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Music Sales Were Up In 2011?! Thanks Adele!

The music industry just got one more late Christmas present last week when Reuters reported that US total music sales were actually up compared to the previous year. While combined physical and digital sales were only up 1% over 2010′s numbers, that still much rosier than 2010′s 13% decline in album sales. In fact, there hasn’t been a year over year increase in music sales since 2004.

So, why the the reversal of fortunes? Innovative new marketing strategies? The success of direct-to-fan online music distribution initiatives? The continuing vinyl comeback?

Sorry, the correct answer is Adele.

Yes, the British singer-songwriter certainly had a good year. Billboard reported that, unsurprisingly, Adele had the best selling album along with the best selling single of the year with “Rolling In The Deep”. The singer’s sophomore effort, 21, moved a staggering 5.82 million units last year. Records haven’t sold this well since Usher’s Confessions—with tracks “Yeah!“, “Burn“, “Caught Up“—in 2004. The next best selling record of 2011, Michael Bublé’s appropriately titled Christmas album Christmas, which didn’t sell half as many copies, only going double platinum by years end.

It’s not fair to say that Adele is the only reason why it looks like the music industry is turning a corner this year. CD sales may have dropped another 6.5% this year but digital sales increased by nearly 20% and now make up around a third of all music sales. The vinyl market, which still make up only a small segment of all music sold, ticked up again in ’11, with about 3.9 million vinyl LPs sold compared to 2.8 million in 2010. This year also wasn’t short on other big, high profile releases from the likes of Jay-Z and Kanye West, Lady Gaga and Jason Aldean, amongst others.

But it’s time for a reality check. Let’s look at the numbers: There were 330.57 million units sold in 2011, compared to 326.15 million in 2010. In a world where, God forbid, 21 never came out, the sales reports for 2011 would read a lot more like what they have in the past.

Based on this, would it be safe to say that the industry is turning a corner? Not quite. While it was fantastic to have a big budget release like Adele’s, hers wasn’t the only big sales story of the year. Katy Perry’s historic chart dominance continued in 2011 and whether she’ll be able to overtake Michael Jackson’s record for most consecutive #1 singles still remains to be seen. Folk rockers Mumford & Sons had their debut record go platinum stateside, proving that an indie record could be a true sales juggernaut. Finally, the streaming music revolution that players like Spotify and Pandora are propagating don’t appear to have taken a big chunk out of album sales just yet.

Only so much can be gleaned from a single year’s worth of sales data. We’ll have to wait until 2013 to see if 2012′s sales figures are indicative of a comeback or an aberration. Until then, thank you Adele for continuing to save the music industry as we know it. Keep up the good work!

Soundcheck: Hot Ticket Tours

With the new year comes new talent, new music and new must-see shows from some of our favorite artists. While more hot ticket tours are sure to be announced as the months go by, here’s a few we’re already gearing up for in 2012.

Rick Ross: Although he’s been relatively quiet since last year’s numerous health scares, it seems Ross is ready to get back on the scene with a year full of features, releases and live gigs. On January 13, he will be at LA’s Nokia Theatre with Busta Rhymes, Y.G. and Eric B; following up with a show two weeks later at Webster Bank Arena in Connecticut.  In February, he’ll hit the stage for “The Maybach Massacre” featuring Waka Flocka Flame at Uno Lakefront Arena in New Orleans. This year is looking good for Mr. Ross, who began production last week on the video for his single, “Rich Forever” from his upcoming mixtape of the same title.  The video reportedly features Meek Mills, Drake, DJ Khaled and French Montana.

Bow Wow: The Young Money artist took to Twitter to confirm that he would be embarking on a world tour in 2012 in to promote his album, Underrated. He’s planning to hit North America, Europe, Africa, Australia, Japan and South America, but no official confirmation has surfaced.  Only time will tell if Bow Wows global bounce back comes to fruition, or is just wishful thinking.

Lil Wayne & Eminem: Though no dates have been confirmed, Eminem and Lil Wayne are rumored to be coordinating an international tour together for 2012.  Weezy first announced the news in November on his Facebook account, posting “Headed to Fiji, Australia, then S. Africa…on tour with Slim Shady…a blessing…thx to those who supported C4! 2x platinum! Love y’all” With his album, The Carter 4 going double platinum, and Eminem being the show-stopping performer he is, there’s no doubt this tour will be the hottest ticket in town.  The two already have numerous successful singles under their belts, including “ No Love”, “Drop The World” and ‘Forever”.

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Kenton Dunson Vs. Kanye West

It’s been a long, strange road for Kanye West. After he dropped out of college to pursue his music career full time, he became a successful producer, making beats for high profile rappers like Jay-Z, Mos Def and Talib Kweli. However, despite being an in-demand producer, he struggled to be taken seriously as a rapper. Luckily, Jay-Z was willing to give him a chance and signed West to his label, Roc-A-Fella Records. West went on to release his debut album, The College Dropout, in 2004, and it instantly became a commercial and critical success. West was praised for his lyrical themes, which eschewed the gangster rap persona that was popular at the time in favor of more socially-conscious topics. Since then his career has been marked with plenty of ups and downs, but the recent success of Watch The Throne, his collaborative album with Jay-Z, has cemented his position as one of the strongest artists in hip hop. His rise to the top was due to dedication and perseverance, something OurStage rapper/producer Kenton Dunson has in spades.

