Overlooked No More: Robert Johnson, Bluesman Whose Life Was a Riddle

from NYTs Little about the life Robert Leroy Johnson lived in his brief 27 years, from approximately May 1911 until he died mysteriously in 1938, was documented. A birth certificate, if he had one, has never been found. What is known can be summarized on a postcard: He is thought to have been born out of wedlock in May 1911 in Mississippi and raised there. School and census records indicated he lived for stretches in Tennessee and Arkansas. He took up guitar at a young age and became a traveling musician, eventually glimpsing the bustle of New York City. But […]

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‘Blurred Lines’ on Their Minds, Songwriters Create Nervously

from NYTs It’s not easy to be a songwriter in the pop world these days. Listeners rarely see your name. For anything but a giant hit, royalties from streaming are infinitesimal — and big tech companies seem to want to keep it that way. And then there’s the shadow of “Blurred Lines.” Four years after the copyright trial over that No. 1 song — in which Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, its primary writers, were ordered to pay more than $5 million for copying Marvin Gaye’s disco-era hit “Got to Give It Up” — the case still looms over the […]

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Judge Throws Out 57-Year-Old Copyright On “We Shall Overcome”

from ars technica A federal judge ruled (PDF) on Friday that the most famous verse of the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” is not copyrighted. The ruling is a decisive, but still incomplete, win for the two plaintiffs. One of those plaintiffs is a charity group called the “We Shall Overcome Foundation” that’s making a movie about the song, and the other is Butler Films LLC, a company that paid $15,000 to license just several seconds of the song for the movie “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” Plaintiff’s attorney Randall Newman hopes the two organizations will represent a class-action case composed of people who were charged royalties for using […]

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The Evolution Of Recorded Music

from kottke The Recording Academy has produced a series of three short and breezy videos on the history of recorded music, from the wax cylinder phonograph to cassette tapes to CDs to MP3s. Interest piqued, I went to read more about the history of the CD. When developing the disc, the physical size of it was dictated by Beethoven: The two companies argued about what size, shape and technology the CD should support. It was eventually settled on a disc of 115 millimetres in diameter and 74 minutes worth of storage. Why 74 minutes? To fit Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, of course. […]

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Bonnie Raitt and the Fugitive Emotions Evoked by Slide Guitar

from The New Yorker Bonnie Raitt has dodged the crush of fame that did in the Eagles; she has beaten the devils that snared Warren Zevon, found the third act that eluded Linda Ronstadt and Jackson Browne, tended to her vocal cords better than Joni Mitchell, escaped the undertow of the sixties that holds Crosby, Stills & Nash, and kept clear of the Rushmore-y eminence now granted Neil Young. At sixty-six, she’s the real survivor of the California rock scene of the seventies, and to see her perform, as I did, at the Beacon Theatre, the other night, is to see—to […]

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George Martin and the Beatles: A Producer’s Impact, in Five Songs

from NYTs When we hear a great recording, we tend to think of the music as having sprung fully developed from the imagination of the musician or band that cut the tracks. But that ignores the role of the producer, who translates the musician’s vision into the sound we experience. The contributions that George Martin, who died Tuesday at 90, made to the Beatles’ recorded catalog were crucial, and although he was the first to say that most of the credit belongs to the band, many of the group’s greatest songs owe their sound and character to his inspired behind-the-scenes work. […]

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Grappling With the ‘Culture of Free’ in Napster’s Aftermath

from NYTs Once upon a time, a new technology happened along. It was called radio. Soon enough, some people began plucking wireless transmissions out of the air for their own purposes. One clever young man in Washington figured out how to intercept messages that Navy units sent to one another. “He has represented himself to be at distant naval stations or at sea on warships equipped with wireless apparatus,” a magazine called Electrical World reported in 1907. Back then, this fellow’s actions were not unlawful. They amounted nonetheless to a form of piracy. As radio grew more sophisticated, so did […]

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