MTV’s “Hottest MCs in the Game VII” kicked off on Monday (February 13), and so far Wale, Wiz Khalifa and Big Sean have already been revealed as the #10, #9 and #8 picks, respectively. MTV News’ Hip-Hop Brain Trust have already come up with a final list of the year’s Hottest MCs, but several other experts from the hip-hop community weighed in on the rappers as well.
Steven Horowitz, News Editor at HipHopDx.com shared his opinion on Big Sean’s past year.“I think Big Sean had a surprising year, I don’t think anybody thought he was going to do as well as he did,” Horowitz says, addressing Sean’s label situation under Def Jam Records/G.O.O.D. Music. “Being signed to G.O.O.D. Music is both a gift and a curse. You have Kanye’s stamp of approval but he’s not going to hold your hand and Sean proved that he’s a hustler when it comes to getting his music out there.” Listen to the full explanation above.
Tune in to MTV2 on Sunday, February 19, at 10 p.m. ET/PT to catch “MTV2 Presents: Yo! MTV Raps Classic Cuts,” then watch “Hottest MCs in the Game VII” immediately after at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT before capping the night off with “Sucker Free Certified” at 11 p.m. ET/PT.
Posted: February 17th, 2012
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For Karmin, it took 36 cover-song videos to go viral.
The Boston-based pop duo set up its YouTube account, karmincovers, on Aug. 11, 2010, and for the next eight months posted amateur cover versions of hits by Katy Perry, Bruno Mars and Rihanna. But it was when Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan uploaded their rendition of Chris Brown’s BET Award-winning, Grammy-nominated “Look at Me Now,” on April 12, 2011, that Karmin’s account went into hyper-drive.
Today, karmincovers has more than 765,000 subscribers. And Karmin’s version of “Look at Me Now” has logged 54 million-plus views alone.
Last summer, that online success led to a deal with Epic Records — the first act signed to the label by new chairman/CEO Antonio “L.A.” Reid. Karmin’s major-label debut album, “Hello,” is due in April and expected to feature contributions from such marquee hitmakers as Christopher “Tricky” Stewart, Dr. Luke and Claude Kelly. All songs will be originals. On Feb. 11, Karmin will perform on “Saturday Night Live,” becoming only the second act — behind Lana Del Rey, who appeared on the Jan. 14 episode — to perform on the show before the release of its debut since Natalie Imbruglia in 1998.
Cover songs are nothing new on YouTube. With 60 hours of footage uploaded to the service every minute, amateur musicians have saturated the site with self-helmed clips, most of which log handfuls of views. But YouTube has also become a launching pad for unsigned talent. Justin Bieber (RBMG/Island), Greyson Chance (eleveneleven/Interscope) and Dondria (So So Def/Island Def Jam) all landed label deals after first attracting attention by covering top 40 hits.
“Imagine you have the best idea in the world, but you don’t have the finances or the connections or the wherewithal to bring that all to life,” Karmin’s Heidemann says. “That’s what we can do now.” Noonan adds, “YouTube is kind of the platform of the future.”
But have labels warmed up to amateurs profiting from covers? Although most covers posted to YouTube don’t generate revenue, users can sell these tracks legally by obtaining mechanical rights from services run by RightsFlow and the Harry Fox Agency. Last May, Karmin released a 15-track collection — “Karmin Covers Vol. 1″ — to iTunes after securing the proper licenses from rights-holders to songs including “Grenade,” “Jar of Hearts” and “Teenage Dream.” According to the U.S. Copyright Act, the group would’ve paid 9.1 cents on the dollar to the rights-holders for every unit sold. The set has sold 13,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and peaked at No. 27 on Billboard’s Heatseekers Albums chart. But for Karmin the release wasn’t about sales: It was about marketing.
“At the end of the day, we did not monetize these cover videos,” says Nils Gums, Karmin’s manager and president/CEO of the Complex Group, an artist management group that assists acts in driving monetization through new-media specialization. “It was strictly a promotional tool for us, so it was sort of in a gray area. But I think it worked out, because it became so popular.”
Online synch rights have improved in recent years thanks to YouTube’s Content ID system that identifies uploaded songs and its settlement with music publishers on synch royalties. In December, the streaming service acquired RightsFlow to assist with licensing music tracked by the system by taking a song’s digital fingerprint and allocating a slice of ad revenue to copyright holders.
According to Harry Fox senior VP of licensing, collections and business affairs Maurice Russell, it’s not always easy for amateur artists to track down copyright holders for mechanical rights, which can impede protocol. “It would be difficult for a common title to sometimes determine which one you need to clear if you don’t know the writer,” he says. “And then let’s say you did know what you needed, but for whatever reason you can’t find the publisher, you might not be able to get through.”
Some songwriters don’t mind the amateurs and instead consider the clips to be added promotion. Dutch producer Afrojack, who co-wrote and co-produced Brown’s “Look at Me Now,” welcomes such renditions. He believes it encourages listeners to track down source material and strengthens the original marketing momentum.
“It’s always promotion. I don’t know how it was 10 years ago, but I know I don’t care if there’s cover stuff. It’s better [to have] promotion than loss of money,” says Afrojack, who’s working on a solo album and executive-producing Paris Hilton’s sophomore LP. “These kinds of spoofs and covers, they never get played on the radio, as far as I know. So it’s just a fun online promotion.”
But it doesn’t always go so smoothly.
