Thursday, January 31, 2013

Read Before You Sign

Wow!  I read this a few hours after posting my revisited Rotten post.  Braindeadly should have read Rotten. I was shocked that the Sex Pistols had signed an in perpetuity contract with Warner Bros. in the US, well Techdirt had this story of Braindeadly (Ben Vacas) who apparently did the same thing with the owner of his YouTube network. 

As Techdirt states:   It's going to become increasingly important that formerly amateur YouTube stars read the contracts they sign with a growing number of upstart "YouTube Networks" very carefully, or else they are going to face situations such as we're seeing with Machinima [owner of the YouTube Network] stars, who are shutting down production because they're locked into lifetime and beyond contracts with the multi-channel network.

It pains me to hear that at this stage of the game people are still signing quickly and not reading or having someone else read, a contract before they sign.  There must be such panic to sign, that no thought is given to the consequences.  In the case of the Sex Pistols they just wanted to know how much money they would get, which turned out to be very little. 

Rotten Revisited

There are a few quotes from John Lydon that I think give the reader a good sense of what was going on with the Sex Pistols in the early stages of the band. 

A lot of people feel the Sex Pistols were just negative.  I agree, and what the f**k is wrong with that?  Sometimes the absolute most positive thing you can be in a boring society is completely negative. It helps.  If you’re not, you show weakness, and you must never do that!  You must always be committed.   

We were huge, but we couldn’t play anywhere, so we couldn’t earn any money.  Nobody wanted to release our records.  We were quite literally paupers. 
Too many days off between gigs on the Anarchy tour turned the Pistols against one another.  We became frustrated and began looking at each other suspiciously.  We were bored and at each other’s backs.  Today the animosity has transformed into a sense of loss.  

John's take on record companies and the record business:
There were virtually no independent labels when the Pistols started. 

You set yourself bigger than that; you want to be heard by as many people as possible.  Unless you have distribution, there’s no point.  When you sign with these independents-as they call themselves-they go and lease the contract to the big labels.  Again you’ve defeated the point, you’re now twice removed.  They still need to go through the major labels to the bloody records pressed, distributed, and paid for. 

On knowing little about record contracts:

To be honest, the only interest the band and I had was, how much do we each get?  Like true humanitarians.  Quite frankly you can’t tell an eighteen year old to think any other way. 
I was nowhere near capable of understanding what was going on.  I realize now that the contracts were shockingly bad.  Malcolm hadn’t the slightest idea what he was doing, either. 

The American contract with Warner Bros. was signed in perpetuity, forever and ever.

I don't think I know of any artist that signed a record contract in perpetuity.  This was a shocker to me; it probably shouldn't have been.   Although record contracts are not what they used to be, this book could easily be a musician primer of what-not-to-do. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

I Fight Dragons and the Record Company

You can write about it in a song and you can talk about it on YouTube.  Brian Mazzaferri from the band I Fight Dragons recalls his unending saga of writing what the record label calls a "hit song".  As Brian says, he is not one to give up, so he's going to keep going back to the drawing board every time the label deems the new version of the song "not a hit".  At the end of this ordeal, which besides being an exercise in frustration (although Brian seems to take this in stride), has yielded 18 songs with lots of co-writers. 

Brian posted every version of the song that exists at SoundCloud

His final version of the song was titled It's Not Me It's You.   Have you heard Graham Parker's Mercury Poisoning?  The Raspberries'  Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)

The Chicago band did release their album KABOOM! on Photo Finish/Atlantic Records.  No version of this song appears on it. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


35 years ago on January 14, the Sex Pistols played their final gig as the band we remember,  that lineup with Sid Vicious.  It's ironic that on that date this year, I finished reading Rotten, John Lydon's memoir.
  • Lydon has a great respect for women.  With the exception of Vivienne Westwood, who he disliked immensely, they come off pretty well.  As for the men in the book, there are few that he liked or had any patience for.  Strangely he did have patience for Sid Vicious who he brought into the band.
  • The Sex Pistols career was short (not including reunions).  It was basically a two year stint.      
  • Their only US tour during the 1970's took place in southern states.  Their manager Malcolm McLaren thought animosity would follow them throughout the South.  This would bring publicity.  Logic would have them playing NY, Philly, Chicago, LA.  Logic rarely entered into  McLaren's thinking.  

