<p>Britney Spears is now an RCA artist, not Jive</p>

Britney Spears is now an RCA artist, not Jive

Credit: AP Photo

Arista, Jive and J Records fold as artists ushered under RCA name

Sony shutters decades-old labels in order to 'refresh' the RCA brand

What's in a name? Ask the common consumer which artists are -- or, rather, were -- on Arista, Jive or J records recently and you might get just a couple answers, if any. Those names may not carry much weight or the weight that they used to with music fans.

RCA Records CEO Peter Edge and COO Tom Corson agree, at least in part. Sony Music is retaining the artists under those three labels and putting them under the larger RCA umbrella. So now acts like Usher, Britney Spears, Pink, Foo Fighters, previous "American Idol" stars like Jennifer Hudson and more will all be officially RCA artists. This, after months of blood-letting on a staffer level and dropping acts like "AI's" Lee DeWyze and Britain's "X Factor" contestant Diana Vickers.

Arista was established in 1974 by Clive Davis; he also started J in 2000. Barry Weiss' Jive was perhaps best know for its pop signings around the turn of the millennium with entertainers like Spears and Justin Timberlake (and his former band N*Sync).

"The path we've taken is to refresh RCA, so we're going to retire those brands," Corson told The Hollywood Reporter. "There may be a reason down the line to bring them back, but it's a clean slate here."

Where I get a little confused is Corson's insistence that RCA will be defined by its artists... and by itself simultaneously.

"The concept is that there is value in branding RCA and not having it confused or diluted by other labels," he said. But then, "The artists have all been supportive. We didn't make this move without consulting our artists, and we haven't had any push-back. Frankly, they're the brand. We're defined by our artists."

So Jive, J and Arista diluted the RCA brand, but what is the RCA brand anyway except a roster of names?

Consumers don't buy based on what an RCA artist is, or what a Jive artist was, because those label groups put out a variety of genres and big-name artists. Certainly, there are independent labels or genre-focused labels that fans trust to lead them to new artists (think Sub Pop, or Def Jam) but giant labels like Columbia (also owned by Sony) host artists from Kreayshawn to Tony Bennett. How can one "brand" a giant umbrella group like RCA, other than make it bigger?

This move just looks like another way to trim the fat in a still-slender music economy, even with album sales up 3%. Remember when Sony still had BMG in its name? Is this like Clear Channel trying to align itself with why you "heart" radio? Talk about dillution.

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<p>Black Star on &quot;The Colbert Report&quot;</p>

Black Star on "The Colbert Report"

Song of the Day: Black Star premieres unreleased 'Fix Up' on 'Colbert Report'

Mos Def talks about why he's not Mos Def anymore

Black Star are sort-of-kind-of back? Sort of? The trailblazing hip-hop duo put an end to their recent reunited tour run, due to irreconcilable differences with concert giant Live Nation. However, they dropped by Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" last night to drop an unreleased track "Fix Up" plus perform “Astronomy (8th Light)” and chat with the jokey host.

First, Mos Def wanted to reiterate that his choice to change his name from Mos Def to Yasiin Bey is, er, most definitely not a joke.

"Why would you not be Mos Def anymore? He's a famous guy who sells records. Why would you do that?" Colbert asked, and with great acumen.

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<p>Rodney Atkins, &quot;Take a Back Road&quot;</p>

Rodney Atkins, "Take a Back Road"

Credit: Curb

Interview: Rodney Atkins talks 'Back Road' and Hank Williams Jr. controversy

How does this country singer tackle politics in his work?


