Friday, January 29, 2010

The Heavy Get a Rare Encore on Letterman

The Heavy are from Bath England. They look like Dave Grohl, Mick Jones (of The Clash), a young Pete Townsend and Corey Glover. How You Like Me Now sounds like James Brown meets Pig Bag. Their performance on Letterman got them an encore. They played in and out of the commercial. This song has the power that Gnarls Barkley's Crazy had.

Speaking of Mick Jones, he recently went into the studio with former band mate Topper Headon to record a version of The Clash's Jail Guitar Doors with Bill Bragg on lead. It's to benefit Billy's charity with the same name. From their website: Jail Guitar Doors is an independent initiative which aims to provide instruments to those who are using music as a means of achieving the rehabilitation of prison inmates. Founded by Billy Bragg, it takes its name from the b-side of the Clash’s 1978 single ‘Clash City Rockers’. Breaking Rocks is a documentary about the recording and the organization as well as a tour which will begin in February in the UK.

Mick can also be heard with other former band mate Paul Simonon on Gorillaz title track for their latest Plastic Beach.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

10 Good Reasons To Support Musicians

Mike Masnick of posted about his "10 Good Reasons To Buy" presentation at Midem. He elaborated on last year's presentation which was based on his equation of Connect with Fans + Reason to Buy (CwF+RtB). He gave a short talk and the broke the audience into groups to create business models for specific musicians. (Details on this will be posted at a later date.) He gave his reasons to buy, which is not new to his readers, but worth mentioning a few. Check out the full post.

Having managed bands and seeing what a positive connection with the fans and non-believers makes, I found 2 and 3 to be solid advice that does work.

2. Attention: One of the most important scarcities in the digital age. Attention is incredibly scarce, and if you've got it, you can do a lot with it.

3. Authenticity: This one also includes "trust." The ability to be authentic carries tremendous weight and is quite scarce at times. But if you can provide something that is authentic and valuable, it's often a very strong reason to buy.

The minute an artist goes south of what his/her creative path is and starts listening to others, the authenticity is gone, the music suffers and the fans know it. Believe in yourself, that's what drew your fans to you in the first place.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Midem Panels

Midem, the music conference, is going on in France as I write. Their website offers streaming, video and live blogs of the daily events. If you have a passion for the the music business or a passing interest, take a look and watch a few panels.

There is a real lack of female presence on these panels. The recorded music industry has always been a boys club, with very few women able to crack into the top echelon. That seemed to be changing with powerful female managers and female artists taking their careers into their own hands. Is there a dearth of females in the tech area of music? Most of the panels are tech driven. Not all consumers are male, not all points of view should be male. Would love to know what the women attending Midem think.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

She Loves The Jerk

The song has been covered by Rodney Crowell and Elvis Costello. Here's the original by the very prolific John Hiatt.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Is Soundscan Relevant?

Jeff Price, the founder of TuneCore has a post asking for a new way to quantify music sales. He points to a recent CNN piece The Plan to Save the Music Business. The focus of the piece is on A&M/Octone records, but it also speaks of the amount of new records released last year and those that sold more than 250,000 copies. From Jeff's blog:

"...106,000 new (music) releases in 2008" In 2009, TuneCore released approximately 90,000 releases This means, if their numbers hold true, almost every single new music release in 2009 was distributed via TuneCore.
In addition, the article went on to quote the following Neilsen statistic
"Of the 63 new releases that sold more than 250,000 copies last year, 61 were issued by major music companies." Well then, according to Neilsen, there are now four major "music companies" - Sony, Warner, EMI and, according to Neilsen, TuneCore as all of the following TuneCore artists sold over 250,000 copies....and mind you, this is a not a complete list:

He goes on to list 11 acts and concludes with the following:

And what about the arbitrary concept of looking at a weeks worth of sales, why not a days, or a months, or a years? Things are moving much faster. More music is being recorded and released. Music buyers are moving faster too. Seems to me that the age-old concept of weekly album sales has lost its relevancy. It’s time to get a new system that more accurately reflects the new “IT” – and this time, its important not to consolidate the power of the reporting into the hands of one company.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Teddy Pendergrass

Sultry singer Teddy Pendergrass lost his battle with colon cancer at age 59. His career was derailed at it's peak by a car accident that left him confined to a wheelchair, although he did record and periodically performed. Originally he played drums for Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes and later became their lead vocalist. He forged a solo career with hits like Love TKO.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Carole King Ticket Prices Are So Far Away From Reasonable

I was looking forward to seeing Carole King. She's touring with James Taylor, which is an event. They are playing Madison Square Garden June 15th. Tickets go on sale at 11am this morning through Carole King's website.

