Over on the Guardian’s Tech Weekly podcast was a germane discussion of the future of music technology. It also covered some of the historic ways in which music tech has changed our relationship to the media we consume. Check out the show notes:
How can we make sure artists get a fair deal in the age of streaming? Can electronic music ever be truly live? Tech Weekly goes under the bonnet of the latest tech developments in music with Imogen Heap and Tim Exile
From the gramophone to the iPhone, music has always had a symbiotic relationship with technology. But with the proliferation of streaming services and the collapse of sales, the digital era has increasingly disenfranchised those making the music itself. Now with the rise of musician-developed apps and software, artists can take back the reins creatively but what about economically?
We talk to musician Imogen Heap about her visions for “fair-trade music” enabled via blockchain technology; electronic artist Tim Exile talks us through his latest software, Flesh, which injects an element of chance into electronic music performance, and Peter Doggett give us a whistlestop tour of some of the biggest tech innovations that transformed music over the last 100 years.
You can find an link to an mp3 file of the show here
Apple’s recent foray into digital music streaming points to dramatic shifts in the digital music landscape. This time last year iTunes saw a 13-14% decline in sales revenue while service like Spotify were pushing for growth (even if they aren’t yet making a profit or paying all artists exactly what they think they deserve). Indeed, many commentators are proclaiming music sales to be dead as we shift towards a perpetual access model over ownership.
The current state we find ourselves in was predicted 40 years ago and the BBC have a podcast addressing this topic that you may like to stream (naturally).
Check out the show’s description:
Nearly forty years ago, French polymath Jacques Attali wrote a book called “Noise” which predicted a “crisis of proliferation” for recorded music – in which its value would plummet. As music sales went into freefall at the turn of the century, his prediction seemed eerily resonant to up-and-coming singer/songwriter Sam York. Now struggling to earn a living as a musician, York visits Attali to help get an insight into his own future, learning that music itself may hold clues to what is about to happen in the wider world.
Along the way, York meets Al Doyle from Hot Chip and folk singer Frank Turner, who reveal that – despite being relatively well known – they still find it difficult to earn a living from their “stardom”. Doyle says he struggled to afford a one-bedroom flat in London. It’s a world away from the rock-and-roll lifestyle we might think successful musicians enjoy.
You can find a related BBC magazine article on this topic here
There’s an interesting radio documentary available to stream over on the BBC presented by Adrian Goldberg which focusses on the different musical tribes in the late 1970s/early 1980s. It explores the politics of British music in the punk/post-punk era.
You can find a description of the show below
Why was British music in the late 1970’s and early 80’s so tribal and so violent? If going to a musical gig now is about having fun and enjoying a “party” atmosphere, it used to be very different. It was an era when music was taken very seriously. For many, it defined who you were. Writer Paul Morley says: “Back then the music you liked was a matter of life and death.”
It was common for musical differences to end in violence. Peter Hook, of Joy Division and then New Order, says “There were riots all the time at gigs.”
And it was a time when politics played a much more prominent role in popular culture. Neville Staple of Two-Tone group, The Specials, recalls the havoc caused by the far right National Front. “We used to get a lot of conflict at our gigs …we always used to get the NF,” he says.
Adrian Goldberg looks back at a culture divided by haircuts, clothes, class and politics. What did this tribalism say about Britain then?
The programme includes contributors from Peter Hook of Joy Division and New Order; Peter Hooton from The Farm; Pauline Black of Selecter; Neville Staple of the Specials; Clare Grogan of Altered Images plus music journalists Paul Morley, ex New Musical Express and Garry Bushell of Sounds. It also has a stellar soundtrack from the era.
Producer: Jim Frank.
The International Association for the Study of Popular Music has a special issue out this month dealing with ‘music journalism’ which some of you may find interesting. Be sure to check out the article by Barbara Panuzzo dealing with women in hip hop.
There’s plenty in the bad catalogue to keep you occupied. It’s a free and open access journal so no nasty pay-walls!
[Full disclosure: the edition linked to here is co-edited by an ex-colleague and friend of mine, Martin James]
There’s a wonderful BBC Radio 4 series called Soul Music where people discuss pieces of music with a powerful emotional impact. This particular episode starts with the famous Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes track ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’, with Teddy Pendergrass on vocals, and works it’s way through stories of spinal paralysis, the HIV epidemic, and the death of a service dog. This is the quintessential Philly sound.
Slate.com recently named this episode as #13 in their list of the best 25 podcasts of all time. It’s an emotional roller coaster:
The BBC Radio 4 show Soul Music investigates the emotional resonance of famous pieces of music. This installment, about the song “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” which was first performed in the early 1970s by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, with Teddy Pendergrass on vocals, features a trio of interwoven segments about death, loss, and faith. The episode connects the stories of Pendergrass, who was paralyzed in a car accident at age 42; the gay community in the U.K., which danced to a remix version of the tune while mourning the loss of friends during the AIDS crisis; and Sharon Wachsler, homebound by illness, who turned to the song during dark times. The song itself, heard in its different recordings throughout the episode, gains layers of meaning, becoming more haunting and beautiful each time we hear it.
