HipHopDX Premiere – Queens, New York native Grafh has recruited several heavy hitters for his forthcoming album The Oracle III, including Conway The Machine who appears on the project’s second single “Pray.”
Produced by DJ Analyze, the track is one of 15 new tracks on the upcoming album.
“The Oracle series that DJ Green Lantern and I created together are some of my fans’ favorite bodies of work from me,” Grafh explains to HipHopDX. “We really created Part 3 and made it a trilogy because of popular demand. This is a Hip Hop project strictly for those who care about the purity of the culture.
“The features are all true MCs. The production is straight up Hip Hop. Over here, bars still matter.”
In addition to Conway The Machine, The Oracle III boasts contributions from Benny The Butcher, Bun B, Hopsin, Rittz and KXNG Crooked as well as production from Pete Rock, DJ Green Lantern, Harry Fraud and DJ Shay.
In this series, we’ll be making the case for specific rappers to be included in “greatest all-time” discussions. The more obvious choices (such as André 3000, Lil Wayne, Eminem, Jay-Z, Nas, Biggie, 2Pac) will be ignored in favor artists who tend to get overlooked these days, for one reason or another. Previously, our writers have made cases for Pusha T, Ice Cube, DJ Quik, Big Boi, DMX, Ghostface Killah and Busta Rhymes. Today, we’re bringing back the series to pay homage to Slug.
Atmosphere is a rare commodity in hip-hop. Even in our current era when there is generally more everything. Even with the oversaturation hip-hop artists, we’re somehow pretty slim on duos — especially when it comes to duo such as Slug and Ant, where truly, each one plays a distinct role. Slug raps. Ant produces. And that’s it. It’s not to say that this is what makes them avant garde, it’s simply a discernable feature.
For the purpose this argument we will focus solely on Slug. Slug, born Sean Michael Daley in Minneapolis, Minnesota has done more for hip-hop than your average pop-leaning rap fan might have you believe. Slug managed to put Minneapolis on the Rap Map way before it was a thing you could do “at your fingertips”– before the Internet at large could break down geographical borders and spread music instantly. His was the type grassroots push that goes unseen in modern times.
Slug debuted alongside his then-group-collaborator Spawn with the album Overcast! in 1997. While it’s an album he’s gone on to criticize in later years, it’s important nonetheless. By Slug’s own estimation he was trying too hard– but really, what’s wrong with that? For all intents and purposes, Slug is mostly trying to be lyrical, trying to paint a picture, create a scene in the mind’s eye. In the process he was getting more cerebral than many his mainstream contemporaries.
That is one the ways that Slug exhibits his GOAT status. It’s the details he puts into his rhymes and his mastery the English language– he creates allegories and metaphors on a wider scale than the context two bars (think: “Lucy Ford”), which fer a constant throughline in much his music. There are certain metaphors or elements that recur in Atmosphere’s music, and each time, Slug fers the listener another piece the puzzle.
On a song like “Sound Is Vibration” from the debut, the poetic and introspective touch that many his songs are known for is on full display. The song begins with fairytale-esque chimes while Slug’s lyrics add to the feeling: “I’m sparked, waiting for the dark to hit / Cause once the moon gets above my apartment / I catch fits for starting shit”— his own intonation rising with each bar as the beat picks up fervor.
On his underground hit f the same album, “Scapegoat,” Slug details the ails society in a templated manner with a minimal piano-key-driven beat backing his effort. The concept doesn’t make the song any less impactful, yet Slug has been particularly critical his songwriting: “While it did get us booked on mix shows across the country, I felt it was almost a ‘cheating’ style writing. I use the word ‘It’s’ over 50 times. That’s the hook. It’s cheating.” Though slightly masochistic in nature, his constant self-critique and analysis has ultimately allowed for his artistic growth and improvement in the creation songs that fer more depth and variation than “Scapegoat.”
Slug takes the road less travelled when it comes to creating rap music. He’s been able to connect with his fanbase so deeply because he truly reveals himself and his person in a way that a lot rappers simply don’t. He’s also distanced himself from some the rather superficial yet all-too-common tropes, including those centered around materialism. These factors have not only set him apart and created a cult-like following for the underground artist, but they’ve been instrumental in building his independent label, Rhymesayers– and again, let’s be clear that Rhymesayers was founded as an independent label way before (the year was 1995) it became the trend du-jour. It’s also a feat that comes without the major label distribution too, a sort loop-hole we seem to find many “indie” labels doing these days.
As far as the depth instilled in Slug’s pen, one the prevalent metaphors in Slug’s music was this idea Lucy Ford, or Lucifer— sometimes thought to be referring to hip-hop itself, other times his vices such as alcohol, or else, the mother Slug’s child. This theme was woven through out the duo’s discography, from EPs to Atmosphere’s second studio album, God Loves Ugly, with the song “F’@k You Lucy”:
Most this garbage I write that these people seem to like
Is about you and how I let you infect my life
And if they got to know you, I doubt that they would see it
They’d wonder what I showed you, how you could leave it
A friend in Chicago said that I should stay persistent
If I stay around I’m bound to break resistance
Fuck you, Lucy, for defining my existence
Fuck you and your differences
Ever since I was a young lad with a part-time dad
It was hard to find happiness inside what I had
I studied my mother, I digested her pain
And vowed no women on my path would have to walk the same
Whereas someone like Eminem might be a wizard with internal rhyming and lyrical acrobatics, one Slug’s best writing qualities is the artful and purposeful nature behind his lyrics. Slug doesn’t just string two bars together and move on to the next two, with ideas unrelated (and this comes back to his own self-affirmed idea that, at the time, he was not just rapping “to string words together.”). Each bar helps to bring a larger picture and a personal affectation into view. His penchant for constant self-reflection (as well as self-deprecation) inevitably leads to growth, too, with the development his family life coming to affect how he viewed his lyrics in retrospect. Slug was about that Dad Rap life before Kanye West did it. If we’re tracing the lineage, it may go back to just around/after When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold (2008). The album that followed would be Family Sign (2011), the album that began to clearly mark a new era in Atmosphere’s music.
