Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Don DeVito: Producer and Esteemed Record Exec

Anyone that I've talked to about Don DeVito's passing said the same thing: "That's really sad. He was such a great guy. I liked him." That alone is a testament to his integrity in a business that might not always reward that attribute.

An encounter with Al Kooper led him to a short time on the road as a musician. When his band broke up, he was stuck in Arkansas and in a fortunate stroke of serendipity, he meets Johnny Cash there. Johnny later introduces him to Bob Dylan and Don produces Desire and Blood On The Tracks.

It's stunning that Don spent his entire working career at CBS/Columbia Records. Starting in 1967 in the sports dept, he is quickly transferred to CBS Records. His first job was as a local promotions guy and then moved to A&R. He was instrumental in producing The Concert for New York City, which occurred after 9/11. Don retired in 2007.

He is quoted in a lovely obit in Billboard as saying how he'd liked to be remembered: "For devotion to the music."

Rosanne Cash's tweet: Sad my old friend Don DeVito died. My dad intro'd him to Dylan, DeVito then produced Desire, profound influence on me.

Elvis Costello Emplores Fan Not To Buy His Record

Yes, Elvis via his website, is asking fan to wait till next year to purchase his latest release, The Return Of The Spectacular Spinning Songbook. He say no matter how he tried to convince his record label, they would not reduce the price of the record. He thinks it's too high. If you need it now, pirate it.

He goes one step further and actually recommends another artist if you're looking for a gift to purchase for the holidays.

If you want to buy something special for your loved one at this time of seasonal giving, we suggest, “Ambassador Of Jazz” - a cute little imitation suitcase containing ten re-mastered albums by one of the most beautiful and loving revolutionaries who ever lived – Louis Armstrong.

The album (or I should say package: it's a CD, DVD and LP) which comes out 12/6 is at pre-order prices which run the gamut between $202.63 at Amazon to $307.99 at J&R (which it looks like is paid through Amazon at checkout). I'm assuming a single CD will be released in the new year, which will not be as costly.

I have not seen any comments from Elvis' record label, Hip-O Records which is part of the Universal Music Group and I didn't receive a response from his PR person. Would love to know their reasoning on the pricing.

A precursor to the tour that encompasses this recording was Elvis' 1986 Costello Sings Again Tour, which I saw on Broadway. He performed five nights at the Broadway Theater and each night was a different theme. I saw the spin the wheel, we'll play the song night. An audience member was called on stage to spin the wheel and whatever song (or name your request) came up, the band played it. Alison was played twice. I loved the show and it's spontaneity. My brother caught this most recent tour at the Paramount in Huntington and loved it.

Elvis/ Guster? Similar album covers:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Rules of Civility in 1930's New York

I read about the author Amor Towles before I read The Rules of Civility.   We share a love for Edward Hopper's paintings.  His grandmother put off marriage until she was 30 because she was having so much fun.  This was obviously a thought in his head when he wrote the book.  He had a very regimented approach to writing.  The author is quoted on his website:

I decided it would be a distinctive first person narrative; all events and characters would be carefully imagined in advance; and it would be written in one year. After a few weeks of preparation, I started Rules of Civility on January 1, 2006 and wrapped it up 365 days later. The book was designed with 26 chapters, because there are 52 weeks in the year and I allotted myself two weeks to draft, revise and bank each chapter.

With this in mind, my expectations were high for the book.   We read it for book club and it was well received.   The characters are an interesting bunch, but I thought lacking initial substance, which may have been a result of that era.  I wasn't endeared to them as much as I wanted to be. The ones I thought would be the most true to their roots weren't and the ones I thought were crazy, might be, but they came to terms with where they wanted to be and left all their preconceived thoughts on how to find happiness behind.  The book is still a nice read despite my misgivings on character introductions. 

The book takes places in 1938.  It's just after the Depression and there are hints, but no one is anticipating World War ll.  (It's almost impossible to discard the Gatsby effect even though this book takes place a decade later.)  Katey, the main character seems to wiggle her way into the social scene. It starts by a chance encounter with Tinker on New Year's Eve. From there, she hooks up with other socially tied-in rich kids such as Dicky Vanderwhile and  Wallace Wolcott. 

A lot of reviews point to Katey as being an outsider, but I felt she was only an outsider in that she wasn't brought up in a wealthy environment.  She came from Brooklyn.  Her father, who she loved, was Russian.  Katey seemed to work her way into any situation. She knew how to play the game whether she was dealing with her high level boss (she gets a job at a new magazine at Conde Nast) or Tinker's "godmother." I had the sense that she was taking life in and using it to her advantage. 

The great thing about this novel is that there is a real storyline. I know that may sound ridiculous, but most of the current fiction I've read lately had the feel of scenes written on napkins and then cobbled into a book.  I love that it took place in New York.  I think I've ODed on  Middle Eastern/Indian/Pakistani authors for the time being.

