Archive for the 'marketing' Category

14
Apr
10

A Valuable Other to Everyone: The Indelicates’ Songs For Swinging Lovers

I had to come out of hiatus for this. Look at that album cover. How could I deny those puppy eyes and broken necks? Then there was the press release, which read:

Songs For Swinging Lovers is a stunning, diverse and intellectually complex record that marries the band’s trademark lyrical precision and songwriting skill with a broad palette of musical styles and influences. The strains of country, Weimar cabaret, holy bible-era manics, belle epoque cafe music, Muder (sic) Ballads-era Nick cave, 90s indie and 70s sleaze can all be heard in the arrangements.

My pulse actually turned to alka seltzer in my veins after reading that. It’s been over two years of admiring The Indelicates for their unpretentious intellect, their poetry, their leitmotifs, their dedication to critical thinking and dark humour. Now I can add new media warriors to their laudable qualities. I’m not overly passionate about most causes, but the one that I have been perhaps the most vocal about (well, my typing has been pretty deafening) is the paradigm-rattling effect of new media, especially on the music industry and the copyright vs privacy debate. I’ve been blathering on for years about the flaws in the music industry, about the McLuhanesque impact of the MP3 file, and about copyright laws in a digital world and the outdated metaphorical language that they are built upon. Here’s a band of artists that has taken a similar stance and used similar arguments to achieve something much more than a semi-academic blog rant. Instead, they have birthed Corporate Records and a praiseworthy sophomore album. As I’ve stated before, they are truly multidisciplinary in their branding and artistic endeavours; with their understanding of the direction the music industry is heading, The Indelicates should give lectures to the disappointingly backwards artists like those involved in the redundant FAC (I say disappointing because I was shocked at some of the artists on their list).

I first noticed Simon and Julia over two years ago while scanning through pages and pages of artists at the SXSW website; several months later, their debut album American Demo became the runner-up in my Top 40 Albums of 2008. Songs For Swinging Lovers is a much more varied affair in terms of genre; they actually fulfill the promises of their press release (no mean feat when so many bands fail to deliver on even the first of their claims). While this record may not be as immediately accessible as their first, it is very obviously both its sequel and equal and still teeming with more adept social criticism, including further incisive commentary on feminism, youth, the music industry, celebrity, fascism, hypocrisy, and narrow-mindedness. There is the same calibre of intelligent (often brutal) candour as that of Luke Haines, something that the majority of their cohort are missing and something that most are too afraid to touch. And while The Indelicates’ sleeves are draped in impressive influences (musical and otherwise), they twist them into something as original as art can ever be without being created in a vacuum, taking in history and apt social observations to complicate clichés and debunk everyday myths.

Pounding away as the first of two Weimar cabaret songs (a style preceded by the Indelicates’ Christmas treat of Zuhalterballade), Europe is a satire of decadence and privilege. The self-aware seediness to be found in continental salons of the early 20th century can be just as easily applied to the farcical display of more recent moneyed classes, and its undignified grasping is articulated perfectly through Julia’s vocal strength and unrestrained operatics. This is followed by the most Manics-inflected of the tracks, Your Money, which swells from a sweet piano melody into an electric guitar anthem bristling like a sea of broken flag standards. Simon spits a furious stream of brilliant lyrics, including a fantastic 1984 reference (“Do it to Julia”) that plays on his partner’s name as much as it does on the narrator’s self-conscious musings on hypocrisy and the sick dominance of money in the world of art. In yet another song about an ostensibly “brainwashed” historical figure (see the brilliant Unity Mitford on American Demo), The Indelicates serenade Patty Hearst with We Love You, Tania. It’s a loungey number with a staggering yet rousing feel, unsteady on its feet like someone who drank a pint glass full of yeasty honesty. It features the rather profound line, “When you’re other to everyone, you’re a valuable girl.”

Pushing on with their earlier themes of diseased celebrity culture, which yearns for damaged people, and parasitic media (see also New Art for the People, We Hate the Kids, Waiting for Pete Doherty to Die), they address one such hapless character in Ill. They chant:

Your sickness is your shibboleth
Your sex is your sickness
And you’ve got time, you’ve got time to lose
Because you’ll never take enough of those pills,
You know you’re too clever to be mentally ill,
You’ll never fashion your damaged soul
Because you’re too clever to lose control

The next track, Flesh, makes mine crawl a little, a testament to the combination of the astute lyrics and the interplay of Julia’s sweetly vacant vocals with Simon’s predatory background vocals, “oh, flesh.” The muted trumpet sounds filthy as Julia sings about the seemingly acceptable malleability of females and further feminist failings: “Hey doc can you take my skin and melt it into plastic/Beauty isn’t truth it’s just youth, it’s adaptive and it’s elastic.” Vocals then pass off to Simon for Savages, a tinkly ballad that turns into a soaring synthy anthem by its end, is a brilliant revel in the vindication of outsider-dom. With a wonderful tie-in with the album cover, the chorus goes, “the world has no need of the songs that we sang/We are savages and we’ll hang, hang, hang.” Savages also has one of my favourite lines of the record: “we are Greeks in the age of Rome/With no right to criticise the happily dull to Grecian eyes.” There’s fight and survival in the apparent surrender; any golden age is just a gilded cage.

I suppose it says something about my character that the macabre murder ballad, Roses, doesn’t disturb me as much as Flesh. In true Nick Cave style, Roses is mesmerizing and miasmic as it sways slowly through the savouring of a homicide – punctured lungs, sawed-off limbs and all – while also mocking the vampiric. The chorus, which gently croons “Do you bleed diamonds/do you bleed rubies/do you bleed roses?,” is enchanting and sinister to me in the same way Windmills of Your Mind and Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) are. The pace picks up again with Sympathy for the Devil; rather than a cocky rebel sneer, it’s a knees-up Irish drinking song told by a much more believable Beelzebub than Jagger’s. As he recounts his journey out of Heaven, he plays Pied Piper to an unnamed lover, who is to meet him at the border in the morning. We learn that even the Devil is dissatisfied with this world. This is also the first track to be made into a music video – the rest of the album’s songs will eventually follow. The second Weimar-themed song, Be Afraid of Your Parents, continues with the dramatics reminiscent of Brecht/Weill compositions as it lambastes fascism and its attractive rhetoric, including the dangerous dialectic to be found in scapegoating. Simon takes over vocals as he namechecks Derrida and Foucault and the distance from humanity that academic theory provides. The sentiment in the track’s title is one that permeates The Indelicates’ body of work; keep your mind sharp and keep questioning precedents and “truths.” Julia and Simon keep you off balance by embedding layer after layer of latent meaning and then shifting them about, shaking you out of passive consumption.

The musical tone of the record becomes lighter with the jaunty Jerusalem, a satire of the stillborn revolution in today’s young people, who think “it seems rebellious to vote Conservative now.” It also serves as a parody of the English patriotic song of the same title and perhaps a stab at Labour Party idealism. The clueless subjects of this track “excel at drama and formal debating,” but care to know nothing of reality and take pseudo-political postures instead. The final track on the album proper, Anthem for Doomed Youth, is a delicate song that skips along in a lackadaisical fashion and ends in heavenly choruses provided by Julia; it also emphasizes many of the points already made in Jerusalem. Simon reiterates the futility of youth-based subcultures and the lack of something worth fighting for or against, singing “there’s nobody left in the West these days/wronged enough to be a punk” and “we are miners no more/never torn by a war/neither starving, nor struggling, nor incredibly poor.” There’s also an excellent snarl of “the three-inch bruise at the crook of your arm/that in the right light looks like Jesus,” which may or may not be a parody of a line in The Killers’ When You Were Young. The two bonus tracks currently available on the Corporate Records’ site are I Don’t Care If It’s True and an acoustic version of Savages; the former is a proud refusal to join in anymore with latin accents while the latter is a fragile rendition with hints of the shambolic sighs found in American Demo‘s Better To Know.

