Prince and Failure to the Next Generation

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Rather shocking news last week when it came out that Prince had passed away at the age of 57.  The man was an artist at the true sense of the word.  He not only wrote some of the greatest pop songs over the last 35 years, but could play over 20 instruments like a genius and was an innovator of both fashion and culture.  He wasn’t only respected by people, but almost revered for the way he carried himself in a mysterious fashion.  The below clip of him joining in with a group of famous musicians to play ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ at the 2004 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction honoring George Harrison couldn’t be more ‘Prince’.  He comes in half way through the song and rips out a bombastic solo that goes on for minutes and minutes while the rest of the people on stage just stare at him wondering what is next.  Then at the end, he simply throws his guitar up in the air and we never see where it lands, just one more mystery of the man.

While the man died far to young and was an incredible artist, it couldn’t be more disappointing when the news came out that he never took the time to put together a will.  In my humble opinion, it is an extremely selfish act.  While Prince didn’t have any children, he had two brothers and sister, and six half brothers and sisters.  His estate is worth somewhere between $150M-$300M, but now it will all have to go into probate and who knows where those assets will go?  The stories are coming out that people have been trying to get Prince to finalize a will or a trust for years, but he never actually pulled the trigger.  Death is difficult for everyone.  I have a good friend whose father passed away two weeks ago.  The man had cancer, but passed away right after his first chemo treatment.  He had previously told his family that all of his affairs were buttoned up.  My friend not only had to deal with the sudden loss of her father, but now is dealing with no will or last testament, a $25K tax bill from the IRS, lines of credits at two banks, four cars, two boats, the list goes on and on.  It breaks my heart to see her emotions change from horrific shock and grief to anger over the endless amount of work she is forced to undertake to get her father’s estate in order.

You don’t need to be one of the most famous musicians in history to put together a will or trust.  While nobody wants to think about death, you are doing a true disservice to your family by not taking care of your affairs.  It isn’t terribly time consuming either, you could go to a website like LegalZoom where the plans start at $69.  There really aren’t too many excuses out there to not take ownership of your affairs, so your family isn’t dealing with it when you are gone.  For someone like Prince who was an innovator in every sense of the word, it is a real shame that he couldn’t take the time to be sure his assets were protected for the next generation.

-Victor Mandalawi

How Can Apple Music Differentiate Itself?

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Apple announced that they have already signed up 11 million users to the free trial of Apple Music.  Its a rather astonishing figure considering how late they are to the streaming music vertical.  Apple is giving users a three month trial period and then the cost will be $9.99 per month for an individual and $14.99 per month for a family plan.  I listen to quite a bit of music and have been paying for both Pandora and Spotify for some time, so I really didn’t (and still can’t) grasp what Apple can do to set themselves apart in what appears to be an already crowded landscape.  Not to mention, Apple Music is being launched on the heels of Jay-Z’s music streaming venture, TIDAL, that by all accounts has been an absolute disaster up to this point.  Personally, I’ve been using Apple Music for at least a month and have to say that I enjoy what I have seen so far.  I tend to listen to music of artists I already know, and searching through my favorite bands, I’ve seen many more offerings than I have seen through Spotify.  Dave Matthews Band is a good example, with probably 20 more live shows available on Apple Music than on Spotify.

I’m also an Apple guy, so it couldn’t be any easier to pull up Apple Music through my MacBook, my iPhone or my iPad, and I’ve been using it in the car on road trips.  My biggest complaint after a month is that Apple Music is not yet integrated with Sonos.  Sonos is an incredible whole house audio system that I have been using in my home for at least five years.  It gives you the ability to stream music from iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, Sirius, etc.  From what I am reading online, it will be integrated by the end of the year, but are currently caught up in some licensing issues.  For that reason alone, I don’t see myself canceling my Spotify subscription unless Apple Music is integrated into the Sonos.  This is the point where my personal expertise is over and done with…