Released by Samples ‘N’ Seconds/Fairfax/Universal Republic (except in the United States), Australian singer/songwriter Gotye’s summer 2011 hit “Somebody That I Used to Know” peaked at No. 1 in Germany, Belgium, Australia and New Zealand, but didn’t appear on any of Billboard’s charts until late last year. The song features New Zealand singer Kimbra and a sample from the Police’s 1983 No. 3 Billboard Hot 100 hit “King of Pain.”
On Jan. 6, Canadian quintet Walk Off the Earth posted a quirky rendition of Gotye’s song to its YouTube channel, walkofftheearth, featuring the quintet playing different parts of the track on just one guitar. WOTE had been posting videos to YouTube since June 2009 to the tune of 4.8 million total views. But the cover video immediately went viral, averaging 3 million hits per day, and at press time, the WOTE clip had registered more than 49.5 million views.
Although WOTE cleared the mechanical rights to sell its cover on iTunes, the group has been engaged in a battle to keep the song up for sale. Since releasing the cover to iTunes through its own SlapDash Records on Jan. 6, the track was pulled several times and reinstated, only after the group disputed the takedown. The band is unsure of whether Universal Music Group or iTunes orchestrated the removal, but some speculate that UMG considers WOTE’s cover a wrench in the marketing plan for Gotye’s version, which entered the Hot 100 after WOTE’s video went viral. At press time, a representative from UMG hadn’t responded to requests for comment.
“That has nothing to do with anything that was done on our part. That’s pretty much all I can say,” WOTE singer Sarah Blackwood says. Since going viral, the still-unsigned group says it has been vetting major-label deals and booked a spot on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” “We’re not really sure if it is someone else’s camp who’s doing that, or if it’s iTunes or what. Unfortunately, it’s been taken down a few times. And we keep getting it back up. So we’re doing something right.”
Some label executives have faith that audiences are curious enough to connect the dots between a cover and its original. “I don’t particularly see a downside to it,” says a top marketing executive who asked to remain anonymous. “I don’t know why anyone would. It’s not the artist out there doing the song. It’s a different version of karaoke.
“If the Gotye cover takes off, people will track it back to Gotye,” the exec continues. “There’s nothing wrong with that. I’d understand what the issue would be in the short term, but in the long term, it could help the whole thing.”
Who knows? Sometimes the charts do. On this week’s charts, Gotye’s version is No. 27 on the Hot 100, up from No. 31 the week before. It jumps 18-13 (89,000 units, up 24%) on the Hot Digital Songs chart. And Gotye tweeted his approval (“genius and clever,” he said) of WOTE’s YouTube cover. As for Kimbra, “Settle Down” (Warner Bros.), her debut EP, is No. 26 on the Heatseekers Albums chart.
The other side of the coin: In 2006, 23-year-old Dutch singer Esmée Denters became a YouTube smash after posting videos of covers of hits by Beyoncé, Alicia Keys and Christina Aguilera. Less than a year later, Denters signed to Justin Timberlake’s Interscope imprint Tennman and began working with Mike Elizondo, Stargate and Ryan Tedder for her debut, “Outta Here.” But as the LP’s release date staggered to 2009 in her native Netherlands and to 2010 in the United States and United Kingdom, her steady stream of cover clips slowed to a trickle, a byproduct, according to former Tennman GM Navin Watumull, of Tennman/Interscope’s fear of a YouTube account shutdown following a temporary suspension in 2009 due to suspected copyright infringement. Even with more than 166 million views on her personal YouTube account and 19.5 million views on her Vevo page, Denters couldn’t cross over. Since its 2010 release, “Outta Here” (which was only released digitally) has sold approximately 1,000 copies, according to SoundScan.
“She was somewhere in the most-subscribed people on YouTube,” says Watumull, who exited Tennman in January but still manages label signee Brenda Radney, who also signed to the imprint after posting covers to YouTube. She hasn’t yet released her debut. “If you start off doing covers and you get famous for singing covers, and you start singing original music, at that point, the audience is going to question what you’re doing.”
For Karmin, the challenge of crossing over to the mainstream with original material was daunting. Heidemann and Noonan, who are engaged, developed artistically while attending Berklee College of Music in Boston. Describing their initial recordings as “super hippie,” the pair built a following before trying its hand at cover songs. Audiences have warmed up to new tracks, including buzz single “Crash Your Party,” with fans tweeting their original lyrics at them instead of praising their covers.
“That was definitely a concern, [but] the transition so far could not be smoother,” Noonan says of breaking out of the cover mold. “Before, our Twitter account was all, ‘Check out this cover video.’ Now, it’s all quotes from ‘Crash Your Party’ or from video links of [cover] videos. We tried to do the covers creatively so that people saw that there was a little more than the karaoke thing going.”
The pair recently released the Dr. Luke/Cirkut-produced single “Broken Hearted,” co-written with Claude Kelly. Like many artists who ditched their cover strategy upon signing to a major label, Karmin doesn’t have any immediate plans to continue building its career on the backs of others’ songs.
“I wouldn’t say that we’re past it. We just haven’t had a lot of time to do that because we’ve been focused on these other things,” Heidemann says of posting more covers. “It’s a natural progression to focus on building up your Vevo channel, which is where all these official music videos live. We’re working with YouTube to transition a lot of our stuff. It’s where artists are discovered these days. It’s incredible. But we’re definitely not abandoning it.”
Posted: February 14th, 2012
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