The album is available for download from here, where you can choose what you pay. Come June, I know I will be buying a physical copy of the album and any book or foodstuff that can be added on to it. I have never been disappointed with their challenging art. They continue to dissect societal ills with a surgeon’s precision and a cabaret MC’s panache. Songs For Swinging Lovers confirms The Indelicates’ paradox of condemning idealism and evading the romantic notion of promising revolution or escape while simultaneously giving people something exhilarating to rally behind, a whetstone for senses dulled on complacency. Oddly enough, they encapsulate a different semantic plane of We Love You, Tania; they are definitely other to most bands, and thus, so valuable. We need a band like this even if the masses ignore them and their witty words just hang, hang, hang. I’ll gladly go to the gallows with The Indelicates.

My brief sojourn back in the blogosphere will last for one more post as I conduct my Indelicates interview.

Ill – The Indelicates

Savages – The Indelicates

01
Jan
10

The 00s, The Noughties, The Decade In Music

I didn’t really want to attempt a list of my favourite albums of the decade – the list for this year alone was more work than I needed. Instead, I decided to hit some of the ways this decade dealt with music – how technology has changed the musical landscape further, what globalized capitalism has done to the music industry, and what media convergence did to help out. Then as a second part, I thought I should add some of my musings on the decade as far as my own musical development goes – after all, I became an adult in the 00s.

Once you’re done here, visit this excellent site put up by The Indelicates: The Noughties Were Shit. The post about Gary Barlow poised to take over the world was particularly enlightening.

1. Web 2.0 and Music
I suppose this point actually affects all the other points in one way or another. Technology has continued the major upheaval begun in the 90s with MP3s and Napster, and has now proved there is no going back for the music industry. The MP3 file has changed the nature of music and the way it is consumed in a completely McLuhanesque fashion. It made music infinitely clonable and portable, aspects which led to the rise of the iPod and the spectacular decline of the record industry. Now music is disjointed and serendipitous by shuffle functions while being omnipresent and essentially valueless (at least in the capitalistic sense). The MP3 has shown us what art becomes when it is immediate and free.

Whilst Napster and its variations like LimeWire created the new rhizomatic gift-giving structure in MP3 file sharing, torrents have taken it to a whole new level of decentralization. And now 99% of the music/films/TV you want is up for the taking. This fact in tandem with the rise of online shopping makes me quite surprised that all record shops haven’t just folded, although many of them have in this decade.

The advancements of Web 2.0 have also heralded the birth of the MP3 blog and its attendant aggregators and podcasts. It has become ludicrously easy to set up your own blog and utilize free file transfer/storage sites to upload music for others to sample. The upshot has been a severe fragmentation of markets and escalation of taste wars while also a fantastic break from traditional music press. And in spite of a nasty rash of Blogger DMCA takedown notices, there have also been some really positive outcomes that proved the power of fandom, including this year’s Paul Haig Day, which was arranged by JC of The Vinyl Villain. Arguments over intellectual property and copyright laws in a digital world will continue to rage on, and I will follow them with fascination (who better to keep you posted on things of this nature but Cory Doctorow and his team at Boing Boing). Of course, no doubt MP3 blogs will suffer/are suffering the same fate as all countercultures. If you survive long enough, you end up as part of the establishment. It’s a bit Batman that way.

As we increasingly became a “peep culture,” social networking came into the forefront with sites like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and last.fm. You could define yourself strictly by taste and choose your “friends” accordingly. And then ignore them in real life. Just as importantly, now any band could have a website with minimal work and funding. They could also market themselves directly to the type of people they conceived as fans through as many channels as possible. Combined with the technological capabilities of recording software, anyone could produce and market their own music, which is good and bad. Bands who wouldn’t have made it on a mainstream label, but who had a cult sound worth hearing, could get their music our there; unfortunately, many more mediocre bands clogged up the Internet with their soul-sucking tripe, making it a hard slog through cyberspace to find the music you actually liked.

The Internet imploded the world into solipsistic niches, which ceased to feel the collectiveness of mass-mediated moments. Even news of Michael Jackson’s death shattered into millions of pieces as everyone wanted to be the one reporting rather than receiving. Live 8 couldn’t be what Live Aid was to the 80s. The global village is taken for granted and too much access to information and entertainment has made us fairly lazy and impatient. Is music still the universal language? I suppose so, but it’s also become something to be hoarded and collected indiscriminately, as meaningful as soundbites for many people. And with music built directly into communication devices, it has become integrated into our fragmented lifestyles.

Related Posts:

The Medium is the Music: An Essay on Digital Music
This Is the Industry, But For How Long?: Thoughts on the State of Music Today
Of Resurrected FOPP and the Importance of a Real Record Shop
MP3 Blogs vs. Music Blogs: Different Purposes?
Has the World Changed Or Have I Changed?: Musings on the New Musical Express Train to Nowhere
MP3 Blogs vs Music Blogs: Part II
iTunes & I
Does NME even know what a music blog is?: The rhetoric and social meaning of MP3 blogs
The Pirate’s Dilemma: Selling Out is the New Cool
Sound the Last Post, Then Unite and Take Over
New IAMX Album Leaks and Chris Corner Reacts
Twitter-Pated: Music and Information Overload
Michael Jackson, Media Convergence and The Decline of the Global Superstar
A Monkey Wrench in The Hype Machine: Music Marketing and Integrity
Everyone’s a Critic: Fandom and Subculture
The Non-Interview: Music PR in the Blogosphere

2. Fan Investment in Musicians
In a rather positive turn of events, it has now become possible for fans to have a direct impact on the musicians they love by investing in albums before they are produced. Artists, including Einstürzende Neubauten, Patrick Wolf, frYars, and Morton Valence, have allowed their fans to buy shares of future albums to fund production costs. These artists have then rewarded their shareholders with various freebies and exclusives along with a right to some of the record’s profit. It cuts out the label middleman, which I think is a step in the right direction.

Some other bands decided that more was definitely more and added further value to their music and ethos by diversifying their art. One of my favourite discoveries of the decade, The Indelicates, have sold books of their poetry, tickets to a musical they’re involved in, art prints, and even fudge. This rather multidisciplinary approach to music is fantastically refreshing and holds fans’ interest while waiting for new album releases.

With a different twist on the new value of music, Radiohead decided to make their In Rainbows album available for whatever you deemed it should be worth this decade. Although it’s quite a forward-thinking idea, it isn’t exactly as feasible for bands who are not called Radiohead.

