Looking down the rabbit hole of streaming services

Now more than any ever we have unlimited access to the art of music

Not too long ago, finding new music took a walk to the record store to ask the employees what they recommended. These audio aficionados were real human beings with ears for music and the knowledge to point out what constitutes art worth listening to. In that same spirit, new music had long presented itself to consumers in the shape of the live show, something we’re generally bereft of in a pandemic world. Opening acts allowed patrons to discover a performer often unknown to them, giving listeners the chance to come to their own conclusions.

With the introduction of countless streaming services, infinite artists and genres are accessible at any given time. These have opened the doors to vast historical catalogues of music from Cab Calloway to Brian Eno, or from swing to shoegaze. There is no doubt that this is a fortunate time to be a lover of music, but at the heart of all these streaming services is something to remember: they are businesses, and businesses love to collect data.

Take Spotify’s privacy policy for example, which outlines their use of user data which includes search queries, streaming history, user-created playlists, browsing history, account settings, and much more. Most of this is used “to provide the personalized Spotify Service,” and “to evaluate and develop new features, technologies, and improvements to the Spotify Service.”

In this sense, the algorithm is always ahead of its listeners, basing recommendations on their digital footprints. Although streaming services offer discovery playlists, they are still generated by the service itself. As a result of this, it becomes easy to fall into a loop of listening to similar artists from similar periods over and over again. You don’t need to know who Cocteau Twins or Car Seat Headrest are to have good music taste, but you can do better than the cheap recommendations produced by your own habits.

All of this begs the question: what’s the answer to big tech mirroring our tastes back to us? Not everyone has parents with a basement full of vinyl records and a turntable waiting to be discovered. In this regard, it would suit us to find and define music for ourselves. With sites like Rate Your Music or Chosic, the experience of discovering new music without any personal data required can be achieved in a time where live shows are sparse. With music so easily accessible these days, it becomes easier and easier to forget that music is an art form — and the act of discovering it should be an art form as well.


Graphic by Madeline Schmidt


Dear art industry, it’s not me … it’s you

Reflecting on art, post-lockdown

In the past six months, I have not visited a single art show, gallery opening, exhibition, or museum. Perhaps this is the longest amount of time I’ve gone without reading press releases, interviewing artists, or trying to find some sort of sociopolitical angle to approach an exhibition from. Yet, I have to admit… I kind of like it.

After spending the majority of lockdown being out of a job like many others, I have had tons of time to think about the art industry, which I have honestly always been quite hesitant to be a part of. After racking my brain about the place art holds in society, both amidst chaos and mundanity — and participating in both an internship and residency, alongside many other writers and artists, for the better part of the summer months — it is safe to say, I am not the only one who feels this way.

I do not believe this is solely a reflection on my evolving relationship with the art industry as a result of personal values. Rather, it’s a reflection on the circumstances that have caused the relationship itself to change. It has become clear that many others, and myself, are hesitant to make a career out of this. Not because we do not love art, but, well, because the industry doesn’t appear to love us.

The past few months have been eye-opening, to say the least. Among the things that have been on my mind is pay. When artists and writers are going unpaid for work that continues to get published, how can we be expected to stay? The fact that I get paid more (and on time) by student media is a poor reflection on the many institutions that hire writers and artists.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m aware that these were all issues before lockdown began. However, lockdown seems to have brought these issues to the forefront for most non-essential workers, many of whom have been struggling to get by (and many of whom struggle to get by, even pre-lockdown, without the help of a second, more stable job).

How can we not struggle when getting a decent job within the industry requires years of experience and multiple internships under our belts?

If it weren’t for the fact that I’m fortunate enough to still live at home, I wouldn’t have been able to participate in any of my internship experiences, all of which were unpaid. Even still, I had to work other jobs and pull seven-day work weeks to afford transport, cell phone bills, and other necessities.

Upon returning to work in July as a copywriter for an international online luxury retail platform, I was told by a coworker ten years my senior that I had made a great decision in opting to drop my second major in Art History. They added that even after ten years in the industry, they still hadn’t been awarded a raise or promotion and noted that I’d still be able to work in the arts because “it’s all about networking anyway,” and I’d “already made [my] contacts.” It is a sad reality, but a reality nonetheless. Years of studying and dedication won’t guarantee you a position unless you meet the right people. I guess that’s business, baby, as they say.

