Saturday, January 17, 2009

John Lennon: A Mail On Sunday hero is something to be

Nobody ever bought John Lennon's working class, man-of-the-people shtick, but when he was alive he'd never have been quite so careless of trying to maintain the illusion as to let the Mail On Sunday give away a compilation of his tunes.

Tomorrow, the Mail On Sunday is giving away a compilation of his tunes.

MIDEM 2009: Can ISPs and music companies play together nicely

One more dip into Music Ally's excellent coverage of Midem, and in particular a panel exploring the chances of ISPs and copyright companies finding ways of working together constructively. Gerd Leonhard was one of the panelists, attempting to share some of his insight into the remaking of the music industry online. And what does he get for his pains?

Feargal Sharkey, that's what:

He cautions that the industry needs to remain acutely aware of music’s role in the bigger picture of “a digital economy and a digital culture”. And now he takes aim at “pseudo-intellectual cyber-professors”. Cor! “This is a creative and commercial challenge that can and should be solved by creative and commercial solutions,” he says.

Oh, yes. God forbid that the music industry should pay any attention to what people who understand the web and where it's going might have to say. After all, if they'd fallen into that trap back in the 1990s they might have forseen Napster and done something about it before their business models got smashed to pieces.

This smug, rude embrace of ignorance and the belief that experience of flogging vinyl in dump bins at Our Price is of more value than having studied the market place has already holed the music industry. How does Sharkey think that record labels or collection agencies can shape their "creative and commercial solutions" if the choose to ignore the people who can explain how going online changes people's behaviour, or who are already exploring the implications of the next wave of internet developments?

Sharkey's snarky reminds me of the people who turn up on Property Ladder and then set about ignoring all Sarah Beeney's advice because - while she might know what she's talking about - they're the ones who own the house.

Something else Sharkey said caught my eye:
the value of music has been sucked away through unlicensed unapproved copying and sharing

But, clearly, that's double-decker nonsense. Upstairs, it's wrong because billions of songs are being sold online, and record labels are still making millions of pounds, and advertising agencies are licensing tracks for thousands of campaigns. Downstairs, it's rubbish because Sharkey has been wearing suits too long, and can apparently only conceive of the value of music if it comes in a form which can be measured in pounds, shillings and pence. Nowadays, if someone told him that hearing Teenage Kicks made John Peel pull his car over and cry, Sharkey's response would be "but how can I monetise those tears?"

Also on the panel was the UK ISPA's Nicholas Lansan, who effectively spent his allotted time stressing that making laws wasn't going to stop file-sharing, and had this to offer:
[A]mong consumers, there’s a lack of understanding of copyright issues, and frustrations with DRM.

The second half, perhaps, Mr Lansan. The first half, though, is probably wrong: Consumers generally do understand copyright issues. They just don't care. They don't believe that filesharing a cheeky track or two will mark the end of music as we know it. They don't care that Paul McCartney and the ghost of John Lennon have issues they need to talk through with Apple before you can legally download Please Please Me; they just want the track now. The belief that the public don't understand is patronising, and attempts to shift the blame for the spread of free music on the public. The people who don't understand copyright issues are actually the ones who hold the copyrights, and what they don't understand is that if they choose not to share, their copyright ceases to have any value whatsoever.

Neko Case weekend: Mood To Burn Bridges

The place is the Crocodile Cafe; it's August 2000, and Neko Case And Her Boyfriends are in a Mood To Burn Bridges:

[Part of Neko Case weekend]

Napster start to get all sharing with their data

Following on from Best Buy's purchase of Napster last year, the music-sharing service has decided that it'll shovel all its subscriber's personal data to Best Buy. The only way to avoid this is by canceling your account before February 17th. Turning a dodgy move into a squalid one, Napster are simply going to assume you're happy with a consumer electronics store knowing everything about if you remain one of their customers.

MIDEM 2009: MySpace waft out their music CEO

Music Ally continue to bring the freshest coverage of MIDEMNet, covering an appearance by Courtney Holt, who has arrived to run MySpace's music offering from Universal.

He talked a little about how MySpace will try to make money from online music, given that he sees free downloading as the "main competition". It's all about adding value:

The MySpace Secret Shows are one example, he says, where bands play smaller gigs for their fans. “Those types of programmes are really relevant, we’re going to expand into more of those,” he says.

Curiously, then, the main driver for marketing MySpace music - which offers the chance to put your music in front of the largest imaginable audience - is a series of teeny tiny gigs where you play music to the smallest possible audience. I'm not sure they've quite thought this one through.

Are they selling much?
Amazon is proving a good partner, although “we need to make the intent to buy and the purchase a little bit easier”, although MySpace is seeing “increasing intent to buy”.

What’s that? “People are clicking on buy links,” he says. “It’s gonna take some time, we know that’s challenging, but it’s also important to all of our partners.”

That, of course, is the sticking point: are MySpace making any money from this? Are the labels? And are the labels as prepared to wait as long as News International to see the massive MySpace audience start to turn into big piles of cash?

It turns out that MySpace has one strong card in persuading patience from its RIAA partners - not being Apple:
“The terms that we’re cutting with everybody are fair deals for us to be able to run this business. The labels do want to see other people survive as digital music offerings [than iTunes], they want to diversify their revenues.”

This, though, might prove a problem in the long run - if MySpace hope to replace Apple as the dominant music retailer on the web, the record labels would be just as unhappy as they are with the idea of Apple dominating.

Neko Case weekend: Middle Cyclone

Due out on the third of the third:

[Part of Neko Case weekend]

Aerosmith gig kneecapped

One of the problems that, it's fair to say, never hit rock in the first days of the music: Aerosmith have pulled a gig because LeeJoe Perry is having trouble with his replacement knee.

[UPDATE: Mixed Perrys]

MIDEM 2009: Comes With Music, but that's easily dealt with

The pre-Midem MidemNet digital music conference is underway down in the South Of France, where somehow these companies who have to fight for every cent have managed to send their executives and sub-executives to find out stuff they could get for free on the internet.

Musically has been liveblogging an interview with Dr Tero Ojanpera, the EVP of "entertainment and communities" with Nokia. He has, obviously, been talking mostly about Comes With Music, giving an interesting little nugget about the "fair use" limit, and how it's not just us who is curious to see exactly where that limit might lie:

“We are seeing some people downloading hundreds of tracks a month initially, but when the base expands this will be even more like a bell curve. There were some bloggers who went and downloaded a lot, but once they noticed Nokia was not doing anything, they gave up! We are not really seeing anybody who is abusing the service. It’s validating all the research that was done before - this is how people will use it - some will use a lot, some will use a little, and it will average out.”

You'll notice he doesn't say that Nokia believed that the exploratory downloaders failed to breach a limit of fair use, just that Nokia chose to not do anything. Sadly, nobody seems to have bothered asking Ojanpera why the company won't just come out and say what it considers to be fair use of its service, and why it childishly keeps the figure secret.

Why doesn't it trust its customers with the actual rules for a service that they're paying for? It just seems to be cussed secrecy for the sake of it.

Also interesting is that some people are buying Comes With Music handsets, and not bothering with the music:
“What we are seeing three months in in the UK is that the consumption pattern is like a bell curve. There are certain users that don’t activate, and then a really nice bell curve where we are seeing good downloads in the middle and…”

[Moderator Bill] Werde [of Billboard] interjects - why are some people not activating? Ojanpera says some simply missed the offer. Bizarre.

I'll agree with Music Ally's "bizarre" response - given that the marketing is garishly insistent about Comes With Music, the suggestion that people might not realise that their Comes With Music phone comes with music seems a little odd. Surely the other possibility - that you can offer people unlimited music for no extra money, and they can't even be arsed to explore the offering - is far more fascinating. And worrying, for the music industry. And psychologically fascinating.

And are people buying in to the service in large numbers?
So, the UK then. The price point of the 5310 has lowered, and reports suggest sales aren’t good. Why? “I don’t want to put you on the spot” says Werde. Why not?!

Anyway, Ojanpera’s response, pointing out that Nokia has been expanding the device base for CWM in the UK. “Our target is not any more about ‘this is a few specific devices’, but going forward we will have this in all price points, and make this a mass-market phenomenon.”

Surely, if you can have Comes With Music in the cheapo end of the market, that must mean the money that's flowing to the labels, and then on to the artists, must be piffling beyond belief?

And what about the simplicity of the offering?
Is the offer simple enough, asks Werde? “One thing is of course, this comes back to the marketing, and that needs to be fine-tuned all the time. The actual product is so simple - one year of music, unlimited downloads in your phone and your PC. That’s simple enough, and a great offer.”

Of course, the offering isn't simple at all, when you look at it - and get down to fine details of owning the tracks forever, but requiring a DRM key, which you can only change once past the subscribing period. It's not that this is a totally unfair rule from Nokia's point of view - if you run DRM servers, you're not going to want to commit to long periods of fiddling for people who aren't paying you any more - but it complicates the offering more than it should. Interesting, then, that Nokia don't seem all that bothered about trying to crawl out from under the DRM tarpaulin.

Public service announcement: Gomez

The news that Gomez have scheduled a late March US release for their new album, A New Tide, doesn't entirely thrill me, but given that they're popular with some No Rock regular readers, it would be churlish to not to mention it. Presumably there's a UK release scheduled for roughly the same time.

