Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Was Lars Ulrich Right?

Short answer: yes*

I had one of those music business epiphanies the other day while surfing YouTube. Someone posted a full-production Metallica concert recently—a live show from earlier this year in Las Vegas. I skipped through it, reminiscing the late ‘80s headbanger scene. They looked great, sounded great, and performed well. Still got it! But (and there’s always the but), the video was probably a serious copyright violation, and knowing Lars Ulrich’s litigious history in that arena, there was a smattering of guilt involved should I decide to sit and watch the whole thing. Sure, everyone does it. It wasn’t the first or last time I caught clips of the bands I dig. It made me think about the big picture though. Well, that combined with the quantum shift in music business.

source: Digital Music News

 I Ain’t Got No Money…

With the exception of the entrenched megastars, a few dozen label-manufactured pop artists, and a handful of true originals, hardly anyone is maintaining viable career as a recording/touring artist, let alone a journeyman professional. Compare today’s numbers with the ‘70s. Sales of recordings on the whole are dwindling, touring profits have dried up (even with reduced production), clubs with stages are closing, and youth interest is waning (a falsehood?). Who can blame the lack of interest if your best aspirations are akin the life and income of a transient carny? Let me get back to Metallica, though. The mess musicians are now experiencing is perhaps attributed to a problem that incited those infamous legal rants by its drummer—the silent guy sitting behind everyone else.

Lars

If you’re not familiar with Lars Ulrich, he’s Metallica’s founding drummer and a Thrash pioneer. Maybe not your cuppa, but I have respect for his honesty and statue as an influential drummer. Similarly to Keith Moon, Lars would be the first to tell you he’s no chopmaster, nor did he ever have aspirations to be a drummer’s drummer. He simply wanted to be Metallica’s drummer. Goal achieved. There is, however, the other side of Lars that most causal listeners might not be aware of: the business side. He is also known for moonlighting as their business manager. In the early days, that is. James Hetfield (lead singer and guitarist) once mentioned in an interview that part of the band’s success came from delegation of the many different jobs associated with a successful band to its member’s strengths. Lars’ acumen happens to be business. So…what happened with him?

Public the Ripper

*Rewind to late 1999. Napster. Remember them? They were a file sharing service that hosted copyrighted content on their own servers. D’oh! Metallica and several other artists filed lawsuits and, along with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), they were shut down. All that did was legally define technology for file sharing, which was handily circumvented by the likes of Limewire’s peer-to-peer services (later busted) and now the raging torrents that rule illegal file sharing today.  The genie’s out of the bottle, certainly, so do you try putting it back in? That’s what Ulrich attempted, and he paid a hefty price with his fans. How could the anti-establishment become so greedy?

Greed? I think Lars nailed it with this statement: “People used the word ‘greed’ all the time, which was so bizarre. The whole thing was about one thing and one thing only – control. Not about the internet, not about money, not about file sharing, not about giving s— away for free or not, but about whose choice it was. If I wanna give my s— away for free, I’ll give it away for free. That choice was taken away from me.”

But… music should be free, right? Isn’t that what the public decrees? As it turns out, no, it should not.

The Price Paid

Check these 2014 STATS:

- According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 39,260 people in the United States classified as "Musicians and Singers."  This is down by 27% from 53,940 in 2002. (source: Digital Music News)

- According to the Nashville Songwriters Association International, the number of full-time songwriters in Nashville has dropped by 80% since 2000. This was a new low point since data started tracking in 1991. (source: Digital Music News)

Anecdotally, an acquaintance lamented across one of the local musician forums that he could no longer support himself—let alone his family—with his music profession. He’s now looking for another job. A consummate professional with a lengthy performance and instruction background? He plays as many dates as he can along with a thousand other professionals—all vying for gigs that are both disappearing and/or compensating less. Why? Older married couples don’t have the time for live music (“..been there…and what’s new, anyway?”) and the millennials generally aren’t interested real honest-to-God live music. Just ask any wedding planner. Many of these people value half-melted ice sculptures and uplighting more than a live band. (“Just download it and play it on a PA…it’s the same, right?”). Okay, that’s sort of tangential to the recording industry, but it trickles down to the little guys attempting to make a living off of people who value live performance. The previous example used a typical local club/wedding player. What about touring pros? I don’t know if there were other considerations (creative, personal, etc), but when Spock’s Beard’s longtime frontman, Nick D’Virgilio, quit in 2011—stating that he couldn’t support his family—that hit home hard. Here’s a guy with decent discography and plays globally in medium venues (1,000 to 2,500+ seats). He can’t scratch a decent living on that? Yikes! (He still records and tours occasionally, but his anchor is now a sales job at Sweetwater). Seriously, it’s discouraging.