Related Post:

The “New” Music Industry: frYars and Bandstocks

3. Decline of the Music Video
Throughout my childhood and teenage years, the music channel played mostly music videos, live performances or interviews with musicians. Frankly, I’m not entirely sure what music channels play anymore, but I know it’s not really music. It’s not even like they’re playing the expected mass-marketed tripe that I would expect on a music station; they’re playing teen dramas about rich kids, reality shows about rich kids, and programs about kids competing to become celebrities, and thus rich. I reckon the marketing model for music has changed quite drastically since the 80s and their MTV heyday; as with much advertising now, products need to be more quietly and deeply entrenched in other products to be marketed effectively. No more blatant streams of music videos/ads for bands. Now you just have to make sure your music gets into the television shows and films of your target market. You want disaffected indie kids, get your music on a film like Garden State. You want romantic emo kids, get your music on the latest vampire product. You want to appeal to the shallow emotions of middling women with no imagination, play your song in a particularly heartwrenching scene of Grey’s Anatomy. Or you could just get Apple to use your music in an iPod promo.

YouTube, which started up four years ago (as unbelievable as that seems), changed the television landscape forever (along with DVD box sets of course). You could now watch music videos literally on demand and without other ads in between. Albeit the halcyon days of YouTube are also over and not every music video is available, nor are they ad-free anymore thanks to the Google takeover. And artists like Prince decided fans are the enemy, prohibiting any of his videos to be uploaded anywhere. However, YouTube has led to a new music video experience, which frees up the music video market for bands who would never have had the clout to get on a television screen. And YouTube sensations could cross into the consciousness of television watchers, which is what happened when OK Go performed their Here It Goes Again video routine for the MTV VMAs.

Related Posts:

I Don’t Want My MTV. The Tweens Can Have It.
If a Gallagher Falls in the Forest, and No One is There to Film It…
Not Down With Prince
A Post-Mortem on Patrick Wolf’s Dead Meat: Music Video For Vulture

4. The Transformed, But Nonetheless Continued Presence of Diabolical Disney Music
The latter half of the 90s saw the massive return on Disney’s investment in ostensibly squeaky-clean popstars, who were raised in their Mickey Mouse Club stables like cute, little, doe-eyed cash calves. These were the years when Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and NSYNC were royalty. And just when we all thought they had gone away to morph into the realms of crasser sexuality, we were hit with High School Musical, Hannah Montana and The Jonas Brothers. And they went global. Disney was no longer ubiquitous because of their animated projects, but because they had tapped into the tween market once again. This time, they made sure they used media convergence to its extreme. What these franchises also appeared to be espousing was the doctrine of the 00s: anyone could be a pop star. And they should start early.

5. The Reality Pop Star
It seems difficult to remember a time when there weren’t reality competition shows, especially the Pop Idol/X-Factor-types. Now it’s big business for the advertisers who slap their products and commercials into the programs, and usually brief big business just as an “idol” releases his/her debut album. Then he/she usually fades back into the obscurity from whence he/she came, and the cycle begins again, neatly representing our superficial, throwaway culture while making regular people think they’re entitled to more than they actually are. And all along the way, we had to stare at Simon Cowell’s smug, stump-like head.

Related Posts:

Christmas Number Ones: A Measure of Christmas’s True Meaning
Am I a Music Snob?: A Matter of Taste

6. Guitar Heroes and Rock Bands
Along with the wave of reality celebrity culture, video games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band also made it seem like everyone could be a star. And so we all learned what it was like when air guitar was dumbed down to a series of coloured buttons. I’m not being that critical – it’s more the bitterness seeping out from the fact I still haven’t learned how to play the acoustic guitar I got for Christmas two years ago and the fact I don’t own any video game systems.

7. The Renaissance of Vinyl
Here’s something we should have seen coming. As music grew less and less tangible, and thus, less and less valuable, music fans started looking for ways in which they could get more out of music when paying for it. CDs are pretty obsolete because they offer nothing more than MP3s, which are either rather cheap or free. Vinyl records, on the other hand, offer an entirely different listening experience, and one that cannot be replicated unless you have the capability of producing your own vinyl (not likely). Not only is the sound of analog warmer, but vinyl records also allow you to focus more on albums as wholes, including the larger scope for artwork. Vinyl records aren’t meant to be transportable media; they’re meant to be tied to a particular spot and require a different sort of listening. There was a time when I could only buy used vinyl unless I was in Europe or ordering from Europe; now I can buy brand new vinyl records on the Canadian Amazon shop and in several shops in the city. I hope this trend continues.

Related Post:

Sleeveface: Celebrating The Flipside of Vinyl’s Other Artform

8. Concert-Going in the 21st Century and Ticket-Touting
Along with the online revolution in music came the rather unfortunate rise of online ticket purchasing. No one lines up nor phones ticket lines anymore for gigs. If you don’t have a high-speed Internet connection and presale passwords, you either won’t get a decent ticket to your favourite artist’s show, or you’ll have to pay extortionary prices on auctions to ticket touters or the original ticket highwaymen themselves, like Ticketmaster. Or you may just die of a heart attack in the process. It’s why I favour rush seating gigs, where the spot you get is directly proportional to your leg strength, ability to combat boredom, and sharpness of elbow. What would you need to get a seat in the first to third rows at a seated gig anymore? It’s not a rhetorical question – I would really love to know.

Related Post:

It’s Not Fair: Ticket Sales in an Online World

9. Comedy and Music Became a Cooler Combination Again
This was the decade in which musical comedy duos like The Mighty Boosh and Flight of Conchords gained ascendence. There’s no shortage of older acts that made music funny and comedy musical (Monty Python and Spinal Tap spring to mind), but it’s nice to know that it all gained a surreal airing in the 00s. While both duos are in uncertain places as the decade closes (The Mighty Boosh haven’t said they’ll ever do another series and Flight of the Conchords said they definitely won’t), they provided me with many of my laughs in the last half of the noughties, and many of my catchphrases, too. The duos were delightfully different: The Mighty Boosh was like an intertextual acid mixture of Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa with increasingly more London hipster thrown in, and Flight of the Conchords was like a monotone chameleon, able to capture any musical genre perfectly while delivering hapless adventure after hapless adventure.

Related Post:

Music Can Be Funny and Comedy Can Be Musical: The Mighty Boosh and Flight of the Conchords

10. Re-Packaging and Re-Fadding: Emo and the (Yawn) Ensuing Moral Panic and Mark Ronson and the (Yawn) Retro Revival
This decade saw the transmogfrication of the genre called emo into something more than merely Sunny Day Real Estate and Dashboard Confessional. If you want a decent history of the subculture (well at least up until 2003), read Andy Greenwald’s Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, and Emo. By the end of this decade, emo had come to mean some adolescent subculture obsessed with gothy aesthetics, poppy but melodramatic music, and self-harm. And probably vampires. What’s odd is how we got from emotional hardcore music to Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance in the matter of a few years. In the end, emo is just goth repackaged for the ADD digital generation. Gone are the gloomy dirges and swirling sadness of bands like Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil; now boys in eyeliner can play pop-punk with extremely long, but no more intellectually stimulating, titles and somehow unite the outsiders in their identical floppy fringey skunk haircuts. Ultimately, emo has come to mean goth lite, which can be easily marketed.

As with all teenage subcultures that adults don’t understand and which get seized upon by the media, emo suffered a strange moral panic by the latter half of the noughties. Parents were nonsensically alarmed at the propensity for self-harm amongst these dissatisfied angsty teens, and for the love of all that is sacred on this Earth, why did they have to stand out from their peers like that? At the end of the day, Morrissey and Richey Edwards would have been emo, but luckily for them, they escaped the tawdry tag before it became popular. People still don’t understand me, but I’m not going to cry about it.

