Crazy P - Stop Space Return

It's been a long, long time since I got excited about an album. It seems like people aren't focusing on the format at all right now (and if Bill Drummond, oh wise sage, has anything to do with it, the LP is on its way to the grave ... )

A few weeks ago I was sent the new Crazy P album "Stop Space Return" (having dropped the "penis" in some sort of bizarre symbolic castration ...). They've moved from one classic label (Paper) to another (2020 Vision) but they are still fantastic.  And this new album does not disappoint.

What I look for in an album is continuity - both in sound and in form. I want to be guided by the music from track to track - just as a novel guides you from chapter to chapter. The version I received was via MP3 and the tracks were out of order - I could tell from the first listen (and the fact that the last track has a huge space to lead you to the ubiquitous bonus track). Once rearranged the genius was revealed.

A collection of fantastic discopop ("Love On The Line"), with even a smattering of dark deep house ("Caught Up"). Though they tread somewhat on the line of commercial house, what I love about them is their ability to create their own take on disco that is fresh and relevant. "Lie Lost" could have been made for heavy rotation at the Loft - with its comped piano chords and delicious strings. Check out the Maurice Fulton mix for even more nostalgia ...

It really is the summer of the return of disco.  Fantastic.

Go to 2020 Vision's page to get a free download of Lenny Annex's equally brilliant mix of "Laid Lost"


Long Tail Epiphany Pt 2: Sharing Lessons Learned

I've been constructing this post in my head for several months now - longer than I've been blogging actually. Reading The Long Tail - and recent experience of our music being shared across the blogosphere - has helped me to finally come to some sort of position.

People always ask me how I feel about the apparent death of the music industry and people downloading music for free. I've always had the same response - copyright needs to be respected. And I still firmly believe that.

I have a friend named Duncan who is constantly making mix CDs for his friends.  Every time you see Duncs, he is sure to have some new tunes to share by some esoteric artist that he has plucked from the net. He is a true maven - getting delight from sharing his discoveries. The same goes for bloggers like Mark and Raj. What these guys have in common is their respect and love for the music they shout about. 

That support and acknowledgment of respect - to me - is worth so much more than the loss of 37p net revenue for an iTunes download. I think most artists who battle constantly to get their music heard would agree with this.

The internet has changed consumption. It is now easier to get what we want, when we want it. Instant gratification. Without mavens in this world of infinite choice, most people wouldn't be exposed to all the fantastic music that is being made that might be considered niche or leftfield. Sharing has always been part of the culture of alternative music - technology has now just made that more of a global possibility, and I find that quite exciting.

In a fitting post script, I've heard Muxtape has been shut down ...

Image by beta product on Flickr


All I Want for Xmas ...

It may be months away (though the London weather would tell you otherwise), but these little gems are the perfect gift for Melnyk this xmas.

I'd also like an ensemble of tiny musicians to play them please.


Two Pop Birthdays

Two big birthdays this weekend.  Madonna, and the compact disc.

Both are entering their twilight years ... and while we once marveled at their brilliance, they are starting to lose their lustre.

Wired gives three excellent reasons why the CD is on its way to retirement.  I've ranted on a bit about these reasons before - but they are worth repeating again. 


Long Tail Epiphany Pt 1: The Death of Distribution

I've been delving deeper into the concept of the Long Tail - which is proving to offer me multiple epiphany moments.  Anyone working in the music industry that hasn't read it should - in fact, I have a feeling most major label suits have read it - and it scares them shitless.

One of the laws of the Tail is to "Democratize Distribution". In the digital world of infinite choice, the old rule of the industry does not apply - physical distribution is no longer the key to reaching your audience.

When Gaymonkey launched we worked hard to find a distributor. We were rejected by many of them because we didn't have the sound they were looking for (which puzzled me greatly - what did a distributor know about what music people wanted to listen to - surely there is an audience for everything?). But when Silence started to get a lot of attention, the distributors came to us.