Music Business?

It would appear that the entire industry is in a death spiral from lack of financial health to lack of entrepreneurial creativity.

In essence here’s what happened: Before the golden age of record sales, live performances were the best way to hear a musical act. Once the fidelity of the recordings matched or bested the live listening experience, creating a new experience altogether, record labels spared no expense on promoting a tour to bolster those record sales. That’s when concerts became shows. Once file sharing took off, record sales plummeted along with corresponding profits, ergo less tour production budget. (You’ll notice the big pop acts selling tons of recordings still put on big productions). So now, the bands are simply gracing a stage to play their music—a concert with considerably less show. Touring is still the major component of a recording star’s income, but that is also on the downswing. Lack of interest?

The Lie—It’s About Access

I mentioned earlier that youth interest in music is waning. That’s a fib, actually. Well, sort of. The chart at the top of this article would have folks believe that file sharing and piracy were the major culprits in declining sales. Certainly, downloading and streaming have cut into traditional deliveries, but it’s the entitlement and access factors that I believe to be the major culprits. Sharing, piracy, and lethargic enforcement are the results. Cyclical doom.

Music has never been more popular across all demographics. It’s in everything we do, TV, apps, games, contests, school bands, garage bands, talent shows, cars, restaurants, theaters, toilets…list goes on. And consider that today's teenagers grew up in a completely plugged-in era (more on this below). The problem is the ECON 101. Large supply, large demand, little valuation. Musicians are everywhere. Good ones too. Recording studios are everywhere. Also good, and now quite cheap. You can make a quality recording in your bedroom or on the back of a bus! Don’t know how? Learn on YouTube. There’s no shortage of instructional videos for pretty much anything there. In fact, YouTube has become quite a valuable tool in almost every trade. And that brings me full circle to my opening quandary with copyrighted material so readily available on sites such as YouTube—sites that justify and defend themselves with endless legal disclaimers.

As much as I hate to be a Lars and say it, I think there exists a high degree of entitlement to free content stolen from artists. That entitlement devalues them. As much as YouTube and other exhibition sites hide behind lengthy terms of service statements—the extreme legalese nobody reads or largely understands—they are ultimately responsible for their users that violate copyrights. Problem is, for now, I just don’t see how they can police it without shutting down. Everyone loses. Okay, maybe not everybody. The websites make advertising money on the traffic, and well, I did see part of a Metallica concert I would not have seen unless I bought a ticket. I'm still a fan, but that doesn't pay Metallica's bills. For all the good that YouTube does, there is the dark side of it.

Overexposed Much?

A person can pretty much post anything on a social network until there’s an official complaint or public mandate. These are cases of “we’re responsible for what others post on our site, and we will remove it if there’s a problem.” So, they’ve become sites that copyright holders (content providers) must investigate regularly? I don’t believe that’s quality prevention from YouTube and many other sites, not that they are genuinely interested in prevention. They want as many attractors as legally possible, right? Whatever the tussle, it’s not fair to the artists who must now use expensive production time in fraud detection. Where’s the deterrent? Hmmm…. It seems nobody wants to be the bad guy, least of all the artists.

So, what’s to become of the music business?

My guess is that we’re at a time where consumer desires and lackluster sales transform the industry. I’m not exactly sure what direction the changes will take, but it must change. My personal fantasy has music returning to detailed conception and showmanship—acts improving their game by offering truly unique sonic experiences that can’t be downloaded or streamed in low-fi to be properly enjoyed. “You gotta see them!” Maybe the recordings themselves make return to high fidelity? “You gotta hear this!” What’s worth the price of my coin? If it sounds like it was made in a bedroom…well, you see my point. It may sound terrific on the tin cans of an iPhone, but what about a real listening room?

