Thursday, July 23, 2015

Middle School

The music business used to feature adults who sang songs about adult issues and rejected the idea that it couldn't be art.

I know--what the hell happened?

Who are these people and why do they tweet at each other as if no one else has anything better to do? Better yet, why are they so enamored with an award from MTV that recognizes the shitty, overpriced promotional video they made to promote a song they didn't write?

I guess when you get to the rare level of having actual revenue from streaming and physical sales and have an actual record label to promote your work, there's no where left to but back to school, bitches.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


Another sad commentary on the state of the music business, emphasis on business:

The strange thing about Neil Young's decision is that the audio quality on streaming services really isn't that bad. And in many cases, it's pretty good: If you're a premium subscriber to Spotify, for example, you're streaming music in 320 kbps in a format called Ogg Vorbis, which roughly translates to the quality of a CD.

Streaming services know that they have to provide quality if they want to properly steal the work of artists. You'd think that Young would have some answers, but he has his own hardware to sell instead of a better idea.

Anyway, we are well and truly fucked:

Young might argue that listeners are merely in the dark, and that they have no idea what they're missing. But if that were the case, wouldn't at least one of the dozens of high-quality audio services, formats or startups have taken off by now? TIDAL -- which Jay-Z recently launched in March -- features extremely high-definition audio quality for $19.99 a month, but very few have even noticed. And high-fidelity digital music stores such as HDtracks have existed for more than a decade, yet consumer interest has been tepid at best.

The same is true for high-end stereo systems, which appeal to a narrow, usually older niche of audiophiles. And painfully-engineered, high-end earphones are mostly for the demanding music connoisseur -- which translates to probably something like 0.01% of the population. Even earlier, high-fidelity physical formats such as Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio have floppedamidst nonexistent demand.

There just aren't enough audiophiles with endless budgets to fuel these ongoing market attempts. Even vinyl -- a warm, inviting alternative to digitized formats -- remains a relatively narrow market, despite overwhelming uptake in places such as Brooklyn and Echo Park, Los Angeles.

So what is taking off? Well, the most popular portable music device is the phone, typically connected to either white earbuds or Beats headphones, neither of which are renowned for their high-fidelity sound. Even FM radio remains a surprisingly massive format, simply because it's extremely cheap and extremely easy to use. And for those who dislike traditional radio, there's Pandora, Spotify and other free or low-cost music streaming services -- favorites for on-the-go listeners.

None of these formats are pitching users on super hi-fidelity experiences. Instead, they excel in areas such as convenience, portability, price and selection -- all things that fit active, on-the-go lifestyles in ways that higher-fidelity experiences typically can't.

How many Pono players have you bought this week? How many streaming services do you subscribe to? Good luck getting a nickel out of them when everything ever recorded becomes something you have to stream in order to hear.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Robbing Zoe Keating

Only a very few classical artists have been outspoken on the issue so far: San-Francisco-based Zoe Keating — a tech-savvy, DIY, Amanda Palmer of the cello — has blown the whistle on the tiny amounts the streaming services pay musicians. Though she’s exactly the kind of artist who should be cashing in on streaming, since she releases her own music, tours relentlessly, and has developed a strong following since her days with rock band Rasputina, only 8 percent of  her last year’s earnings from recorded music came from streaming. The iTunes store, which pays out in small amounts since most purchases are for 99 cent songs, paid her about six times what she earned from streaming. (More than 400,000 Spotify streams earned her $1,764; almost 2 million YouTube views generated $1,248.)

So, 2,400,000 plays or clicks on Spotify and YouTube in a single year equals $3,012 dollars for an artist like Zoe Keating? 

Come on. That's obscene.

She clearly has listeners. She clearly has an audience. She is not a "fringe" artist in terms of her appeal on just two--two!--of these services. And yet, they're making money. They're making money hand over fist at Spotify and YouTube.

Zoe Keating isn't making anything. Three thousand dollars for that kind of exposure and that many plays is theft of artistic property. If someone came to your house and stole that, it would be a felony. There would be a perp walk out the back door, and a rep from Spotify would be frog-marched to a squad car with no t-shirt and a back full of sweat and weeds, just like on Cops.

