The Life of Pablo & Content Exclusivity

Kanye West released a great album poorly. He built hype for his latest record The Life of Pablo through Twitter, gaining media attention daily through tweets about his indecisiveness on the title of his album, and through controversial statements and multi-tweet tirades aimed at Wiz Khalifa and the record industry. Whether these tweets were calculated or not, they were effective. Kanye was front page music news for nearly a month.

His Twitter served enough as publicity for his record, but this was to be expected. Kanye has long been an unstoppable force in the music world. Even an unprompted tweet that simply read “BILL COSBY INNOCENT !!!!!!!!!!” barely hindered his momentum, a testament to the state of his fearlessness to speak his mind, no matter how controversial it may be. A tweet like that could destroy a person’s career. Not Kanye’s.

But that momentum could only go on as long as he had something to offer, and Kanye’s promises of an imminent album release were beginning to feel emptier and emptier each day. It all culminated in a listening party and fashion show streamed live on his business partner and rapper friend Jay Z’s Tidal streaming service. Tidal only boasts about 3 million subscribers, less than half of Apple Music despite launching before it, and it started at a $19.99 price point. The music service had trouble gaining traction, falling under scrutiny for its business model and a campaign that drew the wrong kind of attention.

Tidal now offers a lower-quality tier that contends with Spotify at $9.99. Kanye’s stream, however, was not behind this paywall.

But despite his promise to release his album the night of his listening party, that didn’t happen. He claimed he was still working on it, and by this point the demand for The Life of Pablo had reached a boiling point.

Kanye ended up releasing the record on Tidal on February 14. The next day, this happened:

The news came as a surprise to people. The exclusive release alienated a large audience already committed to more accessible music services. The next day his album had been illegally downloaded more than 500,000 times.

Exclusivity is a Bad Business Model

Fans were going to download Kanye’s album illegally regardless, that’s just what happens, but his decision to limit the release was a shot in the foot. When the easiest option is to torrent an album, the choice is clear. The most damage control you can do is to make it as accessible to your audience as possible. Had it been released on Apple Music or Spotify – the latter of which supports 75 million total users – more people would have bought it.

Kanye did this to entice fans to subscribe to Tidal, yes, but that wasn’t the product they wanted to pay for. It didn’t matter that the album had great songs on it, people wanted to pay for a concrete record, not the license to a music service. That’s like getting a gym membership when all you want is a set of dumbbells.

The Life of Pablo is only one example of a larger problem with releasing art on an online platform. As soon as it’s out there, authors don’t have the right to tell people how it can be distributed. If your work is worth sharing, it’s going to hit torrent sites within days, even hours. You might as well make it easy, or easier, for people to get it within legal means.

The Ease of Being Inclusive

Can anything be truly exclusive anymore? How much longer are movie theatres going to be around when big-budget films forgo theatrical releases in favour of streaming services offering new movies at equal price points? I would pay ticket price to watch a new movie in the comfort of my home, in my pajamas and my own snacks. And yes, I can make theatre popcorn.

Case in point, I want to watch Charlie Kaufman’s Oscar-nominated Anomalisa, but the lack of a wide release is forcing my hand to illegal alternatives. I’m willing to pay for this movie, but I can’t watch it because I don’t live in a larger city? It’s 2016, how is this happening?

Imagine if torrent sites didn’t exist at all. What then? How long would people really stick around Tidal if they only registered to listen to The Life of Pablo? I’d speculate the majority would cancel their subscription after a month, especially if they signed up begrudgingly.

Kanye’s plan is a great example in showing how people want to consume art. If even a high-profile release from Kanye West isn’t incentive enough for people to buy a subscription service, it’s most definitely not going to work for anyone else. We are beyond the days of keeping things contained. Online piracy will always be a problem, but if artists are putting their work where their audiences are already spending their money, consumers may think twice about going out of their way and getting it for free.

Thanks for reading.

pablo
There is only one true Pablo.

[EDIT] Of course, the day after I post this up, The Life of Pablo gets a wide release on Apple Music and Spotify.

You’re welcome, Internet.

Reservations

Reservations

Steven Ratzlaff’s latest play Reservations is actually made up of two plays that each run an hour in length.

