Friday, September 30, 2011

Wake up and spot the coffee

This piece is trending today for no apparent reason, since it's over a year old. It has relevance perhaps due to Spotify's vastly increased numbers yielded from the US launch and their facebook tie-in.

There still seems to be no solution to the 'how to get paid' problem, particularly for new acts. Spotify ceasing to exist wouldn't help much either. Where do we go from here?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Spot the subscriber, BRITschool success and DIY detail

Spotify this week announced that it had reached the magic number of 2 million paying subscribers. It's a good number and speaks well of their interface and success in selling the streaming model.

Obviously it may have been a harder number to crack had they not limited the freemium model previously offered and harder still had they not launched in the U.S.A. which at one point seemed like it might never happen.

In the same week an indie band called Uniform Motion revealed some stats and info about the pitfalls of 'doing it yourself' in an excellently written blog which may do more for them than their music ever could. It's an extremely relevant read for everyone interested in the music business.

The BRIT School alumni (a horrifically American sounding term for a very British project) meanwhile celebrated 65 million album sales globally with a bit of spin and self-congratulatory-back-slapping.

They're nice stats and all British musical success is worthy of celebration but have they produced anything other than pop? Their top tens suggest not and it is clear that their success now (and possibly in the future) is becoming self-fulfilling. The record labels who once used to scout around areas where successful bands were emerging need now only camp out on the lawns of the school itself.

Since the School invites many label people to 'lecture' their pupils they need not even do that, it's not like they're working hard to find the talent the school is doing it for them and developing it in a manner that they have proven to be successful. Is this really rock 'n' roll?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Superstar DJ, here we....oh.

I can translate the bit at the end, he says: 'the whole set is on hard disk, and it's just broken'

Friday, June 17, 2011

Iggy only knows

It’s an odd day when you get to confront your own hypocrisy. In many ways I’ve been doing that in public (though not with great visibility as it was via this blog) over the last few weeks in trying to square my views on ‘synching’, or the use of popular music for commercial/brand purposes.

It was spurred initially by a knee-jerk reaction, a ‘how dare they’ moment, to the VW commercial and its use of what I consider to be one of the greatest songs ever recorded. I did make the point at the time that my thoughts and views were compromised and far from clear cut. There’s a grey area where sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and your position is influenced by your views on that artist or piece of music.

So, that’s my ‘get-out clause’. I accept that it’s flawed and I was forced to try and reconcile these thoughts in the middle of the mosh-pit at the Isle of Wight Festival on Saturday. It was from this position that I saw the great Iggy Pop, no stranger to advertising and a subject of similar anti-advertising bile over two years ago.

I clearly still regret that he is most well known for starring in ads and regret that this, alongside allowing the song ‘Lust For Life’ to be synched in an ad for cruise ships (as well as better use in the film Trainspotting), is probably the source of his greatest income.

I still love the music though, and can see the possibility that the advertising earnings have allowed his ‘art’ to return to the extremities. No-one could call his Stooges-era music ‘easy-listening’ and if doing ads means that The Stooges carry on playing (as they have for the last five years or so) then it’s something that I should accept, or even welcome.

There lies the hypocrisy; can I accept the taking of commercial money if it allows art to flourish? Can I say for certain that Iggy uses one to fund the other? It could be that re-forming The Stooges was a financially-rewarding decision in itself, that the demand for the band was there and not for a solo Iggy Pop.

Without doubt it irks me that someone of his historical import is recognised for appearances alongside a puppet in ridiculously irritating adverts and it is unquestionable that it undermines his credibility. This much was obvious from the initial reaction of the crowd on Saturday, some of whom were less than interested and given to shouting ad-related abuse – all of which was sadly lacking in wit. If the best that you can think up is shouting the advertiser’s name or ‘I prefer the puppet’ then you really shouldn’t bother sharing.

On the flipside it allows me to be ‘holier’, to recognise Iggy’s role in the formation and fermentation of punk and to be able to argue that The Stooges were formed as part of an anti-hippy sentiment rather than being anti-corporate and thus it’s not the sell-out that you could accuse John Lydon of. Similarly Lydon claims that his Anchor money helped him to reform PiL (who also played at the Isle of Wight) proving that it’s an ongoing argument.

Perhaps it’s the very definition of a dichotomy (or this is)one that rages within and will never be resolved.

Back in the day (the 1977 type day) it was all about credibility, the faintest whiff of commercial taint and your cred was history. Bands wouldn’t even appear on TV for fear of losing it. I disowned certain acts for daring to spend too long trying to break America; desperation was not credible, chasing the cash was really not credible.

