Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Islands in the stream

It’s a documented fact that the music industry made a catastrophic error on the issue of downloads, and file-sharing, being ponderously slow to capitalise on the potential for revenue and growth. They were technologically inept, strategically slack and slow to adapt, eventually handing control of the sector to tech giants like Apple who were able to dictate the terms of engagement.  

Having ceded control in this vital area you’d have envisaged them being a bit more alive to the next development and in cutting equity deals with key players in the streaming market you might suggest that they have been. Unfortunately they seem not to have considered the artists. They made the same error in developing CDs but were able to circumvent any great backlash by delivering significant sales. The dramatically slower pace of streaming revenue looks set to cause greater issues with the artist community as those in control of creating the content continue to rebel against their perceived drop in revenues and status.

Artists’ retrospectively bemoaning the content of their recording contracts is far from new news; it’s as old as the industry. Wherever money is involved there is always a degree of mistrust and record company contracts are among the more convoluted documents ever created by lawyers, which must be saying something. Added to this royalty statements are easily some of the most complex forms I’ve ever had the ‘privilege’ of trying to interpret. Only lawyers benefit from scenarios where acts sign an agreement as penniless hopefuls and contest it as successful, widely-known celebrities. These scenarios exist because contracts attempt to cover all eventualities, including developments in distribution which didn’t exist at the time they were written.

We can’t predict the future but we can waste a lot of time in arguing about it, without any resolution. This piece from July 2013 covers a lot of the territory very effectively and this feature gives a good idea for a potential resolution in streamingissues which will never be pursued. There’s a lot of noise and not a great degree of light. What we do know is that there are far too many streaming services already and other major players are rapidly joining the throng. Meanwhile the industry tries to accommodate them all like a drunk gambler backing all the horses in a race or a trick surfer with feet strapped to separate boards as the tsunami approaches.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Same old same new

Yesterday I shared my view that a lot of us that engage with music are in an ongoing spiral of repetitious behaviour. Like most people who get absorbed by sharing their thoughts and opinions I projected my world view onto everyone else when maybe this is happening only to me. It’s a curse of thinking – or writing – too much. Those of us who do it tend to extrapolate.

As for repetition itself, we are frequently told that music (like fashion) is cyclical and what is popular today may not be so popular tomorrow. I’ve generally believed this but I’m starting to stray from that point of view, particularly as we’ve become locked into a long period of pop/dance/r‘n’b domination.
Niche interests are now pursued by a niche audience who know where to sate their thirsts without troubling the mainstream music buyer or interrupting the status quo. Where once this niche may have filtered into the mainstream, as more people discovered it or as those with niche tastes moved into a position of influence, this seems to have stopped happening.

The big hit records of any period tend to be pretty middle-of-the-road, this is standard because any big hit needs a wide-appeal and that always comes from music that is centre-ground. Thus even in a period of music that we’d consider as revolutionary (say 77-78 for punk) the bigger hits were always going to be mainstream, traditional songs. The Pistols may have gone to number one in ’77 but the charts were dominated by Abba, Rod Stewart and David Soul. Connie Francis spent as many weeks at number one as Never Mind The Bollocks did, so did Frank Sinatra, and Johnny Mathis spent twice as long at the top.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

New year, same old scene

Though I try to change the routine, shake the system, I’m apparently a slave to repetition and nowhere more so than in my listening habits.

At each year end I find myself surveying the critic’s choices to discover what I’ve missed and where I agree, or generally disagree, with their verdicts. No sooner had I written last month’s post on that very subject when I discovered the NME had assembled a poll of polls that did the work for me.
It was easy to be disillusioned by some of the choices. I simply couldn’t get on with St Vincent and have to assume I am missing something. All I heard was a modern-day Laurie Anderson  which forced me into the same lazy and reductive habit I have of comparing new with old. In a similar vein I was tempted to reflect that Sleaford Mods were likely to be this (or last) year’s Flowered Up. In my case it seems that those who can remember the past are condemned to review it.