Before Slug became the Family Man he is today, he was battling demons like the rest us– and they’re the usual suspects too– alcohol, depression, cigarettes, weed, himself, women. All these vices fueled his early music and created some the darkest, yet most relatable, music he’s released. On a song like “Bird Sings Why Caged I Know” the rapper adopts themes from Maya Angelou (who else??), over a haunting and impactful soul-riddled beat from Ant. It’s here we can really see Slug’s unique writing style — it’s conceptual and rife with interpretation.
It’s the bird, it must have been the bird
Disgusting critter, it must
We should have known better than to trust
This disease-infested ball lust and carnage
Piece garbage with wings and she has the guts to sing
Get the bird, catch her, shoot her, I don’t care
Get the bird, bring her down to the ground from out the air
Got to tear her apart, let me at her first
Sink her to the level the rest us that inhabit the earth
We can’t end a piece like this without highlighting the fan-favourite and perhaps Atmosphere “piece de resistance”, the album namesake “God Loves Ugly.” On the title track the album, the rapper singles out his failings as a man and as an artist, and he fers them to the listener shame-free.
I wear my scars like the rings on a pimp
I live life like the captain a sinking ship
The one thing that I can guarantee
I’m like a stepping razor, I suggest you stay fair with me
Been paying dues for a decade plus
Before that I was just another face on the bus
Tappin’ my foot, to the beat on the radio
Dreaming ’bout the mic and the money and the ladies
Oh mom, I promise I’m gonna be large
Some day I’ma stop trying to borrow your car
Gonna go far, with charisma and skill
Until they put my face on a million dollar bill
Atmosphere, it’s just a ten letter word
Discretion is the name my cement-feathered bird
And if you didn’t hear, then fuck what others heard
Bars like “Discretion is the name my cement-feathered bird” are among Slug’s defining lyrical features, in the sense that they sound cool as fuck on surface level, but they also require some unpacking. It’s the perfect example how Slug’s lyrics are ten the intersection between art and personal life and the crises therein. It’s lty for the average rapper, yet for Slug, it might be a throw-away bar. It’s exactly this type writing, though, that has proven Slug’s GOAT status as an MC constantly throughout his career, and why his flowers are due.
How do indie artists and smaller producers get access to YouTube Content ID and Facebook Rights Manager?
Artists signed to Merlin-affiliated labels have a shot at claiming and monetizing, if their labels are able to staff up and do the work. And major label-affiliated artists and publishers are obviously well-positioned. But the smaller, independent rights holders may lack the critical mass and sway to gain access, get noticed, and monetize properly.
Could it be that only the biggest labels and distributors are granted direct access to YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram’s content recognition and claiming platforms? According to Identifyy/HAAWK founder Ryan Born, access is based on a simple numbers game.
“Smaller, independent artists and rights holders seem to have a hard time going to YouTube and Facebook and establishing a relationship that provides them access to the tools available to the bigger players,” Born told Digital Music News. “From time to time, we hear of situations in which they do gain access, and obviously it’s a case-by-case situation. Generally speaking, though, it feels like today, YouTube Content ID and Facebook Rights Manager accounts are rarely issued to undiscovered, unsigned, small, and independent music rights holders.”
Even worse, indie creators barely stand a chance against a massive, well-entrenched media company when disputes arise.
Right or wrong, rights issues and conflicts are generally ruled in favor of mega-labels, publishers, established media houses, and other heavyweights — because they’re bigger, better-staffed, better-funded, and have lots of lawyers.
That’s a sad situation, but also a market problem worth solving.
Identifyy, which is owned and operated by HAAWK, has a simple pitch: they want to help artists — of any level — identify, police, claim, and monetize music used in videos on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and other social video platforms.
For starters, HAAWK is a YouTube Content ID certified partner. This means, by default, that artists signing onto Identifyy benefit from the company’s knowledge and experience. Born previously founded AdRev, which played in a similar rights management sandbox (the company sold in 2015 and is currently owned by Downtown Music Holdings/CD Baby; Born is no longer involved).
Now, it’s time to fill the big tent. In its beta starting blocks, Identifyy has already amassed 75,000 registered artists, labels, composers, songwriters, and music producers in about nine months. Now, with a proof-of-concept in hand, the platform is partnering with DMN and other industry hubs to multiply that figure.
And with numbers comes power. Born told us that Identifyy artists can immediately scan, claim, monetize, and earn royalties by claiming YouTube videos making use of their music, just like bigger content owners.
It’s all possible from within Identifyy’s dashboard. In terms of cost, Identifyy is actually free to join. On the backend, the platform takes a 30% cut from royalties captured.
Identifyy’s metadata submission interface (click to enlarge)
As for Facebook and Instagram, those platforms are still in development, at least when it comes to serious content management and royalty payouts.
While Facebook (and its wholly-owned Instagram) have licensing deals in place with the majors, Merlin and other large media companies, the smaller and unaffiliated independent rights holders are turning to administrators like Identifyy for help.