Neko Case weekend: Things That Scare Me

Recorded live at 2007's Calgary Folk Festival, Neko Case does The Things That Scare Me, which is the opposite of The Sound Of Music's My Favourite Things:

[Part of Neko Case weekend]

Gordon in the morning: Playing Scrabble with Amy Winehouse

After last weekend, when the News of the World crashed Amy Winehouse's holiday, it was probably only a matter of time before The Sun sent someone along for a look-see, too. So it is today that Gordon carries a dispatch from The Sun's US editor Emily Smith.

Yes, the American editor of the Sun has flown to St Lucia to, erm, play Scrabble with Amy Winehouse. It's not like there's anything happening in the US in the next few days that might require the most senior staff member to be in Washington.

And the price of the tickets? They paid for themselves, with this sort of quality report:

Our game ended when she patted a bump on her tiny tummy and said: “My stomach feels bloated,” before saying she needed the toilet and bolting for the loo.

Winehouse goes to the lavatory! Whoever would have thought?

Celebrity Big Brother: Hole in the house

Mutya, having failed to be evicted, has walked from the Big Brother house. She says she couldn't stand being away from her child any longer; the reality, and there's no shame in it, is that she wouldn't want to spend another second listening to the self-obsessed perpetually-confused Coolio. Coolio's defence, when challenged on being as boorish as he is balding, is that he's playing a character, or playing games. Clearly, he doesn't like himself much, either, the speed with which he denies himself.

Embed and Breakfast man: Neko Case

With a new album and charity-powered free download all over the place, what better time for a quick trawl through the marvelous Neko Case's solo work?

Case really battered her way into people's minds through her work with the New Pornographers - which was kind of the wrong way round, as the band was meant to be a side project and not a flagship. Still, it did allow people to discover her solo work - both with her Boyfriends backing team, and without. This weekend, we'll just focus on the solo stuff.

Let's start with The Boyfriends in the room. This is Furnace Room Lullaby, which turned up - according to the caption, anyway - on the soundtrack of psychic-crime-busting schlocker The Gift:

More on Neko Case

Neko Case on No Rock
Neko Case official site
Neko Case MySpace
Neko Case on iLike
Neko Case on Wikipedia

Buy Neko Case

The Tigers Have Spoken
Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

Download Neko Case

The Tigers Have Spoken mp3s
Fox Confessor Brings The Flood mp3s
Furnace Room Lullabys mp3s

More videos over the weekend

Things That Scare Me live in Calgary
Middle Cyclone
Favourite live in California
Deep Red Bells live in Park City, Utah
Knock Loud live in London

Friday, January 16, 2009

Mott The Hoople roll away the stone

It's been 40 years since the first stretchings and mewings of Mott The Hoople. And, to mark the passing of those forty years, Mott The Hoople are reuniting.

This is a proper reunion - it's been 35 years since they played together as a band. Thirty-five years is a decent period before getting back together. Blue might want to think about that.

Circuit City unplugs

To be fair, I can't take much delight in the news that Circuit City is closing its remaining stores. That's despite having a really bad customer service experience in one of their stores just after Christmas. Like, really bad. British standards of service bad. It was kind of curious, though, that a company which needed all the love and support it could get basically treated people trying to buy things as if they were irritants.

The company management has signaled that there's no way back for them:

"We are extremely disappointed by this outcome. The company had been in continuous negotiations regarding a going concern transaction. Regrettably for the more than 30,000 employees of Circuit City and our loyal customers, we were unable to reach an agreement with our creditors and lenders to structure a going-concern transaction in the limited timeframe available, and so this is the only possible path for our company," said James A. Marcum, vice chairman and acting president and chief executive officer for Circuit City Stores, Inc.

It's a sad ending but the loss of a second major competitor in just over a year will presumably make Best Buy feel a bit more confident about its future.

Are you sure that's what you mean?

After the horrors Jennifer Hudson went through last year, it's unlikely that a poorly thought-out headline is going to make things much worse, but didn't anyone think that this makes it sound more like a grisly programme of events rather than a return to work after a tragedy?

George goes down

As someone - probably on Popbitch - observed: he's not a man without convictions any more.

Boy George has been given a fifteen-month sentence for charges relating to chaining up a bloke in his flat:

Judge Radford said: "Whilst I accept that Mr Carlsen's physical injuries were not serious or permanent, in my view there can be no doubt that your premeditated callous and humiliating handcuffing and detention of Mr Carlsen shocked, degraded and traumatised him.

"He was deprived of his liberty and human dignity without warning or proper explanation to him of its purpose, length or purported justification."
Family and friends react outside the courtroom
The singer's family and friends were angry at the sentence

He also ordered the singer, who had decided not to testify, to pay £5,000 costs.

Still, at least Boy George spared his mother, apparently.

IFPI: Adding up the downloads

That IFPI report? The NME runs a chunk of the findings:

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) Digital Music Report 2009 estimates that 40 billion files were unlawfully shared online in 2008 alone.

The report states that the IFPI removed three billion links to such files in 2008, up from 500,000 in 2007.

Actually, the report states three million, which is a little more credible.

And do the IFPI really mean 40 billion files are being "unlawfully shared", or are they adding up the number of times a smaller number of files have been accessed? You have to actually go to the full report to find out. The advantage, of course, is that you do get unfunny cartoons as well.
So, what do they actually say about this forty billion files?
Estimates on the impact of internet piracy vary but are consistently huge in scale. IFPI, collating separate studies in 16 countries over a four-year period,
estimated unauthorised file-sharing at over 40 billion files in 2008. This means that globally around 95 per cent of music tracks are downloaded without payment to the artist or the music company that produced them.

Hang about... this isn't just any old made-up figure, then, but one that has been hammered together from just sixteen countries, a bunch of studies which will use a range of different methodologies and from over a four year period. Which is more or less forever in internet terms. So even if it wasn't a made-up figure, it would be a totally pointless. The IFPI doesn't provide any further indication of how it made-up the number, nor even the studies on which it built its figure. It doesn't even define its terms, so we don't know if there are forty billion supposed downloads of unlicensed files, or if there are forty billion files available for download and possibly being sucked off the internet hundreds of times.

End of the Road: Dublin store closes

More grim news from the cash-strapped world of music: Dublin indie store Road is closing. Dave from Road has a list of reasons:

1. Regardless of what I have thought over the years downloading has effected our business, probably more so the illegal side of things, filesharhing and the likes. I speak as a shop on this one but god knows how much small bands suffer because of this aswell.

2. Below cost sellers online, everybody wants a bargain and its hard to take the moral highground on this one, but everytime a purchase is made to the likes of Play etc is a nail in the coffin to the indie store, these online sellers don't care one hoot about indie bands and music, they just need to sell in bulk and as quickly as possible. They will never put any money or effort back into indigenous music, try asking them to sell 50 copies of a beautiful hand made cdr release.

3. The city centre just does not have the same volume of people walking around it anymore, its a simple fact, less people means less sales. We have noticed a massive downturn in the amount of people visiting the store in the last year.

4. Kids don't buy music anymore. That sounds like a fairly broad statement to make, I know there are still some out there but we don't see any young people in the shop anymore so as we lose older customers we don't gain any new ones.

5. Obviously this country is going through a recession at the moment so it would be stupid of me to claim that this wasn't having an effect on our business but having said that things were already beginning to change long before that.

6. The deal with selling independent local releases always had to be a two way exchange for us, we never made much money from local releases [and that was never the idea] but we always sought the support of bands. By that I mean if we were selling your music then we would always appreciate the bands making a purchase in the store in return, sadly that did not always happen, and before you jump at me for making this statement I do accept that plenty of you out there were very supportive of us but take if from me we did have quite a lot of bands coming in to us with their own release to sell whilst also carrying a hmv bag with a purchase they had just made, simply because it was cheaper there.

7. The cost of running a store in this city has increased dramatically in the past 4 / 5 years, rents have gone up so much, insurance increased, bank costs and so many other things that over the years it has become increasingly more difficult just to meet our costs on a week to week basis.

8. Whilst this one may not seem so obvious the cost of an average cd or record in the store is now less than it was 5 / 6 years ago and that is a good thing to the consumer but it has also seriously dented our chances of making a living in any way, it just means we have to sell more to cover our costs but as I mentioned with less customers coming through the door that has not been possible.

The store has been trading at a loss for six months and the team at Road have simply run out of the means to support a shop in the face of insurmountable odds; especially worrying would be the anecdotal evidence that kids aren't buying music any more - or not from shops. The other factors make things difficult, but that points to a change in culture which would seem to be fatal.

[Thanks to Barry S for the story]

Venuewatch: Charlotte in administration

With The Astoria now closed, and attracting the attention of the Today programme [8.24, near the bottom of the page], there's grim news from a far more important venue.

The Leicester Princess Charlotte has gone into administration:

Andy Wright, who has run the venue for 20 years, has put its operating company, The Princess Charlotte Public House Ltd, into administration, because it did not have enough money to continue.
He is now seeking talks with Punch Taverns, which owns the building, about a possible financial lifeline.

Mr Wright said: "Basically, if they are not prepared to support it and prop it up, it's the end of an era. If Punch decided not to support the venue, we would need someone to come in, and put in some money.

