Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sick this week...

But posts will be forthcoming. This week's article will be a review of the "Body of War" Soundtrack.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Another reason why capitalism is ruining music

Though this article is excellent in showing how massive conglomerates are absolutely ruining radio for us, one thing needs to be made clear: none of these increased royalties are going to the artists, which means that the companies are doing it sheerly to maintain control over the airwaves. -AB

*****

Internet radio firms say royalties limiting choices
By Hiawatha Bray
Globe Staff / March 14, 2008

For Barry Cedergren, the decision to stop broadcasting nightclub music over the Internet was a matter of simple arithmetic. Much as he enjoyed playing music online, a big increase in music performance royalties made it too expensive for him to continue operating Mobile Beat Radio.

"It was going to cost us tens and tens of thousands of dollars just in fees to play this music," he said. Cedergren launched Mobile Beat Radio from his home city of Minneapolis in January 2007, two months before a panel of federal judges approved a big increase in the performance royalty paid by Internet broadcasters every time they stream a song, prompting him to immediately shut down his site.

Cedergren's story is the nightmare scenario painted by many Internet radio companies who have claimed that the royalty hike would kill online broadcasting in its cradle. In fact, Internet radio is far from dead. Online broadcasters like Pandora and Live365 still serve millions of listeners. But the higher rates have driven away many small online broadcasters who say they can't afford to stay in business. And even industry leader Pandora says it's in trouble. "We're at the very end of our tether," founder Tim Westergren said. "There's a very good chance that we will shut down."

Critics of the royalty system say the result is decreasing musical diversity on the Internet. They warn of an online music industry dominated by the same giant media companies that presently dominate traditional radio broadcasting. And they point to CBS Broadcasting Inc.'s recent takeover of the Internet radio operations of Time Warner Inc.'s AOL as a harbinger of an Internet radio market rendered bland and predictable.

"They'll push all of us out of business," said Johnie Floater, general manager of media for Live365. "Your Internet radio is going to sound like your AM and FM."

Thousands of Internet broadcasters, ranging from traditional radio stations to individuals who want to share their favorite tunes with the world, pay Live365 to stream their programs over the Internet. Live365 pays their music royalties out of the fees paid by its subscribers.

But so far, the company hasn't begun paying the higher rate set last year. Live365 and other Internet broadcasters are in negotiations with SoundExchange Inc., the recording industry group that collects performance royalties, in hopes of settling on a lower rate. While some Internet broadcasters are paying the higher rate, Live365 has withheld payment until the negotiations are complete. A SoundExchange spokesman said his organization is entitled to the money and will collect it retroactively.

Floater said many small subscribers, afraid that these retroactive fees will bankrupt them, are shutting down their Live365 music streams. Others have cut back the number of music streams they offer or the number of Internet users who are allowed to tune in. Because they must pay a royalty every time an individual listens to a tune, some Internet stations now drive away listeners to keep their royalty bill down. As a result, Live365 now broadcasts 15 million hours of Internet audio every month, compared to 25 million hours a year ago.Continued...

One Live365 broadcaster, the Rock.com service of Laguna Hills, Calif., last year broadcast 50 different channels of rock music and attracted 150,000 listeners per month. It has since deliberately reduced the number of channels to 33, eliminating unusual channels like one devoted to reggae music and another that featured only female artists. Monthly listenership is down to 15,000 a month, which lowers the royalty bill. But chief executive Steve Newman said his business still can't make money. "With the new rate structure, it's absolutely impossible," said Newman.

Even Internet giant AOL, which broadcasts about 200 channels of Internet music, found it couldn't cope with performance royalties. On March 7, AOL said it would hand control of its Internet music operations to CBS Broadcasting Inc., which runs about 150 traditional radio stations.

Fred McIntyre, senior vice president of AOL Radio, said that even before last year's increase, royalties were too high to let his business operate at a profit. "There's no way you can build an Internet radio business, operating the way we were, with these kinds of royalties," McIntyre said.

