Thursday, January 31, 2013

The prophets of Jan

Ending the month as we started the year it seems appropriate to look at what myself and others are tipping right now. In the industry of new music no-one knows any better than anyone else and the public will decide. 

Kodaline are on a high and their hopes (forgive the puns….) of stardom may be bolstered by this single which is getting additional traction all over the place. This may be partly due to their BBC Sound Of 2013 nomination but they were also tipped by iTunes, Shazam and MTV, and have had radio support from Radio 1, the ever-more important Radio 2, Xfm and Absolute. NME also like them which matters a lot less of course. I find this inoffensively pretty but unexceptional, I feel that way about most things though and it’s already on the way to 100,000 YouTube views when it isn’t even released until March. The YouTube count seems to be the validation championed by most these days.

In a similar vein Milo Greene’s 1957 reminds me of a dozen other songs and bands of whom Temper Trap spring most readily to mind. They’re also heavily tipped, in their case by (amongst others) The Sunday Times Culture, The Independent, The Sun, Notion, Wonderland, 6 Music and The Guardian in their New Band of the Day column. Naturally it’s a concern that The Guardian can find a new band to recommend every day, it speaks volumes about the problems that the industry has and when they’re recommending so many acts then given the ‘throwing it at the wall’ theory you’d imagine that some will find success.


Milo Greene are from LA and have already appeared on David Letterman, Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno. You’d think that this alone puts them at the head of the pack, we’ll see. Staying on that side of the pond for something I do like and personally feel stands out, meet Kids These Days who seem to be fully embracing the freeconomics ethos by allowing you to download their excellent Traphouse Rock album for free.

This concept is beyond me to an extent, I understand the reasons for doing it but this is a finely produced, well-crafted piece of work that combines hip-hop, pop, rock and brass – you really will feel guilty that you got it for nothing (or maybe that’s just me). Alongside Everything Everything’s Arc and Biffy Clyro’s Opposites this is the album I’ve listened most to so far this year – I realise we’re only in Jan btw, that’s the point. Here’s their website if you want to know more

Ending closer to home and on a mellower note, Ben Drummond has been knocking around for a while and getting closer to success with each knock. He’s supporting both Olly Murs and Rod Stewart at the LG Arena this year and maybe it could be his year.
Ben also hosts an acoustic night on the last Tuesday of every month at the Jam House in Birmingham. He needs a bigger online presence but on musicianship alone he’s hard to beat.



Friday, January 18, 2013

'bum steer?

Critical commentators will tell you that the album is dead and the physical format you’re familiar with buying it on is even more of a rotting corpse. Yet still they’re made and still they’re bought. Not in the quantities of old and certainly not in the same places but enough to make the eulogy seem somewhat premature.
In 2012 UK music fans bought 100.5 million albums, not all of which were made by Adele, Emeli, Ed or Mumford – but a lot were. Over two thirds (69.1%) of the albums sold were on the CD format but the decline continues – total album sales slumped by over 10% and CD albums by almost 20%. The writing’s on the wall but the wall still stands if that’s not twisting the analogy way too far.

Growth continues in singles, in digital and even more so in streaming – there were 3.7 billion audio tracks streamed last year, equivalent to 140 per household. The most popular streamed songs were all pop and include one I don’t think I’ve ever heard - Titanium by David Guetta ft Sia – but I’m hardly the target market and I don’t feel that I’m missing out.

The album is sick (and not in the current usage of that word), it may be dying but it’s not dead yet. There’s a longer argument to be had about the concept as a whole but it’s a blog that I continue to struggle to write. Watch this space.


2012 %
2012 +/-

* 'Other' includes Cassette, MiniDisc, DVD Audio, DVD Video, DMD and 7" box set albums.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Knock once for no

Soon you may have to hold a séance to raise the ghost of the British Recorded Music Industry. Once so proud and like Britannia ruling over the waves it now seems that we’ve very much run aground, we’ve hit the rocks and on the shoreline or promenade we can find no shops.

There was always due to be a knock-on effect from the collapse of HMV, an aftershock if you like. As yet we do not know the full extent of it but as the well-respected Martin Elbourne points out here, it will not be pretty.

As he suggests many small distributors could lose out on outstanding invoices, never to be paid. Major labels too had taken a risk in order to prop up the ailing retailer. Some will survive but there are dark days ahead.

It’s easy to criticize HMV for not moving with the times, failing to embrace the digital age or whatever, but you probably have to remember that they were starting on the ‘back foot’. They already had huge investments in bricks and mortar, in being the showroom for the record industry. As they were so reliant upon the latter they also adopted the same initial stance on downloads as the major labels and thus were too late to the party anyway.

Perhaps iTunes is the only store in town, having the hardware in so many people’s hands has certainly played to their strengths and they’ve used that strength to manipulate the labels into their modus operandi – as flawed as it often is. Similarly Amazon has proved the scourge of bookshops and electronic retailers as well as being the cheapest supplier of CDs.