Rodney Atkins’ newest album is poised to become a best-seller, and even to debut in the top tier of the albums chart next week, all because of the “road.”
“Take a Back Road” – the single – is one of the most beloved and successful tracks in the country singer’s history, while the album – of the same name – is poised to be among Atkins’ best-charting, with the help, too, of preceding single “Farmer’s Daughter.”
Atkins is married, and with a 10-year-old son, and has a intense history as an adopted child, so his propensity to tackle country’s favorite themes of family and devotion comes easily, especially on this new effort. In our interview this week, Atkins expressed a comfort in his own skin (“and in my blue jeans”). Which sometimes involves avoiding his own press: “The first thing that pops up first on Google, that’s not the best thing to be reading right then…”
Check out what Atkins has to say on his “Road” success, his feelings on music in this political season and how he separates himself from other solo male country singers.
You’ve had several country radio hits, some ACMs, some CMAs, sold enough for a No. 3 album and toured with your heroes. How do gauge your own success? What are you goals now?
I just keep my head down. With radio, people are always calling out when a song is a hit, or have told me [songs] sounds like we’re catering to radio. I don’t know what that crap means. How do you get your songs heard to begin with is impossible to figure out. Of course I believe it’s important to have hits, to have sales. Y’know, to maintain your job. Ultimately, it’s less about having the goals than what you do with your success. Getting to work with the National Council for Adoption, to work with the children’s home that I was adopted form… it’s cool getting kids to pay attention to those songs. Everything is related and it gives you an opportunity to make a difference in those kids’ lives.
I want to make a live show better and better and better. Effect folks’ lives positively. My son turned 10 last week. That’s always stuff that keeps you very driven.
You sing a lot about maintaining your family life, as well as about the draw of the road and about rural values. How do you distinguish yourself from other singers that tackle the same stuff?
The way you separate yourself… you just got to keep all in your heart. I do not in any way try to follow a trend. I actively try to avoid it. “If You’re Going Through Hell” came out of that feeling. Im not singing about, like, “I’m so country that I smell like a barn.” The audience that I think I’m singing to, they know I believe in the rural heart. Where I grew up in East Tennessee, if you get stuck, you could go knock on any house and they’d help you. That’s the rural heart. Same thing can happen in the Middle of the Bronx or Manhattan, with someone like me on 53rd and 2nd. Stop and ask and get directions from a complete stranger. My songs have gone No. 1 in Canada. They’re anywhere. That’s who you’re singing to.
“Take a Back Road” sounds like it shares the title as a bunch of different songs in country. But they’re not the same, not at all. You could say the same thing about other formats, like, to me they all sound the same. But when you’re inside of it… it’s sort of like baseball players. For someone’s who’s not a fan of baseball, all the players do the same stuff, but I could tell you how they’re all different. It’s all in how deep you want to dig into it. I try to find and afford songs that I feel like are very timeless songs.
But particularly in country music, country fans want to feel close to their favorite singers and entertainers. Assuming you like to enjoy some privacy, how do you set up boundries of how far you’ll let the audience see into your life? Or do you?
If you know my music, then you know me. It’s pretty simple. It’s fun to hear people yelling out, “Hey Rodney” and I’m just walking down the street. It’s like you’re singing to friends you just might never met yet. But I don’t feel it necessary to put every situation up on the internet. Like I met Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub, this week. I was in awe. It was this special moment but I kinda didn’t need to put that out everywhere. If my son’s waiting for me at home with a fishing pole or baseball glove in his hand, I’m not gonna put that aside because I need to talk about Ernie Banks on Twitter.
