55 Seminal Artists Who Have Never Won a Grammy Award

The Shammys (Grammys) are upon us yet again, and in honor of the season, I thought it appropriate to take a few minutes to examine the shockingly long list of amazing artists who never won a Grammy Award (specifically not having won an award, not taking into account nominations or Grammy Lifetime Achievements).

Photo Courtesy: Frenchculture.org

Photo Courtesy: Frenchculture.org

Here’s 55 Grammy Award snubs. Buckle up, this is going to absolutely floor you:

  1. Jimi Hendrix
  2. The Kinks
  3. The Doors
  4. Queen
  5. The Grateful Dead
  6. Boston
  7. Janis Joplin
  8. Guns N’ Roses
  9. The Who
  10. Rush
  11. ZZ Top
  12. Buddy Holly
  13. Patti Smith
  14. Ramones
  15. Talking Heads
  16. The Stooges
  17. Mötley Crüe
  18. KISS
  19. The Pretenders
  20. ABBA
  21. The Smiths
  22. Sex Pistols
  23. The Velvet Underground
  24. Public Enemy
  25. Dusty Springfield
  26. Morrissey
  27. Oasis
  28. Deep Purple
  29. Journey
  30. The Strokes
  31. Creedence Clearwater Revival
  32. Queens of the Stone Age
  33. Bob Marley
  34. Led Zeppelin
  35. Bjök
  36. Run-D.M.C.
  37. Tupac Shakur
  38. Nickelback
  39. Diana Ross
  40. The Everly Brothers
  41. The Notorious B.I.G.
  42. Snoop Dogg
  43. Parliament &/or Funkadelic
  44. Chuck Berry
  45. Jackson Brown
  46. New Order
  47. Depeche Mode
  48. Iggy Pop
  49. Kid Rock
  50. Nas
  51. Sly & the Family Stone
  52. Katy Perry
  53. The Jackson 5
  54. Spice Girls
  55. Curtis Mayfield

Up next, we pick apart the truly awful admittance list (and snub list) for the Rock & Roll Hall of Shame. While the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducts amazing artists every year, their inductions of non-rock artists, and snubs of truly seminal rock acts is just absolutely shameful. Other non-rock artists certainly deserve to be honored, but its the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, not the Music Hall of Fame. But that’s another argument for another day. For now, catch your breath on that truly shocking list above, and brace yourself for this year’s unavoidable “what the hell??” snubs.

The Unflattering Spotify Light

With the first month of 2015 under our belts, things continue on in the music industry that hearken back to the last quarter of 2014 in almost predictable ways. YouTube and Apple are trying new paths forward for their music services (which I will cover in later posts), but perhaps the most telling of dynamics is what’s going on with Spotify right now.

Most anyone who paid any bit of attention in October-November of last year will remember the meltdown between artist Taylor Swift and music streaming service Spotify so cleverly termed Swiftgate. Purportedly over compensation (or lack thereof) for music streaming royalties, the spat between the pop star and the streaming service was a true story with legs, continuing for weeks on end. As each side released statements following Swift’s pulling of her entire catalogue from the service, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek and Swift’s management engaged in a series of statements, each seeking to portray themselves in a positive light.

Many of us within the music industry suspected that Taylor Swift’s underlying motive was a PR move enacted to boost numbers of Swift’s upcoming album release (and one which absolutely worked). Swift’s October release of her album 1989 blew well past one million in sales by 2014’s end, and has now been certified 4x Platinum (in excess of four million copies shipped). [1]

At the time I predicted that the dance was not over—that things would continue to evolve in 2015—and they have: last week, Spotify released a statement noting the termination of its contract with PR agency M&C Saatchi PR, originally tasked with heading up the music service’s accounts in the consumer, corporate, and b2b arenas. The dropping of M&C is telling in more ways than either company appears ready to admit.

It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that Spotify dropped M&C because the latter botched Swiftgate. Whether originating initially from M&C itself, or from Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, it is clear that their subsequent comments on Spotify’s royalty rates and on the questions of fairness were neither well-timed nor well-received within the music community. Instead of resolving the Swiftgate debacle for the music service, it managed to stir up even more questions. What Spotify should have done (or had done on its behalf by M&C) in the course of Swift’s scathing comments is essentially recuse itself of the whole situation; their response only made matters worse. In the end, Swift got all the publicity she (most likely) wanted, and her album blew through the roof with record numbers for the year. Spotify, on the other hand, was cast, yet again, in the same light that has proved unflattering and awkward for other services like Pandora and Rdio.

Though it might be too much to assert that M&C had any control over those events, it is clear that whatever work it did in the wake of Swiftgate was at the very least misguided. In the music industry, he said/she said battles are fought out in the trenches of the fanbases, not in conference rooms, and not in statements released to the media. Though I think Swift’s move was intended more to benefit herself than her fans, a great many of those fans felt the opposite, and will migrate away from Spotify to find her music elsewhere. Swift achieved her goal by spinning the argument as being about her fans and about fairness for artists. Though the truth may be debatable, what is indisputable is that Swift came off to many as having taken proactive action for the sake of her art and fans.

