Sunday, 15 October 2017

In praise of Bruce Brodeen

Unless you inhabit the corner of the musical jungle that calls itself Power Pop, you may be unfamiliar with Bruce Brodeen. In 1994 he started a record company called Not Lame. If ever there was a well named label that was it. I came across one of his compilations in Revolver Records a few years later and got on the mailing list. I'm still there, despite Not Lame shutting up in 2010 and Bruce moving onto a portal site called Pop Geek Heaven.

Now however Bruce has hung up his jangly guitar and joined the grown up world. His big contribution for me was promoting the notion of music curation. I have talked about this before on the blog and given the speed with which the digital world is overwhelming what has gone before there will inevitably be a lot of music left behind that one day is lost forever. Thanks to Bruce the world will still have The Shazam, The Mockingbirds and many other proud purveyors of guitar pop. 150 compilation cds later he has just released his last.

If you haven't caught up with the world of Power Pop then the starting point is "Shake Some Action:  The Ultimate Power Pop Guide" by John M Borack. The best music lists book bar none. Best of luck finding one, they do come up on E-Bay occasionally, the good news however is that a new edition is due out in 2018. However a google will give you an idea of some of the music recommended.

For music the DIY series are a good starting point and come up second hand regularly
DIY: Teenage Kicks - UK Pop 1 (1976-1979)
DIY: Starry Eyes - UK Pop 2 (1978-79)
DIY: Come Out and Play - American Power Pop (1975-78)
DIY: Shake It Up - American Power Pop 2 (1978-80)


If you find any of the the Rhino Poptopia series on sale grab them

The best intro to Not Lame's catalogue is "Six Years of Power Pop!" available digitally.

Not only was Bruce a great promoter of the music but also of writers. Another book recommendation is "A Brief History of Jazz Rock" by  Pop Geek Heaven contributor Mike Baron which takes an oblique and unique view of another niche.

So thank you Bruce Brodeen for 20 years of great music, and for introducing me to musical archaeology, I will keep digging but it won't be the same without you.



Saturday, 30 September 2017

Podcasts. The Which, How & Why.

I'm a big fan of Podcasts, they make great in car listening and having always been a lover of speech radio they are a good way of getting a comedy fix without waiting for 6.30, or for catching up on my pet interests. My suggestions are further down the page but with over 250,000 podcasts to choose from how do you sift the wood from the trees? while this started as a guide to listening to Podcasts, if you are thinking of doing one yourself then some of the following may be useful to you.

What do you want?

If there's an area of human activity there will be a podcast about it. A search on iTunes, Stitcher or your preferred pod provider will bring up a list. Even if you don't use it to subscribe iTunes is the most user friendly and has the largest content count. For your own podcast ask yourself: Do I have anything new to say on my subject? Is there a gap that I could create a podcast to fill?

 

Quality Counts-subject matter

Frankly there are some pretty shoddy podcasts out there.Science Fiction, Sport and Business all have their great and their ghastly. The problem is often an inability to press the self edit button by the podcaster. Listen with a critical ear to your efforts. Edit ruthlessly, less really is more.

Quality Counts-listening experience

Audio quality is a huge problem with many "fan" produced podcasts. A decent microphone will cost about £50.00, Audacity is ideal software to use for an amateur. Hindenburg is good for a more professional job. Think about where you will record the Podcast, sounding like you are in the bath is not a good plan. Record somewhere that gives a flat response when you listen back. The software can add the tiny touch of echo needed to give the sound space. Voice is important. Experiment and find the best tone of voice and speed of presentation for you. Practice really does make perfect, if you cringe at the sound of your voice why should the listeners be any different.
Personally I have a voice made for silent movies so a Selling Service podcast is not a priority. Having said that Jeremy Hardy has made a career out of a nasal grating voice so there may be hope. A friend of mine is blessed with the ideal radio voice. She has been a podcast guest several times and comes across well. She can also speak off the cuff with little rehearsal, a rare skill, and should certainly do a podcast. Oh and music behind the speech? NO!

 

Script it

Many podcasts suffer from lack of preparation. Even that bastion of free
form radio "I'm Sorry I A Haven't a Clue" is actually tightly formatted and has many of the jokes and lines pre-prepared. Trying to record something that sounds like a chat down the pub will sound exactly like that. If there are more than one of you recording a podcast then script it so that everyone gets a turn. If you think of something good to say that isn't in the script, don't adlib, stop, add it to the script and record again. Talking over each other seems to be a particular problem on books and sports podcasts where the sound of 3 "experts" all talking at once means any good content is lost in a mush of background noise.

