Category Archives: Music

Come and Stream Your Songs?: The Jukebox Soundtrack in the YouTube/Spotify Era

GuardiansAlbum

When this week’s final Billboard Hot 200 album chart is released, either the 51st installment of the Now That’s What I Call Music! series or Awesome Mix Vol. 1, the soundtrack to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, will be the best-selling album in the United States. If Awesome Mix Vol. 1 makes it to the summit, it will be the first soundtrack from a summer film to reach No. 1 since Mamma Mia! in 2008, and the first for a non-musical since Bad Boys II in 2003.

This would be a significant accomplishment with or without No. 1, particularly given the fact that the various songs that make up Awesome Mix Vol. 1 are readily available to stream on services like Spotify, or on YouTube. There is no single to drive sales of the album, as the film’s jukebox-style soundtrack relies entirely on songs from the 1970s. And while some Twitter conversation among colleagues made a connection back to K-tel—and we could think about Time Life as well—in regards to the album’s appeal to a nostalgia for music of this period, there’s also a wide audience of younger audiences who may not be familiar with some of the songs used in the film. But those audiences are often imagined as those who stream music on YouTube or Spotify, and who could simply create their own playlists featuring the songs from the film without needing to pay out for the album.

Given this, the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack offers an interesting case study of how these platforms are being activated by labels like Hollywood Records, and how this jukebox soundtrack is being branded—if not “sold”—in spaces that won’t be counted by Billboard’s album chart.

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2 Channels of Discovery: YouTube, Stardom, and 5 Seconds of Summer

5sos

Around two years ago, America was meeting One Direction.

Pop music moves quickly: since then, One Direction has released three albums and a feature documentary/concert film, and is preparing for a U.S. stadium tour later this year. Building on my initial consideration of the band’s appearance on Saturday Night Live, the band and its fanbase have been a point of interest for me during this period. There was the time their fans threatened The Who on Twitter, the time they fought back against restrictive definitions of fandom reinforced by Ubisoft in a YouTube ad, and the time when Larry Stylinson shippers were shamed by promotions for a documentary airing in the U.K. And that’s only scratching the surface of a band and fanbase that remain at the epicenter of contemporary notions of stardom both on the Internet and within the music industry (where the band continues to function in a marginalized yet lucrative corner different from the “success” of the boy bands of my own youth).

Within this context, my brother Ryan—who, if you’re unaware, writes about music as I write about television—reached out for my thoughts on One Direction’s opener on their upcoming stadium tour, 5 Seconds of Summer, who are currently embarking on a similar American tour. His interest was in thinking about the function of genre, as the Australian foursome functions as what he calls “the next logical evolution of One Direction” through their direct engagement with rock music. Whereas One Direction’s expansion into the rock space was part of a gradual evolution (and a clear claim at legitimation relative to the bubblegum pop of their “youth”), 5 Seconds of Summer is starting from a place of playing their own instruments, writing their own songs, and resisting the label of “boy band” despite being a group of four teenagers with carefully cultivated haircuts.

The band raises many interesting questions, and considering the relationship between the two bands—who are not coincidentally managed by the same company—offers lots of broader considerations of the way we can understand “boy bands” as a construct that can cross generic lines in our contemporary musical moment. Musically, “She Looks So Perfect” looks set to make a run as a potential summer anthem, and the EP of the same name sold 143,000 copies in its debut (which is not far off from the 176,000 copies One Direction sold of their first LP in 2012).

But what I’m interested in exploring is what I discovered when I was prompted to consider the band more carefully. Searching for the band on Spotify turned up She Looks So Perfect and its four carefully curated pop songs, designed to break the band into the American market after previous success in the U.K. and their native Australia. However, what I found on YouTube was something entirely different, an extensive back catalog of original material and video content. The discovery has me thinking about the narrative of “discovery” as a form of branding, and the ways the band’s launch shows an interest in maintaining that narrative as the primary lens through which the band is to be viewed.

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It Came In Like a [Carefully Calculated] “Wrecking Ball”

Earlier this year, Billboard announced that it would be including YouTube streaming in its calculations for its Hot 100 chart. The same week, “Harlem Shake” became the number one song in America based on thirty seconds of it being used in thousands of viral videos.