On the other end of the spectrum, another bizarre revival occurred: retro brass sounds, largely the responsibility of Mark Ronson. With Amy Winehouse stumbling in tow and any number of celebrity guests covering songs for him (God forbid Ronson have an original song), this self-satisfied producer added horns to everything and was proclaimed a genius. Bumping along on his bandwagon of manure, were singers like Duffy and Adele. Singer/songwriter Tom Rosenthal (I wrote about him here) expresses the Mark Ronson phenomenon better than I ever could:

Oh, I’m the coolest man in all of the land
And all my friends are famous
And all my songs are bland
I’m akin to a thief
Like yoyos, I’ll be a fad
For I take quite good songs
And I make them bad

And I don’t know if I’m English or American
And if I can win a Brit Award, then anyone bloody can
I’m a glorified DJ
A riches to riches story
I borrow from the talented and I take all the glory

They say anyone’s grandma could do what I do
By putting a different drumbeat on it
And adding a few trumpets, too
But they don’t have my panache
And they don’t have my celebrity mates
And if I ever get round to writing a song,
God, it will be great

The other day I was asked
If I had a motto
I said yes, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know
I’m living proof you don’t need talent to succeed
I’m the George Bush of music
I’m the Prince of the Thieves

Now to my own personal experience of the decade. I should start off by saying that I found it hard to believe it had already been a whole decade – something that it seems most people haven’t noticed nor been too fussed about (aside from one two-part program on the BBC, I haven’t seen all that many retrospectives of this decade). It’s hard to fathom that, at the turn of this millennium, I graduated from high school. That makes these last ten years (supposedly) the most productive part of my life thus far: I got several degrees/diplomas from post-secondary education, I travelled more than I ever had before, I learned much more about the world and about this thing we call humanity, I read books I never thought existed, I got crap retail jobs and finally a proper grown-up job, I made friends, I lost friends, and most importantly of all, I expanded my love of music beyond anything I had in high school. When I think about it, this decade actually quite demarcated my life between adolescence and adulthood (the arbitrary age being seventeen/eighteen years old). For me, this decade was truly one of self-discovery and self-creation. With the same tenacity and interest that I applied to my academic studies, I dove into a music world that I hadn’t been acquainted with through high school (my exposure was generally confined to music television and Top 40 radio). Unfortunately, I didn’t have too many muso friends growing up – in fact, the majority of my friends had very limited taste in music. And my immediate family didn’t really encourage music – my father was the only one who had any sort of musical leanings. So, when I was seventeen, I started the search on my own, equipped with reams of music magazines, books, and new CDs. I didn’t have a computer at home until I started university, and I didn’t have cable Internet access until a few years ago; these facts made my search for music a much slower affair than it might have been, but perhaps it also made it more meaningful.

My magpie ways led me on a winding path that had me appreciating political and intelligent music; the first two bands that I really embraced after high school were The Clash and The Smiths. I absorbed a bit of musical influence from college peers and co-workers, but still made the journey largely on my own, trekking in my spare periods between university courses to the downtown A&B Sound shop and buying copious amounts of CDs to listen to whilst sitting in the university corridors (as all good shops appear to do in this city, A&B Sound closed its doors several years ago and became yet another retail husk in the downtown area). I bought up classics from The Velvet Underground, Joy Division, Kate Bush, Wire, and The Jesus and Mary Chain, alongside newer releases from Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Stars, Bloc Party, Idlewild, British Sea Power, and We Are Scientists. I started going to more and more live gigs. And the more I travelled over to the UK and lived there, the more I realized my preference for British bands. The last few trips saw me fill my suitcase and bag with CDs and vinyl.

I listened and I learned – to some people who know me, I became the Rain Man of music. I discovered I’ll never enjoy rap nor metal music. I discovered that I’ll always dislike Bob Dylan. I discovered how much lyrics meant to me. Music made me a more fully-rounded person and a happier person; it supplemented the myriad views of the world that I had also been gaining with books. It gave me something to cling to emotionally and it gave me something I could share with others. And it inspired me creatively. For me, MP3 blogs via The Hype Machine came within the last four years of the decade, and they opened my mind even further to more independent artists, and to the power of fans and DIY culture. Finally, there was something I could do that would allow me to write regularly (I gave up on the dream of a full-time occupation as a writer long ago), and it might even be read by others. Two years ago, when I started writing this blog, I was exposed to even more music and more people, and it was a fascinating learning experience as it became neccessary to try to articulate my thoughts and feelings about music (vigorously pirouetting and waltzing about architecture) and to attain a dialogue with some of the artists I wrote about.

In fact, when I tried to look back at the decade and what it offered in terms of music, I found it rather difficult because I spent a large part of the decade discovering older artists that I had missed out on. I returned to punk, glam, New Wave/post-punk, krautrock, folk, shoegaze, electronica, C86, synthpop, and many of the hyphenated hybrids in between. The only artists salvaged from my adolescent years were David Bowie, New Order, The Cure, Prince, Pulp, Depeche Mode, and Duran Duran, and a few other sundry 80s artists.

When I do actually try to put some perspective on the music that was released in the noughties, it becomes a bit astonishing just how many bands that I take for granted made their debuts. The decade seemed to begin with a violent shift from plastic pop, including boy bands and pop tarts, to legitimate musicians playing their own music, including The Strokes, The Libertines, The White Stripes, and The Hives.

A few years into the decade, the second-wave Brit Invasion happened with bands like Kaiser Chiefs, Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, Keane, Maximo Park, Razorlight, The Rakes, The Delays and The Futureheads (to varying degrees of success and longevity). And the most pernicious of all invaders was Coldplay. When I first saw their video for Yellow over in the UK about eight years ago, I never would have guessed their eventual U2-like world domination. And then came the Arctic Monkeys, which seemed like the messiahs people were waiting for after the sloppy, pathetic demise of The Libertines. I enjoyed their first album, but never really went further with them. Then again, a lot of the bands I first liked in the noughties turned out like that.

Along with this British surge in indie bands, I became more aware of Canadian indie artists, which largely coalesced around the Montreal scene. As music press is wont to do, the journalists hailed the largest city in Quebec as the new hotbed of musical activity somewhere in the middle of the 00s (just as they had done with Manchester in the 80s, Seattle in the 90s, and Brooklyn now). The world took note of bands like The Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene, and suddenly bands with sprawling orchestras were in vogue. I also duly took note of these bands and Stars, which led me to other Canadian bands like The New Pornographers, Hexes & Ohs, Allegories, The Rest, Archivist, The Dears, Metric, Death From Above 1979, The Stills, and many more.

It also seemed Sweden became increasingly adept at producing dreampop bands, each sweeter than the last, and I fell for The Radio Dept., The Mary Onettes, Twig, The Sound of Arrows, The Deer Tracks, Twiggy Frostbite, and Club 8 to name a few.

Additionally, I will remember the decade as the period that introduced Modular Recordings to a wider audience. Though the Australian label was founded in 1998, it really took off with a multitude of Australian electronic acts like Cut Copy, Van She, and The Presets, along with releases from Wolfmother and Bumblebeez. Along similar lines, this decade saw the formation of Kitsuné Music, a French electronic music record label, and at around the same time, Get Physical Music, a Berlin-based label releasing similar music, was established. New York’s DFA Records also came into being at the beginning of this decade. Between these four labels I developed a deeper love for electronic music.

