Vezt lets investors and fans purchase a share of future revenues from ‘Jodeci (Freestyle)’ and many more to come.
Nick Krewen, Music
Sun., Dec. 10, 2017
For a man who is at the top of his game, Drake can’t seem to stop making money — even when it’s for other people.
Only this time, it’s a different kind of money, one that could have far-reaching implications as the music industry pushes further into the realms of cryptocurrency, the speculative digital money that is secured through cryptography and recorded by blockchain technology.
In a pilot project of sorts, and in the hope of creating a direct and transparent marketplace for creators and rights holders, Los Angeles-based blockchain outfit Vezt just completed its “ISO” — initial song offering — in late November: a chance for 100 non-U.S. residents to purchase up to 10 per cent of the copyright of a Drake song.
Steve Stewart, Vezt’s co-founding CEO and former manager of the Stone Temple Pilots, says it’s a win-win situation for both parties: the creator gets to dictate the terms of the transaction and generate immediate money, and the buyer winds up owning a piece of an artistic creation, which could have deep sentimental value to that person.
“We think that everybody who participates in the creation of music should be compensated and this is a direct way to monetize intellectual property for the creators,” says Stewart, who created Vezt just over a year ago with Robert Menendez.
To prove the viability of its business model, Vezt recently concluded its first “token generating event,” by offering “Jodeci (Freestyle),” a 2013 track recorded by Drake and J. Cole, as the musical guinea pig.
The event, which concluded Dec. 1, resulted in the purchase of over 2.8 million VZT tokens for a total of $1.38 million (U.S.). Combined with a previous private investor offering that raised another $3.2 million (U.S.), the result left Stewart ecstatic.
“If we had raised $100 and given up no equity, I’d be amazed,” says Stewart. “To do more than $4.5 million in a short period of time is almost inconceivable.
“The important thing is we now have enough runway to build and scale our platform in the most efficient and expeditious way.”
To be clear, the writer’s share of the song doesn’t solely belong to — and wasn’t offered by — the Toronto rap god himself, although Drizzy’s superstar name was definitely a selling point.
But one of its co-writers whom Stewart refused to identify — Dewayne Brandley, Simon Rufus William III and Roosevelt Harrell III, the producer known as Bink, are among those listed — cashed in, selling his 10 per cent share to Vezt.
Stewart says Vezt owns a fraction of the copyright shares of 27 additional songs recorded by the likes of Kanye West, John Legend, Rick Ross, Dr. Dre and others to help jump-start its platform, which it’s planning to open to artists and rights holders by summer 2018.
“Anybody who owns rights should be able to transact them,” Stewart explains. “That’s the basis for our platform.”
The premise is simple: creators and rights holders of intellectual property offer some share of their song rights to potential buyers on the Vezt platform.
These song shares are purchased via Vezt’s VZT utility tokens valued at approximately $0.35 (U.S.) each. In exchange, the creator forgoes those portions of the rights for a predetermined term — usually one, three or five years — during which the purchaser receives whatever pro-rated royalties and revenues are generated.
Song-rights details are automatically encoded on the Vezt blockchain and tracked by royalty-collecting performance rights organizations in 137 countries around the world, gathering income from various sources (see sidebar). The rights revert to the creator at the conclusion of the term.
While public interest in cryptocurrency has spiked lately on the heels of Bitcoin’s rocketing value — from 8 cents in 2009 to more than $11,000 (U.S.) today — a few recording artists took notice earlier. British singer and songwriter Imogen Heap was the first, independently releasing a song in 2015 called “Tiny Human” that could be purchased with ETH, perhaps the second most popular cryptocurrency after Bitcoin.
The latest projects include Icelandic singer Björk, who has offered consumers the chance to purchase her just-released Utopia album via several digital monies. Slovenian electro-producer Gramatik, who is booked into the Danforth Music Hall in April, has gone one better: establishing his own GRMTK cryptocurrency, which he launched in Zurich in November.
Artist manager Steve Stewart says one of the reasons he launched Vezt is to resurrect the value of music, which he says disappeared with the arrival of file-sharing company Napster. By relying on a song’s music royalties, Stewart is convinced he can help turn around music’s — and music makers’ — recent misfortunes.
“After a song is pumped up and released, there’s a spike if it’s put out on the radio or toured behind for a period of time,” he says. “After that spike comes down and levels out, you pretty much have a level income stream going forward.
“That’s why people like (David) Pullman could do the Bowie Bonds 25 years ago: they securitize music royalties. We’re seeing firms like Goldman Sachs today look at music securitization options again because it almost acts like a bond . . . it’s fairly consistent as far as income goes.”
Pullman, creator of the “Bowie Bonds” that saw David Bowie receive $55 million (U.S.) tax free in exchange for the majority of his album and publishing catalogue being securitized for 20 years, says this type of transaction probably wouldn’t interest songwriters with extensive catalogues “because they’re too conservative,” but are more for creators who want “liquidity now.”
Stewart believes that once the Vezt platform is fully running, the majority of song-share purchasers won’t be from Wall Street.
“Honestly, we think that 80 per cent of our buyers are going to come from an emotional place: they’re going to buy it because it’s their favourite song,” Stewart says. “Every time they hear that song streamed, every time they hear it in a club, every time they hear it on the radio, they know that they’re making something along with the artist.
“We see a lot of our buyers coming at a relatively modest dollar value, anywhere from $1 to $100. So for the price of a T-shirt — $25 or $30 — they can buy a piece of a song that moves them emotionally.”
With many musicians struggling to fully devote time to their craft and others lamenting the terms of onerous recording contracts that wrest intellectual property control away, Stewart says Vezt has great potential to be a music industry game changer.
“Artist/creators get a publishing deal and it might cost them 25 per cent of their copyright,” says Stewart. “They get an admin deal, that might cost 5 per cent to 10 per cent. They get a label deal and a label might take 85 per cent. There’s a lot of people with their hands in pockets, as is with the music business traditionally.”
And his company won’t stop at music.
“We’re looking at anything that has an IP component to it,” says Stewart. “We’re looking at books, shows, film, TV, video content. . . . We’re looking to be the marketplace for IP all around the world.”
How it works
Once a song is written, 100 per cent of its copyright (which entitles the owner to money generated by streams, radio airplay, TV broadcasting or even a commercial spot) belongs to the writer or writers. Typically, the writer signs a publishing deal giving half of that to the publisher; if there is more than one writer, they each get a chunk of the writer half.
Under the Vezt plan, creators could sell the right to the cash generated over a given period in exchange for the buyer’s cash now. Once the transaction is complete, the funds are immediately credited in the creator’s account and the deal is recorded in the blockchain for posterity. Song-rights details are automatically encoded on the Vezt blockchain, too, guaranteeing the buyer proof of possession and opening the door to cheques from royalty-collecting performance rights organizations in 137 countries around the world.
The purchase of the rights is made using VZT tokens, which can themselves be bought with the more established cryptocurrency ETH or, for a service fee, with recognized currencies such as U.S. or Canadian dollars.
The rights revert to the creator at the conclusion of the term.
Or, if you don’t have that kind of cash, the KISS rocker will hand deliver his box set for just $2,000.
Thu., Sept. 21, 2017
Gene Simmons is at it again.
The co-founder and bassist of legendary rock band KISS, who has gained almost equivalent public stature as an audacious and shrewd marketing tycoon, has set aside most of 2018 to deliver his latest project: The Vault Experience, a 17-kilogram, 10-CD collection of 150 previously unreleased demos and recordings that he boasts is the “largest and most expensive boxed set of all time.”
And by “deliver,” Simmons means exactly that: For $2,000 (U.S.), the rock-and-reality-TV superstar will personally hand it to you at a location of your choice.
Actually, he’ll wheel it to you: The boxed set, which comes with an envious number of bells and whistles, resembles a small safe and is cumbersome enough that it rolls around on castors.
“Anyone that buys one — first come, first served because there are only a few thousand around the world — I will fly to you,” declared Simmons, who was in Toronto earlier this week to promote the venture.
“Whether you’re in Moncton or New Zealand, I will hand-deliver this to you in a convenient area — because if you live in the North Pole, I’m not going to the North Pole — I want to be upfront.
“But if you’re in Moncton, I’ll go there.”
For those willing to shell out the coin for Gene Simmons: The Vault Experience, the dates for Toronto delivery have already been designated: May 5-6 and Sept. 19, 2018, with the tongue-wagging rock star promising to buy his own “plane tickets, hotel rooms, security, insurance, legal stuff — at my expense.”
Why is he doing it? Simmons, whose cartoonish, on-stage “Demon” persona has helped sell 75 million KISS albums worldwide and filled arenas countless times over, says it’s his way of personally thanking his followers for 50 years of an unimaginably wonderful musical career.
“Well, the fans made my life possible,” reasons Simmons, born Chaim Witz, 68 years ago in Haifa, Israel, and who is married to St. John’s, N.L. actor Shannon Tweed. “I mean, I have a great life. My family is taken care of. I can spend money on anything I want, although I don’t need a lot of stuff. I don’t care about stuff, mostly.
