Monday, 27 July 2009

Apple's cocktail to resurrect the album

Simon Le BonSimon Le Bon via

Having decimated the concept of the album with a la carte song downloads, Apple has now apparently seen the error of its ways (i.e. 79p versus £7.99 in revenue) and is teaming up with the remaining four "majors" to take back the music.

Dubbed "Project Cocktail" (yeah, this sounds as hip as the Tom Cruise flick of the same name), the idea is "It's all about recreating the heyday of the album when you would sit around with your friends looking at the artwork, while you listened to the music," according to a report in the FT.

Right now with some releases on iTunes, if you buy the whole album, you get a digital booklet (read PDF) that includes cover art and liner notes. Project Cocktail will apparently be an evolution of this., with the "killer app" being that you'll be able to launch the songs from within the booklet. Whether or not you need iTunes running is to be seen. I doubt Apple would miss this trick though.

Wired take the discussion further ruminating on the future of the album cover. When I interviewed Simon LeBon in 1997 we discussed the decimation of the album cover from that decade's perspective - shrinking a 12" square to 5" was tantamount to blasphemy, with LeBon lamenting, "I like record shops. I actually like walking away with a lump of plastic under your arm." With the evolution to digital it's got even worse - from 5" to mere pixels, depending on playback device.

My concern for Project Cocktail is that most of today's music isn't really worth listening to, thanks mainly to a record industry in perpetual free fall, choosing music that fits the "now" instead of something that's got longevity. It's a rarity if most acts actually get to the point of releasing an album, let along the number of releases that warrant the greatest hits hallmark.

Having said that, most of today's music fans (read: the young) have no real concept of an "album" anyway, and this could just be seen as yet another attempt for the labels to try and maintain the "living in the past" stance that's served them so well up until this point.

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Spotify for iphone - NOW will people pay?

The internet was abuzz today with news from Spotify that they've submitted an app to Apple for approval (see below).

This is monumental news for a number of reasons - mainly that it may be the "killer app" that pushes people into becoming paying customers (as the app will only work those the £9.99/month elite). Secondly, Spotify has been seen by some as an iTunes killer, so it would be interesting to see if Apple will open it's gate to let the new kid play in its yard.

Over at Spotify's blog, they have a quick little video that will soon have you opening your wallet with your £10 at the ready. Some of the features are priceless, including the ability to play playlists offline, and to update playlists live, so that your iphone updates as you update the PC client.

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Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Free is good for business as well

Image representing Chris Anderson as depicted ...Image via CrunchBase

Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails dabbled with it, and now Wired's Chris Anderson is expounding the benefits of free, as the new model economy that is taking the world by storm and making people who know how to play the game very rich.

For those in the dark, Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails both released albums and offered them free, allowing people to pay what they thought it was worth. The reasoning being, the bands had new material to tour and would make more from concert tickets and merchandising trinkets than the paltry sum the record label would give them in royalties.

For the most part this worked, although more from a news perspective than an economic perspective, but the seeds were nonetheless sown.

Now Anderson has taken this idea and run the whole nine yards with it, surmising that free is the new economy for more than just music. However, in a book excerpt from the latest issue of Wired magazine, he talks at length about how musicians, not stuck in the machinations of the past, could actually use the new economy to their advantage.

His anecdote about the Brazilian band Banda Calypso is case in point. A band that has had all their albums pirated, yet make enough money from merch and live performances to actually own a jet!

We're seeing the move away from pure record labels already. Live Nation are turning into more promoter / labels, offering stars a 360 package that includes concerts, music releases, and merchandising.

I think, however, with the rise of the web, we can take even Live Nation out of the equation. Giving people for free something that is easily obtainable will never replace the value of the rarity and that's where seeing a band in concert will always make a musician a nice chunk of coin.

Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor has recently come out in defence of Anderson's position, saying that bands needs to try harder to make something rare that fans actually want to buy. Reznor himself offered NIN's album "Ghosts I-IV" in a variety of formats, with a free download being the cheapest option and a $300 ultra rare deluxe boxset being the top of the line.