There are too many bands that began their careers in the noughties to list here. Instead, I’ll just put up a handful of tracks that will always remind me of the first ten years of the 21st century (the restriction being that these bands had to have debuted in the 00s.

This is it for me for now. I realize that the Day of 200 Songs still needs to be done, but we’ll see how quickly I can get it out there. It might be some time next week.

Like Eating Glass – Bloc Party

Take Me Out – Franz Ferdinand

That Great Love Sound – The Raveonettes

Wake Up – The Arcade Fire

Somebody Told Me – The Killers

I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor – Arctic Monkeys

NYC – Interpol

We Only Stayed Together For the Kids – Luxembourg

The Great Escape – We Are Scientists

We Are Your Friends – Justice vs Simian Mobile Disco

Here It Goes Again – OK Go

Time to Pretend – MGMT

Remember Me – British Sea Power

Lloyd Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken? – Camera Obscura

Mercy – IAMX

Your Ex-Lover is Dead – Stars

You Are the Generation That Bought More Shoes and You Get What You Deserve – Johnny Boy

Giddy Stratospheres – The Long Blondes

Destroy Everything You Touch – Ladytron

All My Friends – LCD Soundsystem

Pulling Our Own Weight – The Radio Dept.

I’ll Be Next To You – Vanilla Swingers

The Modern Leper – Frightened Rabbit

We Hate the Kids – The Indelicates

The Magic Position – Patrick Wolf

Consolation Prizes – Phoenix

Snakes and Martyrs – TV on the Radio

Can’t Stand Me Now – The Libertines

10
Dec
09

The Non-Interview: Music PR in the Blogosphere

When I was taking my communications diploma in between my BA, we were assigned groups in which we would have to create a concept for a local magazine and see it through from conception to publication. As my luck always runs, I was saddled with an incompetent, uncreative, unproductive group, whose best idea was some very vague Manitoba showcase magazine. At any rate, one of my journalistic contributions was to be an interview with David Steinberg while he was in town for the Winnipeg Comedy Festival. Slightly daunting to me even now, but pretty tongue-choking intimidating for an nineteen-year-old with zero interviewing experience. To make a very long story short, I showed up to the show he was a part of, but at the end of the show, David Steinberg was whisked away (despite the organizers promising me that interview), and the day culminated in me standing at the Winnipeg Airport, realizing I wasn’t going to get that story at all. In a salvaging attempt, I wrote an entire story/rant for the magazine about my chasing/stalking adventures in pursuit of David Steinberg. Perhaps in the end it was a stronger piece than it would have been with the interview. Perhaps it was all rather Steinbergesque. Okay, a very anemic Curb Your Enthusiasm or a Seinfeld in which even less than nothing happens. So why am I telling you this story? Because I’m about to write a piece about an interview I have been trying to get for nearly 8 months: an email interview with Chris Corner of IAMX.

Back when Kingdom of Welcome Addiction first released, I decided I would go after a long-shot opportunity (this happens in my periods of mania) by contacting the North American PR representative for IAMX in the hopes of being able to send a list of questions for Mr. Corner to reply to. Being a lowly MP3 blogger, I figured this wasn’t likely to happen. In fact, I had already resigned myself to not getting any reply (based on my general pre-emption of hope and/or faith in myself and others). The only glimmer of possibility in all this was the fact IAMX is an adamantly independent enterprise; albeit, one with PR representation run independently from them. To my surprise, I did get a very prompt response from PR, allowing me to listen to the full album before I received my hard copy, and consenting to pass my interview questions on to Chris Corner. And I had dealt pleasantly and briefly with this particular contact in the past after he had found my essay on independent artists, including IAMX. So far so good.

I diligently listened to the promo stream and wrote up my questions, they varied from “In your opinion, what are humanity’s biggest myths?” to “You’ve opened yourself up to dialogue with your fans via your MySpace blog. What have you learned through this experience?” to “Your music tends to find the beauty in the wreckage and often juxtaposes the two. Are things more beautiful when they’re damaged or destroyed – burning the box of beautiful things, so to speak?” I was consciously making an effort to ask questions that hadn’t been asked of him before, especially as I figured it’s always fascinating to ask interesting questions of interesting people. I sent off the questions and hoped for the best. I still wasn’t exactly convinced this would happen. I’m not a “professional” journalist with an affiliation or concrete deadline. In fact, I was in an odd liminal place between journalist and fan, and I’m thinking it was the latter identity that perpetuated the fiasco that then ensued.

When I checked to make sure my questions had actually been received, I was given the following reply: “Chris should be getting the answers back to me over the weekend (he’s touring Europe right now and internet connection is rather dodgy out there). Hold tight.” This is perfectly reasonable. After writing my review of Kingdom of Welcome Addiction, I emailed the link to it as a courtesy, and held tight. At the beginning of June, I emailed to check in (after all more than a weekend had passed by this point). No answer. A few weeks later, I tried again. Crickets. Then I tried in July – at this point, I was still just assuming I got lost in the shuffle of requests for all the bands under the same PR. From the beginning, I had also included the escape clause of “if Chris Corner is too busy, I understand. Just let me know either way.” It was now August, and so I tried again, but only after I sent one more at the end of the month with a high priority flag, did I get a response. I feel as though I was still pretty polite: “It’s been several months, and as I initially understood, you had already passed the questions on to him. I’m just wondering where the delay is occurring – all I really want is an update. If this interview is no longer possible, I would still appreciate a response. I haven’t been receiving any responses for the last three or four emails I’ve sent you regarding this.” Yes, I started sounding a bit sterner (less obsequious anyway). So, as I said, this finally got a response. A very suspicious one.

It stated that this PR guy had been trying to get a hold of me by email over the summer while IAMX did a short tour of the US. He said he had wanted to set up a phone interview with Chris Corner rather than bother with the email questions. He then said that because I didn’t answer him, he figured I was no longer interested. He also insisted, “I ALWAYS reply within 24 hours of emails I receive.” Now, this might have been plausible if I never checked my Junk Folder, or if my inbox wasn’t receiving emails properly over the summer, or if I didn’t always include my email address and blog URL in the signature of each e-missive. But none of that was the case. Consequently, unless my hotmail account suddenly assumed sentience of its own and decided certain emails didn’t need to get through, these emails about phone interviews never occurred.

Nonetheless, I grudgingly gave the PR guy the benefit of the doubt and said I would be fine with him passing my questions on to Chris Corner again. Note: “again.” This was the end of August. I then waited for about a month before trying for some sort of confirmation. I bet you clever otters know what happened next. No reply. I realize that at this point I was probably crossing the line into pretty damn irritating. But then again, what journalist after a story isn’t irritating? Sometimes it’s the only way to keep getting stories at all. I tried high priority flagging again, and roused a response. Firstly, I was told that he had replied the week before (once again, there was no logical reason why only 50% of his emails should reach me). He told me I had to appreciate the difficulty of Chris Corner being in Germany and he being in the US; the distance was making it hard to “turn the heat on” in getting a response from Chris. Additionally, he said he didn’t know why it was taking Chris so long to reply since he’s usually so quick. Hmmmm….

