Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Flawed and Egregiously Inaccurate Study About Working Musicians

The Atlantic has run a story about how--surprise--musicians are making money from selling physical recordings now. This means that everyone can continue to rip them off and feel good about not paying for music downloaded from the Internet.

Articles like this serve the interests of people who want to continue justifying that early 2000s mentality--musicians are rich, so stealing music from them is good because it will help them sell more CDs. The problem is, it won't, it never did help anyone do better, and there are considerably fewer record stores now than there were in the early 2000s. There are whole entire chains of music stores that are gone now.  Oh, and you can't write about artists wanting to be paid without taking a cheap shot at Metallica, so there's that, too.

The good news that the article is based on is the flawed conclusion of the study--musicians are making "12 to 22" percent of their money from selling physical recordings. How did we arrive at that total? By conducting a ridiculous survey of older, established artists:
DiCola's study isn't perfect. It analyzes answers from roughly 5,300 musicians who volunteered for the survey, meaning it lacked the element of random sampling that most social science work strives for. The participants were overwhelmingly white (88 percent), male (70 percent), and old (the largest demographic was 50-to-59-year-olds). Almost 35 percent were classical musicians, and another 16 percent were jazz artists. In short, this isn't going to offer a crystal clear financial portrait of your up-and-coming Pitchfork darling. 
Nonetheless, the results do offer insight into how workaday guitarists, saxophonists, singers, songwriters, and timpani players -- 42 percent of the group earned all of their income from music-related work -- earn a living. And music sales (or streams) are usually a small but by no means insignificant piece of the picture.
I would say that these results are incredibly misleading, flawed, and skewed away from people who are really struggling to find a way to succeed. The only business model that seems to be working is to play live, play live a lot, get money from people directly through the Internet in some way, and find a way to survive. If you're going to say that there isn't a problem anymore, look directly at the problem itself; analyzing what is happening to 51 percent of your survey respondents, who are either classical or jazz artists in the 50-59 age demographic isn't going to clarify anything except to tell you how those people are continually being screwed. There are fewer big labels and fewer deals. There are a lot of people struggling to make a living playing music, and it is becoming next to impossible to survive by playing music without a solid method of making money. That's what has to be fixed, and soon.

What is a "workaday" musician? That would be someone who, for all intents and purposes, already has an established revenue stream that pre-dates the Internet era. These artists have survived a dry and fallow period and are already looking back at several years of greatly diminished sales. How is a current uptick supposed to undo a decade of damage? For an artist who existed prior to the Napster era?  That would be someone who has a revenue stream that includes physical recordings and a catalog extending back at least twenty years. These are artists that are making a very paltry amount of income from recorded music. To me, "12 to 22" percent is ridiculously low given that these are established, older artists who should be making a great deal more precisely because any sales of recorded music happening right now are happening on a much different scale from 20 years ago.

With fewer stores, outlets like, and with people paying prices that are either too low or too high depending on how their inventory is priced, each sale should be triggering a larger royalty payment since the actual sale of a physical item--CD or vinyl--is a rarer occurrence. Ideally, these artists should be handling the manufacture and sale of their own pre-recorded music so as to increase their own royalty. 

This means that the "12 to 22" percent is based on a new metric. In the old days, artists were advanced money, they recorded their music, and sales were made. Royalties were paid usually only after the advance was paid off. Today, artists usually pay for their own recordings, own their own publishing and, in many cases, their own label imprint. There is no middleman between them and the person who buys their product. This is because they are now able to directly pay for someone to make their CDs or vinyl records for them, and financing a lot of this comes from being able to play live, which is something the study chose to avoid considering because that would reveal more flaws in the study methodology. When they sell something for $10-15 at a show, why wouldn't they collect a much larger royalty? Why wouldn't that become "12 to 22" percent of their income when they've fronted the costs out of what they paid to make that product in the first place?

So, if you're an established musician, and if you're using your live concert income to make and produce recordings, you're investing that cash in yourself. You're making that pot smaller. Then, you're turning around and selling physical units and making some money there as well. But that means you robbed Peter to pay Paul and have made back some, but not all, of the money siphoned from the proceeds of playing live.

And this means that things are great now, right? What happens when you can't play live and finance new recordings? Do you wait for a non-existent music label with non-existent funds to pay you to make a new CD that they will own and sell, providing you a royalty when you're done paying off their advance? Really, it's not that hard to figure out--as the age 50-59 cohort dies off, what happens to the study results?

Articles like this mean well, but they fail to assess the big picture--artists are struggling, and the early 2000s mindset that all music should be free is the cause.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Pointless Reunion of Fall Out Boy

If you're going to break up, break up for a while. Don't shut things down and screw over your fans one day and then, a scant four years later, pretend nothing happened.

