The Reading List - 4/12/2024

I haven't been writing, but I HAVE been reading!

The Reading List - 4/12/2024

Regular Duque's Delight readers and friends may know the wonderful news that on February 28, our family welcomed the arrival of twin daughters! Things here are as exciting as they are exhausting: one of them was in the NICU for a month, starting to deal with some conditions that are not-threatening and treatable but requiring some special attention.

Both are now home, and any writing that's taken place since then has been totally out of financial necessity. (I'm for hire, y'all! Drop me a line.) With small slivers of downtime between feeding, changing and going to doctors, I've had the pleasure of reading a lot of great writing that touches on many things I find interesting in the music industry. And with another small sliver of availability, I wanted to pass the rewards on to you! Here are some great things to read about a very strange business that I am at times honored and embarrassed to be and/or have been a part of.

What do you think about this version of "Jolene"? Tell me your thoughts!

Is There Any Room for Fantasy in Pop Music These Days? (The Forty Five - 4/5/2024)

Jenessa Williams pens a thoughtful op-ed using Beyoncé's debated cover/rewrite of Dolly Parton's "Jolene" to meditate on how much value consumers are putting on hyper-confessional lyrics that are ripped from the diaries of one's life, and how in the social media era we want to, need to, think we do, or really do know exactly what all those lyrical references pertain to. It's all absolutely worth thinking about, as well as why certain acts don't feel that way at all. I don't think Prince really stepped out on his girl with another in a bubble bath, and plenty of songs I love are kind of gibberish or at least abstract.

TikTok availability or not, this is a good time to say I think this song slams.

Hits by Ariana Grande, Beyoncé & More Remain on TikTok Despite UMG Ban - and Songwriters Feel It Most (Billboard - 4/8/2024)

One of the more pressing nuclear nightmares in the business right now is the feud between Universal Music Group and TikTok. Earlier this year, the label - the biggest in the business - let their licensing agreement with the social app lapse over royalty disputes, so now, hits by Grande or Drake (to name just two people signed to UMG labels) or Adele or Prince (to name two who aren't signed as artists, but who have songwriting/publishing contracts controlled by the company) can't be included on clips. (It's estimated that 60% of the most popular songs right now are affected by this.) And now, as outlined in this piece by Kristin Robinson on some of the fallout, there's an effective black market emerging on some songs on the app - some of which has songwriters trying to play along, going so far as to withhold publishing info to allow certain songs to skirt the ban.

Separately, it's also worth noting that some artists who are big enough are simply able to get around the issue entirely. Beyoncé's "Texas Hold Em," the No. 2 song in America as of this writing, is still on there despite Bey's publishing ties to UMG, and Taylor Swift, who's got a new album coming out next week, has her owned master recordings and re-recordings back on the app (licensed to UMG and covered as a songwriter by their publishing sector) with no issue. Not everyone has the clout to get these exceptions made, let's not forget.

"Gueat uecourd."

Warning: with Back to Black and four Beatles movies, Hollywood's most cliched genre isn't going away (The Guardian - 4/10/2024)

Zach Schonfeld and I have been mutuals for a while - he's got one of the better Twitter handles - and this sentence also serves as a hope that we might some day meet up when I'm not absolutely in the middle of baby shit (figuratively or literally). He has a great op-ed out on the tidal wave of lucrative but mostly subpar biopics that have been made lately, from Bohemian Rhapsody (awful) and Rocketman (similar flaws as Bohemian, but more tolerable for some reason) to Bob Marley: One Love and even a few he didn't mention (next year's Michael Jackson biopic, which...let's save it for when it's out). They are formulaic, they play fast and loose with facts, they follow the same moribund structures that Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and Weird: The Al Yankovic Story did for laughs, and they feel like pieces for a company's portfolio of brands more than anything. A cathartic little read.

I'm sorry! This sucks!

Sublime Rises Again: Bradley Nowell's Son Jakob Could Lead a Huge New Era (If External Conflicts Don't Weigh It Down) (Billboard - 4/10/2024)

This piece by veteran Billboard writer Jason Lipshutz is about Sublime, the incredibly laid-back '90s group who are performing the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival with Jakob Nowell, the son of their deceased lead singer Bradley Nowell, on vocals. Meanwhile, Rome Ramirez, the guy that at one point was Nowell's replacement (creating Sublime with Rome) is off planning a final album and tour of that band that has none of the original members (so, Sublime with Rome without Sublime). It's such a fascinating piece - the younger Nowell's insight on stepping into the shoes of the dad he never knew is very thoughtful - which is fascinating, as I absolutely hate this band. That's good journalism right there.

On the subject of Bob Mehr...whoo boy! What a wild, intriguing mix of an album that did not sound like this before.

Lost Tapes from Major Musicians Are Out There. These Guys Find Them. (The New York Times - 4/11/2024)

If you read one article out of these, this should be it. Bob Mehr (who wrote the exhaustive Replacements bio Trouble Boys and has co-produced and written liner notes on all their reissues since) takes a deep dive into a company that is helping rescue master tapes from unusual places, getting them properly archived with artists and labels. It's a good, top-down look at part of the fun, nitty-gritty research in music catalogue that occasionally still gets to happen - and it even has quotes from several people whose work I really admire (and at least one person I consider a good friend). It's also a good, brighter-side companion piece to the Times' epic 2019 feature on the 2008 Universal Studios fire, which resulted in a lot of music material getting burned up, though no one - not even this article, to be honest - knows how much.

Play it all you want! No one will profit!

The Battle Over Classic Rock Band The Guess Who Just Went Nuclear (Rolling Stone - 4/11/2024)

This is a wild, developing story from Ethan Millman, who's been on the beat for a bit. Burton Cummings, the former and lead singer and principal songwriter of Canadian rockers The Guess Who, has been feuding with his old band, or what's left of it: after their disbandment in the mid-'70s, bassist Jim Kale asked Cummings to use the band name for a tribute performance and ended up taking advantage of a lapsed trademark to recreate the band. He has since retired, and another original member, drummer Garry Peterson, appears with the band sometimes. Often, they're a bunch of unrelated people playing Guess Who songs.

Cummings and former guitarist Randy Bachman have never liked this, and after sending multiple cease-and-desists, ended up filing a lawsuit last year. But Cummings has now gone further: in a relatively unprecedented movie, he's ended agreements with the performance rights organizations (PROs) that handle his songwriting copyrights - rendering the current version of the group unable to perform big hits like "American Woman" or "These Eyes," but also rendering any money on any version of these songs, from the classics to covers, to be collected. The current group has cancelled a bunch of shows, so it seems to be working at the moment, but I don't expect this to become a precedent, no matter how much some artists and composers want some politicians to stop playing their music.