Exposing the Major Record Label Brigands: Janis Ian

April 28th, 2005 § 0

Anyone who has any doubts about what the major record labels do to artists and why one should support independent artists whenever possible, should have a look at Janis Ian’s long piece on music downloads. As a recording artist for the last twenty years, Ms. Ian has seen all the systems come and go. She’s had her own grief and pain with them and seen others win and lost more. In short, she has the long perspective on how we got to where we are now.

Among the astonishing revelations is how her label insisted on negotiating a reduced royalty rate with her for CD’s as they were a new medium. And subsequently sold the CD’s at a price higher than the original vinyl.

Beside brigands like this, filesharers are naught but modern-day Robin Hoods sharing the music widely. As Ms. Ian points out every new listener is a potential concert goer or someone who may purchase her albums as a gift for others. Frankly I also often see people who discover music via downloads (legal or illegal) subsequently go on to purchase the CD’s afterwards.

BMG has a strict policy for artists buying their own CDs to sell at concerts – $11 per CD. They know very well that most of us lose money if we have to pay that much; the point is to keep the big record stores happy by ensuring sales go to them. What actually happens is no sales to us or the stores.)

NARAS and RIAA are moaning about the little mom & pop stores being shoved out of business; no one worked harder to shove them out than our own industry, which greeted every new Tower or mega-music store with glee, and offered steep discounts to Target and WalMart et al for stocking CDs. The Internet has zero to do with store closings and lowered sales.

And for those of us with major label contracts who want some of our music available for free downloading… well, the record companies own our masters, our outtakes, even our demos, and they won’t allow it. Furthermore, they own our voices for the duration of the contract, so we can’t even post a live track for downloading!

If you think about it, the music industry should be rejoicing at this new technological advance! Here’s a fool-proof way to deliver music to millions who might otherwise never purchase a CD in a store. The cross-marketing opportunities are unbelievable. It’s instantaneous, costs are minimal, shipping non-existant…a staggering vehicle for higher earnings and lower costs. Instead, they’re running around like chickens with their heads cut off, bleeding on everyone and making no sense. As an alternative to encrypting everything, and tying up money for years (potentially decades) fighting consumer suits demanding their first amendment rights be protected (which have always gone to the consumer, as witness the availability of blank and unencrypted VHS tapes and casettes), why not take a tip from book publishers and writers?

As Courtney Love suggested in one famous discourse, one would better reward one’s favorite artist by downloading their music and sending a cheque for $20 to their own address – than by purchasing it in a store. They would make more money than if you went in to buy five of their albums in a store.

Legal Online Music: The Curated Music Gallery at Fingertips

February 11th, 2005 § 0

Finally someone gets it right with online music. A curated weekly gallery of high quality songs from both known and unknown artists. The slant seems to be rock/pop in English, but the quality is very high.

What the editor at Fingertips seems to understand better than Joshua Ellis at Mperia is that the importance of editorial filtering in promoting independent music. We don’t want to have the raw Reuters or AFP newsfeeds in our kitchens spewing out the largely irrelevant (to us) news of the world. We want the sections which we follow and understand edited to a size we can digest. This is what fingertips offers:

just because there is an eye-opening amount of free,
legally available music online these days doesn’t mean the good stuff is easy to find.

I believe, in fact, that good music has never been harder to find. It’s quite
the conundrum, actually–there is more good music being produced than ever before
in history, and yet it’s harder to find than ever.

Free, legal MP3s are particularly hard to find, as they tend to be scattered across hundreds if
not thousands of different web sites around the world.

And it doesn’t help that free, legal MP3s of quality are inescapably lost in a
morass of free, legal MP3s of shall we say questionable quality. Because (alas!)
the flip side of there being more good music being produced than ever before is
(you guessed it) there is also more mediocre music (let’s not call it
“bad”; people are trying their best, after all!) being produced than
ever before.

While fingertips is brilliant as online concept and music editorial, there is no commercial transaction for the artists. By sharing some quality MP3’s, they do attract new fans. Many of whom will pay for CD quality versions after a short period. When you have four of the nine tracks in 128 bit MP3 of one of your new favorite albums, how long will you deprive yourself of the other five, the whole lot in CD quality? Not long is my wager.

So with quality online editorial guiding our selection to quality artists who are new to us (who very well may have had twenty year careers before we find them), all the artists need is a venue from which to offer their music. While each artist can set up his or her own website, there is a lot of redundant work, drudgery and expense in maintaining online commerce.

