A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

Is Guitar World Still Relevant?

Once upon a time getting on the cover of a magazine was a sign of success or of dreams coming true. For the musical fan, the magazine was the only way that we could get any information from our favourite artists. The heyday for the metal and rock movements was the Eighties. Hundreds of different magazines appeared that covered certain genres and information was plentiful.

I started purchasing Guitar World magazines from January 1986. Any magazine that had content of bands/artists that I liked I devoured. Circus, Faces, Metal Maniacs, Rip, Metal Edge, Hit Parader, Guitar For The Practicing Musician, Hot Metal, Metal Hammer, Kerrang, Guitar School, Guitar One, Total Guitar, Guitar Player and Guitar.

So when I saw my favourite artists or guitarists on the cover of magazines I saw it as a sign of them making it. In all of the interviews, most of the guitarists said it was a dream come true to be on the cover of a Guitar magazine.

So how important is it to an artist to be on the cover of Guitar World today? I still subscribe to this magazine and I had all the issues for the year mapped out in front of me.

This is the cover roll for 2013.
December – Nirvana – In Utero Anniversary
November – John Petrucci
October – Synester Gates / Zacky Vengeance
September – Ultimate Prog Roundtable/Asking Alexandria
August – Jeff Hanneman Tribute
July – Tony Iommi and Ozzy Osbourne
June – Dave Mustaine / Chris Broderick
May – Brad Paisley
April – Orianthi
March – SRV “Texas Flood” Anniversary
February – The Who / Pete Townsend
January – Led Zeppelin Rides Again

Looking at the covers, I started to realise something.

Guitar World likes to play it safe. Sort of like a record label in the current environment. They are going for the sure bets, going where the money is. There is no onus on going out there and taking risks. They are looking for the hits, so that they can sell advertising.

If the “legends” have something happening or an anniversary of an album, it is a good bet that they will get a cover. Led Zeppelin, The Who, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Tony Iommi with Ozzy Osbourne and Nirvana. 5 issues out of 12 devoted to “legends”.

Then you have the tribute piece, which in this case it the Jeff Hanneman issue. Expect one to come out for Lou Reed soon.

Then it is focusing on the stars that have been proven successful previously in the magazine, like John Petrucci, Dave Mustaine and Avenged Sevenfold, who of course wouldn’t even be considered unless they have new releases coming out.

Then it has the obligatory issue with a woman on the cover. I actually liked how they covered Orianthi however the interview was a mish mash of information found on Wikipedia and PR rewrites. There was nothing there that couldn’t be found on the web.

The only issue that involved some ‘originality’ and some risk taking was the Brad Paisley issue however again after reading the interview piece, I was left wondering if the final printed version was re-written by a PR person of the artist.

Robb Flynn’s recent journal about the Through The Ashes of Empires anniversary, mentions the following in relation to mainstream media;
“The American metal media blacklisted us, magazines like Revolver told us, “we can’t cover you, but if you get to 50,000 copies we’ll give you an article.” When we got to 50,000 they said, “Well, when you get to 70,000 we’ll give you an article”. When we got to 70,000 they said, “well, the record is too old now.” The metal media of the time continued that blacklist well into “The Blackening” album cycle, when after that, they just didn’t matter anymore.”

So taking Robb Flynn’s comments and putting them up against the Brad Paisley cover issue, the originality comment I mentioned earlier doesn’t seem to fit. Brad Paisley has four pages of certifications on the RIAA Gold and Platinum database. His sales are well over the 50,000 and 70,000 ranges quoted, hence a cover.

Don’t get me wrong, each issue is still enjoyable and the lessons, plus the tabs are the reason why I still subscribe to it. However, with user posted tabs on the rise in greater numbers on the internet (along with peer reviews and edits), plus YouTube videos of guitarists covering their favourite songs, in addition to the artists themselves delving deep into the “how to play” department, does a magazine like Guitar World still have a relevance in today’s market?

