Tidal for 30 days

Testing out my trial for Tidal was pretty straightforward.  The layout of the web version looks just like Spotify, but I suppose that was bound to happen.  It’s a nice service with exclusive content, but strictly pay for play platform with no free option like what Spotify and Pandora offer.  Honestly, it yielded the expected results.  But, why are they trying to make me care about Beyonce making more money?

The Twitter marketing seemed off from the jump, but it’s this constant touting of Tidal as a revolution that screams particularly foul.  The truth is, it’s another streaming service with it’s own unique assets, but another service nonetheless.  What’s more off-putting is when the artists you place on the stage to present this are established and already very well off pillars of the music community.  Beyonce, Kanye West, Madonna and Nicki Minaj need more of my money?  Whereas I understand putting your big names behind the business to reach a wider audience, if you’re approach is your streaming service puts more money in the hands of the “starving artists,” shouldn’t you put the starving ones out in front or nah?

At the end of the day, it’s still a trick pivot to somehow bypass the larger problem: labels.   Spotify claims that they’ve “paid more than two billion dollars to labels, publishers and collecting societies for distribution to songwriters and recording artists.”  Okay, so how is Tidal going to make it rain on artists like they say they will?

“How Sway???”

More money to the label is meant to equal more money to the artist.  It seems this fight for monetary compensation for the artists, while is admirable in theory, seems to be directed at the wrong people.  It’s not the streaming services that are the problem, but the labels.  It’s one of those universally understood truths that the labels will inherently take as much as humanly possible.  I admit, I forgot about the label’s roll in music streaming services.  After all, who owns the rights to these catalogs and who’s permission is ultimately required to license this music? Oh, that’s right.

If only this had been marketed better.  Put the little unknown artists that you should know out first, and made the known millionaires who are selling out world tours silent or quieter supporters.  This service should have been about music snobbery and exclusive content.  Turn the public into discerning snobs by touting Tidal as providing a better quality of sound.  Educate listeners on “quality” sound so that Bob Johnson from apartment 2B who hasn’t bought a CD since 2001 can feel like he’s a sonic connoisseur because he listens to Tidal with its CD quality lossless files and you pedestrians are missing out.  Tidal should have been about creating fake music snobs, not trying to get consumers to spend more on a streaming service they already don’t pay for just because artists deserve their money too.

The service is fine enough, but nobody is really going to leave free services just because it puts more money into funding Madonna’s personal trainer.  By all means, put more money into the hands of these struggling Indie artists.  God knows they could use it.  But, don’t use Alicia Keys and Daft Punk to sell the idea that a revolution is necessary and on the horizon via Tidal.   Besides, it seems more and more that if there is a “revolution,” it should be aimed at the labels, not the streaming services.

*one day, I’ll post things on time instead of letting them fester in my drafts. One day…


Tidal and Premium Losslessness

Everyone knows music streaming sites like Spotify simply do not create revenue for artists when the music is offered for free. It’s the nature of streaming. A flat monthly fee to stream as much as you want doesn’t exactly scream “cash-cow” for anyone. Jay- Z’s “Tidal” is a music streaming platform owned by artists and another option for pedestrians. Cool. I’m all for it especially after hearing about how negligible the returns are from Spotify for a musician friend.  Between the premium offer of access to lossless files (with a $19.99 per month subscription) and rumored potential for previously unseen content from artists, clips from live shows, interviews and an artist run blog, it’s a pretty interesting offer.  It just rings a bit hollow when the artists post tweets that sound similar to non-profit foundation support instead of a paid service.

Is the $19.99 really worth it? Depends on who you are, I suppose. Source: Warner Bros

The biggest question is, “Is this all worth $19.99 a month?” Short answer: depends on who you are.  If you’re an audiophile who prefers access to lossless files and has decent enough headphones, sure.  Now, I’m still a novice in the world of music technology but from what I understand, MP3s and other lossy formats have bytes of audio information missing from the file, making it sound not as multi-dimensional as a lossless file such as the quality found on CDs. The process of compression usually involves the removal of “unimportant” sounds and overtones seem to go first. (Somebody correct me if that’s not quite right!)

