Derrick N Ashong and Soulfège

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Love Rain Down - A Short Film "Love Rain Down" is a 2012 Official Entry in the Palm Beach International Film Festival

An animated film based on the song "Love Rain Down" from the album "AFropolitan" by Derrick N. Ashong (aka DNA) & Soulfège. The movie follows the tale of a little boy named "Johnny" who makes a trip to the legendary "Crossroads" of Robert Johnson fame, and stands down the Devil armed only with a song...


Check out this Unite Against The War on Women video using our song "Fight On" Then DOWNLOAD the Free mp3 of 'Fight On' via SoundCloud
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Million Download Campaign - Responsibility Bites Back


In my last post I wrote about the impact of marketing decisions by major labels on youth worldwide who consume so-called "urban music."  A great point was raised in response on the Hollywood Progressive blog about the responsibility that people in urban communities have for their own condition. After all you can't blame all the ills of the hood on rap music & the Record Industry right? 

Right. People must take some degree of responsibility for their own condition, otherwise that condition cannot be anything but hopeless. It's not popular to say in some progressive circles, and while I might not agree with his delivery, Bill Cosby was basically right - we need to look in the mirror at the issues plaguing our communities in order to find genuine solutions. Everything can't be blamed on "The Man," "The Record Biz," "Rap Music" etc.

That said, I don't think we can ignore the impact of our cultural life on our material surroundings.  You can't eat twinkies all day & expect to grow up to be an Olympian.  Neither can you fill your mind with images of nihilism and decay and expect it won't have an impact on your sense of self and thus your place in the world. Positive thoughts won't necessarily save you from a killer tornado, but negative thoughts may well lead you to smack your neighbor and wind up in jail.

There are some in society who would like to lay the entire fault of poverty at the feet of the poor and they are wrong for doing so. But even if you accept that a society must take responsibility for it's own condition & upliftment, it does not help a community to better itself, when someone is profiting from it's depravation. Canadian MC Baba Brinkman in his excellent production titled The Rap Guide To Evolution, argues that in communities where young men have a lack of access to opportunity, there is a concurrent rise in violence.  I can't help but wonder, in how many of those communities is that violence glorified for profit by outsider? And what impact does that dynamic have on efforts to stem that violence?

If we accept that art has an impact on the human mind & spirit, then we have to question what the images we sell our youth are doing to them.  There are more poor kids per capita in a developing country like Ghana than in the US or France, but the latter two have higher rates of depression. Why? What is it that makes young women feel like they need to be bone thin to be beautiful? Or makes young men feel like they need to bust-a-cap to be cool? If money can't buy you happiness, at least it can help you make bail...

I believe in the right of an artist to say damn near anything they want.  But I also believe in the necessity for we the creative community to question whether the pimping out of our cultures is something we are willing to stand by. Or do we believe enough in the power of what we do, to demand something better. In the end it's not just urban communities that need to take responsibility for themselves.



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Million Download Campaign - I'm Not a Playa I Just Rap a Lot

In the opening weeks of the Million Download Campaign, we've had a ton of questions about what we're doing, how we're doing it & why.  Thus far I've tried to break down some of the basic economics of the record business as well as the thinking behind the idea of open source music.  We've even touched on why artists do what they do. What we haven't done is look at the social implications of all this.  Since Black History Month is about to come to a close & I haven't said anything Black all month let's jump in at the deep end.


As a young Black male in the USA, the Record Industry has a pretty limited preconceived notion of "who I am" as a potential artist or consumer. As an artist, there frankly isn't a whole lot of room for a bruh in the biz to be anything other than: a) A Hip Hop Thug, or b) An R&B Crooner. Mind you I'm not talking about behind-the-scenes positions, producers, agents, label execs etc. I'm saying that if you are a young Afro-Descendente looking to get signed to a major label, without fitting into one of those two categories the pickings get real slim, real quick. Take a minute and think about contemporary Black artists you see in the mainstream and perhaps you'll see the trend I'm talking about.