ITunes and Amazon are the behemoths; having established themselves early and decisively they seem to be the automatic choice for all consumers. To a large extent they’re also now in a monopoly position which cannot be good news – for anyone.

The HMV brand may well return in a substantially reduced capacity, the industry certainly needs it; there’s still a question mark over the consumers though.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Trouble in store

I have no doubt that there’ll be plenty of navel-gazing, wringing-of-hands, gnashing and wailing about the demise of HMV and justifiably so. A significant part of our ‘high street shopping experience’ is about to disappear, conceivably one of the last links from the High St to the music industry suddenly gone.

Maybe those moaning most will not be doing so for some winsome mourning of misplaced youth, perhaps they will be the people who used the store most but I fear they’ll be those who long-ago stopped shopping in the physical world.

The writing was always on the wall. In a relatively short space of time we have lost Virgin Megastores, Our Price, Tower and numerous others I’ve already forgotten. The specialist independents haven’t fared much better. The lure of the record shop is not what it was.

I have a clear conscience here, I regularly used HMV not just as a showroom but also to buy things – albeit that the purchases had more frequently become DVDs than CDs since the store had moved far from being just a music retailer. In trying to master many disciplines its downfall may have been founded, but I’m no expert.

Sadly it seems the future is not in bricks and mortar, the online retailers can do it cheaper and we’re all about price. They also carry access to greater stock, to ‘independent’ reviews, to sound clips and, since we’re now less about physical (digital music sales finally exceeding those of hard-cased product in 2012), it seems to matter less. We also don’t seem to be too bothered if they don’t pay tax to the UK government, shit we’re in the global market now (except when it comes to mp3 pricing of course).

I’m still relatively old-fashioned, probably due to being relatively old, and prefer the physical – to be able to see, touch and feel a product. Sadly it seems that the bigger retailers (and not only those online) have now almost picked apart the entertainment retailers – Comet, Game, Jessops, HMV – so that some of us now have even less desire or need to ‘go’ shopping.

In the case of HMV – leaving aside their broken business model and leaden progress into the digital world – the music industry should still bear some of the blame. As we slide into an ongoing dependence on ‘pop’, focussing only on an audience that has no historical, nostalgic ties to a high-street-brand, the industry has not supplied the artists or the product that would keep people coming into a store like HMV.

The knock-on effect could be catastrophic. Most people don’t read a music/entertainment paper/guide and lack an arbiter/prophet to steer them. Their only knowledge of new product actually being on the market might’ve been when they saw it in HMV; I know this has happened to me. Without that ‘physical prompt’ who can say where the sales will come from.

The future of the High Street may lie in showrooms where manufacturers display but do not sell, it is surely a long-hard-road for retailers of all persuasions – maybe harder still for the music industry itself.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

If the shoe fits

In October I wrote about Pledge Music and the acts I knew that were funding their albums in this way. At the end of the year one of those projects came to fruition and was released to great critical acclaim, Red Shoes  All The Good Friends.

As I had pledged I received my digital copy back in November and was due to review it at that time, failing on two fronts – one due to workload and the other as I was awaiting the physical copy that I forgot I hadn’t paid for. Doh!

I suspect I was also wary of my lack of impartiality, a point I’ll address in too much detail at the end of the review. Some might say I’d helped fund the project but in reality it’s no different to paying for an album, you’re just doing it in advance. I’ve also hated some of the albums I’ve bought of late so that’s no barrier either.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Awards for old rope(y performances)

You expect the Brit Awards to reflect the charts and the success of UK artists at home and overseas, subsequently the nominations should not really contain any major surprises.

That’s mostly true of this year’s rabble, with a couple of exceptions that you can only assume are there to create headlines and head-scratching from columnists and bloggers alike. The Amy nomination is mentioned here so doesn’t need my input except to say that in a year when female vocalists continue to dominate it is just dumb beyond belief.

My ire is stoked by 'British Live Act' of course, five nominations which is exactly the same number as the total amount of major gigs played during 2012 by the most pathetic nomination, The Rolling Stones. I appreciate that the award is not intended for the hardest-working band or the highest-grossing (if it was that might make some sense) but it is an insult to the many British acts playing tirelessly around the world to nominate some old icons who have only strolled up and played under ten gigs in the last five years. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Of course the list it is significantly ‘pop’ as that is the way of the World right now, which means I shouldn’t really have a hope of predicting the winners but I’m going to try anyway. The full list is here and my choices (not at all based on my personal taste but possibly influenced by it) are as follows:
British breakthrough act     Rita Ora (outside bet for Ben Howard or Jake Bugg)
British female solo                Emeli Sandé
British group                         Mumford and Sons (outside bet on One Direction)
British live act                       Coldplay or Muse

British male solo                   Plan B
British producer                   Paul Epworth
British single                         Olly Murs ft. Flo Rida – Troublemaker  (difficult one to call as I think it’s voted for by listeners of Radio 1 – it is crowdsourced anyway and in the absence of One Direction or anyone with a massively influential fanbase to swamp the vote it has to be Olly, doesn’t it?)