"Something has to be approved by the end of the month or it will close. It's a legendary venue. It would be a big shame to see it go."

It would be much more than a shame to see it disappear - there aren't many venues outside of London which have successfully supported live music for decades, and a list of bands who have played the Charlotte would be, pretty much, a list of any British guitar-based act who did alright for themselves - and every band from Leicester since the late 1980s. It was that mix of support for local acts with bands quivering on the brink of national breakthrough that made venues like this so special.

I once went there two nights running, despite living in Liverpool, due to a mix-up on a band's touring schedule which said they were playing on the wrong night; and I have vague memories that at one point to gain access to the venue part at the back of the pub you had to more-or-less walk through the gents' toilets. But surely that can't be right?

Let's hope that something turns up for the Charlotte - and it doesn't involve being swallowed into a soulless chain which slaps a sponsor's name outside. There is some encouragement:
A spokeswoman for Punch said: "The Princess Charlotte is an important venue to the Leicestershire area and we are committed to its future."

But then Punch isn't having the greatest time of it, financially, at the moment.

[Thanks to Simon T for the tip]

Boy George: Keeping mum, keeping Mum happy

The puzzling decision of Boy George to not offer the obviously plausible explanation for what the escort was doing chained to his wall has been explained by his brother, David. I say "explained":

His brother David said the troubled star told him: “I know the likelihood is I’m going to prison, but I couldn’t do it for mum’s sake. She’s dying.

“The only reason I didn’t give evidence was for her. She’s been through too much in her life already.”

While that's touching-shading-into-heartbreaking, it doesn't actually make any sense, does it? It implies that George could have cleared up the whole silly business, but the explanation would have been more upsetting to his mother than the idea that her son is a vindictive idiot with anger issues who chains male escorts to his walls and who is going to prison as a result. It's hard to imagine a proof of innocence that could look worse than that, surely?

Digital sales rise; RIAA-IFPI still unhappy

Some good news blinking through the gloom of the economy this morning - worldwide, digital music sales rose by 25 per cent in value over the last year.

Naturally, the RIAA spin-off body the IFPI isn't going to take this good news well:

However, the rapid rate of growth has inevitably slowed -- digital sales grew by more than 30 percent in 2007 -- and the scale of the piracy has eaten into traditional revenues, meaning the overall music market for 2008 is expected to be down about 7 percent.

Disaster! Doom! Last year the download market grew by a little under a third, this year it only grew by a quarter. Quick, to the bailouts!

And, yes, the total size of the music market in revenue terms might have shrunk a little - although the IFPI might have read about other industries struggling a little right now; and, indeed, they seem to have neglected to share any details about what might have happened to costs now that even more of their sales come through a business model with lower overheads.

No, let's just concentrate on the falling sky:
The report showed about 95 percent of the music downloaded in 2008, or more than 40 billion files, was illegal and not paid for.

As if, of course "illegal" and "not paid for" are the same thing.

Still, there are a few kind words:
"A percentage of the existing business is not the way to measure the growth of the digital business," Rob Wells, the senior vice president of digital for Universal Music Group International, said on a conference call.
"This is a brand new business and I won't be satisfied until the business is bigger than it's ever been and I think that's something we can achieve within the next five years."

Woo, steady on there, Rob - that sounds almost positive. Can't you at least throw in some words about the needs to rip the hearts from filesharers, just so we know you really work in the music industry?

More good news from CD Baby, which reports that its artists took home some $34million this year, a 28% rise on the year before.

Gordon in the morning: And she's a fun-loving health-scare beating pop pixie...

Bizarre this morning is leading with a piece by Sharon Hendry:

He's tall with smouldering Latin looks ... and a fear of commitment. Is it true love for Kylie or ... DEJA PHEW!

And that's just the headline.

He is called Andres Velencoso Segura, he may or may not be seeing Kylie, and that may or may not be a problem:
[W]hile many women would not be distracted in the arms of smouldering Spanish supermodel Andres Velencoso Segura, Kylie can’t ignore the fact that he is the spitting image of Olivier, the French actor who nursed her through breast cancer.

Presumably Europeans are the last people about whom it's permissible to say "they all look the bloody same to me".

Still, it's great for The Sun, since nobody hear knows anything about Segura, allowing acres of space-filling with biography and clumsily-translated old interviews which may, or may not, be significant in light of his possible romance with Kylie:
Andres, who lists his hobbies as scuba diving off the Costa Brava, cycling, Pilates and photography, is also not shy of showing off his impressive body, even having modelled in the nude.

A model who isn't shy of showing off his body. Whatever next, eh?

While some readers might be delighted with the bluffer's guide to Segura...
KYLIE came to fame as Jason Donovan’s wife in Neighbours.

... they might not be quite so much in need of a Kylie guide.

Today's pages have the air of Gordon being elsewhere - perhaps he's had to get a second job to help his employers pull some cash together to give to Sharon Osbourne - although the non-story that Simon Cowell is supposedly going to release a Russell Brand novelty single looks a little Gordonesque, in that it's a bold claim with scant actual support and a hell of a lot of padding and clod-headed claims:
It could be 2009’s answer to WHIGFIELD’s Saturday Night.

But that wasn't a comedy song. Gordon really needs to read some guide to songs by comedians. Luckily, he's dumped one into the very same piece:
Over the years loads of comedians have trampled the same path.

ALEXEI SAYLE wrote Ullo John! Gotta New Motor? NEIL from THE YOUNG ONES had a No2 with Hole In My Shoe.

VIC REEVES AND THE WONDERSTUFF topped the charts with Dizzy.

FRANK SKINNER and DAVID BADDIEL wrote some song about footie’s European Championships and PETER KAY has had a couple of chart-toppers in the past few years.

Ah, the joys of two minutes on Wikipedia, eh?

Still, thanks to the Sun's "I have nothing to add but I shall type it anyway" looky-at feedback feature I Reckon This, Gordon isn't the least well-informed person on the page:
Posted by: carolmumof4

Well you have to be a nonce, an idiot, Ignorant and stupid to be called a "celebrity" or make a CD in Politically correct creeping, stupid, yellow livered Britain. Country is down the pan.

So, if you're smart and you want to get a CD release in Britain, the only way to do is by sexually abusing children?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Zavvi dumps online plans

Amongst all the news items detailing the break-up of Zavvi, this is the one that confirms the store is on its way to the knackers' yard: Ernst And Young have dumped the company's plans to launch a download store. Nothing says "managed decline" more than that.

Franz Ferdinand decide they don't like pirates after all

Back in August 2007, the BBC released a collection of cover versions to mark Radio 1's 40th birthday. Franz Ferdinand suggested that, rather than buying it, it would be more apt to help yourself:

"The whole shabang doesn't appear to be for charity so point your browsers towards Limewire soon, kiddies!" the band said in a statement.

It's all fun and games until... oh, it's your own label whose music is being pirated. Now, the band are sending WebSheriff after fans who have posted Tonight onto the torrents:
On behalf of Domino Records and Franz Ferdinand, we would kindly ask you not to post copies of ‘Tonight’ on your site. We do appreciate that you are fans of / are promoting Franz Ferdinand, but the label and artist would greatly appreciate your co-operation in removing your links to the pirate files in question.

Web Sheriff have also instructed the people getting letters - sometimes simply for posting links to other sites which had long since taken down the actual files. Oh, and demanding apologies:
You must also arrange for the following apology to be published on the relevant page of the site for a period of seven (7) days : “RSLOG wishes to apologies to Franz Ferdinand, Domino Records and Web Sheriff for the disruption caused to their sales, marketing and promotion plans by our publishing of pirate file details relating to the unreleased album “Tonight”.

It's not just the complete change in attitude from the Ferdinand camp; but if they do feel the need to chase down filesharers, couldn't they find a less embarrassing way of doing it?

The Zune will go on

Microsoft? Thinking of dropping the Zune? Why, nothing could be further from the truth, apparently:

"Basically, what happened last week, Steve [Ballmer] said a couple of things about the category," said Adam Sohn, head of Microsoft's Zune marketing division, causing speculation that Microsoft would stop making Zunes. However, he clarified, "we're not getting out of the hardware business at all," adding that Microsoft is "deeply committed" to continuing to its Zune hardware strategy.

So, you've got Steve Ballmer, who runs the show, suggesting that Microsoft might be less interested in making Zune players; you've got the guy who runs the bit of the company that sells Zunes insisting that the Zune player has a happy and rosy future, and certainly you shouldn't not think about buying one. Oh no.

."The other thing Steve said, which is spot on with our strategy -- and unfortunately I think a lot of people we haven't talk to sort of took it and ran in the wrong direction -- is that we do think the Zune device is not the only place you will access the Zune experience," said Sohn. "A lot of people jumped to an 'either/or,' when in fact it's a 'both/and' situation."

Microsoft's first order of business is to deliver the Zune music service to Xbox and Windows Media Center. "We would be thinking about nailing experiences in our own platforms concurrently with, if not before we're thinking about going beyond that," said Sohn. The mobile space represents a particularly interesting opportunity for Microsoft, since it could involve developing apps for competitors like Apple and Google.

Talk of a Zune experience - and especially nailing those experiences - does at least leave you in no doubt that Sohn is a marketing guy. The question he doesn't address, but which hangs in the air, is if "the Zune experience" is about interacting Zunely with tunes through a Zune interface, then why would Microsoft continue to pour money down the drain on a loss-making hardware strategy?

