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Uncle Blurt: Do Prince’s Plans to Save Sinking Tidal Platform, Fresh Comments on “Slavery” Make Him a Douchebag?

prince

Exactly how many signed up for that fucking thing again? And what’s up with those gunbarrels on the dude’s album artwork?

By Uncle Blurt

If you are like most of America’s music consumers, you initially yawned, then laughed, at Jay-Z’s plan to save himself and fellow superstars from that big bad ol’ bogeyman “streaming music” by launching music platform Tidal. Precise figures are not available, but suffice to say that the utter lack of media excitement about Tidal, following the initial announcement back in late March mirrored the public’s general apathy towards it. For that matter, some artists publicly denounced it, like Mumford and Sons, Noel Gallagher and Death Cab’s Ben Gibbard, and which left Jay-Z stuttering and sputtering on social media—to much mirth on social media— for people to “give us a chance to grow and get better.” Bloomberg Business even penned an op-ed/analysis of the service, “Why Jay-Z’s Tidal is a Complete Disaster,” concluding that Tidal’s artist-exclusivity angle is ultimately at odds with the way the music industry – and human nature – operates, and that for him to think he can “save” the music industry from itself is naïve at best, and in general, reeks of hubris.

It’s not as if people care how they get their fixes of Tidal artists Alicia Keys, Beyoncé, Chris Martin/Coldplay, Usher, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Kanye West, Madonna. Arcade Fire, Calvin Harris, Daft Punk, Jack White, and Deadmau5, much less how much these well-heeled artists get paid. Ask yourself when was the last time you saw the hashtag #TIDALforALL… People are already pretty happy with Spotify, and since Apple’s new Apple Music platform basically just slots in beside that iTunes app on your smartphone, why go to the trouble of signing up for something entirely different when one click quickly downloads and synchs Apple Music. Not to mention the fact that $9.99/mo. for Tidal is highway robbery (grand theft auto if you want the $19.99 hi def version). The fact that less than 3 months after the launch Tidal announced it was offering a special $4.99 rate (or $10 for hi def) for students only highlighted how the business is already feeling the pinch. I mean, c’mon: that whole students-don’t-have-much-disposable-income is a total myth in 2015 (I guarantee you that the average freshman on a college campus spends WAY more money on music, movies, concerts and beer than I do), and students also know exactly where they can score free, pirated downloads of new releases anyway.

But wait, here comes the cavalry! It’s The Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Who Yanked His Music From Streaming Services, aka Prince, a late arrival to the Tidal roster, who announced the other day that his forthcoming new album HITNRUN will be distributed exclusively via Tidal starting Sept. 7. His statement speaks for itself:

 

“After one meeting, it was obvious that Jay Z and the team he has assembled at TIDAL recognize and applaud the effort that real musicians put in2 their craft 2 achieve the very best they can at this pivotal time in the music industry. Secondly, TIDAL have honored Us with a non-restrictive arrangement that once again allows Us to continue making art in the fashion We’ve grown accustomed 2 and We’re Extremely grateful 4 their generous support. And lastly, in the tech-savvy, real-time world We all live in 2day, everything is faster. From its conception and that one & only meeting, HITNRUN took about 90 days 2 prepare its release. If that’s what freedom feels like, HITNRUN is what it sounds like.”

No doubt Jay-Z Is Extremely Grateful 4 Prince’s generous support, because he’s probably the only artist among all the others listed above that has total cross-genre appeal. I mean, if Tom Petty or, I dunno, Patti Smith were to go with Tidal, I would have to do some serious thinking about signing up. As I am now doing re: Prince’s announcement. Of course, there’s always that apartment full of college students across the street from the Blurt offices that I can appeal to as well come Sept. 7….

Prince 2

But wait, as the saying goes, there’s more! Over the weekend Prince held a meet ‘n’ greet-slash-press conference at Paisley Park for a small assemblage of black journalists, ostensibly to drum up support for Tidal during the lead up to the album release next month. He’s clearly aware that Tidal has been taking it on the chin of late, so he rolled out all of Jay-Z’s talking points while talking about artistic freedom and about artists getting fairly compensated compared to the way record companies treat them. And echoing comments he uttered years ago when he divorced himself from Warner Bros., he invoked the “S” word:

“Record contracts are just like — I’m gonna say the word – slavery. I would tell any young artist … don’t sign.”

Fair enough; that’s your opinion, Prince, one which I’m sure is shared by many. Unfortunately, it’s based on a no-longer-useful model, one which may have been true back during the early days of the recording industry, when the status quo involved signing blues, jazz and R&B artists (read: people of color) to ridiculously one-sided contracts and oftentimes pressuring them to share or even surrender songwriting and publishing with their (white) producers, (white) managers and (white) label heads. Back then, there weren’t any options for artists: if you wanted to release records, you had to sign on the dotted line. Not for nothing was the music biz sometimes referred to as “a plantation system.”

