2012-2013 Year In Review

This was an extremely up and down year and a half for the music business. There were periods of incredible progress but these were matched with just about equal periods of stagnation.

I tend to look at the music business with the slanted view favoring R&B and hip-hop music. With that said I also appreciate and study music across all genres. I observed that this was a year where there was a lot of cross pollination between musical genres in terms of production and artist features. This was reflected in a completely widened “top 40” that included blues, rock, country, EDM, and Dub-Step styles into all genres of pop music.

There was very little unique music being made in favor for batches of records coming out the same time that shared general influence from all over the musical map. This was most evident over the past two summers during onslaughts of repetitive and similar sounding music being released seemingly all at once, especially this past year.

Instead of a typical best and or worse list of music I’m writing about cultural impact and what really mattered in terms of the future of sound and the music business.

Justin Timberlake pretty much owned the past year. The anticipation of his upcoming music was coupled with the anticipation of the release of new music by Jay Z. Both had taken an absence from the music industry for some time and their collective return to recording and touring was MORE than well received by both the business and the fans. Both Timberlake and Jay Z proved that you can partner with corporations/brands and still maintain integrity as an artist. After 7 years away from music Timberlake utilized Target, Budweiser, and collaborations with Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel to bring the fans CONSTANT reminder that he had some really good music available for purchase.

Looking back on Justin Bieber’s press and promo run in 2012 there is a lot to consider on how to properly market a “pop” release utilizing brand collaboration and social media. Both of the Justins respectively have had a very successful 2012-2013 blending modern sounds into classic “pop” radio production. Both Timbaland (20/20 Experience) and Rodney Jerkins (Believe) proved that seasoned veteran producers have NOT lost their place to younger upstarts.

There is no denying Cocaine 80s influence on music right now from the production of No Id to the songwriting of James Fauntleroy. From huge projects like Rihanna and Justin Timberlake to hip hop projects like Big Sean and Nas the Cocaine 80s crew has kept blessing the music biz with classic songs and full projects including their own EP’s which are available on www.Cocaine80s.com

In terms of rap and hip hop there has been a strong movement of multiple “crews” working together to achieve better sales rather than competition which seems to be returning to the “mix”. Teams such as Maybach Music Group , Young Money, TDE, and RocNation have been in control of most of hip hops radio play due to their sharing of major labels and similar artists and sounds. Lately there has been somerebellion to this formula but hip hop has proven over and over that new and veteran artists can break the mold and create powerful sounds and movements at any time.

There were very strong projects throughout the hip hop world this past year. Rick Ross’s Maybach Music Group put out God Forgives I Don’t, Self Made 2 & 3 , Meek Mill’s DreamChasers 2 & 3 plus album , Wale’s album featuring platinum single ”Bad”, as well as plenty of other releases from in house artists such as French Montana , Stalley, Omarion, Rockie Fresh, Gunplay, and Triple C’s. Their “sound” and brand can be felt through limitless collaborations with other members of the music industry.

OddFuture had a major year as members of their crew such as Tyler, the Creator , Frank Ocean , Earl Sweatshirt , The Internet , and MellowHype all released critically and fan acclaimed music as well as sold out tours, major collaborations, clothing lines, and even their own Carnival in Los Angeles.

The next big crew to note was none other than Lil Wayne’s Young Money & Birdman’s Cash Money. With strong releases from Drake , Nicki Minaj, DJ Khaled, Ace Hood, and the Rich Gang compilation they were involved in a lot of big records over the past year.

Kanye West’s “Good Music” and associated acts also had a major year. Their compilation spawned “Mercy” which was one of the biggest hits of the year and helped propel both Big Sean & 2 Chainz to successful solo projects with hits of their own. Kanye also gave producers such as Hit-Boy, Hudson Mohawke, Travis Scott, and Mike Will chances to prove themselves on a higher platform all with sucess.

The last rap crew worthy of mention from big moves this past year was Top Dawg Entertainment. The big release for this label was Kendrick Lamar’s “Good Kid Mad City” which has seen a very successful ride on the charts. Label mates Schoolboy Q & Ab-Soul have both released strong projects to critical and fan acclaim. Upcoming releases from them and newer signees Sza and Isaiah Rashad will keep TDE buzzing through 2014 and beyond.

The biggest most universal hip hop release of the past year goes to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis for “The Heist”. This was an album where there was truly something for all types of fans of modern music. Containing strong social themes & emotional elements they balanced their content with uplifting instrumentals that related from small crowds in their native Seattle to global arenas within a year.

There were also really major crossover releases this past year from acoustic based artists such as Adele, Mumford and Sons, Taylor Swift, The Lumineers, and Gotye.

This was balanced by rock acts such as Fun, Alabama Shakes, 30 Seconds to Mars, and Nine Inch Nails all having major album releases and world tours.

R and B singers also had a strong release market this past year with Usher, Miguel, Robin Thicke, and August Alsina all putting out chart breaking music.

Electronic Dance Music also steadily climbed onto mainstream charts with Diplo, Calvin Harris, and Avicii seeing as much success as pop acts such as One Direction, The wanted, Chris Brown, and most recently Miley Cyrus. 

