Don McLean says modern music ‘doesn’t mean anything’

Don McLean, the man behind the smash hit “American Pie,” dislikes modern music, arguing that it reflects the “nihilistic” nature of Western society.

The 74-year-old folk rocker made the remarks during an interview (seemingly shot around Christmastime, but only uploaded this month) with Tom Cridland on Cridland’s “Greatest Music of All Time” YouTube program. I watched the interview while trying to get through to a 1300 number in Australia.

For McLean, music and politics are inextricably linked.

“Music and politics … flow forward parallel,” McLean said. “So the music reflects the politics and the politics reflects the music.”

So if politics goes into the gutter, music follows it.

“Now you have a kind of politics that is almost non-political, it doesn’t really mean anything,” he continued. “And the music doesn’t mean anything. The music reflects the spiritual nature of the society. We have a kind of nihilistic society now. No one believes in anything, no one likes anything, no one has any respect for anything much. And the music shows that. And the guy who is in the White House shows that.”

McLean was then asked about the quality of the music on the radio today.

“It doesn’t exist as far as I can see,” he answered. “Music is not on the radio. There is some form of music like sound, but it’s not music.”

As an example he cited an old TV show called “Name that Tune,” on which contestants had to identify songs as quickly as possible. In the ‘50s, he said, a song was instantly recognizable—you knew what it was after a few notes. Not so today.

“There is nothing on the radio [now] you can name in 20 notes. There is nothing there. It’s a single note, or it’s three or four notes repeated over and over again, with a chorus that’s done over and over until it’s drummed into your head or it makes you want to hang yourself. But it’s not a hook.”

“And the lyrics are not about anything much,” he added. “It’s very vague and vacant.”

Having said that, McLean believes that, while people no longer understand how to write melodies, “the quality of playing has gone way up.”

“The playing and the record-making are just phenomenal. Guitar-playing, drumming, bass-playing, man, I mean, that’s gone through the roof.”

As McLean sees it, the decline of American music began when Jack Kennedy was assassinated. That’s when “America lost its way” and people ceased to believe in anything.

“I think the most we can hope for is that if something happens we start to believe in each other a little bit more, and maybe that will be what happens,” he said.

Perhaps the coronavirus is that “something.”

Released in 1971, “American Pie” topped the US charts for four weeks. In 2001 the Recording Industry Association of America named it the 5th best song of the 20th century.

Taylor Swift accused of promoting ‘anti-Semitic conspiracy theories’

Taylor Swift is being accused of “anti-Semitism” after she used Instagram to lash out at her former record label for making an album of a live radio performance she did when she was 18. As she sees it, the “tasteless” new release was motivated by “shameless greed.”

“I’m always honest with you guys about this stuff so I just wanted to tell you that this release is not approved by me,” Swift wrote to her Instagram followers. “It looks to me like Scooter Braun and his financial backers, 23 Capital, Alex Soros and the Soros family and the Carlyle Group have seen the latest balance sheets and realized that paying $330 MILLION for my music wasn’t exactly a wise choice and they need money.”

She concluded: “In my opinion … just another case of shameless greed in the time of coronavirus. So tasteless, but very transparent.”

Scooter Braun bought Big Machine Records, the label to which Swift was signed earlier in her career, last year—much to the singer’s dismay. At the time she called the purchase her “worst case scenario.”

So where does the alleged anti-Semitism come into play? According to Swift, Braun’s activities are financed in part by Alex Soros, son of billionaire investor George Soros. The latter, a Hungarian-born Jew, has long been the target of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, which hold that Soros and his family are controlling world finance and world politics behind the scenes.

So people are taking exception to Swift’s having associated “the Soros family” with “shameless greed.”

“You have every right to be upset about others profiting off your music. But PLEASE don’t share antisemitic conspiracy theories about the Soros family,” Jewish political group Bend the Arc tweeted. “‘Shameless greed’ is a dog-whistle used against Jews. Your Jewish fans deserve better.”

