Thursday, October 18, 2012

Not only, but also

It’s not just The Beatles and The Stones of course, last night I went to a playback of tracks from the new Aerosmith album and recently declined the opportunity to see the Led Zeppelin concert film.

We are obsessed with bands of the past, those who lived larger and broke boundaries doing so. Jarvis Cocker encapsulates it well in this review when he talks of us all being ‘children of the echo’, born just beyond the moment of the big bang and therefore condemned to try and re-capture those moments – to somehow try and get close.

A few things came to mind from the Aerosmith playback; they've got a fucking fantastic logo that still seems timeless – it just works. Indeed you could also say this of The Stones and possibly The Beatles (and Apple logo) or Zeppelin (four symbols and Swansong as much as their title logo).

I don’t know that bands do logos anymore but maybe they should, they’re iconic and can make the transition over many years. They also, perhaps this is why they've slipped from favour, give rise to the ‘band as brand’ theory. People love a good logo don’t they?

The other realisation from the Aerosmith playback was that this band are still pretty good, they've still got it. It’s a sad fact then for new acts that as well as competing with 50 years of pop history (the point of the original piece below) they’re also up against bands with a history that can still do it.

Naturally Aerosmith will command column inches for their comeback, they’re recognised entertainers, no-one has to do a sales job on them and they have great stories. I also don’t know many rock bands producing material as good as the stuff I heard last night, but it’s possible I need to get out more.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A rolling beatle gathers most coverage

There’s been a flurry of excitement about a couple of bands recently. You probably saw some of the coverage, it seemed to be everywhere. It dominated news channels and papers, even radio stations got pretty animated.

Unfortunately these bands were The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Both are celebrating 50th anniversaries – one with a ‘new’ compilation and tour, the other just basking in the continual reflected glow of admiration that is given for their status of ‘national treasures’.

Andy Warhol once suggested that in the future everyone would have their fifteen minutes of fame; very few will get fifty years of it though. In fact is there anyone currently making music that will survive and be venerated fifty years from now?

Furthermore can you think of anyone – or any single piece of work – created in the last twenty years that will survive the ravages of time and still be praised five decades after its creation? There may be a few but will the bands or artists who created them still be able to fill arenas and stadia worldwide in 2032 and beyond?
It could be argued that The Beatles and The Stones were pioneers at the vanguard of teen dominance with the good fortune to be at their peak when the rock n’ roll generation came of age - a generation that possibly still rules over popular culture.

There may be other issues at hand of course, such as the current difficulties in breaking and sustaining an act globally. As I’ve often reflected it’s easier to find a route to market these days and consequently you’re competing against so many others. When you look at acts having success on both sides of the Atlantic, who do you see – Adele, Rihanna, Mumford & Sons, One Direction? Which – if any – of them do you predict could still be making an impact in forty years time?

The work ethic and release schedule of The Beatles (previously mentioned here and here) is a defining factor of their success and longevity – something that they were only able to achieve with a supportive record company and less strenuous promotional responsibilities to acts of today. Indeed it is important to note that The Beatles barely toured once they were successful – an option not available to any acts in 2012 now that live revenue is more important than royalties.

You might argue that The Beatles paid their ‘dues’, that no-one takes such a risk in 2012 (going to Hamburg for months on end, playing 98 consecutive nights) that everyone wants it now and on their terms. This could be true but I’d imagine it frustrates many young musicians that they don’t only have to compete with other new acts; they’re also competing against 50 years of pop history. It’s a hard life.  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The real pricetag?

I hadn’t looked at Amanda’s breakdown of expenditure when composing the original blog on kickstarter/pledge and the other funding sites (below).

It’s an interesting piece, if only because it gives you some insight into an artist’s outgoings and cross-references Steve Albini’s earlier blog about signing to a record label (also well worth reading).

Of course you can do things in many different ways, but you should always have a budget and remember that recording and playing live are expensive hobbies.


PS - Subsequent to this a row broke out involving Amanda’s attempt to recruit musicians in each of her tour towns creating a spat between Palmer and Albini partly summarised by fasterlouder.  

Palmer backed down and the free to play argument rumbles on.  Albini later apologised for calling her an idiot but like most disagreements in the industry of late this one was played out in full view of the public. Freedom of the press and right to privacy don’t feature much in these instances. Perhaps we all know too much?

What's the colour of music?

It’s hard to make a living in the music industry, you’re lucky if you can break even. As we bring forth a second or third generation who have no concept of paying for recorded music (what they don’t steal they stream) it gets harder to get a break.

I wrote about this way-back in July 2009, should you care to read it you can do so here although there have inevitably been many changes in the subject since then.

One of the more recent additions to the artist’s arsenal is the concept of pledging. Initially seen in the charity market, particularly in tv telethons, its application to music is of great interest as it allows an act to establish their worth before taking a risk.

The two major sites are crowdfunder and pledgemusic and my friend Robin Valk gives a good enough overview of their merits/history here that I feel reluctant to add to it. I’m also lazy.

In some ways these sites take part of the role that a record company would traditionally have played. You could think of the old labels as being a kind of bank in that they’d pay for you to produce records/albums or whatever you prefer to call them but the cost of this would be recouped from your royalties (eventually or hopefully).

By using the pledging method an act is enlisting their friends and fan-base as a promise to pay mechanism, giving them the reassurance that they can record/release the project as described on the web-page. For illustration purposes we can use the only one I’ve ever pledged on, Brummie folk-superstars Red Shoes who, as you’ll see here have now raised the relevant funds to release their second major album.

Of course this works best if you already have a fan-base, the bigger the better, and record companies have started to offer this service to acts they’ve previously helped to establish (Kate Bush & EMI being a particular example) but on the flip-side you could say that you shouldn’t be trying to release anything without establishing that people like you anyway.

Additionally if we’re suggesting (as many do) that the route to revenue from music is through a combination of recorded/live/merchandise and other benefits then a fan-base is something you’re going to have to develop and nurture.

Whilst the crowd-funded music scene has yet to create its own EL James, Amanda Palmer is one of the more famous examples of the technique, having raised way-over her intended goal using the US-based Kickstarter site. She has been roundly praised for doing so but in this case the methods often seemed questionable (semi-erotic pictures once she got past a certain revenue figure – a route only available to the few I suppose) and the story is now all about the funding rather than the music. The Guardian piece on Palmer even includes a link to their review, which doesn’t actually exist.

Whether it’s a long-term solution is a debatable point, people are only likely to (promise to) invest in something they feel a very personal link to. My investment in Red Shoes is likely to be one of few that I’d make and comes from a combination of both a desire to hear the new music and my regard for them as people, musicians and song-writers. I may like a lot of music but there’s not much of it that I feel so deeply involved with. 

I’d suggest that you pledge here and reap the reward yourselves, and then I might even shut up about it.