But Jackson is not the only musician to be the center of attention by documentary filmmakers. Fans of R&B artist R. Kelly are well aware that last month’s Lifetime documentary series Surviving R. Kelly has focused intense scrutiny on Kelly and his alleged abusive relationships with underage women. Several news outlets have reported that RCA Records has dropped Kelly in light of these revelations.

Everyone has flaws, and for musicians at the pinnacle of success, those flaws become tragedies waiting to be exposed by the unblinking eye of the camera. Managers and fans wish that documentary filmmakers would stick to promotional content and not uncover the unsavory parts of the story; but that would be seen by critics and victims as a denial of the truth .

I recently watched the 2018 documentary Whitney and was reminded that any honest documentary about any superstar will contain dark and terrible episodes along with the moments of greatness. Whitney Houston’s incredible talent and musical success were clouded by her toxic relationship with Bobby Brown and the drug addiction that took her life.

Today in Park City, Utah, police are on high alert because of anticipated protests by fans of Michael Jackson. The estate of Michael Jackson is also pushing back, claiming that the two accusers who are at the center of the film earlier testified on behalf of Jackson. The estate is calling this film, “yet another lurid production…to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson.”

That may be true, but it may also be true that victims will finally be heard. Perhaps truth will be the ultimate survivor.

Spotify’s Values

Spotify provides a streaming music service to millions of users, and like any media platform is legally entitled to pick and choose which artists and content to carry and feature. In what is very likely a response to the #TimesUp and #MuteRKelly movements, Spotify’s recent decision has become the subject of debate by both artists and listeners.

According to Billboard magazine’s website,

As part of the new policy, Spotify also de-playlisted works by R. Kelly, who has faced a slew of sexual abuse allegations he denies but who “never has been convicted of a crime, nor does he have any pending criminal charges against him,” Kelly’s team said in a statement Thursday, noting that the “lyrics he writes express love and desire” while Spotify “promotes numerous other artists who are convicted felons, others who have been arrested on charges of domestic violence and artists who sing lyrics that are violent and anti-women in nature.”

To be clear, I’m not a fan of R. Kelly, or XXXTentacion, but this new policy by Spotify raises some important questions about how sanctions are applied to artists/performers who have been accused of bad behavior. In the past it was often a criminal conviction that was the tipping point that led to censure. But in the absence of a criminal charge, on what basis is Spotify making this decision? And will this move by Spotify be followed by similar action by Apple Music, RCA, and Ticketmaster: other entities that have a stake in Kelly’s music? And what about other artists that have been accused of mis-behavior?

Spotify is trying to make clear their decision-making process and published a webpage for artists that details what kinds of private behavior may lead to censure by the company. According to Spotify,

We don’t censor content because of an artist’s or creator’s behavior, but we want our editorial decisions – what we choose to program – to reflect our values. When an artist or creator does something that is especially harmful or hateful (for example, violence against children and sexual violence), it may affect the ways we work with or support that artist or creator.

This problem is not limited to Spotify and we can expect to see similar responses from social media sites, especially content-communities such as YouTube and Reddit, when cultural norms are breached and offended individuals/groups bring complaints.




Pulitzer for Kendrick

The Onion, satirical website

This is an actual screen shot from The Onion website. While the headline may be outrageous, it’s actually true. Not until you get to the two quotes does The Onion’s trademark satire kick in.

But seriously, who would have thought that the Pulitzer Prize in Music for 2018 would go to a rapper from Compton. According to National Public Radio, “It’s the first time in the prize’s history that it has been given to an artist outside of the classical or jazz community.” And the song DAMN is, according to The New Yorker, “the first hip-hop composition to be honored since the establishment of the music prize, in 1943.”

Others have noted that this award is further indication that pop culture is finally being recognized instead of stigmatized by the culturally elite crowd. Just as Bob Dylan’s receipt of a Nobel Prize for Literature last year shook up the Nobel crowd, this may be the ultimate affirmation for a music genre that has typically mocked conventional and institutional values. And while this decision by the Pulitzer judges may be political, it is clearly not satirical.