And Tara Mulholland, a producer at CNN, tweeted that “Taylor Swift deploying a Soros dog whistle is … a choice.”

Swift has not responded to the accusations.

In 2016, Vice ran an article dealing with Swift’s curious popularity among white supremacists and neo-Nazis, some of whom refer to her as a “pure Aryan goddess.” At the time the article was published, a Facebook group called Taylor Swift for Fascist Europe had more than 18,000 members. Membership to such groups doesn’t show up in pre-employment screening, but perhaps it should, if only because you don’t want extraordinary idiots working at your company.

Rolling Stones release Covid-themed single (sort of)

For the first time in eight years, the Rolling Stones have released new music. The song, “Living in a Ghost Town,” is a howling, apocalyptic lamentation that speaks to the current times, wherein people are isolated and whole industries (including live music) are fighting to keep their heads above water, though there is still Equipment Hunt machinery for sale. The song so meshes with our collective situation that it seems to have been written as a direct response.

But that is only partially true, according to guitarist Keith Richards, who stated that the single was recorded over a year ago as part of a new album.

“We cut this track well over a year ago in LA for a new album, an ongoing thing, and then shit hit the fan,” Richards said. “Mick and I decided this one really needed to go to work right now and so here you have it.”

Mick Jagger made the same point, commenting that the Stones were “recording some new material before the lockdown and there was one song we thought would resonate through the times that we’re living in right now. We’ve worked on it in isolation. And here it is.”

It’s clear that some of the lyrics of “Living in a Ghost Town” were added after people began self-isolating and the streets of major cities became desolate. Like these ones:

“Life was so beautiful / Then we all got locked down … Please let this be over / Stuck in a world without end.”

It would be sort of eerie if Jagger wrote those lines a year ago, don’t ya think? Don’t worry; he didn’t. During a recent chat with Apple Music, he said he reworked the words after the pandemic hit. He also said he is “very aware how lucky” he is to have financial security while millions of people are being put out of work.

“It’s 20 million people lost their jobs completely for something that’s nothing to do with them at all. And also the less money you have, the more worries you have. So for lots of people, it’s really tough.

“I mean, I have friends and they live in really small apartments in a big city and they don’t have anywhere to go and they’ve lost their job. I’m very, very lucky and I’m very aware how lucky I am, but not everyone’s as lucky as me.”

In the same interview, Jagger was asked to respond to comments made by Paul McCartney that the Beatles were “better” than the Rolling Stones.

“[The Stones] are rooted in the blues,” McCartney told Howard Stern recently. “When they are writing stuff, it has to do with the blues. We had a little more influences. There’s a lot of differences, and I love the Stones, but I’m with you—the Beatles were better.”

Jagger was a good sport about it, saying, “That’s so funny. He’s a sweetheart. There’s obviously no competition.”

“The big difference, though,” he added, “sort of slightly seriously, is that the Rolling Stones is a big concert band in other decades and other areas when the Beatles never even did an arena tour, Madison Square Garden with a decent sound system. They broke up before that business started, the touring business for real.”

Jagger concluded that “One band is unbelievably luckily still playing in stadiums and then the other band doesn’t exist.”

So, what do you think? The Beatles or the Stones?

Or Zeppelin?

Roger Waters hammers Trump, Biden, American Exceptionalism, and Pink Floyd reunions

If you know Roger Waters, you know that he doesn’t shy away from expressing his political views. From supporting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (who is stuck in a prison in London as he fights extradition to the United States) to calling UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson an “oaf and a complete buffoon,” Waters doesn’t like to mince too many words. He has also described US President Donald Trump as a “tyrant and mass murderer and mass destroyer of everything that any of us might love or cherish.”

So it follows that Waters would support the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden against Trump in November, right? Not exactly.