OurStage's Kenton Dunson

Kanye West








Like Kanye West, Kenton Dunson is a talented producer as well as a rapper, producing all the beats that he raps over. You can hear some similarities in their production and rapping styles if you compare Dunson’s song “Beautiful Fight” with West’s song “Champion.” Both songs use a pairing of synthesizers and choppy vocal samples to create a unique sounding beat with a distinct rhythm. Like West, Dunson’s lyrics don’t deal with the typical fare of gangster rap, because he chooses to focus on more personal experiences. In this song, Dunson recounts the struggles he has gone through and continues to deal with in order to achieve success as an artist. He also shares Kanye West’s penchant for clever wordplay, with the line “they say that I’m sleepwalking, I’m living the dream” being one of the most notable here. “Take Off” is another of Dunson’s songs that bears some resemblence to Kanye’s music. Production wise, this song uses many of the techniques that helped make West famous, including looped vocal samples and backing string arrangements.

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The Co-op Playlist

Everyone knows that the stars of OurStage are the artists. We would be nothing without them! However, there are plenty of unsung heroes working behind the scenes to make sure the wheels keep turning and everything is running smoothly. We are the OurStage Community Team; Co-Op students who work tirelessly answering emails, writing blogs and reviewing the songs entered into competitions. We’ve been working here for the past six months, but now it’s time to move on to new frontiers. Still, the experience we’ve had here has been amazing, and our parting gift to you is a playlist of some great OurStage music that has either flown under the radar, or is just so great that it merits a second listen. So kick back, put on your headphones and check out some of the best we think OurStage has to offer. You can listen to the full playlist right here!

The Well Reds

Cara: I spent the past six months writing Live Wired, and when I wasn’t spending the majority of my free time at venues around Boston, I discovered tons of great music while working at OurStage! My picks for the playlist include finalists The Well Reds from The OurStage Panel, who I was lucky enough to see perform, and tunes from Marie Hines, Talain Rayne and Cooper Brown—these are sure to make you smile. Enjoy!

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Soundcheck: Meet British Beauty VV Brown

You may not be familiar with this beautiful British import, but VV Brown is no newbie. Born Vanessa Brown in Northampton, England, the beautiful singer-songwriter-model-actress is already a star overseas.  Her debut album Travelling Like The Light soared to No. 1 on the French Digital Album chart and prompted a sold-out UK tour in 2009.

In 2010, she hit the road with Maroon 5, joining their North American tour before jumping on the UK leg of Pink’s Carnival Tour.  She hit the stage with Jill Scott and Mary J. Blige for BET’s Black Girls Rock.  She also made the television rounds on Ellen, The Late Show with David Letterman, Rachael Ray and Jimmy Kimmel Live! (among others) with her single, “Shark In The Water”, which eventually went gold in the US.

In November, she was featured on MTV’s documentary series, World of Jenks, chronicling her break into the US.
market. She describes her style as “alternative pop”, with her cutesy delivery disguising the deeper underlying notes on modern-day society that permeate her lyrics.

There’s something instantly cool about this soft-spoken import, who counts Q-Tip as a friend.  She has played at huge festivals like SXSW and Glastonbury, and toured two continents with major headliners, and still she’s noticeably grounded.

A true artist in every aspect, VV casually references the amazing architecture of Chicago, or notes the beauty that can be found in the lines of a vintage jacket during a conversation about touring.  “I like being creative. I love it from the core of my belly.  It’s what I would be doing either way.”  She seems to find the beauty in everything, and reflects it in her music, her personal style and her demeanor.

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Greg Banks Vs. R. Kelly

The last year saw a new resurgence of young talent in the R&B world. Artists like The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, The-Dream and even Drake pushed the boundaries of R&B and revitalized the genre with new ideas for a new generation. However, none of these artists would exist without the influence of R. Kelly. With a career spanning nearly two decades, Kelly has been cited by Billboard as the most successful R&B/hip hop artist of the last twenty-five years, with thirty-five Top 10 singles and eleven No. 1 singles. Not only does Kelly have commercial success, but he has also composed, arranged and produced almost all of his music—a feat many singers can’t achieve. While OurStage is not short on great R&B artists, Greg Banks recently made a big splash on our charts.