When a band breaks up, it should stay broken up for at least a decade or more. Breaking up and reuniting within five years is a hiatus, not a breakup.

Why does anyone care about Fall Out Boy? Who wants to stay a lame kid their whole lives? This is a pointless band that makes pointless music and doesn't stand for anything other than the perpetual lameness of emo and commercialism.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Something Happens Stuck Together With God's Glue

I don't normally single out covers that I find unappealing or poorly done; this is something that the bitchier music bloggers can cover if that's what they choose to do. I was scrolling through some music blogs and saw this and I had such an instant, visceral reaction to it that I had to post something about it.

The cover of an album has little or nothing to do with the value of the music inside. Let me say that up front. I know nothing of Something Happens and I am making no value judgment of the songs or the art that resides under the album cover. I'm writing about the cover itself, nothing more.

Someone should have stopped this or at least said, "let's put a pin in it and think about making this look a little differently." Perhaps, in those days, one did not put a pin in things.

The cartoon art in the margins strikes me as being done by someone in the band or someone affiliated with the band. I suppose I should go find out but why drag all of that up when it is much easier to speculate blindly and get it wrong? This cover is so bad, it had to be a girlfriend with half of an art or design degree, turned loose on a bender. Whoever thought it would work to slice up the band images and use poorly lit Glamour Shots probably should have used a different method.

But, then again, perhaps the whole thing was rushed. Perhaps the label screwed it up and let someone clearly on drugs or someone incompetent and confused design the thing. How would you have liked to have woken up one day and found that the songs and the work you had done had been covered with this image and this presentation?

The marketing people agreed to this? Someone high up at the record label said, "I love it--let's get it on a poster!" And there were no fights in the band over this? No one in the band's management stopped the meeting with an awkward slash of the arm and said, "this will not do."

I will say this--when you want to go amateurish and freaky, go big with it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

David Cameron Goes to War With The Smiths

Out of this small incident--which centers around Johnny Marr saying that he doesn't want British Prime Minister David Cameron to listen to recordings of The Smiths--will come the reunion of the band. At least, that's what I think.

It all reminds me of New Jersey governor Chris Christie and his unabashed love of Bruce Springsteen. For years, Springsteen snubbed him because they are political opposites. When Hurricane Sandy hit, Springsteen and Christie sort of reached a truce.

That probably won't happen with Cameron and Marr and Morrissey. What might happen is this--Marr's promise to reform the band when the coalition government eventually fails in Britain might open the door to a reunion of sorts, one that probably won't involve drummer Mike Joyce.

Then again, maybe not.

When No One Loves You in Your Home Town

This is a story about local loyalties, and playing in your home town to the crowds that made you.

In Leeds, England, there is a band called Kaiser Chiefs. They have been around, in one form or another, for years now and they are fairly successful in the British Isle. They've won awards and sold a lot of CDs and have a faithful following. It stands to reason that, when a new arena was built in Leeds that a hometown band would be the first to play there and inaugurate it and all that.

Apparently, the people who manage Leeds Arena thought that was a good idea, and Kaiser Chiefs agreed to be the band to break in the venue. But then, capitalism and greed forced their way into the equation and now Kaiser Chiefs will be the third band to play their new hometown arena, after Elton John and Bruce Springsteen.

John has only a national connection to Leeds, having not been born there. Springsteen, being an American artist, has little or no connection to Leeds and thus you can see the foundation of this insult. Why would you insult a locally grown act, one as successful as Kaiser Chiefs, in favor of a pair of icons who got their start in the 1970s? Is this a nod to the fact that a much older and wealthier audience is more likely to pay excessive ticket prices?

Money rules, apparently, and this sort of insult takes guts. When John and Springsteen are no longer touring, who will remember the slight given to the hometown heroes?

Kaiser Chiefs should tell the organizers to keep their money and go play elsewhere. I hope they are in a position to do so.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Mighty Lemon Drops The Other Side of You Cover

The band is all but washed out of this heavily processed image. But the pink on black effect and the stacked lettering makes for a great cover.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Verve No Come Down

The Verve released No Come Down as a compilation album to coincide with their slot on the Lollapalooza tour during the summer of 1994. This was no throwaway release; many of the tracks on this album were b-sides that should have been singles in their own right.

I love the design concepts expressed here and the use of American iconography from the 1970s, like the racing number one, the pinball machine, and the star. This is the sort of thing that you would expect to see on a 70's release, and so it marries up with the demise of grunge and the rise of using retro themes. It is brilliantly conceived and executed.

Included here are two extras--a Lollapalooza-era promotional poster and an early photo that I threw in just to throw people off.

