Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Everyone hates being ripped off...

There are some horror stories to be told about rip offs and acrimony between band mates, labels venues and everything from roadies to riders (anyone know the story about Keefs shepherds pie?) and there will no doubt be more to come. The people at the coal face who are dedicating their lives, health and sometimes their immortal soul to their craft or their artistry thoroughly resent even one crumb of what they consider to be their "dues" not reaching them. And rightly so, however sometimes this comes across as an exaggerated sense of entitlement, coupled with a lack of appreciation of others worth. It's a toxic mixture in any situation and it needs to be avoided.

Blurting out the phrase "Let's move before they raise the parking rate" by a session keyboard player in the studio probably doesn't constitute work for fee as they were paid to play a keyboard part so why feel disgruntled when you contribute to the hook of a famous song (allegedly) and not receive any royalties as your fee will not be affected if the song is a hit or not? 

Ego, pride, call it what you will, the egocentric nature of some creative individuals and  in general is unfortunate because its not productive, its certainly not sexy. Productivity and sexiness seemingly being high on the tick box list of attributes required to make it as a performing artist apparently, or at least I would have thought so.

Suspicious minds...

The attitude that some artists have towards other music professionals, especially promoters and agents is often one of suspicion. The idea being that if they can see a good reason for having them play, there must be something in it for them (the promoter or agent) and then the subconscious keeping of score begins. The years of practice, the costs of rehearsals, the wear and tear on equipment starts to get bigger as more beer gets served over the bar and more wristbands get distributed at the door. The pissy smell in the dressing room, (which is a toilet anyway) starts to matter, as does the derisory fee and all the work you put in to sell your ticket allotment to your mates and anyone who you could. Starts to feel like a rip off. But you are there, ready to give your all for the unappreciating, who will probably talk all the way through your set, as the excitement of telling all your nearest and dearest that you've "got a gig" fades into the distance. Still, you are getting exposure, right? 

Do your thing...

I somewhat approve of the DIY ethic, it has a good provenance. Nowadays it is quite possible to be your own publisher, producer, promoter and record label from the comfort of your own web enabled device. You can even put on your own events stream them on line, even have your latest creation mastered by a robot. However all of this takes time, and creative energy and of course money... My point? Keep to what you do, which is being a creative artist and allow yourself to trust those who aim only to assist your creativity. Just because you can do it, there is no reason why you should if it takes you away from your core business. We aren't all multi talented and some of us have only a little sliver of talent but have a certain something that makes us great at what we do so don't risk diluting what you have. Sure there are slim pickings to be made at the entry level of the music industry and it seems like everyone is out to exploit your dreams to make a fast buck for themselves but, in truth,  people who have that formed that impression have likely been hanging with the wrong people. 

Your inner state is what projects to the audience on stage. If you are gnarled, desperate and frustrated after a weekend of tagging Mp3s and writing individual submission emails or the disappointment of playing in some sticky carpet stank hole (again) for free or worse, it is going to show. 

The next time someone approaches you at a gig and offers to promote you or sends an email offering a service please don't dismiss it out of hand, and assume that they are out to exploit you. They may be saving you from yourself. 

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Relevant radio or digital dominance?

Streaming of digital music is now the most common means by which the largest consumers of recorded music, the 16 to 24 age group, who previously would have been the age group that would have bought vinyl singles and put your band on Top of the Pops. Playlist curators have replaced record companies and streaming is the new vinyl. But wait a minute. What is happening is that music consumers are listening to what essentially is radio. Radio with a difference in that instead of being "broadcast" it is being "narrowcast" to sometimes just one individual.   

I don't know about you but listening to live broadcast radio has its charms, it feels like a shared experience somehow. The RAJAR Midas Audio survey on broadcast radio listening habits is interesting reading for those who wonder about the relevance of traditional audio broadcast in terms of reach. Web based services pale to near insignificance by comparison with live broadcast radio having a near 75% reach. Almost half of the listening hours are outside the home, mainly at work and in a vehicle. 

In terms of reach, live radio, despite being "unfashionable" is still a force to be reckoned with and is likely to become more so since DAB receivers are becoming standard in vehicles and car audio systems. Interestingly, the uptake of live broadcast media where on demand streaming is available is undiminished. It will be interesting to note the effect of increased availability of on demand media in vehicles. The car being a popular location for listening to audio content which may convert up to 20% of total listening hours it represents to on demand and away from broadcast.