Now I learned PR in my communication diploma as well as journalism and advertising. PR people are notoriously evasive spin doctors for the most part. They’re a bit like Post-Structuralists that way; the Truth is an arbitrary construct to them. Presently, I’m exhausted by the whole situation, which could have ended months before if the PR guy would have just said, “No, I’m sorry, the interview is not possible.” I was now only persisting because of adherence to principle, the principle being that I deserve some sort of resolution even if I am just an MP3 blogger. I’m not naïve enough to think that journalists don’t get screwed over by PR people; they do – I’ve heard the stories. And I learned early on with that David Steinberg incident (although being a college student probably isn’t much better than being a fan). But judging from the IAMX interviews that have shown up in various online publications (not blogs), I don’t think everyone got dragged along for 3/4 of a year.

I don’t blame Chris Corner for this farce. I can’t be certain of how much communication he has with his PR, and last year, when I included IAMX in a couple of posts, I received my IAMX Live in Warsaw album in a package that had a thank-you message hand-written by Chris on the outside. He thanked me specifically for the blogs. That was above and beyond what he could have or should have done.

I suppose I don’t even need a full explanation of why this interview couldn’t have happened; a simple decline would have been sufficient. Sadly, I reckon this kind of predicament just ends up undoing any sort of façade of independence and accessibility projected through the IAMX rhetoric and ethos (ie: dialogue with fans, band and fans as one tribe, etc). Dealing with this PR flak screen is no different than any number of other impersonal celebrity machines. I was naïve to think that it might be different. Which brings me to a more general point about PR and MP3 blogging.

I realize, that as a blogger, I get slapped onto a lot of mailing lists for labels and artists I couldn’t care less about. Those mass mailings are obvious. There’s something honest in their blatancy (even the ones who try to use your name and mention a small fact about your blog to seem authentic). In the end, this all doesn’t matter if I don’t like the music or the artists being marketed, so I go on ignoring and sometimes I even bother to unsubscribe if I’m getting too annoyed by three mailings a week from the same person. However, there has been the odd PR person that I had more than a few emails with, and some have been quite decent to deal with. But recently, aside from the PR for frYars, I haven’t been getting any acknowledgements that my review links have even been received (this is after I was told to send them on), including from people that I had originally been pretty friendly with. This feels slightly deflating even if all of this shouldn’t matter to me (after all, I’m not doing this for a living). However, I’m just not the type to make promises I know I can’t follow through on, and when I commit to something, I feel obligated to finish it (hence, if I say I will review your music, I will). In theory, the relationship between PR and journalism should be symbiotic (one can’t exist without the other), but it nearly always ends up feeling like an abusive relationship, where there’s only one giver. Email has also made it so much easier to ignore people and blame technology; it absolves anyone of any direct responsibility. Somehow the supposed immediacy becomes less than immediate.

Is the problem here really one to do with identity and position? If I were a journalist attached to something more official, would my questions be more important? In the world of music fandom, wouldn’t it be a good thing if music fans influenced other music fans directly rather than through third party journalists, who often don’t have anything invested in what they write about? Yes, perhaps they can be more objective when the situation calls for it, but I would think fans are the ones who might come up with the best questions to ask because they know so much and care so deeply about their favourite artists. But I’m not sure that MP3 blogs, as liberating as they may seem to us fans on the ground, are viewed as legitimate (a problem all sorts of blog genres face). We might be one more prong of a larger marketing strategy (the digital promotion/word-of-mouth contingent), but nothing more. And nothing that anyone owes anything to. Maybe a lot of these MP3 blogs have done it to themselves by “unprofessionally” just posting straight from any press release that comes their way; although, I’m certain that’s also a regular practice among journalists. They copy and paste their way through a lot of blurbs and stories.

I know my blog isn’t terribly lucrative in terms of marketing and publicity for these artists. I’m not a newspaper, magazine, or even an e-zine/blog like Stereogum. At the same time, I might have fewer, but much more loyal fans in my audience, who do actually discover and buy into new artists they find here. I’ve decided that, ultimately, the best practice for my blogging is to deal directly with artists and/or other music fans. There’s never been an issue with them. And maybe I’ve gotten wrapped up too much in the journalist part of my motivations and forgotten about the fan part, which shouldn’t be relying on PR. I might be shooting myself in the foot here. Or maybe not. I have to engage in other people’s email evasion tactics and futile goose chases on a daily basis as part of my regular job, so I really don’t need it here, too.

And if you want to see the production and power of fandom in action in relation to IAMX, go to http://www.iamxforum.com and download your free copy of a fan-made DVD of IAMX’s first live performance in 2004 in Berlin.

My Secret Friend (Omega Man Remix) – IAMX

Tear Garden (Art Deco Version) – IAMX

26
Nov
09

For Your Entertainment: The Adam Lambert Controversy

I don’t watch most music award shows, and I haven’t watched nor even noticed the American Music Awards since I was a teenager. But where there’s self-righteous, bigoted furore, I’m there. Because my mother tends to half-watch entertainment news programs (the implication being entertainment is actually worthy of being called news and that all news is now entertainment), along with a heavy dose of “reality” tv, I only became aware of the so-called Adam Lambert controversy last night. Apparently, the runner-up in this year’s American Idol kicked off the promo for his debut record with a live performance on the AMAs, which notably airs on the Disney-owned ABC network. And apparently, the performance was a wee bit too naughty. Naturally intrigued by the media uproar, I decided to watch the performance (I had to download it via a torrent because YouTube maintains it’s copyrighted material). To Disney’s chagrin, Lambert the sheepish lion, he was not. PR savvy, yes.

As with most performances of this nature, I didn’t notice anything particularly awry or offensive. Suggestive pop song, check. S & M-costumed dancers, check. Semi-naked writhing, check. Crotch grabbing, check. Pretend fellatio, check. Same-sex kiss, check. Admittedly, I’m not the average middle American ABC-viewer. But if you insert someone like Britney Spears into the formula, you’ll feel like you’ve seen it all before. However, because it was Lambert, who is openly homosexual, parts of the performance were blurred out in later airings of the live footage. You can pop in any number of alternative scenarios, including overt, clobber-you-in-the-head heterosexual sexuality, heterosexuals masquerading as homosexual for the titillation of others, and scantily-clad dancers who don’t openly reference “deviant” sexual practices, and suddenly, the likelihood of censorship goes down exponentially. You can connote all you want right up until a wardrobe malfunction and/or a big slap of gay in your face.

I don’t know why I still get shocked by puritanical hypocrisy in relation to the US. It’s why Adam Lambert couldn’t have actually won American Idol despite quite obviously being more entertaining and stronger vocally than the guy who eventually won. It’s why they cancelled his Good Morning America performance. But my jaw does still slacken a bit. Perhaps because I’m used to reading books, watching films/tv and listening to music that isn’t remotely conservative, especially in the gender/sexuality department. A high percentage of my favourite artists are gay or bi-sexual, and frankly, you’d think S & M is so passé by now in a post-post-punk age. I’m not likely to be shocked at Lambert’s trite lyrics (“I told ya I’m ‘a hold ya down until you’re amazed” – I think he may have gotten so worked up he forgot how to speak English) when Chris Corner sings lines like “I can hold you down by candlelight/With indifference.” The kiss between Lambert and his male, ostensibly straight keyboardist actually made me chuckle because of the indifferent reaction from both parties; the keyboardist just gets back to work without missing one non-chalant bounce to the music.

