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There was a feminist outcry when the band used a tied-up model to promote their 1976 album. Is rocknroll more enlightened now?

Even by the standards of 1970s rocknroll, it was in bad taste: a billboard on Sunset Boulevard of a bruised and bound woman sitting on a gatefold cover of a new Rolling Stones album that proclaimed: Im Black and Blue from the Rolling Stones and I love it.

The 1976 advert triggered an outcry: Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW) wrote in the newsletter Breakthrough that the ad campaign exploits and sensationalises violence against a woman for the purpose of increased record sales and contributes to the myth that women like to be beaten, and condones a permissive attitude towards the brutalisation of women.

The controversial advert for the Rolling Stones Black and Blue album from 1976, featuring the model Anita Russell. Photograph: Atlantic Records

Five women connected with the group armed with buckets of fire-engine-red paint, according to the magazine Mother Jones defaced the hoarding, writing This is a crime against women. The bands label, Atlantic Records, pulled the campaign. The band apologised. By way of an explanation, Mick Jagger said hed applied the simulated bruises himself.

I didnt mind at all, in fact I was happy for the work, model Anita Russell told the Observer last week on the 44th anniversary of the albums release and the impending reissue of much of the bands later back catalogue, remastered at Abbey Road using a technique for extracting more sound from the original mastering tapes. Black and Blue is one of 10 albums being reissued and, not surprisingly, it will not be accompanied by the original ad campaign.

Russell recalls that she hadnt expected to get the booking. At a casting with Jagger and photographer Ara Gallant in New York, Russell passed the part-African-American model Pat Cleveland on the stairs and felt sure shed get it. Mick told me I was too pretty, so I smeared my makeup and said, See, Im not so pretty. Then he told me to put my arms up and told me to make a face like Im growling.

Days later, Russell, Jagger, Keith Richards and Gallant got together to make the picture. I knew about Im black and blue from the Rolling Stones, and I knew that the bruises meant Id been beaten and tied. But I wasnt a model who could only pose and look pretty, and I wasnt insulted because I knew it was tongue-in-cheek, she says.

Russell, who is now an equestrian and author, recalls that the musicians were charming and polite. Im an actress-model, so it seemed like fun, she adds. I never thought of it in a negative way. Jagger asked her out. She demurred. I didnt want to get passed around from star to star, but I thought he was cuter than in his photographs.

But the ad came out just as French Vogue published a Helmut Newton picture of a woman wearing a bridle and saddle, amplifying the controversy. Russell played along with the outrage: she posed for a National Lampoon magazine cover imagining Jagger tied up, with Russell looking on, laughing.

Close to half a century on, the billboard ad stands as a turning point. WAVAW organised a boycott of Warner, Elektra and Atlantic Records lasting three years, which was only lifted after Warner Communications agreed to let the group implement a sensitivity training programme for advertising executives at the entertainment giant. There was a riposte a year later when the punk band X-Ray Spex released Oh Bondage Up Yours!.

Evelyn McDonnell, author of Women Who Rock: Bessie to Beyonce. Girl Groups to Riot Grrrl theorises that the campaign brought some attention to the album but ultimately overshadowed it. It certainly didnt let the music speak for itself, and the controversy doesnt age well.

While Andrea Dworkin and Women Against Violence might have seemed like radical fringe feminism then, that reaction is mainstream now. A record company just wouldnt allow it nowadays. It would becancel culture, McDonnell says.

The Rolling Stones album cover for their 1976 Black and Blue album.

She points out notwithstanding the fact that women, too, have played extensively with the iconography of bondage and fetishism, from the Plasmatics Wendy O Williams to Shakira throwing off her ropes during Februarys Super Bowl half-time show that equality, real or symbolic, wasnt always forthcoming in the business.

Its better than it was. There are certainly a lot of amazing women artists and theyre more acknowledged in the industry, she says, but its certainly not perfect or equitable.

Its great that Anita Russell felt she had agency in what she was doing, but for women walking down Sunset who might have been in abusive relationships, or were trying to get ahead in the music industry, that billboard might have felt like a reality.

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With Katy Perry and Led Zeppelins recent judgments reversing previous rulings, musicians dont know which way to tread

Have you written a song? A song so memorable that everyone who hears it starts humming it? A song so good it feels as though it has been around forever and you simply plucked it from the ether? Then a word of advice: get an expert to listen to it. Because somewhere, someone is going to be sure your song was copied from theirs.

An old music industry adage holds that where theres a hit, theres a writ. It was true in 1963, when the Beach Boys released Surfin USA, and Chuck Berry duly noted that the song was simply his own 1958 hit Sweet Little Sixteen with new lyrics (Berrys publisher, Arc Music, was granted the publishing rights, and from 1966 Berry was listed alongside Brian Wilson as a writer of the song). And its especially true now after several recent cases.

March alone saw two important judgments about music theft in appeals courts in California. First the ninth circuit court of appeals ruled that Led Zeppelins Stairway to Heaven did not crib from Taurus by Spirit. Then a federal court overturned last years jury verdict that Katy Perrys Dark Horse had stolen from the song Joyful Noise by the Christian rapper Flame.

Katy Perry performing Dark Horse in Los Angeles in 2014. A federal court in March overturned a 2019 verdict that the song had stolen from Flames Joyful Noise. Photograph: Youtube

Whats important, though, is not whether anyone was plagiarised, but whether a copyright was infringed. Plagiarism and copyright infringement are related but they are distinctly different, says Peter Oxendale, who has been a professional forensic musicologist someone who offers expert analysis of compositions for legal purposes for more than 40 years.

Copyright, for example, does not protect ideas but rather the fixed detailed expression of those ideas. Copyright infringement is a legal matter known as a tort, he says. Plagiarism, on the other hand, is an ethical matter and occurs when someone uses the ideas or works of someone else in their own work without giving the appropriate credit to the original source. The cases that come to court are not about plagiarism; theyre about infringement of copyright.

Members of Led Zeppelin pictured in 1970. A US appeals court has found the bands Stairway to Heaven did not crib from Taurus by Spirit. Photograph: AP

The Zeppelin and Perry cases have been hailed as important because they appear to offer songwriters the latitude they seemed to have been denied by a crucial earlier trial. In December 2018 the long-running and highly controversial case involving the song Blurred Lines came to a close, when Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, two of the songs writers, were ordered to pay just short of $5m to the estate of Marvin Gaye, for Blurred Lines similarity to Gayes 1977 song Got To Give It Up.

Blurred Lines certainly stirred up the music community, says Joe Bennett, a forensic musicologist based at Berklee College of Music, in Boston. The reason it had so many musicians concerned is that the two songs are demonstrably different in their melodies, lyrics, and underlying chords. It hasnt set a legal precedent exactly, because every plagiarism case is judged on its individual merits, and every comparison is different, but it certainly has shifted the culture among songwriters, and made many worried about unintentional similarity leading to unfair accusations of copyright infringement.

What the Blurred Lines case did was to allow something previously unheard of: the notion that the feel of a record could be copyrighted. Given that the musician who didnt want to replicate the feel of a beloved record, if not its chords and melody, has yet to be born, the verdict sent shudders through the industry.