Listening to the radio at work accounts for a significant number of listening hours (32%) and this is increasingly spent listening to on demand services.

Before we all get too excited though, 91% of live audio consumed is speech based. So in terms of reach for music promotion this suggests that live radio airplay might reach 1.6 million listeners under optimal conditions. The Radio 4 Today program reported peak listening figures of  over 11 million. 

The take home message I think is that the power of live radio is vastly underused in terms of music promotion. Half of the listeners in the survey stated that they listened alone, which might explain the propensity to listen to speech content. 

As I suggested in my previous post, capturing an audience is as much about situation and timing as it is about form and content. Live media leaves something to serendipity in that respect.

Monday, 26 March 2018

When popular becomes outsider.

In the swirling morass of content which is uploaded to the internet minute by minute it is remarkable that any of we appreciators of independent music get to hear anything above the background noise of playlists, recommendations and likes on social media that assail us from every angle. What is it, then, that makes a tune catch on in the public domain outside of its niche? 

Some of us are old enough to remember JCB song by Nizlopi. (2005). Championed by Radio Two and played during the times when many who can relate to the experience of being stuck behind some slow moving piece of plant or agricultural implement whist projecting subconscious derision towards the hapless driver and finding their ire being tamed by the unfolding realization that the song on the radio is about a young lad who, being bullied at school is empowered by the experience of going to work with his dad... Nice.

What Bob Dylan said...

“The world don’t need any more songs. They’ve got enough. They’ve got way too many. As a matter of fact, if nobody wrote any songs from this day on, the world ain’t gonna suffer for it. Nobody cares. There’s enough songs for people to listen to, if they want to listen to songs. For every man, woman and child on earth, they could be sent, probably, each of them, a hundred records, and never be repeated. There’s enough songs. Unless someone’s gonna come along with a pure heart and has something to say. That’s a different story. But as far as songwriting, any idiot could do it. If you see me do it, any idiot could do it.”

"A pure heart and something to say..."

Sure, that song ticked that particular box and on the exposure received the band's first album went platinum (300,000 copies) and the single entered the UK charts at number one, one week before Christmas following its release on December12th. Truly meteoric, however they weren't able to sustain their career despite their efforts and split soon after recording their second album. The other tick box that Bob didn't mention.

The bands guitar technician, the then unknown Ed Sheeran opened for them at one of their rare live performances and went on to have five platinum disks. The other side of the digital watershed has served him very well, in fact. Though downloads and social media were a "thing" back then (remember MySpace?) Between 2008 and 2011 the new paradigm of popular vs niche and physical vs digital had consolidated.

So here we are in 2018, with niche within niche and playlist within playlist which pretty much ensures that people are listening to music that some of us will live out our entire lives without awareness of its very existence or the artists that create it. Yes, I appreciate that there is a wealth of back catalog music that this applies to as well but with the sheer volume and diversity of styles, genres and sub genres all of which are related by algorithms and playlists how does that 'Pure heart with something to say" get heard these days? Answers on a postcard please. 

The acceptable face of outsider music.

An recent article in the industry blog "A&R Factory"  caught my eye; entitled "The Acceptable Face of Outsider Music"  I was naturally curious, having an awareness of outsider art I expected something primitive, slightly mawkish, and against the grain. No, what is considered outsider is in fact pop (as in popular) rock. 

The digital age has not only turned the music industry upside down, it now seems to have turned it inside out..(cue for a song) in a way that hitherto only Jazz, Rock and Roll and Punk cam lay claim to. And what can we call this "insider" movement, since what is popular is now "outsider"?

We have gone full circle it seems. Pre-punk, the majors controlled what music was allowed to be served up for popular consumption and now every man and his dog is their own record label and the result is that it is equally hard for the great performers who write and perform great songs to get themselves heard above the general clamor unless, of course, like in the "bad old days" they get lucky, have access to a lot of money or get spotted busking in the street by David Bowie's record producer, whether they are any good or not. 

If ever there was a need for the outsiders to start kicking in doors (metaphorically speaking) it is about now. We need good songs with popular appeal and artists who can keep them coming, can fill venues and have meaningful careers, they are out there, and they need to come through or we'll have to put up with, err... Ed Sheeran.