Spotify’s “sponsored content”: payola by any other name…

by Amber Healy

SpotifyIt’s too soon to know whether the new “sponsored content” policy helps artists or harms them.

Payola is the practice—the illegal practice—of a record label paying a broadcaster to play a song or artist at a higher rate than other artists.

There was a massive scandal decades ago in which radio stations were found to accept bribes to favor this artist or that one. It brought down some of the biggest names in the then-fledgling industry, including Alan Freed, the man credited with coining the phrase “rock ‘n’ roll,” and Dick Clark.

But times have changed. Things are different. And there’s no law governing the use of cold hard cash to encourage streaming platforms to promote artists for the right price. It also indicates a change in practice for Spotify, which called for a halt to payola-type practices back in 2015. At that time, the Swedish company announced it would “explicitly prohibit” users from taking cash to include songs on its curated playlists, the Financial Times reported.

Tech Crunch first noted this week that there was a new opt-out feature on Spotify, titled “Sponsored Content.”

Continue reading

A bitter son’s reflections on Fathers Day

I envy those of you with great fathers more than you will ever know.

It’s Father’s Day. In the past I have reposted my story on the day my father died. It’s a funny story, a sad story, an OMG story, a no fucking way that couldn’t really have happened story. If you haven’t seen it and want to, click on over.

Today, though, I want to say how happy I am for those of you who had great dads, and also to say thanks, on behalf of kids everywhere, to those of you who are great dads. I don’t know if you fully understand how much of a difference you make.

My father was not a great dad. He wasn’t the worst guy in the world, but… Continue reading

Where is my tribe?

drums-2026535_960_720In the last two days I’ve been tone policed for being unkind, uncool, and tribal. Mind you, the single person doing the tone policing had nothing to say about what I signified. Typical of tone policing, it’s all about style over substance, the signifier, not the signified.

So I confess. Surprising nobody, I’m both unkind and uncool. Looked at across the great spectrum of human behavior where, oh, let’s say Hitler occupies one extreme, lacking in both kindness and coolness (well, there’s that whole fashion sense/propaganda style thing, but I digress), and on the other end there’s some saint or other noted for both kindness and coolness. Bono, maybe? I’m sure the tone police will pardon me for falling somewhere closer to the middle than not.

But am I tribal? Damned skippy. Let me tell you a little about my tribe.

We abhor political violence. Continue reading

Random thoughts about the record album – part 5: they want their MTV

Video killed more than just the radio star.

“It made the record industry a one-trick pony. It became only about a three-minute single and a visual image, and if you didn’t have the three minutes you were over. The corner was turned at that point, I think, away from believing in the power of the music, and [to] believing in the power of the market. Once that corner was turned, we started on the path that has led us to this moment here, where kids are treating music as disposable.” – Michael Guido, entertainment lawyer“I think that there’s always been two different kinds – at least two different kinds of music fans. There are people that just are into songs, and there are people that are into artists.” – Danny Goldberg, record executive

The Buggles:

The Buggles: “Video Killed the Radio Star,” the first video aired on MTV

(Read part 1, part, 2, part 3, part 4)

During the era of the record album’s dominance, from 1967-1981, audiences listened to music. For young listeners it was more often a solitary rather than social experience, often taking place in a teenager’s room, sometimes made even more solitary by the use of headphones. It was easy to lose oneself in the experience of interrelated songs telling a story, as the concept album sought to present, or share in the intimate experience of the singer/songwriter’s soul baring compositions. If a fan went to college, the experience might become more social, though still in a fairly intimate way, sharing favorite albums with a roommate or a couple of suite mates, sometimes the experience enhanced by a few beers or a joint. And such listening became part of the mating rituals of countless romantic relationships formed during one’s college years.

If a music fan watched television during this period at all, it was perhaps a concert show like ABC’s excellent, short-lived In Concert or NBC’s long-lived, less excellent faux concert show Midnight Special. One listened to music; one watched TV.

That changed August 1, 1981. Continue reading

How do we earn loyalty? Or lose it?

Should I remain loyal to the men and women in the three branches of that government who have shown more loyalty to self and self-service than to the electorate?

Trump meets Comey at an Oval Office reception (Image Credit: Andrew Harrer / POOL / EPA)

The ousted director of the FBI sat in front of a Senate committee and told the panelists the president of the United States had demanded the director’s loyalty.

Meanwhile, Joseph Kennedy III, a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, spoke about loyalty for two minutes on the floor of the House of Representatives. Kennedy pondered President Donald’s loyalty to the nation’s citizenry, asking whether the president “put his own personal and political interests above the interests of the American people.”

“Americans,” Kennedy said, “should never have to doubt the loyalty of our commander-in-chief.”