Facebook has already paid lump sums to secure licenses from major labels and larger content owners. But the independent community is still waiting for the day when Facebook with provide access to individual video monetization, analytics, and royalty payments.
Ahead of that moment, Facebook appears to be cloning YouTube’s Content ID system, while giving artists ‘free promotion’.
In the meantime, Identifyy is positioning artists to start receiving Facebook and Instagram revenues as soon as they become available to independent rights owners. At the moment, however, Facebook and Instagram simply aren’t royalty-generating platforms, at least not on a video-by-video basis, as is the case with YouTube.
All of which means that the royalty breadwinners are still elsewhere.
“Right now, a majority of the streaming money comes from YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music, and then Amazon to a lesser but growing extent,” Born said. “After the big four, everything else seems to be just a small percentage of overall streaming royalty revenue. We’re hopeful that Facebook and Instagram will turn the big four into the big six.”
And Born may be right about that: Facebook’s broad clearance of major label/distributor rights can only last for so long. It’s only a matter of time before Facebook and Instagram open the floodgates and begin to account, report, and pay royalties on an individual video basis for the millions of videos streamed on their service, all of which incorporate music without the appropriate licenses in place.
(click to enlarge)
Unfortunately, the difference between distributing to Spotify and managing rights on YouTube/Facebook is enormous.
Distributors like TuneCore and Distrokid have mastered the craft of distributing to platforms like Spotify and Apple Music. But the task of pushing content to on-demand streaming platforms, while certainly rife with complications, is fairly straightforward when compared to the untamed, DMCA-protected beast that is YouTube.
Traditional distribution is typically a one-time upload, followed by predictable tasks like stream-counting and royalty payouts. With rights management on platforms like YouTube/Facebook, it’s a 24/7 job loaded with repeated complexities. “With traditional distribution — accounting and reporting aside — after initial release and promotion, you’re pretty much done,” Born said. “But with rights management, you’re never done. It’s endless variations, interactions, claims, disputes, conflicts, and resolutions — followed by more new video uploads, where the never-ending cycle then repeats itself.
“Not to mention that rights management applies to both master and publishing rights, yet distributors typically only handle and possess rights to masters, meaning that publishing side money can slip through the cracks if you’re not using the right partner.”
Distributors have to staff up to handle that — and some do. But it’s really hard to work this stuff all day long.
To do it well, they need an experienced and hyper-focused team. And even if they have that team in place, a partner with a full-time dedication to rights management may better ensure that your earnings on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram are fully optimized.
Now, Born’s mission for HAAWK is to not only to offer the serious technology and team that social video rights management requires, but also to amass a critical number of artists and content owners to make Identifyy an influential heavyweight. With 75,000 rights holders on board, it looks like Born is on his way to building a second successful rights management firm.
Prior to signing a major record label deal with RCA Records, Brian Todd Collins, better known by his stage name Kid Ink had worked with the likes Nipsey Hussle, Tyga, Meek Mill, 2 Chainz, and more. The Los Angeles-based rapper had also earned a selection for the 2012 XXL Freshman Class and sold over two million records as an independent artist. It wasn’t until Jan. 2013 that the “Rich” performer partnered with RCA and now, it looks like Kid Ink has ficially severed his relationship with the record label and is returning to his indie roots.
The 33-year-old emcee wasted no time revealing his independence during an interview on the Bootleg Kev & DJ Hed show on Real 92.3 LA late last week. Collins revealed that he’s currently sitting on a copious amount unreleased music due to the creative differences he had with the executive team at RCA. Because his early success, Kid Ink stated that he been labeled as a radio rapper and wanted to free himself from the perception not being a multidimensional musician.
“I don’t know how to express this big news. What do you say? I’m free,” Ink jokingly shouted before continuing, “I’m independent again. Free RCA. (I’m) back in control so, you know really just having fun.”
DJ Hed asked the “Randy Mos$$” rapper why it was important for him to be back in a space independence. To which, Kid Ink replied:
“I got to a place where what I wanted to do creatively and the way I wanted to release music, the time frame, the way I think things were switching up with how the way the label usually operated changed for them… It got to a standstill because we just weren’t agreeing on things creatively, marketing-wise, or how things should be put out.”
Kid Ink revealed that he wasn’t used to the bureaucratic politics being on a major label and that being independent has allowed him to maximize his true potential and creative outlets.
With the recent release singles like “Ride Like A Pro” featuring Reo Cragon and “Holy Grail,” we can expect a major resurgence from Kid Ink in 2020 in the form his upcoming LP, Almost Home 2, expected to drop this year. Check out the rapper’s full interview on Real 92.3 where he discusses his newfound independence (1:50 mark), the birth his child, and more in the video provided below.
Griselda’s rise brought along with it a renewed interest in a particular branch of Hip Hop that had — for years — been left in the shadows in favor of a more commercially refined sound. While many artists in the vein had already been dabbling in the aesthetic, there seemed to be a new beacon to unfamiliar listeners (and older ones that fell out of love), allowing a new crop of talented acts to be discovered.
New York MC Rome Streetz is one such act. Having been grinding for the better part of this millennium, he gained considerable notoriety following the release of Street Farmacy in 2018 — and has been surfing a wave ever since.
With his latest release, Joyeria, receiving a ton of acclaim from fans, and his name popping up everywhere within the scene, 2020 is looking to be his brightest year yet.
Much like the many characters catching serious burn in this new-gen indie era, Rome’s success to date was anything but overnight.