What's more interesting even than the place of artists, though is that of Black consumers. I hear people talk all the time about how Hip Hop is the "voice of the youth" and reflects what young Black kids care about. Whenever I hear someone make a statement along these lines I can't help but ponder the most effective way to persuade a person to voluntary chew on an old sock.

Hip Hop IS a powerful force no doubt, and many of us who came of "artistic age" in the Hip Hop community will probably go to our graves with a rhyme on our lips. But Hip Hop as represented in mainstream American culture is NOT necessarily the voice of Black youth. To understand why, it's worth taking a quick trip back in time. In 1971 the Columbia Records Group commissioned a report from Harvard Business School titled "A Study of the Soul Music Environment," affectionately known in the Industry as the Harvard Report. Released in 1972, it made a number of recommendations on how CRG could move into the Black music business. If you want to get deep into the implications of it, check out the four parts of this article.

For our purposes today, the main thing to note is that the Harvard Report identified a trend in music that charted on the "race" music charts, crossing over to the Top 40 charts. It noted the cost efficiencies of marketing music to a smaller demographic (ie. the Black community), and in effect recommended that these communities be used as a kind of "farm league" for identifying & validating artists, which could then be marketed to a mainstream audience. The basic recommendations from the Harvard Report became the blueprint for the eventual creation of Black music divisions by all the major labels.

While Hip Hop is a global cultural phenomenon, rooted in voices from Black communities, the marketing of Hip Hop is designed to reach far beyond those communities. And if you want to sell a lot of rap music to suburban White teens, you're going to have an easier time selling sex & violence, than Five Percenter philosophy. In other words, the Industry built around Hip Hop has a distorting effect on what "Hip Hop" is, at least in the mainstream. If you want to to rap about guns, girls & drugs there's an infrastructure there to promote what you do. If you want to rap about just about anything else...not so much. And don't mess around and think you're gonna' rock an electric guitar & step outside the boundaries of what "Black" kids are supposed to play.

Ultimately, I don't know how much you can blame the Record Industry for selling something people want to buy, or artists for creating it, whether you or I think it's "authentic" or not. But what do you do when people stop buying the stereotypical BS the business has been selling them for decades? You could always sue your customers, and create oppressive legislation to choke off the advance of technology. Or you could build a better business model.

In the end what we are doing is not only about challenging the Industry, it's also about challenging the limited vision the Industry has of who "we" are.



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Million Download Campaign - Get Your Hands Out My Pocket

The Million DOWNLOAD Campaign

Last night I took a train back to NYC so I missed the first half of the Grammys. I got back in time to see some great performances, some wonderful tributes and a few compulsory "huh?" moments. All in all it was a great night for the music biz, though dampened by the recent loss of the great Whitney Houston, and slightly diminished by the under-appreciation for the impact of Don Cornelius (Chris Brown playing a tribute?? I hope I missed the "real tribute" early in the show, as I missed the Etta James one).

For me the success of Adele was a testament to why we all love music so much - ultimately behind all the flash, whiz-bang & poofs, genuine artistry will always have a place in this world.

