Playing Electric Picnic was definitely on the 'bucket list' for me so I'm really pleased that I got to do that as part of Five Grand Stereo recently. A few pics below - thanks to Ciara McSmalla and Daniel Singleton for taking them.
As some of you may know, my alter ego writes / publishes website builder and e-commerce reviews over at Style Factory...a couple of new and revised ones went live recently:
I suspect most readers of these posts are more interested in music than e-commerce and web design, but just in case there are any nerds out there reading this, the above links are for you....
Just wanted to share a new music video with you for a track I've written. It's for the Five Grand Stereo Anyone Can Be a Star song and the link to view it at is:
Well, this may be slightly off-topic, and not remotely musical in nature...but somehow I've found the time to write a book. About SEO.
It's called "Super Simple SEO: How to make Google love your website", and it aims to demystify the whole topic.
Written in a friendly, jargon-free way, the book is written for website owners who need to get to grips with SEO without spending a fortune on consultants or online courses.
You can check out 'Super Simple SEO' here.
If you’re new to SEO, you might find this useful guide to help you learn SEO from Mongools helpful too.
A lot of people come across me because my name pops up when they are researching hyperacusis - a hearing problem where everyday noises seem excessively loud.
I suffered from hyperacusis in the mid-2000s and, when I released some of my music, the media picked up on the fact that I had experienced the condition. Despite this press coverage being some years old, I still get quite a lot of people contacting me about hyperacusis as a result of it - specifically because I was treated successfully for it.
As such I thought it would be be helpful if I put together some resources which explained my experience and treatment.
There are three new sections on the site on hyperacusis:
If you are suffering from hyperacusis (or think you might be), I hope you find these resources useful, but please note:
- I am not a medical professional
- information given on this site is not medical advice
- before acting on any of the information on this site you should discuss the matter with your GP or other qualified medical professional
- I can't take any responsibility for any problems you may experience as a result of acting on any information provided on this site.
So here are EU the referendum results:
- The Scots are pissed off with the English.
- The 'natives' are pissed off with 'foreigners.'
- The Remainers are pissed off with the Leavers.
- The young are pissed off with the old.
- London is pissed off with the shires.
- Europe is pissed off with Britain.
- The middle class are pissed off with the working class.
- The working class are pissed off at being patronised by the metropolitan elite.
- The metropolitan elite are pissed off at being called a metropolitan elite (but probably coined the phrase themselves).
- The 'educated' are pissed off with the 'uneducated'.
- Depending on which meme you're into, Piglet and Pooh, after initially being quite friendly about it all are actually increasingly pissed off with each other.
- Leavers are, in increasing numbers, now pissed off with themselves for voting leave.
- Daily Express readers are still pissed off with everybody (except Princess Diana, who may, don't you know, still be alive).
- Daily Mail editors are pissed off that despite their best efforts, they couldn't *quite* convince the general populace of a link between the EU and cancer.
- The Irish passport office is pissed off with the fact that everybody suddenly has an Irish granny.
- Boris is pissed off with about 3.8% of the people who followed his advice to vote Leave.
- Cameron is pissed off with the idea of actually negotiating a way out of the mess he made by calling a referendum in the first place.
- Jeremy Corbyn's right-on, loving and 'inclusive' fans are pissed off with 'Red Tories', 'Blairite scum' and 'liberal fascists.'
- The rest of Labour is pissed off with Jeremy Corbyn for not taking a hint (or getting up off his arse during the referendum campaign).
And meanwhile, everybody, including the Leave faction, is pissed off at the prospect of actually invoking Article 50 any time soon.
(Good name for a band that actually, Article 50).
Had band members Michael Kirkland and Ben Woollacott round to do some recording yesterday. We had a lot of fun putting down three part harmonies on a few tracks for the new album. I guess we thought we were being the Beatles on 'Because' or The Beach Boys on 'Pet Sounds' but listening back like we were being more like the Bee Gees really, only sans medallions and sexy outfits and being murdered.
You can watch the quite amusing results here. First you hear the ungodly sound of us singing alone at the start of the video, and then at the end you'll get to hear the track with all our ahem, bits put together.
Here is a clip from a new track I'm working on, This Stuff. Michael is playing my weird old keyboard from (I think) the early 80s. An 'Orla'. It makes a lot of farty noises but every now and then you can coax something rather nice out of it.
Anyhoo, enjoy - video below.
With Wings' live album, 'Wings Over America', getting the 'deluxe' re-release treatment soon, and BBC 4 screening the accompanying 'Wings Over The World' film recently, I thought it was only right that I stick my oar in and write about drummers with beards and the difference between pre- and post-Beatles breakup McCartney...
