A Turbulent Journey

The Music Modernization Act Fights to Become Law Amidst the Confusion

For many, a recent bill called the “Music Modernization Act”—dubbed “the MMA” for short—appears as a beacon of hope for the music industry. The bill, which proposes changes to the royalty payment process and music licensing laws, has unified the music industry in an unprecedented way, promoting kinship between two historically contentious sides of the business: songwriters and publishers, and Digital Service Providers (DSPs), or streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music. The MMA received a unanimous vote from the House of Representatives in June, and a revised edition is now under the consideration of the full Senate.

 The MMA has achieved widespread support for its potential to solve the consistently troubling issue of paying songwriters their royalties accurately and in a timely manner. It would do so by updating the archaic music licensing process—setting up a new governing body run by publishers to administer blanket mechanical licenses on songs streamed through DSPs. As it stands, songwriters have no real power in the music licensing system, but the bill would give them voice by allotting self-published writers a number of seats on the new collective’s panel of directors, as well as on an advisory committee for handling unclaimed royalties, and on a committee for resolving ownership disputes. Most pertinently, this new agency would be responsible for collecting and distributing mechanical royalties—payments made to songwriters when copies of their compositions are created. Presently, Harry Fox Inc. (HFA) is in charge of handling mechanical royalties, but the distribution process has proven to be riddled with issues. For example, under the current system, DSPs can dodge paying songwriters for unregistered material by sending bulk “Notices of Intent” (NOIs) to the Copyright Office. In the meantime, DSPs continue to stream these unregistered songs, songwriters go unpaid, and NOIs build up, unresolved. This system error not only strips artists of their deserved royalties, but it puts DSPs at risk of lawsuits. In this way, the MMAs proposal for a new collective has also secured the support of DSPs, by relieving them of some legal pressure when they fail to identify rights holders of songs in their catalogues. 

Under the new agency established by the MMA, a public database of all musical compositions would also be created, allowing songwriters a centralized way to identify where their songs have been used without credit, as well as granting them previously nonexistent audit rights. DSPs are currently holding onto millions of dollars worth of unidentified works, and should the MMA pass, this money would be passed on to the collective, which would work to match compositions and make fair payments. Moreover, while publishers currently have no duty to share payments for unmatched works, the MMA promises that songwriters would receive a minimum of 50% of these royalties. Beyond updating the royalty distribution process, the MMA promises to amend outdated rate-setting standards, which fail to address market values, routinely setting composition rates far below what they’re actually worth. The MMA also aims to revamp the current rate-court system by appointing a randomized judge to each dispute, rather than a single judge to cover all cases, ensuring each situation a fresh pair of ears. These changes proposed by the MMA are long awaited; as it stands, the US Copyright Act has governed the way music compositions have been licensed since 1909, prior to the advent of recorded songs—it’s clearly time for an upgrade. Organizations from ASCAP to BMI to the community here at Jammcard stand behind the bill, viewing it as a necessary stride for songwriters, publishers, and streaming services alike. 

The MMA’s path to becoming law has not been without its roadblocks. Early on, the act’s progress was stalled markedly when Blackstone, the private equity giant in charge of HFA, and Performance Rights Organization, SESAC, suggested changes to a core tenant of the MMA. Viewing the MMA as a challenge to the business models of its investments, SESAC and HFA, Blackstone proposed that HFA remain in charge of paying royalties and other day-to-day administration, leaving the collective with the task of managing a comprehensive song database. In response, outraged industry professionals took to social media to denounce SESAC’s proposal, which would have benefited Blackstone and continued the same stunted royalty payment process. A slew of top songwriters chimed in, urging SESAC songwriters to break their contracts, and for non-SESAC songwriters to refrain from working with those represented by the organization. This outbreak of social media pressure, in tandem with the insistence of the Senate pushed SESAC to reach a compromise on August 2nd. Under this compromise, the new governing body will now be confined to administering mechanical licenses, preventing them from competing with private companies like HFA for synch and performance licensing deals.

Though the MMA remains a celebrated proposal, the haze of confusion prompted by SESAC has undoubtedly cost the bill some senatorial backing. The bill must pass by the end of the year, when the Congressional term wraps up, but supporters say they are crossing their fingers it will be pushed through sooner—hopefully by mid-October. It is now imperative that MMA lobbyists work hastily to reaffirm the faith of uncommitted senators, making up for time lost on the back-and-forth with SESAC.

