The past month has been a bit of ride for yours truly. After fully adjusting to unemployed life (constantly filling out job applications, tweaking my LinkedIn profile, excessively mopping my floors, etc.), one of my freelance projects ratcheted into high gear, and I was back to working 8 hour days. There will be more information on the project in the future, but know that it’s an educational video game and I am the sound designer. It’s going to be my first credits in a video game, which is pretty cool for someone who has Banjo Kazooie taking up valuable space in his noggin. I’m convinced there is no knowledge valuable enough to dislodge my encyclopedic recollection of Treasure Trove Cove and Mad Monster Mansion.
The video game project is wrapping up and I’ll be back to job applications and mopping soon. Since we last spoke, there have been several developments in the music industry, all of which deserve attention, but I am going to hone in on two.
President Trump told reporters on Air Force One that he was “looking into” an executive order to ban Tik-Tok. I wrote about this previously with a very even handed approach; but conspiracy-brain-Nick has taken over, and I’m convinced there is some corruption going on here. Today, Facebook Inc.’s Instagram launched a copycat app Reels to compete with Tik-Tok. Incidentally, Facebook has famously taken no stance on the President’s use of its platform to spread false information and encourage violence on the platform. For context, Twitter has been flagging the President’s dangerous tweets has “misleading” or “false information,” much to his ire. Nearly three dozen Facebook employees complained to Mark Zuckerberg about the lack of factual oversight, but the CEO responded by doing the equivalent of nothing.
With Facebook as the only platform that is not actively flagging the President, we can assume it must be his favorite social media network. When we consider all the other garden-variety corruption incidents coming out of this administration, it is not out of the realm of possibility that President Trump would reward Facebook by removing a competitor as his favorite platform launches Reels. We need to necromance John Sherman, because this is probably in his wheelhouse.
If Tik-Tok is banned, or forced into a sale or spinoff, Facebook will win—just as it beat Snapchat with Instagram Stories. Facebook Inc. has the money and ubiquity to squash any upstart competitor and reaffirm its near-monopoly over the social media space. Anticipate major record labels pivoting toward Facebook (which will now feature music videos) and Reels.
The marriage of tech and music got rockier this past week when Spotify CEO Daniel Ek responded to artists complaining about low per-stream payouts on the service.
…some artists that used to do well in the past may not do well in this future landscape, where you can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough.
The artists today that are making it realize that it’s about creating a continuous engagement with their fans. It is about putting the work in, about the storytelling around the album, and about keeping a continuous dialogue with your fans.
In a sense, Ek is absolutely correct. If an artist wants to succeed on Spotify, they need to be constantly churning out music in the form of singles, EPs, and remixes. Their songs to be in front of potential fans every week to maximize streaming opportunities. As I’ve explored in the past in this newsletter, a good portion of listening on Spotify is passive: people cue up a playlist and let it rip. If an artist can get their music on a personalized Release Radar or Discover Weekly regularly, there is a better chance a listener will move that music onto a curated playlist, which will further increase streams. Ultimately, the Spotify algorithm rewards popular acts; the more a song is streamed, the more likely the algorithm will recommend the song to other users. This is why, when you listen to Spotify for long enough, you always end up hearing Drake.
Under this model, quantity reigns King. The more an artist produces, the more their songs stream, and the more money artist makes. Pre-Spotify, if you purchased an album for $10, the artist, label, and management collectively received $10, regardless of how many times you listened to the record. Under the current Spotify $0.006/per-play payout, those songs on the same album would need to be played 1666 times to recoup the same cost. That is the equivalent of listening to a sixteen song album (too long, I prefer max 10 songs), one hundred times. The traditional record cycle of promote, release, tour has been upended. Now, artists and marketers are tasked with reminding fans to stream their albums—and the most effective way to that is with ads or push notifications purchased through Spotify. The cycle now looks more like: promote, release, promote, release, promote, promote, promote, tour (in 2022).
To be clear, I am not anti-Spotify, and what Ek is saying is not untrue. However, it does highlight how technology companies have amplified the money-making potential of music at the expense of the artists. To succeed on Spotify is to be constantly releasing small batches of music to keep fans “engaged” and always streaming. But this approach to success comes at the expense of full-length albums and independent musicians, who often have day jobs and record their albums on their vacations and paid-time-off. It’s hard to be in the studio every other week when you have bills and rent to pay.
If you love an album or an artist, stream the hell out of it, and also buy a digital or physical copy. Even if you don’t use it, consider it a $10 donation to help everyday people continue creating the art you love.
Now…onto New Music Tuesday.
illuminati hotties - FREE I.H: This Is Not The One You've Been Waiting For
First off, illuminati hotties is a perfect band name. Second, “let’s smash to a podcast” is a perfect first line for a song. Last year, illuminati hotties’ (Sarah Tudzin) record label Tiny Engines was embroiled in a controversy regarding delinquent royalty payments to their artists and refusing to relinquish ownership of their masters. Tudzin immediately shelved the album she had been working on and crafted a “decoy record.” The result is Free IH: This Is Not The One You’ve Been Waiting For, a disorienting record filled with changeups, sliders, and curveballs. Dan Ozzi interviewed Tudzin about the record on his newsletter REPLY ALT, which I highly recommend you subscribe to.
Tudzin even acknowledges the Tiny Engines masters dispute on “K-HOT AM 818”
Nothing like an ice cold ripper on a hot summer day, huh?
Here at Illuminati Hotquarters, we're committed to keeping you happy, hydrated, and most of all, having a great time! So hang on to your masters, folks, and keep it locked to K-HOT AM 818! Shred on!
illuminati hotties combines their fun power pop with very noisy and angular moments, which fosters an engaging listen full of surprises.
Pairs Well With: drinking way too much cold brew at 6:30am
Hinds - Spanish Bombs
You read that right: Hinds, the Madrid quartet, covered the Clash song about fascism and the Spanish Civil War. While it’s disturbing how well 1970s Clash songs about neo-facism hold up in 2020, hearing the Spanish lyrics sung by native speakers is a joy. I’ve been learning Spanish on DuoLingo for the past year, and I can say with confidence that Joe Strummer’s Spanish is incomprehensible gibberish (but still better than mine). More bands should be covering the Clash these days, and I hope Hinds has started a trend.
Pairs Well With: anti-fascism, practicing DuoLingo
Soccer Mommy - Drive
Swiss singer Soccer Mommy released this The Cars cover a month ago, and really made the song her own. The ethereal sound design pays homage to the new wave original nicely, and Soccer Mommy’s vocal stylizing contribute a dash of modernity to the sonic palette. I first heard this cover on the college radio station WZBC in Boston, proving, once again, the kids have the best taste.
Pairs Well With: sitting on your porch, deck, or rooftop after 10pm