Roll Out the Red Carpet: It’s Time for the Media Awards Shows

AwardsThe 58th Grammy Awards show tomorrow night, Feb 15th, continues the awards show season that started with the Golden Globe Awards show broadcast on January 10th. Next up will be the movie industry’s gala, the 88th Academy Awards show, (aka, the Oscars), scheduled for February 28th. Two smaller awards programs, the iHeartRadio Music Awards show and the 51st Academy of Country Music Awards, will air in April. TV’s big night, the Emmy Awards, will air sometime in the fall season.

These awards shows are an opportunity for media executives and celebrities to take a stroll on the red carpet while they pat each other on the back. I don’t mean to sound cynical, but the hoopla is mostly an insider’s party that the public is allows to watch from the sidelines. (Of, if you’re really lucky, up close as a seat filler.)

If you like music, movies, and TV there will likely be something for you to enjoy. But there will also be performances and awards that will just as likely make you wonder what else is on. These awards shows are all about pop media content, but the range is pretty broad and not to everyone’s taste.

However, if you need a reason to tune in here are a few.

Grammys: 1) Taylor v Kendrick, 2) you’ll get to see a number from the Broadway show Hamilton, and 3) Lady Gaga’s tribute to David Bowie.

The Academy Awards: 1) will be hosted this year by Chris Rock, which is particularly newsworthy because of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and the calls to boycott by leading black actors, and 2) Leonardo DiCaprio is up for an Oscar for The Revenant, and 3) the outfits.

The Beat Goes On

A new report from Nielsen confirms that music is still an important part of most Americans’ lives. The Music 360 2015 Report found that 91% of us listen to music and we spend an average of 24 hours each week listening. That’s an average of 3.4 hours/day…that’s more time than college and university students spend on work and related activities (2.5 hours) and even more time than they spend on educational activities (3.3 hours) (link).

According to Nielsen,

Radio continues to be the No. 1 source of music discovery in the U.S, with 61% of respondents saying they find out about new music from AM/FM or satellite radio, a 7% increase over last year. Word of mouth is also important, particularly for teens: 65% say they discover new music through family and friends, well above the average of 45%.

music-360-chartAccording to another report from Nielsen, “On average, U.S. consumers report spending $109 each year on music. So aside from albums, what other types of music options are consumers spending their money on? Surprisingly, live events are gaining momentum, as they now account for more than half of total music activity spending each year.”how-we-spend-money-on-music-final

The chart on the right shows how American music consumers are spending (or not spending) their dollars to acquire music. As you can see, live concerts and CDs are the top two ways of purchasing access to music. While this chart may not describe your spending patterns, it is interesting to note that traditional means of acquiring music are still important. And you may also be interested in knowing that two albums alone sold a combined 7 million units last year…dominating album sales. “Combined, Taylor Swift’s 1989 and the Frozen soundtrack accounted for almost half of the year’s top 10 album sales.”


Jailhouse Rock: Pussy Riot Found Guilty

In case you haven’t heard, members of the punk rock band Pussy Riot have been sentenced to two years in prison for, “hooliganism driven by religious hatred.” The trial and sentencing of the three Russian women has attracted attention and outrage from around the world. Amnesty International and other supporters of free speech and human rights have declared them “prisoners of conscience.” According to USA Today,

The three were arrested in March after a guerrilla performance in Moscow’s main cathedral, high-kicking and dancing while singing a “punk prayer” pleading the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Vladimir Putin.

Several celebrities have spoken out in support of Pussy Riot. Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion, as well as Paul McCartney and Madonna have expressed support for the rights of the performers. Russia does not have the same level of protection for speech that we appreciate.  Thanks to the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution, US citizens have much more freedom to speak our minds than do most other citizens of the world.

But we also want to be careful that free speech rights do not infringe on the rights of others. Hate speech is one of those sensitive areas where, even in America, free speech sometimes has to take a back seat. But who gets to decide that a specific act of speech crosses the line into hate speech and, in so doing, forfeits the rights of the speaker to protection under the law? That’s a question that many are asking in light of this sentence.

Update Aug 20: In an unusual twist, Madonna is being sued for over $10M by concert goers who “were offended by her support for gay rights during a recent concert in St. Petersburg.” See more here.