“I used to battle in the lunchroom and shit,” he tells HipHopDX with a laugh. “What really made me start recording music around that time I was that I was getting into a lot of trouble … my mom was trying to get me away from it, so she sent me to London to live with my aunt.”
Though he missed New York, his cousin — recognizing his pen game — introduced him to a friend who had a studio. “I was probably like 15,” he says. “That’s how I started recording music.”
After three years in London building a buzz as the New York kid the rapped, his future was looking bright, with a deal on the table. Unfortunately, things took an unexpected turn.
“I ended up getting in trouble in London … I was going to get signed, but then my aunt ended up sending me back to New York,” he explains. “It was like punishment. That fucked it up. I came back to New York, and there weren’t any outlets. ”
Rome describes the era much in the same way that others active in the mid-2000s do. Like many of the artists now riding the small waves that Griselda effectively turned into tides, the biggest challenge was essentially getting visibility.
“There weren’t any outlets in New York,” he says. “Everybody just started doing the swag rap shit. I wasn’t really into that man. ”
Even though one of his earliest mixtapes (Vegabond, released in 2011) was mostly made up of instrumentals ripped from YouTube, Rome insists that though he’s evolved, he’s kept the same energy. It’s a sentiment shared by many acts in his lane — notably Che Noir in a 2019 interview with HipHopDX. They didn’t hop on a bandwagon, but rather the rise of Griselda put a more focused spotlight on their particular sub-genre. As a result, new listeners fiending for artists in the same pocket are making discoveries, and (in some cases) finding healthy catalogs to explore.
Though he was on the grind, rocking every mic he could and trying to land blog placements, he notes the major turning point was the discovery that not only was there was a large number of artists just like him, but they were beginning to bubble over.
“I was like, ‘I can do this now.’ I was inspired to continue to make the type of music that I’ve always been making because I saw it getting traction somewhere else,” he explains, detailing the sense of community he felt.
His catalog to date has been incredibly reliable, though any fan would be remiss not to point to his breakthrough Street Farmacy as one of his more shiny bodies of work. While some are clamoring for a sequel, he’s been quick to dispel any rumors.
Though, as he reveals, a new project with Farma Beats is slated to drop — it just isn’t the follow-up you might have expected.
“Trying to make a part two … I’m not even in the same place mentally that I was at when I made part one,” he says. “My life was very uncertain at that particular time. I was going back and forth to court. I was feeling like ‘If I do that jail stint, this is what I’m leaving off. I’m just going to try to spit the craziest shit.’ That’s the mentality I had when I was making that album.”
Looking beyond just the aura of the project, the actual chemistry between Rome and Farma is off the charts — and that’s something fans can expect from their new work.
“It’s not part two, it’s just a new chapter … it’s totally different. My approach is different. What I’m talking about is different. We’re actually in the process of finalizing it.”
Though there has been some chatter amongst the fans looking forward to new music, Rome explains that it isn’t coming in the immediate future, as he’s letting his latest piece of art, Joyeria, have some time to breathe.
“I want to give people time to catch up,” he says. “I feel like I put a lot of work into this album, so I don’t want it to just be on to the next immediately.”
Joyeria, produced entirely by The Artivist, is an LP that he holds in particularly high regard among the projects he’s released. As he notes, its creation process was an entirely new approach for him.
“I always wanted to be able to rap like how I converse. So that was something that I ended up doing for this album without actually trying,” he says proudly. “This album means a lot to me, and it’s funny because it was originally twice as long. It’s like 12 songs, but we made 25.”
That exercise of making more music than necessary then parring it down isn’t his usual style — as he doesn’t generally produce as many leftovers.
“I enjoyed this process a lot. I feel like I approached all my albums in different ways, but I know the process of making this last album, I’m going to do that once a year. ”
The biggest issue weighing on Rome seems to be this very attempt at giving people a chance to properly digest his projects, especially given the feverish pace with which he makes new music.
“A lot of the music that I’m going to release this year is from last year,” he notes. “All the music I made this year is not really going to come out until next year unless I just choose to put it out.”
He pauses for a moment and then adds, “But on the other hand, all this new music I got is fucking crazy. Like I actually want people to hear it — but it’s like my album came out four weeks ago. I still got six more videos to give you off of this project.”
It’s a relatable problem for creatives, comparable to a television writer knowing how a series ends two seasons ahead of time.
“It’s to the point where I’m like, ‘Damn, I’m way ahead of that shit now. Like, the way I rap or just how I feel — and how I feel artistically — I’m past that. I want my fans to hear where I’m at now. But, they gotta wait.”
For day one and new fans alike, it’s an exciting revelation; vindication that their support will be rewarded with volumes of work in Rome’s stash over the next few years. “I’m too far ahead of myself,” he says with a laugh. “It’s probably going to be like a year before I catch up, but we’ll see.”
Stream Rome Streetz and The Artivist’s Joyeria below. And be sure to follow Rome’s Instagram @romestreetz for updates on music, shows, and more.
Here’s a recap of recent executive shuffles — including both hirings and in-house promotions — from across the music industry.
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And, keep track of all the latest music industry shuffles here.
Universal Music Group (UMG)
UMG’s Global Classics and Jazz division has hired Sam Jackson to fill the newly created role of executive vice president. Jackson, who previously worked for Global, will be based out of UMG’s London offices.
Swedish businessman Karl-Henrik Sundström has been appointed chairman of Tracklib’s board of directors.
DashGo, a subsidiary of Downtown, has hired Charlie Dilks as a managing director. Dilks, who most recently held an executive position at Songtradr, will oversee DashGo’s UK expansion.