The music streaming services are built upon communities of users building out playlists, rating songs, discovering new music, speaking about concerts, etc.  Millennials have shown the business world that they care about being part of this community.  Apple has already failed drastically with Beats Music, so its interesting to see what has happened with Apple Music.  Spotify claims to have roughly 22 million subscribers, and if all 11 million Apple Music subscribers stay on after their three month trial period, which isn’t likely, they will be half way to catching an established service with Spotify.  Just with any Apple product, as we have recently seen with the Apple Watch, the first iteration is not always what the product will become.  Apple did use a sound strategy by offering the three month trial in attempt to put together a strong community, it will be interesting to see what the streaming music landscape will look like six months from now.  I have a feeling Apple will pull out all the stops to force their way to be a leader in the space.

Kurt Cobain Doc; the End of an Era?

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When Kurt Cobain took his own life in April of 1994, its one of those moments that I still remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I found out.  Looking back on it, its pretty odd to have that memory about a 27 year old musician.  Its not like it was the President being killed or something like the space shuttle explosion.  That said, there was something about Cobain that still resonates with many people from my generation.  The first time I heard ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, I knew it was way different than the hair bands of the 80s and music was transitioning into a new era.  That it did, not only did it a new genre of music come about, but a fashion and more so even a lifestyle which took the name of grunge.

I finally found the time to watch the amazing HBO documentary, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck over the weekend.  It was great, confusing, sad, scary, and something in between.  I’m a big fan of biographies, and I’ve probably read eight to ten books on Nirvana or Cobain specifically over the years.  Whether it was Michael Azerrad’s awesome book about the arc of the band or even books claiming that his wife, Courtney Love killed Cobain rather than him dying of an overdose.

Therefore I went into the film thinking the majority of it would be rehashed things I’ve read in the past.  Not to mention, we are talking about someone who took his own life over 21 years ago, how much much are you going to learn from a documentary in 2015?  Boy was I wrong.  While the film was outstanding, and I would recommend anyone see it whether or not you are a fan of Cobain or not, I took away something else from watching it.  It felt like I was watching something that I would never see again.  The film’s director Brett Morgen had access to a treasure drove of old notebooks containing writings as well as drawings.  Not only that, he was handed private home movies from Cobain’s birth all the way right up to his death.  There were also loads of cassette tapes where Cobain recorded his thoughts, songs, and musings.

The way the film was put together was nothing short of amazing, but with the technology of today, I’m not sure we will ever have a chance again to look at someone in this light.  To see the images in Cobain’s notebook as he goes through potential band names and scratches one out for the next was powerful.  Today, someone would just type it into the computer.  It made me reminisce about a simpler time, not that long ago, where we sat with our own thoughts and drew, or wrote in a journal.  Today, kids are glued to their phone or buried in their laptop.  Times change of course, but for the sake of this complex young man who tragically decided to leave a wife and daughter behind, they story was one hundred times more intimate because of his writings, artwork, and audio tapes.  To tell this same story with YouTube videos and tweets just wouldn’t be nearly the same.

A Treacherous Precedent in Music

I’ve written here before, that music is one of the passions of my life, and waking up this morning to hear the news that Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke are being forced by the courts to pay the estate of Marvin Gaye over $7.4M in damages for their song “Blurred Lines”.  A jury found that Williams and Thicke stole the song from a 1971 hit of Marvin Gay titled “Got to Give it Up” after being sued by Gaye’s children.

There is little to no question that Blurred Lines was the biggest hit of 2013.  Matter of fact, the YouTube video has over 370 million views.  On top of that, you have the supreme hit of “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, and Pharrell’s work on NBC’s the voice, has put him near the top of the list of songwriters who have proven that they can produce one chart topping hit after another.  There is no question that being found guilty will not only take a toll on Pharrell’s wallet, but sadly his reputation as well.

Here are both songs if you would like to see the similarities.

