For Ivan Barias, the GRAMMY-nominated producer, engineer, songwriter and Recording Academy P&E Wing leader, George Floyd's death is "a wake-up call for the nation." The tragic deaths at the hands of police, he believes, is the alarm waking up the whole country to the racism it has been sleeping on.
A Black Dominican who migrated to the U.S. at a young age, the Philadelphia-based producer behind albums from Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild and many others knows racism's effects firsthand. While for some the video showing Floyd's death in Minneapolis in broad daylight may have been a disturbing reality check on racial bias, Barias has been aware of how deeply rooted racism is in U.S. culture and society, and how it systematically continues to oppress Black communities, as well as all people of color.
While public support has risen substantially on the left—and from politicians on both sides of the aisle—in favor of the Black Lives Matter movement, Barias notes the Black Lives Matter Movement, which formed in 2013 after the acquittal of the man who fatally shot Trayvon Martin, continues to be misunderstood and associated with violence. "I think it gets such a bad rap because of the idea that Black people protesting and demanding equality goes against the ethos of supremacy. I'm going to just be real. White [supremacy]," he says. "There have been policies that have been created over the years, whether consciously or subconsciously, that have been exclusive, and not inclusive in giving equity to African Americans."
Despite the harsh realities for Black people and people of color, the producer doesn't feel hopeless. He wants the tragedy that happened in Minneapolis to be a motivator for people to vote this year, among other actionable ways to stay involved. "This is when you have to really double down," he says.
In a phone interview with the Recording Academy, Barrias spoke more on his views of race in the U.S., how the music industry can help create change, the tough conversations Latinx need to have now, why he thinks people need to stay politically active and how his support system is helping him through it all.
How are you?
I'm good. Considering the circumstances and everything that we've been dealing with, I'm managing. [I] tell you, it's been a heck of a week compounded by a heck of a year, so far. But the last three months have been really crazy and then we are dealing with this on top of that.
Definitely, what a year it's been. We wanted to get your thoughts on what's going on now. How would you describe our current racial climate?
I describe it as a wake-up call. It's a wake-up call for the nation. It's a situation that is troubling. It's saddening, it's angering, it's confusing, but one thing that we cannot ignore is that institutional and systemic racism has played a huge role in what we're seeing ... Now people are more aware. Watching a murder across all of our social media platforms, TV screens, not just relegated to certain spaces, [the video has] been playing all over the world. One thing that people have been saying for years is that police brutality, predominantly in the African American community, has been something that has needed to be addressed. [Yet] what we've been seeing is the Black Lives Matter movement demonized. We've seen people like Colin Kaepernick trying to bring attention to a situation we're talking about here, peacefully. You're talking about an athlete using his platform to peacefully protest and people conflated that with disrespect for the country, disrespect for the military, disrespect for the flag because he chose to kneel in a silent protest.
Now, with [what we've seen,] protesters and how it went from peaceful protest to the rioting and the anger—even though you had some agitators and some agent provocateurs, the news has shown there have been people that have been instigating and agitating. Regardless, I think that the energy that's out there is a rage that has been suppressed for years. I think we're being forced to deal with this. Instead of being proactive, we're being reactive now. I think that change, however you can institute change, it's a wake-up call for us as a country to really address these things that are egregious.
You bring up a really great point. Why do you think some people have associated negative things with the movement?
I think it gets such a bad rap because of the idea that Black people protesting and demanding equality goes against the ethos of supremacy. I'm going to just be real. White [supremacy]. There have been policies that have been created over the years, whether consciously or subconsciously, that have been exclusive, and not inclusive in giving equity to African Americans. And the idea of white superiority has been something that has been dominant in a lot of the narratives in several industries and in several sectors of our economy. When you see the [Black Lives Matter] movement, it's a very powerful movement. It has this abrupt support of people in the media, athletes, entertainers. I just think it makes people uncomfortable. I think that the original intent of the movement was to say all lives will matter when Black lives matter. It was never to say that Black lives are more important than any other lives, or that African Americans or Black people should be higher in a pecking order than any other ethnic group. It was to say, "Hey look, we matter, also. Yes, you matter. But we also matter." And it's just the inherent biases that people have that make them not want to share equity with other ethnic groups that they deem inferior to them. So it's just the stain and in our history that's still perpetuating those stereotypes.
