I am one of the few individuals who didn’t like Nirvana. In 1991, in my dormitory at UC Santa Barbara, you could not turn left or turn right without hearing “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I thought Kurt Cobain was a whiny whiteboy. I found the music contrived. Quiet, Loud, Quiet, Loud. I thought the lyrics were weak.
In 1993, when the Unplugged album aired, I listened, and I was captivated by the song, “All Apologies.” I really liked it but the drums and bass were standard. The lyrics were non-sensical, it seemed. Upon studying what I really liked about the song, it was simply the simple rolling guitar riff. As a musician with a lousy ear and an allergy against playing covers, I walked away from it.
Cut to 2016, my homies in Subsuelo hipped me to Soundcloud. I started finding a new type of music that I really enjoyed. I don’t know what the genre is called but I call it, Shamanic. All the songs are at least one hour in length and I don’t think its performed by musicians. It feels like this new type of music created by hipsters with laptops. But I love it and its influencing me and my music.
As I’ve been adapting to the change, I’ve been reconsidering my thoughts on music. I interviewed Ben Mink one day. He told me his thoughts on music … on sound … on taste. We believed in the same god. Hendrix. Nina Simone. Leonard Cohen. Those days are gone. Those legends are dead.
It’s 2017, and in my job as an investor, I flirt with future opportunities. I prepare ideas for my team about how technology can facilitate a supply and demand exchange in profitable ways. Early this year, I stumbled across an idea and it just so happened to belong to the guy that signed Nirvana.
Bruce Pavitt was a music lover and a writer living in Olympia, Washington. He partners with another individual named Jonathan and they begin scouting for bands. They are in a bar, its them, the bartender and one other person. The band playing is called Nirvana.
Bruce signs Nirvana to a three album deal and releases their debut called Bleach. They tour to support their album and they hit a huge moment in England at a festival called Lamefest. They come back home and Bruce arranges for Butch Vig to record their sophomore album. Upon performing the demo, Butch and Kurt shop the demo to Geffen Records and secure a new deal. Bruce is paid an early termination fee and points on the next two albums. Those points would be worth multimillions of dollars.
Bruce eventually isolates himself on a remote island. He makes new friends and he begins to have new ideas. Ideas about the community of the Pacific Northwest. Ideas about Inter Tribal Diplomacy. Ideas about the future of music discovery for music lovers. His new idea is called 8Stem. I didn’t know this but if you record music properly, the music can be cut into elements and those elements can be moved or erased or changed. Its called remixing, or derivative work.
I can take the drums performed by Brian Blade.
I can take the bass performed by Bootsy Collins.
I can take the guitar performed by David Gilmour.
I can take the vocals performed by Mia Doi Todd.
I can do this on my telephone and upload it to Spotify, or Soundcloud, or Apple Music, or Google Play. And you can stream it.
Now, what happens if I become good at this? What happens if I want to earn real money doing this? There is an artist I know, her name is GIZZLE. She’s young but she’s rapped on dozens of super high profile albums. Recently, she partnered with Lupe Fiasco and performed a song called Jump on mainstream CBS television. I want to find out what real money is to GIZZLE. I know what real money is to me. I like to break six figures in personal annual income. I charge $15,000 to ghostwrite a book. I charge $1,000 to paint murals for friends.
So, let’s understand the music business in a song:
Lupe pays to record a song.
Lupe pays GIZZLE to perform.
Lupe pays a label called Thirty Tigers in Nashville to get him on mainstream CBS television (25% of sales.)
Lupe pays to get his entourage to New York. Lodging, meals, transportation.
Lupe performs as best he can.
Somebody in Chiapas hears the song, goes to Spotify and listens again. How much does Lupe earn? How much does GIZZLE earn? And then, I imagine, if 8Stem were better known, somebody could take elements of this song and create a remix and also put it on Spotify. How much would they earn?
I interviewed GIZZLE for this feature. We talked about her work with Dr. Dre, Pharrell, Timbaland, Kanye and Teddy Riley. We talked about her past as she’s toured 15 countries, entertaining people all over the world. We talked about her audition for a role on Empire. And then, while she was warming up for the showcase of her new project Seven Days in Atlanta, I asked her a complicated question: I asked her to identify her community. Her response was long and thoughtful but it came down to three factors: Black, Immigrant and Gay. I’ll add a fourth, non sexualized female. I went down the list of highest grossing female artists in the music industry in 2016: Beyoncé, Adele and Rihanna. Both Beyoncé and Rihanna are definitely sexualized but Adele is not. What is it about Adele that makes her stand out? What could it be about GIZZLE that makes her stand out?
GIZZLE gives herself a bootstrap budget of up to $30k per project. Her Seven Day series began in July 2016 and the first element was released in January 2017 via Instagram and Soundcloud. She runs through TuneCore which distributes her music to all the streaming services. She has a team surrounding her executing on her ideas and leveraging her relationships after a decade of co-signing the material of other artists. She’s going to target the music markets of Atlanta, Denver, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. She’s ready for the spotlight to shine on GIZZLE.
In 2012, Spotify made 477M in revenue and lost 85M at year-end.
In 2013, Spotify made 829M in revenue and lost 101M at year-end.
In 2014, Spotify made 1.2B in revenue and lost 183M at year-end.
In 2015, Spotify made 2.1B in revenue and lost 204M at year-end.
You can be sure that Spotify will continue to make more money in 2016 but you can also be sure that at year-end, they will have lost a stupid amount of money. But still, the homies in Europe will be fat from all the money they keep raking in from investors who don’t seem to care that this company will never be profitable. Snapchat just did it, why can’t they? Its all a scam, homie.
8Stem is going to debut at the Upstream Music Festival in May. My money is on them.
The Intelatin monthly podcast is produced by Sergio C. Muñoz. We are in our sixth year of production showcasing the contributions of Latin American individuals in the United States. The work of Intelatin has been featured in Studio 360, ReVista—The Harvard Review of Latin America, LACMA, Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Art Center College of Design, Poder Hispanic Magazine, Latino Leaders Magazine, PBS, the Inter American Dialogue, America’s Quarterly and over a dozen publications in Latin America. Special thanks to Latino Rebels for their support.