“But how do you say thank you after becoming America’s No. 1 award-winning group of all-time? That also includes Canada — yeah, we have more gold records than A Foot in Coldwater.”
His reference to a classic Toronto rock band notwithstanding, the six-foot, two-inch Simmons, reclining on a couch in an RV next to The Launch studios in Scarborough, says he’s willing to do what other superstars won’t.
“I never had Elvis (Presley) knock on my door and say, ‘Hey man, here’s my new record and thanks for being a fan,’ ” Simmons notes. “But why not? If you can afford it and you’ve got the time and you want to do it . . .”
“I’m not going to make everyone happy. If one million fans buy these, I’m not going to go and spend 10 years visiting one million fans. But a few thousand? Sure. So, I’m taking a year off, starting January, and I’m going around the world. I don’t know what kind of tour you want to call it — but I’ll be going and visiting the fans.
“There will be people crying — especially if I step on their feet — and I’m going to well up as well . . . because once upon a time, I was a kid with a dream and I saw this dream come true on a scale that I never envisioned. By many estimates in the marketing world, those four KISS faces (Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss) are the most recognized faces on planet Earth.
“I don’t see (Bruce) Springsteen or (Bob) Dylan or anybody on that level who are going to go and meet and greet every single fan that buys their boxed set.”
Manufactured in partnership with Rhino Entertainment, the California-based specialty label that has previously released elaborately designed boxed sets for Ray Charles (a turntable suitcase) and Z.Z. Top (a barbecue shack), Gene Simmons: The Vault Experience includes a 50,000-word coffee table book, an action figure (which is kind of ironic, because it’s a likeness of Simmons standing with his arms crossed), a gold medallion and secret compartments, where fans will discover a unique piece of hand-picked memorabilia — “it could be a pair of leather gloves or a scarf” — from the Van Nuys, Calif.-based KISS warehouse.
A Vault “pre-pack,” including a signed golden ticket, an exclusive T-shirt, a laminate and a USB of the track “Are You Ready,” will arrive separately by email once an order is placed at GeneSimmonsVault.com or by calling 1-833-GSVault, the only way it can be ordered.
Musically, the set chronicles some of Simmons’ pre-KISS output dating back to 1966 — and there are some intriguing curiosities.
“Three of the tracks are Bob Dylan and Gene Simmons-written songs, including the Bob/Gene writing session in which he was kind enough to get into an unmarked van and come up to my house,” Simmons explains. “The Van Halen brothers — after I discovered their band and signed them to my company — were kind enough to play on three tracks. We have a power trio: Eddie and Alex and Gene Simmons. They played on ‘Christine Sixteen,’ the original version. Joe Perry from Aerosmith in 1978 plays on ‘Mongoloid Man.’ Also, it includes all the KISS guys — Ace, Paul and Peter.
“This set includes the very first song that I recorded — one of the songs that I wrote when I was about 14, called ‘My Uncle is A Raft, But He Always Keeps Me Floating.’ Oh yeah, that’s deep, Gene — but melodically, it’s not a bad song.”
Simmons is adamant that he wanted something tactile for this set and, with the exception of the single-song USB, has no intention of releasing it digitally.
“There’s no downloading, no social media — nothing,” he declares. “There’s no ‘cloud’ nonsense — get the f— out of here with that cloud s—. I wanted something real, a lifetime thing, not a ghost or a mirage.”
True to Simmons’ entrepreneurial nature, those who have a little extra cash on hand can enhance their Vault encounter. For $25,000 — and only until November — fans will get the Producer Experience, which will include a Skype call with Simmons and an invitation to the studio, where they can make notes, suggestions and get their name etched on the inside of the safe’s door as executive producers.
And if you happen to have $50,000 lying around, Simmons will deliver the set and spend the day with you and up to 25 friends.
“If you’re nuts and you want Gene Simmons for a day to come to your town — invite 20 to 25 of your friends — do karaoke, pet the dog or, if you have a rock band and you want me to join the band, boom, $50K,” he says.
“Few people are going to do that and that’s cool. But again, it’s about changing the relationship: doing something that’s lifetime stuff, away from retail, which is a failing model, as you know.”
This isn’t the first time Simmons has gotten up close with his fans. In the mid-1990s, KISS staged a day-long convention tour and visited 23 cities, including Toronto. The day, held at the Sheraton Centre, included exhibits and memorabilia, several KISS cover bands and, in the early evening, an acoustic concert and Q&A session with the original quartet.
“It wasn’t personal enough,” Simmons recalls. “You came to the convention and it was like a mini-concert. You were onstage, you answered questions. Yes, we were the first ones to do that and I will take full responsibility for that.
“In those days, it was $100 per ticket but we paid for travel and everything else. But again, fans couldn’t come up and talk, touch or spend individual time, if you see what I mean. You’re still part of 1,000 people. This (The Vault Experience) is to try and change the relationship and get closer to our bosses.
“There’s this thing about celebrity — it’s far away and don’t touch me and don’t take my photo. I’m not that guy,” he adds. “I wanna do something that’s a tug of a heart. That’s why I’m doing it.”
Simmons has an estimated fortune of $300 million, has been “comfortable for decades” and has merchandised everything from urinal cakes with pictures of his face on them to KISS condoms, caskets and customized Axe guitars. But the one-time manager of Liza Minnelli remains busy, with ventures ranging from the Rock & Brews chain of 19 restaurants he shares with KISS co-founder Paul Stanley to books, films and his own line of cola.
Does money remain his main motivation?
“Well, look, (Warren) Buffett gets up every day and goes to work,” he says. “You can’t use the ‘Look Warren, you’ve got enough money, why do you get up every day?’ excuse.”
“What the f— is he supposed to do? Wait to die? Once you reach a billion or whatever that number is, what do you do? Play golf all day? I’d hang myself.
“You can amass large fortunes, and that’s great and chicks are great and fame is great. All of it is great. But unless you’ve got some passion that makes you get up in the morning, you’re just going to lay there and wait to die. So don’t minimize money or fame or sexy stuff.
“But the most important thing is that I can’t wait to get up out of this self-induced coma, sleep — which is a f—ing worthless piece of time. Let me use my brain 24 hours a day. I’d rather a shorter life and be fully awake the whole time than a long life and be comatose for a third of it. Wouldn’t you? So that’s my spiel and I’m sticking to it.”
CHICAGO — To say that Farm Aid, the annual music festival fundraiser for family farms and farmers, “celebrated” its 30th anniversary this month at Northerly Island would be a bit of a misnomer.
Certainly, there were some festivities, as an impressive lineup of top musicians including Farm Aid founders Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp, Farm Aid board member Dave Matthews, rock band Imagine Dragons, R&B legend Mavis Staples and singer-songwriter Jack Johnson, provided nearly 12 hours of music, entertaining an estimated 27,000 in attendance at the FirstMerit Bank Pavilion on Sept. 19. But the truth of the matter is that 30 years after Nelson organized the first Farm Aid in Champaign, Illinois — raising more than $48 million towards the cause over the last three decades, excluding the most recent event — the plight of the U.S. farmer remains in crisis.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) lists the current number of U.S. farms at 2.2 million; it also admits that less than 1 percent of the country’s 313 million citizens “claim farming as a profession;” that farm production expenses average $109,359 per year per farm and that “fewer than 1 in 4 of the farms in this country produce gross revenues in excess of $50,000.” Foreclosures, deep debt, industrial agriculture muscling in and manipulating prices to the point where non- corporate agriculturalists are lowballed for less-than-market crop prices, and high-level stress that often leads to depression and suicide.
The situation is still dire, warned the non-profit charity’s co-founder Neil Young at the Farm Aid 30 press conference. “The American farm is disappearing. This is a reality,” Young stated. “We keep saying, ‘We’re fighting…we’re fighting,’ but it is disappearing.”
Young says a dearth of younger generation farmers isn’t helping the cause, especially when aging farmers hand over their livelihoods to their kin, only to watch it be sold to corporate interests. “We’ve only got a few young people involved. The farms are going to change hands. We know when the farms change hands; that’s when the corporations come in and grab another slice.”
Still, war wages on, fighting commercial behemoths like agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology giant, and genetic seed modifier Monsanto and Tyson Foods Inc., the world’s leading processors of poultry, pork and beef, two companies whose multi-billion-dollar deep pockets and alleged government collusion have transformed them into formidable foes, said Young, whose latest album The Monsanto Years particularly takes one company to task.
“We’re up against a gigantic force that keeps coming at us from everywhere,” Young stated. “It’s centered in our government, and it’s backed up by multinational corporations who have taken over the farmland of the United States, who produce 90 percent of the corn.”
Young says the latest crisis farmers are facing is “seed control.”
“Seeds are owned by these companies, so farmers can’t trade the seeds,” he explained. “Currently, there’s a bill in the Senate that, if it passes, will make it illegal to trade seeds farther than 3 to 5 miles.