If you look at streaming stats, you might think it not important. Streaming now comprises about a third of all music sales, according to the RIAA. I’d like to think that streaming is actually an FM radio replacement for casual listeners, and not a preferred listening experience. Who’s to say? Quantity over Quality? Hmmm...

A Cult of Personality Problem or Poor Creativity?

Take a look at these links and see if any of it rings a bell:



In previous blogs, I’ve posted the gripes of other artists: Ian Anderson, Gene Simmons, Tony Bennett, etc. The list of malcontents is growing, but I have to wonder what they think of consumer demand. My guess is they would accuse today's youth of blissful ignorance, but my second guess would look at the average age of the complainers.

And what about file sharing and piracy? Maybe YouTube and other social outlets will get busy defending copyrighted material after a costly legal fight. Maybe a new detection and tracing technology scares the poo out of peer-to-peer file pirates. Or maybe a third-party solution such as Rightscorp is the way to go (similar to a bill collector). Or perhaps international laws become enforceable in prosecuting copyright and patent violators. Ha! That’s what it would take, but… It’s a long road.

Five Random Thoughts:


2) Gotye comes to mind as a modern networking success story, and perhaps Bruno Mars represents the traditional path. Bruno’s a hard-working performer who interested a major label because he’s good. There simply aren’t many of those going around these days. Those two artists might have The Police in common, and there’s an entire discussion there, but I would believe that it would culminate with familiarity—safe marketing as opposed to risk-taking A&R. The book industry has undergone the same transition. Safe bets on celebrity-derived tomes or impactful current affairs, that’s it. New novelists’ query letters reside en masse in the wastebaskets of Madison Avenue (where most of America’s publishing agents roost).

3) Should part-timers like me quit? Nah. Adapt, adapt, adapt! (and wait for the legal solution to materialize)

4) What’s the next popular genre? If there’s one constant, it’s that popular music is constantly redefined by the young, and the other age groups stick to what they knew when they were young. But…

5) I was given a ray of hope this past year, overhearing not one, but two separate conversations involving teenagers stating that, with a few exceptions, today’s music is junk; “my parents collection is much better” (referencing the 1970s and ‘80s). Agreed!


Fahrvergscrewin’

I just don’t know how Volkswagen will survive it. If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, you might know that I am, or was, sort of a fan of the company’s products. The diesel fuel consumption figures and available options lauded in Europe, I mean, were simply outstanding. Now, I fathom that those figures are in fact questionable due to the consideration that they might have been achieved by onboard computers easing the restriction on carbon emissions. Yikes. All those customers—millions of them worldwide—deceived by a company preaching the Green. Unreal.

Damages? I suppose the first order will be to reprogram (flash) or replace the onboard engine management computers. That likely means less performance, so now it means that VW sold products which don’t meet the advertised performance figures. Many won’t like that. I wouldn’t. The cars will certainly be devalued, and the owners might be stuck with them. VW can’t afford to buy them all back. What to do?

There Will Be Lawsuits

Unbelievable lawsuits. We’re talking multiple class actions from consumers all over the planet, not to mention gargantuan fines from the many offended governments with needy treasuries. Yes, VW must pay and pay dearly. But to what extent? Should it be dissolved and thousands of jobs tossed? I suppose the other car manufacturers won't mind the loss of a major competitor, but what about the consumers? What about the workers with families to support? Should they be made to suffer for the actions of a few dozen? Hundreds? How many knew?

No Golden Parachutes.  Give Them Iron!

I’ve known a few sociologists who simply don’t believe in deterrents. I believe in deterrents, wholeheartedly. Why should ex-VW CEO Martin Winterkorn escape with a fat severance package when he should instead face prison? Is that the preferred modus in modern society? It shouldn’t be. Well…>IF< he knew about the emissions avoidance.  My guess is: he’ll face a grueling interrogation for the cameras, then disappear to some whitewashed Greek idyll. Nice deterrent. He should start a file sharing site.

Now What?