BBC 4 was made for people like me. It’s the only channel I can turn to whenever I desperately need to see a medallion-sporting man from the 1970s – complete with a well-thought out, flowing 1970s beard – bash the living daylights out of a drum kit, while another equally hairy dude coaxes excellent noises from a twin-neck guitar.
You get a lot of that sort of thing – plus Linda – in Wings over the World, a film which BBC 4 aired recently. It’s basically a film of Wings doing their live thing in America, Australia and Europe in 1975/76, featuring between-song clips of the band horsing around backstage, the McCartneys displaying what a happy farmyard-animal-loving family they were and so on.
Now, Wings were an odd sort of a band (and so deeply uncool that I risk exile from whatever’s left of the music industry by even mentioning them in a blog post). But even the most cynical of rock journalists would find it hard to argue with the quality of songwriting that is evident on tracks such as Band on The Run, Live and Let Die, Jet and Let Me Roll It. None of these would have been that out of place on a Beatles album (granted, Lennon might have helped give them a bit more more balls and heart, but even so, they are fine examples of songwriting). On the other hand, there is something more than a little off-putting about the relentless, homespun cheerfulness displayed by Paul and Linda in the mid-seventies (and tracks like Single Pigeon didn’t really do McCartney’s reputation as a songwriting genius many favours). As much as I don't remotely buy 'cool' as being a pre-requisite to rock greatness, there was just something too happy about Wings sometimes.
However, if you can put all thoughts of McCartney’s cheerfulness, thumbs, vegetarian sausages and Single Pigeon lyrics aside, there is much to enjoy in Wings over America. For a start, the performances – particularly those of guitarist Jimmy McCulloch – are outstanding. The tour was a big one, involving 66 gigs – this effectively meant 66 nights of band practice and a lot of takes for the film editors to choose from; all meaning that the performances shown in the film are generally ones where the group is on fire. The band for this tour was a nine-piece (nearly twice the size of McCartney’s current touring band) and the splendidly-sideburned horn players involved make everything sound huge. (Watching the film I couldn’t help thinking that it’s a shame McCartney doesn’t bring a brass section on tour with him these days.) Nobody who has ever played in a band could, in their heart of hearts, fail to be impressed by some of the musicianship on display throughout this film – yes, Linda’s too.
Music aside, what also makes this film enjoyable – as with many of the 1970s music films that BBC 4 spoil us with – is the ‘time capsule’ nature of it. I was born in the late 70s (admitting I am this old also means immediate exile from the music industry, incidentally) and I am always fascinated by the glimpses that films like this show of the world I arrived into – a planet where telephones were static objects; dodgy wallpaper wasn’t employed for strictly ironic purposes; people drank coffee, not flat whites; and nobody tweeted pictures of their food. The cars, sounds, flares, microphones, haircuts and TV sets are wondrous to behold; all part of a vintage, disappearing world that is at once foreign and familiar (quite possibly because it is now endlessly recycled by 20 year old hipsters).
So, other than getting even more nostaglic for a decade that I didn't see much of, did I come away from watching Wings Over America a die-hard Wings fan? No. I find that what’s generally missing from a lot of Wings tracks is emotion: the hooks are often there, as they were in McCartney’s Beatles songs; but there is no hint of pain. For example, Hey Jude or Blackbird have some killer hooks, and they are deeply moving songs; Live and Let Die or Band on the Run are laden with equally hummable melodies – but they (and countless other catchy Wings tracks) just don’t seem to speak to the heart. The musicianship and production values are actually technically better on most Wings records than on Beatles ones; but again, there’s something missing from everything that you can’t quite put your finger on. In some of McCartney’s early solo albums, there is admittedly more ‘heart’ to be detected – there is clearly unchecked emotion, for example, to be heard in songs like Maybe I’m Amazed and Too Many People from McCartney and Ram respectively. But for me so much of McCartney’s output with Wings – as well-written and as well-produced as a lot of it is – just lacks depth. The soul, if you’ll pardon the terrible Beatles pun, is often of the rubber variety.
But all that said, sometimes you just have to take your hat off to a supremely well-oiled, pop/rock machine that belts out hooky song after hooky song. And by the end of their 75/76 tour, that’s what Wings had become, and that’s what this film captures. Watch it on a decent telly hooked up to some big speakers, put your inner cynic away, and enjoy a moment of pleasurable guilt.
There's something rather sneaky going on in Britain at the moment: an attempt to cod the population into believing that its most controversial, divisive prime minister ever was a unifying figure that everybody supported (or should have supported) and whose policies “saved the nation.”
