Friday, February 26, 2010

Celebrating Johnny Cash

It's all Johnny Cash week.

He would have been 78 today. There's a Wear Black For Johnny Campaign in honor of his birthday.

His latest record American VI: Ain't No Grave was released earlier this week. It was produced by Rick Rubin.

Retired real estate agent Louie Sulcer 71, of Woodstock, Ga., won Apple's iTunes Countdown to 10 Billion Songs contest. He purchased Johnny Cash's 1957 single "Guess Things Happen That Way", which is the 10 billionth song downloaded from iTunes. He was rewarded with a a $10,000 iTunes gift card. The L Magazine reported he also received phone calls from Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Johnny's daughter, singer/songwriter Rosanne Cash, who had her guitarist husband, John Leventhal play the song for Sulcer over the phone.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

CBGB's Went To The Dogs

Binky Phillips of the band The Planets, wrote a loving ode to playing CBGB's at His band opened for the Ramones and Television, which were probably the biggest draws for the club in it's early years. Apparently Hilly Kristal, the owner, used to make burgers and chili, which Binky thought were good until he saw Hilly's dogs deposits on the kitchen floor. Needless to say, shortly after that CBGB's stopped serving food.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Howard Stern Rumors

The Wall St Journal has a well-thought out piece on Howard Stern and his next career move. There is much speculation on him taking over for Simon Cowell as a judge on American Idol. This would be a very welcome addition. With the subtraction of Simon, who is the star of the show, there are few people that could slip into the role, make it his own and keep the ratings alive. Howard has said on his Sirius/XM show if they want to offer him $100 million dollars to judge a karaoke contest, he's all for it.

Speaking of American Idol, the show has really lost a lot of it's charm this year. The loss of Paula Abdul as a judge is significant. She made the contestants feel at ease. Her comments were coming from the heart and her occasional wackiness made the show great. You don't see Simon and Kara getting into scuffles. Simon seems like he's checked out of the show already. His comments are short. There is a glaring hole where his critiques used to be. Did Kara really think that Andrew Garcia's cover of Paula's Straight Up was genius as she exclaimed on TV? It's a great song and it was a nice cover. Led Zeppelin ll, Pet Sounds, London Calling, Rubber Soul-ok, there is genius, but a cover of Straight Up, not sure it lives up to her hype.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Movie Studios (Again) Ignore Recent Music Biz History

Redbox, is a service that is essentially a red box vending machine found at supermarkets, etc where a person can rent movies for as cheap as $1 a day. It's very popular and it generates income for the movie studios. It looks like the movie studios don't want people to continue to use this service on the same level they were used to. A story in TechDirt points out that Redbox finally caved into Warner Bros crazy demand that they not rent films until 28 days after the DVD is released. This is similar to the deal that Warner's made with Netflix recently. Essentially what Warner is trying to do in a very short sided way is make the consumer BUY the DVD if they want to see it as soon as it's released.

This is another completely misguided, uniformed (I say uninformed because these companies are not listening to the consumer, whom they depend on) decision by a media company. The NY Times website is going back to a limited paywall. When people are used to getting something one way for a very long time, such as renting a DVD the day it's released, not paying for the NY Times online, there is no way to go back to the well to try and find water when it's bone dry. I have a strong feeling that these decisions will come back to bite both Warner's and the NY Times.

Why is it so hard for media companies to embrace the consumer? Why do they treat them like the enemy? The recorded music industry has been alienating fans for too long now and look where it's gotten them. We rarely hear from the musicians, actors and journalists whose livelihood is most affected by it all. These companies should all take a page from indie musicians who are making a respectable living connecting with their audience and being creative about how they generate income (while giving the fans something they want). Read Marian Call's blog.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Gratefully Archived

Thanks to the Grateful Dead's longtime office manager, the band's archives are copious and will be housed at the University of California at Santa Cruz. There are scholars who study the band and have been mocked and derided by politicians for it. The Dead's organization is now being hailed as the business paradigm for the 21st century. Practices that are second nature to the Dead are now embraced by big corporations as well as indie musicians. The Atlantic's article quotes he band’s lyricist, John Perry Barlow, who became an Internet guru. As early as 1994, the band was using their philosophy to embrace new technology.

Writing in Wired in 1994, Barlow posited that in the information economy, “the best way to raise demand for your product is to give it away.” As Barlow explained to me: “What people today are beginning to realize is what became obvious to us back then—the important correlation is the one between familiarity and value, not scarcity and value. Adam Smith taught that the scarcer you make something, the more valuable it becomes. In the physical world, that works beautifully. But we couldn’t regulate [taping at] our shows, and you can’t online. The Internet doesn’t behave that way. But here’s the thing: if I give my song away to 20 people, and they give it to 20 people, pretty soon everybody knows me, and my value as a creator is dramatically enhanced. That was the value proposition with the Dead.” The Dead thrived for decades, in good times and bad. In a recession, Barnes says, strategic improvisation is more important then ever. “If you’re going to survive this economic downturn, you better be able to turn on a dime,” he says. “The Dead were exemplars.” It can be only a matter of time until Management Secrets of the Grateful Dead or some similar title is flying off the shelves of airport bookstores everywhere.