Now, that sounds all well and dandy but hearing the difference sometimes requires a little more than the file. First, you’d need some boss-ass headphones. Some tend to say even the jack will effect the quality of the sound.  Second thing is, the size of these puppies. MP3s are compressed so you can fit a bunch on a phone, iPod, computer or other device. Lossless files are fucking big. Streaming a big file on your wifi just sounds like you’d annoy your household for monopolizing so much bandwidth when your roommate is trying to watch The X-Files before Netflix removes it. The struggle is real. Streaming from your phone using a data plan just sounds fucking expensive. I mean maybe after I pay off my student loans. Sure.

It looks like this $19.99 a month subscription is primarily intended for audiophiles with pretty decent equipment to begin with. Joe who is used to hearing Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj on YouTube at work with $3.00 Walmart headphones might not give 1/10 of a fuck but a music nerd probably will.  It just doesn’t seem to be the angle they’re taking with the relaunch marketing.  It’s still relatively early but I will say how it will do compared to its competitors Spotify, GooglePlay and and Apple’s Beats Music. I’m going to enjoy this 30 day free trial for the short time I have it.

Pop Machine

Disclaimer:  This had been weighing on my mind since the Taylor Swift’s “Trademark-gate” but after Refinery29 published this, I figured it didn’t need another edit and should just be posted.

The young ingénue takes the stage, marveling at the scene before her. “Is this real? Are they really clapping for me?” The words are written on her face and the affect produces more screams of adulation.  But there at the patent and trademark office is a document certifying the very words that would be sung next assuring she the ingénue would receive returns on these words. She’s a pop machine. A carefully crafted and skillfully nuanced machine, but a machine nonetheless. We all know who I’m talking about. The news of Taylor Swift’s decision to trademark some of her some lyrics like “This Sick Beat” and “Party like it’s 1989” made people uncomfortable. It turns out, people forgot she is first and foremost a business woman.

Branding is the first step to the Pop Machine model. Hers is an accessible one where not only she is awestruck at her success, she will council you on your breakup and braid your hair while you draw hearts around the class cutie’s yearbook photo. No matter how relatable she is or appears to be, the ingénue is in reality, a powerful businesswoman. It’s just that instead of the polished perfection that is the queen diva of refreshing drinks or the cotton candy California princess, she is the girl next door. The marketing may be different, but they’re still extremely similar empires that employ legions of people in various capacities and rely on your support. Pop is manufactured. It’s commerce masquerading as art at its worst and universally accessible art at its best. Pop is a business.

In a world where making a living as a musician is nearly impossible, the successful ones know it is as much about your business acumen and merchandise sales as it is the music. As Vox points out, “One of the dominant income sources for many artists — whether they’re top sellers like Swift or tiny singer-songwriters — is merchandise sales.” No matter how much Swift brands herself as a girl making music in her bedroom for herself and her cats, she needs to pay the rent. She and her cats know that if she plays her cards right and trademarks everything from “This Sick Beat” to “1989,” she could ensure that she never needs to work again a day in her life. From a business perspective, she’s merely taking advantage of the fact that no one ever thought to do it before putting such a calculated move in opposition with her public persona.

When your shtick is accessibility but it comes out that you’ve trademarked “This Sick Beat” and countless other song titles, the effect is more than a little off-putting. This is not to decry Taylor Swift in any way as she is worth more money than I’ll ever see, let alone have. But, those who fell under the spell of the sweet ingénue must now acknowledge that sweet or not, the girl knew what she was doing. It’s not wrong, but it is factual. Beyoncé has never let us forget that she is a performing machine. She is her own brand as is Katy Perry. They may be lovely people, but they are still powerful and successful business women with empires built on what they can deliver us. To forget that is only to set oneself up for disappointment. Swift is much the same way, she just does it under the guise of sugar, spice and trademarked “sick beats.”

