Friday, June 27, 2008

The Nick Hornby Influence

I've been noticing a trend in books by male authors about their work experience: they all must must be faithful fans of High Fidelity. I can site two recent reads: Then We Came To The End and Rock On. One tackles working in the high tech sector as the Internet bubble is bursting, the other captures the end of big spending at a major record label. Both try to inject the humor that Nick Hornby does so well, but it seems forced in both books. Rock On depicts Dan Kennedy's year and a half in the marketing department at Atlantic Records circa 2003. Although the names have been changed to monikers like Ms Chocolate Chip or Rush Hair, I recognized some of these people from my time managing Athenaeum. His depiction of a label marketing meeting seems pretty accurate. An executive tried to pump everyone up on the latest signing who is there to perform for the staff. Everyone has to look interested and excited, whether they like the band or not. Granted everyone is not going to like every act, but it did seem like too many artists were getting signed on the strength of one and only one song, therefore, lacking substance. It's hard to rally behind that. I remember going into meetings at Warner Brothers around 1992 when the people that worked there couldn't wait to tell you what was coming out and how you had to have an advance of this record and pay attention to this new artist. At this time they released: Kiko by Los Lobos, Automatic for the People by REM, Blood Sugar Sex Magik by the Red Hot Chili Peppers to name a few. Warners was THE place to be if you were a musician. That creative spirit was slowly squashed.

The author does a good job of pointing out the absurdity of the Jewel video Intuition. I hadn't seen the video, but of course it's on YouTube and he's right, it's absurd. There is a lot of truth in his book about what when on at the labels and it held my interest as I knew the players. I felt that Dan Kennedy tried a little to hard to add his Nick Hornby to this book-there are plenty of lists- and it just didn't connect the way High Fidelity did. If you want insight into a microcosm of the influence of last days of the major labels, this might be the book for you.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

30 Days

Prior to last night, I had only seen Morgan Spurlock's FX show 30 Days once before. I never know when it's on. It's a well-crafted, educational, entertaining show and FX should be spreading the word. I think everyone has seen Super Size Me, Morgan's documentary on the dangers of a fast food diet. I stumbled upon 30 Days last night after watching a minisode of Rescue Me, which is probably not returning to TV until next March. This is just enough time for me to forget last season, which was disappointing. A minisode is 4 minutes of I'm guessing outtake scenes from the show to keep viewer interested, as the show won't be on in it's usual summer slot. At 10:06 30 Days came on. The episode involved a married Mormon woman who had two adopted boys spending 30 days with a gay couple who have 4 adopted boys. She does not believe that same sex partners should be allowed to have children. Watching these two camps try to understand each other was painful. The woman was sticking to her beliefs which she stated came to her from God. The men were trying to explain that they also heard from God and were doing his will. The men had a loving household, took 4 children from foster care and gave them a good home, which the woman witnessed, but still could not come to terms with. After viewing the living condition of foster children in that area, her conviction still held true and she would not say that it's better to be in a gay household then be left in a group home. Morgan views both sides of the story and you hear from kids who were raised by gays, gays who are fighting for parental rights and the actual birth mother of one the the adopted boys. The show is not judgmental and does not lead to a conclusion, which is more fair than many investigative news programs on the networks. If you haven't seen it yet, put it on your to do list. I think it's safe to say that the show airs at 10 or 10:06pm Tuesday nights.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Lefsetz on Carlin

I think Bob Lefsetz summed up George Carlin the best by saying...

If you look at Carlin's track record, it's akin to the Beatles'. He was more consistent than the Stones, even though he worked just as long. And even though we loved his greatest hits, we always wanted to hear his new stuff. Carlin wasn't calcified, he was positively alive.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Live Nation: Spend? Wait? Exit the Chairman?

Is the buying spree at Live Nation coming to an end or just starting? Michael Cohl who sold his concert promotion company to Live Nation and then became it's Chairman thinks the deals need to cease until they can prove the formula a winner. Chief Executive Michael Rapino thinks more 360 deals should be happening. 360 deals are those in which an artists puts all his/her eggs in one basket. In most cases the company that makes the deal with you gets a piece of record royalties, touring, merchandise, etc. essentially anything that you make money from, possibly publishing being the only exception. Live Nation has taken a financial leap by signing Madonna and Jay-Z to deals totaling $270 million in guaranteed money to those artists. These seem like two crazy deals in the current music atmosphere. Since Live Nation announced the Madonna deal, their stock has fallen 44% and that of course is the number everyone looks to. Give me the days when Warner Brothers signed an act they liked and took two to three album cycles to develop the act. Careers were made, the acts had fans and fans could afford to attend numerous shows. I heard somebody say the other day that Madonna tickets were $400 a piece. I guess Live Nation has to try and make the money back somehow and justify the signing to their shareholders. Younger people can't afford those prices! Most people can't afford that number! If she had a faithful audience, this is a great way to lose them. Randy Meisner, one of the original Eagles and the author of their classic, Take It To The Limit, was quoted in Rolling Stone last month as saying how much money do you really need?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Attic Lights & the Beach Boys' Drummer

Last night my friend and producer Craig Levy and I toasted to the reissue of Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue. (This link will bring you to Amazon where there is a short video about the record.) The one and only solo album from the Beach Boys drummer. I still have it on vinyl and love this record. It's great to have it back. In a coincidence, I was looking at the myspace site of Attic Lights, a Glasgow band, who have a Beach Boys related sound. Their debut record comes out this August, produced by Francis MacDonald (Teenage Fanclub, Camera Obscura and Shoeshine Records). Bring You Down which is from the soon to be released record has Beach Boys harmonies and production all over it. There on their Myspace blog is a reference to purchasing the Dennis Wilson album. It always puts a smile on my face (as well as makes me seek out their music) when young musicians revere and reference the music that I hold dear and sacred.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Disney Tween Machine Moves On

