THE MUSIC BUSINESS RUNS ON SUSHI – BUT ARE YOU DOING IT RIGHT?

Back in the early ‘80s, Island Records founder Chris Blackwell, after signing Irish-rockers U2, decided to stay ahead of some imaginary country-of-origin curve and signed Japanese art/punk rock band Plastics (or The Plastics). As Island was at the time distributed by Warners, I was assigned to accompany the band on their maiden tour of America to facilitate promotional activities.

The best thing about the tour was that we would entertain radio and press at very nice Japanese restaurants in America where the band would order dishes not on the menu that defied description and pronunciation. Outside of the major markets, however, we would have to sublimate on just the sushi and sashimi on the menu. But as a result, I learned a lot from the band about the etiquette and procedure for properly ordering and eating sushi.

Fast forward to a sushi restaurant the other night (before a show, naturally) where I realized that, for all of the sushi consumption that keeps the music biz running on a daily basis, most of my colleagues are not aware of the correct ways in which one orders and consumes sushi. In fact, most of the others at the dinner admitted that they were only copying something they saw someone else do years ago, which wasn’t necessarily correct. Therefore, as an apparent altruistic public service, allow me to pass on a few major points about sushi given to me in the nicest possible manner by the members of The Plastics.

CAVEAT: A full comprehension of Japanese dining etiquette and the extensive nomenclature surrounding the art of sushi are way beyond the scope of this blog. But it’s kind of like publishing – if you know anything at all, you know more than 90% of anyone else in the music business.

First of all, some DEFINITIONS are in order: the word sushi refers to the sticky, vinegary rice that serves as the basis of the cuisine and which, by the way, is considered to be more important than the fish. Here are some things we call sushi which aren’t: a sushi roll is maki; a hand roll is temaki; a strip of sushi rice with a piece of fish stuck on top is nigiri; and strips of fish without the sushi rice is sashimi – OK, you probably knew the last one.

NOTE: The sushi bar is for ordering sushi only. If you or someone in your party would prefer teriyaki, tempura, edamame, or the like, sit at a table.

 As you’ll be eating with your hands, begin by wiping your fingers with the provided warm, wet towel. (If a wet towel is not offered, the place might be a little suspect. Move to a table and order the teriyaki.) After the hand cleaning, put the towel aside. Never apply it to your face (or anywhere else you might think to use a wet towel).

Greet the chef and, if he speaks English, ask what he recommends. Do not talk to the chef during preparation or dining. Never offer or attempt to hand money to the chef as a tip. Afterwards you may offer to buy two shots of sake – one for each of you. And if you have the occasion, compliment the chef on the rice. Again, it’s all about the rice.

Pour only a small amount of soy sauce in the small cup and add to it as needed. Never leave soy sauce in the cup at the end of the meal – bad manners.

Do not mix wasabi in with the soy sauce, unless you’re eating sashimi. BTW, real wasabi is an expensive vegetable found only in Japan. What you’re getting is horseradish dyed green to look like wasabi. The chef has already put the correct amount of real wasabi in the sushi. Do not add anymore unless you really HAVE to. It insults the chef when you do. If you MUST add more wasabi, use your chopsticks to pick up the smallest dab and brush it on top of the fish – never the rice. Same thing with the soy sauce – only a brush on the fish at the very most. Do not dip or soak. Bad, bad, bad.

EATING SUSHI

Lift the sushi (actually nigiri) between your thumb and middle finger. In a deft manner that requires some practice beforehand, turn the nigiri upside down in a counterclockwise motion (sorry – it may seem as if I’m making this stuff up – I’m not!). Lightly brush only the fish in the soy sauce – never the rice. Never shake any soy sauce off of the fish; in fact, never shake sushi for any reason. Any item with sauce or other ingredients already on the top, i.e., eel (unagi), should not be turned over and brushed with any soy sauce at all.

Place the sushi upside down in your mouth so the fish is directly on the tongue. Savor it on the tongue for a moment before chewing or gulping or whatever it is that you do with your sushi once it’s in your mouth.

