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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

Pop phenom Leona Lewis made news this week by becoming the first British artist to debut at number one on the U.S. album charts. It seems that the hit factory built by Clive Davis and Simon Cowell is serving the X-Factor winner well. She's poised to become the most successful alum of the Arista-American Idol partnership. But, Jim and Greg are not impressed by Lewis' dramatic vocal style — one that owes a lot to Mariah Carey. Carey also has a new album out next week called E=MC2. The diva may give the upstart a run for her money, but as Jim and Greg explain, neither have sales that compare with the success of this style of music years ago. Despite the wishes of Davis and Cowell, audiences may be ready for a new sound.

Go to episode 125

Music News

Jim and Greg talk about two news stories merging Broadway and the pop world. The Tony award-winning musical Book of Mormon is now also a chart success. It's the highest-charting Broadway cast album and first in the top ten since 1969, when Hair spent thirteen straight weeks at #1. On the other end of the spectrum, YouTube phenom Susan Boyle has inspired a new musical called I Dreamed a Dream. It will be a fairy tale of sorts, where the heroine gets swept away to Hollywood (and the big bad wolf is Simon Cowell).

This past weekend Bruce Springsteen lost his constant sidekick and friend, Clarence Clemons. Greg calls Clemons the first among equals in a large band of characters. His saxophone was as important to many of Springsteen's songs as the Boss's guitar. And even in later years, when sax wasn't as prominent a component, Clemons was a large presence onstage. Jim will miss that energy, though he has always been critical of his sax style. To remember Clarence Clemons our hosts listen to "Jungleland" from the 1975 album Born to Run.

Go to episode 291

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