The music industry is leaving brilliant artists high and dry. What do we stand to lose?
Great jazz drummer Milford Graves was an innovator in every sense of the word. The definition of a polymath, he did so many things, from botany to computer science, at such a high level that it was hard for those in the know to think of him as any one thing. However, one little-known thing is that young Milford was also an early pioneer of independent records, meaning he was one of the first musicians to record, press, and release his own. Even lesser known is that he was responsible for introducing John Coltrane, one of the biggest of the jazz names within the major label pantheon, to this idea near the end of Coltrane’s life.
At the time, most artists struggled for control and more equitable treatment by record labels, who routinely signed them to predatory deals while controlling almost every aspect of their careers. And of course, at the end of the day, these labels owned the lucrative masters, ensuring they’d get the lion’s share of any profits across multiple generations. In fact, many major labels were built by exploiting such jazz deals.
Record labels, and in fact the entire industry, are actually byproducts of technological innovations made around sound recording, at the end of the 1800s. By the time Milford met Coltrane, record players in every household, and record enthusiasts who filled their collections with their favorite artists, had become cultural bedrock. Recording artists made a small percentage, a royalty, on every record sale. For artists such as Coltrane, all these royalties accumulated to make him one of the biggest earners in jazz towards the end of his life.
“Just like internet providers, they sold the idea to the public that information—music—was free, but the pipeline that supplied it—their networks—weren’t.”
When CDs arrived in the 1980s, they were incorporated into the existing model. Though they eventually replaced vinyl, CDs actually injected even more cash into major labels, as they reissued their back catalogues and convinced most people to repurchase their entire collections. Just as everything changed with the invention of the phonograph, it changed again with the invention of the MP3. MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3 is a data compression algorithm which took the large digital files on CDs and turned them into something comparatively tiny, that could be stored on an iPod or transmitted across the internet. However, unlike vinyl, cassettes, or CDs, MP3s did not inject more cash into the now extremely large and very prosperous music industry, at first. They began undercutting record sales, as collectors began to “rip” their entire CD libraries and then share them for free via peer-to-peer file-sharing applications like Napster, LimeWire, and Kazaa. If vinyl had originally established music in the minds of listeners as a tangible product that could be bought and sold, the MP3 now did the exact opposite. Music was now intangible, and potentially free.
In early attempts to monetize on sharing, streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify began offering massive collections of illegitimately procured MP3s to stream for a fixed monthly subscription, which exacerbated the problems labels were already facing by doing away with record collections altogether. Just like internet providers, they essentially sold the idea to the public that information—music—was free, but the pipeline that supplied it—their networks—wasn’t. This approach allowed them to make billions in a very short period of time, while sharing none of this profit with the artists and record companies who owned the rights.
What followed next was a series of futile attempts by major labels to shut down streaming. They eventually realized that this would never work because the nature of the product had already shifted in the mind of the consumer. Listeners would never go back to owning a handful of records purchased from a closed network of highly curated stores at a premium. People now expected access to the entirety of recording history from their smartphone, at a moment’s notice. What ensued were backroom negotiations, where record labels agreed to grant streaming companies licenses to their massive catalogs in return for a cut of the subscription revenues.
Such deals were a temporary fix with one major flaw: Record companies didn’t advocate for their artists, who actually made the music. Since the licensing deals between labels and streaming companies were opaque, artists now had no way of knowing how much labels made from their music, and predictably, their royalties continued to vanish before their eyes.
All of this eventually brought us the current unsustainable scenario: A major artist might accrue five million streams of their hit song over a year, yielding just $11,900, according to Spotify’s rate calculator. (For reference, the federal poverty level for an individual currently stands at $15,060.) For the average artist, who may limp to 2,000 streams per month, that royalty becomes just $4.76, or a loaf of bread!
The huge inequity that this demonstrates has become one of the major hurdles that both the music industry and music rights community must solve if they wish to continue to have jobs. In this scenario, successful recording artists like Coltrane may not have been able to afford to become musicians in the first place, and Graves may have stuck to botany!
Mark Tremonti and the gang from Annapolis swing big with a 100-watt, 3-channel blast machine that spans clean and ferocious extremes.
Incredible sounds across all three channels—ranging from pretty and clean to hot and aggressive. Reasonably priced.
No onboard attenuation or reverb.
PRS MT 100
Mark Tremonti’s relationship with PRS Guitars began in 2000 with his first signature guitar. Eighteen years later, he had his first signature amp, theMT 15, a successful lunchbox amp that received a Best in Show award at the NAMM show that year. The new 100-watt, 3-channelMT 100 takes Tremonti’s tone concepts to higher and louder heights.
