Tag Archives: The Music Business

Fish on the economics of touring

Fish has written a very interesting blog post on the economics of touring with a band playing the rock club circuit at his level. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about the cost of live music, how much gigs cost to put on, and exactly where the money goes. (Not much of it to the poor support act, it seems, and people I know who have supported Fish in the past confirm this!). Are there really still people who multiply the ticket price by the number of warm bodies through the door and assume the whole lot goes to the artist?

It’s the sort of thing that causes endless discussions over what the “fair” price of a ticket ought to be. I’ve lost count of the number of gigs I’ve been to that can’t possibly have covered the overheads, especially when charging prices far lower than I’d spent travelling to the gig. One memorable one was was Breathing Space and Mermaid Kiss in a working mens’ club in Mansfield five years ago. A total of twelve musicians, only three quid on the door, and there were just 60-odd people in the audience. It was, I remember, an absolutely stunning and very moving gig, but it was clear nobody there was doing it for the money – because there wasn’t any.

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HMV and the future of the High Street

A few jumbled thoughts on the collapse of the HMV chain:

  • If all or most of HMV’s current shops close, what does this mean for music? I would estimate that half of my music purchases over the past 2-3 years were from my local HMV in Reading. The rest were direct purchases from the artists, either via their websites or their merch desks. I’ve not used Amazon for at least a couple of years. Without HMV, will people like me buy more independent music, or just less music?
  • Going beyond music, what is it about the “Traditional High Street” that ought to be preserved? Do the faceless chain stores that dominate our clone towns really have any value? If the High Street is doomed because it can’t compete with internet shopping’s lower overheads, what can replace it?
  • And finally, how about social and leisure activities that revolve around something other than shopping?

What does anyone else think?

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Why the old-style record business is circling the drain

Last weekend I bought a CD in HMV’s sale, Yes’ “90125″, a record I owned on vinyl but a gap in my CD collection. When I tried to play it using the CD drive on my laptop, it was unlistenable, with horrible distorted buzzing sound all the way through.

I assumed the disk was faulty, took it back and HMV exchanged it without question. The replacement disk played without problems on the big stereo in the living room, with all that big 1980s Trevor Horn production reproduced perfectly. But when I tried to play it this morning on the computer in my home office, that distorted buzzing was back. Just like the first disk, and along with another album purchased at the same time, the record was effectively unplayable.

Turns out, after a little research in Google, that the reason that distorted buzzing was that they’re both crippled with DRM. Significantly neither disk carries the Compact Disk logo, so technically speaking neither are actually CDs, since their encoding is not compliant with the Compact Disk specification.

In the year 2013, when I purchase music, I don’t expect to have to pay twice just for the privilege of being able to listen to it in more than one room of the house. Since DRM has fallen out of favour even with the most clueless of labels I can only assume it’s old stock which should have been withdrawn from sale and ground up for use as road foundations in China. Most technically-savvy customers would consider format-shifting of legally-purchased music to be an basic consumer right in 2013, regardless of what Warner Bros’ lawyers would like the situation to be.

So what should I do? Return the two not-CDs and demand my money back, which is a bit of lose-lose situation since I won’t have the music and HMV won’t have my money. Or just go and do what everyone else would do and bittorrent the bloody things?

Yes, musicians. This is why people bittorrent rather than buy music legally. But I assume that most of you already know that.

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We will only have a functional digital music economy when artists, labels and web services can all agree on what services are viable as revenue streams and which ones are primarily promotional channels. Too many of the arguments over royalties seem to stem from a blurring of the two.

Posted on by Tim Hall | 2 Comments


In yet another post on the state of the music industry, Steve Lawson muses on the oft-repeated statistic that file-sharers spend more on music.

Are we part of the ongoing viability of their music practice, or not? There are lots of ways of being that, far beyond blunt figures about where we get hold of particular recordings from (and a whole lot of material on BitTorrent isn’t available to buy anywhere anyway), but are we part of the healthy future for disintermediated music, or are we just trying to see how much we can get away with? Cos I’ve got no interest in the people in the latter group… Music has given me far too much in my life not to want to give back…

What we don’t know (and there may not be any way of telling) is the extent to filesharing changes not just how people will spend on music, but what sort of music they will buy. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that they’re spending less on heavily-promoted “mainstream” music much of which doesn’t live up to the hype. But instead they’re spending more on artists not signed to the major labels and their subsidiaries who don’t benefit from huge promotional budgets. Quite a bit of this is direct sales from artists, which frequently don’t show up in official statistics; the disintermediation of which Steve Lawson speaks.