“Because of our government and the money that they’re taking from the multinational corporations, we are being forced to give up the right for our farmers to trade seeds,” he added. “We need seed justice in this land.”
This public advocacy is one of the crucial differences Farm Aid has made in the lives of farmers: standing up for the little guy.
“The fact that Farm Aid even exists has given every farmer out there a stand against companies like Monsanto where they didn’t have one before,” country artist Jamey Johnson, who was performing at his eighth Farm Aid Festival, told Samaritanmag in an exclusive interview.
“If you don’t have a voice or a vote, there’s no way you can make anybody change. Farm Aid gives every farmer out there a platform to stand on while they make their case. Farm Aid helps farmers that get pushed out by ever growing corporate business and helps them make a new start on their own, helps them stand up against the Goliath.”
Besides offering hope, Farm Aid also supports farmers through third party administration with programs like The Family Farm Disaster Fund — which helps families survive weather-related disasters by providing emergency funds to buy food and cover living expenses, an emergency hotline and provides legal and financial counseling when foreclosure is threatened — and The Farmer Resource Network, a grid of 700 organizations recommended by Farm Aid that provides “resources, tools and opportunities to help (farmers) thrive.”
Every annual Farm Aid concert funds a year of activity, as artists and crews donate their time and talent, with all proceeds going to the cause save for a small amount of production expenses.
Here’s how it breaks down according to Farm Aid website: 41 percent of proceeds go toward promoting “fair farm policies and grassroots organizing campaigns to develop and bolster family farm-centered agriculture;” 39 percent goes toward “helping farmers thrive; providing farmers with the services and resources they need to access new markets and transition to more sustainable and profitable farming practices;” 14 percent to natural disaster and emergency response and 6 percent towards “growing the Good Food movement,” a crusade that espouses finding and shopping for organic, naturally grown farm food rather than the genetically altered stuff.
“When we started Farm Aid, crisis was gripping farm country,” said Willie Nelson, who launched the idea following a remark he heard from Bob Dylan at Live Aid regarding a similar charity for farmers, at the press conference. “Farm Aid called on America to stand up for family farmers. They showed up then and they’re still showing up. All different types of people are coming together for family farmers, and we’re making a difference.”
Farm Aid has also influenced other musicians to lead by example and make a difference.
Jack Johnson, and his wife Kim, for example, have implemented a healthy snack program via their Oahu-based Kõkua Hawai’i Foundation called AINA in 16 local schools, a farm-to-school initiative that promotes childhood health by pushing healthy eating habits, contributes to a healthier local food system by supporting Hawaii’s farming community and their produce, and connects children to the land and water that sustains them.
For this school year, AINA is in 16 schools across the state, where students will experience garden-based learning, compost and nutrition lessons.
“Basically, during the school hours you can come into the classroom with locally grown food,” Johnson explained. “We have parents come down in the morning, they cut it all up, it comes from the farmers, it gets put into the classrooms and kids get to taste it.
“Any kids who don’t want to finish it we get them to put it in a little bin, and we take that off to worm composting. They’re learning about how it goes back into the soil, and what healthy soil is, and we’re happy to be part of it.”
Jack Johnson told Samaritanmag that because his foundation is self-financed, there is a lot more flexibility and direct action in what they’re able to do.
“We’re pretty lucky with our Foundation, it’s all self-funded,” he admitted. “We’ve gotten some grants, but we’ve done music festivals that kind of support it and a lot of the touring I do, I pour money into it from there. So it’s been different than a lot of non-profits that have to rely off the grants, year after year. In that sense, the finances haven’t been a huge challenge but I know it’s been a challenge for other non-profit groups.”
For the Imagine Dragons, Farm Aid is an inspiration to change their eating habits. Guitarist Wayne Sermon, whose grandfather and father were farmers, said the band is doing its part to promote better eating by setting an example and actively searching out farm-to-table restaurants whenever they’re on tour.
“When I first started this band and we actually got successful, was when I first realized that I can’t eat the way I used to eat,” Sermon told Samaritanmag exclusively. “I have to eat fresh meat and vegetables, making sure knowing where my meat comes from, the non-GMO stuff. It became apparent and actually made a difference in my life. We also definitely encourage people to go out to grocery stores that support local farms as well.”
Even Micah Nelson, son of Willie and brother of Lukas, who fronted his own Insects Vs. Robots and joined Lukas’ Promise of the Real to perform with Neil Young at Farm Aid, said he’s going to Kauai this winter to help his cousin start a food forest. “I’m going to go help him out and learn as much as I can and apply it to my own life, instead of just going out there and preaching about it,” he said.
The fact that a trio of second generation artists, Micah and Lukas Nelson, and Ian Mellencamp, all performed at an event that initially took place either before they were born or just after, suggests that the Farm Aid will take the fight for the farmer well into the future.
* Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.
Wish you could play the electric guitar like Angus Young or pound the drums like Mike Bordin?
While they may not be able to guarantee you a spot in the AC/DC or Ozzy Osbourne camps, major music instrument manufacturers like Gibson and Yamaha are striving to bring you one step closer to realizing your dreams with their exclusive lines of signature, custom-made instruments.
“It is our finest stuff,” proclaims Henry Juszkiewicz, chairman and CEO of the Nashville-based Gibson Guitar Corp., whose product line also includes the familiar Epiphone, Kramer, Baldwin and Slingerland brands of musical instruments.
“Virtually every model that comes out of that business is hand-built because they’re constructed in very tiny quantities. They are the vanguard of our production line.”
And they appeal to the diehard fan, whether you’re an aspiring musician or an avid collector. With the right amount of cash, you can wail along to “You Shook Me All Night Long” on your Gibson Angus Young Signature SG electric guitar ($1900) or use your Yamaha Mike Bordin SD-6455 MB snare drum ($1079) to ride the rhythm of “Crazy Train.”
According to Joe Testa, artist relations of Yamaha Drums, the sound of a signature instrument is just as important as its appearance.
“When you’re talking about a signature snare drum, it’s supposed to capture the sound of that particular artist,” explains Testa, whose division imprints include customized products by renown drummers Manu Katché, Dave Weckl and Steve Gadd. “If you’re a fan of that artist, one would think that would help sell that drum. That’s the thinking behind it.”
Jimmy Chamberlin, the Smashing Pumpkins alumnus who recently launched a Yamaha signature snare drum of his own – the SD-2455JC ($699) – says reputation carries influence.
“One of my favorite drums to this day is an old Gene Krupa Radio King,” states Chamberlin.
“As soon as you hit it, you know it’s his drum. That’s what you do as a young drummer — you emulate your heroes. And anytime you can get your hands on some of their gear, it just gets you that much closer to the mark.”
Gibson’s Juszkiewicz estimates that custom and signature lines represent only a tiny fraction of his company’s annual sales of $300 million – “less than 5%” – but the product associations with such icons as Jimmy Page, Paul McCartney, Emmylou Harris and Earl Scruggs offer instant credibility.
“To have an artist like Paul McCartney or Jimmy Page associated with Gibson just reminds people of the quality,” says Juszkiewicz, “We acquire the professionalism and the musicianship of people like Les Paul — who at the age of 90 is still out playing every week — and B.B. King and Joe Pass, guys who are exquisite instrumentalists.
“Equally, the brand stands for excellence, and artists acquire some of that prestige through our relationship.”
But are they paid for that relationship?
“We don’t pay anybody to play Yamaha drums,” admits Joe Testa. “Never have. Once you do that, you dilute the whole meaning of an endorsement. It’s embarrassing to say, ‘We had to pay this guy to play our drums.’ Al Foster and Steve Gadd have been with Yamaha for 30 years because they really believe in the product.”
That’s not to say some financial consideration isn’t a factor. When Paul McCartney agreed to partner with Gibson to issue his Epiphone Signature Texan, the former Beatle only warmed to the idea as a charity fundraiser.
“When we presented it to Paul in the right way, which incorporated benefiting Adopt-A-Minefield, it really made sense to him,” says Pat Foley of Gibson Custom, Art And Historic, who liaised with the living legend on behalf of Epiphone.
“A signature guitar to him is an honor, but it’s not something he needs to add to his legend.”
When Serial No. 001 rolled off the production line 18 months and three prototypes later, Sir Paul auctioned the guitar and raised $50,000 for Adopt-A-Minefield.
An additional consumer incentive is the hands-on involvement of artists throughout the process. Jimmy Page personally selected and tested the first run of 25 Les Paul Honey Burst guitars – but not before spending years helping Gibson perfect the instrument.
“We did a Jimmy Page reissue that had a very unusual electrical set up involving a lot of switching,” Henry Juszkiewicz recalls. “Getting it right took the better part of four years to satisfy him.
“But we’re highly committed to ensuring that the instrument you buy is exactly the instrument the artist is playing. It takes a lot of work to do that.”
Juszkiewicz says a Gibson custom-made signature guitar is also a good value for investor: just recently, Christie’s auctioned a Gibson SG electric played by George Harrison for $567,500.