Anthem Entertainment has hired John Cantu as a corporate marketing manager. Cantu will report to Anthem’s Nashville offices.
Colorado Public Radio (CPR) station Indie 102.3 has hired veteran radio broadcaster Jason Thomas as an afternoon host.
The Corporation of Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall
The Corporation of Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall has named Jesse Kumagai president and CEO. Interim president and CEO Thomas C. MacMillan will contribute to the transition process before becoming a special adviser.
AEG Presents has promoted Fredrick “Cody” Lauzier to senior vice president of the Global Touring and Talent division. Lauzier has been with AEG since 2013.
Live Nation has bolstered its Japanese team by hiring Kei Ikuta as a senior vice president. Ikuta previously worked for Udo Artists in an executive capacity.
BBR Music Group/BMG Nashville
Jennifer Coen, formerly an executive assistant to EVP Jon Loba, has been promoted to a director role with BBR’s newly created Brand Partnerships division.
Additionally, four employees have joined BBR Music Group/BMG Nashville:
Mary Forest Findley will serve as director of promotion for Stony Creek Records, a position she held from 2013 until 2015.
Tyler Corrado has been hired to fill the newly created role of manager of social media and fan engagement.
Kelsey Peoples has been brought on as an office manager.
And lastly, Sarah Powers will replace Coen as EVP Jon Loba’s executive assistant.
William Morris Endeavor (WME)
WME’s UK music branch has hired Caroline Simionescu-Marin as an agent. Simionescu-Marin previously held a management position at XL Recordings.
The Feldman Agency
Longtime talent agent Darcy Gregoire has been hired by the Feldman Agency to oversee bookings.
Bell Media has promoted Tyson Parker to director of podcasting. Parker has been with Bell since 2015.
Red Street Records
Red Street Records has hired Mark Lusk to serve as president and general manager, while Don Koch has been promoted to EVP of Creative/A&R.
Also, Cambria Mackey has been brought on as a social-media and artist-development manager; Taylor Day will become coordinator of marketing and media buying; and Mary Thorsby will aid the record company as an executive assistant.
Sync licensing is quickly ramping upward, with artists capturing increased revenues. Here’s an overview for artists, composers, advertisers, and everybody in between.
The following was created with the support of Songtradr, part of a broader partnership focused on the sync licensing space.
The past decade has witnessed an absolute explosion in the quantity of video content. What started with YouTube now encompasses big-budget productions on Netflix, Disney Plus, and HBO Go, not to mention a continued stream of games.
Almost all of that requires music, which is where the sync license comes in.
But what is sync licensing, you ask? The answer can be pretty complex, but is ultimately quite simple. It’s a license that enables the matching of your music within a movie, TV show, commercial, video game, or any other form of visual media.
The operative word here is ‘synchronization,’ which refers to the time-perfect matching of video with audio (i.e., music). For those who prefer math, the sync license boils down into the following equation:
Video audio = sync license, where ‘audio’ = $
That ‘$’ can add up to hundreds, thousands, or millions for songwriters, composers, musicians, or anyone who owns the rights to a piece of music. Deals of every shape and size are being structured and signed as you read this guide.
What sync is — and isn’t.
At its core, a sync deal requires at least two parties: the production company in charge of the visual (i.e., the movie, TV show, or commercial), and the content owner(s) (i.e., the musician, songwriter, publisher, record label or other entity owning the music).
It’s important to note that the sync license is completely different from other music licenses. Spotify, for example, does not require sync licenses to deliver its music streaming service, as it does not match music to visual content. Similarly, venues, malls, and elevators are also not signing sync deals, since their music is considered a ‘performance’ (the same goes for various forms of radio).
Similarly, any sale of an LP, CD, or other physical format has nothing to do with sync licensing.
Sync: an equal opportunity license!
In many cases, sync deals involve a major Hollywood studio and a massive artist. The musician making money could be anyone from Coldplay to Billie Eilish, and the licensing fees can be gargantuan.
“the music simply has to fit — it doesn’t need to be a hit!”
But sync also offers significant opportunities for independent artists, songwriters, and composers. The reason is that the music simply has to fit — it doesn’t need to be a hit. A chase scene might need a rapidly-moving drumming sequence with intense instrumentals; a rom-com could use something with a light-hearted guitar and a breathy singer.
And in the case of the latter, that breathy singer could easily catch fire if the film (or TV series) is popular enough. Even crazier, major advertisers often break earlier-stage indie artists, simply because it offers a fresh sound to prospective customers.
So how do you structure a sync deal?
Any artist with ownership over a piece of music can structure a sync deal. There are no steadfast rules on who can make this handshake, though artists are typically entering sync deals a music publisher or catalog, music supervisor, or sync platform.
A music publisher is a company that works to maximize the value of a piece of music, through a variety of licenses and deals. They typically acquire the rights to a catalog of music, or sign a deal to administer the rights to that music. In each case, they take a sizable fee, but promise greater access to heavyweights at major Hollywood studios, advertising agencies, sports networks, online platforms, and gaming platforms.
A music supervisor is a specialist in matching music with visual media. They’re frequently hired or employed by a studio or production company, with the job of finding the right music for a production. They’re also in charge of ‘clearing the rights,’ which means securing permissions to use music that might fit the film, TV show, or other production.
Recording labels themselves are often involved in sync deals, in coordination with publishers and supervisors. They control one important part of the license, the master (see below).
Both music publishers and supervisors have been structuring sync deals for decades, though sync platforms are now upending some of those cozy relationships. Songtradr, one of the largest online platforms, allows artists and songwriters to upload music that might fit a variety of different productions. In turn, that music is categorized, analyzed, made discoverable, and recommended to various music supervisors and content producers, who can structure deals through the Songtradr platform or team and skip the middlemen.