It’s tough to say how or if VW will survive. My guess is they will somehow gloss this over with slick damage control, promising to right the wrongs and play nice with the consumers’ damages. Congressional hearings will ensue—public anger management by finger waving representatives.  “Shame on you Volkswagen!” BP comes to mind, here. Thing is, did any of them see the inside of a prison?

To the many VW owners affected by this egregious fraud, I hope you’re compensated properly. Not just an apology and a recall, but a punitive award that covers your anger and your pocketbook.

As for me, no more serenades for VW efficiency. Fool me once…


Snap Out of Depression, Baby

A personal congratulations to new author Ray B. Rogers on the recent publishing of Depression Baby! Some may perceive no shortage in the anthropological and colloquial documentation of Appalachian life—from the time of colonization through today—but there can be simply be no less weight given to a mountain man (note: not hillbilly!) born to a long-gone era who took the time to put official ink to paper. Who else could (or would!) relate historically relevant anecdotes ranging from applied macroeconomics of Depression-era federal policies and their effects on mountain civics, to the hardships of familial mountain life—farm chores and technologies, the ways they passed time, the foods (including the adhesive qualities of pressure-detonated rice!), the architecture, the horticulture… the list goes on and on. Ray does a fabulous job of voicing his book as though he’s sitting across from you at the breakfast table, slathering a wood oven-baked buttermilk biscuit with his favorite apple butter. You can almost smell it in the pages he wrote.

Thank you for writing it, Mr. Rogers. Without folks like you taking the time and effort, our finer history might be lost.

Check out Depression Baby on AMAZON’s Kindle, or grab a collectable hardcover on LULU. If you want the real personal touch, order an autographed hardback directly from Ray himself at www.RayBRogers.com.  And don’t forget to follow him on social media!







A Parting Thought…

I caught an interview with Buzz Aldrin recently. I think it was Gear Knob presenter James May that conducted it a few years ago. Nice piece. It reminded me of the late 1960s—early ‘70s when I was just a hopeful lad. One of Aldrin’s lines was “…a time where anything was possible.” I still want to believe that we still live in a time where anything is possible. Certainly, it is, but lately one gets the sense that we are missing a certain level of optimism. When asked about returning to the moon, so many seem to say “meh” instead of “cool!” Maybe they deserve an Aldrin Knuckle Sammich, too.



Thank God for folks like Elon Musk and Sir Richard Branson—those inspired to TRY for greatness. More of them, please!

/T

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

How Many Spaces?



<cue David Bowie’s Fashion>
Turn to the left…

The Debate on Form:  One Lump or Two?

I’m not much for commentary on typesetting because frankly, after you’ve completed a few dozen solar orbits, you’ll notice that the appearance of the written word is a matter of Fashion de Jour.  This go-round, I’ve been handed the quandary of spacing after a sentence (AKA “full stop”). 



“Why two?” 

While my contemporaries insist on a single space—and I mean all of them, from other novelists and typesetters, to fresh professors citing the latest style manuals (APA excepted)—my former instructors, who are all elder folks shackled to their IBM Selectric typewriters, demanded two, else red ink shall flow.  I am middle-aged, therefore this occurred from high school through college.  In a couple cases, even recently.  “For the love of God, why are you publishing with two spaces?!”

“It reads better.”

That’s what they all said.  APA cites this in their latest manual, and I happen to agree.  (Isn’t it ironic that physicians demand better readability?)  Two spaces work especially well if you’re fast-scanning especially thick tomes.  Well, it actually depends on the font and its kerning (the space between characters).  Some fonts I see online look horrid with one space.  Others, innocuous.  Style.

There are voluminous diatribes posted why two spaces were needed not too awfully long ago, and why one space is the new standard.  I enjoyed this one, and its follow-up, especially.  On first sight, you are dull and middle-aged if one of those entitled millennial editors get ahold of your manuscript.  Nothing like a good brow-beating to start your day.  I liken it to sitting at the Queen of England’s dinner table and being chided for ignorance of specialized tableware.  Thanks for the port glass education, Your Majesty, can we eat now?  Ah, but the likely reason is economics.  Publishers like saving paper.  Less space equals less paper.  How about adding a sixteenth to the margin?  Typesetting.  Proportional.  Monospace.  Style. Truth be told, zero feedback exists for spacing on any of my texts, so it’s probably critical to editors only.  GenPop could care less. 

