Writing about World Music

Davidson College, Spring 2016

Author: sewright

Dear Artists: Please Stop With the Tidal Exclusives

Dear Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Kanye, Rihanna (and any other artists that put their music exclusively on Tidal),

 

Before I begin, I’d like to start by saying how big a fan I am of you guys and the music you make. You guys are four of the most dynamic, influential artists in music right now. You all sell out massive arenas and garner constant attention on social media.  You start fashion trends and coin popular phrases.

 

You also release your music exclusively on Tidal. And that really makes me mad.

 

For those who don’t know, Tidal is a fairly new music streaming service. Similar to Spotify or Apple Music, Tidal allows an unlimited amount of listens for a monthly charge. Lately, the service has been trying to drum up membership by signing deals with artists so that they release new music exclusively on Tidal. For the 99.9% of us who use streaming services other than Tidal, this is slightly annoying, because it prevents us from listening to music from our favorite artists. Kanye, you drew a lot of attention back in February with the release of your album, The Life of Pablo. I love the album. It’s a work of art. But you made it a Tidal exclusive, forcing me to sign up for a free trial account that I knew I was going to cancel. You essentially used the album as a bargaining chip to force people to subscribe to Tidal. It worked at first; massive amounts of people signed up for Tidal the day your album came out. But what you soon found out is that after their free trials were over, people dropped their Tidal subscription like a bad habit. No matter how many times you tweeted that the album would only be available on Tidal for all of eternity, you still could not force people to use the shoddy music service. Your fans called your bluff, and you were soon forced to release the album on iTunes and Spotify in a meager attempt to make back some of the profits you lost by putting TLOP on Tidal. Additionally, you lost even more profits due to the record-setting amount of illegal downloads on your album, due to many people’s unwillingness to subscribe to Tidal, even for a free trial.

 

Beyoncé, this past weekend, you released a highly-anticipated visual album, Lemonade, on HBO. The premiere drew massive amounts of praise, and was heralded as one of the great musical features of our generation. However, after the premiere was over, you decided to release your album exclusively on Tidal. This slowed the momentum of the album’s popularity, due to the lack of people willing to sign up for a Tidal account. The exclamations of praise were muffled by the complaints about Tidal. Lemonade, similar to The Life of Pablo, is being widely illegally downloaded, thanks to the continued unwillingness of people to pay for a subpar streaming service. Once again, a great work of art was damaged by Tidal exclusivity.

 

On behalf of basically everyone everywhere, please stop putting your music exclusively on Tidal. It hurts your bottom line, annoys your fans, and limits the potential widespread popularity of the music. And I’ve ran out of email accounts with which to make free trial accounts on Tidal.

 

Sincerely,

 

Sean

Intro Blog Post

Music has always been a significant part of my life. When I was in fourth grade, I started playing the trombone, which I continued to practice and perform until twelfth grade. My favorite type of music to play was jazz, because I loved the screeching solos and bouncing bass lines commonly found in the genre. Although I don’t play the trombone anymore, music remains a presence in my life. My favorite genres to listen to are hip-hop, alternative, and electronic. I love these kinds of music because they evoke emotion out of me. This notion of emotional connection to music is exemplified in the song “Home,” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, because it helps me remember my family and friends while I am away at school.

Chance the Rapper

Attending a great concert is an activity that can’t be matched. In my opinion, nothing compares to seeing a tremendous live show. The sights and sounds are refreshing and empowering, and the experience of being in an excited crowd is one that is simply beautiful. I felt this way last Wednesday night, when I attended a Chance the Rapper concert at The Fillmore Charlotte. The show was exhilarating, and the performer was incredibly skillful during his set.

 

Contrary to the Migos concert that Victor-Alan wrote about, where it took three-and-a-half hours for the main act to take the stage, Chance was preceded for only 30 minutes by a small rap trio. It was incredibly refreshing to see this group perform, because they seemed to be having an incredible amount of fun throughout their set. They understood that they weren’t the main act, and that nearly everyone in the crowd was there to see Chance, but it was awesome to see a group of musicians get genuinely excited about having the privilege to perform.

 

After they left the stage, it was only a short intermission before Chance came onto the stage. He opened up with a few of his biggest hits. This was to get the crowd excited from the onset of the show, so that the energetic atmosphere generated by the crowd was present early on. I’ve always been incredibly intrigued by the order in which musical performers play their sets, and this case was no exception. Chance played a lot of his popular songs at the beginning, moved into some less popular tunes in the middle, and finally ended with his smash hit “Cocoa Butter Kisses.” I agree with this choice of order, because it got the crowd interested from the beginning, and maintained that energy all throughout the concert. Right before the concert ended, he injected another dose of excitement into the crowd by playing his most popular song last. Musical planning is oftentimes what enables a good performer to have a great concert, and Chance was a great example of this.

