Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Economics of Being A Gay Musician

Ricky Martin announced on his website that he was gay. He decided to write his memoirs a few months ago, which prompted some soul searching. He revealed "For many years, there has been only one place where I am in touch with my emotions fearlessly and that's the stage. " He ends the piece with this line, "I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man. I am very blessed to be who I am."

The Wall Street Journal took an economic approach to what this announcement may or may not mean to his economic bottom line. The same news certainly didn't hurt Elton John.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Eyes of Rock & Roll

Jim Marshall, the eyes of Rock & Roll, died this week. Famous for capturing a private moment or a very fiery stage performance, Jim was the premier musicians photographer. He required full access to acts to capture these moments and most of the time, he got it. The iconic images of Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar on fire and Johnny Cash giving the finger belong to Jim.

According to his obituary in the NY Times, his first musical encounter was with John Coltrane. “He asked me for directions to a club,” he said in a 2004 interview. “I told him I’d pick him up and take him there if he’d let me take his picture.” He lived in Greenwich Village and photographed Bob Dylan. He moved to San Francisco and capture the 60's music scene there. After recovering from a drug addiction, he came back in the 80's to work with bands such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and recently John Mayer.

Photo gallery in the Times.
Photo gallery in Rolling Stone

Music will never look the same.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

T Bone Wolk

I'm sure he was always confused with T Bone Burnett. T-Bone Wolk, who I just read about in the Huffington Post died of a heart attack the beginning of the month. He was the long time musical director for Hall & Oates. I saw him perform with them on many occasions. He was also a big part of Daryl's web show Live From Daryl's House. Daryl said "T-Bone was my musical brother and losing him is like losing my right hand."

Wolk impressed me as a musician with a vast knowledge of music and it's history. He seemed to fit in with all musicians which must have been a testament to his patience and his talent. He always looked like he was having a great time and loved his "job". His passing is a piece missing from music.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Alex Chilton Dies at 59

Alex Chilton was a big influence on bands like R.E.M., Trip Shakespeare (who recorded the Ballad of El Goodo) and The Replacements who wrote a song about him. The Memphis Commercial Appeal broke the story last night. He died suddenly of what is presumed to be a heart attack. Alex and the recently regrouped Big Star were scheduled to appear at SXSW this week. To many, he is probably best remember for his powerful vocals on The Letter and Cry Like A Baby when he was a member of the Box Tops.

I heard The Letter nonstop on WABC and never got sick of it. Classic rock song and classic vocals.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Jaron Lanier Claims Touring & Selling Merch Will Not Sustain A Career. Huh?

Author, musician and tech guy, Jaron Lanier made a statement at the Canadian Music Week breakfast that touring and selling merchandise is not a long-term solution for the decline in the sale of recorded music for musicians. Try telling that to Los Lobos, Phish and many, many other musicians.

"Whatever it is that is rarefied that you sell instead of music is going away," he told the audience. According to Billboard, he added that "free" cultural supporters, who suggest musicians should give away their recorded output, are short sighted, with very few examples of successful careers built on offering material without payment.

"Every single example of these musicians who did really well by giving stuff away... they don't exist." There are a lot of people who pretend ... and it is fake."

The majority of musicians who make a really nice living from music, do not see a penny in income from the sale of recorded music unless they release it themselves or license it. I know this from working with musicians who are well-known, still tour and make a nice amount of money each year to live very comfortably.

I wasn't at the breakfast, so I can only speak from the quotes I am reading. Based on those, Jaron's theories are so far off the mark. Where does he get his "facts" from? I'd love to know the thinking behind his remarks. I've seen the touring/merch model work really well for years. Yes these acts did have a major label behind them at one point to finance the record, most of the time after that, the labels involvement fell to almost nothing. You don't need $100,000 to make a record now. You might need to hire someone to help with the tech stuff or PR, but it will cost a fraction of what would have been charged to your bottom line if you were at a major label. The labels would build to a sum that was insurmountable even if you sold 1 million units. It seems that Jaron has it all wrong.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sony Music's Biggest Deal Ever