But even when you do land a position, where does this place you amidst today’s uncertainty and ever-evolving technological landscape?

With museums and galleries being closed for the greater portion of the summer, and exhibitions moving online, the role of museums was inevitably brought into question. What purpose do they serve when one can now access the entirety of most major collections from anywhere in the world for free? The value of these “prestigious” institutions seem … almost, dare I say … questionable.

Despite it all, art remains one of my favorite sociocultural forms of expression, and art writing one of my favorite types of journalism. I guess you could say it’s a love-hate relationship. While switching majors has proven to be a more viable option for me, based on my personal career goals, art journalism is still a long-term goal of mine. Until then, leaders of the art industry, you have some work to do.


Graphic by Rose-Marie Dion


Independent music and the fight against mistreatment

As the music industry evolves, record labels continue to use exploitative tactics that place their artists in compromising positions.

The music industry is arguably one of the most exploitative industries around. Artists are often faced with a difficult decision when evaluating whether they should sign to a label, as that can determine how their career will pan out and whether they could reach their full potential.

Labels offer artists the opportunity to sign record contracts that require artists to produce a certain number of albums and promote them over a specific period of time.

The majority of mainstream and up-and-coming artists whose projects often receive acclaim have signed to a label prior to the release of their work. Whether the label is independent and running on a smaller scale, or major and owned by huge corporations, artists are capable of receiving the financial backing which will allow them to tour, and get in contact with managers, booking agents and publicists who will promote their projects to media outlets. Without having established a team of professionals to guide them, most new artists have little-to-no knowledge of the means to navigate it.

Having access to these necessary resources in exchange for signing a recording contract seems like a fair deal. Nevertheless, that does not stop musicians from being exploited, which is why they must constantly be in the loop when it comes to the hidden clauses in their contracts.

Streaming has become the most popular way of consuming music over the past decade, leaving record sales to plummet over time. A recent analysis made by Music Business Worldwide demonstrated that major labels such as Universal Music Group, Sony Music and Warner accumulated an average of $22.9 million USD every 24 hours in 2019. This is absurd given that artists will not even make a fraction of that revenue, as services such as Spotify pay artists approximately $0.003 USD per stream.

Over the past couple of decades, there have been countless notable cases of artist vs. label feuds that have exposed unjust practices. Some of the noteworthy feuds include  the story of Prince’s longlasting fallout with Warner in the 90s due to ownership issues, or Dr. Dre’s lawsuit against Death Row Records, who failed to compensate him with any of the proceeds made from the reissue of his acclaimed debut, The Chronic. Although these cases deal with prominent labels, independent labels are equally complicit in taking advantage of their artists.

In 2015, Catalonian punk quartet Mourn issued a statement explaining how their Spanish label, Sones, who also served as their management team, had attempted to stop the release of their sophomore LP while withholding all of their funds. In fact, the band’s lead singer, Jazz Rodriguez, mentioned being neglected by their team and how that took a huge toll on their mental health in an interview with i-D in 2018.

A story that made headlines earlier this month was when rapper Megan Thee Stallion disclosed that her label, 1501 Certified Entertainment, was not willing to renegotiate her contract and therefore attempted to stop the release of her follow-up EP Suga. On a recent Instagram live stream, she mentioned not knowing the contents of her contract at the time, since she was not supplied with a real management team and did not have  awyers to guide her. Megan also stated that she had a good relationship with her label and even considered them to be like family but it was greed that played a major part in their decisions. According to a court document provided to Rolling Stone, 1501 Certified Entertainment received 30 percent of Megan’s sources of income whether it was from touring, selling merchandise, sponsorships, endorsements or hosting.Jordan Bromley, a specialist in entertainment transactions, considers this number to be “a massive overreach.”

Evidently, the safest way to pursue a career in music is by doing so independently. Having the ability to possess full control of both the content behind the record as well as release dates seems to be a luxury that has served many artists well.

Quebec’s indie-pop band Men I Trust has managed to release three well-received records and have been playing headlining shows internationally over the past couple of years without being backed by a label. Australian-based psychedelic rock group, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, released the majority of their extensive discography via Flightless Records, which is entirely owned by the band’s drummer Eric Moore. Also, established artists such as MGMT have recently pushed towards releasing their latest numbers independently, despite still being signed to Columbia Records.

Perhaps the push towards releasing music independently and more frequently will be the new trend throughout the decade. 

