Friday, January 16, 2015

Experts’ Music Industry Predictions for 2015

With a new year to look forward to inevitably comes predictions for that year, and music industry professionals are not missing the chance to weigh in. From Forbes to 50 Cent, many big names have already weighed in on what they think (or at least hope) will happen in 2015. Here are some common themes:

Digital services will merge, and big brands will prevail.
The world of online music services has so far been an open market, with countless startups cropping up to compete for a slice of the pie. However, in 2015, it’s likely that some of these will consolidate or be bought out as the biggest names (Apple, YouTube, Amazon, Google) become even bigger. While many have voiced grave predictions about the quality of services like AppleStream or YouTube’s Music Key, that may not even matter as people choose convenience (the platforms offer built-in access to your digital stores) over all else.

Spotify will announce big changes.
There’s already been a bit of buzz around Spotify’s impending IPO, and the changes that typically stem from the public market’s demands. We may see the window for free ad-based streaming shrink, or similar alterations to the company’s offerings. These changes could be good news for artists, as Spotify feels compelled to make (and pass on) more of a profit. Speaking of profit, however: A successful IPO will make all of the company’s early investors and employees a lot of many – which could spur a backlash from artists who have long felt cheated by Spotify’s free streaming service. Time will tell but either way, the company is likely to make major headlines this year.

The RESPECT Act will be reintroduced in Congress.
Here’s a big one for our more mature songwriters and artists. Currently, audio recordings made before 1972 are not covered under federal copyright law – and are therefore not subject to receiving royalty payments. According to, “The RESPECT Act would mend this issue and enable all digital performances of songs – regardless of the year they were recorded – to become eligible for royalties.”

The RIAA will change its platinum album formula to account for streaming.
Despite the modern shift from downloading to streaming, the RIAA has yet to alter its formula for platinum. This is how an artist like Ed Sheeran can be the most-streamed artist of the year on Spotify but only have his album be certified gold. Predictions have been made that 2015 will be the year that the RIAA makes some (arguably necessary) changes to its formula, thus remedying the situation and properly awarding artists.

Regardless of whether you subscribe to the above predictions, one thing’s for sure: 2015 is bound to be an exciting and innovative year for music. For HillTop it will be the year we launch our new Members Online Services, coming within the next 30 days. Follow along with us here at HillTop Records as we continue to keep you updated on the latest news from the American music industry.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Welcome 2015 With one of January's Best Music Festivals

The ball has dropped, the Champagne been finished, and we are officially in a new year. So what to look forward to now? Well, for starters, we've got our picks for the month's best music festivals:

Holy Ship! (1/3/2015 – 1/6/2015) in Miami, Florida and Half Moon Cay, Bahamas
If you're lucky enough to have already purchased a ticket to Holy Ship! 2015, then you already know how amazing it is going to be. This year's lineup features the likes of Pretty Lights, Armand Van Helden and Annie Mac – and the setting will be nothing short of spectacular. What better way to welcome the new year than by spending it on a cruise ship, listening to fantastic live music while touring the crystal blue waters around Miami and the Bahamas? This tour has been sold out, but there is a waitlist available on the festival's official website.

MusicFest (1/5/2015 – 1/10/2015) in Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Now in its 30th year, this renowned music festival just keeps getting better and better. Join thousands of other music and skiing enthusiasts as they enjoy six full days of live music (performed by 40 bands, including the best of Texas and Americana music) as well as plenty of fresh powder at the beautiful Steamboat Ski & Resort. You'll have so much fun that you won't even feel the cold.

Jam Cruise 2015 (1/6/2015 – 1/11/2015) in Miami, Florida
Another popular live music event takes to the high seas this January, and this one has been going strong for over a decade. It combines the community, spontaneity and fun of a classic music festival with the convenience, luxury and adventure of cruise travel – and the results make for a trip of a lifetime. This year, the lineup features Elephant Revival, G. Love & Special Sauce, Umphrey's McGee, Pretty Lights, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

Snowball Festival (1/7/2015 – 7/10/2015) in Lutsen, Minnesota
Lutsen Mountain's largest music event of the year is returning once again this month. Spend your days hitting the slopes and your nights enjoying back-to-back performances and jam sessions by 10 bands après ski. The lineup features Jon Wayne & The Pain, Wookiefoot, Heatbox, and Pert Near Sandstone. Now in its 10th year, this event is sure to be a hit – and you won't want to miss the chance to party with your fellow skiers, snowboarders and music lovers.

Timbrrr! Winter Music Festival (1/9/2015 – 1/10/2015) in Leavenworth, Washington
Timbrrr! returns once again as the wintry counterpart to the ever-popular Timber! Outdoor Music Festival, held in the same scenic location later in the year. Artists scheduled to attend and play this year include Red Fang, Sol, Deep Sea Diver and Prom Queen. There will also be food and drink vendors, and the "show happens, rain, sleet, snow or shine".