You posted a screenshot on your Instagram of a story printed in the Philadelphia Inquirer, with a headline that read "Buildings Matter, Too," arguing that while protests are a just response to the inequality going on, people need to think more about the consequences of damaging property. Could you talk more about how you think that is problematic?
Well, listen, I'm going to say this: I don't condone rioting. When people go out there and they riot, and they loot, I just think it could be perceived as taking away from the original intent of why [people] were protesting or why the protests are the [way they] are. However, I think that the headline—which they changed—they saw the error of their ways and they changed it to something a little bit softer in tone. But when you say buildings matter, too, that comma after "matter" really has a different energy. That's a silent energy. To imply that, "Hey, yeah, we get it. We see what you're saying... we see your little protest, but don't forget, these buildings have been around longer than you and you should not destroy them." It's such a dismissive statement .... I think what [that kind of thinking] does is insinuate more of the stereotypes that [these protests] are about the destruction of property, rather than the protest of lives being taken by police forces. Law enforcement has a history of killing Black lives right on the spot. I am charging you, I am trying you and I am issuing your sentence right here. Anyone else would look at the reasons why police would intervene and stop people and try to arrest people [and would acknowledge they are] for things that aren't even worth the time in a court of law. Not to say that, "Look, I'm endorsing lawlessness."
You look at what happened in Central Park. And you could parse from what I'm saying. You don't have to take everything I'm saying so literal. When you look at the situation in Central Park with Amy Cooper with the gentlemen bird watching in which he told her, "Hey, do you mind putting your dog on a leash?" This area of the park explicitly said that she should have your dog on a leash. And she went crazy on him and called the cops. And immediately went to all of these different tropes associated with Black men and created a scenario. Dramatized the scenario for the [cops] to imply that she was being attacked by this man who was just simply telling her, "Can you put your dog on a leash." A lot of the interactions you see between the police and people of color are interactions that are based on fear. And also the idea that you must be committing a crime. Therefore, I must stop you. And then, when you're watching, when you see those videos, [your perception is] they did something. They had to have done something crazy for that police officer to use the type of force that he used: "I, a non-person of color, interact with the police and I've never experienced that level of aggression from a police officer. Therefore, in my mind, I am pre-programmed, predisposed to think that you have had to have done something extreme that can be met with such lethal force."
And the reason why "buildings matter" is problematic is that it further enhances the trope that all things are equal, reducing Black lives. You're reducing a Black life to something static. Something that is not even a real object. You're objectifying a Black life the same way you objectify a building. And until we start seeing Black lives as lives, as people, as humans, as citizens, as Americans, as our neighbors, you will not be able to tear down these walls of bigotry that exists.
I'm Latina, and I've seen inequity in the Black and brown neighborhood I grew up in. But I couldn't really name it, or I couldn't really identify it. I became more aware of it in college when I majored in ethnic studies. You're obviously aware of it. How did you gain your awareness of these issues?
Well, let me be honest here. I am a Black Dominican. I was born in the Dominican Republic and I came here at an early age and my experiences have, because of how I look, people quite often think I'm a Black man, right? And my features, I'm of mixed heritage. I've identified with the Black culture because of hip-hop, the music that I grew up listening to and sports. The athletes that I idolize, the music, the sports, the culture, my friends, all of the different things. Me being immersed in a culture, being accepted, allowed me a front-row seat to seeing all these things. And then these things became things that were part of my life. [When you grow up,] you start seeing that things aren't as equal as they are. You believe in the American dream when you're young and you feel like you can be anything you want to be. But then when you start seeing that there are cultural barriers of entry, where you have people that don't have the same opportunities because of generational wealth, all things are interconnected. When you have someone who doesn't have the ability to amass economic power, simply because of redlining districts where you will not get approved for a loan if you lived here, and things like that.
If you have an ethnic-sounding name, you might not get the call for a job. If you have an ethnic-sounding name, you look ethnic, you might get a different type of care in an emergency room. So all of those things start to shape your perspective. You start to see things are a little bit more nuanced than you are led to believe when you're younger and you start seeing that there are certain blind spots that people in society who have certain privileges have. They tend to be myopic towards real issues that affect people of color in ways that they will never experience. And it's been a gradual thing. As you get older, you see things a little bit clearer. Now I'm really seeing how oblivious people may have been to a lot of these issues. It's interesting that it took this for a lot of people that I know of, a lot of my friends and colleagues [to realize all this]. This has affected them deeply. They didn't know they live in a country that had these deep-rooted issues that are now playing out for the world to see.
