Sunday, 23 June 2019

The price for your cheap streaming is...

  On Saturday Anil Prasad of Innerviews, a long standing online music magazine that is always worth reading, posted a series of tweets about streaming. I have banged on about this before here but you can't overstate the problem that moving to streaming is causing for the production of new music. These are the basic figures given by Innerviews, that are easily verifiable elsewhere online.

1 Stream on YouTube = $0.00069 1 Stream on Spotify = $0.00437 1 Stream on Apple Music = $0.00735 1 Stream on Tidal = $0.01250 1 Stream on Amazon Music = $0.00402

And it is all in dollars so for those with currency transactions to worry about the net income is even lower. 

As Prasad points out this explains why the gaps between albums and tours get ever longer. They can't afford it. Elvis may very well be working down the chip shop in fact. An established artist of my acquaintance with 5 gold and platinum discs on his wall spends most of his time working in his wife's craft supplies business as he can make better money packing candles than he can playing music.

Music is more available than at any time due to the internet and mobile phones, but the drive to having a streaming app on every phone and unlimited usage for £10 a month or less will affect the ability to produce new music. You may shrug your shoulders and say so what I only listen to the old stuff, and far too many people do. But to have a sustainable model for creative growth, we need new music coming along, if nothing else to draw new listeners into the back catalogue. People will always want to make music, and the opportunity to do so is greater than ever thanks to the same technology that is restricting the ability to make a career out of it. 

Music as a business is imperiled more than at any other time. Recorded music came along and took over from sheet music as the primary source of income, sheet music replaced performance and patronage and we have now come to the point where the sale of recorded music needs to be replaced as the primary income generator. For a while it looked like patronage was back thanks to crowd funding, but the recent Pledge music debacle (if you don't know about that google Pledge Music Danny Vaughn) has made the customers wary of committing to that. Live music? venues are shutting all over the country, The Borderline in London is only the most high profile, and with ticket prices moving slowly out of reach of regular attendance who knows what will happen to that.

The much reported "end of iTunes" , which is in fact anything but, will drive more people to streaming services which helps the dominant companies of the internet age but at the expense of pretty much everyone else. So if you want to support an artist buy their physical product (CD, LP) or at least their download, but don't think that by streaming their music you are helping.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

More reviews and a radio show

  I was lucky enough to review two really good albums recently over at Americana UK.

W.C.Beck's "First Flight" is fairly standard Alt.Country fare at first listen but reveals it self over time as a properly good album, no filler.

The star turn though is The Alvarez Theory's debut album. If this doesn't crop up on my end of year best of then there will be some truly great albums coming soon. Also the first LP record I have played in about 25 years. The Alvarez Theory, by the way, explains why the Dinosuars died out...

Lastly but by no means leastly Blairs Blues is a roots music show, Americana, Blues and the like, recorded twice a month in Bristol for a Canadian station. You can hear it on Mixcloud here. Blair Chadwick is a good chap to chat to about music as well so please support him.

With all this listening to Americana, I'm confronted by a truth about my music habits. I can't stick to any one thing for long, but the main theme of all this is tunes. I like a decent tune and at the moment roots music seems  to be providing that. The Prog I like is mostly of the shorter more song based variety (can't do ELP), so my new  comment if someone asks what music I like is "anything with a decent tune".

And then a friend persuaded me to try Tom Waits...

Saturday, 25 May 2019

The answer will always be 42...

I'm not sure how I found The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy originally, probably at School, probably someone brought in the novel. I had bought, read, and re-read the novel before I had picked up on the fact that it was a radio show.That meant I was just in time for the repeats of all 12 initial episodes, and I've been listening on and off ever since.

What is the appeal of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, or H2G2 as it will be known from here on in? Douglas Adams had a particular way of writing. If you get it then it is the funniest thing in the world, if you don't you are likely to be shaking your head at the daftness of it all. The sanitised H2G2 film and the Netflix version of Dirk Gently both lose something from trying to be funny for everyone, particularly Americans.