Much of the feel of a song is created by instrumentation, production techniques and other elements that many people consider to not be part of the song itself, says Peter Mason, a music law expert at the solicitors Wiggin LLP. The difference is starkly demonstrated by comparing Blurred Lines to the Stairway to Heaven case, in which the jury was limited to considering only the notes of the composition, as registered at the US copyright office.

Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams performing at Miami Beach, Florida, in 2013. A court in 2018 ordered them to pay $5m to the estate of Marvin Gaye. Photograph: Startraks/Rex

Taking away the similarities in sound, feel or playing style reduced the similarity between the compositions. Importantly, much of what remained was commonplace and therefore not protected by copyright.

Nevertheless, says Oxendale, We are aware of a number of well-known clients who have been told to never cite the source of their inspiration in public or in print. This, in my view, has resulted in the stifling of creativity to the extent that inspiration is now being confused with appropriation.

Conversely, we are also seeing a growing number of instructions from clients who wish to pursue claims for infringement of copyright based on the use of nothing more than similar musical or lyrical ideas. I believe the Blurred Lines verdict has had a significant impact on the music industry as a whole and this is reflected in the number of cases coming into our office.

For all the high-profile court cases, though, many music copyright infringement claims never see the light of day. One major star who must remain nameless employed a musicologist for the specific purpose of listening to new releases in order to note any resemblance to their own works. The writer of any offending song received a polite note expressing the desire to avoid any embarrassment, and suggesting the whole matter might be resolved by a payment, without the need to shame the writer by going public or forcing a change to the songwriting credits.

Since the Blurred Lines case, notes Mason, other songwriters have pre-empted litigation by adding writers who might conceivably have had a claim to writing credits famously, Mark Ronsons worldwide hit Uptown Funk ended up with 11 writers. The average number of writers on hit songs has increased dramatically over the last five years or so, Mason says, and part of this is due to composers agreeing to add the authors of past songs that are somewhat similar.

Why, though, do all the best-known copyright infringement cases come from the worlds of pop and rock? After all, one rarely hears of classical composers fighting it out in court, or jazz players arguing furiously about whether one has ripped off the others saxophone solo.

I think there are two reasons, Bennett says. First, popular song is a constrained art form, with a palette of statistically predictable phrase lengths, song forms, scale and chord choices, lyric tropes and song durations. These norms are largely defined by market forces, through massed listener preferences over time affecting the kind of creative decisions that songwriters are likely to make.

Beyonc presesnting the award for record of the year, Uptown Funk, to Mark Ronson during the 2016 Grammy music awards. To avoid litigation, the song was credited with 11 writers. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty

Its a type of cultural Darwinism, in a sense, but thats not to diminish the songwriters art writing a world-class hit is incredibly difficult, and needs everyone in the artists production team to excel.

Second, pop is where the money is. A plagiarism lawsuit is a financial matter party A is pursuing party B for compensation, so theres little point in going after someone whose work has not generated significant income.

You might think, of course, that musicians and songwriters are pinching from each other all the time weve all listened to songs and been reminded of something else. There are some artists, in fact, who seem to have made careers out of sounding like someone else: neither ELO nor Oasis would deny their respective debts to the Beatles.

Sometimes, though, musicians dont even realise they are borrowing. On a recent edition of the Reply All podcast, Princes longtime recording engineer Susan Rogers remembered him sitting at the piano and picking out a melody. He liked it, he noted. But had it already been written?

Subconscious recollection is called cyrptomnesia, and it has been responsible for some notable copyright infringements: in the 1976 case where George Harrison was sued for the similarity of My Sweet Lord to the Chiffons Hes So Fine, the judge described the similarity as an example of unconscious copying. Sam Smiths Stay With Me ended up getting Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne added to its writing credits, because of its similarity to their song Wont Back Down, and Petty observed, without rancour: All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen. Most times you catch it before it gets out the studio door but in this case it got by.

As Bennett puts it: Most melodic similarity is coincidental, and most accusations of melodic plagiarism are unfounded. In the rare cases when the similarity is so striking that it appears to be evidence of plagiarism, then yes its usually unintentional. Songwriters have almost zero incentive to copy melodies verbatim, and enormous economic disincentives to do so.

The miracle, perhaps, is not that there are so many accusations of musical copyright infringement, but so few. Consider that thereare just 12 semitones in an octave. Or think about how many songs that derive from the blues use the 1-4-5 chord progression (Twist and Shout; Blitzkrieg Bop; Louie Louie and Wild Thing and thousands more). What makes a song special is not its chords, or its top-line melody, or its lyrics, or its feel. It is how it combines all those elements.

Listeners dont hear songs as simple linear sequences of pitches they hear everything all at once, and its that combination of elements, in a recording or at a live show, that produces the powerful emotional response that we find so intoxicating, Joe Bennett says. If the cultural value of a song subsisted only in its melody, the world wouldnt need performers, lyricists, producers, or artists.

And, as everyone sitting in their living room gazing at the empty world outside knows, the word really does need all those people, for the sake of its sanity.

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Health concerns have caused a number of high-profile singers to quit the road but what will it all mean for the industry at large?

In a chilling quote from much-loved music documentary The Last Waltz, about The Bands final concert in 1976, leader Robbie Robertson looks straight into the camera and ominously says: The road will kill you.

At the time, he was just 34. Yet, over four decades later, musicians of his storied era are still on the road and facing escalating health issues as a consequence. Since the start of this year, Ozzy Osbourne, 71, had to cancel his 2020 tour to seek treatment for issues related to his recent diagnosis of Parkinsons disease. Elton John, 72, had to ditch dates on what was already advertised as his goodbye tour, after declaring himself extremely unwell. Madonna, 61, was forced to scratch a bunch of shows from her British tour due to overwhelming pain from injuries she sustained on the road which already caused her to nix some US dates. Meanwhile, Aerosmith felt compelled to disinvite drummer Joey Kramer from their Grammy performance, over alleged difficulties the 69-year-old was having keeping the beat, while the group itself has had to scratch dates due to various health issues experienced by Steven Tyler. Then, just this last week, the 56-year-old frontman of Metallica, James Hetfield, needed to cancel shows to, in his words, look after my mental, physical and spiritual health.

All this comes hot on the heels of an escalating wave of older stars whove either quit the road entirely or begun their last hurrahs, including Paul Simon at 78, Bob Seger at 74, Kiss aged between 68 to 70, Neil Diamond at 79, and Eric Clapton at 74.

The fact is, its really hard to tour, says Dave Brooks, who covers the concert industry for Billboard. Its terribly hard on your body, and mentally difficult too.

Jem Aswad, senior music editor of the trade publication Variety, says: People think its easy to be a rock star. But try to hold the attention of 18,000 people, and perform really well, for two and a half hours every night. Its an incredibly tough thing to sustain.

Elton John apologising to fans after cutting short a concert in Auckland. Photograph: Tim McCready/AFP via Getty Images

If all that wear-and-tear takes a toll on older performers, their increasing absence from the road threatens to weaken the concert industrys bottom line. According to the industrys most authoritative source, Pollstar, five out of the top 10 worldwide tours of the last year featured band members over the age of 50. Three of those were peopled with players aged 60 to nearly 80. In Pollstars list of top 200 North American tours, the top three earners were over 70, including Elton, Bob Seger and the Stones.