This past year we lost some music industry greats such as Etta James , Soul Train Mastermind Don Cornelius, Whitney Houston, Davy Jones, Industry Luminary Dick Clark, Levon Helm, Beastie Boys “MCA”, Chuck Brown, Donna Summer, Chris Lighty, Marvin Hamlisch, Hal David, Andy Williams, Dave Brubek, Jenni Rivera, and Ravi Shankar. May their sounds and memories live on ! 

 

 

The Digital Crates

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Seth Ryan Barmash has been writing, producing, and performing music since the dawn of the digital age. Years of experience as a musician (Keyboards/Guitar/Bass/Drums) and education from both The University of Southern California and The Musician’s Institute has lead to a successful career in the music business. Seth has produced and engineered for both the Warner and Universal Music Groups. As a music publisher Seth has placed many compositions in Film and TV including songs on Saturday Night Live & The XFiles 2.

Digital Music Sales

This past year there has been heated debate over lack of proper payment to artists from subscription services such as Pandora & Spotify. Recently published research shows that artists and labels shouldn’t worry too much about the lack of royalties from streaming media. Many studies have shown that ringtone sales are still FOUR times bigger than Spotify, Rhapsody, & Pandora subscriptions COMBINED. Statistically, digital sales can be broken down into three parts including downloads, ringtones, and subscription services. Downloads make up about 57% of digital sales with ringtones making up 34% of digital music sales. That leaves about 8% of digital sales for subscription services. Artists & labels should be glad that these subscription services promote and advertise their music to subscribers and not worry too much about their lack of royalty payouts because there is a LOT more money to be made from downloads and ringtones!

Facebook “Fans”

When an artist or brand buys “Facebook fans” who’s really winning? This question has been posed by many different analysts and journalists over the past few years. Some studies have tried to prove that the average Facebook fan on your like page is worth almost $10 to the artist. Some studies have shown it could be as little as three dollars per average up to over $140 per lifetime relationship with said artist on the like page. This proves that the minimal cost for setting up the Facebook page and the fan interaction after liking that page is obviously a great investment in social media and marketing

The real question though is who is winning, is it Facebook or the actual artist/brand themselves that is setting up the page to bring traffic to the overall Facebook web platform. After setting up the like page which has no initial cost it is been best for that brand or artist to set up an advertising account either with pay click or pay-per-view on the ads that appear on other similar like pages and Facebook users.

The actual Facebook fan does interact in many different ways with content mainly in contests, sign-ups, and purchases. Even with all that interaction studies have shown that the real winner is Facebook themselves who’s making the most money off the actual advertising account of the users. I am a pretty big fan of iTunes and I know a lot of android users who are pretty well-versed in downloading music via Google play instead of going through Facebook to support the artist.

There has been a rise is streaming music on Pandora, Spotify, and Rdio but statistics show that most people still direct traffic to YouTube to hear free music. I’m not really one to say that Facebook is a dying platform for artists but I do believe that the advertising accounts that users set up monetizing the YouTube videos is a better investment than setting up and maintaining like pages on Facebook. This is because the Facebook page really just re-directs the fan of the branded artist to other sites such as ITunes, YouTube, Spotify, Amazon, and Google Play.

In this day and age not all Internet users are the same and most people have different platforms for which they like to either download or stream their music. It is really best now for the brand or artist to utilize as many social media platforms available and not so much focus on just a single one.

Recently I have been part of a production project on an album that was sold exclusively through a website at an average cost of $15 per CD. After an initial sales period this album was then offered digitally through iTunes and Amazon and Google play. My findings in this project are that most people were actually looking for the most exclusive way to get the content. We completely sold out of the CDs and saw a lack of digital downloads which are now seeing some numbers pick up as we do not plan a second pressing of the physical product. We are using Facebook to promote the digital product but most of these consumers are coming from the original website not social media outlets.

After this experience it seems there’s really no right or wrong answer and there’s really no way to tell who’s winning or losing when advertising on Facebook. Facebook stock seems to plummet as user shares always seem to rise which is leading to confusion among marketing analysts. In summation I believe we have to take advantage still of physical retailing as well as digital distribution. We also have to try our best to hone our skills in social media platforms as soon as they become available to the general population. Facebook like pages are a worthy tool for a brand or artist but not the only options to offer exclusive content. 

The 99.999 %

Years ago when I first entered the music business somebody told me that the music that you hear on the radio and see displayed in stores physically was really representative of only 1% of the actual music that’s made and produced internationally.

This was easy to believe because this was just before the dawn of the era of ProTools and the home studio revolution. In this time you really had to have a major label budget to pay for studio time, mixing, production and songwriting. Then you would need an actual record label to physically distribute to stores unlike today where pretty much anybody can buy a computer make a song and it uploaded for sale to the internet via social media platforms.

Point being, I believe now more than ever that it’s not just one percent of music that’s represented through major labels radio and television it’s more like .00001%. This is due to the high volume of independent artists who are competing for such a small position at the top of the ladder.