Do not bite or cut off half of the serving; eat the whole thing. If sushi sizes are generally too big for you, ask your chef to prepare smaller versions for you. The exception is the hand roll, of course, that you have to eat in several bites. Hand rolls are generally more of a fast food, take out item in Japan.

Eat a piece of the ginger between mouthfuls – it cleans the palate. It can be picked up with chopsticks or your fingers. Never mix the ginger with anything or put it in your mouth with other food.

Do not order more than you can eat. Eat everything – never waste food that you have put on your plate.

Miso soup is meant to be consumed after the meal as a way to help settle the food. Ask for it after the sushi, but before the check. If no spoon is provided, pick up the bowl with both hands and bring it to your mouth. Slurping your soup is encouraged – it shows you’re enjoying it. Honest.

More recent etiquette says leave your cellphone shut off in your purse or pocket. No posting food photos or checking email. Rude!

With the exception of sashimi, all sushi is to be eaten with the fingers. For everything else, there are CHOPSTICKS. There’s way too much information about the care and handling of chopsticks to even begin to list here. Safe to say there are a few basic rules that, if followed correctly, you’ll never get called out at any location where they only speak English and take dollars.

  • Do not rub chopsticks together to remove splinters. Do not play your favorite drumbeat with them. Do not wave them around or point them at anyone or anything including the food. Do not pass food to anyone using chopsticks. Do not suck sauce off the ends. Do not nibble on them or use them for any other activity. Do not cross your chopsticks – unless it’s your objective to show everyone the symbol of death.
  • The “secret” of using chopsticks is to only move the top one. Do not hold them in your hand using all five fingers. That’s all I can tell you – you’re on your own from there. Like any skill, it takes practice, which would be best done in the comfort and privacy of your own home before you try it out in public. I’m still working on it.
  • You are allowed to use your chopsticks to tear apart larger pieces of food, although you should never stab your food with a chopstick. It’s not a knife or a fork.
  • When not in use, place your chopsticks to the right of your serving area, preferably with the tips on the provided rest and NEVER point them in anyone’s direction.
  • Putting the chopsticks on top of your bowl or plate indicates that you’re done and the server will remove everything immediately. You’ll want to avoid that.
  • When the meal is completed and if you were provided with disposable chopsticks, place them back inside the paper wrapper as best you can and leave them to the right of your plate.

Now you’re ready for your big coming out sushi dinner. Enjoy!

PLASTICS TOUR FUN FACT: When the band arrived and the tour began, one minor problem surfaced – the band spoke little to no English and my Japanese was, of course, non-existent. I bought Berlitz Japanese/English dictionaries for everyone, but that didn’t work. Somehow in the back and forth though, we discovered that both the lead singer and I had studied and remembered enough high school French to carry on a decent conversation. So we spent the rest of the tour communicating in bad French. For press and radio interviews, I would translate the question into some basic French and the singer would discuss it with the band in Japanese, of course, and come back to me in French; whereupon I would try and interpret it as best I could back to the writer or DJ. Most of the time I just made it up.

STINGER: Halfway into the tour, the lead singer approached me, acting very nervous, and in broken French pointed out that the band members eat Japanese food back home all the time and, while in America, they would rather experience some American cuisine. Well, duh. I apologized profusely and from there on out, it was my turn to do the ordering.

TEN MUSIC BIZ PREDICTIONS, HOPES & DREAMS FOR 2017

Here’s to all of these things coming true in 2017 so that there might be a happy and fruitful 2018!

1. Return of Real Songs

Millennials will come out of their collective fog and realize that what passes for pop music these days – well-produced, pleasant, beat-driven, formula, lyrically repetitive, singsongy, non-melodic music – are not really songs. Real songs – narrative stories with beginnings, middles and ends (as well as the clever bridges) – will stage a comeback, and real songwriters and performers will breathe a collective sigh of relief.

