Blog 10 – iTunes, Downloading, Streaming and The African Double Take

 

The advent of iTunes brought a seismic shift in the distribution and consumption of African music.

Quite suddenly anyone who had access to an internet line and a handy device able to access iTunes could listen to previously difficult to obtain African music ranging from Zimbabwean sungura, mbira, jit to Malian boujourou soul. Not to mention the intricate rhythms of Gambian band ‘Ifang Bondi’.

Why would I mention ‘Ifang Bondi’ I may hear you say?

Well, you may know how music streaming platforms like Spotify are getting lots of attention for the millions of users using it. That also includes the millions of dollars in royalties that Spotify claims to have paid out to music rights holders. Little of the bonanza finds its way to the African musician.

A western musician would need to get in excess of 1.1 million plays on Spotify to get anywhere near the American minimum wage of $1,260 (Guardian, 03-04-2015).

You will find a multitude of African acts on Spotify, and iTunes too, and even Bandcamp and not to mention Soundcloud! So much music, and so much streaming. Yet, there are very few African artistes who are actually raking in the royalties. The monetization levels associated with these artistes are so low in some cases that you may wonder ‘why bother?’.

Ah yes, back to Ifang Bondi. Their leader Badou Jobe has been an active musician for more than 50 years. His band has trodden the well-worn path to many a European and American festival. He lives in Sweden now. He has been known to forcefully state that iTunes is the biggest copyright infringer and ripper off of African musicians. He states this because he has found his music being sold on iTunes without his permission and license. Not only that, the music continues to be downloaded.

Osibisa are a Ghanaian band who hit the big time in the early ‘70’s with their ‘criss-cross rhythms that exploded with happiness’. At one point they were bigger than the Rolling Stones in Australia.

If you look up their music on iTunes, you will find up to 5 to 7 different publishers of the same music being sold. This anomaly can only be explained by unscrupulous operators somewhere in the music chain. It continues the trend of someone else profiting from the African musicians creative output.

The shame is the complicity of the streaming/downloading platforms. All for nothing and little for many African creators. No wonder venerable Badou Jobe, brilliant bassist he is and unsung in Sweden, is miffed.

References

Dredge, S. (2017). How much do musicians really make from Spotify, iTunes and YouTube?. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/apr/03/how-much-musicians-make-spotify-itunes-youtube [Accessed 12 Apr. 2017].

 

Blog 9: African music – Influences, appropriation and exploitation.

When some music industry people got together at a meeting in London one day in the 80’s, they coined the term ‘world music’ [1]to refer to those genres of music that were not part of the commercial mainstream of western popular music culture. It was more of a marketing term than a music genre identifier.

However, the term took hold and came to signify music that was from Africa, Asia, South America, Oceania and anywhere else, which was not in the western pop mainstream.  In major music outlets you will find a section with the label ‘world music’. It can be argued there has always been ‘world music’.

African music is a very big and significant influence in ‘world music’ and in western popular music culture. It is so big and influential that many people do not realise they are listening to some form of African music in their everyday music consumption.

African music has generated billions of dollars, pounds, francs and yen in the popular music industry.  The main plank of this contention is the blues, jazz and rock ‘n roll canon.

Enslaved Africans in the Americas and the Caribbean sought solace, identity, security and expression in music. This happened in Brazil, Central America, Cuba and the US among many other places.

The ‘blues’ took root in the US with some significant variants, which included the sophistication of Jazz and the energy of Rhythm ‘n Blues (R ‘n B). African elements in these music forms were, and still are, very strong.

The racism endemic in America, and practised in the music industry too, termed black music “race music”. However, such a term could not endure for long because young white Americans found the music captivating, excuse the pun.

This is why Elvis became such a phenomenon. He was the ‘white’ face of the blues and rock ‘n roll. African music. The roll call list is long and interesting. These artistes were heavily influenced by the blues; African music, The Beatles, Buddy Holly, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Cream, Free, Small Faces, The Who, Bob Dylan, The Band, Neil Young; the list is almost endless.

Hollywood and the advertising industry also got into the act. More so Disney films if you like animated movies. A great number of American made movies use the blues in their soundtracks. It is homage to African music, but many listeners do not make the connection. Listen to the theme song of the film ‘Back to the future’, called ‘The Power of Love’ by Huey Lewis and The News, and it is the blues played with a commercial urban white voice. The song gave the film a lift and the film gave the song a push. A marketing executives sweet dream.

