Music of the United States

Davidson College, Fall 2015

Month: December 2015 (Page 1 of 2)

Online Streaming as an Enemy of Music?

The question of whether online streaming services are beneficial for artists and the music industry is a considerably complicated issue that has been a hot debate topic in recent years. The service has often been accused that it does not treat the musicians in a fair manner. In 2013, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke called Spotify, “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse” when referring to the music industry and its attempts to revitalize itself. In July of 2014, Taylor Swift wrote a Wall Street Journal editorial,  “the value of an album is, and will continue to be, based on the amount of heart and soul an artist has bled into a body of work.” Swift does not see a notable difference between piracy and online streaming services. She explains that “Piracy, file sharing and streaming have shrunk the numbers of paid album sales drastically, and every artist has handled this blow differently.” Swift believes that all artists should not take this new situation lightly. She emphasizes “that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is. I hope they don’t underestimate themselves or undervalue their art.”


Online services consistently underpay the publishers and songwriters, who are rightfully deserving of their shares. The Wall Street Journal brings to our attention that some music-publishing executives estimate that services such as Spotify, YouTube and Google All Access collectively owe 50 million to 75 million dollars in royalties to songwriters and the music publishers who represent them. This total amount is not confirmed; however, it is a general consensus that the systems currently in place do not adequately keep track of whom to pay and how much they are owed.

The issue is mainly thought to be connected to the complex rights involved in the process of music sales. The majority of sales royalties are owed to the record company. The record company is responsible to divide them up with the artist in terms of their individual contract. Additionally, a much smaller fragment is due to the songwriter responsible for the written words. The record company owes the songwriter and/or publisher an estimated 10 cents for each copy of the recording that is created.

Streaming services, like Spotify, are generally required to pay a partial royalty to the record company for the recording, which is customarily valued at ten percent of the total royalty. According to the Wall Street Journal, in December of 2014, that amounted to slightly less than four percent per stream on Spotify in the U.S.

The record companies generally do not include the songwriter and publisher information for the streaming services. This omission is making it harder for the streaming services to adequately pay these artists and thus creating an unfair environment.

A separate Wall Street Journal article has recently stated that Spotify is considering giving in to big-name artists’ demands, such as Taylor Swift. “Spotify has told music executives that it is considering allowing some artists to start releasing albums only to its 20 million-plus subscribers, who pay $10 a month, while withholding the music temporarily from the company’s 80 million free users.” The fact that Spotify is considering making  these changes is a powerful example that Swift and other artists have a significant influence on Spotify and other streaming services.

In summation, the artists of our time should be adequately rewarded for the work that many of us are able to take advantage of through online streaming services. Many artists see these services as an enemy of the music industry. According to Audiam Inc., a technology company with the main goal of to recover unpaid royalties, Spotify only paid songwriter royalties 79 percent of the time. This is an unacceptable way to treat the artists of our time. However, now that many consumers no longer feel the need to buy products, it is difficult to prevent streaming services to dominate the market of music consumption. There needs to be a more accurate way of keeping track of the artists to pay and how much’ however, currently it seems that Spotify will continue to attract a majority of the consumers in the industry.

Works Cited

Karp, Hannah. “Spotify Considers Allowing Some Artists to Withhold Music From          Free Service.” Wall Street Journal. 8 Dec. 2015. Web. 9 Dec. 2015.

McIntyre, Hugh. “Taylor Swift Vs. Spotify: Should Artist Be Allowed To Opt Out of             Free Streaming?” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 8 Aug. 2015. Web. 4 Dec. 2015.

Seabrook, John. “Spotify: Friend or Foe? – The New Yorker.” The New Yorker. 14          Nov. 2014. Web. 4 Dec. 2015.

Swift, Taylor. “For Taylor Swift, the Future of Music Is a Love Story.” The Wall Street  Journal. 7 July 2014. Web. 5 Dec. 2015.




“Crooning” was a term given to a type of intimate, emotional singing style that developed around 1930.  Crooning was made possible by the invention of the microphone.  Older generations largely opposed crooning, seeing it as overly sensual and corrupt.  In fact, the term “crooning” was given to this style in derision.  Popular crooners include Rudy Vallee and Bing Crosby.  Although crooning usually refers to men, there were some women who also employed this style.


