January 11, 2021
For decades, greatest hits albums were inescapable. They summed up artists’ careers, provided intros to unknown sounds, and served as a dependable cash-grab for labels that were able to resell music they had already paid for. But now? Seems like they’re more or less done for, killed by the infinite "playlistification" of all things (unless you're trying to make a retro statement...hello White Stripes!) We spend some thinking through what the greatest hits was, what it did, and what that might tell us about the art-form shaping format known as the album. ALSO—we talk through some of the most influential greatest hits albums of all time, from the Eagles to Bob Marley.
Further reading / listening:
A Major #Mood: Spotify, Labels, and our Dismal Streaming Future - Money 4 Nothing
Why the Death of the Greatest Hits Albums and reissues is Worth Mourning - Stephen Thomas Erlewine (Pitchfork)
The Great War Against Singles - Hit Parade (Slate)
December 28, 2020
Well, THAT was awful. As 2020 death crawls to a close, we sort through the rise of live music streaming and how it exploded in popularity as artists looked for ways to replace touring during the pandemic lockdown. Also, we talk live venues getting a last minute lifeline from the U.S. Gov thanks to the massive #SaveOurStages movement and how music and musicians responded to the Black Lives Matter protests. Saxon is out this week, but we have Official Streaming Correspondent Jessi Olsen to help Sam think through it all.
December 14, 2020
Repetition. Shouting. Culture Vulture Remixes. A 50 billion dollar company based on a vast strata of underplayed musicians. Viral dances. Tik Tok has it all! For this episode, Sam and Saxon asked Pitchfork’s Cat Zhang to bring us down the rabbit hole and into an app that is transforming how music functions, maybe forever. or…maybe it’s just another step towards the commodification of all social life? PLUS—the meme economy of bearded yellow dragons.
Read Cat Zhang's writing on TikTok and more via Pitchfork
December 1, 2020
This week we take you back in time to a moment that…in a lot of ways(?) seems sort of like today. Technology was changing incredibly quickly, artists were hopping between platforms to reach their audiences, and corporate consolidation was remaking the music industry. Welcome to the 1920’s. Professor Kyle Barnett discusses his book "Record Cultures: the Transformation of the U.S. Recording Industry" and takes us through the early years of the record industry. We trace the rise and fall (and rise) of the major labels as they moved through the jazz age and great depression, and ultimately lay the foundation for the systems that we know and love/hate. Also, Saxon and Sam dust off their understanding of Romanticism to try and figure out why the music industry gets so little critical attention.
November 10, 2020
There’s been some news on the streaming beat lately—righteous demands being levied by musicians against Spotify, and ill-timed reports that the streaming giant has been planning to roll out some suspiciously payola-like programs (gasp!). But what is Spotify, anyways? And how does it (hope to) make money? Is it actually just the major labels wearing the mask of a tech company? PLUS A M4N Exclusive Report: Are #mood playlists destroying the delicate bonds of history?
October 26, 2020
How is music made? Not how do record companies work, but how is music made? And where does it go after we're done with it? According to Kyle Devine, a professor of Musicology at the University of Oslo, we’ve all been paying far too little to this story, closing our eyes to the environmental implications of our favorite sounds. Kyle talks to Saxon and Sam about his book “Decomposed: The Political Ecology of Music,” an eye-opening exploration of the material infrastructure that lies behind vinyl disks (and internet apps). The cloud, by the way? It’s a place. And it burns gas just like the rest of us.
October 12, 2020
It’s mid-October, and by our calculations, musicians are STILL not getting paid. Live music has been off since March, and a major lobbying group is trying to #SaveOurStages. But does saving venues also mean a bailout for musicians? In the continued quest for artist revenue, Saxon and Sam explore some less obvious options. Could the platform OnlyFans hold the answer? Should musicians search for salvation in the high-end speaker-system/concert series Oda? Or are we all looking in the wrong places entirely?
September 25, 2020
This week we go deep (like really really deep) on the Music Modernization Act—a landmark, near-unanimous 2018 law that will reshape the legal landscape of American music when it kicks in early next year. Despite this, it has received little or no critical press attention since. Let’s face it though—the last time this scale of legislation passed was in the 1970’s, so it’s a good bet that we’ll be living with the MMA for a long, long time. We figure out what’s going on in the bill (easier said than done), who it helps (mostly the streaming services), and what it tells us about the power structures that define the music industry.
September 11, 2020
Ethnomusicologist Wayne Marshall joins Saxon Baird and Sam Backer to talk about his discovery of what he’s described as the the “American Clave”—a distinctive rhythm that unites everyone from Duke Ellington to Ray Charles, Elvis to Cardi B. We explore its origins from the Black artists who invented ragtime at the turn of the 20th century and then trace its evolution over a hundred years of styles and sounds including the black roots of country music to its appearance in popular party chants.
Read Marshall's article and hear his mega-mix: https://online.ucpress.edu/jpms/article/32/2/50/110768/Ragtime-CountryRhythmically-Recovering-Country-s
August 28, 2020
David Turner of Penny Fractions joins the show to make a case against the popular narrative that Napster, led by the precocious teen tech-head Shawn Fanning, single-handedly took down the record industry in the early aughts. Turner explains that what caused the music industry bubble to burst was actually a much more complex series of factors including record labels a little too high on its own supply. Also, those $19.99 CDs prices sure didn't help.