It all depends on what Guitar World wants to achieve. People still like to read a nice interview however over the last decade all the interviews seem like they have been written by a PR team for the artist. Furthermore, artists can go straight to their audience today. The journals that Robb Flynn is producing are pure GOLD. So why would artists wait for the chance to appear in a magazine which could or could not happen.

Guitar World is in the business of selling advertising. It is using music and artists as it’s tool to sell advertising.

So if you are an artist, what does the mainstream press mean to your career?

In my point of view, no artist should equate mainstream press with success. Artists are on the front page for a day, and in most cases they are gone.

Has anyone read anything on Dream Theater’s or Black Sabbath’s new record the last few weeks? Dream Theater and Sabbath made a mistake. Their marketing campaign was better and larger than the music on the album. At the end of the day it’s what goes into our ears that matters. No one cares about the interviews or the press.

The publicity campaign worked once upon a time, however it doesn’t work any longer. If artists want to be around forever they need to understand that they need to grow slowly. If you peak, you should want it to happen deep into your career.

The only press that Megadeth is getting about their new album recently is that the Metallica Black album is outselling it on a weekly basis.

So what have we learned?

A cover on a magazine does nothing for your career. If you want to last in the music business, you need to earn it.

A scorched earth publicity campaign could see an increase in sales NOW. However, fans don’t want to be beaten upon the head every time you release music. In the end, great music will find its way to an audience.

The recording business is about listenability and repeatability. People could say that a track is good or bad. However will they play that track over and over again. That’s the reaction you want. If you plan to record, you need that track.

The goal of an artist is to write great songs otherwise say hello to obscurity. That is what gets people interested. Great music, great songs.

If you are not passionate about what you do you’re never going to make it. You need to be more into it than we are. You need to live for it.

For comparisons here is the list from 2012.

Holiday – Joe Perry (Legend)
December – The Beatles (Legends)
November – Billie Joe Armstrong (Safe Bet + High Sales Numbers)
October – Billy Gibbons (Legend)
September – Steve Vai & Tosin Abasi (Legend and Newcomer)
August – Van Halen (Legend + High Sales Numbers)
July – Slash (Legend + High Sales Numbers)
June – Slipknot (Safe Bet + High Sales Numbers)
May – Joe Walsh (Legend)
April – Van Halen (Legend + High Sales Numbers)
March – Lamb of God (Safe Bet + High Sales Numbers)
February – Pink Floyd (Legend + High Sales Numbers)
January – Billy Gibbons (Legend)

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A to Z of Making It, Alternate Reality, Music, My Stories, Piracy

Dreams of Machine Head’s new album, Great Fear Metaphor and the views of Mr Sixx

Machine Head’s trajectory in the 2000’s is comparable to Metallica’s trajectory in the Eighties. Yep, I know that Machine Head began in the Nineties and that their first album came out in 1994. However, after “Supercharger” in 2001, Machine Head pressed the reset switch on their career and due to certain circumstances, they started writing songs that they were producing as well.

In 2003, Machine Head released “Through The Ashes Of Empires”. To me this is comparable to “Ride The Lightning” from Metallica released in 1984.

In 2007, Machine Head released “The Blackening”. To me this is comparable to “Master Of Puppets” from Metallica released in 1986.

In 2011, Machine Head released “Unto The Locust.” To me this is comparable to “…And Justice For All” from Metallica released in 1988.

It looks like the new Machine Head album will have a street date sometime in 2014. The question is, will the new Machine Head album be comparable to the spectacular Black album from Metallica released in 1991.

Robb Flynn has put out some thoughts around the consumption of music and the way it is released and marketed. He was asking fans, what do they want Machine Head in respect to the new album. I agree with his mindset and his view point. So the question is, how will Machine Head release their new music?

Will they focus on just the existing CD format and packaging that the record labels have done since day dot?

Will they focus on the idea, that if you purchase the CD, you also get a digital rip of the album at the same time? (Amazon does this for participating bands and Coheed and Cambria did this for The Afterman releases).

Will they have a super deluxe packaging option for their hard core fans?