He said CBS has a major advantage because traditional radio stations pay royalties to music publishers, but not performance royalties, which go to recording companies or musicians. Internet, cable, and satellite stations must pay both publishing and performance royalties.

The recording industry is pushing for federal legislation that would force traditional broadcasters to pay performance royalties. But for now, CBS hangs on to more of the ad revenue generated by its traditional radio stations. It can use that money to help cover royalties owed by their Internet radio streams. In addition, some CBS stations broadcast only news or talk shows, and therefore pay no music royalties, whether broadcast on the airwaves or the Internet.

As a result, say Internet radio experts, giant traditional broadcasters might end up dominating Internet radio, while higher performance royalties overwhelm smaller online players. "If Pandora can't make it, if Live365 can't make it, then . . . CBS, Clear Channel, and Entercom are going to take over Internet radio," said Jonathan Potter, executive director of the Digital Media Association in Washington.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

RIP Mikey Dread

Sent out from the folks at Rock 'n' Rap Confidential. Truly one of the greats, he will be missed. -AB

****

Mikey Dread, gone from the control
Hailed as one of reggae greatest innovators
By Basil Walters Observer staff reporter
Sunday, March 16, 2008



Radio disc jock Mikey Dread is dead. He succumbed to a brain tumour late yesterday afternoon at his family home in Connecticut, USA at the age of 54. Born Michael Campbell in Port Antonio, Jamaica, he distinguished himself as an extraordinary studio engineer and presenter at the now defunct Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) where he came to prominence in the 1970s as "The Dread-the-Control Tower", the name of the late night show he presented at a time when reggae music was scoffed at by many.


Mikey Dread... hailed as one of reggae's greatest innovators
One of reggae's greatest innovators and original radio engineers/technicians, the past student of Titchfield High School, in


2006 celebrated the 30th anniversary of the night programme which he started at the JBC, and revolutionised the after midnight shift making it into the most popular slot on radio, by playing strictly dub music. This innovation is seen by many musicologists as the antecedence of dancehall as we now know it.

Upon leaving the JBC, Mikey Dread ventured into recording and scored with a number of releases such as Weatherman Skanking in combination with Ray I, Barber Saloon, Love the Dread, as well as albums such as Dread at the Control, Evolutionary Rockers and World War III. Over time he attracted the attention of British punk rockers, The Clash, who invited him to produce some of their music, the most famous of which is their single Bankrobber, and contributed to several songs on their 1980 album, Sandinista. Mikey Dread also toured with The Clash across Britain, wider Europe and the US.

He also worked closely with producer Trevor Elliot to launch musical career of singer Edi Fitzroy, who was then an accountant at the JBC. As the news of his passing surfaced yesterday, the Sunday Observer got comments from a number of persons in the media and the music fraternity, all of whom hailed Mikey Dread as a significant contributor to the development of Jamaican music. "His (Mikey Dread's) work, is not only national or regional, but also international," former JBC's journalist Leslie Miles noted. "It spanned the world scene and made Mikey a pioneer broadcaster for playing dub music, and also redefined aspects of radio, especially night time radio" Miles, who is now head of news at Bess FM, also spoke of the struggle Mikey Dread faced at the conservative JBC. Music consultant Colin Leslie pointed out that the consequence of the "fight" he received from the management was putting him on at night, but that backfired.

"Remember he is a Portlander, so I always appreciated the fact that we shared the same alma mater (Titchfield High School), that is something I've always cherished and I hold him in high esteem. Although he was ahead of my era, he was somebody who laid an awesome foundation and was very unique and highly respected," was how Richard "Richie B" Burgess of Hot 102, remembered Mikey Dread.

"We were at JBC together, and in those days when he started at the JBC dreads weren't popular on the air. The powers that be in management really gave him a fight," Ali McNab told the Sunday Observer.

"Michael Campbell, is someone who revolutionised radio in Jamaica when there was still an anti-Jamaican sentiment regarding music and culture. In terms of the emerging dancehall, it was Mikey Dread who popularised it on radio. Although it was late night, he still managed to popularise dancehall music and bring it to the masses," was the perspective of Dennis Howard who also worked on JBC Radio, in the post-Mikey Dread era.