Sleeper Sale of the Century Single

I love the design choices that went into this single, and, being a sucker for Britpop doesn't hurt, either.

Sleeper's Sale of the Century single was either their sixth or seventh single and the second overall from their second album, The It Girl (which has an incredibly well done cover as well).

The colors, the use of the toy motorcycle, and everything else just works so well in the design and the presentation. If the colors alone don't grab you, there are the songs on the back to entice the fan as well--two B-sides and a cover song, always worth a try when you get four songs on a single.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Background Noise Will Never Go Away

The brand known as "Muzak" has been derided for decades; the generic term for Muzak is, as everyone knows, elevator music.

There's a reason why this sort of product will never go away, and it doesn't have to do with aural pleasure or smells or creating an environment where people can feel at ease. It has to do with the use of masked or hidden tones, broadcast outside of the range of human hearing, where measurement and recording devices can pick up those tones and match them to advertisers and consumers. Someday, when the statute of limitations runs out, I'll tell you all about it.

This is how a certain product works, and Muzak helps present this kind of thing in a palatable way. No wonder they make so much money piping in what is, essentially, just crap.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Return of Twee

Singer Adele presents the trophy for best album of the year to Mumford & Sons on stage at the Staples Center during the 55th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on Feb. 10, 2013.
Singer Adele presents the trophy for best album of the year to Mumford & Sons on stage at the Staples Center during the 55th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on Feb. 10, 2013. / FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Well, what do you make of all of this?
Mumford & Sons' "Babel" has won the Grammy Award for album of the year. 
"We figured we weren't going to win anything because The Black Keys have been sweeping up all day, and deservedly so," lead singer Marcus Mumford said in his acceptance speech. 
It was the foursome's second win on Sunday night. They also won best long form music video.
I can't help but laugh. In the late 1980s, Britain was full to brimming with "twee" bands that sang with old instruments and wore weird clothes and received tremendous indifference in most of the world. 

The new twee bands are evolved from emo and indie and whatever else is out there. But they are twee, through and through, and the commercial appeal of this genre is the surprise. Gone are the hysterics of rock and roll and we now live in the era of the sad song you can wash the dishes to or impress that girl in the coffee shop with. This is not party music. It's Starbucks music. It's serious and inoffensive all at once, and it is knowing and hip in a hipster's world, complete with obligatory gadgets and you old farts just don't understand.

The Grammy's, as I have said year in and year out, are the music industry's way of rewarding commercially successful artists with an award that has nothing to do with quality or artistry or music. This is not where anything approaching real rock music--real rebellion or genuine artistry--goes to say thanks to a grateful nation. When you win a Grammy, it means you are lame. It doesn't mean anything more than that, so I would like to see people fling them away or refuse them or act up.

Who has the balls to hurl their Grammy through the front end of a bass drum anymore? Who wants to have a laugh at the expense of the suits and let their freak flag fly? Not these crybaby romantics with their dulcimers and violins and steel guitars and their songs about pink little coffee shop girls. Ugh.

Rock and roll used to be about acting up. Now, it's about being boring, staid and commercially slick so as to capture that last remaining slice of the music industry that is still trying to sell a CD in a store for $18.99 to someone who isn't smart enough to get it any other way. Now it's about putting on nice clothes and letting Adele into the room. Is there anything less rock and roll than Adele?

Sorry to be mean, but, damn. When did things get this lame?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Stunning Success of mbv

Despite the hiccup releasing their latest album, My Bloody Valentine seem to be riding high right now.

This five star review lavishes praise on their latest and, with a flurry of live dates happening soon, who could ask for anything more?

The difference between Loveless (1991)

...and mbv (2013) is, essentially, the transition from analog to digital, hence the brilliant digitized cover. This is the stark reminder of how much has changed since the early 1990s.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Reg Presley of The Troggs

Reg Presley was a legendary performer, and he should be remembered for the hits and the songs and the things he did.

If you haven't heard the infamous "argument" in the recording studio, then here you go.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Never Mind

Visitors to are being greeted with one of two things--a new My Bloody Valentine album, their first original music since 1991--or what you see above.

Well, at least they tried. Whoever they picked to run their website and handle the e-commerce of releasing their new album is probably a bit harassed and overwhelmed right now, the poor dears.

The way to do it is to release it on vinyl now. Whatever Jack White is doing, just do that. He has figured out how to go back in time and get people to actually buy the physical product and pay him for his troubles.

My Bloody Valentine Make an Announcement

At the bottom right of this image, a screenshot of their Facebook page, is the announcement that has teased fans for the better part of the last few decades.

Will there be a new My Bloody Valentine album? And will it matter if this actually happens?

Who knows?