Music

Bands Will Have That One Big Product, and Then They Will Write Some Sequels To It

There is a story over at the NewYorker from a while back about the One Hit Wonder known as “Candy Crush Saga”.

As we all know by now millions upon millions of people around the world play Candy Crush Saga.

– It is a free download and it has been downloaded over half a billion times.

– A person can play the game for free.

– However, certain users of the game are willing to pay for extra lives and various performance boosting tools while the other users are happy to remain on the game without paying for any extras.

– The Irish company “King Digital Entertainment” who is the maker of the game had close to two billion dollars in sales, with a pure profit margin of $567 million.

It seems like there is a lot of money to be made if there is a freemium option available especially if you have a star product to push.

King Digital has over a hundred different games that are available, however it is Candy Crush that brings in the money. It is King Digital’s “star product”.

Even in music, bands normally have hundreds of other songs or countless albums in existence, however it is that one star product that they are known for, except for the few great acts who would have multiple star products.

Metallica had “Master Of Puppets” and “The Black” album.

Motley Crue had “Shout At The Devil” and “Dr Feelgood”.

Dream Theater had “Images and Words” and “Scenes For A Memory”.

Machine Head had “Burn My Eyes” and “The Blackening”.

AC/DC had “Back In Black”.

Def Leppard had “Pyromania” and “Hysteria”.

Ronnie James Dio was a true legend by having a few star products in different acts. First off was Rainbow then Black Sabbath and then as a solo artist with “Holy Diver”.

Kingdom Come had their self titled debut.

Skid Row had “Slave To The Grind”.

Bon Jovi had “Slippery When Wet”.

Twisted Sister had “Stay Hungry”.

RATT had “Out Of The Cellar”.

Quiet Riot had “Metal Health”.

Ozzy Osbourne had “Blizzard Of Ozz” and “No More Tears” as a solo artist.

The world of heavy metal and hard rock contains many more examples. In the end luck plays a huge part in breaking music to the masses.

And as the article eludes too, most new products fail in general. In the music industry, the failure rate of new music is amplified and as it is an industry that faces a lot of competition between the acts alone.

And as with everything that rises it eventually falls. The true greats pick themselves up and rise again, while the ones in it for the money just fade away. Check out this quote;

“Typically, companies will have that one big product, and then they’ll sell some sequels to it. But, unless they manage to become the center of an ecosystem, over time they tend to weaken and disappear.”
By Michael Cusumano, a professor at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management

There is a lot of truth in that.

Remember when Bon Jovi rewrote “Slippery When Wet” and called it “New Jersey”.

Or when bands rewrote their main hit song over and over again trying hard to recapture the success

Music is a competitive, hit-driven industry and there is no guaranteed recipe for success. But in order to give it a shot you need to know how to play your instrument and you need to practice your songwriting skills.

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Copyright, Music, My Stories, Piracy, Stupidity, Treating Fans Like Shit

Record Store Day

For “Record Store Day” I paid $30AUS for the “Killers and Kings” single from Machine Head.

Online I can purchase the single for $15US from the Nuclear Blast store.

So I selected the three other covers that I didn’t have and added them to my cart. The total was now sitting at $45US. Then I registered my account and since I am in Australia I was charged $29US for postage and handling. The total of my purchase was now sitting at $74US. Once I paid it via PayPal, the final payment figure from me was $82.21 in Australian dollars.

That equates to about $27AUS for each single.

Now if the Independent Record Store was selling it for $30AUS, then that would mean that the actual independent record store would be making $3 per item.

Hell if that is the mark up for each limited edition item they were selling and let’s just say that one record store sold 200 items, that would mean that the pure profit for the record store would be $600 for that day.

So is the “Record Store Day” there to benefit/save the independent record store?

And to put a spanner in the math, the actual royalty paid back to the band is a percentage on the wholesale price. And the wholesale price is about 50% to 80% lower than the retail price.

Let’s use the Machine Head example.

If the wholesale price of each single would be between $3 to $7.50 and if the royalty rate is a generous 20%. That would mean for each single sold the band would get between 60c to $1.50 royalty cut, to split between 4 people, plus a manager and a legal team.