An array of tactics are being employed to convince us that Thatcher was essentially a Churchill Mark II: the state-funeral-on-the-sly; the recall of parliament; a torrent of newspaper headlines pronouncing her Britain's greatest ever PM; vast numbers of Thatcherite talking heads queuing up to commend her legacy to pliant TV news anchors; and, of course, a royal presence at her funeral. It’s nearly as bad as when we had to endure months of catching buses sporting huge pictures of Maggie’s hairdo photoshopped onto Meryl Streep’s head.
However slickly presented, however, the messages about Thatcher being put about by her cheerleaders are at odds with reality.
She was not unifying; I doubt that more vitriol has been directed at any other post-war British prime minister (even Bush-loving, Iraq-bombing Blair), dead or alive.
She was not universally popular: she won her elections with a smaller share of the vote than all previous post-war Tory prime ministers, and at every general election she contested, around 60% of the country was consistently voting for other, mainly left-liberal, parties (her electoral success had much to do with a split left and the UK's questionable voting system).
As for her policies – both the ones she implemented in office and the ones she influenced afterwards – you will find many who will line up to question the merits of privatising such basic utilities as water, transport and energy, and plenty of economists see her 1986 'big bang' financial market deregulation (and the subsequent adoption of Thatchernomics by New Labour) as laying the foundations for the financial crisis that is doing all our heads, wallets and spare bedrooms in today.
Despite all this, it is unlikely that from listening to politicians, watching TV or reading your preferred daily rag you will get any real sense of the fact that in truth, a huge tranche (majority?) of the UK population disapproved of what Maggie did to her country, and that she was not just disliked but hated by millions.
You also won’t find many journalists lingering that long on her support for murdering despots like Pinochet; or her backing of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Yet in our supposed age of austerity, no expense is being spared by an otherwise penny-pinching state to ensure that this woman goes down in history as a secular, unifying saint; and no effort is being spared by the, ahem, impartial media we enjoy in the UK in ramming this sainthood down our throats.
Against this backdrop of enforced-Thatcher-respecting, the rise of Judy Garland's Ding Dong! the Witch is Dead up the charts may seem trite or tasteless, but it is actually very significant.
Yes, it is rather rude – and, perhaps, a touch sexist – to compare the UK’s first ever female prime minister to a witch. Yes, it disrespects the dead (and, some would argue, witches). But however crude this musical protest might appear, as the track has approached the top of the charts, it has become a pointed countermelody to an overplayed tune which insists that Margaret Thatcher was the saviour of the nation. It sticks two fingers up, in a nicely British (and, appropriately, collective) way, to the notion that Thatcher was a unifying figure and a force for good.
The many British people who view Thatcher in a negative light do not have £10m handy to organise elaborate ceremonial events designed to make a political point. They can't recall parliament at public expense to reminisce on their experience of Maggie. They don’t control the airwaves. They don’t happen to run newspapers. They can’t rely on a royal showing up at an anti-Thatcher party (not even a Z-list one, like Princess Michael of Kent). But delightfully, they’ve still managed to find a way to forcefully question the Thatcher myth being sold to them.
With its lyrics referencing lullaby leagues, lollipop guilds and munchkins, the chart success of Ding Dong! may feel like a somewhat childish, minor victory, but it’s actually hugely important, because it forces a largely Thatcher-supporting media to report on a widespread and deeply-felt unhappiness with Thatcherism; and crucially, the success of the song can’t simply be dismissed as being the work of just a few troublesome crusties from North London (despite my own best efforts in cajoling my friends to buy my music, there just aren’t enough of these types to propel you into the charts).
There are probably armies of beardy weirdy pinko-liberals like me all over the UK (or at least in Hackney) already furiously typing blog posts about this topic, and I feel like I'm slightly taking the bait here, and I suppose I've lived in the UK long enough now not to be shocked by anything The Daily Mail comes out with...but I have to say that their most recent headline ("Vile Product of Welfare UK") - which attempted to pin the blame for Mick Philpott's children's deaths on the benefits system - really, really got to me.
Firstly, with this headline, the paper lets the bastard off the hook for the deaths of his children. It essentially says he's not to blame; the welfare state made him who he was, and led to him killing them.
Secondly, it's outrageous that a newspaper - particularly in the wake of the phone hacking scandal and Leveson inquiry - would try to take advantage of the deaths of six little kids to push a political agenda (and a controversial one at that).
How the welfare state operates and how generous it should be is obviously and properly fair game for debate, but this tragedy says nothing about the benefits system. You don't have to be a defender of the welfare state to see that fundamentally, this is simply the a story of a jilted, violent lover who burnt down his house in a stupid bid to gain revenge on an ex-girlfriend, killing his kids in the process.