Master vs. Publishing Rights.
Once a song is identified for a possible match, the negotiation process begins. In every sync license case, a song contains two key rights: the master recording license, and the publishing license. The master recording license refers to the actual recording, while the publishing right refers to the underlying composition (the notes and lyrics). Both are required for a successful license, which often means that multiple parties are required to cooperate in order to successfully license a song, especially if there are multiple writers and publishers.
In some cases, one individual or entity (say, a composer or indie artist) owns 100% of both the recording and publishing rights. In this case, the sync is considered “one stop” as it is a much simpler transaction with one price.
It’s worth noting that one stop sync licenses are often viewed favorably by licensees (like studios and production companies), simply because they are far easier, and often more cost-effective, to license.
Traditional vs. Newer Licensing Approaches: Which Is Better?
The answer depends on the situation. If you’re Coldplay, you’re likely to structure a deal with your major label group (which may include a major publishing division) and a major studio on the other end. In fact, there will likely be plenty of lawyers shepherding the deal.
Supervisors also structure a lot of deals, though a platform approach is becoming increasingly popular. In the case of Songtradr, a music buyer can discover and license music from a vast global community of artists, songwriters, and composers and determine creative and rights requirements on platform, and if they need, leverage Songtradr’s team of music curators and specialists. As an example, Rihanna’s team tapped Songtradr to help place music on a spot for Fenty Beauty using both the platform and music team to assist.
And if you’re staring at a sync licensing contract and not sure what to do, there’s always our to help you out. Though don’t be afraid to also consult an attorney.
“Independent artists and labels are such a crucial part music creation and consumption on TikTok,” said global head music for TikTok, Ole Obermann. “We’re excited to partner with Merlin to bring their family labels to the TikTok community. The breadth and diversity the catalog presents our users with an even larger canvas from which to create, while giving independent artists the opportunity to connect with TikTok’s diverse community.” The agreement includes provisions for music to be featured in short-form videos like TikTok as well as the new music streaming service.
Rumours have been swirling around TikTok’s potential plans to venture into the music streaming business for several months now. ByteDance even tested an early alpha version the service in India and Indonesia last year. This move is yet another attempt by TikTok to generate revenue through its massive user base and monetize on its popularity. While TikTok just recently settled into a massive, 120,000 square foot fice space in the heart Culver City, California, it is still banned from U.S. government devices and is currently under investigation. This controversy could potentially cause some labels to hesitate to announcing a partnership with TikTok.
Kerry Muzzey is a prolific composer whose work appears in major TV shows, Hollywood film trailers, and Broadway productions. Earlier this week, Muzzey got his mechanical royalty check from Spotify.
After failing to pay mechanical royalties entirely — for years — Spotify is apparently now sending payments to artists. Just try not to laugh out loud (or cry out loud) when you see the money involved.
Earlier this week, composer Kerry Muzzey — whose work appears on TV shows like Glee, So You Think You Can Dance, and The LXD, as well as major motion picture trailers — shared his mechanical royalty check from Spotify. The windfall: $11.60 for 32,222 plays.
Which boils down to approximately $0.000360 per play.
We asked Muzzey for more details on his payment.
He told us that Spotify sends the checks sporadically, and Harry Fox Agency administers them. “HFA handles Spotify’s mechanicals,” he said. “They come in small batches here and there. Nothing new where Spotify royalties are concerned, though. Just disheartening to see how little the service generates in mechanicals for writers/composers.”
That suggests that Spotify has been sending its mechanical checks all along, just not to everyone. And those receiving checks aren’t exactly getting rich. Sadly, this isn’t the first lowly mechanical check we’ve seen from Spotify. David Lowery, who ended up starting a massive legal battle against Spotify and other streaming services for missing or partial payments, once shared his Spotify check for $5.05.
Lowery started a massive class action lawsuit against Spotify, one of two from indie artists that ended up getting consolidated. That was the start of a from rights owners claiming massive infringement and non-payment of mechanicals, most of which were settled out-of-court. Helping to clean the mess was the Music Modernization Act, which was by President Trump and prohibited future mechanical rights lawsuits.
It also created the Mechanical Licensing Collective, whose job will be to administer mechanical rights checks to rights owners. The MLC is still being formed, but the rights agency is projected to instantly generate more than a billion dollars in mechanical rights for major publishers like Universal Music Publishing Group and Sony/ATV. That payout is estimated based on a massive pile of unclaimed rights for years of streams, dating back years, with major publishers expected to collect the payments based on existing publisher market share.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the MLC is going to create a windfall for songwriters and composers like Muzzey, however. Or, anyone without hundreds of millions of streams to multiply against $0.000360.
That leaves other, more lucrative rights like sync. Accordingly, if you’re interested in checking out Kerry’s work, here’s his site. It’s pretty damn good.
TikTok is building a music streaming service to rival Spotify and Apple called Resso. The company has inked a deal with Merlin to feature thousands of indie artists on the platform.
The licensing deal with Merlin is the first announced by TikTok in the music industry. TikTok has secured deals with other labels, but TechCrunch reports the deals are not public knowledge.
TikTok’s deal with Merlin gives us a first look at what may be the template for future music industry deals. The agreement includes provisions for music to be featured in short-form videos like TikTok and .
Sources close to TikTok are confirming the new music streaming subscription service – Resso.