What independent music artists really need are places where the editorial selection is uniformly high and the prices reasonable in order to flourish and overwhelm the majors. We could call them mini-labels.

While working on the sound track album and press package for Lapinthrope, I think I may have found such a place. In France of all places. It is called Ocean Music. There are just seven signed artists, of which I am familiar with the music of three. They are all wonderful. Their music shares enough traits – sophisticated lyrics and wonderful voices – to interest one another’s fans.

Lapinthrope composer Rachel Smith has just signed with them to create a new album with Clearing producer Karl Mohr.

The only catch is that while one can order the music online, one has to wait for regular CD delivery. All the music should be available for online download at reduced prices (no physical product). As I’ve suggested in the past, music lovers have a set monthly budget which is likely only to increase if prices go down. If the expense and trouble of trying new music is reduced, we will do more of it. And once I’ve bought one album from an artist in electronic format, if I like it I am likely to buy most of the rest in CD format. If I never buy the first album – time, trouble, expense – I’m not likely to buy any of the others.

Hopefully the independent music vendors and artists will click on that concept one of these years soon.

Highly recommended.

Imagine if the Sixties and Seventies never ended: Soulsugar at the Moulin Rouge Vienna

December 6th, 2004 § 0

There is a house in Vienna, they call Soulsugar.

Every Sunday night in Vienna for the last couple of years, a time machine operates from about nine o’clock at night. Some space in the city (presently the Moulin Rouge) becomes part of the 1960’s and 1970’s. In these rooms, the music is James Brown and the soul pop of the epoch. No fear of ever hearing Michael Jackson or Tina Turner’s Private Dancer or any of the other dross of the eighties. Strictly prohibited, a rigorous selection that never breaks the spell. But very soul-oriented. You would be unlikely to hear The Byrds or Donovan here either.

In fact, a huge part of the music could be part of the French Nouvelle Vague cinema. On the walls, they show old super 8 movies of the epoch in endless loops. They used to loops from softcore of the period but lately they have been home movies.

In a crowd which is mainly from twenty to twenty-eight years old, most people come dressed as though they too were living in the Woodstock era, but without the same excess. One cannot grow an afro overnight and the afro is not a natural hairstyle to most Austrians. The other option for dress is a sort of natty French nouvelle vague look.

The Moulin Rouge is a particularly appropriate setting for Soulsugar with its red velvet and enormous old cocktail bar. It has balconies everywhere and deepset booths and heavy iron work as if from la Belle Epoque. Timeless enough and old enough to transport us far from the present.

The crowd at Soulsugar comes to dance. Which is good, as there are many places in Vienna where the people are there more to pose than anything else. Many of them actually know how to. There is an enthusiastic and giddy atmosphere. For better or worse, the people are without pretension.

Strange that these people seek every week to step back into the world their parents would have inhabited. An idealised version of that world of course without Viet Nam, drug overdoses or the Cold War. But a happy illusion, that one is happy to wrap oneself in for a few hours. Good music, friendly people, easy times.

The creators of Soulsugar add some lovely extras. The costumed girl selling candy, free massage, two-for-one cocktails before 11.

In a sense, the escapism of Soulsugar is a microcosm of the zeitgeist in Austria. Austrians would prefer to just not think about world problems just now. Their country is enough to them. They feel secure within their borders (what borders I would ask, considering their presence within the old EU and right at the edge of the expanded one). Austria is rich, secure and free. Long may it remain so.

An Austrian once compared his compatriots to Hobbits and Austria to the Shire. He was not far off, except that Austrians are somewhat taller and the women are very enticing.

MOULIN ROUGE – 1010 Vienna Walfischgasse 11. Admission is on a sliding scale depending on when you arrive. €3 before nine. Double or more afterwards.

Who attends Dance (in America at least): Expanding Dance Audiences

November 8th, 2004 § 0

Chicago Tribune | The selling of dance:

Who attends dance performances?

The Chicago Community Trust, with help from Prince Charitable Trusts, funded research that focused on the local dance audience. The profiling data, gleaned from the phone surveys and focus groups with arts patrons, are to be used to help dance companies gain broader recognition and boost ticket sales. A look inside the demographics of “dance attenders,” or those who have attend-ed one or more professional dance performances in the last year.

71% are female (29 percent male).

56 years old, on average.

77% are white (12 percent Latino, 7 percent Black).

