Money 4 Nothing
The Rise and Fall of SST Records with Jim Ruland

The Rise and Fall of SST Records with Jim Ruland

December 1, 2022

The modern music industry is defined, in large part, by major labels and centralized digital services. To try and imagine a world without (or at least around them), we’ve been looking backwards to the 1980s, when a thriving underground economy enabled a remarkable flood of American rock. If one label could be said to define that moment, it would be LA’s SST Records. Founded in Hermosa Beach by Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn, SST would spend the decade releasing an unbeatable string of albums from acts like Hüsker Dü, the Minutemen, Soundgarden, Sonic Youth, St. Vitus, and Meat Puppets. To try and understand how SST did it—and why it more or less
vanished by the turn of the 90s, we talk to Jim Ruland author of Corporate Rock Sucks: The Rise and Fall of SST Records. Come for discussion of Spot, the best punk producer of all time. Stay for a takes on semi-thriving undefground economies , megalomania, and “weeding out.”

Penny Fractions Live with Cherie Hu and Liz Pelly

Penny Fractions Live with Cherie Hu and Liz Pelly

November 16, 2022

Our good friend David Turner celebrated five years of Penny Fractions earlier this month with a live show at Nowadays. On stage, David was joined by our very own Sam Backer along side heavy-hitters Liz Pelly and Cherie Hu. Enjoy this live recording from the show as the crew run through everything you'd expect from a M4N discussion on the current state of the music industry: criticisms, hot takes, laughs, shade, shout-outs...oh and lollipops.

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Dan Ozzi on the Political Economy of Selling Out

Dan Ozzi on the Political Economy of Selling Out

November 1, 2022

It’s a tale as old as Nirvana. A band (ideally punk or punk influenced) forms and gets some buzz. Major labels swarm. The kids sign on the dotted line…and are promptly thrown to the wolves. Fade to black. And while that often-repeated story isn’t exactly false, it doesn’t do much to capture the shifting dynamics that shaped the economies of rock over the 90’s and 2000’s—an era when the relationship between independent artists and the major label mainstream was central to American musical culture. Luckily for us, we have Dan Ozzi, whose excellent book “Sell Out: The Major Label Feeding Frenzy that Swept Punk, Emo, and Hardcore, 1994-2007” is a vital guide to a complex and frequently oversimplified moment. We talk Green Day and At The Drive In, Thursday and Jimmy Eat World as we try to figure out why major labels threw so much money at emotionally-literate post-hardcore bands when there was still a bumper crop of Nu Metal—and how those practices shifted as the internet began to remake the industry. Talk about understanding in a car crash, amirite?  

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Music: Jets to Brazil - "Chinatown"

 

 

The Music Catalog Acquisition Cool Down

The Music Catalog Acquisition Cool Down

October 18, 2022

In the past few months, the insane flood of money that has been flowing into the purchase of music rights (and really, into financial and tech related firms of pretty much all stripes) has begun to slow down. Crazy what rising interest rates will do, huh? These changes have prompted a wave of takes about the potential collapse of a host of music rights firms that overpromised, overpaid, and now seem poised to underdeliver—Hipgnosis, the industry leader, first among them. But…is all lost for these companies? We dig into the ways in which, profitable business model be damned, the sheer weight of capital in this sector may have already begun to bend the industry in its direction—and explore the mechanics that ensure the money probably won’t dry up anytime soon. PLUS: Future sold his catalog? What does THAT mean? Can it tell us something about the…uhhh…future...of songwriters, major artists and the alternatives it could create for a music career?

 

 

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Damon Krukowski on Unions, Streaming, and Musical Labor

Damon Krukowski on Unions, Streaming, and Musical Labor

September 23, 2022
You might know Damon Krukowski from his role in the groundbreaking indy band Galaxie 500. Or maybe you’ve listened to his podcast, “Ways of Hearing” or read his excellent newsletter, or his widespread journalism.  More recently, however, he’s put on another hat, as an influential rabble rouser for Union of Musicians and Allied Workers. A new group that emerged from the disruptions of Covid, UMAW has worked to change the conversation about everything from streaming and touring to major label contracts. To get a sense of how the organization started—and where it’s going—we spoke with Damon, exploring how the monopolies that control the music industry have begun to force artists to collaborate, and what that newfound solidarity might allow them to accomplish. Come for a new understanding of how the structures of Spotify threaten activism. Hang around for a reconceptualization of the digital factory floor.
 
This is the first in a mini-series tracing the rise and fall (and rise and fall and rise) of Music Unions in the U.S.--so be sure to stay tuned for more.
 
