February 15, 2009
…with their new album Merriweather Post Pavilion, they have been promoted to a bigger league, where they’re a talking point for a whole new set of people who, until recently, had no interest in their existence.
Just like when you pass by a mirror and can’t resist taking a glance, people are looking for the flattering angle, for a stance on the band and their music that makes the opinionator look good.
I like this concept of a mirror group. Reynolds cites MIA, Vampire Weekend and Kid A-era Radiohead as recent examples, though I’d argue that the release of OK Computer heralded Radiohead’s tipping point.
I’ll add Kings Of Leon to that list. Two mildly successful albums, and then a surge in popularity upon the release of Because Of The Times and its lead single On Call in 2007. But that album was nothing compared to the runaway success of 2008’s Only By The Night and Sex On Fire.
Reynolds is right about Animal Collective. They’ve flittered away under my radar for a couple of years, and I chose to ignore them, if only because I wasn’t pushed hard enough in their direction.
But that’s changed with the new album. Aziz Ansari linked to their excellent video for My Girls, which burns bright with kaleiodscopic joy. (The “woo!”s in the background of the chorus totally make the song, btw)
And that’s all it takes. A solid recommendation, and I’ll pay attention to a band for a song or an album or a lifetime. I downloaded the album and I like it. I’ll recommend it to my friends and see them when they tour.
At a deeper level, beneath the particulars of aesthetics and resonance, what’s really at issue is, I think, the status and function in our culture of “middlebrow”. With Merriweather, almost everyone is either castigating or applauding Animal Collective for their tentative steps into the middling regions of pop culture: that Kid A zone where mild experimentalism meets not-too-obvious melodicism.
The space between the underground and the mainstream is a tricky intersection for musicians to navigate. Stray too far from your roots, and you’ll be abandoned by your core fanbase – your tribe.
Primal Scream are a fine example of a band whose sound has varied wildly across their career, yet their musical diversity allows them to successfully embody many genres – or wear many masks, if you’d like – when performing live.
Many musical thoughts for a Sunday evening. An open question – which sounds are exciting you at the moment?
January 28, 2009
Laughing Clowns / Bob Farrell
Gallery of Modern Art, South Bank Fri Jan 23
Ed Kuepper pensively smokes a cigarette as a healthy crowd streams through the Gallery’s entrance. His eyes are focussed across the river, toward the city lights. Perhaps he’s thinking of the handful of shows that his Laughing Clowns have played since their reformation a fortnight ago at the Mount Buller leg of the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival; their first full-band performance since 1984. En route to the venue, I’m nervous. Rarely do I approach a show with such trepidation: the Buller set was the apex of a weekend crammed with remarkable performances. Can Kuepper and his fellow musicians match my expectations? This question bounces around my head as we politely witness original Clowns member Bob Farrell toil through a languid half-hour split between piano, saxophone and seemingly stream-of-consciousness sing-song rants.
My apprehension is soon proven baseless. Kuepper and his four bandmates address the hundreds-strong audience with their unique saxophone-led rock style, which is augmented by keys and double bass. Their handful of studio albums are equally represented: The Flypaper, Nothing That Harms and Collapse Board are highlights, the latter of which Kuepper ironically cites as the “most depressing song in rock and roll”, while surrounded by an art exhibit named Optimism.
Immense-sounding signature tune Eternally Yours is a flawless set closer, but trust a jubilant hometown crowd to demand the band’s first-ever encore. Louise Elliott’s scorching saxophone melodies – equal parts soothing and scornful – are integral to the band’s timelessly electrifying sound: she trades sax for flute during New Bully In The Town, before Kuepper opts to close with Saints-era track Winter’s Way. Venue curfew is enforced; bassist Biff Miller is loathe to part with his instrument, but the five members reluctantly leave an equally reluctant crowd. Saxophone melodies are whistled long and loud as we disperse, smiling into the night. Classy, Clowns.