Good God. Nobody is going to make music anymore if this keeps up. Why would they?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Greatest of All Comeback Albums

If I was asked about comeback albums, I would put Achtung Baby at the top of the list, even though it certainly doesn't look like a comeback album in any sense of the word. But that's what it was--a comeback, a rebirth, and an album that surpassed all previous U2 albums from the 1980s. In some respects, the Eighties were buried by a number of things but nothing threw dirt on the grave like seeing a cynical Bono in shades pretending to not give a shit.

U2 was as low as you could get after the debacle of their Rattle and Hum albumThey didn't even go on tour in America, calling it the Lovetown tour. Nobody wanted them to put out another record--nobody wanted much to do with them at all. They were a punch line and a joke after Prattle and Dumb was dumped into an over-saturated market. They took their shows to appreciative audiences and ignored the biggest music market in the world at that time, unwilling to arrive in cities where they were not welcome.

Mother Jones Magazine: Let me read you a recent quote from Randy Newman: "I used to be against world peace until U2 came out for it. Then the scales just fell from my eyes.... And when they're singing with those black people? Do you know that black people just love their music? Bono's conducting those black people and they're doing just what he says!...

BONO: I had heard that. Randy Newman is a very funny man, though I think he's written far funnier lines than those.

MJ: Are you interested that criticisms like his have been leveled a lot lately, particularly at "Rattle and Hum?"

B: I suppose. What's uninteresting about that is that we are such an easy target, from the word go, because we perform from our own point of view. I sing about the way I see things. Some people write songs about the way characters see things. Some artists perform with a wink. That's just not the way with U2. When people perform from their gut -- when John Lennon sang a song called "Mother" -- that was not a hip thing to do. He was exposing himself. It's performers like that I admire.... If you're going to spend your whole life worrying about dropping your guard and exposing yourself, worrying that working with a gospel choir might look like imperialism, that would be dumb.

MJ: But the criticisms I read of the film are that it was too guarded. Let me read, if I could, another criticism ....

Well, I'm really not interested.

MJ: I just want to give you the opportunity to respond ....

B: What this suggests is that the music is not enough. That is my expression -- the music -- and within that music I can take my clothes off. Not for the press, not for the TV shows, not for the film. That film was about music, and in that music was everything that we have to say and offer. Now people want it made easy for them. They want it spelled out. Why can't people just accept the music? You know the real reason? It's that people don't listen to the music anymore, and a lot of critics don't.... I think our fans know all the songs on our albums, and I don't think many critics do. I really don't.

MJ: Were there any criticisms that did sting, that hit home, that taught you anything?

B: No. I must say I was generally very disappointed in the community of critics. It's funny. I would've thought that what people would have expected us to do would've been to put out a double live LP, and cash in on "The Joshua Tree," and make a lot of money for very little work. That is what big rock bands do.

When we didn't do that, I expected people to recognize that. When we put the records out at low price, stripped away the U2 sound, then just went with our instincts as fans, and just lost ourselves in this [American R&B] music, in a very un-self-conscious way...

MJ: But if the LP has been unfairly and stupidly criticized by people who aren't listening carefully ...

B: No. It's not even that. It's that the spirit of it has been completely and utterly missed. The spirit of it is unlike any record of a major group, for a long time. That spirit is the very essence of why people get into bands and make music. And it's not about being careful. And it's not about watching your ass....

Achtung Baby is the result of being torn apart and reduced to having to plead for understanding. I don't think people understand that context. This is the album that only an angry band could make and that's why it still resonates. That's why it doesn't feel like a comeback album, but it does feel like U2 has put far too much distance between themselves and how they came up with the innovative sound on that album.

U2 needs to make another one of these and come back, fully, into the world with some anger instead of some wry comments about the bar scene. Whatever they just tried to do isn't cutting it anymore.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Ride Reunion Tour

Ride have announced their return, confirming a series of live dates for 2015.

The band will reunite in May for a UK tour that includes dates in London, Manchester and Glasgow, plus shows in Paris, Amsterdam, Toronto and New York. Ride will also make festival appearances at Primavera Sound in Barcelona on May 29 and London's Field Day on June 7.

