The following MBW blog comes from Sean Glass, who’s a lot of things – the founder of clothing line Small Difference and indie label Win Music, for two, and a prominent figure at Apple Music for a while, before and after that service launched in 2015. Sean is currently quarantined in Mexico, and has just launched a podcast, Tea With SG.
We each have 24 hours today, what to do with them?
Puff Daddy said this during IMS LA, meaning anyone can do what he does. I converted to what is my ideal version of these 24 hours? Make that.
Inertia is strong. It can create 15 very occupied years between the reason you took that internship at 20 and why you do what you do at 35, without questioning each minute decision as part of a whole life. This 24 hours is what it is because of the preceding 24 hours and the upcoming 24 hours, and it just is what it is. It’s hard to stop and examine.
But the world imposed a pause. An undeniably terrifying, catastrophic, deadly pause. Before, it became trendy to avoid contemplation, we use the umbrella ‘anxiety.’ Now you’re forced to contemplate your 24 hours isolated from any thrust of precedent or future.
By now, I expect inertia has broken, and your contemplation is cycling. I have 24 hours. Everything I do should lead toward the universe I want to exist in.
I want two things:
- Everyone make art for themselves.
- And creatives work together; build robust machines; replicate corporate influence, rather than beg for access.
I encourage you to take this time to make the art you truly want to exist in the world. Your fantasy song. Not the directive given by an A&R or what’s on playlists. Make your imagination real. Now is the time. You have no reason not to. And it may elevate your entire existence.
But what do you do with it? If there are people who speak your language, who want to hear it, how do you know? How do you get it to them?
The internet brought us the inverse of what we expected. Rather than democratizing communication, it made so much noise that only the loudest is heard. Loud requires resources, money. That means consolidation. But only if creators and consumers allow it.
Consolidation can be understood through radio. Once upon a time, Miami program director picked songs locals wanted; someone did the same in NY, another in Boise. They didn’t know each other, didn’t care what the other played. Each had separate companies with infrastructure and overhead. Someone bought them, PD picked songs, but company saved money, increased efficiency combining infrastructure and overhead. It’s better for that company if everyone wants Justin Bieber, then PD can be centralized too. That’s radio since the 90s.
The biggest story in music last week was Spotify’s Q1 earnings. Uncontroversial, slight upticks in areas generally expected. Ad revenue down but nobody cares. ARPU is kinda scary, but nothing conclusive. Indies growing market share, majors flattening is false narrative. More players entered, music for gaming, sleep, etc. Functioning indie labels who employ people and develop artists, self-released artists did not grow. Their neglect is still a significant problem, compounded by analytical press misinterpreting the numbers. Same thing with people still thinking $ per play count is an issue, rather than % of pie.
“It sounds like a bunch of corporations fighting over stock-boosting headlines, but this conversation is an existential threat not only to the cinematic experience, but creative diversity.”
The bigger, much more controversial story is in movies, and it’s more relevant even as an analogue. Trolls World Tour skipped theaters and released to PVOD (‘premium’= you pay a premium, not premium offering) during quarantine. It made big bucks, gross and % (they’re downplaying international loss though). Theater owners are furious. AMC and Regal say they will no longer play Universal films when they reopen. Everyone is losing their s***.
It sounds like a bunch of corporations fighting over stock-boosting headlines, but this conversation is an existential threat not only to the cinematic experience, but creative diversity.
Disney holds an historically unprecedented market share. Warner is the only marginal competition with multiple major theatrical releases, and its own streaming service HBO Max (Disney+ is massive). Universal has one big movie per year, and Paramount and Sony have nothing. Theater owners bow to Disney and Warner, trash Universal, and ignore Paramount and Sony.
Disney and Warner are protected (I’ll compare for music):
- Theater owners play nice because they’re so big. Playlist control.
- They consider subscriptions less an existential threat than a la carte VOD purchase. Passive vs. active. Majors are incentivized to make genres more important than artists or songs. Artists benefit from active, lean-in listens.
- Theatrical releases sell streaming subscriptions, streaming advertises theatrical. General marketing noise lifts all. Majors are market share driven, incentivized toward volume. Control sales funnel to sell more tix and shirts through their channels.
- Disney and Warner slates are packed. Moving through their calendar is worth taking a BO hit on one film. Universal needs their one big hit to fully perform. Majors and tech companies want the platform to be more important than the artist. They like the idea of ‘turning on the radio/Spotify/Netflix’ more than ‘I want to listen to X’.
Big three in film/TV are Disney (franchises), Netflix (social media stuff, occasional auteur film), and HBO/Warner (replicates them poorly. Most important creative exec now at Apple, IMHO garbage Westworld S3 signals transition from old great HBO).