January 27, 2009
Taking a page out of rock n’ roll’s history book of music icons, DBH will be partnering with bands that span the spectrum from the great classics of all time to the hottest emerging musical artists today. Packed with tons of cool prizes and a chance for worldwide recognition, the DBH Music Series brings a whole new level to the world of t-shirt design contests.
First prize: $1500 cash, $200 DBH store credit, and 2 backstage passes to a Fleetwood Mac concert with an opportunity to meet the band.
Nevermind that Fleetwood Mac aren’t cool anymore – this is a great example of an industry dinosaur adapting to the community-based nature of the web. Hot Chip ran a similar contest in conjunction with Threadless, though the winning shirt was only available online.
No tandem announcement on the band’s website, which is a missed opportunity. While DBH would have a sizeable database, how many of those are fans of the ‘Mac? Though, maybe they’re not necessarily targeting fans of the band: the chance for your design to appear behind the merch desk of a hugely popular band’s world tour is a unique proposition.
But it shouldn’t be.
Artists across the world should buy into the opportunity to foster community participation in their merchandising decisions. Advertise, outsource talent, and encourage your fanbase to vote and comment on the result.
Unhappy with the designs presented by local artists? Advertise online describing the look you’re after, and see what comes back. A fan on the other side of the world might have kick-ass shirt ideas and the talent to deliver. So why bother with the same tired plain-colour-with-chest-logo formula that many bands still follow?
Interesting, non-standard shirt designs attract attention. I wear Threadless and, more recently, DBH designs because they’re far more remarkable than the marginally modified crap that popular Australian labels churn out each season. They stand out, so you get noticed. Which is great, if that’s your goal.
Furthermore, I know that the design I’m wearing was made by a person who was rewarded for their efforts. That’s how Threadless and DBH work: you submit a design, and if it gets printed, you get paid in cash and store credit. And your name (or pseudonym) is attributed to your work, which appears online and on the neck of the shirt.
All of these factors add to the stickiness of user-generated clothing designs. They’re worth sharing, which adds to your brand equity. People talk about your brand. The successful designers are happy because they’re rewarded for their talents. They show their friends and family. They promote their work on their personal websites.
All of these factors create a community – a tribe – around your brand. A group who’re happy to champion your cause and improve the quality of the result. If that’s not your goal as a company in 2009, it should be: maximise returns by engaging with and listening to your userbase.
I’m glad that Design By Humans are working with popular musicians to form tribes around their merchandising, which is an area of fiscal pertinence in an era of diminishing returns on recorded work. For all but the biggest bands, it’s no longer a matter of selling albums: instead, the goal is to maximise the amount of ears that hear your work in order to encourage tour attendance.
January 21, 2009
According to data released by IFPI Communications in the UK this week, it is estimated that more than 40 billion illegal downloads of songs occurred during 2008.
While digital downloads accounted for revenues of around $3.7 billion last year, it is estimated than more than 95% of downloads are still via illegal means.
I hear a new artist, or existing artist’s new release on the radio or on MySpace or on YouTube or in street press or through a friend recommendation.
I immediately check whether I can acquire the mp3s, through a variety of channels that I won’t divulge here. If I can – awesome. Download immediately, save to disk; in most cases, transfer to iPod. Then:
Listen to music. Do I like?
- Tell friends to listen to music
- Attend show if they tour – most often in a reviewing capacity
- Bring friends to show
- Buy album (in rare cases)
- Buy merch (in even rarer cases)
- Tell friends not to listen to music
- Do not listen to music
This is how I’ve operated for over a year. I’ve written about this before.
Impress me, or get the hell out of my ears. There’s simply too much good music out there to waste even a couple of minutes listening to a poor, or even an average song.
It’s 2009. The above data should not be surprising. I doubt that many musicians dare to dream of making a decent full-time living from their craft. Competition grows stronger each day, and attention gets diverted further.
I download music regularly. This is my musical microeconomy. What’s yours?
January 19, 2009
That saxophone melody. I realise on the bus ride down the mountain that I could probably listen to it forever.
The band had the restraint not to play the song as on record, which frustrated me for several minutes. Here it is, in many ways a perfect song, and they have the nerve to modify it?