It's not just one isolated incident. We're not talking just about George Floyd here. We're talking about Breonna Taylor. We're also talking about Ahmaud Arbery all in the span of four months. Tragic killings at the hands of police, or racist-driven murders that you're finally seeing footage of. That you're saying, "Oh my God, this is unacceptable. I can't believe that happened." That you've taken yourself from your specific set of circumstances [and you've put] yourself in those individual's shoes. You really empathize and you see that you you really feel the pain. And that's why so many people are out there protesting. It's such a diverse protest that it's not even, you can't just call it a Black protest. It's just a protest in favor of Black Lives Matter, Black issues. But the number of people you see out there, young, old, Black, White, Latino, Asian, straight, gay. It's not specific to one demographic. And I think that this really shows that people are finally starting to wake up and they're starting to empathize with what a lot of people have been dealing with for years. Not even years—decades and centuries.
It's definitely brought up conversations on allyship. When it comes to the Latinx community, some grew up in the same communities as Black friends, Black neighbors, some like yourself are Afro-Latinx. In your opinion, what do non-Black Latinx need to do to show allyship?
Reach out and talk to your friends. Reach out to talk to your Black friends and allow yourself to be educated on these issues. Understand how unconscious bias, which is a privilege, plays a role in systemic and institutional racism. You could be Latinx and have your eccentric features and speak with a diction that's a little bit more acceptable and appropriate for the corporate world. Even within our communities, you might have a Latinx person who may be Afro-Latino, who may not have the same opportunities you have.
Within the Latinx culture, there is a polarizing issue that tears us all, and that's colorism. Even in our own culture, we have to examine these tropes that have existed for centuries and are part of how a lot of our countries were colonized. It's how you have the caste system and how people have grown up with these inherent views on race and race matters. So I would say, allow yourself to be educated within your own culture and outside of the cultures. Understand if you have privilege, learn why you have that privilege. Fight for equity. And continue to speak on injustices. I think if you stay silent, you are complicit. If you are an immigrant who has been given preferential treatment because of those things that I mentioned, and you don't speak out, I think you are silently a part of the problem. And sometimes we don't know we're doing that. I think one of the most dangerous things that you can do is be a part of an out-group, and you achieve in-group acceptance, and you start denigrating other people in the out-group, just to make the people in the in-group that you're a part of happy and to continue the privilege and dominance over any authority over the other groups.
You have to refocus your lens and ask yourself if you are doing all you can to be an ally. Are you really supporting these things? Are you truly moved? Are you truly empathetic? Do you truly understand? And if not, figure out how you can do more. As I said, talk to people, be educated. Your point of view shouldn't be anchored. It has to be one that's in constant flux because this thing has grown into a different type of virus. And it is adaptive. And we all have to figure out how to eradicate it.
What does change look like to you?
I say it looks like comprehensive police reform. I think that we have to examine policing methods. The current administration undid a lot of the consent decrees that existed from the Obama administration justice department ...
with respect to how you should be a police officer. There's certain lawlessness that exists and I think what we have to reform, but we have to really reform policing. We have to really examine the idea of what a police officer should do. We have to retrain our officers. We might have to even raise the bar and use a different set of metrics for who should be a police officer. We have to stop investing so much in law and order and invest in people. You have to invest in your community as opposed to policing methods for your community.
It takes a lot of hands on deck to actually do all this heavy lifting. And again, this is not just a Federal issue or just a state issue, or just a municipal issue. It's an across-the-board government issue. Everyone has to work together in tandem to find solutions so that these things don't happen. So that we have proper methods for how you use lethal force and when it should be used and how to really protect people. Because we've seen the police being called just to do a wellness check, and it results in the death of a Black person. I think those things have to be talked about. We have to really address how police should stop feeling like it's an us versus them type of mentality that dominates the thinking amongst a lot of police officers.
We know historically the music industry has profited off Black artists. How can the music industry and community at large contribute to change?