“On average our Gibson guitars have appreciated 12-17% annually,” says Juszkiewicz.
As far as signature artists are concerned, Jimmy Chamberlin says the advantages of his Yamaha association range from access to a community of musicians to a natural outgrowth of his current career.
“As time goes on and I’m touring less, I’d like to wrap my head around more developmental drums and get more into the Yamaha R&D department,” says Chamberlin, who premieres his signature snare on the Jimmy Chamberlin Complex’s upcoming album Life Begins Again.
“But the snare drum is just the tip of the iceberg. We’ll do more snare drums. Then ideally, I’d like to see a Jimmy Chamberlin kit down the road.”
When it wound down June 8 with a rare reunion of The Judds, the door closed on a 32-year tradition. Upon its return in 2004, the annual Nashville country music festival – which encourages fans to mingle with its stars – will be sporting a different name: the CMA (Country Music Association) Music Festival.
More troubling to hardcore country music fans, however, is the CMA’s new willingness decision to welcome non-country talent into the mix.
Although acts such as The Beach Boys and the soap opera casts of Days Of Our Lives and Passions have made Fan Fair appearances in the past, this official policy change – combined with few details regarding the transition – have put country fans on the defensive.
Worried that their premier country music festival is going to be distilled by an onslaught of non-country artists, distraught fans – and some industry professionals – have been flooding CMA offices with e-mails and phone calls expressing their concern.
Published comments by CMA executive director Ed Benson, describing the annual love-in as “an event any Nashvillian could come to and not feel like something was going to jump off on them and infect them” – inferring an unsophisticated stigma attached to the words “Fan Fair” – weren’t reassuring.
“They make us sound like a bunch of nose-picker, butt-scratcher country hicks,” complained Fan Fair attendee Annette Wood of Davenport, Iowa to The Tennessean.
But a yearly attendance drop, a decline in superstar attractions and continuing money losses have left the CMA grasping for solutions, clearly puzzled at its fizzling mandate to expand country music’s audience.
The first major step towards growth came in 2001, when the CMA relocated Fan Fair from the self-contained 24,000-seat Tennessee State Fairgrounds — its home since 1982 and a place where fan booths and artists exhibits were mere steps away from the concert venue, a converted racetrack — to downtown Nashville.
“When we made the move (downtown), it was a commitment by our board to say we’re going to build this event for the future,” Benson told The Tennessean.
Fan Fair was switched from a week to weekend festival, downsized from five to four days. Record label showcases shifted to the 66,000-seat capacity Coliseum for the evenings, and the much smaller Riverfront Park stages for weekdays. And booths where fans wait for autographs were transferred several city blocks away to the air-conditioned Nashville Convention Center.
However, these transitions came with a price to Fan Fair visitors. Camping, which kept costs economical for many tourists and added a social element to the outing, was banned. Admission prices were also jacked up: A $95 ticket that allotted you four nights and five days of country music, a free meal and – until it was scuttled in 1997 by Gaylord Entertainment – admission to their Opryland U.S.A. theme park, gave way to $115 tickets with no additional incentives.
Today, the top ticket for gold circle admission into the Coliseum for four days and nights of country music is $250 – a 211% increase from 2000 prices. If you’re 18 and under, you can pay as little as $86 to attend the festivities, although you’re denied gold circle access even if you have the money.
Other implemented changes have made artist accessibility more restrictive. Stages once within handshake reach of fans are now heightened and inaccessibly barricaded. Photo lines that formerly allow shutterbugs to watch shows while they waited to snap their cameras are now re-directed through Coliseum corridors.
And the lack of superstar talent hasn’t helped. Whether the switch to weekends, normally the most lucrative booking time for recording acts, has had an impact is questionable, but both the 2002 and 2003 lineups were woefully short on marquee headliners.
Although Garth Brooks is in semi-retirement and annual no-shows include superstars Shania Twain and George Strait, other regular visitors decided to skip this year’s event altogether. Among the missing: chart-toppers Tim McGraw and Faith Hill,Toby Keith and The Dixie Chicks, Reba McEntire, Trisha Yearwood and LeAnn Rimes, although Rimes did cancel a main-stage cameo duet with Vince Gill due to illness.
However, mid-level and up-and-coming artists such as Rascal Flatts, Tracy Byrd, Lee Ann Womack and Carolyn Dawn Johnson were also absent.
Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney, Brooks & Dunn, Martina McBride, Patty Loveless and Darryl Worley were among the headline acts played for free, accepting a reported $100,000 contribution to the charity of their choice in lieu of payment.
But even the majority of those acts skipped the opportunity to greet fans and sign autographs at the Nashville Convention Center. After Jo Dee Messina and Montgomery Gentry, familiar names were rare.
Others chose just to keep it private, appear at their own fan club parties which are scheduled to run concurrent with the festival.
As a result, Fan Fair attendance dropped 1.7% — from an announced “aggregate” headcount of 126,500 in 2002 to 124,300 in 2003 – with CMA officially laying blame on a faltering economy and post-Iraq war fallout.
In a separate Tennessean article, however, Benson revealed that Fan Fair, produced at a cost of $3 million, has been losing financial ground for years, with out-of-town attendance topping out at 21,000 visitors. In the same article, CMA associate director Tammy Genovese acknowledged that tourists rather than locals accounted for the majority of ticket sales.
Whether the CMA can stage a reversal of Fan Fair fortune under its new CMA Music Festival guise remains to be seen, but Benson clarified that its country music core will not be supplanted by other genres.
“Any celebrities or musical guests we invite to Fan Fair will have a tangible connection to country music and this lifestyle,” Benson explained.
”Our primary mission is always to grow country music. We don’t want to limit it.”
By excising the word “fan” from the equation, however, the CMA may have bitten off more than it can chew, alienating the very loyalists that have kept Fan Fair alive for more than three decades.
Keeping Score: The Rapidly Expanding Video Game Music Industry
With 2013’s fourth-quarter rollout of XBOX One and Playstation 4, the release of over 300 titles for a variety of platforms, including consoles, mobile and online play, and the record-setting pace of Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto V breaking the $1 billion sales barrier in just 72 hours, the current $66 billion global video-game industry shows no signs of disappearing anytime soon.
In fact, such trusted sources as DFC Intelligence and Forbes are forecasting video-game markets to substantially increase to $78 billion and $82 billion by 2017, leaving one to argue that music’s role in contributing to the bottom line of this visual medium is extremely vital, whether it’s been through soundtracks that have been assembled via song placements for titles like EA Sports’ perennially popular Madden or FIFA franchises, or scores delivered by respected composers like Martin O’Donnell for Bungie’s Halo and Russell Brower for Blizzard’s World of Warcraft and Diablo.
“Music is a lot of things to gaming,” explains Jordan Mechner, the legendary game designer responsible for creating Karateka – which was recently modernized — and the successful Prince Of Persia video game franchise.
“It’s absolutely critical, and often unjustly overlooked in favor of graphics, because people tend to talk about graphics first, sound second, but they’re both equal partners and critical parts of the players’ experience.”
Mechner says there are several hallmarks of good game music.
“As a player, the music is often the key part of the atmosphere,” he notes. “It can set a mood, and if it’s well done, eventually becomes inseparable from our memories of the game.
“From a game design point of view, music can also be a cue to the player, warning them that something’s about to happen, or subtly clue them as to whether they’re on the right or wrong track.
“And of course, music in games does all the things that music does in film: it reinforces the action; creates a feeling of tension and tells the story as well. Game music can have a kind of light motif approach where music represents particular characters and themes, so the story is actually being told through music.”
With USA Today reporting a 178 percent growth spurt in the composer and music director professions over the past decade, and the U.S. Bureau Of Labor and Statistics projecting a minimum of “32,000 new music or composer job openings due to growth and replacement needs will need to be filled over the next decade,” opportunities for video game music scorers are looking so rosy that even Sir Paul McCartney is trying his hand at scoring some of Bungie’s Destiny.
However, breaking into this lucrative field is easier said than done, and usually requires a mix of luck and fortuitous timing to accompany a composer’s dazzling skill set.
“I went to my five-year college reunion and ran into my old roommate,” recalls Christopher Tin, who won the first video-game related GRAMMY Award in 2010 for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) for “Baba Yetu,” a song he composed for the 2k Games and Aspyr partnership Civilization IV.
“He told me he had become a very prominent video game designer and asked me if I wanted to work on the game he was developing, which turned out to be Civilization IV. That’s the game I wrote ‘Baba Yetu’ for.”
For Austin Wintory, who received a precedent-setting Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media nomination last year for Thatgamecompany’s Journey, it was meeting and working with game designer Jenova Chen at the University Of Southern California.
“We were doing student games much likes student filmmakers, and one of those – flOw — ended up being one that exploded and set all the wheels in motion. Sony was just getting ready to launch Playstation 3 and were looking for ways to be different from Microsoft, their chief competitor, and asked us to remake flOw as a Playstation 3 game.”
