The Value of Music: Pitchfork weighs in

If you’ve kept up with our blog (I mean why wouldn’t you) you’d know we have a bit of a passing interest in the state of the music industry. With new music streaming platforms revealed every few months or so and the constant specter of declining music sales, the value of music is a mystery, and an ongoing online conversation exists trying to figure out what it really is.

Longtime Pitchfork contributor Marc Hogan has added his voice with an opus of a feature entitled “How Much Is Music Really Worth?“. This piece is essentially a giant economical analysis of the value of music, focused mostly on the shifting value of physical music sales. It includes several interesting infographics such as the one below, analyzing this shift in value.

In addition to his deep analysis of music itself, Hogan also covers topics such as live revenue and music publishing. He does a good job of examining all the facets of music-related income.

However, all of his explication seems to lead him to the inevitable truth that it has become more and more difficult to make a living as a musician. Hogan describes his experience with seeing the band Single Mothers on a tour that wasn’t making them any money, noting that most live revenue goes to a top 1% of performers.

Hogan attempts to end the piece on a positive note, noting that while some may think that music is worthless, worthless is just another word for priceless. He sets the value of music as transcending dollars and cents, which to him is what makes it worth the most. While I agree that music is worth more to me than most things, this seems like a sort of cop out… if the sole value of music is that people enjoy it, how will anybody afford to make it in the future? This is the sort of thing we’ll have to watch play out, I believe.

 

New CD Arrivals!

Little did you know that once again we at the music library are sitting on a big ol’ pile of new CD arrivals! These are all hip hop CDs, and will be on reserve for a college writing seminar that focuses on the language of hip hop. Sounds pretty cool…

And the arrivals are:

Queen Latifah – Black Reign – CD 10382

Monie Love – In A Word Or 2 – CD 10383

Fu-Schnickens’ – F.U. “Don’t Take It Personal” – CD 10384

Jungle Brothers – Done By The Forces Of Nature – CD 10385

Common – Resurrection – CD 10386

Queen Latifah – Queen Latifah and the Original Flavor Unit – CD 10387

Chi-Ali – The Fabulous Chi-Ali – CD 10388

Black Sheep – Non-Fiction – CD 10389

Queen Latifah – Nature Of A Sista’ – CD 10390

Fu-Schnickens’ – Nervous Breakdown – CD 10391

Jungle Brothers – Raw Deluxe – CD 10392

Jungle Brothers – J. Beez Wit The Remedy – CD 10393

Monie Love – Down To Earth – CD 10398

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Yes, good folk, today is the day of Saint Patrick, that saint who converted the Irish to Christianity and banished all the snakes from the Emerald Isle, all while wearing some stylish green robes.

We at the music library may not all be Irish lads and lasses but we sure do like to celebrate this most viridescent of holidays! We have plenty of streaming audio (thanks to our many electronic libraries) that can provide the perfect soundtrack to your St. Patty’s merriment.

Yes, our electronic resources offer plenty, featuring many sides of Irish music. For beginners, there’s the Rough Guide to Irish Music, which is exactly what it sounds like: an introduction to the traditional sounds of the Isle. If Irish folk is your thing, we have Adieu to Old Ireland by the House Devils streaming, as well as a collection of Irish sailing songs called Ships Ahoy! and an album of folk songs performed on Irish harps called Harps d’Irlande.

If these folk songs have gotten you into the mood for this joyous day, you’re either taken up with the holiday as official Church feast day, the death date of Ireland’s patron saint, or you’re trying to party! Fear not, for we have appropriate streams for either position.

For the religiously-inclined, we have a great compilation of Irish sacred music called Irlande musique sacree. If you’re looking to have a roaring good time, look no further than this comp of the 20 best Irish pub songs, and top it off with this collection of olde irish jigs and reels.

Well, what are you doing still reading this? Go out and have yourself a time for St. Patrick, and bring your AU credentials with you so you can stream these awesome compilations!

The Inspiring Composer Behind the “House of Cards” Theme

We’ve covered a few NPR All Things Considered music interviews in the past: eco-experimental classical composer John Luther Adams and indie rock producer du jour John Congleton (coincidentally both named John). Last week ATC featured another crucial musician, one Jeff Beal, composer of the eerie-yet-sophisticated House of Cards theme.

Beal, who has also composed music for shows such as Monk, The Newsroom, and Carnivale, as well as the heartbreaking SeaWorld documentary Blackfish, describes the “musical joke” of the main theme. The bass line plays an ostinato in A minor for the duration of the theme, but the melody often slips into A Major, causing fleeting dissonances that set the tone well for the sinister TV series.

One cool fact about Beal is that he has taken the writing, arranging, and even recording process entirely into his own hands. He has no assistance with the writing and arranging of his scores, and records a 17-piece string ensemble in his living room. He also plays the trumpet, piano and guitar parts, and his talented musical family helps out as well: his wife Joan has recorded vocals for the score and their son Henry contributed the main bass line, recording from his dorm room.

Composer Jeff Beal (center) conducts string musicians in his California home.

Another awesome revelation is that Beal has managed to take such a hands-on role, despite his diagnosis with multiple sclerosis. While this crippling nervous disease began to show symptoms eight years ago, Beal’s combination of “alternative treatments” and strongly focused brain activity (via his feverish composing and recording) have managed to reverse brain atrophy and keep the disease at bay.

Jeff Beal is truly inspiring, as well as one of the coolest composers in the game (David Fincher hired him for House of Cards before even shooting it), and you should all check out this feature.

So proud of our Grammy winning CD, St. Vincent!

So guess what, readers? We have, on our shelves, a Grammy winning album (in CD form). No, not the Beck album; we’re staying out of that debate. No, we’re talking about the best Alternative Music Album, aka St. Vincent’s self-titled fourth full length, and it is a BEAST.