Do you read your own press – reviews and interviews?
I have before a couple times. And just got slammed, shredded, on some of those song reviews. And then those songs became No. 1s. I read up on “Hell” and “Back Road” because I was excited about it. But the first thing that pops up first on Google, that’s not the best thing to be reading right then. I’ve learned my lesson. The people who ultimately decide what works and don’t work… you just give it a couple weeks.
Like, that Friday Morning Quarterback stuff. It’s like they didn’t even listen to the songs. Just a bunch of bull-shhh. Like, they do that because they know they’d never have to go toe to toe in the ring with anybody over it. I never had understood that. I’m not the one to debate and argue. I just spend my time doing something positive.
So you look to the people closest to you for criticism and to improve your album. Were there any songs you had to fight for on this album?
“He’s Mine.” I really believed in that song, I believed in what it says, the way it goes about unconditional love. It’s got more edge than anything we ever cut.
I noticed a lot of the songs that you co-wrote on the record have more rock to them, like they started out as rock rather than country songs.
Some of those things, they start out one way on the work tape demo, and that’s the place where we go, “This sounds like something I’ve heard before… I’m hearing something more fun.” Songs like that get simplified because it was a smaller band we were working with. You put so many instrument on a record, you lose a lot of dynamics of what you’re really hearing in your head… there is a rockin’ side to it, there’s also softer and tender songs, romantic songs than we’ve never done before. But instead of straight-up love songs, they talk about the reality of love, that it’s not easy or perfect or simple lust in relationships. It’s a little bit tougher. “Feet” -- some people say it sounds like a religious song -- but it’s a very serious, like what happens when you start knocking heads at 11:30, when things get dark .
But you have to think of the live show – if it was full of ballads, it would make you crazy. You think it rocks on the album, just wait til we get it out there with the band live. Its gonna rock much harder. Just like the song “The Corner”… it reminded me of [ballad] “You Needed Me.” I played the first version of it for my son and he did not pay attention to it at all. How do you get a kid in a “Guitar Hero” generation to pay attention? You put some divebombs, some edge on it. Now he loves it.
What do you think of this particular political season, how presidential politics and protests kind of brings out the activism in artists, brings out these vocalizations? Like, Radiohead with Occupy Wall Street or Hank Williams Jr. on President Obama…
Like I told you, I’m about the rural heart, I’m… not jaded by politics. Hank Jr. and the football theme…  I don’t know. I try to think in terms of an honest model for my kids and being part of the National Council for Adoption -- which is based in D.C… how are our choices going to affect their future. And about, ultimately, those soldiers going to war for believing in the rural heart. I want to do whatever’s gonna promote that. They’e goint to war to fight for the freedoms against places and situations where people don’t have a choice. I didn’t grow up in a military family, but meeting some soldiers, to see how serious they take our freedoms, you owe it to…consider your [political] choices, to make them count. What you really believe makes a difference.
Does it matter who I think who is in office? If that effects the outcome of who’s in there? I see it as a reason why I like to keep my mouth shut. But it’s all about that passion scale, the need to say something. If I get that opportunity, if I’m gonna have a voice, it’s gonna be about the things most important to me – about adoption, soldiers.
People – including some artists – yak and go on and on and on and on and on, rambling on about politics. And then there’s people who roll their sleeves up and go to work. It’s not about controlling people and fans with money and fame, it’s about making a difference in the world… I see why it’s a tough call. Some people feel passionate about that. My way is to sing about that kind of stuff that matters to me,  and if you listen closely, it’s in there.