Russell Brower, senior audio director at Blizzard who presides over a department of 42 employees, including three staff composers, says he just keeps his ears open.
“There was a composer (Edo Guidotti) on (World Of Warcraft’s) Mists Of Pandaria whose work I heard in an IMAX film while I was on vacation,” he remembers. “The film was great, but I walked out of there going, ‘Who did this music?’ I found out and two years later, he was working on Mists Of Pandaria with us. That’s the best way.”
Brower, a three-time Emmy Award winning sound designer who also keeps his hand in scoring, says he has a particular goal in mind when recruiting musical freelancers.
“It’s a very competitive market but what it really comes down to, is, can you tell a story with music?”
Prince of Persia’s Mechner says he starts his process by making a project wish list.
“We look at films and games we’ve admired, as a lot of composers now work in film, TV and game,” he explains. “We look at the demands of the project and try to find someone not only whose sensibility and style are privy to the project, but who also has the experience that’s needed for what we’re trying to do.
“For some projects, a composer whose experience is predominantly in film and linear media might be fine. For another project, we might need a composer like Christopher who has a deeper understanding of how music works in games and be able to create music that can be taken apart and recombined on the fly according to algorithms, something that traditional composers don’t have to deal with if they’re composing a single piece.”
Once the gig is secured, the role and scope of the music is determined by the project. If it’s a video game where the music is crucial as a storyline catalyst, usually the composer is brought in early, unlike film, where the music is often started and completed after the film has been locked.
“Scoring a film, you’re obviously working with a director, producer and the creative talent involved and you’re able to see the film when you’re scoring it,” notes Tin, who composes mainly from his home studio. “At times, when you’re working on a game, you don’t have much more than an Excel spreadsheet to tell you what you need to write. Basically, it’s almost like you’re relying on the audio lead and the in-house people to be your eyes and tell you what you need to do.
“When I score a game with an interactive score, I’m not the person plugging it into the audio engine and programming it. So I rely very heavily on the audio lead, usually from a staff member of the game developer. They sort of take my hand and walk me through what it is they need for the game and how it needs to work. In a lot of cases, I’ve basically put my trust in them, and I execute, musically, their technical needs.”
Another chief difference between film and game is the time factor, as video games often have more complex scoring demands, seeming as though they offer an infinite soundtrack.
“The solution that we’ve employed for decades is that we take a piece of music and make it loop eternally,” says Wintory, who took three years to write the music for Journey. “You can play Tetris for hours, and there’s 10 minutes of music that you hear tens of thousands of times. That’s a very clunky system, but it was a necessary step in the development of interactive audio.
“To be honest, I don’t know how much music I wrote for Journey. I’ll write a piece of music that could last 45 seconds, but it could also last three minutes depending on how it unfolds, because it’s not linear, traditional music. It’s written in a non-linear way, which is difficult for your brain to wrap around.”
“Everything that you write has to be modular, and it’s so piecemeal. It’s akin to actors acting in front of a green screen. That’s personally where the big challenge is for me. It’s like trying to paint a painting on jigsaw puzzle tiles, assembling the tiles later on and then hoping that what you’ve painted bears some resemblance to what you had in your mind when you started it.”
It’s also a medium where deadlines are tight, but loose enough for Russell Brower’s in-house Blizzard team to provide opportune feedback.
“I look at schedules and deadlines as a very constructive way to say, ‘hey, let’s set down our pencils for a few minutes, and look at each other’s work, or listen to each other’s work, and share it around the company,’” Brower explains. “We all spend some time every day, playing the games. And we’ll get comments about the music from character artists on the Diablo team, for a random instance. One of our maxims here at Blizzard is, “Every voice matters,” and we do listen.”
As far as the future of video game scoring is concerned, projects like Journey and Karateka that place music in the driver’s seat are opening a whole new world of interactivity.
“The music I composed for the recent update of Karateka was actually rhythm-based combat mechanic, so you had to listen to the music for cues on how to fight your enemy, and musically, it would give you hints and you’d have to tap in rhythms,” says Christopher Tin.
“I think that level of interactivity is not found on that wide of a scale, but I think we’re heading that way. There should be exciting developments in the way that music and sound can be implemented as audio engines get more sophisticated.”
Sidebar: Behind The Scenes of The Banner Saga
Austin Wintory’s Play-By-Play Rundown
Released February 25, 2013, The Banner Saga is a Viking-themed tactical video game developed by Stoic after raising Kickstarter funding of almost $725,000. GRAMMY-nominated composer Austin Wintory spent 18 months on the project and breaks down his involvement with the score.
“I was brought in essentially from day one, which meant we were having conversations over how it should feel and play long before anyone even saw it. It’s a Viking mythology-inspired, turn-based strategy game with hand-drawn animation in an Eyvind EarleSleeping Beauty style from the ‘60s. It’s exceptionally beautiful.”
“I’m writing music, in some cases, inspired by an e-mail description of what that part of the game is going to be like, before they’ve even designed the most fundamental architecture. Because I write the music first, they end up designing the game around the music. It’s not really step-by-step: I write music and then we put it in the game and we see if it’s working. The game is very rudimentary: missing graphics bugs, and you click on something that makes the game crash and you have to reboot your computer. It’s a work in progress.”
“With The Banner Saga, at some point you have to start committing to recording, and this being an orchestral score, I recorded The Dallas Winds — this big ensemble of winds, brass and percussion — in a Dallas concert hall. Later I added Lisbeth Scott on vocal and a solo violinist from Detroit named Taylor Davis. Usually I record at the last possible second, so if I want to keep revising the music, I can. Once it’s recorded, you can’t change it. “
The finish line:
“The developers of the game have heard everything that I’ve written. I make MIDI mock-ups on my computer that sound approximately like the final music, and we code them into the game. By the time I reach the finish line — when I have these finished, produced, fully-recorded, mixed and mastered recordings –we’re essentially switching them out with the original placeholder mock-ups.
“Once that’s done, we do our final mixing and then you spend another few months ensuring that it’s working how you want it to in the game. You really are just fine-tuning – making things a little louder or softer, play testing, and having strangers come and play the game. If problems arise, I can solve them by adding a little music here, or make it stop sooner, to clear the way for X, Y, Z. You feel it out as you go.”
When aging actors and actresses need a sip from the fountain of youth to sustain their Hollywood dreams, they call their plastic surgeons for a little nip n’ tuck.
But when record companies or artists need to revitalize a classic album and freshen up its sound, it’s the mastering engineer who is the expert on their speed-dial, specifically for remastering purposes.
It’s a popular practice, highlighted over the past year with the re-release of the nine-album Led Zeppelin catalogue, overseen by Jimmy Page, as well as both vintage and contemporary titles revived and rejuvenated by the 75th anniversary of Manhattan’s Blue Note Records.
In fact, anniversaries seem to be as good excuse as any to revisit some old classics: those undergoing the sonic knife over the past 15 months include Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road;Soundgarden’s Superunknown;Stan Getz/Joao Gilberto’s Getz/Gilberto;Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s Not Fragile; Eric Clapton’s 461 Ocean Boulevard, There’s One In Every Crowd and E.C. Was Here; The Who’s Tommy; Prince’s Purple Rain, Bryan Adams’ Reckless and Bon Jovi’s New Jersey.
The retooling process also extends to catalogues as well, as noted by last year’s 16-disc compilation Joe Satriani, The Complete Recordings and the ongoing Blue Note series presided over by label president Don Was that commenced almost a year ago with the March 25, 2014 reissues of Art Blakey’s Free For All, Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil, John Coltrane’s Blue Train, Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch and Larry Young’s Unity.
Some of those key titles not only arguably sound better, but are enhanced by such bonus fare as previously unreleased material, alternate takes, live performances and other extras designed to make fans salivate and hopefully reach into their wallets to buy an album they already have in one, two or three configurations.
But first and foremost, it’s about better sound for today’s technology. With advances in both the music industry and recording fields, ranging from studio equipment to the evolution of formats that began with vinyl and analog tape and have shifted to digital options that include the MP3, MP4, AAC, WAV, AIFF, FLAC and DSD/DFF, as well as bit-rates that have jumped from 16 to 24, via computer and Internet, it’s no wonder Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page felt compelled to revisit his band’s 200-million-plus selling discography.
“It (mastering) was done for vinyl, back in the ’60s and ’70s, and then 20 years ago it was redone and remastered for CD,” explained Page at the New York press conference last May to promote the revamped catalogue.
“Now we’ve got so many different formats out there that it made sense to revisit the studio albums and do those.”
Page, who personally remastered each of his band’s nine studio albums and converted them into 24-bit hi-definition files, says he wasn’t thrilled with previous remasters.
“CDs were put out of that material from copy tapes, and they weren’t very good, to be honest with you, so that’s why the original master tapes were brought back out again and remastered,” says Page, 71.
“That was 20 years ago, so [now] you’ve got all the new digital formats that there are. The process has changed as far as mastering because now you’ve got other areas and elements to fill. Even with the remastering and cutting on vinyl, there have been so many steps and progressions to improve the overall (sound), if you like.”
