Hit Factories: Making Songs Like Sausages

BBC: “A new study by Music Week magazine shows it now takes an average of 4.53 writers to create a hit single … Ten years ago, the average number of writers on a hit single was 3.52 … Even solo singer-songwriters like Adele, Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran, whose identities are deeply ingrained into their music, lean on co-writers …. So why is this happening? Are songwriters increasingly lazy or lacking in talent? Or are they second-guessing themselves in the search for a hit?”

“According to Mike Smith, managing director of music publishers Warner/Chappell UK, it is simply that the business of making music has changed.” He comments: “Think back 20 years and an artist would take at least two or three albums to really hone their craft as a songwriter. There is a need to fast-forward that process [which means record labels will] bring in professional songwriters, put them in with artists and try to bring them through a lot faster.”

“Writing camps are where the music industry puts the infinite monkey theorem to the test, detaining dozens of producers, musicians and ‘top-liners’ (melody writers) and forcing them to create an endless array of songs, usually for a specific artist … British songwriter MNEK, who is one of 13 people credited on Beyonce’s hit single Hold Up, says the song is essentially a Frankenstein’s Monster, stitched together from dozens of demos.” He explains: “She played me the chorus. Then I came back here [to my studio] and recorded all the ideas I had for the song. Beyonce snipped out the pieces she really liked and the end result was this really great, complete song.”


Polaroid Swing: The Hogwarts of Photographs

The Guardian: “The Silicon Valley startup Polaroid Swing will this week offer more than 200 photographers equipment, exhibition space and possible commissions in its new artist support programme … The company, which launched its Polaroid Swing app last summer, has taken the name and spirit of Polaroid and repackaged it into a new enterprise with a mission, it says, to create a ‘living photograph,’ a step toward something you might see in the Harry Potter movies.” Co founder Tommy Stadlen explains: “Photographs should be alive. Every photograph in the digital world and eventually in the physical world, why can’t you move it? Why can’t you have the composition of a still and be able to see it move?”

“The concept is based on humans seeing the world in ‘short moments, not photos or videos,’ he said. So with a Swing photo you will see the wave crash or the eye blink. The motion is triggered by dragging your mouse pointer across the image, or your finger across it in the case of a touchscreen … The idea is that applicants will use the Polaroid Swing app to take pictures which they then submit through social media. The best submissions will be whittled down to a shortlist judged by a diverse panel which will include the photographer Paolo Roversi, the Tate chairman, Lord Browne, and the supermodel Natalia Vodianova.”

“Around 100 people in the UK, 100 in the US and more around the world will then be invited on to the programme which will mean getting a free iPhone, being part of digital and physical exhibitions and having the possibility of brand commission work … Stadlen said they were new and different, and that the company’s ambitions were not restricted to the digital world. It eventually hopes to create hardware that allows moving photographs in the physical world.”


5-S Retail: The Multi-Sensory Experience

The New York Times: “Museums usually aim to offer a feast for the eyes, but this Detroit museum had much more in mind for ‘Bitter|Sweet: Coffee, Tea & Chocolate,’ which just closed at the institute. Officials, who used art objects to illustrate how the introduction of those beverages to Europe in the 16th century from Africa, Asia and the Americas changed social and consumption patterns, wanted the exhibition to be a banquet for all five senses.”

“Other art institutions are experimenting, too. For instance, when the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., presented ‘Asia in Amsterdam: The Culture of Luxury in the Golden Age’ last year, visitors were invited to touch a fine translucent porcelain piece imported from China, and to imagine the novelty that the 17th-century Dutch must have experienced … Some museum leaders view these offerings as a way to attract younger audiences who are steeped in multisensory experiences and to deepen the engagement with the art objects for everyone. But others see them as distractions.”

“Going further takes much more thought, and many agree that the decision is best driven by an exhibition’s subject … Martina Bagnoli of the Galleria Estensi in Modena, Italy, writes: “Medieval images and objects were made to speak to all the senses — not sight alone. They were not only seen, but also, and at the same time, touched, tasted, smelled and heard.”


Etsy Studio Takes On Real-Life Crafts Shops

Quartz: “Freed up from the constraints of retail space, Etsy Studio will launch with eight million craft supply items, compared to the 40,000 items typically carried by brick-and-mortar craft retailers, the company says. It also plans to appeal to conscientious artisans with detailed information on products, including where they were made, and by who. The Studio’s website will also provide original online tutorials for DIY-enthusiasts—alongside the supplies required for the project, of course.”

“Etsy also unveiled Shop Manager, a dashboard that brings together inventory, marketing, payments, shipping, and other types of services for sellers. The company also announced several rollouts for Etsy.com, including more filters to help buyers refine their searches, a new guest checkout option allowing shoppers to make purchases without creating an account, and clearer policies on what makes a product ‘handmade’.”


Sneaker Culture: The Politics of Footwear

The Atlantic: “Though it’s been touring the U.S. since it opened in Toronto in 2013, the exhibition Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture generated frantic curatorial discussions … As the exhibition shows, over the last 200 years, sneakers have signified everything from national identity, race, and class to masculinity and criminality; put simply, they are magnets for social and political meaning, intended or otherwise, in a way that sets them apart from other types of footwear.”

“Politics … fueled the rise of sneakers as much as athletics … Mass exercise rallies were features of fascist life in Germany, Japan, and Italy. But sneakers could also represent resistance. Jesse Owens’ dominance at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games stung the event’s Nazi hosts even more because he trained in German-made Dassler running shoes … Sneakers became footnotes in the history of the Civil Rights movement. In 1965, I Spy was the first weekly TV drama to feature a black actor—Bill Cosby—in a lead role. His character, a fun-loving CIA agent going undercover as a tennis coach, habitually wore white Adidas sneakers, easily identifiable by their prominent trio of stripes.”