Given that loyalty has again entered the national conversation, I’d like to remind S&R readers of one man’s perspective about assigning — and retracting — loyalty. Here’s the post from February 2014: “A contrarian’s disheartened view of loyalty.”

Continue reading

People want me dead

If that got your attention, okay, that’s clickbaity, but without a click, and it’s true. It’s not just paranoia. Indulge me a moment, if you’re inclined.

I clearly do better when I just do not watch the news and keep my head buried in geekery. Because when I do start paying attention to news, I let myself get sucked in again. I check out the mainstream news not to find out what’s going on in the world, but what the MSM audience likely believes is going on in the world. Those are two different things. I look at partisan news so I can compare and see what they aren’t talking about. I watch the word games they all play. It’s disgusting. It’s like passing roadkill and rubbernecking because it’s mesmerizing somehow. And I’m just not inclined to buy what most are selling without giving it far more consideration than I’m usually willing to give it. No thanks, keep the pamphlet, not interested, thank you. Continue reading

What he promises, and what his budget does, differ markedly on fixing waterways

trump speechPresident Donald stood this week on the bank of the Ohio River before 400 steelworkers, coal miners, and construction workers with barges of coal parked behind him. Amid departures from his text to chastise those he called “obstructionists,” President Donald touted his plan to spend $1 trillion to rebuild the nation’s airports, roads, bridges and tunnels and all other elements of American infrastructure.

With barges as his background canvas, he told of lapses and collapses in the nation’s inland waterways. He cited a gate failure at the Markland Locks on the Ohio River that took five months to repair. He pointed to a massive section of a canal wall that collapsed near Chicago, delaying shipping. [See speech video.]

A release from the White House press office coincided with President Donald’s remarks. Regard inland waterways, the release said:

The infrastructure of America’s inland waterways has been allowed to fall apart, causing delays and preventing the United States from achieving its economic potential. According to [the American Society of Civil Engineers], most of the locks and dams needed to travel the internal waterways are past their 50-year lifespan and nearly 50 percent of voyages suffered delays. Our inland waterway system requires $8.7 billion in maintenance and the maintenance backlog is only getting worse.

Continue reading

A daring young man … and a documentary dependent on his survival

Alex Honnold is a remarkable young man. He may be the foremost rock climber in generations.

bn-lb831_wolfe_12s_20151103155719

Alex Honnold

That his most recent feat was done entirely ropeless — meaning he’d die if he fell — adds to his impressive résumé.

Honnold, 31, climbed the Freerider route on the 3,000-foot granite monolith El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in just under four hours. (See the illustrated route map in The New York Times.) Just try to imagine it: He scaled vertical, sometimes overhanging granite, often using fingernail-sized handholds, with only his talent, control over fear, and sheer will protecting him from a fatal fall.

A life as a full-time, professional rock climber, such as Honnold, requires financial support. Honnold’s website points this out: “These are the companies that allow me to climb all day every day,” he writes. His sponsors include mountaineering equipment suppliers Black Diamond, Maxim Dynamic Ropes, La Sportiva, and North Face as well as GoalZero and Stride. (Ironic, isn’t it, that a climber who shuns the protection of a rope has rope manufacturers as sponsors …)

Continue reading

Online Dating

Dame Magazine story on dating in Seattle tells us about the guys, but something is missing

I feel like I’m only hearing half the story about online dating in the Emerald City.

I just tripped across a really interesting article on dating in Seattle from Dame Magazine. It’s from May 2014 – interestingly enough, I lived there then. Which turns out to be relevant.

The main thrust is there are a lot of guys in the city – more than there are women – and they have good jobs and plenty of money. But you’d never want to date any of them.

As technologist and writer Jeff Reifman pointed out in a post titled “You’ve Got Male: Amazon’s Growth Impacting Seattle Dating Scene,” Amazon … has had a huge, awful impact on Seattle’s dating scene. Continue reading

Bill Maher: it’s not the words he used, it’s how he used them

Our fear of the “N-word” only makes it stronger, but Maher used it for a cheap laugh. This is not acceptable and he knows it.

Bill Maher stepped in it on his last show and now a lot of people are calling for his head. He (and HBO) have apologized, and for the moment it doesn’t look as though the network has any plans to sack him, although that could change.

At issue is this exchange between Maher and frequent guest Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb), who invites Maher to visit Nebraska.

Sasse: We’d love to have you work in the fields with us.

Maher: Work in the fields? Senator … I’m a house nigger.”

This sort of controversy isn’t new to Maher, who uses his position to poke – hard – at a range of prickly socio-political issues facing our society. Continue reading

Kathy Griffin badly miscalculated. Or did she? Enquiring minds want to know…

What did Griffin think was going to happen?