Even before they get started, engineers can face daunting obstacles – missing, misplaced or destroyed tapes; some types of audiotape where they’ve become worn or decayed over the years, forcing engineers to try to physically repair the original master.
Ironically, while sourcing through materials that are over 45 years old, tape degradation was the one thing Jimmy Page didn’t have to worry about.
“The condition of it was absolutely magnificent, “ Page enthuses. “I didn’t have to do any sort of restoration work on that, apart from maybe a little edit might come out and you’d replace the editing tape. However, the In Through The Out Door album had been recorded on this new format tape — and you’ve probably heard about tape shredding and all of that, which means the oxide comes off and you have to bake them– so fortunately there wasn’t a lot of work that needed to be done past In Through The Out Door.”
Arguably, some titles have had their sound spruced up to the point of overkill – take Pink Floyd’s classic Dark Side Of The Moon, for example; a work which has undergone the process no less than a handful of times.
“Record companies remaster to try to get more money out of the catalogue to turn the catalogue, and thus, the artist as well,” surmises veteran mastering engineer Bob Ludwig, a seven-time GRAMMY winner who has won for his work with Daft Punk and Mumford & Sons on 2013’s and 2012’s Album of the Year, Random Access Memories and Babel, respectively. “I don’t think there’s that many titles where the fans are begging the artist to redo it.”
But Ludwig, who is based in Portland, Maine, owns Gateway Mastering, and counts such multi-million sellers as Led Zeppelin II and Houses Of The Holy; Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing and AC/DC’s Back In Black as some of the 1300-plus titles he’s mastered since 1969, allows for exceptions.
“I’ve just remastered most of the early Bruce Springsteen catalogue for iTunes, and the first two titles, Greetings From Asbury Park and The Wild. The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle, fans had been asking for those for quite awhile.
“Those were originally done when CDs first came out – I did the original U.S. masters of those CDs in ’84, but they were made in Japan and done from the analog cassette copy masters.”
Ludwig says improved technology has made remastering more appealing.
“The quality of (analog-to-digital) converters that we use now is so much better than the early digital converters,” states Ludwig. “And there’s so much gear that’s been invented.”
In turn, better equipment, both at the source end and what you hear through the speakers, promotes a greater accuracy in the mix.
“When you create the final master, the idea is to make it sound as good as it can possibly be sounding over an excellent system,” says Ludwig. “The more accurate you make it, and the more accurate it sounds on an excellent system, the better it sounds on a wider range of things out there in the world.”
Another reason for aurally revisiting a catalogue may be artist preference, says John Cuniberti, who spent two years remastering the 16-disc set Joe Satriani: The Complete Studio Recordings.He says sometimes it’s just the benefit of hindsight that serves as a remastering catalyst.
“A lot of times the artist might wish the mastering might have been done differently,” says Cuniberti, a Grammy winner who has mastered albums for Dave Matthews, Aerosmith,Tracy Chapman and The Grateful Dead. “Sometimes when you lead a mixing project and it goes right to master because you have a deadline to meet, it’s really hard sometimes to be objective about the mastering process. You’re pretty burned out on it. You don’t even want to hear it, generally. “
“In fact, that’s one of the reasons why you turn it over to a mastering engineer is a good idea after you’ve spent weeks or months mixing so they can provide that service. It’s so they will have an objective ear. So if you’ve lived with your record for 10 years, you might go, ‘maybe we can try something different.’”
In Satriani’s case, where different mastering engineers handled his albums over the years, Cuniberti says the timing to offer one cohesive sonic overview was never better.
”When we first started having the conversation about remastering, I said, ‘We have an opportunity here that we’re not ever going to have again: to present the entire catalogue and remaster it as one whole piece rather than just giving people the already mastered discs in a box,’” Cuniberti recalls.
“We can create a consistency in level and quality right from the first record.”
Cuniberti says Satriani’s recorded career overview was also a chance to rectify an embarrassing development in the history of remastered recordings: The Loudness Wars.
“Over the past 15-20 years, the (44.1/16-bit) CD has been getting louder and louder,” Cuniberti explains. “This has been largely due to the necessity to stand out amongst the crowd. Originally, the record companies were encouraging it. The artists, maybe their egos got in the way, and they wanted their record to be at least as loud as so-and-so’s, and so-and-so needed to make their record a little louder, and it produced what we call the ‘Loudness Wars.’
“The audio quality and the sound of the mix ultimately would suffer from that process.
“Now we have the opportunity to go and back off some of the limiting and processing that was taking place to fight that war, and really look at the album more aesthetically.”
Gavin Lurssen of Hollywood-based Lurssen Mastering notes that delivering the right sense of nostalgia as a remastering engineer is something that should also be taken into account, as it takes great skill.
“When you’re living in 2014, we have mobile devices and electronic billboards and all kinds of crazy information entering our brains at light speed,” says Lurssen, who mastered 2001 Album of the Year GRAMMY winner O Brother Where Art Thou? and 2008’s similarly rewarded Raising Sand by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. “But there’s always, as in the case in human nature, an ability and a desire to reminisce.
“So when you present something to somebody that was once a part of their lives, in some kind of cleaned-up fashion, you have to present it to them in a way that makes it feel like it felt back at that time, and combine it also to some degree — dependent on the vintage of the project — with the standards of today in order to create that feeling.
“Generally there is a lot more dynamic range on older recordings so it is important to respect that and thus the level wars are less of an issue in this line of work, “ Lurssen adds. “I’ve even seen cases in which this approach has helped pull current artists out of the overall level push when they see what can come of it. It’s all about being exposed to it, which is among the good reasons the labels are doing it.”
Barak Moffitt, Universal Music’s Head Of Strategic Operations, and the executive who oversees Capitol Studios and Mastering, says the respect that Lurssen mentions is tantamount to the Blue Note 75th Anniversary Remastering project.
“We’re trying to get a balance between what’s directly on the tape and what happened in that room, and the emotional connection that people found in that original vinyl release, where the public sentiment and the original sentiment around the music was attached,” he explains.
“And again, now that studio technology has hi-definition capabilities, we’re taking care to maintain as much information that’s in the original material as possible, while maintaining as much of the emotional connection to the original release as possible.”
Moffitt says that also involved preserving the integrity of the original masters wherever possible; a task the label took extremely seriously.
“Our first concern was to respect our responsibility as stewards of these original masters,” Moffitt explains. “So we developed what we call sort of these white-glove protocols around our tape-handling procedures, and how we manage the actual physical assets in and out of the vaults.
“We also wanted to make sure that throughout the two-stage process –retrieving the actual analogue assets from the vault, and then transferring them into the digital world in hi-definition for historical preservation – we took great care to preserve as much information that’s in the analog domain in the digital space as possible, given current studio technologies.
“We also took great care to engineer our signal processing chain, all the way from what kind of power cables we were using to what analog-to-digital converters we were using to the tape machines, the kind of software we were using, again with sort of the aim of maintaining the highest fidelity possible given today’s studio technology capabilities in the transfer from analog into the digital domain.”
From there, Moffitt says the results were then placed in the very capable hands of Bernie Grundman and his staff of Scott Sedillo and Beno May for both digital and vinyl purposes.
Of course, before an album can be remastered, it has to be mastered, a process that three-time GRAMMY winner and Blue Note Records president Don Was describes as “frosting on the cake.”
“Musicians and engineers spend a whole lot of time getting the cake right, but most people don’t want to be served cake without the frosting on it,” he laughs. “But it’s a question of degrees of the frosting. You’ve got to have a light hand, basically.
“If you have something that’s badly recorded and mixed, a mastering engineer can come in and give it shape and dimension and depth by adding EQ and compression and other mojo to it, making sure the levels work and the spacing between songs is right — and then getting it into the medium from which it can be manufactured.”
Was maintains that like every musician and producer that works on an album, the mastering engineer leaves his unique fingerprint on the recording as well.
“Every mastering engineer has got their own gear and set-up, and that set-up has a sound to it.”
And that introduces another challenge: maintaining the integrity of the original mastering engineer’s work.
“Let’s take the Blue Note remasters for example: Rudy Van Gelder, the legendary engineer who recorded most of the classic Blue Note Records, mixed directly to stereo on quarter-inch tape,” Was explains. “There was no multi-track tape, so he mixed live. So the music went down and it came out mono or stereo and that was it – there was no going back to remix it.
“He also mastered, and the way he mastered that day has a certain quality to it and it’s definitely different from when you hear what’s on the master tape.”
When it came to the initial listens of remastered works that had been converted to hi-def and transferred to digital at the 96k/24-bit and 192 k/24-bit rates, Was noticed that the music felt different than how he remembered it.
Was says Van Gelder pre-emptively mastered the record for vinyl to ensure there would be no technical glitches when consumers played them on their home audio equipment.
“Rudy mastered for vinyl: he added some and some EQ, just so the phonograph needle wouldn’t skip and certain sonic peaks wouldn’t mess with the needle,” says Was.
