Narcy speaks about the shift in music consumption

The artist and professor shares his views on the “lower attention span” of the matter.

Yassin Alsalman, also known by his stage name “Narcy,” has been engaged in the life of a professor at the university level since 2013. Being an artist as well as a teacher on music and its all-around artistry at Concordia—especially the world of hip-hop—he holds concrete awareness and knowledge of the industry. 

Narcy shared his thoughts on how potentially drastic music consumption has changed. Whether regarding the internet or real-life professional scenarios, the multimedia artist, actor, and journalist answered questions about the potential benefits and issues of a shift in the intentions of music consumers and the business. 

The modern way of an album rollout, with respect to the many different ways of release, promotion periods, etc., has obviously not stayed the same as a process. The increase of the power of the internet as a means to discover and connect with music has been reinforced in new ways. 

TikTok, for example, has been making new or established artists feel the need to include their projects on the platform to strengthen engagement and stay relevant. The app has been a way for artists to push their popularity and the success of a song behind a certain trend and has even kick-started careers. For instance, Doja Cat and Jack Harlow wouldn’t necessarily be where they are now without TikTok. But is it for the better or worse? 

Having made multiple albums over the past 20 years, Narcy definitely thinks the process of conceptualizing an album for instance has changed, “both on a consumption and a production level.” Furthermore, “people now have the uber mentality around when, how and where to receive and consume music so there is definitely a major shift in how we, as artists, have to think,” he says. Narcy’s take here is all about what artists crave out of their respective careers. 

He, personally, has always approached his music “from the model of merchandise, experience, and physical/tangible work” while consciously leaning less on the internet. Certain artists, notably from the younger generation, can tend to lean heavier on the digital side and some like The Alchemist, Narcy remarked, create brand experiences. Then there are those “that lean heavily on the digital side so I think it has a lot to do with how much you lean into the commercial and industry side vs. the artistic side of music making” he adds. 

In Narcy’s circle and extended world, music interaction used to be rooted in reading liner notes, being blown away by art, and having to research the artist profusely. Today’s convenience has drastically affected this aspect of the music experience. “The immediate access and the disposability of music on DSPs [Demand-Side Platforms] and other platforms makes the music experience different and less etched in their daily experience,” he said.

Being a father and interacting with university students, Narcy has witnessed music consumption being adopted diversely by different generations. On the one hand, the greater accessibility to production can allow “kids to dabble in production at such a young age and figure out their creative direction.” On the other hand, Narcy fears that music is no longer being retained. Narcy explains, “I have memories attached to music and nostalgia that pulls me back to certain places and times in my life.” 

In the Montreal music scene, a “swinging pendulum between digital and physical art” is predominantly present. According to Narcy, it is undeniable to acknowledge producers in the city who keep that organic and digging mentality around making beats and music while there are artists with more of a taste for electronic sounds is undeniable. Today, both are embedded in the music scene making Montreal “a breeding ground for art”, no matter the medium of consumption, he states. We can agree, no one can argue with that. 


Gender inequality is real in the music industry: Taylor Swift can’t re-record or use her old songs

As a 20-year-old music fan living in Canada, I have been listening to Taylor Swift for as long as I can remember.

When I was younger, she was an idol, and I still love her and her music. From “Our Song” to “Lover,” her songs just keep getting better. I have to admit that there’s something about her old songs that hits me differently – perhaps because of my sentimental ties to the memories of these older songs.

On Nov. 14, Swift tweeted about how Scott Borchetta, founder and CEO of Big Machine Label Group, and Scooter Braun, the company’s new owner, wouldn’t let her perform at the American Music Awards (AMAs), where she’d be honoured with the Artist of the Decade Award.

Ironically, as soon as she expressed concern about the restriction, Big Machine Label Group released a statement saying artists can perform their music live without the label’s permission. They granted “all licences of their artists performances to stream post-show and for rebroadcast on mutually approved platforms.” However, they still won’t let the artists re-record or use them. This statement was obviously directed at Swift.

When Braun purchased Big Machine Label Group, he became the owner of Swift’s first six albums. According to Swift, Borchetta never gave her the opportunity to buy her music before selling the label, even though it is suspected he did with other artists. Braun owning Swift’s music means he legally controls it, which is why he’s allowed to tell her what she can and can’t do with it.