It’s been a turbulent journey for the MMA, but, if anything, the tizzy surrounding the bill has served as an awakening for songwriters who’ve been unengaged in the conversation surrounding their own rights. The discourse brings to light a sobering reality: songwriters have no direct stake in the current system. While writers are nominally represented by music publishers, the payment they actually receive for streams of their songs is meager and often sent late. Put a little grease on the wheels, and the Music Modernization Act has the potential to change all of this dramatically.

Gothic Tropic

Cecilia Della Peruti of Gothic Tropic Talks The Beginnings of her Career, Working With Beck, and Growing Up In The L.A. Music Scene

At age 28, multi-instrumentalist Cecilia Della Peruti already boasts an impressive lineup of musicians she’s played with on tour—from BØRNS to Charli XCX to her current gig, backing genre-defying icon, Beck. However, Della Peruti’s creative influence extends beyond her credits as a hired gun. As a solo artist, this prolific powerhouse has released an EP, a full album, and a handful of catchy singles since 2011, under the alias Gothic Tropic. The moniker is well-suited to her West Coast sound: playing against her 80s pop grooves and shimmering California psychedelia, Gothic Tropic’s hard-bitten lyrics create a tongue-and-cheek effect. “I will feed you to the sharks/ I will hold your tongue in front of you,” she croons on ‘Feed You To The Sharks,’ her breezy sound striking a compelling contrast against the grit of her words. In an interview with Jammcard, we sat down with the driving force behind Gothic Tropic to discuss her self-taught guitar chops, her early punk phase as lead singer of The Cheats (“don’t look it up,” she warns), and what it’s like to juggle ambitions as a hired gun and solo artist. Gothic Tropic’s recent album, Fast or Feast, is available now on all streaming platforms.

How did you start playing music?

C: When I started playing guitar, I was just finger picking because that’s how my mom showed me. She’s proficient in at least four instruments and languages. She had a nylon string guitar and was learning Joni Mitchell songs. She started teaching me “Blackbird” and with a nylon string guitar. I just kept playing that guitar through high school. She tried teaching me “Classical Gas”. I think it’s like aging-hippies-folk. If you ask any music professor in Southern California, they’ll know what you’re talking about. Over time, I was using my long nails on my right hand as the pick. I’ve just had lopsided hands for years. 

On which styles would you say your guitar playing is influenced by?

C: It started out as folk songs because that’s what you pretty much have when left to your own devices. Then in high school, I started a punk band with some friends who went to Marshall High in Los Feliz. I would take the Red Line and we would have rehearsal in the drummer’s garage–using pots and pans. He ended up becoming a real drummer. That’s when I started playing electric guitar. We would go to the Knitting FactoryThe SmellThe Vermont HouseIllcoral, and the Hive. We had a crew called LA Gators, and we basically would get in fist fights with all the skinheads that were racist at the shows. There were a few people who would go to all the shows that would sort of terrorize people out of nowhere. We were pretty scrappy. A few people got alligator tattoos. During that time, I wasn’t even playing guitar in my band, I was using it as a writing tool. I was the singer, jumping around with little spiky hair. It was called the Cheats, don’t look it up. It was fun. The guitarist Robbie loved Johnny Thunders and The Addicts. But I was into the DescendentsAngry Samoans, and Adolescents. A lot of the lyrical content of those bands in the ‘80s was not PC.

What are your views on that? Do you think it’s necessary to be PC at all times in art?

C: No, because in art sometimes you’re a character and sometimes you’re playing the ignorant character, like in comedy– Some of it is satire and some of it is not. 

Was punk the main influence for you during high school?

C: Yeah, I mean when you’re a teenager listening to punk, you really have to hide your Bjork’s and Yoyo Mas. So I was pretty zeroed into that. After that, my evolution went through the years. I listened through everything and finally, I got back to what I was into as a kid. My mom would listen to YesFragile, and stuff like that, which is so incredibly musical and smart. So I absorbed all the dumb stuff, the great stuff, the funny stuff, and then came back to the greats, like Bowie, after. 

What was your motivation to evolve as a musician?

