The Hodgepodge: 100 Percent Licensing

Since 1941, laws for songwriting copyrights pretty much haven’t changed. It’s because of the copyright protection that songwriting and licensing is controlled through the government, which should pretty much explain why change has been hard to come by. However, a new proposal is in the works which is called 100 Percent Licensing. The gist of this law is that any songwriter or producer for a song is able to give consent for the song to be used however someone has requested. As the law is written now, writers and producers must agree for a song’s use in a commercial or streaming site. If they don’t agree, then a producer or songwriter can still agree for their particular work on the song to be used, but not the whole song.

Saving Country Music wrote a great exposé on the situation that I encourage you all to read. I mainly encourage this because I will not be going into much depth here; I don’t want to be repetitive because I’m still learning about the law and implications should it be passed. The big black cloud hanging over this new law are streaming companies like Pandora, Spotify and Google pushing for the change. What this means is that should the law be passed, Spotify can possibly get songs onto their program at a lower copyright cost to them, which will help maximize profits.

Taylor Swift is an artist who’s been more vocal against music streaming than just about anyone else. She doesn’t want her music on those applications, but any of her co-writers could potentially get the music on there with the 100 Percent Licensing law. So if Max Martin wants “Blank Space” or “Shake It Off” available on Spotify, he can make that decision as a co-writer, and Taylor Swift would have no say to the contrary. Essentially, this is a law that’s meant to benefit the streaming sites and subsequently further marginalize the songwriters. Everyone working in the music industry agrees that a law like this would be a terrible move, but unfortunately the final decision rests with the folks in Washington D.C.

Whether or not the law is passed, what is clear is that streaming companies are looking for that next big rise in cash flow. The leaders of these companies want money, that’s it. Streaming companies like Spotify are slowly gaining more traction and control in the music industry. And as we’ve said time and time again on this site, there needs to be a change in the way these companies payout artists and writers.

One suggestion I have is making streaming something you pay for no matter what; get rid of free streaming. Spotify should at least charge users $4.99/month for access to what is now free streaming. Call it a standard subscription, then charge those wanting a Premium, non ad-based subscription more than that. They can keep it at $9.99 or boost it up a few dollars. This would accomplish one of two things. Either greedy music fans will refuse to pay five bucks a month for streaming and go elsewhere (back to radio?) for free music, or Spotify brings in a ton of money with all of their millions of users now paying for access.

If the second option were to happen, then perhaps a company like Spotify can afford to payout artists better while still maintaining their salary at the top.

That’s just one idea I have for a way to start improving the streaming problem that’s growing. And I get that these CEOs want artists like Taylor Swift to be available on their service in order to get fans to listen to Taylor Swift through their platform. They’re business people first, and this is a move in an effort to improve their business from their point of view. But these companies are merely looking for ways to get more money without a care for how their actions will affect the music industry. There’s no way to know how this will actually affect the way music is produced, but a drastic change in copyright law will certainly dictate a change from producers, singers, writers, and labels.

Upcoming/Recent Country and Americana Releases

  • Texas country singer/songwriter Sean McConnell will release a new self-titled album tomorrow.
  • Mark Chesnutt’s Tradition Lives will also be released tomorrow.
  • Next week, David Nail’s Fighter will be released.
  • Big Shoals’ Hard Lessons will also be released next week on July 15.
  • Kenny Chesney’s newest album has been pushed back for release until October.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Hell on Heels” by Pistol Annies. Country super trio consisting of Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley, the Pistol Annies have released two albums. This was the title track of the group’s first album in 2011. I wouldn’t hate it if we were treated to a third album from them soon.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Blink-182 California. Punk rockers Blink-182 released a new album, their first album without singer Tom DeLonge. Matt Skiba from Alkaline Trio joins the band taking the lead vocals on this new album. As an album, I like California; I think it has a good sound to it. It’s hard for me to call this Blink-182 because I associate that band primarily with DeLonge’s vocals.

Tweet of the Week

Eight great years of making fun of crap and supporting good music.

iTunes Review

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Steven Tyler’s first country solo album will be released tomorrow, and Jerek Naim apparently believes it’s the best country album of all time. There are no words for how dumb of a claim that is. Any album with “Red, White, and You” on it is no where close to the best.