Which is, of course, an entirely irrational line of thinking, and it was soon flung from my mind.
And so five humans stood before me, carefully dabbing with brushes at the canvas of a masterful creation. That saxophone melody fills me with the most extraordinary feeling of elation, optimism, joy, compassion. Some truly primal emotions were awakened within me, and as I don’t fully understand them, I feel inadequate to even mention them.
“See you again in 2034,” smirked the guitarist, as they left the stage.
Damn him. Damn him and his band and their talent and whatever remained between them for 25 years. This was a musical experience on par with few others in my lifetime. I am thankful that I will get to experience a similar performance at least once more.
The above was written following the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival that took place at the Mount Buller Ski Resort, January 9-10 2009. The band in question is Ed Kuepper‘s Laughing Clowns, and the song is Eternally Yours.
My short review of the weekend:
Friday is for wide-eyed exploration of the festival’s unique locale: hitching a chairlift ride just metres away from the main stage’s massive sound system is exhilarating. We bear witness to Bill Callahan as Smog, accomplished blues artist James ‘Blood’ Ulmer at the Ampitheatre and five Kim Gordons masquerading as Beaches – a compliment, make no mistake. Not-so-secret mystery act Grinderman squint into the afternoon sunlight and pound out a powerful set of masculine depravity, which provides stark contrast to the restrained brilliance of improvisational maestros The Necks.
Dirty Three greet the night with an edited performance of Ocean Songs, while The Saints re-enact 2007’s Pig City performance with striking accuracy and largely without passion. Guitarist Ed Kuepper is much more comfortable fronting the reformed Laughing Clowns on Saturday, who turn in an enrapturing performance of their jazz-affected post-punk and conclude with the towering saxophone melody and festival highlight of Eternally Yours.
The aging faces of Silver Apples and Harmonia are visually anachronistic and aurally futuristic, yet this doesn’t stop the buoyant crowd from engaging with the pioneering electronic sounds of either act. This open-mindedness rates among the most attractive trait displayed by festival-goers; though, perhaps this willingness to trial uncharted sounds is more indicative of our trust in the curators’ judgement, which remains impeccable across two days.
The earth-shattering electronic distortion of British pair Fuck Buttons is sonically distant from the cute thrash-pop of Japanese girl duo Afrirampo, yet both acts win legions of new fans following outstanding performances. Greek lyre-playing wonder Psarandonis inspires mass-gypsy dancing as light fades on Saturday evening, before Spiritualized conquer the main stage with their powerful, gospel-inspired noise rock. Fourteen arms and fourteen legs comprise festival curators Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, who see off a memorable weekend in their affecting, incomparably badass style.
While failing to reach venue capacity, All Tomorrow’s Parties organisers succeed in ensuring that the inaugural ATP Australian festival is smoothly-run and highly memorable. It’s heartening that this boutique event can cater for the more discerning music fan; the overwhelmingly positive consensus among attendees leads one to believe that the market for future events is only going to increase.
I reviewed the Brisbane Riverstage ATP show, too.
The Gold Coast Big Day Out yesterday was such a departure, or more accurately, a return to the reality of Australian music festivals. Unpleasant isn’t the right word, but it’s the first word that comes to mind.
Where ATP was about open spaces, hand-picked artists, musical exploration and community, BDO represents crowded spaces, populist musical decisions, overt nationalist pride and exceeding one’s limits, ostensibly in the name of a good time. Like some kind of devolutionary race to the bottom.
I’m not complaining. I chose to attend, and I enjoyed myself. It’s just interesting to compare the objectives for but two of the dozens of festivals that dot the Australian summer calendar.
January 4, 2009
The Hottest 100 is an annual poll conducted by Australian radio station Triple J. It’s the largest music poll in the world, and while I’m not disillusioned enough to believe that my input will affect the results (how’s it feel to be on top, Kings Of Leon, Presets and MGMT?), there’s still a tiny sense of self-satisfaction to be gained by voting for ten songs that enlightened my year.