I actually had a dream that I purchased a super deluxe pack from Machine Head for their new album. In my dream, my subconscious mind gave the album the title of “Great Fear Metaphor”.

The pack included the following items (I still can’t believe I dreamt this stuff);

*A unique T Shirt, with band art on the front and on the back of the T-Shirt, the fans surname with a number like 00001 for the first person to purchase it, 00002 for the next and so forth. Each premium package focused on it being unique  and personalised.  I was allowed to purchase extra multiple T-Shirts in different sizes for a decent price so that I had the same shirts for my wife and my kids.

* Different album art for each Premium box.

* A 30 page booklet, that talks about the songs, their meanings, the musical inspirations behind the riffs with each page littered with tab like musical drawings/excerpts of some of the riffs and their leads.

* The usual CD plus DVD plus access to a digital download area, where I could download the mp3’s of the songs, plus early demo drafts of the songs.

In my opinion, the super deluxe packaging is for the super fan market and if bands are not satisfying this market, they are leaving money on the table.

I remember reading some of the negative comments in relation to Robb’s views on the CD format, and a lot of them said the same thing, like how can Robb Flynn be talking about abandoning the CD format when he is in the business of selling CD’s.  

Umm, no. Machine Head and Robb Flynn are in the music business. First and foremost, they create music. They are not in the business to sell CD’s. That was the role of the record label. In the past, for a fan to hear that music, it needed to be placed onto a format that could be distributed. These formats involved, LP’s, Cassettes and CD’s. This in turn gave control to the Record Labels. The record labels made money by exploiting the work of the artists it signed.  

Read this article about the introduction of certain formats and the resistance to those formats initially.

Two main things stood out to me in the article. The first is when cassettes came out in the seventies. People started to copy music onto these cassettes. So what do the music business do? They scream piracy and demand government action. In 1971, the music business had a Piracy convention in Geneva, to put into force an agreement to stamp out piracy. This is the comment from the article;

“Twenty-three countries have signed the agreement, which is expected to be widely ratified to provide an effective international protection against the pirating menace predicted as formidable enough to disrupt the whole of the world music industry if allowed to continue unchecked.”

Sound familiar to 2013. It looks like the music business didn’t get the hint back in 1971. People want to copy and share their music.

The next thing that stood out is the following comment;

“Unless you find another way of making money besides controlling copying, you will not last in the digital age.”

A person by the name of Ram Samudrala made that comment in Billboard Magazine issue that was dated July 18, 1998. That is 15 years ago. The Record Labels and the RIAA ignored the advice and as such, they failed their artists on their roster.

Fast forward to 2013, and you have the real artists trying to find other ways of making money besides record sales, while the record labels are still ignoring this advice and are trying to get back the control they had over copying and distribution by litigating against ISP’s, sharers, downloaders and trying to get legislation passed to benefit them.

Does it all sound familiar? A failure to innovate leads to a piracy unchecked problem. A failure to service the customer base leads to a piracy unchecked problem.

On the topic of innovation I want to comment on a favourite artists of mine, Nikki Sixx. He posted the below comments recently and I was very surprised at his stance, as I always viewed him as an innovator and someone that was always trying to find other ways to make money besides selling recorded music;

When I was scrounging through record shops as a kid you usually (unless you just shopped for single’s) bought the whole album. I always fell deeper in love with the band because “ALL” their songs spoke to me. Of course some jumped out at you right away while others grew on you but you didn’t skip any songs, you would listen from top to bottom over and over again.

When I started making albums I always believed the WHOLE album was the adventure. Of course there is the lead single for radio but when did THAT become the whole experience?

I talk to more and more people every day who tell me they only buy singles now. iTunes hasn’t helped for that of course. We have asked them many times to bundle our album as one download so fans wouldn’t cherry pick the hits and miss the hidden gems but it’s not part of their business model. I love iTunes and buy music almost daily from it but it still frustrates me. I just wish more people clicked “BUY ALBUM”. Maybe I am old fashioned in how I believe music should be listened to but I refuse to ever buy just a band’s single. I always buy the WHOLE album. I encourage you to do the same. Technology may have changed but the fact that a band makes a WHOLE album for you hasn’t.  Dig deep and I promise you, you will fall deeper in love with the artist than you ever could only listening to one song.