The Hodgepodge: Streaming Is Proving To Be Too Much of a Good Thing

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I make my return to The Hodgepodge! And this isn’t just a one-off appearance either, as I will be taking it over for the rest of the year. You’re probably wondering what’s up? Well Derek has a lot on his plate in the next month and I’ve got a few ideas that I’ve been wanting to write about, so this felt like the right thing to do for both of us. Don’t worry you’ll still see Derek around, as you’ll be seeing more reviews from him in the next month instead of The Hodgepodge. Derek has been doing a fine job with The Hodgepodge and will return to writing it in 2016. So what’s on my mind…

Streaming is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Of course I’ve discussed this before in The Hodgepodge. The first Hodgepodge column ever touched on it. So I wanted to revisit it now after I’ve had a lot more experience with a variety of streaming services. What inspired me to write this post was the following tweet I saw weeks ago:

For those unfamiliar with Zac Wilkerson, he’s an artist from Amarillo, Texas who’s music is a combination of soul, country and folk music. He’s an independent artist who doesn’t have a large following. So you can see how Spotify screws him and other independent artists over. Only $310 for over 60,000 streams is ridiculously low and is not enough to financially support anyone. To give you an idea between the difference of money between streaming and buying an album, let’s divide 63,640 by 1500. According to Billboard, 1500 streams equal one album sale. The result of the above equation is about 43 albums sold. The average album costs $12. So multiply 43 by 12 and this gives the amount of money made from the sales, which is $516. It’s not a huge increase from the $310 made from Spotify, but this is just a very basic comparison that doesn’t factor in many variables and other factors involved here. Did the people who stream Wilkerson’s music go onto buy an album from him? Or even merchandise or concert tickets as a result of discovering him? Unfortunately this is something that we can’t determine.

So the obvious downside of streaming is less money for the artist. The other downside of course is streaming is eating into music sales badly. According to Nielsen/Billboard data, digital song sales have gone down 10.4% and on-demand audio streaming has ballooned up 74% to 58.6 billion plays in 2015. Vinyl sales have once again increased this year, up 38.4% in sales. Also it’s worth pointing out that CD album sales are trumping digital album sales. So it’s a tale of two schools of thought in 2015: the casual listener who uses Spotify, Apple Music or some other streaming service and the traditional listener who prefers a physical media. There are a lot more streamers though than physical media purchasers. It’s the clear dominant preference of the average listener right now.

You could make a big argument that streaming has become so popular because the quality of music is down and people are reluctant to trust the music marketplace. But that involves a lot of opinions and it’s an argument that will just go round and round. I prefer to point out something more factual: streaming is simply too convenient. For $9.99 month you can get all the music you want from Apple Music, Spotify or Google Play. Spotify sweets it up even more by offering new users three months up front of Spotify premium for only 99 cents. These streaming subscriptions allow you to download unlimited music for offline play as long as you continue to pay a monthly fee. If you download just one album and you listen to it, you’re already getting your money’s worth. It’s ridiculously friendly to customers and inherently unfair to artists who aren’t named Katy Perry or Taylor Swift.

After years of dismissing streaming, I gave into streaming this year even, as I subscribed to Google Play music. It’s kind of important to have this as a music reviewer though. Do you really think I’m going to buy Luke Bryan albums to review them? This is where I point out the good side of streaming, which is discovery and quality control. I’ve discovered numerous new artists via streaming and I never would have been able to find them without streaming. Buying blind is something I was never a fan of and streaming allows me to listen to the music before deciding if I want to purchase the album. So when an artist puts out a bad album now, you can stream it instead of buying it and wasting your money. Of course this isn’t possible with Garth Brooks albums, as he’s an old man who refuses to get with the times and is forcing his crappy GhostTunes down everyone’s throats. But you get the point with the good side of streaming: it allows you to be a smarter customer and expands your music collection with easy discovery.