63% are urban dwellers (37 percent live in suburbs).

59% took dance classes growing up.

60% do artistic or creative activities themselves.

The number in there which really surprised me is that sixty per cent of those who attend dance, practiced at one point or another. It’s true that there are always a significant proportion of current professional dancers, dance teacher, ex-prima ballerinas as well as a legion of young people presently studying dance in most given audiences.

Many times I have taken culturally aware people (who go to at least one of museums, theatre or art cinema regularly) to dance performances. Usually mixed results. They are not often sold on making it a regular part of their lives. They think of it more as a curiosity than anything else.

Oftentimes, either the music is alienating. Most of the classical ballet canon, apart from Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes pieces scored by Stravinsky or taken from Rimsky-Korsakov symphonies, are set to wretchedly banal scores, Swan Lake the notable exception. Even Giselle is maudlin. Or the modern stuff is just cacophonous. Or to sparse to be enjoyed (a single high hat being tinkled twice on the minute).

In modern dance in North America (and to a lesser extent in Europe) one suffers from the “anyone can be a dancer” train of thought, which considers that not personal beauty, stage charisma or dance talent should play a deciding factor in one’s ability to express oneself via movement in front of others. In classical dance in North America, audiences all suffer from the Auschwitz factor. The gentlemen who rule the roost have no great taste for the female figure. And so the female dancers are all young Adonis without rounded shoulder or bottoms or breast. Not a curve in sight.

These twig figures are hardly muses or and in many cases are barely recognisable as humans, let alone adult human females. Fortunately in Europe, the female dancers, depending on the company, are far more authentically proportioned. And thus more pleasing to the untrained eye. Perhaps it should not be a surprise that ballet enjoys wider favour among audiences in European cities.

So just how does one expand dance audiences? The eternal question.

In my particular case, take beautiful pictures of dance and publicise dance as widely as possible. Personal experience has shown this not to be enough.

More pleasing performers and consistently higher calibre music would help enormously. In any case, that strategy worked for Diaghilev.

But in general it would seem that answer would be to expand dance schools and train as many people as possible in Terpsichore’s art.

As a remedy for the general gracelessness of the world and problems of form, this would probably offer considerable both health and aesthetic benefits. Perhaps the Health Ministries should get involved.

A supple body and awareness of the body contribute mightily to a good intimate life. Perhaps the tabloids and the women’s magazines could join the effort.

Best pun/simile of the week: Nora Jonestown

October 13th, 2004 § 0

Apparently all is not well in the world of Blue Note fans. The worst thing to happen to them were the Grammies that Norah Jones won. The triumph of Capitalism with a capital C. Her success caused controversy on the company forums. The forums were taken down, scattering and angering the fan base which had kept the company running for twenty years.

MediaPost Advertising & Media Directory: [Blue Note] seemed oblivious to the uproar they had caused their fan base, because quite honestly, these weren’t their fan base anymore. Their fan base were the people buying Norah Jones records. These other people were part of some other time and place. They were good for a couple of thousand in sales, but in their entire history didn’t buy as many albums as Norah Jones sold in a few short weeks.

And the passion, loyalty, and emotional investment these folks had made in this brand over their entire lives – it was expendable, inconsequential, and misplaced brand equity. Welcome to Norah Jonestown.

The whole article is worth a read for anyone interested in jazz or the business of music. Or even scalable web solutions.

major record labels world’s biggest pirates

July 3rd, 2004 § 1

Macbidouille, a superb French language Apple information site, has published the following letter from a record producer in France – after confirming the facts.

Apparently download royalties are for them and not for others.

I am the co-director of 5 titles on the next album of [a French artist] that is to be released in october. The artistic director has a contract with the le producer (the major) for arranging, orchestrating, and artistically direct and supervise an artist’s recordings for a determined amount of titles, as seen in the contract. According to the contrat, the client (the major) gives money to the producers as a fee on every CD sold. About that project, as paying online music dowload sites such as the iTMS had appeared, I dared asking [the major] how much I’d get for those titles from this album sold on such a site.

The enclosed mail answered quite frankly : NO FEE for me on donwloads. Which simply means [the major] will perceive the rights paid by Apple yet refuses to give any part of those to the artists, directors and other rights owners.Which is perfectly illegal. [Major] states that the contracts between us talk of a “support” such as a CD, cassette, vinyl etc., yet for downloads, there is no support, so no reason we are given anything.

