Music is a relief right now. Life is conducted via video, and a stranger’s sneeze could be the end of the world as you know it, but music is like the spinning top in Inception — it’s our way of knowing we’re still in this reality. But like everything else in 2020, music is going through a transformation, from how we consume it to how artists break out. Today’s Daily Dose offers a peek into the latest industry developments, the major players and what to expect going forward. And as you digest these tunes this Thanksgiving, don’t forget those who are struggling with hunger: You can donate here.
Joshua Eferighe, Reporter
1. Machine Learning
While this may leave music purists waving their fists, machines are the future. Imagine better recommendations, more people making music or live geo-blocked events — machine learning does all of that and more. With algorithms making decisions and predicting outcomes, the machines will transform the medium forever.
We’re not talking The Terminator here. More like generative music — or music created by algorithms and computer systems. Last August, Sony CSL Paris unveiled an artificial intelligence tool that adds kick-drum beats to preexisting songs. Lil Miquela, a computer-generated 19-year-old Brazilian American model and influencer, has more than 2.8 million Instagram followers, and Mubert, founded in 2015 as the world’s first generative streaming service, now has 10 million users per month.
The past couple of years have been groundbreaking for women in music. Ariana Grande was the first artist to hold the top three Billboard 100 spots since the Beatles in 1964, Billie Eilish became the youngest artist nominated for all four of the top Grammy Awards in 2019, and Lizzo broke the record for the longest-running No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 by a solo female rapper. You can credit heightened social consciousness or momentum from the 2017 Women’s March, but it’s happening in unlikely places overseas as well, such as the rise of female techno artists in the Middle East.
Live-streamed musical events have become a fixture in our new COVID-19 world, as artists get creative in how they stay connected with their fan bases. There have been some who will perform from the comfort of their home, while others, like electronic artist Marc Rebillet or The Avett Brothers, who are performing at drive-in venues. You like raving, you say? Well, even that’s possible now too — VR rave technology is here, and it’s only getting better.
With groups ranking high across four different Billboard charts globally, it’s safe to say Korean pop has become a force to reckon with. In 2019, the all-boy K-pop band BTS had three No. 1 albums, and this year managed to set a new record by attracting more than 101 million views within 24 hours for their latest music video, “Dynamite.” According to a 2019 survey on the popularity of K-pop worldwide, 37.5 percent of respondents stated that K-pop was “very popular” in their country. It’s even taken over Algeria, where young people have taken to dressing like K-pop stars, integrating Korean phrases into their everyday speech and using placards with BTS lyrics during political protests.
Music is becoming easier to make. Tools like GarageBand, Splice, BeatStars and others can turn a kid in their bedroom into a global superstar producer. Once you factor in how easy it is to distribute thanks to the digital age, it’s a wonder why everyone doesn’t give music a shot. Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” was made using a beat he bought on a website for $30. Now the song is a diamond-selling record, topping 10 million units sold. Another example is Baha Bank$, who went from participating in a social media hashtag challenge for fun to having a full-fledged rap career including a song with Chance the Rapper.
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Analytics can be a divisive topic in sports like the NBA, but when it comes to the music industry, numbers don’t lie. Last year, services like Spotify, Pandora and Apple took their data analytics platforms up a notch, boosting their streaming services to mine detailed insights of their artists’ releases using metrics such as listener demographics, playlist inclusion trends, Shazam popularity and iTunes sales data. With this information, artists can do everything smarter — from picking where to perform to which songs to play.
2. The Time Is Now
If ever there were a time to roll the dice on your pipe dream of becoming a music star, it’s now. Worldwide major platform distribution can happen immediately via options like Bandcamp (although the company takes a cut of sales) and CD Baby. Streaming revenues soared to $4.68 billion in the first half of 2020. And while streaming platforms continue to use a pro-rata systemthat skews money toward top artists, clevermusicians are finding fresh revenue streams. Rapper Travis Scott is a great example: He’s partnered with McDonald’s and Twitch, and is even releasing an action figure with his album.
Musicians are increasingly becoming cross-platform media figures. Record companies are investing more in biopics and documentaries about their artists, gaming companies are partnering with artists on in-game musical concerts, artists are running their own fashion houses and some even have their own cooking shows. Rihanna hasn’t released an album in five-plus years and yet has managed to grow her portfolio. Similarly, new music brands like 88rising, COLORS, Thrice Cooked Media, Lyrical Lemonade and others are providing space for unique narratives for emerging talents.
Because social media has empowered artists to create a personal brand and connect with fans directly, labels have had to reimagine their role. One way they’ve done it is by taking a venture capital-like approach — handling the financials so artists can focus more on their craft and what they do best. Take The Rattle, for example. It finances the development of an artist’s business, rather than simply buying their music and exploiting music rights.