When it comes to the highest grossing single shows worldwide, four of the top five positions were occupied by a group with players over age 70, while 16 of the top 20 shows featured the same band. That would be the Rolling Stones, who are about to embark on yet another American jaunt this spring and summer, despite the fact that Mick Jagger had to have heart valve replacement surgery last April.

Small wonder Aswad calls older rock stars the cornerstone of the concert industry. He adds: Its a very real problem the industry is facing over the next ten years if more of them go out.

Especially since the audience who attends shows by older stars has the deepest pockets, raising profits for everyone. Its a demographic that has some of the highest per capita income, Brooks says. If the rockers are ageing out, their customers are leaving the marketplace.

And that has increasing consequence for the entire music business, given the paltry revenue generated by modern streaming compared to the hugely lucrative sales of old CDs. For most artists, touring is the biggest revenue generator, Brooks says.

In fact, the revenue the biggest bands create can rival the GDP of a small nation. Top stars can command an 80-20 or in some cases, even a 95-5 split of the funds from shows, with the lower portions going to the promoter. More, top artists can clean up at the merch table. A lot of bands are selling beyond the T-shirt or a poster right now, Brooks says. Some of whats sold is considered fashion and even vinyl collectables.

Given such earning power, concerts play a powerful role in the economy overall. According to Brooks, the touring industry is generally estimated to generate between $50-60bn worldwide, aided by expanding markets in eastern Europe and Asia. Despite such daunting figures, the industrys closest observers say they arent at all worried about the business ability to make up for the losses created by hobbled, or retired, oldsters. Ray Waddell, who has covered the concert business for over 30 years and who oversees Pollstar and Venues Now, says: The industry has shown a remarkable ability to regenerate and replicate itself with new headliners, whether they be Billie Eilish, Ariana Grande or Ed Sheeran. Acts can break more quickly now, given the international accessibility of music and the new ways of discovering music.

The changes dont only reflect a new generation of fans but a switch in the popularity of genres. Everybody tends to think about rock stars when they think about top touring acts, says Aswad. But pop is replacing it. We could very well be looking at a situation, 10 years from now, where the top touring acts will be Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and Ed Sheeran.

In fact, the single highest grossing tour worldwide for the last year, according to Pollstar, was by Pink, who is just 40. In a 12-month period, she sold over 1.8m tickets, yielding a gross of $215.2m, aided by a performance as prized for its death-defying acrobatics as its music. Doing strong business over the last year as well were twenty-something stars Shawn Mendes and Post-Malone, and the teen K-pop phenom, BTS, who were the sixth top grossing act in the world.

Mike Campbell, left, and Tom Petty in 2017. Photograph: Amy Harris/Invision/AP

Even if the industry can keep thriving, however, theres potential peril for those elders who keep trying to slog it out. In 2017, Tom Petty died days after finishing a tour at the age of 66, due to overuse of medications he was taking to deal with pain accrued from a lifetime on the road, including knee difficulties and a fractured hip. A year after his death, his wife, Dana, told Billboard: Hed had it in his mind this was his last tour and he owed it to his long-time crew and his fans.

The clear implication here is that Petty died, in part, because of a sense of duty to support the team around him, to his fans, and to the unspoken code of the road. Factors like these keep many artists on the road, even if they happen to have the personal wealth of Croesus, and theyre not, necessarily, in the best shape. In 2016, Prince died from overdosing on the prescription medicine he was given to deal with pain caused by years of leaping around the stage in high heels. Given stories like these, Robbie Robertsons quote seems not just cautionary, but prophetic.

At the same time, many of the old war horses have proven themselves incredibly hearty, as well as eager. These artists live to perform, Waddell says. You can sell, or download, millions of records, but thats no substitute for 20,000 people loving every move you make. Very few people get to experience anything that powerful.

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Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande and Camila Cabello have all appealed to their millions of followers to take coronavirus more seriously, as other artists are criticised for continuing tours

Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande are among the pop stars using their considerable clout with fans to appeal for behavioural change during the coronavirus outbreak.

Eilish delivered a five-minute Instagram story to her 57 million followers, saying: Ive seen a lot of young people out in the world, all over the place, going to the club or going to the beach or just going out and hanging out, and its really irresponsible. She highlighted that young fans could pass it to more vulnerable relatives, and added: Please take responsibility for your endurance of this.

Swift spoke to her 128.2m Instagram followers to say: I love you guys so much and need to express my concern that things arent being taken seriously enough right now Im seeing lots of get-togethers and hangs and parties still happening. This is the time to cancel plans. Dont assume that because you dont feel sick that you arent possibly passing something on to someone elderly or vulnerable to this.

On Sunday, Grande wrote to her 72m Twitter followers: I keep hearing from a surprising amount of people statements like This isnt a big deal it is incredibly selfish and dangerous to take this situation that lightly. The We will be fine because were young mindset is putting people who arent young and/or healthy in a lot of danger. You sound stupid and privileged and you need to care more about others. Like now.

Ariana Grande (@ArianaGrande)


March 15, 2020

US singer Camila Cabello said: Especially as young people, even if we are healthy, its important to practice compassion and help others that could be suffering. We are in this together, lets not be indifferent to others risk. She advised her 48m Instagram followers to practise meditation to help quell any anxiety.

Their appeals come as other music stars have been criticised for going ahead with concerts during the crisis. Welsh indie band Stereophonics played a series of arena concerts over the weekend, attracting tens of thousands of fans, and defended the decision by saying: The UK governments position was that at this phase there was no need for a ban on large public gatherings. Acting on this guidance, we continued with the last three shows of our UK tour on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, as did many other events across the entertainment industry.

Music stars including Lewis Capaldi, pictured performing in London last week, have been criticised for going ahead with concerts. Photograph: Burak ng/Redferns

Scottish pop singer Lewis Capaldi used the same reasoning for playing an arena concert after Scotland announced the cancellation of large-scale events but before the ban came into force.

A spokesperson said of the Scottish governments advisory document: The advice applies from Monday March 16, and is not expected to have a significant impact on the spread of Covid-19, and this is not its purpose, but that it aims to relieve pressure on public services, including emergency services. Security, first aid, medical and welfare teams were paid for by the organisers as normal and the venue had additional signage in place to highlight best practice on hygiene during the event.

Tens of major tours have been cancelled, including those by Elton John, Foo Fighters and Celine Dion.

Stars are now looking to livestreaming as an alternative. Coldplay frontman Chris Martin took to Instagram Live yesterday to perform his bands songs as well as a cover of David Bowies Life on Mars. Maybe 9/11 was the last time I felt like we were all together, he said.

The performance was part of a new initiative from the World Health Organization and Global Citizen called Together, at Home. John Legend is the next performer lined up for the series.

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Overdoses or violent crime have claimed Mac Miller, Juice WRLD and Nipsey Hussle. Its not a fairytale lifestyle, admits an insider but should the business do more to protect its stars?

It might sound callous, but Jacob Thuresons parents, Erik and Judy, were not too worried when they heard about his latest overdose. It had happened a couple of times already and the 18-year-old rapper had always made it out of hospital in one piece. Thureson, who performed under the name Hella Sketchy, was among the wave of emo-influenced trap rappers who came up using the music platform SoundCloud. He had recently relocated from the family home in Texas to Los Angeles after being signed to Atlantic Records.

