Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Sound Of The Suburbs

The other night, while watching a favourite TV programme, a new (well, to my eyes anyway) level of advertiser’s intrusiveness was laid in front of us; the consumers curled up on the comfy sofa.

The commercial break was, as usual, annoying enough since it – again, as usual – interrupted the programme’s flow. But, it was what followed said commercial break that proved so aggravating because it appears that advertisers now feel we – the viewers / the consumers – can be devalued by a new treat from their bag of tricks.

And this new indulgence of theirs is..?

Well, the programme in question kicked off again… but… placed at the bottom left of the screen occupying (at a rough guess) approximately ten percent of the physical screen-space… was a run-on of one of the previous advertisements.

And, this animated mini-ad remained in situ for the entire duration of that segment of the programme.

With its’ positioning, one’s eye cannot help but be drawn to what is going on at the bottom left-hand-corner of the screen. Clever in one respect but exasperating and deeply annoying in another since this particular ad takes up just enough screen-room to intrude into what is actually going on in the programme one has tuned in to view.

Did it work, did this advert communicate its message? Did it bollox.

Lets take another quick example – which, according to Steve Purdham (CEO of an internet music streaming service in the UK called We7) is tied up in something he likes to call ‘dwell-time’. This (apparently – yeah, I know, it’s a laughable phrase, isn’t it) is the time one spends on site X or Y ‘engaging’ or ‘interacting’ with what they – the provider – have to offer.

Bypassing the corporate bullshit speak, it links into how they – the advertisers – can specifically target their audience. This is done via all the ‘bots’ out there that track one’s movements on the web (and there are more than anyone even imagines – hence new legislation in progress to combat big brother’s snooping tactics).

Clever… for sure it is. But… what actually happens is that one is continually being bombarded with advertisements that, because of their intrusive nature, are now having very little effect.

The other day, I was prowling about on the wibbly-wobbly after information and eventually linked in to an instructional video for a particular PhotoShop CS5 element I was having trouble grasping. But, before my cyber-teacher and I could ‘engage’, I was subjected to a thirty second advert.

The same goes for (herewith just another random example) tuning in to view a BBC video news feed off their site. Sorry chaps… I do NOT want to watch thirty or even fifteen seconds of advertising before I get to the news item in question.

So, all you advertising wallahs out there… know what happens…? I’ll go and stick the kettle on while your beastly advert plays out. And, quite honestly, I don’t think I’m alone in this.

Y’see, this little Voltaire out there on its grassy knoll in the windswept prairie reckons this (new) level of intrusive advertising is completely counter-productive. And, it ain’t the way forward for this medium.

Advertising is and has – for as long as anyone who reads this can remember – been part of the daily function of our lives. No big deal… it’s just a part of modern life.

However… with the economic world still grappling with being part of the new Millennium, the advertising agencies are trawling the depths of the barrel marked ‘new ideas’ as to how to get their messages across.

Some – indubitably – work brilliantly; lets take the Nike ‘swoosh’ logo as one example… its just an image, a graphic, an emblem and yet… gradually its seeped into the public consciousness and its now known the world over for what it is. No need for ramming the word Nike down anyone’s throat; no need for copyrighters’ silly tag-lines… just the graphic unobtrusively positioned. Very clever

Rapha (purveyors of top-of-the-line cycling clothing) are another such. It’s a brand created by Simon Mottram and he’s very cleverly positioned his company as much by subliminal advertising as by generating high-quality apparel that is and yet doesn’t appear to be branded (much like Nike).

One’d have thought that the market for cycling and accessories (clothing being a key component) would be limited. Not so. Mintel (as quoted in The Independent on November 4th) have stated it is worth 700 million (yes… million) squiddlys in the UK alone. And, in 2011 it’ll be even higher.

Among the (many) component factors that have clearly helped are the Manx Missile’s exploits in the Tour making front page news to the Boris-bikes initiative; from Briton’s winning a sack-full of medals at the last Olympics to people in general getting the message that getting out and about on your bike is a good step forward to being healthy.

And Mottram and his Rapha brand are not just riding the crest of that wave but expanding step by step internationally. And doing so exceedingly cleverly; while the US is now their biggest market he’s recently brought in a chap previously at Adidas to spearhead their forays into Europe.