I’m no expert, I can hear some similarities between the two songs, but in my opinion, there isn’t enough there to hand down a judgment in copyright infringement.  Humans have been writing music for hundreds of years.  There are only so many notes on a piano, guitar, etc.  Millions of new songs are created each year, and with a victory in a suit like this, it could be a very bad sign for artists in the future.  When you sit down, let your juices of creativity flow, and construct what you feel is an outstanding piece of music, how are you going to be able to confirm that another artist didn’t already use those combination of chords or notes?

It was just last month that Sam Smith settled out of court after being accused of copyright infringement with his Grammy winning Song of the Year, “Stay With Me” was just about an exact ripoff of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”.  After listening to those two songs, its readily apparent that they are about the same song from verse to bridge to chorus.

Those two occurrences illustrate exactly what makes items like this so difficult to determine as to what was done maliciously and what was not.  We hear music all the times in our day to day life.  Whether it is a commercial on television, the background music in an elevator, or at our own doing.  Our ears and even are subconscious are constantly taking in information, and I have a hard time punishing someone for a creation.  Pharrell has even said, that Marvin Gaye has always been an influence on his writing style.  I share Pharrell’s belief that anything he would have done would have been in homage to Gaye, and not trying to take anything a way from him.  Its just a shame that the courts have to get involved to settle something like this, and sincerely hope it doesn’t curb creativity going forward.

 

SNL 40 – An Incredible Trip Down Memory Lane

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I’ve been watching Saturday Night Live for as long as I can remember.  In all honesty, probably longer than my parents should have allowed me to.  Sunday’s three and a half hour spectacle was something I have been looking forward to for months.  To have a television show evolve over 40 years, and still stay relevant is quite the accomplishment.  I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect on the show, but when I read that it was going to be 3.5 hours, I knew I was going to be in for something special.

I honestly can’t think of another situation, in television, sports, or entertainment that could something like this could be accurately compared to.  You can people from the first cast in 1975 performing along side current cast members in skits and it just worked.  Its hard to even comprehend how difficult it must have been to write and produce not only a show of that length, but of that star power.  Afterwards it was said that Lorne Michaels continued to call all the shots, even on the 40th anniversary episode.  Even after 40 years, it seems as if Michaels is becoming more powerful with age.  He helped create the sitcom 30 Rock, and now produces both Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show, and Seth Myers on his Late Show as well, with each of those men being SNL alums.

The special aired on Sunday, February 15.  It went up against the NBA All-Star game, as well as The Walking Dead, was over three hours in duration, and still manage to draw in 23 million viewers, a truly staggering number.  There are many theories out there as to the reason behind the rating.  I like the thought of multi generations of people being able to sit in front of the television and remembering characters that were part of their youth.

As I’ve said in previous posts, my favorite part of Saturday Night Live has always been the music.  It seems as if SNL always seems to catch musical acts at the perfect time when they are just about to take off.  I’m sure it is more than difficult to try to cover 40 years of a television show, but I thought they did themselves an injustice by not showing some of the seminal music performances.  Whether it was the Rolling Stones in the 1970s, Nirvana, Sinead O’Connor, or even the Ashley Simpson lip syncing debacle, music has played such an integral role in the show that it would have been great if there was a bit more focus on it.

The only other downside of the evening was what took place with the long awaited return of Eddie Murphy to the SNL stage.  Eddies hasn’t been back in over 30 years, and when he agreed to be on the show, he was the most anticipated return.  Nobody knew if he would do one of his old characters, some standup jokes, or what.  After an amazing introduction by Chris Rock, Eddie seemed uncomfortable, said a few ‘thanks’, and quickly went to commercial.  News ended up breaking Thursday that Eddie was offered to play the Bill Cosby role in the ‘Celebrity Jeopardy’ skit.  This would have absolutely brought the house down, but you have to give some credit to Murphy, as he was quoted that he “didn’t want to kick a man while he was down”.