Universal vs. AMC gets a repeated, dedicated e-blast subject line in all major Hollywood trades. Disney and Warner skipping theaters, a should-be equal violation, is relegated to daily wrap-ups. Netflix gets an e-blast anytime they greenlight even the least significant show.
Less competition = more access, attention, and money in fewer hands.
Creative development consolidation. To make something big, it must fit their agenda.
Distribution consolidation. To be seen, you must be distributed by one of them.
Communication consolidation. Without them, your PR ceiling is low. You generally must come up with an ancillary story beyond the art in order to get significant ink.
This consolidation is an existential threat to creative diversity. And creative diversity is where all the good stuff comes from.
Stop making noise.
Stop feeding the machine.
Work only on what is essential.
Talk to your friends.
The internet is noisey. But it’s also a tool kit. Connection. To anything and everything. You have the same powers as corporations. You can replicate the campaign of the biggest artist in the world.
Competitive advantage comes from experience not resources. Do a thing enough times, and you figure out how to do a thing. Or you just know how to do a thing. Learn how to do a thing, team up with someone else who knows how to do a complementary thing. Rinse + repeat. Boom.
Quality comes from experience. Experience can come from resources. Major labels are a developed system that’s been tested and vetted, fires on all cylinders. Money simply buys what you can otherwise obtain through creation or connection.
What is Drake? Look at his infrastructure. Friends. People from his youth. He’s not a product of a machine. He received boosts from established pieces of the machine along the way, but his core team has always run things, made the machine work for them. Now they control the machine. This feels far off, but it starts somewhere.
Grimes. Her creative partner is her brother, and every single collaborator she has is part of her tribe. Check out YouTube videos of her shows, you can see who’s on stage, you can identify them individually. For years. There’s no in and out consultants, the label is a distributor. She makes an historically impressive amount of her creative output herself, and the rest come from a few people who she talks to every day. Oh, but she’s all flashy now, you can’t afford CGI or her production kit? Go watch her first video, filmed by her brother Mac, handheld at a football game. She’s made massive visuals since, but that stadium video was the unforgettable moment that launched her.
Frank Ocean. How does he impact? Not big singles, flashy videos. IDEAS. Subtle ones. Tasteful. He achieved attention early in his career through songs and since has maturely navigated a personally tailored lifestyle and workflow that maintains a direct conversation with audience and peers. He could have made Runaway, he made a staircase with Tom Sachs. He could have launched a festival, he made a club night to promote AIDS prevention. He wore a T-shirt at an opportune moment. He unified gay and straight activism in the most covert way by publicly serenading an unexpected muse. He just drops music when it’s right, and we listen.
SOPHIE. I don’t even know where to start. SOPHIE is a political movement. I’ll never forget when I had a label and an agent sent the first two SOPHIE demos, I immediately skipped like what the f*** is this s***. A few minutes later, I reconsidered, out of respect for the sender. Listened again. Called back and said this is the future isn’t it? SOPHIE started with an identity. And that identity carries the output through today.
SOPHIE has things to say, uses art to speak. Do you have anything to say? Does anyone agree, would join your cause?
Frank Ocean has dreams, his art activates and embodies them. Do you have dreams? Who do you want to work with? What do you want your local club to be like?
Grimes wants to make stuff. She uses the tools at her disposal. Calls her family and friends to fill gaps. The stuff gets bigger and bigger. We all have access, and many music software companies are offered for free during quarantine.
Drake has vision. He wants everything. He developed a skill set. Identified those who shared his vision, invited them, encouraged them, led them. He fed them and keeps feeding them. Do you have vision? Do you think anyone shares it?
Three have no reliance on any machine, yet you know them. One of them influences the biggest major label and biggest tech company more than any individual on earth.
None of these archetypes are out of your reach.
They share laser focus on the essential. They identify a world they want, and deliver art that shapes it to their vision. They UNDERSTAND something. They have IDEAS.
The world shut down. The machines are off balance. Stop making things for other people. Stop begging for relevance.
Make things for yourself.
Call your friends. Call people you’ve never called before but want to talk to, work with. They’re sitting around inside somewhere. There’s never been a better time to cold call (DM).
Examples like Drake, Grimes, Frank Ocean and SOPHIE intimidate you? K.
NYC early 1980s. Lots of books on this time. Most completely Love Goes to Buildings on Fire, my favorite Swans: Sacrifice and Transcendence, most recently Kim Gordon’s Girl in a Band. Read and be inspired.