International female             Lana Del Rey or Rihanna
International group              The Black Keys
International male                Bruce Springsteen
Mastercard British Album   Emeli Sandé – Our Version of Events or Mumford and Sons – Babel

This was for ‘fun’ rather than betting purposes (I wouldn’t suggest you waste your money in this way) and there’ll inevitably be one random winner that no-one could predict. The albums and male solo are wide open and Michael Buble could be the easy-listening choice for International Male if they go against heritage.

The Sound Of.....self-fulfilling prophesy

The BBC’s Sound Of….. is always a reliable guide to acts that are likely to break in a given year, partly because it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy. The people involved in picking the acts have a prior knowledge, speciality, expertise - they are the star makers.
Of course by making the list at all you could suspect that the beeb themselves suddenly have a vested interest. If they’re the acts the stations are most likely to play then they instantly stand more of a chance of breaking big.

As I’ve said before on the whole prophesy market, all of us that do it want to look well-informed and this list is the epitome of that.

Angel Haze
King Krule
Laura Mvula
Little Green Cars
Palma Violets
The Weeknd
Tom Odell

If you wanted to be sniffy about it (as I often do) you might claim that – for example – it’d have been more prophetic to have picked a band like Peace last year, before they signed to Sony. Being signed to Sony and on this list instantly makes them ‘more likely’ if you like.

At any rate as I said at the start of the year, none of us gets it right all the time and it’s better to be trying to recommend acts than not. I’m not entirely convinced by this year’s winners, Haim, but I do like Laura Mvula (another Sony act):

I prefer Jacob Banks though, he is some talent:

Sadly, I’m no expert as this proves. I still think Holly could and should be a big star though.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Heroes to Ashes

The excitement of late in the kingdom of song is that David Bowie has a new single out with an album forthcoming. The real story is probably more that he managed to keep it all under wraps during the recording process and commanded so much (excessive?) media time by doing so. We all thought he was finished but look he isn’t dead after all – and the song’s not bad either.

As with The Rolling Stones revival (that ran for a limited period last year) and the cavalcade of other re-unions, the question is often in whether any new recorded music is worthwhile. Like Bowie’s the Stones track was pretty good, even if it was one of only two new songs on their 157th compilation of hits mostly recorded over thirty years ago.

I’m prompted by two thoughts that I intend to explore at slightly longer length over the next few weeks. One is that ‘the oldies’ (as we’ll collectively call them) occupy so much media space because there’s a vacuum of star quality in the rock sphere of late, few new acts have filled the void which is leading to bigger problems than the lack of recorded music sales. For instance there are too few major acts to fill the stadiums and festivals, if the old guys don’t step up there are few options and since we’d all previously agreed that live was the only way to earn from music it will lead to further issues in the months and years to come.

The other thought is that the album is really nearing the end of its useful life. Now that digital sales are finally exceeding physical it seems clear that singles (or at least single tracks/songs) will prevail. I’ve mused on this issue in the past and others frequently point to the sales of Adele’s 21 or Mumford albums as being proof that I’m wrong. Sadly these artists are too few – and their albums already contain a significant number of individual tracks that have been big at radio or as singles. As such it becomes as cheap to buy the album as those individual songs. More likely it is those of my age-group who are still the purchasers of physical product and we are wedded to the album format for better or worse.

I’ve often wondered why it hasn’t led to more random single releases from artists with that level of artistic and commercial freedom. Radiohead may have broken the mould when it came to pricing and releases but they clearly got bored with themselves or maybe just couldn’t be bothered.

It’s great that Bowie is back, he is an icon and his legacy is magnificent. You may argue that this is a pensioner singing about public transport as I saw one wag do, but there has to be room in our life for heroes, however fallible they are.

As for the long-form and long-term I’ve no doubt that there are many who want to hear a full album from him, just as there are for Bob Dylan, Springsteen and others in progressively smaller numbers as the years roll by. I tend to think though that we’ve already got Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Station To Station, Scary Monsters.....we don’t actually need any more Bowie, we do need new stadium acts though. Form an orderly queue.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

January is for prophecy

I've long bemoaned the absence of a recognised arbiter of tastes, a respected influencer with a sizable impressionable audience. Since we’ve all retreated into our respective niche pigeonholes it seems unlikely that such a person or programme will ever exist – there will be genre specialists and there will be Jools Holland (in the absence of other big-station live music programming). The rest of it is down to all of us, individually and collectively, peer-to-peer is the only recommendation worthwhile.

So while I’ve also mocked the annual parade of prophets lining up to give us their verdict on the big new talent, there is little more to do than actually join them. I’ve come to accept that you don’t have to be the first to spot something; it’s valuable enough to join in the chorus. With this in mind, I give you George Barnett.

Even if you don’t like the style of music it’s impossible to deny the promise and potential in a performance and a song like this. Without doubt you need more than talent. Thankfully, as Robin Valk has pointed out, there seems to be a fair amount of nous at work too. This is only my first tip for 2013. There will be more – old and new thoughts and talent - to see here this year. Stay tuned, as they used to say when tuning was a necessity.