TikTok’s move into the music streaming business has been swirling as rumors for several months now. ByteDance even tested an early alpha version of the service in India and Indonesia last year.
The move into the music streaming industry may be a way TikTok is hoping to generate revenue. The massive user growth for the platform has led to several monetization attempts.
The Big Three labels – Sony Music, Warner Music, and Universal Music have yet to sign on. The deal with Merlin is the first of its kind publicly announced by the company.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the TikTok exec who made the announcement is an ex-Warner Music hire. Obermann hired former Warner colleague Tracy Gardner to head up Label Licensing for TikTok. Just yesterday, TikTok opened a massive 120,000 square foot office space in the .
With Merlin taking the plunge, it will be interesting to see how many other labels hop on board. TikTok’s efforts to establish permanent office space in the U.S. may help with that.
Despite that, TikTok is still and is currently under investigation, however. That may lead some labels to shy away from public announcements for now.
Emmy Award-winning writer, producer, and actress Lena Waithe and her longtime girlfriend Alana Mayo shared just two months ago that they’d secretly married. “We snuck and did it, you know. We didn’t really make any announcements or a big…you know,” Lena told Ellen DeGeneres. “We went to the courthouse and got married right in front Harvey Milk’s bust,” she said the San Fransisco City Hall wedding. “It was her idea — like all good things are — and she was just driving and she saw the courthouse and she said, ‘We should get married there,’ and I said, ‘Cool, I’m down.'”
The Queen & Slim filmmaker ten spoke about Alana in interviews, praising her partner for keeping her “grounded.” Lena told The David Chang Show, “When I get home from winning an Emmy, she’s like, ‘Don’t forget to take out the recycling.’ It’s those things that I think are really helpful. She’s so laid back about it all.”
Last time we reported on Thematic, the company had generated more than for its artists.
Now, that number has surpassed 2.5 billion, just one of several impressive stats being shared by the company this week. It’s all part of a collaborative ecosystem that focuses on feeding the UGC creator economy found on platforms like YouTube and Instagram, while stripping out the licensing landmines.
And for anyone working in the weeds of platforms like YouTube, getting ‘demonetized’ is always a lurking danger. Given the extreme murkiness of music licensing, it can easily strike the most diligent of content creators, even those working with ‘royalty-free’ libraries ().
Which is where Thematic stepped in. Co-founder Michelle Phan built one of YouTube’s most successful channels, but in 2014, she found herself over music she thought was properly cleared (and, by the way, so did Ultra artists like Kaskade).
A few years later, Thematic is solving the licensing problems that riddle YouTube and other platforms. The result is a licensing safe-space for content creators that aims to democratize music distribution beyond predefined channels like Spotify, while heightening fan engagement and conversions in the process. Artists get featured by influencers, who safely play Thematic-repped music while boosting musical careers in the process.
“Thematic’s platform allows me to enhance the creative quality of my videos without the anxieties of copyright claims. As a creator, I get to focus on allowing my art to reach their potential while collaborating with musical artists who wish to do the same,” content creator Hailey Sani tells us.
Crossing the billion-mark was a major accomplishment for the startup, though just six months later, the number of listens has ballooned past 2.5 billion.
According to Thematic’s co-founder and CEO Marc Schrobilgen, Thematic has also converted more than 1 million listeners into new fans for its artists.
The concept has already lured the likes of Lauv, Dylan Rockoff, Lexy Panterra, Gabrielle Aplin, Skylar Stecker, and Qveen Herby, with nearly 300 active artists and 30,000 content creators currently on the platform.
“As an indie artist, it can be really hard to have your music reach new audiences organically. I found Thematic to be a great way to get my music out through the power of digital creators, and I have also made new friends along the way,” shares indie singer/songwriter Elli Moore.
There’s also a crowdfunding campaign that surpassed its minimum funding amount of $50,000 in its first two weeks. That microfinancing round was generated by nearly 190 backers, mostly made up of Thematic’s current users, though we’re guessing that larger investors will eventually join the party. Already, Thematic has been accepted into the 500 Startups’ accelerator program, and the company has also joined forces with DMN to further expand its revenue streams to artists.
One way Thematic can track artist success is by watching resulting streams on Spotify and Apple Music.
But instead of gunning for playlists, Thematic is trying to crack a more beneficial model for artists.
Spotify has the power to dramatically increase an artist’s success, just by adding that artist to a heavily-subscribed playlist. But that ‘success’ is often characterized by lots ‘empty listens’ for artists — with fan engagement missing and . But what if music is better matched to targeted demographics, on influencer channels already super-engaged with their audiences?
Schrobilgen pointed to an entirely different matching process at Thematic. Instead of plopping a song onto ‘Today’s Top Hits,’ Thematic’s team mixes algorithms and curation to match music to its creators’ content. That can involve feeding recommendations to an influencer based on previous syncs, the preferences of the creator, or simply the influencer’s own listening preferences.
The result is a more tightly-matched demographic for the artist, with the creator getting better-fitting music (and zero licensing headaches). That’s the first-level win Thematic pushes for, though participating artists can then springboard from the successful campaigns that result.
“Nothing has been more monumental in the consistent and steady growth of my listeners, followers, viewership, and engagement quite like Thematic. They have filled a gap in the music and influencer industry that most do not even realize is there,” singer/songwriter Madeline Lauer told us.
“Influencers who enjoy and pick my music generally have a following that matches my own target audience. When the viewers like and want to know what song is playing in a video, all they have to do is look and see what artist and song is tagged. Naturally leading them to my platforms to discover me as an artist organically.”