This album is a well-deserved winner, the clear best choice of 2015’s nominations, and an example of an artist in her prime, and continuing to evolve. 2012’s Strange Mercy, her previous album, was the perfect crystallization of sounds she had been developing on her first two releases. St. Vincent is the logical next step, seeing her pursue a darker, funkier sound and a new, cult-leader alter ego (seen below on the album cover):

However, in her excitement at becoming a Grammy-winning artist, the artist formerly known as Annie Clark stepped out of her persona to write a sweet thank you note to all of her fans. It describes, briefly, her musical journey from the outset of becoming “St. Vincent” to the present day. Read it here: http://ilovestvincent.com/#news

She also held a brief interview with Pitchfork and a longer one with i-D immediately after her win, revealing her excited mood in the wake of such a triumph. While the Grammys often seem out-of-touch and archaic, this award shows that they still possess a shred of “with it.” We’ll see what they pick next year. Meanwhile, celebrate with St. Vincent by checking out her album and seeing what’s so special about it yourself!

Björk on Pitchfork, Björk on our shelves!

Not sure if you’ve been around the internet, but this interview that Pitchfork held with Björk has been making the rounds among those passionate about music & gender equality (two great things to care about, imo).

In this interview with P4k’s Jessica Hopper, Björk touches on several issues, all of which surrounding the release of her new album Vulnicura, out on One Little Indian. First of all, this album takes the role of Björk’s “breakup album.” For Björk, Vulnicura is a catharsis of the emotion of leaving her longtime partner. While all of Björk’s releases have contained songs touching on love and interpersonal relationships, this album narrows the scope, and the subject matter is now her love and her interpersonal relationships. It is far more personal than  her previous releases, and in this interview there are several times where the Icelandic artist begins to cry simply thinking about it.

While this alone would make for a great interview, Björk took it to the next level when beginning to discuss taking credit for her music. It seems that in the press release rollout for Vulnicura, co-producer Arca (a man) was given full credit for producing this album, while Björk had actually simply brought him in to collaborate at the end. While Arca tweeted about this attempting to rectify the error, this misinformation was still posted all over the internet.

Björk was upset by this but sadly not surprised, given that male collaborators had been unduly given credit for her ideas for her entire career. In this interview she laments the fact that female songwriters and artists often have credit for their music co-opted by male collaborators. With an album as personal as Vulnicura, it’s ridiculous that Björk wasn’t even given shared credit by many sites. Hopefully this interview will set off some sort of paradigm shift among music fans (and critics), and a mistake like that won’t plague Björk the next time she releases an album.

While we don’t have Vulnicura on CD (yet), we do have several Björk albums, her first three solo albums DebutPost and Homogenic and her most recent album Biophilia. If you’re inspired by this interview, come check ’em out!

Sweet New Arrivals: Shadow & Simon

As you saw yesterday, we just procured a large batch of new CDs. I’d like to take this time to highlight two personal favorites. These two CDs are very different from each other but both are tremendously important to the development of popular music. Each represents both a perfection of style and a watershed moment, shaping the sound of their respective genres while representing the best each had to offer.

 

DJ Shadow – Endtroducing….. (1996)

As far as sample-based hip hop production goes, it’s hard to top this album. While other great albums preceding it made use of extensive, creative sampling (Paul’s Boutique, Three Feet High & Rising, It Takes A Nation Of Millions…, etc.), their producers used the samples to create a backdrop for the featured rapper. Endtroducing….. features no rapper, and relies on scores of samples to provide a thematic narrative. DJ Shadow’s creative chopping of drum breaks, sampled rap lyrics, atmospheric pieces and movie dialogue keeps the album interesting throughout.

What truly stands out about Endtroducing….., however, is its compositional ambition. The songs stretch out into epic, jazzy expanses, often far longer than a traditional hip hop record. In fact, this album was such a jump from the traditional use of samples and breaks that it led to the new genre of “trip hop,” sort of a bridge between ambient music, psychedelia and jazz, anchored by rap beats. On this album the line was forever blurred between hip hop grooves and avant-garde musical exploration, and we can thank it for a wealth of creative hip hop that has since followed.

 

Paul Simon – Graceland (1986)

Ah, Graceland. The sight of it in our “new CDs” pile gives me an intense feeling of joy, as this is one of the best pop albums I’ve ever heard and (probably) that was ever made. Suffering from a failing marriage and a commercial slump in the early 1980s, singer-songwriter Paul Simon was inspired by a cassette of South African music and went to the apartheid-stricken country to record with some of the musicians there. After this trip he returned to New York City and wandered the streets, composing an incredible set of soul-searching, heart bearing, romantic but realistic lyrics. These lyrics rest among Simon’s best, often surrealistic, fantastical or futuristic, but all managing to hit upon beautiful understatements on the trials and tribulations of interpersonal relationships. They form a uniquely American point of view that meshes strangely well with the African musical background.

And what a background it is! Unstoppable percussion grooves and liquid bass lines anchor exuberantly twinkling guitar runs, conjuring a dreamlike state. Often the vocalists of South African a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo sweep in, a tapestry of vocal timbre. These elements, previously unintroduced to American pop music, took Simon’s stellar set of lyrics to the next level, and paired with the occasional electronic drum kit and saxophone were able to create a pop sound that had never before been reached. Graceland truly represents the amazing possibilities of blending international pop styles, and it is a high watermark in pop musical history that has yet to be equaled- it’s hard to imagine such perfect chemistry occurring again.

Did I sell these well? Come check them out and see if they’re worth my hype. Or don’t, and I’ll keep listening to them during my shifts, it’s okay.