When I first entered the music business I was also told that it was statistically easier to win a gold medal at the Olympics than to get a number one record on the Billboard charts. Due to independent radio promoters and bloated advertising campaigns this is probably now even more statistically difficult. For so many years the music business has sold a dream to so many people who just simply want to make a living off their passion. It is a shame that in my years as an industry professional I’ve seen more dreams killed rather than fulfilled due to financial instability and unethical business practices.

Myself, and many others in the business now have to work so much harder for less money due to this clutter and more competition than there ever was before not just for billboard position but also for regular industry jobs.

There are rumors that the remaining major record labels are all in major debt due to the harmful practices of over investing in their musical acts without a proper supply and demand principle.

I really do not believe that music should be free but I feel like in this day and age you really have to have some sort of a unique branding and marketing strategy with investment from sponsorships and endorsements to bring money to the table to support your music career.

To achieve this I have specialized in music publishing and licensing. This meaning I have spent much time placing my own and other music into television shows, commercials, films and other mixed-media on the Internet for licensing fees rather than regular sales.

I’m really not saying that any young artist should give up the dream of being in that .001% of the famous and the wealthy, but I believe that everybody needs to realistically take a step back and be honored to even make a modest living doing something that you love to do.

The Digital Crates - 1,100

My debut EDM single “1,100” is NOW available on Itunes !!!

http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/1-100-single/id549694091

The Aging Paradigm

I want to talk about a subject it’s been bothering me for quite some time; I call it the aging paradigm. There are many artists in the music industry who have outlived both their contract’s shelf life and the tastes and preferences with the fans of the world. Yet they still continue to tour and record despite feigning interest while the musical and artistic views of young talent wait patiently for their turn that never comes. In short I want people to not think that I hate or that I don’t appreciate the work and legacies that came before me. There will always be special place in the music business for Legacy acts such as Elvis, Tupac, Biggie, Sinatra, and Whitney Houston etc. These are legacies because they have passed on and left something on earth that was greater than what was around musically before they departed. Do not confuse a legacy act with an aging rocker, hipster, singer, or rapper.

Watching the 2012 Olympics I noticed the oldest athletes are in between ages 36 and 38, after that most of them go on to a life in the Olympics business albeit coaching or commentating. Some even become legendary in life by becoming an ambassador for their sport some of which have grown exponentially in the past 8 to 12 years. In the past 10 years that we’ve seen Olympic sport growth we have seen massive decline of interest in the music business. I believe this is in for two main factors. The first of which being all the 40-year-old plus musicians that are still touring and recording. The second being all the 40-year-old plus executives who are now on reality television shows.

Only in hip-hop music we have seen a focus on current artists taking their fame and money and investing back into younger artists on their labels or in their camp. Let it be known that this is just about the only form of music that has stars who build farm systems and organically grow talent from the bottom up regardless of money or status. Because hip-hop is only a 25 to 35 year art we are just now seeing 40+ year old rappers for the first time, many of which are extremely successful in their touring and recording such as Jay-Z and Nas who have both dropped incredibly poignant lyrical pictures within the past two years depicting adult life in the hip-hop business, and by the way neither of them has showed up in reality show yet. It’s hard for me to believe that there are artists from the 60s, 70s, and 80s who are still touring and recording. It’s one thing to be in love with that lifestyle and schedule but it’s another thing to invest your time talents and money to bring up a new level of artists instead of making it harder for them. This practice of elitism shows me that they look down on emerging talent even after achievements and fame. When was the last time you saw a 69-year-old person flopping around in the pool at the Olympics the way Mick Jagger flops around on stage.

With that said it’s also hard for me to believe that such anti-establishment acts such as Green Day have recently fallen prey to the reality TV world. It’s also incredibly hard for me to believe that music executives like Jimmy Iovine and LA Reid could spend that much time in the makeup chair filming segments for their reality shows and still finding time to bring us the newest and best talent.

 I for one I’m extremely disappointed in the lack of care, respect, and love that the older generation of musicians and executives in the business are showing the youth. Every time an aging rocker, hipster, rapper, or singer gets onstage that’s one less stage that’s available for an up-and-coming youthful and talented artist. I pray that in the coming years the music business takes cue from the Olympics and lets you bow out gracefully in between the ages of 35 and 40 but still stay relevant in your field so that you can inspire the youth to become great and make your respective field even better than it once was.

2012 Music … So Far

2012 so far has been scarce in terms of a true lasting music work or project. I have done my best here to compile what I consider to all be a step above everything else that I have heard so far this year.

1. Rick Ross - Rich Forever            

Starting off the year with a major label style release for free, Rozay proved that the art of the mixtape is still alive and well. With features and production normally found on Grammy award winning records, Ross gave his fans a true taste of the upcoming Self Made 2 and God Forgives I Don’t albums.

2. Gucci Mane - Trap Back / I’m Up

Also proving that mixtapes can sound like an album, Gucci Mane so far this year has released two quality street music projects. His consistency between mixtapes is remarkable considering the many different styles of production.

