Reply All goes on a wild scavenger hunt to find a song that might not exist

I'm not an obsessive listener to the Reply All podcast, but when it's on, it's on — and this week's episode is fantastic. Host PJ Vogt is contacted by Tyler Gillett, a film director who is absolutely not a musician, about a song that he remembers from his childhood. Every word and note of this alleged 90s pop song is perfectly imprinted onto Gillett's brain … but there's no proof anywhere on the Internet that such a song has ever actually existed. They even go as far as to recreate the song in a studio with a professional band, completely from Gillett's memory.

The full hour episode is strangely gripping, and offers some fascinating insights into the ways that we remember things, as well as the bizarre world of that late 90s major label music boom. (Also: Barenaked Ladies.)

Reply All #158: The Case of the Missing Hit [PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman / Gimlet Media]

Image: Hanul / Flickr (CC 2.0) Read the rest

A pair of musicians recorded every possible MIDI melody just to get around copyright law

Motherboard has an interesting new piece about musical copyright law, and the fact that there are only so many musical sequences using half-step frequencies possible. What happens when they're all used up, and the copyright trolls take everyone to court for any song that even remotely resembles another one, just by virtue of the fact that it relies on the same music theory?

Think about Lana Del Rey accidentally ripping off of Radiohead, who had accidentally ripped off of the Hollies. It's not crazy to write a song that goes from the I to the extra tension of a Chromatic Mediant III before resolving on a IV, which then walks down to a minor iv and returns to the tonic.

(Or, in simpler terms, as Motherboard puts it: Sam Smith's "Stay With Me" ripping off of Tom Petty's "Won't Back Down")

To get around the potential future copyright trolls, Damien Riehl and Noah Rubin developed a MIDI algorithm to automatically generate a series of melodies, then released those datasets into the public domain using a Creative Commons Zero license. The method for achieving this is pretty neat:

To determine the finite nature of melodies, Riehl and Rubin developed an algorithm that recorded every possible 8-note, 12-beat melody combo. This used the same basic tactic some hackers use to guess passwords: Churning through every possible combination of notes until none remained. Riehl says this algorithm works at a rate of 300,000 melodies per second.

Once a work is committed to a tangible format, it's considered copyrighted.

Read the rest

My music distribution service is now offering automated memes

I release music sometimes, under my own name, or with my rock band, the Roland High Life. And in order to get our songs onto all the major music services, I pay an annual fee to DistroKid. They're an affordable company, with an easy-to-use interface that handles all the licensing stuff and makes sure we're getting paid that one-one-bazillionth of a cent every time someone plays our songs on Spotify or YouTube or hell, even Tik-Tok, whatever that is.

And now, for some inexplicable reason, they've added a new feature: automated memes. Like this:

And this:

And of course, this:

On one hand: why? Who really needs this feature? Will the commodification of memes push us that much further towards the brink of some disastrous culture climax?

On the other hand: this is stupidly delightful and I'm having too much with it so I really don't care. Read the rest

What's cooler than being cool? Hundreds of musicians protesting ICE and Amazon

Stop, collaborate, and listen: Amazon's complicit in ICE's extraditions (plus other abuses of human rights enabled by that agency's authoritarian agenda)

That's why hundreds of musicians—nearly 500, at the time of this writing, though it was just over 100 when news broke Thursday morning—have signed onto an open letter pledging to boycott Amazon festivals, events, and other exclusive deals until the tech giant stops enabling the systematic abuses of Immigration Customs Enforcement. The list of signatories includes Guy Picciotto of Fugazi, as well as Ted Leo, Immortal Technique, Downtown Boys, Thursday, WHY?, Jeff Rosenstock, the Mowglis, War on Women, Diet Cig, Tim Kasher (of Cursive/The Good Life), and many more.

These are the demands for Amazon, directly from that open letter:

Terminate existing contracts with military, law enforcement, and government agencies (ICE, CBP, ORR) that commit human rights abuses

Stop providing Cloud services & tools to organizations (such as Palantir) that power the US government's deportation machine

End projects that encourage racial profiling and discrimination, such as Amazon's facial recognition product

Reject future engagements w/ aforementioned bad actors.

I signed my own band onto the list earlier this week, after catching wind of the movement on Twitter. (I tried to pull our songs from all Amazon-affiliated services, but our distro service makes that difficult to do.) My friends in the Kominas mentioned something about it, and then I noticed Deerhoof interacting with Sadie Dupois of Speedy Ortiz and Sad13, following up on the recent op-ed by Tom Morello and Evan Greer of Fight For The Future (both musicians and activists in their own rights). Read the rest

How badly do streaming services rip off musicians? A chart, updated

Information is Beautiful has updated their comparison of artist payments on streaming services, estimating that 2.4 million plays on YouTube will net a whopping $1,472 for an unsigned artist. That's $0.0006 per play! Read the rest

2016's best-selling musical artist on CD? Mozart

He's been dead for 225 years, but Mozart can still top the charts in terms of CD sales.

The Mozart 225 box set was named Billboard's Biggest-selling CD release of 2016. Take that, Kanye and Taylor Swift! Read the rest

When Miles Davis named his album Bitches Brew

"Please advise."

A letter sent to Columbia Records art director John Berg and others by Teo Macero, producer of Miles's revolutionary 1970 jazz fusion album. Below, a live performance of the title track "Bitches Brew."

(Thanks, Jordan Kurland!)

Read the rest