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Music News

This week American Idol alum Carrie Underwood's song "I'll Stand By You," hit the Billboard singles chart. This would not be a noteworthy occurrence except for the fact this is the first time that an iTunes Exclusive single — not available on CD or from any other provider — has debuted in the top 10 of Billboard's Hot 100. According to Apple, more than 100,000 audio downloads of The Pretenders' cover were purchased in less than a week. Also in the news is Warner Music Group's removal of over 400 jobs. The world's fourth largest music company reported a net loss of $27 million, and decided to cut jobs in order to shift resources to digital music distribution. Both of these stories reflect a trend in the music industry - one that favors digital music sales and usage. So, Jim and Greg wanted to check in with John Kunc, owner of Waterloo Records in Austin, TX to see how news like this affects his business. As one might guess, the mom and pop record shop isn‘t what it used to be, but Kunc explains that they’re definitely "beating the industry."

Go to episode 76

Music News

When they looked back at the end of the last decade, Jim and Greg described American Idol as one of the only major juggernauts in the music industry. Now, only a couple of weeks later, it looks like that monolith is crumbling. Simon Cowell has announced plans to depart the show, which debuted last week, to launch a U.S. version of The X Factor. In addition to being a major part of Idol, Cowell was a force behind the career popularity of Susan Boyle and British X Factor Leona Lewis. Jim and Greg wonder if Idol will be able to produce another Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry or Carrie Underwood without Cowell. And, they wonder if X Factor will be the hit-maker to watch.

A world away from the American Idol business machine is a UK website called SlicethePie. Artists can use this site to get direct funding from fans, who in return receive a copy of the album, an exclusive relationship with the band, and possibly, a return on their investment. According to the site the standard deal is about a 16 cent return for every 1.63 invested per 1,000 albums sold. Now Slicethepie has announced its first real success story. U.K. rock act Scars on 45 has graduated from the fan-supported site to land a deal with Atlantic Records/Chop Shop Records. Chop Shop is run by Alexandra Patsavas, who supervised music on a number of Hollywood projects including Twilight, The O.C. and Grey's Anatomy. So, keep your ears open for Scars on 45 music the next time you tune into a primetime soap.

The 2009 numbers are officially in…but they aren't exactly clear. According to Nielsen SoundScan, overall music industry sales are up 2.1%. But as Jim and Greg explain, that's not necessarily worth celebrating. Album sales, which still account for the majority of revenue, are actually down 13%. What has gone up are digital music sales — and those don't add up. Of course, as Jim says, overhead with digital music is much, much lower. And, certain artists do have cause to break out the champagne, for example, Taylor Swift, who was the number one artist of 2009. She was followed by a phenom (Susan Boyle), and a recently departed (Michael Jackson). Michael Jackson wasn't the only posthumous winner. The number one selling album of the entire decade was by a group that stopped making music four decades ago: The Beatles.

Go to episode 216

Music News

Lately it seems like all the record industry can talk about is what to do about all the digital downloading out there. Now the Songwriters Association of Canada thinks it has a solution. They‘ve proposed to allow domestic consumers access to all recorded music available online in return for adding a $5 monthly fee to every wireless and Internet account in the country. The Canadian recording industry hasn’t responded favorably, but as SAC president Eddie Schwartz explains to Jim and Greg, it's the best way to compensate songwriters and musicians for the 50+ billion downloads that are expected to take place in 2008.

In other news American Idol Taylor Hicks has been dropped by his label, J Records. This comes shortly after the dismissal of former Idol runner-up Ruben Studdard. And, after a disappointing year for Kelly Clarkson, Jim and Greg wonder if the Idol effect is wearing off. Sure, both Chris Daughtry and Carrie Underwood had a very successful year, but as the new season of Idol kicks off, Sound Opinions H.Q. has to wonder —maybe this pop culture phenomenon should stick to television, where it belongs.

Radiohead's album In Rainbows went to number one this week after being initially released as a pick-your-own-price digital download. The band hasn't released any sales figures from their digital experiment, but another music giant has been less tight-lipped. Trent Reznor recently posted the download and sales numbers for The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust, the Saul Williams album he produced and helped release. Reznor made the album available as a free, lower-quality download as well as a higher-quality download for $5. According to Reznor, over 150,000 people downloaded the album, but only 18% paid for it. While he was disheartened by the news, Jim and Greg think the situation fares well for Saul Williams, who previously never had such a large audience. Artists rarely get a large cut of record sales, and this kind of exposure will help Williams build a fan base for the bigger money-maker: touring.