Essentially, two men who didn’t write, sing or collaborate on her songs wouldn’t let her perform them or use them in a documentary she is filming with Netflix. It is evident that this is all an attempt at controlling Swift in order to make more money off of her and her work.

This issue speaks to a wider systemic issue of women’s rights in music. Swift is a successful and well-respected artist, but it seems like it’s never enough. This has happened to many other amazing women in the music industry. Demi Lovato has been body-shamed countless times by fans, media, and other celebrities. According to MSN, Lady Gaga was also judged because of her looks and fashion sense and felt she was never enough. Miley Cyrus was also judged after the split with Liam Hemsworth. This confirms that there is still a long way to go for gender equality.

However, according to Vox, Swift will be re-recording all of her old songs starting in November 2020, when her contract with Big Machine Label Group legally allows her to.

But what about her Netflix documentary? Borchetta and Braun won’t let her use any of her old recorded songs. What would a Taylor Swift documentary even be without “Mine” or “I Knew You Were Trouble?”

In the meantime, show Swift some support by using #IStandWithTaylor on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. 

Graphic by @sundaeghost


Shining a spotlight on gender inequality

Female artists in the music industry need to be recognized by their peers

The music industry celebrated its most important night of the year for the 60th time on Jan. 28—the Grammy Awards. There has been a lot of backlash, with Bruno Mars dominating the awards alongside Kendrick Lamar. The trending hashtag #GrammySoMale is a testament to how frustrated music enthusiasts are. The day before, singer Janelle Monáe tweeted: “A total of 90.7 per cent of [Grammy] nominees between 2013 and 2018 were male, meaning just 9.3 per cent were women.”

Singers, both male and female, supported the #MeToo movement by wearing a white rose on their outfits at the Grammys this year. Despite the recent amplification of female voices in the media, however, it seems women in music still aren’t being heard. Alessia Cara was the only woman to win a major televised award this year.

Honestly, this lack of representation of female musicians makes me feel exhausted. It’s awful that inequality is still so strong and visible, and it’s frustrating to see so little progress in an industry that claims to support women.

According to CNN, Recording Academy president Neil Portnow said women who want to be musicians need “to step up because I think they would be welcome.” Portnow received a lot of backlash for his comment, and rightfully so. I believe the fact that so many women went unrecognized during the Grammys is a step backwards.

Gender inequality affects the music industry in many ways, including through double standards. In a Rolling Stone interview, singer Taylor Swift said: “A man writing about his feelings from a vulnerable place is brave; a woman writing about her feelings from a vulnerable place is oversharing or whining.” People also react very differently when men sing about sexual topics. Women receive constant backlash when their videos or music is sexual, but when men do it, no one seems to be bothered.

As a woman, I truly want to believe there is something we can do to bring equality to the music industry—but is there really? As fans, all we can do is listen to women’s music, go to their concerts, follow them on social media and support them. But change is slow—especially in the entertainment industries—and the issue is an ancient one. Women have always been in the background of any creative industry. Even in the 1800s, the women who wrote classics like Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights hid behind pen names to get their works published. Although there has been progress in terms of female recognition, some might assume everything has been fixed—clearly there’s still a lot of work to be done.

In my opinion, women’s voices can make a huge difference in our society as well as in the music industry. The #MeToo movement is just one example of women’s voices being heard. However, the 2018 Grammy Awards highlighted that not all creative industries have been so drastically affected by this powerful conversation. The Grammy Awards showed that gender equality in creative industries is still far away—but not impossible. As consumers, I believe we can help make a difference when we choose to support female artists and their messages.

The way I see it, we are still far from gender equality in every part of society. The inequality is simply more obvious when those affected are celebrities in the spotlight. However, I do believe we are on the right path. These movements, and the men and women who stand up for gender equality, make it possible to believe the message is being conveyed. And this makes me believe that things will change for the better, someday, in all creative industries.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth


Can musicians succeed without physical CDs?