The first, Pete’s Reserve, is about a Mennonite farmer who decides to gift his farm land to the Siksika Nation, to whom it rightfully belongs. Despite his poor daughter Anna’s pleas to keep the land within the family or to sell, Pete seems to have already made up his mind. The story revolves around these two, with Pete’s indigenous wife Esther, played by Tracey Nepinak, clearly ambivalent toward the whole situation. I felt this was an unexpected use of the character. A greener writer might have attempted to shoehorn Esther into breaking the fourth wall and making overarching commentary about the injustices of indigenous rights and culture.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened in the second act, Standing Reserve – with a Heidegger lecture carrying the message, no less.

I should say that I have no problem with an artistic work assuming a certain intelligence of its viewer. But where the first play seemed to set the bar at a reasonable level, the second attempted to balance it unsteadily above the whole audience, to the point where no one even attempted to touch it.

Standing Reserve dealt with themes of identity and deracination, told through the lens of a foster family and an indigenous CFS social worker, the three of whom are also well-versed in philosophy. I appreciated the heavier subject matter, but my problems with the second act existed in the three characters fearlessness for confrontation.

Granted, I understand that the restrictions of a play sometimes require the characters be more direct with each other, in Standing Reserve these characters seemed to act and react from two clearly defined positions – to the point where they felt less like characters, and more like representatives for two sets of well-researched beliefs. As a result, the conflict felt impersonal. The characters got emotional, yes, but they remained surprisingly eloquent through their tears. I just don’t believe a real conversation like this would progress in a clean an inoffensive manner.

The second half of Standing Reserve placed the characters in a University of Manitoba lecture theatre, with Nepinak’s character Denise delivering a speech that touched on indigenous identity and Nietzsche’s will to power, among other things.

The play tackled grand issues with grand ideas, but Ratzlaff tackles these issues in a format that lost the audience, including myself, for the duration of the final act.

I found the penultimate scene in Standing Reserve to be my favourite, with Sarah Constible’s character Jenny arguing her position on the fostering of her indigenous children. The scene felt deeply personal, and it could have carried on longer, but it came to a halt after a crucial reveal left the crowd chuckling. I expected this moment may have been intended to be shocking, but I could be wrong.

Ratzlaff said he didn’t really have the attention span to merit two acts of a single play. I felt the switch in story and characters a welcomed change. With this arrangement, we got to see the actors shine. Nepinak and Constible are clearly very talented, as is Ratzlaff, who said he wrote the play with those two in mind. I thought the three of them looked very comfortable together on stage.

The stage and sound design were also gorgeous. Apparently it was Andrew Belfour’s first attempt at scoring a play. The sounds were largely atmospheric, staggering in at crucial and unsettling moments of action, which I felt made the second act a lot stronger.

The talk-back period that followed was a wash – people asked questions that Ratzlaff either didn’t hear or chose not to address, and I sort of understand that, but then what’s the point of a talk-back? The writer told me afterward that he was inspired to write these plays based on real experiences, but that they weren’t pertaining to indigenous issues. Really, the play felt like it could be interchanged with nearly any racial issue and it would still make sense.

Overall, I think the play delivered some very powerful polarizations on these topics, and the choice to leave the scenes without proper resolutions left the audience with much to discuss after it ended. I just wish the discussion was more about these issues, rather than they way they were communicated.

 

My 12 Most Important Albums

I was obligated to post twelve crucial albums that have had a lasting impression on me.

Because the criteria feels a bit broad, I’m going to narrow the focus. I will attempt to list albums that have stuck with me, whether it was through a particular moment in time, or an album I still come back to frequently. I will also limit it to one album per artist. This should make for a very weird list.

Top whatever lists are a little like an unusual haircut, in that I’m probably not going to agree with my choices when I look back in six months or so.

Anyway, hey, in no particular order:

Sparklehorse – It’s a Wonderful Life
I’ve written pretty extensively about Mark Linkous’ influence, but never on how he and his music have directly affected me. Sparklehorse is medicinal, and his death still leaves me in disbelief. There are times I’ll dig back through old forums, watch some of his interviews or last performances with Fennesz and think about how much more he had left to share. Mark was working on a new studio and new material, and was recording in Steve Albini’s studio only a few weeks before his death. I’ll probably go the rest of my life wondering what new Sparklehorse would have sounded like. Four proper records just isn’t enough from this man, but It’s a Wonderful Life is a culmination of excellent songwriting, beautiful, deep production, and a mixture of voices and sounds that embody the peaceful decay Sparklehorse was all about.