Yes, Philpott was on benefits. But he might as well have received his income from being an astronaut, or selling double glazing; because contrary to what The Daily Mail might have its readers believe, violent behaviour and stupidity are by no means the exclusive preserve of those in receipt of benefit payments, and trying to pin the blame for this terrible - but unique - tragedy on the welfare state is ridiculous.
We may as well say that participating in the Paralympics leads to girlfriend-murdering (that's Oscar Pretorious off the hook); that all doctors are serial killers (Harold Shipman is clearly a vile product of medical training); or that being an American makes it a dead cert that you will enter a cinema and mow down a bunch of movie-goers with a machine gun.
The arguments that the newspaper is making about the welfare state would be laughable, were they not succeeding in turning dead children into pawns in a horrible political game. This kind of journalism is up there with the hacking of Millie Dowler's phone, and it's depressing to see mainstream news channels use the controversial headline as an opportunity to host a 'debate' about whether the welfare state created Mick Philpott and led to his actions. It didn't. We may as well debate whether or not the welfare state was exclusively responsible for the enormous success of former benefit-recipient JK Rowling's Harry Potter franchise, or indeed, whether the earth is flat.
Thirdly, the headline is a huge insult to anyone who receives benefits. That would be most (if not all, at some point) of the population, including the overwhelming majority of Daily Mail readers. Receive any child benefit? A state pension? Tax credits? Winter fuel allowance? Disability allowance? Do you visit a GP from time to time? Ever used an NHS hospital? If so, by the Mail's logic, you are now to some degree or other a vile product of the welfare state. Exactly how vile you are is no doubt dependent on the amount you receive in benefits, or the number of annual trips you make to your doctor's surgery, but most of us are clearly a step further along the road to becoming a child murderer. We are all vile products together, to coin a phrase.
Fourthly, it's a classic example of a newspaper taking the most extreme / unusual examples of benefit recipients and using them them to draw wide (and invariably false) conclusions about the whole system. As statistics from the ONS show, most people who receive benefits do not have 25 kids. They do not live in huge mansions. They don't drive BMWs. We can debate the welfare system and dependency traps until the cows come home, but the debate will be meaningless if we take hyperbole designed to sell newspapers or win votes as the starting point for the discussion.
Ultimately this headline, and George Osborne's effective endorsement of it, confirms something very nasty about the UK in 2013. There is a war being waged on the most vulnerable people in the country - and it's being waged by a cabinet of millionaire politicians and their political sympathisers in the press, few (if any) who have ever experienced what poverty really means. There's no 'all in this together' to be heard any more this war. No compassion in the conservatism. No hoodies being hugged. Just constant, relentless talk of chavs, scoungers and skivers. A huge divison between 'us' and 'them'. It's hate. Daily hate. But the sad story of the deaths of Mick Philpott's children does not represent a parable for our age, and the man himself is no poster boy for benefits receipients.
As a young whippersnapper I was, like a lot of other young whippersnappers, obsessed by the music of The Beatles (and indeed the band themselves). They were a terribly bad influence on me though: they inspired me to pick up a guitar and write music. Possibly not the most sensible thing for a young chap to be doing really, and certainly an activity that would make the chance of getting rich quick much less likely, but there you go.
The other thing that the band did was inspire me to pick up lots of books - namely, books about The Beatles. From the age of ten up until my early twenties I devoured any Beatley tome I could get my mits on. Ian McDonald's Revolution in the Head; Albert Goldman's The Lives of John Lennon; the Anthology book; Mark Lewisohn's various diary-style accounts of their career...and many, many more.
This voracious reading of Fab Four-related books resulted in a few interesting things happening.
First, as a ten-year-old I encountered lots of detailed accounts in Beatles biographies of 'knee-tremblers' and other sexual antics during the band's stint in Hamburg that required explanations from a clearly embarrassed and obfuscating father who wasn't expecting the sex-ed chat for another couple of years. Then, I became much in demand at pub quizzes during the music round. And finally the elders in the village heard of my wonderous knowledge of all things Beatley and would call me up any time there was a Beatles-related clue that had them stumped in a crossword.
As I got older and more into recording equipment (yes, an interest in girls developed along the way somewhere too, but that's another and possibly less exciting blog post) my Beatle nerdiness turned to studio nerdiness. The Beatles books gathered dust on the shelf as I started reading Sound on Sound magazine and very technical books by its editor, Paul White, on how to put grey foam on the walls of a home studio. Precious few references to knee-tremblers in there but I must say I learned to love a bit of grey foam.
But recently, I came across a book which seemed to appeal to both the Beatles and studio technology anoraks in me: Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles by Geoff Emerick (co-written with music journalist Howard Massey).
Now, as any proper Beatles fan will tell you, Emerick is the guy that engineered a truckload of their music, including the Revolver, Sgt Pepper's and Abbey Road albums; he was present at the first ever Beatles recording session and was involved in some way or other with nearly all of their output. And I have to say that this is probably the most interesting book about the band I've read.
