Let me tell you about the Monday I had. It was the most musical Monday at Harvard, so fabulous. I started my day with Building Sustainable and Successful Enterprises class at 8:30am, where we had a case on Pandora and the problem with it’s “leaky faucet” – i.e. the fact that it’s best members, those who use it excessively, are actually its worst members since Pandora has to pay out excessive royalties because the user streams far heavier than they make for Pandora via ads. We would also have a case on the MP3 and recorded music industry as an example of a low-end disruptor.
I went on to Strategic Marketing in Creative Industries class with one of the most famous HBS professors, Anita Elberse, during which we had the Lady Gaga case! This was very auspicious because I had worked at Gaga’s label, Interscope, before coming to school, and because I remember that this case was one of the main reasons I wanted to even get my MBA from Harvard. It looked at whether or not Gaga should continue to do a stadium tour even though her co-headliner, Kanye West, had just pulled out from the tour. The next day, even more amazing, we had a case on Beyonce. This was the first time it was taught and was getting a lot of press online. The case was about Beyonce’s surprise album release that came out all at once in December 2013, with corresponding music videos, and whether stunts like these that ostracize traditional partners like Target etc are in the artist’s best interest.
I then had Portuguese class at Harvard College, which I am taking to gear up for my trip to Brazil in December. We always have really grand shenanigans in that class – this time it was a musical chairs type game to practice vocab. The Professora played a bunch of amazing slow dramatic Brazilian music off of YouTube while we competed in mini teams.
From there I had my favorite class of the semester, Sex Equality, at Harvard Law School. Mondays are my favorite. Such a long day: going back to back from 8:30am to 4pm. Sex Equality is so fabulous and empowering. Professor MacKinnon goes through the reading and explains the context of some of the most pivotal Supreme Court decisions that pertain to sex equality law, as well as add in her own explanations of why the ruling was just or injust. This particular class sparked my idea to write about my favorite FAVORITE babe FKA Twigs and how frameworks that apply to prostitution and pornography can also be used to analyze the visuals in her work. You can see the result of that spark here.
I left class a little bit early to then catch a flight to New York City where I was asked to speak on a panel that evening hosted by the Featured Artist Coalition. It is an organization based in the UK that works to protect recording artist rights. That evening, they asked me and 3 other panelists to lead a private discussion among artists about the pros and cons of streaming services. We then brought Spotify in to answer any questions that the group had, or address any concerns that were raised during the debriefing prior.
I got my ass kicked that evening!!! In the room were NYC music scene gate-keeping legends like Tom Waits’s guitarist Mark Ribot, and bassist Melvin Gibbs, as well as Blake Morgan and Kevin Remo. I came in ready to speak about the ways I thought artists could leverage Spotify’s pay out system to its advantage, but they came down hard on the side that Spotify should simply be charging users more and then paying artists more. That Spotify will always be fine because they are benefiting from the collective existence of users streaming all artists, but that the individual artist is an irrelevant part of the Spotify system. After realizing that this was a lost battle, I simply started to listen. I realized the pain that these artists were experiencing – the genuine mourning for an old system that supported them and the ability for them to pursue their craft as a living – the feeling of being fired after years of serving a company or an industry. It wasn’t about Spotify. It wasn’t about new ideas I had that I had learned at school. This was an anger about piracy dismantling a way of life that worked for these talented musicians, and Spotify representing the aftermath of that pain.
What a day. From 8:30am to 8:30pm I was immersed in music. It began with applying Innovator’s Dilemma frameworks to the music industry in the 2000s, continued by looking at today’s biggest female artists, took me around the world, looked at the power of music to impact how we understand and consume our own sexuality and equality, and ended in great debate and learning for myself. The history of the past 20 years spanned in front of me and I yearned to find my place in its timeline. I relished every moment of my own education. I fell asleep to dreams of drumming, of re-imagining the music industry, of inventing cool things, of creating, of drumming more…of making an impact in the industry that is so near and dear to my heart.