Video links included where possible, else MySpace.
Note that these are tracks were released in 2008 and appeared in the voting list. And unlike previous years, Triple J didn’t output a list of my votes in the auto-generated confirmation email, so I had to re-compile the above list from memory.
More accurately, the songs I listened to most in 2008 are as follows:
December 2, 2008
Frustrated, but still intent on purchasing directly from the label, I sent this email to the contact address nominated in the page header:
Here’s the deal: I want to buy the Zillions album online and I’d rather purchase from you guys than JB Hi Fi.
The album is not listed for sale in the store (http://www.speaknspellmusic.com/store/).
How quickly can you make this happen? I can pay for the album via credit card, PayPal or direct deposit and would like to have it in my possession this week.
I’m in Brisbane.
It’s been two full business days since I sent that email on November 30. I’m yet to receive a response.
So, why is this a big deal?
- I went out of my way to buy directly from the label, not a franchised record store
- The label hasn’t updated their web store with an album that’s been available for almost a month
- The label is unresponsive to a direct sales enquiry
- The label is not satisfying a potential customer
- The potential customer is now sharing his negative sales experience with the world
There’s a disconnect within Speak N Spell Music’s organisational structure. Nobody is responding to their primary online sales point of contact.
A shame, because I’d really like to hear that album.
November 26, 2008
Music criticism, to quote Chuck D: “You talk about it but you can’t do it.” But now that there is all this blogging shit going on critics have become like mild mannered primary school teachers trying to control their bitchy little charges. Which is funny cause nine out of ten critics are at uni. Blogging has cut the balls off music criticism. But even when critics are being cool it’s still weird. Rock’n’roll is pretty retarded and writing about it is really scraping the literary barrel. Why would you bother? Do something useful for fuck’s sake.
Ampersand Magazine asked the singer from Australia’s best band to defend or attack any one of the following topics: eugenics, psychoanalysis, nudism, superstition, pop art or music criticism. He responded bluntly to all of the above. Props to Mess + Noise for the tip.
November 12, 2008
I attended Q Music‘s workshop at the Troubadour last night. The topic was music promotion, marketing and public relations; speakers included Brent Hampstead (Media Hammer), Jo Nilsen (Butcher Birds), Megan Reeder (Secret Service/Dew Process) and Kellie Lloyd (Q Music/Screamfeeder). The venue was filled with seated bodies, mostly youngsters, who were privy to some valuable advice from the four experienced industry representatives.
What follows is a series of notes I took in chronological order. It’s best to take each paragraph as a separate thought, though they are all joined under the umbrella of music promotion, marketing and public relations. My interjections are italicised.
Introduction: marketing your music incorporates promotion and publicity.
Steps as an artist:
Record some music.
Decide whether you’re distribute it online or in physical form.
Write a marketing plan with specific targets. Budget? Street press goals? MySpace? Pitching to radio station? How do you plan to spend your budget?
Decide and arrange how you wish to present your image as an artist. Use a creative photographer.
Conduct a cohesive launch of your product into the market.
Create a community from a grassroots level – since that’s where you’ll be starting.
Don’t overcommunicate your message; people have their own lives.
Andrew: If they’re willing to take the time to listen to your music, that’s great. If they’re willing to reach out and communicate with you, that’s amazing. I don’t think enough time was spent discussing this. Getting a person to hear your music in an accomplishment. Being remarkable enough for a person – not a friend, family member, or acquaintance – to take the time to add you as a friend, send you a message, give you feedback on your creative output – that’s incredible. That’s to be cherished. It’s the equivalent of a person stopping you in the street and commenting on your appearance. That shit rarely happens. If I were a musician, I would not take my first fan for granted. The first ten. The first hundred, the first thousand. Attention is a scarce resource, and I think this is absolutely worth keeping in mind.
Personalise your responses to any feedback or thanks, wherever possible. To be successful and valuable at any level of media, ensure that you engage in personal, polite and professional feedback.