Whereas most other people writing about the band have had to rely on conjecture or second-hand accounts to paint a picture of what went on the studio, Emerick's account of their recording sessions is a completely first-hand, fly-on-the wall affair. Emerick spent much of the sixties holed up in the same room as the world's most influential rock band as they recorded their most important work, and as such he is able to provide a unique, intimate warts-and-all portrayal of the group - a portrayal that almost leaves you feeling like you were 'there at the time'.
As you read the book you get an incredibly vivid sense of The Beatles' personalities; and what's interesting about this is that rather than warming to the band members, you start to dislike them.
Many other authors of Beatles history indulge in hero-worship, to the point where the band are god-like individuals that can do no wrong, musically or otherwise; however, Emerick is not afraid to point out that The Beatles were assholes a lot of the time.
According to Emerick, they were frequently stand-offish; they wouldn't share their food (particularly digestive biscuits); they had huge egos; they were selfish; and they were snobbish towards the Abbey Road staff. And occasionally, Emerick is pretty critical of their musical skills: for example, George Harrison is portrayed throughout much of the book as a very average guitarist who took ages to get any solos right. Ringo is depicted as a fairly disinterested sort of individual who didn't have that much musical input into anything.
Emerick has interesting things to say about George Martin too; namely, that he wasn't half as important to proceedings as he is generally considered today. In the book Emerick describes him as more of a string arranger than a producer, who was reluctant to give any of his engineering team any credit for their work; he also states that from 1966 onwards he was viewed by the band as a bit superfluous to the recording process.
It's also remarkable to discover that the place where this recording took place - Abbey Road Studio 2, so revered by Beatles fans all over the globe - was actually intensely disliked by the band and many of the EMI staff who worked there (who considered it a dank, dark sort of a place).
And then of course, there's the accounts of the technical side of the recordings. The danger with this aspect of the book was that the passages on the actual sound engineering would be a turn-off to the reader who is not really interested in familiarising themselves with the ins and outs of valve compression and microphone placement, but somehow Emerick, with his co-writer's help, manages to make this sort of thing entertaining for the non-technically minded reader. His description of how he engineered Tomorrow Never Knows , which involved a giant tape loop going all around Abbey Road (via white-coated staff members holding up pencils for the tape to spin upon) is particularly fascinating, not to mention very humorous.
Now, as authors of these sorts of books tend to do, Emerick is writing history to suit himself and doesn't hold back from portraying his own contribution to the Beatles' recordings in a very positive light. Sometimes this feels a little too self-congratulatory, and an engineer who worked alongside him, Ken Scott (who later went on to be a famous producer, best-known for his work with Bowie), completely disputes Emerick's version of events and largely dismisses the book as fantasy. It's an interesting spat, which you can read about here.
There do certainly seem to be some factual errors here and there (Scott would argue here, there and everywhere), and it does seem a bit suspect that Emerick is magically able to recall exactly what the Beatles said in specific recording sessions well enough to quote them verbatim, i.e.,
"We can't hear ourselves onstage anymore for all the screaming," Paul interjected earnestly, "so what's the point? We did try performing song songs off the last album, but there are so many complicated overdubs we can't do them justice. All we want is to raise the bar a notch, to make our best album ever."
Well, Sir Paul might have said something to that effect, and I suppose creating a sentence and putting it in quotations does help drive a narrative - however, it's a bit silly to present stuff like this as sentences that were actually uttered by the band (or interjected earnestly).
But despite these gripes - Ken Scott's or my own - I feel that Emerick's contribution towards the Beatles' recordings was so significant (his groundbreaking work on Revolver and Pepper was arguably more production than engineering), and his vantage point so unique within their history, that his take on thing deserves a fair hearing.
Maybe the passage of time, along with his lack of a diary / detailed notes of the Beatles recording sessions has led to some inaccuracies creeping into proceedings, but I don't get the sense that Emerick is making stuff up for the sake of it. Besides which, his accounts of what went on in the studio chime fairly consistently with the stories of other important Beatley witnesses.
Regardless of how accurate Emerick is on the technical side of things though, or on the exact dates on which various events occurred, what's really captivating is the basic insights you get into the personnel involved in the sessions; it's very refreshing to see people routinely described throughout rock history as geniuses who can do no wrong come in for fairly robust criticism. The Beatles become real people rather than rock gods, and as such, you can identify with them more.
So all in all, this is book is seriously worth a read, even for the most jaded of Beatles nerds. Emerick is a huge player in and important observer of Beatles history and this book takes you right inside this history, so much so that when you've finished reading the book, you feel like you've just spent the 60s in a recording studio with a grumpy, chaotic, egotistical but extraordinary talented rock band.