 

Research

The best podcasts, particularly those on history culture, books or similar need lots of time to get right. Robin Pierson of the History of Byzantium says the research has largely taken over his life. If you can't commit, don't start. My daughter has listened to a Harry Potter podcast that is so full of errors that even a casual reader and viewer can spot the holes. If you want to give opinion and supposition make it clear, there is a place for it and it can make for an entertaining podcast, giving fans something to respond to. Just don't present your guesswork as facts.
 Research presentation, listen to good radio and podcasts and analyse why it is good. Radio 4 is top of the list, followed by some of the NPR podcasts. Many of the podcasts I suggest below reach very high standards and are worth examining if you plan to podcast yourself, or as a listener just because they are so good to listen to, if you are interested in the subject or not. Then there is...

Bad radio:

Radio 5 Live can be very good at "event" radio. It's coverage of the Grenfell Tower Fire was excellent. However when it just has 24 hours of live radio to fill and nothing much to report it can be dreadful. Dotun Adebayo is appalling, gabbling his way through the script too fast to understand him. He clearly loves the sound of his own voice and opinions at the expense of anyone unlucky enough to be sharing the airwaves with him. Steven Nolan's evening show is a prime example of "zoo radio" lots of opinionated guests all talking over each other with the host unable to control them and allowing content free radio to ramble on until it peters out into silence (dead air in radio parlance). Dreadful and mostly unlistenable. Hear the good the bad and the ugly and make up your own mind about what to listen to, or as a guide to creatig your own Podcast.

My current choices.

History: The History of Byzantium Robin Pierson has a good style and presents a subject that is complex to say the least in a fashion accessible to the average listener. The History of Egypt Podcast by Dominic Perry, a proper expert in his subject which can at times make this a little detailed for easy consumption, but that's why I and may others love it. Our Fake History. Sebastian Major's style is a bit histrionic and the music gets in the way, but on the right subject he can be fascinating, just be prepared to pick and choose. The History of Rome is the standard by which other history podcasts are measured.

Comedy: The BBC Friday Night Comedy Podcast is a mix of shows, and usually good listening. By and large the BBC don't use their huge comedy archive as they could. Answer Me This by a group of seasoned podcasters is only as good as the questions asked in a given show, but demonstrates how good the results can be from recording in your front room.

Business: I have listened to more business advice podcasts than I can count, but have struggled to find anything that doesn't feel like the product of someone else's reading. I have the same problem with business coaches. Different is Dickie Armour - Monday Motivation. Full disclosure, I know Dickie and am a fan of the way he thinks and speaks. This is off the cuff stream of consciousness podcasting, and it is hard not to get caught up in his enthusiasm for life and business. From the early episodes I have listened to the technical side needs a little work, but as a pick me up on the way to a meeting you can't beat it. Try it if you are in business or not just for the joy of hearing someone on top of his subject speak.

Music: The Word Podcast - A Word In Your Ear, what was left after the magazine collapsed. David Hepworth and Mark Ellen bring on a series of guests to talk about their books on music. Insightful and always good value. Costs me far too much in new books.
A podcast I wish was better is A History of Jazz. In what is being touted as the music's centenary (at least that of the first recorded "Jazz"), a podcast that matched the detailed research and professional presentation of the history podcasts mentioned above was needed. Arik Devens' show isn't it. After 5 shows we are still only just into 1919. This could have been covered in two shows. the over use of music clips, making up nearly 50% of most shows suggests he is struggling to keep up with the research, as does the long summer hiatus. Presentation is ok and improving with each show. The problem is that its existence will likely put off a more professional show being started. If you want to sample it listen to his most recent on James Reece Europe. I suspect this show will fade away fairly quickly.

Guilty Pleasure: I like Star Trek, there I said it, the Trek.FM network has podcasts on every aspect of the shows and films. I listen to Literary Treks which focuses on the books set in the Star Trek universe. The presenters are resolutely amateur but are well drilled enough to give good audio. Dan Gunther particularly is a good interviewer of the authors. The weakness of his co host is highlighted by the regular inclusion of guest presenters to hold up the conversation. Compare this with some of the other Star Trek or Science Fiction podcasts out there to see what I mean about quality counts.

There are others I listen to, The Infinite Monkey Cage and The New Yorker Radio Hour, among them. But search for yourself in your areas of interest and let me know any good ones you come across.


If you would like help getting a Podcast on the air talk to me tim@selling-service.co.uk

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Walter Becker

There have been lots of eloquent tributes to Walter Becker, but these are a few random personal thoughts.