C: I think now I love learning other people’s music. Like in Beck’s band, we jam everything backstage from Television to fusion jazz. Jason’s constantly introducing a classic song into the jam. I have gotten more appreciation out of learning other people’s music. I started writing more seriously maybe at like 19 or 20 and that’s about when I first started playing professionally guitar in a band and got asked to gig. Every gig that’s come about is me just not saying no to things, but I didn’t mean to end up on a list of hired guns. Had I gone to Berklee and done all that,  it could have been something I wanted to pursue but the hired gun aspect was just a byproduct of me needing to learn how to play properly and learn what was in my head. 

How did you start that part of your career? 

C: I would do a lot of studio work, more singing, and sung on a Rumspringa album and met Joey from Rumspringa. I think maybe he came to a show or something and asked me to join Rumspringa and then from that point I started Gothic Tropic. I learned a lot from Joey and his guitar style. He played in different tunings, so I learned different tunings, and during that I wanted my own thing. I was just so nervous. I had to override my fear. 

How would you know what to practice and how to progress for these kinds of gigs?

C: I would just learn it by ear. I would go through and try to hear all the different parts, because sometimes you’re covering a few bases. Sometimes, they’ll play something that you didn’t even think to ask them to learn and it’s great. I think that’s more fun than just learning the music, because sometimes you can read the brand of the band or the artist. Beck loves suggestions. He’s a curator, same with BowiePrinceDavid Byrne, the people who are playing with them are not just faceless. They have an all-star lineup of people. Honestly, Beck’s band right now–Jason Falkner, Chris Coleman–is just so talented. 

C: Honestly, I think it’s better to have good taste and good ideas than be technically skilled unless the artist is super “gospel shred nasty.” Personally, people like Beck and probably Karen O, it’s not about playing fast. It’s about the energy, attitude, the tones. 

Did you ever struggle with assimilating somehow in your first gigs doing hired gun work?

C: I think for some reason that’s the good worker bee in me. It’s harder being the artist because you have to stand behind what you’re doing. It’s easier being the hired gun because I got a job and am proud even if this isn’t something I’d be doing.

How do you balance this work with your own creative work? Do you feel it’s easier at times to be hired and do you sometimes feel stifled writing for your own stuff?

C: Those feelings sort of ebb and flow throughout a year. You can decide to perceive the long term, the short term, it just depends on what you’re doing. I have a high tolerance that makes thinking in the long term a lot easier. I can also recognize that sometimes having less time to record something of my own lights a fire and makes me do it quicker. With Beck,  it’s been a year. I think he respects everyone’s personal projects and doesn’t want to stand in the way of anyone living their truth. Personally, an artist gigging for another artist has a lot to learn from that experience creatively. I’m just able to see what someone I really admire is doing creatively–right in front of me. That’s invaluable. It’s hard, but it’s a good kind of hard.

In terms of your creative process, do you think playing with people can be a lot more helpful than being entirely on your own?

C: Yeah, sometimes you just have to make a lot of noise. When you’re with other people and you’re just jamming, it helps you break through. This year I started writing with other people for my project, which I hadn’t done before. Everyone has a chemical reaction to the other person, your brain reacts differently to another person. It’s sort of like dating, you know when you go on a date and are like ‘I’m really funny!’ or ‘why am I acting so weird right now?’ It could be anything. There was a band I started with a few other girls called Clear Plastic and the camaraderie was large and there was something about it that just felt like summer camp, so sometimes you need that even if it costs you independence. If you don’t mind collaborating, it could be really cool. 

How long does it take you to finish a project involving many people?

C: Once you get in with a producer and you know what you want to do, it shouldn’t actually take that long. What takes long is the writing and A&R-ing your own songs and trying to figure out the family of songs, because sometimes you have songs that have disparate vibes. The writing and the logistics take a long time until they don’t and that’s a privilege of being signed and having all that figured out. For me, the logistics take 300% longer than actually doing it. If everything was easy peasy I would be putting out records every year. I write a lot. Somehow, I have four albums worth of songs, so the work is there but I actually don’t even write that much consistently. It’s all bursts. Sometimes you’ll write like four songs in five days all of a sudden and then sometimes you won’t write anything for three months. 

Do you think taking listening breaks helps with your writing? Sometimes when I hear something I really love, I get too intimidated to manifest that inspiration and maybe by just coming from a place of entirely your own originality and not listening to your favorite artists that may impact your writing approach. 

