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A Clash of Cultures: The Mixed Mindset of the Recording Industry.

In 2007, on a cold January night a SWAT team seized the New York apartment and studio of Tyree “DJ Drama” Simmons, and seized hundreds of CD’s, software, and computer equipment. Authorities subsequently arrested Simmons and held him on racketeering charges with a $10,000 bail.

The bust was conducting by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and was coordinated due to Simmons massive distribution of his underground mix tapes.

Simmons is a highly revered DJ in the hip-hop scene and shot to stardom in the past  two decades due to his famous tapes that include both well known musicians as well as up and comers. However, this is no tale of an infamous music pirate–you probably have come across some of Simmons work before knowingly or unknowingly, as he’s pretty well known.

The interesting angle to this story is the fact that Simmons mix tapes have been such a staple in the hip-hop community that major labels have been funding Simmons work for years in hopes that his tapes can help garner publicity for their rising new artists. A few artists that attribute their stardom to Simmons mix tapes include, T.I., Chingy, 50 Cent and even hip-hop mogul, Sean “Diddy” Combs.

So, in this scenario, we have major record labels such as Bad Boy (Universal Music) and Def Jam (Warner Music) funding Simmons mix tapes, but in the same breath, we have the RIAA arresting Simmons on racketeering charges for simply doing what the major labels have been funding him to do.

So, what is the issue here? Why is the industry seemingly so schizophrenic? Is this a simple case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing, or is this a more in-depth issue?

Another example of the mixed mindset of the industry is the widely seen success of sample based music and its trends.

For instance, the technique and sub-genre “Mash Up” has become so popular that DJ/Mash Up Artist Danger Mouse released a mash up of both The Beatles “The White Album” and Jay Z’s “The Black Album” to create “The Gray Album”.

Danger Mouse’s work met critical acclaim to the point where Rolling Stone Magazine named it “one of the best albums of the decade.” However, in a twist of irony, due to copyright restrictions the album was never released for commercial profit, and even its free streams were met with hostility from the RIAA and major record labels and publishers.

My final quip that showcases the mixed mindset of the industry is the mass popularity of other sample based artists that can never release their work. For instance, dub step and electronic artists such as Pretty Lights and Skrillex attract hundreds of thousands of people to their concerts, though, due to copyright law, they can never release their work commercially despite their popularity.

In no way am I stating that I am against copyright law, I am simply stating that legislation has yet to meet up with the technological innovations of our generation. We are living in a time where major labels fund mix tapes and then turn around and prosecute their producer. We are living in an era where artists can pack out stadiums but can never release their work commercially. We are abiding in a time where an industry leader such as Rolling Stone  can deem an album “one of the best of the decade”, but if it were to be released, the artist would be sued and fined.

However, the most awful thing is that if their work was to be released (illegally) it wouldn’t be seen as an artistic endeavor–it would be degraded by the RIAA as piracy and theft.

The solution to this issue is far beyond the scope of this article. However, I believe that we can better understand this “industry schizophrenia” if we explore the clash in cultures of our current generation with the generations that have come before it.

Current Copyright legislation was founded in 1976, however, most of the current issues we see are based upon technological innovations that stemmed with the rise of the internet, circa 1993. So, it becomes obvious how Copyright law can lag behind when it comes to current issues that have stemmed from the internet and recent technology.

However, the clash in culture doesn’t come from the technology itself–the clash actually stems from how the Internet has completely re-written the way information is approached.

Prior to the internet, information was only privy to media outlets such as print, news and radio. If you needed information, you only had a few outlets to choose from. Similarly, if you wanted to share information and you weren’t a broadcaster–you had a very limited audience.

With the surface of the internet, everyone could now be informers, cultivators and even amateur journalists. For the first time, there was no monopoly on media, and now information could freely be shared by anyone. We began to see average Joe bloggers post their views to millions, and we all see it daily with billions of Facebook statuses and Tweets continuously sharing information.

In a similar fashion, the 1990’s also brought rise to P2P file-sharing, and it brought user-friendly mixing software such as Pro-Tools, Audacity and Garageband– so now, not only was the “information monopoly” abandoned, but so was the “music production monopoly”.