I sometimes do a bit of music promo work for a lovely music PR firm full of lovely people called Prescription PR.
Whilst doing so, one particular Prescription client caught my ear, the very talented Lettie. Her music didn't just appeal to me though - The Irish Times, Bloomberg, MSN, the Press Association and a truckload of other publications were blown away, and Cafe Nero liked her song 'Mister Lighter' so much that they playlisted it in all their UK stores. Absolute Radio and Radio 2 have been spinning her tracks too.
Anyway I got chatting to Lettie and she has kindly agreed to do a set to open my forthcoming London gig on 17 October at The Wilmington Arms - another reason to come along :)
A quick note about a couple of upcoming gigs - I'm playing a shows in London, UK and in Rzeszów, Poland soon. As ever it would be wonderful to have your support - gig details below (I'll be following this post up with a note about who the special guests are too).
17 October 2012 - London, The Wilmington Arms
A full-band show at London's Wilmington Arms venue on Rosebery Avenue. Tickets are limited so please buy in advance here. Tickets are £9 when bought in advance online or £10 on the door.
- The show starts at 8pm.
- The venue address is 69 Rosebery Avenue Clerkenwell, City of London EC1R 4RL.
- The nearest tube is Angel (a ten minute walk away) or alternatively catch a 19, 38 or 341 bus.
20 October 2012, Rzeszów, University of Rzeszów
A full-band show in Poland at the University of Rzeszów - Sala Koncertowa Instytutu Muzyki Uniwersytetu Rzeszowskiego, ul. Dąbrowskiego 83.
Doors at 6pm. For ticket reservations, please call +48 17 8721214 (9am - 12pm)
You can purchase tickets in advance at the booking office located at Uniwersytet Rzeszowski, Instytut Filologii Angielskiej, al. Rejtana 16b (building A3), room 112 (9am-12pm)
Tickets are 30zl each.
So Two Door Cinema Club’s album has leaked. The band’s singer Alex Trimble has written fans a message about this, and, like David Lowery’s recent rant at an intern regarding the topic of illegal downloading, it’s been doing the rounds online. I much prefer Trimble’s more gentle, thoughtful (and pleaful) take on the situation than Lowery’s; but regardless of tone, both pieces add to the sense of a music industry in deep crisis and a bunch of suffering musicians getting ripped off by their listeners.
However I’ve got a hunch that the music industry’s probably doing fine…and, in a sense, probably generating as much, if not more, dosh than ever before.
“What is that mad Irishman talking about?” I hear you cry. Well, I think of the music industry as something different to the record industry. The record industry – individuals and companies manufacturing and selling records – is generally screwed, because the digital revolution has led to a situation where recorded music has been reduced to a set of ridiculously-easy-to-copy files. However, the same digital revolution has also led to an enormous explosion in the number of bands that are actually in a position to record, distribute and promote music; this means that the music industry – which I think of as all the people, products and services generating revenue as a result of music-making, not just CDs and MP3s – has a much bigger customer base than ever before. This customer base is not the music-purchasing public though – it’s the musicians who, in most cases, are no longer the people generating income from music, but the people financing this industry.
There have always been thousands of bands all over the world that have wanted to make records. However, until about a decade ago, when advances in technology started to put ridiculously good recording equipment in the hands of musicians, release-quality recorded music was expensive to produce and very difficult to distribute, meaning that only bands with a significant budget (those who were signed or had investors) generally got to put out records. However, these days, every Tom, Dick and Harry has an album up their sleeve, because they a) simply bought a laptop and an audio interface and recorded it on that, or b) availed of studio time that is now much cheaper than it used to be (due to studios having to compete with the aforementioned laptop and audio interface). As for distribution, getting an album into the ears of a (theoretically) global audience is now incredibly cheap and easy thanks to the likes of iTunes, Spotify and so on.
What does this mean? A huge increase in the number of bands releasing albums. However, most bands – understandably – are reluctant to pour their hearts and souls into recording an opus only for it to only ever be played by their mums. So they start to buy services that might give the album a chance to reach the great unwashed. Graphic design. Manufacture. Photography. Web design. Web hosting. E-newsletter design. Public relations. Radio pluggers. Printing of posters. Distribution of posters. Online advertising. Digital distribution. Venue hire. Smoke machine. Hairy sound guy…the list goes on. Generally speaking, all the above services come with a price tag, and thanks to the explosion in the number of bands releasing music independently, a big “DIY-release” market has developed as a result, packed full of companies, consultants and freelancers catering to the 'needs' of the DIY musician (not to mention a whole load of pro-audio equipment vendors selling gear that promises to make your record sound like it was recorded at Abbey Road).