Nobody had money. Nobody knew how to do anything. City in complete chaos. Art in chaos. No dominant sound, trend, no system.
Everybody just made stuff. They made stuff together. Found their people.
Poet wrote screenplay for filmmaker whose photog friend became cinematographer and singer’s band appeared in a scene with new song filmed in local venue that got record label to co-finance because soundtrack became an asset and shoot was catered by chef friend starring famous model friend getting chance to act and wearing her roommate’s clothing line. Poet’s journalist roommate interviewed star and director for magazine whose boss hosted premiere event sponsored by friend’s liquor brand who became new account in the venue they shot in. The film is good, that got them into festivals and late night TV, and all the sudden it’s a thing and everyone associated has inertia working for them rather than against. That’s CULTURE.
Genres don’t matter. Paradise Garage is known for disco, but everyone played there. Bad Brains headlined the final night of Max’s Kansas City with Beastie Boys opening.
You know what is soooo f*ckingggg coooolll about right now? Everything I just said…you can do allll of that yourself. There are no formal boundaries anymore. You can make films, music, magazines, clothes, all of it.
Focus on essential. Stop making noise. Stop trying to be relevant. Be in charge of building your universe. Make what you feel it needs.
Escapist distraction art is over.
Bullsh*t is over.
Who cares? Prioritize understanding. Make the essential. We don’t have space nor time for meaningless collabs.
Corporations are not the enemy. They’re not built to make things; their directive is control, their utility is amplification.
Now is the time to achieve balance.
Quick story before I wrap. I had a label a few years ago. Independent, really entirely by myself, one employee. I was on a dance music A&R panel with five major label A&Rs. Audience member asked one how his indie label can sign anything when majors swoop in, pay more. He posed the major A&R as a vulture feeding off of his work, clearly had a personal story.
The major A&R started defensively, I interrupted, asked if I could take this. Now, this was a fun panel for me, I was the fan favorite, the little guy up against the big ones. I told this audience member he had it all wrong. I was the bad guy. The major label A&R was the good guy. I was the one eating his lunch when this guy’s supposed to be buying him lunch. I was the one on the ground (the club) doing the real A&R work, beating both of them to hit records, not because of money, but good taste, effective planning and relationships. His business model should be finding things early, making profitable hits himself, or selling them (upstreaming) to majors once they heat up. He was in his own way.
Major labels are not the bad guy. Corporate directive is control, not production. Corporate means is communication, not even distribution. Production and distribution are the creative’s directive and means. And the consumer decides everything.
An artist’s ideal growth threshold is corporate exception not corporate change. The best artists in the world make the system work for them, they don’t care about changing the system.
Now is the time to create balance in the production and distribution of the creative arts. Competition is necessary for diversity and diversity is necessary for quality. None come naturally. They must be built. We build by making art for ourselves and taking responsibility for the system of production and distribution. The system is for the creator and the consumer. Everything else is in between. Corporations are middle persons. The creator and the consumer hold the power–until they relinquish it. Make great, essential art that you want, build a team, and you dictate the system for you.
It’s your 24 hours, you only get it once.
Remember they work for us.
My new show
I shut myself down from the world for the last few years. Lived out of a suitcase all over the actual world for a while. It’s been a really invigorating experience, one that felt both like something I had to do and something I’m really proud that I was able to do. I love all the work I did in the decade past, but everything in this time away brought me back to my core original ideas and philosophy. That’s what I’ve been working on. And I’m excited to be reentering the world, now at a time when we’re all reevaluating our position. I think it’s going to be beautiful.
I just launched a podcast / show. Tea with sg. I have original music coming out this month. I was going to relaunch the clothing line, it’s all sitting in storage, but the world isn’t really buying clothes I don’t think. So that’ll come later. Made a film, it’s done. I have no idea what’s going to happen with that though. The world is weird right now. Oh and I made an app that’s how I think everyone should communicate but I need more money to launch it and I’ve spent all my money on film and music.
Hit me up if you wanna talk about anything! I’m sitting by the ocean solo quar in Mexico doing remote sessions and swimming a lot.
Thanks for reading
ADDENDUM: my favorite quar stuff…
- Henry Rollins’ ‘Cool Quarantine’ on KCRW. This is by far my #1 thing of Quar.
- Last Dance MJ doc
- Wagner livestream week NY Metropolitan Opera
- Dave on FX is amazing. Everyone needs to watch it. Devs is good too. Dispatches from Elsewhere is nice light weird fun. All three actually go somewhere, unlike most shows.
- Shincha (new harvest) tea from Japan
- Fiona apple. Obviously. Check out her Spotify popular songs, it’s the actual track listing in order. People are actually listening to the LP front to back. Amazing.