3. Future – Dirty Sprite / True Story / Astronaut Status / Pluto (Album)

Future, an affiliate of Atlanta’s Dungeon Family, is another talented hip hop artist who is transitioning from mixtapes to online sales. Proving his skills as songwriter and performer, his fan base followed him from mixtapes to an official release with a lot more radio airplay than most upcoming rappers.

4. Big KRIT – KRIT Wuz Here / Return of 4Eva / Live From the Underground

There is a shortlist of upcoming producer/rappers, Big Krit along with J Cole have been leading this pack. Following up two free mixtape/street albums, Krit proved that you can produce your own tracks, find a signature style and voice, and still go #1 on Itunes with a major label deal (Def Jam)!

5. Schoolboy Q – Habits & Contradictions

Also releasing a digital album to Itunes, Q helped push the TDE brand past the Kendrick Lamar tipping point leading to a deal with Aftermath/Interscope. Showing that the Black Hippy crew all have substantial music Q, along w AbSoul & JayRock proved that LA hip hop music has quality and depth.

6. Usher (Looking 4 Myself) & Justin Bieber (Believe)

This year so far the R and B / Pop market has been completely dominated by Usher and his protégé Justin Bieber. From R & B (Usher - Climax) to pop (Bieber - Boyfriend), and everything In-between (Scream, Die in Your Arms, Let Me See, Right Here) this dynamic duo are in control of all media. Both have tracks featuring the best in hip hop (Rick Ross, Drake, Big Sean, Mac Miller, 2 Chainz) showing they know how to put their own projects together while featuring other in demand artists to help each other create great top 40 music.

7. Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday (Roman Reloaded)

Nicki has been a force this year crossing over all radio and performing her first headlining world tour. As part of a controversial summer jam decision Nicki proved her worth in a biz mainly dominated by males and showed that she demands respect. Her album has provided countless singles which have catered to her vast and varied fan base. Not many artists are making this major international impact, especially in hip hop.

8. Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again

My personal favorite album this year was written and recorded by upcoming acoustic act Michael Kiwanuka. This is by far the most relaxed and soulful Album that I have heard in quite some time, a must-hear for music lovers!

The Digital Crates presents an Ultra Mix of #SoulRave featuring ALL original production. Nu School Electronic Dance music meets Old School Philly Soul !!!

2011 : By The Numbers

According to Billboard, 2011 was officially a positive year for music sales ! The first yearly gain seen since 2004, there were many factors that contributed to these statistics. United States album sales were up over 1.5 % and music sales in total were up almost 7 % ! New releases were up by over 2 % and digital album sales helped to account for a lot of these increases. In 2010 we had 80 million plus selling singles and in 2011 we reached 112 tracks with 1 million plus digital sales. There were 13 albums selling over the million mark as well. Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment combined for over 60 % of the market share leaving the rest to the Warner Music Group and Independent labels. Every single format of music sales was up (including vinyl) except for CD’s which were down about 5 % . The main source of sales were cataloged and legacy artists which leaves the majors wondering how much should they really invest in new artists when their legacies repeatedly outsell. This next year we will most likely see a similar balance of new and re-releases leading to hopefully another positive gaining year for digital and physical music sales. Between now and 2015 digital music sales are expected to increase by another 20 % as more consumers buy iDevices to access online content. 

The Best Of 2011

1.     1. Kanye West & Jay-Z - Watch The Throne

Classic Moments. The album and the tour was full of classic moments. As an artist and rapper respectively Kanye West and Jay-Z are at the very top of their crafts. To combat piracy they released this album direct to Itunes before shipping it to retailers and other outlets. This move helped them to contain possible leaks that could have harmed not only their sales but the cultural impact of the major direct to digital release. With Kanye West leading the creative direction of the project he was able to elevate additional features and guest production to the highest levels of sonic quality and integrity. Jay-Z clearly at his most comfortable recording puts a myriad of styles and lyrical tricks onto some of the most progressive tracks that have ever been created in hip hop. Features from Beyonce, Frank Ocean, and Mr. Hudson round out arguably the years best and most likely grammy award winning album.

2. Adele  21

Adele ruled the radio airwaves with her two leading singles, “Rolling in the Deep” & “Someone Like You”, off her sophomore album aptly named for her age “21”. This collection of songs is proof that raw talent still extists in the music business. Real talent shines as Adele and her production team portray an incredibly cohesive story of love and loss. The songwriting seems to outshine her voice at times, others her voice outshines the songwriting. Overall there is a very tasteful mix of classic and new musical elements throughout “21”s tracks that have helped to keep this album in constant rotation for fans and critics alike throughout the year.

3. Drake  Take Care

Judging by the first two singles “Headlines” & “Marvin’s Room” it was kind of hard to imagine what Drake’s 2nd full album would sound like at first listen. I imagined he would continue his artistic progression of both singing and rapping over melodramatic production featuring vocal stylings of Abel Tesfaye from The Weeknd.  Just as I had imagined the album wasn’t so much more of an artistic progression but more like an expansion of his earlier efforts. With mainly in house production Drake is best apt to tell his continuing story of his rise from Canadian TV actor to worldwide music superstar. There are moments of weakness, strength , surprise, and sorrow , but the album has an overall uplifting tone to set the listener up for Drake’s continued expansion into his third album project. 