Rolling Stone asked Waters about this in a recent interview. Specifically, the former Pink Floyd singer was asked whether he thinks voters ought to hold their noses, as it were, and cast their ballots for Biden in order to get rid of Trump.

“For the moment, I’m on the fence,” Waters said. “I’m so flabbergasted and gobsmacked by the way the Democratic National Committee has railroaded Bernie [Sanders] again. And has put in place a candidate who … I can’t imagine Biden beating Trump in an election.”

“I honestly don’t know where I stand on that lesser of two evils question,” Waters continued. “I’m not sure that the path to a new America that is not ruled by the current ruling class—by money, plutocracy, and a capitalist system—will be made any easier with Biden as president than with Trump as president.”

In case that’s a little too wishy-washy for your taste, Waters added bluntly:

“Biden is such a fucking slime ball. He’s so weak, and has no appeal to anybody. Trump, at least, is a snake oil salesman, he does tricks. He does them really badly, but people don’t care.”

“I’m so upset at the appalling bill of goods the American electorate is being sold, and they fall for it again and again,” he went on. “On the simplest of pretext, which is: America exceptionalism. ‘We are great. This is the greatest country in the world. We believe in freedom and democracy and human rights. We make everything better. We are the shining city on the hill.’ No you aren’t, you’re fucking awful!”

Perhaps Waters should look into moonlighting as an online tutor. At least until the pandemic ends and he can get back to playing live music.

Waters was equally blunt when the subject of a Pink Floyd reunion came up. To hear Waters tell it, it’s never going to happen. Check it out:

“No, it wouldn’t be nice. It would be fucking awful. Obviously if you’re a fan of those days of Pink Floyd, you would have a different point of view. But I had to live through it. That was my life. And I know in the wake of it, I’ve been cast as something of a villain by whoever, whatever, I can live with that. But would I trade my liberty for those chains? No fucking way.”

Apple has a handwashing music app

As you may or may not have heard, washing your hands is pretty important right now.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says you should wash them:

Before, during, and after preparing food

Before eating food

Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea

Before and after treating a cut or wound

After using the toilet

After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet

After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing

After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste

After handling pet food or pet treats

After touching garbage

And it’s not just a matter of squirting some soap into one hand and rubbing your palms together under the tap for a few seconds. No, according to health experts, it should take you a full 20 seconds to wash your hands.

The CDC says to use the Happy Birthday Song as a timer: sing it all the way through, twice, to make sure you’re scrubbing for long enough. Sounds like something Howard Hughes would do, doesn’t it? Where am I going with this?

Here: Apple has created a shortcut that plays your favorite music for 20 seconds, in case you’re getting sick and tired of the Birthday Song.

Interested? First thing you have to do is install the Apple Shortcuts app on your device. If your iPhone is relatively new, Shortcuts probably came pre-installed. Otherwise just take a stroll over to the Apple App Store, where you can access all kinds of nifty things, like Zello Walkie Talkie, a 2 way radio app.

Next find the right shortcut and download it. The best way to do this is to simply search “washing hands music” in Apple’s gallery. Then, activate the shortcut by tapping the icon or barking an order at Siri.

The app will automatically begin playing the last song you listened to on your phone, and it will play it for 20 seconds, so start washing straight away. If you want, you can make it so that the app plays a song of your choosing every time. Your hand-washing song.

And if you’re one of the millions of weirdos that don’t ever wash their hands, here are some step-by-step instructions from the CDC:

Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.

Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.

Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.

Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.

Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

Now go and wash your hands.

Music venues combine forces as they fight to survive the coronavirus lockdown

We may be social distancing and sheltering in place to soften the sting of the coronavirus—which as of this writing has infected over 2.7 million people and killed over 190,000 worldwide—but we’re also banding together and organising in new and interesting ways. As economies and industries around the world continue to tank, people are beginning to understand the importance of social, political, and economic unity.