“The growing popularity of sneakers on both sides of the political divide set the stage for a raging culture war over the shoes’ ties to criminality, or lack thereof … sneakers evolved from symbolic consumer objects into small-batch vehicles for unambiguous social commentary. In one notable example, the artist Judi Werthein designed the 2005 Brinco cross-trainer to assist with illegal border crossings from Mexico. Werthein distributed Brincos to migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border for free, while also selling them to sneakerheads for $215 per pair at a San Diego boutique.”


Late & Great: Jens Risom

The New York Times: “Jens Risom, the Danish furniture maestro who helped bring midcentury modern design to the United States through his work with Knoll Studio, died on Dec. 9 at his home in New Canaan, Conn. He was 100. Defined by sharp Scandinavian lines and fused with the rustic aura of Shakerism and American arts and crafts, the armless, affordable chair that became Mr. Risom’s signature in 1942 was one of the first mass-produced modernist furniture pieces introduced in the United States and not Europe.”

“Materials were hard to come by during the war, so Mr. Risom designed a chair with simple wooden legs and for upholstery used nothing other than surplus parachute straps. The surprise was that Mr. Risom’s creation — one of 15 pieces he designed for Knoll’s debut collection, and perhaps too humble to ever be described as a masterpiece — was almost comfortable enough to sleep in.”


“What resonates about it is that it’s not fancy,” said Wendy Goodman of New York magazine. “To Ms. Goodman … there was a certain logic to the way Mr. Risom went to the United States and helped remind people there about the beauty of its unfussy design history.” She observes: “Maybe it takes someone coming here to do that, because he romanticized the freedom and the openness of America, and that’s what’s so wonderful about his furniture.”


Logophobia: When The Croc Bites Back

The Wall Street Journal: “A branding backlash has some people working hard to remove logos and names from their clothes and accessories. Blogs and online discussion forums offer tips on scratching off the Ray-Ban logo from lenses, peeling away the Ralph Lauren emblem from new pairs of leather shoes and using a felt-tip marker to hide the Under Armour symbol on sports gear … For embroidered logos, some brand-phobics use a seam ripper—a small tool for unpicking stitches—but the method is time consuming. Each thread has to be pulled out carefully to keep the underlying fabric pristine.”

“Research shows that mid-tier brands often have the loudest logos because their buyers want to signal wealth. Seasoned luxury shoppers may prefer more subtle branding … Discerning shoppers who can identify a Brooks Brothers shirt from the six-pleat shirring at the cuffs or an Alden loafer from its distinctive stitching are ‘part of your tribe,’ said Jerrod Swanton, age 37, of Springfield, Ohio.”

“Jeff Taxdahl, owner of Thread Logic, a custom logo embroidery company … has a warning for logo tamperers. ‘Unless you’re fairly skilled at it, you would destroy the shirt … and once you get the threads out, the outline of the image may still exist due to the needle holes’ … That is a risk some shoppers are willing to take. “I don’t want to be seen in their stores, let alone wear the moose” says Ian Connel, Abercrombie & Fitch shopper. “He turned the shirt inside out and painstakingly removed each thread. ‘It has a few small holes,’ he said, ‘but it’s still better than having the logo’.”


Logomania: The Champion of Fashion

The New York Times: “Late last year, the high-fashion radical pranksters of Vetements released what would become one of the brand’s signature pieces: a misshapen hoodie with a logo on the chest that played off the traditional Champion script logo, rotating the oversize C 90 degrees to make a V … Ava Nirui, a writer, artist and part of a loose group of bootleg-influenced design provocateurs who use corporate identities as raw material, thought the price, around $700, was outrageous …And so she decided to poke fun at Vetements by seeing its borrowing, and raising it — or more to the point, interrogating it.”

“One at a time, she took actual Champion sweatshirts and incorporated the elongated-C logo into the names of other designers — Rick Owens, Chanel, Gucci, Marc Jacobs — by embroidering the names around the C in utilitarian font. She made them for herself, snapping pictures and posting them to her Instagram account with a shrug emoticon as the caption.”

“Vetements’s cheeky appropriation and Ms. Nirui’s meta-cheeky reappropriation represent two phases of what has become a mini-resurgence of interest among tastemakers, from high fashion to streetwear … This burst of renewed interest has extended to the brand’s history. The sneaker reseller Flight Club in New York currently has a floor-to-ceiling grid of dozens of 1980s and ’90s American-made Champion sweatshirts, which have been selling briskly. ‘The Champion sweatshirt is such a regal piece,’ said Josh Matthews, the director of merchandising at Flight Club and a longtime collector of the brand.


Quiet Mornings: Art for Breakfast?

The Wall Street Journal: “After giving it a trial run in October, the Museum of Modern Art is making its “Quiet Mornings” program part of the regular calendar at its Midtown location. Starting in January, MoMA will open select galleries to the public from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. on the first Wednesday of every month. The museum normally opens at 10:30 a.m. Adult admission will be $12 (or roughly half the regular price) for the start-of-day session, though visitors can return for no additional charge that same day during the museum’s regular hours.”

“MoMA officials say the ‘Quiet Mornings’ program is an effort to reach out to local patrons who often find the museum, a popular tourist draw, too busy and crowded during the day—or who simply don’t have the time to work in a visit during regular hours.”

“At MoMA, the ‘Quiet Mornings’ program is a break-even financial proposition in that the reduced-price admission revenue is offset by the costs of adding staffing, officials said. Nevertheless, officials are pleased by the buzz the program is generating: During the October run of four consecutive Wednesdays, attendance averaged 500 for each day.”