Archive for the ‘Mindless Rant or Intelligent Commentary’ category

Idol Comeback Talks Stalled

April 3, 2017

Idol’s plans to end its “goodbye – for now” are in jeopardy as its two production companies Freemantle and Core Media can’t agree on whose offer to take for a 2018 re-boot. Reportedly, Fox and NBC have made offers to re-air the show.

Fox wants Idol back because it was still a very popular show when it was canceled. In 2016, Idol tied with The Voice for 12th in the ratings. Fox decided to shutter Idol because of the show’s high costs which were driven in large part by the salaries of Ryan and the judges. Idol’s hiatus would give them a chance to re-boot the show with less costly judges.

NBC’s plans were to replace The Voice with Idol in the fall and combine Idol (fall), The Voice (spring) and America’s Got Talent (summer) into a yearly package of reality shows. This was the offer preferred by Freemantle as they are also the production company for America’s Got Talent. Core Media felt that rolling Idol up into NBC’s package would water down the show’s brand.

So, the re-boot talks are off but just “for now”? Money does have a way of helping people find common ground.

And speaking of goodbye for now, look for an announcement of this blog’s own re-boot coming VERY soon.

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Ode to Chuck Berry

March 21, 2017

I didn’t grow up knowing who Chuck Berry was. I grew up on The Beatles. One Christmas I got The Beatles Second Album – the first of many, many albums I would wear out – and Beatles ’65. Two songs from those albums always stuck out: Roll Over Beethoven and Rock and Roll Music. The driving beat and raucous energy of those two songs were exhilarating. I also grew up on The Beach Boys. One of their most popular singles was the song Surfin’ Safari even though I preferred Shutdown which was on the B-side.

Eventually I’d hear some guy named Chuck Berry singing Roll Over Beethoven and Rock and Roll Music on the radio. “Wow! Those are the songs from my Beatles albums!”, I said to myself since Facebook hadn’t been invented yet. And when I heard that same Chuck Berry sing Sweet Little Sixteen, I was like, “Whoa! That sounds exactly like Surfin’ Safari!” Too young to care about such things as copyrights, I thought it was clever how The Beach Boys used different words for his song. Much later I would find out that when the song was initially released, Brian Wilson was listed as the sole songwriter even though the song’s publisher was ARC which was the publishing arm of Chuck Berry’s label, Chess Records. Later releases of Surfin’ Safari corrected the “oversight” and cited Berry as the co-writer.

Somewhere along the way, I had that transformative experience everybody has the first time they hear Johnny B. Good. A greatest hits collection would find its way into my ever-growing stacks of wax. I’d even witness him make a comeback in the 70s with his last Top 40 album The London Chuck Berry Sessions. This album had his last two radio hits: the horrific My Ding a Ling – a juvenile song beneath his stature and inexplicably his only #1 song; and a rollicking live version of Rockin’ and Reelin’.

The truth is, I actually grew up on Chuck Berry. Eventually, I’d come to realize that but for a long time, I had no idea. And at some level, we’ve all listened to Chuck Berry without knowing it. Because no matter what rock music we’ve ever listened to, we were in some way listening to Chuck Berry. Go ahead and call Elvis “The King”. But before there was a King, Chuck Berry had already established The Kingdom. The revolution started with Maybelline. The Kingdom was announced with Roll Over Beethoven. And it was universally recognized with Johnny B Good

This kingdom was built on three fundamental principles: a relentlessly driving beat; hot guitar licks; and songs about girls, cars and playfully rebellious fun. Whether you’re listening to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones or The Beach Boys; Springsteen or Prince; Van Halen, AC/DC or The Black Keys; or pretty much any rock group you can think of, you’re listening to the music of Chuck Berry’s kingdom.

This is the legacy of Chuck Berry – we’ll ALWAYS keep hearing him not merely on Classic Rock or Oldies stations but in any new song embodying the principles of The Kingdom. As John Lennon said, “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry.’”