Now the line is blurred, for some acts any commercial association is seen as a badge of honour – a trophy, because you can never have too much bling. Commerce and art have to live together and we probably have to accept it, particularly if you believe that music is free. There are still levels though and it’s clearly an individual choice to where you draw the line and whether you forgive those who cross it. Iggy is redeemed, largely due to his back-story and unassailable cool, others will struggle.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

God Only Knows....#3

I like Volkswagen, it’s important that you should know this. I’ve bought two of their cars in the last decade, it’s a reliable brand and I’d be happy to drive with them again. This is not about VW; it’s about the denigration of art by association, or commercialisation.

Naturally I’m aware of how pretentious that sounds, I know very little about art and not that much about music but I do know what the song ‘God Only Knows’ means to me, and it doesn’t have anything to do with a fucking van.

My last post (below or via this link ) dealt with the reasons behind what the music industry calls ‘synchronisation’ or ‘syncing’. I understand why acts do it, particularly new acts. I have less sympathy with older artists who have made their money and are now just throwing extra pennies in the pot.

I would like to blame the publishers or the money-men, or the labels – anything to spare me the thought that the people who created this majestic piece of music allowed it to be sullied in this manner. Sadly the artist always has the right to veto, particularly in these circumstances. That they chose not to actually tarnishes my feelings for them.

In truth I’d hope that everyone involved in this process feels some shame. VW have made a great deal and linked a very well known song to their product, albeit by some spurious ad-speak (the concept of being ‘in harmony’ linking driver, van and song and leading to me feeling genuinely sick every time I see or hear the ad). In the process though they’ve reduced a sublime and beautifully crafted piece of art into a backing track, a song that has always had the ability to reduce me to tears now does so for entirely the wrong reasons.

I suspect that classical music aficionados have put up with similar feelings for years, though the argument that using certain pieces in advertising has probably extended the range of appreciation among non-aficionados and partly led to the existence of Classic FM. Popular music is an entirely different beast, when used well (you could possibly cite the early Levi’s ads , Guinness/Leftfield and even the recent Lucozade Tinie Tempah execution) it can be inspirational, uplifting and iconic. Used badly and it’s just a badging exercise, an attempt to be credible or improve status by association. Used very badly (and I have to argue that the VW ad is this) and it’ll succeed in making the individual feel disdain for all involved.

Probably I’m just being precious. I have every right to be so, and would hope that artists insist upon it. They take time to create music, in some cases it comes straight from the heart. Do they really want everyone to think of commercial products when they hear it?

In contrast I don’t feel the same way about BMW’s use of ELO’s Mr Blue Sky (although it didn’t initially sound like the original version) or Vauxhall using Feeder’s Pushing The Senses, in the latter instance I am pleased as Feeder have always deserved a better and wider and bigger audience.

In the case of God Only Knows some of those involved in that process are no longer with us, and in their memory alone this deal should never have been made. The song itself was one of the most technically sophisticated pieces of popular music to be recorded at the time (1966), involving a process of creation that would defy belief even using modern studios and equipment. It is taken from an album that many regard as the finest ever made and the song itself is rated highly by most critics: Mojo magazine ranked it as the 13th greatest song of all time. Pitchfork Media named it the best song of the 1960s and it is 25th on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. Paul McCartney is known to consider it to be his favourite song.

As a piece of music it is stately, harmonious and enchanting. In some respects it defies superlatives, it gives something new with each listen and is one of few that I could hear daily and never tire of. The lyrics and music adorned the walls of my bedroom for many years and I have owned it in multiple formats – including many of the re-releases Pet Sounds has endured.

God Only Knows is a rhapsodically, serenely, melodious, euphoric slice of heaven for those who don’t even believe in a higher order. It encapsulates the joy of love and life within the wonders of music and lyrics. It transcends genre or classification being wondrous, magnificent and timeless; it is a slice of perfection in a beautifully bound package. It is everything that you’d hope that music can be.

I guess advertisers take a risk using music at all, they cannot envisage the wrath or despair it induces in those who regard it so highly or personally. I have little doubt that VW thought they were creating a mini-movie, a history of people’s love for their product. Love for a car is a lot less likely than the love for an inspirational piece of music though, and I wish to a God that I don’t believe in that they’d used a different song this time.

Interlude (G.O.K. #2)

I was ready to unleash a stream of bile, an invective, a torrent of abuse against the commercial use of one of my favourite songs; then I paused.

I frequently tell myself (and others) not to hit send on something they might regret, or may not even be fully understood. If I take stock on this maybe it isn’t that important, most people don’t take music that seriously. Others may just believe that the song concerned is just a nice pop tune, not the major development in popular music or timeless classic that I believe it to be.

It’s all about perspective. Maybe some people do love their cars that much, probably the creative types involved in the commercial believe that they’re paying homage to the song and the vehicles involved.