Due to this, anyone could now be an artist, a producer, or a DJ.

As time progressed, the current generation grew up with the ability and technology to speak to the masses and they had access to media like no one ever has before.

The current generation is a generation that legal expert Larry Lessig deems, “The Read/Write generation” where the generations before it are deemed the “Read Only” generation.

The Read Only generation, is a generation that is accustomed to there being a fine line between producer and consumer. A generation that is used to listening to a record, a cassette or a CD and not being able to interact with it.

In comparison, the Read/Write generation is a generation that is accustomed to interacting with and adding onto media and entertainment. For instance, adding upon a Wikipedia article is an example of Read/Write culture, compiling a playlist on your Mp3 is Read/Write culture.

However, the most relevant example is taking a song and remixing, taking two tracks and combining them–and taking a piece of work and rearranging it to say something different. That, too, is Read/Write culture.

A relevant story that Lessig tells to teach people about Read Only and Read/Write culture is a story that stems from an incident with legendary composer, John Phillip Sousa.

With the onslaught of phonographs Sousa complained to congress that due to these “talking machines” people would no longer sing songs together, they would no longer compose, he said that the towns used to “flourish” with songs written by its youth. He said folks would take family songs and build upon them and constantly compose and create. Sousa said that these talking machines would put a strangle hold on creativity and we will all soon “lose our vocal chords”.

In a way, Sousa was correct, with the phonograph there was a line created between artist and consumer, for the first time someone held the monopoly on who was a musician and who was not. These phonographs soon became record players, which became cassettes, which became CD’s, and for the first time there was a clear and bold division between artist and non-artist, between producer and observer. There was now a clear cut line between musician and non musician.

As a result of this, millions of vocal chords were truly lost.

The emergence of Read/Write culture through sample based music, mash-ups and DJ culture is a revival of the vocal chords that Sousa spoke so passionately about. Our current generation is simply taking art and remixing to say something differently, composing it differently.

Though, the worst part of this, is that the way the laws are written the current generation cannot deem themselves “artistic” or as “innovators”.

Due to the way the laws are written, the current generation must do their art in private or else they will be deemed “pirates” and “law breakers”.

It’s certainly a shame that artistic conquests can be deemed illegal and unworthy of public consumption simply because the law has failed to catch up with the technological and social advances.

So, to all of you underground artists fighting the good fight–keep it up. Things are the way they are not because of injustice, but due to a musical revolution that you are on the heels of.

The industry has never seen such a rise in it’s history since the establishment of Sousa’s “talking machines” and it’s only a matter of time before the legalities meet up with the technological and social advances. Plus, with the establishment of alternative licenses such as Creative Commons and the massive popularity of electronic and sampled music the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter as we are only becoming more established in this current age of Read/Write culture.

-wta

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Greetings! We’re back.

Hello all,
I apologize for the lack of posts! This blog was originally intended to act as a medium for my internship with Sony Records. Not all of the groups I wrote about were Sony related, actually most weren’t. It was simply a project to hone my writing skills and stay abreast of current industry updates. So, that being said, with the start of my senior semester and the close of my internship, I’ve put the blog on a back burner. I’m excited to say, that the blogs off the back burning, and the water is boilin’. Thank you to all who have read even when I haven’t posted in six months! I have some stellar reviews and articles coming your way.

 

-Tyler

Review: Frank Ocean, Thinking About You

Everyone is trying to stand out these days.

Every artist searches for a niche’–something that can make them stand out from the rest. Usually this isn’t a bad thing, but unfortunately artists can get so caught up in their “gimmick” that the focus takes away from their talent.

That being said, it’s very refreshing when an artists just lays down a track that eliminates the fluff–a track where they can just show off their raw skills. No need for crazy auto-tuning or a catch phrase–just performing and showing off their artistic prowess.

I think Frank Oceans new track, Thinking About You, is the perfect combination of talent and simplicity.