One of the things the recording industry needs to do is establish funds to assist. Whether you're talking about social justice funds or educational funds to assist with helping people in impoverished communities. They have to really open their wallets. I saw Warner is contributing a hundred million dollars to social justice causes. That's great. When you look at the top three major labels, [they made in 2018] a combined $19 million a day in streaming and revenue which amounts to about $7 billion a year. That's a small slice of the pie. I think there should be a social responsibility when it comes to the recording industry because I think that they have a duty to—and I'm not talking about censoring artists or infringing on people's first amendment rights—but they have a duty to be socially responsible when it comes to the music they put out to communities that are the ones that are the most at risk. And they promote stereotypes to me that continue the cycle. So, not an attack on the industry, I just felt like we need to be more socially aware of the artists that we're giving a platform to. Those things are important.
Also, give artists community equity, and create a better profit-sharing model, so that they can be assets in their own communities. Here's what I'm saying: if you don't know how to help, if you are one of the top execs in the music industry and this is not your community and you don't know how to help, aside from opening your wallet, empower your artists. Make them economically viable to be able to build these things in the communities they come from and help with the existing wealth gap by making sure that there's better equity, and better profit-sharing model for those artists to partake in. That's a great start right there.
What are some of the things that you've been doing?
On my end, I'm supporting social justice groups and I'm encouraging people in my community to activate. I'm using social media and I'm reaching out to people in my circle. I have several threads of music industry executives, managers, artists, performers, I mean a variety of different disciplines across the industry. These are the things that we're talking about and we're sharing resources. We're sharing links here. And we're making sure that we're spreading the word on how we can all help each other and help people in our communities with these resources. I'm also doing a lot of advocacy, as well. I helped establish a group called Philly Culture United, a few weeks ago to address the mayor's budget. We noticed there was $0 allocated to arts and culture. And we had an office. We had an office here that was the office of arts culture and the creative economy. They eliminated the office, zeroed out that line on the budget for arts and culture, and increased the budget for law and order. Police, prisons, and courts. So you're talking about 40% going to law and order, against zero as divestment in the arts and culture. So, we convened, and we were talking about how we're going to address this and create a campaign to target the members of the city council, to let them know how egregious this was. And mind you, this is before Memorial Day when George Floyd was killed. Then we saw the protests. Since then, we're starting to see other cities move away, resources that they had allocated for policing, and law and order. There's a certain level of urgency now that exists for the city council to see that an investment or divestment from your own citizens, is basically saying, "I am okay with removing arts and culture, which historically has allowed people the means to protest and express themselves peacefully." And you're saying, "We don't believe that arts and culture is an essential asset for our citizens. And we feel that these resources could be better allocated to putting more police officers on the street." And I think that when you send that message to a community, I think you're really going down a slippery slope. And what we're advocating for is that you not only restore but maybe increase the budget in the arts and culture and creative economy. To me, that is an essential service that gives your citizens equity and allows them to participate in ways that they can express themselves, they can speak and amplify other voices that are speaking on issues that we've been covering in this interview. So I think that that's something that a lot of people should figure out how to be a little bit more active when it comes to advocacy in their own cities and state. And that's part of American democracy. You have to figure out if you have a voice, how to amplify other people's voices. And that's what I am doing. And that's what I'm challenging a lot of my colleagues to do. If you can't march and protest, okay, then support. And if you can't support, then be politically active, and encourage people to vote. Voting has not only national implications but local implications. A lot of the things that I mentioned earlier, like redlining, and gerrymandering, and really suppressing people's views and voices through political means, to where you can never really get out of these pitfalls that have been created that aren't your doing. And constantly allowing for the support for law and order that disproportionately affects you. If you vote, and you vote for policies, and you vote for people that are share in those ideals, you can demand accountability and transparency. So that is something that I'm passionate about and I try to challenge everyone to at least exercise that right.
I've been talking to some friends who are undocumented and they're like, "I wish I could vote." They obviously can't. Do you have any words for Latinx and other people out there who are undocumented and can't vote?
Your voice is still viable. They don't even understand how their story is so impactful. By making people who have the privilege to exercise their rights. They should be made aware that there is a class of people that are a part of this American culture who don't have that right. And the lack of having that voice and exercising that right continues oppressive practices that disproportionately affect them. So I would say, urge your friends and your colleagues who have that right to really think about how this really affects people who believe in the American dream. People who, if given the opportunity, will stay in a line for 12 hours to cast that vote. That to me, that's very meaningful to share your stories and not hide. And there's no shame in saying, "Hey, I'm here. I'm undocumented, and I'm here. And I think of myself as an American, and I believe in the American dream and I believe in the United States constitution and what it affords every person who comes to this country." And definitely, I would say, you really have to drive that point and make people understand how privileged they are to cast a vote during every election.