It can be easy to tell an Adams fan, they often, unconsciously I'm sure, end up repeating lines from his work as they are simply great lines to use in many situations. His brief spell working on Dr Who scripts left an indelible impression on his writing, bits of it popped up in H2G2 and Dirk Gently, and on the rebooted Dr Who of recent years. What little humour there is in that is mostly in a style aping Adams. The unfilmed serial "Shada" which he wrote has been completed as an audio drama by Big Finish and was novelised very sympathetically by Gareth Roberts who is clearly a fan. Sadly other Dr Who adaptations are rubbish and should be avoided at all costs.

 According to Adams the answer to everything in the universe is 42, but like most things in the H2G2 no explanation is offered. In the real world Adams when asked why it was 42 just said, "because it is". That sums up most of his work, Why is it funny? Because it is!

25th May is celebrated as Towel Day by Adams fans. Learn more by reading Neil Gaiman's biography and  the great man's work, but stick to the audio versions, the pictures are better.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Americana UK

I've just started writing for the website Americana UK. My first review was a Bluegrass album by Chris Jones and The Night Drivers. Find it HERE


Friday, 19 April 2019

Mark Hollis

When Mark Hollis, passed recently he wasn't someone who moved me to write an obituary. The iPod has "Spirit of Eden" and a Talk Talk best of called "Natural History" which get played occasionally, but it became obvious reading and listening to others talking about him that I had missed the point.

Talk Talk were bracketed early on with the Synth Pop crowd of the early 80s, but there was an organic quality to the sounds even then. The repeating piano motif on Life's What You Make It" pointed the way to the more acoustic feel to follow, all well and good but too much music, too little time...

When I read Nick Zanca's post over at the Listen to This blog I found someone who could articulate what Hollis had meant to him. You can read the whole piece HERE but I will take the liberty of quoting part of it.

'A little over twenty years later, [after the release of the album "Mark Hollis"] the music industry has eaten itself. As a discovery platform, streaming services reduce even the most unorthodox music down to exclusive, rudimentary listening contexts– dinner parties, “mood boosters,” “lo-fi beats to study to”–as if it wasn’t bad enough that they barely compensate. Young artists online hardly thrive, if ever, on transparency and instant validation–to keep your work close to the chest is somehow to become estranged; we assume the role of “wearing” our music beyond simply letting it sing for itself... I’m forever indebted to the standard Mark Hollis set and am inspired to stay true to all of the grey areas. I only hope the people introduced to his work for the first time this week will stumble upon a similar solace.

Zanca also talks about Hollis in relation to Susan Sontag's essay "The Aesthetics Of Silence" which Robert Fripp has also discussed with regard to his approach to Soundscapes. So, needless to say the very next thing I did was buy the "Mark Hollis" album. I would endorse Nick Zanca's final comment in his piece.

'If this is your first listen, wait for a quiet moment to press play. In his [Hollis's] words, “You should never listen to music as background music.'

I suspect I will be playing this many times in future, it's one of those records that makes you feel that listening to the ephemeral fluff that comprises most of popular music is a waste of time. If you don't know this record listen to it soon.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Record Store Day - It's a Niche

In January BBC News added to the hours spent predicting the death of physical sales and bemoaning the rise of streaming. We have also had the collapse and revival of HMV, and seen that also blamed on streaming. As it's Record Store Day again, and once again it's all vinyl, vinyl, vinyl. Time to look at some stats showing the current state of music sales and see how they measure up to the hype.

The headlines always focus on the decline in physical numbers of CD sales and the percentage growth of vinyl sales. In 2018 there were 4.2 million vinyl records sold new, about £60 million worth ^. CD sales were 32 million, while this was a decline in quantity, value held fairly steady at £450 million*.  Downloading took the biggest hit declining to £35 million worth, bearing mind that a lot of these"unit sales" are single songs rather than albums. Streaming music sales pulled in £829 million '. So overall music sales are worth around £1.5 billion. This is a decline of about 41% by value since the peak in 2000.