Yet, [the major] is negociating with Apple about how much fee they’ll perceive on any download made of the works we’ve created for them. My opinion is, and many artists and directors agree, this is a widescale and more insidious piracy than any other.

I’ve been doing that job for over 40 years and as a mixer or a director I took part in over 40,000,000 sold disks, yet I do not even own my flat.)

Personally, I buy many records from independent artists these days but will do my best to avoid giving my money to major record labels as so little of the money goes to the artist.

Who’s the real pirate here – the major record labels.

neve campbell and robert altman’s the company – the future of dance film

February 8th, 2004 § 0

out to lunch with my cousin shane last week. talk of film and life and love. casually mention, robert altman and neve campbell’s the company. future of dance film much depends on the success of such projects. immensely difficult to realise.

a miracle. greatest admiration for neve campbell following her vision to its final end. all of her training. the incredible passion involved, not to mention millions missed which could have been made shooting other projects while training and shooting this six month marathon.

on my last day in toronto and after a delicious korean dinner at joons at 606 bloor street west, greg barker-greene and fionnuala jamieson and i went to see the film. i was very concerned it might take a long time to see it anywhere in europe besides paris.

to my shock and horror it didn’t work. i was speech struck for the rest of the evening. let’s take it element by element:

the dance segments
mediocre. nothing appalling but nothing compelling. no one has captured dance successfully on camera.apart from an obscure mosfilm version of grigorovich’s ivan the terrible where he was allocated one of the large studios at mosfilm for several months and the entire resources of the soviet union. think dancers swinging from fifty metre bells.

robert altman did a professional enough job. the difficulty he ran into was the inevitable medium shot. it simply doesn’t work in dance film. one must either be in a wide shot (feet, ankles, arms and hands) or in some kind of a close up (whether medium, normal or extreme). dance cannot be compellingly captured on film in real time. the manipulation of time and movement is essential for that is what the trained eye naturally does. the ballon of the prince endures far longer in the mind’s eye than reality. in film, the live reaction is suppressed – thus the leap must be made longer through technical means to make the moment true.

of course idle critical speculation from the bleachers is the bane of artistic progress. i am in the process of putting these theories into practice. when lapinthrope is finally completed, my thesis will either be borne out or disproven.

in fairness to robert altman & co., an external duet in a thunderstorm did work well. as the whole stage weaved and creaked in the wind as the audience opened umbrellas, the dancers concentration on their art in the face of the raging elements was impressive. a well-thought out dance moment.

the narrative
here is where i take genuine issue with both neve campbell and robert altman. i mean what the hell were they thinking of?

the principal story is the inane relationship of ms. campbell’s ry with one sous-chef josh (coyly and rather poorly played by james franco). apparently when one becomes a cook or a dancer in neve campbell’s world (she wrote the story) one loses the faculty of speech.

these two banal lovebirds are the most inarticulate characters i have ever seen on stage, television or in film. literally they exchange not more than thirty words in this two hour marathon of silent love.

josh makes breakfast after their first night together. the morning after conversation.

eggs. good.
tomatoes good.

fionnuala pointed out that the filmmakers intentions were trying to show that these two communicated with their bodies and their senses and were not bound into the quotidien world of words like the rest of us. perhaps.

it is my great happiness that many of my friends and companions have been dancers and/or choreographers. neve campbell’s hypothesis is simple slander.

while not noted for their erudition, dancers are more inclined to try to articulate their feelings than most as generally they are deeply in touch with said feelings. it is not so much a question of virtue but rather simple necessaity: they need their emotions for their work on stage and so they talk about them a lot.

not only is the hypothesis false (or at least often so), but it also makes for a far less interesting film. if either josh or ry could articulate their dilemmas in life or their feelings for one another, we might be a lot more interested in their story, which for better or (probably) worse, is the driving narrative thrust of the company.

apart from the shallow characterization of the principal leads, the filmmakers run into another huge problem. they simply pick up and drop characters with very little continuity in their stories.

older dancers appear and disappear. young sycophants appear and disappear. only malcolm mcdowell’s company director alberto antonelli maintains any continuity in the mishmash of scenes.

canadian choreographer robert desrosiers does a marvellous extended cameo as himself.

this lack of continuity resulted in a disconcerting lack of focus. i am inclined to abscribe the haphazard quality as a bold if failed experiment in improvisational filmmaking.