If this is true, it would explain why so many of those who shout the loudest against the evils of filesharing are not artists, but marketing types and execs who have the most to lose from disintermediation. These people always claim to speak on behalf of artists, even though independent artists can speak for themselves. Is this just because nobody really cares if the likes or record pluggers have to seek alternative employment?

No that I condone people who download huge amounts of music without any intention of paying for a note of it. But I’ve never bought into the argument that the sky is falling, and the only way the “creative industries” can be saved is to give the big labels and studios unchecked power to shut down any parts of the internet they don’t like. As Bloom.fm’s Oleg Formenko said on Twitter, piracy is what happens when there are no legal alternatives at prices the market is willing to pay.

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Mr So & So launch album fundraising scheme

From the Prog Magazine blog:

Mr So & So, have just launched an ambitious fundraising campaign on the Pledge Music platform. The band are seeking to raise £20,000 to fund their fifth studio album Truths, Lies & Half Lies, as well as a live DVD and a short European tour.

The band have already written nine tracks for the successor to 2009’s self-released Sugarstealer album, including Apophis and You’re Coming Home, both of which have been aired at recent live shows. “This will be a much darker album and a lot weightier than Sugarstealer. The reason that we are trying to raise so much money is so we can at last have a production that really shows off what we can do,” explained guitarist and band co-founder Dave Foster.

Interesting that they’re going down this road rather than the pre-order model that’s now well-established in the progressive rock scene ever since Marillion’s fan-funded “Anoraknophobia” a decade ago (And whenever a more fashionable band does the same thing, always remind them Marillion did it first!). Although it’s a variation on an established theme, it probably goes to show that there’s no longer a one-size-fits all business model for all bands any more.

The amount of money they’re aiming for says far more about the economics of the music business than the frequently inflated numbers you’ll hear from the major labels. I think we can guarantee none of that twenty grand is going to be spent on “flowers and chocolates”.

As for the album title, it’s a very appropriate one for those corporate sock-puppets who are still trying to insist that you can’t record a decent-sounding record without a six-figure advance from a major label, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

As for Mr So & So, they’ll be playing at the Cambridge Rock Festival at the beginning of August, sharing the Sunday bill with Mostly Autumn, Touchstone and Don Airey, on a weekend that also includes Heather Findlay, Panic Room, Chantel McGregor, Halo Blind, Stolen Earth, Caravan, It Bites and Kyrbgrinder. If you love real music played by real musicians rather than over-hyped corporate music, you really ought to be there.

Mr So & So’s Pledge Music page can be found here.

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1995 and all that

In the wake of the copyright industry’s attempts to play whack-a-mole with Pirate Bay, I keep hearing the line about “destroying a 300 year old market just so the internet can work like it did in 1995″ coming from the usual media industry lobbyists.

I find that a very chilling line.

What these same lobbyists won’t say is just how much of the internet they are willing to destroy in order just in order to protect a specific business model so it can be as highly profitable as it was in 1995. Somehow I think even those of us who would never indulge in wholesale copyright violation are not going to like the answer.

Posted in Music Opinion, Religion & Politics | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Prog-gate “The Prog Corruption Blog”

I really try to steer well clear of backstage politics in the Prog world. But sometimes things happen on public forums that leave me no choice.

There has been something of a ruction in the community over a mysterious blog calling itself the “Prog Corruption Blog”, which claimed to “try to address corruption, scamming, vote canvassing and poll rigging in the world of Progressive Rock Music as dedicated and professional artists are forced out of popularity polls and charts by PR driven outfits“. There was but a single post, which made the claim that the reader’s poll in Classic Rock Presents Prog had been rigged in favour of Panic Room and The Reasoning, two bands recently signed by Esoteric Antenna. The whole thing reeked of an agenda, and read like the work of someone with an axe to grind against either the bands, the label, or both.

I learned of this blog from a link posted in the comments on another post in this blog, I immediately bought it to the attention of CRPP and two of the bands because I felt they needed to know. To say that there was then a significant sewage/ventilation device interface incident would be an understatement. Certainly some of those parties considered the contents of that blog libellous, and there was talk of lawyers.

A few hours later, after a number of angry comments including some from a member of one of those bands, the entire site disappeared.

