Modern Classic: Thunder, Lightning, Strike by The Go! Team

The Go! Team made a bit of a splash in the indie music scene in the mid 2000s. They were a part of the mini British invasion of that decade, along with bands like Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party, The Kooks, The Fratellis, and Franz Ferdinand, and their debut album, Thunder, Lighting, Strike is one of my favorite albums of all time.

Panther Dash (preview)

Thunder, Lighting, Strike doesn’t waste any time getting out of the gate, with album opener “Panther Dash” really giving you a good idea of what you’re in for over the next 40-or-so minutes: pure, feel-good energy. I still listen to this album over a decade after its initial release because I just love its insistence that I have a good time. It doesn’t matter how my day is going, or how much I have on my mind, all that melts away when this record comes on and everything seems okay.

The Power is On (preview)

Get it Together (preview)

If you don’t know this album, you have probably heard “The Power is On” which was their biggest hit. It was most notably used in the NFL’s Play60 campaign where, you guessed it, it was used for its infectious energy. The song “Get it Together” was used in an early trailer for the PS3 game LittleBigPlanet, causing more than a few gamers to perk their ears up and ask “what is that awesome song?”

And while I enjoy every song on this album, the one that stands out the most is “Huddle Information,” a song that is so good I struggle to explain my love for it. Just listen:

Huddle Information (full)

Now while I am generally comfortable with the all-streaming world we live in today, this is an album that I’m happy to have in MP3 format. The album was originally released in the UK in 2004, but had to be edited for copyright concerns before its 2005 US release. I have the British version of the album, and the samples are just a little better than the US release. Pitchfork touched on this in their review:

These wondrous abilities are what had me dreading the American reissue of the Go! Team’s excellent debut Thunder, Lightning, Strike. If you haven’t heard the backstory, this lawyer-stuffed country made it difficult for the Go! Team to clear the original album’s samples for domestic release, forcing the band to slightly tweak the material in order to purge the recordings of legal pitfalls.

So yes, the album you can stream right now on Apple Music, Spotify, and everywhere else is the slightly less, but still amazing US version[1], but that’s okay. If you only ever hear the US version, forget I ever said this and you’ll never know the difference.

Thunder, Lightning, Strike is one of the best albums I have ever heard, and after 12 years it is still one of the records I keep coming back to over and over. Set aside all the hype over new albums coming out right now and find room for this in your rotation. I think you’ll be happy you did.

Listen to Thunder, Lightning, Strike on Apple Music, Spotify, or buy it directly from the band.

  1. I don’t know if the UK version of the album is streaming on your music services.  ↩

Not Even Kanye Can Save Tidal

You can't say Kanye doesn't try to help his friends. When his new album, The Life of Pablo was released 2 weeks ago...and you probably torrented it. And who could blame you? After a few fits and stops, the album was only available to stream on Tidal. Besides, you were by no means the only one to do it. While The Life of Pablo failed to even chart due to its Tidal-only release, it was pirated over 500,000 times in it's first 24 hours of release.

It ultimately seemed like a good turn of events for Tidal, as it quickly rose to the top of the App Store charts. So good on Kanye for getting people to download a free and and try a free trial of a music service. The question was whether this momentum would keep up. Would Tidal remain a highly downloaded app, and will people pay for the service when their free trial is over?

So where are we now? Tidal is currently sitting at #54 on the App Store's free list. That's right between Merged! and Fitbit, which isn't that bad. But Tidal doesn't care how many people downloaded their free app, they care about how many people pay for it. Tidal is now at #91 on the top grossing list. This is good, but it pales in comparison to other music services like Spotify(3) and Pandora(6). It even lags behind more niche players like Tunein(52), and Rhapsody(81).

The question you have to ask is this: where is Tidal going to be next week. Do you think something's going to happen that will get more people to download the app? Are more people going to start paying for Tidal when their free trial runs out in the next couple weeks? They've already had Kanye West and Rhianna release massive, exclusive albums on Tidal and neither seems to have had a lasting impact on Tidal's success. Blips sure, but lasting customers...not so much.

Ultimately there is only so much room in the music industry, and Apple and Spotify are sucking up all the air at the moment. Tidal doesn't have a clear pitch to users right now, and their current tactic of getting exclusive releases is clearly not enough.

The Case for Artists Selling, Not Streaming Music

It was announced at the eleventh hour that Adele's new record, 25 will not be available on any streaming service for at least a little while. What this means for people like me and basically everyone under 30 is that it won't magically show up in your music app and be available to listen to. This time you'll have to actually…gulp…buy it. Oh my god! This decision means that the only way to listen to this album is to buy it from iTunes, Google Play Music, Amazon Music, or even, and I hate to even suggest it, go to a store and buy the physical CD.

Now, of course there are people who have voiced their displeasure with this move by Adele. We've been spoiled into thinking that a measly $10/month entitles us to every song ever written, recorded, and released. So now when an artist decides to eschew streaming, we notice.