SoundCloud, Bandcamp, Spotify and YouTube have changed the music industry

As more and more consumers choose digital music over physical CDs, music distribution trends are shifting away from physical product sales. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), streaming music online in 2016 amounted for 47 per cent of America’s total recorded music revenue in comparison to physical copy revenue that is equivalent to 20 per cent. In the first six months of 2016, the Nielsen Music 360 Report concluded the number of songs streamed on-demand through audio and video platforms was over 18.6 billion.

Years ago, musicians needed a music label—such as Warner Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment or Universal Music Group to reach a large audience of listeners. The labels had the exclusive means of creating physical albums that would give fans access to their favourite songs. Today, any musician with access to the Internet can upload their own music. Services such as Spotify, Bandcamp, YouTube and SoundCloud allow musicians to release their music online and share it with the world, either for free or for a small fee. This further opens the door for independent recording artists to create and release their art. With so many artists regularly releasing music, young bands can compete with the world’s talent to be heard.

Do musicians need to create physical versions of their albums to support their project or can they prosper exclusively online? Although digital music has its positive aspects, some artists might argue that being present on various online music platforms is not enough.“We can’t survive through our online presence alone at this stage,” said Jodie Amos, the singer of the UK-based rock group Badow. “Even though social media is really important to us to network with fans, the physical aspect still overrides the digital sales.” In 2014, country-pop singer Taylor Swift pulled her entire music catalogue from the online music streaming program Spotify, citing low revenue from the platform. “I think there should be an inherent value placed on art,” she said in an interview with Time magazine. “I didn’t see that happening, perception-wise, when I put my music on Spotify.”

Music streaming platforms like Google Play Music and Apple Music offer music as a service you subscribe to, instead of as a product you purchase. A monthly fee allows listeners to stream most of the world’s music collection, while paying musicians for their contribution to the platform. Global marketing research firm Nielsen found that Canadians spent twice as much on music streaming services in 2016 than the year before. They also found that, in Canada, the total amount of audio streams in the first half of the year jumped from 2.1 billion in 2015 to 9.2 billion in 2016.

Graphic by Thom Bell

“People discover bands through streaming now, and those who like what they hear can quickly find out when our next show is happening through our social media,” said Sam Robinson, bassist of Montreal-based rock group Diamond Tree. “We don’t make any money through streaming, but without uploading our music to streaming sites, we’d be missing out on a large audience and lots of potential new fans.”

CDs were once the main way music was purchased, but sales of CDs have declined steadily since the early 2000s. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), revenue from CD sales in the United States slid down 16.4 per cent in 2016 compared to sales in 2015. In 2000, 942.5 million CDs were sold in the US. In 2015, only 122.9 million CDs were sold.

In addition, creating professional-looking CDs can be costly for a musician or band compared to uploading it online. According to Eve Duplessis, who works at Montreal-based printing company Audiobec, it costs roughly $1,000 to create 500 compact discs sold in full-colour cardboard sleeves.Even then, to reach the widest possible audience, CDs are sometimes sold as “pay-what-you-can.” “I buy CDs to remember the artists I like,” said Montreal-based singer-songwriter Heather Ragnars. “If I like the music I hear at a show, I might buy a CD.” Singer-songwriter Alexandra Roussel said she finds physical media helps form a connection with her audience. “In this day and age, people like to be able to hold things in their hands. It makes for a warmer connection between the artist and their fans,” she said.

Many musicians in Montreal agree having physical copies of their music is a good way to make sales at their shows. According to singer-songwriter Philippe Da Silva, “there’s always one person who wants a physical copy they can hold. Although I believe most of my marketing happens online, I find it important to be able to offer a physical product to those who want it.” Vocal coach Angie Arsenault also believes it’s all about catering to your audience. “If you are a touring band, you should consider having physical merchandise such as CDs and t-shirts to sell to your fans at your shows,” she said. “If you are a YouTube star, perhaps a digital copy of your album is all you need. Personally, I like to have both options available.”

For Room Control bassist Richard Bunze, being able to sell a physical product to a fan is an important part of being a musician. “Anyone can upload their tunes to Bandcamp or Soundcloud, but I still think it’s important to have a tangible piece of your band for someone to take home with them,” he said. “It’s part of the whole package of your band. It’s an extension of your art,” he said.

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