greg liked much of what we saw as a documentary filmmaker he is interested in the mixture of fact and fiction. he enjoyed the dance segments and the appearance of ordinary cast members throughout the film.

fionnuala loathed every aspect of the company. but she is quite a bit of a festival film snob. she cannot see intention or boldness of plan as merits. she does not see the beauty in failure. i find her reaction simplistic as for her a film either works or it doesn’t.

i don’t believe one can be so categoric about art. art can succeed and fail on many levels. many successful projects are in fact void of meaning or soul, while externally successful. i think of the quagmire of quentin tarantino type films. simply stylistic exercises which do naught to make the world a better place – perhaps only succeed in making it a worse one.

but sadly i too remain disillusioned with this film. i had hoped for so much and to see so little delivered. very discouraging for dance film.

footnote to above review
even more shocking is the critical reaction – most film critics liked it very much. more importantly for dance filmmakers, the company is posting good numbers on the 55 theatres it is in.

perhaps there is hope for attempting again to make the next great theatrical dance film since the red shoes.

staatsoper | kylian ballet program with anna and astrid

December 3rd, 2003 § 2

buying a programon my second to last night in vienna, i went out to the staatsoper with anna and astrid. i can’t imagine better company for an evening at the ballet in vienna. anna is a former dancer and knows the history of the company and many of the dancers. astrid is terribly up to date on modern language german speaking theatre. my contribution would be a wide knowledge of classical ballet companies.we had some time to wait and sat together in the quite lovely café at ground level.

generations at staatsoper caféwhile we were there an older lady came and sat with us. i took this picture of astrid and her. in the café and thought that in her time she might have been quite like astrid. or the inverse. that astrid is just a reflection of the lady. quite dark thoughts, but i was already booked to return to toronto for a funeral.

ceiling of staatsoperthe interior of the state opera house is extraordinary. it is very large and quite regal, all gold and red. it is the opera house which reminds me most of home, in the bolshoi. it clearly belongs to the imperial days of the austro-hungarian empire.

entreacte at vienna staatsoperapparently the history of the theatre’s construction is quite tragic. built between 1861 and 1869, the building is representative of romantic historicism, its design much inspired by the renaissance. the viennese of the time were very critical of the building – at that time many of the extraordinary buildings of the inner ringstrasse were being erected and most citizens considered themselves at least part-time architecture critics.

the criticism was so vicious that one of the two architects, a certain eduard van der nüll, committed suicide in 1868 even before the marvellous structure was completed. but that’s the viennese for you – extremely critical. the other architect, august sicard von sicardsburg, also died – but of natural causes – before the building was completed. the first performance in 1869 was mozart’s don giovanni.

alec with bust of strauss, the staatsoper's first directorthe picture on the right, finds me still in the grand buffet, in the company of richard strauss the director of the opera (1919-1924) and composer of such works as der rosenkavalier and also sprach zarathustra. the death spell of the opera was enough gone by then that strauss lived well into his eighties. other famous staatsoper directors have included gustav mahler and herbert von karajan.

it is unsurprising that such great composers would choose to accept the directorship of the staatsoper. the vienna staatsoper orchestra is the finest i have heard in a musical theatre in the world. it is a great symphonic orchestra. even if there are no tickets available with good stage visibility it is still worth attending staatsoper for the atmospher and the concert alone. even in the worst seats, one can usually see at least the orchestra pit.

kylian at vienna staatsoperastrid during entreacte at staatsoperall of us very much enjoyed the evening which is largely made up of jiri kylian pieces generally well performed.some complain that the dancers in staatsoper are not hungry or aggressive enough. i don’t know. they dance quite well if perhaps not as furiously as in the bolshoi or new york city ballet. one pleasant side-effect – they actually seem to get along.

the season has been a tumultuous one as the artistic director of the ballet has been dismissed (after 2005) after a tempestuous dispute with the general director. it seems a pity as renato zanella as an expatriate italian has done a good job bringing modern work to vienna and has completely assimilated into the austrian cultural world (his german is marvellous).

anna p. and astrid talk after the showhis own work is not evenly brilliant (who’s is?), which i had ample opportunity to observe in a full length program of his work danced several times this season. his sacré de printemps was spectacular however. for the most part, the dancers wore jeans in a very casual modern atmosphere. in part this simplicity made the horror of the ritual rape and slaying all the more intense. as you can see by this picture of conversation, the kylian night left us more than enough to talk about.