Ocean has been taking the industry by storm in the past year and is popping up seemingly everywhere. He has had a guest spot on the Jay-Z and Kanye collaboration, Watch The Throne, he has graced the cover of Fader magazine and will be one of the headlining acts at Voodoo Music Festival in his hometown of New Orleans, LA. His success is definitely well deserved, and his new track certainly tells us why.

In Thinking About You, Ocean is singing to a girl and asking if she thinks of him, because he has been thinking of her–for what seems like forever. Very simple story line, but the emotion held in the track is just so smooth.

The track incorporates a very spacey and mellow back beat–this space is ample room for Ocean to tell a great story about possible unrequited love, heart ache and confusion.

His beautiful falsetto echoes throughout the track “or do you not think so far ahead, because I’ve been thinking that forever” are hauntingly beautiful and really makes the track what it is–simple, raw and powerful.

I dig the track because, as stated before, the focus is on Oceans voice and the storyline. The beat combined with the lyrics create an emotion as well as a story, it’s a wonderful combination that shows off Oceans impressive vocal range. Ocean certainly knows how to use his vocals as an instrument.

This is R&B at it’s finest, but I wouldn’t even label it as R&B. The song combines dashes of soul and pieces of hip hop to just make something that’s beyond labels–just a damn good song.
Check it out!

Wu-Lyf, Heavy Pop

When I need inspiration–whether it’s writing, studying, or you name it–I always enjoyed ambient guitar driven music. Rock instrumental tracks that some would deem “post rock”. A genre typically lyric-less that utilizes your generic rock band set up yet harnesses the composition of an orchestra–crescendos, build ups, break downs–always wonderfully done and very unique.

There were times where I wondered what a modern rock group would sound like if they incorporated vocals into this orchestral rock vibe. If the group kept the spaced out instruments–the slow ambient rhythms, but just incorporated vocals in way that didn’t take away from the beautifully arranged instruments.

Still wondering?

Try Wu-Lyf’s new track Heavy Pop. 

Wu-Lyf is an enigmatic band from Manchester, England that formed in 2008. It’s hard to classify a genre for the group but whatever you want to call it–it’s good. The group’s tracks can be anything from more vocal driven, to more instrumental driven, to the perfect combination of both.

The above track, Heavy Pop, is their final track from their debut album, Go Tell Fire To The Mountain. 

A demo of the song surfaced in 2009, but in early Summer of 2011 the full version was released that incorporates a riveting piano introduction that builds into an explosion of raspy throat filled vocals. (Not metal throaty, but like a sensitive Tom Waits throaty. Yes strange analogy!)

The constant guitar riff also creates a beautiful “space” with in the track. This “space” compliments and brings out the passionate vocals and subtleties found within.

Check out the track above!

Review: The Antlers, Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out

 

The Antlers are a Brooklyn based group signed to French Kiss records, one of the labels in which I am doing artist development and promotions for. Although The Antlers aren’t one of the bands I’m working with, they are still certainly one to write about especially after their phenomenal appearance last night on Leno.

The group is best known for their previous album Hospice, a conceptual album that was in essence a love story between a hospice worker and a terminally ill patient, each track furthering the story line right up to it’s tragic and foreseen end.

And yes..it was just as heart breaking and intense as it sounds.

So, I was pleased to hear that the group recently released the album Burst Apart–and was equally as excited to hear that Burst Apart was not a conceptual piece about cuddly bunnies exploding in a firework accident or anything–instead it’s just a damn good album. It’s still emotional and intense–just not as potent and intimidating as Hospice was.

One of the standout tracks from Burst Apart is Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out, a track that immediately sweeps you in with Peter Silbermans captivating voice–a voice that seems to be a mix of Ben Gibbard, Brendon Urie and even Conor Oberst at certain spots.

The heavy atmosphere of the track–such as the swift guitar rhythm, swooshing hi-hats, and subtle electronics– only exemplify the powerful vocals and lyrics of Silberman.

The lyrics are simple but effective–the music really takes hold over the lyrics and becomes a vehicle that drives the vocals in all the right locations.