Three Corners of a Colossus
The MT 100 is designed by amp guru Doug Sewell, who built much-revered amps under his name before Paul Reed Smith recruited him. The tube layout includes four 6L6GC power amp tubes—typical enough for a 100-watt amp. But there are eight 12AX7 preamp tubes because each channel has its own preamp section. The clean channel uses one preamp tube (V1) and the overdrive and lead channels each use two. And while the MT 100’s many knobs suggest a complicated affair, the amp is actually pretty straightforward. Each channel has its own controls for presence, master, bass, middle, treble, and gain—that’s it. On the back panel is a tube-driven, series effects loop, where you can patch in reverb or delay as desired. There’s also a very handy panel of bias jacks. A 3-button footswitch is included and there are corresponding LED lights on the switch and the amp’s faceplate (blue for clean, orange for overdrive, and red for lead), so you know which channel is engaged.
Five Years in the Making
f you only know Mark Tremonti from Alter Bridge and Creed, you’d probably assume the MT 100 is a high-gain flamethrower. It’s much more than that, though. Tremonti is an amp fanatic, and his stage setup has traditionally been pretty complex, ranging from Dual Rectifiers for dirty sounds to Twin Reverbs for clean ones. The MT 100 impressively covers much of that turf via a single amplifier.Initially the MT 100 was going to have a 2-channel design like the MT 15, but Tremonti wanted to add an overdrive channel. When Iinterviewed Tremonti in 2012, he talked of his love of Dumbles. The MT 100’s middle channel is inspired by his favorite Dumble, and took five years of back and forth before the design was finalized. Dumble-style amps are typically extra expensive, so the MT 100’s $1,849 price feels like a bargain for an amp that does Dumble and then some.
With Ears Wide Open
I plugged a couple of guitars into an MT 100, including a semi-hollow and a dual-humbucker solid-body with split-coil options, with the amp hooked up to a Celestion-equipped cabinet. It was easy to find sweet spots for each instrument I tried. With the clean channel’s tone controls at noon and the presence a touch lower than that, the MT 100 sounds bright and a lot like a Fender Twin, with more warmth and copious bottom end. The clean channel brings small details to life. Fingerpicked open chords laced with hammer-on and pull-off embellishments, for example, sound especially pretty. And while the clean sounds are full-bodied, they leave a lot of space for effects like delay and reverb. I do wish that the MT 100 had built-in reverb. Almost all of us have loads of effects at the ready, but it’s also nice when an amp—and clean channel—this fundamentally good enables you to plug and play with a reverb option.
The overdrive channel is a delight, particularly when I use my semi-hollow. With the tone controls all around noon, the presence at 9 o’clock, and the gain at 2 o’clock, I could cop Robben Ford and Larry Carlton fusion sounds in a jiffy. But the overdrive channel isn’t just smooth and heavy. With a bridge-position humbucker and the gain control all the way up, it was easy to tap Brit-style metal and hard rock tones.For Tremonti fans, the lead channel is probably the MT 100’s main attraction, and it definitely lives up to expectations. Lead sounds bloom with sustain, and notes would ring forever whether humbuckers or split-coils drove the front end. Palm-muted rhythm figures felt massive—floor-shakingly massive. And though you could fairly categorize the lead channel as dark and heavy at times, it’s far from muddy. You’ll hear a lot of detail in these zones. What’s also cool is that the tone foundation of the lead channel is distinctly different than that you hear on the overdrive channel. It really comes across as two different amps rather than the same basic sound with different gain variations on each of the two heavy channels. Factor in the use of effects and you’re looking at a lot of tone possibilities. Switching between channels, incidentally, is smooth, organic, and free from the jarring pops that some channel-switching amps exhibit.
In a lot of ways, PRS was brave to build the MT 100. One hundred watts is a lot of power to wrangle, and to get the amp to really move air it needs to be cooking at a volume level that may not be practical in a lot of gigging situations. Obviously, an attenuation option might have been a nice touch (though you can argue that’s what the lunchbox-sized MT 15 is for), and if you use a load box/speaker simulator like UA’s OX, you can still get in on the fun. In larger environments that can handle it with a big cab, though, it is at its most beastly.
PRS and Tremonti should be commended for choosing a streamlined design path, too. Sure, it has three channels, but it forgoes power-scaling capabilities, graphic EQ, the option to use different types of power tubes, a foot-switchable effects loop, or direct recording/speaker cabinet cloning outputs like so many modern amps. And while it eschews bells and whistles, the MT 100 dominates in terms of tone—each of the MT 100’s three channels is dripping with it. If an amp that offers delicious Fender Twin Reverb-meets-Bruno Underground clean tones, a dead-on Dumble-sounding overdrive channel, and a hellacious lead channel that can stand head-to-toe with the Dual Rectifiers, Uberschalls, and 5150s of the world sounds cool to you, you’re probably not going to think once about the lack of gimmicks.
Mark Tremonti's New 100W Amps! The PRS MT 100 Mark Tremonti Signature Amp Demo | First Look
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