And Irie FM's disc jockey, GT Taylor hailed the late Mikey Dread as a role model. "Reggae music in Jamaica, owes a lot that that brother. He was one man who stood up for reggae in the early '70s, bringing the music to the forefront. He is one of my inspirations."

Veteran singer Freddie McGregor attested to the fact that "Mikey Dread was one of the persons fighting the struggle for reggae music. Mikey and I did a lot of shows together over the years. A wonderful brethren".

Monday, March 17, 2008

St. Patrick's Day in Fortress America

This is an excellent article by Shaun Harkin in today's CounterPunch on the hypcrisy of the US celebrating St. Pat's while closing the borders to immigrants.

St. Patrick's Day has practically become part of the fabric of how American culture has evolved over the centuries. The history, the food (including the beer), the dress and the music are undeniably part of the American identity. In many ways, it's part of what makes the culture interesting in the US.

So how does it make sense to say yes to stout and Irish folk, but no to cerveza and mariachi?

Just a thought.

On a Lighter Note, Check This Out:

Anyone who loves that firebrand rebellion in Irish music should check out Cutthroat Shamrock. These boys from Tennessee were definitely the most interesting group to play at Shamrock Fest on Saturday.

Their Myspace page can be viewed here.

There have been a lot of well-known groups that have mixed punk and Irish folk really well, and so it's not every day you find a band that does so in a truly unique way. They come highly recommended.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Support Winter Soldier and IVAW

The Winter Soldier hearings will be taking place in DC this weekend. This is an incredibly important event. Iraq Veterans Against the War is probably the leading edge of anti-war forces in this country. The voices of veterans are important in exposing the lies behind this war and mobilizing people to end it.

Check out this youtube video to find out more. Footage from the hearings will also be put out over the web in coming days a weeks.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Poblacht na Eireann!

I'll be attending Shamrock Fest tomorrow, which is the biggest St. Patrick's day music festival in the US. I have very little Irish blood in me, but I have always been attracted to Irish history and culture for the simple reason that there has always been a good amount of popular, political resistance infused with it.

On that note, I recently read this article about a pub in NYC that has banned its patrons from singing "Danny Boy" on St. Patrick's day. That may seem to come out of thin air, but the case against the song is solid.

For one, it is indeed depressing. For another, it's barely sung in Ireland on St. Paddy's Day. And most importantly, it was written by an Englishman who had never been to Ireland!

So how did it become a staple of St. Paddy's Day? My theory is very simply a kind of cultural imperialism. Ireland was under English rule for centuries, and so it may come as no surprise that the English idea of "Irish culture" was the one that was projected to the world.

For my money, the best St. Paddy's Day soundtrack is the Pogues, hands down! Raucous, rowdy, celebratory, and unapologetically in solidarity with the Irish people!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Is this proof that our parents' generation just don't get or that all modern pop music just sounds the same?

This is very funny. It's from a website called Not Always Right, which is, other than forming a union and going on strike, the best way for anyone who has ever worked in retail or customer service to blow off steam against an incredibly frustrating job. True and funny stories about stubborn, mean, unreasonable and sometimes flat-out stupid customers. Because this takes place in a book and record shop, I simply couldn't resist!

****

BA BA BEE DA DUM DUM BAAA!
bookstore | USA
Customer: “Yeah, my son really likes this one band that has a really popular song out right now.”

Me: “Okay…”

Customer: “Well, I don’t know the name of their album, their band name, or the name of the song but the tune is like this: ‘ba ba bee da dum dum baaa.’”

Me: “…”

Customer: *not very happy with me* “Do you have any clue what I’m talking about?”

Me: “Ma’am, I’m sorry but we can’t really look up ‘ba ba bee da dum dum baaa’ in our computer.”

Customer: “Don’t be a smart a** with me, missy.”

Me: *trying not to laugh* “Ma’am, I’m not trying to be a smart a**, I’m just saying there isn’t really any way I can help you unless you have some information I can look up.”