The other day, I was out and about in a bit of a shopping frame of mind – perusing the wares on offer in a sports emporium; a shop that offered (across its four floors) everything one’d require if one was a real back-packer to gadgets designed to get the very best out of a snorkeling experience; from football strips in one’s favourite team colours to hiking boots and biking gear; from tennis racquets to rugby balls.

And… ploughing along the rails of replica cycling team-jerseys one stood out from the rest. It was off-white with the maker’s (team) logo discreetly positioned over the left breast in a silvery-white. From a distance, it looked like a simple off-white cycling jersey. Close up, the cleverness of the design became apparent.

How can white on white work..? Well… let me assure you, this did… it was exceedingly cool… and, not to put too fine a point on it, this Rapha jersey was the absolute puppy’s privates. Had I the spare wherewithal, I’d have had the plastic swiped and the item in a carrier bag with no hesitation.

In design terms, retro-chic is, I believe, the adjectival expression.

And, retro-chic that’s classy as opposed to the shoddy stab at the same genre by the designers of Team Sky’s dreadful 2010 outfit which, incidentally, hung alongside the Rapha jersey on the same clothing rail.

In 1930, Jose Ortega was quoted saying, "We live at a time when man believes himself fabulously capable of creation but he does not know what to create."

The same rings true today. We’re in the middle of a(nother) industrial revolution… and, just because there are different variants on advertising delivery / brand-awareness now available, it doesn’t follow that the model of twenty or thirty years ago will work.

While those that do embrace it will succeed, equally, its time that advertisers (in general) woke up and got smart to the fact that they’re simply pissing off potential customers – otherwise and before too long, someone smart will set up a pay-wall behind which people who don’t want to be intruded upon can retreat and not be subjected to what is, nowadays, advertising harassment.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Remake Remodel

So… to use (loathsome) modern music-biz parlance, Michael Jackson’s ‘new single’ Breaking News has… dropped.

And, dear reader, I have to inform you that... to all intents and purposes, it’s a bonafide turd.

It opens with 35 seconds of, poorly cobbled-together, spoken ‘news reporting headlines’ (eg: More allegations against the King Of Pop; Another lawsuit against Michael Jackson etc etc) played through static as if the listener was twisting the dial on an old fashioned radio.

Tellingly… the word unauthorised is used repeatedly.

Then, Jackson himself – so we’re led to believe – steps up the plate at 54 seconds in over a piss-poor breaking news (sic) shufflebeat accompanied by sampled violins with the opening line of: "Everybody wanting a piece of Michael Jackson; Every reporter stalking the moves of Michael Jackson; Just when you thought he was done; He comes to give it again," And, in the next line the singer mentions his (own) obituary.

And, it may well be – although probably not the one that he’d have liked.

Because… to the ears of this Voltaire out on its grassy knoll on the world-wide-windswept prairie, this doesn’t much sound like Michael Jackson singing before he entered or from beyond the grave.

It actually sounds like one of two things: either a very average MJ impersonator – you know the ones… young lads who appear of programmes like X-Factor and other rubbish TV like that. They’re all dressed up, their hair is done just so, they’ve practiced the moves, privately, in front of a bedroom mirror for months using a hairbrush as a microphone and someone, somewhere has said… ‘hey son, for you… Opportunity Knocks’.

Generally speaking, they disappear into the oblivion from whence they came.

Either that or this is conceivably a rough demo containing (probably) a guide vocal together with a 'rough arrangement' that a ‘producer’ has gotten a hold of and… ‘produced’.

According to Michael Jackson dot com, the song was cut during 2007 by someone called Eddie Cascio at his home in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey; ma and pa Cascio are, apparently, restaurant owners who specialize in Italian cuisine and gave their son his start in music by funding his piano lessons. Beats beating out pizza dough.

Graduating from Drew University, Cascio – via family connections – started writing for the New York based publishing company Sony / ATV Music before founding his own production company Angelikson Music and going on to work with the likes of Luther Vandross, Usher and NSYNC. And, apparently, Jacko tipped up in late ’07 chez Cascio and… laid down a few tunes.