So what happens when there is an advance upfront payment.

The band takes the money upfront, forsaking (in a lot of cases) any claims on royalties and the risk resides with the label on recouping that advance payment with the single release, the album release and other types of releases.

Either way, Record Store Day is not there to save the record stores. It is there to replace the revenue lost by the record labels due to the declining CD sales. It has nothing to do with keeping the record store open or trying to save the mum and dad independent record store.

It is pure label greed.

Sort of like how the record labels are going after Pandora again. This time around they are suing the internet radio service for not paying to use sound recordings made prior to 1972. But hang on second neither does terrestrial radio.

So what we have is the following scenario;

– Record company lawyers are filing cases against Pandora in state courts. This will enrich them.
– It will do nothing to put money in the hands of the artists.
– What will happen is that Pandora will more or less stop playing these pre-1972 recordings instead of paying another license fee that federal law says you don’t have to pay.
– If the legal bills mount up for Pandora they will go out of business and the 60% royalty rates that Pandora paid will disappear from the record label and publishing companies bottom lines.
– It would do nothing to bring in more money.
– It still doesn’t solve the industry’s biggest problem which is to find a new business model that replaces the revenue lost from the decline of CD sales.

It is pure label greed. To use a phrase that they use in relation to piracy, “IT IS THEFT, PLAIN AND SIMPLE”.

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A to Z of Making It, Copyright, Music, My Stories

The Old And The New – Times Are Changing

MY MUSIC COLLECTION vs THE KIDS MUSIC COLLECTION

My Record and CD Collection

This is my record and CD collection along with the issues from Guitar World from January 1986.

My kids have all of this on their iPod’s and iPad’s.

THE PURCHASE OF MUSIC from RETAIL STORES vs INSTANTANEOUS

The Way I Purchase Music On Occassions

I took the kids to the “Record Store Day” two days ago.

They loved the record store and it was their second record store that they had visited ever. They enjoyed searching through the piles of records but hated the following things;

– the line up/wait to pay for our purchases compared to clicking a few keys and having it all happen instantaneous.

– the chance that what I wanted to buy at the Record Store Day could not be there or it could have sold out compared to having the history of music available at your fingertips without any issues. For the record, it was the last copy of the “Killers and Kings” single and the second last copy of the “The Illumination Theory” picture LP.

– that once they found a record that had a cool cover from an unknown act, they couldn’t hear it BEFORE they decided to buy it compared to what they do on-line with YouTube and Spotify.

– the price of the special edition releases. As a hobbyist/collector I paid $30AUS for the Machine Head “Killers and Kings” single and $40AUS for the Dream Theater “Illumination Theory” picture LP. My kids thought I was insane, spending $70AUS on two products, especially when a years subscription to Spotify is just a touch more and for that you get millions upon millions of songs.

MY BOOK COLLECTION and DVD COLLECTION vs THE KIDS BOOK COLLECTION

My Book and DVD Collection

In other words, Physical books vs The Kindle Touch.

If you are a business that is in the entertainment/arts arena that is still hoping on physical sales for profits, then your business model is challenged.

Research is constantly showing that in order to compete with piracy, sellers of music, movies and books need to have a “free music approach, targeted at young users and supported by advertisements along with a high-quality music offering to older customers, where they pay for downloads but with no visible advertising.”

The take away is this comment;

“Our research shows that consumers do prefer legal and ethical options if available but each age group has different ways of making this economically viable.”

I bet that comes to a shock to the traditional labels and marketing firms. The days of when music was only made available to people who had disposable incomes are over and have been for a long time.

Music consumption is now being driven by different age brackets. The 113 million streams of Katy Perry’s “Roar” is being driven more by the kids in the 4 to 14 age bracket than the 25 plus adults. It is the song of the young, their anthem, their “We’re Not Gonna Take It”.

It all reminds me of a song I once wrote called “Times Are Changing”.

I wrote it in 1993, just when Grunge finally made the hard rock movement a footnote in history for the next decade. And the song wasn’t about the death of hard rock, it was the about the power of a cultural movement enforcing a change that no one could stop. As the pre-chorus stated;

It’s a revolution in their eyes
Against society and its lies

Times are changing, re-arranging x2

Guess the times are constantly changing and they are changing even faster in the era of the internet. And when I compare the new to the old, the times have really changed.

