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santigold is back and wants to challenge an industry in flux

After a four-year hiatus, Santigold returns older and wiser and with her own ideas on how to make the music industry work for her. i-D talks motherhood, Makonnen and makin' money with the Philadelphia born, Brooklyn living genre bender...

by Shannon Mahanty
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19 February 2016, 10:03am

What does it mean to be a musician in 2016? Until recently, it was about working on an album for a couple of years, doing a bunch of press and then going on tour where you played said record to the people who cared about it the most. The people that bought it and showed up and sang every single word back at you.

But we no longer buy our CDs from HMV. We haven't for years. That model has been replaced by services like Spotify or (ffs Kanye) Tidal. Streaming is exciting; it unlocks a whole world of music to a listener who previously would have had limited access. Ten years ago, I bought J Dilla's Donuts, and played it on repeat until I couldn't stand it anymore. Now I can have a playlist featuring Dilla alongside Adele, Action Bronson, Rihanna and The Sugababes and it's not weird. So why buy an album from an artist when you can collate and curate your own albums? More to the point, why pay for music when there are millions of tracks available in an instant?

In the four years since Santigold's last album, Master Of My Make-Believe, these are the questions she's been asking. Over the course of her expansive career, which began in 2007 with her debut single Creator, Santi (neé Santogold) has worked with M.I.A, Lykke Li, Spank Rock and a pre-Uptown Funk Mark Ronson and written for Christina Aguilera, Lily Allen and the Hunger Games. She has also been in the midst of an industry very much in flux. Her third offering, 99c feature her observations on the music industry's transformation. Funny, smart and (obviously) full of bangers, this is 99c questions what it means to be an artist in 2016, while finding a way to still have a whole heap of fun with it…

It's been a while since your last record. Is it daunting being back with a new album?
It's been a long time, but I didn't disappear completely. I have put out songs, I've done a makeup line and a sock line - so it's not like I've been completely out of the public eye. But it is challenging, for sure. You've got a whole new generation of people you've got to turn on to your music. You've got to let people know you're still relevant. Really, the music is the main factor. If the music works and it feels current, then you're good.

A lot has changed since Master Of My Make-Believe, the biggest, no doubt, the arrival of your son. How's motherhood treating you?
This whole thing is new to me. I didn't know a thing about babies until I had one. I never was a baby sitter or anything; all I knew was the ways of being a working musician, which is gruelling and hard. That's made it a different challenge from other mothers, it's a different schedule - the weekend should be baby time but you're working, there are physical demands and a different kind of focus. It's a hard lifestyle. Then when you have a baby, you have to really be present in the moment; I think that's been the biggest challenge.

How did you adapt?
I like to look for parents in the same position, people connect or I stumble across them. Lake Bell lives really close and she's just had a baby. Olivia Wilde also lives in Brooklyn; her baby is only a couple of weeks younger than mine. Then there's Norah Jones, she lives in Brooklyn too, and her baby is a few weeks older than mine. Karen O - she's in LA but we've been on the phone a lot. We talk sleep tactics and stuff like that, it's been really great; I've built this network of busy mums!

Did pregnancy change the way you work?
I didn't get much done, being in the studio was more for fun. When I was pregnant, I did the two really dark songs on the record, Run The Races and Outside The War. It's especially interesting because after the baby was born the tone turned really fun and playful.

Like Can't Get Enough Of Myself?
Exactly. I wanted to do two things with that song and so I spent a lot of time on the lyrics; on the one hand I wanted it to be a commentary on narcissism, but on the other hand I wanted to write using humour.; I wanted the energy of the song to feel celebratory. I was like, "Ok, I want Michelle Obama and Ellen to be able to sing this song!"

How have you found the actual process of putting out music has changed?
It's kind of a weird time to be releasing music in the way I do. I think people are cushioned to have music so immediately, to have everything at their fingertips and it sort of undervalues things, so at this point - not just music but content - it feels disposable, it's not valued.

The pace that music is being put out is not based on musicians like me, like my process. A lot of the music on the radio is like factory line stuff, you've got a whole flock of songwriters that just go from producer to producer and they write songs, and then ship them out to artists and managers like it's shopping. There's no real creation process for those singers. It's quick and it's easy - picking the right song is harder than making the right song from scratch. I'm not saying I haven't collaborated with different producers or had material or beats, but overall most of the music is coming from me sitting in a room, and that just takes longer.

One of the collaborations you did do is Who Be Lovin' Me, with ILOVEMAKONNEN. How did that come about?
I'd been a fan for a while. I like how he sings, his voice is so crazy and weird! We met at the Roc Nation Grammy brunch last year, which was insane. Those environments are so weird, there's a lot of social climbing and weirdness going on. In a nook of the party was me and Mackonnen making a very real connection, and we're like 'Hey, lets get the fuck out of here and do something together' so we did! We had a lot of fun.

The Earl Sweatshirt, A-Trak, Vic Mensa, Mustard and De La Soul featuring video looked like a lot of fun too…
It was quite spontaneous! We didn't plan things like Meek Mill coming in and dancing on a hoverboard! I couldn't believe he could even do that. When we were driving out into the crowd, I thought the car was gonna get tipped over. It was a lot of fun.

What does you son think of the album?
He loves it! He's my biggest fan. We did a lot of mixing at my house so Radek has these special headphones that cut the bass to a healthy level. He wasn't allowed to come in until he had his headphones on. So now, whenever I play music he's like 'Headphones! Headphones!' and he goes and gets his little headphones and then starts dancing. He'll be snapping like crazy.

You've spoken out about streaming; is 99c going to be available on streaming services?
Us artists signed to labels, we're not in control at all. We don't own our masters so it's up to the record label, and they do put it on all the streaming services. There's nothing wrong with the technology of streaming. I think it's cool, it's super convenient and great that you can find all this music. But the problem is, the system is not fair. I can't think of any other industry where you spend all your time making something, and then you give it away for free and then you're expected to scramble for money to sustain a career.

You do end up partnering with brands more. My music has been used in commercials a lot; I did it like that on purpose because this album is about the moment we're living in. I'm highlighting all these absurdities. Honestly, some of the sponsored things I've got coming up, it's fucking crazy. It makes no sense to what I'm doing, but I've said yes because I have to, I make it part of the art. The one thing that I will never compromise on is my music; I'm not going to change what I write or the way I write, never.

99c is out Feb 26

@Santigold

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Text Shannon Mahanty