American Idol straps on waterskis, looks for marine mammals

Is American Idol entering its decline phase? Although the return was the most-watched programme so far this year on US TV, it hasn't had a starting audience this low since 2004. Even the defence of the audience size isn't that spirited:

A spokesman for the show said it was not surprising for the popularity of a show, even one as big as American Idol, to fall after eight seasons.

He added that a bigger chunk of the audience had started recording the two-hour programme.

But isn't one of the attractions for broadcasters of this sort of programme that it has to be watched more-or-less live, that it's appointment television like what they used to have in the old days? Do advertisers want to know that more and more viewers will be spooling through the adverts?

Could it just be that a simple-minded programme is now creatively running dry?
Viewers watched hopefuls auditioning in Phoenix, Arizona. They included a contestant wearing only a swimsuit who earned the nickname Bikini Girl.

An astonishingly sharp and inspired nickname. Bikini Girl - because she's a woman, and she's in a bikini. When you have it explained to you, it's quite clever, isn't it?

Darkness at 3AM: Clumsiest headline ever

Take That's Gary Barlow a dad to baby Daisy after wife goes into labour as he's on a video shoot

Someone should be fired - surely they could have crammed in Barlow's age, his wife's name and a weight of the child in there, too?

The Sun pays out to Sharon Osbourne

Although it's easy to forget, Sharon Osbourne is just flesh and blood and as capable of being mortified or embarrassed as the rest of us. As, indeed, she was when the Sun ran a story claiming she was working Ozzy to death:

Osbourne's solicitor, John Kelly, told Justice David Eady that the article alleged that former X Factor judge, who has been married to Ozzy for 26 years, was putting her husband's life at risk by forcing him to perform a series of live shows when he was not well enough, and that her motivation for doing so was to fund her "exorbitant spending".

"The article wrongly alleged that the claimant was 'driving her frail husband Ozzy Osbourne to destruction', was working him 'so hard she will kill him' and that 'Sharon will keep Ozzy on the road until, like Tommy Cooper, he dies on stage'," Kelly told the high court.

"These allegations are entirely without foundation and were obviously extremely distressing, hurtful and damaging for the claimant. The claimant's distress was increased as a result of the claims in the article being made by the claimant's estranged brother David Arden, and tagged with the words 'Chilling warning from brother of X Factor Sharon'.

The article was originally credited to Grant Rollings. News International are to pay "substantial" damages.

New Kids On The Dock

James P emails to alert me to the forthcoming New Kids On The Block cruise liner gig:

The band seem quite defensive, saying "this is not a step back" and that a cruise ship concert is "not a cheesy thing". The cruise leaves Florida for the Bahamas in mid-May, and is open to all fans of songs heavily reliant on the word 'Oh'.

James somewhat cruelly suggests this is the band following the Jane McDonald career path. That's well unfair, seeing as Jane started on the ships and then came ashore, while the New Kids used to be quite famous and are now cast adrift.

Not that Will Smith oversells it, or anything

Of course, you'd be excited to be going to the Obama inauguration. Even if you weren't playing. But Will Smith is attempting to turn 'not being asked to do Boom! Shake The Room' in Washington into a role in its own right:

"You know I thought about that, but I think I'm going to keep it a little more subdued than that. I'm just going to stand there and be an eyewitness to history."

You're going to watch, then, Will. Unless you're being invited in like a superannuated wedding guest to sign a register of some sort, you're watching. Unless there's a chance that after the event is over, and everyone has gone back home, the cops might swing through and say "hey - what happened here? Someone better call Will Smith to see if he saw anything...", you're in the audience.

Macca: Always on

There's something almost heartbreakingly needy about Paul McCartney keeping an instrument in his pocket:

BEATLES legend SIR PAUL MCCARTNEY carries a miniature harmonica everywhere he goes, so he can entertain onlookers at the drop of a hat.

He must have been fuming when Cliff got the chance to do an impromptu gig at Wimbledon. I bet he drives round and round Test Match venues when it's cloudy - "if they bring the covers on, I'll nip in and do a quick Band On The Run..."

Macca has used his tiny organ to becalm a child, he claims:
"I was once going through an airport and there was a baby screaming. The mother was having a terrible time. So I went up to the baby and (started playing).

"And the baby just stared at me (open mouthed)."

Yes. Yes, I imagine he did.

Isn't it a little odd that the man who sang on Yesterday, and Twist And Shout, and Live And Let Die, and Spies Like Us, carries a mouthorgan in case he needs to entertain? "Hi, I've sung some of the most famous songs in the world and I'm going to play the harmonica for you." It's like Paul Daniels choosing to juggle.

Touring Beirut

Beiurt has lined up some (Western) European dates for May:

03 May Germany, Hamburg: Fabrik
05 Netherlands, Amsterdam: Paradiso
06 Belgium, Brussels: Cirque Royal
08 UK, London: The Forum
09 UK, Minehead: All Tomorrow's Parties - The Fans Strike Back
12 France, Paris: Bataclan

A taste of what Minehead has to expect - Beirut doing Elephant Gun live in San Francisco in 2006:

Lover's Union

The splendid Bella Union label is throwing a Valentine special on - naturally = February 14th. They've taken the Union Chapel in London; lined up are Dustin O'Halloran, Our Broken Garden and Peter Broderick. There's also special guests being lined up. Twelve fifty and you're in.

Gordon in the morning: Heavy pants

At last, something to distract Gordon from Amy Winehouse's holidays: Victoria Beckham doing a bloke's underwear shoot:

Posh in kecks

That's actually quite good, although it's a pun that only really works in Scotland; come down too far into England and kecks move from being underwear to outerwear and the pun breaks.

But can Gordon keep it up?
She peeled off to briefs and a, er, Posh-up bra for shots inspired by 1950s cinema.

Posh-up bra?
Bust what I was after ... Victoria in Armani ad

Okay, stop now.

Is there very much for Gordon to do other than try to stop getting it on the photos?
Becks, nicknamed Goldenballs, was at the shoot near their LA home.

Clearly not - "nicknamed Goldenballs"? Even if anyone had called him that since, ooh, 1973, why on earth would you mention that? And isn't "Becks" a nickname itself?

A year ago, Leona Lewis insisted she was going to concentrate on music and not muck about with fashion or perfume or autobiographies. Gordon reports this morning that she's just signed up for the perfume, with the clothing line and book already in preparation:
Well, a year is a long time in the life of a superstar.

She obviously has loads of exciting new stories to share, and a more mature sense of style and smell.

That's the most sardonic thing I think I've ever seen in Bizarre. Well, written about someone they still need to be nice to.

Elsewhere, Holly Valance's career has stalled so badly she's now at the desperately begging Hugh Hefner for a Playboy spread stage:
I would definitely consider doing Playboy if it was tasteful. I’d consider topless too if it was perhaps in black and white.

Ah. So she's begging to go in the world's most famous skin magazine and... you know, providing it was slightly arty, she might even take her shirt off. What sort of magazine does she think Playboy is?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The world falls silent as YouTube pushes mute button

In a bid to try and keep the record labels happy, YouTube have wiped the sound from a bunch of videos. A whole big bunch:

Ouch. This will really hurt. Everyone. The amateur film makers, the artists, Youtube, us - the users. Yes, sure, I know: synchronization [the use of music in a public audio-visual production] is subject to a license by the writer, publisher, label, artist (and another dozen of parties), no matter how small the use. That's the law.

If you didn't know better, you might surmise that Google was almost trying to reduce the popularity of YouTube as a catch-all video service in order to concentrate on the official videos which come with the copyright already sorted and much better chances of flogging lucrative adverts around. If you didn't know better.

Hall Of Fame invites Metallica, Run DMC

The no, no, not at all pointless decision of who to induct to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame for this year has been made.

Run DMC are in. Metallica are in. Jeff Beck is already in, as a Yardbyrd, but he's going in again. Commemorative Plates are going in. Little Anthony and the Imperials, Wanda Jackson, Bill Black, D.J. Fontana and Dewey Lyndon "Spooner" Oldham are all in.

Actually one of these might be something Stephen Fry put in to Room 101. My notes are confused. That little glut of brilliant musicians who haven't made it yet are interesting - almost as if the organisers are trying to suddenly perform some sort of museum curatorship role.

The ceremony will be back in Cleveland this year - although not, obviously, at the purpose-built building built for the purpose - and comes with a dreadful threat:

With such a wide-ranging group of musicians, fans can look forward to a spectacular jam at the end of the evening.

Leave early! Leave town! Metallica and the Reverend Run together jamming.

Ryan Adams gets to the point. Eventually.

It takes Adams a while to get round to it, but in short: The Cardinals are over.

DMX hates on dogs, finds god

Let's be absolutely clear about this: DMX's plans to become a pastor once he's through with jail has nothing whatsoever to do with pretending to be pious to earn parole:

His plan after his release is to move forward with his transition to becoming a pastor. X has long talked about becoming a prominent member of a church. The rapper believes he's been put in his situation to help someone.

"I came here to meet somebody," he said. "I don't know who it is, but I came to tell them that Jesus loves them. To tell them about the glory of God."

Well, not quite, DMX. You came to the prison because you treated animals like chattels and pinched stuff. Unless God's really upped the moving in mysterious ways, of course.