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Willow Smith combines with Nicki Minaj for new single 'Fireball'

Will Smith's 10-year-old daughter tries even harder to grow up

A song like "Fireball" requires an acute and extreme suspension of disbelief. The track is by 10-year-old Willow Smith. And she is the fireball of the party.

Listen to the song here.

The spawn of Will Smith has put out two singles prior to this. "Whip My Hair" made it to No. 9 because and despite its easy targeting for what's wrong with pop lyricism. "21st Century Girl" was a careful study on the inflections of Rihanna, with a video like a pantomime of the same Bajan singer. It only made it to No. 99.

So in terms of fireballing parties, Smith is only one for two. Not so with Nicki Minaj, who features on the track with G-rated braggadocio and indistinguishable gender and social commentary like, "[Willow,] Your daddy keep[s] you in designer [clothes]." Minaj, undoubtedly, was also on to add "legitimacy" to the track.

One problem with propping up children as pop stars is that they sound like children. Is Willow rapping about the kind of party with balloons and a bouncy castle? Or is she in a private booth with Minaj and vodka and mixers? Or somewhere in between?

I wouldn't harp on the problem of "legitimacy" and "authenticity" in this instance so much if its adoption won't rely so heavily on these elements. If you're gonna borrow the synths and drop lazy breaks from the rap radio archive between Smith's borrowed vocal styles (including those from Minaj), it had better be a barn-burner to be adopted wide-scale.

And the Stoopid Robots beat is. Combined with the hook, its like "Hollaback Girl" meeting "Yeah X3," but with a pint-sized voice reporting that she's gonna burn it all. What a world.

Willow Smith has yet to announce details concerning a full-length album. She is signed to Jay-Z's Roc Nation spin-off StarRoc.

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<p>Jack's Mannequin</p>

Jack's Mannequin

Credit: James Minchin

Jack's Mannequin celebrates 'People and Things' release with big-screen event

Watch: Andrew McMahon's A/V project is for women, by women

"Ladies and gentlemen... or, ladies and a couple gentlemen," Andrew McMahon said to a full room at New York's Angelika movie theater last night.

The mastermind behind Jack's Mannequin was quite aware of the female-dominant ratio of the audience, in attendance to witness all 11 music videos that accompany each of the tracks from the band's latest "People and Things," released today (Oct. 4).

Making a video component for every song on a record is nothing new; PJ Harvey very effectively did it for her "Let England Shake" earlier this year, for instance. But what is notable about Jack's Mannequin's endeavor is how McMahon hooked up with filmmakers he found on Vimeo, and the sheer number of them that were women. Two-thirds of the directors, in fact. And from "People and Things," many of said "people" were ladies, most notably muses "Amy, I" and "Amelia Jean" plus those unnamed in tracks like "Release Me." Jack's Mannequin brand of piano-led pop-rock -- like McMahon's former band Something Corporate -- has always appealed to the fairer sex (or whatever you call us).

So in a way, Jack's Mannequin has upped the ante on what it is to be for women, with thanks to women. And he's comfortable with that.

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<p>Feist, &quot;Metals&quot;</p>

Feist, "Metals"

Credit: Cherrytree/Interscope

Review: Feist's 'Metals' is heavy and refined

The Canadian singer-songwriter returns after four-year wait: what's the weather like?

Feist’s records are less defined by their genre and more by the textures and intimacy of the recordings. On Leslie Feist’s latest “Metals” – a title that would otherwise indicate a rock record – there is a new heaviness that makes it feel like it’s max capacity, even on its smallest-sounding songs. It so far best defines this singer-songwriter; what it lacks in urgency from frequently lethargic tempos, it feels immediate, fluid and close.

Feist’s last “The Reminder” (2007) was made in an old mansion-turned-studio outside of Paris. She waited a couple years and then returned to making music, out of a converted barn in Big Sur. While the climates may have been different, it was the utility of space and inspiring beauty that remained a constant, and it shows. Practically every song has a one-take, happy mistake feel to it, the instruments impeccably mic’ed, familial and un-neglected.
Just start from the top: a bang of a kick drum, a bari sax and dark guitar phrases of opener “The Bad In Each Other” depicts a mood as much as the sad lyrics. Sleepy “Caught a Long Wind” puts the breeze at Feist’s back as a bird, as it leads into album single “How Come You Never Go There.” It lends no comparison to previous Feist singles like “Mushaboom” or “1234” in that it’s more of a torchy bubble-burster than bubble-gum. She does bring a little sugar, however, to “The Circle Married the Line,” a simple song with strings bobbing in pizzicato, and a xylophone and tender woodwinds filling in the gaps.
There are a handful of tracks that wed folk songs with nursery melodies, like “Bittersweet Melodies,” “Comfort Me” and “Anti-Pioneer,” the latter of which is a slow, slow, slow, slow dance with some mean guitar work in doses. The power picks up on “Commotion,” with strings uniquely holding down the rhythm section, and “The Undiscovered First,” the blue flame of which furls up into tight-fisted tambourine shimmies and the harrumphs of guitars through warm tube amps, both battling Feist’s vocal yelps and precarious harmonies. “Cicadas and Gulls” smoothes things out just as much as you’d think a song called “Cicadas and Gulls” would.
And throughout is that voice, her natural recording-ready quality, like good and bad weather moving between tracks. It is always the glue that binds this recording family with Mocky and Chilly Gonzalez into a operating whole, even in the infinity of songs like "Graveyard": "Roots and lies / our family tree is old /
From there we climb the golden hill / calmly will eternity." “Metals” sounds like something grown-into, of planned and unplanned elements that didn’t require too much discussion to manifest. After a four-year wait, it’s good news that Feist has made an album this easy to listen to.
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Watch Florence + The Machine 'Shake It Out' in stylish new video