Customer: *yelling* “NEVER IN MY LIFE HAVE I EVER BEEN TREATED SO DISRESPECTFULLY AT SOME BULLS*** BOOK STORE! EVERY TIME I COME HERE YOU AND YOUR CO-WORKERS ACT AS IF IT’S SUCH A CHORE TO HELP CUSTOMERS!”

Me: *trying really hard not to laugh* “Would you like me to call my manager?”

Customer: “YES!”

(I page my manager, which we have several but I lucked out and got the good one)

Rad manager: *irritated because she was busy* “Is there a problem?”

Customer: “Yes, the…”

Rad manager: “No, I wasn’t talking to you.”

Customer: “Well!”

Me: “She wants me to look up a song using only the tune.”

Rad manager: *laughs*

Customer: *again, yelling* “IS IT SO HARD TO ASK FOR A LITTLE HELP OR DO YOU NOT OFFER THAT FOR FREE? ALL I NEED FROM YOU IS THE BAND NAME THAT SINGS THAT ONE SONG THAT GOES LIKE THIS, ‘BA BA BEE DA DUM DUM BAAA’! IT ISN’T THAT HARD TO FIGURE IT OUT!”

Me: “So go home and figure it out and give us a call.”

Customer: “I will never shop here again! I’m taking my business to Barnes & Noble!”

Rad manager and I: “Okay. Bye.”

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

New radical sites for a new radical age

It comes as no surprise to anyone reading this site that alternative media are extremely important. As the way that folks get their news and information switches, so must these alternative outlets.

That's why it's exciting to talk about the changes in two news-sources I contribute to frequently.

This ad for the upcoming changes to the Socialist Worker website has me absolutely amped! Socialist Worker has been a leading source of radical news, and is the most widely read socialist newspaper out there. That it is completely revamping its site to include daily updates from folks like Dahr Jamail and Mike Davis means that the ever important socialist voice in this country will only be getting stronger.

The new site for Znet has been up for a couple months now, and if you haven't visited yet, then do it right now! Not only does it look slicker while still providing the wide array of left voices it always has, but a whole slew of new features are included in the new site, including the option to create a "ZSpace," a MySpace for radicals complete with blog and profiles.

There's no doubt the web has revolutionized our lives. The change in how the left uses it can only make it easier to revolutionize the whole system!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Resuming posts

The past several days have seen me, once again, busy with an outside project. Postings will resume today... starting with this one...

Upcoming: a review of Simon Reynold's Rip it Up and Start Again and this week's article will be a history of music in the American elections.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Follow-up on Bjork/Kosovo Controversy

Folks may remember my post last week on Bjork being banned from this summer's EXIT festival in Novi Sad, Serbia after she made statements supporting Kosovan independence.

Bjork has released a statement. It is as follows:

“I would like to put importance on that I am not a politician, I am first and last a musician and as such I feel my duty to try to express the whole range of human emotions.

“The urge for declaring independence is just one of them but an important one that we all feel at some times in our lives. This song (which appears on the star's 2007 album 'Volta') was written more with the personal in mind but the fact that it has translated to its broadest meaning, the struggle of a suppressed nation, gives me much pleasure.

“I would like to wish all individuals and nations good luck in their battle for independence. Justice! Warmth, Bjork.”

Once again, it is hard to disagree with Bjork's sentiments. Though organizers of EXIT originally denied political motivations, it's hard to see this whole debacle as anything else but politically fuelled.

There is no doubt that Kosovars have the right to self-determination, but that's not what they have now. As I asked last week, how can a country under occupation be declared independent from anything? How can a country be free when it's host to the biggest foreign military base outside of Iraq? And how can Serbs, Croats, Albanians, or any other ethnic group in the Balkans hope to get along while the very force that has sewn divisions for years, the United States, remains present in the region?

Like I said, great sentiments from Bjork. But one wishes she were just as vocal about real, substantial independence as she is about the vague idea of it.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

This cultural prostitute is still waiting for his next fix!