It's for that reason that I'd like to take a moment to bomb on the Industry. In my two "Free As in Freedom" posts (Part I & Part II) I talk about how musicians are not typically well compensated for record sales. Mike Masnick over at TechDirt has got years of great reporting on some of these issues, including a reference to this article where beloved country artist Lyle Lovett explains how after 20 years and 4.6 million records sold, he's never made a dime from his record sales. I've shared a fair number of pieces on why this is so, so today I don't want to talk economics. I want to talk implications.
Ask yourself how a successful, globally renowned artist can work for the same label for two decades and never get paid a royalty on his records sold. Is it that no money was made from the music? Or is it that the artist was not able to participate in those returns? And why not? After all, the artist is the progenitor of this work, without their contribution it simply would not exist. They are the Alpha & Omega of their own little world of creation, which generates spiritual, creative and material value for those around them. The artist should be the first to get paid from the success of their creation, no?
NO, according to the Recording Industry. And that big "NO" comes with good reason. Artists don't just wake up, create & get famous. Someone has to put a LOT of money, knowledge, leverage and connections on the line in order to "break" an artist - to take them from unknown, to a household name in the time it takes you to say Katy Perry. Since the label is taking on so much risk, and typically an investment of millions in breaking a Top 40 Act, they should be entitled to earn their money back before anyone starts doling out profits.
Sounds like sound business & a fair deal - I put up the cash & infrastructure to make you famous, you pay me back before you start buying Bentleys. The only problem is, it doesn't work out to be a "fair deal." If you haven't already done so, it's worth taking a few minutes to read Courtney Love's decade old rant on the ills of the major label system. First, remember labels do not recoup their expenses based on revenue, but based on the 10% artist's royalty (eg. If I invest $1million, u don't get paid after I sell $1million worth of product, but after I sell $10million worth, at which point you will have a $0 balance. If I only sell $9million worth, u still owe me a $100K, because 10% of $9million is only $900K - $100K short of my initial $1million investment). In addition to this labels don't pay on all revenues, but rather on 85% of revenues, after reductions for arcane concepts like "free goods" & "breakage" (how exactly do these costs apply to digital files?).
Some of you who are partially in the know, may argue that artists can still make money off of their publishing, if they actually write their own music. True, except the labels dip into that as well with what is known as the controlled composition clause. In the end, many artists (like Lyle Lovett) wind up doing the yeoman's work of writing, recording, touring, repeat, while only sharing in a fraction of the benefit from their work. How long should an artist tour for? Last night Grammy chief Neil Portnow closed the evening with an acknowledgment of the excellent Music Cares program, which helps musicians in need. But why should so many musicians grow old & broke?
People think artists don't wind up with money, because they squander it with fast living. In some cases there may be truth to this. In all cases of artists signed to major labels, however, there is another truth. Someone is methodically screwing that artist out of the bulk of the wealth they generate. Why? Because they can. Musicians are not businessmen, we are artists. Take the average label executive and put him on stage next to his worst artist, and he or she will be blown out of the water. Likewise, put the average lead guitarist at a table with a label accountant or lawyer, and imagine what happens.
But can't artists hire their own lawyers & accountants? Yes. But lawyers & accountants make their money not from one artist, but from working with many. If you are 1 of 100 artists a lawyer works with, while there are only 4 major labels that he needs to negotiate with on behalf of all those artists, who do you think has the ultimate leverage in a negotiation - the artist...or the label?
This post is a long one, but I wanted to make sure you really get the gist of what we are doing here. The Million Download Campaign is not only about sharing music, it is about fundamentally altering the paradigm for how creators are treated & compensated. Yes, I'm giving my music away for free, just like 95% of the major label artists in the world. The difference is I am in control of my own destiny, I can partner with anyone I like, I can license my music to whomever I choose, and I own my brand, my name & likeness and most importantly, my music.
When someone tells you that the idea of "Open Source Music" doesn't make sense, you tell them to go look at a recording artist's ledger w/ their label, and then tell them to go to hell.  Trouble is, they probably won't go and someone else will make the same argument...again, and yet again, until someone fundamentally proves that it is possible to platform a band, based on "open" principles, and by leveraging the available technologies, make that band a household name and a profitable enterprise without stealing all the value in that band.
So if you want, you can say the Million Download Campaign is dedicated to the Lyle Lovett's of the world. The artists we grew up loving & admiring, but only a few of us realized how badly they were being screwed. With your help, we intend to illuminate another path, and prove that it's one worth taking. If you want to be on the side of artistry, creativity, freedom & fairness there is only one side to take in this debate.
This is a Revolution.  Saddle up.