As Erik drove to work, he cycled through a mental list of options: more inpatient treatment? Thureson had already been to rehab, twice. Ketamine therapy?

There would be no further plan of action. Shortly after Erik left for work, Judy received another phone call. Things were very bad, and they should come to the hospital now. Fourteen days later, on 27 June 2019, Thureson died.

Many young rappers have died in the past few years. Mac Miller died in 2018 aged 26 after consuming cocaine and counterfeit oxycodone containing the synthetic opioid fentanyl. Lil Peep died at 21 in 2017 an accidental fentanyl and Xanax overdose. Juice WRLD died late last year after a drug-induced seizure aboard a private jet. It is believed he swallowed multiple Percocet pills in an attempt to hide them as police raided the plane. On New Years Day, a rare female death: Minnesota rapper Lexii Alijai, the victim of yet another accidental fentanyl overdose.

Alongside these deaths by misadventure, there are the victims of violent crime. Despite being accused of horrific abuse by an ex-partner, XXXTentacion enjoyed massive popularity before being killed in 2018 aged 20 as he was robbed outside a Florida motorcycle dealership. Pittsburgh rapper Jimmy Wopo touted as the heir to local forebears Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller was killed in a drive-by shooting the same day. Two weeks later, 21-year-old Canadian rapper and Drake tourmate Smoke Dawg was killed outside a Toronto nightclub. In March 2019, Nipsey Hussle was shot dead outside his Los Angeles clothing store.

Lil Peep, who died from an accidental fentanyl and Xanax overdose.

Many of these rappers engaged with their own mortality in lyrics that talked about death, drugs and depression. Death is everywhere in SoundCloud rap: the genres unofficial logo is a teardrop. Smokepurpp posed in a coffin in the artwork for his mixtape Deadstar, and Peep often called the Kurt Cobain of his generation owing to his cherubic face, placid manner and dedication to his ever-spiralling nihilism intoned: Everybody tellin me lifes short, but I wanna die, on his 2017 track The Brightside.

Looking at such lyrics, you might reasonably conclude that these rappers wanted to die. But while some of them did experience mental illness and addiction, their death wish was as much of an aesthetic as the pink hair and facial tattoos. So why did the nihilistic pose become a self-fulfilling prophecy, ending the lives of young people barely out of their teens? And what can be done to arrest it?

One problem lies in the way these rappers careers have built with unprecedented speed. While earlier generations of musicians might spend years gigging before being spotted, DIY rap stars have circumvented the record industrys gatekeepers to accrue wealth and success often while still in their teens leaving them struggling to adapt to sudden fame. Peep went from having no manager to being managed by a very large company that deals with high-profile artists, and with that came more money and more pressure, says his friend and collaborator Adam McIlwee, who performs as Wicca Phase Springs Eternal.

In an industry that is ruthlessly dedicated to discovering the hot new thing, pastoral care can be nonexistent. Record labels often dont care about these rappers. They know that when theyre done, the next SoundCloud or Instagram rapper is behind them, says Calvin Smiley, an expert in hip-hop and social justice at Hunter College in New York. On an even more cynical note, he questions why Juice WRLD was carrying his drugs personally. Ive been around hip-hop artists, and the rule of thumb is that there is a friend who holds the drugs and takes the fall, Smiley says. You wonder: where were his handlers? Where were the people giving him direction?

The role of management is also coming under scrutiny. Peeps mother, Liza Womack, is suing First Access Entertainment, who managed the rapper. She claims that they encouraged drug use on Lil Peeps final tour, would obtain drugs for him, and pushed the rapper beyond the limits of what somebody of his age and maturity level could handle emotionally, mentally, and physically. (First Access Entertainment did not respond to a request for comment, but in a legal filing has said its dealings with Peep were purely of a business nature and not the type of special relationship giving rise to an independent duty of care.) McIlwee claims that Peep had a fight with his management shortly before he died. I know there was a show he did not want to play for whatever reason and [the drug-taking] was him just showing the world he didnt really care.

McIlwee says that labels and management should give artists time to recover. If your artist is in trouble, you have to step in and say its time to take a step back or re-evaluate the release schedule, the touring, he says. So the artist can get healthy and have a long career. But that doesnt happen much, because long careers are boring.

There are signs that lessons are being learned. Giuseppe Zappala of Galactic Records manages Lil Tecca, the 17-year-old SoundCloud wunderkind whose track Ransom reached No 4 in the US and has amassed more than 650m plays on Spotify. He has learned to read Teccas moods carefully: if the young rapper appears overtired, Zappala will clear the schedules. He ensures that Tecca has at least a day off between shows and that tours last no longer than five weeks. Sometimes he brings chefs on the road to ensure he is eating healthily. Sleep is another priority, although there is a limit to what Zappala can do, given that Tecca is a teenager. There will definitely be times when Tec wants to go to the studio until 8am, Zappala sighs. I say: That may not make the most sense, because youve got a show tomorrow at 1pm. Its about trying to instil routine in him.

Fans pay their respects to Nipsey Hussle at the spot where he was murdered. Photograph: David McNew/Getty

But young rappers can face just as much pressure from outside the industry: The environments where these kids come from its not a fairytale lifestyle, says Taylor Maglin, who discovered Wopo and managed him until his death. Its a war zone, you know? Rivals get created, enemies get created. He believes that Wopo was murdered by disaffected members of a rival gang, who were envious of his success. (Wopo was allegedly a member of the Hill District gang 11 Hunnit, and was name-checked in a police indictment shortly after his death.)

XXXTentacions lawyer, David Bogenschutz, says the rapper had been concerned that someone would kidnap or kill him. He was generating money and notoriety. The day XXXTentacion was shot, it is believed he was stalked from his bank to the motorcycle dealership.

The rap game isnt like any other industry, says producer Jimmy Duval, who worked with XXX. There are a lot of guns and bullets flying around.

Smiley says that hip-hops relationships with drugs has changed absolutely. Earlier generations of rappers used drugs as a tool to accrue wealth, speaking about selling them as a way out of poverty, rather than using narcotics themselves (bar weed and alcohol). Once success arrived, drugs were used as a social signifier: music videos depicting tables groaning with bottles of Hennessy and cocaine-dusted mirrors. That reality has shifted to a more flagrant form of glamorisation.

A turning point came at the turn of the 2010s, when rapper Juicy J helped popularise lean, then the drug of choice in Houstons chopped and screwed music scene. An addictive and dangerous concoction of soda, candy and prescription cough mixture containing codeine, references to lean oozed into rap: Lil Wayne celebrates it, Young Thug freely drinks it during interviews, and Juice WRLD said he was inspired to try lean after listening to Future. Roddy Ricchs hit track The Box, currently the US No 1, has an anthemic chorus with a line about drinking lean to get lazy.

