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Thursday
Aug142008

West Side Story

Right, so off to Sadler's Wells for the first time to actually see a performance, rather than drink in the bar.

I went off theatre a bit after doing a degree in it - over the course of four years I saw (and occasionally contributed to) so many bad plays that I felt that a (poorly paid) life in the theatre just wasn't for me. Most directors I met were charlatans and most actors I encountered had bigger egos than mine (quite an achievement) so I opted instead for an attempt at a career in an even filthier, stupider business (music).

So in short, I haven't been to see a show in a while.

So why did I relent? Well, simply because the show that was on was West Side Story, of which I am a very big fan. There are some fantastic numbers in it - America, I think, is one of the best pop songs going, containing some incredibly sharp lyrics that provide a very apt social commentary on today's United States, never mind that of the era which produced the musical (the 1950s).

Try these:

I like to be in America! / O.K. by me in America! / Ev'rything free in America. / For a small fee in America!

or

Buying on credit is so nice / One look at us, and they charge twice / I have my own washing machine / What will you have, though, to keep clean?

or

Life can be bright in America / If you can fight in America / Life is all right in America/ If you're a white in America

So what did I think of the stage version? I felt it was a bit of a curate's egg; if I were a judge on one of those ghastly shows presented by Graham Norton, I'd have given it five, or maybe six out of ten.

Maybe my seat was the problem - watching the show as though I were in a helicopter definitely didn't help. I might have felt a bit warmer towards the performance had I been closer to the action (there were, after all, lots of skimpily dressed dancers to admire; despite my best efforts, my seat and eyesight prevented me from appreciating them to the full).

A bigger problem than my not being able to admire the scantily-clad dancers properly was arguably the set. In its day West Side Story was one of the most realistic, or naturalistic musicals going (if bursting into song a propos nothing can ever really be considered that realistic). But with this version, the set designer opted for minimalism - there was barely anything on stage, and the odd items we did get to see didn't look very 'period'. Despite this, the costume designer had opted for fairly authentic 1950s garb, so a very odd little world - a mismatch of real and unreal - was created on the stage. Maybe that was the intention, but it didn't really work - it felt oddly cheap or something, as though they had run out of money when it came to the set.

However, I think that what made me feel most unimpressed by the stage show was something the cast and crew couldn't really do anything about: the 1961 film version. The movie is so spectacular, containing such exhilarating performances, that whenever you thought of them during the stage version, it couldn't help but feeling a bit flat.

Take a look at the film version of 'America', below. Even in pixelated Youtube, you can't help but think that Rita Moreno's performance is one of the most exuberant, sexy performances ever to grace the silver screen. And the prancing dudes are pretty cool too.

In the stage version, this number sadly didn't have the prancing dudes - they were offstage doing something else, so the girls had the debate about the merits of America, or lack thereof, amongst themselves. As a result the piece didn't have half the sexual tension of the film version, or the 'battle of the sexes' angle.

In any event, despite my misgivings, the Sadler's Well version was great in one respect: it revived my interest in West Side Story, and has got me spending far too much time looking at dancing Puerto Ricans on my computer...and I feel faintly in love with Rita Moreno, below.

West Side Story also got me thinking about how some of the best pop songs ever are to be found hidden in camp musicals - but more on that in another blog post.

//

Saturday
Aug092008

The easiest way to support my music yet...

I've developed a nice little online gadget which makes it really easy for my supporters (slightly embarrassed to say fans) to spread the word about my music. I got the idea from the rather nifty 'Facebook Friend Finder' technology.

I'd be really grateful if you could use it to spread the word! Just...

  • Go to www.singletonmusic.com/invite/tellfriends.htm
  • Enter your email address and password (for example, your Hotmail email address and the password for that account).
  • You'll see a list of all your contacts, and you can select which ones you'd like to send my free album to.
To use it you'll need to have one of the following webmail accounts: Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail, AOL, Lycos, ICQ, Rambler, Fastmail, Live, Katamail, Mailcom or Rediffmail. If you don't have one of those, you can use my other tell-a-friend tool here.

Your details are not stored, and your contacts will not end up on my mailing list. It's dead easy to use, you'll be supporting independent music, and your friends will get a free album. That link again is www.singletonmusic.com/invite/tellfriends.htm.

Ah go on.

//

Tuesday
Aug052008

Music by numbers

A while ago, I wrote a blog post about the increasing importance of data to musicians. The gist of it was that in the burgeoning 'free music' era, bands and musicians should aim to capture the details of people who are downloading their songs for free. The idea being that even if artists are not making money directly from recorded songs, they can generate income in other ways by marketing merchandise, tours and so on to fans whose email addresses they have obtained.

