A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

A Clash Of Singles

Remember the days of purchasing an album based on a heavily marketed opening track and to find out that the album had 1 great song and 2 to 3 maybe 4 decent songs. And the rest were there as pure filler.

So the public, after being burnt so many times on purchases like these really took to the whole cherry picking idea when the mp3 became available. It wasn’t the artists fault, it was the fault of the greedy record labels.

And now with streaming, we have taken it up a notch.

Look at the streaming count of Journey.

“Don’t Stop Believin” is at 70.8 million streams on Spotify. Nothing else even comes close from Journey’s catalogue to that one song and how many albums have Journey released so far. A lot. But “Don’t Stop Believin” is the song.

It has also sold over six million digital copies and when it was released back in the early Eighties it didn’t even hit Number 1.

Bon Jovi have the usual suspects.

“Livin On A Prayer” is approaching 30 million streams and “It’s My Life” is at 21.3 million streams. “You Give Love A Bad Name” and “Wanted Dead Or Alive” are also up there. That is why “Slippery When Wet” was a strong album.

Name me the Journey album that had “Don’t Stop Believin” on it without Googling it.

I expect the fans of the band to know, however in 2014, I also guarantee you that a lot of people would not know that the album was called “Escape” and that the song goes back all the way to 1981. “Don’t Stop Believin” even though it wasn’t a number one hit, pushed the “Escape” album to Number 1. And it was a Blockbuster of a song. Just the way the record label liked it.

Journey was touring Australia a few years back and my work friend got tickets and asked me if I was going. I said that I am not interested in seeing Journey without Steve Perry. And their response was;

“What is it with me and my appreciation for guitarists”.

Here is a person, that purchased two Journey tickets and he didn’t know who Steve Perry was and I couldn’t believe that he actually thought that Steve Perry is the guitarist in the band. Your honour, I rest my case. But the truth of the matter is this, no one cares these days who wrote the song, who played on the song, who produced the song and so forth.

All they care about is THE SONG.

And music is a cultural beast. Nobody owes a musician a living, never mind the executives trying to keep enslaved musicians as cash cows. But if you create that song, expect a living.

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

Grammy Awards

It’s a gimmick. From when Jethro Tull won the first metal award at the Grammy’s, the whole awards night and nominations has been a joke when it comes to metal and hard rock music. Hell, even metal heads said “who is Jethro Tull” when his name was announced. Jethro Tull didn’t even turn up to the awards ceremony because their label told them they wouldn’t win.

I am all in for metal music to be recognised, however it’s time to call a spade a spade. The Grammy awards for metal doesn’t recognise anything. It is a dead set joke. The Revolver awards are a step in the right direction however they are not much better as they play up to the ‘PR’ companies who assist in writing their stories. You see, we live in a different world right now where we get to choose what we want to listen to from a plethora of choices. Does anybody really care who wins or is nominated?

Having Metallica win the “Best Metal Performance” in 1990 for “One” and then in 1991 for “Stone Cold Crazy” just added to the Grammy metal jokes.

“One’s” fate was tied with the “…And Justice For All” album and that was meant for the 1989 Grammy ceremony. And seriously, for the 1991 awards, a cover song was the best that was on offer in the metal world for releases released from October 1989 to September 1990. I don’t think so.

Even in 1999, Metallica won again for “Better Than You”. For which song, I hear you say. “Better Than You.” Does anyone know from which album it was on or how the riff goes or the vocal melody? I bet that most people will answer NO.

Fast forward to the 2014 nominations. The nominations are Anthrax – “T.N.T.”, Black Sabbath – “God Is Dead?”, Dream Theater – “The Enemy Inside”, Killswitch Engage – “In Due Time” and Volbeat – “Room 24” featuring King Diamond. Scott Ian has even said that he didn’t know that Anthrax could be nominated for their cover songs.

