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.

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TEN MUSIC BIZ PREDICTIONS, HOPES & DREAMS FOR 2018

Here’s to all of these things coming true in 2018 so that there might be a happy and fruitful 2019!

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. It’s already being done in Nashville and quite well at that.

2. Mic Technique Revolution

A superstar singer will set an example on proper microphone technique for the rest of the pop, rock and country music 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. Again, it’s already being done in Nashville. There’s a reason why the top award at the CMA’s is Entertainer Of the Year!

4. Who’s your agent?

As live performance revenue continues to be the gold standard for music artists, booking agencies will become even more of an 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, vinyl 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.

We can all dream, can’t we?

A BELATED TRIBUTE TO THE RADIO PROMOTION PERSON – SOMEONE HAS TO DO IT!

“The industry is both the enemy and the best friend of the artist. Trouble is, they need each other.” – Chrissie Hynde

You may not be familiar with a rather obscure Rolling Stones’ song “The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man”. It was the American B-side of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” in mid-1965 and also appeared on the Out Of Our Heads LP. Before you read on, if you haven’t heard it, take three minutes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9IImmRrFBz4   (Ignore the vain attempt by the YouTube poster at synching other footage to the song.)***

The target of the song was the promotion rep for London Records on the West Coast in the mid-60s – one George Sherlock. In addition to getting the band’s records played on the radio, Sherlock traveled with the band to set up tour promotions. Apparently Sherlock was from a different time and culture than the Stones (shocker), and so the band was put off by his demeanor. They subsequently wrote and recorded this song about the experience. From all reports, though, the Stones eventually warmed to Sherlock and didn’t mind having him around.

Although the song is an indictment of the quintessential radio promo guy of the era, there is a line of truth in the song: “I’m a necessary talent behind every rock and roll band.”  Exactly. Records don’t just get played on the radio out of the blue. Someone has to bring it in the door and get it heard. Someone has to have, to quote Artie Fufkin from Polymer Records, a “relationship” with the programmer. (Ed. note: Spinal Tap is funny because it’s all true.) You can’t just walk in to a station and expect to get an audience with a radio programmer. Not going to happen. It takes a seasoned, experienced, professional radio promotion person to get a record played on the radio. There is no other way. None. Period.

Radio promotion is a sales job except that you’re not selling a tangible item – like shoes or cars or real estate – you’re selling an emotion, a feeling, a song and a sound – trying to convince a radio programmer that the song will make an audience feel so good that they’ll keep listening to the station just to see if whatever comes on next makes them feel that way again, over and over, day and night, 24/7/365.

But you have to remember that radio programmers are not really in the music businessthey’re in the music using business; that is, they utilize music to sell airtime to advertisers who want to sell something to a certain segment of the population, not unlike how TV and film use music to enhance a certain scene. So even though radio promotion people are trying to sell the relative value of one record over another to a radio programmer, it’s really the radio audience that needs to be sold to, thereby making the job even harder – convincing a programmer that despite his or her taste, it’s all about what the audience wants to hear.

So who are these radio promotion people and why do they do whatever it is that they do? I’m not sure. On the surface, it would seem like a real cool gig. Working as an important cog in the music business wheel, taking people out to lunch and dinner on an expense account, going to shows, hanging with the bands, and, from the Stones’ description, driving Corvettes and wearing seersucker suits. But much like the tour manager job described in last month’s blog, there is also a downside. Continue reading…

WHAT STEPS ARTISTS NEED TO TAKE BEFORE THEY GO TO RADIO

“Hey, Mister, That’s Me Up On The Jukebox!” – James Taylor

 OK, so, you’ve raised enough money from your friends, family and (let’s hope) fans to record that set of songs in the way you’ve always wanted them to sound and now it’s time to share your creative output with the world. And what better way to do that than through the time-tested path of radio. And, indeed, there is no better way for your music to become one with the masses than through the repeated plays of radio. And it’s free!

No, actually radio is not free. But even if it were, there are numerous steps that you first need to take along the yellow brick road to reach the radio stations of Oz. You’d better sit down.