Graphic by Sasha Axenova.


Intricacies of a morally-conflicted mind

Brotherhood showcases the struggling humanity of a war-torn family

There’s a lot that could be said about Concordia Alumna Meryam Joobeur’s Brotherhood. The short film was nominated for an Oscar in the live-action short-film category. In its simplicity, the film showcases the deep disturbance and shifting family dynamics caused by the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Centred around a distrusting and hardened father, Mohamed, the 25-minute short follows the story of his moral conflict upon the arrival of his eldest son, Malik, who had left to fight in Syria with ISIS. Malik returned a year later with a very young and pregnant wife, clad in a niqab— forcing the father into a deeper conflict within himself.

There are a couple of things about the North-African and Middle-Eastern cultures that are important to know. Family is a founding value in this culture; a father’s responsibility towards his family is heavy and permanent. This responsibility is emphasized in the dialogue between Mohamed and his wife, Salha, where he says “I have slaved away my life for these boys.”

Salha, the boy’s mother and Mohamed’s wife, is mostly passively present; not so much taking part in the moral conflict that is set throughout the whole story. In a way, it’s reflective of the passive role of mothers in dealing with life-changing decisions. Although her role is not active, her presence certainly is; she welcomes Malik back without a second thought, expressing “as long as he’s alive, I’ll stand by him and defend him.” There’s a word in Arabic that perfectly embodies what a mother represents: hanan. It means tenderness. A mother’s love is never distrusting, always loyal to her children, and never-fading.

Watching this film was like reading a book—there was a lot left for imagination, for your own understanding. Nothing is said explicitly, nothing is forced upon you. There are a myriad of ways to interpret the struggles of Mohamed’s family. The underlying pressures of societal family values combined with this family’s faith and morality are all challenged when Malik left for ISIS. As an Arab, I think of what must have been going through Mohamed’s mind when Malik returned: he is my son, but he brought shame upon us. He is my son, but he joined an immoral killing machine. He is my son, but he impregnated a child. 

Mohamed’s inner struggle to accept the moral wrongs of his son is the core of Joobeur’s short. There’s a never-ending battle between unconditional love for his flesh-and-bone and loyalty to his moral grounds, and what he believes his religion, also his son’s, actually stands for.

The film is raw, and not very easy to watch. The very opening scene sees Mohamed and his middle-child, Chaker, looking at a flock of sheep that had been attacked by a wolf—a sheep was bleeding profusely, and the father and son went to kill it. The togetherness of this act strengthens father-and-son narrative, while also highlighting the contrast between the two characters—the father as a hardened man, and the son, sensitive and hesitant to kill. This contrasts directly the idea of Malik killing with ISIS— something Mohamed accused him of in one of the scenes, even though Malik said he never killed anyone.

The soundtrack consisted of wild sounds, setting a rural and haunting environment for viewers, forcing them to listen to the tension that is almost palpable on screen. In a scene where Malik takes his two younger brothers to the beach, a moment of confession ensues: “I regret going to Syria,” Malik told Chaker. “Promise me you will never go.”

It’s reflective of how misconceptions and false propaganda hurts people. 

In parallel to Malik’s confession, Mohamed makes a call. An argument between him and Salha leads Malik’s young wife, Reem, to confess that the baby was not his—she was forced to “marry” many fighters. In other words, she was raped by ISIS terrorists and got pregnant, and Malik, while running away, chose to help her even though he knew it would only make things worse with his father. That call was to authorities to take Malik away, a deed Mohamed instantly regretted as he ran towards his sons at the beach, calling for Malik in breathless shouts—only to realize it was too late.

Something that stood out to me was the portrayal of different facets of Islam: Joobeur sets a clear and hard line between the supposed “Islam” of ISIS, and that of a normal, rural family. The Arabic language has a different name for ISIS that recognizes their work isn’t that of Islam—something that Western languages never did. It’s called Daesh. There is no mention of the religion of Islam in this title. This is significant for a simple reason: a name reflects the identity of what it is that you’re introducing, dubbing a terrorist group as an Islamic state automatically associates Islam to terrorism. No matter how many times someone can say “this is not representative of Islam,” there’s no way the stain of that title can ever be removed.

Brotherhood, in asserting the difference between the Tunisian-Muslim family and ISIS, very subtly says that ISIS is not Islam. I’ve read great reviews of the film, but none of them recognized this—most of them related the strain between Mohamed and Malik to the latter leaving family responsibilities, and none highlighted the fact that he left to join a terrorist group, and that was the source of Mohamed’s moral conflict.

ISIS shook the Middle-East and North-Africa. It shook the world of Islam and only fed Islamophobia further, it justified the West’s pre-existent bias and discrimination. Brotherhood depicts how torn families suffered the aftermath of such a phenomenon in the rawest and most simplistic way—strictly humanized, embellished in nature, and thriving in moral conflict.

 Brotherhood can be watched online, on




Collage by Laurence Brisson Dubreuil.


Rap fans: where’s your loyalty?

In 2015, a Spotify employee released statistics related to genre consumption and fan loyalty. Of the 1,300 genres that were analyzed, metal heads were found to be the most faithful to their genre.

Spotify’s measurement of loyalty was the number of streams divided by the number of listeners, and under this criteria, the streaming platform is telling us that metal fans mostly listen to metal music. While this comes as no surprise to me, I had a question of my own: which fanbase is most loyal to their favourite artists?

As an avid hip hop head and rock ‘n’ roll fanatic, I ask myself this question because I’ve seen both sides of the spectrum.

Although I love rock ‘n’ roll, I’m a man who tends to revisit the classics instead of trying to dig through the crowd of ‘meh’ artists that we label as rock stars these days, to find something worth listening to. That being said, there’s no shortage of classics, as the golden age of rock that was the 60s and 70s have left us with an infinite amount of lifelong jams. The best part of it all is that these rock stars remain legends to this day, despite the material they may have released in their later years, which gained no significant traction in the music industry.

Paul McCartney. The Rolling Stones. Bob Dylan. John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Elton John. KISS. Ozzy Osbourne. The list goes on and on.

While some of these artists have released newer material in the past decade, the large majority continue to tour and sell out stadiums while playing through the same recycled songs that they wrote decades ago; some as far back as half a century. These men are legends and can do no wrong. Even if any were to hypothetically release an album in 2020 that completely flopped, their legacy would not be tarnished. They’d continue to sell out arenas fast, and would be absolved of all their sins, courtesy of their loyal fan base.

I don’t think the same can be said about the rap industry…

As an avid hip hop head, I’ve seen how quickly the tides can change and bring a hero to zero in mere months. Chance the Rapper’s most recent album, The Big Day, may be one of the best examples of a praised artist who developed a cult following after a string of successful albums, only to make one mistake and be persecuted in the hip hop community. Chance’s decision to dedicate an entire album to his newlywed didn’t sit well with most fans and he went on to say that he believed they wanted him to kill himself for releasing it.

While this is the most recent example that comes to mind, this lack of loyalty that comes along with the unwillingness to let rappers experiment in their works is not new. Kid Cudi, the “lonely stoner” who opened up doors for hip hop artists to address the struggles of mental health, and who connected with millions of youth on a personal level, gradually faded from the spotlight with the release of his experimental works Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven and Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon. T-Pain, the pioneer of autotune, announced last week that he would be cancelling his upcoming tour due to low ticket sales. Last year, Nicki Minaj cancelled her joint tour with Future for similar reasons despite reigning as the queen of hip hop for quite some time.

Rock stars seem to be free to experiment with their works and make below-par projects once they have reached legendary status – no one seems to mind. The same cannot be said for rappers. Unfortunately, it seems like they’re only ever as good as their last release and there is little room for mistakes. Tough crowd, to say the least.

While rock fans treat their favourite artists as best friends in good times and in bad, hip hop heads seem to treat them as mere acquaintances no matter how close they once were.

Is it possible that this change in loyalty is due to the accessibility of music in the streaming era where artists are easily disposable and replaced by one of their peers? Does this accessibility create a generational gap that takes away from the attachment older generations once had with artists after waiting for their vinyl, physically going to the store to purchase it, and finally spending hours in awe as the record was spinning? Both are possible.

There seems to be only one definite solution to maintaining a lifelong legend status in the rap world. Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur remain the game’s most respected rappers of all time, but both of their legacies were cut short by their untimely deaths. Biggie only ever released two albums, while Tupac had time to drop five. Their careers were not long, but maybe that was for the best. Who knows the hit their legacy could have taken had they released a less than spectacular album.

Maybe the only solution to guaranteeing eternal legend status in the rap game is to die on top.


GIF by @sundaeghost

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