But his legacy is his songs, too. If you’re going to learn to play rock music, you will learn to play his songs. And Chuck knew that. As he continued to tour later in life, he stopped touring with a band. Rather, it was the promoter’s job in each city to find musicians to back him that night. In other words, in any city in the country, Chuck could count on there being competent players who knew his music.

One night in Maryland, a young Bruce Springsteen was hired to back Chuck. Typical for Berry, he showed up five minutes before he was scheduled to go on stage. When asked by Bruce what songs he and his band were going to play, Berry simply answered, “We’re gonna play some Chuck Berry songs.”

Some Chuck Berry songs. In the hymnal of rock and roll, there are some Chuck Berry songs. However, his inspiration is in every song in the book.

Rest in peace Chuck Berry and may your V-8 Ford keep motivatin’ over the hill with no particular place to go.

Nick Fradiani and His Label Go Separate Ways

January 24, 2017

It’s the real reality of reality singing shows for Idol’s penultimate winner Nick Fradiani who has parted ways with his (and Idol’s) label Big Machine Records. Rather than the usual “mutual” parting – a music business alternative fact – both parties have described the break-up as amicable and necessary.

This is a very different situation than what happens to winners of The Voice aka The Game Show With Singing who frequently get dropped by the show’s label Republic Records before they even release an album. As opposed to Republic, Big Machine’s head Scott Borchetta was an active presence on Idol: mentoring, shaping, critiquing and generally preparing the Idolists for the real competition that happens after the show against people like Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, Keith Urban, Adele and Big Machine’s own Taylor Swift.

Furthermore, Nick did release an album Hurricane in August 2016. Unfortunately, Hurricane sold a mere 5,000 copies which clearly endangered his future prospects with Big Machine. Nick’s release suffered from two problems. First, he just wasn’t that good which I mused about quite frequently[1]. Rather than requote myself, here’s a review from Newsday:

The problem is what happens after the show is over. Like several winners from “Idol” and “The Voice,” Fradiani needs the infrastructure of a network TV show to help sell the songs from his debut album “Hurricane” (Big Machine) because his voice just isn’t distinctive enough generally to get it done on its own[2].

Second, Big Machine seems to have realized how difficult marketing pop acts is as they have dropped all of the pop artists from their roster except for Taylor Swift to focus on their country acts. A hyper-competitive market and a non-competitive product spells disaster in any industry. 5,000 copies sold by a major label is, frankly, embarrassing.

So now we – and by we, I mean me – wait to see how well Scott and his Big Machine do with the final Idolists Trent Harmon and The Peerless La’Porsha Renae. Trent remains associated with the label as they work on an album for the country market (good luck with that). And the final runner-up The Peerless La’Porsha stays on as part of a Big Machine/Motown joint label project.

AND . . . Jax (see footnote #1) has been spent her post-Idol time persistently building a loyal fan base and public relations, and has an EP coming out on Friday that’s been getting quite a bit of buzz in early reviews.

I’ll be looking to see if any of the three can redeem the promise that the reality shows once held. Stay tuned.

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[1] Not only should Jax have been the winner over Nick and runner-up Clark Beckham, I remain committed to my belief that Scott wanted her to win.

[2] http://www.newsday.com/entertainment/music/hurricane-review-nick-fradiani-s-voice-lacks-distinction-1.12128976

Yet ANOTHER One Bites the Dust

January 18, 2017

Sorry, Sawyer Fredericks fans. Your The Voice aka The Game Show with Singing Season Eight (2015) champion has just seen his career go the way of too many of that show’s winners. Last week he told his fans that he and the show’s record label – you know, the one that promises a recording contract to its winners – had “mutually” parted ways.

Let me explain what the frequently used phrase “mutually parted ways”[1] means in the business and by the business, I mean the industry. The label unilaterally decides to no longer support an artist. The artist then mutually agrees it would be wise to leave a label that is no longer going to support them. Both parties play nice in public. Artist starts career from scratch as an independent, i.e. no record deal and highly unlikely to ever get one. In Sawyer’s case, that means also losing the manager you had by virtue of winning the show and having your mother become your new manager.