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Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Derivative Works, Influenced, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

Harem Scarem – The First Three Albums

From Canada. Not the early Eighties Australian band with the same name. And that is all the similarities that there is between the two.

No one even heard of the Canadian version in Australia. The first time I heard them was when I went to a blog that doesn’t exist anymore and that blog had zip files available to be downloaded via the Cyberlocker sites like Megaupload or Rapidshare or Hotfile.

The first three albums have a powerhouse set list. I was a fan of Honeymoon Suite and Loverboy, so Harem Scarem was right up my alley, however I didn’t hear their music until this year.

1991 – Harem Scarem

It is a strong debut with a terrible album cover. Actually all of their albums in the nineties had bad album covers.

Coming out in 1991, it was not out-of-place. Guitarist Pete Lesperance showed what a talent he is, hence the reason why he is still creating music in 2014. Hearing this album in 2014, I was attempting to shift my mindset back to 1991 and how I would have viewed it at that time. Basically it was just another standard melodic rock release in a genre that started to sound the same.

You see, when the classic rock bands sang about love they were breaking down taboo’s. It was a complex subject once upon a time. So when bands started singing about love and sex in the late eighties and early nineties, the barriers were all torn down. The subject wasn’t taboo anymore. The audience had moved on. Sure, some love songs could resonate with an audience, however you couldn’t build a metal and rock career based on love songs.

Artists needed to rock. And when Harem Scarem rocked, they rocked with the best of them.

Hard To Love

Written by songwriter Christopher Ward, vocalist Harry Hess and guitarist Pete Lesperance. Ward was already a hit maker, with the song “Black Velvet” from 1989 that he co-write with another Canadian songwriter in Dave Mason and sung by another Canadian, Alannah Myles.

When it comes to Canadian hard rock, it is about two to three degrees of seperation between artists, songwriters and producers. Just to give you an example.

Co-Producer Kevin Doyle was the engineer and mixer on the Alannah Myles album released in 1989. Christopher Ward was one of the main co-writers on the Alannah Myles album and he was also a co-writer on “Hard To Love”. Ward’s long time friend and songwriting partner on occasions, Stephen Stohn was executive producer on the TV show “Degrassi: The Next Generation” which also featured a lot of songs from Harem Scarem.

And for the song, it’s a classic melodic rock song. That Journey meets Bon Jovi vibe and the guitar playing from Pete Lesperance is liquid like.

As soon as the lead guitar kicks in, I am reminded of Boston. Chord wise, it’s got a basic Em to C to D progression in the verses and a G to D to C progression in the Chorus. When it comes to any song ever created these are the progression that artists/songwriters revert too.

White Lion’s “Hungry”, Bon Jovi’s “Livin On A Prayer” and “You Give Love A Bad Name (albeit in a different key), Van Halen
“Aint Talkin’ Bout Love”, every Iron Maiden song, Led Zeppelin’s outro in “Strairway To Heaven” and a lot of others.

The difference is always the vocal melodies. That is what makes each song unique enough to stand on its own two legs.

With A Little Love

It’s written by Harry Hess and Pete Lesperance.

When Harem Scarem do melodic rock ala Def Leppard, they do it well. “With A Little Love” set the standard for these type of songs however the songs that followed afterwards on subsequent album didn’t match up. For example, “Stranger Than Love” from the follow-up, didn’t cut it.

Like all melodic rock songs in the major key, “With A Little Love” is no different. The movement from G to Em brings back memories of “The Deeper The Love” from Whitesnake.

All Over Again

A major key rocker written by Harry Hess. Reminds me of Journey “Anyway You Want It”. The chord progression of D to A to G is a very common progression. A lot of my favourites have this kind of progression.

From a hard rock perspective, you can’t go past Randy Rhoads “Crazy Train”. It is in the key of A, so the chord progression is A to E to D in the verses.

From a ballad point of view, you can’t go past “Knocking On Heavens Door” moves with this progression in the key of G, so the chord progression is G to D to C.

From a musical theory point of view it is a I to V to IV progression.