From an artist point of view a Grammy nomination can be trumpeted as a marketing success in future promotions however it means nothing if the music isn’t great. Even in movies, who cares if a new movie has Oscar nominated actors if the movie is a dud. Same deal with music. Who cares if Megadeth has been nominated for the most Grammy’s without a win? We only care if the music is great?

Yep, Motorhead won a Grammy in 2006, beating out acts like Cradle of Filth, Hatebreed, Killswitch Engage and Slipknot. Can anyone name the track and the album it is on without Googling it. Yep, Judas Priest won an award in 2010 for a live track of Dissident Aggressor. Seriously, a live track. That is the best that was on offer.

If the music is not repeatable and if people are not listening to it, it’s time to go back and write some more songs. To think that the Grammys’ are a reflection of heavy music today is akin to saying what Loudwire rights is gospel. Did anyone read their praising review of the first Red Dragon Cartel gig? It was a shock to the 99.9% of the audience in attendance who blasted the show on Facebook and other social media sites.

NARAS is beholden to the old major label structure. That structure is going through a chaotic time and for some of it is crumbling. So what does NARAS do? They nominate what the labels push and lobby. They get it wrong year after year as their membership is declining. In other words, the current music paradigm looks for people to lead and NARAS has none.

The old paradigm is gone. Entertainment and music are owned by the fans. The days of Producers, Record Label A&R’s and Publishing people voting for who should be nominated and who should win are over. If these people think they are above the audience, then they are in for a rude shock.

Musicmetrics has shown Iron Maiden where their pirate (copyright infringing) fans are and Iron Maiden rewarded them by doing concerts there. However apart from the websites that report critically on these issues, the rest of the media ignores the story, because they are beholden to the labels or to the old newspaper system. So of course, they cannot be trumpeting the virtues of copyright infringement.

What we should be awarding is music that managed to get their message out to people. In 2013 we are inundated with so much information, so we decide to invest time into music that interests us or really connects with us.

So what is important. The bottom line is this.

If a band is at decent “star” level, they will get traction because they have proven themselves. They do not need a Grammy nomination or a Grammy win to trumpet their next album. If Megadeth releases another stiff album, then they can expect to do even lower numbers on their next tour, because in the end ten tracks slapped together means nothing if nobody isn’t interested. Same for Dream Theater.

The plan today is back to selling songs. The record labels wish that is not the case, however that is just denying the inevitable. Music is a hit for a reason. It’s because its good. It’s not because it won a Grammy award or got nominated for a Grammy award.

Otherwise a Grammy nomination is near meaningless. A footnote. It doesn’t service the fans. That’s the music business right now. The fans have the power. They deserve the respect.

Standard
A to Z of Making It, Influenced, Music, My Stories

Expectations (Alter + Adapt) = Survival (with Machine Head and Twisted Sister)

There is an interview with Jay Jay French that is doing the rounds at digiday. In the first question, he is asked what tips he would offer young bands today.

“Alter your expectations, because people make the wrong expectations. We adapted our expectations over the years, consistently, and that’s how we survived.”

Classy words and very simple.

Expectations (Alter + Adapt) = Survival

So what do all of our favourite bands/artists keep on doing? They keep on spending a lot of time writing and recording 10 to 15 songs, just so they can group them together and release them as an album. This “expectation” worked once upon a time. However it is not working today. Metal artists are lucky that metal fans are loyal and that we still purchase the “album.”

Of course exceptions exist, and it only works if all the songs are undeniable.

Machine Head hit the nail on the head with “Unto The Locust”. Seven tracks that will stand the test of time.  For the new album, 5 song titles have been made available and a few more are in progress. So I think it is safe to assume that we will be getting another 7 to 8 tracks as a long player. Instead of providing an album with the “expected” 10 to 12 tracks, Machine Head are focusing on quality instead of quantity. Altering and adapting.