Some of the most interesting anecdotes come from the photographer Bob Gruen who accompanied the Pistols on the US tour.  The stories of tour manager Noel Monk trying to keep things in check are riveting.  Did you know that John and Sid were on a tour bus with the crew while bandmates Steve Jones and Paul Cook traveled separately and stayed in different hotels with McLaren?  Chaos hung around this band like a noose. 

The book also contains words from those who were part of Lydon's scene ( Billy Idol, Chrissie Hynde, Steve Severin). They shed an ancillary light on the Pistols story.  The commentary basically ends when the Sex Pistols ended. The book was published in 2008, but there was no mention of the 1996 Filthy Lucre Tour (Original member, Glen Matlock returned to replace a departed Sid).  There are mentions of his second band Public Image Ltd, but the bulk of the book deals with his life as Johnny Rotten. 

After reading Rotten,  I'm inclined to think that the Sex Pistols may have had a longer career than one album if Lydon had never brought Sid into the band.  He was disruptive and useless.  Except for his image and his tabloid attention-getting antics, there isn't much to say about him.  In today's world (with 24/7 media coverage of anyone's moves), I don't know if Sid would have been considered a legend.  His disruptive girlfriend Nancy Spungen would be dismissed as annoying (apparently everyone hated her and had no problem vocalizing it).  The media has had it's fill of the closest we've come to another Nancy in Courtney Love, who ironically I met when she was filming Sid and Nancy.  Lydon writes that there are many falsifications in that movie and nobody bothered to consult him on the story.  

John Lydon rants and raves throughout his story.  Would you expect anything else?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Baseball, Bob & Barry

Three things that interest me:  Baseball, Bob Costas and Barry Levinson.   Starting this Monday the 14th, they will be part of a six segment show on the MLB Network called Costas at the movies.  Bob is interviewing the stars and directors of iconic baseball movies.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, this is the lineup of films:

Monday, January 14 - Cobb
Interviews: Tommy Lee Jones (Ty Cobb) and director Ron Shelton

Monday, January 21 - Bad News Bears
Interview: Actress Tatum O'Neal (Amanda Whurlizer)

Monday, January 28 - A League of Their Own
Interviews: Geena Davis (Dottie Hinson) and director Penny Marshall

Monday, February 4 - Eight Men Out
Interviews: Director John Sayles

Monday, February 11 - The Natural
Interview: Director Barry Levinson

Gina Davis, A League of Their Own
As Bob says in THR:  “Not only do they take pride in the work they did in these movies, but they don’t often get a chance to talk at length about it,” Costas says. “Everything now is a sound bite. The idea of getting to speak in complete sentences and actually recalling something that was an important part of your life and career I think appeals to people.”

Bob's talk show, Later was one of my favorites. I met Bob during a taping of Later (an act I worked with was on the show) and he paid me one of the greatest compliments.  He said, "You really do know your baseball."  It doesn't get any better than that.

Bob and Howard Stern are the best interviewers out there.  They both get so much out of their guests.  Bob loves baseball and I see this series as being a (ahem) home run.  Can't wait. 

Strangely, the MLB Network does not have a mention of this show on their site.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

The Major Labels Aren't Using Trolls

For years, the major record labels were able to manipulate sales numbers and the sales charts.  Billboard, Cash Box, Record World all charted records.  The numbers were a cumulative score including both radio play and sales.  I worked at Record World as an intern in the early 80's. My job was to call record stores and report units sold.  As you can guess, this is not the most scientific method and until Soundscan came along, it was the way things were done. 

There is a bit of a clamor that the labels are at it again, but this time it involves manipulating YouTube views for their videos.  YouTube began a campaign against falsely inflated views, but it turns out this has nothing to do with the decrease in views on videos by Universal and Sony artists. The sudden drop in views led people to believe the labels had their trolls out inflating the views. 

As TechDirt points out  it turns out that most of the issue was just that the labels had moved their videos from YouTube to Vevo -- the online video site that the labels had started a few years ago (built on top of YouTube technology). As Billboard notes, the "de-spamming" effort did delete about 1.5 million views from Sony and Universal Music videos -- so there may be some funny business, but that's tiny compared to the 2 billion views that disappeared.

YouTube also changed the way they count "dead videos" which would include those videos that have been moving over to Vevo.   Highly viewed videos that were on Universal and Sony's YouTube channels are now at Vevo. As a result, the views that those videos received during their time on the dedicated label channels were taken away in YouTube's latest "clean up" effort.

It's nice to start off the year with a clean slate.