Billboard chose to implement its new rules that week because it saw an opportunity to draw headlines, furthering their relevance while damaging their legitimacy (see the elder McNutt on that particular subject). They could have implemented them a week earlier, or a week later, but I’d bet money on them waiting for a moment to debut the metric when they could claim a song debuted at #1 because of their new streaming numbers that put Billboard on the pulse of how people are listening to music (Billboard’s Silvio Pietroluongo suggests it just happened to be that week, but I call shenanigans).

The impact of streaming has been less dramatic in the weeks since Harlem Shake’s five-week run atop the Billboard charts: One Direction’s “Best Song Ever” broke a Vevo record for most views in its first 24 hours and debuted at No. 2, but the single failed to gain traction and plummeted out of the Top 10 the following week (to No. 15). “Breaking the Vevo record” has become a new way for fans to support an artist, as Miley Cyrus set a record with “We Can’t Stop” (unseating Justin Bieber, who had unseated One Direction, who had unseated Justin Bieber), which was broken by One Direction, then tested—with some controversy—by Lady Gaga, before being claimed again by Cyrus with “Wrecking Ball.”

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Resisting This Kiss: A Carly Rae Jepsen Followup

Earlier this year, I offered some thoughts on the transnational nature of Carly Rae Jepsen’s meteoric rise on the pop charts, before “Call Me Maybe” become the song of the summer and before its memeification spread to the outer reaches of the solar system. Since that point, the meme has threatened to swallow the artist, which Katherine St. Asaph focuses on in a recent MTV Hive article, “How the Internet Killed Carly Rae Jepsen.”

It’s an interesting piece that highlights the low sales for Jepsen’s album Kiss, which has sold under 100,000 copies. St. Asaph makes the case that Jepsen’s attempt to establish herself as an artist has been impossible in the wake of her unprecedented success:

This sounds counterintuitive; shouldn’t it help Jepsen for thousands of people to remix, recreate and otherwise rejoice over her song? But the meme’s not about Jepsen; it’s about her song, and she is secondary…This is the problem Carly Rae Jepsen’s facing: loving “Call Me Maybe” as a meme hasn’t made people invested in her as a musician. To be fair, she’s at a few disadvantages. She’s 26, making music most people would call teenpop. She’s best associated with Justin Bieber, someone who’s still a moptop preteen in the non-fan imagination. Her 2008 debut, Tug of War, inexplicably remained Canadian-only. And she isn’t the type to flaunt the outsize personalities that bring success in U.S. pop. She’s just charming, to the point of being demure.

The article features some good analysis of how recent changes to the Billboard charts have changed the nature of pop hits, taking new metrics into account, but it doesn’t ask a question that has been on my mind—and that I’ve talked about with my brother Ryan, whose beat I’m encroaching on talking about this—since the album debuted: why was this album released when it was?

Answering this question does not dramatically change Jepsen or the album’s fate, but it does offer some different context for the logics Jepsen’s career is operating under at this moment.

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Group Writing Project Update: Day 4 Highlights

So, as you may have noticed, I had a Top 5 yesterday for ProBlogger’s Group Writing Project. And, since it’s a “Group” writing project, there’s over a thousand entries. I featured six of them yesterday, and there’s another five today I think are worth some time.

First, Jason Griffin at TVAholic runs down the 5 “bubble shows” which he wants to see renewed this week, which is conveniently timed to my Upfront Extravaganza. I agree with some of his choices, and one has even already been renewed, but the fact remains that everything is still up in the air.

At Toon Brew, meanwhile, Neal runs down his Five Favourite Comic Book Characters. His #1 is okay with me, but the rest of the list makes me feel bad for remaining so very disconnected from comic strips outside of my core three. Expanding that horizon might be a project for when I’m really bored at some point, and perhaps some further comic book purchases are in order.

On the music side of things, JesterTunes has a list of Five Songs That Make Jester Happy. I’ve added my own songs to their list in the comments section, and I think that happy music is something everyone should have. The most recent addition to my Happy playlist is John Lennon’s “Instant Karma.”