4. Maybach Music Group  Self-Made Vol. 1

Rick Ross quickly became a hip hop heavyweight throughout his four solo album releases. Follwing the power molds of southern record labels before him, he decided after such success to take A & R matters more into his own hands. After taking time to cultivate young artists Torch, Triple C’s & Gunplay, Ross decided to look into other movements to bring into his circle. As quickly as the news could break to the blogs Rick Ross and Maybach Music had officially made three major signings. By bringing together the Northeast Mixtape Phenom Meek Mill , DMV’s own former Interscope-signee Wale , and one of the south’s most buzzing artists Pill, Ross established himself not only as a lyrical threat but also as a wise label head. Recorded in less than a month, this album quickly tapped into the psyche of what hip hop fans wanted to hear RIGHT NOW. and With that quick turnaround, Maybach Music Group brought us one of the most cohesive label compilations in a very long time.

5. The Roots  undun

Concept albums are a ararity in this modern musical market. As the current late night band for Jimmy Fallon, “The Roots” aren’t today’s typical artist/group. Most of the Roots’ prior albums had themes but never a full underlying concept such as “undun”. Lyrically and sonically the record is based on the semi-fictional life of character Redford Stephens who’s accounts are that of struggling to survive and make a life for yourself in the ghetto. The Roots have proved their staying power here with a statement that both fans and critics have both anticipated and enjoyed. Amazing features from Big K.R.I.T. ,Phonte , and Dice Raw complete this musical tale that could possibly one day become a major motion picture.

6. Foo Fighters  Wasting Light

The Foo Fighters’ 7th album was also their first number 1 album as Wasting Light debuted with over 200,000 domestic sales its first week of release. Recorded with ex-Nirvana producer Butch Vig, the Foo Fighters took about four months to record this album to analog tape while to quote Dave Grohl, “we are making our heaviest album yet”. Adding Pat Smear back as an additional member of the band for the first time since 1997’s “The Color and the Shape” their sound is full and rounded out despite being recorded in Grohl’s garage. The making of this album was filmed and documented as “Back and Forth” which is also as worth checking out as listening to the album itself.

7. Mac Miller  Blue Slide Park

Independent artists rarely get the number one spot on Itunes. Even more rarely do they go number 1 on Itunes before their album even goes on sale. Mac Miller performed this feat this past year with his debut release “Blue Slide Park”.  Even without a single from the album connecting with fans Mac, released great mixtape after great mixtape last year providing his fans with enough content to keep them excited about the album. Choice cuts include “PA Nights” and “Party on 5th”. Web phenom Mac Miller’s singles have now gone gold and the album blue slide park is close to selling a quarter of a million copies worldwide. Mac’s reach into social media has made him one of the most important artists to watch in 2012.

8. Wiz Khalifa  Rolling Rapers

Wiz has been proven as a rapper and touring performer but remained lowkey on the radar screen until given the right opportunities to grow as an artist and songwriter via production. There are many cases of big budgets that are unessasary for rappers and this past year there was a large amount of albums and mixtapes that got thrown away even with “top notch” production. Wiz Khalifa under the right guidance was allowed to develop songwriting skills that elevated him past being just a “rapper”. “His first two singles , “Black & Yellow” & “Roll Up” , both produced by Stargate , were proof that he was dedicated to writing updated radio friendly crossover tracks. His lyrical sensibility made sure that the catchiness matched his autobiographical accounts of his rise to the cream of the new hip hop crop. Album cuts such as “No Sleep”, “Fly Solo”, “The Race”, & “Wake Up” were/are ALL deserving of being released as singles to continue one of this past years strongest hip hop album cycles.  

9. Wale  Ambition

As the premier signing to Rick Ross’s Maybach Music Group” , Wale had to lead the pack like a franchise player and came through with a number one debuting Billboard album called “Ambition”. Featuring the raps of his label-mates and hooks by Miguel,Ne-Yo , Lloyd , and Kid Cudi, Wale brought us what should have been his first album. As strong of a sophomore turn as any rapper could give, Wale progresses his lyrical style with a mix of dry wit and consciousness. A little bit of extra boastfulness to match his label situation helped to gain radio airplay, street cred, and critical acclaim.

10. Common  The Dreamer, The Believer

I have always been respectful of albums entirely produced by a single producer or production team. Common had been working on music continuously throughout his time acting but hadn’t released anything. A lot of fans and critics were anticipating this release and he wanted to make sure the project was making the right statement at the right time. Common and long-time producer/collaborator No ID came together to create one of this past years most cohesive projects. Side A – The Dreamer starts off the album with a serious nod to the golden age of hip hop which Common and No ID helped to shape. Side B – The Believer takes these notes from the past and creates a new future for a classic hip hop sound.

11. The Black Keys - El Camino

Releasing two albums in less than a year and a half is an impressive feat for a rock band constantly appearing on television and on soundtracks as well as touring to sold out arenas. The duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney (with Danger Mouse co-producing on their 2011 release) defied the odds and blurred the lines of what alternative rock and blues music should sound like. Critics highly praised both their last albums and this group continues to evolve and push the bar further from their original roots as a blues rock duo.