A touch of Danger.

Honestly, Norah Jones has never done much for me.  Although her accomplishments as a Grammy winning artist who regularly tops the charts are admirable, I had always relegated her to Barnes and Noble soundtracks.  Vocally, she doesn’t move me.  She makes me sleepy.  And then the laid back, coffee house trappings drive me further into an impromptu nap.  This opinion came with one exception.  Her contributions to the Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi produced album “Rome,” were lovely and fitting with its atmospheric and melancholy vibe.  So, when I heard she was reuniting with Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) to construct a new album, I was bemused.

Despite my disenchantment with Norah, I had implicit faith in Danger Mouse’s producing skills.  Honestly, between Gnarls Barkley, ‘The Grey Album”, “Rome”, and his collaborations with The Black Keys, I knew this couldn’t possibly be all bad.

So, I bought the CD.  The actual, physical CD.  Now that, my friends, is faith.

As a whole, “Little Broken Hearts” is a continuous stream of sorrowful and moody and almost continues that melancholy feel from “Rome”.  Truthfully, it suits Jones.  This slightly crazed and admittedly homicidal side of Norah is so much more interesting than the tunes I had previously heard over the speakers of Starbucks.  Here is an album that actually goes some place musically.  The listener can recognize the bitter pangs of a breakup in the lyrical content which at times, takes far darker turns which remind me more of Burton’s projects with Cee-Lo Green than Jones.  Somehow that airy, almost lazy sounding voice whispering to “Miriam” and her impending doom at the singer’s hands are surprisingly frightening.

I give this album a rating of “Wholly Worthy of Your Time.”  Standout tracks include “Miriam”, “After the Fall” and “Happy Pills”.

Go forth and listen!  For apparently, Danger Mouse can do no wrong.

2Cellos: Smooth Criminal cover

A friend of mine needed a new outfit for her interview so, like good twenty-something consumers, we headed to the mall.  The assortment of music videos of course reflects the clientele during winter recess: teeny boppers.  Justin Beiber and Katy Perry fan rejoice and I’m left to dab at my bleeding ears while drowning my pain in a Frosty and fries.  Every once in a while, there is a break in the awful stream of teeny-pop and an 80s icon will grace the screen and for four whole minutes, Cyndi Lauper or Michael Jackson sooths my ears.  Even more fortuitous are those instances introducing me to legitimately interesting acts.  Enter 2Cellos.

Above the din of the food court and immediately after Selena Gomez’s “Love You Like a Love Song” (during which I take the opportunity each time to drool over the tall, blonde sitar playing, fringe wearing man in that video), I hear the sounds of….a cello???  All the more befuddling is that the melody is Smooth Criminal and I must admit, I wasn’t mad about it.  Covers can be a tricky proposition but in the midst of what I normally must fall victim to in the mall food court, this was a welcome surprise.  Apparently, these two are Croatian cellists (Luka Šulić and Stjepan Hauser respectively) who have been competing against each other in since childhood.

Before you watch these videos, just remember that they are in fact, European.  I’m warning you.  They’re a little weird. And none of this stuff belongs to me.  It’s awesome and I wish it did but it doesn’t.

Check out the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” cover too while you’re visiting the Youtubes.

2011 Music Restock

2011:  A good year for my music library

“Rome,” the concept album by collaborators Daniele Luppi and Danger Mouse (one half of Gnarls Barkley) featuring Norah Jones and Jack White.  This atmospheric and moody album was inspired by scores of Spaghetti Westerns predominantly directed by Sergio Leone.  Not only was this performed on vintage equipment (an increasing rarity these days) but the orchestra was made up of musicians who originally performed Spaghetti Western scores.  The entire moody album plays like the score to a film and inspires beautiful and varied visual imagery.   And despite its sometimes melancholy sounds, there is a subdued sensuality to it.  The vocal and lyrical contributions from Jack White and Norah Jones match the forlorn score perfectly.  Atmospheric and moody.  Hello soundtrack for life.