Despite the music and lyrics meshing so well together– the content of the song is still something to take notice of. The track tells a story of heartbreak and the self destruction that pursues in it’s aftermath.

“One bad night I’ll hold the glass until the glass can hold me down
And one bad night I’ll spill and spill until my feet begin to drown
And one bad night I’ll hear you calling me to help you not pass out”

Upon further investigating the album each track has a similar charm–beautiful progression, emotional lyrics, and on point instrumentation. The subtly in production is also just as charming–slight hints of electronica on the intros and outros–and for the slower tunes: just the right amount of vocal/guitar effect that creates a beautiful and welcoming space. A space that invites you to sit down and experience the message, emotion, and triumph of the album.

For an introduction to The Antlers and what they have to offer, take a listen to Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out and stay tuned for a review of Burst Apart.

(I’d write one today but I want a few more days with this gem, so spoiler alert: It’s a good one.)

Or hey, just go pick up the album  here.

Thanks for reading.

 

Image Courtesy of Stereo Gum.

Review: The Rosebuds, Woods

“Rosebud” were the final words of Charles Kane in the monumental film Citizen Kane–the riveting portrayal of a man who nearly owned the entire world upon his death. So what did those mysterious last words words mean? A former lover? A favorite line of a novel? A poem?

The answer actually turns out to be the name of his beloved sled–a sled he used many times during his youth. Why would  such a thing be uttered in his dying breath?

Because it represents far more than a recreational device–it represents pure innocence, a time in which Kane could carelessly and thoroughly enjoy life without the meandering highs and lows or the treacherous relationships one may endure in the business world.

Now whether the North Carolina duo The Rosebuds used the film as their bands namesake is uncertain, however I can see the relation. Their music has the instrumentation and sound that brings the listener joy–it’s upbeat with catchy intricate melodies in all the right places. Though, in the same breath, their lyrics are dark yet powerful–sad but beautiful.

The same bittersweet conundrum that you may find yourself in as paperwork piles upon your desk, rain pours outside and the only thing that keeps you going is a childhood toy, the missed face of a loved one or a happy fading memory. Sad that it’s in the past, yet glad that it’s pulling you through your downtrodden time.

The song Woods is off of the groups Loud Planes Fly Low album. This album is actually a monumental one since it marks the first album since the divorce of band members Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp. Most people were expecting the groups demise after the divorce, however the group came back with one of their most passionate and emotional albums to date–with eclectic melodies, great production and a few cryptic lines that may serve as a glimpse into the current relationship of the duo.

The track Woods is certainly one to speak of. The song emits a cheerfulness yet tension between the chimes and driving rhythm of the keys. A tension that slowly builds into the chorus where singer Howard sings to perfection over the melodic piano. The story of the song seem to tell the tale of watchful eyes, being trapped and the meeting of a sad yet inevitable fate.

You can’t burn what’s already on fire.” 

Though, the cheerful melody seems to dwarf the dark lyrics–giving it that aforementioned bittersweet feeling to it. You come in for the happy melody but stay for the emotional lyrics.

The expansive space caused by the haunting vocals and smaller details like the sparse harmony on certain lyrics is also something to take note of, as it adds leaps and bounds to the piece.

And ah the keys! Such a simple chord progression but such an essential aspect to the song–the keys acts as a constant to the vocals, right until the end– the vocals fade but the keys and chimes keep moving the track forward for just a few more bars.

The bitter lyrics and the sweet melody make Woods a very memorable and well done track, one that very much uses two conflicting forces to create an astonishing piece of art.

Album available now at Merge.

Album Stream: Shabazz Palaces, Black Up

A few weeks ago I posted a small review of Swerve by Shabazz Palaces which is a track off of their album Black Up, which drops June 28th at Sub Pop.

In the review I praised the track for it’s familiar but unique sound that taps toes and breaks genres.

Recently the great folks over at NPR have the album up for stream in it’s entirety, so check it out! The group has a very unique sound–smooth vocals rapping over intricate electronics and unique drum beats.

Stream it here.

Give it a spin, and check out other streaming albums at NPR as well.

Image Courtesy of Sub Pop