As fans of this blog know, I am a HUGE fan of The (International) Noise Conspiracy, who have been promising a new album for some time now. Last word was the album was done recording, and they were immersed in the mixing process with none other than Rick Rubin.

But...

That was in October! Worst yet, they haven't even posted any updates on their site since November.

I'm all for artists taking their time on a great product (as I know this upcoming record will be), but I am absolutely dying to hear it!

For those who are wondering why I'm making such a big deal over a record that hasn't even come out yet, watch this and you'll know what I'm talking about!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Freedom Songs: Erykah Badu's New AmErykah Part One

It's been four and a half years since Erykah Badu released her critically acclaimed Worldwide Underground EP. Now, with New Amerykah Part One (4th World War), it seems the Dallas-born soul singer is making up for lost time. 4th World War is the first of three full-length albums the artist plans to release this year. The news couldn't come a moment too soon. At a time when female R&B is dominated by artists like Beyonce and Rihanna, whose music seems to proudly tout the model of "sex-appeal-before-substance," Badu's music has always been intelligent, diverse, deep, and shown an uncompromising willingness to speak truth to power.

All of these are characteristics that seem to come at a premium in modern music, and over the years they have earned Badu a loyal fanbase. But perhaps what fans have missed the most during Badu's absence has been the musical legacy she represents. The video for her playfully groove-based single "Honey," leaked onto the internet this past November, highlights this legacy. In it, Badu holds up iconic albums from Diana Ross, Funkadelic, Earth Wind and Fire, De La Soul and others. In each case, the cover-art has been altered to feature Badu's face singing the lyrics of the song.

In other words, Badu consciously sees herself as building on the best traditions in African-American music. With the help of such producers as Madlib and 9th Wonder, 4th World War doesn't just integrate these traditions, but does so extremely well. Soul, R&B, funk, the beats of hip-hop and rap, all are woven together into an often mind-bending eclecticism.

Furthermore, Badu has culled each genre's latent tendency of rebellion and outspokenness. As a result, 4th World War is easily Badu's most political album to date. The opening track "Amerykahn Promise" kicks off with a funky bass-and-guitar line plucked straight from the '70s and used as background for the sideshow that is Amerykah, a humourously backward country of big promises and little pay-out. The song is blatantly tongue-in-cheek, featuring a deep-voiced authority figure demanding that folks "respect their country."

While "Amerykahn Promise" plays with up-tempo humor, most of the album shows off a thoroughly serious and contemplative side. "My People" features a slow-yet-confident beat accompanied by confidently righteous lyrics that are almost gospel-like in their repetition and use of call and response: "When they start throwin' fire (My people, hold on) / Chant chant chant you down now (My people, hold on) / Oh you got to hold on and on (My people, hold on)."

To be sure, Erykah Badu has always made clear her opposition to inequality and injustice. This hasn't exactly made her popular in a music industry that keeps the politically conscious at arms' length. Music journalists poked fun at the headwrap she wore in her early career; some have harped on about her "inflated ego" and her "arrogance."

Thankfully, none of this has fazed her desire to speak out. During a concert in Tel Aviv, Israel this past January, Badu made a brave statement by hanging a specially made banner onstage featuring the word "peace" in both Arabic and Hebrew. Not stopping there, she spoke out against the Iraq war, and declared her affinity for Palestinian hip-hop over its Israeli counterpart. "[Palestinians] use [hip-hop] as a form of liberation, as a form of pre-resistance, as a form of therapy."

Most controversial in the run-up to the concert was her support for Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan, who she pays tribute to in her song "Me". When Tel Aviv journalists confronted her about Farrakhan's history of anti-Semitism, she simply stated "he's not anti-Semitic, he loves all people." Indeed, 4th World War was released on February 26th, the NOI holiday of Savior's Day--though it should be pointed out that the 26th is also Badu's birthday. Badu is not an NOI member, and has insisted that her music is her religion. However, in a country riven with open racism, she clearly identifies with anyone who puts themselves in opposition. This is what motivated her to give her time to the Millions More Movement in the fall of 2005.