HMV expands at Zavvi's expense

Gennaro Castaldo is going to have to be spread ever thinner: HMV have bought fourteen branches of Zavvi to rebrand with the dog and the gramophone and the youth-clubby feel:

The Zavvi stores it is buying are all profitable, HMV said, and are primarily in locations where it does not currently have a store.

It's spending two million, including refits, which suggests it's getting a better bargain than most people who've turned up at Zavvi stores looking for sales.

Meanwhile, the company is trying its hand at live music, paying for naming rights over the Hammersmith Apollo - soon to be the HMV Apollo - and laying plans:
Chief executive Simon Fox said the deal was "far more" than a rebranding exercise of some of the venues.

"Music is very much part of our DNA, and by extending the HMV brand into the growing live music and entertainment market, our customers will be able as never before to access and experience music in all of its forms via HMV," he said.

Among the initiatives will be HMV loyalty card holders being able to "earn" tickets to gigs as rewards.

So it's much more than rebranding. It's rebranding and flogging cheap tickets.
The MAMA Group said the deal "alters the face of the live venue business in the UK".

"The engagement of artist and fan is the key driver of the music industry and that engagement is at its most evident at live events," the firm added.

It said the venture with HMV would link tickets, music and merchandise. "A direct artist-to-fan relationship is a way to help the music industry grow and prosper," it said.

Perhaps that's true, although isn't the weak link that neither MAMA nor HMV actually represent any artists (unless you count Castaldo, of course)?

Hey... maybe HMV might think about releasing records, too. If it can get its brand back from EMI.

Lily Allen: Are we still near enough new year for this to be 'dropped quietly in the festive period'?

There is, naturally, less surprise at the confirmation that BBC three isn't bothering with a second series of Lily Allen and Friends than there was at their pretence that they were recommissioning. Danny Cohen is now looking for something to fill the gap in the schedule. As if there was a hole left by not having awkward chat with uncomfortable looking minor celebrities linked together with film of donkeys having sex culled from YouTube.

Downloadable: Neko Case - and charity

This one's not just good for you, your iPod and your ears - not only are AntiLabel bringing you People Got A Lotta Nerve in downloadable mp3 glory, but every time a blog posts the link, they're going to give five dollars to Best Friends Animal Society. Which is, perhaps, goodpayola.

Gest saves Katona

There's some good news for Kerry Katona, who has had her sins washed away and been baptised.

There is, of course, some bad news. She's been baptised by David Gest, so you can only imagine the sort of afterlife her immortal soul will be treated to.

Sharon Osbourne: I'm the victim

Oh, poor Sharon Osbourne - being victimised by a woman who pulled her across the room and then wedged her skin under Osbourne's nails.

Yes, yes, to most onlookers it could have looked like Osbourne threw herself across the room and scratched Megan Hauserman. But, no - Osbourne was the victim all along:

Osbourne insists she's the victim in the alleged brawl - hinting that Hauserman purposely targeted her to land her own TV deal.
She says, "There was a little tiff. I drink this ice tea, and it's red, and the cow only had a bikini on - the cup was full of ice and it went all down her front.

"But she had it coming, big time. It shows you how dumb she is. Anyone who knows anything about me knows not to say anything about my family, or you're going to get it. Say what you like about me, but don't ever, ever, ever insult my family.

"She's got her own show now, called Trophy Wife. Amazing, isn't it?"

God, yes - imagine just getting a TV show because (or possibly despite) you're gobby and annoying. Whatever is the world coming to?

Downloadable: Bon Iver

RCRD LBL are being generous again. Today it's a free Bon Iver track, Blood Bank.

Zavvi runs away from the Circus

Yesterday, the flagship Virgin Megastore was axed in the US; today, as part of the latest slew of closures announced by Ernst & Young as they battle to keep Zavvi afloat, their flagship, in Piccadilly Circus, is going.

By the end of the latest round of closures, 40 stores will have gone, ranging from Piccadilly to the Cheshire Oaks outlet village; nearly two-thirds of the chain remains trading though, and E&Y are upbeat about the possibility of finding a buyer.

Do Hello! own a map?

Or even the slightest grasp of American geography?:

New mum Billie Piper, who's been enjoying a two-week family break in Miami with her husband Laurence Fox and their two-month-old son Winston, made the most of the US jaunt by popping over to Hollywood.

"Popping over"? From Miami to Los Angeles? Four and a half thousand miles?

Never ask if a Hello journalist could pop down the shops to pick up some milk - they'd head off to Syria or somewhere.

The PRS have finally left the planet

The string-arm tactics trying to get companies to pay for public performance licences if customers could hear music bleeding through from a back room made the PRS look stupid.

But their latest campaign gives the air of an organisation which could very well be sectionable. They're telling garage owners they need a licence if customers drive in with their car radios on.

No, really:

Mr Attwood, who has run Motor Maintenance for 31 years, added: "The PRS phoned up and said, 'do you have any form of music entertainment on the premises?'

"I said customers bring their vehicles in with their radios on and while we are working on them the radio is playing. But other than that no.

"The woman said she would get back to me. She came back with her supervisor who said I would have to turn the car radios off but I said we didn't like to tamper with the customers' settings.

"She said, 'in that case, you will have to tell them to turn them off before they come in'.

"I just think it's ridiculous."

Well, yes.

The PRS tells the Telegraph that it tries to use "common sense" in circumstances like this; they don't provide any example of when they might have done this, and the paper doesn't ask.

Oasis turn interesting sales stunt into "documentary"

The idea of getting buskers to learn songs from Dig Out Your Soul was a neat piece of marketing. A clever, one-shot idea that couldn't disguise the clunking noise coming from the record itself, but was a great way of at least warning people that there was a new Oasis record on the loose.

Now, though, the whole thing has been turned into a documentary. Because what could be more fascinating than watching a marketing campaign in full swing?

And not just any old documentary. The press release is keen to stress this is history:

It will mark the first HD debut of a documentary in the history of MySpace Music.

Wow. You'll remember where you were when you saw the first HD debut of a documentary on MySpace music, that's for sure.

But this isn't marketing. Oh no. It's art. You can tell:
The Malloys followed Oasis and the street musicians through the process and created the 18 minute black and white documentary.

See? Black and white. That's actual art.

There's one further interesting little snippet in the press release:
The street musicians rehearsed and then performed the previously unheard new songs at locations throughout the City including MTA approved subway station platforms at Grand Central, Times Square, Penn Station and Astor Place, subtly premiering the album before it came out.

It's understandable that the marketing team got permission from the MTA before sending the buskers out. But why would you want to stress that approval in the blurb? "We got all our licences and the health and safety signed off for this big rock promotion", is it?

Gordon in the morning: Too much wine and too much Winehouse

So, yesterday - where were we? Amy doing circus lessons, right? So today, Gordon's team, then, would be expected to be leading on a 'bad Amy' story, yes? Yes.

WASTED AMY WINEHOUSE is reduced to crawling up to holidaymakers and grabbing their drinks — after fed-up resort staff refused to serve her.

Crawling? On all fours? Like some sort of Oddbins Gollum?

Smart and his team have documented this holiday with the sort of attention to detail that geography teachers bring to their vacations on glaciers. Only loyal readers of Bizarre might be confused, as some days Amy is reported as being loved-up and on the mend; other days, her supposed crush is reported as being cold and Winehouse is minesweeping. It looks like Gordon has realised even his readers might have spotted the confusion, and he's come up with a neat solution. If Bizarre can't keep itself straight - why, it's Amy's fault:
The Rehab star also baffles guests with her mood swings.

One said: “One minute she is very pleasant, saying, ‘All right darlin’ and chatting to people and having photos taken. The next she is throwing things and swearing her head off.”

Aha - it's not that the Sun is extrapolating wildly from each set of photos it gets sent. Oh, no: Winehouse is suffering mood swings.

As if it wasn't enough Winehouse, Pete Samson has a separate, dubious-sounding Winehouse story that is at least more diverting than the latest St Lucia dispatch:
TROUBLED AMY WINEHOUSE has been offered her first movie role

Hang about - is it a good idea to cast a "troubled" star, Pete?
- if she can clean up her act.

The Rehab star, 25, has been sent a script by Universal Pictures.

And a coach is available to help improve her acting skills.

But bosses have warned she must keep up her drug rehabilitation.

It's not clear if she's able to carry on hiding under tables and pinching discarded Bacardi Breezers while starring in the film. I expect this is the sort of detail agents work out later on.

So, what's the role?
She would play a music teacher in a problem school.

Aha. Inspiring pupils and so on? Hang on, though, doesn't that sound a little like...
A source revealed: “The movie is a bit like MICHELLE PFEIFFER’s film Dangerous Minds."

No, no - doesn't that sound a bit like Grange Hill? Is Amy being lined up for Scruffy McGuffy: The Musical?
“You can’t have a teacher looking like a scrawny crack addict. It’s hoped the offer will be an incentive for her.”

Oh yes... the sweet, loving, instant embrace of a glowing crack-pipe, or the chance to slog your arse off for months producing a straight-to-DVD cliche-romp. With stage school kids pretending to be edgy. Michelle Pfeiffer would probably advise Amy to stick to the drugs.