The Wall Street Journal reported that since Mr. Jackson's death on June 25, Sony has sold an estimated 31 million of his albums globally. This number is staggering and it's albums, not single songs. I guess that's why Sony Music was willing to pay his estate a minimum of $200 million for 10 future albums including some unreleased material over a period of seven years. The piece states that half of the money will pay down Jackson's debts including $35 million to AEG who were the promoters of his never materialized tour and refinance his Sony/ATV Music Publishing and Neverland Ranch. Will the gloved one's catalog have the staying power to generate enough revenue to make this deal lucrative for Sony? What a time to take the risk.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

John Hiatt Vibrates Irving Plaza

"You make me vibrate" John Hiatt told the crowd at Irving Plaza. He shook his body and went into a fist pumping version of Cry Love. Hiatt is the master of spoken intros. He draws you into the song with a story. If he doesn't love his "job", then I'm the Pope. He has fun with the audience. He appeased a fan's request for Ethylene, which ignited a request shouting frenzy. He's the ultimate song craftsman as evident in his performances of Feels Like Rain and Real Fine Love. The latter opened with a melodic, beautiful guitar interaction by Hiatt and his guitarist/ Nashville-based producer Doug Lancio.

Hiatt's shows are informed by his band and his song arrangements admirably change with each incarnation. This band, The Combo, which includes original Goners drummer Ken Blevins felt like a meeting point between previous bands, the Goners (Sonny Landreth on guitar) and The Guilty Dogs (Michael Ward on guitar): a little blues, country and rock. Lancio was forefront as the show had a prominent jamming element.

John has a great catalog of road songs. His most recent recording is the The Open Road and the band performed the title track. Last night's set would be a great soundtrack for any road trip. Drive South, a love song about getting away from it all was heard early on and it primed the crowd for the joy ride that followed. Tennessee Plates is an ironic play on the title: steal a Cadillac and you're doing time making license plates. John sang with a preacher's enthusiasm in Memphis in the Meantime and rounding out the road tunes was Riding With The King. It wasn't all songs about driving as Hiatt closed the show with a Whiter Shade of Pale-inspired rendition of what has to be his most covered song, the revered Have A Little Faith In Me.

Like Keith Urban, John Hiatt respects and appreciates his fans. John thanked everyone for spending their money to come out and see him in such hard economic times. Following these comments, the guy behind me yelled, "I was on the guest list". You have to love a NY crowd.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mets Slogans: Why Bother?

The Mets marketing department could take a lesson from bands such as Guster.

Yesterday I received this booklet from the Mets soliciting me to buy a season ticket package. In big bold letters it says: We Believe In Comebacks. As a suffering Mets fan, I would say I believed in comebacks also, but with the team's history these past few years (last year excepted as they were out of the race in June), it's hard to buy into such a statement. The Mets were in it to the last game of the season. In fact they could have had the division sewn up, but they fell apart each and every time. We Believe? Who is the "royal we"?

First rule of marketing is know your audience. A band like Guster knows their audience, gives to their audience and makes it exciting to be a part of their fan base. Whether it's posting video clues to find free tickets to a show or playing full album night performances, they are constantly engaging the fans, which is my next point: Engage your base. The Mets have failed on both of these.

The front office might believe in comebacks, but my patience is thin and I'm guessing I'm not alone. If nothing else be honest. We're Healthy! would be a lot more refreshing. The NY Daily News mentioned the sign posted by the exit to the spring training clubhouse: PREVENTION & RECOVERY. Ok I can live with that. It's realistic and about what we can hope for as Mets fans.

The Mets slogans over the years have been uninspiring, which is contrary to why they are created.

Baseball Like It Oughta Be
The Magic Is Back
Your Season Has Come
Out Team, Our Time
Amazin' Again

Their best slogan, Ya Gotta Believe came from a player, Tug McGraw. He engaged fans. Every time I see that video of him slapping the glove against his leg and shouting in joy, I get chills. Remember the ad with Mike Piazza going around town getting advice from street vendors, people on the street, etc? I think the catch phrase was With your help, we can win. It engaged the audience and make them a part of the season. It also does it with humor. I think that commercial was pitched to them by a filmmaker/fan who had a great idea and wanted to share it. Glad he did.