There's another type of data which is of increasing significance to musicians, and it doesn't necessarily involve email addresses. It's statistical data.

With the rise of social networks like Facebook, Myspace, iLike and Last FM, musicians now have a plethora of ways to measure how many people are listening to their music. For example, any band with a Myspace page will be able to see how many plays of their songs they are getting; which tracks tend to be more popular; and how many songs are downloaded (as opposed to just listened to). On iLike, there are similar statistics, which again let musicians see how many plays their tracks are getting, and other interesting counts, like how many people are adding a band's songs to Facebook pages and how many people are sharing particular songs with friends.

These statistics tend to focus on two things: popularity of songs, and listeners' behaviour. Both are of enormous interest to musicians.

The popularity measurement is fairly straightforward. Thanks to Myspace and Facebook a band can put up, say, five tracks on a profile and run an unofficial focus group on which of their songs would make the best singles (depending on how commercial-minded the band is, the tracks that get the most plays).

Looking at listeners' behaviour is more complicated, but extremely interesting. Thanks to social networks (and other sites) you can examine what listeners are doing with music. With a bit of investigation, you can find out who is

  • adding your song to their social networking page
  • dedicating your songs to friends
  • listing themselves as being a fan of your music
  • recommending you as an artist to online communities
  • feeding back on your music
  • talking about you behind your back
The list goes on, depending on which websites a you are using, but essentially, when you look at the data, pictures of behaviour emerge that can influence how bands and artists communicate and build relationships with fans.

All sites are not equal when it comes to music statistics though. Of all the social networks that I've used to promote my music, the one I trust the most for music statistics is Last FM. This is because it doesn't just measure online plays of music - it goes far beyond that. Every time a registered Last FM user plugs their iPod or MP3 player into their computer, it looks at what they've been listening to and uses it to compile statistics; the same happens when a user plays a cd on their PC. The statistics are extremely comprehensive too, with charts being compiled on a band's most popular songs overall, by week or over a 6 month period. And you can see exactly who's been playing your music, and how much.

Crucially, Last FM distinguishes between listeners and plays. This is not the case with Myspace, where you can only look at the number of plays of songs - there is no listener data. This is pretty useless really; generally, once a Myspace page is visited by either a human or a search engine webbot, the play tally goes up, regardless of whether the song has been listened to by the human or, er, webbot in question. And unlike Last FM, none of the data is stored; once you've removed a song from your page, the data goes with it.

In essence though there is a lot to be gleaned from the musical information that the web provides - by looking at who is playing your music, and what they're doing with it, I think it is possible to grow fanbases and understand what makes people tick musically. But it's hard work, and you have to be able to work out the good stats from the bad.

If you want to check out some of my statistics, my Last FM profile is at http://www.last.fm/music/Chris+Singleton.

//

Wednesday
Jul302008

David and David

David Miliband's article in today's Guardian seems to have provoked a lot of speculation about whether or not he'll take a shot at the Labour leadership.

Whilst battling a horrendous hangover this morning, I read said article. It wasn't much of a hangover cure (and certainly not as effective as the bacon sandwich which was also being consumed at the time).

Despite the media fuss, basically what Miliband is offering is exactly what Brown is currently providing - Blairite "reform" of public services (read creeping privatisation). The 'platform for change' that his article refers to is more of the same, albeit maybe at a faster pace.

What David Miliband might be able to provide which Gordon seemingly cannot is a bit more personality. He's definitely more likeable and seems more at ease with the media. I could see him having a reasonable chance of improving Labour's situation should he become leader (then again, it couldn't get much worse).

If Miliband does lead Labour into the next election, it will amount to a personality contest between two rather well-to-do Davids. This is because Miliband's New Labour politics are so close to Tory positions that there will be little for voters to choose from except the likeability of the respective Davids. Once again, voters will be denied a proper choice, and will have to elect a right-wing government or a er, right-wing government.

In other words, it would be like voting for David...or David.

//

Saturday
Jul262008

Chris Singleton on iLike

This is a post for those of you using iLike - would be grateful if you could 'iLike me' (another weird social-networking verb is creeping into my lexicon).

If you are on Facebook:

  • Visit http://apps.facebook.com/ilike/artist/Chris+Singleton and click the 'Click to iLike' button (you may be prompted to log in / add the application).

  • Then, please dedicate a song of mine to your friends: just scroll down a bit to 'featured songs' and pick a song that you'd like to dedicate. I suggest 'Worry Number One', as your friends will be able to download that MP3 for free, but feel free to choose whichever one you'd like.

If you are not on Facebook:


Many thanks,
Chris

//