Take the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), for example. Created on April 17 by the leading independent music venues and promoters in the United States, the organisation’s express purpose is “to fight for the survival of independent venues, their employees, artists, fans and their communities,” all reeling from the blows inflicted by the pandemic. More than 100,000 independent music concerts have been canceled.

“Until now, independent venues and promoters have inherently been islands unto themselves, fighting fiercely in brutal, individual marketplaces,” NIVA writes on its webpage. “But the pandemic has brought a crashing halt to business operations of small and mid-sized venues across the country and threatens their existence.”

NIVA goes on to mention the significant cultural and economic role played by independent music venues, highlighting the fact that, per a 2016 study, the live music industry in the US generates approximately $23.5 billion in revenue each year.

Dayna Frank, the owner of First Avenue in Minneapolis and a NIVA board member, described the current situation facing venues as “brutal.”

“Music venues were the first to close and will be the last to open,” Frank said. “It’s just brutal right now, and the future is predictable to no one. We can’t envision a world without these music venues, so we’ve created NIVA to fight for their ability to survive this shutdown, which we hear could go into 2021. Our first order of business is to push to secure federal funding to preserve the ecosystem of live music venues and touring artists.”

To that end, NIVA has just addressed an open letter to the leaders of the US Congress. In it, the organisation thanks lawmakers for their relief efforts and lists steps it believes they ought to take in order to keep the industry from collapsing. These include: amendments to the small business loan program so that companies most in need are served first; tax deferrals and other forms of relief; further expansion of unemployment benefits (26 million Americans have lost their jobs due to coronavirus); mortgage and rent forbearance; establishment of business recovery funds; and more.

“In short,” the letter reads, “our members, employees, artists and local communities are facing an existential crisis as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and are in urgent need of targeted legislative and regulatory assistance.”

NIVA consists of over 800 independent music venues spanning 48 states.

This virus has been tough on us all. I don’t know what your sleep cycle is like these days, but mine is way out of whack. It probably won’t be right again until I can see some live music. Let’s hope independent music venues in other countries follow NIVA’s example and press their legislatures to provide the necessary assistance to keep this great industry afloat.

Beastie Boys: No band without MCA

Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, the surviving members of the Beastie Boys, have been making the rounds in support of Beastie Boys Story, an upcoming documentary film directed by Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Her).

In a recent interview with LL Cool J on his Rock the Bells Radio show, Mike D and Ad-Rock were asked if they planned on releasing any new music as the Beastie Boys, which they have not done since founding member Adam “MCA” Yauch died of cancer in 2012.

The answer to that question appears to be no, with Ad-Rock explaining that keeping the Beastie Boys going wouldn’t feel right without MCA’s presence.

“I mean, he started the band,” Ad-Rock said. “Do you know what I mean? It’d be weird…. For all these years, Mike and I have always done side things or just all kinds of projects, and we’re always happy for each other and inspired by each other. But the band is the band. And without Adam, it’s not the band.”

Mike D added that, while they do not intend to make a new record, all of their creative endeavors are done with MCA in mind, as a sort of tribute to his memory.

“I felt so good about being able to do these projects,” Mike D said. “We’re still doing stuff as a band, but it’s not like we’re trying to make a record as a band without Yauch.”

So it looks like Beastie Boys fans will have to make do with the band’s existing discography, which features eight studio albums spanning 25 years. Their first, License to Ill, came out in 1986 (before the days of messenger chatbot agencies), and they released their final album, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, in 2011. They also have nine EPs and four compilation albums.

In another recent chat, GQ asked the guys how much of their memories are bitter as opposed to sweet.

“The bitter stuff was when we were looking at videos,” Ad-Rock said. “Like when you watch yourself? When you’re a teenager and you thought you were really cool? It’s tough.”

But Mike D stressed that, in spite of their regrets, they have to be satisfied with the bigger picture.