The microphone is a device that converts sound waves into electrical energy, which can then be amplified or recorded.  The microphone’s invention is often credited to Emile Berliner in 1876, although David Edward Hughes and Thomas Edison also have claims to its invention.  The microphone had a profound impact on music, allowing for more intimate records and also improving the quality of live performances.  Since its invention, several other forms of microphone have been developed, such as the ribbon microphone and the fiber optic microphone.


A ribbon microphone

(Photo from

Philosophical Issues with the Synthetic Trumpets in Jason Derulo’s “Trumpets”

In class, we examined some of the reasons why Jason Derulo’s use of synthesized trumpets in his song “Trumpets” is potentially problematic economically for small musicians. However, some might argue that musical progress is worth such a sacrifice. On closer examination, though, it becomes apparent that the use of synthetic trumpets is problematic for philosophical reasons, not merely economic ones.

First, we will show how this substitution removed physical trumpets from the song. Some might claim that it does not matter that Derulo used synthetic trumpets, since these perform the same function as a physical trumpet would in the song. However, it is clear that merely performing the same function does not make two objects the same. As a musical example, consider a composer looking to add a percussion instrument to keep time. Said composer could employ a bass drum, a hi hat, a shaker, a triangle, or any of several other percussion instruments, all of which could keep time. However, these instruments are all obviously different, and thus the fact that synthetic trumpets can perform the function of physical ones is not sufficient to justify the decision to use synthetic trumpets.

Still, some would cling to the idea that synthetic trumpets are the same as physical ones. The two differ in several properties, though, which makes this claim difficult to believe. First, the two clearly sound different. For a musical instrument, this distinction is particularly important. In addition, by the Sachs-Hornbostel instrument classification system, a trumpet-class instrument is one “in which the vibration of the player’s compressed lips sets the air column in motion” (Enrico). While a physical trumpet meets this definition, synthetic ones do not, suggesting that these instruments are not the same. A third difference in these instruments is in terms of their sound capabilities. A synthetic trumpet can produce rhythms and sounds far beyond the scope of what a physical trumpet can. Based on these myriad and significant differences, it is difficult to believe that these instruments are the same.

Having now shown that Derulo removed physical trumpets from his song, we will now illustrate why this is philosophically important. The first reason this is problematic relates to Derulo’s claim with the song. Per google play, Derulo sings “and the trumpets they go” (emphasis mine), not “and the syntehsizers emulating trumpets go”. In a song titled “Trumpets” that references trumpets numerous times, we would expect to hear real, physical trumpets, but instead we are given something different, as we demonstrated above. While this is most certainly not malicious, it is still apparent that the song essentially lies to listeners, and that is problematic.

Even more troubling, though, is that this song, albeit unintentionally, essentially pushes the elimination of physical trumpets from the public. By claiming that the synthetic trumpets are real ones, Derulo suggests to the public that the synthetic ones are in fact real. Someone listening to “Trumpets” performed with physical trumpets would think something is wrong. The trumpet part would sound different, and thus would not be thought of as played on the correct instrument. Thus, we see how a physical trumpet could then become replaced with a synthetic one not just in this song, but also in the public view. Artistically speaking, this carries serious implications, as one of the world’s oldest instruments would be lost.

It is important to note that Derulo and his team certainly did not write and perform “Trumpets” with the intent of demeaning the physical trumpet. However, it is hard to deny that Derulo failed to use a real trumpet in a song named after them. In doing so, Derulo not only makes a dishonest claim, but also threatens the real trumpet. Therefore, this decision has clear philosophical consequences as well as economic ones.



Works Cited

Enrico, Eugene J. “Wind Instrument | Music.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2015. Web. 08 Dec. 2015.

Google Play. “Trumpets – Jason Derulo.” – Google Play Music. Google, 2014. Web. 08 Dec. 2015.


Finding its origin in german military technology, the vocoder analyzes the human voice for specific frequencies and then synthesizes it so as to allow its recreation on an instrument. The result is often associated with sounding robotic due to its sonically complex nature. Although early interest arose from artists who had an interest in new and futuristic music development such as Devo and Stevie Wonder, the technology has been utilized in the work of artists ranging from Daft Punk to Cher.


Computer Composition

Emily Howell’s compositions find inspiration from the works of the famous Bach, Mozart, and Rachmaninoff. It is only with an expansive knowledge of past works that Emily is able to compose at such a record breaking pace: her own works number somewhere beyond five-thousand, including operas and original compositions. Each pulls upon centuries of success in both human expression through music and the evolution of musical technologies in production and distribution. In fact, Emily may represent the pinnacle, or the endpoint, of this evolution and success.

