Dr. Dre, Monster and Best Buy buck the Digital Trend

Dr. Dre - still pretty cool now he's joined the mainstream - how long can he balance his pose?At a time when digital music sales are fast overtaking physical as the medium of choice for consumers, and the most valuable sector of the international music market, traditional physical retailers are looking for ways to enchance the high street (US = Mall) experience. Best Buy have launched a new ‘destination’ music section instore in partnership with cable, audio and accessory manufacturer Monster and Dr. Dre (in corporate guise) called Club Beats. Whether the rap star’s endorsement of this window dressing will have any real effect on sales is dubious, but it does mean that the lugubrious dinosaur that is the US retail market has finally noticed that someone has kicked it’s tail and is trying to overcome it’s inertia. In any case, the Club Beats section will provide a lovely, distributed physical platform to launch the Dr.’s new album ‘Detox’ if and when it finally reaches shelves (release is scheduled for 2010). Just don’t spill your soda on any of the records while you’re in there…

Rob Sherman’s Balcony TV Session

you would make an attractive hawkRob Sherman is a very tall young man who owns a lot of musical instruments, including a ukulele, mandolin, thumb piano and full size glockenspiel. He uses them (along with his trusty Takamine acoustic guitar) to write beautiful, intriguing contemporary folk music, influenced by the likes of Mumford and Sons, Johnny Flynn, Laura Marling and Damien Rice. His music often tells stories, and paints vivid pictures of scenes and events from history and literature, made all the more pleasing by lyrics which could easily be read alone as poetry. Philosopher Blues, for example, is imaginative, thoughtful and reflective, while Oh Empire! is nostalgic and stirring. What sets Rob apart from the swathes of folkish singer-songwriter types is his conviction and passion, as well as his pleasant baritone. Joined on record by fellow folk heroes Hollie Rogers and Rowan Fisk, Rob is set to release his debut EP in the near future, and it promises to be one of the most exciting folk records of the year. He’s also written, produced and directed a play called “The God In The Well” that’s being staged in Exeter this weekend, if you happen to live in that neck of the woods.

New songs now online over at http://www.myspace.com/robshermanmusic

Gorillaz and Alan Moore (Watchmen, V, Swamp Thing) Collaborating on Opera

Monkey - journey to the westThis is obviously a good month for unexpected collaborations – first Wierd Al and the Pixies, and now Damon Albarn’s virtual band Gorillaz and the eccentric genius behind some of the biggest graphic novels of the last 30 years (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell <– Literally a massive book) , Alan Moore, on the libretto (the little book containing the text and story of an opera) for the new theatrical/operatic work curated by the Gorillaz, “Monkey: Journey to the West”. Based on the epic Chinese legend, and previously immortalised by the fantatic TV series:

Rick Roll’D: Rick Astley iPhone Worm Eating Up Australia

rick-astleyAccording to the BBC, iPhone owners in Australia got quite a surprise this week when they found their phones displaying a wallpaper of Astley’s photograph with a message: “Ikee is never going to give you up.”

The Ikee in question is a worm that affects a jail-broken phones, where a user has removed Apple’s protection mechanisms to allow the phone to run any software.

“The creator of the worm has released full source code of the four existing variants of this worm,” wrote Mikko Hypponen of security firm F-secure.

“This means that there will quickly be more variants, and they might have nastier payload than just changing your wallpaper.”

Bad things. Far, far worse than any Rick Astley song!

Currently the worm has only been found in Australia, where the hacker, Ashley Towns, who wrote the program lives. The 21-year-old said he created the virus to raise the issue of security.

The blending of Rick Astley into Towns’ security awareness project is downright genius; what says be careful with your hand-held device better than Rick Astley?

Posting MP3’s for Free Helps Drive Sales

Australian blogger Andrew McMillen recently hosted a panel on the digital music industry in Perth, on which sat Simon Wheeler – director of digital at Beggar’s Group, an amalgamation of some big indie labels here in the UK [they’re on the same road as my old primary school 🙂 ]. Mr. Wheeler has some pretty progressive and pragmatic attitudes to online promotion, and some forward thinking methods that it might be useful for artists to replicate in their own spheres.