In this week's issue of NME, on newsstands and available digitally now, Ride's Andy Bell said: "It's going to be really cool. As we were all still friends, we always thought when the time was right we'd do it. And now the time is right."

"People bought our records first time round," frontman Mark Gardener added, "but our music has grown in significance since we've been away... We want to give the people what they want. We'd be idiots to go out and play a new album, but that's not to say we wouldn't make new music."

There will be a series of live dates that will take them all over the globe. Who plays Hawaii anymore? Holy cow.

17 - 9:30 Club - Washington
19 - TLA - Philadelphia
21 - Irving Plaza - New York
22 - Irving Plaza - New York
23 - Stone Pony - Asbury Park (NEW SHOW)
25 - Riviera - Chicago
26 - MidPoint Festival - Cincinnati
27 - Champaign, IL - Pygmalion Festival
29 - Minneapolis, MN - Mill City

01 - St Andrews - Detroit
02 - House of Blues - Cleveland
03 - Paradise - Boston

06 - Saturn - Birmingham
07 - Fun Fun Fun Fest - Austin
09 - Crescent - Phoenix
10 - House Of Blues - Las Vegas
12 - Wiltern Theatre - Los Angeles
14 - Catalyst - Santa Cruz
15 - Crystal Ballroom - Portland
16 - Neptune - Seattle
17 - Commodore - Vancouver
19 - Republik - Hawaii

The Greatness of Tom Petty

Tom Petty made a career out of rock and roll, but he never gave in to the easy way of doing things. He insisted on properly pricing his albums and he has always been about songs and characters and the art of American rock and roll.

It could have been easy for Petty to wave around the Confederate Flag--twenty years ago, no one would have noticed or complained. We were a lot more blase about such displays back then. So when you learn that, back in day, Petty refused to allow it to be displayed at his shows after foolishly adorning the stage with it to illustrate a character in a song, you have to admire his social conscience and his decision to risk the backlash. 

Not everybody would have taken the road Petty has been on for so long, but you have to praise him for thinking about the implications and doing the right thing, especially when it wasn't fashionable or expected.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Foo Fighters

A newspaper in Canada recently sent an illustrator to a Foo Fighters gig in a protest against the band's photo contract issued at their shows.

The US group recently evoked controversy for what some have seen as "exploitative" terms stated in a contract the band seek photographers to sign to shoot at their gigs.

Earlier this month, the Washington City Paper issued a statement, saying of the contract: "The band would have 'the right to exploit all or a part of the Photos in any and all media, now known or hereafter devised, throughout the universe, in perpetuity, in all configurations' without any approval or payment or consideration for the photographer".

"That is exploitation of photographers, pure and simple... by signing that contract, the band could then use the creative work of our photographer in their future marketing materials or to resell them through their site. The band’s contract, to be blunt, sucks."

I'm convinced that Dave Grohl started a band twenty years ago so he could screw photographers, and this proves I was right! If only I had written all of this down somewhere.

Seriously, though--if you don't like what you have to sign, don't cover it and don't engage with the artist. Not everyone is required to be reasonable. And, bear in mind, this is just an artist trying to hold onto ownership of something, and not to put anybody out of business or drive someone to distraction.

There's probably a precedent at work here. That was my first serious reaction--oh, they're trying to get ahead of something after having a bad experience. At some point, someone took a photo of the band and exploited them or made money somehow in a dishonest way and this is the reaction to that. It's perfectly understandable--don't rip us off.

This is news because Foo Fighters have the legal and commercial heft to back up their decisions with actual contracts. They don't have to be "cool" about anything because we are long past the moment when everyone else decided, fuck it, let's cash in on someone else's image/sound/success/momentum and make some bucks. Other bands just have to go around with the hats in their hands, begging the media and the industry as a whole to not screw them over. 

How dare an artist try to own pictures of themselves. How dare they try to maintain some control over who sells their images when they, themselves should be in that business if they choose to be.

This goes back to demanding free music at a time when everything should be handed to everyone on a silver platter of entitlement.


Members of SlowdiveMogwai and Editors are part of a newly-announced project.

