Mike Errico in Billboard

Mike Errico in Billboard

Thanks to Billboard for adding me to their piece, Album of 100 Songs, All 30 Seconds Long, Holds Digital Music and Modern Life Over the Coals. This summer, New York University songwriting professor Mike Errico wondered, darkly: “Spotify, the clear leader in the streaming space, pays after 30 seconds, so an honest question is… why write beyond that?” Mark Christopher Lee got the joke, and took it very seriously indeed. Six days ago he uploaded 100×30, a record of 100 songs each a hair over 30 seconds long, to SoundCloud. No industry participant is spared. A short list of 100×30’s targets include: Spotify, YouTube, Shazam, Deezer, the Brit Awards, the BBC, MP3s, SoundCloud, sync deals, The Orchard, Sony Music, NME, Starbucks, Noel Gallagher, Steve Jobs and MacBooks. Speaking to Errico via The Independent, Lee says: “I’ve been trying to have a meaningful debate about how we value music, and how we pay for it.” Mostly, however, his focus seems to be on how we don’t pay for it. Read on at Billboard Some Billboard – related pieces include: “Touring Can’t Save Musicians in the Age of Spotify” (New York Times) Appearance on CNN to discuss “Musicians Struggling Through the Streaming Age” What the Blues Can Teach You About Life, Art, and Everything In-Between (The Observer) “Space Oddity” and the Power of the Story Song (Cuepoint)  Is the Three-Minute Pop Song Over? (The Independent UK) Hi. I’m Your Songwriting Professor. (The Observer)...
Mike Errico in Forbes

Mike Errico in Forbes

Forbes, the business magazine, has posted The Uneasy Future Of Format Innovation In Music Streaming. It has a good riff on the thirty-second song pieces I did, as well as other prognostications on how technology will influence artists and art. Only a few weeks before MIDiA released its report on variable media programming, musician Mark Christopher Lee released the album 100 x 30, which consists of 100 songs each only 30 to 39 seconds long. The album was a response to a June 2015 op-ed in The Independent by Mike Errico, adjunct professor of songwriting at New York University, who argued that Spotify’s royalty payout for tracks after just 30 seconds of streaming provides a financial incentive for artists to post shorter songs on the service. More than simply profitability, however, Lee aimed simply to propagate Errico’s statement on how the impact of streaming on the music industry can potentially lead to an overbearing hunger for creative efficiency. In fact, a quick glance at 100 x 30’s track titles, ranging from “How Many Friends Have You Bought in Your Unsigned Band” to “EMI (Eat My Industry),” confirms that the album is a harshly calculated stab at the increasing digitization of the music industry as a whole. Pieces related to the Forbes article include: “Touring Can’t Save Musicians in the Age of Spotify” (New York Times) Appearance on CNN to discuss “Musicians Struggling Through the Streaming Age” Is the Three-Minute Pop Song Over? (The Independent...
“Space Oddity” and the Power of the Story Song

“Space Oddity” and the Power of the Story Song

Exploring the brilliant techniques Bowie used to populate his Major Tom saga In my songwriting classes, I assign a week where the students are to write a “story song” — a piece of music with a character that develops and takes us on a journey of some sort. The students generally look at me cross-eyed. Once, upon hearing the assignment, a student asked, “You mean, like…Meatloaf?” To which another asked, “Who’s Meatloaf?” A third cleared things up by offering, “No, he means kinda like ‘Stan,’” referring to the Eminem song from their distant collective childhoods. Yes. Like “Stan.” At the moment, songs — and I’m generalizing, though popular charts do bear this out — tend to hone in on a particular moment and expand upon a fixed sensation. For instance, Adele’s “Hello,” the most popular song at the time of this writing, pushes out from a personal phone call to reveal her anguish over a past relationship. Songs with a wider lens use the first person plural (“we”) and are addressed directly to audience members in hopes of generating a rallying cry — the all-powerful “anthem.” (Fun’s 2011 hit “We Are Young” comes to mind.) EDM and electronic genres sidestep the whole concept of story by either eliminating lyric completely, or relegating a vocal part to a sampled and repeated hook. In this case, the music serves as a personal soundtrack that can be interpreted in ways that are not limited by language. Its inherent vagueness allows it to scale as others fill it with meaning, as if it were the audio version of Facebook. None of this is...
Special Thanks: Producers Ben Mink and Michael Beinhorn