How Long

Written by Harry Hess, Pete Lesperance and another Candadian songwriter called Dean McTaggart who also worked with an Australian singer called Tina Arena with great success.

From 3.03 it goes into overdrive. The riff under the solo is not just power chords. It is a riff, structured around a groove first and then a guitar solo tailor-made to fit the riff.

Something To Say

It’s written by Harry Hess and Pete Lesperance.

The first minute and 25 seconds is a classical/flamenco intro that shows the talents on display. After it’s got this “Mr Bojangles” vibe merged with The Beatles “Yesterday” in the same major key as the mentioned songs.

1993 – Mood Swings

Released at a time when Grunge was taking over the world, it was the definitive album from Harem Scarem. It is by far the fan favourite.

Saviours Never Cry

It’s written by Harry Hess and Pete Lesperance.

What a song to open the album. By far my favourite. That palm muted hammer-on intro has so much groove its undeniable. And the song just goes into overdrive. The heaviness of the track and the balls to the wall attitude makes this song a contender.

If your lips never move
You’re bound to lose the war

What a lyric. Stay silent and prepare to suffer the consequences versus speaking up and preparing to make changes.

No Justice

It’s written by Harry Hess and Pete Lesperance.

“No Justice In The World” is the catch cry and ain’t that the truth.

The piece de resistance as a guitar player is that Spanish/Arabic feel in the solo section. It is not clichéd and it fits the song perfectly.

Change Comes Around

Another song written by Harry Hess and Pete Lesperance.

It’s like “Ballroom Blitz” merged with Van Halen esque rock. Even the lyrics are spoken in a David Lee Roth baritone style. Unintentional connections are what music is all about. How our minds and ears perceive a song and connect with it.

Empty Promises

One more song written by Harry Hess and Pete Lesperance.

Again the groove and the rock attitude resonates. It connects from the opening notes. “Screw the System” is the catch cry here and twenty years later we are still trying to screw the system however on occasion the system is screwing us.

Had Enough

It’s written by Harry Hess and Pete Lesperance and those Eddie Van Halen overtones just keep connecting with me.

1995 – Voice Of Reason

Two years passed and we get a heavier/experimental version of Harem Scarem.

Voice Of Reason

It’s written by Harry Hess and Pete Lesperance. The heaviness, the progressive elements and the harder edge immediately connects with me. And the groove just keeps the head nodding and the foot tapping. That solo/bridge section has this Beatles “She’s So Heavy” vibe. Love it.

Warming A Frozen Rose

It’s written by Harry Hess and Pete Lesperance.

It’s got this Circus Big Top feel to it and the possibilities that offers in the world of rock and metal are huge. And what about that swing jazz like solo section.

Candle

It’s written by Harry Hess and Pete Lesperance.

Euro Metal. Love the heaviness and that wicked slow groove tempo.

Reminds me of the styles of Axel Rudi Pell and Yngwie Malmsteen.

If you need an introduction into the world of Harem Scarem, then the first three albums are essential listening.

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A to Z of Making It, Influenced, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

Jamming and Nuances

The last band I was in didn’t jam. The drummer in the band wanted to hear a finished song with riffs and vocals before he even contemplated putting drums too it.

So the way it worked was that I would put a song together and then on a working day, get together with the singer and the bassist to flesh out and finalise the melody. We would record that acoustic/vocal demo on one of those Zoom Handheld devices and then circulate the mp3 out to the drummer.

In most cases, that finished song would be given to him with another sheet that would say something like;

0.00 to 0.45 – Reference the drum part in the verses of “The Bleeding” from Five Finger Death Punch
0.46 to 1.20 – Reference the drum part from the 2nd Verse in “Forsaken” from Dream Theater
1.21 to 1.40 – Is the 7/8 time section. Listen to “Natural Science” from Rush.
1.41 to 2.05 – Is the next 7/8 time section. Listen to “The Masterplan” from Evergrey.

On one hand I didn’t mind doing it this way, as I gave me a lot of control and on the other hand it bothered me. Because from jamming a lot of good musical ideas and progressions and performances could come out of it. It is those little musical nuances that make or break a song.