After all that’s happened this year, it’s time to do your holiday shopping with a purpose. Join Facebook to make every Friday #BuyBlack Friday, a day to support, celebrate and shop from Black-owned businesses. Dive into the stellar #BuyBlack Friday Gift Guide — including everything from moisturizer or golf gloves for your parents, to posters for siblings and salted caramel pretzels to treat yourself. Plus, Facebook is gathering Black business owners, comedians, musicians and more each Friday for an exciting live show. Check it out.
Brooklyn drill rapper Fivio Foreign recently said he believes rappers are targeted more than any other profession, and was backed up by Atlanta rapper T.I. The New York rapper Jim Jones also expressed similar sentiments. It might sound privileged coming from multimillionaires doing what they love for a living, but consider the number of fallen rappers in just the last two months: Chicago rapper King Von was killed, Dallas rapper Mo3 was murdered, Benny the Butcher was shot outside a Houston Walmart and Boosie Badazz was shot in Dallas. The type of hip-hop music that sells often comes from artists cut from a particular cloth, and while the industry has shown it cares about the stories, it cares far less about the lives telling them. OZY has compiled the best of these fallen heroes.
If the most common and harrowing tale in the music industry is shady deals, then Taylor Swift should be the poster girl. Swift, who agreed to give up the rights to her masters as an unproven teenager, has been in a yearslong battle with former manager Scooter Braun. Now, as Braun has agreed to sell rights to Swift’s first six albums for $300 million, the singer is not only speaking out but taking action. The country turned pop star plans to diminish the value of her originals by rerecording them. In the meantime, Swift continues to put out killer new stuff: Her surprise Folklore release this summer was a smash with fans and critics.
3. Fake Streams
With the rise of streaming as a cash cow — and 90 percent of the streams going to just 1 percent of artists — there’s ample incentive to cheat the system. The rap artist French Montana has been accused of faking streams, and there have been cases of music uploaded under fake accounts to siphon streaming dollars away from the legitimate artists.
4. Even More Competition
The flip side to there being few barriers in the music industry is that it breeds more competition. As of 2019, nearly 40,000 tracks are added to Spotify every single day. That number should only rise — particularly with the robo-musicians discussed above — meaning the financial pie is divvied up in even more ways.
Don’t say we didn’t tell you so: West Coast rapper Saweetie is on the path to mogul status. The USC grad got into music after one of her remixes went viral and hasn’t looked back since, scoring No. 1 singles and platinum plaques. What sets her apart, though, is her entrepreneurial spirit. Coming from Filipino and Black heritage, Saweetie is a fashion icon who dominates on all forms of social media and teaches girls what it means to be ICY — a mantra that embodies a boss bougie lifestyle.
She is a heavy critic of Barack Obama’s drone strikes, dared to challenge the ethics of Beyoncé and was one of the first rappers to advocate for defunding the police. Plus, she had a very public spat with J.Cole earlier this year. To say Chicago rapper Noname is on the radical side would be a drastic understatement, but the truth is she just wants … truth. All she cares about is spreading knowledge, which is why she founded Noname’s Book Club to lift up marginalized writers.
One of the few redeeming parts of the pandemic has been the birth of Verzuz. The head-to-head artist battle started by super-producers Swizz Beatz and Timbaland has turned into a cultural phenomenon. Every event breaks an Instagram record, giving artists that show up on the program an influx in streams, social media engagement and widespread recognition they’re calling the “Verzuz effect.” The most recent Verzuz battle between rap rivals Jeezy and Gucci Mane resulted in engagement records, including 5.5 million viewers — better than the MTV VMAs, NBC’s The Voice, the Billboard Awards, the CMAs, the Latin Grammys, Dancing With the Stars or The Masked Singer.
If you remember nothing else from this briefing, know this tech giant that’s fast becoming one of the biggest names in music and media. It already owns stakes in Spotify, India’s streaming giant Gaana, Fortnite developer Epic Games and League of Legends developer Riot Games. This year Tencent invested in another game developer: Japan’s PlatinumGames (maker of the Bayonetta series) for an undisclosed fee.
5. Lil Nas X
Genres are becoming obsolete, and if anyone needs proof of that, look no further than Lil Nas X. While Nelly and Tim McGraw might’ve been the first on the hip-hop/country crossover train, Lil Nas X’s record-breaking “Old Town Road” was a cultural reset. He not only won a Country Music Award after initially not being eligible for Billboard’s Hot Country chart, but he also paved a lane for others. Breland, for example, is a country-singing New Jersey native who is Lil Nas 2.0. It’s a beautiful thing to see.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from the whole OZY team! For a special holiday message from our co-founder and CEO, Carlos Watson — plus some special celebrity guests — follow Carlos on Instagram by clicking here.