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RADIO STATION LOUNGES & THE ART OF LIVE AND ACOUSTIC

“If you can’t deliver your song with just an acoustic guitar and one mic under one white light bulb dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, then you’re not a performer and it’s not a song.” – David Lee Roth

As an erstwhile bar band musician and singer in my younger days, I am always impressed when artists strip away the electronics and superfluous support system and perform their songs in the simplest form, in much the same way as Diamond Dave describes above. It lays bare the basics of the composition and the artist’s talents. I believe that it is only under these circumstances that songs and performers can be evaluated for craftsmanship and aesthetics. This is where it all comes down to the song (melody, lyrics and chords) and the performance (talent, craft, experience, artistry, style, dynamics and emotion).

Taking it down even further to its granular form, it all depends on the delivery. Two very able but different artists can deliver the same song under the same performance restrictions and the outcome will usually be decidedly different – not necessarily one good or one bad – but different. Lots of times it’s something that you can’t quite put your finger on; however, I find that the difference is usually in the emotion of the delivery. I’m not talking about histrionics or screaming or any outward visible signs of emotion (although such things can add to the effect); I’m referring to the indescribable but undeniable emotional timbre from within that connects the performer and the song to the audience and makes it all work.

That emotional something can’t be dissected or made into a list of checkpoints, and so, as a result, it can’t be taught. Playing an instrument, singing on key and various effective vocal inflections can be learned in school and mastered by anyone who has the patience and determination to practice, practice, practice. But there is no guidebook to emotional delivery and/or subsequent connection to an audience. The only thing I’ve found among those who have it and those who don’t, is that the former has spent quite a deal of time performing live in front of an audience and the latter hasn’t. Only experience can teach how to perform live and acoustic effectively and successfully.

These days, other than in small singer/songwriter clubs and coffeehouses, it’s difficult to experience those basics-only performances. Those who do play these venues are generally at the beginning point of their careers and haven’t yet mastered the qualities it takes to bring it all home. In fact, the only place I’m finding to weed out the wheat from the chaff is by listening to (and observing, if possible) live, in-studio radio station broadcasts, more popularly called “Lounges”. The beauty of the in-studio radio station broadcasts, or lounges, is that their logistics generally demand a low-tech performance. Small rooms, limited mics and inputs, and the difficulty in obtaining or hauling in massive amounts of gear all lend themselves to the kind of revealing standard that I prefer. Continue reading…

ART VS. COMMERCE: WHEN ROCK STARS MEET RADIO PROGRAMMERS

“The industry is both the enemy and the best friend of the artist. Trouble is, they need each other.” – Chrissie Hynde

 

Is there anything more uncomfortable or awkward than an artist meeting a radio programmer (as exemplified by the photo above with Bono and The Edge at KTIM-FM in San Rafael CA in 1981)? In the world of music marketing and promotion, it’s an essential piece of the puzzle that is intended to lead to airplay. It’s the artist bearing his or her wares to the marketplace by way of a pitch, a smile, a kind word, a thank you – some sort of person-to-person exchange of pleasantries. It gives meaning to the music and the musician, way beyond anything that a cold, faceless, piece of plastic (or WAV file) can summon up.

No matter how many fans, FB friends, record sales or website hits they have, musical artists (and the industry behind them) still need radio, one station at a time, to make it into the ears and the minds of the general public. Nothing has changed in that respect.

The Internet has not replaced the valuable face time between artist and radio programmer.

This strange bedfellow thing is not a recent development. Sinatra reportedly hung out in radio station studios with all-night deejays hawking his latest releases.  Murray The K deemed himself the “Fifth Beatle” when he befriended the quartet upon their first visit to New York and played their records non-stop and back to back on Top 40 powerhouse WINS. I myself spent 20+ years at Warner/Reprise hauling singers and bands into radio stations and backstage meet and greets – almost 5,000 such events by my count – so I know a thing or two about the execution, dynamics and purpose of this ancient rite. Continue reading…