Free is here to stay thanks to the ubiquity of digital, but there's be a place for the physical format for some time to come and thanks to "free" the physical format is getting a hell of a lot cooler to own.

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Tuesday, 14 July 2009

EMI shoot selves in foot

Sometimes writing how the music industry get it wrong is really really easy.

Take today. EMI have announced they're going to stop selling CDs to independent record shops. The reports are from the states, but the ramifications are still big.

The large shops, especially in the US, feature almost exclusively top 40 releases. It's the indie shops, as featured in Nick Hornby's book "High Fidelity" that feed the powerful long tail of the industry - the people looking for catalogue titles, obscure titles or help with finding something in particular that an acne-scarred Wal-Mart teen won't be able to help out with.

I used to shop in a number of record shops - Record Time, Memories and Melodies, Repeat the Beat, etc. - in the greater Detroit area back in the day and NONE of them were remotely chain shops and all of them had the most knowledgeable staff you'd ever want to meet. I imagine I ended up buying more music via chats and their recommendations than I would ever have just shopping at Harmony House or Wal-Mart.

Now indies aren't completely out of the loop. They just have to source their stock from third parties, as EMI's decision seems to revolve around cost cutting. This is pretty much akin to you or I going to a shop and buying stock then trying to resell it without people wondering why they don't just get rid of the middle man.

If the labels really want to piss off the hand that feeds (well feeds outside the here today gone tomorrow top 40), they're doing a really good job.

It's hard enough surviving in the current economic climate without your suppliers pulling a fast one on you.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Ownership versus access again

The guardian ran a report today saying (Reader's Digest version here) that piracy is down, streaming is up and everyone is happy.

Now this good news is the result of interviewing 1,000 people (out of the 59 million or so in the UK) and extrapolating an awful lot from what they found (as any good survey does).

The article raves on about services like Spotify and You Tube solving a music lover's needs without needing to resort to illegal P2P. This isn't 100% of the story, as the article also mentions the illegal download shift could also come as people copy each others' existing MP3s, rip CDs, etc.


TechDirt takes the article a little further and delves - rightly so - a little deeper into the asinine mechanics of the record labels. The shift from piracy to streaming is good for everyone. That's a given. Why, then are the labels trying to screw these legit services into extinction by demanding sky high licensing fees?

"This is how the legacy industry kills anything even remotely positive. The second that the industry sees anything that's working, it suddenly smothers it by demanding to get a bigger and bigger cut."

It's been an issue I've had troubles with for ages. Sure they want their money, but if the choice is NO money due to piracy, or reduced income from the likes of You Tube and Spotify, it seems like a no brainer.

The PRS here in the UK has already forced You Tube's hand and they have in turn banned UK viewers from watching music videos. Spotify's financial woes are also becoming more and more apparent as are Pandora in the US, who were recently saved by a lowering of the per song fee they're forced to pay.

The labels continue to wage an argument akin to "well these are the rates we'd get if a consumer bought a CD or it was played on commercial radio". They don't seem to get the argument is between piracy (no income) and legit streaming (some income).

One day this industry will wake up, realise that the consumer fuels the market, will cower to their demands and the world will be a better place. Until that time, they'll argue they're a business and need to make money and then complain when they go bust.

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Friday, 10 July 2009

Erasure Club sees the light of day

Back in the day promo meant expensive, exclusive and very few people could get a hold of it. To whit, back in the day Erasure released a series of four exclusive promo EPs called "Erasure Club", with the catalogue numbers ERAS1, ERAS2, ERAS3, and ERAS.

Up until now, the only tracks from ANY of these eps that have seen a wide distribution have been the tracks from ERAS4, released as "Abba-esque Remixes".

Come August 10, Mute are finally releasing a few more ERAS tracks on an ep cunningly titled "Erasure.Club". There is still one track that will remain unreleased even after this EP comes out - "Who Needs Love (Like That) - Winnie Cooper Mix" from ERAS2 - which is left off due to clearance reasons.

If you have the rare as duck's teeth promos on 12", I'd recommend getting rid before their value plummets.