It is subjective, of course. I was also wary that I was unleashing vitriol against a company to whom I’d recently proposed a sponsorship deal. They foolishly knocked it back in preference to one of their own ideas, one that they don’t actually have the budget to execute properly. Generally speaking I don’t take these things to heart and it certainly didn’t influence my feelings about the ad – I was having those before the ‘knock-back’ and would’ve published them either way.

I suppose I didn’t want to think that my thinking, and consequently my writing, was compromised. If I’m going to commentate on popular culture and express my deep-held beliefs then I should just get on with it. Those will be printed above, very soon.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

God Only Knows

Recorded music, it’s in the sync: Synchronisation that is, a buzz word that’s been knocking around for a few years the meaning of which has been bastardised to neuter the actual intent.

Let me start again. In commercial music terms ‘syncing’ is the means by which a song is used in a TV show or a film, a game or a commercial – often in partnership with the creators of the aforementioned to help to popularise the song or artist.

The term first came into popular usage (for this purpose) when the industry – in which I include publishers, managers and record labels – realised that this could be a vital new promotional stream for acts and songs and that they should view it more pro-actively, rather than charge standard fixed commercial rates for each usage.

At its peak the marriage of right film, right song and right artist produced great results. Witness the case of Wet Wet Wet and ‘Love is all Around’ or Bryan Adams and ‘Everything I Do’, both hugely successful examples of applying a song to a film from which everyone benefits (except possibly the discerning music-lover but that’s another opinion).

From here chaos descended. As with everything the music industry achieves the stampede to clamber aboard the bandwagon began in earnest. Indie-labels and artists began to swamp US TV shows aimed at ‘like-minded-teens’ and advertisers also started to sniff around. In defence of the industry they were seeing the demise of pop-TV as the once-omnipotent MTV moved its focus from music and even stalwarts like Top Of The Pops disappeared – they needed a way to be on TV and it began to be all about the sync.

I may have summarised two decades in one paragraph there but I only intended to sketch in the background of what has become the very slow process of ‘selling-out’. There are certain artists who would never allow their music to be used for commercial purposes or partnerships; people like Tom Waits spring to mind but there are many others. In general terms they had the benefit of being in the industry when recorded music sales could still generate something of a profit. The era before it became so easy to obtain music for free whether by theft or by streaming, the time before the collapse of recorded music.

Now they tell us it’s almost impossible to make money from music sales and whatever your view on this (Adele may have a different perspective to, let’s say, The Horrors) and whose fault it was it has made it a lot easier to justify the process of synchronisation. Now you can sell your soul because no-one else will buy it and you’re convinced it’s the only way to get to market.

I started typing this morning with the intent of spewing bile and tearing hair, my wrath will perhaps be explained later (in the next blog) because the inevitability of syncing is that sometimes the product or the place are wrong. Additionally it is obvious that an advertiser with a budget will prefer to tap into something recognisable rather than risk something new.

In the meantime this piece on ‘syncing’ is two years old and you may not recognise some of the bands it references – this seems somehow appropriate.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What they said

Here's two sobering pieces on the fate of modern musicians and the industry in general.

The Quietus piece would've benefitted from some judious editing but the feeling is right. Bob Lefsetz nails it from an American perspective but he continues to be right about one essential thing - in the end it's all about songs.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Go to Youtube?

The long tail theory means that nothing ever dies but it still concerns me that it can take so long to find things. The case in point (today) is this from David Ford. I can't say he'd crossed my radar previously but this is very clever, and not a bad song either. How do these things gain critical mass? I guess it's as I said previously, it's getting harder and harder to find the diamonds in the dust - but they're definitely out there.

Friday, January 28, 2011


What's not to love?

The art of the album sleeve

I don't know who has time to compile this stuff, I don't even have time to look through the full 80. What I have seen is enough to warrant posting this link: Genuine works of genius, though you may suspect that some of them aren't genuine. I have my doubts about no.10 'Jesus Use Me' by The Faith Tones.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Pilot is set to take off

If I've devoted my January to an exploration of new music (or at least music that's new to me) then I should give a big 'shout out' (as I believe young people no longer say) to The Pilot Project. It's a new music initiative that compiles and allows access to what they consider to be significant new talent. An interesting and easily used site, I suggest you take a look - and definitely listen.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The return of myspace?

I hadn't been on myspace for some-time, probably longer even than I'd last been here. It is greatly improved and remains the place to find new music. Recently I've found none better than this - - if Holly Partridge isn't a huge star by the time that 2011 closes then I'll eat my own socks.

Naturally she has a history, it helps. It's a story to tell when you eventually get stuck in front of interviewers. She writes great songs and seems to perform them pretty well. It's hard when you hear something like this not to get immediately excited and share it with everyone, perhaps it's too early - they're still considering their options with regard to record labels, as well they might.

Real talent is rare, Holly has it.