The band will go by the name of Minor Victories, featuring Slowdive's Rachel Goswell, Editors guitarist Justin Lockey, Mogwai' bandleader Stuart Braithwaite and James Lockey of Hand Held Cine Club.

Pitchfork report that the group are at work on their debut album and that the release will feature a duet between Goswell and Sun-Kil-Moon's Mark Kozelek.

I am not a huge fan of Mr. Kozelek, but I'll give this a chance when I can hear it.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Blame the Poor

Portland is weird, but it’s kind of a crappy weird. It is the most vagrant-ridden… it’s really fuckin’ up my liberal mind. I’m just like, what a collection of human turds. Within the one week before I came on this tour, I had to run people out of my house. Twice with axes. Two people died. This is within 300 feet of my house. It’s just a constant shitshow of fights.

And that’s just Portland keeping itself weird. That’s the saying: Keep Portland weird… It’s a cool city. But a lot of the keeping itself weird is actually just allowing people to be complete pieces of shit. And that’s exhausting.

What's the good kind of weird? Panhandlers who have night jobs? If you're going to go overseas and badmouth the town in which you live, at least have the decency to kick up and not down.

Blaming people who are poor for everything is the classic rich man's ploy to make everyone hate welfare, hate the government, and hate any kind of social justice. This enriches the already wealthy because no one ever comes to the conclusion that maybe, just maybe, we have a serious problem with income inequality everywhere.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Give it Away

If there's one thing that living through the "aughts" instilled in me, it is a deep and abiding hatred for the self-assured smugness of people who think you can make money by giving away something for free:

"NME will dramatically increase its content output and range, with new original as well as curated content appearing across all platforms, including print. Other highlights will include an expansion in live events, more video franchises and greater engagement with users on new social platforms".

Writing on, Editor Mike Williams said: "The cat is out of the bag, and I couldn’t be more excited. For the past few months we’ve been working in secret here at NME on the next phase of our evolution. The goal, throughout all of our research and development, has been to find new and inventive ways to connect with you, our audience, better than ever. In the 63 years since NME launched we have evolved and transformed plenty of times. The evolution of 2015 is our boldest ever move, and I’m delighted to be able to share the news with you at last."

What the NME is going to do is what those free "alternative" newspapers tried to do decades ago. They're going to run lots of ads, where possible, and give their content away for free in the hopes of developing a readership that will spend money on the products being advertised.

Precious few of those publications still exist, by the way.

Oh well, give it away for free. Don't pay anyone a living wage. Hope someone throws you a bone. That'll work.

You'll note that I regularly blog about online content from the NME and nobody gives me a darned thing. Nobody gives me a link back to my site or says thank you when I send them readers. I wish I was in it for the money because then I'd be in something else already.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Sign Morrissey to a Label, Please

In terms of no-brainer business decisions when it comes to music, why wouldn't you sign Morrissey?

Morrissey has lamented the lack of label interest at his recent New York show.

The former Smiths frontman performed at the city's Madison Square Garden venue on Saturday (June 27), describing the gig as "fantastic" to fansite True To You.

Despite his enjoyment of the concert however, the singer did also acknowledge that there was "zero label interest", suggesting that no record labels attended the gig. Moz added that it was "a sad sign of the times".

How many artists have a built-in, near-permanent audience for their music? Even if you stood Morrissey up once every few years for a short tour, you could get a dozen singles and three albums out of this guy in a couple of years, no problem. Morrissey is sitting on music he can't put out because the labels that have signed him have been wary of how to market what it is he does.

I'll fix this for you--it's time for a Morrissey album entirely in Spanish. Making that happen would cement his hold on a Latin audience that goes crazy for his stuff. 

You're telling me that this guy can't sell 25,000 downloads of something in a few short weeks? Come on. This has to be a case where labels won't sign him because they know they can't take advantage of him and not pay royalties. This has to be about the margins--you gotta pay this guy what he's worth and nobody wants to do that.

Here's a viable professional with a proven track record of keeping his core audience. He doesn't hit the pop charts because the pop charts don't know how to handle him. If you marketed him and promoted him properly, people would show up and buy what he's selling. He's fucking Morrissey--this is what he does. And people go nuts for it and love it and hold on to his stuff forever.

The music business still makes no sense, no matter what.