Rappers also began hitting party drugs such as MDMA and cocaine, as well as the prescription drugs OxyContin, Xanax and Percocet. Future celebrates molly, Perocets in his 2015 smash Mask Off. (That is a horrible combination of drugs, says Duval of Mask Off: The whole hook is you having a fucking heart attack.) The rapper Lil Pump posed with a Xanax-shaped cake to celebrate reaching 1 million followers on Instagram, a particularly brain-dead stunt given that counterfeit prescription drugs containing fentanyl have been blamed for the 10-fold increase in opioid-related deaths in the US between 2013 and 2018.

A culture of performative excess began to strangle the scene, viewed through the panopticon of social media, which encourages risk-taking behaviour, says Smiley: You have to be on 24/7, because everything is about likes, shares and counting how many followers you have. Thureson posted videos of himself drinking lean on Instagram; when his parents confronted him, he claimed it was purple Gatorade. He told me it was just the culture, his mum, Judy, says. Peep posed with prescription pills on his tongue hours before he died.

Braden L Morgan, known as producer Nedarb Nagrom, was Peeps roommate for three years. He believes Peep abused drugs to alleviate the pressures of touring, which he hated, and that hangers-on offering him drugs made things worse. He was really nice and would say yes to everything, so hed do whatever anyone offered him. And as he got more popular, more people wanted to be his friend, so they gave him the stuff more. He calls Peeps death a horrible accident. He got unlucky. I have no doubt that if he hadnt passed away, he was going to chill out.

Lil Tecca performs at the Rolling Loud festival in New York City. Photograph: Steven Ferdman/Getty

After so many deaths, a brutal comedown. After Peep died, a lot of people stopped partying every day, says Morgan. He has seen drug use tail off among the young rappers he produces; Lil Pump and Smokepurpp announced they were quitting Xanax following Peeps death. The younger kids dont do stuff as much, because they see all the shit that happened in the last few years. For those who do still indulge, drug-testing kits are becoming common. No one was testing drugs before Peep died, says Morgan.

There are promising indications that the rap scene is beginning to course-correct. Theres enough of a bad taste in everyones mouth that saying, go pop a molly doesnt feel right now, says Duval. The backlash has been rumbling for a while: J Coles 2018 diss track 1985 was scathing about SoundCloud rappers. They wanna see you dab, they wanna see you pop a pill / They wanna see you tatted from your face to your heels.

As the narcotic aesthetic becomes less fashionable, rappers are becoming more mindful of the message they are sending to fans. Artists including Isaiah Rashad, Lucki, Travis Scott and Danny Brown have spoken out about prescription drug addiction. Sacramento rapper Mozzy has urged his followers to quit lean. Lucki, considered by some to be the father of SoundCloud rap, talks in Freewave 3 about his mother looking up the effect of lean on his kidneys. Even Lil Xan, easily most cavalier artist in this group, has considered changing his name.

As Miller sang in his biggest hit, it is time to finally start practising some self-care. But the burden should not fall to individuals: as labels and management cash in on this wave, they must take greater responsibility for artist wellbeing. You have to prioritise their health and happiness before music or fame, says Zappala. Its tough being a successful artist, not knowing whether the people around you have genuine intentions.

His goals for Tecca are clear. Im going to develop Tec into an artist who has a 10, 15-year career, says Zappala. When hes 30, hes still going to be relevant.

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LA-born singer joins previous poll toppers Adele and Ellie Goulding in wake of her Brits rising star award last month

Soul singer Celeste has been named the BBCs Sound of 2020, the broadcasters annual poll to evaluate the years brightest new musical hopes. Her win follows her victory in the Brits rising star award in December.

In a statement, the 25-year-old British-Jamaican star reflected on her recent run of success: I could never have predicted half of the things that happened Im so grateful for every opportunity Ive had so far and am looking forward to what 2020 will bring.

BBC Radio 1 DJ Annie Mac described Celeste Waite, who grew up in Saltdean, near Brighton, as a phenomenal talent: Her songwriting is personal and poignant but with universal appeal. I think she could easily join the long list of Sound Of winners who went on to be global stars. Previous winners include Adele, Sam Smith, Haim and Ellie Goulding.

Celeste: Strange video

Celeste began writing music and performing in bands as a teenager. At 16, she was discovered by a manager after she posted her first song online. He encouraged her to take writing classes and she started working with writers and producers at Trevor Horns Sarm studios.

Lily Allen signed Celeste to her label Bank Holiday Records, an imprint of Warner UK, and released her debut EP, Milk & Honey, in 2017. The following year, Celeste signed to Polydor. Her single Strange made the BBC Radio 1 playlist, and she was recently named BBC Music Introducing artist of the year.

She tops an unusually band-heavy Sound of 2020 list: Inhaler, a fronted by Bonos son Elijah Hewson, came in at No 5. R&B singer Joy Crookes was placed fourth, with punk rapper Yungblud in third place. Leicester band Easy Life were placed second. Each of the top five acts is signed to a major label.

The award is voted for by 170 industry professionals from musicians including Billie Eilish and Lewis Capaldi, to DJs, journalists, festival bookers and TV producers.

Celeste will perform at the Brit awards on 18 February.

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The singers dispute with the new owner of Big Machine Records over her first six albums challenges who owns what in the industry

Taylor Swifts catalogue is littered with tales of the men who did her wrong. Teardrops on My Guitar, All Too Well, Dear John the 29-year-old singer is used to being let down by the patriarchy. Somehow she always manages to shake it off. This time was no different.

On Sunday, Swift will receive the artist of the decade award at the American Music awards (AMAs) at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. For a few days it seemed like she would not be able to play her older hits, caught in a contractual dispute with her former record label.

It was the kind of argument usually resolved behind closed doors by sober-suited lawyers boringly parsing contract and copyright law. Instead, #IStandWithTaylor became a trending topic on Twitter worldwide and Swift once again proved corporate America is no match for her talents. She may also, and not for the first time, have reshaped the music world challenging who owns what in an industry still reeling from its transition to digital.

This is stuff that never leaks out to the public, said James Sammataro, a partner at law firm Pryor Cashman and one of the USs top music lawyers. Contentious negotiations are nothing new in the music industry, he said. But this is like negotiation in the Instagram age. Taylor is directing it. She is forcing this chess game to be played in public.

The chess game involves control of Swifts first six albums, put out by Big Machine Records, an independent Nashville-based music company that is home to artists including Sheryl Crow, Lady Antebellum and Rascal Flatts. Big Machines founder, Scott Borchetta, signed Swift when she was just 15 after discovering her performing in a cafe and helped guide her from country newcomer to global pop phenomenon. Swift has said she thought Borchetta regarded her as the daughter he never had.

Then, in 2019, Borchetta sold Big Machine for a reported $300m to Ithaca Holdings, a mini-conglomerate of media and tech companies owned by celebrity talent manager Scooter Braun, a man Swift considers a mortal enemy. Braun, who currently works with Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, among numerous other entertainers, previously worked with Kanye West, whose infamous hijacking of her acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music awards has led to a decade-long feud.

Swift has accused Braun of bullying her and called the deal my worst case scenario. This is what happens when you sign a deal at fifteen to someone for whom the term loyalty is clearly just a contractual concept. And when that man says Music has value, he means its value is beholden to men who had no part in creating it, she wrote on Tumblr. Any time Scott Borchetta has heard the words Scooter Braun escape my lips, it was when I was either crying or trying not to.