Gennaro Castaldo Watch: Provincial perspective

The 25th anniversary of Now That's What I Call Music - and the "collector's edition" re-release of the first edition is a trigger for the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph to think back over the decades. And who better to call for a catch-all thought or two on compilation albums than Gennaro Castaldo?

Gennaro Castaldo, of HMV Kettering, says the Now series has become an institution among music fans.

Hang about... "of HMV Kettering"? Have times got so hard at HMV that their Chief Quote Executive is having to pull a few shifts out in the regions? Or do all the branches have their own Gennaro Castaldo, perhaps stored alongside the promotional cut-outs which managed to get to the end of their sales period without being stolen by local youths?

Still, Gennaro Castaldo-Kettering, share your thoughts:
He said: "I think prior to Now! there were not really any compilation albums featuring the original songs."

Clearly, this can't be the London Castaldo, who would never say anything so obviously false. What about the Chart Hits collections, for example? Or Motown Chartbusters, come to that?
"There used to be some fairly cheesy compilation LPs such as Ronco, which featured currents songs but performed by someone else. Now! came along and effectively created a whole new genre that was original songs by the artists we heard on the radio."

Eh? Now might have weaponised the genre, but the suggestion that before 1983 there was only Top Of The Pops style cover version collections is absurd.
"At the time there were not many other ways of getting those songs so to suddenly get them all on an LP or CD was a great innovation and people responded to that. They were collections of the best songs of the year so if you were a real fan of popular music the job was being done for you."

If you were a real fan of popular music, you'd presumably buy the singles - Now, surely, was designed for the people who quite liked pop but not to the extent that they wanted the music when it came out. And surely only the first Now was a "best songs of the year" collection, given that the second one came out in April 1984?
"For years sales of compilation albums started to slow and the advent of downloading meant you could create your own playlist but we have found Now!, in particular, has remained resilient because someone has done that work for you."

You've done the "someone has done the work for you" bit already.
"Now! is a strong brand and is part of the culture that also gave us Top of the Pops and the Sunday chart rundown. It represents a fantastic snapshot of the most popular songs of the time and has become something of a collectors' item."

The first dozen or so are actually only a snapshot of some of the most popular songs on EMI and Virgin, but you take the point.

Incidently, the Evening Telegraph seems convinced that the whole thing was Richard Branson's idea:
It was the brainchild of Richard Branson, who was boss of Virgin Records at the time.

He was chairing a meeting in his office when the revolutionary suggestion was made that they release all their hit singles of that year on one album. Better still, if they got EMI involved they could make it a double album.

The name of the album came from a poster on Branson's wall for Danish Bacon Factories, which featured a cartoon pig craning his ear to the sound of a cockerel with the accompanying caption 'Now that's what I call music'.

Surely not even Richard Branson would try to claim that? Stephen Navin, John Webster and Simon Draper cooked up the idea, surely?. If only we had our own Gennaro Castaldo to hand, we could check.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Virgin Megastores shrink in US

With Zavvi closing swathes of the former UK Virgin Megastore chain, it's perhaps unsurprising that the American Virgin Megastores are struggling as well. In the dying moments of 2008, two of the three LA branches were being wound down; today the company announced that it would close the flagship Times Square store by the summer.

Mozzer approaches the end

Filter magazine reckons that Morrissey is hoping to get out at the top of his game:

“I don’t want to go on much longer, really. I think that would suggest a lack of imagination. A certain lack of dignity also. There has to reach a point where you’ve said enough, I think.”

It's not clear how Morrissey intends to quit in early 1989.

David Bowie killed the economy

Who should we blame for the terrible mess that the financial world has got itself into?

Evan Davis thinks its David Bowie's fault, for creating Bowie Bonds in 1997:

It meant he no longer had the money coming in but instead had a lot up front. His investors were guaranteed a good income. It was a good deal all round.

And the banks were catching on to the idea. They thought, “We have billions out there in mortgages which are going to pay us back very slowly. Why don’t we sell those and get the money now?”

So the banks started doing what Bowie had done – in a big way.

To be fair, it's not like Bowie was the first person to think of selling bonds against future earnings. Or, come to that, that Bowie suggested bankers should do the same thing with mortgages. It's true that he didn't expressly say at the time "this is fine if you're talking about a few quid from the Absolute Beginners soundtrack, but I think you better not do that with mortgages that are probably going to default." And you would think that if bankers really knew what they were doing, they could tell the difference between a self-certified mortgage at seven times earnings and 135% LTV, and royalties from Space Oddity.

Kid Rock has trouble with the concept of addiction

Cocaine - it's a funny thing, huh, Kid Rock?

"People have different personalities ... Some people do a line of cocaine and start selling their TVs and their guitar. Other people do it, have a fun night and go about their business."

It's not clear exactly what would happen if you business was buying and selling televisions - presumably you'd have to get used to your friends constantly holding interventions.

Rock, of course, has his own problems:
"I have been to anger management twice. After the first session the lady was like, 'Baby, you don't seem that angry at all. You seem like a really nice guy.' 'I go, 'That's the way I feel too.' I think that the judge made a mistake when he sentenced me. I think he probably should have sent me to Alcoholics Anonymous because I do have a drinking problem ... None of these fights would have ever occurred without drinking."

The anger management woman called you "baby" and said you were "a really nice guy"? If you weren't a violent drunk, we'd assume you must have turned up three sheets if you thought that was going on.

Perhaps the judge was happy for you to keep drinking, just so long as you stopped hitting people.

Aubrey O'Kane: Nothing left to hide

Danity Kane are, roughly, the closest thing America has to a Girls Aloud. Born on a reality game show, and destroyed by internal tensions. Okay, perhaps they're a bit closer to The Sugababes.

Anyway, Aubrey O'Day was judged to have been hogging the limelight, but if the hope of the remaining Danitys was that kicking her off the train would allow them to get some of the attention, it's backfired. O'Day is now running off to do Playboy:

"I've also done the cover of Playboyfor 2009," she said late in December. "For one of the months in 2009. I'm not gonna say it. ... It's gonna be a surprise. You know, I think that Playboy for me was one of the most liberating things that I've done as a woman."

For the record, shooting a moose with a stun-gun was the most liberating thing she did when she was a man.

I know what you're thinking: "It was so liberating" is a kind of stock, meaningless word-spurt that PR people usually tell women who've fallen on hard times to say. Perhaps, though, O'Day could explain a bit more clearly?
"You could never imagine how empowering it is to be nude in front of cameras and have people looking at you in that way and seeing you as beautiful."

Empowering. Liberating. Being in Playboy. Really.

Has anyone explained to O'Day exactly how people will be using her pictures?

Bookmarks: Some stuff to read on the internet: Remaking Radio One

Ben Chapman explains the new Radio One homepages:

We also wanted to make the site simpler and there will be more navigational changes to come. We removed the 'Experimental' module from the homepage, as this content isn't a genre of its own and often falls into one of our other categories. We removed the 'Daytime' module because we use the main promotional window to show much of our daytime entertainment content. Frankly if it's daytime content that we weren't willing to put in the main promo window, then why would we highlight it?

Pepsi repackages

It's still a nasty multinational company flogging unhealthy products, but I couldn't help being impressed with new look Pepsi is rolling out for its colas. After years of pushing cluttered, ugly tins with pointless digitised splodges and whatnot all over, they've decided to start acting like an iconic brand and produced a crisper, cleaner design for the cans and bottles. Not only that, but The Apples In Stereo are soundtracking the new campaign.

It's the same horrible PepsiCo. But they've smartened up their presentation.

Music games: Passing trend rather than a revolution

More solid numbers confirming that the attraction of pressing buttons to pretend to play guitar is waning from Variety:

Fall's highly anticipated "Rock Band 2" and "Guitar Hero: World Tour" have sold well below expectations, trailing their 2007 editions by significant margins. Activision's "World Tour" has thus far sold 1.5 million units domestically, an impressive number compared to most games, but down 55% from "Guitar Hero III," which launched on the exact same day last year. MTV's "Rock Band 2" has moved only 809,000 copies.

It makes album sales seem as healthy as Gillian McKeith on a detox diet, doesn't it? And this is the top end:
The past few months have also seen a number of competitors for "Guitar Hero's" throne arise, including Disney's "Ultimate Band," Konami's "Rock Revolution" and Nintendo's "Wii Music," all of which have seen soft to disastrous sales.

Oh, dear. Music games are still the largest segment of the games market - but there are a lot of segments, and music only represents 16% of games sold. And the figures aren't going in the direction you'd hope for if you saw this a glistening new revenue stream.

It's a toss-up as to if the market was killed because it was swamped with too many, too similar games in too short a period, or if there was only ever going to be a spike-market until the novelty wore off.

Can anyone find a spark to reignite that novelty factor?

Funny you should ask. Taking time off from saving Eurovision, Andrew Lloyd-Webber is planning to try and revive music games with a simple recipe. Show tunes, show tunes, nothing but show tunes:
The shows, which also include Joseph and Cats, may seem like strange fodder for games, but the group says two industry shifts have prompted its interest - the emergence of more female gamers in the traditionally male-dominated game consumer demographic and the big popularity of singing- and music-based titles like Playstation’s Singstar and Xbox’s Lips. Guitar Hero maker Harmonix’s forthcoming Beatles performance game also shows how music brands can be translated in to play.