12. The Weeknd  House of Balloons, Thursday, Echoes of Silence

Releasing three 9 track free albums last year, The Weeknd helped to shape and change the future of R & B music. Highly touted and featured by Drake , lead singer Abel Tesfaye is one of the most promising talents to watch in the upcoming year. Equally brilliant and weird, the ehtereal sounds and production of each record is incredibly unique. I recommended late nights and headphone splitters for maximum listening enjoyment.

13. Tyler, The Creator / Frank Ocean / Odd Future

The Odd Future Gang was hard to miss this past year from indie releases to Watch the Throne features. Capped with winning at the MTV awards its not hard to recognize the uniqueness of this group of talented young individuals collectively from Los Angeles and New Orleans. Infusing a mix of raw viral visuals and constant media appearences this crew put their brand and music in places that a lot of veteran artists achieve. Their pop-up shop in Los Angeles is proof that fashion, film, branding, and merchandise play now an almost equal role to the recorded music itself. Not to sell their music short in any way, Frank’s debut release Nostalgia, Ultra coupled with Tyler’s debut release"Goblin" was one of the most deadly 1-2 knockout punches hip hop and R &B has seen from a young independent label in quite some time.

14. Kendrick Lamar  Section.80

As Top Dawg Entertainment’s most buzzed about artist in 2010, cunning lyricist Kendrick Lamar had to step his game up even higher for this project now that he had more media attention. With Section.80, he whole-heartedly delivered a throwback west coast classic to the days and lyrical subject matter of Tupac Shakur. His standout performance on this effort lead to a feature and subsequent tour with Drake and now has the chance to bring his particular brand of hip hop to the worldwide masses.

15. The Songstresses 

This was a great year for female performed pop music. Major crossover singles and number 1 Billboard albums were released by Rihanna, Katy Perry, Marsha Ambrosius, Jill Scott, Britney Spears, Beyonce, and Kelly Rowland. The power pop female voice was unescapable this past year. 

 

YouTube .vs. Itunes

Why pay for something you can get for free? This has been the penultimate question posed to consumers of digital content in the past five years. The current digital distribution platform has left content providers scrambling to compete and fight with “piracy”. Mobile devices have made it so easy to access “free” content on sites and apps like Youtube, Crackle, and Pandora etc. that buyers are completely stopping their purchasing of content. The music, film, and television businesses have been suffering from this free form of digital distribution that blurs the lines of legality. Despite these setbacks, mobile devices, along with Wi-Fi and 3/4G access have made more opportunities for consumers to actually purchase digital content in many interesting new ways. Online stores, subscription services, and advertising opportunities for content have given artists and companies a lot of new unique ways of marketing and promoting their material. This digital push and pull has begun to be studied and the outcomes for the near future of digital content management are still unclear. However you picture it, the digital age has been exciting for the entertainment business as adapting to a new digital culture has proven to be both a challenge and a success.

  The traditional digital download method of a consumer buying an entire album on ITunes is already outdated. The timeline culture of twitter and Facebook has made entertainment an INSTANT venture.  Consumer attention is guaranteed in this type of information-based society, but actual purchasing and post consumption is not promised to any artist/performer or content provider. The same consumers who state that digital downloads are their favorite ways of buying music are more likely to go to YouTube to listen to the songs rather than purchase them. I am not saying consumers got lazy, but the convenience of timelines and streaming media on social networks makes enjoying content instantaneous and albeit easy to digest. I believe in a try-before-you-buy option, which most retailers offer in 30-second snippets. After viewing/listening to the entire length of content most people never purchase the product. This fact accounts for the amount of views on YouTube versus the amount of sales of Adele, Watch The Throne, or The Lonely Island’s latest albums.

  Even with all this technology only about 15% of available consumers have legally purchased a digital download in the past three months. YouTube, Vimeo, and other free video hosting sites are the main source of consumer attention and even though the numbers may appear to be low, ITunes is still the main source of consumer to provider payouts. The bulk of consumers that I have spoken with regarding preferential use have stated different ratios of paid versus free content in their online usage.  I have tried to maintain a balance between purchasing and streaming content and have found about an even ratio in my online usage. I seem to be in a minority as the bulk people in my research have heavily leaned either towards purchasing or streaming.

  Instant gratification and tangible ownership of content are the two main reasons to keep consumers shopping. The public nature of streaming services take away the ownership experience that has made art, film, and music so cherished throughout the past one hundred years of consumer experiences. Our digital sharing culture has actually removed our thought stream away from content and more towards research and recommendation about content. Word of mouth and personal recommendations still fuel viral movements just as before the advent of modern sharing and streaming technology. The balance of purchasing and sharing has been at the center of debate since the original battle of tape and radio or TV versus the VCR. As content managing technology advances I believe that our attachment to our devices will outweigh our attachment to actual content and that streaming services will overcome purchasing engines. As for the present, I am enjoying all the exciting new purchasing and streaming platforms as both a consumer and content provider!