“…we know that fans are passionate about an artist, and they’re very excited about a new album. So to be able to give them something to satiate that demand somewhat has been quite effective. There’s also the purpose of giving people a piece of music to ‘try before they buy’, if you like. We get a lot of love and a lot of coverage in the blog world, because I think our artists are very suited to that world.

We don’t give music blogs free reign, because you’d find that each blog would post a different track from the album, and so ten minutes after you’d publicised the album, people could just go and download the whole album (laughs).

So by making available one chosen, one focus track from a new album – much as you take a track to radio – there’s kind of an unwritten dialogue between us and the bloggers. We don’t tell them to post it, we don’t say they can’t post it; if people post the whole album, we’ll definitely say they can’t do that, and we’ll get it taken down. But they understand that if we post an mp3 to one of our label sites or blogs, then they won’t get any grief from us at all [if they repost it to their blog].

This really helps focus the campaign around a lead track, much as you do when taking a track to radio. There’s no new science here; this is just what the record industry has been doing for decades. We’re just applying that to the digital age.”

Making a few tracks available for streaming or download online is a great hook for pulling people into an album or gig ticket purchase – that’s one of the major reasons myspace was such a success, bands need to connect with fans these days. Blink 182’s Tom Delonge is of the same opinion: [via Hypebot, via Techdirt, via The Guitar Center]

Them Crooked Vultures: Free Streaming of Their New Album Online

them-crooked-vulturesThe self-titled debut album from rock supergroup Them Crooked Vultures is being streamed online – all 13 tracks.

The new album doesn’t actually arrive in stores until early next week, but its nice of Dave Grohl, Josh Homme and John Paul Jones to provide everyone with this awesome preview.

Click below to listen to the new Them Crooked Vultures album! Continue “Them Crooked Vultures: Free Streaming of Their New Album Online”

First Billboard Japan Awards Set For January

billboard logo

The first-ever Billboard Japan Music Awards will be held January 31 in Tokyo and broadcast live on Next Fuji, a cable channel of Fuji Television.

The inaugural event will honor the top artists in Japan for 2009 based on the Billboard Japan charts and votes from music fans. The charts include the Billboard Japan Hot 100 chart, which ranks songs based on retail and airplay data. The chart was launched by Japan-based Hanshin Contents Link (HCL) and Billboard in 2008.

The Billboard Japan Music Awards and the Billboard Japan charts are part of a master licensing agreement that was entered into by Billboard publisher, Nielsen Business Media and HCL in 2006.

MoneySupermarket and Opinium examine Spotify’s effect on Piracy

In the aftermath of the MORI poll about music piracy, consumer advice site Moneysupermarket have commissioned their own piece of research, conducted by Opinium research in an online poll of 2,319 British adults between Friday 5th June and Tuesday 9th June 2009. The full resutls aren’t available online, but here’s MS’s take on the results:

Napster and LimeWire have been havens for illegal downloaders in the past, but the introduction of Spotify*, a free music download site, is curbing the habits of illegal downloaders.

* 30 per cent of under twenties admit to illegal downloading
* Spotify encourages two in three Brits to curb their illegal downloading habits

Almost two thirds (62 per cent) of those who admit to illegally downloading, say using Spotify has encouraged them to reduce the amount they download illegally or kick the habit altogether.

The survey** from the leading price comparison website moneysupermarket.com on downloading and streaming also showed that one in eight Brits (12 per cent) admit to download illegally in the past six months.

Illegal downloading is worst amongst men (16 per cent compared to 9 per cent of women) and the younger generation, with 30 per cent of those under 20 admitting to illegal downloading.

James Parker, broadband manager at moneysupermarket.com, said: “The number of people looking for unlimited broadband packages is rising, which is an indicator that downloading and streaming are becoming a bigger part of online behavior.

“Downloading music used to be mainly associated with illegal sites such as the old Napster, but now over a quarter (27 per cent) of people say they go to a digital source as first port of call; usually iTunes or Amazon.