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Million Download Campaign - Free As in Freedom, Part II

Last week I wrote about the economics of the music industry, and why it's not necessarily such a radical idea for artists to give away their music for "free."  But there are different definitions of the word.   For the purposes of this argument, there's "free" as in no cost, and there's "free" as in music.
What do I mean by "free as in music?" Think about it for a moment - why does a person become a musician? Why become a poet, a painter, an actor, writer, filmmaker or any other form of artist? Have you ever spoken to a really serious artist about what they do and the motivations behind it?  If you ask them why they do what they do, the first answer will rarely be "I do it for the money."  This is not to say there aren't people in the creative industries who are more about the paper than the performance, but I'd argue they are in fact the outliers in the creative community.
Artists don't do their work for the sake of money, though I'd argue much of society does.  How many people do you know who truly "love" what they do?  Call your friends, call your folks, ask your peeps on Twitter & Facebook, how many of them love what they do and how many just do it for the money? Inevitably a number of them will claim they love their work and it's not about the $$.  Then ask, how many of those would do that same work for free?
It's at this point you begin to get an important glimpse of the artists spirit.  True artists do what they do, whether the world is watching or not.  They create not simply because they want to, or get paid to, but because often they simply can't help it - the expression of their artistry is a fundamental aspect of their humanity.
This is where the issue of "free" comes in.  Not because artists don't want or deserve to get paid.  Rather, because they are hyper-motivated to do their art at almost any cost, they are prime targets for exploitation.  Thus, in the case of music, an industry has arisen around artistry that is typically not beneficial to artists.  I know, you think musicians do well, because you've seen some jumping around on your TV screen.  But if you follow the links from last week's post you will see the economics that underpin that exploitation.
So why give away music?  I'd argue it can be a simple, but important element of building a model for creation, dissemination & consumption of music that actually benefits artists rather than takes advantage of them. Next week we'll dig into why artists not only deserve to be compensated for their work, but how giving it away can help them achieve that.



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Million Download Campaign - Free As in Freedom, Part I

Six months ago while in the final throes of completing this album, we did a show @ a punk Rock venue in Brooklyn (do we look punk? No, but we think that way).  The jam was a blast & I got to connect with some old friends and fans as it was our first NY show of 2011.  The first question that kept coming up?  "When is the new record coming out??"  I told them it would be done in a few months & we'd be releasing it online for "free."  The next question? "Why the hell would you do that?" 

Let me explain.  Artists typically don't make much money selling recorded music.  As you can see from this article, there are a number of reasons for this.  The economics of the Recording Industry itself do not support artists getting paid for selling records.  But, what about Jay-Z, you say...and Eminem and Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift?  It's true that after a certain level of sales an artist will make a royalty on their albums sold.  But for an artist like Jay-Z, for example, the amount of money he makes from his record royalties, likely pales in comparison to the money he makes from publishing, endorsements, touring, and perhaps most importantly his entrepreneurial ventures including, Roc-A-Fella, Rocawear, Armadale, the NJ Nets etc.

The greatest value for an artist like Jay-Z is not actually in his royalty rate, but rather in his "brand equity."  He has a brand whose value was generated through the music industry, but whose influence extends far beyond it.  The same can be said for Madonna, or the Beatles, or Prince, or Bono.  At the upper echelons of music, the value created by an artist is much greater than what is reflected in their record royalties, even if you only measure it in a monetary sense (we all know there is a greater value in artistry than can be measured on a ledger). 

This doesn't directly answer the question of why "give" music away, but it hopefully reinforces the point that doing so doesn't necessarily ruin an artist's enterprise, because most of their money likely won't come from record sales anyway.  But what about this "free" music rubbish?  After all, giving away music is not something these mainstream artists do.  Or do they?  As I've written previously, in the early days of radio the Recording Industry felt it would kill their business, because of all the music being given away "for free."  When a song is played on a music video channel, at a club or on a TV show, it may generate revenue, but not necessarily revenue that counts towards a recording artist's royalties.  So for example, if I'm a country singer out of Nashville there's a fair chance my music was written by someone else.  When that song is played on a TV show in the USA, the songwriter & publisher will get paid, but I the singer won't (it works differently in Europe but that's another conversation).

So in reality artists actually do "give away" music all the time.  They do so for the benefit of increased notoriety, which translates into "higher brand value."  But this comes at a cost, particularly when you're dealing with major labels.  For next week's Million Download Campaign post I'll explain some of the reasons why an artist would NOT want to sign a record deal.  In the end, it all boils down to "free" as in freedom...



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