Interestingly enough, while supposedly 1500 people complained about the “indecent” kiss, others like
Rosie Swash on the Guardian website, actually griped about the dangerous link between sex and violence. Oh, dear. Firstly, as far as I can tell, most interpersonal relations are rife with power differentials, including sex. The fact that some people take this further and consent – note the word consent – to sado-masochism is just that, a fact. To quote Depeche Mode, it’s a lot like life. Secondly, I don’t believe Lambert is attempting to shake off his American Idol roots (those never go away), especially when he’s pandering to the mainstream with catchy, dancey pop songs with suggestive lyrics. Pop music is built on selling sex. And Lambert just did what hundreds of pop stars have done before him – generated publicity through controversy. The difference between him and other gay Idol runner-up Clay Aiken, is his campy, over-the-topness; Lambert somehow ironically managed to offend more people by turning his sexuality into an ultimately unthreatening cartoon than if he had quietly stepped out of the spotlight while stepping out of the closet. He could be/has been accused of trivializing and playing to gay stereotypes, but when it is play, the agenda isn’t likely to be very serious. As if that massive picture frame enclosing the stage didn’t already give you a clue about his intentions.

These kinds of teacup tempests, like Lady GaGa’s MTV VMA spectacle (read my opinion about that here), essentially reveal more about society than anything else. Will I buy into Adam Lambert’s music? No, just as I won’t with Lady GaGa’s. I don’t get much out of them musically, but I can appreciate their attempts at challenging what constitutes acceptable representations on popular stages. In the schlockfest of manufactured awards shows made to celebrate disposable, mass-produced music, hyperbolic renditions should be expected. There’s nothing terribly subtle about Lambert in the first place – choosing to collaborate with Matt Bellamy and Justin Hawkins on his album shows you what level of theatricality I’m talking about. Lambert’s only crime was throwing everything but the pubescent boy chained to the kitchen sink into one performance.

I’m more offended by objectification without admission, which nearly every other pop star engages in. These performers who shake their barely-covered butt cheeks and gyrate their pelvises may not be attached to leashes and harnesses, but they’re no less tied up in bondage.

Master & Servant – Depeche Mode

Kiss & Swallow (Moonbootica Remix) – IAMX

12
Jul
09

A Monkey Wrench in The Hype Machine: Music Marketing and Integrity

integrity

I’m writing this post as a response to a couple of Hype Machine posts (read them here and here) about music marketing, hype and integrity, especially in the online world. I come at this issue from a few different angles: as an MP3 blogger, as someone who took advertising and marketing at college, and as someone who took communication theory (largely criticizing marketing) at a grad school level. It’s always been a hairy business between artists and financial concerns. Do you starve for your art? Do you “sell out”? Can you manage to maintain integrity when selling your art, period? What exactly is integrity?

Integrity can mean different things to different people. The Oxford dictionary defines it as:

noun 1. the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles
2. the state of being whole and undivided

Integrity for an artist could mean that he/she manages to produce the kind of art he/she wants to regardless of what others think – in a way, adhering to an indie artist set of morals and keeping their work whole despite outside interests or concerns. Integrity for an advertising agency or PR firm often means “perceived integrity,” how surfaces can be maintained to convince the public the brand is trustworthy and credible. In the advertising world, celebrity endorsement or highly expensive advertising spots can equal credibility, and thus, integrity. I think that when The Hype Machine decided to expose the artists seemingly “hyping” their own music by creating false accounts, they were using integrity as a synonym for honesty and were applying that indie artist sense of morality that carries certain assumptions about what is moral in music marketing. These assumptions include the belief that a musician should be able to influence enough individuals to gain popularity, especially through the kind of popularity system The Hype Machine has set in place. If an artist manipulates the charts by pretending more individuals like them than there really are, it seems like “cheating.” No more cheating than in the popular music charts, mind. To think The Hype Machine, MP3 blogs, and social networking sites are subversive, grassroots, word-of-mouth and outside the trappings of the “old” mainstream music industry, is a nice idealistic thought, but also rather naive.

MP3 bloggers themselves have all sorts of aims, not all of them so altruistic. Public blogging is an act of attention-seeking, of validation, of confirmation. Otherwise we would all just set our blogs to private or write things down in a notebook. Or better yet, keep it in our heads. Yes, many of us genuinely want to promote the music we love or promote music that isn’t largely known, but we also look to promote ourselves. Without being able to get at least a small audience, there isn’t much point for the time investment in the blog, nor for the bands being promoted. We are hybrids of PR/journalist/DJ/diarist/fan, and that puts us in a liminal place that can favour one or more of these roles over the others. A large chunk of the most popular MP3 blogs are maintained by more than one blogger and more often than not feature advertisements, already taking away from the more personal, individual feel of a blog; in fact, I would consider many of those sites to be music e-zines. In order to increase and maintain high blog traffic, a blog generally has to post every day, if possible, several times a day – even if the posts aren’t very in-depth. The amount and frequency of free MP3s provided also greatly affect traffic – the majority of readers are likely to come for the music without actually reading the posts. Lastly, the more MP3s from already “popular” artists that are posted, the higher the traffic. These concerns and tactics surrounding blog traffic can tempt bloggers to make decisions with the PR part of their brains rather than posting strictly about the music they love. That’s fine; it’s just something to take into account when discussing the holier-than-thou independent music scene and its off-shoot promotional channels.

Some of the accused artists on The Hype Machine posts or those who work with/for them responded and refuted the claims made by the aggregator, including MJ Digital who represents one of the named artists. A post written over there begs the question, “what is the difference between hype & promotion, when is it marketing or manipulation and where is the balance?”. This question is difficult to answer. In order to generate “hype,” already a term that’s loaded with artificial implications, and to market effectively, an advertiser needs to gain attention even if it isn’t gained “honestly.” Advertising people are always looking for ways to reach an increasingly fragmented market which is drowning in advertising noise; it’s an appreciably difficult job with many practical concerns, and can lead to some not-so-honest practices. Or some downright obnoxious ones. It would be great if a band could gain popularity based completely on the quality of their art, but as one can see by a track record of excellent indie bands that fell apart in obscurity, that isn’t often the case. Music, like all other art, is a subjective luxury item that needs to persuade people even more fervently than other, more pragmatic straightforward items.

I’m friends with a few truly independent, unsigned bands and can tell you stories of frustration and despair about lack of visibility, promotion and success. Everyone is trying to sort out how to “make it” as a musical artist in an industry that has become a free-for-all. Many entrepreneur types have decided to form their own digital PR/marketing/consultation businesses to aid musicians and/or small labels in their pursuit of fame and success – I get contacted by a few of them on a regular basis. I frankly think they’re pretty useless and opportunist, generating far more cynicism and suspicion than messages straight from artists themselves. A perfect example of this kind of “new media advice” can be found at Hit Singularity. The problem with this kind of advice and marketing strategy is the fact every unknown band is trying to do this.