“In doing that, he altered the sound and that’s the sound everybody knows and loves.”
When it came to updating Van Gelder’s work for today’s format, Was says the label was placed in “a moral and ethical quandary.”
“Who are we to editorialize on this stuff, 50 years after the fact?” said Was. “What is the standard by which you remaster to? And we decided that the original vinyl was the standard: that’s what everybody decided who was involved – (Blue Note co-founder) Alfred Lyon, the musicians we decided to put out into the world: that’s what people bought and that’s what people loved. So we tried as closely as we could to master with the goal of returning to the original sound of the first pressings.”
Double GRAMMY winner Bernie Grundman (Album of the Year for OutKast’s 2003 gem Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and 2007’s Herbie Hancock’s star-studded tribute to Joni Mitchell, River: The Joni Letters), tasked with remastering the majority of Blue Note titles, confirms that vinyl sets up its own challenges.
“Vinyl doesn’t sound like the lacquer that goes to the factory,” he notes. “The medium itself changes it, and the processes it goes through when you’re making the vinyl actually changes the sound. It’s not the same as making a tape copy because that’s a re-recording process. With the vinyl, it’s not re-recorded, but it is transferred to metal through electroplating, and that actually affects the sound. So a vinyl disc does not sound like the tape or the lacquer. Once it comes back from the factory, you can tell the difference: It is warmer and it tends to take on a ‘bassier’ sound.”
For the Blue Note project, Grundman built his own console.
“It’s a simplified, more straightforward board, with the functions we needed to simulate a lot of the things they did on the Blue Note albums.” says Grundman, who started his Bernie Grundman Mastering business in Hollywood and has since expanded to Tokyo. “So it bypasses completely our normal chain and toes right from the tape machine through very simplified electronics right to the computer.”
Oh, and Grundman, who is making Blue Note archived copies rated at 96/24 and 192/24, also built – or, in his terms, “hot-rodded” – the computer.
“It may be the cleanest-sounding computer in the industry, “ declares Grundman, who estimates he’s worked on over 70 Blue Note 75th Anniversary titles. “I don’t know if anything could match it, because I don’t think anyone has ever gone inside a computer and done some of the things we did.”
Virtually all remastering gurus agreed that when it comes to adjusting their approach for today’s formats, most don’t.
However, Bob Ludwig contends that digital remastering for iTunes is a slightly different beast.
“It’s not an equalization or compression thing, “Ludwig explains. “It’s a process of lowering the level into the encoder for the AAC file, and by lowering the level into the encoder, Apple has showed us that it creates much less distortion and can make a much more accurate encode to the point where a well made mastered-for-iTunes file sounds closer to the 24-bit master, than the 16-bit compact disc does.“
Mastering engineers spend a lot of time sifting through source material, sometimes contending with lost masters, studying copious notes made at the time of the recording, but in the end, if the job is done right, it’s worth it.
Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page says that when you get remastering right, it unlocks a door to the past and provides historical perspective.
“When you’ve got a chance to really listen to all of it, it gives a window — it’s like a portal — into that time capsule of when each album was recorded, “ he says. “And that gives you a really good taste. It works all the way right through the catalog.”
Blue Note’s Don Was says his exercise is one of passing it forward, to hopefully garner the music an introduction to some younger fans.
“At age 62, I find the music still means a lot to me.,” says Don Was. “This is what I listen to, to recharge myself, to feel good. I read this interview with Bob Dylan where he said that the job of the artist is not to tell you how they feel, but to put you in touch with your own feelings. And that line really stuck with me, because that’s what the Blue Note music does to me.
“I hope that in doing the reissues in this way, that there are some new fans of the music who will be able to enjoy the same experience and carry this music with them for another 50 years.”
Tim McGraw and Faith Hill have not only experienced the sweet smell of success, they’ve bottled it.
Country music’s first couple has a couple of new scents on the market — Faith Hill Parfums is her first and Southern Blend is his second — and they are just two of the music celebrities that have been tapped by Coty Inc., the world’s largest fragrance manufacturer with annual net sales of approximately $4 billion.
The list of artists sporting one or more of their own perfume or cologne brands run from the obvious (Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, and Gwen Stefani) to the enterprising (Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Jay-Z and Usher) to the unexpected (rapper Daddy Yankee, guitar shaman Carlos Santana and cosmetic rockers KISS).
The fragrance industry also seems to be impartial to genre, with American soprano Renée Fleming, pop/punk princess Avril Lavigne, hip-hop icon Queen Latifah and influential innovator Prince all offering aromatic toiletries for public consumption.
Why are stars so keen to extend their aural appeal to the nasal? Well, there’s the obvious answer: money. Fashion newspaper Women’s Wear Daily speculates that Beyoncé‘s upcoming Coty fragrance will be one of 2010’s most-anticipated spring debuts and could earn her $20 million over three years.
Karen Grant, vice president and global beauty industry analyst for the NPD Group, says helping to create a representative scent can be another expressive outlet.
“Sometimes celebrities say, ‘We’re not just about making another record,’ so being associated with a fragrance is a statement saying, ‘We’re an artist. We’re looking at this as an expression of our artistic talent.’
“It’s a great way to earn huge recognition across the country. And fans, who may not have the new album, can have a little piece of that celebrity as well.”
In many cases, it’s an affordable piece of celebrity. A 1.7-ounce bottle of McGraw’s Southern Blend — described as “a vibrant burst of grapefruit, star anise, and bergamot” that also incorporate touches of lavender, violet leaves, whiskey accord, vetiver, fresh amber, and tobacco to “create the ideal fragrance for the true Southern gentleman” — can be purchased in department stores or online for a suggested retail price of $30.
As Grant notes, this can be very appealing to fans. “If you’re a huge Britney follower, you’d want the scent as well as the albums,” she says.
It was Spears — along with Lopez and her fragrance Glow — who accelerated the trend of companies recruiting contemporary music stars to invent and introduce new fragrances when she entered the market in 2004 with the Elizabeth Arden brand Curious, which earned $100 million in sales within weeks of its release.
“Those two were such huge hits, really, that they helped to ignite this whole trend of associating the musician with these fragrances,” Grant explains. “So I think that’s when both the musicians as well as the manufacturers began to look and say, ‘This seems like it could be a winning lineup.'”
And it’s certainly been victorious for Spears. Women’s Wear Daily reports that more than 10 million bottles of Curious, Fantasy and In Control have been sold since 2005, and Spears has expanded her franchise this year with the additions of Circus Fantasy and Hidden Fantasy.
Since then, approximately 40 artists from Shania Twain to Hilary Duff have taken the plunge, with hit fragrances — like music — tracked weekly by Nielsen SoundScan.
So how do pop and rock stars come to release fragrances?
Steve Mormoris, senior vice president of global marketing at Coty Beauty (whose musical clients besides Hill and McGraw include Celine Dion, Lopez, Kylie Minogue, Stefani, and Twain), says his company approaches artists based on a number of criteria, including role model potential, someone who “holds high values” and how much they embody the essence of femininity or masculinity.
In all cases, he says Coty is looking for a long-term relationship and an artist “who wants to become involved with the fragrance” from development through execution.
With estimated launch costs of “not less than $2 million,” on the line, Mormoris says extensive market research is conducted before a brand is launched. “We don’t put out a fragrance until we’re absolutely certain it’s going to be a success,” he explains, adding that celebrities are usually paid on a royalty basis as opposed to a flat fee as an incentive, “ensuring that artists are involved for the life of the product.”
Mormoris says hits are determined by sales-generated value and market share percentage, rather than number of units sold, and that the average celebrity scent has a shelf life of five to 10 years.
“The exceptions are Stetson and Elizabeth Taylor‘s White Diamonds, which has been the no. 1 fragrance for the past 20 years,” notes Mormoris. “They’re exceptions to the rule.”
While celebrity popularity can drive fragrance sales, packaging also plays a crucial role.
“As new celebrity fragrances come out and they encompass novelty in design and fun, they still do well,” says Grant. “For example, Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Lovers collection was among the best sellers in 2008.
“We do see that younger consumers do tend to resonate with packaging more as well. Since these celebrity fragrances do tend to be more popular with the younger consumer, it’s usually a pretty winning formula.”
Still, there are signs that the celebrity fragrance market may be waning. NPD Group recently reported a 10 percent drop in prestige fragrance retail sales for the first half of 2009.
If sales are flagging, Mormoris hasn’t noticed.
“I keep hearing about it,” laughs Mormoris, who names the Dion and Minogue fragrance lines as two of Coty’s best performers. “But I haven’t seen it.”
(Nick Krewen is a Toronto-based journalist who has written for The Toronto Star, TV Guide, Billboard, Country Music and was a consultant for the National Film Board’s music industry documentary Dream Machine.)
Music’s Selling Power MUSIC PROVIDES AN INTEGRAL BACKGROUND IN THE SENSORY BRANDING INDUSTRY
July 07, 2011 — 4:41 pm PDT
Nick Krewen / GRAMMY.com
It was once known — and snidely regarded — as “elevator music.”