Thom Yorke – The Eraser
I am convinced this record is the one that made me really appreciate music. That might sound pretentious, and if it is, oops. But there was a day in Spring of 2007 that I sat down with this album, popped my earbuds in, and every track made sense. Though not a lot of people think much of The Eraser, this album hit me very hard. Every decision seemed carefully calculated, every track flowed into the next one, and they were all so great. I remember sitting in my morning class thinking about how I probably wouldn’t experience this feeling ever again, it was that notable. So yes, it’s hard to explain and no one cares, but if you know what I mean… this is one of two albums where I got that magical ‘everything clicked’ feeling. The only other album to do this to me was Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest, and maybe the next album on this list.

My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
This album took me a while to get into, but once I did there was no way I could go without it. The depths of shoegaze as a genre is incredibly vast, and it could be obvious, but Loveless takes the cake. The artwork and music is all timeless, and I can go back to this record without getting bored. There are actually new sounds to find every time. People say that about albums, but it’s so true here. I never heard the harmonies in ‘Only Shallow’ until like, last month. They were always there, I just never actively listened for them, and now I do. This album is like an everlasting gobstopper. I think Loveless will always make it somewhere on my top ‘whatever’ lists.


Still to come:

Portishead – Dummy
Paul Simon – Graceland
Baths – Obsidian
Massive Attack – Blue Lines
Fiona Apple – Tidal
Guided by Voices – Bee Thousand
Jeff Buckley – Grace
Sarah McLachlan – Surfacing
Radiohead – In Rainbows

[March 28, 2016] I look forward to expanding on more of these. Stay with me.

“Gisney”

This week I made my second appearance on my friend Matt’s podcast, Get Some Cinema in Ya (@GSCinemaInYa). We talk Disney films for over an hour, including the best heroes, villains, and side-characters. We also gave our current five six favourite animated Disney feature films.

You can listen to it right here, and you should, because we had a real nice time. Come contend with our choices, get angry at the movies we don’t know much about, and leave some comments here about your favourite films.

In the order we mentioned them, the following is our collective top five list (that accidentally turned into six because we forgot we listed Finding Nemo earlier) of Disney animated features:

  • Tarzan
  • Finding Nemo
  • Great Mouse Detective
  • Mulan
  • Treasure Planet
  • The Incredibles

We also mention the Disney 90’s Supercut. Fall in love with your favourite childhood movies again here.

Thanks for reading/listening.

Techapalooza

Techapalooza

Yesterday was the fifth annual Techapalooza, one of the most popular CancerCare Manitoba Foundation fundraisers in the city. Bands comprised of IT professionals take to the stage to earn one of two awards from the judges and attendees, all in support of cancer research.

Hosted in The Fort Garry’s Selkirk Ballroom, the night featured five bands representing five very different genres – from classic rock, to country, to modern alternative, to another band uniting the musical worlds of Pink and Pink Floyd.

I attended because my brother performed for the first time, but the event is everything you could ask for if you’re a music fan, a techie, and a cancer-hater. Should be most of you.

Battle of the Brands

This weekend closes out the Festival du Voyageur this year. Cars lined the streets surrounding St. Joseph St. on this chilly Saturday afternoon. Parents followed closely behind their children, who were occupied by the day’s events. Today’s mascot challenge clearly had the little ones in mind.

Company mascots competed in two short events and posed for photographs with the kids. The events were only for fun, lasted only about a half an hour, and gave people a chance to enjoy one of the goofier events at the festival.

001
Before the challenges begin, kids pose with the mascots in front of Fort Gibraltar, Feb. 20/CAM DEAMEL

 

002
Mick E. Moose psyches up the crowd as the hay bale race gets underway at Festival du Voyageur, Feb. 20/CAM DEAMEL
004
The Blue Bombers ambassadors Boomer (left) and Buzz (right) kick off the hay bale race as the other mascots cheer them on, Feb. 20/CAM DEAMEL
005
Master of ceremonies, Yanick Laroche, conducts the event over megaphone. He says he has lost count of how many years he’s been a part of Festival du Voyageur, but it is a big part of his life every year./CAM DEAMEL
006
Kids watch in awe as the mascots take their turn in the hay bale race on Saturday, Feb. 20/CAM DEAMEL
007
Mick E. Moose gets a little over-confident at the beginning of the tug of war contest./CAM DEAMEL
IMG_5088
The Green Drop poses with the kids after winning the tug of war contest at Fort Gibraltar./CAM DEAMEL