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: RIAA Certification, Streaming, and the Changing Face of Music Consumption

On Monday February 1, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) changed how the organization will certify albums and singles. The change reflects digital streams of songs and albums for an artist in addition to sales. Prior to the change, an album or song was certified Gold when 500,000 copies were sold, Platinum at 1,000,000, and Diamond at 10,000,000. With the change, the RIAA will take into account both video and audio streaming, and have decided that 1,500 streams is equal to 10 song sales or one album sale. Simple math then tells us that 750 million streams alone will earn an artist a Gold certification.

With the adjusted certification process, 17 albums achieved Gold or Platinum status on February 1. Three of the 17 albums were country albums: Brett Eldredge’s Bring You Back (Gold), Miranda Lambert’s Platinum (Platinum), and Sam Hunt’s Montevallo (2x Multi-Platinum).

From a business standpoint for the RIAA, this is a good move to keep with the changing tide of how consumers are listening to their music. Streaming is only growing and it’s important for music groups like the RIAA and Billboard to stay relevant with their reporting. However, reactions to the change have been mixed. Country artists are loving the news. One big challenger of the new rules is Top Dawg Entertainment’s, CEO Anthony Tiffith. TDE is the label for Kendrick Lamar, whose critically acclaimed album To Pimp a Butterfly has now been certified Platinum due to the inclusion of streaming. Tiffith tweeted that he won’t acknowledge the certification until old school album sales earn the album its Platinum rating.

One theory I have for the push back could be due to the low streaming payouts to artists/labels vs physical/digital album sales. Last April, The Guardian published an article with an infographic breaking down artist payouts among various streaming services in comparison to standard album sales. The infographic is organized to show how many units must be sold or streamed in order to achieve a monthly minimum wage income.

For instance (based on the numbers on the linked infographic), for an artist signed to a label to earn a monthly minimum wage from Spotify with a $0.0011/stream payout, there would need to be 1,117,021 streams for a monthly wage. At that rate, $1,228.72 is earned each month. And looking at RIAA’s rule of 1,500 streams per album sale, a streaming total of 1,117,021 is equal to about 744 albums sold (rounding down). By comparison, 744 albums sold per month via iTunes will earn a signed artist $1,711.20. And 744 albums per month sold physically in a retail store will be $2,053.44 for a signed artist.

Now these aren’t concrete numbers as to how streaming services directly compare to actual sales. Keep in mind that the numbers on the graphic are 10 months old, and the math I applied based on RIAA criteria may not be direct snapshots of how a company like Spotify may pay out an artist. Some of the numbers gathered from the article were assumed or generalized numbers based on typical business practices between labels and artists.

What this does give us, however, is a small baseline in which to judge a service like Spotify, arguably the most popular streaming service, in regards to actual album sales. I can understand a label CEO being against the inclusion of streaming in regards to albums sales when payouts from streaming are lower than album sales.

With the RIAA accepting streaming, it further solidifies the consumption mode of music, giving more importance to the notion of fair payouts. Streaming services are not going away, and as more and more music associations and organizations restructure themselves to include streaming, streaming needs to continue to fine tune itself to be accepted across the board. Streaming has a lot of push back from the music industry because they see the technology as a threat. But even cassettes scared the music industry back in the day.

For those against streaming, one bright spot is the resurgence of vinyl records. The growth of vinyl is nearly double than the growth in streaming subscriptions. Vinyl’s growth, aside from the novelty aspect, shows that consumers want physical copies of their music along with digital files. Never before have there been this many outlets to consume music. CDs, vinyl, digital downloads, radio, and streaming. Streaming’s skyrocketing popularity cannot be overlooked.

Like it or not, on-demand streaming has immersed itself into our musical culture. The impact streaming can have for an independent or budding artist is crucial. However manufactured his rise was, Kane Brown’s internet popularity earned him a deal with Sony. Maren Morris’ EP was an online only release, now she’s also signed with Sony and is getting the iHeartMedia On The Verge treatment.