Streaming is obviously proving to be too much of a good thing. There isn’t any balance here, as the customers are reaping all the rewards and artists aren’t reaping enough from it. That’s not to say customers shouldn’t be getting a lot out of it, as they’re the lifeblood behind every artist. The customer/listener should be the priority. But if the artist isn’t making any money, there isn’t any music for the listener to consume. So here’s my solution to this ongoing problem: limit the amount of streaming. It shouldn’t be taken away completely, as I believe it has its place in the music industry. Instead let’s just put a cap to how many times you can stream an album and songs before you have to purchase it. Bandcamp, my personal favorite streaming service, has something similar in place right now:

By default, fans can play tracks on Bandcamp only a few times in full, after which they get a dialog prompting them to buy. As the artist, you can up this limit, or remove it entirely, from your Profile page (you of course always get unlimited plays of your own tracks, but for the curious, here’s what the purchase prompt looks like). When a fan makes a purchase, they get unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app for Android, iOS and Sonos, an optional download in a variety of high-quality formats including lossless, and of course the satisfaction of directly supporting an artist they love.

This is a great idea that is fair to the artist and listener. Make it to where an album can only be played, let’s say six times before the listener can no longer stream it. Also the option to download songs for offline listening and paying a monthly fee to keep them in your library should be banned, as this is just too much for the listener. They must be forced to buy the album after so many streams if they want to keep listening. By doing this the listener still gets plenty of streams to determine whether or not to buy the album, while the artists will get more sales. Artist discovery would still exist too. This is a win-win for everyone involved. I plead to the streaming companies and the artists to heed my advice and make the music environment an even better place for all involved.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Jason Boland & The Stragglers will release their new album Squelch tomorrow.
  • Corb Lund will release his new album Things That Can’t Be Undone tomorrow.
  • Toby Keith will release a new album tomorrow titled 35 MPH Town.
  • Jana Kramer will be releasing her sophomore album thirty one tomorrow.
  • The Voice alumnus Jake Worthington will be releasing his self-titled debut EP next Friday. Based on what I’ve heard from it so far it’s very good.
  • Alt-country band The Yawpers will be releasing a new album on October 30 titled American Man.
  • Josh Abbott Band announced they’re releasing a new album on November 6 titled Front Row Seat.
  • The Band Perry will be releasing a new album on November 20 titled HEART+BEAT.

Great Music Currently At Country Radio

You know I spend so much time (rightly) ragging on all the crap on country radio at the moment. But I realized I need to spend more time promoting the good at country radio too, even if there isn’t a lot of it. So a new feature I’ve added here to The Hodgepodge is a playlist of the songs I consider good currently at country radio. In order for a song to be added to the list, it must currently be in the top 60 of the Billboard Country Airplay chart, so this will be updated weekly. So check it out below!

Throwback Thursday Song

“I Will Always Love You” – Dolly Parton – I’ve been listening to the new Don Henley album a lot and of course as I said in my review of it that my favorite song on it is the duet with Henley and Dolly Parton, “When I Stop Dreaming.” This made me want to listen to more music from Dolly and one of my favorites from her is this song. Everybody loves to say this is Whitney Houston’s song and it isn’t. This is Dolly’s song and she does it best and I will argue this with anyone. I also discovered Dolly sang this with Carrie Underwood a few years ago and you can see that here. Listen to both, as the first one is not only Dolly performing it, but explaining the story behind the song.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

“Born to Shine” – Big Grams, Big Boi & Phantogram featuring Run The Jewels – One of my favorite groups in all of music and my current top favorite in hip-hop Run The Jewels is featured throughout this song, so I checked out this entire album from Big Gram, Big Boi & Phantogram. I didn’t like the album, except for this because it’s Run The Jewels and everything they touch is gold. I can’t wait for RTJ3.

Tweet of the Week

Drunken Martina is the best and if you’re on Twitter, the account is a must-follow. Also it was so great to see Rhett get outsold by Strait and Henley. Quality wins again!

iTunes Review That Rocks

Great Strait Review

Now here’s someone who gets it. I love this review even more because it’s someone who says they aren’t even a country fan and they know Strait is the real deal. This is why Strait is one of the all-time best.

Thanks for reading and be sure to weigh in below! 