We thought we had it made - the door was unlocked - finally people could get our music. And at the same time we had made some strong decisions around our digital presence. Things were great.

But soon I realised it wasn't going to be so rosy. Distributors don't just sell your music - they control it to maximise their profit potential. To sell more units, they strive to push your catalogue into "the curve" - the mass market space everyone has traditionally battled to be in. Selling a few units a week to stores is too time consuming to them - they need you to have a hit, or you aren't worth their time. 

So in true freakenomics fashion, they force albums into big retailers hands (HMV, Virgin, Fopp, Play.com) - the distributor makes money on initial units shipped - even if it is returned, they still keep their cut, while the labels are forced to foot the bill. The label loses out, and so does the artist.

It was suggested by our distributor that we were "too niche". They worked hard to get all their albums into the curve, and we needed to be there too. Last year they went bankrupt.  So did Fopp. Virgin has gotten out of its music retail division, and HMV has significantly trimmed down its inventory to focus on games and compilation CDs that they can flog at high volume over xmas. Maybe the curve isn't so great after all. 

In our new world of democratized distribution, the label and artist controls the release schedule. We still work closely with our digital distributor to plan our releases, but there is no pressure to modify our catalogue or promote within the curve. Because in the Long Tail niche is respected - and in the end the listener has the infinite choice.

Image by noseacuerdan on Flickr


Cover Me

It really is all about recycling these days.

The age of the cover song is back.  In the golden years of rock'n'roll it wasn't uncommon for bands to cover each other - often only a few months after a track had been released by the original artist.  But in these modern times, sampling has been the preferred method of recycling old material.  The worst offender, of course, being Kanye West, who consistently insists on barking his inane rubbish over the top of records (including putting his stamp all over Daft Punk - with their express permission, something I'm not sure I can ever reconcile ...).

The problem relates, I believe, to the musical education of the masses. The kids that consume the rehashed hits have no idea that the music they are based upon was previously a success of its own.  

There is no excuse, however, for the handbag hard house trance cover of eighties classics. During a beach cafe breakfast in Ibiza I was subjected to several monstrosities - including a european vocal treatment at 140bpm of Ultravox's  "Dancing With Tears In My Eyes".  My gym insists on playing "Hard To Say I'm Sorry" by Chicago - as covered by some band called Aquagen - who have simply quadrupled the tempo and thrown a snare and synth overtop of Peter Cetera.

On the very, very rare occasion you are reminded of a dance version of a classic that truly becomes a slice of genius that stands up on its own.  Maybe its my love of the Boss, or perhaps just the joy of the wood block, but recently (whilst enjoying the sounds of Thursday nights at the Joiners Arms) I was reacquainted with Natalie Cole's late eighties cover of Pink Cadillac and experienced a disco epiphany of my own.

Photo of Recycled Records from pb031 on Flickr


Long Tail and the Ego

Seth has been talking alot again lately about the Long Tail.

This is something I think that the music industry really needs to re-consider (or, indeed, think about for the first time ... ). With its obsession on chart hits, and the make-or-break mentality that plagues new artists on big labels, the industry has forgotten all about the Long Tail.

Seth hits it right on the head when he points out that the mass market is "where ego meets profit". Its the place where your distributor wants to put your album - where they urge you to increase advertising spend to get racking at HMV or (heaven forbid) Tesco. And where you might be convinced to pitch your music just to satisfy your own ambition.

Music can exist perfectly within the Long Tail. If you have 5000 fans on MySpace, show them the love. Forget about the Top 40. You're in better company with the other artists who are producing genius material but have never had to deal with the tribulations of a souless, unforgiving mass market. And you have the space to make your own music remarkable - without the pressure of conforming to a trend.

Will Page - Chief Economist for MCPS-PRS - disagrees with the theory of the Long Tail being applied to the industry.  See what he has to say here.