Pharrell, the transcript
I wrote a profile of Pharrell Williams for last week’s New York mag. This week, Vulture’s running a longer transcript from the interview, including a story about Michael Jackson and an explanation of what Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” has to do with Dana Carvey. And Pharrell being a way better talker than he might think he is.
“Pharrell Williams Expands His Palette”
A couple weeks ago I got to meet Pharrell, hear some of his upcoming productions,* and talk about the new colors in his work lately. Topics include: Steely Dan, Kylie Minogue, style and spirit, Daft Punk, gingham rainbows, Solid Gold, and Star Trek.
* old-school electro-funk ahoy, lemme tell you
“you only like me for the clothes that I wear”
I wrote a piece for New York about punk and fashion and this year’s punk-themed Costume Institute gala at the Met — and of course it was 24 hours after the magazine closed that I remembered the world’s most relevant quote, the opening lyric of John Lydon’s post-Pistols career:
You never listen to a word that I say
You only like me for the clothes that I wear
More importantly — the article’s part of a whole amazing package in the magazine, featuring Legs McNeil and Jon Savage, Marky Ramone, Carrie Brownstein’s favorite punk singles, socialites figuring out what to wear for the gala, and “100-punk poll.” (Just scroll down a spell to find the sidebar links…)
“Stop pretending that I have it all together”
I wrote a longer piece for the magazine about Beyoncé, her upcoming documentary, the level of hero-worship she attracts, and the possibility that she is less superhero and more … neurotic overachiever? organization kid? “millennial?”
futureofmusiccoalition asked: Your anonymous reader might be interested to learn that in fact many artists are upset about radio's meager payouts: the US exempts terrestrial radio from a public performance royalty--meaning artists never get paid for radio play--only songwriters and publishers are compensated. This makes the US unique among industrialized nations; only China, Iran, Rwanda, and North Korea fail to compensate artists in this way.
^^ And let me complete the plug for this organization: if you’re interested in large-scale data on how musicians (of all sorts) make a living, trawl through money.futureofmusic.org
Anonymous asked: ".005 cents" - still it's like 30 times more than an artists gets "per spin per person" on the radio. And no-one seems to complain for radio's rates.
I’m not sure anyone’s particularly heated up about Spotify rates, either, just noting that it’s not exactly lucrative. (Not sure I’m clear on your numbers, either, but whatever.)
But the pretty obvious difference (and surely you see this) is that radio takes maybe one song off your album and introduces it to a large audience that may or may not have heard of you — of course nobody complains about this. It’s massive exposure, and it drives sales. Spotify lets those who actively seek your record listen to the whole thing anytime, the effects of which aren’t clear yet.
Personally, I don’t think this means Spotify is bad, or that you should feel bad for using it, or that you should be spending more money on musicians when there’s a perfectly legal, low-cost alternative. It’s just a fact to know, if you happen to be thinking about musicians’ business, or trying to go out of your way to support your favorites. (You don’t have to!)
elisabethdonnelly asked: A question regarding the stats on the music industry that went with the Grizzly Bear piece: How is a spotify stream worth .005 cents? How did that number get set and how do they have the access? It's seriously mindblowing and makes one feel very guilty about consuming music that way, considering ...
I didn’t assemble the statistical stuff that accompanied the article (and it definitely does not come from Grizzly Bear), but yeah, that’s pretty widely acknowledged as the general payout for streaming service. I mean, a month of premium Spotify costs me $9.99, about the same as one album; I use it to listen to … more than one album a month. Basic service is $4.99. The payout looks about like radio royalties, except without as much of radio’s push to buy an album, because you don’t have to. The cellist Zoe Keating actually divulged a spreadsheet of her earnings, numbers and all, that underlines this.
That said, guilt is complicated. Ninety-five percent of what I play on Spotify is stuff I would not otherwise be listening to, let alone buying; and out of that music, there’s a large percentage I wind up loving, and will probably pay attention to and spend money on down the line. Used as a giant listening station, it’s great. Used as a substitute for owning stuff … well, if you want to support your favorite acts, it won’t do much.
So a feature I wrote for New York mag — on Grizzly Bear, making a living as an musician, and what “big” means — is on this week’s cover: you can read it here.
The magazine’s really punched up the money issue, especially in the print edition (the cover itself is sort of alarming), but I do want to mention something else, the point that, for me, the whole thing revolves around. It seems to me that a lot of the discourse around music has a habit of speaking as if the artists’ decisions are deliberate — that the songs they write, or albums they release, are propositions about what they think is good or cool or interesting. And talking to the guys in this band offers a very good reminder of how much that’s not necessarily the case, and how much the sound of the music we listen can be a matter of internal process and groups of people just pushing forward to make something that feels satisfying to have made. (Followed by a lot of hard work to stay able to make more.)
Sometimes music listeners talk as if artists are running the show: there’s a stage, and these musicians are standing on it, addressing us. And then sometimes musicians talk as if listeners are running the show: they make music for their own pleasure, and then a vast and fickle public decides whether anyone will be interested, and what chance the music will get to continue. I wonder sometimes if the internet has exploded the former impulse and maybe diminished our memory of the latter…
I wrote something for the magazine about ongoing violence against Sikhs, and whether the people who commit it really care who their victims are, or what they believe.
why we fight july 12
New column up at Pitchfork. It’s about a familiar vibe in a lot of pop music lately — this sort of pulp-thriller take on the sad glamour and anhedonic emptiness of the high life — and the ways in which Frank Ocean sorta fakes in its direction then steers far in another direction.