2. Mic Technique Revolution

A superstar singer will set an example on proper microphone technique for the rest of the pop and rock entertainment world by taking the mic out of and away from his or her mouth, allowing us to not only finally see the singers’ facial expressions but to also prevent them from popping their p’s. This epiphany will not spill over into the rap world.

3. Live Performance is Everything

Concert promoters, club bookers and agents will refuse to sign or book any act that isn’t any good at entertaining an audience in a live performance situation. The result? Only artists who have developed an entertaining live show will be allowed to perform. That will bring ticket-buying audiences back into venues and no more pay for play. It will also require artists to learn how to entertain instead of just singing and playing at the same time.

4. Who’s your agent?

As live performance revenue becomes the gold standard for music artists, booking agencies will become the most influential aspect of artists’ careers, surpassing record companies and managers in that respect. Again, an artist’s live show will be the centerpiece of their careers.

5. Local Radio Plays Local Music

Terrestrial local radio stations will regain control over the music they play from their national conglomerate home offices. Music fans will have some sway in what gets played on local radio though real-time mobile apps linked directly to the local radio station studios. The rising tide of listenership will raise all advertising rates boats. Win/win.

6. Performance Royalties from Radio

Congress will expand current performance payments made by radio stations to writers and composers to include master rights holders and, hence, the performers (as it is in the rest of the world except mainly North Korea, Iran and China – great company we keep, huh?). When this long-overdue slight is righted, American master rights holders and performers can then additionally start collecting those performance royalties that are currently being collected (but not paid out) to US-based artists from 75 other nations around the world. All in all, it will mean millions of dollars in windfall to the American music creative community from both here and abroad.

7. Better Streaming Rates

The Constitutional right to a regulated and fair compensation for writers, composers and performers will be enforced on digital streaming companies and extended to all future but currently unknown methods of an audience enjoying an artist’s creative endeavors.

8. Music As Merch

CDs and downloads will be officially relegated to the merch table, websites and indie stores, as artists and record companies finally concede that streaming is the preferable (and more profitable) way of buying music for instant and daily consumption.

9. Record Companies Evolve

Record companies (still the best source of funding, marketing and promotion of an artist’s music career ambitions) will rightfully continue with their 360 deals, but will divert attention away from music sales and focus more on the revenue that can be generated (and commissioned) from live performances, publishing and merchandising (which now includes CDs and downloads). The strength of an artist’s live show will weigh in larger than before in evaluating label signings.

10. New Artists Breakthough on Indie Labels

Indie labels will continue to be the grass roots discovery and nurturing ground for new and developing artists. Many will offer all the services of a major by utilizing third-party independent marketing and promotion companies such as The Artist Cooperative.

We can all dream, can’t we?

SO WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE SHOW?

THE UNCOMFORTABLE BACKSTAGE AFTERSHOW MEET & GREET

There comes a time in the life of everyone in the music business when one must suffer through the dreaded aftershow meet and greet with the artist. To Fred and Marge from Iowa, it probably sounds like a dream come true – meeting the artist they’ve always loved and admired where they can gush over about how wonderful the show was and how the artist is their favorite all-time performer and how much they enjoyed hearing the song that was played at their wedding, ad nauseum. But we know it’s not like that, is it?

Now that all of the fan/winner/VIP hoopla has been relegated to the before show meet and greet, the aftershow is strictly the domain of the industry (agent/label/promo person), being coerced by management and tradition to meet with the artist on the artist’s turf and try and have a painless conversation, not unlike the photo above of the late Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records with Crosby, Stills & Nash circa 1974. How uncomfortable do they look? Actually, Ahmet seems fine.

Regardless, here’s how it works: Initially, you gather near a backstage entrance, like cattle being led to slaughter, if only to listen to a diatribe from a security or road person about having your stick-on pass visible. Then, like sheep, you’re led down a dimly-lit hallway or two (should you drop breadcrumbs?) to a large room, which is conversely lit up well enough for open-heart surgery. There you will congregate with the bass player’s distant cousins from Peoria and end up in a conversation with them over warm beer and vegetable/cheese trays left over from the before show function. After some interminable amount of time, the artist’s personal assistant will gather you and the other unfortunate industry dweebs for yet another journey down a few more hallways until you are shown into the inner sanctum – the artist’s dressing room.