However… and I confess to finding this pretty extraordinary, these ‘tracks’ that Cascio allegedly ‘produced’ of Jacko’s lay dormant (undiscovered / un-talked of) when Jackson’s estate recently concluded a deal with Sony – reportedly for 200 million dollars.

Hmmm… the woodwork squeaks and out come the freaks.

Sony have issued a press-statement that contains one or two interesting ‘wordings’ together with committing the cardinal sin within any media-release – that of using adjectival language. For example they state that this posthumous album (entitled Michael) is ‘much anticipated’. Is it…? That should be down to the public to decide, should it not?

Be that as it may, they also state that the album will be released by Epic in conjunction with the Estate Of Michael Jackson. Frankly as it should be but… how do they now quantify Jackson’s mother (Katherine) using the word fake (according to news sources) when discussing this posthumous album project (from which this track is culled) with… yes, you guessed – and who else but… Oprah Winfrey.

Indeed, TMZ are also reporting Prince and Paris (two of Jackson’s children) stating that they do not believe the vocals on parts of the album are their father’s.

Reading a bit further into Sony / Epic’s mdia-release we learn that: “Breaking News,” a never heard before song by Michael that appears on the new album was recorded in New Jersey in 2007 and recently brought to completion (my italics).

Aha… and therein lies the rub, the nub of the whole matter.

Clearly, even Sony / Epic are admitting that a producer has gotten a hold of this and… produced it.

Poorly at that.

IF it had the kudos of (say) someone with credentials such as Quincy Jones or even Will.I.Am then I should imagine people would take this posthumous offering a lot more seriously.

Do I have any authority to offer that as an opinion? Actually, yes I do.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been working on a number of tracks exactly as that – the only difference being that the artist with whom I’ve been working is very much alive.

Nevertheless, his view – to which I heartily subscribe – is as follows: while previously unheard track X or Y has value to the consumer within the context of an artist’s full body of work and therefore should be cleaned up and brought to the sonic standards people expect to hear in 2010; demos and especially those with guide vocals are best left as they were actually recorded. They are snapshots in time – and therefore should be left as exactly that.

Plus – although this was many years ago, I did have the singular pleasure of meeting the King Of Pop. We stood side by side in the gentleman’s urinals at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London when the annual BRIT Awards were hosted there. As his Giant Haystacks-sized minder guarded the door, we acknowledged the other’s presence by a simple nod of the head and got on the with business in hand (sic), staring at the white marble straight ahead, as gentlemen are won’t to do in such circumstances.

IF it began life as that, Breaking News probably sounded pretty interesting as a work-in-progress demo but now its been produced (with or without his own vocals) it sounds like extraneous matter within the largely formidable cannon of Jacko’s main body of work.

As it has been presented, "Breaking News" is the audio equivalent of a badly photoshopped picture.

And the thing is with turds… no matter how hard one tries, they cannot be polished.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Don’t Bang The Drum

A few days ago, dear old Auntie BBC broadcast the first in their series of Electric Proms performances – the mighty Leon Russell musically re-united with Sir Reg of Pinner - live and direct from The Roundhouse.

Not only was one able to view Sir Reg’s hair-extensions as well as LR’s monumental white beard in High Definition but, one could – if one chose to – listen along in equally HD sound via the BBC's I-Player.

And I most certainly did. Not once but quite a few times – perfect music-while-you-work fodder. A few bits, frankly, didn’t bear repeated listens but… most certainly some of the stuff that featured more LR than EJ did.

And… it got me thinking… wouldn’t it be great to have an audio souvenir of that evening at The Roundhouse. Not least, as I know that stuff up on the old I-Player gadget is only available for a while, ie its time specific.

So… how would I listen to my favourite bits in, say, a couple of months time?

One phone call to the audio-equivalent of Dr Watson, located a couple of parishes away, three emails later and a bit more Holmes-like investigation on the wibbly-wobbly, and… a rather splendid solution presented itself.

Its a gadget called Audio Hijack.

And, while its perfectly legal, its one of the scariest things I’ve seen on the web.

In brief, no audio recording out there available to listen to via wibbly-wobbly land is safe.

Audio Hijack takes but a few moments to download… Since I was in pure research mode I went for the freebie variant but, if you want all the bells and whistles, it comes at a price (about 20 squiddlys).