If you read the whole thing before it got taken down, it was less an attack on the CRPP Poll, and more a direct attack on the professional integrity of two bands and their record company. There was also an implied personal attack on Panic Room’s frontwoman Anne-Marie Helder, suggesting that she did not deserve the Best Female Vocalist of 2011 award because the band “had played no more than half a dozen pub gigs”. (Obviously untrue, we’ll get to that later)

It’s now being suggested that the author writing under the false name of “Beverly Myers” is in fact male. I’m not going to argue with someone with a Master’s degree in psychology on that point. It’s notable that the (probably male) author adopted a voice that read like a crude caricature of 1980s hairy-armpit feminism to make his dubious points. I now believe he has a misogynistic agenda – not only are two of the bands female-fronted, but the record company is also run by a woman.

Given that the author has lied about his identity, nothing else can be taken at face value. The whole thing is full of distortions, half-truths and outright lies which cannot be put down to mere poor research. It should certainly not be dismissed as “a bit of harmless internet fun” – it’s a clear and deliberate attempt to damage several people’s means of earning a living. It’s already diverted a lot of their time and energy away from creating and promoting their music towards countering these malicious lies.

One of the bands has also dropped hints that they have strong suspicions as to the identity of the perpetrators (note the use of the plural here). While I don’t want to speculate on their specific identity, it does feel like the work of a fan or maybe even a member of a prog band made up of ugly blokes who’s bitter that the record label had passed over their dated 80s-style neo-prog in favour of two bands in question. That would put the sneering references to “bands fronted by pretty girls”, “beauty contests” and “they aren’t proper prog” in to context.

Somehow I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this by a long way.

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Chris Squire – The Simon Cowell of Prog?

Sometimes it’s not always evil record labels who behave badly towards others. Fans of Yes know how singer Benoit David stepped aside due to voice problems, and his temporary replacement Jon Davidson of Glass Hammer became permanent.

Benoit David’s press release does give the impression he’s been treated rather shabbily.

I was then pleased to learn that Jon Davison would be my replacement as he is an accomplished musician with a fine voice.

I subsequently learnt, from a band member’s interview, that I had officially left Yes and that my departure was permanent.

Now, I did like “Fly From Here”, and even gave it a favourable review. But now they’re giving every impression that they’re in it solely for the money.

I nearly went to see them at the Hammersmith Odeon last November. But the date clashed with The Heather Findlay Band at The Brook in Southampton the same night. Despite having tickets for two other dates of Heather’s tour, I decided I’d rather see a band playing for the love of music than a bunch of has-beens who were only interesting in topping up their pension funds.

I think I made the right decision. When it comes to art vs. commerce, Chris Squire is on the same side as Simon Cowell.

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Delain Fall Victim to Cloth-Eared Bean Counters

Some people question why I frequently describe the major labels as being run by cloth-eared bean-counters. It’s because of things like what’s just happened to Symphonic metal band Delain.

You finish your album, and then you don’t know when the release is. But you know that fans are waiting for it. We were so satisfied with the album, and also our producer was satisfied. But some executive nut-case just doesn’t get it, and decides: “Well, let’s not release it.” Other people do get it, and right now, they are talking about how and when to release it. It’s a nightmare! We don’t have control over it, and at the moment, we can only wait.

It’s an old story. Delain were signed to Roadrunner, who got taken over by Warners. Who, if their head-in-the-sand attitude towards digital licensing is anything to go by, show every sign of being the most clueless of the majors. As so often happens with this sort of takeover, Warners fired many the people who the band knew and trusted, and now they’re sitting on the record. Maybe they haven’t got anyone left who knows how to market a band the major label probably would never have signed in the first place. Blogger Ronnie Soo has even speculated that they want to re-mould the band’s singer Charlotte Wessels as a radio-friendly pop star, and ditch the band.

This sort of crap happens a lot with the majors. They give every impression they’re run by marketeers and accountants who’s most significant characteristic is that they are not passionate about music. Yes, this sort of thing has always gone on, but in the days of social media when bands can communicate directly with their fanbase, it’s harder for labels to pull this sort of dick move and get away with it.

This is why I had some serious mixed feelings when I heard that two bands I know had recently been signed. I hope and pray that the bands knew what they were doing, and scrutinised the small print of the contracts carefully, so that they and their fans never get shafted the same way.

Some bands forget that “The guy they trust” in the label when they sign might not be around for the duration of the contract, especially if the label they signed to gets eaten by a bigger one. I’d advise any band signing a record deal (and their lawyer) to work on the assumption that, however friendly the label guys seem, they *will* try to screw you, and make sure the contract is watertight. In the worst case they need the option to walk away without the label being able to hold their record hostage.

Hopefully Delain will be able to release the album, and find a label they can continue to work with. Sadly, and cynical as it may seem, if Warners are really only interested in nothing but money, it’s in their interest for Delain to split up rather than sign to another label. Less competition.

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