30A Songwriters Festival (1/16/2015 – 1/18/2015) in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida
The 6th annual celebration of singers and songs has been deemed "the Sundance of songwriter festivals" and with good reason. It offers a place to see and be seen, and network with other likeminded professionals – while, of course, enjoying incredible live musical performances and informative workshops. This year's lineup features Tucker Ewing, Phil Madeira, the Psycho Sisters, Leon Russell and many more. See the official website for the entire list, and make your travel arrangements ASAP.

MLK Youth Parade and Battle of the Bands Competition (1/17/2015) in Houston, Texas
Who doesn't love a good, old-fashioned Battle of the Bands? This one will be held at Midtown Houston-BBVA Compass Stadium, and accompanied by a fun-filled parade. Attendees will get to witness the finest local up-and-comers struck their stuff – and the best of the best go home with prizes and accolades. It's sure to be a great time.

Sunshine Music & Blues Festival (1/17/2015) in St. Petersburg, Florida
Tickets are on sale now for this anticipated annual event, which features the best in live blues and (Mother Nature permitting) sunny weather. This year's lineup features such celebrated acts as Grace Potter, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and Dickey Betts & Great Southern. Can't make it to St. Petersburg that Saturday? The following day (1/18/2015) the gang does it all over again in Boca Raton, Florida.

OC JazzFest 2015 (1/18/2015) in Fullterton, California
Here's an event that helps you give back while also having fun. The proceeds from this festival will go to the Musicians' Relief Fund of the Musicians' Club of Orange County, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping struggling musicians and their families throughout the Orange County area. The venue is the elegant Steamers Jazz Club and Cafe, and the lineup features Hart & Soul, Quartet Mike Peak's – The Peak Experience, and John Noreyko's TUBOP Late Nite Jam Session.

Northern Roots Festival (1/31/2015) in Brattleboro, Vermont
Say farewell to the first month of the new year with an annual tradition, now in its 8th year. The day-long celebration brings together local and regional musicians representing the best of the northern musical styles: Scottish, Irish, English, and French Canadian. There will also be panel discussions, workshops for all instruments, and a fun-filled Family Dance – so bring the entire family to this lively event.

For more information on upcoming music festivals near you, visit And for more news and updates from the American music industry, be sure to keep following us here at HillTop Records.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Stories Behind Some of Our Favorite Christmas Carols

We've been singing them for generations, to the point where we have the words so perfectly memorized that we no longer stop to think about what they mean. So, in honor of the 2014 holiday season, here are the stories behind some of our most treasured Christmas carols:

Good King Winceslas
Written by John Mason Neale to a traditional folk tune (actually a 13th-century spring carol whose Latin title translates to "It is Time for Flowering") in the time of Victorian Britain, this song hails from the town of East Grinstead, in the county of West Sussex. More specifically, it was born on the Sackville College campus that Neale called home at the time. The story Neale borrowed from to write the song was originally created in 1847 by a Czech poet named Václav Alois Svoboda.

The story in the song, which depicts the King (or Duke) of Bohemia taking food and wood to the peasants on Boxing Day, was most likely completely made up – and the actual story of King Winceslas is actually quite gory. (He was supposedly a kind king despite a sad upbringing, but was eventually murdered by his own brother.)

Jingle Bells
While "Jingle Bells" was not originally written to be a Christmas song, it was written to commemorate winter – and in particular, winter 1850's annual one-horse open-sleigh races on Salem and Pleasant Streets between Medford Square and Malden Square. The Medford, Massachusetts tradition was beloved by many, including James Pierpont, who wrote the song for his father's Sunday School class (and actually, some stories say, for Thanksgiving instead of Christmas.) What was originally called "The One Horse Open Sleigh" was eventually changed to "Jingle Bells", supposedly after a friend called Pierpont's creation "a merry little jingle." No one could have predicted then the long and famous life that this "little" tune would live.

Silent Night
Legend has it that an Austrian priest named Fr. Joseph Mohr wrote this carol in 1816 with the intention that it be sung by the children of his village (Mariapfarr) at the midnight Christmas Eve service as a surprise for their parents. However, in the middle of practicing, the church organ broke and so the children had to learn the carol only accompanied by a guitar. Despite of (or because of) this obstacle, the children learned the song so well that they could sing it without any musical accompaniment at all.

No evidence exists to support this legend, but we do know that it was originally written in German (as "Stille Nacht") and that Mohr's friend Franz Xaver Gruber wrote the music several years after Mohr wrote the words. At Midnight Mass in 1818, Fr. Mohr and Franz Gruber sang each of the six verses while the church choir repeated the last two lines of each verse. To this day, the earliest known written manuscript of the song (written around 1820) is housed within the Carolino Augusteum Museum in Salzburg.