As is standard practice in the music industry Swifts masters the first recordings from which all the later copies are made stayed with Big Machine and are the main driver behind the deal. According to Variety, Swifts catalogue accounted for 80% of Big Machines revenues, although it is now believed to be closer to 50%.

Swift controls the copyright, which should mean she is free to perform her songs as she pleases. Which brings us to the latest dilemma. Swift who is now signed to Universal Music has said she will re-record her old albums starting next year, offering fans a way to buy her music again on her terms after her deal with Big Machine expires.

According to Swift, Borchetta and Braun had told her she could not perform the works they currently own at the AMAs unless she dropped that plan. On top of that, Swift said the pair had told her she would not be allowed to use her old work in an upcoming Netflix documentary.

Scott Borchetta told my team that theyll allow me to use my music only if I do these things: If I agree not to re-record copycat versions of my songs next year (which is something Im legally allowed to do and looking forward to) and also told me that I need to stop talking about him and Scooter Braun, Swift wrote on social media. The message being sent to me is very clear. Basically, be a good little girl and shut up. Or youll be punished.

Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13)

Dont know what else to do

November 14, 2019

All this and more was shared with Swifts 85 million-plus Twitter followers and made headlines around the world. Swift even called on Carlyle Group, one the worlds biggest and most powerful private equity firms and a minority investor in Ithaca, to help her out. Not the sort of public row this highly political firm, advised by former presidents and prime ministers, is used to.

Weighed down by the torrent of publicity and death threats, Braun and Borchetta denied gagging Swift and stated she was free to perform at the AMAs. Their initial statement, however, carefully skirted around admitting, or denying, whether they had stipulated she could not perform her old songs or mentioning the Netflix documentary. Big Machine and Ithaca did not return calls for comment.

Bad blood: Scooter Braun and Taylor Swift. Photograph: Getty Images

For Sammataro, the AMA kerfuffle was a sideshow and legally Swift would have had a good case for playing her songs. The argument hides a bigger story, he said, one that may have a profound impact on artists in the years ahead. People bluster and make demands for rights that they dont always have, he said. I do think they have a very genuine concern about the re-recording of her masters.

Historically music companies have restricted artists for a length of time typically five years from re-recording their works. It sounds sinister but its really not. Its a commonsense provision in that if I am investing money into your album, I need sufficient time to recoup my investment, said Sammataro.

Swift is not the first to threaten to re-record her works. Prince and Def Leppard did so after arguing they were being unfairly compensated by their original labels. But it is unheard of move for an artists at her zenith. You are essentially splitting dollars, said Sammataro. You dont know how the streaming service, the radio station or even your fans are going to consume it. Will they listen to the master or the re-recorded version?

In the past artists might not have taken this route because marketing and distributing the new versions themselves would have been prohibitively expensive. In the digital age, and with her fanbase, no such issues will hold Swift back. Re-recording a couple of hits might once have satisfied Swift but with relations so strained she may feel like dealing Big Machine a bigger blow.

It is not the first time that Swift has taken on the industry and won. Swift was one of the last artists to sign on to streaming services because she was still selling CDs. She forced Apple to pay artists for music played during users three-month free trial period and held her album Reputation off streaming services for three weeks to maximise physical sales and downloads. The Economist wondered whether she might be pop musics Alexander the Great.

For Swift this latest dispute is clearly an issue of principle, but it is also a play for leverage as both sides wrestle with the tectonic shifts in the music market: the shift to digital and the arrival of ever more money in the music industry from private equity investors such as Carlyle.

Carlyle and groups like it are investing in music because they see long-term returns from owning catalogues like Swifts and more widely from our continuing love of music. TPG Capital is an investor in Spotify, Blackstone owns Sesac Holdings and the Harry Fox Agency, two groups that disburse royalties. Abu Dhabi state investor Mubadala has a stake in EMI Music. Swifts tweet specifically asked for help from The Carlyle Group, who put up money for the sale of my music to these two men. Following the message the companys Twitter account and phone lines were inundated by Swift fans pressing them to intervene.

The shot across Carlyles bow will add pressure to negotiations if and when the two sides start discussing the Netflix deal and Swifts re-recordings. Longer-term the idea that artists like Swift will seize control of their works may rattle those investors even more. Sammataro said he expected the masters contracts of major artists once pretty boilerplate will now be much more carefully lawyered.

Swift may have won this round but there will be more battles ahead. On Sunday she is expected to address the controversy head on. Swift is planning a fierce show of female artistic strength and empowerment, music industry sources told the New York Post.

Her friends are all going to be pushing her message on the red carpet. Taylors going to play dirty with elegance and grace, the source said. Whatever she plays, she will be playing to win.

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Mark Lewisohn knows the Fab Four better than they knew themselves. The experts tapes of their tense final meetings shed new light on Abbey Road and inspired a new stage show

The Beatles werent a group much given to squabbling, says Mark Lewisohn, who probably knows more about them than they knew about themselves. But then he plays me the tape of a meeting held 50 years ago this month on 8 September 1969 containing a disagreement that sheds new light on their breakup.

Theyve wrapped up the recording of Abbey Road, which would turn out to be their last studio album, and are awaiting its release in two weeks time. Ringo Starr is in hospital, undergoing tests for an intestinal complaint. In his absence, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison convene at Apples HQ in Savile Row. John has brought a portable tape recorder. He puts it on the table, switches it on and says: Ringo you cant be here, but this is so you can hear what were discussing.

Challenging conventional wisdom Fab Four writer-historian Mark Lewisohn

What they talk about is the plan to make another album and perhaps a single for release in time for Christmas, a commercial strategy going back to the earliest days of Beatlemania. Its a revelation, Lewisohn says. The books have always told us that they knew Abbey Road was their last album and they wanted to go out on an artistic high. But no theyre discussing the next album. And you think that John is the one who wanted to break them up but, when you hear this, he isnt. Doesnt that rewrite pretty much everything we thought we knew?

Lewisohn turns the tape back on, and we hear John suggesting that each of them should bring in songs as candidates for the single. He also proposes a new formula for assembling their next album: four songs apiece from Paul, George and himself, and two from Ringo If he wants them. John refers to the Lennon-and-McCartney myth, clearly indicating that the authorship of their songs, hitherto presented to the public as a sacrosanct partnership, should at last be individually credited.

Then Paul sounding, shall we say, relaxed responds to the news that George now has equal standing as a composer with John and himself by muttering something mildly provocative. I thought until this album that Georges songs werent that good, he says, which is a pretty double-edged compliment since the earlier compositions hes implicitly disparaging include Taxman and While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Theres a nettled rejoinder from George: Thats a matter of taste. All down the line, people have liked my songs.

The Beatles Abbey Road album Photograph: Pictorial Press/Alamy

John reacts by telling Paul that nobody else in the group dug his Maxwells Silver Hammer, a song theyve just recorded for Abbey Road, and that it might be a good idea if he gave songs of that kind which, John suggests, he probably didnt even dig himself to outside artists in whom he had an interest, such as Mary Hopkin, the Welsh folk singer. I recorded it, a drowsy Paul says, because I liked it.