- Elara radio
- Physical exercise
- Remote music sessions actually working just fine
- Pornhub free
- Only fans (I’ve actually never used but I just know tons who do and think its awesome)
- Shout out @ansel for best usage of this
- Physical books, with ink on paper (I’ve been reading lots of Kathy Acker, Gilles Deleuze, noir and oral histories or interview compendiums of fav music artists)
- Film at Lincoln Center VOD
- Ema on Mubi
- LA Film Forum newsletter round up of films streaming
- Verzuz DJ Premier vs RZA
- Canceled influencers
- Canceled conferences
- Canceled music festivals (I know this is economically and infrastructurally catastrophic, but also, the net net of these suck the pleasure from culture, so it had to happen eventually)
- People who make this about themselves. Hopes and prayers to them.
- Mindless distraction infotainment Podcasts and Ted Talks numbers declining
- Jeff Weiss’ writing
- The Lot Radio
- Nick Cave TeeVee
- The ocean I’ve been swimming in everyday since March 10
- DJs who aren’t livestreaming, thank you. Please focus on being a bigger better DJ rather than just adding to the millions of hours of mixes we already have access to and will never have enough time for
- Mexico. I can’t believe more people don’t just spend all their time in Mexico. Best food. CDMX has better music than any city in US. It’s so close. Criminally inexpensive for Americans (please tip). Beaches are amazing for surfing or calm lap swimming. You can pick your weather. The coolest people. I just love it here.
- The existential debates amidst catching up with everyone I’ve ever dated (except one who blocked me everywhere. Tell her I’m sorry I was a jerk)
- Routine. Wow I underestimated how nice it can be to do the same thing every day. So healthy. Cuts out so much dead distraction time.
- The Russo Brothers’ in theater phone videos of opening night of Avengers turned me into an Avengers fan somehow
- Oscilloscope and Mailchimp teaming up to host SXSW shorts (the Amazon deal is unfortunate)
- Rewatching Mission Impossible: Fallout one scene at a time
- Artists releasing MORE music during quar rather than less. KEEP EM COMING!
- Sonos Radio
- The croissant bra @nicolemclaughlin being the first thing an ex sent me in a long time bc everyone knows how I feel about croissants.
- Thinking about how Bob Iger inexplicably handed CEO of Disney job to Bob Chapek weeks before Corona
- Clean, beautiful, empty Venice, Italy. I hope Venice Film Fest happens and I can go.
- @newyorknico ’s #BestNYAccent competition
- Val Kilmer’s audiobook
- Aroldis Chapman’s arms
- That Sky Ferreira photoshoot by Nick Knight for Another
- The JT ‘The next time you leave your house’ It’s gonna be May meme being so wrong
- Woody Allen autobiography. Yes, I read it. It’s mostly great, revelatory at times. Surprisingly, it was his Emma Stone texting story that made me most uncomfortable. The Mia Farrow stuff takes up 40% of the book unfortunately. Happy to discuss it, I won’t weigh in here, apart from calling the whole saga an absurdity for all times.
- 2 lizards
- Lionsgate x Arclight La La Land screening I cried viciously to and then had a heavier cry session talking to ex like f*ckkk like what are we even doing? Did we make the right decisions? Man, things can get emo over here during quar.
- Caleb Landry Jones channeling Syd Barrett on his LP
- After loving Perpetual Grace, I finally watched Steven Conrad’s Patriot. It’s great. Like if Wes Anderson hated himself as much as I do.
- Car Seat Headrest LP
- NOT Westworld. Westworld is the George Bush to Trump’s Game of Thrones. Westworld makes me nostalgic for the disappointment Game of Thrones brought me. If anything this has given me a challenge, how to excoriate this show on Twitter.
- Betty via Crystal Moselle. More of this pls. The movie’s main issue was that it had 30 great minutes then dragged. Half hour show is perfect! And the girls are even cooler now if that’s even possible. But like Euphoria this is going to further ruin being a kid for anyone who is a kid and isn’t already cast on an impossibly cool kid HBO show. Shout out my DP from college!
- All the Preservation Hall New Orleans fundraisers
- Beastie Boys doc
- Miracle Mile, irrelevant, but a great random film that feels nice for right now. A friend who told me he liked Mandalorian redeemed himself by mentioning this, so I’ll mention.
- Strokes and Hamilton Leithauser putting albums out on the same day in 2020.
- Just imagining whatever Tom Cruise and Elon Musk will do. And Nicolas Cage Tiger King. 2021 here we come!!!
Music Business Worldwide