For all the controversy, though, Badu clearly stands on her own two feet when railing against society's many injustices. This is most obvious on "Soldier," the pinnacle song on 4th World War. The song is a pulsing, flowing groove accented by a gentle flute track. In it, Badu's soulful voice expresses both sympathy and solidarity with those affected by and fighting oppression:

"To my folks in Iraqi fields
This ain't no time to kill...
To my folks on the picket line
Don't stop till you change they mind
I got love for my folks
Baptized when the levy broke
We gone keep marchin' on
Till we hear that freedom song..."

Though it would be easy to see this as simple platforming, 4th World War goes much deeper. The best points on this album are when the politics and the music become one and the same. When Badu uses her musical prowess to deliver a much-needed message, both become more powerful and poignant. Badu has already proven herself a fiercely relevant artist. If the second two parts of New AmErykah are as good as the first, then she may prove to be one of the most important artists of 2008, and the the musical tradition she stands in can only be strengthened.

What I've been listening to this week

Jurassic 5 - Power in Numbers
I was not pleased by J5's recent breakup! Each MC on this album absolutely owns the mike! NuMark and Cold Cut's beats reach back to old-school spinning, but at the sam time are thoroughly innnovative and diverse. Highlights on this album: "A Day at the Races" and "High Fidelity."

Gang of Four - Entertainment!
Of all the post-punk experiments to infuse agitation into both the lyrics and sound of music, these guys were the most successful. Tense as an out-of-control wind-up toy, their music made the revolution of everyday life sound like it could really rock!

Erykah Badu - New AmErykah Part One (4th World War)
See my review.

The Killers - Hot Fuss
While the lyrics are only slightly above average, the energy and commitment exhibited by the group make this album a real stand-out. It's been a long time since a rock band has integrated synth into such a hard-rocking sound. The result is extremely catchy.

Radiohead - In Rainbows
I've come back to this album a lot over the past few months. I've long been amazed with the way that the groups continues to innovate, continues to find new ways to do communicate their haunting messages of alienation and dystopia. I have never been disappointed by a Radiohead album, and this one is no exception.

Tune of the Week: Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues"

The complete upside-down priorities of this country never cease to amaze. The economy is definitely headed for recession; in some industries lay-offs have already started, yet Bush declared earlier in the week that the US economy is fine!

At the same time, it was revealed that the US prison population has grown to the point that one out of every hundred adults is in jail. This country imprisons more people than any other. This especially hits home for people of color, who are locked up disproportionately high.

And of course, Iraq is almost completely absent from the presidential debate. Amy Goodman and Noam Chomsky have both commented on this absence. What would it be like if we had a real conversation in this primary season about how the amount of money spent on prisons and war was actually spent on jobs, schools and healthcare?

This week's song is dedicated to that idea. When Marvin Gaye released What's Going On? in 1971, it was at the height of his political consciousness. "Inner City Blues" is about these upside down priorities, and is one of the best protest songs ever written. It's got the soul-full confidence we still know Marvin for, but with an emotional immediacy that set this album apart from the rest of his catalog. This is soul at its best.

Listen to it here.

Lyrics:

Rockets, moon shots
Spend it on the have nots
Money, we make it
Fore we see it you take it
Oh, make you wanna holler
The way they do my life
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life
This ain't livin', This ain't livin'
No, no baby, this ain't livin'
No, no, no
Inflation no chance
To increase finance
Bills pile up sky high
Send that boy off to die
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life
Dah, dah, dah
Dah, dah, dah
Hang ups, let downs
Bad breaks, set backs
Natural fact is
I can't pay my taxes
Oh, make me wanna holler
And throw up both my hands
Yea, it makes me wanna holler
And throw up both my hands
Crime is increasing
Trigger happy policing
Panic is spreading
God know where we're heading
Oh, make me wanna holler
They don't understand
Dah, dah, dah
Dah, dah, dah
Dah, dah, dah

Mother, mother
Everybody thinks we're wrong
Who are they to judge us
Simply cause we wear our hair long