Some facts:
  • The overall music business is worth about 4.5 billion, with live music, merchandising, exports, and publishing included. Allowing for inflation this is about the same as in 2000. So live music and the rest has grown significantly since then
  • The death of HMV blamed on streaming was in fact about DVD sales collapse, which fell by 45% in 2018~. 
  • The real vinyl revival is in second hand discs, which don't show up in sales figures. Talking to several record shop owners recently suggests that their sales are booming. But then so are their cd sales.
  • Ebay, Discogs & Amazon Marketplace UK used cd sales amounted to nearly £500 million in 2018 ".
The biggest selling albums in the UK in 2018 accordnig to the Official Charts Company by physical & digital sales were:

What does all this tell us?
  • Old folks buy cds, (vinyl in this context is next to non existent), young people buy digital, and Christmas (Now 101) makes a big difference. 
  • Physical sales are more healthy than it seems on first inspection
  • Physical media of all sorts are becoming a niche or hobbyist market. Knitting is worth about £400 million interestingly...
  • HMV with £250 million of sales is critical to the survival of the market, Independent shops prop up the hobby end of the market but don't compete on volume sales
  • The supermarkets (particularly Tesco & Sainsburys) largely exiting the cheap cd market has hit sales but not damaged value much. 
  • The markets for streaming and physical media are almost totally mutually exclusive.
  • Those in their 20s or younger consume music as they do video or games, it isn't "special" to them in the way it is to older demographics
So don't believe the vinyl hype CDs, downloads, and streaming all have their place. The big problem comes in a decade or so when us old people have all stopped buying physical media and the age of music as a mass market medium ends. 

^ Source  - The Vinyl Factory 4.1.19
* Source  - UK Investor magazine 3.1.19
' Source  - Music Business worldwide 3.1.19
~ Source - Variety 9.2.19
" Source - Den Of Geek 12.3.19

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Bristol and Bath boys (and girls) make more noise...

Bristol's music scene, if you think of it at all, probably conjures up Trip Hop, Drum & Bass or if you are a bit older Reggae. Back in my day it was a diverse mix of all sorts of pop, rock, funk and noise.

The year is about 1981 to 83, and my friend Neil and I are as usual in either The Bridge Inn or The Green Rooms at the end of King Street to see one of the local bands. Top of our list were Streets Ahead and Misdemeanor. Streets Ahead a five piece band with quite a varied set of songs. Bluesy poppy, all sorts. They did two EPs, but from memory had better songs in their set, always good value to see but seem to have vanished from the local memory. Unlike Misdemeanor, a genuinely great rock band who should have been contenders. Their leader Kevin McFadden has recently passed away, but leaves two albums that show what could have been without the useless manager and a bit better luck. So, most Saturdays you could see three or four great and a lot more less great bands. Umo Vogue a synth-pop band who attracted a fair bit of interest. Automatic Dlamini who were a truly amazing live act who never got properly recorded.  Polly Harvey joined them later on and the band sort of morphed into P.J. Harvey in the end.

Over in Bath you had Moles where all the cool bands played, including ones that would become Tears For Fears, and a great band now largely forgotten called Interview. There were name bands as well, including one called Discipline who would stop denying they were the 80s incarnation of King Crimson a few gigs later. On the cover of the KC collectors club cd of this date you can even see a picture of a slightly scared looking 17 year old me in the background...  Down at The Bell in Walcot Street there were less well known bands, most of whose names have been lost in the mists of time. One remains however, a synth duo called "Micro" that, rumour had it, included the brother of someone who had been in Tangerine Dream for a bit. Memory has them as sounding great, but as the internet is silent about even their existence I can't tell you much more.

Why the nostalgia? A while ago an acquaintance pointed me towards a book called "The Granary Club: The Rock Years 1969-1988" by one time local rock DJ Al Read. Wallowing in the past sent me to look for more and I found Richard Wyatt's list of gigs he attended, many of which I was also at I'm sure. Another friend who played in a leading local band at the time has talked fondly about many similar memories to mine, he gets numerous mentions in the gig list in the Granary book, to my three.

The best book on being in a band is Giles Smith's "Lost In Music". Giles was in Bristol at some point in the 80s and we must have met, as he mentions people who are clearly mutual acquaintances. If you were ever in a band, wanted to be in a band or went to see bands, read it.

I will get back to the subject of local bands, and my part in some of the most appalling noise ever inflicted on unsuspecting ears. I may even tell you about how I got my Wikipedia entry on a famous band's page...