Last question, how are you coping through all of this?
I have a support system. I'm staying in touch with a lot of my friends and colleagues. And I'm on several texting threads where we're sharing stories, and tweets, and things that come across our own social media pages, and resources, and having conversations to where you don't feel like you're at it alone. And I think that that's what people need. You need to have a support system so that you don't feel like you're the only person dealing with this and I think what it does is it empowers everyone. Everyone is lifting each other up. It gives you the strength to fight and fight for what's right and to continue to demand accountability. When you hear that other people share your sentiments and they're feeling exactly the way you're feeling, it makes it a lot easier for you to find the strength to continue and not give up. Except I think I'll tell you that, I have so many friends in a lot of these threads wondering if it's even worth voting. We had voting here in Philadelphia, our primaries were on Tuesday [June 2] and so many people were saying, "I'm not going to vote. Why? It doesn't even matter." That's when I said, "No, this is when you have to really double down." And you have to keep motivating people. And we motivate each other. So I don't know how I would be coping if it wasn't for the various threads and people in my life. I don't know how I would be able to maintain. Having a support system and having people that you could talk to is very important. And even people, friends who aren't from my community have reached out, expressing support, and asking how they can help, and what can they do, and how they can be better allies. And that to me is very important.
Kendrick Lamar performs at the GRAMMYs in 2018
Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images
With the final days of 2019 comes the finale to a revolutionary decade that disrupted the music industry.
A bit of cultural context: The decade kicked off in January 2010 with a rising Lady Gaga dominating the global charts with her breakout track, "Bad Romance," Taylor Swift taking home the GRAMMY for Album Of The Year for Fearless and a (very) young Justin Bieber breaking into the mainstream with early single, "Baby." Later in the year, Apple would release its first-ever iPad and Instagram would debut in the world. Other major developments would follow later in the decade: Spotify launches in the U.S. in 2011; and Apple Music and YouTube Music hit the scene, while Jay-Z acquires and rebrands Tidal, the latter three milestones all happening in 2015.
As music and technology evolved in parallel at lightning speed, the music industry paradigm of yesteryear began to shift. Social media, which would soon allow a direct line of communication between artist and fan, broke down walls. Music fans, once fed a top-down stream of culture and content, became the tastemakers. And the music industry as a whole largely pivoted from a sales-based business model to a streaming-heavy consumption model.
As the decade comes to a close and enters a new era, The Recording Academy reflects on 10 moments and developments that forever changed the music landscape for the listener, the artist and the biz itself in the 2010s.
Nowadays, music fans are accustomed to having complete on-demand access to millions of songs at the convenient touch of a button. That's all thanks to major streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Music, Tidal and Amazon Music, which have collectively helped shift the consumption of music from ownership-focused to access-based via subscription models.
Today, streaming accounts for approximately 80 percent of the music industry's revenue. Culturally, playlists are now a primary source for new-music discovery, becoming powerful launch pads for artists and labels and largely replacing traditional tastemakers and gatekeepers like radio and music blogs. As well, major streaming services have helped discover and proliferate niche genres and global sounds. Chances are you'll still discover your next favorite artist, album and song on a streaming service 10 years from now.
The 2010s saw hip-hop reach a new level. Trap, a rap subgenre popularized in the early 2000s and rooted in the American South, reached mainstream crossover success when artists like Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry integrated the sound into their pop-centric music. The genre also birthed today's leading rap stars and producers, including Future, Migos, Gucci Mane, Sonny Digital, Metro Boomin and Mike WiLL Made-It.
Most recently, the so-called "SoundCloud rap" explosion has launched the careers of bona fide stars like Post Malone, Lil Pump, Trippie Redd, Lil Tecca and Rico Nasty. By 2018, the scene achieved its first chart-topping album via the late South Florida rapper XXXTentacion, who's second artist album, ?, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart in the U.S. last March. Chicago SoundCloud rapper Juice WRLD, who died earlier this month, continued the streak when his second album, Death Race For Love, topped the Billboard 200 chart this past March.