I am the Reek of Two Spaces—tortured to its submission, tortured to redemption.

So, perhaps I need to give the relative noobs an ear and provide what they want—what seemingly the entire world demands: one space.  I’m not going to fight it, just like I’m not going to detonate while reading someone else’s scrawl—rife with uncommon flatware—beginning sentences with conjunctions, awkward had hads, and placing prepositions at the end of them.  And, emoticons! This includes my own. ;)  One space... 

There, how does that look? Better? Me? I’m in mourning. I’m also relearning how to type. But I’ll get over it. And thanks, young people.

Up next, Serial Comma Killers and Preposition H.



New Music?

Something else I don’t normally do is publically plug sales items for friends. You know, products, especially art products, are highly subjective consumables. Any endorsement carries intrinsic risks.

“You like THAT?”

I like a lot of things. That’s what makes the world go round.

Timothy P. Green (TPG) is about to release a new album. By new, I mean it’s not the formulaic, computer-manufactured derivative booty-pop gracing the radio. Wait. Radio? People still listen to static? I meant to say, “…gracing global media outlets.” There, that’s better. Avanti!

TPG’s approach is a fresh reminder of those fun, eccentric ‘70s and ‘80s male vocalists ala Steely Dan, Talking Heads, The Tubes, The Cars, and Bowie. TPG’s roster is chock full of Atlanta’s best performers too, so there’s no shortage of ear candy. Great stuff! Well, at least in my opinion.

WELL!

Check it out:


Get release updates and a different free digital single HERE: www.TimothyPGreen.net


Now on to a serious note…
(is this allowed?)


Who’s Winning the Race?

So much vitriolic nonsensical ignorance on the internet, it’s miracle you made it to this article without being bombarded by political jabs, 21st Century Snake Oil (penis enlargement “meds”), told your love life stinks, or guilted for pacifism. Ah…the internet.

“If you don’t have anything nice to say…”

That’s most of us, I think. The only defensive weapon if you want to play here is your own logic. I believe most reasonable people have the capacity to filter a truth, a hypocrisy, and deviance. Even better if they can detect motive and conclude a clear agenda. Or is it a case of simple mass hysteria? Junk mail, mostly. Junk reporting too. Click bait, all.

Regarding the tragic murder of nine innocent, law-abiding worshipers in Charleston, South Carolina, my observations tell me there is a coordinated distraction in play. It’s heartbreaking to witness, too—the fomenters of subversion via hate, chaos, misdirection, and propaganda. Is that William Randolph Hearst grinning down there? Probably. So, what happened?

In summary:

  • It wasn’t a flag, it was dropping out of the 9th grade and becoming a loner.
  • It wasn’t a flag, it was reportedly enduring an abusive father and a bitter divorce.
  • It wasn’t a flag, it was a history of toxic SSRI drugs and drug abuse.
  • It wasn’t a flag, it was insatiable jealousy after reportedly losing his crush to a black guy.
  • It wasn’t a flag, it was a flagrant FBI background check FAIL.
  • It wasn’t a flag, it was some screwed up, desensitized, angry, unloved kid who exhibits every classic trait of an anarchistic mass killer.

Solution?

Take down a flag.

You win, society.

(Please do not mistake the above as defense for the racist-used history of a certain Confederate flag. My sarcasm is aimed at the carefully executed misdirection of public attention away from simple, factual truths evident in this case. Questions about Dylan Storm Roof have largely been deferred. For example, why was his Facebook populated with many African-American friends?)

So apparently, everything is offensive to everyone now. Nothing is off-limits if you don’t like it. You’re probably offended just reading this! That’s okay. I jest. Flags of the Confederacy belong in places of proper context: museums, monuments, reenactments, rebel redneck T-shirts (‘cause you can’t tell who they are otherwise, right?), and the roof of the General Lee. They should not belong to hate groups or symbolize the act of one heinous moron. I just wanted to get that off my chest. The South must not forget why it lost.