By now, you should know this is a bad habit for The Voice. Sawyer is the fourth winner who has not released an album in spite of “winning” a recording contract. He did at least put out a 4-song EP, which was better than Jermaine Paul, Josh Kaufman and Craig Wayne Boyd were able to get from winning. And we have yet to hear from Season Ten winner Alisan Porter.

I have been writing about this sham for years[2]. So if you watch The Voice even though the show consistently makes false promises to the viewers and the artists, don’t get attached to your favorite (watch your back ex-Idolist Sundance Head). The Game Show With Singing continues to be hazardous to the career health of its winners.

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[1] Sometimes “amicably” is included along with gushing by the artist about how happy they are to see their career moving forward. The words: “Of course, I’m delusional.” are never used.

[2] Among others: https://idolmusings.wordpress.com/2015/12/15/will-yet-another-voice-winner-bite-the-dust/

My Favorite Music of 2016

December 30, 2016

One of the best things ever written about lists was by the legendary New Yorker music critic Ellen Willis. It captures my feeling exactly if not way more eloquently than I ever could:

“The list game is as integral to rock as statistics are to baseball. In fact, it’s not criticism I’ve been taking too seriously all these years but list making. I worry over my criteria. (Do I pick the albums I play most or the ones I admire most?) Then I worry over the imperatives of the list itself, which transcend the merits of particular records. (To be truly satisfying, for instance, a ten-best list should have some sort of aesthetic and historical balance; if it doesn’t, something is wrong with the year’s output of albums or the reviewer’s listening habits, or both. And I hate to make arcane choices of albums that only I and three other critics have heard; sometimes it’s necessary, but it makes the list less elegant.) Before I know it, it’s May, and a ten-best list in May has all the appeal of a baseball game in January.”

#SheNailedIt

With all this aforementioned[1] psychological baggage that I share with the esteemed Ellen Willis, I present my list of favorite LPs and EPs for 2016. It was a year where I really didn’t listen to many new albums. I tended to alternate between my trove of jazz and finding new music on my Discover Weekly playlist provided each Monday by Spotify. Nor did I give much thought to the albums all the real critics are supposed to concern themselves with. Whether ubiquitous or obscure, this is the stuff I liked, hence “favorite” and not best.

Sia This Is Acting An album where a songwriter for hire gets to sing her own songs. Every song except for One Million Bullets was written for and rejected by somebody else: Cheap Thrills, Unstoppable and Reaper[2] (Rihanna); Alive (Adele); Bird Set Free (Rihanna, Adele, and the movie Pitch Perfect 2); Footprints (Beyonce); Elastic Heart (Katy Perry); an unnamed song for Shakira (probably Move Your Body[3]) and it’s believed that Christina Aguilera rejected Summer Rain[4]. Listen to these songs with each of those singers in mind. You can clearly here how perfect they all would have been for each particular artist. Which is why Sia is such a great songwriter. But, dang, she’s a great singer, too.

Rosie Lowe Control The fact that Sir Elton John is a huge fan of this London-based singer should be enough to get your attention. Her sultry combination of 90s R&B meets electro-soul a’la The Weeknd gets mine. Get sucked in by the sensuous Who’s That Girl and then get hooked on the rest.

 

Banks The Altar Dark. Haunting. Mesmerizing. Melancholic. Sensual.

Katy B Honey This is less an album and more of a love letter to London dance clubs. Honey started out as a series of independent projects and turned into a collection of thirteen collaborations with different dance music producers. The result is like a box of mixed chocolates each with something different on the inside but all covered on the outside by Katy B’s sweet voice. That sweetness nearly moves me to tears each time I hear So Far Away.

And Turn the Music Louder (Rumble) featuring My Boy Tinie Tempah is a banging good time, especially in this 60s-themed video.

 

Delain Moonbathers Symphonic metal meets power pop in this Dutch band that features the exquisite Karen Carpenter-like vocals of Charlotte Wessels. Check out the song Suckerpunch. 

 

Lindsey Stirling Brave Enough On her third album, Lindsey expands her fusion of classical, rock and EDM into pop, funk and even country. Her moving and powerful tribute to a dear friend who passed away, Gavi’s Song, will melt your heart.