The FUTURE of the Music Business

As 2012 rapidly approaches I’ve recently taken some time to think about the past 10 years of the digital music revolution and how that may help us to predict the trends of the next 10 years in the music business. We have seen so many intermediate mediums come and go since the late 1990’s and the distribution market for music has never been as turbulent as it is now. We have seen rapid declines in physical sales and massive gains in digital sales. We have seen artists sign non-traditional deals in terms of touring, merchandising, and licensing. We have seen music production; publishing, and recording companies fold in these tough economic times. We have seen almost every viable consumer turn into the STAR via YouTube, Facebook, and blogging. We have seen home recording trump professional recording services. We have witnessed the mobile device revolution and there is NO end in sight for the massive changes and paradigm shifts to the music business.

The first massive paradigm shift in the business was the move from physical retailing to digital distribution. Sales of recorded music have become dependent on services like ITunes, AmazonMP3, and Spotify to reach the most consumers in the market. The shift from home computing to mobile devices has exponentially increased the potential for digital sales. It is amazing how using one’s phone you can LEGALLY purchase just about any song or album you want and have it streamed/delivered to your mobile device and then to your stereo INSTANTLY. The experience of ownership in terms of recorded music has changed so rapidly that there are young adults purchasing digital music that will NEVER own a CD, DVD, Tape, or Record EVER in their lives. The ITunes store along with the IPhone has changed not only how we receive our music but also how we perceive it as well. Many artists and labels are now developing apps and online stores to try and lure customers back into purchasing recorded music like the days of vinyl and cd’s.

The smart device revolution has eradicated the need for a tangible medium of music. Where we once coveted our vinyl, tape, or CD collection we now hold fast to a personal device that acts as an intermediary between ourselves and our personal entertainment albeit music, film, television, or formerly printed media. The smart device revolution has also eradicated the need for other devices such as cameras, listening devices, desktop/laptop computers, and televisions. Retailers have shifted their focus to direct to consumer distribution by using the mobile device as a solid platform for expansion. The consumers “need” for physical entertainment merchandise and products are declining with the consumption of content and media rapidly increasing. I believe it is just a short amount of time until all physical retailing of entertainment media will be abandoned for the growing market of direct to consumer media.

Seeing past the mobile device revolution, manufacturers are starting to utilize cloud and locker services for on demand content being available to ANY device. In this next year especially I predict that online storage mediums for content will replace having to buy Devices with moderate and or expandable memory. As a music producer I have taken advantage of many cloud-computing services such as Drop Box, ITunes Match, and the Amazon Cloud player for my professional services. Google, Apple, and Amazon respectively are at the top of the batch of interesting and new computing mobile computing services and it will be interesting to see how other companies join or compete against the services these three major companies are offering consumers. There is a defining a la carte movement in terms of distribution of entertainment content. It has never been easier for the average consumer to purchase and appreciate various forms of entertainment. The industry is expecting broad growth of digital sales throughout the next few years so as producers and artists we have to stay focused on creating content for distribution.

Using Ipad 2 for Music Production

In my last post I described my initial experiences with music composition using GarageBand and the Apple Ipad2. It took me about 2 months to move past GarageBand but when I did I found an AMAZING collection of music apps in the app store that will forever change and improve my music composition and production. From composing/creating to mixing/mastering there are incredible apps and tools for musicians readily available in the app store.

Upon first inspection of the App Store I cam across a company named Smule who rose to fame developing the I AM TPAIN app that brought “autotune” from the recording studio to the mobile platform. My initial impression of this app was very positive as I thought it would be great for demoing hooks on the fly whenever inspiration struck…upon realizing I could upload my own instrumentals I was SOLD. I have since used “I am TPain” to demo about 10 hooks of which 3 made actual placements into songs. I like how they are constantly adding instrumentals to the app and its kind of fun to listen to people’s recordings from around the world. I was so impressed by this app initially that I checked Smule’s website to see what other apps they had available.

The second Smule app that peaked my interest was the “Magic Fiddle”. Both my grandfathers were trained violinists and I have always had a knack for string instruments but never purchased an actual violin. I had doubts about the professionalism and sound of this app but was immediately amazed by how realistic and intuitive the “Smart Fiddle” app was designed.  I went through the songbook and could instantly play along with some classics. I then set up a microphone and recorded some solo passes on a few compositions I was working on that day. I have since come back to this app in the studio many times to record realistic sounding violin parts.

The next app I came across has now become an integral part of my music production setup. Djay for Ipad and IPhone is an incredible platform for performing and recording. After seeing this app in the commercial for the new Ipad I was skeptical that it would hold up to Serato Scratch or Traktor Pro. Upon purchase I was AMAZED at the ease of use and wealth of features. I have used this app at countless DJ gigs, which has saved me a lot of time and hassle of bringing turntables, laptop, mixer, and cables. Going straight from Djay to the PA system of a nightclub gives me a lot of signal strength without the hassles degradation loss from plugging in multiple audio devices. The effects and eq’s are strong and I enjoy using the looping points to mash up mp3’s in front of a live audience.