In relation to his first paragraph and the comment “you usually (unless you just shopped for single’s) bought the whole album”.

Yes, that is correct, we usually purchased the whole album because that was the only way we could hear the music. In a lot of independent record shops during the mid to late eighties, you couldn’t even find a single. The only option we had to buy was the album.

Remember the comments from Brad Paisley, it is always about the songs. That is why the fans stick around with the artists. As soon as the quality of the songs disappears, the fan becomes burned on the artist and they turn away. For any artist these days, if you want people to purchase the whole album, you need to create greatness. If you have 8 great songs, put 8 great songs on it. Don’t put 8 great songs and 4 fillers.

I have always purchased the albums from Motley Crue (as well as their box sets Music To Crash Your Car Vol. 1 and 2, Loud as F… and so on), Brides Of Destruction, Sixx A.M., 58, Tommy Lee, Methods of Mayhem and Vince Neil’s solo albums.

I always skip tracks from each Motley Crue album, because they are just not great.

One thing that Motley Crue has been very poor at is releasing super deluxe packaging for their super fans. They are dead set not satisfying this market.

I really like what Nikki Sixx has done with Sixx A.M so far, in the way that they have a book and a body of music with each release. However, as a fan you still needed to buy them separately. There was no super deluxe pack that was unique.  

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

It’s Always About The Songs

I am reading an article on Brad Paisley.

When he was asked about why he thinks his popularity resonates so strongly with audiences around the world, Paisley answered with the following:

“It’s always songs.”

He further adds that the minute an artist starts to think it’s them and not the songs they are singing that resonates, it is the moment that they start to think they are larger than life.

We are fans of music. We are attracted to the songs. If that same artist keeps churning out great songs, then we stick around. If they don’t, we go looking for something else.

I got into the band Bon Jovi because of the songs, not because of an individual. Desmond Child and Billy Falcon have co written alot of songs for the band, however their solo careers didn’t get any traction while Jon Bon Jovi’s solo career is a one hit wonder and Richie Sambora’s is aimed at a whole different audience.

I got into Coheed and Cambria because of the Amory Wars story and the songs. If I got into Coheed and Cambria because of an individual, then I would be also listening to all of the side projects.  

When it all comes down to it, the song is the only thing that remains. The top 10 list for my kids are the following songs;

1. Eye Of The Tiger from Survivor
2. Lick It Up from Kiss
3. We’re Not Gonna Take It from Twisted Sister.
4. Livin On A Prayer from Bon Jovi
5. Anyway You Want It from Journey
6. Smoke On The Water from Deep Purple
7. The Final Countdown from Europe
8. We Will Rock You from Queen
9. Back In Black from AC/DC
10. Iron Man from Black Sabbath

The kids of today don’t say the band name, they say the song name. In time the above songs will be covered over and over again, further obscuring, the original writer. All The Young Dudes from Mott The Hoople and originally written by David Bowie, has been covered by Bruce Dickinson, Ozzy Osbourne, Aerosmith, Angel, Tesla, The Smashing Pumpkins, Judas Priest and Stone Temple Pilots.

My kids love the song Cum On Feel The Noize. They don’t care which version they hear (Slade or Quiet Riot), they only care about hearing the song. I never went back to hear the original Slade version. I was quite content with the Quiet Riot version.

In the same interview, Paisley talks about some truths in relation to technology.

“It’s a constant challenge to try and get people’s attention,” Paisley said. For instance, he can put a huge amount of effort in a music video (such as his recent “Southern Comfort Zone”), “and then you’re upstaged by ‘David at the Dentist.‘”

This is real life example of an artist and their backers, spending time and money to produce something of decent quality, only to be trumped by a video that cost almost nothing to make.

The record labels whine and complain about piracy, however their real problem is that they do not know how to compete in the market place.

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