The Joanna Connor Band Six String Stories Joanna is a Chicago-based guitar virtuoso who does it all from set-your-hair-on-fire slide guitar – you’ll be the one that needs to catch their breath after the opening song It’s A Woman’s Way ­- to R&B, funk, gospel and jazz. Plus she puts me on the guest list at the Chicago blues club Kingston Mines whenever I’m in town. 🙂

Betty Davis The Columbia Years 1968-1969 This historical delight consists of previously unreleased tracks from Miles Davis’ then-wife with bands consisting of Mitch Mitchell (the Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer) and soon-to-be jazz giants Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, John McLaughlin, Hugh Masakela and members of The Crusaders. These are more demo tracks than finished productions and include covers by Cream (Politician) and Creedence Clearwater Revival (Born on the Bayou), along with her own originals. Eventually, she would go on to become a highly influential but commercially little known funk artist. Miles produced these tracks at a time when he was exploring his own jazz/funk/rock ideas that would eventually become the legendary Bitches Brew album.

EPs

While not intending to take away from how special each of the following artists are, these four EPs can be grouped together under the banner of indie/alternative pop: niche pop music artists that do not neatly fit into any of the broad categories of radio-ready sound. Instead, these kind of artists organically find their own fan bases. Each of these young women makes music featuring rich electronic arrangements and emotive, ethereal vocals.

  • Verite´ Living
  • Zealyn Limbic System
  • Kitten Heaven or Somewhere In Between (I should add that this was #17 on Rolling Stone’s Top 20 Pop Albums of 2016 and included in The music that mattered most in 2016 by Canadian Broadcast Company/Radio.)
  • Laura Welsh See Red
  • HanaHana

Alex Newell Power Remember Sylvester from the disco days – the singer with the crazy high falsetto that compelled your body to the dance floor– You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) and Dance Disco Heat?[5] He’s been reincarnated into modern dance music as Alex Newell.

 

I hope you find something here that you’ll put in your own music rotation. And be on the lookout for a Part 2 on my year in concerts.

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[1] I love that word. I wonder if Ms. Willis ever used that word. Probably not. And if she tried, an editor would probably have struck it out. My editor likes it, though. 🙂

[2] Sia decided to keep Reaper for herself and took it back from Rihanna.

[3] In a Rolling Stone interview, Sia said she wrote a song that was rejected by Shakira and you’d know it when you heard it, so this is my guess.

[4]  By the way, getting songs rejected is not a big deal. The big name artists get dozens of song submissions from all the best songwriters for their album projects. And Sia says she gets 20-30 requests per week to write songs for other artists.

[5] And if you don’t remember, do not pass go, do not collect $200 until you find them on your Google Machine and listen immediately.

Singin’ Loud and Sellin’ Nothing

September 29, 2016

You know that thing where hopeful artists go on reality shows and sing and we vote for them and when enough of us vote for them they win and become big stars? People like Kelly Clarkson and Fantasia and Carrie Underwood? Some of them even lost and became big stars like Adam Lambert, Fifth Harmony and Melanie Martinez. So how’s that thing working out lately? Well, not so well, actually. Actually, it’s not working out at all.

Thanks to My Crack Research Staff (in this case, me) here’s the real reality of reality singing show recording contracts as represented by the first week sales of recent winners. As you can see, in Idol’s case, “winning” became increasingly worth less; and in the case of The Voice aka The Game Show with Singing, that contract was literally worthless with many winners never recording anything with that recording contract.[1]

Idol Winner The Voice Winner
2011 Scotty McCreery 197,000 2011 Javier Colon 10,000
2012 Phillip Phillips 169,000  

 

2012 Jermaine Paul 0
2012 Cassadee Pope 43,000
2013 Candice Glover 19,000  

 

2013 Danielle Bradbery 41,000
2013 Tessanne Chin 7,000
2014 Caleb Johnson 11,000  

 

2014 Josh Kaufman 0
2014 Craig Wayne Boyd 0
2015 Nick Fradiani 5,000  

 

2015 Sawyer Fredericks 0
2015 Jordan Smith 54,000
2016 Trent Harmon not yet released 2016 Alisan Porter not yet released

Conclusion: Since the latter half of 2013, six of the last seven winners of two TV shows each drawing over 10 million viewers per week have generated negligible sales. So much for the benefit of all of that TV exposure not to mention that for three consecutive winners, The Voice didn’t even bother to make a record.[2]

By comparison, here are the first week sales results from Idol’s glory days as well as the desultory years of 2008 and 2009.