Did “Unto The Locust” set the sales figures alight? Of course not. It did what it needed to do. It satisfied the hardcore audience of Machine Head. Now if metal bands want to reach the 500,000 to 1,000,000 sales targets then they need to have that undeniable crossover song.

Imagine if Machine Head comes out with their own Crazy Train, Enter Sandman, Symphony Of Destruction or Holy Diver. A song like that will satisfy their hard core fan base and it will also satisfy a lot of other people in the hard rock, power metal, heavy metal, progressive and even pop rock genres.

Check out the following comment from Anita Elberse and her book “Blockbusters: Hit-Making, Risk-Taking, And The Big Business Of Entertainment”. It is probably the best advice that any artist will get.

“…out of a total of 870,000 albums that sold at least one copy in 2011, 13 album titles sold more than a million copies each, together accounting for 19 million copies sold. That’s 0.001 percent of all titles accounting for 7 percent of sales. The top 1,000 albums generated about half of all the sales, and the top 10,000 albums around 80 percent of sales. Deep in the tail, 513,000 titles or nearly 60 percent of the assortment, sold fewer than 10 copies each, together making up half a percent of total sales.”

513,000 album titles sold fewer than 10 copies each. So if you are one of those 513,000 bands that sold less than 10 copies, what do you do?

You obviously expected a better return on your investment. A lot of artists will give up, a lot of bands will break up and then there will be a small percentage who will adapt and alter their expectations. Remember, I have always said that in order to be successful, you need to outlast the competition.

What about singles? I have been saying for a long time to anyone who listens that we live in a single world. As soon as fans got the option to cherry pick what they like, the “tracks” became the rock stars instead of the album. The below is from the same book written by Anita Elberse.

“In 2011, 102 tracks sold more than a million units each, accounting for 15 percent of total sales. That is not a typo: 0.00001 percent of the eight million tracks sold that year generated almost a sixth of all sales. It is hard to overstate the importance of those few blockbusters in the head of the curve. And the trend suggests that hits are gaining in relevance. In 2007, 36 tracks each sold more than a million copies, together these tracks accounted for 7 percent of total market volume. In 2009, 79 tracks reached that milestone; together they make up 12 percent of the sales volume.”

If the above statement doesn’t make the artist realise that we are living in a singles world, then those artists need to re-evaluate their place in the music world. Even Robb Flynn stated in his most recent post that he doesn’t feel like they have written the definitive track like “Halo” and “Locust” for the new album.

In relation to Twisted Sister, the band kept on evolving over a 10 year period and by 1984, with the rise of MTV, the timing was right for them to take full advantage of it. However for Twisted Sister, the success proved nasty as Jay Jay explains;

“The downside of it is we exploded so fast that – even though the band had been together 11 years at that point – the heat of the immense popularity, the worldwide success put so much pressure on the band. The band couldn’t sustain itself and eventually collapsed.”

Dee Snider joined Jay Jay French and Eddie Ojeda in 1976. Jay Jay on the other hand was at it since 1972. He finally found success in 1984. Twelve years slugging it out. Twelve years of rejection and broken promises. Do any of the new artists today have that same kind of thick skin? Do they have the longevity to stick it out. To succeed in the music business, you need to outlast the competition and the competition these days is fierce for listener’s attention.

This is what Metallica has done. This is what Machine Head has done. This is what Motley Crue has done. They are outlasting the competition. They are adapting and evolving.

 

Standard
A to Z of Making It, Copyright, Music, My Stories, Piracy, Treating Fans Like Shit

Create The Undeniable Song – It Will Sell

I am listening to “Are You Gonna Go My Way” today, the third studio album by American rock musician Lenny Kravitz, released in 1993.

It’s funny that after all this time I still like only 3 songs from the CD, which are “Believe”, “Sister” and “Are You Gonna Go My Way” in that order. There is also a track called “All My Life” that appeared on some bonus CD’s or as a B-side that is also up there. However, to hear all of the songs mentioned, I had to purchase the record label “promotional tool”; the good ol’ expensive CD.