Installation is a doddle… a simple case of dragging the App into one’s App folder and the regulation double-click and bingo… you’re ready to go. Obviously I didn’t read the help-file or on-line manual… that’s a bit like reading the instructions on an Ikea shelving unit… hardly manly, is it? Plus, that’s why hammers were invented.

Anyway… I figured I’d try it out…

I called up Sir Reg and Mister White Beard via the BBC’s I-Player thingie, set the slide-control to a particular track I like and… pressed the button marked record. Music, maestro please… but, to be honest, I wasn’t quite sure if I was listening (again) to the tune I’d chosen or if I was listening to it as being recorded by this gadget.

Pressed stop at the end as gales of applause from The Roundhouse hit the headphones and… drat, nope, must have fucked up somewhere as no MP3 file was in sight. Hmmm… maybe I should have squinted (however briefly) at the manual. Thirty seconds later, I’d found the object in question, did the old double-click fandango and… bloody hell, there it was playing away perfectly out of I-Tunes.

Eeeek… I’ve hacked the BBC.

But… and, I promise you, this is quite serious… over the past few weeks while I’ve been re-designing Website X, I’ve also been planning on integrating music into said re-design.

And so, I have been studying the whole SoundCloud scenario which, on the face of it, was starting to look like the way to go.

Because, from what I had worked out, SC gave out great quality (ie you can stream .FLAC files – ie, lossless quality). Plus, various friends of mine from a variety of (name) bands had started to use it as a way of streaming their music… so, if it was good enough for them, then certainly good enough for my purposes. And, most importantly, from what I could work out, it didn’t appear hackable…


I’ve hacked SoundCloud as well.

Which basically means, if I can, then anyone can.

After a bit of a prowl around the wibbly wobbly again, I selected a juicy nugget posted on SoundCloud and… oh, shit, within five minutes I’ve acquired a track that was bonafide posted there as one of two things: (a) for anyone’s listening pleasure or… (b)if you paid X, then you were able to download it.

(a) is a great method of letting one's 'fans' listen to (say) early demos or otherwise unreleased tracks, perhaps rough mixes from an album in progress or finished tracks... all manner of things really. But, most importantly, since the internal SoundCloud gadget is set to non-download... thats the way it is - the listener can listen only and the creative isn't ripped off... Splendid... IF it works.

(b) is equally perfect since it means that creative person Y is PAID for their creativity on tunes that they are quite comfy to have downloaded.

Only problem is - as I proved earlier... it doesn't work.

So.. the solution to my own web-streaming-of-music conundrum?… Well, I guess it’'ll have to be a case of just doing what Apple are about to do on I-Tunes… and that’s plonk up only 90seconds of music.

And… streaming music as being the ‘solution’ via ‘sound clouds’ for creatives being paid as they should be… errr… nope… I wish it was, but today’s little exercise proves worryingly otherwise.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Take The Cash (K.A.S.H.)

It´s a secret operation, don´t want this getting out,
So watch it, watch it, watch it, if the payment doesn´t bounce,
It´s the sweetness of the readies, makes the bell ring on the till,
And if they say they’ll pay next week, you know they never will.

Take the cash, don´t let them pay you in kind,
Take the cash, before they change their minds,
And let´s see the colour of their money – take the cash

(words and music / E. Goulden)

Ladies and Gentlemen, please be upstanding for the downright brilliant songs of Mr. and Mrs Goulden’s lad, Eric – better known throughout the whole wide world (sic) as Wreckless Eric – whose songwriting, according to this little Voltaire out there on its grassy knoll on the windswept prairie, deserves far wider acknowledgement than it presently has or, indeed, has accumulated over the years.

Nevertheless, in this relative world, its probable that young Eric doesn’t do all that badly out of his songwriting royalties… even despite the fact that he (probably) signed a piss-poor publishing deal back in the day with his pay-meister’s at Stiff; the World's most flexible record label that was started up by Jake Riviera and Dave Robinson (Robbo) via a four-hundred quid loan from Dr. Feelgood’s Lee Brilleaux and which offered for our delectation some of the very finest (and also some of the most horrible) records issued in the Seventies and Eighties.