I’ve been saddened lately by the destruction of important ruins and artifacts by the so-called Islamic State (oops, probably get another ping by Homeland). If ISIS doesn’t like something, their solution is to kill it off—total destruction. No making peace with it or learning its entire history, just do away with it entirely. It never happened. (Just like all the double spaces I’m having to correct, and Blogger deletes them anyway). The same phenomena is occurring in America’s southeast. Okay, it hasn’t quite happened fully yet, but there have been calls for it. Erase Stone Mountain? Digging up Confederate soldiers? Where does it end?

Tough question, but I think the answer begins with calculated media-stoking and hypocrisy. Can you tell when it’s occurring? Perhaps if we’re truly going to homogenize race in America, then we will need to eradicate every single reference to it. No more checkboxes on government questionnaires, no more color descriptions on police reports, no ethnic organizations allowed (KKK, NAACP, et al), and no ethnic-targeted businesses (BET, Univision), just to name a few. It’s not impossible to make that happen; it’s simply unlikely. Polarization sells. This is a timeless maxim the poor and uneducated never digest, the reasonable middle classes generally ignore, and the power-elite vigorously exploits. If you can’t change that, what do you change? My advice? Change the channel. Tune out.

<click>

There, that feels better. Now, about these dear, poor victims in Charleston who embraced their murderer while they prayed. Remember them, and remember the real reason why they were killed—why many mass shootings have occurred lately—a messed up, unloved kid on drugs, stoked by sensationalized media, and surrounded by people in disbelief. That’s where it ends.

/T

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Rock n Roll HOF Update

Just keeping tabs since my 2011 complaint post.


While I'm pleased the Hall has made progress in the past few years, it still has a long, long way to go.  I am reminded of this by the untimely passing of the great Chris Squire—the monumentally influential bassist for Yes.  He should have lived to see their honor. 

AC/DC Iron Butterfly Phil Collins
A-ha Iron Maiden Rush
Bad Company Jethro Tull Steppenwolf
Barry White Jimmy Buffet Steve Miller Band
Blue Oyster Cult Joan Baez Stevie Ray Vaughn
Bon Jovi Joan Jett Supertramp
Bryan Adams Joe Cocker Ted Nugent
Cheap Trick Journey The B-52s
Cher Judas Priest The Carpenters
Chicago Kansas The Cars
Deep Purple KC and the SB The Clash
Def Leppard King Crimson The Cure
Depeche Mode KISS The Doobie Brothers
Devo Kool and the Gang The Guess Who
Dire Straits Little Feat The Moody Blues
Duran Duran Meatloaf The Scorpions
ELO Motley Crue Thin Lizzy
ELP Motorhead Toto
Eurythmics Ozzy Osbourne UB40
Foreigner Pat Benetar Warren Zevon
George Thorogood+ Pet Shop Boys Yes
Gloria Estefan Peter Frampton Had enough?
Hall and Oates Peter Gabriel
Heart


Some surprises:

2012:  Beastie Boys and Guns n Roses inducted.  Seriously, how does this happen?  Those two groups had a couple hit albums each, but deserving entry before the others above?

2013: Rush and Heart.  Finally, but Public Enemy?

2014: Nirvana, The East Street Band,, Hall and Oates, Kiss, Peter Gabriel, and Linda Ronstadt, among others.

2015:  Ringo Starr, Joan Jett, Lou Reed, SRV, Bill Withers.  Green Day?

Granted, there are quite a few bands not listed above.  The HOF recognizes many from the doo-wop era likely unknown to you.  So, who are your picks for 2016?  Mine?  Hmmm...  Rock n Roll HOF... Rock..hmmm. I'm thinking about popularity, career longevity, influence and originality.  Aren't those the main criteria?

Out of all those listed above, who could possibly be more deserving of ROCK fame than AC/DC?  After that, YES, Iron Maiden, Phil Collins, Jimmy Buffet, The Doobie Brothers, Cher and Chicago.  Emerson, Lake, and Palmer close behind.

One of your favorites missing?  Check with rockhall.com


T. Nelson Taylor | Official Site | DusT | Bolita