The first Lloyd-Webber titles will let players sing along as characters in the composer’s shows and could involve elements of “audition”, just like in his BBC shows I’d Do Anything and How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? and last year’s Lloyd-Webber-themed episode of American Idol.

A music track you sing along the words to? Why hasn't anyone thought of this before? It could be a whole genre all of its own. And you know what? I could see that going down well in Japan.

Festival crunch: Lewes 'rests'

This year, there won't be a folk rock festival in Lewes. Organisers are resting the event:

Organiser Steve Harrison said: “In endeavouring to program 2009's event we have realised that we cannot finance the calibre of headline acts we need to maintain the event's growing reputation.

“2009 will therefore be a year of rest during which we will investigate the options for external funding.”

There are hopes that whatever remains of the economy might be able to sustain an event for survivors in 2010.

Bookmarks: Some stuff to read on the internet: NYT critic

The New York Times' jazz and pop but mainly jazz critic Ben Ratliff is taking questions from the readers about pop, but mainly jazz:

In the last 60 years, people almost completely stopped dancing to jazz, and far fewer people grew up with pianos in the house. I think that has a lot to do with why jazz is no longer the popular vernacular art it used to be. When you dance to music (in all ways — partner dancing, stepping, headbanging — just reacting to music with your body) or when you play it, then you own it. A lot of people born since 1960 don't feel that they own jazz.

Absolutely, the media plays a role in why the average person doesn't know who Cedar Walton is. But I think the mainstream media — obviously we're not talking about jazz magazines like Downbeat, which has Benny Golson on the cover this month (a good example of the kind of artist you're talking about) — doesn't, by definition, deal with the kind of art that post-bop mainstream jazz has become, which is an art of tradition and very slow refinements.

Secret (Shine) gig

Good news from Bristol: The Secret Shine will be setting up their instruments and going 'two... two... two' at the Cube Cinema in the city on February 21st.

They're going to do a proper gig. Not just the soundcheck.

Ross a dead loss? Someone at the Daily Telegraph buys the Radio Times

I knew it. I knew the Telegraph had just started to lift large chunks of its copy from the Radio Times - last month, the leading article started with the words "So, a recession has fetched up on the economic scene...", which was a dead giveaway. Today, they're running a large chunk of Mark Lawson's words from the TV listings guide:

Jonathan Ross will find it "pretty unbearable" when he returns to work, BBC presenter Mark Lawson has predicted.

Because, it says here, Mark Lawson plans to stand outside his dressing room yelling "Andrew Sachs, Brand resigns" over and over again.

Oh - hang on, it doesn't:
Speaking about Ross's return, Lawson told the Radio Times: "I think he has probably the biggest PR problem any TV person has ever had: the controversy doesn't revolve around one particular remark he made, but his whole act.

"I don't see how he can win this. Anyone who's been through even a minor scare over matters of taste at the BBC knows it's pretty horrible...

"I think Ross is going to find it pretty unbearable.

"So I think it will quite quickly suit both parties to find a way for him to leave the BBC."

...concluded Lawson, as he slipped a buff folder with the words "Programme idea: Friday Night With Mark Lawson" onto Jay Hunt's desk.

Mark Lawson believes that Ross has the biggest PR problem ever anyone on TV has ever, ever, ever faced. What about Peter Adamson when he was trying to balance the charges of getting over-friendly with kids at the swimming pool while being Len Fairclough? And slagging off other members of the cast in the press after he'd been found not guilty? Or Michael Barrymore's entire career for the last decade? Or how about when the tabloids found out Leslie Grantham was wanking onto the internet? Or that he'd killed a taxi driver? Or John Leslie?

Gordon in the morning: Oh, what a circus

More - yes, unbelievably more - from Amy Winehouse's holiday, which seems to have gone on longer than ITV's Duty Free, but without being quite as funny:

BEFORE the AMY WINEHOUSE circus rolled into St Lucia, the closest she came to a trapeze was necking pills with a similar-sounding name.

A similar-sounding name? To her? Or the place? Or does he mean similar-sounding to trapeze? But what would that be? Does he mean e's? Or tranquilizers? Or is it temazapam? Perhaps he does mean similar sounding to St Lucia?
Now she seems to be taking to the circus act like, well, a Wino to ale, after an instructor showed her the ropes on a practice trapeze during a lesson at her hotel.

A Wino to ale - stop it, you're killing us. No, really, please. Stop it.

Amy Winehouse, huh? Doing circus bobbins? Whoever would have thought? Besides, obviously, anyone who read her talking about playing at circuses in the News Of The World at the weekend.

If you're keeping track, by the way, today Gordon has set the ever vacillating "Amy Winehouse behaviour barometer to 'bad':
Amy also ran into trouble by shouting and swearing while watching the Man Utd v Chelsea game on TV in the hotel bar.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Brits 2009: U2 take advertising space on the show

You can see why the organisers of the Brits wouldn't turn down the offer of U2 for their programme this year: in 2008, they were scraping up Mika-and-Beth-Ditto duets to try and fill out the time. They'll be pleased at having someone who most of the ITV audience will have heard of.

Naturally, they're excited. They've rushed out a press release, busting its buttons with pride:

The BPI, the UK record labels’ body, today announced the exciting news that the mighty U2, one of the world’s biggest bands, will perform their brand new single ‘Get On Your Boots’ live at The BRIT Awards 2009 with MasterCard. This highly anticipated annual event takes place on Wednesday 18 February at London’s Earls Court.

Highly anticipated? If by 'highly anticipated' you mean 'foreshadowed by dread and foreboding', perhaps.
This year’s BRIT Awards, the premiere event in the British music calendar...

If you don't count Glastonbury, or the Proms, or the electric Proms, or the Mercury, or... shaping up to be one of the strongest yet...

In other words, with no bloody Osbournes, no reliance on Mika and/or the Scissor Sisters, it's hard to see how it can be quite as duff as previous efforts.
...with U2 confirmed, Pet Shop Boys being honoured with the Outstanding Contribution to Music Award and further intriguing live performances to be announced over the coming weeks. The show will be a spectacular night of great music, featuring and honouring the hottest music talent and thrilling the eleven thousand audience at Earls Court, as well as making it a must tune-in for the millions watching The BRITs live on ITV1.

Featuring and honouring the hottest music talent. With U2 and the Pet Shop Boys. If it was 1987, you might have a point. In 2009, that's a bit of stretch.

Still, at least they drop the hyperbole for that last sentence: normally, you'd claim that a big event was simply a "must-see". Honest to admit it's the sort of programme that those who watch will want to watch. Let's hope they keep that realistic line and don't suddenly say something that makes them look silly.
Ged Doherty, Chairman of The BRITs Committee said, “We’re thrilled to be able to confirm that U2 have chosen The BRITs for their first global TV performance on their new album. Their addition to the line-up for this year’s show makes it possibly the best we have ever had. This cements The BRITs as one of the biggest TV events in the world.”

One of the biggest TV events in the world? Last year it barely scraped six million in the UK. It got fewer viewers than, perhaps understandably, the announcement of the new Doctor Who; less than the first episode of Dancing On Ice. Bloody hell, even All Star Family Fortunes managed a broadly similar figure over Christmas. It's not one of the biggest TV events in the world, it's a fairly solidly-performing mid-range entertainment for ITV.

But, still: quite a coup for them to actually get Bono to do something that doesn't involve him talking.

Blake Fielder-Civil seeks divorce settlement

Presumably Amy telling the News Of The World that he was rubbish in bed proved the final straw, but Blake Fielder-Civil has filed civil papers to start a divorce from Amy Winehouse. The grounds are adultery, apparently.

Bon Jovi gigs: High risk

While a woman who claims she was run over by Bon Jovi staff during the Milton Keynes gig pursues legal action in the UK, a Canadian man is suing after his neck got broken during an Edmonton Bon Jovi date.

A little bit on the side

Over on the Guardian Music site, Johnny Dee has a go at the side project and its usually dispiriting results:

The bit on the side has become a tiresome trend among indie groups. Particularly as there are countless acts who seem to be forming part-time bands and releasing solo albums just to stave off the boredom until their more talented bandmates can be arsed to write some new material. Worse still, the more talented members of said band will probably be involved in side projects of their own.

And he's right. Except... except for this:
This may be stretching the point a little, but what would be better – another nice Robert Plant bluegrass album with a lady who was going to make a nice bluegrass album anyway or a reunion of Britain's greatest rock band?

Seriously, Johnny? A pointless lumbering back of the surviving guys who used to be Led Zeppelin, making an album they have no interest in producing, making them a little less special, taking the band from being part of rock's royal family to fighting for record sales with Lil'Wayne and the Saturdays, or Raising Sand? I'll take the Alison Krauss work every time, thank you.

See you next Tuesday, US radio tells Britney

Britney Spears' one-woman tribute to Ronnie Barker, If You Seek Amy, is causing American radio stations to spontaneously explode as they try to decide if they can play it or not, what with it sounding a little rude. But the phrase isn't rude, but you could imagine it to be filthy, and once you think it sounds like F-U-C-K me, then you can't not see it like that any more. It's like the hidden arrow in the Fed Ex logo, once someone points it out to you, you're always aware it's there. But what can you do? The phrase isn't filthy. But it is.