Kathy seems to have gone Fukushima on us. She lost her CNN gig and an endorsement deal for some kind of potty product (that she even had such a deal by itself tells you how far down the celebrity pecking order she was to start with), among other things.

Comedian Kathy Griffin tearfully apologized in a Friday press conference for posing with a fake bloodied and severed head depicting U.S. President Donald Trump, saying that she felt her career was now over and that Trump “broke” her.

“I don’t think I will have a career after this. I’m going to be honest, (Trump) broke me,” said Griffin, 56, a two-time Emmy-winning performer known for her deliberately provocative brand of humor. Continue reading

Don’t worry: The rich will save the federal government. No, really. Right?

Imagine you’re filthy rich. A one-percenter. You’ve got tons of investments and other sources of interest-based income. Yes, I know, you’ve got that vacation house in Aspen and that skiing chalet in Zermatt. But those, and the house in the Hamptons, are getting a little pricey for upkeep and paying the household staff a livable wage.

Image result for tax images creative commonsYou’re tempted to sell off some of those investments to bring in some cash because the market’s pretty good right now. Besides, your Bentley is now three years old. Time to replace it with a new, $310,000 Mulsanne.

But your  team of crack accountants tells you to hold off selling anything: “Remember, President Donald says he’s gonna push serious tax reform through Congress real soon.” In fact, the president’s treasury secretary said the new tax plan would be “the biggest tax cut and the largest tax reform in the history of this country.”

You, of course, salivate, thinking of all the money you’ll save if your top income-tax rate falls from 39.6 percent to 35 percent, to say nothing of the cut to 15 percent applied to all the businesses you own. (You know, of course, that team of crack accountants has for years kept you from paying anywhere near the top rate.)

So you indeed hold off selling. You tell all your one-percenter and one-tenth-of-one-percenter pals to hold off, too. So they do.

Continue reading

Some wasted words about Gregg Allman

By blending rock and roll, soul, country, blues, and jazz, the Allmans created a brand of music that nearly 50 years later sounds as fresh and original as it did when it first appeared.

“I ain’t no saint, and you sure as hell ain’t no savior… Don’t ask me to be Mr. Clean, cause Baby I don’t know how….” – Gregg Allman, “Wasted Words”

The original Allman Brothers Band, Gregg on the left in the middle row (image courtesy Fanart.tv)

Gregg Allman’s death Saturday of liver cancer brought to a close the colorful, tragic story of the group more responsible than any other for creating the genre known as Southern Rock.

Duane Allman brought jazz and rock and roll to the table (and his work with R&B and soul artists led to his bringing drummer Jaimoe Johnson to the band who added jazz style drumming). Drummer Butch Trucks and guitarist Dickey Betts came to the band from more conventional rock bands, though they brought with them a bassist, Berry Oakley, who quickly grasped Duane Allman’s vision of a band playing soul/R&B inflected blues rock with twinges of country and extended improvisations in jazz style.

But they needed a singer. Gregg Allman, who’d steeped himself in soul and R&B as well as rock and blues, provided that. He also became the band’s main songwriter.  Continue reading

Your opinion vs. mine: where are the facts we can agree on?

Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. — Daniel Patrick Moynihan

But what about alternative facts? — 2017

CATEGORY: Democracy & Social Mediaby Carole McNall

I’m cruising my Facebook feed when I see an impassioned plea:

“If you disagree with my take on this [and I did], please back up your opinion with facts.”

Reasonable request. I reach toward my keyboard to find the sites I want to cite.

Then it hits me. I ask: “What sites can I reference that you and I will both accept as true?”

He never answers. Continue reading

Richard Farina’s Been Down So Long…a myth maker’s myth…

Richard Fariña was the Baby Boom generation’s chief myth maker.

“The conscience of my elusive race gives not a fig for me, baby. But I endure, if you know what I mean.” – Richard Fariña

Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me – author Richard Farina pictured (image courtesy Goodreads)

After reading David Hajdu’s excellent Positively 4th Street which chronicles the early careers of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Richard and Mimi (Baez) Fariña, I decided to re-read Fariña’s first (and only) novel, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me. I hadn’t read (or thought much about) this book since I read in during my undergraduate days in the early 1970’s. My memory of that reading is a little hazy (the early 70’s, after all, were an extension of the 60’s with all the attendant excesses), but I remember being impressed with Fariña’s novel. It seemed to me to capture – well, anticipate, I guess would be a more accurate term for what I felt then and think now – the zeitgeist of that time.