Acquire or subscribe to the Australasian Music Industry Directory (AMID). This contains key information that you’d otherwise spent hours Googling. Brent mentioned that the importance of the AMID was one of the strongest take-away points.
Electronic press kits aren’t used much anymore. Instead, press releases via email – bio, photo, compressed mp3.
Mailing physical copies of your recorded CDs is a waste of valuable merch money. These products are just added to a pile in an office and are easily ignored.
Megan explained that Dew Process have people devoted to digital content creation and maintaining interest in their artists, through MySpace updates, video blogs, regular content to reminder each artist’s fanbase of their activity.
Brent stated that you should think about online content as early as possible. Record and document as much as you can, as you’ll never know when you’ll want or need it. Andrew: This is an important point that they didn’t really dwell on – this generation has greater access to information and the ability to record and publish than any other. The cost of storage and data is constantly decreasing. Take advantage of this.
Brent mentioned Short Stack as a great example of a band who have built a strong online community around them which has translated into success, popularity, tours and a record deal.
Some web companies will provide content for free. Jo mentioned Moshcam, who’ll record your show (in Sydney) and provide you with a DVD recording free of charge. Andrew: This sounds a little hard to believe and requires further investigation.
How do you attract people to your site, or your online community? This relates to setting out a coherent marketing plan. Target, in order: blogs, street press, newspapers, community radio, JJJ, television.. solidify each community before moving on. Andrew: They forgot to state that this takes time and requires patience, and dedication. But I guess that goes without saying.
Prepare a biography that tells a story. How do you want to be presented? Answer the obvious questions – how you met, where the name came from – to avoid these being repeated in interviews. Though you’ll always get writers who have under-researched. Brent stated that your bio needs a hook – you need to give someone a reason to want to read about you.
Print media runs on two types of lead times: long and short. Bigger publications such as Rolling Stone and Jmag tend to set a deadline six weeks in advance for the majority of content. Street press generally run on a one or two week lead time. Online is shorter again, due to the ability to quickly turn around content. Andrew: I just discovered that Rolling Stone Australia has no online presence. What a missed opportunity.
Set a release date for your product – single, EP, album, gig – and work backwards from that point. Stick to it. Plan ahead so that you’re not caught out. Organise marketing efforts – remember, this incorporates promotion and publicity.
With regard to street press – don’t hound them. Politely request interviews, reviews, features. They’re generally nice, but constantly under pressure to turn content around on a weekly (in the case of Rave, Time Off and Scene) or monthly (Tsunami) basis. The best way to get your name out is to gig regularly and be heard. Social proof! Again, Brent stated the importance of personalised invitations – in the mail, if you’re willing to go to the effort, since it will often be appreciated. Email costs nothing and takes little time.
Extensive discussion which indicated that Richard Kingsmill decides whether you’re played on JJJ and effectively holds the keys to your national career. No one commented on how sad this is. Brent cracked a joke about how JJJ is taxpayer-funded: if you’re a taxpayer, it is your right to be played on the station! Though perhaps you’ll require greater tact than this to improve your chances.
Create a network of friends – interstate bands, radio announcers, street press and blog writers. If they like you, they’ll become your champion. Andrew: This is absolutely true. Word of mouth musical recommendations are still my biggest influence; if the word’s coming from a respected or esteemed mouth, then I’m highly likely to listen.
Being a musician is a constant juggling act: releases, gigs, merch, press, radio. Brent stressed the importance of multiple impressions across as many media as possible. Be relentless! But don’t overcommunicate. The more impressions that you’ve got circulating out there, the more potential eyeballs and ears to see and hear your output.
Advice on approaching bands, promoters, street press, radio, or anyone throughout your life in general -just ask. Put yourself out there. Be tenacious, and sneaky on occasion. If you’re serious about making this work – what the hell are you holding back for?
Advice on the music industry in general – be meticulous, patient, and prepared. Always.
Andrew: Hopefully this’ll be of some use to those who missed out, or whoever stumbles across these notes in the future. The above summarises the thoughts and opinions of four music industry figures in late 2008. It’ll be interesting to look back on this post in 12 months’ time.