2002 Kelly Clarkson 297,000
2003 Ruben Studdard 417,000
2004 Fantasia Barino 240,000
2005 Carrie Underwood 315,000
2006 Taylor Hicks 298,000
2007 Jordin Sparks 119,000
2008 David Cook 280,000
2009 Kris Allen 80,000[3]
2010 Lee Dewyze 39,000

I could write a book on the myriad reasons for the precipitous decline in sales across the reality singing show platform. The short version is that Idol for its part recognized that the music business has changed so dramatically that its formula for creating stars simply doesn’t work any longer. So they decided to end the show with vague hints that it might return with a rebooted version more attuned to the ways of the current music business, and by the business I mean the industry.

The Voice has been far more interested in whatever cut they’ve negotiated of the massive weekly iTunes revenue their show generates – none of which goes to the contestants. It remains to be seen if the modest success of Jordan Smith represents a change in attitude for the show or is an anomaly. I believe it’s an anomaly but we’ll know the answer when we see what the results are when/if Alisan Porter releases her album.

In addition, both shows have had an increasingly HUGE disconnect between the older demographic of the viewers and the younger demographic of music fans that create pop stars. The success of young artists like Fifth Harmony (from the defunct The X-Factor) and Melanie Martinez (6th place on The Voice in 2012) is instructive.

What we can say is this – American Idol and The Voice were created for the hopes and dreams of talented unknown singers and for the entertainment of a nationwide viewing audience. But over the last three years (and counting?) only the audience has managed to get what they signed up for.

Editor’s note: This blog’s title Singin’ Loud and Sellin’ Nothing is a play on the James Brown song Talkin’ Loud and Sayin Nothing.

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[1] Or in Sawyer Fredericks’ case, all that got recorded was a 4-song EP. Hence, his zero for album sales.

[2] Which is WHY THE CONTESTANTS WERE THERE! And I’m shocked that this didn’t outrage more people.

[3] However, runner-up Adam Lambert’s debut album sold 198,000 in its first week. And it’s worth reminding you for the 1,842,025th time that he’s an international superstar now. And that in 2015 he earned more money than ANY other ex-reality singing show artist. 🙂

My Favorite Collaborations

September 19, 2016

I want to thank T. S. of Carlsbad, CA for the following question: “What are your top (five or so) collaboration songs?” I love this question. Not only had no one ever asked me this question before, I had not even asked myself this question before! Asking me to list my favorite artists, albums or songs is to invite yourself into a tortuous and long (and likely unwanted) monologue. But favorite collabs? Never even thought about that.

A few came immediately to mind. But I knew I needed to ponder that further and even listen to potential candidates. And, of course, I needed the right criteria. Essentially the criteria are what I’m excluding from “collaboration.” Songs “featuring” another artist are excluded, as “featuring” songs have been the norm for pop music over the past 20 years. Also, they’re more of a specialist performing a specific individual task than a true collaboration. I’m also not including jazz and blues songs, at least in this round, with one exception. For the most part I see these collaborations as being about album projects rather than specific songs. And I’m excluding made for TV collaborations.

Other than that, “my favorite” means just that. These aren’t necessarily the “best” – even if such a thing is possible to assess. They’re simply the ones I like the most.

So here they are – My Favorite Collaborations.

Scream Michael and Janet Jackson – A cathartic release of pent-up frustration (“STOP PRESSURIN’ ME!”) set to industrial beats courtesy of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Sung by a couple people named Jackson you may have heard of. It’s one of Michael’s best vocals and his sister isn’t too shabby, either.