But those days are gone. Nobody is forcing anyone to sign anything in 2015, and nobody is preventing musicians from earning a living. Last time I looked, Prince was doing pretty good for himself and has been doing pretty good from the time he released his first record in the late ‘70s. For him to use the term “slavery” in 2015, particularly given the recent heated dialogue over the Confederate flag, the Civil War and slavery, is worse than being disingenuous – it’s just irresponsible, and whether intentional or not, demeans the lives and legacies of those African-Americans who were actual slaves.

But as usual, whenever Prince talks about anything, even if on the surface it appears to be about a serious issue, in the end he’s just doing another sleight-of-hand magic trick. ‘Cos with Prince, it’s always gonna be about How 2 Benefit Me.

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Uncle Blurt is our official web guru, reality checker and house conscience. He is older than everyone out there, so fuck you.

Uncle Blurt: Records? We Don’t Need No Steenkin’ Records!

Albums

Hard wax makes a 52% increase, notches 6% of all album receipts, and officially becomes the trend du jour of hipsters across the land.

By Uncle Blurt

Everybody around here knows that yer ol’ Uncle is kinda nutty for vinyl, having grown up with it; I can report in all candor that I have never owned an MP3 player of any sort and that while I do download occasionally, it is almost always live recordings and bootlegs. So it cheered my greying grey matter to learn that Nielsen SoundScan data for 2014 arrived earlier this week, and amidst all the hoo-hah over the seventy billion copies of 1989 that Taylor Swift sold plus accompanying media over-scrutiny of Sam Smith (who?), the Frozen soundtrack and Pharrell Williams’ best-selling song “Sappy,” er, I mean “Happy,” that vinyl records topped the 9.2 million mark in U.S. sales, which represents a 52% increase over last year.

According to the Wall Street Journal, that in turn represents 6% of total album sales. That may not seem like a whopping amount, but placed in the immediate context of shifting consumer habits and the gradual return of indie record stores to the national retail mix, it’s huge.

Vinyl

This doesn’t necessarily mean that vinyl will ever regain its prominence, sales-wise, that it enjoyed back in the ‘70s and ‘80s (think: Frampton Comes Alive, Saturday Night Fever and Thriller). Nor does it suggest, as some cynics would have it, that we’re currently in a vinyl bubble of sorts; vinyl never really went away, even at the height of MP3 and earbud mania, it just went underground, and out of all those teens who have just discovered vinyl, thereby making it the hipster trend du jour, we’re guaranteed that a hefty percentage will continue to prize vinyl long after a lot of their peers have moved on to, I dunno, collecting old Betamax tapes or something.

Meanwhile, good news for streaming services such as Spotify and bad news for retailers in the download business: downloads dropped a little, from 1.26 billion hits in 2013 to 1.1 billion in 2014, while streaming jumped even more than vinyl, from 106 billion individual track streams in 2013 to a whopping 164 billion in 2014 — a 54% surge. Buh-bye, shitty-sounding li’l compressed MP3s.

Pono

My predictions:

1. The convenience and portability of streaming is going to ensure that it’s here to stay and will probably continue to rise. What this means for the iPod and higher-end digital players like Neil Young’s much-heralded Pono player (pictured above) I don’t know. But you haven’t heard much about Pono lately, now, have you? Other than the news that it will finally hit stores next week, and that the Pono Store has officially launched for folks who want to pay an arm and a leg for a digital download. (Ever notice how much “pono” looks like “porno” if you are skimming the text on a website?)

The only people regularly talking about digital players are audiophile magazines and websites catering to those who are willing to plop down a thousand clams or more for a player that provides truly hi-res digital audio quality. It actually may be too early to get into a conversation about that new $1,119.00 digital iteration of Sony’s Walkman ZX2 (pictured below) just announced this week. I will say, though, that I still own a Walkman pro, the same cassette deck that I used to bootleg concerts with back in the day, so I am willing to entertain offers from people looking to get on the Walkman bandwagon and grab a genuine museum piece…)

Sony-Walkman-NW-ZX2

2. Vinyl sales – accompanied by audio gear sales, especially turntables, ‘cos ya gotta have the hardware to play the software – will continue to rise for a spell, eventually plateau, then settle in as a comfortable, attractive and, yes, profitable music format and delivery systems. We’ll also see more and more cool gimmicks like colored vinyl and shaped picture discs just like in the late ‘70s, all aimed at the collector geeks and hardcore fans out there, along with more and more reissues of classic wax and maybe even the mainstreaming of deluxe – and way expensive – vinyl box sets.

3. I will continue to geek out on vinyl. Hell, just yesterday I freaked out at the news of that colored vinyl, limited-to-500 copies, of Guided By Voices’ Bee Thousand. I pre-ordered my copy just as the door was slamming shut and the damn thing was sold out. Whew…

Postscript: you can toss all those CDs now, kids. Nobody’s gonna want them in a few years, not even you – in fact, a lot of music stores have already stopped taking them in trade. See below for the pile of unloved promos we have accumulated over the past couple of years: it’s a photo of our back office (known otherwise as “the dumpster”).

CDs