I've been priced out of the show.

Here is a breakdown of the ticketing fees:

Base Price: $150.00 USD
Facility Fee: $4.50 USD Service Charge: $15.00 USD
Transaction Fee: $4.00 USD
Our Price: $173.50 USD

Paying $173.50 ($23.50 of that in additional fees) for a show at the not-very intimate Garden in this economy is cost prohibitive.

The Garden is charging $4.50 a person/ticket. Capacity for a concert is 20,000, which means they are grossing $90,000 at sell out. They have to be taking a piece of the merchandise, concessions, etc. Do they also get a % of ticket fees? Does not seem like a great deal for the Garden.

Why is there a service charge and a transaction fee?
At sellout, will receive $300,000 in processing fees. Seems extreme for what is needed to execute the ticket sales. Tickets have to be picked up at the venue day of show. They are not physically sending tickets to buyers.

Not sure who gets the $4 ($80,000) transaction fee.

Once again, it seems like shows like this are a reality only for hedge fund managers. Too bad. I'm a huge fan of Carole's work. I've never seen her live and would love to, but it won't be on this tour.

I'm off my soapbox.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Saint Behind the Glass Live

I've already waxed poetically about the beauty of the song Saint Behind the Glass by Los Lobos. Here is a live version performed by the songwriters Louie Perez and David Hidalgo. Don't forget that Louie and David are playing a few east coast dates this week into next.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Harmless Pop Song, Serial Killer

When music is placed correctly in a TV show, film or commercial, it makes the piece that much better. It adds to the storyline. Music can become an additional character in the plot. Gary Calamar, the music supervisor for Dexter, among other shows, said there wasn't a grand story behind choosing Frankie Avalon's Venus for several episodes. A writer producer who wrote the script injected it into the plot.

This seemingly harmless pop song makes two significant appearances over two episodes. Arthur, played flawlessly and with serious conviction by John Lithgow, is a serial killer out to revenge his sister's death. John is so convincing as Arthur that he said that after watching a few episodes of the show with his wife, she repeatedly turned to him and said "Do I know you?". Arthur kidnaps and harbors a young boy who he perceives to be himself at that age. He was innocent then. He hadn't witnessed his sister's murder. Her favorite song was Venus. Arthur plays it on the phonograph in the basement where he keeps the boy. The 45 drops from the magnetic holder and starts to rotate. The arm moves slowly over the record to plop the needle on vinyl and we hear "Hey Venus" with the angelic background vocals ooo ooo ooo's. It's innocence. It's innocence shattered.

The song returns on the season finale. At risk of giving away anything for those who haven't seen this season (you MUST rent or buy it), the placement of the song is chilling, creepy, haunting and it will drill a hole in your brain. Venus will follow you for days, as will the events leading up to the final scene. It's a brilliant choice.

Another recent music placement that was spot on was The End Of The World by Skeeter Davis used during the closing credits on Mad Men. In the case of that show, the songs have to be timeline correct. It's a period show, set in the 60's. You have a finite list of songs to play with. This song summed up the episode and foreshadows future episodes.

I'm sure people think being a music supervisor is easy. Pick a scene from a favorite show and think about what music you would use to drive the story and convey the actions taking place. Sometimes it's knowing that there shouldn't be music. There are many an ill-placed song. This not the case with Gary Calamar's selections, which is why he is one of the best. He's worked in record stores and as a radio host. His depth and knowledge of music is far reaching. Although he didn't pick Venus, his choices are subtle (I'm partial, but his use of Brandi Shearer's Lullabies in the season premier of Dexter Season 3 was perfect) and well thought out. There was a show on ABC that was unwatchable because of the overuse and abundance of ill-informed music choice. Men In Trees was a sonic mess.