Smooth Carlos Santana and Rob Thomas – ’70s Latin-Rock guitar legend meets ’90s alt-rock singer and the result is one of the most iconic songs in pop history[1]. This is what happens when collaboration becomes alchemy.

Hunger Strike Temple of the Dog – The band was a one-time collaboration of Seattle rockers[2] that would eventually go on to become Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. But wait! There’s more! Eddie Vedder dropped in on his way to audition for what would eventually be Pearl Jam and helped Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell work out the vocals for this song. You have to love it when something unplanned comes together.

You’re All I Need to Get By Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – It would be a deplorable act to not have one of their duets on a list of great collaborations. This track is full of sweet, powerful, joyous emotions – AND Marvin Gaye. Case closed.

When Love Comes to Town U2 and B.B. King – I don’t think B.B.’s ever sounded better.

Mediterranean Sundance Al Di Meola and Paco de Lucia – From the remarkably beautiful 1977 album Elegant Gypsy, this is my one jazz exception. Jazz fusion (Di Meola) meets flamenco (de Lucia) in an intricate duet of world-class acoustic guitarists.

Honorable Mention

My Mistake Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye – This is a beautiful song but it’s a collaboration in name only. Diana and Marvin hated each other to the point of being incapable of being in the studio together! As a result, Berry Gordy had their vocals recorded separately and then mixed them together as to sound like a duet. Marvin and Diana sound so wondrous “together” that it’s worth imagining them singing while looking plaintively into each other’s eyes.

Cry Me a River and SexyBack Justin Timberlake – These are here because of the producer Timbaland. As a producer, he adds such a distinctive sound to the songs he works on that he, in effect, makes himself a collaborator[3]. Nowhere is that more clear than these two songs – songs that have as unique a sound as any songs in pop music history. That guy Timberlake is pretty good, too.

Other Notables

Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty

Immigration Man Graham Nash/David Crosby

I Knew You Were Waiting for Me Aretha Franklin and George Michael

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[1] It’s #2 after The Twist on Billboard’s rankings of the top songs of the first 50 years of its Hot 100 singles chart. The Onion satire mag once joked that Smooth won the Grammy 13 years in a row.

[2] To make a tribute album for a deceased musician friend.

[3] In a similar fashion, Norman Whitfield’s production for The Temptations is such a distinctive element in such songs as Cloud Nine; Runaway Child, Runnin’ Wild; and Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone that these could be seen as collaborations.

If I Were To Allow a Prince Tribute

April 27, 2016

Until I saw D’Angelo’s stunning tribute to Prince on Jimmy Fallon, I was opposed to the notion of planned tributes[1] to Prince. At best, who could possibly capture without caricature the unparalleled genius and essence of The Purple One? And at worst – the mind just despairs at the thought of made-for-TV-award-show spectacles abominations with popular yet plebeian pop peasants trivializing His Princeness. A contrived let’s-get-some-big-names mash-up of the latest pop ingenue (i.e. Demi Lovato or Arianna Grande), pop idol (i.e. Bruno Mars), popular-black-guy-because-we-have-to-have-one (i.e. Usher, Pharrell or Neyo), token-country-guy-to-prove-how-universal-Prince-was (i.e. Keith Urban or Blake Shelton) – OK, I need to stop before I hurt myself.

But I do understand the collective psyche’s need for remembrance, healing, and closure, and D’Angelo showed that such a thing is possible with the honor, dignity and emotional tone worthy of Prince. With that in mind, here is who I would allow to be part of an organized Prince tribute performance.

Executive Producer – Me. What else would honor the spirit of Prince than doing what you want the way you want it independent of the masses or other powers that be? I am in charge of this, period, and will ignore all questions. Yes, I will delegate and empower freely (see Musical Director, below) but I want all decisions on a planned Prince tribute to be approved by me[2].

Musical Director – Questlove. His extensive knowledge of Prince and his own musical gifts make him uniquely qualified.