The tracklist:
'Push Me Shove Me (Moonbeam Mix)' 6:22
Remixed by Jon Marsh, taken from ERAS1
'Push Me Shove Me (Catatonic Mix)' 4:14
Remixed by Jon Marsh, taken from ERAS1
'Senseless (Avalon Mix)' 6:30
Remixed by Bruce Forest, taken from ERAS1
'Ship Of Fools (Orbital Southsea Isles Of Holy Beats Mix)' 9:43
Remixed by Dr Alex Paterson & Thrash, taken from ERAS2
'Sometimes (Danny Rampling Mix)' 6:13
Remixed by Danny Rampling, taken from ERAS3
'Weight Of The World (Heavy 'B' Mix)' 5:12
Remixed by Bruce Smith, taken from ERAS3

Monday, 6 July 2009

Stone Roses box set

Stone Roses should really be one of those bands like The La's who burned out and faded away after their one shining moment in the sun.

But no.

Having released THE indie album of the 80s as their debut, they signed to Geffen and released a collective Led Zeppelin-scented dump some five years later.

Having said that, Silvertone, the label that managed to score the band's debut album, have taken great pride re-releasing the album every decade or so. I reviewed the 10th anniversary edition back in 99 and even had the review feature in Zomba's Canadian press pack.

Now, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the album, no holds are barred, as they say. A new website - - has been launched to alert the world (or at least the world that cares enough to buy yet ANOTHER copy of the damn album) about the imminent release of a wallet-emptying box set.

According to the site, the box will comprise three CDs, three vinyl albums, a DVD, a 2GB USB stick, a book and some art prints.

The art prints actually works really well for me, as guitarist/artist John Squire was the Jackson Pollack of the indie scene, and his artwork adorned all the band's early releases.

I just can't understand what material there is that would take three CDs. They're not the Beatles, there's no mono version of the album. Alas, according to the website, the three CDS comprise "the re-mastered album, re-mastered Extras (including all AA's and B Sides) PLUS album of LOST DEMOS (including one previously unheard track, Pearl Bastard)". Ah.

If the thought of all that sickens you, there's also a Deluxe Edition featuring the album and the lost demos alongside a 28 page booklet, or just the remastered album with the full length version of "Fool's Gold" tacked on at the end, just like my 1989 Canadian CD had.

I loved the album when it came out, and don't feel it's really been beaten by the musical sands of time, but I really don't know if the thought of all that Stone Roses - CDs, DVDs, vinyl, etc. - is really what I want these days... and I DO still have my 10th anniversary release.

It's a nice idea though and I commend Sony (Silvertone/Jive's new post BMG home) for compiling such a nice release.

This monster release finds its way to record shops ... ok HMV ... and all points internet-wise on August 10th for the paltry sum of around 80 quid.

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Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The great Michael Jackson ticket scam

LOS ANGELES - JUNE 23:  In this handout photo ...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

After the hoopla over Michael Jackson's demise last week, a thought was cast for the people actually putting on his audacious "get out of tax hell" series of concerts. The dancers, the set designers, the musicians, the bootleg t-shirt designers, the venue itself.

In order to claw some money back, the promoter is doing something really wrong. They're giving fans who bought tickets a choice - either a refund or a ticket. That's right - you can either get your £80ish plus all the service charges back, or get a souvenir ticket for the concert date and seat you would have had. The tickets will be a Michael Jackson design exclusive lenticular design, but it's a TICKET.

Of course, if tickets were bought from a third party, like ebay, etc. good luck seeing ANYTHING from that transaction.

The question then becomes how much is a useless concert ticket really worth? Many promoters and ticket issuers will say it's worth the £4-£10 service charge they add on to the price of the ticket and the promoters in this case would have been justified to offer the souvenir ticket for this fee giving the rest of the ticket price back as a refund.

However, I guess AEG and Ticketmaster believe that fans are paying £80ish for ticket and the concert just happens to be a free bonus. In that case, I'm glad to have seen all those free gigs and just wish I'd kept all the expensive bits of paper I'd bought.

This just has to be one of the worst cases of cashing in on celebrity death I've heard about in a long time.

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