Special Thanks: Producers Ben Mink and Michael Beinhorn

Thanks to Ben Mink and Michael Beinhorn, brilliant producers who came to my class at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute to discuss their creative roles in the recording process. Michael told us how he had to send Soundgarden home to write more songs, pushing them to a career high with Superunkown. Ben played us traditional klezmer music, which influenced him early on, and drew a direct line to the chorus of kd lang’s hit, “Constant Craving,” which was then co-opted by the Rolling Stones in their song, “Anybody Seen My Baby?” It pained me to tell them we were out of time. Ben Mink http://www.benmink.com Ben Mink’s wide range of recording collaborations includes Feist, k.d. lang, Rush, Alison Krauss, Daniel Lanois, Roy Orbison, Elton John, Heart, the Klezmatics, Wynona Judd, Method Man, and many more. He has been nominated for nine Grammies, winning twice for his work with k.d. lang. In 2007, he was co-nominated for his work on Feist’s 1234, which gained global popularity in the rollout campaign for the iPod Nano. In 2011, the TV series Glee used Ben’s composition “Constant Craving,” performed by Chris Colfer, Idina Menzel and Naya Rivera. Mink has lectured on such topics as “The Music Business vs. the Creative Process,” at the University of British Columbia, Western Washington University and Simon Fraser University. He has also worked with students as an associate of UBC’s Department of Mechanical Engineering (robotics) and is an associate member of the Institute for Computing, Information & Cognitive Systems. Michael Beinhorn http://michaelbeinhorn.com/ Michael Beinhorn’s production has played a primary role in creating career-defining records for artists including Marilyn Manson,...
Back To Songwriting School: NYU, Wesleyan, Yale

Back To Songwriting School: NYU, Wesleyan, Yale

(I’ll be teaching songwriting at NYU, and speaking about it at Wesleyan and Yale (so far) this semester. Here are some of the things I’ll be trying to get across.) Our classroom is tucked up into the third floor of an elegant red brick building with Ionic columns that make you feel smart even if you’re just looking for a place to nap. Fluorescent bulbs hang high in the ceiling and cold formica tables form a rectangle we’ll barely fit around. I’ve staked out the corner near the A/V controls—the projector, the volume knob on the speakers—but otherwise, the layout seems fairly democratic. It was hard to get into this class. Students sent songs and sketches and emailed pleas with logical reasons why it fit with their majors and how they envisioned their lives. I made cuts based on a 50-word petition and a link to a recording of theirs, hoping in each case that I’ve done the Future some service. They fill the room with stickered-up laptops and water bottles and news of dorm room switches and class cancellations. They pack themselves around the table, more comfortable with each other than I am with my own family at Thanksgiving. I will teach them about songwriting. I have no idea what that means. No one stops me. I don’t actually believe in pop songs, and it’s hindered my career as a songwriter. Pop songwriting is a calling, and though I’m touched by it, I never really got the call. Example: I have a friend, Chris, who saw Jesus walk out of his high school locker. They spoke. Now he’s...
ASCAP Runs My Piece on The Future of Songwriting

ASCAP Runs My Piece on The Future of Songwriting

Honored to have ASCAP pick up my piece on tech’s effect on songwriting. Question: In the streaming economy, do songs have a financial incentive to change what they look and sound like? For instance, Spotify, the clear leader in the streaming space, pays after 30 seconds, so an honest question is: Why write beyond that? And… Are you, in fact, screwing yourself six times over for writing a three-minute song (:30 x 6 = 3:00 song)? A “song disruptor” would just cut everything back to :32 or so, and see huge positive results in his/her own streaming royalty statements. Labels would love it for the same reason (more money). Thinking ahead: If a critical mass were to adopt song forms of these lengths, would Spotify payouts to creators suddenly rise sixfold? That would probably crush the business model, wouldn’t it? I mean, it can’t make a profit as is, and songs are clocking in at around three minutes. Are streaming services just skating by on all that non-monetized listening time? Spotify also pays higher rates at around five minutes — because of course it does. It makes the company money to not have to pay out for four entire minutes of a song. Taking this into account, what is this thing – songwriting – going to look and sound like in the not-too-distant future? Read more on ASCAP’s web site. Original post on...