When it was all said and done, it was amazing show.  Many say the after party was even better.  It could be the best thing to happen to the current staff, as I know I’m hungry to build up new memories with the show in the now, that can maybe be relived at the 50th Anniversary Special.

Updating Music Taste to the Present Millenium

In previous posts, I spoke of how I enjoy listening to older bands, such as Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam.  One thing I like to do on Sunday mornings is watch Saturday Night Live from the night before.  The show is now on its 40th season, and it has been a constant in my life since I was a teenager.  Yes, it has had its ups and downs, but at the same time, even when the sketches don’t work, you have to respect the cast doing everything they can to make it a success.  SNL also seems to introduce new music acts that go on to success each season.  I remember when Nirvana was on the show, I couldn’t wait to see them perform.

This past November 22, Bruno Mars performed with Mark Ronson (Ronson was announced first).  At the time, I didn’t quite understand it, as Bruno Mars recently hosted the show himself, and now he is back performing with someone I had never even heard of.  Well, they played a song called “Uptown Funk”, and it was one of the more original things I had seen in a while.  Mars danced and sang as if he was transported back to Motown, while Ronson stood to the side and beat on his guitar.  It was such a odd pairing, but the performance was electric.

After watching it, I wanted to figure out who this Ronson guy was.  He didn’t look like the standard 22 year old boy band type kid.  Turns out Ronson is pushing 40, was from the UK and has been a DJ, music producer and produced the late Amy Winehouse’s break through album “Back to Black“.  The guy has really worked his way up the ladder, the song, Uptown Funk is now #1 on the Billboard Music Chart.  He is on quite a roll, and the album that “Upton Funk” appears on, came out this week and is called “Uptown Special“.  I’m not one for new music, but I downloaded it on iTunes, and have listened to it at least five times since.  It contains a harmonica piece from legend Stevie Wonder, as well as many other artists and is overall a great listen.  What is even stranger to me is that this is not the type of music I listen to at all.  However, its encouraging to see someone a little later in life, at least in the music industry, break through and be recognized for creating something amazing.

It makes me wonder, with so many choices out there, whether music, movies, or any other form of entertainment, if we sometimes pigeonhole ourselves too much based on previous things we have enjoyed?  I certainly wasn’t seeking out music like this, but it struck a nerve with me and I think it is going to cause me to wipe the dust off of my old guitar this weekend, and see if I can figure out some of Marc Ronson’s great new songs.

 

Holiday Season & The Boss

The holiday season is now in full swing. It seems as if it really snuck up on my this year. Last week we had our annual holiday party for Choice Home Warranty.  Its always refreshing to see our team outside of their normal environment at work. Let’s face it, work can be hectic, stressful, and while it can be rewarding, its also great to see people let their guard down. I also love hearing what people are up to when they are not in the office, and learning about their families. It was a great time, and already looking forward to planning next year.

There is one situation that I wanted to discuss. I’m not sure how many people watched the RED concert in Times Square on the first of the month, where U2 (minus Bono) came out and they had Chris Martin from Coldplay, and Bruce Springsteen front the band due to Bono being injured in a bicycle accident. I love music and and big fans of both U2 and The Boss, but I have to say, I wasn’t uber impressed with the results.

I’m not sure what to make of the performances.  You would think it would be a huge deal to have two of the biggest singer songwriters of the last 30 years come out and sing for the band that has probably had the most world wide appeal since the Beatles.  All that said, I think I probably have more respect for Bono after this.  While Bruce has a very distinctive voice, it just didn’t seem to mesh with the songs they picked for him.  Bono is an amazing performer, and was interesting to see both Martin and Springsteen not quite live up to Bono’s stage presence.  I can’t exactly remember seeing anything quite like this before.  I know at the Grammys they often put stars together to play a medley of sorts, but a full set of someone singing another band’s music, is rather unprecedented.  I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t a larger deal, but hopefully we will see more experiments like this in the future.

Happy Holidays to everyone and their families!!