You know when that riff you had in 4/4 just got better when it syncopated with the bass and instead of playing 8th notes constantly it developed some groove.

Or that little hammer on and slide choice of notes coming out of the chorus and into the verse, just made that section flow better. Or that solo section building to a crescendo along with the beat.

It is all of those little nuances that come up from jamming a song. Bob Daisley summed it up when he said that Randy Rhoads, Lee Kerslake and himself got the best performances out of each other.

But then I thought about the band I was in before that. All we did was jam and record. It seemed like we had infinite rolls of tape. In one year we wrote 4 songs. The singer/guitarist at the time said quality over quantity. I argued back that quantity breeds quality by default. You try out all of the ideas and the quality ones will always stand up. What I had instead was a dictator saying either YES or NO to an idea.

There are no happy mediums for all involved.

Democracy in songwriting doesn’t work. Democracy in songwriting is like the Democracy in Australia (or the US or the UK). We believe that we have a say, however our Governments are ruled by the bureaucrats and the rich.

Growing up with the MTV generation suddenly our heroes were everywhere and the focus on writing THE SONG to film an expensive video clip for, meant that the bands or artists would have two to three-year gaps between albums.

And we have continued that trend well into 2014. Everyone still tries to write THE SONG or THE SONGS in some cases and then they surround THE SONG or THE SONGS with filler and call it an album. If you don’t believe me, name me all the tracks from your top 10 albums of the last two years. I guarantee you that you will fail.

And with what we know now, we don’t want that album unless it is great from start to finish or unless it is part of a vanity concept story.

Machine Head almost nailed the complete album with “The Blackening”. Go to Spotify and you will see that five from the top 10 most played tracks from their catalogue come from that album. If you add the two cover songs from Metallica and Iron Maiden, then that makes it seven.

I also dig the fact that for “Unto The Locust” they had only seven songs on the album with four stand outs in “Be Still and Know”, “Unto The Locust”, “Darkness Within” and “Who We Are”.

And from reading the blogs that Robb Flynn writes it is safe to say that Machine Head are a jam band with the final say sitting with him.

That is why after Machine Head pressed the reset button on their career after “Supercharger” they have gone from strength to strength. They’ve jammed themselves into lifers and still dealt with the complexities that are bands.

And there is no doubt about it, bands are complex and simple rules just don’t do anything to govern certain situations.

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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

What Happened to The Guitar Riff?

The mighty Guitar is still in the forefront of all the main hard rock and metal music. Regardless of what music style came and regardless what technological new medium came to kill it off, (like the Eighties midi craze), the mighty guitar has fought its way back time and time again.

Like a true champion it rises up from the canvas. That sound through glass tubes and cones made from paper. What can beat it?

To quote Dark Helmet, “Absolutely Nothing”.

Try as the trend setters might to eliminate distortion, the power chord and it’s many different versions remain unique. The human feel of a guitar is the essential element that makes a song unique and intimate enough to form a connection with a listener. You don’t see people growing up wanting to be clarinet and flute players.

It is an integral part of culture, both past and present. Think of Jimi Hendrix burning one or Pete Townsend smashing one or Randy Rhoads playing that immortal polka dot guitar or Eddie Van Halen’s Frankenstein guitar.

Think of all of the album covers that featured a guitar;

Dire Straits – “Brothers In Arms”
Stryper – “To Hell With The Devil”
Def Leppard – “On Through The Night”
AC/DC – Take your pick of the many classic album covers that involve Angus and his trusty Gibson SG.
The Cult – “Sonic Temple”
Van Halen – “Women And Children First”
Bruce Springsteen – “Born To Run”
Jeff Beck – “Guitar Shop”
MSG – “Built To Destroy”
Boston – The self titled debut and “Dont Look Back” covers are iconic.

At the moment, the number 1 hits around the world are “The Monster” by Eminem/Rihanna, “Timber” by Pitbull/Keisha and Happy by Pharrell Williams. Not a lot of guitar in those songs and if there is guitar, it is in the background, relegated to a support act.

It is not the main instrument in popular culture anymore.

The guitar is disappearing from popular culture.

So what happened.

So what happened to that riff that connects. The one that we can play air guitar to.