Not to Perform – D’Angelo. What he already did was utterly perfect. To do it again would trivial that perfection. We can always watch it again on YouTube. And because of that performance, we don’t need another piano balladeer (sorry, John Legend). I want to party like it’s 1999, anyway.

The O.G. – Shiela E. Prince had LOTS of girls but the one who always stood apart is Sheila E.

Wendy and Lisa. Because they’re Wendy and Lisa.

Other Prince Girls – Janelle Monae to solo on Housequake; Liv Warfield, Lianne La Havas and Judith Hill singing When Doves Cry.

Lenny Kravitz – other than D’Angelo, no other artist subconsciously or consciously wanted to be Prince as much as Lenny. I think he should do Let’s Go Crazy.

The thought of Janelle Monae slaying the house with Housequake or a Let’s Go Crazy party with Lenny almost makes me want this imaginary tribute to happen. I’d add some other songs, too, but these are the people I want.

However, I think the best tribute of all is to just show the Purple Rain scene from the movie. Right after a commercial break. No introduction. Just roll tape. Entire live audience and TV audience stops breathing and begins watching in awed reverential silence. And then singing on the second chorus once we all start breathing again. And then singing the woo-whoo-whoo-whoos through collective tears and gospel hands waving until the end. And standing ovation while everybody openly weeps.

Who or what tribute – aside from D’Angelo’s exquisite perfection of Sometimes It Snows In April – could equal that? NOTHING!!!

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[1] I am totally in favor of touring artists respectfully adding their own tributes to their sets. I’ve already wept through two of them.

[2] It would be unthinkable, however, to use this unilateral power without consulting with My Girl Wanda Pease, whose love and knowledge of Prince is its own force of nature that needs to be honored and respected.

Explaining “For now.”

April 8, 2016

So . . . what DID Ryan mean when he ended the Last Idol Finale Forever with, “Goodbye. For now.”

The kindling for that comment was laid down all the way back in 2010. We’ll go back there in a moment. But the spark for that fire was lit last week when Simon Fuller made strong suggestions to the music media that this would not be the end of Idol or at least the end of his innovating around the idea of involving fans in finding musical talent among people with a dream. The Evil Genius Producers fanned the flames of those sentiments in Tuesday’s American Idol: American Dream retrospective and Ryan pretty much poured gasoline on those flames at the end of the Finale.

The cancellation of Idol represents an interesting business problem for Fox. They now have to find a replacement for a currently rated Top 15 show that still draws 10 million viewers. Do you risk a lot of your development budget in the hopes of creating something that will eventually draw those kinds of ratings? That’s a very risky proposition. Or do you hit pause to retool and reboot a known entity with fifteen years of goodwill behind it?

So . . . 2010 and Season 9[1] – that was the first year Idol allowed artists to manage their own Twitter and Facebook accounts. The Top 24 featured a breakout acoustic performance of Paula’s Straight Up by Andrew Garcia who immediately became the competition’s frontrunner. Andrew came to the show as something of an internet sensation with his YouTube videos – a new tool for artists to find and reach fans, and his popularity on the show created a problem. Idol’s promise is that the show gives viewers unknowns; viewers become fans; and the fans turn the unknowns into stars. The problem with Andrew is that he came to the show with a substantial fanbase, which in the Evil Genius Producers’ minds gave him an unfair advantage. It also controverts the purpose of the show.

Idol solved the problem by making the Idolists deactivate their personal Twitter and Facebook accounts and consolidating them into a show-related fan page. Eventually they would re-embrace social media but Idol’s reaction to Andrew back then was to make the same mistake that the music business – and by the business I mean the industry – has made EVERY time there was a change in technology[2], i.e. actively resist it. In this case, the social media era of music was already the driving force of the business. And Idol tried to limit that force’s impact. The reality music shows that followed weren’t very innovative with social media, either, and the result has been that no big stars have come from any of these shows since 2010[3].

Simon Fuller, the visionary behind Idol recognized this but his hands were tied. How do you recreate the format of the #1 TV show in America without alienating your 20 million viewers (at that time)? The strategy ended up being to minimally incorporate the interweb into the show as the show slowly marched into irrelevance. Allowing Idolists to have their own social media accounts, Twitter saves, and real-time Google voting were some of these minimally invasive tweaks.