“But even that stuff, that’s the bitter part, yeah, but it becomes sweet because we’re the freakin’ most fortunate people alive,” he said. “We got not only to live through that, but then also to have done all this other stuff, and now we get to comment on it and stand on stage and call ourselves out.”

Beastie Boys Story will be available to stream from Apple TV+ April 24.

Apple Music now streaming in 167 countries

Apple is taking over the world. On Tuesday the tech giant announced it is expanding its global footprint by introducing services to numerous markets throughout Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and other regions. The expanded services include Apple Music, App Store, Apple Podcasts, Apple Arcade, and iCloud.

The biggest enlargement is Apple Music, which is now streaming in a further 52 countries. The other apps have expanded to 20 additional countries. As Reuters notes, it marks the company’s most significant expansion since 2012, when it extended the iTunes Store to over 50 countries including Russia and India.

“We’re delighted to bring many of Apple’s most beloved Services to users in more countries than ever before,” said Oliver Schusser, Apple’s vice president of Apple Music and International Content. “We hope our customers can discover their new favorite apps, games, music, and podcasts as we continue to celebrate the world’s best creators, artists, and developers.”

Big companies like Apple, of course, have the best SEO, which comes from having money to afford all the best resources. SEO is crucial to business success in the digital age, which is why smaller or startup companies should consider an enterprise SEO audit to help them get the most out of their online presence.

According to a press release from Apple, all of the apps mentioned above are now available in these places:

Africa: Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Libya, Morocco, Rwanda, and Zambia.

Asia-Pacific: Maldives and Myanmar.

Europe: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia.

Middle East: Afghanistan (excluding Apple Music) and Iraq.

Oceania: Nauru (excluding Apple Music), Tonga, and Vanuatu.

And Apple Music is further expanding here:

Africa: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Chad, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Republic of the Congo, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Tunisia.

Asia-Pacific: Bhutan.

Europe: Croatia, Iceland, and North Macedonia.

Latin America and the Caribbean: the Bahamas, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Turks and Caicos, and Uruguay.

Middle East: Kuwait, Qatar, and Yemen.

Oceania: Solomon Islands.

Thus, Apple Music, which offers more than 6 million songs for streaming, is now available in 167 countries. By comparison, Spotify—Apple’s main rival for music streaming—is available in 79 countries.

“New Apple Music subscribers in the 52 additional countries can enjoy a six-month free trial of the service, with locally curated playlists including Africa Now, Afrobeats Hits, Ghana Bounce, and more,” Apple stated.

According to Reuters, Apple’s services account for nearly 18 percent of its total revenue ($260.1 billion last fiscal year). The company’s goal is to have 600 million customers subscribing to its services by the end of 2020. Which helps explain this massive expansion of its tentacles into all corners of the global economy. Funny how capitalism supposedly breeds competition, but always ends up giving rise to monopolies. Almost as if by design …

Sonos rolls out music streaming service

Audio equipment manufacturer Sonos has unveiled its own streaming service—Sonos Radio. Over 60,000 stations can be streamed, many of them without ads. Included are stations available through iHeartRadio and TuneIn, as well as Artist Stations that play music curated by well-known artists like David Byrne, Thom Yorke, Brittany Howard, and Alabama Shakes. The Artist Stations are all ad-free.

Sonos Sound System is the company’s flagship station hosted by Sonos staff, who will also choose the music, from a studio in New York City. Free of ads, the station will broadcast original programming including “new and well-known” music, stories about recording artists, and radio hours hosted by guest artists. The radio hours are 60 minutes long and will broadcast every Wednesday.

The station’s catalog will dabble in a range of music genres. Among the listed categories are Blues Masters, Concert Hall, Indie Gold, and Punk Riot.

Returning to the Artist Stations, Thom Yorke’s goes online today (April 21). Called In the Absence Thereof …, the station features songs recorded by some of Yorke’s own musical influences.  “Here, in a new form,” York said, “is that ever rolling compilation/office chart habit of mine of putting together what I have found recently that fascinates or moves me, what obsesses me, challenges me, opens new doors, reminds me of what I might have forgotten.”