Bolstered by the rise of streaming—Chance The Rapper's 2016 mixtape, Coloring Book, became the first streaming-only album to reach the Billboard 200 charts and win a GRAMMY—hip-hop and R&B surpassed rock as the most popular genre in the U.S. for the first time ever in 2017. What lies ahead for the genre is both a mystery and a wide-open opportunity.
Where the 2000s popularized regional and niche sounds like bachata and banda, the 2010s saw Latin music skew toward urban and contemporary styles, setting the stage for urbano, the umbrella term encompassing genres like reggaeton, Latin trap, dembow and more, to reach critical mass.
The decade's Latin music victor is the undeniably catchy, omnipresent international breakout hit "Despacito" from Luis Fonsi featuring Daddy Yankee. Released in January 2017, the track, which claims the top spot for the most-streamed music video of all time, set off the so-called "Despacito effect," a music industry phenomenon that consequently ushered in an avalanche of Spanish-language hits and mainstream pop crossovers. The international success of the Spanish-language track ultimately helped break down cultural and language barriers across the global pop spectrum.
One of the most notable changes in the pop landscape this decade comes in a rainbow array of languages and cultures: the globalization of pop, led by the international sounds of K-pop from Korea and Afrobeats from West Africa and the wider diaspora.
While modern K-pop dates back to the '90s, the genre reached true international scale in 2012 with the arrival of Psy's breakthrough viral hit, "Gangnam Style." The track's official music video would eventually become the first video ever to reach 1 billion views on YouTube, once standing as the most-viewed clip on the video-sharing platform.
Psy and "Gangnam Style" set the stage for the K-Pop explosion in the U.S. and across the globe: BLACKPINK became the first K-pop girl group to perform at Coachella in 2019 and BTS became the first K-pop act to top the Billboard 200 chart via their 2018 album, Love Yourself: Tear.
Currently, Afrobeats is the next international sound sweeping pop music. Major stars like Kanye West and Rick Ross have all collaborated with Afrobeats acts. Drake's 2016 international hit "One Dance," once the most-streamed song on Spotify, featured Nigerian Afrobeats artist Wizkid, who would go on to sign with RCA Records in what became the biggest record deal ever for an African artist. This past July, Beyoncé released The Lion King: The Gift, the soundtrack album to the 2019 Lion King remake, which featured African and Afrobeats artists like Wizkid, Burna Boy, Mr Eazi and many others. With major labels like Warner Music Group and Universal Music Group betting on Afrobeats, all eyes are now on Africa.
With nine out of 10 regular social media users partaking in music- or artist-related activities on social apps and 63 percent of users employing social media technology to discover new artists, social media's massive impact on the music industry is virtually immeasurable.
Most notably, social media has broken down the walls once separating artists from listeners. Musicians can now use multiple social media avenues to directly communicate with fans, and vice versa, creating a "bond" between the two parties like never before. On a business front, social media has changed the A&R and music discovery game forever: Shawn Mendes blew up on Vine, Tori Kelly built her career off YouTube videos and Cardi B was an Instagram star before she was a chart-topping rapper.
Social media marketing, led by memes, social media challenges, viral songs and dance challenges, is the next wave for the music industry. Today, the video-sharing social network TikTok, which introduced Lil Nas X and his viral hit, "Old Town Road," to the world is being touted as the future of the biz.
Nine Inch Nails' immersive marketing campaign for Year Zero and Radiohead's pay-what-you-want model for In Rainbows may have shocked the music industry, but Beyoncé completely subverted the system when she surprise-dropped her self-titled album in December 2013. The 23-time GRAMMY champ dropped Beyoncé, marketed as a "visual album" comprising 17 videos to coincide with the project's 14 tracks, with zero advance notice, skipping the months-long marketing and promotional campaigns that have become the industry standard for artists of pop-star stature.
The unconventional formula worked: Beyoncé debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart in the U.S. and once stood as the fastest-selling album ever on the iTunes Store. The success behind the album's surprise-drop approach sparked an industry trend, and newfound marketing tactic, that saw everyone from J Balvin and Bad Bunny to little sister Solange following in Beyoncé's gold-dusted footsteps.