Meanwhile, Alan over at Big Ugly Couch runs down what everyone who has ever made a powerpoint needs to read right now. Seriously, people, I’ve sat through too many excruciating presentations to let you go on like this. Alan’s five suggestions are so bloody simple, and yet so categorically ignored. I’ll also add that, in my view, whether it’s a discussion class or not, I want to see a thesis for your argument or a summary of your point, not just random questions. *Shakes Fist*

ScribbleKing, meanwhile, has an interesting argument regarding why studios should stop making big-budget films. He’s right, on a lot of accounts, but I worry that it’s too idealist. I think that as long as an audience exists for and a studio-mentality supports such films, there really isn’t much of a chance of that trend ending any time soon.

For the rest of the entries, head over to ProBlogger. There’s some really interesting stuff there, entertainment-related or not.

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Talkin’ Junos: Live-Blogging Extravaganza

It’s time for the annual celebration of popular Canadian Music, no matter how counter-intuitive that statement may sound. I’ll be cutting in on occasion during the pre-show, but I’m quite likely to be ignoring Tanya Kim’s hair and eTalk @ The Junos.

7:00pm: Ben Mulroney informs us about something quite silly, and then Tanya Kim has some stars of Corner Gas…and Gabrielle Miller is wearing some sort of bizarre odd thing that is part shorts, part dress, and part…I don’t even know. Oh Gabrielle Miller.

7:03pm: Chris Murphy makes me mildly happy for existing, at this particular point, and his presence at the awards and the fact that the Rock Album award will be presented live bode well for his chances.

7:05pm: George Canyon and Carolyn Dawn Johnson…and Canyon makes a hockey reference, and gets an annoying cheap pop. His head is huge.

7:08pm: Tanya Kim most certainly just kind of let herself bhee mobbed for tickets by Grayson Williams, it was fairly entertaining. There was also JackSould in there, and now Colin James is there. This is supposed to be exciting? Continue reading

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Juno Awards Preview and Early Winners – Liveblogging @ 7pm AST

The Junos are tonight, and even though I have essays to write I am in a liveblogging mood. So, at 7pm AST (6pm EST) I’ll be here liveblogging away through the 2-hour telecast. However, if you want to be up to snuff, The Elder has a preview of the awards, the major ones anyways, up at McNutt Against the Music. That’s really all you need to know, but for those curious, here are the winners of the awards announced on Saturday Night at a non-broadcast event. Some of them (Alternative Album, Pop Album, Artist of the Year) boggle my mind that they were not announced on-air. This makes me think that the winner of two of those statues (Ms. Nelly Furtado, the evening’s host) might be walking away with Album of the Year guaranteed.

Anyways, here’s the list, and I’ll see you this evening at 7!

International Album of the Year: “Taking the Long Way” (Dixie Chicks).

Artist of the Year: Nelly Furtado.

New Group of the Year: Mobile.

Songwriter of the Year: Gordie Sampson.

Country Recording of the Year: “Somebody Wrote Love” (George Canyon).

Rap Recording of the Year: “Black Magic” (Swollen Members).

Adult Alternative Album of the Year: “The Light That Guides You Home” (Jim Cuddy).

Alternative Album of the Year: “Sometimes” (City and Colour).

Pop Album of the Year: “Loose” (Nelly Furtado).

Vocal Jazz Album of the Year: “From This Moment On” (Diana Krall).

Video of the Year: “Bridge to Nowhere” (Duplex).

Rest can be found here: The Globe and Mail

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Saturday Night Live (February 24th): Rainn Wilson and The Arcade Fire

I’ve stolen this image from The Elder because I want to make a few brief comments on the most recent episode of Saturday Night Live. While it was certainly a pairing which served well for my elder brother, and myself, in terms of our tastes, let’s consider this for a second.

The episode itself remained mired in the general shithole that has been created in recent years. The Nooni/Nuny sketch has never, ever been funny, and the addition of new actors will never change that fact (It’s SNL’s Peripheral Vision Man, if we wish to get all meta about it). The cold open about Anna Nicole Smith was a one-note Weekend Update joke stretched into a painfully long segment with no personality or purpose. Weekend Update, as per usual, had its occasional solid joke before getting lost in boring “guests” and jokes that were never funny even in their wildest dreams.