A mapping of the tensions that would lead to the dissolution of the most famous and influential pop group in history is part of Hornsey Road, a teasingly titled stage show in which Lewisohn uses tape, film, photographs, new audio mixes of the music and his own matchless fund of anecdotes and memorabilia to tell the story of Abbey Road, that final burst of collective invention.

The album is now so mythologised that the humdrum zebra crossing featured on its celebrated cover picture is now officially listed as site of special historic interest; a webcam is trained on it 24 hours a day, observing the comings and goings of fans from every corner of the world, infuriating passing motorists as these visitors pause to take selfies, often in groups of four, some going barefoot in imitation of Pauls enigmatic gesture that August morning in 1969.

George Harrison and John Lennon recording Let It Be. Photograph: Daily Sketch/Rex/Shutterstock

Its a story of the people, the art, the people around them, the lives they were leading, and the break-up, Lewisohn says. The show comes midway through his writing of The Beatles: All These Years, a magnum opus aiming to tell the whole story in its definitive version. The first volume, Tune In, was published six years ago, its mammoth 390,000-word narrative ending just before their first hit. (All the heft of the Old Testament, the Observers Kitty Empire wrote, with greater forensic rigour.)

Constant demands to know when Turn On (covering 1963-66) and Drop Out (1967-69) might appear are met with a sigh: Im 61, and Ive got 14 or 15 years left on these books. Ill be in my mid-70s when I finish. Time is of the essence, he adds, perhaps thinking of the late John Richardsons uncompleted multi-volume Picasso biography. This two-hour show is a way of buying the time for him to dive back into the project.

For 30 years, Lewisohn has been the man to call when you needed to know what any of the Fab Four was doing on almost any day of their lives, and with whom they were doing it. His books include a history of their sessions at what were then known as the EMI Recording Studios in Abbey Road, and he worked on the vast Anthology project in the 90s.

The idea for a stage show was inspired by an invitation from a university in New Jersey to be the keynote speaker at a three-day symposium on the Beatles White Album, then celebrating its golden jubilee. His presentation, called Double Lives, juxtaposed the making of the album and the lives they were leading as individuals outside the studio. It took several weeks to put together, and I thought, This is mad I should be doing this more than once to get more people to see it.

Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney in the studio. Photograph: PictureLux/The Hollywood Archive/Alamy

The next anniversary to present itself was that of Abbey Road, which took place during a crowded year in which Paul married Linda Eastman, John and Yoko went off on their bed-ins for peace, Georges marriage to Pattie Boyd was breaking up, and they were all involved in side projects. John had released Give Peace a Chance as the Plastic Ono Band and George had been spending time in Woodstock with Bob Dylan.

John also took Yoko and their two children, Kyoko and Julian, on a sentimental road trip to childhood haunts in Liverpool, Wales and the north of Scotland, ending when he drove their Austin Maxi into a ditch while trying to avoid another car. Brian Epstein, their manager, had died the previous year and the idealism that had fuelled the founding of their Apple company Its like a top, John said. We set it going and hope for the best was starting to fray badly. Other business concerns such as their song-publishing copyrights, which had been sold without their knowledge led to a war between Allen Klein, the hard-boiled New York record industry veteran invited by John to sort it out, and John Eastman, Lindas father, a top lawyer brought in by Paul to safeguard his interests.

Lewisohn has the minutes of another business meeting, this time at Olympic Studios, where the decision to ratify Kleins appointment was approved by three votes to one (Paul), the first time the Beatles had not spoken with unanimity. It was the crack in the Liberty Bell, Paul said. It never came back together after that one. Ringo and George just said, whatever John does, were going with. I was actually trying, in my mind, to save our future.

And yet Lewisohn challenges the conventional wisdom that 1969 was the year in which they were at each others throats, storming out of the recording sessions filmed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg for the verit-style movie Let It Be, and barely on speaking terms. During the making of Abbey Road, says Lewisohn, they were in an almost entirely positive frame of mind. They had this uncanny ability to leave their problems at the studio door not entirely, but almost.

In fact, Abbey Road was not the only recording location for the album: earlier sessions were held at Olympic in Barnes and Trident in Soho. And Lewisohns creation is called Hornsey Road because that, in other circumstances, is what the album might have been titled, had EMI not abandoned its plans to turn a converted cinema in that rather grittier part of north London into its venue for pop recording.

The show, Lewisohn believes, is the first time an album has been treated to this format. People will be able to listen with more layers and levels of understanding, he says. When you go to an art gallery, you hope that someone, an expert, will tell you what was happening when the artist painted a particular picture. With these songs, Im going to show the stories behind them and the people who made them, and what they were going through at the time. Certainly, no one who sees this show will ever hear Abbey Road in the same way again.

Hornsey Road is at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, on 18 September and touring until 4 December.

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You may not have heard of Kobalt before, but you probably engage with the music it oversees every day, if not almost every hour. Combining a technology platform to better track ownership rights and royalties of songs with a new approach to representing musicians in their careers, Kobalt has risen from the ashes of the 2000 dot-com bubble to become a major player in the streaming music era. It is the leading alternative to incumbent music publishers (who represent songwriters) and is building a new model record label for the growing “middle class’ of musicians around the world who are stars within niche audiences.

Having predicted music’s digital upheaval early, Kobalt has taken off as streaming music has gone mainstream across the US, Europe, and East Asia. In the final quarter of last year, it represented the artists behind 38 of the top 100 songs on U.S. radio.

Along the way, it has secured more than $200 million in venture funding from investors like GV, Balderton, and Michael Dell, and its valuation was last pegged at $800 million. It confirmed in April that it is raising another $100 million to boot. Kobalt Music Group now employs over 700 people in 14 offices, and GV partner Avid Larizadeh Duggan even left her firm to become Kobalt’s COO.

How did a Swedish saxophonist from the 1980s transform into a leading entrepreneur in music’s digital transformation? Why are top technology VCs pouring money into a company that represents a roster of musicians? And how has the rise of music streaming created an opening for Kobalt to architect a new approach to the way the industry works?

Gaining an understanding of Kobalt and its future prospects is a vehicle for understanding the massive change underway across the global music industry right now and the opportunities that is and isn’t creating for entrepreneurs.

This article is Part 1 of the Kobalt EC-1, focused on the company’s origin story and growth. Part 2 will look at the company’s journey to create a new model for representing songwriters and tracking their ownership interests through the complex world of music royalties. Part 3 will look at Kobalt’s thesis about the rise of a massive new middle class of popular musicians and the record label alternative it is scaling to serve them.

Table of Contents

Early lessons on the tough road of entrepreneurship


Image via Kobalt Music

It’s tough to imagine a worse year to launch a music company than 2000. Willard Ahdritz, a Swede living in London, left his corporate consulting job and sold his home for £200,000 to fully commit to his idea of a startup collecting royalties for musicians. In hindsight, his timing was less than impeccable: he launched Kobalt just as Napster and music piracy exploded onto the mainstream and mere months before the dot-com crash would wipe out much of the technology industry.

The situation was dire, and even his main seed investor told him he was doomed once the market crashed. “Eating an egg and ham sandwich…have you heard this saying? The chicken is contributing but the pig is committed,” Ahdritz said when we first spoke this past April (he has an endless supply of sayings). “I believe in that — to lose is not an option.”