"Silent Night" traveled the western world before it came to the United States, where it was first performed by the Rainer family in 1839. They sang the song at the Alexander Hamilton Monument outside Trinity Church in New York City, and it was around that time that the original tune was changed into the one we know and sing today. In 1863, it was translated into English by John Freeman Young. Now one of the most recorded Christmas songs of all time, the carol was sung during the Christmas Truce of WWI in December 1914 – because it was one that both sides knew.

The 12 Days of Christmas
In England, between 1558 and 1829, it was illegal to be a Catholic. "The 12 Days of Christmas" was written towards the beginning of that era, when Catholics were first beginning to worship in secret, and so some think the carol was meant to help Catholic children learn about their religion in a covert way. However, there is no hard evidence of this – and it's just as likely that the song was originally meant to be a folk song, and those "hidden" Catholic symbols (which could also be interpreted as Protestant or any other Christian symbols) were added later on.

The "12 Days" that the song references are those within the period starting on Christmas Day and ending with the Epiphany on January 6th. The "true love" in the song ("On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...") is meant to be God, and each of the twelve gifts has religious significance: The "five golden rings" are the first five books of the Bible, the "ten lords a-leaping" are the Ten Commandments, and the "partridge in a pear tree" is Jesus who died on the cross (in ancient times a partridge was often used as a mythological symbol of a divine, sacred king.)

No matter which carols you sing to celebrate this year, we hope you and your loved ones all have a wonderful holiday season.

For more information and updates from the American music industry, be sure to keep checking in with us here on our official HillTop Records blog.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

More Than Jingle Bells: December's Best Music Festivals

With most of its days sandwiched between Thanksgiving and Christmas, December is a month filled with gatherings. It's a time when friends, families and loved ones come together to celebrate the seasons, their relationships and life itself with an abundance of tinsel, food and (of course) music.

Undoubtedly, you will find a church or concert hall near you paying homage to the holidays with the sounds of live music this month. From Handel's Messiah to the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies to (yes) Jingle Bells, you will surely hear many familiar songs and carols. But look a bit beyond those anticipated events, and you will also find a few fantastic music festivals.

Here are some we've got our eyes (and ears!) on this month:

Holiday Festival 2014 (12/5/2014 – 12/7/2014) in Boulder, Colorado
To beautifully kick off the year-end holiday season, Boulder offers a lively program of festive song and décor at the always impressive Macky Auditorium on CU Boulder's campus. The beloved annual tradition features choirs, orchestra, ensembles and faculty soloists from the university's College of Music. If you're interested in attending this year, please note that the event does have a tendency to sell out – so get your tickets as soon as possible.

Kirkwood Home For The Holidays (12/6/2014) in Atlanta, Georgia
Also happening the first weekend in December is the second annual Kirkwood Home for the Holidays festival, which will feature live holiday music on the main stage, fun children's activities, an open-air vendor market, a visit from Santa and a brand-new festive beverage bar for adults. With something for everyone, this event is sure to be a great time.

Psychedelic Festival (12/6/2014) in Austin, Texas
Not in the holiday spirit just yet? Don't worry, we've got something for you: This energetic festival is like a step back in time, with original psychedelic bands from the 60's and 70's – along with the bright décor, costumes and blacklight dance performances to match. You can expect to enjoy thematic art exhibits, a costume festival, and (of course) plenty of live music from the likes of Bubble Puppy, Shivas Headband, and the Silvertones.

Dalton Holidays Festival (12/6/2014 – 12/7/2014) in Dalton, Ohio
Meanwhile, in Ohio, things are definitely feeling a bit more seasonal. Come to the 38th Dalton Holidays Festival for a healthy dose of the Christmas spirit enhanced by small-town charm. From a craft show with over 90 exhibitors to the self-proclaimed "coolest" parade in the state, this unique event has a lot to show for itself. This year will feature favorites like Mrs. Claus' pantry (which sells local Amish desserts) to new events like the Reindeer Rally Scavenger Hunt and Turkey Bowling. Add a team of roving entertainers, special festivities for children and wonderful music, and you have a truly unforgettable festival.

Festival Navideno CalleOcho LA 2014 (12/6/2014 – 12/7/2014) in Los Angeles, California
The largest Latino event during the holiday season, this festival combines charity (it features a well known toy drive) with family-friendly fun. Attendees can expect to enjoy ten whole city blocks of world-class live entertainment on outdoor stages and delicious Latin food – and admission is free! It's sure to be a lively way to kick off Christmastime.