There are other works that spoke to that zeitgeist, of course: Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America; Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five; Carlos Castenada’s The Teachings of Don Juan: a Yaqui Way of Knowledge; Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf; Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test; Fariña’s college roommate Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49  – all of these are works that  many Boomers remember as the stuff of conversations around the beer keg – or bong. But of all these counter culture touchstones of reading, Been Down So Long… holds a special place because it is a near perfect depiction of the ambivalence that plagues Boomers.  Continue reading

Alamo Drafthouse / Wonder Woman sexism controversy: let’s have a men-only talk

Hey guys, let’s talk about this outrage man to man.

Alamo Drafthouse is having women-only screenings of Wonder Woman. And across the country people of the male persuasion are losing their minds because it’s sexist.

[sigh]

Okay, let’s talk calmly, man to man, for just a second. It doesn’t bother me at all, so I need to understand why you’re upset.

If these screenings bother you, why? Continue reading

A tale of newspapers’ financial collapse in three charts …

CATEGORY: JournalismThree charts from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, two covering about 15 years, bluntly demonstrate the swift collapse of the centuries-old newspaper industry business model. They also herald the rise of an information-disbursing replacement — the internet.

A 2015 survey by the American Society of News Editors shows newsroom (not overall) employment in the nation’s 1,400 daily newspapers at just under 33,000 people. That’s down from a high of 56,000 newsroom employees in the early ’90s. Of course, those paying attention to newsroom cuts over the past two years have seen what newspaper managements, particularly at Gannett, have done to its remaining workforce. I estimate the daily newsroom workforce to be down to nearly 31,000.

The BLS data covers all employment in the newspaper industry, not just reporters and editors, and not just from dailies. The Editor & Publisher Yearbook lists more than 6,500 community weeklies, defined as any newspaper publishing at least once a week but no more than three times a week.

Continue reading

Chris Cornell

A musician’s passing, and the passing of time …

by Amber Healy

Even the music that has comforted me, inspired me, brought sanity to a broken world time after time, kept me company, kicked my ass into gear, healed other wounds … even that is of little help now.

Chris Cornell

Chris Cornell

May 15, 2002, the day after graduating from college, the Dave Matthews Band cover of “In My Life” made me cry so hard I had to pull over on the side of the highway because I couldn’t see the rainy road through the sobs.

May 18, 2017, driving into work on an overcast Thursday morning, the tears came again, probably the second wave of the 90 minutes I’d been awake. One of the guiding voices of my life was gone, unexpectedly and without any kind of reason that made sense, and there was nothing to do but go to work and try to stay distracted for nine hours.

In the intervening 15 years, there were cross-country moves, more than a dozen jobs, two seriously broken hearts, the deaths of my beloved mentor and grandparents, the births of my seven (soon to be eight) nieces and nephews. Through it all, the music was there to keep me tethered.

2017 is becoming a complicated, delicate year.

Continue reading

Music and Popular Culture

Chris Cornell dead: the ghosts of Grunge welcome another genius into the fellowship

Nothing speaks to Grunge’s legacy of hopelessness more than the growing body count.

Chris Cornell: 1964-2017

I heard the news today, oh boy: Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell is dead at 52. According to the BBC it’s being investigated as a suicide.

I won’t bother trying to explain his legacy beyond stating the obvious: Cornell was a brilliant talent whose creative vision was central to defining the sound of a generation.

What I will do, though, is offer a lament for the doomed soul of Grunge.

I admit, up front, that I was never a huge fan of the genre. Continue reading

Random thoughts about the record album – part 3: the Beach Boys and the album as art and artifact

Sgt. Pepper’s gets a lot of credit for launching the “concept album,” but it never would have happened without Brian Wilson and Pet Sounds.

“We were fed up with being the Beatles. We really hated that fucking four little mop-top approach. We were not boys, we were men … and thought of ourselves as artists rather than just performers.” – Paul McCartney on the impetus behind Sgt. Pepper

(Read Part 1, Part 2)

Brian Wilson (image courtesy imdb)

Once the Beatles’ Rubber Soul moved the rock audience to begin buying albums rather than singles, artists felt emboldened to make their own attempts to create albums with thematic unity and all original material. Record companies, impressed with Rubber Soul’s sales figures, felt emboldened to allow artists to attempt to duplicate the Beatles’ sales.

And thus rock’s album era was born.

The term most people throw around when discussing thematically unified music collections from this era is concept album. It can be a tricky term, and critics sometimes argue about whether a particular album qualifies or who did/did not implement the form in rock history (it is widely conceded that Woody Guthrie created the genre with his 1940 album Dust Bowl Ballads).

There is consensus about one fact: whether rock’s first concept album was Little Deuce Coupe (1963) or Pet Sounds (1966), the guy who deserves credit for making the concept album rock music’s statement of choice is Brian Wilson. Continue reading