Entrepreneurial hardship though is something that Ahdritz had early experience with. Born in Örebro, a city of 100,000 people in the middle of Sweden, Ahdritz spent a lot of time as a kid playing in the woods, which also holding dual interests in music and engineering. The intersection of those two converged in the synthesizer revolution of early electronic music, and he was fascinated by bands like Kraftwerk.

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When Radiohead were held to ransom by hackers, they shrugged and put 18 hours of unheard material online for free. But for other artists, having music leaked can be devastating

In 1997, Radiohead imagined a future in which technological dependency and out-of-control consumerism had merged to form a dark, digital void. OK Computer, the bands third album, painted prescient pictures of riot police at political rallies and anxious lives lived in suburbs surrounded by endless motorways. The digital advances promising to bring us together, it seemed to warn, would instead corrode and cause chaos.

Last weeks big Radiohead news wouldnt have sounded out of place on that albums technosceptic vision of tomorrow. The band had been hacked, guitarist Jonny Greenwood revealed on Tuesday, and 18 hours of unreleased music from their OK Computer sessions stolen. Pay $150,000, they were warned, or this archive would be uploaded to the internet for free. The only thing more frustrating to frontman Thom Yorke than the situation, fans joked, was the fact he hadnt thought to mention sinister cybercriminals holding people to ransom on OK Computer in the first place.

The group responded to the threats with a shrug. Instead of complaining much or ignoring it, Greenwood wrote on social media, were releasing all 18 hours on Bandcamp in aid of Extinction Rebellion. Minutes later, a waking days worth of untitled, unedited offcuts and demos appeared on the streaming service for fans to sift through. The move was heralded as a victory for artists and a middle finger to pirates, who for two decades have derailed album release campaigns by uploading illegally obtained music, often months in advance.

A lot has been written about the financial cost of leaks since the advent of sites such as Napster. One report by the Institute for Policy Innovation, an American thinktank, estimated that internet users have downloaded $12.5bn worth of pirated music every year since 1999. Less has been made of the emotional trauma of the artists whove seen music, often unfinished, stolen from their private vaults and uploaded without consent.

This month, Madonna said she felt raped after her 2015 album Rebel Heart leaked online before shed even announced it. There are no words to describe how devastated I was, she told the New York Times. Jai Paul, the influential R&B star in the making, was similarly distressed after his debut album was hacked and posted in full online, and he disappeared from public view for six years. Returning with his first music since 2013 this month, he told of how he suffered a breakdown of sorts and withdrew from life, consumed by trauma and grief.

Jai Paul

No one else seemed to view the situation in the same way I did: as a catastrophe, he wrote in an open letter. The hardest thing to grasp was that Id been denied the opportunity to finish my work and share it in its best possible form having [my] dream torn up in front of me hit me pretty hard. Not everyone, in other words, is able to react with the nonchalance of Radiohead.

Mutya Buena says she knows exactly where Jai Paul is coming from. The former Sugababes singer and member of cult pop group MKS was at home for Christmas in 2016 when a demo version of a comeback album surfaced online. Fans started messaging me links to the leak. We still have no idea how it happened, she recalls. It hit hard. We had paid people for studio time. We paid for beats. We paid for travel, for food. The amount we spent trying to get this album together, only for it to leak and for us to not have the chance to make any money from it Its too depressing to think about.

Having any sense of agency ripped away hurt more than the financial blow, she says. The effort, the time, the sweat, all the days in the studio that went into making those songs it was all for nothing. All the things we sang about were personal. You want your fans to hear it all together, you want to be able to put out your work your way. It was horrible. Rather than release music already floating around the internet in a half-finished state, the trio shelved the record. Three years later, they have yet to release any new material.

The effort, the sweat, the studio time all for nothing Mutya Buena (centre) with the Sugababes. Photograph: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

Leaks are often difficult for artists to overcome psychologically because they represent violation of their privacy and their creativity, says the charity Help Musicians UK. Musicians have told us how important their creative output through making music is to them, not just to make a living but also in terms of their identity and self-worth, says spokesperson Joe Hastings, explaining that any situation that undermines that creative output is bound to cause serious distress.

Theres no shortage of artists who could attest to this. SZA, who has collaborated with Kendrick Lamar, called a leak of unfinished material last year scary. Marina (formerly Marina and the Diamonds) has described hacks as paralysing, disrupting her ability to write new songs to replace the ones ruined by being leaked early. The more leaks that happen, the slower I work, she wrote in 2011 after calling police to investigate how songs of hers emerged online. The thought of people invading my privacy and listening to half-assed unfinished songs that I write at 3am on a tour bus does not make me feel too relaxed or creative.

Not even pops grandest stars are safe: Shits crazy, Rihanna told fans on Instagram earlier in March after an album of unreleased tracks found its way on to file-sharing sites, and she joined Beyonc, Charli XCX, Skrillex, Karen O, Bjrk and Lana Del Rey in the annals of artists whove had albums worth of tracks stolen and uploaded against their wishes.

Hacks like these can happen in a multitude of ways. In the past, studio workers, label employees and journalists given early access to the music have been accused. (In 2015, new albums by Beach House, Destroyer and Mac DeMarco were circulated online months ahead of release when a server belonging to the music site Spin was breached.)

Shits crazy Rihanna. Photograph: Nigel Waldron/Getty Images

Occasionally the artists themselves can be unwittingly at fault. In 2008, Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox posted a link to a new song on his blog saved on a personal server, unaware that other people could then access all the rest of his files uploaded to that server. Unfinished versions of two new albums leaked. Whoever posted this, YOU ARE FUCKED I cant understand how you go on living, he wrote in an angry open letter to the dickwads responsible, before realising it was partly his doing.

These days, most leaks occur when music has been uploaded to cloud-based storage online: hackers break passwords, access the music and share it. Its thought most hacks are carried out for the sheer devilry, with extortion incidents in the manner of Radioheads rare. It happens for the same reason that led to the 2014 release of hundreds of celebrities personal photos: because hackers can. Adi Lederman, the Israeli hacker responsible for the leak of Madonnas Rebel Heart, was sentenced to 14 months in prison, but elsewhere the law has struggled to keep up.

As hacking becomes a fact of life, are more artists hard drives likely to be prised open? Radiohead fans dont seem to have minded being given 18 hours OK Computer rehearsals that trace the evolution of an album that went on to redefine 90s rock. But elsewhere, leaks of unfinished songs risk destroying the albums mystique. In the case of Jai Paul, MKS and other, these leaks can lead to the disintegration of the albums themselves.

The good news for artists is that a world where people are downloading less and streaming more generates less of a demand for leaks among fans. Leaks have definitely slowed down as a music industry issue in this streaming-led age, but they still do harm artists in quite significant ways, says analyst Tim Ingham of Music Business Worldwide. Millions of dollars are still spent by record labels honing the music and image of new stars. A hack or leak of music recorded while an act is still developing can play havoc with a carefully planned record company roadmap.

When acts are globally established, like Radiohead, that sense of fragility is all but gone, Ingham explains. The artist can turn around and have some fun with it. For artists without that sort of clout or financial stability, leaks still pose an ominous threat. The wait for a fitter, happier, more productive music industry goes on.

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