Commercial sensibilities are trumping artistic sensibilities.

Rock and Metal bands are churning out songs. Good songs. Great choruses. But no definitive riff. We hum the melodies, we tap the groove, but we don’t do the der, der, derr on the riff. For those who don’t know what the “der, der der” is, it is “Smoke On The Water” from Deep Purple.

Avenged Sevenfold came close with the “Hail To The King” album. Pissed off a lot of people in the process. They called them copycats. But they had the balls to create a classic rock album. And Classic Rock albums are created from influences.

Machine Head nailed it with “Be Still and Know” and “Unto The Locust”. But because of their niche, popular culture would never even know about it. Too ignorant to care.

Maybe it is the downtuning. Maybe it is the speed. Maybe it is the focus on the melody to be catchy.

One thing is certain, there are no riff driven songs, with a great hook doing 100,000,000 streams on Spotify. All of those numbers belong to Imagine Dragons, Avici, Daft Punk and a whole host of EDM artist and pop artists that have songs written by Max Martin.

And one last thing, for all the doubters that Spotify is hurting artists.

Check out this story.

Yep an independent artist that uses Tunecore as its digital distributor has earned from September 2010 to November 2013, $334,636 for over 57 million plays. It’s easy money earned by people listening to his music on a consistent basis. It’s that simple. It’s that pure. We create music so people can listen to it. First and foremost. And Spotify along with YouTube are here, telling the creators which songs are being listened too.

Isn’t that a great thing.

But hey, Spotify doesn’t pay artists said the old guard. Bullshit I say.

Spotify pays. It pays well. It is the record labels that don’t filter it down to the artists. It is the same old argument like before of Record labels not paying artists.

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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories, Piracy, Stupidity

In Music, Rules Are Meant To Be Broken (If You Want To Rock N Roll)

Small businesses need to understand that life’s changing and because it is changing so fast, it is a case of adapt or die.

To put it into perspective, the Australian Government recently signed a few Free Trade Agreements with South Korea and Japan, with China set to follow soon. All of this will make it easier for the big retail giants of those countries to enter the Australian market. All of these FTA’s makes it harder for small businesses to compete. Because as is the norm when big giants come into a market, prices go down, and for small businesses it does not make life easier, it makes it harder.

However, opportunities always emerge for the fast adapters.

Sort of like the music business.

The ones that adapted to the changes fast, survived. While the ones that complained and whined about peer-to-peer either perished or downsized.

Traditional music distributors. Gone or downsized. Replaced by Digital distributors.

Record Store Retail Outlets. More or less gone. Replaced by online shopping carts, streaming and digital downloads.

Publishing companies. Downsized or merged.

Record Labels. Downsized or merged. Saved by the tech industry.

Bands. Either are breaking up or are constantly replacing members.

So if small businesses needs to adapt to survive on a constant basis, than artists, record labels and the music business in general should be no different. And just because the recording business was dragged kicking and screaming to embrace mp3’s, then YouTube and then streaming, the innovation doesn’t end there. Adaption is the key.

Instead, the music business is cashed up and the record labels have a powerful lobby group that instead of innovating and adapting to the changes, they lobby hard to have laws passed to assist them.

Instead of adapting, they have the courts step in to assist them.

Instead of innovating, they had the Federal Police step up to the plate and assist them in using terrorist style raids on unsuspecting victims, like a 5-year-old girl and her Winnie The Pooh laptop.

And now that the recording business is all in with the techies, those same techies now have shareholders and boards that want profits first and innovation second.

Seen the stocks of Netflix, Facebook and Twitter recently. But tech is where the action is I hear people say. Well I say tech is where the action is up until profits trump innovation.

Music drove culture up until a point in time in the mid Eighties when executives put profit margins ahead of music.

And in business, cash flow is everything. In music, cash flow is a byproduct of great music.

In music, rules are meant to be broken. Innovation is about breaking the rules.

New musical legends will combine both and rise from the ashes to enrapture the public. And they will be different. These artists will not be interested in corporate deals and sponsorships.

These new artists will not be concerned about the past. They will be concerned about changing the future. With music. Like it was once before. When music led the way.

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