Slowly we are seeing the industry adapt to streaming’s popularity. RIAA’s move to include streaming in album and single certifications is just another step in the long road ahead. I don’t think RIAA’s current rules are an absolution (nor do I think they’re perfect), and we may see them further adjusted to improve how the organization looks at streaming. Labels and radio are slowly looking into streaming and internet trends to capitalize on what’s popular with consumers. This is only the beginning of the music industry’s adaptation to streaming, and we may in fact be on the brink of a year in which we see major shifts in response to streaming’s popularity. There’s quite a bit to still work out on both ends of the spectrum, but I think major changes are on the horizon.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • The following albums are all being released tomorrow:
    • Dori Freeman‘s self-titled album
    • Lucinda Williams’ The Ghosts of Highway 20
    • Charles Kelley’s The Driver
    • Freakwater’s Scheherazade
    • The Infamous Stringdusters’ Ladies and Gentlemen
  • Addison Johnson‘s I’m Just a Song EP will be released on February 9th.
  • Cole Swindell announced his second album, You Should Be Here, will be released on May 6th.
  • Dreamer: A Tribute to Kent Finlay will be released on March 2nd, exactly one year after Finlay’s death. Finlay was a songwriter in Texas and owner of the Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos. He is credited with jump-starting the careers of George Strait, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Randy Rogers. Rogers will duet with Sunny Sweeney on the album, along with James McMurtry, William Clark Green, and many others covering Finlay-written songs in his honor.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Luckenbach, Texas” Waylon Jennings. Is there a better opening lyric than “The only two things in life that make it worth livin’ is guitars that tune good and firm feelin’ women”?

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

“Bullet with Butterfly Wings” Smashing Pumpkins. The Smashing Pumpkins just announced a new tour this week. A friend in high school made me a mix CD of her favorite Smashing Pumpkins songs and still listen to that mix quite a bit. I love this song.

Tweet of the Week

Stout’s record, Dust & Wind, was self recorded and released last September. You can listen and purchase to the album on Bandcamp.

YouTube Comment of the Week

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This was commented on the video of Jason Isbell’s performance of “Flagship” at the Grand Ole Opry. I completely agree with this! Isbell performed the song with his wife, Amanda Shires, playing her violin and providing great harmonies. Click on the link for the video of the performance.

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

Spotify

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: No Moron, Artists Shouldn’t Pay You To Listen

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. 

When I go on social media and check out what is happening in the world around me, I don’t go in with the intent of getting pissed off. It just simply happens. Well that happened earlier this week when I read the replies to a tweet sent out by Rolling Stone. The story tweeted out was this story, which was about Kanye West and his team using data to better maximize their profit. Why wouldn’t they take data and use it to make more money? It’s what any smart business does with their customers. And then I saw this:

Seriously? Are you kidding me? I’ve read plenty about the idea of artists paying fans to listen to their music and I just laughed about it because I thought there wasn’t actually people out there naive enough to think this to be true. Sure enough there are and it sent me into a Twitter rant. If you want to see that click here. I can’t imagine how infuriated an artist must feel when they read these comments. They put their heart and soul into making music (most of them), yet some fans just don’t give a shit.

If you share the sentiments of the commenter I called out above, you’re an entitled dipshit. First off nobody is forcing you to listen to music. Second you’re not that important. To put this into context, should Leonardo da Vinci have paid people to look at the Mona Lisa? No because that’s stupid. “But their music sucks! Music has gone down hill for the most part anyway.” You know why the quality of music has slipped compared to decades before it? It’s because people started stealing it and not paying for it. All of the sudden artists aren’t making what they’re supposed to with their music. So why should they try as hard? The fans don’t care, so why should they?

“But Katy Perry and Taylor Swift don’t need more money. They’re rich!” Sure they’re rich, but these artists are part of the 1% of the musicians’ industry. What about independent artists, the 99%? This all has a ripple effect on their livelihoods. Streaming is the name of the game today, largely because of illegal downloading of music. Spotify pays artists per song streamed, between $0.006 and $0.0084. So after about 10,000 plays the artist makes $10. Can you live on $10? No! Nobody can live on this kind of financial mean.