C: That feeling of intimidation will change to ‘I can do that, I want to do that’. That’s self-love related and inside of that is confidence, but what’s really cool is there is some music that I love that is so dumb and easy, so it’s cool to see artists get big for doing dumb shit because then, ‘oh my god, cool I can do that’. so if you listen to the voices that are more like, ‘I can do that,’ rather than ‘I give up’, just listen to the positive one. You’re probably better than what you let on. 

Did you ever think that playing DIY spaces was, at times, harder for you to be a female musician? 

C: It’s gotten a lot more chill with women in the music industry now because of all the work women musicians have put in in the last century. We owe that to Nina SimoneLesley GorePatti SmithPJ Harvey. When I was growing up, no one believed me until they saw me on TV. Maybe I don’t look like a band girl–so I don’t get taken seriously. Also, it’s almost like when they hand you a guitar–they’re holding you at a higher standard than the guys. Thankfully, the people who have been in this game for a long time, it’s not even a thought. They respect, write with, and are mastered by incredibly talented women. 

What’s working with Beck like?

C: The schedule’s really great because when we’re home, we can do whatever we need to do. We get proper rest time, lodging, and travel. He makes health high priority on tour. If he wants to change up the set, do new arrangements, we’ll meet a couple days before the tour. The really cool part of this gig for me is that I’m good at improvising, as well as the rest of the band, so if he wants to try new things we got it. It’s fun to be a little bit on your toes because you get to remind yourself ‘I’m killing this!’ 

Does being in LA influence your writing a lot? Do you feel grounded in a community when you’re here?

C: Yeah, I do. I grew up here, so I feel no different. I’m at home anyway. I went to coffee dressed like this yesterday. I’m wearing almost nothing. So yeah, I feel very comfortable here. There have been so many times as a teenager, where I’m like ‘I could die!’ driving in LA, going to shows, going to things after shows. I remember realizing after high school that people move here to make their stuff happen. Also, peers and friends who blew up and made it and so, having that history already makes you feel you didn’t have to try so hard or be a cheeseball. There’s a quiet confidence. I’m saying this because I’ve had a slow growth, which isn’t a bad thing. With having a slow burn comes longevity, where sometimes there’s a project that comes up real quick and then dies in a month. That’s the whole perception thing of big picture/small picture. Other people’s success is not a demotion to what you’re doing. It doesn’t mean that the position has been filled and there are more positions constantly creating themselves. If you keep your head down and focus on your work, the only thing that should matter is the song. All the other feelings melt away because all of a sudden you’re zeroed in on your work and are proud of what you made. 

Are you working on anything now?

C: I have an EP, a record, and a project called Blood Thirsty. We’re writing that now. Blood Thirsty is going to be sort of its own project. It ended up happening pretty organically because Alex Goose and I were working on Gothic Tropic stuff, he showed Danielle, and she wanted to get in on this. I was thinking if I had an alter ego, my punk name would be CC Section. So that’s a fun project. 

What do you think makes a great guitarist?

C: Number one, taste. Number two, what you write on guitar. I think what you write on guitar when you’re just jamming can be very valuable if it’s really cool. And then number three, proficiency, because you don’t want to be stifled by not being proficient, it’s so frustrating. But your taste goes a long way. 

 

Written by Alexandra Dwight

Interview by Siena Goldman

 

Listen to Gothic Tropic's most recent album, Fast or Feast, here: https://gothictropic.bandcamp.com/album/fast-or-feast

 

 