Emily Howell is a computer program that uses data inputs from listeners and analyses of the works of famous musicians to compose its own pieces at a remarkable pace and quality. In other words, Emily finds similarities in past works and uses them as the foundation for its own compositions. This is not unlike the composition process for humans. Emily’s creator, composer David Cope, notes that “We don’t start with a blank slate… in fact, what we do in our brains is take all the music we’ve heard in our life, segregate out what we don’t like, and try to replicate [the music we like] while making it our own.” (2) This is evident in the results of Emily’s work. It is virtually impossible to distinguish the computer’s composition from the works of its human peers.

Emily’s development and other advances in computer music and composition raise a number of questions for the future of musical composition and production. From a business standpoint, this is a very profitable development for record companies. A single program can produce countless works based off of what most have deemed critically appealing. This is an incredible return on investment, along with a potential reduction in the cost of labor. Moreover, it makes the challenging task of determining what appeals to the consumer much easier. What is currently an extensive  process could be completed in a fraction of the time and costs.

Beyond a business perspective, Emily’s creation plays an interesting role in the realm of human expression. Music at its most basic is a form of human expression. The composition of music is an extension of this, but what about computer composition? Although the computer, a non-human, is doing the composing, it is based off of past works. This does create a semblance of human expression in it work. However, this is merely a simulation of past expression by human composers. The computer certainly creates something of its own, but its foundation remains in the work of humans. This new creation is merely simulating what human music is like.

Ultimately, the development of computer music is certainly groundbreaking and at times exciting. There are still many issues to further examine, such as the implications of the computer’s works on human expression in music and the economic impacts on the recording industry. Either way, Emily will continue to release its work without humans being able to notice the difference between its work and that of its human peers.

Works Cited

Wilson, Chris. “I’ll Be Bach.” Slate. Slate, 19 May 2010. Web. 7 Dec. 2015.

The Negative Impact of Piracy on Musicians and the Music Industry

With the expansion of technology has inevitably come financial damage of some kind for the artists involved. In fact this isn’t a new phenomenon by any stretch of the imagination. Ludwig van Beethoven suffered from piracy of his work when unauthorized publishers published it (Neuwirth 104). This ended up driving down the price that others would pay for his work and in turn hurt the amount he made.

Today, obviously, piracy is much more widespread and its effects are seen on a much wider scale than ever before. According to Cisco, just between 2008 and 2014 file-sharing, the largest medium of piracy today, has grown 44% in the US and that figure is slated to grow to 51% by 2019 (Steele). Many have hoped and claimed that free streaming services like Spotify would curb this trend, but so far there hasn’t been any indication of this.

And these numbers have startling financial effects. The Institute of Policy Innovation estimates that piracy costs the US Economy $12.5 billion dollars along with 70,000 jobs (RIAA). And this hurts more than just the record companies and award-winning artists. Losses due to piracy hurt all those who do behind-the-scenes type work. According to the Nashville Songwriters Association International, the number of full time songwriters in Nashville has dropped 80% since 2000 (Rau). Other recent studies have shown that illegal downloads and file sharing can reduce music sales by up to 30%, and this decrease in sales has been a bane to the industry because, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics the number of people classified as “Musicians and Singers” is down 27% or almost 20,000 people since 2002, which stems from a lack of incentive caused by decreased sales (Steele).

File-sharing and piracy hurts the development of new artists in other ways as well. Joshua Friedlander, Vice President of Research at the Recording Industry Association of America detailed this in his article, “Nobody Stole the Pie.” The sales of top selling albums dropped more than 50% in the last 10 years and “ In the last 10 years, the major record labels’ direct employment in the United States fell from about 25,000 people in 1999 to less than 10,000 today – a drastic reduction of over 60% in people who enable the creation and development of new music” (Friedlander). This decrease in sales, he claims, decreases the amount of investment that can go into developing and investing in new artists.

The point I am trying to convey is that technology, despite its benefits has in the past and will continue to hurt the music industry on a level more personal than the record conglomerates. For every one Justin Beiber that is created thanks to new technology, thousands of smaller musicians lose their jobs thanks to pirating technology. Piracy hurts those who most depend on their work for a living and who make music production their passion. Piracy has real effects and causes real damage in the industry, and I believe that that is something we all need to take into account when examining the dynamic between music and technology.