I've mentioned before how I came by some of my early music choices, none have stayed with me as consistently as Steely Dan. I joined the party with 'Aja' which arrived for Christmas 1977. It opened up new possibilities in music for me. From there I explored backwards and found riches that have lasted me a lifetime.

The guitar solo on "Home At Last" grabbed me early on, but because of the obtuse way credits were handed out didn't know had played it for some time. Of course at age 14 I didn't appreciate the finer points of Becker and Fagen's humour, so the liner notes were lost on me.

I came to recognise and appreciate Walter's guitar work, he had a clear bluesy tone as biting as his sarcasm. He is as has been observed many times in the last few days a greatly undervalued player, the equal of the high calibre names that pepper Steely Dan albums. I saw them live at Wembley in 1996 and his relaxed demeanour on stage remains the epitome of cool, leaning back into a solo on one of his understated Sadowsky guitars.

Oddly one of the best showcases for his guitar playing is on Donald Fagen's 'Kamakiriad' where he played pretty much all the guitar & bass (apparently because it was easier to do it himself as he was on board anyway as producer). Listen to "Countermoon", "Springtime" and "Tomorrows Girls" for Becker at his best.  His own solo albums showed that it was Becker who put the nip in Steely Dan's lyrics, try "Cringemaker" and "Lucky Henry" on '11 Tracks of Whack'.

Donald Fagen's promise to continue as Steely Dan is a bit questionable for me. Walter Becker was every bit as much Steely Dan as he is, without him it is just the Donald Fagen band. You Tube video's from earlier this year show an ill looking man so he may have dropped out of touring anyway. Fagen's voice is not what it was so perhaps time to retire the band with dignity.

My top Becker tunes.
Hey Nineteen from Gaucho. One of the best Becker bass lines, meshing with the drums (Wendell or Steve Gadd? Who knows)
Book Of Liars from Alive in America, his best solo tune and proof he should have sung more
Jack Of Speed, heard on tour in 1996, better than the version on Two Against Nature
Glamour Profession from Gaucho, the essence of Steely Dan distilled into 7 minutes.
Home At Last from Aja, one of their best and they knew it from the comments on the Aja sleevenotes
Shame About Me and Cousin Dupree from Two Against Nature, great lyrics

and too many more to mention...

The best tributes to Walter Becker

From his daughter Sayan
From Rickie Lee Jones
From John Beasley


Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Covers In Company


This months RnR Magazine features Lulu on the cover. She's an artist I haven't given much Pod space to until now, which is strange as I'm definitely a fan of her French equivalent France Gall. I did however get her latest 'Making Life Rhyme' on the strength of the videos at her website. Prompted by the article I invested in The Atco Sessions, her go at a Dusty in Memphis, which brought forth two albums at the time and a whole raft of out takes available now. It's good, her voice suits the Muscle Shoals backing and Duane Allman pops up on guitar.

Then I spotted her duets album from 2002 predictably called "Together". There seems to have been a vogue for this sort of thing in recent years but for every Linda Ronstadt "Duets" there are a dozen by artists, whose star is not what it once was, dragging in friends, acquaintances or names from the phone book to perform a list of random covers to stick on the racks in Tesco. Lulu's is hardly the worst of the genre but as she started me thinking about it...

In the credits list Elton John & his partner get fulsome thanks, his duet on Womack & Womack's "Teardrops" leads off the album and is far and away the best production job. The fact that he and Lulu share a label may explain the leg up given to this song. Most of the tracks appear to have been recorded by the team of whoever is buddying up to Lulu on that song with Lulu's vocal sellotaped on top later on. This may explain the mess on tracks two & three. "Shame, Shame, Shame" should be an ideal disco stomper for her to rival Relight My Fire (which closes the album, despite being 10 years old then) but in the hands of Atomic Kitten's producers turns into a twee, affected piece of pop drivel. As for "Inside Thing (Let 'Em In)", I hope this was just a sample of McCartney's original (certainly sounds like it) as it may be the worst thing to bear the name of any Beatle, and no I haven't forgotten "The Frog Chorus".

There are some good song choices "Sail On Sailor" with Sting is creditable, "Now That The Magic Has Gone" with Joe Cocker, but by and large there is little of Lulu on what is after all her album. The whole thing has a hollow feel to it. Elton John is executive producer and it does have the feel of him ringing around a few people to see what spare songs they had which Lulu could be added to.

This album will find its way straight back to the charity shop. If you want to catch up with Lulu I suggest the albums recommended above and her 2003 Greatest Hits which has the three best songs from "Together" along with the hits and a DVD which includes performances of some of the "Together" songs from the ITV "An Audience with..." TV show that tied in with the album.