With such a great impact and influence, why is it that this is not acknowledged and celebrated in an open way? Is it to do with the way the blues crossed the Atlantic to be revamped in America? A reminder of darker days? It is no accident the blues was appropriated by western rock and pop artistes. It had a depth, soul and vivacity that couldn’t be matched. The electric guitar added to this impetus. The multi-million pound industry around guitar sales can be attributed to the blues in the main.

The great rock ‘n roll singer/guitarist/songwriter Chuck Berry died recently at age 90. He played the blues. Frame and Tobler (1980) state without irony that there isn’t a rock musician alive that has not fallen under the spell of Chuck at one time or another. Though Berry made significant amounts of money from his legendary recordings and reputation, he had a reputation for meanness that likely stemmed from being ripped off by shady and unscrupulous promoters.

Where there is blood (money) there are sharks (exploiters). And so it is with the music industry.

Reference

Tobler, J. and Frame, P. (1980). 25 Years of rock. 1st ed. Lincs, United Kingdom: HAMLYN.

Bibliography

Bohlman, P. (2002). World Music. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Breen, M. (2008). Popular music policy making and the Instrumental Policy Behaviour Process. Popular Music, 27(02).

Nettl, B. (1985). The Western impact on world music. 1st ed. New York: Schirmer Books.

Till, R. (2010). Pop cult. 1st ed. New York: Continuum.

[1] World music can be folk music, art music, or popular music: its practitioners may be amateur or professional. World music may me sacred, secular, or commercial; its performers may emphasize authenticity, while at the same time relying heavily on mediation to disseminate it to a s many markets as possible (Bohlman, 2002)

 

Week 3. Disruptive technology

With changing of the times, musicians changed the way of performance because of changes in technology, the instrument because of technological progress and that have a variety of performance mode, the audience has a new way to listen to music because of the technology of change. Therefore, the music industry because of the emergence of technology gradually in different types of transformation and change.

The deepest changes in pop music can be said to have been catalyzed by the Internet. In terms of musical terms, with the Internet, the most influential new media is MP3.

 

In 1997 a firm MP3.com was founded by Michael Robertson, who started by making three thousand songs available for free downloading over the Internet. By the year 2000 MP3.com had become by far the most successful music site on the World Wide Web, with over ten million registered members (Starr and Waterman 2006).

 

In 2001 Apple company introduced the first generation iPod player, which could store up to one thousand CD-quality songs on its internal hard drive. IPad and other MP3 players, and gradually dominate the portable music player market because they let listeners have the ability to build a unique music library. The “shuffle” function of the iPod has an impact not only on personal listening habits but also for the current state of the consumer culture.

 

Podcasting is an online broadcast that allows digital sound files to be uploaded to a website where the audience can automatically load them into a portable player and its rise allows some cultural observers to anticipate the death of the radio (Starr and Waterman 2006).

 

In here we can have an assumption, when all of the music can become to MP3 document and why recording company still produce a physical album?

Bibliography:

Starr, L. and Waterman, C. (2006). American popular music. 1st ed. Oxford [etc.]: Oxford University, Chapter 8.

 

Week 10: Mashups and the confusion of copyright

Video ‘mashups’ have become increasingly popular with audiences worldwide. A visual and audio sensory experience, the VJ-driven mashup format, part of the youtube culture, is easily sharable and offers something familiar presented in a completely different way.

Here I examine two Mashup artists worthy of note. Firstly, Cassetteboy, an English electronic music and comedy duo, who make political statements using skilful editing techniques. Secondly, I will look at the work of Kutiman, an Israeli producer, musician and animator, who is famous for making compositions and music videos from a pastiche of user generated youtube videos. I will then briefly examine the hazy area of copyright that such formats occupy.

As Thompson (2011, p180) points out, mashups are ‘commonly used for political commentary, humour and critique’ and Cassetteboy is an act that falls into this category (see video below).

