Tuesday, September 4, 2007

You Tube Killed the Video Star

It was announced recently that YouTube, the massive video posting and networking site has decided to pay royalties to those artists in the UK who are under groups that protect copyright issues for over 50,000 clients across the sea ALONE. This means that YouTube will pay a flat fee in order to keep the videos up and these groups will keep and eye and distribute the cash as they see fit.

I know many of you have logged onto YouTube only to find that "This video removed by Warner Music Group" or something similar when searching for artists. YouTube has been a downright moral dilemma for most record companies, ranging from those who think that the industry is losing money by having these available and that they should pay for these music videos on iTunes, to those who see it as the single most effective online marketing tool there is. I fall into the latter category.

At what point do record companies charge for these videos? I've always understood music videos to be a great marketing tool, something like a preview to the album that the audience to see and feel and know as tangible. Certainly there are lines crossed when it comes to DVDs and everything, but now not only do you have the official videos but live videos from people's cell phones available. This is especially crucial for any band who can't even afford to have an official video, let alone one popular enough to make it on YouTube. Where would OkGo be without their treadmill video? Aside from all the garbage people end up posting, its been such an amazing resource for bands and listeners alike to have instant exposure.

Sure, it's nice to get a few bucks for your band to be played, but that's hardly fair when so many artists don't belong to these copyright groups, and the fact that it is only in the UK. I'm stoked that Bono will get his fair share for new pleather pants, but I say its all or nothing. Let's make the distinction of YouTube as a tool versus a sell-able product. God knows we've made enough things purchasable that we can hold a few things sacred, can't we?

Keep Your Ear to the Ground : This Week's Reccomendations

New Releases for 9/4/07:
  • Calvin Harris : I Created Disco
  • Ferraby Lionheart : Catch the Brass Ring
  • Hard - Fi : Once Upon a Time in the West
    • (yeah, that's it. apparently everyone wants to compete with Kanye next week)
Upcoming Shows (in Phoenix, unless otherwise noted):
  • 9/5 - Incubus @ Mesa Amphiteatre
  • 9/6 - Rise Against @ Marquee Theatre
    • Peachcake w/Tokyo Rose and Alcoholiday @ Modified
    • Black Hole Calcutta's Final Show @ Phix
  • 9/7 - Subhumans @ The Clubhouse
    • Rodrigo y Gabriella @ Marquee Theatre
    • Local Frequency with What Laura, Kinch and more @ Anderson's
    • Blanche Davidian CD Release @ The Sets
  • 9/8 - John Vanderslice @ Modified
    • Technicolor Yawn and Minibosses @ Paperheart Gallery
Yeah that's it. Here's thing thing : ARIZONA STILL EXISTS, WE PROMISE. TOUR HERE PLZ. And while you're at it, make a new record or 2.

Compact Disc ; Disc Compacted

I was faced with a slight moral dilemma the other night. I host a local music show at campus radio, and had local glam rock outfit Blanche Davidian in studio to talk about their upcoming release show amongst other things. Now as seems to be the trend, the band had their manager listening with a watchful ear and his fingers ready to text for suggestions. I'm all about that, the more promotion the better, but there was one point that puzzled me.

"Make sure not to say CD release show. It's an album release show."

Fair enough, I guess, but I guess it really is a sign of the times when CD becomes a faux pas. I know that he meant that "album" is more all encompassing, implying that it will also be available in other mediums such as iTunes, but I guess I just never thought about it. I suppose the greater majority doesn't need something tangible anymore, so does that make music no longer tangible either?

I've had to defend myself a lot these last few years as to why I work at a record label and how apparently no one there knows what they're doing, and that they're going about it the wrong way. I am guilty of the same thing and think about all those same things too. But imagine how often the record industry has had to change. The record companies are trying so hard to be a part of the next big thing that they step over something that can be really beneficial now. I think it goes with any industry that has changed so drastically in the last 3o years that they're not always going to get it. There are so many ways to consume music its insane yet so exciting. Imagine then being the guy who thought of iTunes? Or carrying music on your phone? There is so much opportunity to open our minds and see what's out there and we have to be okay with the fact that maybe it won't work or it won't last. Hopefully there will be something else to fill that space later.

But I'm still going to always call them CDs. It's like Kleenex.

Choose Your Own Adventure

So time-warp folk darlings The Decemberists have announced their upcoming fall tour, which caused the several thousand flannel wearing folk-rockers who cried late at night listening to "Picaresque" to simultaneously pee their girl pants.

Aside from that disturbing visual, they have average music dorks totally geeked out on an actual concept tour, which they are titling "The Long and Short of It". For 12 cities they will be playing 2 shows (some cities up to 4, such as in Washington DC, oddly enough), their first night featuring the "long of it", longer ballad songs such as The Chimney Sweep and the next night featuring "The Short of It", featuring shorter catchier songs such as The Sporting Life.