My next experiment was with Propellerhead’s Rebirth. I have not used this program much for productions but in travel I have found myself creating bass lines and drum patterns just as a regular Ipad user would play solitaire or Sudoku. I have had similar experiences experimenting with Korg’s Ielectribe (Gorillaz Edition), Beat Pad, and Easy Beats. The Sunrizer and miniSynthPro have also provided me with an outlet for experimenting with sounds in fun and interesting new ways.

The only experimental app that has made it into my studio productions so far has been Native Instrument’s Imaschine. The drum sounds especially fit incredibly well with my on the fly style of production. I have used this app in recording studios across the mid Atlantic and Southeast with very successful results. On one particular bus ride up to New York City I composed 7 instrumentals of which 4 have already been licensed and/or sold!

One of the reasons I bought the Ipad was to use it as a controller for my desktop computers. I have read about how to use them to control DAW’s and was VERY excited to get started to figure it all out. I started with the TouchOSC app and began searching for tutorials online to walk myself through the initial steps. Before I had the chance to find proper tutorials I was already up and running. Creating and using custom templates has allowed me to gain more precise control of the functions I most use in my DAW’s!!!

Honorable mentions go to Akai for their synth station and FL Studio for going mobile. I am also very excited about the new aniMOOG app!!! I am so excited every time a new professional music app comes to the app store. I am very much looking forward to the rest of the tablet revolution as it pertains to music production and composition.

Apple Ipad 2 & Garage Band

I have only briefly gotten a chance to use the first Ipad, IPhone, and/or the modern IPod touch. I have an older MacBook and a first generation IPod and an android sprint/htc phone. When the release date for the Ipad2 was announced I didn’t hesitate at all to go buy one. I was looking forward to a product that would bridge the gaps between my smartphone/mobile device and my various laptops and desktops. I bought the Ipad2 on a whim because I FELT that it would fill the gaps for me without even trying one.

It has been months since my initial purchase and I am still enamored by the product. I am learning new uses for the device everyday while familiarizing myself with the built in apps. Upon initial purchase I was lost in a sea of apps and wasn’t sure where to begin in setting up my system. I started by going through all the settings so that I could get comfortable with the multi touch gestures and movements on the pad screen. The interface is bold, clean, and VERY intuitive. I was able to fully customize my Ipad2 in less than a few minutes and then began exploring the apps that were pre installed.

I started with the camera and video apps.  I was amazed at how professional both the front facing and rear facing cameras looked and performed. I started thinking about how there’s probably thousands of amazing photo editing and camera apps in the market. After taking some pictures and videos of my recording studio I decided to stop wasting time and check out Garage Band.

I opened the App store and was immediately distracted by the most amazingly productive and time wasting collection of programs to use at my will. I quickly refocused and searched for Garage Band. The download took about 2 minutes and before I could even start learning this new software I was already making music.  I started exploring the instrument list and was amazed at the professional feel and sound of this mobile production format. I had an instant feeling that not only Garage Band, but all the music apps I was yet to download would be an integral part of my work in music composition.

The first instrument in Garage Band that I experimented with was the “Smart Drums”. I figured that I would build up a basic drum pattern and then go through each other instrument one by one. Upon opening the “smart drums” I was excited to find enough kits to get basic beats started with easy to navigate programming. When seeking inspiration it is great to be able to just “roll the dice” to get a simple/solid groove going. After I tried rolling the dice a few times and then adding sounds as needed I decided to track out the pattern into my sequencer and move on to the “smart bass”.  The four included bass sounds are great for getting realistic bass lines started and upon experimenting with the auto-play functions I was ecstatic to get to work on the next instrument, the “smart keyboard”.  The piano sounds rivaled the dry sounds of the Nord electro, which I was used to working with and I was so surprised at how “smart” the chord structuring was compared to a basic electro piano module. Within a few minutes using just the smart drums and keyboard I had build up about a half dozen scratch ideas to build off. Going back to the first of these ideas I moved on to using the “smart guitar”.

The “smart guitar” instrument was amazing at filling out parts and space in the basic ideas I had started with the drums and piano. Effortlessly switching between acoustic and electric emulations with auto play and scale mode features made me so happy and instantly satisfied with my purchase of an Ipad2. I could have stopped here and made music for endless hours but I wanted to keep trying more instruments, which led me to using the “keyboard”. I was blown away by how many GREAT sounds were included in this instrument and I was so excited at the idea of linking this mobile Garage Band to my laptop/desktop to use all my other sounds/vst’s in accordance with these amazing new mobile instruments. Within another hour I had completed about 10 basic compositions using the built in sequencer with ease and had transferred them to my computer to open in Logic/Pro Tools for further composing and editing. Lately I have really enjoyed using the built in sampler to scratch vocal ideas and build basic tracks around them. Every time I go in the studio now I start off my sessions with uploading my musical ideas out of the Ipad’s Garage Band and onto my full system!

After a few days of building up a library of Garage Band demos I started exploring other Apps within the App store to see if I could achieve success in building a mobile project such as the Gorillaz who released an ENTIRE album composed on the Ipad.  I am a very proud owner of an amazing professional mobile production rig in the Ipad2. In my next post I will describe my adventures in exploring a TON of pro/am music applications for the Ipad2.