And here is where the opportunity for musicians to get ripped off really lies. For the vast majority of self-releasing musicians, the whole ‘some bastard downloaded my album for free’ argument is a bit of a sideshow. (In fact, independent musicians are generally delighted when somebody downloads their album illegally, because it hints at the fact that somebody somewhere actually likes their music). No, the opportunity to get properly robbed arrives when bands start to purchase the ‘DIY-release’ style services I mentioned earlier.
The problem is – and I speak from personal experience here – that bands are not like normal customers of goods and services. For most musicians – certainly those without children – their music is their baby. They don’t think rationally about it. They love it so much that they are prepared to spend whatever it takes (or whatever they have) to help it succeed in that big bad music-filled world out there. They ignore the fact that people are not buying music in the droves that they used to, and that there are probably more artists flogging music than ever before. The idea of a return on an investment doesn’t figure in their thinking at all, and many artists releasing albums now don’t have any management, meaning there is nobody in the background to say ‘whoa, don’t spend all that cash on putting together a triple disc limited edition vinyl press of your concept album about beans’.
This generally results in musicians making four big mistakes:
- They don't set a strict-enough budget or consider the fact that they need to actually sell X number of records to make their money back
- They don’t shop around for the best deals on the things they do need (if they actually know, of course, what these things are)
- They invest in things they absolutely don’t need (over-the-top packaging; posters; narcotics for the A&Rs who are unlikely to attend the launch party anyway)
- They hire unscrupulous, snake-oil-salesmen who operate out of a glorified shed in a field north of London promising fame and fortune to artists in the form of a £1,500 per month ‘reputation management’ arrangement
I’ve made all of these mistakes in my time; but in hindsight I don’t think I would have made them had I grasped the importance of the ‘record industry’ / ‘music industry’ distinction I discussed earlier. If musicians understand that the record industry is dying on its arse, and that the notion of people paying for recordings is becoming increasingly quaint (whatever we feel about the moral implications of that), it forces them to think more creatively about how to monetise their music rather than simply hoping millions of people will buy their next album. And if artists understand that the ‘music industry’ is increasingly about servicing a market of DIY-musicians with products and services that may or may not result in album sales, it might encourage them to think in a more business-like way, decide what actually might generate a return on an investment, work with the right people or agencies and crucially, avoid the snake-oil salesmen – or at the very least, ask some probing questions about the snake oil.
A lot of instruments, including some fairly obscure ones, have ended up on my recordings. But one instrument that hasn't (somewhat surprisingly) is the saxophone. So imagine my delight when it turns out that my good friend and fellow Hackney-ite Michael Kirkland turns out to be a very soulful sax player. Had to have him round to blow some notes all over some of my new stuff.
Do take a listen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9SgzrQUW_M (or if you're via player below).
Recently musician David Lowery wrote an article on The Trichordist blog where he took a young NPR intern, Emily White, to task for admitting in a blog post that she and her peers didn’t really pay for music in this new-fangled digital era.
In a passionate, much-talked-about but ultimately rather over-the-top open letter addressed to her he made the argument that people who did not pay for music were behaving immorally and causing a social injustice; in fact, he went so far as to imply that people who downloaded music for free were guilty of causing the deaths of rock stars.
His thoughts went viral and no doubt many of my musician and producer friends clearly sympathised with them, as when I logged into Facebook I found that around 20 musical chums had posted a link to his article. I understand their motives; however – and speaking as a musician myself – I have to take issue with the original blog post.
There are so many things wrong with Lowery’s article and his arguments that it’s hard to know where to start, but let’s begin with economics. When supply outstrips demand, generally speaking prices fall. And when supply seriously outstrips demand, prices approach zero. Which is what has happened with music – there is simply no scarcity of it any more, for two reasons: one, and like it or not, music is now available on millions (billions?) of computers in incredibly easily-to-copy files as opposed to in exclusively physical formats, and two, the revolution in home and project-studio recording means that there has been a huge explosion in the number of recordings available.
It doesn’t matter what either Lowery or indeed the ‘adherents of Free Culture’ that he refers to think of the ethics of this situation, the reality of it is that there are just more songs available now – and in incredibly easy-to-avail of formats – than there are people who want to listen to them, with all the inevitable implications this has for the cost and purchasing of music. It’s astonishing that Lowery, who has been teaching music undergraduates about the economics of the music business for the past two years, has not grasped this obvious point (or simply tries to wish it away).