There’s some other wonderful instalments. Check out the way in which Billie Holliday’s ‘Strange Fruit‘ acts as the backdrop to stories of horror and anguish during the era of race lynching, or Labi Siffre’s ‘Something Inside So Strong‘ and South Africa’s era of apartheid.
This is a fun little interactive site charting the genres that make up the electronic music scene between 1985-1995: Ishkur’s Guide to Electronic Music
The Chevy Chase in question is not the film/TV star – no, it refers to the small town in the state of Maryland, where a very special DJ was born. That man is Peter Rosenberg, a DJ for the hip hop radio station Hot 97, New York (‘Where hip hop lives’).
In 2012 he had a very public fall out with a certain Nicki Minaj that called into question the difference between authentic hip hop and commercialised ‘sell out’ hip hop.
The folks at Radiolab covered this incident in some detail. You can stream the show below or download it for later with this link (right click to save)
Here’s the Radiolab show notes:
From boom bap to EDM, we look at the line between hip-hop and not, and meet a defender of the genre that makes you question… who’s in and who’s out
Over the past 40 years, hip-hop music has gone from underground phenomenon to global commodity. But as The New Yorker’s Andrew Marantz explains, massive commercial success is a tightrope walk for any genre of popular music, and especially one built on authenticity and “realness.” Hip-hop constantly runs the risk of becoming a watered-down imitation of its former self – just, you know, pop music.
Andrew introduces us to Peter Rosenberg, a guy who takes this doomsday scenario very seriously. Peter is a DJ at Hot 97, New York City’s iconic hip-hop station, and a vocal booster of what he calls “real” hip-hop. But as a Jewish fellow from suburban Maryland, he’s also the first to admit that he’s an unlikely arbiter for what is and what isn’t hip-hop.
With the help of Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest and NPR’s Frannie Kelley, we explore the strange ways that hip-hop deals with that age-old question: are you in or are you out?
If you’ve got an interest in either a) piracy or b) digital music streaming then you might want to come along to a guest research seminar hosted by the Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies (CRMCS) on Monday November 17th at 5:30pm.
The session is entitled ‘Napster – 15 Years Late’ by Matthew David from the University of Durham. He published a very interesting book on the filesharing and the music industry a few years back.
Here’s the description for the research seminar:
Napster offered the first ‘easy to use’ format for sharing music online.
It was not the first online music sharing software, but it was the one that generated a mass user base into the tens of millions. In this respect Napster launched file-sharing into ‘popular culture’. Napster, like other services, such as Facebook, which emerged at the same time, used a central server model through which files were shared. As such, Napster was not a fully peer-to-peer service. This central server model was useful for streaming advertising, but was legally problematic for Napster. It left the service open to legal challenge on grounds of contributory infringement, something for which it was found guilty in 2001, and which led to its original service closing in that year (and for the original company’s bankruptcy in 2002).
It was precisely the combination of these two things, the legal liability associated with having a bottleneck within a copyright infringing software’s architecture, and the creation of a popular expectation of ‘free music’ online that represents dual Napster’s legacy. The cat and mouse development of technical strategies to evade legal liability, and the ongoing expansion of a popular expectation that recorded music should be freely available online has ‘revolutionized’: A. Free file-sharing; and B. The commercial recording industry. The current field of recorded music, which combines these copyright infringing and copyright compliant modes of distribution, represents a diverse assemblage of affordances, all of which flow from and engage with reinventing the technical and cultural space that Napster, in large measure, brought into popular consciousness.
The seminar tends to last about 50-60 mins before questions. It’s open to the public so feel free to attend. It’s in the Media Centre in room MC233.
For further information contact Clarissa Smith
T: 0191 515 2708
I mentioned in the post-punk lecture that the early 2000s saw a post-punk revival in which bands took that ‘angular’ guitar sound and resonant bass style of acts like Joy Division and New Order and gave it a modern twist. Here’s a few quick examples.
The BBC produced this documentary in 2010.
Nigel Planer narrates a documentary which traces the origins and development of British heavy metal from its humble beginnings in the industrialised Midlands to its proud international triumph.
In the late 60s a number of British bands were forging a new kind of sound. Known as hard rock, it was loud, tough, energetic and sometimes dark in outlook. They didn’t know it, but Deep Purple, Uriah Heep and, most significantly, Black Sabbath were defining what first became heavy rock and then eventually heavy metal.
Inspired by blues rock, progressive rock, classical music and high energy American rock, they synthesised the sound that would inspire bands like Judas Priest to take metal even further during the 70s.
By the 80s its originators had fallen foul of punk rock, creative stasis or drug and alcohol abuse. But a new wave of British heavy metal was ready to take up the crusade. With the success of bands like Iron Maiden, it went global.
Contributors include Lemmy, Sabbath’s Tony Iommi, Ian Gillan from Deep Purple, Judas Priest singer Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden and Saxon’s Biff Byford.