Successful audio-visual match-ups make videos better, but they can also generate data that can be leveraged into lucrative sync deals.
It also makes the job of pitching to streaming services easier, while generating analytics on what fans actually like.
One example of this comes from Thematic artist Tessa Violet (picture above), who successfully leveraged a royalty-free offering of her song “Crush” on both YouTube and Instagram. That quickly set the wheels in motion for inclusion in top-ranked Spotify playlists and YouTube’s Artist on the Rise program, and eventually headlining her own tour.
Now, Thematic is pushing past YouTube and Instagram.
Of course, both are enormously important components of the UGC creator economy. But increasingly, they’re not the only ones. Accordingly, Thematic is setting its sights on the entire pie, with mega-platforms like TikTok, podcasts, and even self-contained networks like Peloton part of the broader build-out.
Just recently, Thematic secured placements on TikTok influencer accounts for a song by artist Benee. The track, ‘Glitter,’ has since grabbed an audience reach of more than 22 million, with more than 1.1 million views and 90,000 hearts. In total, nearly 450,000 fan videos using the song were created. It even became a viral dance challenge, with mega-influencers like Sarah Magusara popularizing the track.
In the case of both Benee and Violet, there’s a two-way street. Schrobilgen noted that musicians are influencers as well — and always have been. But that fandom simply isn’t being tapped effectively, especially with so much focus on walled-off streaming platforms.
One place fandoms are being tapped into effectively, however, is Asia. BTS and other mega-successful K-pop groups quickly come to mind, with artists developing fanatical fanbases and then establishing strong links with them.
“It’s all about fandom,” Schrobilgen remarked. “You are seeing a huge shift in the music business. UGC is now the main driver to build an artist’s fanbase and the data that comes along with it is being leveraged to monetize the artist’s personal brand.”
Now, Thematic hopes to bring that ultra-successful mentality to the West. And, develop a platform that emphasizes fandom ahead of playlists and other traditional artist growth outlets.
When The Matrix 4 was ficially confirmed last summer, many fans the hit sci-fi film saga were eager to see the original cast return to their iconic roles. With stars like Keanu Reeves and Jada Pinkett-Smith confirmed to “enter The Matrix” again, and be joined by new actors like Black Mirror‘s Yahya Abdul-Mateen — he’s set to play a young Morpheus — everything seemed to be falling in place perfectly for the revival that many have been waiting nearly two decades to see come to fruition. However, it’s looking like those who rooted for the film’s legendary bad guy Agent Smith will unfortunately be disappointed following news that actor Hugo Weaving will not be returning for the next installment.
According to IndieWire, Weaving confirmed his departure from Matrix 4 due to a prior commitment to his theater performance in “The Visit” at the National Theater. Speaking with Time Out London about the scheduling conflict, he said, “It’s unfortunate but actually I had this fer for “The Visit”] and then the fer came from “The Matrix”, so I knew it was happening but I didn’t have dates.” Even though he thought it was possible to juggle both roles, Hugo found it impossible to act in both productions, stating, “I thought I] could do both and it took eight weeks to work out that the dates would work – I held f on accepting a role in “The Visit” during that time]. I was in touch with director] Lana Wachowski, but in the end she decided that the dates weren’t going to work. So we’d sorted the dates and then she sort changed her mind. They’re pushing on ahead without me.”
Some are suggesting that Agent Smith may still return, but obviously with a different actor. While story-wise that may be a suitable option, especially with a rumored plot centering around younger versions core characters, not having Hugo Weaving in a role that he helped make iconic would be a bit a slap in the face to hardcore fans.
We’ll wait to see the fate Agent Smith when more news about The Matrix 4 becomes available, but in the meantime see one the character’s most classic scenes from the entire series below:
With Daniel Craig stepping down from his role as James Bond, producers are searching for someone to take his place. While no one has been chosen, producer Barbara Broccoli says the role will definitely be given to a man.
Brian Ach / Getty s
“He can be any color, but he is male,” Broccoli said, according to IndieWire. “I believe we should be creating new characters for women—strong female characters. I’m not particularly interested in taking a male character and having a woman play it. I think women are far more interesting than that.”
Eva Green, who played Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, has expressed similar sentiments in the past: “I’m for women, but I really think James Bond should remain a man. It doesn’t make sense for him to be a woman. Women can play different types characters, be in action movies and be superheroes, but James Bond should always be a man and not be Jane Bond. There is history with the character that should continue. He should be played by a man.”
Rachel Weisz, who is married to Craig, has also agreed: “Why not create your own story rather than jumping on to the shoulders and being compared to all those other male predecessors? Women are really fascinating and interesting and should get their own stories.”
The newest Bond film, No Time to Die, is set to release on April 10, 2020.
HipHopDX Premiere – Canadian duo Dragon Fli Empire have rolled through with a new video for “Fli Beat Patrol,” the B-Side of a limited edition 7-inch 45 that includes the J-Live-assisted single “Record Store” on the flip.
Dragon Fli Empire has opened for the likes of De La Soul, The Roots, Public Enemy and Mos Def, becoming a staple in Calgary’s Hip Hop scene along the way. Comprised of MC Teekay and turntablist/producer DJ Cosm, Dragon Fli Empire consistently pay tribute to the architects of Hip Hop.
Unsurprisingly, the visual finds the duo paying homage to the legendary Flava Unit and Juice Crew alongside Djar One’s production.
Quantities are limited to just 300 units in classic black, along with a yellow variant limited to just 100 units which can be purchased exclusively on the Ill Adrenaline website and select record stores.
Check out the visuals above and cop the single here.