Naturally, the US media is known for nothing if not its craven collapse in the face of getting into trouble, and so they're yanking Britney off:

"It's OK to put in on an album, have fun with it, but we're publicly owned, you know?" said Patti Marshall, program director at Cincinnati's Q102, a pop station in a decidedly conservative Midwestern market. "We have a responsibility to the public ... you put this ... out and act like we're all fuddy-duddies, like we're trying to make moral judgments. It's not about us. It's about the mom in the minivan with her 8-year-old."

Ah yes, an eight year old who is familiar enough with both stevedore's language, spelling and wordplay to suddenly ask "but Mummy, what does 'fuck me' mean?". That could be embarrassing. If only Britney had stuck to songs about being hit and womanizers and so on, none of this would ever have happened. No mother driving an eight year old in a minivan is ever going to feel uncomfortable being asked 'when that lady says she'll be your slave, does she mean she's going to give you a pyramid?'

Britney could care less if a few radio stations run shy of playing her new single. After all, what's a slot at 8am on a Cincinnati FM station compared with acres of press coverage you get for releasing a song that sounds a bit like Fuck Me?

Downloadable: Sexy Kids

Like a gift from the lovely Slumberland Records, the glorious breezy Sisters Are Forever mp3 from a brilliant, but doomed band.

Why doomed? Because they're called Sexy Kids. And even if you do throw caution to the wind and stick that into Google, the returns you get aren't going to be modernised-80s-pop-fringe bands.

You can find them more directly on their MySpace. Just make sure you can tell your sysadmin "they're a pop group" with a degree of confidence.

Gordon in the morning: Get out the way, Gordon, it's the Globes

Gordon's column has been bulldozed this morning, with large swathes of his online column being shoved aside to make room for Golden Globes coverage. Does this - reportage, with actual, checkable facts, really fit in the Bizarre column? If Gordon does have a regular readership for the sort of thing he usually does, why would you suddenly dump some news in front of them instead?

In the paper version of Bizarre, the big story is a claim that Leona Lewis and Justin Timberlake are going to "duet on Whitney's classic song". At least online Dolly Parton is given the proper credit for I Will Always Love You.

Meanwhile, in the latest churning Mrs Winehouse's Holiday coverage, Gordon is forced to embrace the News Of The World:

Amy told our sister paper the News Of The World: “Josh is handsome and clean and that’s what I love about him."

The Sun having to concede that it was scooped by the NOTW? That's going to hurt. Especially since Smart is now having to follow the Screws' line:
[Mitch Winehouse] will comfort Amy, 25, said to be distraught at his departure.

A source said: “She has been calling Mitch every day to tell him she is totally besotted.

Mitch wants him to know he will have their support.”

This is a bit of a swing from the way Gordon confidently informed his readers last Wednesday there was no romance between the pair.

Still, you can't go wrong with Globes coverage, can you? Alison Maloney files confidently:
SACHA BARON COHEN shocked the audience at the Golden Globes with gags about POSH, CHARLIE SHEEN and MADONNA.

Shocked, you say?
The Borat star, presenting the Best Comedy award, drew gasps as he said; “The recession is affecting all of us, even movie stars.

“VICTORIA BECKHAM hasn’t eaten for three weeks, Charlie Sheen has been forced to have sex without paying for it.

“And even Madonna has had to let one of her personal assistants go. Our thoughts go out to you, GUY RITCHIE!”

Isn't that one gag, rather than "gags"? And that really "shocked" people, did it? Perhaps Alison means it in the sense of 'shocked that his material was so thin'.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


The change-over of a large swathe of the UK's local radio stations from well-loved local brands to the Heart brand is a bit of a marketing challenge. Given that the advantages of the downsizing is all for Global Radio - cheaper to market, cheaper to make - while the listeners don't really get anything out of the deal, how do you sell it?

Badly, it turns out.

These billboards have sprung up around Milton Keynes - probably one out of every four bus stop has started yelling "give it some Heart".

Honestly? When I first saw them my two thoughts were "blimey, the British Heart Foundation's keep fit message this year is a bit scrappy" and then "... but they've got some money to splash on the posters."

The trouble is, you have to get really close to the ads to see that they're related to radio, and announcing a "new radio station" for Milton Keynes. From a distance, seen briefly - as is the case for most posters looking out on dual carriageways - you wouldn't know that's what they're pushing.

It could work, though, as a reminder of a call to action from another medium. And there is a TV advert, too.

This is a rum bit of work. We're supposed to believe that Jamie Theakston is taking the staff photo? Why would that be? Even if things are so tight at Heart that they can't afford a proper photographer, wouldn't it make sense to get someone other than the big name of the network to take the actual photo?

More to the point: Theakston is only on the London station, so it's a bit misleading to have him playing such a key role in the advert, isn't it?

There's also the problem of rebranding so many stations at once. Here in Milton Keynes, on TV, the strapline is "new to Anglia". On the poster, it's "new to Milton Keynes". But the station isn't really new at all - it's an existing brand slapped on a bunch of existing stations. The decision has been taken to pretend that Heart Milton Keynes is all-new, so there's no word on the poster that this is pretty much the Horizon FM you might have known and loved; there are so many different stations covered by the TV advert there's no room to mention the bunch of frequencies they're all broadcasting on. So you don't know it used to be SGR or whatever; you don't know where on the FM dial it is. Googling won't help you. Those posters could have helped solve the problem - scream 'give it some heart' if you must, but put '103.3' in big letters, too.

It was always a rotten idea, but with a bit of thought, at least the switchover to the one brand could have been made friendly for the audience. It looks like the brief, though, was to spend as much money while creating as much confusion as possible.

Peter Jenner's still pushing for a music industry levy

It's getting on for three years now since former Clash and Billy Bragg manager Peter Jenner first floated the idea that the music industry should receive cash from a levy on the cost of digital connections. He's still banging away at it, although he's smart enough to propose that the telecoms industry might want to hide it away from the customer's eyes:

The Government can insist compensation has to be paid by the DSPs for the non-commercial, unauthorised use of copyright material. How they pay for this nominal amount is up to them. Maybe it gets paid out of customer retention and acquisition budgets, maybe through higher fees tied to higher capacity services, maybe through advertising or sponsorship or any combination thereof.

Interestingly, Jenner is suggesting that this money replace the current 'selling things' business model of the music industry. So what he's describing here as a "nominal amount" is actually the entire income of the British music sector. Which would suggest it's quite a large figure. Surely the pile of money is either nominal, or it's not? And if it is nominal, then why make a fuss about it?

Jenner then reveals exactly how nominal the sum he has in mind would be:
It is worth noting that the payment of £2 per month per customer with a broadband connection would generate £1.2 Billion, if there were 50 million broadband enabled customers in the UK. This sum is as big as the highest gross value of the UK Record Industry at its height, and at full price with no allowance for discounts, returns etc. This revenue would come through allocated to track without any need for warehouses, shipping, returns, salesmen, distribution, retailers etc.

So, it's as much money as the music industry has ever made. That sort of nominal figure.

Jenner's figures are about as meaningful as his argument is rigorous - at the moment, according to the National Office Of Statistics, there are 18 million households that have internet access. That's 65 per cent of all households, so even if the other 35 per cent of households did come online, you'd still only have at most thirty million; if you add in the 2.6 million businesses you'd still be struggling to get anywhere near fifty million. Jenner might be arguing that you pay the levy for every connection, but that would be even more absurd - why should someone who could listen to music all day, every day through a single connection be paying a quarter as much as someone who has broadband at home and in their office, and a work mobile phone and perhaps a personal one, but never downloads a single track?

But leave that to one side, and let's just look again at what Jenner is suggesting with a straight face: the music industry should be handed as much money as it has ever made on a regular basis, paid for by people who may or may not have touched any of their music.

One of this worries about the people he dismisses as "freetards" is that, if everyone took music for free and never returned a penny to the industry, why would the record companies ever bother to invest in new music? That's a fair question (although the answer - why do we need a record company to create new music - might make him a little uncomfortable), but isn't offering music industry businesses a guaranteed income that dwarves anything they could manage for themselves equally a fantastic disincentive to invest? After all, if you've just hyper-monetised the back catalogue, why would you bother pouring speculative funds into creating new stuff?

Jenner's idea is to tie the distribution of the cash to the individual tracks - you get a third of a thruppence or whatever for every play of one of your songs. Aware that this is going to be a bloody nightmare to administer, he suggests the creation of a meta-collection society.

What Jenner doesn't seem to have factored in is that, if there is a body distributing money based on a play-per-track basis, a large swathe of this money will have to go out the country: if I'm listening to a track recorded by a Canadian band, on a Canadian server, what moral reason could there be for not giving them their portion of a farthing that they would earn if they came from Camden? Likewise, anyone whistling a tune on YouTube could lay a stake to having recompense from this central fund. Because why should Jagger and Richards get money for their songs and not some bloke in the street? How much work would be involved in processing a fund that has to take account of every time anything musical comes out of a tiny speaker? And even with his unlikely sounding sum of cash, by the time it's been administered, and spread over millions of people, are such tiny sums of money going to do anyone any good at all? Perhaps this is what Jenner is thinking of when he says it's nominal.

In short, Jenner has proposed (again) an idea that is unfair, and impractical. Let's hope that nobody takes him seriously, and he's still punting this pipedream in 2012.