Come on Mets marketers, think different, go out on a limb (maybe bad choice of words, could lead to injury), think about who the fans are. We're smart, baseball savvy and love a good punch line. Don't bore us to death, the team did that on their own this year.

They're On The Mend and We're Keeping Our Fingers Crossed.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

$1 Million To Launch A New Recording Artist

According to a report "Investing in Music" from IFPI, it costs a record label at least $1 million to launch the career of a new recording artist. It also states that $5 billion a year is invested in new artists and the "broader sector" of music employees 2 million people.

Looking at A&R as Research & Development, the record labels spend about 16% of their sales revenue on A&R, which far exceeds the R&D budgets of any other industry.

John Kennedy, chairman and chief executive of IFPI, says: "One of the biggest myths about the music industry in the digital age is that artists no longer need record labels. It is simply wrong. The investment, partnership and support that help build artist careers have never been more important than they are today. This report aims to explain why. Investing in Music is about how the music business works. It explains the value that music companies add, helping artists to realise a talent that would typically go unrecognised and get to an audience they would otherwise not reach."

This is definitely true for mainstream pop artists. Jam bands, rock bands and singer/songwriters might not benefit from a major label deal in this climate. Those acts need to tour and connect with fans immediately to be successful. Most labels won't take a chance on that kind of an act without a following. These musicians can be more profitable and sustain a longer career by doing it on their own, especially if they have a fan base. Things may change, but when saddled with $1 million in recoupable expenses before a song is released, they are standing behind the 8 Ball.

The report can be downloaded from their website.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Move Over Outsiders, The Popular Kids Have Taken Over Music

Jim Boggia wrote an open letter to Taylor Swift on Outlandosmusic.com. He is vocal about his bitterness at her walking away with 4 Grammys after she hobbled through her duet with Stevie Nicks. The most interesting part of the letter is his declaration that the "popular kids" have taken over music. Here is an excerpt:

You know that song of yours? The one where she’s the cheerleader and you’re the unpopular outsider? Well, I’m having a hard time buying into that because – not to dwell on this but, um . . . . LOOK AT YOU. You can feel free to read this next sentence in the voice of Grandpa Simpson, but: In my day, girls who looked liked you WERE the cheerleaders and then, as now, girls who looked like you wound up getting the guy you talk about in that song. And music . . . Music . . . MUSIC . . . well, that was OUR territory – the folks who really were unpopular. You should check out a tune called ‘At Seventeen’ by Janis Ian. Then you should check out Janis Ian. I mean do a Google Images search. See? SHE was in the bleachers wearing a t-shirt, Taylor, not you. Can’t you just be happy being the cheerleader? Do the popular kids have to take over music, too?

But why am I blaming you? The popular kids took over our game a while ago. There was a bit of a back and forth tussle for a while, but there was a moment – it might have been when Kurt put the bullet through his head – that it was over, the cool kids won and popular music (not POP music, but music which is massively popular) became about being popular and not about making music.

This is the most telling thing I've read about the current music scene in a long time. How much does American Idol plays into this? In the 80's MTV certainly helped the careers of those good-looking bands ala Duran Duran or a-HA. MTV has removed music from its name and now it's American Idol. This season more than ever, they are placing more emphasis on the looks. It could be because the talent is so sparse. Contestant Michelle Delamor was wearing a dress from designer Vera Wang, who was in the audience. Randy called her outfit "hot". In a past episode, Kara inappropriately told contestant Casey James to remove his shirt. But then there is Crystal Bowersox who throws the whole theory out the window. On a talent level she is the powerhouse to beat. She is not concerned with fashion. She gets out there and belts it out. It would be more beneficial to her if she places in the top 4, but is not crowned the next American Idol. Daughtry's career might not be what it is had he won. Not winning allows them to do their own thing, not worry about wardrobe changes and be under the strict supervision of the Idol producers. It will be interesting to see where the votes go.