Sunday, July 19, 2009

Neil Tennant misses Top Of The Pops

I yield to nobody in my admiration of Neil Tennant, but a grumbly interview about why Top of The Pops isn't on any more and people "stealing" music makes him sound like something out of a different era.

Mind you, the BBC News site suggests that Tennant has "slammed" the corporation, which is perhaps putting it a bit strongly:

He added he thought as part of the BBC's public broadcasting, the corporation should be keeping its "astonishing archive" of musical footage up-to-date.

"[That is] why we like the BBC, because they do things that should be done but don't always make complete commercial sense."

It actually sounds more like he understands it had to go, rather than "slamming" anyone or anything. Indeed, it doesn't actually sound like Tennant much cared for the show by the time it was axed:
The star, who has had hits with West End Girls and Always On My Mind, said a former BBC employee who now works for ITV had told him why the show had to go.

"He explained to me at great length that the public aren't interested in music unless its heavily editorialised - by which he means X Factor.

"If you look back over the presentation of Top Of The Pops in the 90s, cynicism crept into the way it was presented.

"In the past, everything - the rubbish and the good stuff - was presented with enthusiasm. And I think its up to the public to make the taste decisions - not the DJs presenting."

It's actually wider than that, Neil: instead of the running order being dictated by the chart positions of records, it became an editorially-selected choice; moving from a dumb list to a cheerleader service.

Tennant then offers what sounds like a pretty comprehensive argument against reviving the show:
"I think it must be really strange to be a new artist. Like if JLS are number one on Sunday, they won't have that great moment of being crowned that week's Kings Of Pop."

Anything that would make JLS labour about under the misapprehension that they were in some way pop royalty, surely, is broken beyond use?

Tennant then turns to those downloads the young people are all doing these days:
"It would be great if 30% of us could get a car for free, but it's not going to happen," he said.

"And I don't see why people should think they can."

Oh, Neil, Neil, Neil. You really don't believe that a manufactured car is like a digital music file, do you? That digital music is more akin to oxygen?

It turns out he doesn't buy the whole 'the supply is almost unlimited' argument, either:
He went on to describe an article he read on the internet, which suggested music should be free like water.

"I thought 'have you seen the water rates in London?'

"If you wanted to pay £700 pounds a year for music, I think we'd all be really happy.

He does seem to have worked in a complaint about the cost of water, too, which is quite impressive.

There's an important difference, though, between water and digital music anyway - water companies have to maintain the infrastructure which delivers the water. Oh, and are dealing with a finite resource which requires enormous storage space to smooth out the differences between supply and demand.

Not that - as far as I know - anyone has ever suggested charging for music as if it was water; the 'like water' case is actually about treating music as a utility rather than a distinct product - a pipe, rather than a bottle of water.

Oh, and the average water bill in the UK is £330 and the average charge by London supplier Thames Water being £295. I suppose Neil must live in a larger house than most of us, though.

Tennant's solution? Erm, something akin to the water rates:
"I think we should have a licence somewhere between the water rates and the BBC TV licence and then you could have it for nothing and it could be farmed out on a download pro rata basis."

What does that even mean, Neil? And why should some internet content - music - be licensed, when a lot of other stuff is available for free online? If musicians should get some money everytime a track is listened to, why shouldn't that licence cover people who make animated lego films, or write blog entries about Boris Johnson? What's so special about Paolo Nutini that he should be rewarded when his content is accessed online, when, say, Kirstie Allsopp tweets for free?

The licence idea appeals simply because everyone knows that online music, left to fight in the market place, is worth almost nothing. It's like bakers suggesting that people should be forced to have a bread licence, and then they'll be happy to let people take the stale bread from their dumpsters.


Olive said...

Oh, Neil, Neil, Neil. You really don't believe that a manufactured car is like a digital music file, do you? That digital music is more akin to oxygen?

At the risk of playing devil's avocado, people who have to pay for actual studio time, and, you know, actual musicians and studio staff might see things slightly differently. I love endlessly copyable music as much as the next freetard, but there *is* a cost involved in releasing a record.

Simon Hayes Budgen said...

Fair point, but the difference between a car and music is twofold.

First, the supply of cars is limited, and for a manufacturer, each extra car sold has a quite hefty cost associated with it. A second digital copy of a track adds very little to the cost of manufacture.

And secondly: you *could* theoretically make a record and distribute it for no or very little cost at all, but you'd be hard pressed to make a car with no additional outlay.

And you could argue that some of the best records have been made for very little indeed (Texas Campfire Tapes) while some that have cost a lot of money have been quite poor (Chinese Democracy).

The economics of music - and digital music - are different from the economics of water supplies and manufactured goods. I'm just a bit disappointed when people as smart as Neil Tennant try to argue that the rules of one product sector should apply, automatically, to a totally different product.

Olive said...

I seem to recall an interview in Q with Neil Tennant where he says he 'lay on a sofa in the control room while the synthesisers were programmed' during the recording of 'Actually', so maybe he doesn't have such an iron grip on the purse strings as might be thought.

I take your point on value not being proportional to cost, but Michelle Shocked? Seriously? She nearly put me off Cooking Vinyl for life...

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