Go to episode 111

Music News

American Idol is currently on summer vacation, but they've still been making quite a bit of news. The pop music contest and music industry juggernaut has decided to take its business to Universal Music and away from Sony. In years past, the show's winners and runners-up released albums on Sony under the direction of powerhouse Clive Davis. Now it appears that Interscope executive Jimmy Iovine will become the new mentor. In addition, both Simon Cowell and Ellen DeGeneres are out as hosts. Kara DioGuardi may also be leaving. In their place? Possibly Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler. And, since it's been years since Idol produced a Carrie Underwood or Kelly Clarkson, hopefully these changes will mean more exciting winners as well.

It doesn't look like we can count on an “Iranian Idol” anytime soon. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made a strong statement against music this week, proclaiming that it is“not compatible”with the values of the Islamic republic. Many are seeing this as leading to an outright ban of music in Iran and an expression of Khamenei's long-held mistrust of Western cultural influence. As rock evangelists, this attitude toward music is, of course, disheartening to Jim and Greg. For more on rebel culture in Iran check out Marjane Satrapi graphic novel and film Persepolis and the Cannes winner No One Knows About Persian Cats.

Go to episode 245

Music News

Jim and Greg have resisted talking about American Idol for quite a while, but this week this pop culture phenomenon couldn‘t be ignored. While these critics still don’t care about the musical impact of the show, they can't deny its significance in the industry. An average of 25 million people tuned in each week to see who would be declared the American Idol, commanding advertising rates that are only exceeded by the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards. For the music industry, this means major sales. Past contestants like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Clay Aiken have sold 33 million records, and songs that appear on the show in any form immediately take off on the charts. Labels have taken note, sending aging artists like Rod Stewart, Queen and Barry Manilow, as well as fresher faces like Shakira, Mary J. Blige and Prince, to appear on the show. As much as both our hosts hope that audiences will decide to turn the dial toward something of better musical quality, Greg predicts that hipper acts in need of promotion will soon be calling up Fox. And until then, fans can look forward to much of the same.

Fans who purchased Sony CDs by artists like The Foo Fighters, The Coral, Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra can rest easy. While those CDs may have infected your computer with a virus-like anti-piracy software called MediaMax, a judge has ordered Sony to make up for it. Every customer infected with the software will receive a cash payment of $7.50 and one free album download or three free song downloads. Whoever claims that the record industry doesn'y care about the consumer obviously missed this news.

Rumor has it that Sri Lanka-born, England-based rapper M.I.A. is being denied a visa to come to the United States. M.I.A., or Maya Arulpragasam, has plans to record with producer Timbaland, but may have to postpone them. Whether or not the denial is related to the fact that she is the daughter of a Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger rebel, or the fact that many of her song lyrics are overtly political, is not known. What is known, however, is what a raw deal this is. While M.I.A., who has received masses of critical acclaim and was up for the prestigious Mercury Prize in 2005, will not be gracing Americans with her presence, our own Snoop Dogg has recently been barred from the U.K. Sound Opinions is willing to enter into diplomatic negotiations to work this out.

Go to episode 26

Music News

Jim and Greg kick off the show by announcing the winner of the annual Eurovision Song Contest, which Jim describes as American Idol on steroids. Over 125 million people watched Sweden's Loreen take the prize in Baku, Azerbaijan for her track "Euphoria." But it was the Russian Grannies from Buranovo who won people's hearts with their unique party song.

American Idol continues to dominate the pop world, all while it slips a little bit in the television one. Season 8 runner-up Adam Lambert has the #1 album this week beating out fellow Idol alum Carrie Underwood. But, this comes after the show aired its lowest rated finale to date. Greg wonders if viewers were underwhelmed by the crowning of another“white guy with a guitar.”Or, are there just too many music contests like The Voice and Duets crowding the airwaves? Does this over-saturation mean that Idol will never produce another Lambert, Underwood, Clarkson or Daughtry? Perhaps. And maybe you say, "Good riddance."

Also in the news, Amanda Palmer just reached a huge milestone in the era of the fan-funded album. Using Kickstarter, the Dresden Dolls singer raised over $1 million for her new album - ten times what she wanted. In return for these donations, Palmer will have to do everything from provide digital downloads to participate in an art sitting. And of course, she'll have to pony up to Uncle Sam as well.

Go to episode 340

Music News

Kelly & Justin After fifteen years on the air, "American Idol" is being voted off. The pop cultural juggernaut ruled the airwaves for years, producing stars like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and Jennifer Hudson (along with plenty of forgettable "idols"). The show averaged 31.1 million viewers a week in 2006, but ratings during this final season are not even a third of that mark. Jim and Greg note the significance of “Idol,” but won‘t miss the overemotive style of singing it promoted. The show’s legacy, in any case, lives on in newer programs like "The Voice."

Go to episode 541