Watch Florence + The Machine 'Shake It Out' in stylish new video

Single culled from Nov. 1 new album release

Florence + The Machine's first single and music video to "Ceremonials," due Nov. 1, has dropped, and there's a lot going on here.

Florence Welch traded only a few of her Stevie Nicksian chiffon gowns for something a little wilder, tighter, for this clip. In it, the singer is equal parts naughty and nice as she cavorts between dancing, drinking, shaking it out and shrinking away during this fairy tale party. She flows between beautiful people in masquerade masks and drops in on a seance. There's candles and indirect light galore, and the styling is beyond pristine. What is this, an Annie Lennox video?

And beyond that, her vocals remind me of Lennox here, too, in their strength and abounding character. While a couple lyrics' metaphors are, erm, beaten to death, the melody leaves no room for misery or second-guessing. This is easily one of Welch's best vocal performances to date, and the imagery will leave a mark on fans and aspiring fans to boot.

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<p>Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga</p>

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga

Credit: Vevo

Watch: Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett have fun in 'Tramp' video

Mother Monster tries a showtune on for size

Lady Gaga is used to putting her paws up, but now she's a babe in arms.

The pop superstar joined forces with Tony Bennett on his "Duets II" album for "The Lady Is a Tramp," an upbeat number from '30s musical "Babes in Arms." And while I don't this this Lady is always well-suited for showtunes (particularly up against the undefeatable Bennett), the pair seem to have a really fun time, in that weirdly I-just-met-you sort of way. Gaga is fun as a filly and Tony just kind of eggs her on.

As previously reported, Bennett earned his very first No. 1 album at the age of 85 last week with the duets set.

Gaga was on hand on Saturday night -- along with other musical stars like Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder -- to celebrate Sting's 60th birthday at the Beacon Theater in New York.

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Interview: Will OK Go make a full-length movie?

Damian Kulash explains what makes this video-making foursome different from Rihanna

Damian Kulash didn’t set out to have a band that dances on treadmills or invested part of its profits in color coordinated suits. But OK Go has become a brand, on top of an expression of the evolving nature of the music business. Their reputation for producing forward-thinking and fun-fashioned music videos has allowed them some rare opportunities, like re-making the “The Muppet Show” theme for the new movie, creating a fight song for hometown Chicago’s pro soccer team and penning “The Greatest Song I Ever Heard” for Morgan Spurlock’s “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.” 

The foursome was at first on Capitol records and now run their own show, label and publishing; they are their own A&R and advances, which has allowed them to collaborate with companies like Chrome and then turn around to engineers from MIT. Regardless of audiences opinion of OK Go’s variety of pop rock, it can’t be denied they’ve influenced music videos, “viral” videos (whatever the hell that means anymore) and independent marketing.
Late this summer I sat down with Kulash to discuss the band’s goals with the next record, their plans for more videos and what makes them different from Rihanna.
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Feist streams new album 'Metals' in full

Have fun with word association

There's good reason to be excited for Feist's new album. I'll get to that when I post my review of "Metals" later this week.

In the meantime, you can stream it for yourself, in full, at Feist's website.

She also took time for craft hour with a little note to fans, and to reveal what words journalists thought of when she said the word "Metals," a little word association for you nerds.

Feist's tour starts on Oct. 15; the album arrives next week on Oct. 4.

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