 
 

 

The KLF: A Foolproof Way To Hit No. 1

The KLF: A Foolproof Way To Hit No. 1

September 8, 2022
A foolproof way to hit number 1 is what the Time Lords—AKA the JAMS, AKA the KLF—promised the readers of “The Manual,” their 1988 book. After all, they had just done it, with the insipid brilliance of their Gary Glitter Meets Dr. Who mashup “Doctorin’ the Tardis.” And if they could do hack it, so could you, right? But if you did…would it even matter? Today, we’re talking through the careers of Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond, following them on their remarkable journey into the dark heart of pop music as they moved from fake-rap pirates to stadium-ambient pioneers. And yet, even as the duo found fame, fortune and respect for their work, they discovered that all was (quite literally) ashes and dust, ultimately retreating into silence. Were they right? It’s a beyond-wild true story that asks a terrifying question: What if music isn’t enough? 
 
 
 
Born to Sell: Springsteen’s Tickets + Meta Makes Moves

Born to Sell: Springsteen’s Tickets + Meta Makes Moves

August 12, 2022

At this point, you’ve probably seen headlines about the insane (like $5K+ insane) prices for some tickets to see The Boss on his latest tour. It’s the type of music-biz story that breaks out into the wider world—legendary poet of blue-collar post-industrial collapse, selling out to the I-95 yuppies with the help of the hated Ticketmaster. To try to better understand why Bruce (and his fans) did what they did and felt what they felt, we put the story into the broader context of a live industry build around elite profits—and try to suss out the longer history and future potential of the anti-commercial anger at the heart of the backlash. But first! We dig into some interesting news out of Meta (AKA Facebook), which is now apparently planning on…paying artists? For their content? Or…wait…no…getting a correction…paying the labels. Paying the labels for the music they license. Makes more sense. All is right in the world. Insert: This-Is-Fine-Dog.jpg.

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Music: Discovery Zone - "Remote Control"

 

K-Pop Histories Beyond BTS (Featuring The Idolcast)

K-Pop Histories Beyond BTS (Featuring The Idolcast)

July 18, 2022

Over the last few years, K-Pop has taken the world by storm. Groups like BTS and BLACKPINK have reached pinnacles of music-biz success both traditional (selling out stadiums worldwide) and distinctly modern (see: serving as the center for a vast and dedicated online community of fans across the globe). But while such groups have received mountains of breathless hype from the western media, this coverage has consistently failed to explain what K-Pop really is—or how it works.

To help us learn more, we spoke to Kara of The Idolcast, one of the best English-language resources for understanding this complex music industry. Tracing the story of K-pop from its beginnings in post-dictatorship South Korea to its present-day prominence, we talk geo-political dynamics of government-funded culture, the amount of dance training it takes to learn those synchronized moves, why it’s necessary to have a “goofy” one, “Johnny & Associates,” whether idol fandom challenges the basic categories of the American music industry and the glory that is “Bistro SMAP.” We couldn't get to everything, obviously, but... get ready to go a WHOLE lot deeper than “BTS is the New Beatles.”  

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Kate Bush is Running Up Those Charts

Kate Bush is Running Up Those Charts

July 6, 2022

If you’ve been anywhere near…really, any music playing device lately, you’ve probably noticed that Kate Bush (Misty-Moored British Chanteuse and Big Boi’s favorite artist) has a full-blown new-old hit in a way that we really haven’t seen before? Her song “Running up that Hill (A Deal With God)” was featured heavily in the latest season of the hit Netflix show Stranger Things and it’s sort of taken on a life of its own. As Ms. Bush busts through chart-record after chart-record, we take a step back and try to think through the phenomenon. Is this different than other songs in other movies? How does it reflect the unique dynamics of our streaming moment? And what might the track’s popularity have to do with our continuing reconstruction of 80’s aesthetics?  

 

Life’s been a bit crazy over at M4N HQ lately, so this is a BONUS episode, and it’s a bit shorter than normal. We’ll be back in a week or two with another full-lengthier (and hopefully, some extra post-degree free-time from both Saxon and Sam)

 

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Independent Labels and Electronic Music with Chal Ravens

Independent Labels and Electronic Music with Chal Ravens

June 20, 2022

The music industry isn’t a monolith and few scenes have a more distinctive structure than electronic music. As it developed from house and techno to today’s endless array of genres, the music traded the artist-heavy focus of rap or rock for constellations of high-profile DJs, faceless producers, and—most importantly for today’s episode—a host of iconic independent labels. In a hyper-consolidated, major label world, these indies have not only survived but (sometimes) thrived, defining the aesthetic development of scene after scene both before AND after the internet-driven shifts of the 2000’s. But...how did that work? And how do independents fit into the economy of electronic music more generally? To learn more, we were delighted to talk to music journalist Chal Ravens who hosts the podcast “Relevant Parties” profiling legendary labels from DFA and Ninja Tune to Exit and Ed Banger. Our freewheeling conversation touched on everything from the idea of “curation” in the age of Spotify and how Myspace allowed producers to outflank major labels to the informational economy of the club…and whole lot more.

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Music: CZ Wang and Neo Image - "Just Off Wave" 

 

 

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