“With Spotify joining the ranks of legal music sites, illegal downloading seems set to become much less popular. With the new Spotify iPhone application and the new ‘Monkey’ tariff from Orange, which allows users to stream music from the orange site as part of the tariff, it will be interesting to see how these new mobile music services take-off. Streaming music for free or for a reasonable fee whilst on the move could spell the end for illegal downloading and could even send the CD the way of the mini-disc and cassette tape.”

Industry Contact Twitter Lists

Moby? Is that you?In an adjunct to my vociferous defence of Twitter and it’s web 2.0 cousins in that John Taylor post, I thought readers might be interested in a Twitter contact list that Bruce Houghton of Hypebot (a music industry news site) is putting together. Keep yourself informed, and pester decision makers in the industry to help you out. You can do this even more easily by downloading Tweetdeck, a little program that lets you find out who’s talking about certain search terms (your band’s name for instance), and different groups of people that you’re following.

Duran Duran’s John Taylor vs. The Twitterati

Duran_DuranMr. Taylor spoke at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles – for our English chums), and gave the opinion that

“When artists today are asked to Twitter their every thought, their every action, to record on video their every breath, their every performance, I believe they’re diluting their creative powers, their creative potency and the durability of their work. And in the long run I believe they’re also diluting the magical power and the magnetic attraction that they can or will ever have over their audience.”

While I agree that a lot of the glamour that the bands of yesteryear had (even the grimy, anti-glamour punks had a kind of anti-heroic superhuman mystique) I don’t think that accessibility necessarily devalues a band’s efforts. The megastars of today have carefully managed social network strategies with ghost-tweeters and myspace account managers making sure that fans feel like they are in touch with Brittany’s every motion, and more deeply connected because of that. Even bands lower down the tree can have a rapport with their fans, speak to them personally and instantly, inform them of new gigs, new tracks, new merch or whatever it might be, and get their opinions and feedback just as quickly and intimately. It’s a lot of work, but the relationship between fan and musician is a symbiosis, one that will be continually closer as Web 2.0 channels become more ubiquitous. Perhaps there is something to be regretted in the gradual demise of the ivory tower rock star (watch out for the falling TV’s), but as long as musicians can remember not to air their dirty laundry in public, blog when they’re drunk, and take advantage of the interest and support of their fans I think the closer relationship is a good thing.

Taylor also bemoaned the way that the internet has made so much of yesterday’s culture available that it tends to draw attention away from new musicians’ work.

“…The availability and accessibility of music on the internet today is truly incredible, and I applaud anything that can inspire interest or curiosity in anyone. But this also means that those of us who before would have been looking towards the current culture for inspiration are now often to be found […] in various backwaters of older music. This relative lack of need for current, innovative culture can cause, has caused, is causing – maybe – the innovative culture to slow down, much as an assembly line in Detroit slows down and lay-offs have to be made when the demand for a new model recedes.

Mods I couldn’t agree less with this negative take on the provision of access to the musical genius of yesteryear. I can appreciate how unique, cool and fad-struck the teenaged guitarist music have felt when Roxy Music strutted onto the Top of The Pops stage, how much that music and glamour defined a generation, and how much of a defocussing there has been since then, but greater choice does in fact equal greater freedom. The enforced cultural desert that he describes in the rest of his speech may have made individual discoveries more rare and exciting, but the freedom to roam and browse through the whole history of recorded music allows the new generation to decide for itself what is good and fascinating – the globalisation of music splits us all into niche groups; the zeitgeist has splintered, and the mods and rockers are now a thousand different sub-cultures, but those groups are more intimate and tighter knit than the superculture used to be, and will become more so as technology allows them to communicate more and faster. In fact this reintroduction of yesterday’s music is pushing a resurgence of creativity in old genres – funk labels like Daptone, reinventions of Acid and conceptual jazz from bands like Polar Bear and Led Bib, whole swathes of Chiptune stuff as people realise how great the soundtracks to the computer games of the 80’s were… This isn’t even taking into consideration that there are more musicians alive and producing today than in any other period of history, given how global population has expanded to this point in time, and all those people are better connected than ever before; what is true is that the stars of today now have to compete with yesterday’s geniuses as well as their peers for attention. Rant over.And Rockers