All in all I think it's a pretty phenomenal idea, and a great answer for a band with such an extensive catalog as The Decemberists. Everyone complains that they never get to hear everything they wanted to hear, and now here's their chance. Some might argue that someone who has never heard The Decemberists might get a wrong impression of the band if they only attend one or the other, but to be honest, I think this tour is less about making new fans and more about providing something special for their existing ones. However, I think I'd feel kind of like an asshole if I only showed up on the "short of it" day, feeling as if I was just a trendy bastard. On the other side of that coin is showing up for the "long of it" day and probably getting bored. I'm sure many will opt for both, its a great experiment. You get to choose what kind of fan you are, and with a band such as The Decemberists, I feel like they are pretty widely varied.
Ben Kweller is also doing something similar in LA, playing 3 nights, performing each night for each one of his 3 albums top to bottom. They Might Be Giants did something like that in New York City as well, spreading these 3 nights over 3 weeks and playing one show of everything, one show of hit songs and the last of ones with a brass section. I feel like it might seem like a cop out to some, but it might force fans to evaluate what it is they want out of this band and their music. If anything, it will get their fans thinking about the band period, which with a band as established as Decemberists, they might need that kind of reminder sometimes as to why they became a fan in the first place.

Damn the Man (All 50,000)

Ever think you could run your own record label?

God knows with how things have been going lately, some of us have considered it. I know that my goal is to work from the inside out, then start my own, but god knows that I don't have the knowhow at 21. However, a 26 year old man in Florida has managed to take that pipe dream and find a way to ease into it.

Karol Gajda has decided to recruit 50,000 people for a mere $25 a pop to contribute to his new record label. It's almost like a perverted Save the Children campaign, only the children probably wear girl pants and ironic cowboy boots. Gadja will take that money and start up the business, using the funds to find an office, produce the records and take the proper measures in marketing and distributing it. Now, I've read 'This Business of Music' too, but who is this guy that he thinks 50,000 will trust his know how? Ultimately all members will be able to make suggestions, but considering you're competing against 49,999 other members who all want their boyfriend's band to be signed, it seems to be a little too good to be true.

Now, far be it for me to only be a cynic about this whole think. Ideally it sounds great, 200,000 dollars each for the first 5 bands signed and input on tours and booking? Sweet. But there's a reason people are hired and put into these positions : they know their shit. They've made these industry contacts and at least know the difference between The Academy Is and Fall Out Boy (oh yes, there is one) Whos to say you'll have smart business men and women on your staff, let alone just music fans? I'd be worried that I'd be overstepped, that at least a thousand other people want to sign the same other band and as a band, that'd freak me the fuck out. God knows Randy in Kentucky is all about promotional belt buckles, but sometimes that quality control is necessary, and beneficial. There is no means in which this man is going to sift through his members to make sure they're legit, no more than these members know if he's legit. To me, it all seems a little sketch.

But good luck, Karol. I bet you'll find the new Circa Survive and have total control on how their lives are run. You and 50,000 of your closest colleagues.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Dive In

It's almost become a cliche to even have to point out the fact that CBGB's has been an institution not only of New York City and their music scene, but as a beacon point for bands and other venues around the country that have popped up since.

We can thank Hilly Kristal for that. He passed away on Tuesday at age 75. Kristal is proof that punk rock can and indeed did live on, but this entry is less about his impressive life and more about the general drive and motivation this man had towards his venue and the ghosts of bands who've graced the stage.

I spent a summer in New York City, spending most of my evenings after work doing the grand tour of all the great NYC venues: Webster Hall, Irving Plaza, Knitting Factory, Bowery Ballroom, Nokia Theatre, etc. So what was it about this venue, this relatively small venue that just so happens to be where you turn a corner off of of the 6 train stop, that made it a huge staple of the scene? Unfortunately, I wasn't born until 1986, so the odds were kind of against me as far as being involved in the original punk rock scene, but there was an eerie aura around the building, even against the chaos of the city. During my summer there I was determined to go to a show there, as it had already been announced that it would be moving to Las Vegas the following September. I forced myself to go to a ska show (yeah, I know) near the end of my stay there. Inside it looked no different than any other hole in the wall club here in Phoenix. Its walls were covered in stickers and probably sexually transmitted diseases. It's stage was high and narrow and its backstage extended awkwardly far back and accessible enough that I popped back to grab a few shots. I didn't go into the bathrooms, but use your imagination. The acoustics were awkward and the lighting so so, it just seemed like a place where you'd see any high school local band play on a Wednesday night to their parents and a handful of classmates. It was a dive, plain and simple.