Gary's TV Show credits include Six Feet Under (Breathe Me by Sia in the series finale) , Weeds, House, True Blood, and most recently Men Of A Certain Age. The theme song for Men is the Beach Boys' When I Grow Up To Be A Man. Again, on the surface the production and the background vocals proclaiming the aging of a man 22, 23, 24, etc. make it seem like a harmless pop song. A typical Brian Wilson song is never what you think you hear on the surface. The lines "Will I love my wife/The rest of my life" convey the anxiety about growing up, which essentially is the theme of this show. Ray Romano's character is living the song. As an aside, the show's website proclaims "Every memory has a soundtrack" and you can create your own digital scrapbook to share with others. The choices you are given to create that musical scrapbook: Styx, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Whitesnake.

Monday, January 04, 2010

A Rare Tour From An Uber-Creative Duo

A rare tour by one of our country’s greatest songwriting duos graces the Northeast this month. David Hidalgo and Louie Perez, the main songwriters for Los Lobos and Latin Playboys will be playing a series of dates that encompass the breadth of their collaboration, which began in high school. “We started this musical conversation back in about 1970, and we havenʼt stopped talking,” Pérez says.

Beside several dates on the West Coast, the last time David and Louie performed outside of Lobos was with Latin Playboys. Those performances were a remarkable mix of creativity, stellar musicianship and excitement.

The shows this month will have an interactive flavor. The duo takes audience questions and if they’re open to requests, I’ll put mine in now for the NY show: Peace. Making it a family affair, David’s sons, David Jr. on percussion and Vincent on bass will be joining their father and Louie. The show will have a local moderator. In New York, Rita Houston of WFUV is set to the take on the role.

In conjunction with the tour, the guys will be releasing The Long Goodbye. This collection of previously unreleased recordings (with the exception of Take My Hand) might be considered an album of love songs. The music is at it’s basic, letting the songs “sing for themselves”.

Exploring the roots of American music has always been paramount in David and Louie’s songs, so it’s no surprise that this album embodies country, R&B, rock, soul, jazz and tejano.
Louie and David know how to combine musical genres better than anyone. They mix genres up, blend them together, twist 'em around and create a masterpiece. If you’ve never listened to Kiko the entire way through, do it right now.

The opening song What Good Is Love is a rocker. It’s defiant. It’s in your face. The rhythm of the acoustic guitar drives it. I would love to hear Keith Urban get his hands on this one. Don’t You Know brings to mind John Fogerty/Creedence. It could bookend the Lobos gem A Matter of Time.

I heard the original demo of Cure For Love, when it was presented to Bonnie Raitt, who wound up recording it for her 1998 album Fundamental. I remember thinking: wow an obvious love song from David and Louie. It blew me away. David’s unmistakable guitar and background vocals grace Bonnie’s version. Fellow Latin Playboys bandmates Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake produced that album. It’s a sexy track. Bonnie sings it with a bold attitude. David and Louie’s version takes a more soulful, Marvin Gaye approach. As with many of the songs on The Long Goodbye, it’s filled with the pain of a love gone away, whether real or impending. The song begins with You bring me roses/You give me kisses and ends with When the phone rings/no one answers. The letters comeback saying/"Lover cannot be found". Have they have been hording all those “obvious love songs” for this album?

The upbeat, get off your feet and dance track is Till The Hands Fall Off The Clock. I can see the crowd rising as they do with the first notes of Anselm at a Lobos show. The immense amount of fun one is having with a newfound love is evident in this song about not wanting the night to end.
Well there's nowhere else to go And no one will ever know And we'll dance this way till the hands fall off the clock

Leading up to and preparing us for the title track is a magical, visual spoken word piece from Louie called 1964. His childhood, his family and his neighborhood are remembered in a loving embrace. Then there is a moment that changes things. There may be a long goodbye involved. Life goes on. We grow up, but we never forget that loving embrace. It’s what makes us who we are.

David and Louie are aptly playing the American Songbook series at Lincoln Center on January 15th. No one embodies more of the American experience in their songs than David Hidalgo and Louie Perez.

Tour Dates:
01/14/10 Boulton Center Bay Shore, NY
01/15/10 Lincoln Center For Performing Arts New York, NY
01/16/10 South Orange PAC South Orange, NJ
01/17/10 Tupelo Music Hall Londonderry, NH

The Crash of the Record Labels in the Digital Age

If you have any questions on why the major record labels are faltering, read Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash Of The Recording Industry in the Digital Age. It’s well organized, well researched and well written. It’s a page-turner! It’s not a lament about piracy killing the business. In fact, the author, Steve Knopper (a contributing editor for Rolling Stone) barely uses that as a reason for the destruction. He confirms what hit me in the mid 1990’s: the major labels were always about 3 years behind technology, which probably increased to about 8 years behind as the 1990’s became the 2000’s. The unwillingness or arrogance to embrace anything outside their business model (which is rooted in the 1950’s) has led to the downfall.