Spotify (and M&C by extension), would have been well advised to spin Swiftgate as a pop star being presumptuous and out of touch with her fanbase. Instead, Spotify/M&C’s purely reactive response allowed Swift to spin the debate as being about royalty rates and artist compensation. Thus, in “commenting on Swift’s departure,” Ek ended up obliged to defend his company’s compensation policy as a whole. A simple statement by Ek that Spotify was disappointed to lose Swift’s catalogue, but that he respected her decision, would have taken the legs out of Swiftgate. Instead, his ineffective efforts to justify Spotify’s compensation policy gave Swiftgate legs, made Swift into the David fighting Goliath, and left Spotify with enough lasting bad press to make it look around for a different PR agency.

Spotify’s dance with Taylor Swift may now becoming to an end with its dropping of M&C as its PR agency, but Swiftgate opened the door for other artists to take shots at the company. Royalty rates are not about to get any better, and life for the Spotify camp is not about to get any easier concerning artist compensation. The streaming music wars have only just begun; hopefully Spotify’s next PR firm will find the right ammunition to fight them.


Thanks to Dad, Charles Jo, Scott Menor, and Terrence Yang for reading drafts of this.



[1] It is important to note that RIAA certifications such as gold and platinum do not always mean copies sold. Over the last few decades, certifications have extended to sometimes include multiple discs within one album (a double-album, for example), or simply albums shipped by the record labels to retail outlets. More information on RIAA certification qualifications can be found here.

If You Have a “Party Like It’s 1989” Tattoo, You’re Screwed

Between yesterday and today, CNN, BBC, Rolling Stone, and Time all reported that Taylor Swift has trademarked a few phrases from her most recent album, 2014’s 1989. While I can certainly understand copyrighting a song, I find Swift’s actions today just a little over-zealous (okay, that’s a lie; they’re very over-zealous).

First, let’s draw a very clear distinction between copyrighting and trademarking. Copyrighting is something that most, if not all, creative artists do to protect their creative works (including songs, books, movies, etc.) against plagiarism and unsanctioned reproductions. Copyrighting is very normal, and no one gives it a second thought. Trademarking, on the other hand, is not the same as copyrighting. Trademarking means that one cannot produce any physical products with the trademarked material on them. For example, Apple’s logo is a registered trademark, and therefore can only be reproduced on merchandise like shirts or stickers with the explicit permission of the Apple corporation. Trademarking a logo or tagline makes a lot of sense in the business world. Trademarking random phrases (some as short as three words!) from a pop-music album does not.

While I can respect Swift for attempting to further her brand with what may appear as a savvy business move, I can’t understand how she intends to trademark certain phrases that are so general that I couldn’t believe any patent court could deliver ownership of them to her alone. Generic phrases like “this sick beat” and “party like it’s 1989” are among the pieces now off limits for production on a slew of products, including: aprons, napkin holders, walking sticks, and, indeed, “non-medicated” toiletries. Ironically, the lead single’s title, “shake it off,” is not on the list.

So here’s the takeaway: for anyone who turned 18 or 21 in 1989, no partying like it’s 1989—Taylor Swift now owns that year; that means no cute little party hats, no commemorative t-shirts, and no celebratory anniversary cakes with the banned phrase written in icing. Skaters and rockers, no scrawling “this sick beat” on your guitars and drumkits—Swift owns all sick beats that can be described as “sick” from now on. I really wonder just how problematic this is going to be for people who already have bits of these phrases tattooed on their bodies—do they have a certain time period during which they can have them removed without legal action…? Okay, if Swift gets “this sick beat” then I think it’s only fair I get to trademark “I like music.” In honor of this incredible piece of news today, I have composed a poem:

A Swiftly Flowing Love Ballad

I love a song’s rhythm and pulse

It’s become the only thing I want to know

This sick beat is such a treat

I hear it all up and down the street

It makes me think I’ll find my soul mate soon

I just hope it turns out to be you

And I feel lucky for just getting to listen

It’s just so nice to meet you, where you been

For all the time I was looking for new music

I could show you (some) incredible things

That’ll make you happy, and you’ll never lose it

And please don’t get upset if I get so riled up

‘Cause you know I think we’d never go out of style, bud

Let’s just walk together for a while

I’m sure we could do a couple miles

With your pop-star hand in mine

Here’s to a party like it’s 1989

10 Things Startups and Local Bands Should Avoid Screwing Up On

For those who may not know, we in the music industry are quite fond of lists. Best albums, best songs, best guitar players, etc.—we love to compile and compile. And we love to argue our points a thousand times over, and then a few more thousand times after that. It makes for good dialogue.

One of the more popular lists to compile now, though, has a bit more meaning behind it (in my opinion) than the writer simply touting his or her new favorite picks for the week. Lately, the list of annoying things that (local) bands do has been getting longer and longer, and they’re becoming more prevalent within the community. A good (though albeit too lengthy) example is the one that MetalSucks compiled back in 2008 which I’ve seen making its rounds again in the new year.