The only sketches that really got off the ground were the ones which seemed most suited to Rainn Wilson. The Peeping Tom sketch was great purely because of Wilson’s ability to make creepy facial expressions. While perhaps not expanding far enough past its initial concept, at least White Possum Croak was somewhat relevant. And, while no Dick in a Box, the Digital Short was a lesson in absurdism that was a welcome break from the drudgery of live comedy.

But, really, why do people watch Saturday Night Live? Part of me remembers a day when people hosting Saturday Night Live would be there to support their upcoming movie, and this would be a launching pad of sorts for them. There is no question this is true: Arcade Fire will likely see a slight uptake in album sales come March 5th (Neon Bible Woo!), and Wilson’s small indie film might make a few extra bucks. Earlier this year The Shins launched with unprecedented success in the States after performing on SNL; clearly, it has some clout.

But, maybe it was just me, but it really felt that Rainn Wilson and The Arcade Fire were helping SNL more than it was helping them. There were likely more Office fans tuning into SNL tonight than there will be SNL fans switching off Ugly Betty to give this here Office show a chance. The monologue was designed purely as an in-joke to these fans, and one that I found quite humorous indeed. The treatment of the Arcade Fire as indie gods doesn’t really do the band any good, but it helps build SNL’s cred with the blogs that much more.

Gone are the days when SNL is a launching pad for artists, or actors, or TV shows. Instead, at this point it appears that SNL is instead looking for opportunities to boost its own profile and save its own cultural relevance. While YouTube has allowed for the Digital Shorts to gain widespread viewership, how many of these people are tuning into NBC on Saturday nights instead of just waiting until it’s on YouTube the next day? YouTube is beneficial to SNL’s mindshare, perhaps, but I don’t think it goes beyond “OMG Justin and some guy” for most people, and I doubt people take an hour and a half out of their Saturday nights to take in the new week’s episode.

All of that aside, Wilson did a fine job and I was very happy with the song selection from the Arcade Fire. While songs were a little Win heavy so is the album, and Intervention and Keep the Car Running are pretty much my favourite songs I’ve heard from the album. Both songs had a sense of energy, a sense of build, and while I somewhat wish they had gone a bit more nuts with the performance I can’t help but be pleased with how it all went.

It’s funny…when you cut out 90% of the sketches and 75% of Weekend Update, you’re left with a pretty darn good 1/2 hour show. Maybe that’s an idea for the future?

Anyways, The Elder has more detailed thoughts on the Arcade Fire performances, as well as some YouTube links that he’s constantly rotating. Here’s their performance on Keep the Car Running; head over to McNutt Against the Music for Intervention.

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Five Notes on the 49th Grammy Awards

The Grammy Awards are an elaborate affair designed to highlight the year’s best in music. This year’s awards show was a jumbled mess that was firing on one cylinder at a time, never quite reaching its pinnacle. It was an absolute failure in so many ways, although some areas hit, so let’s look at the 5 stories that I think the Grammy Awards and the public need to note for the future.

5. Awaking the (Literally or Musically) Dead

I understand the idea behind offering so many awards for lifetime achievement, but it drags down an actual awards show. If they’re that committed to honouring like 12 of them, it would be in their best interesting to do it all at once, as opposed to being spread throughout the show. It gave it a constant feeling of trying to mine the past, as if there wasn’t enough content this year to draw from. Instead of a 4-song tribute to The Eagles and…I don’t even remember the other group, how about working in performances by people like Nelly Furtado? And, if you are going to recognize someone, for the love of all things good don’t let Rascal Flatts cover their songs. They absolutely murdered Hotel California, it made my head spin. And, while the robe placement was a classy touch, Christina Aguilera doing the James Brown tribute was downright bizarre. It just dragged down the show more than it needed to.