Kutiman goes a step further. Whilst not conveying such overt political intentions as Cassetteboy, the methods used by Kutiman to make his videos are quite astounding. Using clips of user generated music uploads, he combines musicians from all over the world, who are not aware of the production process until a track is released incorporating their playing. The documentary Presenting Princess Shaw, portrays ‘Princess’ and her everyday struggle to make music and get noticed. Working 12 hour shifts in a care home, she has no idea that over in Israel, Kutiman is making musical backdrops from her acapella youtube uploads and the instrumentals of other (also unwitting) musicians. It is only the day of the first track’s release when her youtube page starts receiving hundreds of views (she is unknown and has hardly any youtube activity beforehand) that she realises she is part of a new phenomenon of music making and has gone viral. Kutiman makes no money from the mashups; instead his work is of cultural value and it is in rare live performances at prestigious high brow venues (the documentary opens with him playing at The Guggenheim Museum) that we begin to see the depth of his popularity and kudos.

Both of these artists raise questions surrounding copyright laws. They both use existing works by other authors to create entirely new pieces of work. The authors and copyright owners become part of a montage / collage that is much bigger than the sum of its parts.

As Thompson states, (2011, p181) the notion of copyrighted material not being altered is “becoming obsolete”. With new technologies, new copyright laws are in constant catch up. According to Thompson, the essence of mashups as an artform, similarly to beatboxing is comparable to the ways in which folklore, and folk music, was passed on and altered over time. Guardian writer Julian Hoffman (2015) argues that Kutiman and his kudos would be nothing without “genuine people like Princess to exploit…or celebrate, depending on your view”, and refers to him as a ‘manipulator’. I thought the film was innovative and celebratory, and shows the potential for yet another form of music production that ignores boundaries of time and space. The mashup can be a way of turning familiar sounds and imagery on their head, or combining artists who have never met. That can only be saluted when done successfully.

Bibliography:

 

 

 

Week 9: Off Axis – taking money out of the musical equation

Throughout history, the commercialisation, or industrialisation of music, has been welcomed by some and defied by others. On the one hand, the commodification of music offers its creators financial reward for their ‘good work’ as ‘creative labourers’ (as theorised by Hesmondhalgh and Baker (2011, p25). On the other hand, music cannot fully fit into the model of capitalisation that Adorno (1941) warned would render the art form of music industrialised, standardised, and ultimately a tool used to condition us specifically for the repetitive nature of work. The reasons music does not fully fit into a perfect commodifiable mode is that ultimately, it is an “art form, an act of creative expression and a communicative medium” (Anderton, Dubber and James, 2013, ch 4). The emotional and cultural nature of music and the creative expression it affords writers and performers would not stop if the financial value of it plummeted (which it has, especially in recent years). The cultural value is greater than its economic one for many artists, and at a grassroots level and beyond, there are innovative ways in which artists and organisations can be seen breaking down financial barriers to get more music than ever made and heard.

Take Off Axis, for example. An offshoot of Unconvention, this innovative scheme takes money out of the equation almost completely. Musicians are ‘credited’ if they play host to a similar band from a different area of the UK, with a ‘pay it forward’ emphasis on sharing audiences and using online networks as a useful tool in tour management. The idea of swapping audiences, skills, knowledge and expertise is prevalent in today’s independent music scenes and a nod to the ‘Do-It-Together culture’ that has been steadily gaining momentum since the dawn of the internet and the demise of the traditional ‘record industry’.

Personally, I am all for a demonetised Do-It-Together sharing mentality in the music industries. The oligopoly of major labels retaining a hold on the mass market as well as grassroots music cultures is a scary prospect. The ‘pseudo-individualisation’ that is made possible by less choice and limited creative expression should not prevail in every sphere of music making and distribution. Whilst musicians cannot live on thin air, which is the danger of removing money from the equation completely, this more tribal act of solidarity is essential in limiting the possibilities of only the elite, or those with financial means to invest in expensive marketing and promotional plans being able to make and proliferate music. A pertinent question would be: does demonetising music also devalue it? In response, I would say it is the cultural value and cultural commodities of music that are ultimately important, and they cannot be devalued, as long as they are practiced with authenticity.

Bibliography:

  • Anderton, C., Dubber, A. & James, M. 2013, Understanding the music industries, SAGE, London
  • Hesmondhalgh, D., Baker, S., Economic and Social Research Council (Great Britain) & University of Manchester. Centre for Research on Socio Cultural Change 2011, Creative labour: media work in three cultural industries, Routledge, London.
  • Joseph, P. by, 2014. On Popular Music, by Theodor Adorno [online]. Listen To Better Music. Available from: https://listentobettermusic.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/on-popular-music-by-theodor-adorno/

Week 8 – The emotional labour of songwriting

Barber and Long (2015) describe the ‘emotional labour’ involved in songwriting that encompasses the ‘commerce-creativity dialectic’ (Hesmondhalgh 2007, p20). For their research Barber and Long (2015) distinguish between ‘singer-songwriters’ and ‘professional tunesmiths’ / non-performers, concentrating on the latter. This blog explores some case studies including a mainstream pop writer, Sia, and some local examples of female singer songwriters. What are the possible income streams and what creative processes are required in commercialising your emotions?