Hodgepodge of Country Stuff: iTunes Should Keep the Free Single of the Week

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So what exactly is this? That’s what you thought when you read the title above. Well I’m going to explain this to you. This is a new weekly feature that will be on the site and as you can see it’s called Hodgepodge of Country Stuff. If you’re a sports fan that visits major sites like ESPN, Sports Illustrated and FOX Sports, you’ll see some of their writers do weekly columns where they’ll discuss something and then have a variety of interesting tidbits that will follow it (think Bill Simmons and Peter King). This is just like those, except about country music of course. Got it? Good. 

One of the most under-the-radar stories in music so far in 2015 has been iTunes quietly killing off its Free Single of the Week. Not only is it being killed off here in the United State, but in all countries. It’s probably being underreported because Apple did it without making a big announcement and has only been noticed by fans who checked this feature out on a weekly basis. Also many tech outlets are afraid to say anything bad about Apple because they don’t want to be banned from their events (I learned this when I was dabbling in tech journalism). Well I’m a music journalist now and I don’t use iTunes to purchase and listen to my music anymore, so I have no problem saying cross words about the Cupertino tech giant.

I was pretty disappointed when I found out about this because over the years of using iTunes I’ve found several new artists to listen to through the Free Single of the Week. In fact I think it was this feature that made me set up an iTunes account. Going back to 2008, one of the free singles of the week was Jamey Johnson’s “In Color.” This was before he was a household name and won any Grammys. I guarantee he gained several new fans by offering this free single. In 2009, I found out about Eli Young Band and David Nail through their free singles of the week. In 2010, Easton Corbin’s “A Little More Country Than That” is what introduced me to his music.

As I’ve stated numerous times on the side, rock music is my second favorite genre and a free Bob Seger EP in 2011 is what introduced me to his music and made me explore his catalog. I mentioned in my review of Greg Bates’ “Sand” this week the first time I heard his music was when I heard “I Did It For The Girl,” which was an iTunes Free Single of the Week in 2012. In 2013, two of my favorite non-country songs of the year, John Newman’s “Love Me Again” and Bastille’s “Pompeii”, were free singles of the week and these two songs went on to have huge success. It really helped put these artists on the map. Go take a look at the list of all of the free singles that have been offered by iTunes over the years and I guarantee you’ll see artists and songs you like.

The point of this free single of the week was to introduce fans to artists they’re not familiar with and bring new music into their library. Many times I would go on to explore and buy more music from the artist. Judging from the comments I’ve seen on message boards and social media, many others did the same. This Free Single of the Week acted as a “gateway drug” to get fans to check out artists and their catalogs. It gave a platform to lesser known and independent artists to grow their fan base. Many artists and labels understood this, which is why so many different artists participated in this program (some of them multiple times).

So why did iTunes do away with this feature? Personally I think it’s the answer to most questions: money. It’s no secret that music sales are progressively getting worse and this is forcing everyone in the industry to take notice. The Free Single of the Week was financially beneficial to artists, but it wasn’t financially beneficial enough for iTunes. So iTunes selfishly got rid of this feature. Instead they’ll push their streaming service down your throat because that’s better for their bottom line. As a result fans and artists will pay the price. What was a great feature that benefitted fans and artists is now gone because the suits aren’t making the money they want to make.

With that being said, Google Play still offers weekly free music. They once had a free single of the week feature, but now it has been replaced with a free album of the week (they also feature a sampler of free music from all genres every month). Just like the iTunes Free Single of the Week, this has introduced me to new music. I’ve bought more music as a result of these free offerings. And iTunes wonders why I took my business to Google Play. Their competitor understands if you want to keep your customers, you have to keep them happy. While I don’t condone giving away a bunch of free music or having artists pay fans to listen to their music, giving away a little free music is something that can benefit everyone. I hope iTunes will learn the error of their ways, for the good of the fans and artists.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Ryan Bingham just released his new album, Fear and Saturday Night. I haven’t got a chance to listen to it yet, but I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about it. Despite what Bingham says, his music is country to my ears and many other people. Derek’s review of it will be coming soon.
  • Cody Jinks came out with a new album called Adobe Sessions last week. I can’t believe I overlooked this one. One of my goals this year is to review more Texas country music. I’ve listened to some of Jinks’ album and I definitely don’t hate it. I’ll be reviewing this one really soon.
  • Jamey Johnson just released “Alabama Pines” as a single and is now available on iTunes and Google Play. He released it as a free gift through his site on January 1 (it’s no longer free). I thought it was a great comeback song for the Alabama artist. It’s currently in the top 70 of the iTunes country charts, so not a bad return for Johnson.
  • Keith Urban just released “Raise ‘Em Up” as a new single from his album Fuse. He’s joined on the song by Eric Church. The song is also nominated for the 2015 Grammy for Best Country Duo/Group Performance. We hope to review this song soon.