The book traces the labels troubles beginning in 1979, which is about the time I started to get my feet wet in the music business. Disco was selling. People seemed to love it and the lifestyle or hate it. Steve Dahl, a DJ from Chicago lived the Disco Sucks credo. With the help of Mike Veeck, son of the White Sox owner, he organized a death to disco promotion at Comiskey Park. Anyone bringing a disco album to the game on July 12, 1979, got into the park for 98 cents. 59.000 fans showed up for the game. Crates of disco records were “blowed up real good” in the words of Dahl, fans rushed onto the field. This ignited the fire that would kill disco. Here’s the shocking news of what that meant to major labels: Sales plummeted by almost 11 percent in 1979 after 10 years of growth. Casablanca Records (Donna Summer and Kiss) founded by the big spending, lavish lifestyle lover Neil Bogart, was probably the biggest casualty. PolyGram purchased half of Casablanca for $10 million in 1977. As seems to be common practice, a label pays high and comes in on the end of a trend. Labels seem to think the wave will never crash to the shore. Besides out of control spending, Casablanca had no problem shipping way more product to stores than was needed. Of course unsold product got shipped back to the label. In 1978, fueled by the success of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, the recorded music industry brought in $4.1 billion in sales. The anti-disco trend sent the business into a tailspin from 1979-1982. PolyGram spent years cleaning up a $30 million Casablanca mess. CBS Records laid off 2000 employees.

In 1982 Michael Jackson released Thriller. It can be argued that he single handedly saved the business. Walter Yetnikoff described by one as “the bearded, Yiddish, smack-talking dervish” was chairman of CBS. Knopper beautifully weaves the story of Yetnikoff into the advent of MTV, which issued a new round of life support for the business, even though MTV would wind up reaping huge benefits, while getting the labels to pay for their programming. Labels covered expenses (which were billed back to the artists) for the making of the videos and provided them and access to their artists for no fees. It was considered “for promotional purposes”. They were giving away free content. Something the labels haven’t grasped when it comes to file sharing.

The advent of the Compact Disc is a fascinating tale. Knopper takes it from its infancy as James Russell experiments with the technology behind the CD in 1965 to convincing the major labels (as well as recording engineers) that the CD would be as a new source for selling music. In 1981 it took Marc Finer (product communications manager) of Sony to play a CD of Billy Joel’s Honesty to label heads to break the wall of resistance to the CD. Those running the labels finally “got it”. Now there was a way to charge more for an album and charge back higher production costs to the artists for this new technology, therefore garnering higher profits for the label. Production costs quickly lessened for the labels, but this was never reflected in artists’ bottom lines. For this chapter alone, it’s worth reading the book.

Throughout Appetite, there is a six part series outlining “Big Music’s Big Mistakes”. They run the gamut from The CD Longbox to Independent Radio Promotion to the final blow, Sony BMG’s Rootkit.

As they say history repeats itself and it’s never more evident in this book. The teen pop bubble is another trend the industry thought wouldn’t end. Napster is the new technology that is ignored. It took an outsider to make digital music sales work: Steve Jobs and Apple get it right with the iPod and iTunes, once again taking a huge chunk of profit out of the labels (and artists) hands.

Knopper considers the future. Artists are now taking their careers in their own hands and it's working, ie Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails. Noted that they did have the benefit of a label to launch their career. Subscription services would probably be the most lucrative for the labels if they want to hang on. 360 deals are examined. The label that makes this deal receives a percentage of all the artists income for an advance and a record deal. The point that is overlooked in these deals is that the label is not equipped to handle the other aspects of the artists’ career to warrant that extra money. They are not in the touring, management or merchandise business. Companies like Live Nation are signing artists such as Madonna and Shakira to these contracts and are revamping their staff to handle such things as product endorsement pitches. I don’t think anyone knows the fate of the labels, but as Knopper points out repeatedly in the book, unless they are willing to move into the 21st Century, this could be the beginning of the end of record labels as we’ve known them.

Friday, January 01, 2010