The Day of Tango Festival (12/6/2014 – 12/7/2014) in Austin, Texas
Sure, this festival is more about dance than music – but really, what's one without the other? Join the prestigious Academy of Tango – Texas for its fourth annual event, featuring international Tango champions, performers and musicians. The line-up includes the Miguel Arrabel Quartet from Buenos Aires, and the dance performances are sure to be nothing short of spectacular. Come see for yourself the beautiful tradition that Argentina has been celebrating for decades!

Boogie in the Bungalow (12/13/14 – 12/14/14) in Hamburg, Pennsylvania
At a time of year when most people would rather stay indoors, this raucous music festival brings the outdoors in. It is held in a giant indoor rodeo arena with dirt floors on which concert-goers set up camp. Food and craft vendors will be sprinkled throughout, while world-class music keeps the party going all weekend long. This year's lineup features Chronicles of Sound, The Royal Noise, and Flux Capacitor, among others.

Lights All Night (12/26/14 – 12/27/14) in Dallas, Texas
No gimmicks here; this is one festival that's all about the music. The lineup features Black Frames, Chromeo, Christian Martin, Jesse Hutton, Closed Caption, Skrillex, Zedd and so many more. Let go and enjoy the sounds while you dance the night away on a seemingly endless dance floor that fills the Dallas Convention Center. It's the perfect party to liven up the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve.

For even more great festivals (holiday-themed and otherwise) near you, be sure to check out – and keep checking back with us here at HillTop Records as we bring you the latest news, commentary and updates from the American music industry.

From all of us here at HillTop: Happy Holidays!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Ralph Peer, American Music Pioneer

(Photo courtesy of PBS)

"During a two-week period late in the summer of 1927, a little-known producer named Ralph Peer recorded 77 songs in a hat warehouse he had converted to a studio. It would turn out to be a landmark moment, known as the Bristol Sessions, that Johnny Cash would later call 'the single most important event in the history of country music.'"

So begins an article recently published by PBS, evocatively titled "The modern music industry was shaped by a man you've never heard of." It follows the release of a new book by music journalist Barr Mazor, called "Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music."

So, who exactly was Ralph Peer – and why all the sudden fuss over a man we've "never heard of"?

Born in Missouri in 1892, Ralph Peer built for himself a successful career in recording engineering and record producing – by completely changing the way those things were done. In particular, Peer is credited with pioneering the field recording of music: In June of 1923, he strayed from the norm (which involved inviting artists to record their music in unfamiliar sound studios) by taking his recording equipment on the road. He traveled south to Atlanta, Georgia, where he recorded regional music in places like hotel rooms, ballrooms, and empty warehouse so as to bring the studio to the artist, instead of the other way around. In that way, he revolutionized the way that things were done.

But he didn't stop there. Peer also transformed the way we listen to music, and the way in which artists were paid. He was known to seek out rustic, emotional songs that relied heavily on improvisation, rather than those that could be easily transcribed to sheet music. He then helped create Broadcast Music, Inc. to monetize those records once they were recorded and also guarantee that the musicians were paid whenever their songs were played. To this day, BMI remains an important entity in the music industry. It is a Performance Rights Organization paying royalties to its members for performances of their music and representing some of the biggest names in every possible genre.

In addition to those mighty accomplishments, Ralph Peer may have been the one to give us the first-ever country music recording ("Little Old Log Cabin In The Lane"/"That Old Hen Cackled and The Rooster's Goin' To Crow" by Fiddlin' John Carson) and his efforts as a talent scout gave us Jimmie Rodgers (who later became known as the Father of Country Music) and the Carter Family, whom he discovered while touring the southern states with Victor Records in August 1927. He recorded both of them as part of the Bristol Sessions.

Peer's ear was not only tuned to country music. He also went on to publish and record jazz artists through the Southern Music Publishing Company. Those artists included Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton. In addition, he worked with popular music artists and recorded Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell's "Georgia On My Mind."

In the 1930's, Peer discovered Central American music and was one of the pioneers to bring those sounds to the United States. During and after World War II, he published such American classics as "You Are My Sunshine" (sung by Jimmie Davis, covered by Bing Crosby and many others) and "You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You" (Russ Morgan.) Before eventually retiring from the music industry, Peer ventured into the world of '50's rock: Southern published hits by Buddy Holly, Little Richard, and others.

Although Ralph Peer was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1984, we don't seem to hear much about him today. He worked behind the scenes, letting the stars he recorded outshine him with their fame – but his contributions to American music as we know it today were immeasurable.

Now, at a time when the music industry is once again going through a period of great change, it is important to look back on the careers of those who came before us – those who gracefully dealt with and adapted to change, and (perhaps more importantly) those who led the charge. Ralph Peer was one of those people. He altered the landscape of the American music scene by adapting local music to suit a broader audience – and also by making sure that those musicians were paid their fair share. He would surely have a lot to say about today's migrating culture, and about the technologies that are once again changing the ways in which we record, listen to and pay for music.