Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Songs of dissonance (aka songs in the key of live)

In retrospect writing a long piece about people’s inability to engage with albums due to decreasing attention spans was not the best idea I ever had. Perhaps writing is a bit like album-making, sometimes you want to capture every idea and cover all the bases. Those wedded to the process of creation possibly lack the self-edit function.

One of the unifying points I missed was that, aside from surprise album releases, the other thing that links Prince, U2 and Thom Yorke/Radiohead is that they are easily among the best live acts I’ve ever seen. The question I should have asked is whether these acts would excel in the live arena if they hadn’t spent the time creating so many albums? Was it necessary to produce a large quantity of songs in order to find a sufficient quantity to entertain an arena audience?
Finding the answers to these questions is not easy. The standard cliché is that practice makes perfect whether you align it to Gladwell’s ten-thousand hours theory or otherwise. Practice in playing live clearly helped them to be better live acts. Similarly the practice of writing so many songs should improve the ability to write songs, though this may be called into question by those recent recordings. In the past it is probably the case that the business model of the entertainment industry and its retail offshoots required a relatively constant flow of long-playing recordings or albums. With that assumption it can reasonably be stated that U2, Prince and Radiohead did have to release albums in order to become great live acts. Whether this is still the case is still potentially open to discussion. My argument was that it is not.   



Incontrovertibly artists seem as compelled to issue music in bulk as I am to use a foolish and unnecessarily long word. They don’t have to release albums but they still clearly have the desire to do so. As I’ve worked in marketing functions for long periods of my life my starting point is generally one of asking a familiar question: ‘is this what the customer wants?’  The follow-up to which is normally: ‘if it is not then how do we convince them that it is?’ Those are very standard and simplified marketing approaches that can be of use in numerous situations.  Artists inevitably approach their work from a different direction being more likely to start with ‘is this what I want to create?’ In the past an informed and objective insider, such as a record label’s A&R person, might have been forced to interject: ‘is that what people want to hear?’ In this instance you can transpose ‘hear’ with ‘buy’ if you’re that way inclined.

In this age of ‘big data’ Spotify and other streaming services may be easily able to identify whether music fans are as wedded to the album concept as the artists and labels seem to be. I’m led to believe that the statistics suggest we are not. This data is presumably available to those rights-holders who have a vested interest in knowing, I suspect that they’re too scared to look.
Recording artists conceivably resemble great entrepreneurs. At the height of their powers they can do no wrong, everything they touch turns to gold.  Their folly is common to all mankind: the belief that things never change. Things have already changed.  


2 comments:

Christopher Straughan said...

I think with established acts, they don't need to release new albums, but I think the hardcore fan base of such bands demand it, and will buy it. However, they would equally purchase EP's or singles. I'm inclined to stick with bands that continue to outpour their creativity in any form as long as its new music. Band's who don't continue to write run the risk of being merely a nostalgia act. Cinderella and Poison are 2 such acts that I adore, but nothing develops from them musically. KISS argued the point that fans wanna hear the classics, but I am more stoked to hear what the band can produce now than I am about hearing endless live renditions of the same tracks tour after tour and live release after live release.

I may be rambling, but id much rather go out buy a CD or vinyl of a new album of a band that has been around the block, than I am to buy gig tickets for another "greatest hits tour" or in the case of KISS another bloody Farewell Tour!

Newer bands that are emerging as potential staples in the industry are working tirelessly to produce a catalogue of material that their growing fanbase can get to know and enjoy so that this material can then be translated to the live environment where it blossoms.

Maybe im the last of a dying breed in the case of my generation of music enthusiasts but Id like to think that when the band is long gone, that we can pass their bodies of work down to future generations who can enjoy the material that was written and enjoyed by generations that preceded them.

PF said...

I think I'm generally in favour of acts building up a wealth of material.

The argument is whether they have to periodically release it in album format - or even in batches of songs. The Ginger Wildheart model is interesting as it succeeds on many levels, the next blog may reference that.