Sia seems to have the formula / secret / ‘mystic powers’ for making successful pop tunes. As well as releasing chart topping hits as a performer, she has also co-written for Adele, Katy Perry, Rhianna and Brittney Spears, to name but a few. She has made a great living from making catchy tunes for female pop A-listers, literally churning out songs, as quickly as fourteen minutes per track, of which she says:

I don’t think that I’m necessarily like a super-talented songwriter. I think I’m just really productive. One out of 10 songs is a hit”.

But what if you aren’t in the elite ranks of mainstream pop songwriting? What ways can independent artists get financial rewards for their emotionally creative endeavours?

In the case of locally based Jo Hamilton, her creative freedom is supported by a mixture of sync opportunities, whereby she may be commissioned to provide a soundtrack for film or TV, BPI funding to aid international releases, and a patronage scheme. Patronages, direct audience sponsorships and ‘adopt a musician’ style support systems are becoming increasingly popular with artists who have a healthy fanbase who see them as musically ‘authentic’. Jo is also supported by an independent label, who has afforded her the artist development so sadly missing in today’s fractured music industry.

Carina Round, an artist originally from Wolverhampton, and now based in LA has used crowdfunding and pledge music routes, letting go of the need for record labels altogether. This option has proved popular with singer-songwriters globally, as a debt-free, self-releasing model for reflexive artist development that harnesses fan support. Regular updates on social media are handled personally and there is a ‘Do-It-Together’ mentality that cushions the emotional processes of making the music as well as undertaking the daunting task of self-promotion. Carina has also had music placed in television shows and performs with other artists.

All three examples include the necessity for emotional labour in the process of making art, no doubt. In the case of Sia, we see an example of the current songwriting elite, who has been able to routinize the process, similarly to those undertaken by Tin Pan Alley or Brill Building tunesmiths. Like Carole King, she has ventured into performance herself when the songs have been rejected by the artists they were intended for.

Other songwriters, in contrast to Sia, have found other avenues to support their commercial / creative balance by authentically building an emotionally-based relationship with their fans and nurturing these relationships through the use of social media (Carina Round) and handwritten postcards (Jo Hamilton). With new media and proliferation of music sync, there are new opportunities for artists to act as both tunesmith and performer, depending on the situation, and all three artists mentioned exemplify that.

Bibliography:

Week 6: Music Policies

Wish You Were Here 2016: The Contribution of Live Music to the UK Economy, is not in itself a policy or manifesto, but more a collection of data and writings that provide evidence and support for recognition of the vital role that live music plays in relation to the economy of various ‘industries’. Though this data is not a policy within itself, it is an example of a crucial report that aims to affect policy makers, using a mixture of cold hard facts and statistics and then analysing the data in a cultural-economic context. By situating this data in such a context, the document shapes a local and national identity, placing live music and its actualisation and potential for tourism at the forefront.

The local and national impact of live music is outlined here. Produced by UK Music, it combines a coalition of writers from across the UK to collaboratively draw data. These writers, data collectors and analysts are seen as experts in their fields, and the piece reads coherently, acting as an engaging campaign to entice policy makers everywhere (it is non-specific in outlining the policy makers it is targeting) to place value on live music as a marketable and veritable source of tourism and economic reward.

As with all reports, there is an agenda to this document, and those involved are heavily involved with UK music and therefore place it at a high value. I don’t dispute this value, but am aware that evidence supporting already established ideas and matching figures to fit an hypothesis is unavoidable to some extent. I think overall, that the report does an excellent job in bringing awareness about the current economic landscape, albeit a summarised and far from comprehensive one, into play. As venues face ongoing battles with noise policies in residential areas, such a report could be crucial in potentially changing legislation in this area. The cultural and economic value could be recognised as intrinsic to any given area’s identity, and eventually be deemed more important than the rights of residential dwellers.

Reference:
UK Music, (2016). The Contribution of Live Music to the UK Economy. Wish You Were Here. UK Music.