Odds & Ends

Happy Friday! Here are some things I read this week and wanted to share:

  • The Every Child Achieves Act is working its way through Congress. It passed the Senate and will be up for a vote in the House soon. If passed, this bill will ensure that music and arts are part of the core curriculum for elementary schools in the US. Having seen the effects of music education underprivileged students, and having enjoyed the benefits of a solid music education myself, I’m excited about this one.
  • My company’s blog has a good explainer this week on high-def music. For anyone interested in more “plain English” information on audio compression, I’ll recommend the book I’m currently reading: Stephen Witt’s How Music Got Free – which contains a surprisingly fascinating background on how the MP3 came about. Basically, a bunch of audio obsessives worked on compression using methods like auditory masking. For their research, one of the songs they listened used as a benchmark was Suzanne Vega’s 1981 song “Tom’s Diner”. The thought of them listening to such an insanely repetitive song repeatedly makes me think of Ravel’s Boléro and Anne Adams’s Unraveling Boléro.
  • Speaking of Stephen Witt, he wrote an interesting piece this week on Grooveshark‘s downfall and the sad, mysterious death of its young creator, Josh Greenberg. (Though I will have to disagree with Witt on one point: this field still feels like the wild west at times!)
  • Record labels have always served as marketers and tastemakers. In the age of social media marketing, I guess we have nobody but our collective selves to blame for Jack & Jack.

Paul’s Boutique – Amen, Brother

My local independent radio station, KEXP, is doing a neat thing tomorrow: they’re going to be playing the 1989 Beastie Boys album Paul’s Boutique in its entirety, and then playing every identified song which is sampled on the album. Throughout, they’ll be talking with the producers, the Dust Brothers. It will last 12 hours , from 6 AM to 6 PM PST (with a brief break for an unrelated in-studio live session), and it will be awesome.

I have to admit that I haven’t given that album enough listens over the years, but I’m sure this approach will give me a new appreciation. Though I won’t listen to the whole 12 hours, I love this as an academic exercise. This isn’t the most sample-heavy album of all time (I can’t seem to find it through a cursory search, but I’m guessing Girl Talk holds that honor); it’s not the most infamous sample; and since sampling had already been around for decades, it certainly isn’t the earliest use. But the album may be one of the most cohesive, well-crafted, and iconic end-products of sampled music.

Hearing about KEXP’s show got me thinking about “Amen, Brother” by The Winstons. The B-side to their hit “Color Him Father”, “Amen, Brother” became arguably the most sampled song ever. It’s the origin of a drum break, now known as the “Amen break“, which spawned entire subgenres of music and dance. It’s immediately recognizable and  it’s everywhere. I highly recommend spending 20 minutes listening to Nate Harrison’s history & usage of the sample.

So – does Paul’s Boutique contain a direct sample of “Amen, Brother”? As far as I can tell, no. The funny thing about the Amen break is that it has become such an ingrained part of our musical lexicon that some of the samples on the album contain imitations or samples of the break. For example, “Shake Your Rump” has a sample from “Super Mellow” by drummers Louis Bellson, Shelly Manne, Willie Bobo and Paul Humphrey (and their backing band). The sampled section imitates “Amen, Brother”. One can appreciate how difficult it would be to map the reach of the Amen Break – as Nate Harrison says in his mini-lecture, that drum fill has basically become part of the public domain.


KEXP’s show on Paul’s Boutique will be available to stream from their website for two weeks after it airs. After that, it will come down – they (understandably!) can’t afford to license the album and all 100+ of the sampled songs. EDIT (Feb 2016): They must have secured the proper licensing, because it now appears that the whole show is available in segments on their blog. Yay!


I’m late to the party on this, but Starbucks somewhat-recently announced that they’re teaming up with Spotify to do in-store playlists. From the looks of it, Starbucks is doing branded playlists on Spotify, and baristas can change their store’s music on the fly.

I wish this kind of development had been available when I worked retail in high school and college. We would get so sick of the music, which was usually on a loop of 3 or 8 hours (depending on the corporation). It rendered more than a few songs completely un-listenable to me.

It seems like Starbucks has always had a pretty good understanding of music’s role in creating an inviting atmosphere. I have a soft spot for their music selection because the first time I heard my friend’s band Bon Iver “in the wild” was in a Starbucks.

On Transparency

When I defended my master’s thesis, one of my committee members took me to task for not providing my definition of the term “meter”. My thesis was about hypermeter, which – without getting too into the weeds – is the hearing of a piece’s meter on a larger, more structural scale. Meter, of course, is the alternation of strong and weak beats. Of course.


I never explicitly gave that definition in my thesis. I was stung by the criticism for a long time. While it was the central principal of my thesis, I knew my (small handful of) readers had a shared understanding of the term.

It dawned on me later what my committee member was getting at. It didn’t matter what meter already means to the reader. If I was going to be making strong arguments about something, I had to be very clear in my definition of the term. Especially if I was going to be using it repeatedly.

I’ve been reading Berklee School of Music’s report on transparency in the music industry. I haven’t finished it yet (because I have an upcoming music festival on my mind), but one of my first impressions is their reliance on the word “transparency”. What does that mean to them, exactly? Will it become the new buzzword in the industry? Will every company start to say they’re being transparent without actually changing anything? We need some real, achievable benchmarks.

I’m biased on this one because I think my company was ahead of the game. I work on our content team, and previously on our rights team. We work hard to attribute works to the correct composers and recording artists. We literally have people working on this issue around the world and around the clock. To read more about our definition of transparency – linking writing & recording credits at the source – check out my company’s recent Medium post.

I have lots of thoughts on the Berklee study, so I hope to do another post at some point! Stay tuned.


I decided to start a blog where I could post about music, specifically the areas that interest me most: music licensing, streaming services, digital content management, music theory, classical music performance, orchestration, pop music, etc. Mostly I’ll be writing about the music industry. The world doesn’t need another music blog, but here it is anyway!

The title is adapted from a lyric in Cab Calloway & Irving Mill’s “Minnie the Moocher”.

She had a million dollars’ worth of nickels and dimes,
She sat around and counted them all a million times.

I don’t necessarily think there are any moochers involved in the music industry – it’s much more complicated and nuanced than that – but it’s an allegation that’s bandied about frequently, so my use of that lyric is a little tongue-in-cheek. Mostly I chose it because it made me think of the per-play basis on which artists are paid for streaming music (as opposed to the old way, where downloads and physical media sales would yield flat-rate earnings).

If you’d like to learn more about me, click here.