Saturday, November 30, 2013

The rise of the mega-tracks

Robin Thicke was moaning this week. He’s getting good at it. He’s had to moan about his video being empowering to women when it’s clearly sexist tripe. He’s had to moan about being sued by Funkadelic and Marvin Gaye’s estate who he claims not to have plagiarised. He’s had to moan about Blurred Lines being banned when it’s ‘not naughty it’s just sexy’. Sadly for him an incitement to non-consensual sex is considered rapey in most civilised societies.

Having complained about the song not being played in places he’s now having to complain that people are playing it too much. Behind every hit is a writ and, like it or loathe it, Blurred Lines is a big hit. This is the problem that Thicke has this week. Blurred Lines is so big that he can’t get DJs or radio stations to play his other songs. It should be a nice problem to have and it is strictly an ‘old school’ issue.

When you’re with a major record label and you record a bunch of songs – one of which is considered to be a sure-fire hit – the label gets out its big-guns and you have a release schedule. That schedule is fixed around the hit with the focus meant to be on the album that contains the hit. This is why it’s so old school, the album should follow the chart impact of the hit by around a month at which time a second prospective hit is planned.

When your hit won’t die it throws the schedule out. The label struggle to get play for the second single which is intended to show your diversity or the mass of possible hits that people might get if they buy the album, they struggle to get this play because so many people are still playing the first mega-hit. People keep claiming the album is dead but the artists and labels still love the album, their entire schedule is based around it and this pattern seems unlikely, certainly unwilling, to change.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Raise a toast

TV comedy is hit and miss. In my case the mainstream stuff tends to miss the mark completely by being too general, obvious or frankly dumb. The niche or more ‘radical’ sketch and sitcom stuff is generally aimed at a younger audience – generally equally dumb but in a different way. In most cases I can’t tell if it’s over my head or completely beneath me.

As a result I tend not to bother unless it’s something I’ve watched for years (Peep Show), has been recommended by peers or features people – writers or actors – that I’m familiar with and admire.

I share an occasional workplace with Matt Berry but I’ve never met him. I am a great fan of his work though; from the brilliantly under-rated Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace to his appearances in the IT Crowd he is always good value. I was obviously pleased to see Toast Of London turned into a series after its pilot last year.  

There are elements of it that play to my tastes, particularly the sessions in a Soho voiceover studio, but the entire premise of a slightly unhinged classic actor type reduced to scrabbling for work whilst retaining his huge ego is comedy gold.


All of this said I probably wouldn’t have bothered to write about it had it not been for last week’s episode, Bonus Ball. In many respects it looked like they’d saved up half the budget just for one episode with skits (Bond) and guest cameos (Michael Ball) but the real gem was only five minutes or so into the show when Toast and his arch-rival, Ray Purchase, have to dub some gay Euro erotica. I can’t recall laughing this much at a TV show in many years. Luckily YouTube has the clip.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Elvis and the Distractions, a different Oliver’s Army and other songs.

Two months ago I was being optimistic, finding my cup half-full, noting that the quantity of music releases that appealed to me were mounting up to the point of overflow. It took me most of the intervening time to find opportunities to listen to the bulk of those albums whilst also being distracted by other releases.

There is a risk, prevalent in the modern world, of choice-paralysis; having so much to choose from that it renders you inert. I struggled with this to start with and also its partner-in-crime: that terrible fear of disappointment – what if the artists you expect so much from actually fail to deliver?

That fear is enhanced by hype; we seem to be so starved of releases that the media and our peers are excited by that when one occurs they seem to go completely over the top about it. It was the hype that initially distracted me from listening to either the Arctic Monkeys AM or Arcade Fire’s Reflektor.

It’s a peculiar fault of mine that I get disgruntled and irritable when I find myself unable to agree with the mass of opinion. It’s not that I want to be part of the mass, more that I am angry about being misled. In that instance I also fear for the casual listener, the random folk who might be dragged in by media hyperbole. They might only buy a couple of CDs a year and if one doesn’t seem to match up with the hype it has been given who knows when they’ll believe in a review again.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Tech it or leave it out

Most developments in the music industry are the result of technological advancements or improvements. This is common to all areas from playing and recording, broadcast or performance to distribution and delivery. The great crisis of our age is not about streaming or illegal downloads it is about how musicians/artists earn. The person who solves that will be feted, likelihood is that it won’t be an artist though, it’ll be a businessman.

Everyone hated downloads, they destroyed sales (possibly). Apple’s solution of iTunes was driven by the hardware they’d created, they needed a one-stop store to sell the media to play on the machines – and they wanted control. No-one liked it, labels or artists, but they knew they had to get on board. There were few alternatives in the legal downloads game and most of those have now been crushed by Apple’s superiority.

Artists did not make those deals, labels could ill-afford not to and in the many years we’ve spent getting to streaming it still seems that business always takes the lead. It’s understandable, artists create art and business-people sell it – isn’t that the deal? If you look back far enough it seems that it was always the way but also that it was the acts that adapted quickest that profited most.