OurStage's Greg Banks

R. Kelly











Like R. Kelly, Greg Banks is an R&B singer who also writes his own songs. If you listen to Banks’ song “Goodbye Sex” you can hear the similarities between his style and R. Kelly’s. In fact, the song shares much in common with Kelly’s smash hit “Ignition (Remix).” Both songs are at about the same tempo, and they both use similar sounding chord progressions. Banks and Kelly use similar techniques in their singing like switching between longer held out notes and singing in double time. These two songs also deal with overtly sexual lyrical themes, a trademark of R. Kelly’s music. “Selfish” is another one of Banks’ songs that is stylistically similar to R. Kelly, specifically his song “I Wish (Remix).” Both of these songs rely on an acoustic guitar melody to provide the backbone of the song. The tracks also have similar lyrical themes, albeit in slightly different contexts—while Banks sings about his worries of the love of his life leaving him, Kelly laments the deaths of his friends and family.

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Soundcheck: Will T.I. Take Back The Top Spot?

It’s been quite a year for T.I. An early prison release followed by a quick return to the slammer followed by another early release and ANOTHER turn around trip to prison before heading home to his beloved family, friends, fans—and film crew.

The self-proclaimed King of The South has had a tumultuous and somewhat ironic journey to the top and the bottom, and may now end up somewhere in the middle. T.I. first headed to prison on gun charges; but only after he filmed a reality special aimed at keeping kids out of trouble.  The next time he wound up in the hot seat, (this time for a parole violation) he conveniently saved a suicidal fan from jumping off a building by literally talking him off the ledge.  Upon his release, Tip wasted no time jumping back into the limelight. He has already filmed another reality show for BET, T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle, which started rolling the moment he stepped off the prison grounds.

He was greeted with open arms just days after his release at the BET Hip Hop Awards, where he kicked off the night’s festivities by hitting the stage for a performance of“I’m Flexin’” alongside Jeezy, spitting lyrics that described his current sentiments. “I been out of sigh been out of mind…another year of prison promise this is it for me trying to make It through the storm should be makin’ history. No feeling sorry keep your pity and your sympathy good or bad take it like a man whatever meant to be.”

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Soundcheck: Who Is Mac Miller?

You may have heard one of his mixtapes, or perhaps you’ve stumbled upon his uber-popular YouTube channel, but chances are, if you don’t know Mac Miller already, you soon will.

Malcolm McCormick—better known as Mac Miller and before that, EZ Mac—is the nineteen-year-old leader of Pittsburgh’s fastest-growing, grass-smoking, grass-roots rap uprising since, well, Wiz Khalifa. He followed the footsteps of his hometown hero to launch an independent career that rivals that of rappers’ twice age with ten times his budget.  Miller joined Khalifa on Rukkus Records in 2010, and has since enjoyed a quick rise to the top of the charts—first with his mixtape K.I.D.S., inspired by the 1995 movie of the same name then with another mix tape released in March, Best Day Ever, which included the current buzz-worthy single “Donald Trump” and featured production from Just Blaze, 9th Wonder and Chuck Inglish.

His debut album, Blue Slide Park sold 144,000 units in its first week, staking a claim at the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200. It marked the first time an independent artistdebuted at No. 1 since Tha Dogg Pound did it in 1995. While some were quick to cast him off as another pot-smking white kid who makes silly songs, something tells me he’s smarter than the average stoner.

Quickly courted by major labels, Miller chose to stick to the independent route. ”I never really got far enough to see an offer for real,” Mac said in November. “I got no hatred towards major labels or anything. I never got a chance to hear what they had to say. We just really wanted to stick with our home team and keep it in the family.”

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UTG: 50 Cent Drops ‘The Big Ten’ Mixtape

After weeks of teasers (and a flood of leaks), 50 Cent has finally blessed the internet with his latest mixtape, The Big Ten.

Actually featuring twelve tracks (because “bonus” tracks are necessary on an already free release),The Big Ten tops off a year 50 has spent reconquering the hip hop game. Each track we’ve heard so far slays, so click here and claim your copy!

We would be lying if we said 50 Cent has always been one of our favorite talents. His debut was stunning and Massacre was solid, but there was also a lot of “hit or miss” tracks for awhile as well. This tape finds him solidifying the idea he’s officially “back” and we couldn’t be more excited to see what he does next.

View original article on Under The Gun Review.

The Age Of The Internet Rapper

It’s no secret that the Internet is a crucial tool to any artist in the twenty-first century. Not only does the web give artists an easy way to let the public hear their music, but it also gives them a direct line of communication with platforms like Twitter and Facebook. And in no musical community is the Internet more important than in hip hop. The emergence of mixtape culture has prompted rappers to release countless tracks for free online to build buzz and make a name for themselves. The ease in which artists can release tracks, and the speed at which these tracks can go viral, gives the web the ability to create superstars overnight.

ASAP Rocky

For example, take one of the newest Internet rap phenomenons, ASAP Rocky. After releasing just a handful of songs at the end of the summer, he signed a $3 million deal with Sony/RCA. That’s a lot of money for an unproven rapper who’s new to the scene. Although he did release the solid free mixtape LiveLoveA$AP right after signing the deal, there’s no way to tell if he will be able to deliver on the hype when he releases his major label debut. Did Sony/RCA jump the gun and sign him before he was ready?

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