The title owes to George Washington’s “Rules of Civility”.   He was sixteen when he wrote it.  The rules basically taught respect for others, which would make the follower of these rules a better person.  The rules were based on teachings from French Jesuits.   By the end of that eye opening year, the characters each find their own place of civility.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Occupy The Music Industry

Bob Lefsetz has a worth-reading post that was inspired by the reporting on the clearing of Zuccotti Park.  He nails the reasons why people stopped buying recorded music and/or going to so few shows a year.  (Could this be a warning for the financial institutions?)  He chronicles it beginning with MTV and the advent of the CD.  CD's cost more than vinyl or cassettes for the consumer and the artists received less in royalties.  He points out something I forgot:  
they [the musicians] settled for a reduced royalty, under the rubric that money was needed to grow this new technology. Ain’t that a laugh.
It was a laugh and pouring salt in the wound, long after the technology was "developed", the labels continued to enact the reduced royalty.

Here is where the article hits it's stride:
The bankers were overpaid because of a destruction of regulation and oversight and a thin layer of people got rich, and they used their lobbying power, their money, to institute lower taxes. And you wonder why the rank and file are pissed off?

The rights holders [in the music biz] have done a good job of labeling the public as ungrateful thieves. But is this an accurate description? Almost definitely not. The public was fed up with past practices and angry because they could not acquire music the way they wanted to

People are buying less and less music.  Will people rely less and less on banks and other financial institutions unless these institutions start listening to the consumer, instead of ignoring them?

Friday, November 11, 2011


Crazy energy came from the stage at Terminal 5 last night.  Fitz and the Tantrums were nonstop.  The music poured from them. 

It was hard to take my eyes off Noelle Scaggs .  She's one third of the lead-singing duo (figure that one out) along with band leader Michael Fitzpatrick.  With the tambourine as an extension of her arm, she moved and grooved like her life depended on it.  She gets the crowd going. Participation is key.  She reminded me so much of Ranking Roger, the MC/toaster and creative half of The Beat/General Public.  She doesn't sound anything like him, just played the stage and got the audience going in that same manner. Her vocals are a wonderful mix for Fitz and their playful banter recalls the great 60's/70's  duos.  Think Marvin and Tammi, Tina and Ike.  Like Tina and Ike they took a song and turned it on it's head. For Tina and Ike it was Proud Mary, for Fitz it was Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).  It became a call out, dance party.  How'd they do that?

Leader Fitz stayed sartorial the entire show.  Moving like Pete Townsend meets David Byrne, he never unbuttoned his red suit (accented by a black striped T-shirt).  He sweat through that jacket, but never removed it.  When you're  having that much fun who can worry about the jacket?

The band thanked the sold out crowd many times, stating that New York was the first city to embrace them (they are from LA).  The crowd loved it.  The band gets the award for most impressive command of an audience.  I've never seen 3000 people squat down at the request of the performers.  During the encore MoneyGrabber, the crowd got down.  Fitz then instructed,  "New Yorkers lose your f**king minds".  In unison, the audience jumped to their feet. 

Instead of rehashing the set list, I'll just say Fitz and The Tantrums put on a party.  There music is not a revival of 60's/70's soul.  It pulls from all sorts of influences and leads you down a brand new path.  GO SEE THEM!

Note:  The band showed their support for Occupy Wall St and performed earlier in the day yesterday at Zuccotti Park.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

New Yorkers Buy The Most Country Music

On the heels of the CMA's last night (How wonderful was the tribute to Glen Campbell? How great are those Jimmy Webb songs?), this week's Nielsen report states that New York City is the biggest market for country music sales.  They attribute that more to the larger population of NY than say a city like Nashville.  Country is the new rock so it's no surprise that New Yorkers buy country music.  The surprise is that radio still ignores this market and has yet to bring back a country station.  Maybe there are a lot of Sirius XM subscribers in Gotham City. 

Monday, November 07, 2011

Chuck D and How Record Labels Pay Royalties

Universal Music lost its digital royalties case to Eminem.  Universal had been claiming in all ways, except with regard to playing royalties to musicians, that iTunes (also includes other digital sales and ringtones) purchases were licenses as opposed to sales.  A sale, according to Universal, was a physical unit such as a CD.  A license is typically the use of a song in a movie or TV show and as such, labels typically give higher royalties to musicians for licenses as they do not require any extra spending from the label (for packaging, marketing, etc). 

All of this brings me to the Techdirt post from a few days ago, which very clearly lays out the case Chuck D is making against Universal.  He wants to be paid for his iTunes sales as a license, not a sale.  According to the article, Chuck D is receiving  $80.33 for every 1000 units sold.  As his lawsuit claims, his rightful royalty payment should be  $315.85 for every 1,000 units sold.

This could have huge ramifications for major labels.  Their accounting to the artists has always been sketchy at best.  I've heard of big name artists who would audit the labels every 4 years and walk away with a couple of million dollars.  I don't believe there were any artists or managers who were deluded about this accounting practice. We were all aware of it.  Since the bands I managed never relied on royalty payments and didn't sell in the millions of units, it was a moot point.  It would probably cost more to hire a lawyer, then finding what might be a long lost royalty payment.   

It's great to see Chuck D pursuing this.  If these bigger artists can pave the way, it might mean a bit more transparency from the labels.