And then this year, Idol made a small change that had a huge unexpected impact – the immediate posting of performance videos from the broadcasts to the Idol Facebook page. PEOPLE ATE THIS UP!!!!!! Can I interest you in ONE BILLION HITS to the page just this season? 360 MILLION views of videos just this season? 12 MILLION followers of the page? Or how about the video of Kelly Clarkson’s emotional Piece by Piece performance getting 76 MILLION views and 1.5 MILLION shares?

And it was more than just the sheer size of these numbers that got the attention of Fox and the Evil Genius Producers. Not only were large numbers of people eating it up, they all wanted to eat at the same time, i.e. people in western time zones didn’t want to wait for the cold leftovers. They wanted to eat the food hot when it was being served to everybody else[4].

Another key development in a possible Idol 2.0 came in March of this year when Simon Fuller announced that he had become the largest shareholder in a digital media company in order to “co-produce a series of entertainment properties and virtual reality experiences”, and further pursue the impact technology has on the music business.

What Simon has steadfastly believed in is that fan engagement is still a viable way to entertain and discover future stars. He also understands that the old model of viewers in front of a television only is no longer enough to create the necessary level of engagement. Again, how successful have the recent winners of reality music shows been?

What the surprising numbers from Idol’s Facebook page are telling everybody is that there is a huge demand for Idol’s content AND to be able to engage that content immediately – just not during a particular television time period. Music fans increasingly want to be a part of the experience and not merely observers. I see this at concerts all the time. People spend almost as much time on their cell phones  – tweeting, Instagraming, Snapchatting, shooting videos and taking pics – as they do watching the show.

So then for Fox, the question isn’t merely how do we fill a time slot on television. The question is how to create something that takes advantage of content that can generate ONE BILLION clicks on a single Facebook page and 360 MILLIONS views of performances. Do they want 10 million people to watch a show at a specific time or hundreds of millions of people engaged in constant, real-time and on-demand interaction around that show’s content?

Nobody knows what Idol 2.0 will ultimately look like. What we do know is that Simon Fuller, Fox, and the Evil Genius Producers have been thinking about this for a long time. And it’s clear that they’ve decided to embrace the current and future music business rather than one that no longer exists.

And that seems to be what’s happening “for now”.

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[1] The Off-Key Lee Dewyze season. Also Crystal Bowersox, Casey James, Big Mike Lynche and My Girl Siobhan Magnus.

[2] And I do mean every change beginning back in 1906 when the famous bandleader John Philip Sousa wrote a denunciation of the first audio recordings, “The Menace of Mechanical Music.” Record discs, radio, tape, CDs, downloading, and, of course, streaming all met similar vehement resistance.

[3] Interestingly, once Melanie Martinez was voted off the Voice, she successfully built a substantial fanbase using YouTube videos and other social media.

[4] Even to the point of Idol posting the Finale results on the page real-time.

It Takes Two, Baby? [updated]

April 8, 2016

According to Lyndsey Parker of Yahoo Music, Scott Borchetta has also decided to sign La’P in a joint deal with Motown and his Big Machine Records! I haven’t been able to find confirmation of this but Lyndsey is a very reliable and important source in the music media biz as well as certified Idol junkie.

[Update] This has been confirmed by several sources including Billboard:

“Because of the overwhelming fan demand and success of the farewell season of American Idol, we have made the decision to sign both the winner, Trent Harmon, and runner-up, La’Porsha Renae, to exclusive recording agreements,” Big Machine Label Group founder and CEO Scott Borchetta tells Billboard. “I can’t think of a better way to bring this American institution to a close. Everyone at the Big Machine Label Group, the Universal Music Group and Motown Records are so thrilled with the outcome and can’t wait to get to work.”

Apparently, Scott had both deals for both Trent (Big Machine) and La’P (Big Machine/Motown) in the works depending on who won. That he decided to sign both makes a lot of business sense given their potential in two different markets.

I am so happy right now.