Speaking from my position as an MP3 blogger and music fan, I don’t see the point in saturating every social networking and/or profile site. If you have one decent MySpace profile with enough samples of your music, attention to aesthetic detail and personality, that should be more than sufficient, and better yet, efficient. Add a decent band website with purchasing capabilities to that, and you should have more than enough outlets. I, unlike the author of the Hit Singularity post, have actually found several fantastic bands in the last few years through MySpace. I don’t have the time to check in on every other site, especially if it repeats the information I’ve already found. I, personally, am influenced by bands that clearly display some vision and some thought in their art; bands that have bothered to put work into their entire package. It doesn’t need to be a flashy package, but if it’s creative enough, I’ll pay attention. For an example of a brilliant website idea see IAMX’s enigmatic, labyrinthine site. A band also has to work hard and be persistent to make headway – they should be playing as many gigs as they can even if few people come, they should be meticulously researching the people who might be able to “break” them to the public, including bloggers (I get more than a few emails from bands who obviously didn’t concern themselves with actually looking into my musical interests), they should be producing more music than they need just to keep top-of-mind. It’s easy to forget a brilliant band if they only put out a handful of tracks every couple of years. The many gigs you play should be memorable – including visually, because how many of us have gone to shows where we weren’t familiar with the band’s work and also couldn’t make out much meaning through bad acoustics? And I do agree with the Hit Singularity post in the advice that you should be offering a whole album or EP for free to your well-researched targets. It can be difficult writing anything substantial about a single sample MP3; in some cases, I put sample tracks like this in a weekly mix, and in most cases, I end up ignoring them. Most of all, follow my good friend Lisa’s advice regarding all of life’s activities: walk with purpose and no one will question you. You have to believe in your art and write and perform like you mean it; it’s imperative that you know who you are and what you want people to believe, and give people something to believe in. If you don’t want the trappings of a major label or a manager, you have to be prepared to do these things. If you’re looking to score a major label deal or manager, you have to be prepared to do these things. If you’re making music only for the sake of making music, regardless of whether you have an audience or not, you needn’t bother.

We also have to step back and put this into perspective; we who regularly consult MP3 blogs and their aggregators are not exactly in the majority as far as the general population and even as far as music fans go. As much as we bloggers would like to think we have some massive sway as tastemakers, we are largely preaching to the converted in an online bubble. Sometimes the bubble leaks into the music press and a band like Vampire Weekend graces the cover of SPIN before releasing an album. However, I have to say that having studied MP3 blogs and their aggregators for my MA thesis, I almost never saw unsigned, completely unknown bands coming up as the most popular on The Hype Machine, or elsewhere. Hype or its sister term buzz is difficult to track or to reason out with any logic; if the right people notice you at the right time, your band can gain buzz. You can also lose it just as capriciously. There’s an interesting case study on how Rural Alberta Advantage became a buzz band over at Hit Singularity. As with plenty of artists throughout history, their story is a combination of talent, persistent hard work, timing and sheer luck. This is also the story of many a successful band throughout the past fifty years.

Manipulating Hype Machine charts might be a bit desperate and dodgy, but in the world of snobbish indiedom, is there any less integrity in licensing your music for an advert? Where is that line between creative marketing strategies and loss of indie credibility? Why bother with fickle indie credibility at all? Some of indie’s superstars, like Morrissey, knew how to manipulate their own publicity by providing the right soundbites and strategic interview answers, and by developing a persona that media and fans could easily latch onto. There are far too many gimmicks in the world of marketing, PR and advertising (having worked on advertising campaigns, press kits and media releases before, I’ve come in contact with all sorts), and a large amount of us can see through people who are trying too hard without a clear vision behind the gimmick. And there are plenty of ham-fisted PR/marketing people who think they’re being “transparent” and tailoring their mass marketing to me personally, but who, instead, end up alienating me (including PR people, who after being politely ignored with their musical offerings, try to promote the same music to me as a submission to a fan-based project like my Day of 200 Songs). At the end of the day, some artists are born with both talent and presence, some are celebrated while still producing their art, some are not. Will we remember many of these artists that manipulated The Hype Machine charts in a week, not to mention a year? Likely not.

Music Business – The Sound

Sell-Out – Chicks on Speed




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Gigs Attended

Arcade Fire w/ Bell Orchestre + Wolf Parade (2005)

Arctic Monkeys w/ Reverend and the Makers (2007)

Austra w/ Young Galaxy + Tasseomancy (2011)

Big Audio Dynamite (2011)

Billy Bragg w/ Ron Hawkins (2009)

Billy Idol w/ Bif Naked (2005)

Bloc Party w/ Hot Hot Heat (2009)

Buzzcocks w/ The Dollyrots (2010)

Damo Suzuki (2012)

David Bowie w/ The Polyphonic Spree (2004)

Diamond Rings w/ PS I Love You + The Cannon Bros. (2011)

Diamond Rings w/ Gold & Youth (2012)

Dragonette w/ Ruby Jean & the Thoughtful Bees (2009)

Frank Turner w/ The Cavaliers (2010)

Frank Turner w/ Into It Over It + Andrew Jackson Jihad (2011)

Franz Ferdinand w/ Think About Life (2009)

Gang of Four w/ Hollerado (2011)

Good Shoes w/ The Moths + The Envelopes (2007)

Hot Hot Heat w/ The Futureheads + Louis XIV (2005)

IAMX w/ closethuman (2007)

IAMX w/ Coma Soft + The Hourly Radio (2007)

Interpol (2007)

Janelle Monae w/ Roman GianArthur (2012)

Joel Plaskett Emergency w/ Frank Turner (2012)

Jonathan Richman (2011)

Keane w/ Lights (2009)

Lou Reed w/ Buke and Gass (2011)

Manic Street Preachers w/ Fear of Music (2007)

Manic Street Preachers w/ Bear Hands (2009)

Manic Street Preachers at Wanaja Festival (2011)

Mother Mother w/ Old Folks Home (2009)

Mother Mother w/ Whale Tooth (2011)

Mother Mother w/ Hannah Georgas (2012)

MSTRKRFT w/ Felix Cartal (2008)

Muse (2004)

Nine Inch Nails w/ Death From Above 1979 + Queens of the Stone Age (2005)

of Montreal w/ Janelle Monae (2010)

Owen Pallett w/ Little Scream (2010)

Patrick Wolf w/ Bishi (2007)

Prince (2011)

Pulp w/ Grace Jones, TV on the Radio, The Hives, The Horrors, Metronomy, Devotcka, Vintage Trouble (2011)

Rufus Wainwright w/ Teddy Thompson (2010)

Snow Patrol w/ Embrace (2005)

Snow Patrol w/ OK Go + Silversun Pickups (2007)

Sons and Daughters w/ Bodies of Water (2008)

Stars w/ Thurston Revival (2006)

Stars w/ The Details (2008)

Stars (2010)

Steven Severin (2010)

Stroszek (2007)

The Antlers w/ Haunter (2012)

The Flaming Lips w/ Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti (2010)

The Jesus and Mary Chain w/ Nightbox (2012)

The Killers w/ Ambulance Ltd (2004)

The New Pornographers w/ Novillero (2008)

The New Pornographers w/ The Mountain Goats (2010)

The Ordinary Boys w/ Young Soul Rebels (2006)

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart w/ Suun (2011)

The Rakes w/ The Young Knives (2006)

The Raveonettes w/ Black Acid (2008)

The Stills w/ Gentleman Reg (2009)

The Subways w/ The Mad Young Darlings (2006)

Tokyo Police Club w/ Smoosh + Attack in Black (2008)

TV on the Radio w/ The Dirty Projectors (2009)

Yann Tiersen w/ Breathe Owl Breathe (2011)

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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave

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So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun

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Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head

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Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away

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Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners

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Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away

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You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender

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I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding

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You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black

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Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side

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Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb

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Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape

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Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah

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And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning

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My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it

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Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love

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We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

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Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south

Empty

Running on

Bravado

As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different

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LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can't...call the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell

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Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are

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You must let her go

She's not crying

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Baiting

Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times

Valentines

Hating

Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone

Whipcrack

Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't

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So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need

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The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest

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Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know

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No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more

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All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids

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Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome