Maintaining Integrity As A Music Blogger and Photographer

Preface: This is of course a very nuanced issue with a lot of considerations that factor into the way you represent yourself online as a member of the music media community, but here are my thoughts on the state of blogging as it pertains to usage of social media and the responsibility to maintain a blog and profile with integrity.

I keep seeing something on Instagram that has continued to bother me in the photography/blog community, and think something needs to be said. Yes, we all hate “the algorithm” (it sucks and none of us get the impressions we should) and want to find ways to see more engagement, and of course want to support our photography colleagues and friends to that end… but shamelessly showering posts with absurd SUPERLATIVE comments and overly hype-y praise every time is nauseating and loathesome 🤢

For instance, writing that every show you go to, each picture that you post, or commenting on some other photographer’s shot that it’s YOUR ALL-TIME FAVORITE/WOWOWOW/WTF/OMG 🔥🔥🔥/AMAZING — diminishes the gravity of capturing shows or shots that are actually special. Don’t get me wrong, comments are awesome and very helpful. This isn’t about being on a high horse, but calling for everyone to be a little less fake, and to be responsible with the way you interact and share on social media, because our role matters. 

For the most part, most music photographers willingly trade our time and effort for the price of a ticket, and for those of us that run blogs or supplemental content, that generally makes us feel like we should give a positive endorsement as well. However, I feel like some in the community have taken that too far and say everything they cover is all-caps INCREDIBLE, which is a slippery slope, especially if you’ve got fans and readers who depend on your content and taste to point them toward things they should spend their time and money experiencing. As media people and active photographers, whether we think so or not, our content has the ability to influence others to purchase a ticket to see a show.

The general population goes to just over two shows a year, and if you’re seeing a few shows a year and paying for it, you probably expect them to be GREAT. Thus, one would hope if it was recommended or endorsed by an outlet or someone with experience and access, that you’re not wasting your time and money. In contrast, as bloggers and photographers, some of us see 50-100+ shows a year, and as media we pay for very few of those tickets. That means the stakes are relatively low if it’s not a great show “this time around.” There will be another. 

I’ve shot 100 shows this year, and seen a total of 128 shows. I’ve paid in some way for all of them in the countless hours of effort editing, writing, posting and sharing, but at the same time, have only paid out of pocket for six of those shows. Generally, I’ve enjoyed most of those 100+ shows I’ve seen this year, though I’m not going to pretend or say each time that those performances were incredible or the best show I’ve seen this year (or ever). However, I do recap what happened and highlight the most compelling parts of each show.

It’s important to me that Early Bird, on the site and on social media, is an active representation of artists and shows that I personally enjoy, back and would recommend you get familiar with. At the end of 2018 I made a pact with myself that in 2019 I’d only go shoot shows of acts whose music I enjoy or that I’d share with friends, or on the blog whether I saw a show or not. I think I’ve only broken that rule 2-3 times this year out of the 100 shows I’ve photo’d (I won’t say which) and I’m proud of that fact. 

As long as it’s running, Early Bird Music will continue to represent emerging musicians with its own unique perspective, honest commentary, and no bullshit. Early Bird is about sharing and spreading awareness of great music with the blog-first mentality – not about racking up Instagram likes/follows – and will always maintain a high standard of quality content. The people who matter that have helped Early Bird get to where it is today already know that.

Accordingly, to each of you 900+ people that follow Early Bird here, Spotify and Instagram, I appreciate your support, your likes, your DMs every day, and look forward to an even bigger 2020. It’s hard to fathom having a better year than this one, but I’m sure it will be: the blog continues to grow, opportunities continue to present themselves, and more supporting photographers continue to contribute each month. When you comment, like and share our content, playlists, and photos with friends, you’re helping Early Bird accomplish its original mission: to honestly and accurately highlight the best up-and-coming musicians on the scene, and the best shows coming through your cities. Thanks for being a part of the journey ✌️

Jim 

Get Off of Travis Scott’s Back About the Super Bowl

You might have heard recently that Travis Scott is performing at the upcoming Super Bowl 53 Halftime Show, alongside Maroon 5 and Big Boi. Check the internet on it and you’ll find that a lot of people are upset about it. Why? Because apparently taking the world’s biggest stage is a stance that sides with the NFL in blackballing Colin Kaepernick and his National-Anthem-kneeling movement, and in turn that it’s a slap in the face to the Black Lives Matter movement.

In the ensuing the fallout since the announcement, a lot of controversy has been drummed up on twitter and there’s general confusion around what went down, so let’s plainly clear up a few things about the whole situation:

1. Travis Scott and the NFL are donating $500K to charity.

As reported by Variety, Scott and the NFL are giving the non-profit organization Dream Corps, a philanthropy focusing on tackling social justice issues, the donation in conjunction with his halftime performance. As far as statements go, we all remember Beyonce’s “Formation” halftime performance that started a nationwide conversation about police violence. But did Beyonce work with the NFL to give back to directly help solve the dissidence? Nope. Scott is being proactive in trying to make a difference, rather than criticize the political landscape. Props to Travis.

2. Travis Scott didn’t meet with Colin Kaepernick to ask permission – and he doesn’t need it. 

There’s a lot of confusion, it seems, around the content of Scott’s conversations with NFL pariah Colin Kaepernick. Many on twitter think he went to Kaep to ask for his permission, as a black man with fame, to perform in the halftime show despite the active conversation about the NFL’s lack of support for African American rights. In fact, the phone call wasn’t about getting permission or consent – it was simply a conversation of Scott telling Kaepernick he was going to do it, laying out the reasoning and hoping to walk away with no hard feelings.

Per Variety:

“Scott and Kaepernick had at least one phone conversation before the rapper confirmed his Super Bowl appearance…A source close to Scott said that while the two did not necessarily agree, they emerged from the conversation with mutual respect and understanding, with the rapper taking the stance that everyone makes a statement in their own way and he felt that the money going toward Dream Corps, combined with the platform provided by the Super Bowl, will do some good.”

 
 
So, it seems sources reported initially that the conversation ended with “mutual understanding,” but Kaepernick’s wife subsequently tweeted:

There is NO mutual respect and there is NO understanding for anyone working against @Kaepernick7 PERIOD. #stoplying — NESSA (@nessnitty)

Last time I checked, Colin Kaepernick (and his wife Nessa) aren’t playing in this year’s Super Bowl. Atlanta is not his city, he is not an NFL executive, and he is not a musician. He’s not Travis Scott’s manager, or his booking agent, his record label, mentor, colleague, friend, or anyone with the power to overrule Scott’s decision.

While Kaepernick effectively chose to take the dive on his career to start a national conversation, it shouldn’t be presumed that every celebrity with a platform will agree, or take the same measures to continue that conversation with the public at large. Colin Kaepernick’s wishes don’t really matter here, symbolic or not. Which brings me to my next point:

3. This is about Travis Scott’s business, not Colin Kaepernick or BLM. 

Don’t put much stock in news that Rihanna turned down the chance to play at the 2019 Super Bowl halftime show, and Jay-Z did the same (he ripped the NFL in “APESHIT”.) The two household names have each been A-list superstars for over a decade: Rihanna, active since 2005, has a net worth is $245 million and Jay-Z is worth a whopping $900 million. Scott is worth a reported $8 million, comparatively. It sounds funny when you say $8 million isn’t a lot, but when you put Scott’s celebrity and clout up against titans like Jay-Z and Rihanna, you can see why they have the wealth-made luxury of rejecting the opportunity under the headline of “standing up for Kaep.” Scott is trying to make it, and this is his shot for global recognition.

Halftime performers are not paid directly for their performance. Presumably, the massive event, with its 100-million-viewer exposure will lead to more artist awareness among the broader demographic that the NFL’s fan base is comprised of. From angsty teenagers to college age students, to parents and grandparents in their 80s, and everything in between, the Super Bowl gives an artist their a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to expand their reach wider and broader than any other single event. That leads to more streams, more album sales, and more concert tickets sold as soon as he steps off the stage and the second half starts.

4. Adding Travis Scott to the existing halftime ticket is nonetheless a big business win for the NFL.

You may not like it, but locking down Travis Scott for the NFL is good business for them, too. The NFL doesn’t have to pay Scott for the performance, aside from the tax-deductible donation I mentioned prior. The NFL looks progressive both in its support of Scott’s ask to support a cause of his choosing, and at the same time locks in the third most popular rapper on the planet (behind only Drake & Nicki Minaj in terms of monthly Spotify listeners.)

Aside from the intangible “cool points” on getting a hyper-relevant urban artist at the prime of hip-hop’s relevance in the United States, this is a boon for the NFL from a marketing perspective. Last year’s Super Bowl in Minnesota saw Atlanta rank 29th out of 56 measured major markets, despite being ranked 10th in overall size. This year, you can be sure that number will rise.

Marketers will love the diversity of the audience, meaning we should see more culturally-relevant advertising this year as well. Having the game hosted in Atlanta, featuring Big Boi and Travis Scott on the ticket means that the African-American audience will tune in.

You can also expect that the younger demographic will care enough to tune in as Maroon 5, one of the most popular bands on the planet, performs as well. Your niece knows Maroon 5. So does your mom. And your aunt. Now all three might know Travis Scott, too.

5. Travis Scott performing at halftime is, above all, a huge win for hip-hop, globally. 

Anyone complaining that a star like Scott ‘doesn’t need the money’ or shouldn’t do it for social justice reasons may be forgetting the bigger picture: This is, above all, a major win for urban music on a global scale. Never before has a hip-hop artist been on the ticket for the Super Bowl, and the closest thing it’s seen to urban music during the Super Bowl was in 2016 when Beyonce, a prototypical pop artist, took the stage.

While Hip-Hop/Rap is now the most popular genre in the US, it registers as the most-popular genre for just 26% of the world, so any opportunity to expand his music’s global appeal is an opportunity worth considering. At the same time, the NFL is a global economy, with 40% of its fanbase outside of the United States. Considering the NFL’s global appeal, the potential returns feel tangible. This is about business, and Scott has an opportunity to share his music, and hip-hop music overall, with the world.

Infographic: The World's Favorite Music Genres | Statista

Whether or not you agree with Travis Scott taking the stage at halftime is beside the point. It’s happening, he made the call – he doesn’t need anyone’s permission – and he’s going to rock the stage in Atlanta on February 3rd. I give him props for knowing what’s best for himself as an artist, for his push to expand the audience of hip-hop, and for choosing a commendable cause to directly support with his platform, rather than spurning or criticizing the organization that’s providing the global platform for him to make hip-hop history. 

To see what happens next, tune in at the half of Super Bowl LIII on February 3rd. 

Introducing Early Bird Indie Beat Writer, Connor Cook

Hey everyone!

I’m truly excited to join Early Bird as the first dedicated indie beat writer on the site. In particular, I’ll spend my days digging through the bargain bin of indie-pop bangers you’ve never heard of, for absolutely zero gratification other than the discovery itself. I do all I can to consistently discover new indie music that takes your mind to a new place, not only melodically but lyrically as well.

The music I highlight typically features strong production talent (usually electronic), and preferably work produced by the artist themselves. These songs come from relatively (or entirely) undiscovered artists (read: <100,000 monthly unique listeners on Spotify) that bring a new sound to the music scene. When you listen to my highlighted songs, the reaction “How have I never heard this before? How has no one ever heard this before!” is exactly what I’m aiming to evoke. If you then ask, “Where do you find all this music?”…well, I don’t sit at home and listen to Frozen and Moana all day, that’s for sure.

Jokes aside, while a matter of opinion, please feel free to be vocal about your favorite music and share your favorite songs or music tips in the comments & Contact sections.  Most of these entries will come in the form of reviews of single songs, but I’m sure there will be more than a few lists of EPs and albums, with short artist bios. You can find all of my content under the Featured>Indie Beat section of the site.

I’m looking forward to you joining me as we get our hands a little dirty, digging for the newest indie music to hit the market. I hope you enjoy and discover some new music along the way!

Feel free to follow my personal Spotify, where you will be able to find all of these tunes and so many more:

G-Eazy: “The Beautiful & Damned” Track Breakdown

1. The Beautiful & Damned 👌🏻

With twenty songs on this double album, G-Eazy gets right to it with the title track. He appears determined to own and reflect on the life he’s created for himself – the fame, the fortune, and all of the struggles that comes with it.

2. Pray for Me:👎🏻

I was wondering what song would come after The Beautiful & Damned after I initially heard it. This was not what I envisioned and it seems to deviate from the vibe that kicks off TB&D. It’s clear that G-Eazy feels the pressure from the industry to produce turn-up beats built for clubs. It doesn’t feel authentic – he’s never been one to blindly follow trends, but “Pray for Me” feels like it was written by Future, for Future.

Coming off his underwhelming summertime EP “Step Brothers” with DJ Carnage, this type of song coming from G-Eazy still feels forced. Perhaps this style is something that fans will just have to accept is a part of G’s repertoire.

3. Him & I🗽

This isn’t the old G, and this isn’t club G. This feels like a modern take on hip-hop that fits into the city-vibe that he effortlessly pulls off. It’s an elevated beat that pulls away from typical hard-hitting hip-hop bass that shakes speakers. It’s urban rap, made for 2018. Adding his girlfriend Halsey with a feature adds substance and a “Bonnie & Clyde” vibe to the already moody attitude that seems to linger over his past two albums.

4. But A Dream 👌🏻

This song brings back vibes that remind long-time fans of “I Mean It” and the These Things Happen album, in general. It doesn’t carry the same aggressiveness that When It’s Dark Out carried — it comes off as more self-reflective of his journey. The lyrics have depth, and focus on the theme of being self-made.

5. Sober👍🏻

G-Eazy raves about the work he was able to do with Charlie Puth on this song. Stylistically, it’s very much a song that reminds of his time with Hoodie Allen on the All American Tour – clean, a driving beat, and a smooth chorus. Lyrically, it may be one of the weakest on the album, though. It follows a tired narrative about nights spent with women, alcohol, and regrettable decisions.

6. Legend👎🏻

“I’m back drinking whiskey” see the first words on this track, and they tell you all that you need to know about the direction of this song: trappy, empty lyrics about boozing. There’s not much else to analyze about this song- it is what it is: a song that you won’t remember having heard last night at the club.

7. No Limit 🙌🏻

A turn up song you’re going to hear for years to come at clubs. If G was aiming to become a club staple on this album, he’s certainly putting the effort to build his reputation in this style. The beat drives hard and he enlists A$AP Rocky and Cardi B to add credibility among the clubgoing crowd that spans across racial stereotypes in rap. The only other white rapper that could pull off a song like this and seem genuine might be Logic.

8. The Plan 🆘

The Plan reminds very much of When It’s Dark Out, though Gerald sounds like he’s had a few years of wear-and-tear on his voice from drinking too much cough syrup and liquor in between. Truthfully, his voice doesn’t sound healthy in this song – It would be a shame to look back and call this the beginning of the decline of his vocals.

9. That’s A Lot🤮

Auto-tuned and ‘complete’ with a flute on the track. No comment.
Okay maybe one:</

11. Gotdamn 😑

Just when you thought it was over and the album was moving away from the club, this song embodies trap music in 2017. At his preview party, G was really excited about this hook, but it seems forced, stuck in the middle of an album that’s confused as to what its identity is at this point. This sounds like something Gucci Mane should be rapping, not G-Eazy.

12. Leviathan 😎

Upbeat. Boppy. Still maintains the vibe of the album. Solid chorus with lyrics that seem to be thought out. To play devil’s advocate, it does approach copycat status to his song “Calm Down”, both lyrically and in cadence. This seems like it would have fit better following Sober than thrown in here at #12 on the album. It would have been a good opener before jumping into the club-vibes that hit from songs 6-10.

13. Crash & Burn 👍🏻

Classic G Eazy. Aggressive, emotional, and drawing from his past, while living in the moment. This isn’t the rage-your-balls-off G Eazy. This is pre-hype G Eazy.

14. Summer in December👍🏻

Introspective about the lifestyle he’s living and the people and environments that he finds himself in (Los Angeles), G Eazy reflects on what’s seemingly a paradise, but is in reality a constant-pressure to be on display and producing for the hand that feeds.

15. Charles Brown👍🏻

Eazy brings back Jay Ant and E-40, his Bay Area comrades for a west-coast-vibes song that doesn’t drive as hard as others on the album, providing a nice break from the action while still feeling genuine and as if belongs here. It sticks to its Bay Area roots in style and vibe. The real surprise here is that E-40 is still actively getting features in 2017.

16. No Less ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The beat is cold and smooth, blending Marc E. Bassy style with a cadence that seemingly comes off as effortlessly conversational. The only thing he could’ve done better is include more songs like this in the second half of the album.

17. Momma Always Told Me 👌🏻

A song about accepting risk in the name of love, G asks his lover for a chance to prove that he’s worthy of her attention and affection. The flow is clean and the lyrical content seems authentic – there’s no pretending here, these lyrics seem to have come directly from G. The beat provides nice balance here, driving the song forward and following in a style that compliments “No Less”.

18. Fly Away 🏆

This is probably the saddest song on the album because from all appearances, it appears to be an accurate reflection of the struggles of life under pressure as an entertainer on the road. The message: Gerald doesn’t feel like he’s good for the one he’s with, and wants her to leave him behind along with his problems. This song is vulnerable and open.

G-Eazy always finds a way to include one of these types of songs in each of his full-length albums: Check out “Opportunity Cost” and “Everything Will Be OK” off These Things Happen, and When It’s Dark Out

19. Love is Gone👍🏻

The penultimate song on TB&D, this song starts to drive the album toward closure with purpose. The emotionally heavy, driving beat sounds familiar and genuine, in line with both of his last two albums. This almost feels like it should’ve been the final song on the album, since “Eazy” could’ve fit well as the second song on the album.

20. Eazy 🤨

A song that’s confusingly at the end of the album, “Eazy” is closer in line with the G-Eazy fans recognize. Put at the end of the album, i found myself wishing it would’ve come sooner. It fits the style of the first quarter of the album, and begs for something to follow it and push the album further in this direction, rather than transitioning to trappy club vibes that feel inauthentic.

Album Verdicts:

Worth listening to? Definite Yes. Listen to it in order rather than trying to cherry pick songs you know already. It will give you a better idea of the different facets of the album.
His Best Yet? No – I sti
, though.
Right/wrong direction? M
out some of the harsher edges (drugs and alcohol are far more prevalent themes in this album than those of past), but he’s collaborating with relevant artists and developing a sound identity that will help increase his popularity across genres and open him up to new fans he previously didn’t cross paths with.

The Trade Off Between Streaming Services And The Old “Buy To Own” Music Model

Today I was curious, as usual, about the average streaming royalty by platform. So I went to royaltycalc.com and took a look at what 1MM streams pays out. What I found: Spotify pays just $4000 per million streams. Apple pays about 50% more – the same stream number is ~ $6k. Let’s talk about the economics of streaming.

My first reaction was that the artists who cash in the most are those who sit atop the music industry (the Taylor Swift, Adele, Beyonce, Bieber’s) because their fan bases are already so large and were such before the streaming era took off. Then, there are the acts like Imagine Dragons who gained the majority of their popularity within the last five years – roughly when streaming became a part of the mainstream (no pun intended). They’ve amassed over 3 billion streams on Spotify alone – and that’s just from their top ten songs (stream totals revealed in PC platform for top 10). They have cashed in on the nature of streaming, and its ability to expand the interest of a fan base into their entire discography, rather than just the overplayed radio “hits”. Other artists who have capitalized on streaming include AVICII, Arctic Monkeys, and Ed Sheeran (this is obviously an incomplete list). This seems to upset a lot of feely artists and fans across the world who champion “the little guy”, but they are failing to see the true value of music streaming’s impact on the music industry – even for “the little guy”.

Streaming services grant new and young artists vast amounts of exposure (130MM+ users globally between just Apple and Spotify) and reach where they never had it before (Asia, EMEA, Latin America, Australia). These regions were hard to reach previously, because entry costs to promoting and discovering a new artist were too high, both on the music labels and their end listeners. Prospective fans had to pay the cost of a single song at $1.00+, or an album, whose costs were so high in part because marketing materials that labels had to pay for were extremely high as well before and during the “iTunes” era. If a prospective fan bites the bullet and purchases a single song, that one song may or may not be the tipping point for a user to further explore an artist – especially if the song didn’t blow them out of the water. The cost of buying another song is another $1.00+, equating to already 20% of the cost of a premium subscription using today’s streaming services – just to unearth two songs from an artist (and determine if their music was worthy of more purchases) in the pre-streaming music environment. Music ownership meant buyers had to be extremely selective on who they listened to, or go broke purchasing loads of music.

Now, with streaming services using learning & matching algorithms, discovering new artists with similar characteristics to the ones you like is as easy as a recommendation or custom radio station generated to your habits, and the costs of discovery are infinitely lower – there is no gross cost difference to a user who discovers just one new song vs one thousand new songs. Some services like Spotify even have a custom playlist generated each week for users based on their own personal listening habits, as well as the patterns of their “followers” circle. Talk about low barriers to discovery!

Bringing things back to my initial investigation, the trade off for these low streaming royalty rates is unprecedented access to global reach and lower discovery costs for potential fans, simultaneously. The rise to the top of the charts is far faster than it was before – one major hit song blows up and you can become an international sensation, springboarded into the everyday playlists of millions of listeners across the globe. Before, the only artists that made the charts were the big names- because the labels paid to put them there. Now, virality plays a large part in the success of artists. Sure, it benefits the large artists that everyone knows – but that’s a given, since their fan bases are already enormous. But now, the little guy, or independent artist, can play ball on the field of giants, where before, they’d be swept aside as irrelevant, or “not big enough”.