He’s what Spotify chief content officer thinks about the decision:

From a user standpoint, it’s a pretty hostile proposition. The notion that you would want to withhold records from people who are paying 120 pounds or euros or dollars a year is just really mind-boggling. It’s pretty hostile to punish your best customers and fans.

First, let’s not pretend for a second that streaming music customers are artists’ “best customers.” From a revenue perspective, streaming customers are just above people who pirate music. Why do you think that artists are trying to get you to go to their concerts, buy their CD at Target (with X bonus tracks), buy the digital album on iTunes, or buy directly from them on their website? Artists get a lot more money per listener when they sell directly to you, not when they are included in your streaming bundle package. Adele’s new album is $11 on iTunes, which is a dollar more than your entire Spotify/Apple Music subscription which gets spread out to Spotify and the dozens, if not hundreds of artists you listen to this month.

I also think there is a more touchy-feely reason for keeping your album off streaming music. With streaming music, all music is counted equal. It’s just as easy for me to stream Adele or Taylor Swift as it is for me to listen to anything else. There’s nothing special about one album over another when everything feels like it’s free. When you buy an album though, that strengthens your bond with that particular album. By dropping some cash on this album, it will stand out to you more than the endless tunes you stream day in and day out. You're also more inclined to like it since once again, you spent money on it. It's a bit "old fashioned" to buy a specific record these days, but I think it's still the best way to listen to music.

All this said, you could make the argument "that's fine for Adele" or "that's fine for Taylor Swift," and you'd have a point. It's much harder for a new artist to pull this off. People are more likely to drop $10+ on known quantities and few artists have a following that is loyal and dedicated enough to pull this off.

Whether it makes financial sense for an artist to withhold their music from streaming services is something each artist needs to decide for themselves. I think every artist who can pull it off absolutely should.

Apple Changes Course on Paying Artists During Free Trial

Apple has decided to change course and pay labels for the rights to stream their music during a 90-day free trial. The moves come after Taylor Swift penned an open letter to the hardware giant, writing that she found the company's insistence "disappointing" and "shocking."
- via The Hollywood Reporter

Well that was a quick turnaround. Kudos to Apple for making the right decision and making it so quickly.

Taylor Swift Rightfully Takes Apple to Task on Free Music

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Three months is a long time to go unpaid, and it is unfair to ask anyone to work for nothing. I say this with love, reverence, and admiration for everything else Apple has done. I hope that soon I can join them in the progression towards a streaming model that seems fair to those who create this music. I think this could be the platform that gets it right.
- via Taylor Swift

I completely agree with Ms. Swift on this point. As a consumer, I ‘m happy that I’m going to get 3 months of free streaming music (saving my wife and I $45 over that time), but I do completely understand that this is kind of a raw deal for artists. Artists are already criminally underpaid for their streaming rights, and to knock that number down to zero is not good. Yes, Spotify, Rdio, Tidal, Rhapsody, Google Play Music, and all the rest will still pay out to artists during this 3 month span, but Apple Music is going to steal people (like me) away from those paid services for a few months and I would expect artists to receive slightly less for that time span than they’re used to.

The good news here is that Apple Music also leads you stream songs you have bought from the iTunes Music Store, so if you’re one of the many millions of people who bought 1989 that way, you’ll be able to stream the record. And if you haven’t bought it yet, just get it now. It’s a pretty damn great pop album.

It’s Simple: Buy Your Music If You Want to Own It

I’m going to make a wild prediction: the iTunes Music Store, with its gobs and gobs of DRM-free M4A files isn’t going to go away on Monday, or any time for the foreseeable future.
- Richard Anderson for Sanspoint.

Rich makes a good argument why we needn’t be worried about “the return of DRM in music, MWA HA HA.” If you want total freedom in your music, then you need to buy it. Streaming services are inherently rental services and not owning your music is part of the deal for paying so little.

In addition to making a good point, Rich also alerted me to a new “supergroup” with Franz Ferdinand and Sparks called FFS, and they have their first album coming out in 2 days!

The Anti-Tidal Press Continues

That’s Business, Man: Why Jay Z’s Tidal Is a Complete Disaster - Bloomberg

Some of the Tidal artist-owners can’t pull their work from rival services—because their record deals don’t allow it—but this raises a delicate question: If they could, do Jay Z and his partners really believe that their fans would flock to Tidal? “When you make music, your goal is to get it everywhere, not to make it exclusive,” says Alice Enders, a London-based music industry analyst. “That’s the way the music industry works.”

There are very few artists who would want to limit access to their music. Most artists work their asses off to get their music in front of as many people as possible. Pay a little, pay a lot, or pay nothing at all; musicians want to be heard.

You also have to laugh a little at the prospect of any music staying exclusive to one service nowadays. Even way back in 2003 when iTunes had "exclusive" singles, you would find those songs on dark corners of the internet within hours of their release. Today you don't even have to go to one of those dark corners, it'll just bee on YouTube.