Okay, so Cee Lo Green’s “The Lady Killer” actually came out in 2010 but I didn’t get it until 2011.  This splendidly produced album was comparable to “Rome” in that it sang the imagery of a film or story to you.  The first single “Fuck You!” was bound to be a hit by its very nature but the rest of the album lived up to the first single’s hype, and maybe surpassed it.  Finally, we get cohesion from a solo Cee Lo album with his distinctive voice and soulful track composition.  From the upbeat tracks to the ballads, the lyrics are clever and the old-school vibe is on point.  Another album that is nearly perfect.  Cee Lo, I love how weird you are.

My countdown for Adele’s next album started right after I got finished listening to the first one so, it goes without saying that I was excited.  Adele’s followup to her debut album, “19” became both a critical and commercial hit.  “21” showcases the raw power of her voice which has the uncanny ability to turn even her mediocre tracks into spun gold.  She is a tremendous live performer and in an age where live performances are either good by virtue of their flashy antics, Adele stands alone moving audiences wearing understated black with a lone microphone as her prop.  Her songwriting has gotten clearer in relating her pains compared to the poetry from “19”.  I didn’t love every single track on this album but it was well worth the wait and she is worthy of the hype.  Heartbreak always makes for good albums.

Remember the days when you would literally count the hours until an album dropped and waited in line outside of Sam Goody or Virgin Records Stores or something with a tent and hot chocolate and pee in a water bottle.  For me that was this album.  So, I did the 21st century equivalent and waited until 12am precisely on July 12 and downloaded this album from Itunes.  Sorry guys, but I had been saving a giftcard for months so I could get it with no issues.  Incubus has not had a completely new album out since the 2006 release of “Light Grenades” and I was getting antsy.  The announcement of this album literally had me on edge until it finally debuted.  It wasn’t exactly what I expected but honestly, Incubus albums never really are.  Without realizing it, they single-handedly deliver albums never the same as the last and right now, they’re working on subtlety.   This album is all about nuance and lushness.  Incubus audiences are literally split over this album.  You either vehemently hate it, love it or enjoy it and appreciate it for their musical growth and the lush production.  I fall in the latter category.  Admittedly, it isn’t my “go-to” Incubus album but it is a beautiful album none the less.  Worthy of the wait?  Hell yeah.  This quintet always manages to improve from the last album both as a unit and as individual musicians.   This album allows the listener to hear individual nuance and brings even more musicality and refinement to their already impressive catalog.

I’m proud to say that after a year long drought, my Itunes library has been restocked and my ears are ecstatic! Keep it comin’ guys, keep it comin’.

It’s Happened!!!! A single from Incubus’ new album!!!

There’s something you should know. Incubus is my favorite band and they’ve earned that title after over a decade of creativity and the upcoming release of their seventh album. In fact, they released a single for “If Not Now, When?” today (link down below) called “Adolescents” and I almost puddled myself. Good music that’s highly anticipated has the power to induce a high only rivaled by a stage adrenaline rush. Even a certain illegal herb’s influence is incomparable to that feeling…not that I would know…

As a fan, I’ve gotten my fix and it should last me until the full album is released. As a musician, it’s got a sharp and clean sound with Mike Einziger’s guitar work demonstrating in spades why he is awesome along with his four band mates. It’s very chill and you can hear that this album may reflect some of the experimenting they’ve been doing sing Light Grenades. And of course, Brandon Boyd can do no wrong. However, this track sounds like a continuation of Light Grenades with some of the strange glimmer of Morning View. Already, I’m troubled. In the past, Incubus albums seldom overlap with one another which is part of their appeal. One never expects to hear the same thing twice from these brilliant men and yet, I already hear echos of past works. But then again, maybe I’m just being paranoid. You tell me.