The point of all of this is thanks to selfish music listeners, songs have been devalued into less than a penny. The quality of music has decreased in many people’s eyes. Labels and artists are making less money. Music sales are tanking. The Tennesseean had a great piece recently highlighting all of these problems. If you don’t have time to read the whole piece, here was the real eye-opening part to me:

Since 2000, the number of full-time songwriters in Nashville has fallen by 80 percent, according to the Nashville Songwriters Association International. Album sales plummeted below 4 million in weekly sales in August, which marked a new low point since the industry began tracking data in 1991. Streaming services are increasing in popularity but have been unable to end the spiral.

So in the end nobody is winning with the current system. Everybody is losing money and there’s no easy solution that can appease everyone. This problem was created by the selfish music listener though and this problem will have to be solved by music listeners. If you love an artist’s music, go buy it. Go to their concerts and buy their gear. Don’t support artists you don’t like. Don’t listen to their music. And don’t steal music ever. Be part of the solution, not the problem.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Reba McEntire just released her new single “Going Out Like That” this week. It’s the first song released under the NASH Icons label and the first single from Reba’s new album coming out this year. You’ll see my thoughts on this song real soon.
  • Justin Townes Earle will release his new album Absent Fathers next Tuesday January 13. It’s the followup to his 2014 release Single Mothers. By the way I can’t believe I forgot to put this on my 2015 albums list. I didn’t realize it until after the article was published. My bad!
  • Cody Canada & The Departed will release a new album that day also, titled Hippielovepunk. That’s certainly an interesting name. I plan on reviewing this as soon as possible.
  • Zac Brown Band will debut his new single “Homegrown” during the College Football Playoff Championship Tailgate on ESPN next Monday January 12. It’ll be the first single off his new album coming out in 2015. It was announced several months ago he would be performing here and it’s a smart move on his part. Anything beats hearing “Centuries” by Fall Out Boy for the millionth time this season (college football fans know what I mean when I say this).

Throwback Thursday Song

 

Little Jimmy Dickens’ “Sleep At The Foot of the Bed.” The country music world lost a great artist and an even better person in Dickens this past week. I was going to write a post about it, but I didn’t feel like I could do him justice. I’ll admit I’m not the most familiar with Mr. Dickens, but I’ve known about him since I was a kid and I have heard some of his music. I definitely want to go back and listen to more of his catalog now. I saw a lot of great tributes to Little Jimmy, but my favorite was Brad Paisley’s tribute to him. I guess his tribute means a little more personally because Paisley is the one who introduced Dickens to me. If you haven’t read Paisley’s tribute, click here. I definitely recommend reading it. Rest in peace Little Jimmy Dickens.

My Non-Country Song/Thought of the Week

I have to say something about Kanye West’s new song with Paul McCartney, “Only One.” I have never understood the appeal of Kanye’s music and I still don’t understand it’s appeal. This song dropped on New Year’s night to the surprise of everyone and I thought this was a cool move on Kanye’s part. I decided to give his music a chance again, especially since Sir Paul was involved. I’m not going to beat around the bush: I think “Only One” sucks. The lyrics are good, but the auto-tune is so terrible. I don’t understand why people enjoy hearing auto-tuned singing. It’s grating, robotic and devoid of human emotion. If you want to hear this song for some reason, you can click here. By the way, Paul McCartney is barely present on the song too. I’m also not shocked Kanye fans aren’t familiar with him either. This is coming from a fan base that views Kanye as a genius.

Tweet of the Week

Never change, Michelle Beadle. Also seems like every week I see a non-country music person diss Florida Georgia Line. I hope America’s hate for the group continues to grow until the point this group is a laughingstock like Nickelback. It’s not that farfetched of an idea.

Something To Make You Laugh

An actual search term somebody used to find Country Perspective:

What

Yeah I don’t know what to say. Get it together, Google!

 

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