Monday, December 30, 2013

What will be Pandora's next move?

You may recall my June 25 post in which I quoted extensively from a Pink Floyd statement (well, a 75% Pink Floyd statement) regarding Pandora Music - including an allegation that Pandora supported "an 85% artist pay cut."

Pink Floyd's statement had an effect:

This criticism was a tipping point in a long battle over artist royalties, said Ted Kalo, executive director of the musicFIRST Coalition. "That thing caught fire like nothing ever has on royalty issues," Kalo said of Pink Floyd's criticism. "This was a massive artist backlash."

Perhaps Pink Floyd's decision to place its music on Pandora competitor Spotify also had an effect. For whatever reason, Pandora has backed off on its support of the so-called "Internet Radio Fairness Act."

But there are still questions of fairness.

When an artist's song is played on a terrestrial radio station, the writer or composer of that song (not necessarily the performer) is typically compensated through performance-rights organizations such as BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC. The same is true if the song is played on satellite radio or Internet radio. However, terrestrial radio — that is, AM and FM — stations are exempt from paying performance royalties (i.e., royalties to the performer of the song), whereas satellite and Internet radio stations are not. And Internet radio stations pay higher rates than satellite and cable stations. The United States is one of the few industrialized countries that does not require terrestrial radio stations to pay performance royalties.

So while songwriters get a ton of money from terrestrial radio stations (which still dominate the music market), performers don't. This may please Randy Newman, but it wouldn't please Linda Ronstadt.

Among the ideas floating around is the proposal that terrestrial radio stations pay their "fair share" of performance royalties. Radio stations argue that performers benefit from the huge promotional capability of radio. Of course, Pandora tried that same argument, but failed.

With Pandora moving away from IRFA, some of the streaming service's most vocal opponents hope the company will unite with them around the issue of eliminating the AM/FM radio performance royalty exemption. For Pandora, it could mean a more level playing field, and for artists and labels, it could be a new source of royalty revenue....

Pandora did not respond to the question of whether it will lobby for terrestrial radio to pay performance royalties.

To be continued.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

How the Grinny stole Guitar Godhood - why I dislike Eddie Van Halen

I finally figured out why I dislike Eddie Van Halen - which, if you read this blog regularly, is no big secret.

For years, I've told myself that Van Halen's guitar playing isn't all that musical.

But I just figured out the REAL reason for my distaste.

It's that danged goofy grin that he has when he's playing. And he still had it, even in 2012:

[T]he black-and-white video for "Tattoo" steals a few moves from the classic Van Halen playbook, with Roth shimmying and shaking (while donning goggles, waving checkerboard flags and frequently changing his wardrobe) and Eddie Van Halen grinning while unleashing a flurry of his patented guitar licks.

And when you have that big goofy grin on your face, you can't (IMHO) be taken seriously as a rock god.

Don't believe that a big goofy grin can change one's estimation of a musician? Let's take a look at some alternate history.

It's Madison Square Garden, and Led Zeppelin is playing their anthem, "Stairway to Heaven." As is normal, the song has been building up. One John has been setting the atmospheric tone, the other John has been building up the percussion to a level of ferocity, Robert is now screaming, and Jimmy is playing an outstanding guitar solo - with a big goofy grin on his face.

Kinda takes the magic away, doesn't it?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My latest Jim Bakker moment - what Queen's "'39" is REALLY about

I've long since disposed of most of the 7" singles that I collected over the years, but one of the singles that I used to own included the Queen song "'39." This was actually the B side of a single; the song was never a hit in its own right.

Queen is one of those bands - the Beatles and Blondie are others - that often changed directions on the course of an album, sometimes from song to song. (Queen's most famous example of this was in the album sequencing for "News of the World," in which "We Will Rock You" was immediately followed by "We Are the Champions" - a sequencing that was preserved in a hit single.)

The song "'39" is a folk song with ringing guitar, eerie vocal choruses and other eerie overtones, and lyrics that described, as only an Englishman could, the changes that occurred due to the beginning of the Second World War. Although I'll admit that I was puzzled by the references to volunteers coming home in 1939, since the evacuation of the Continent didn't take place until 1940.

Well, it turns out that my confusion was greater than I thought, because the song, written by Brian May, has nothing to do with World War II.

May has described the song as "my space science fiction love song." Robert Koehler, quoting from an unknown source, provides May's further thoughts on the song:

The song’s lyrics are a science fiction short story which concerns twenty volunteers who leave a dying Earth on a spaceship in search of new worlds to settle. They return to report success, 100 calendar years later, with only a single year passing from the volunteers’ perspective (due to time dilation). The lyrics imply that the song’s protagonist faces his child upon return to Earth....

Of course, back when I originally heard the song in the mid-1970s, I had no idea about May's interest in astrophysics - it would be decades before May would return to his studies and earn his Ph.D. in the subject.

Now someone's going to tell me that Roger Taylor, author of "I'm in Love with My Car," has been hired as a consultant to Ford...