First, there will be some embarrassing re-introductions because no matter how many times management has told the artist who’s coming backstage, it’s all forgotten. Then you’ll try and help the artist put together who you are, when you last met them, and what you mean to his or her career, oftentimes inflating it more than it really is just to get some kind of positive reaction. Then you’ll talk about what efforts you’ve been making on the artist’s behalf recently and what the results are so far. You can only hope that the artist isn’t more well informed than you are on the subject, otherwise a cross examination could begin that will turn ugly.

But in the end, since there’s really nothing else to talk about, the artist is going to ask you what you thought of the show. Now you have to make a choice. If it were a good show, you’re safe. You can go ahead and say complimentary things and the artist will bask in your intelligent opinions. But what if it were a bad show? What would you say then? If you want to get out with your pride and your pants still intact, read on for some tips. Continue reading…

THE SIGHT VS. SOUND PERFORMANCE THEORY – WHAT YOU SEE IS NOT NECESSARILY WHAT YOU GET

“Believe half of what you see, son, and none of what you hear.” – “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong

In the course of the last 40 years or so, I’ve attended perhaps 5,000 musical performances of every genre and circumstance imaginable; from audiences of six to those of 60,000; from solo performers to large orchestras. In almost every one of them, I’ve been somewhat appalled by the reactions and impressions taken away by many of the audience members as to the relative value of the performances. Far too many times, I’ve found, the general public has little to no idea as to the quality of the songs or musicianship, but are way more impressed by their visual acumen. I’m not talking about staging or lights or smoke machines, but rather how the confidence exuded by the performers, their appearance and stage presence, trumped even the most obvious less-than-stellar renditions of the artists’ material.

My consternation led me to formulate my Sight/Sound Performance Ratio to which I’ve assigned a somewhat arbitrary 90%/10% (if only for the shock value of the statement), which means I believe that an audience rates a performance based on 90% of what they see vs. 10% of what they hear, whether they realize it or not. This is not meant as an assault on the intelligence of the concert-going public. It is a well-documented natural tendency of humans to evaluate (and believe) what they see long before surmising what they hear, as evidenced by the Norman Whitfield/Barrett Strong lyric above.

Until recently, I have not seriously avowed my audio/visual theory, as I’ve had no real backup for my statistic; it’s based on nothing but my own experience. But then I came upon two published studies which supported it, if only obliquely. The first is from Malcolm Gladwell’s widely read 2005 book Blink, and the second from a Harvard doctoral thesis on classical piano competitions, neither of which is nearly as boring as it sounds. Read on; you’ll be glad you did. Continue reading…

A BOOMER’S TEN CONCERT RULES FOR THE NEW MILLENNIUM

“People today are still living off the table scraps of the sixties.” – Bob Dylan

 

Ah, once again, a toast to the good old days of Baby Boomer music – back in the previous millennium when artists only had to churn out two great and ten good rock or pop songs and then their record company would handily foist those songs, 12 at a time, onto the waiting general public sponge through an all-too-willing radio station arrangement and a voluminous 9am-midnight record store.

That was the machinery that then allowed the artist to tour, virtually at will, to play all sorts of dumps and dives (and later the lawn seating general admission heat fests) at any time of the year that they so chose. Everyone had to put up with the long lines, the late sets, the uncomfortable (if available) seating, the bad food, watered down drinks, dark and scary distant parking – because we loved the music and we were all in it together. We needed to see and hear our favorite artists, live and in person, and we would go to any lengths to get there. It was a red badge of courage to detail to friends, family and co-workers the ordeal one had to go through to get tickets, fight the crowds, and stand for hours on end to catch the show. After all, the artist wouldn’t be back in town for at least another year or so, depending on how long it took to write and record the next album, which we were already craving. Continue reading…