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard

When a Seven-Piece Progressive Psych Rock Band Reaches Mainstream Success

Perched high above the chaos, on the second-floor of the Hollywood Palladium, I witness King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s sold-out crowd devolve into a swirling mosh-pit—a foot jutting out here, a hand there, a crowd-surfer or two emerging for air. The seven-piece Australian psych rock band is on the first hour of an epically long and complex musical journey—a wall of hard, distorted guitar shredding and progressive rock rhythms, barely permeated by a word of banter between songs. Skinny, head-banging and flailing at the front of the ensemble, is King Gizzard’s charismatic lead singer and guitarist, Stu Mackenzie, whose lysergic lyrics weave imagery of rattlesnakes and crumbling castles over Eastern-inspired cadences that warp the traditional 12-note scale. While Mackenzie’s electrifying stage presence is magnetic, it is clear that he is met by equals when looking at the high-level of musicianship displayed by his bandmates. This is no rock n’ roll amateur hour—an onslaught of crashing cymbals and discordant sounds that leaves the listener wondering, “was that really good, or was it just loud?” No, this is a carefully calculated soundscape—King Gizzard’s harmonies and rhythms are so tight, they leave no room for questions as to their musical merit. The proof is presented in the jaw-dropping fact that there are two drummers in the band, facing each other on expansive drum kits, precisely hitting polyrhythmic beats. In this way, it becomes almost comical how aesthetically understated the band appears, donning casual tee-shirts and ripped shorts, hair unbrushed, as they lay down some of the most complicated experimental sounds of modern-era psych rock. King Gizzard is no lazy garage band, but a veritable powerhouse, having put out thirteen albums since their formation in 2010—five of those albums released in the span of the last year. Beyond their innovative approach to sound, the band is also paving its own way in the industry, recording under independent label, Flightless, founded by one of King Gizzard’s drummers, Eric Moore. Even without the support of a major label, King Gizzard has managed to attain unheard of levels of success for the underground scene, winning the $50K Carlton Dry Global Music Grant in 2013, touring sold-out shows in popular venues throughout The States and Europe, performing on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and even scoring an editorial in Rolling Stone. Considering their musical prowess, humble appearances, and the off-beat hilarity of their name, it’s difficult not to root for the exponential success of King Gizzard—long live the Lizard Wizard!

 

Listen to King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s most recent album, Gumboot Soup, here: 

https://kinggizzard.bandcamp.com/album/gumboot-soup

 

The Little Miss—Far from Little

The True Grit of a Hard-Working Artist

    I’m lying on the floor of my apartment, daydreaming as the dewy-eyed nostalgia of Pollyanna—the new album by Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter, The Little Miss (aka Hayley Johnson)—pours over me. Recorded using analog equipment, Johnson’s voice is so rich and warm in tone that it almost crackles—I’m half-convinced that the record is spinning on an old phonograph in the corner, rather than streaming from my Macbook. Unsurprisingly, the world Johnson weaves through her lyricism is decidedly old-timey, conjuring up imagery of the Wild West, complete with strange travelers, gusty winds, and “long arduous rides along the mountain valley.” Her aesthetic is cohesive with this frontier theme, donning a cowboy hat and suede fringe coat in the photo on her Bandcamp page—a mason jar of what appears to be whiskey in hand. While her look and sound form a neat package, the depth embedded in Johnson’s lyrics excuses her from the realm of gimmicks and one-trick ponies. In the album’s emotional pinnacle, “Thirty,” Johnson croons, “I’ve been struggling so hard just so I can make some art, and I don’t know if it will matter in the end,” in a voice so exasperated from daily stress that it nearly breaks. Tuning into her words, which evoke a wealth of experience in life’s sufferings, it is impossible not to wonder about the story of the woman behind the finely-crafted persona of The Little Miss. It turns out that Johnson is, in fact, no stranger to the hustle—a hardworking waitress at a café in Echo Park, she still manages to play an impressive lineup of gigs each week. This dedication, whether or not it is cloaked in the dusty glamour of The Little Miss, is what makes her so likable. In describing the recording process of Pollyanna, Johnson explains that the entire nine-track album was recorded in the span of two hours on a “whirlwind trip up north,” allowing her to make it back on time for work the next morning. Perhaps it’s this resiliency and personal integrity that the title of Johnson’s album, Pollyanna, alludes to—drawn from Eleanor Porter’s 1913 novel about an optimistic orphan, able to transform her tough living circumstances through a positive outlook. However, the poignancy of her lyricism makes it clear that The Little Miss is more than a simple character—she is backed by the strength of a woman enduring real trials in real time. Working 8-hour restaurant shifts and spending endless nights recording and performing may not sound as poetic as allusions to Americana folklore, but such character-building grants her stage persona a depth that makes it even more magnetic. It turns out, all the lovely garb and poetry is just the maraschino cherry atop the all-American banana split of Johnson’s art. The Little Miss has true grit, and she’s far from little—with a work-ethic comparable to that of a land-conquering cowgirl, Johnson’s career is bound to be sensational.

 

Listen to Pollyanna by The Little Miss here: https://thelittlemiss.bandcamp.com/releases