Disney is grooming Demi Lovato to be the heir apparent to Miley Cyrus' Hannah Montana. Demi is 15, slated to open on the sold out Jonas Brothers tour and has the lead in the new Disney Channel movie "Camp Rock". The movie premiers this Friday. As is usual with Disney deals, she is also signed to Hollywood Records, Disney's label. She's enlisted the Jonas Brothers as co-writers and co-producers on the album. She refers to her own writing as dark and said "I'm more of a writer whose stuff wouldn't make it on a Disney album," therefore Jonas inc, will help pop things up. The record comes out in November. I'll be curious to hear this album. It seems to me a big leap of faith on Disney's part to let the 15 year old participate in the creative process, which is usually tightly controlled by Disney.

This leads me to another TV creation, the Monkees. Why do I find myself revisiting those old albums as much as I do "Pet Sounds" or "London Calling"? It's all about the songs. How can you go wrong when you have Carole King, Neil Diamond and Boyce & Hart penning tunes for you. Eventually the band members were able to share in the songwriting, although Mike Nesmith always got a tune in there. Papa Gene's Blues from the debut is a standout. I wonder if Demi can have a hit, without proven songwriters behind her.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Police and New York Public Television

Both WNET and WLIW, New York public television stations will be the beneficiary of proceeds from the final Police date August 7th at Madison Square Garden. The only way to get tickets is through a pledge to the stations. Tickets will be available beginning Saturday, June 14 at 7:30pm. There will be a broadcast of a Police special at that time on both channels. Pledges start at $150 for a pair and go as high as $750 a pair. There are also higher priced VIP tickets. As expected, the higher the donation, the better the seats. There will be an additional Ticketmaster and facility charge. It did note this: *Ticketmaster is donating their event service charges to New York Public Television. This is a very creative way to help public television, whose funding seems to dwindle each year. I applaud the Police's commitment. The B52's will be opening the show. It's 1979 all over again.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Musican can be an Actor, but An Actor Cannot be a Musician

If there is a successful actor who has made the transition to successful musician, I'd like to know who it is. I'm talking about the actor whose first career is acting. This eliminates Rick Springfield who I know a lot of people think started on General Hospital. Long before he was a doctor on that show, he had a top 40 hit with Speak To The Sky. Sure John Travolta and David Soul had hits, (Can you name them?*) so did Shelley Fabares and Leif Garrett. But did they ever have a follow up hit? Remember Eddie Murphy's My Girl Like To Party All The Time? Most people don't.

It is with great interest, that I wanted to hear Scarlet Johansson's new album which is mostly Tom Waits covers. Yesterday they previewed a few tracks on the Howard Stern show. While I only heard about a minute each of a few songs, I am stumped by it. It is over, over produced by TV On The Radio's David Andrew Sitek. Was that done to mask her vocals? The vocals sound like they were recorded at 45 and played back at 331/3, backwards.

There are many musician who have had successful film careers, but never the other way around and it looks like that spell won't be broken with Scarlet's latest.

* Let Her In and Don't Give Up On Us

Another Music Exec Bites the Dust

Jason Flom who is for the moment Chairman of the Capitol Music Group, seems to be headed the way of Tony Wadsworth and company. He might be the last of the execs who actually listened to music. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that EMI is negotiating his exit. My one and only record company job was at Atlantic Records, when I was just out of college. Jason was there also and had just signed Zebra. His enthusiasm was over the top for that band. That was also the time when Yes had just completed Owner Of a Lonely Heart. Everyone was playing that song at 11. It's all you heard at Atlantic for weeks. I'm sure now at Atlantic or Capitol you can hear a pin drop.

Monday, June 09, 2008

AC/DC Coming to a Wal-Mart Near You

So AC/DC is going the way of the Eagles, in this case with the blessing of their record company, Sony BMG who brokered the deal. According to today's Wall St Journal, their next album of new material will be sold exclusively by Wal-Mart; therefore, excluding the remaining record retailers who have supported the band for years. Being that I work with Amoeba (3 record stores in CA, including the record store of all record stores in LA), I find this to be disheartening to say the least. Here's another artist that relied on these same stores in the past to get their music out there. I guess they feel that by putting the album exclusively in Wal-Mart, they'll be in front of more eyes and therefore, generate more impulse buying. Granted there are fewer and fewer record stores, but the ones that remain are dedicated to music. Can you say that about Wal-Mart? The article also mentioned that Wal-Mart is cutting back on CD shelf space in the stores. When Wal-Mart eliminates CD's where will these artists turn to? I'm surprised that AC/DC is taking this tactic. I felt they were a band of their fans. I'm sure their touring brings in plenty of dollars and CD sales are a slim margin of their profits, then again they did do a huge deal with Epic Records, which may be the reason for the sell out. How far will artists move away from the core of what made their careers? How important is it to alienate the believers to sell a few more units?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Copyright Holder Vs Performer

In an interesting twist in the world of copyright, Radiohead the writers of the song Creep are telling YouTubers to repost Prince's version of their song. Prince performed it at the Coachella Music Festival, fans recorded it and posted it. Prince is holding dear his own copyrights by asking everyone to cease posting unauthorized video of him, including his performance of Creep. In this case, he doesn't own the copyright. Lead singer of Radiohead Tom Yorke was quoted by the AP as saying "Tell him to unblock it. It's our ... song."