4. The Chris Brown and Carrie Underwood generation

Well, according to the Grammys, these are the only young artists worth noting at this point. After James Blunt got absolutely hammered in big categories (Backlash for the song’s success, likely), it was left to these two to be shoved down our throats by the Academy. Underwood performed as part of the “country” medley (Please note: The Eagles, much like Tom Cochrane, are not “country,” so both Disney/Pixar and the Grammys should pick a band that isn’t), and then won Best New Artist for herself as well as picking up Best Female Country Performance. Brown performed as part of an R&B Showcase, and then did a dance tribute to James Brown before the aforementioned robe presentation. These two were pegged as the stars of the future (On this note, my favourite joke of the evening: As two small kids start performing with Chris Brown…”He really IS the next Michael Jackson!”), and I wonder to what degree that will be the case. I hate to see them get the spotlight over someone like Nelly Furtado, who had a much bigger impact on pop culture this year. Continue reading

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Does Anyone Care About the Junos?

Asked to explain their methods of organizing the Juno Awards, CARS representatives had the following view:

the Junos are meant to be a snapshot of all of Canada’s vibrant musical industry, commercial and acclaimed, inclusive rather than exclusive.

If I had been drinking something at this point, it would have been spurting out my nose. Commercial and acclaimed are not the same thing, the Junos may be the only awards show to challenge the Billboard or American Music Awards for inclusiveness in major categories, and how exactly it can be a snapshot of the entire industry with so few…ah, it isn’t even worth it.

The Juno Award nominations were announced yesterday, and I’ll be honest with you: I didn’t notice. There were only two minutes left in the day when I spotted the new blurb at the Globe and Mail, and I marveled at this fact. Have these awards, Canada’s most widely viewed and publicized, fallen off of the cultural radar of even I? Cultural Learnings has been leaning to the TV side of things, but is this because of my personal tendencies or a lack of interesting news on the music side of things? Either way, the Juno Award nominations are out, and to answer our title question…not really.

You see, the Juno Awards will be forever plagued by ignorance to any sort of quality standard within the Canadian recording industry, no matter what CARAS representatives spout out. The three main categories (Album of the Year, Artist of the Year, Group of the Year) all contain nominees selected entirely based on album sales, as opposed to, you know, quality. It’s always been a point of great contention, and in recent years it has especially drawn the ire of the “Indie music fans.” Really, this just means people with common sense, but let’s go with the rhetoric for a second.

When Sam Roberts won the Juno for Album of the Year a few years back, one had to remember that he was only in the category due to a statistical error. Based on album sales, he didn’t belong there. Just last year, the category rules meant that Diana Krall’s Christmas album found itself up for the show’s top prize. What does that say about the state of Canadian music?

Let’s look at a category decided through these practices, and how it looks compared to one decided by rational individuals and not the consuming public.

Album of the Year

Loose – Nelly Furtado

II – Billy Talent

One-X – Three Days Grace

Hedley – Hedley

I Think of You – Gregory Charles

Yes, these are the highest selling albums of the year. Yes, one of these five must win the award for the best album released in Canada in the past year. Yes, this is the third (I think) straight year a Canadian Idol contestant has broken into this category (Jacob Hoggard leads Hedley, finished 3rd in Season two). We’ve got Charles who has sold an insane amount of albums in Quebec, and both Billy Talent and Nelly Furtado blew up in terms of album sales.

But honestly, Three Days Grace? That is simply an embarrassment.

Now, to an award not decided by a panel:

Rock Album of the Year

II – Billy Talent

Tomorrow Starts Today – Mobile

Chemical City – Sam Roberts

Never Hear The End Of It – Sloan

World Container – The Tragically Hip

Wow, some variety! One newer band (Mobile and Stabilo fought it out to the one-hit wonder death, and Mobile won), some old and some new…there’s variety! Sloan’s fantastically epic album, Sam’s sophomore success…there’s actually some good, interesting albums here. Why aren’t they in the above category? Because they didn’t sell as many copies as Three Days Grace.

I can’t take the Junos seriously, and I can honestly say I care very little about their outcome based on these nominees. I mean, really, IL DIVO is nominated for Best International Album, and it doesn’t help that the awards are being held on April 1st. There are some interesting stories (Eva Avila vs. Melissa O’Neill in the Best New Artist category is quite fantastic), but where’s the hook? There’s no category that instills a sense that they know what makes good music, and in some cases they’re not even trying.

Here’s a link to the PDF with all of the nominations (Boo to you, Junos, for not including a text file) for all those interested. I’m thinking that the number will be dwindling with time.

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