But more than just its appearance was what it meant to these bands, not only the building itself but Hilly and whoever was involved in booking and taking care of bands such as Blondie, The Ramones and Patti Smith. It was obvious that this venue was created out of love, and sustained as long as it did because of the people who supported it. Our music scene in Arizona is still pretty young, going on a rollercoaster of momentum for a while now, changing bands and trends and more importantly : venues. Currently we have quite a few to choose from, a few 3000-4000 person venues, a couple 400-600 and a handful of 100-250 capacity art galleries and venues throughout the Valley, not to mention the arenas and concert pavilions. In the grand scheme of the music scene, things are really good right now and if you have the means and a good enough bill, you can put on a successful show at a decent venue. However, when I talk to people who have been around for a while, at least within the last 10 years, everyone keeps bringing up how much they miss The Nile. The Nile was a venue in Mesa that held around 1,000 people in their main room and as far as notoriety and ambiance, could be called the CBGB's of Phoenix. Jimmy Eat World even asked if anyone had seen them there at their last show. I get starry eyed just thinking about the nights where we'd round the Loop 202 and wait in line several hours before the show began to get prime spots and spend the night transferring between the floor and drinking water out of the sinks in the bathroom (you try going to a concert in AZ) It had stickers on the walls, the stage was too high an the acoustics were terrible, but The Nile gave a home to local bands and national bands that made it big, made contacts within the venue to make other bands to make it big, and was our very own beacon point and institution.

Aside from the lights and glare of all the hype with a place like The Nile and especially CBGB's, you just have to step back and look at it as more than just a room and a soundboard. The Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith and Jimmy Eat World were all local bands once too, and they had the opportunity to play there. It may be a drag to see a band in an art gallery now, but maybe 35 years from now, people will still be talking about it and the impact it had . . . and how much the sound sucks.

Song of the Moment: Head Home - Midlake

Ticket Masters

It was reported on CMJ.com that Ticketmaster, the concert admission gods (or whores, you know whatever) themselves are in the process of deciding to renew their contract with LiveNation, one of the largest national concert promoters under the umbrella of Clear Channel. This would then probably force LiveNation to come up with their own ticketing system, making their tickets unavailable at traditional Ticketmaster retailers (Macys, Dillards, some grocery stores and college campuses) as well as online. Its unclear if this is actually going to go through, and whether or not it will only impact nationally or internationally as well.

Good idea, Ticketmaster. You planning on changing to a 100% service charge to make up the difference when you go bankrupt?

I'm in no way advocating LiveNation here. It's widely known that they monopolize several large markets as far as concerts, grabbing hold on everything from huge artists like John Mayer and Tom Petty as well as festivals such as Warped Tour and the recent Projekt Revolution tour. In some markets, they are THE promoter, and the loss that Ticketmaster will incur in the first stages will be astounding. Not only in ticket sales but the fact that the House of Blues venue chain is owned by Live Nation. I mean, obviously I'm not in the board room here, I don't have a calculator out crunching the numbers in respect to what the contract outlines, so maybe it is for the best, but the effect on the music industry could be catastrophic. That, or it would free LiveNation and other promoters who may follow suit from having to pay ticketmaster a percentage of their revenue and make some of their own tickets, the flaw being that a large percentage of average concert goers might not know where to go other than Macy's for ticketmaster.

It got me thinking about the scene in Phoenix, specifically. We are an interesting market in that LiveNation, while probably making a large profit, isn't our biggest promoter. They'll front the cost of some of the larger venues and artists with bigger guarantees, but we also have two large independent promoters, Luckyman Productions and Stateside Presents. Each promoter has their niche, Luckyman bringin' in the pop punk bands, metal and pop rock while Stateside has cornered the indie rock genre, ranging from smaller folk acts like Okkervil River and Midlake to massive shows like The Shins and Modest Mouse. On top of that we have a handful of smaller independent promoters who bring mid-level bands to smaller venues. Live Nation doesn't even stand a chance with what I assume are complicated contracts as versus dealing with promoters who are more ingrained into the scene, not to mention that they don't own any of the venues out here. I'm not sure about other markets, and while I have my own qualms with promoters such as Luckyman (moreso their treatment of local bands, but thats another post), I can't help but be a little thankful that we don't have this monopoly. and that there are options to have more flexible ticket prices, albeit still with that pesky convenience charge (seriously, I'll go behind the counter and print them myself )

Its hard to say what kind of affect this is going to have on specific markets and LiveNation as a whole, but hoepfully this might encourage more Luckyman Productions and Stateside Presents to pop up, make their own rules and damn the 'master. Hell, maybe LiveNation might even do it themselves.

Song of the Moment : Big Casino - Jimmy Eat World