Next time, or soonish at any rate, I will talk Podcasts, any suggestions of good podcasts on any subject would be great.



Tuesday, 15 August 2017

The Dark Side

This started out as an Artist Choice about Steely Dan. I will get to that soon but for now I've been diverted by the vexed subject of Bootlegs.

A year or so ago I wrote to Shindig Magazine about the fact that they reviewed so many live albums that were defacto Bootlegs. I was letter of the month and there were some furious replies from fans who had to possess every note ever uttered by their heroes, seemingly regardless of whether their heroes got paid or not.

Robert Fripp has some decided views on Bootlegging which I read around 1979. The thought that "it's rather like taking notes of a personal conversation to circulate or publish later" stuck. This remember was written many years before the mobile phone became a fixture at shows; "This is a peculiar custom that one should listen to music through the lens of a camera and I don't like being put in a situation where the sound, the atmosphere is being punctured by theft". The above comes from an article that appeared in Musician magazine, Bootlegging, Royalties and the Moment, find it online.

So the connection to Steely Dan? They have despite much touring in the last 20 years or so released only one highly unsatisfactory live album "Alive in America" in 1995. At least a dozen high quality recordings that sound as professionally produced as the official disc circulate online, and some, notably a recording from Missouri in 1993 get pressed up and sold as legitimate product. Often claimed as a radio show, online samples reveal a soundboard feed with prominent vocals & next to no keyboards or bass. There is also a set of pre Steely Dan demos that are currently available on Amazon as 25 different releases.

Why is this a problem? Donald Fagen has been vocal recently about the fact that there is no income from his old albums any more. While I suspect he protests too much (at least slightly) with a new vinyl edition of The Nightfly coming out and Steely Dan albums doing as well as or better than many other artists of a similar vintage; the fact that there are legitimate outlets, like Amazon, iTunes and eMusic selling fraudulent material in his name without the courtesy of paying him, or indeed the currently ill & unable to tour Walter Becker is doubtless galling.

One possible answer of course would be to release some of the hoard of live tapes and unreleased material himself. In the day of the super deluxe edition he is clearly missing out on a revenue stream. So Bootlegs are bad but Donald think before you whinge.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Why I'm giving up on eMusic


I joined eMusic in 2005. If you don't know eMusic it is a subscription based music download service. The content is sourced mainly from independent labels,with a lot of catalogue secured, until recently, through The Orchard & CD Baby.

In my Linkedin articles recently I have been looking at the way companies disregard their customer base leading to loss of said customer & ultimately the business. eMusic make a great object lesson in what not to do, so here are some of the ways that a once great service has been brought down, and left me and many others throwing up our hands and saying "ENOUGH".


Play Pass The Parcel With Your Business.

 eMusic was launched in 1995, that's four years before iTunes. Since then it has been variously owned by its founders, Vivendi (French media company), JDS Capital Management (venture capital), and was most recently acquired in 2015 by TriPlay an Israeli cloud computing company. Each time senior management was changed and from the number of people listing eMusic as a past company on Linkedin, staff left in droves after each takeover. The upshot of this of course was a lack of expertise, continuity or direction in the business leading to...


Frequent Changes in Business Model and Direction

Or, how to confuse your customers. With content rooted solidly in independent music and strong catalogues in Classical, New Age and other niche areas eMusic had a great USP, something that allowed it to stand apart from the fights between iTunes and the big labels. Then in 2009 the majors, Sony, then Warners and Universal crept onto the site, in the USA at least. The then CEO however stated in The New York Times "the future of eMusic, like its past, is in pursuing not the fickle mainstream but the passionate fringe". The U.K. store stayed with the independents, presumably due to rights issues.Then in 2014 the major labels disappeared again. There was a renewed commitment to the independent arena. With new owners came another shift to sourcing catalogue from 7Digital, meaning that on the site's relaunch in May 2017 much of the content disappeared, again presumably due to rights issues. Each relaunch was of course accompanied by new branding. An image search on Google brings up 9 different logos.

Something to Tempt The Buyer...

7Digital don't appear to distribute a number of the best known independent labels, Warp & Eagle Rock have gone completely and Rough Trade have only 27 albums on the site for instance. There are no meaningful new releases, oh there is new music every week, mostly obscure compilations, bootleg live albums and out of copyright jazz and classical. The customers want the new releases they hear on the radio and read about online or in the magazines, and which were always on the old version of eMusic. For me notable absences are the latest Public Service Braodcasting album (they have everything else from them so why not this?) and the new Peter Perrett album which they are advertising but, at least in the U.K. is not available to buy. I could go on, other customers are on the Emusers forum. One of my main labels of interest Frontiers (Italian based so no U.S.rights clashes I guess) is still adding new content so it can be done.