Works Cited:

  • Friedlander, Joshua P., and Jonathan Lamy. “Illegal Downloading = Fewer Musicians.” RIAA. Recording Industry Association of America, 19 July 2010. Web. 04 Dec. 2015. <>.
  • Friedlander, Joshua P. “Nobody Stole the Pie.” RIAA. Recording Industry Association of America, 3 Mar. 2010. Web. 04 Dec. 2015. <>.
  • Neuwirth, Robert. “The Culture of the Copy.” Stealth of Nations: The Global Rise of the Informal Economy. New York: Pantheon, 2011. 104-05. Print.
  • Rau, Nate. “Nashville’s Musical Middle Class Collapses.” The Tennessean. Gannett, 28 Jan. 2015. Web. 04 Dec. 2015. <>.
  • RIAA. “Scope Of The Problem.” RIAA. Recording Industry Association of America, n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2015. <>.
  • Steele, Robert. “If You Think Piracy Is Decreasing, You Haven’t Looked at the Data.” Digital Music News. Digital Music News, 16 July 2015. Web. 04 Dec. 2015. <>.


Vaudeville was a type of variety entertainment that was extremely popular in the United States from the 1850s to the early 1900s. The acts involved were often of a wide variety, ranging from coon songs and striptease to family fare. The scene was especially popular with immigrants, as it was a place where Italian opera singers and Russian balalaika players could make a name for themselves. The entertainment was not of the highest quality though. As Caroline Caffin said, “the Vaudeville house is not the place in which the musical connoisseur looks for music of the highest rank.”

Irving Berlin

Irving Berlin was one of Tin Pan Alley’s most successful songwriters. He was a Jewish refugee from Russia who moved the United States at 5-years-old. Despite lacking any sort of formal training, he went on to write and perform numerous successful songs. This was due in part to his success in recognizing the formulaic nature of Tin Pan Alley music, especially of the theme of love. Over the course of his career, Berlin went on to write over 1000 songs, including “God Bless America.”

Irving Berlin

Do Sampling and Copyright Laws Impede Musical Creativity?

Sampling is the digital process by which pieces of recordings are reconfigured/transformed into new music. The method of sampling became popular in the 1980s, with this new concept of borrowing music and using it in other songs. New digital technologies have given the power of producing to a much wider range of people, so the case of sampling and infringement on copyright laws has become ever more apparent. Producers and artists place production licenses on their music, so if another artists wants to use a sample of that song then they have to request permission and potentially pay a pretty heft fee, along with legal stipulations. Today, the music industry has created this clearance movement that creates the feeling that every audio quote should be licensed. This sample clearance system has been criticized for impeding musical creativity. The system shuts down creativity and “pushes the most complex and musically interesting sample-based works into either the noncommercial sector, the underground economy, or nonexistence” (McLeod and DiCola, 188). Clearance comes at a high price most of the time, which also discourages musicians from producing songs. Hip-hop is the core genre that sampling really affects. De La Soul’s Trugory references the deterrence of sampling in hip-hop with, “I think for me personally hip-hop loses a little bit of its feel because of it. You know, when you can’t sample, I think it definitely loses a big part of what hip hop is”(McLeod and Dicola, 191). The heavy cost that comes along with requesting a sample and all the stipulations  with using another musician’s work drains the artist and leaves a profound interruption on his/her creative processes.

Artists find ways to work around the copyright protection and increased policing of samples. Often times, artists either drop their song idea, the sample, or just find more subtle ways to work around the intense copyright laws. They use fewer samples, or smaller ones, to decrease the cost of their production, re-create the music with a live band in the studio, use substitutes for expensive samples, distort the sample to a point where it is nearly impossible to detect, or just completely avoid the mainstream distribution methods and go underground (McLeod and DiCola, 201). These methods have all proven successful for some artists, but there is no denying that the effort it takes to work around sampling laws reeks havoc on musicians’ production means. This expensive licensing system places heavy constraints on the creative process, mainly for Hip-Hop artists. While the sample clearance system helps to protect illegal use of other’s work, the system as a whole has reached a heightened level, where artists are stopped in their tracks from producing new, innovative music. With the negative side-effects of the system in mind, there definitely needs to be legal and business reforms to the system to make sampling more approachable to musicians. If these reforms are made, then the constraints on creativity will be broken and artist’s new ideas can once again thrive in the musical world.



Works Cited:

McLeod, Kembrew, and Peter DiCola. “Consequences for Creativity.” Creative License: The Law and Culture of Digital Sampling. Durham and London: Duke UP, 2011. Print.

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