Throwback Thursday Song

 

Alan Jackson’s “Pop a Top.” I heard this song come on the radio the other day and it was so refreshing to hear an Alan Jackson song. Most people will remember this song as the one he was playing at the 1999 CMA Awards when he stopped halfway through the performance to play George Jones’ “Choices” as a protest of the CMA not allowing Jones a full performance. Jackson then of course walked right off stage and out of the building. It was a true badass moment from Jackson. Too bad we don’t have those kind of moments at country music awards show anymore. I hope Jackson’s new album this year blows everyone away.

My Non-Country Thought of the Week

While the last two weeks I’ve had negative thoughts in this section of the Hodgepodge, this week I come bearing positive thoughts. Originally I was only going to have one non-country album suggestion, but then I heard another great album that I have to also suggest. The first non-country album I suggest checking out is James Wolpert’s The Entire City. (If you follow me on Twitter you’ve already saw this suggestion, so this is for those not on Twitter) It’s a fantastic rock album that fuses Americana, folk, pop and even a little bit of country. There is one song on the album that features some lengthy fiddle play.

 

The other non-country album I suggest checking out is Lupe Fiasco’s Tetsuo & Youth. This is hip-hop at it’s best and just like Wolpert’s album does a great job fusing influences from other genres. I heard some jazz, pop, electronic, classical and even country. Yes country influences on a hip-hop album! On Fiasco’s “Dots & Lines” there is prominent play at the beginning and end of the song from, get this, a BANJO. They don’t even have these in most mainstream country songs nowadays and there’s one on a damn hip-hop album. Lupe Fiasco’s Tetsuo & Youth is more country than Florida Georgia Line’s Anything Goes, Chase Rice’s Ignite the Night and Sam Hunt’s Montevallo combined. So ironically this week’s non-country suggestions are more country than some of the country albums I’ve recently reviewed. I don’t understand anything anymore.

Tweet of the Week

My thoughts exactly. For those unaware, Thomas Rhett covered Bruno Mars’ hit “When I Was Your Man.” I didn’t even bother listening to it because I have no respect for Rhett. I guarantee Bruno Mars has no idea who Rhett is and never will. Once bro country officially becomes uncool (which is happening) Rhett will disappear and fall off the radar.

An iTunes Review That Will Make You Face Palm

Dumb Sam Hunt Comment 1 Dumb Sam Hunt Comment 2

These reviews are from Sam Hunt’s Montevallo album. I actually couldn’t choose just one this week. You have no idea who how many potential comments I could have put here for this album. These two were the best though. The first one goes with the traditional hater comment. The second one goes in a different direction. According to the second review, only the Queen of England has the authority to move artists or genres around. So Queen Elizabeth II, your majesty, if you’re reading this could you please move Sam Hunt out of country music forever? It would be greatly appreciated.

That’s it for the Hodgepodge this week! Be sure to sound off in the comments! 

Get Sturgill Simpson’s “Turtles All The Way Down” for Free on Google Play

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Every month Google Play has an “Antenna Sampler” of music from upcoming and independent artists from a variety of different genres. This month Sturgill Simpson’s lead single from his new album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, “Turtles All The Way Down,” is one of the 11 free songs offered by Google Play. If for some reason you haven’t gotten his new album or heard his music, this is a great opportunity to hear and purchase a Sturgill Simpson song for free.

To get this song for free, click here to get it on Google Play. And you can check out my review of Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and “Turtles All the Way Down,” click here.

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