That is why the album went multi-platinum everywhere.

Consumers of music had to purchase 10 to 14 songs, just to hear 4 to 5 songs. Of course we could have purchased the singles, however at $7 a single (that was the price in 1993), why spend $14 on two songs, when for $20 (on sale) or $27 (as a new release) you could buy the album.

I actually purchased the album for the song “Believe”. That is a great song and a dead sit hit in my book. When that lead break cuts in at the end, along with the strings, it’s goose bumps all the way.

The album went Gold (U.S) in May, 1993, three months after its release. By June, 1993, it was certified Platinum (U.S). By January, 1995, it was certified 2x Multi-Platinum. If you look at Kravitz’s most recent certification, it is for a single. How times have changed?

I don’t want to pay for a batch of songs I don’t like anymore. I didn’t used to be this way. I lived for music.

Misguided people think that piracy ruined the recorded business. What they don’t realize is that most people didn’t want the album/CD. People wanted that unique track. When the CD came and the record labels started charging us a fortune for it, albums suddenly became very long.

Instead of getting 35 to 45 minutes of music every year, we started to get 50 to 70 minutes of music every two to three years.

So the recording business saw the large profit margins and just kept on marching along with the overpriced CD’s business model, using MTV to push and promote the artists. So when people got the option to download, to cherry pick what they wanted to hear, a whole new market place was born.

We didn’t have to pay attention to what the major labels pushed on us anymore or any other label for that matter, because we started to have options. Today, we have options galore. That is why there will not be any super stars like there used to be. Competition in the market place diluted the record sales.

When I see artists like Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich complaining about Spotify, I just shake my head. Thom and Nigel have to be real damn great just to have a little bit more than a tiny audience today. The old paradigm of fans purchasing CD’s that had a lot of filler because very little content was available is over.

To stand out today, artists like Thom and Nigel have got to be incredible. Protest The Hero went via Indiegogo to raise funds for “Volition”. Their goal was $125K and they ended up getting over $341,146 USD from a fan base of 8361 fans. I gave $50. A small audience that was happy to spend money.

The report from the “London School of Economics” called “Copyright & Creation: A Case for Promoting Inclusive Online Sharing” hits the nail on the head. Online piracy is not hurting the music industry. It has put a dent in recorded music sales, however that was inevitable with the shift in technology, the over saturated marketplace and the years of fan abuse by pushing overpriced CD’s. It’s simple economics. There is so much supply and the fans of music demand only what is great.

There is an argument from certain song writers that since people began downloading music without paying, royalties for them have dried up. Some have even had to take full-time jobs. Big deal is what I say. If you are a songwriter, then write more songs and better ones. Copyright was never designed to be a pension fund.

The bottom line is this – if the artist creates that undeniable song, they will have no problems selling it. The song will sell itself. I parted with $27 back in 1993 for the song “Believe.”

Looking at all the certifications around the world from the industry bodies, one thing is certain. The singles are dominating. So all those metal and rock bands spending years and dollars on a long player are doing it wrong.

Even Metallica now, have single Platinum certifications from songs that were released on their first five albums.

The following songs were given a GOLD certification by the RIAA (U.S) on December 13, 2012.

  • For Whom The Bell Tolls
  • Fade To Black
  • The Unforgiven
  • Master Of Puppets
  • Nothing Else Matters
  • One
  • Enter Sandman (was also given a Platinum certification for both digital and physical singles)
  • The Day That Never Comes
  • Until It Sleeps

Five albums are presented in the above list that ranges from 1983 to 2008.

We don’t need new laws to provide better protection for artist copyright. We need artists to create great tracks. We need laws that reduce copyright and puts the focus back on the Public Domain.

We don’t need to encourage internet service providers to make their customers do the right thing. We need to give customers a reason to buy.

If the customers have that reason, then they will buy.

Standard