Music festivals have been a part of American music history since the days of Woodstock and Monterey Pop Festival in the late '60s. Over the past decade, however, the culture and business of music festivals have developed from a DIY approach to a fully fledged industry. In 2017, Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which celebrated its 20-year anniversary this past April, became the first reoccurring festival franchise to gross more than $100 million, with a total gross of $114.6 million that year. Goldenvoice, the organizers behind Coachella, also holds the overall record for all-time top festival gross for its 2016 event Desert Trip, which brought in a record-breaking $160 million in 2016.
In addition to big payouts for festival producers and headlining artists alike, festivals have also become a creative playground for ambitious acts. Coachella alone has been the home to many milestone moments and industry-wide trends and developments over the past decade, including multiple band reunions (OutKast, Guns N' Roses, N.W.A); the genesis of the booming hologram concert industry; and Beyoncé's game-changing Homecoming headlining performance in 2018. Today, festivals worldwide serve as a breeding ground for artistic ambition and a launch pad for the new, now and next in music technology.
On paper, "Hamilton" reads like an unlikely premise: a hip-hop Broadway musical based on the life of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. What unfolded was an even unlikelier run: 11 Tony Awards, a Broadway box office record and a Pulitzer Prize(!). Since its original off-Broadway debut in New York City in 2015, "Hamilton" has been unstoppable. The show's multiplatinum-certified original Broadway cast recording, released by Atlantic Records in September 2015, went on to peak at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart and topped the Top Rap Albums chart. It also took home a GRAMMY for Best Musical Theater Album for 2015, while the show's creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, received the President's Merit Award from the Latin Recording Academy in 2017. Elsewhere, The Hamilton Mixtape, a 2016 follow-up mixtape album featuring original and deleted songs from the musical, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart.
The breakout success of "Hamilton" has since launched Broadway culture and musicals into the global mainstream unlike any other production before it, shining a new light on the art form and introducing a younger generation to the medium. Its lasting legacy has also initiated a wave of jukebox musicals, pop-music-inspired shows and productions, with everyone from The Temptations ("Ain't Too Proud") to Tina Turner ("Tina: The Musical") receiving the Broadway treatment.
In the 2010s, EDM went mainstream. Beloved pop icons crossed onto the dance floor via full-on dance-pop collaborations: Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris, Jack Ü (Diplo x Skrillex) with Justin Bieber, Steve Aoki and One Direction's Louis Tomlinson. Even Britney Spears dabbled in dubstep on her 2011 No. 1 pop hit "Hold It Against Me."
This decade also saw EDM fully infiltrating the GRAMMYs. In the same year dubstep wunderkind Skrillex swept the dance/electronic category in 2012, Canadian electronic artist/producer deadmau5 and French dance legend David Guetta joined Chris Brown, Lil Wayne and Foo Fighters onstage for a televised cross-genre performance. Two years later, in 2014, French electronic icons Daft Punk would win big at the GRAMMYs for their 2013 album Random Access Memories, which took home major awards, including Album Of The Year and Record Of The Year for lead single "Get Lucky."
Today, EDM artists are among the highest-paid musicians across the board—Calvin Harris ($38.5 million), Marshmello ($40 million) and The Chainsmokers ($46 million) raked in big bucks in 2019 alone—and continue to headline international festivals like Coachella, Lollapalooza and Glastonbury. What was once an underground subculture is now the soundtrack to the future.
Counting more than 2 billion gamers around the world and with the potential to become a $300 billion industry by 2025, today's video game market is thriving. It's no surprise, then, that the music industry wants in on the action. While video games and music have gone hand in hand since the days of "Super Mario Bros." in the mid-'80s, the convergence of the two worlds hit its peak in the 2010s. These days, the music biz is leaning heavily into the gaming industry to unlock new revenue streams, reach new listeners and bolster marketing campaigns.
Video games have always provided a healthy income for major artists via licensing deals: Famously, Aerosmith made more money from their 2008 video game, "Guitar Hero: Aerosmith," than from any of their albums. Still, the current wave of video game and music crossovers takes the approach to the next level via virtual concerts. This past February, superstar producer/DJ Marshmello performed an exclusive in-game "concert" in "Fortnite," a massively popular online video game, that attracted more than 10.7 million people. A clip of the performance has since garnered +45 million views on YouTube. Following the concert, Marshmello released Marshmello Fortnite Extended Set, a DJ mix album based on the virtual performance, which topped Billboard's Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart in the U.S. With video games and music now at the forefront of pop culture, the two industries will continue to push into the future together.