Ignore The Customers And Hope They Go Away 

The @emusichelps Twitter has been silent since 9th May. the main @emusic one posts a couple of hopeful items per month and the old noticeboard died with its website. The main means of communication is through a Reddit page meaning that the posts about poor customer service, disappearing content and departing customers are hidden away, out of sight, out of mind. The new website looks ok and does fix a few problems from the old one, but is very hard to navigate, and searching for anything specific is now a lot harder, assuming you can find anything in the first place. Oh and integration to iTunes has gone as well.


There may be legitimate reasons for the problems, new websites have issues I recognise that, but if eMusic are working away in the background to solve the problems, they aren't telling the customers. And they need to; soon, while they still have a business. If they aren't doing anything because the switch to 7Digital's platform has fundamentally broken the business, then own up to it, and start fixing it.

The obvious take away from all this is that this weeks owners neither understand or care about their customer base. The community aspect of eMusic expressed through various forums was one of its strengths. The fact that it appealed to the music obsessive (me!) who wanted to dig into the site and find long forgotten albums and new obscurities was another. The decision to move to 7Digital was clearly made on a cost basis and seems to sum up the whole "relaunch". It won't do eMusic, It won't do.


Postscript

I have just been sent a user satisfaction survey by email. You can guess how it went, but the concerning thing is that the headline "we are thinking about doing this" items were Hi Res audio (good), major label content (see above), and connectivity to smart watches, TVs and car radios. There's something about fiddling while Rome burns here I feel...

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Aliens ate my blog post

It's taken me ages to get this post written as new information came up and new cds arrived. So this may get amended in time...

Back in 1979 I was dozing in front of The Old Grey Whistle Test when up popped a new band, Bruce Woolley & The Camera Club. This is best version I can find on You Tube at the moment...

The thing that attracted me was the keyboards, a young kid hiding behind a stack of synths, producing piercing solos and textures different to anything else about at the time. They appeared on Radio 1 In Concert a few weeks later (I wish I still had that tape) and I was a fan. I bought the album "English Garden", was initially mildly disappointed by the "pop" production, and that following another single "Trouble Is" was that.

I heard "Europa & the Pirate Twins" by Thomas Dolby and joined the dots. Windpower followed and the album 'Golden Age of Wireless'. As usual I followed him off and on for the next few years up to his single with Sakamoto, "FieldWork", still one of my favourites by either artist. 


I have just been listening to the Audiobook of Thomas Dolby's Speed Of Sound and now know the goings on behind that music. I'll explore the business aspects of Dolby's relationship with the music and I.T. industries elsewhere, but the book paints a picture of an artist whose life influences his art perhaps more overtly than others. The 'Aliens Ate My Buick' album was a sharp change of direction, a move to the USA, marriage and work with George Clinton brought out a more upbeat funky feel, although the lasting song from the album for me is the more atmospheric 'Budapest By Blimp'. Listen to Jazz singer Claire Martin's version of "Key To Your Ferrari", proof that Dolby's main skill is as a songwriter.

I missed 'Astronauts & Heretics' but will explore it now having read about it in his book and listened to "The Beauty of a Dream". Read his tale of dragging a contribution out of Jerry Garcia before you hear the song.

Included at the end of the Audiobook of Speed Of Sound is Oceanea from his most recent album 'Map Of The Floating City. I knew of the album/game concept but the music was a surprise. Burning Shed have the 2CD version in stock. Mine arrived as I was writing this, and on first listen* the rest of the album is up to the standard of Oceanea. The package is nice as well, the map has all sorts of nuggets for the Dolby fan to spot, in fact it now seems that he has been building a whole world all these years, even down to the landlocked boat for a recording studio. I wonder if he has read J.G.Ballard?

 I would recommend the Audiobook version of The Speed of Sound as Dolby's narration gives it a personal feel that enhances the story. Any or all of his albums are worth exploring, if you get his "comeback" live album 'The Sole Inhabitant' get the DVD for the between song chat and anecdotes. His instrument set up including bits of 1920's radios is also interesting, at least it was to me...

I wasn't aware of how personal many of his lyrics were, the "fun" nature of his early music masked that aspect of his work, but I am listening with new understanding to all his albums and enjoying the more introspective work on Astronauts & Heretics and Map.... Take some time to read or listen to his book and find new depths in his music as I have.

 * after a couple more listens Oceanea, & Spice Train are favourites but To The Lifeboats is creeping up fast. You need to see the video of "The Toad Lickers" too, bizarre to almost Douglas Adams standards.