As I read through it again, however, it occurs to me that many of the points that are being made might very well apply to startups within the tech sphere as well (or any other industry for that matter). Malicious intentions not withstanding, numerous points jump out at me as translatable in an almost eery way. Thus I will take what I think are 10 of the most important points and translate them from the independent (local) music arena to that of the startup tech world. Let’s begin:

1. Bands who feel a need to bang on their drums and guitars in an annoying display of a lack of talent before the doors to the club have even opened = Startups that feel a need to tell you they will have the next big thing before they have written a line of code or made any effort to set up a structural base for a company. You’re not fooling anyone, and just come off as delusional and annoying until you have an actual product to play/build/sell. (The term “stealth mode” comes to mind).

2. Bands who have more roadies than actual band members = Startups that have more employees/cofounders than are actually needed to get the job done and run a company efficiently. You’re only hurting yourself in the end and people actually look at those extra cooks in the kitchen as a detriment too early on. 

3. Bands who arrive at the club and state that they’ve talked to “someone” about a paying gig, but when asked who, can’t remember the person, all the while insisting that it was “just someone who worked at the club” = Startups who try to “network” by insisting they have a mutual contact and that the person has totally introduced you once before. Again, you’re not fooling anyone, and in fact are coming off as scheming and dishonest. Take the time to build the relationships you want to cultivate rather than trying to take the shortcut to your end goal. 

4. Bands whose draw is so bad that even their guests don’t show up = Startups who have absolutely no feedback at all because not even their friends want to use and try out their product. If you can’t at least sell your music or product to your friends, you have a major problem. 

5. Bands who have no guests because they have no friends = Startups who have no users or support because they too have no friends. This one is arguably an extension of #4. Takeaway: have a product that’s at least good enough for your friends to want to use it. (Double takeaway: don’t be a tool; have friends who want to champion you). 

6. Bands who show up wearing “All Access” laminates at a club where “all access” means just about nothing since it’s just a stage and soundboard area = Startups who wear what they think they’re supposed to (maybe hoodies and quirky shoes) and act they way they think they’re supposed to (take this to mean whatever you will) in order to be “real” founders. Posing isn’t just an insult in the punk vein of the music industry; poseurs are everywhere and they are most easily identified as the people who seem really deep until you start interacting with them. Then you realize that they sing the song and dance the dance, but that’s about it. You don’t want to have this reputation as a band, and you certainly don’t when you’re a startup looking to break out amongst the competition. 

7. Bands who market themselves as “We’re ________, but with a mix of ________ and a hint of _________’s vocal/guitar sound” (Example: We’re just like Nirvana, but with some Green Day-style vocals and killer Van Halen guitar licks) = Startups who market themselves as “We’re _________, but for ________” (Example: We’re like Netflix/Uber/Facebook, but for candy/socks/refrigerators). No you’re not, and you’re cheapening both these companies and yourselves by suggesting so. If you have a similar business model, say that, but don’t speak in all analogies (especially since you want to distinguish yourself anyway). 

8. Bands who can’t play longer than a 10-minute set = Startups who have no idea how to last longer than a few months (i.e. have not thought about any structure or organization of the company beyond the writing of the code). This tells investors, customers, and your peers that you’re not capable of sitting down with a pad and pen and planning out how to take your idea from: an idea => a working prototype => a viable, long-term business. This is a particularly essential thing to figure out before you take any financing (think of it as having more than 3 songs before you get up on that stage).

9. Bands who don’t even have enough respect for their fans and musical peers to stick around for the whole show after their set is finished = Startups who don’t even have enough respect for their peers to reciprocate feedback when they receive it. Seriously, this is both a stupid and jerk move. Firstly, it earns you a poor reputation as someone who won’t reciprocate the good will shown to you because one of your peers may end up “competing” with you sometime in the future. Secondly, it’s stupid because you lose out on anything you might have learned from the experience to make your own startup a better company. 

10. Bands who grow supermassive egos and forget their fans and musical peers when they get a little taste of success = Startups who grow supermassive egos when they taste a little success and seem to forget their early supporters. Regarding bands/artists, yes this does happen (I’ve experienced it myself) and no, it doesn’t end well. Don’t forget the people who came out to your show before anyone knew you, or the other bands who took you on tour when you were nobody. Regarding startups, it may happen a little less often (in particular ways), but I can’t imagine it doesn’t happen at all (again, I’ve experienced it myself). Don’t forget your early supporters and believers, and certainly don’t ever forget your core customer-base. When the smoke clears, they’re most likely the only people who will stand by you (unless you’re very lucky).   

These are just a few points that occurred to me to have crossover appeal and application. Certainly more exist, though I think these are the some of the most obvious. In many ways being in a startup is like being in a new local band (who would’ve thought?)—we should all strive to avoid these pitfalls. Otherwise, we’re just that crappy local band that everyone wishes would just finish their set and get off the stage.