Bias Towards Certain Genres of Music

While reading The Dangdut Stories for this week’s reading assignment, I came across something that really got me thinking. I noticed that the attitude in Indonesia towards dandgut music is prominently negative, with many people completely disapproving of the genre. “Negative reactions tended to be based on the monolithic views of the genre. One colleague remarked: ‘Dangdut? It’s just a bunch of women in skimpy outfits shaking their hips around! Why would anybody want to study that!’”

 

This type of negative reaction is an example of having a biased predisposition towards a whole genre. These sorts of generalizations are hurtful to music consumers, because they tend to alienate broad types of music and completely cut listeners off from the genre. Thanks to these attitudes, there are probably plenty of people in Indonesia who would really enjoy dangdut music and be fans, but they aren’t exposed to the genre because of the existing presuppositions that people have about the genre. This is harmful to everyone, because it limits the types of music that people can hear, while at the same time hurting dangdut musicians, who aren’t able to draw nearly as many fans as they should.

 

Bias towards certain genres is not just a trend in Indonesia. In the United States, there have been plenty of musical styles that have drawn mass criticism from people due to nonmusical characteristics of the genre. For example, in the ‘70s, rock’n’roll music was attacked for being immoral and obscene. Parents tried to censor their children from the music and prevent them from listening to it, all so they could keep themselves supposedly moral. Negative and stubborn attitudes like this are deeply damaging to musical cultures.

Surprise Album Releases

This week, Kendrick Lamar surprised the hip-hop world by abruptly releasing a short album. The album consisted of seven songs that he had recorded for his second studio album, To Pimp a Butterfly, and was generally appreciated by critics. I enjoy the album, and I’m excited to have more of Kendrick’s music to listen to, but this episode once again brought to the spotlight a concept that has been popularized in the past few years: the surprise album release.

At first, the decision to release an album without telling fans beforehand seems like a risky move. By doing so, the artist loses the ability to publicize the coming album and to build hype for it. Nevertheless, it has become a growing trend in the music world.

In 2013, Beyoncé surprise-released her self-titled album Beyoncé on a random December morning, and the Internet accordingly exploded. Sales flourished, and the album led to Beyoncé’s massive On the Run world tour with husband Jay-Z. This is a perfect example of why the trend is becoming more popular. Essentially, social media lost their collective mind—but I believe this would have happened even if Beyoncé had announced beforehand that the music was coming. Beyoncé is a global superstar, and her every action attracts the attention of many. Instead, by releasing the album abruptly, Beyoncé was able to control the dialogue on social media about her album. Instead of millions of people talking about the quality of the album, it became millions of people freaking out about the fact that there was new Beyoncé music. She hardly had to worry about receiving bad initial reviews, because the initial reaction wasn’t about the quality of the music—it was simply a celebration of the fact that there was new Beyoncé music to listen to.

With Kendrick being the latest example of an artist releasing a surprise album, it leaves music fans wondering: who will be the next artist to do so?

Biras and Kendrick Lamar

I found the piece “The Soul of Mbira,” by Paul Berliner to be an interesting and thought-provoking reading. One line in particular really made think. “To respond actively to music in Shona culture is so ingrained that I have often seen individuals who were listening through earphones to the playback of a recorded bira dance and sing new parts to the music as if they were present at the live event,” Berliner writes. I find it extremely interesting that some members of this culture treat music as a transformative discipline. When they plug in their headphones and listen to the music from the bira dance, they’re transported from their daily lives into a cultural musical event.

It’s clear from this reaction alone that the bira plays an important part in the Shona culture. This got me thinking about similar reactions in American culture. I, for one, love to turn on some Kendrick Lamar, close my eyes, and pretend that I’m back at his concert (I hope I’m not the only one). I do this because the concert was such a great experience in my life, and I enjoy reliving that through the use of music. This is part of the reason why I believe that in some ways, music is a universal discipline. In two completely different cultures, in two places across the world from each other, people behave in similar manners when it comes to music. Both I and someone in a totally different culture use music to transport us to our favorite musical events, which is really interesting to me.

This idea of transporting oneself to a past musical event also points to an intriguing conclusion: that live music is the pinnacle of the musical experience. Some of my favorite memories are concerts and live shows, and I can’t think of a time that I felt more in tune with music than at one of these events. It seems to be the same for people in the Shona culture, who sometimes treat music as a portal to go back in time and relive past biras that they have been to.

 

Berliner, Paul. The Soul of Mbira. Chicago And Lodon: The University of Chicago Press, 1979. 190. Print.