Amongst which, (the former that is), any discerning individual would list a high quantity of W. Eric’s tunes – lyrically as astute as it gets with a fine turn for a belter of a melody; consider the rhyming couplet delights within his second Stiff single (and, sadly, it was a stiff), Reconnez Cherie – On a convenient seat by the lavatories in the sodium glare; We used to wait for the bus in a passionate clutch and go as far as we dared; Do you remember when I passed my driving test; Took you to the pictures, forget the rest; Do you remember all those nights in my Zodiac; Playing with your dress underneath your Pac-a-Mac. And, on it goes into an entirely memorable chorus. I mean – c’mon… Cole Porter, eat your heart out.

And Eric… well, he’s been plodding along, ploughing his own, entirely unique, furrow these many years and, in an unlikely twist of circumstance, has returned to (some would say) his spiritual home by licensing his new record (with his wife, Amy Rigby) to the label – Stiff having risen once again, phoenix-like from its own ashes.

Aha… the key word here is licensed… as it looks as if our hero has his act together. And, is nowadays a lot more in control of his own work than (maybe) once he was.

Back in 1977, when his first record – Whole Wide World – hit the stores, young Eric was (quite possibly) relieved to have found an outlet for his music and (probably) never once thought about the long-term… At 32 Alexander St (Stiff HQ) it was all about madcap schemes hatched in any one of numerous nearby pubs with (probably) no real thought to how the label’s output would be considered (say) a quarter of a century later. At that point, the powers that be at Stiff were more concerned with what might happen next week.

Nevertheless, a true gem such as that (aforementioned) record was listed not so very long ago in Mojo Magazine’s ‘best punk singles of all time’ while also being acclaimed as one of the top-40 ‘alternative era’ singles between 1975 / 2000.

And, while written in its entirety by E. Goulden, the copyright would be shared (possibly at something of a disadvantageous rate) with his publishers. And, given the copyright laws in existence at that point, that’d be the case until the year of our Lord, 2033. Meaning – if my arithmetic is on song – that Eric wouldn’t have full control of his own song until he was 79 years old.

Quite a sobering thought that.

But, of course, more or less the same situation that any songwriter (unless they’ve either had exceedingly clever management or have been exceptionally astute themselves) will find themselves in for works (songs) registered before 1978. After that, the situation changes – and will do so radically – in 2013 when the 35-year-law comes into force… in other words, a fore-shortening of the length of time before copyright reverts. Yes, I realize this is all a bit publishing 101 but it’s for illustrative purposes.

This ownership and being able to work and properly earn from your own copyrights point being vividly brought home by a snippet spotted in today’s Guardian.

In which, we learn that Producers working at Channel 5 TV have been asked to ‘avoid’ using commercial music in their programmes as a method to bring down royalty 'payments'.

And, those 'payments' are songwriting Royalties which are collected by the PRS and then distributed to the Publishing Companies and then, eventually, paid – on a percentage rate – to the actual writer(s) are accrued from any public performance of said music be that on-stage, recorded, on the radio, on the telly, within a movie or… online.

Apparently this is all part of a cost-cutting drive to make C5TV more profitable.

But, what is not mentioned is the heinous manner in which they (and, it should be noted, most other TV as well as Film Production Companies) actually deal with the creatives – in this instance, those who write music which may or may not be included within said TV Programmes or Films and so forth.

The C5TV spokeswoman is quoted in today's Guardian saying "Channel 5 plan to commission more original music as they have excellent contacts in the creative industry.”

Well… on the face of it, that’s great – more opportunities for creative folk.

But, here’s the rub… C5TV (as above) are clearly wanting to pay as little as they can by way of Royalties but, at the same time, they’re also demanding their cut as a Publisher because, as the source said (and this was also quoted in The Guardian) “All publishing rights have to be assigned to Channel 5."

In other words, they not only want to cough up little as they can get away with or grab just a little slice of that nice (lucrative) publishing steak and kidney... oh no, they want the entire bloody pie, crust and all.

And, if you – writer X – do not kow-tow to their demands… then, like as not your music will not be used. Same applies if you’re already signed to a Publishing Company. If your Publisher doesn’t (or won’t) play ball then… that’s it, your music won’t be used.

And, either which way, you'll not earn as much as you should.

Double-edged sword or what?