Most of the archives will be posted online. They are hoping that Deadheads and others will add to the colossal amount of information and material the band has amassed. Anyone/company who wants to know how to gain fans, keep them interested, interact with them and also be profitable should look to these archives. This should be required viewing for CEOs.

The New York Historical Society will offer the first glimpse of the archives in an exhibit there from March 5th through July 4th. Along with displays of concert tickets, posters and fan mail, the exhibit will focus on the band's business savvy and refusal to adopt the same working model as the major record labels.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow Days

The song Snow Days has been running through my head since last night. As the song goes it's coming down in New York City. There's a blessing on the ground. When the city decided it would close the schools today I thought of Snow Days by Trip Shakespeare. The band lived in Minneapolis, so I'm sure they were used to snow days. John Munson's booming voice takes you to a day of snow, ending the in words every kid (or employee for that matter) wants to hear go home and take a snow day. The lyrics are so visual you can't help but be brought back to that time when you were a kid listening to the radio or watching TV and you heard your school was officially closed. If your road's patrolled by children/There's no order to be found.

This is a beautiful version of the song by The New Standards which is the band John started after Trip Shakespeare, after Semisonic . It's rich, it's magical, it's snowing.

John and Matt Wilson (from Trip) have a new band called The Twilight Hours . They're on the road with upcoming dates in Chicago, Milwaukee, Philly and Brooklyn.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Need a Tough Skin to Play the Halftime Show

From postings and comments I've heard during and after every Super Bowl, whoever chooses to do the Halftime Show is putting themselves in the same category as the Christians being fed to the lions in Rome. Everyone has a definite opinion on the quality of the performance. This year, I'd say the negatives win. 70% hated The Who. Thought they didn't die before they got old, Pete's voice was bad, fake windmills, Roger looked like a used car salesman, etc. About 30% said everyone watching was singing along, loved the show and The Who still have it into their sixties.

I didn't listen close enough to offer a well-informed opinion. I though the staging was perfect for TV. It worked well. There was an abundance of shots of Zak Starkey on drums. The cymbals were very cool. Directors usually ignore drummers. I guess it helps that your lineage is Beatles. I did comment that I bet this performance was amazing if you were at the stadium. It's tough to capture the excitement of a live performance on TV. Many people complained that the mix was bad. I hate medleys. I would have loved to see them do 2 full songs. Someone mentioned that Pete Townsend said in a pregame interview that he wanted to do just that and Roger wanted the medley and won.

With all the attention paid to The Who, scant comments were made on Carrie Underwood's Nation Anthem. I was listening from a distance and not in front of the TV, but it sounded like she was shouting, not singing.

My favorite halftime show was Prince. He played in the rain. He played like nothing mattered. Someone suggested having John Mayer and Keith Urban play next year. I think Urban is one of the most exciting, gifted performers today and he could rival Prince.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Six Pack Albums

Warner Music Nashville is releasing Blake Shelton's latest musical offering as a "Six Pak". On March 2nd, Hillbilly Bone will sell as a six song album (this used to be known as an EP). The album is fast becoming a thing of the past. By releasing 6 songs instead of the 10 -12 usually found on an album, the artist can get music to the fans on a regular basis (sometimes the lag between albums can break a career by losing fan momentum gained from releasing a successful album). The artist can write and record faster and the bottom line is that very few people are buying full album's worth of music. This is the way to release music right now. Read the full article in Billboard.

On Blake's website, he's selling the record as a packages with t shirts, autographed copies and fan club access. Another positive sign: he's selling the packages from his website. You don't have to go to Warner's site. Country artists are the ones leading the way these days. They are also the ones consistently writing "songs".

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Peace Love & Soul

Saturday night at 9:30pm EST, VH1 will air Soul Train: The Hippest Trip in America, a documentary on the Don Cornelius hosted TV show. It featured the best in soul and R&B and it aired every Saturday morning. It was required viewing along with American Bandstand. Every musician passed through both those shows.

Check out the Soul Train dancers, don't miss ReRun. You can't miss Don's tie.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Grammy's Attract It's Biggest Audience

According to today's NY Times, The Grammy Awards had their best audience in years: 25.8 million viewers. Here are some more staggering facts from the article:

These numbers were up 35 percent from the 19 million who watched the awards show last year. It dwarfed such recent awards shows as the Golden Globes (17 million) and the Emmys (13.5 million). The Grammys this year were more popular than all of the NFL Sunday night prime-time football games this season on NBC as well as Game Four of the World Series, which was played on a Sunday night.

I caught a little of the show and I came away with thinking that only country artists know how to write a song. There was lots of spectacle. Beyonce, Black Eyed Peas and Jamie Foxx all danced and gyrated with robots and other shinny things. Beats, Beats, Beats! The big number duets which have become ubiquitous, were lackluster. Lady Gaga and Elton John's take on Your Song seemed misguided. Then again, I didn't watch the whole show only a small portion, which was enough.