Secondly, throughout his whole article, Lowery ignores something even more obvious: digital revolution or no, the vast majority of musicians have never made much (if any) money out of their art. Let’s go back to 1997, when the Spice Girls were big and, more to the point, before file-sharing had really got off the ground. If you made an album then, you would probably have had to pay a substantial amount of money to record it (it was before the days of 128-track digital multitrackers in every bedroom); you would then have encountered high manufacturing costs (I remember paying £150 to manufacture 10 CDs in 1998); finally, you would have had to work out how on earth you were going to distribute and promote your opus.
The upshot? It cost you a truckload of money to make an album; a truckload of money to manufacture it; and after all that you probably wouldn’t have been able to sell it in any meaningful quantities at all, due to shelf space in record shops being so difficult to attain and advertising costs being prohibitive. What did this mean? Any independent musician daft enough to make a record in the 90s would end up selling 5 copies of his album and incurring huge debt.
Contrast that with today. Thanks to inexpensive computers and audio gear, recording is so cheap, it’s practically free; manufacturing is, in the digital realm at least, also free (it doesn’t cost anything to generate an MP3 version of a track); and digital distribution via the likes of iTunes, Amazon and Spotify, is, surprise surprise, more or less free as well.
Throw in the potential of (free) social media, email, digital ‘fan-funding’ and cheap online advertising and, if you play your musical cards right, you could actually end up making money from a record that you made for next to nothing. Or, at the very least, generating a decent fanbase that might in the future lead to some sort of income, via live performances, merchandise or other gimmicks.
Extremely few musicians will ‘make it’ to the extent that they’ll make a shedload of cash, but that’s always been the case; and at least the current situation means that more musicians than ever before will experience the joy of establishing a fanbase that extends beyond their mum and dad (and it’s worth noting that, believe it or not, some musicians are in it for the listeners rather than the money; if the internet doesn’t provide the latter, it certainly provides the former).
It would have been nice if Lowery had mentioned some of these upsides provided by the digital revolution, or pointed out that musicians now get a whole lot of incredible stuff for free themselves that would have been filed under ‘pipe dream’ in the past (free recording, free manufacturing, free distribution and arguably some free marketing are not to be sniffed at). And you don’t hear Lowery argue, for example, that by opting for the free, ‘self-recording’ approach, musicians have put a lot of recording studios out of business, or caused the deaths of record producers (as somebody who self-produces a hell of a lot of my music, I sincerely hope that I have not inadvertently killed anyone).
Another thing that Lowery is very quiet about in his article is the fact that musicians are by no means the only group that are affected by the digital revolution or the advent of ‘free culture’. The fact is, if you are creating anything that can be turned into a file – be that a news article, a book, a piece of software, a video game or a film – you are presented with exactly the same vexing question that faces musicians: how the hell do I make money out of this content in a context where file-sharing is ubiquitous?
Lowery completely fails to answer this question in any meaningful way – or mention that despite the prevalence of file-sharing and free music there are actually still plenty of ways of monetising music. There are film-sync deals; publishing deals; revenue generated in various ways from advertising; live appearances; merchandise; digital Radiohead-style ‘honesty boxes’; royalties from airplay; and royalties from Youtube video plays.
If that’s not enough, it’s important to remember that the profit margins on music that is sold online can be much, much higher than in the ‘good old days’ that Lowery seems to hanker after (particularly where direct sales from websites are concerned). Ok, so you might be selling less music, but what if you are making £6 per album download from your own site, compared to £2 from a CD sold in a HMV store?
This is not to say that making money out of music is in any way easy, but I repeat: it never has been. Getting a successful music project off the ground has always required a whole load of things – I’d like to think that it all comes down to great tunes, but hard work, good hair, good luck, and knowing a bunch of hip journalists are probably far more important.
Throughout rock history, or indeed before anyone recorded any music all, musicians have always complained about how hard it is to make a buck from their art – and Lowery’s blog post, despite its current popularity with many musicians, is just the 21st century (dare I say internet) incarnation of that. It clearly struck a chord with a cash-strapped musical community; but I suspect that the wiser members of that community will see it for what it was – a rock star venting frustration at a lack of sales by first patronising, then picking on, an unsuspecting young intern. It might make him and some other musos feel good for a few minutes, but it probably won’t help him – or the aforementioned musos – make any more money.
Besides all that, I'd love to know if, in his youth, David Lowery ever copied a mate's copy of an album onto one of those quaint blank cassette thingys.
I've gone all 'Behind The Music' and put together a little video about the making of Twisted City. This is maybe a little self-indulgent, as I can't say Q or Mojo regularly include it in their top 100 albums of all time, but I know that there is a little band of Twisted-City lovers out there, and this video is for them. It's got commentary about the recording of the album, tracks, and photos that I haven't put online before. Plus a truckload of bad haircuts.
The video can be watched at http://www.youtube.com/embed/1l8n9RLLcdg