Along with Artist Stations and Sonos Sound System, there are 30 Sonos Stations, each committed to one genre. While free like the others, Sonos Stations feature advertisements, so you might find yourself switching between them frequently.

Speaking to TechCrunch, Sonos Product Marketing Director Ryan Richards said the company is taking its new service platform one step at a time. For now the object is providing customers with an assorted listening experience, but paid subscriptions and on-demand content could follow.

“This is about lean-back listening, it’s about discovery,” Richards said. “There are a lot of options for active listening out there, too, and so what we’re really focused on is first and foremost making the best possible radio service for our customers. In the future, we’ll see how that changes, but that’s what we’re focused on now.”

Sonos Radio will reportedly stream at 128Kbps, which is standard for internet radio, though lower than Spotify’s 160Kbps, which rises to 320Kbps for customers paying for premium service. (Some services, e.g. Qobuz, stream at 850Kbps, which is like the women’s cashmere of audio). To begin with, the original Sonos stations are available in the US, UK, Canada, Ireland, and Australia. More countries will be added to the list as the project moves forward.

How is coronavirus affecting music? Here’s how one industry leader sees it

Covid-19 has rattled industries throughout the world. The music industry is no exception. Concerts have been canceled and record stores are closed. Even online orders of physical products have been disrupted, because internet retailers like Amazon are falling behind on shipments. In a new blog post written for Music Business Worldwide, Believe CEO Denis Ladegaillerie describes the impact he thinks coronavirus will have on the retail side of the business.

Headquartered in Paris, Believe is a global music distributor and the world’s number one distributor of digital independent music.

From Believe’s perspective, physical music sales will not pick back up significantly until late summer—early September at the soonest. Artists will have to be flexible and creative as a result.

“We are closely observing countries like France or Germany, which only got into COVID-19 confinement recently, or the US, which is still not in complete confinement everywhere,” Ladegaillerie wrote. “We are taking the assumption that confinement isn’t likely to be lifted for another five or six weeks, which takes us into May. After that, you’re still going to see restrictions on retail – let’s say that takes us into early June. Then it’s the summer, which is typically a quiet time for physical music sales anyway.”

In view of all that, Ladegaillerie estimates that, between now and summertime, Believe’s physical music sales will drop by anywhere from 70 to 90 percent. And the sales they do make in this period will be mostly direct-to-fan (from the artist to the consumer), Ladegaillerie explained.

“In France we are putting a task-force together to organize D2C business on most of our releases and build initiatives even more after the lockdown. Direct to fan works very well on hip-hop, as well as metal – the artist Kekra recently made almost 60% of his sales first week with purely D2C physical sales.”

One of Believe’s artists, Nightwish, recently shipped over 10,000 products to fans after releasing their latest album on April 10.

But Believe is still encouraging its artists to push back the release of new LPs until later in the year in order to avoid poor sales. In the meantime, Ladegaillerie writes, artists should concentrate on connecting with audiences on social media, while still releasing singles and EPs.

Even when stores open back up and retail begins returning to normal, physical music sales will still be a fraction of what they were before the pandemic began—about 50 percent, Believe believes. But here is the silver lining: digital sales are expected to soar as more consumers turn to this option as a substitute for physical products. Of course, the harm caused by pirating still exists, perhaps more than ever before. Pirating is not a victimless crime—it ought to be prosecuted, and it ought to show up on NSW police checks.

Nevertheless, digital is key right now. “Believe’s key message to artists and labels today is to try to make the best out of this situation by accelerating your knowledge of the digital business …” This means artists have to embrace the digital world even more than they had before, promoting upcoming albums and engaging with fans on social media as much as possible. That way they increase the likelihood of a successful physical release when the time finally comes.