Photo: Nicole Davis
As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors. Today, rising singer/songwriter ARI shares her quarantine diary. ARI's debut IDIOT GRL EP is out Aug. 14.
[9:40 a.m.] A late start to the day. I just woke up to my cat Malakai licking my face and snuggling under my chin, desperate for cuddles. I reluctantly gave in before diving into my morning routine, which starts by going through all of the daily news on my Snapchat feed to see what’s going on in the world.
[11 a.m.] Just out of the shower and into the kitchen for the usual: tea and avocado toast. I don’t typically like tea or coffee, but I had this amazing tea from Starbucks once and fell in love with it. I ended up finding the recipe and making it myself, and to be honest, I like my version better. Once I boil the kettle, I start part two of my morning “meditation”: watching one of my favourite shows while I respond to emails. With the IDIOT GRL EP coming out next week, I can tell you there are a TON of emails. I turned on "Gilmore Girls" (my guilty pleasure) and opened up my laptop to go through my calendar.
[1:45 p.m.] Recording session time. Zoom calls have become my everyday life. It’s crazy to think that this time last year, you could actually be in a room with people. Now the most social interaction I get is virtually. On the positive side, I get to set up my little home studio from the comfort of my own bed and I find the sessions to be really productive with no outside distractions.
[3:30 p.m.] Malakai is meowing at my door. As I try to sing over him, eventually I can’t ignore his cute little voice. We take a quick break and I have a little playtime with him. I can hear my song playing in the living room—it still weirds me out hearing myself. My guess is my roommate aka my manager is sending off final approval for the “IDIOT GRL” music video, which comes out the same day as the EP. Super excited for everyone to finally see it!
[6:00 p.m.] Time for dinner. It may just be my favourite part of the day. During my session, my roommate cooked us some delicious pasta. We eat dinner together every night, which is really nice. Usually, after dinner, we wind down and watch TV, but we decided to try doing an arts and crafts project tonight. I watched this TikTok video of a DIY way to make music plaques. You take a screenshot of a song on Spotify and use a marker to trace out the name of the song, artist, play button, etc. Once that’s done, you simply add the album artwork of your choice, frame it, and voila! I thought it would be a cool idea to make a wall of each of the songs off of my EP.
[9:00 p.m.] After an eventful day, I decided to go watch a drive-in Maple Leafs game (wearing a mask, of course). My sister works for the TSN network and started hosting drive-in game nights to promote the network and social distancing events. I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest hockey fan, but I’ll never pass up an opportunity to spend time with my family.
[11:30 p.m.] I finally get home and hop straight into bed. I feel like I haven’t spent much time on Instagram today, so figured I’d open it up before getting some shuteye. I launched the pre-save link for the EP today and told my followers that I would DM anyone who pre-saved it and sent me a screenshot. I always love getting to interact with my fans and I can’t tell you how grateful I am to see how excited people are for my debut EP. It’s a great feeling to end the day with.
Kiana Ledé launched her studio album debut KIKI with a powerful mindset.
"Kiki is an album that I just let myself go. I let myself go to all the spaces. I let myself fully truly be myself," she said on the latest Up Close & Personal. While she says she has been a people pleaser in the past, the 23-year-old rising R&B singer didn't subject herself to that on her album:"I didn't want to have any opinions. I wanted to just make music that I knew made me feel good [at] the moment whether that was a negative or a positive feeling and have no influences whatsoever."
Lyrically, KIKI is a trip into heartache and the bounce back from it but is also filled with tracks oozing with self-love, and joy. At the center of it is a vulnerability that has come to her as she has gone further into womanhood. On the album, she did not "run away from things," including her childhood home pictured on the cover, which Ledé reveals she used to feel a little ashamed of when she was younger.
While COVID-19 affected her album release, she didn't let it kill her vibe. Ledé says her fans helped make the launch special.
"My fans are amazing and they were really great and didn't allow it to really fall through the cracks at all," she said. "They really pushed hard for me because they knew how much it meant to me and how important the moment was and how much it means to them."
During her Up Close & Personal interview, the passionate artist also shares how it was working with fellow R&B singer Lucky Daye, how she continues to grow comfortable in her mixed identity and talks about how the industry can better support artists like herself.