But 77 years after it was first introduced, Muzak, and other forms of business-applicable music, is considered to be an integral part of the rising sensory branding industry, which engages consumers to improve their retail experience through their five senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound.
As a 1982 study by Loyola University marketing professor R.E. Milliman concluded, the introduction of music in a retail environment — and even a change of the music’s tempo — can favorably boost the bottom line, finding that retail outlets that offered slow-paced music increased their average sales by approximately 40 percent.
A 1991 study commissioned by Muzak Holdings LLC also yielded similar results, noting that low arousal music in a retail environment resulted in an 18.9 percent spike in impulse purchases, while audio advertising influenced more than 80 percent of all buying decisions.
Lorne Abony, CEO and chairman of Mood Media Corporation, an in-store media specialist that purchased Muzak Holdings LLC in May for a cool $345 million, says advertisers have taken notice of the impulsive impact music can have on consumers.
“We provide the background or foreground music to 470,000 locations the world over, for some of the most advanced, cool brands, from Nike to Guess,” says Abony, whose Toronto-based company has acquired Somerset Entertainment (home to the nature-driven Solitudes recordings), Muzak competitor Trusonic and Finland’s Pelika Business Music Oy.
“The perception really has changed: music really helps our customers sell more. It creates an environment that is conducive and consistent with their brand.”
The music in retail environments has also changed, transforming from the syrupy, orchestrated instrumental covers of hits — coined as “elevator music” during the skyscraper construction boom in the late ’20s and ’30s to reflect the piped-in melodies that would keep elevator passengers calm as they ascended and descended the building — to a current library of 2.8 million songs, many of them contemporary hits licensed directly from artists and their record companies.
As marketing techniques become more sophisticated, the dismissive derision is now giving way to a newfound respect as Mood Media and numerous corporate players such as the Applied Media Technologies Corporation, InStore Broadcasting Network, DMX, PlayNetwork, and Sirius XM Radio vie for their own slice of the estimated $2 billion sensory branding industry.
The appeal of sensory branding is easy to understand: the customer base covers such diverse markets as retail (food, fashion, cosmetics), hospitality, leisure, financial institutions, telecommunications, and fast food restaurants.
Aside from the bottom line bump, frequent selling points for most vendors include uninterrupted music free of DJ chitchat, commercials and station IDs; minimum-fuss delivery modes (Internet, satellite or on-premise media); more than 100 program choices; screened lyrics; paid music licenses to performing rights societies, and a reasonable subscription fee as low as $25 per month.
And providers claim their services bring other benefits such as customer retention and stress reduction, as well as competitive advantage and increased employee productivity.
Of course, Major General George Owen Squier, who invented the Muzak concept through his Cleveland-based Wired Radio Inc. back in 1934, had an inkling there was a market to be exploited.
Gucci Timepieces & Jewelry recently teamed up with The Recording Academy for a partnership that will entail the GRAMMY Museum analyzing and preserving an archive of more than 20,000 unearthed original Muzak recordings, revealing the company’s — and the industry’s — impressive, historic legacy.
Along the way, Muzak introduced and pioneered such concepts as “stimulus progression” — a system providing people with a psychological “lift” through programming sound in 15-minute blocks, determining stimulus by tempo, rhythm, instrumentation, and orchestra size — and “audio architecture,” which customizes the piped-in or pre-programmed music to reflect individual business needs.
Within the past decade, audio messaging has been added into the mix, with impressive results. A 2004 study conducted by media research firm Arbitron Inc. discovered that 70 percent of shoppers who heard retail audio advertisements found them to be helpful with their shopping experience, with 41 percent of them making an impulse purchase, and 37 percent making an unplannedpurchase of a product from a brand other than what they had in mind.
With this aural ammunition operating so effectively and efficiently when it comes to encouraging consumers to open their wallets, companies such as Mood Media, now working with more than 800 retail chains in more than 30 countries worldwide, predict a bullish future in sensory branding, especially where music is concerned.
“We see this as a very exciting, very rapidly growing market,” says Abony.
Singers For Hire ACTS FORGE AHEAD WITH NEW VOCALISTS AND ENJOY NEW SUCCESSES
October 08, 2009 — 12:00 am PDT
Nick Krewen / GRAMMY.com
At the apex of Styx’s popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, many of the Chicago rockers’ Top 10 hits came from a single songwriting source.
Not only did cofounder Dennis DeYoung pen such Styx hits as “Lady,” “Babe,” “Come Sail Away,” and “Mr. Roboto,” but his signature vocals played a considerable role in the band obtaining significant radio exposure and amassing catalog album sales of more than 17 million units.
Today, however, those attending a Styx concert won’t be serenaded by DeYoung, who left the band after an acrimonious split in 1999, but by Lawrence Gowan, a Canadian vocalist/songwriter.
Just don’t call Gowan a replacement singer.
“I would definitely balk at the term,” says Gowan. “I’m into my 11th year, and we’ve played over 1,500 shows at this point. I joined this band not under the auspices of replacing anybody, but because they needed a new member. I’ve played more shows with the band than the former lineup.”
In light of Gowan’s addition, Styx has undergone a transformation and although some DeYoung songs are still performed, notably absent from the set list is “Babe.” “Dennis made a very strong point of saying that’s a song he wrote for his wife, so I feel that’s his song and he should sing it,” Gowan explains.
“It’s so much more a true, classic rock band now,” says Gowan of the new lineup, which includes cofounders Chuck Panozzo and James “J.Y.” Young, veteran member Tommy Shaw and relative newcomers Ricky Phillips and Todd Sucherman.
If longtime fans are complaining about DeYoung’s absence, they certainly aren’t showing it at the box office: Styx is in the midst of a 2009 North American tour, playing everything from casinos and theaters to outdoor sheds and festivals. And in 2004, Styx, along with tourmates Journey and REO Speedwagon, grossed more than $17.2 million over 43 concert dates.
Speaking of Journey, the multi-platinum band now features Filipino lead vocalist Arnel Pineda, their third singer since Steve Perry departed in 1996. With Pineda fronting hits such as “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Open Arms” and “Any Way You Want It,” Journey emerged as one of Billboard’s Top 20 moneymakers in 2008 raking in $44.8 million, just short of Taylor Swift but ahead of Billy Joel, Mary J. Blige and Kanye West. A new studio album, Revelation, debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 in June 2008.
Interestingly, Pineda says that one of the reasons he was hired was to ghost Perry’s sound.
“We have to make sure the hard-core fans will be satisfied listening to the songs,” said Pineda during an interview with the Marin Independent Journal. “They’re so used to Steve Perry’s voice, so we have to be really close to how Steve Perry has done it. That’s the hardest part.”
A number of bands have flourished in the wake of vocalist departures. After the tragic death of Bon Scott in 1980, Australian rockers AC/DC bounced back with Englishman Brian Johnson and scored the biggest-selling album of its career with Back In Black. British progressive rockers Genesis survived the post-Peter Gabriel doldrums with such platinum sellers as Duke, Abacab, Genesis, and Invisible Touch, thanks to the seamless integration of Phil Collins as lead singer.
And Van Halen lost no momentum when Sammy Hagar replaced the ostentatious David Lee Roth for 1986’s 5150, and continued to sell millions of albums and fill stadiums throughout the world into the 1990s.
Whether the departure of a singer is amicable or acrimonious, vocalists are usually the biggest risk factor in determining whether a group can survive the adjustment.
“It really depends on the individual act,” says Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of Pollstar magazine. “Some of them are surprisingly successful, especially when you consider that the lead singer may well have been the focal point of the band.”
More recently, ’90s rock act Alice In Chains forged ahead with new co-vocalist/guitarist William DuVall. The group has released its first new album following the death of original lead vocalist Layne Staley in 2002, Black Gives Way To Blue, which debuted this week at No. 5 on the Billboard 200. The re-emergence of Alice In Chains began with a series of concerts in 2006, all with the blessing of Staley’s family. DuVall, a friend and collaborator of founding guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell’s for almost 10 years, was invited to participate and eventually found his place in the band.
“They lost a brother, but they gained a brother…. And I gained a new family,” DuVall told the Associated Press. “I think when people see it and they see the truth in it, it presents a profound metaphor for how all of us can rise above tragedy if we choose to.”
Whether it’s nostalgia or the music that drives the fans’ continued support in the face of these major personnel changes, Bongiovanni says there’s one common element these acts deliver in order to thrive and survive.
“The ability to put on a good live show,” he says. “That’s really key — and provide a satisfying experience for their fans.”
Gowan certainly feels that the live experience is largely responsible for Styx’s continued success. “I think every single audience member has a different agenda, but if they have one thing in common, it would be that they want the concert to take them to a different place then they were when they walked into the door,” says Gowan. “That’s probably my best contribution to the band so far. We are such a live entity, and people are looking for a great concert experience, and we are able to provide them with that. I know we can deliver every night.”