Music Biz Advice

This Article by Bill Lefsetz, is 20 top tips for the music business. Some great stuff in there. Have a read, go on. It’s pretty hard nosed, and certainly not couched in the friendly loving new-agey terms that I tend to think in in relation to my art and audience, but maybe that’s what I need to hear. ;o)

And I picked it up from Jeff Schmidt’s blog.

Death toll in Iraq – officially not really newsworthy…

A couple of days ago, I got an email from Doug Lunn in LA, with a link to an article about a report about to be published in The Lancet saying that the death toll in Iraq is likely to be as high as 655,000. The horror of the figure led Doug to say that he wasn’t going to circulate it til he had more confirmation of where the figure had come from etc.

Today, The Independent have it on their front page – clearly deeming it credible enough to run with it. After all, it’s not some crazy fringe website that’s claiming this, it’s The Lancet! Hardly known for it’s rabid anti-zionist, anti-western stance. It’s a medical journal.

here’s a chunk from the article –

“The new figure is much larger than all previous estimates – more than 20 times higher than President George Bush claimed 11 months ago – and will add considerable weight to the calls of those seeking a withdrawal of troops.

The 654,965 deaths estimated to have resulted from the invasion represent about 2.5 per cent of the Iraqi population. It means people have been dying at a rate of about 560 a day, equivalent to one death every three minutes, or less

Two years ago, a study by Dr Les Roberts and a team from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, estimated that at least 100,000 Iraqis had been killed as a result of the war. This new survey, conducted by the same team and based on similar methodology but using a larger sample, suggests the situation is getting worse rather than better – a conclusion at odds with claims made by President Bush.”

So why the hell isn’t this everywhere? the lovely Jyoti raises this point, and it’s a scary one – why, if this is a credible report (which it clearly is) isn’t this on every front page? Operation Enduring Freedom and its conjoined sibling Operation Gargantuan Fuck-up have lead to the deaths of 2.5% of the population – most attempts at Genocide don’t do such an efficient job of wiping out sections of a population!

Meanwhile, has anyone in government on either side of the Atlantic apologised? or acknowledged the report? Here’s Bush’s response from the same article –

“Yesterday, Mr Bush sought to dismiss the survey, claiming without elaboration that its methodology was flawed. “I don’t consider it a credible report. Neither does General George Casey [the commander of US forces in Iraq] and neither do Iraqi officials,” he said.

“I do know a lot of innocent people have died, and that troubles me. And it grieves me. And I applaud the Iraqis for their courage in the face of violence.”

So the guys responsible for the slaughter don’t consider it credible, so we’ll just let it go. Nice of him to applaud people for their courage in the face of violence that he commissioned… Like a murderer bigging up his victims for the struggle they put up.

The problem with numbers like this is that whether the report is validated or not, it gives the hawks a reference against which to say ‘look, other figures say that only 100,000 people have died – check out our wikkid humanitarian skillz’ – as though 100,000 would be OK.

However it’s spun, we’re left with a government in the UK and US that in the style of King Kanute, stands in the face of a tidal wave of evidence against them and says ‘well, we’re in power, and we’ll keep doing what we’re doing until you start believing us, regardless of the consequences.’

Is there a way forward from this? what’s the best thing that could happen? You know, I’m not at all sure (like that’s a surprise, me with my PHD in Islamic Peace Studies ‘n’ all… ;o) ) – but various people who do know have offered suggestions, and all of them favour getting the troops the hell out of Iraq. Some say immediate withdrawal, some say timed but quick withdrawal. All say that the western military presence is making it worse not better, leading to more deaths not less deaths, giving a voice and legitimacy to those who seek to destroy Iraq from the inside, and provoking the understandable anti-western guerrilla response – the so-called insurgents. The western military presence makes it impossible to discern the difference between those who are fighting the occupation, and those who are just crazy warmongering loons on the rampage. If the troops pull out, those fighting the occupation would clearly stop, because there’d be no occupation, and those carrying on would be opposed from within as the Iraqi people get back some sense of ownership of their own nation and destiny no?

perhaps I’m being too simplistic (I’m definitely being too simplistic), but given the choice between two simplistic answers – keep fighting so we can blame ‘them’ for the war, or pull out so we can expose ‘them’ for their ulterior motives. I’d take the second…

But back to the initial question – why the hell isn’t this front page news everywhere???

Rock is Dead?

A fabulous post this morning by Jyoti on Why Rock Is Dead.

I emailed him about it, and it seems the tipping point for him was the same band that I was despairing at on the T in the Park coverage last night – WolfMother. How much more could they want to sound like Led Zep? How much more heinously anachronistic could it be to write ‘new’ songs like that in 2006? Is one of them about to buy Alistair Crowley’s old underpants, just to be like Jimmy Page? A really tragic show, and why on earth are they given such a huge platform?

Jyoti’s right – mainstream rock has become hopelessly derivative, retrogressive and stultifying, the record companies having latched onto a certain lazy section of the music buying public’s desire for perceived novelty and nostlagia at the same time. And it’s balls.

What’s worse – a thousand times worse – is that they’re rubbish. They aren’t even 5% the band that Zep were. None of these bands improve on the blue-print, none of them ever take a 70s formula and end up sounding like the greatest band the 70s never had. They just sound like a half-arsed tribute band with copyright issues. It’s balls.

I’ve always said that it’s more important to be good than to be original. But I’m not talking about slavish cloning. The desire for completely new music can be just as asphyxiating as mindless hero-worship, but to do either without coming up with anything worth listening to is the worse crime of all.

Mediocrity is the single most offensive quality in music. Bands that take risks and end up being appalling get my sneaking admiration. Bands that aren’t great, but are stretching towards something don’t sound mediocre, they sound interesting. To be truly dull requires a level of mis-placed self-satisfaction that stops you from ever looking for more, from moving forward, from building on the innovations of your heroes and finding your own space.

My music isn’t completely new – I wear a few of my influences pretty brightly on my sleeve, and am delighted when someone spots that John Martyn or Joni Mitchell or Michael Manring are in there somewhere. But I don’t actually sound like any of them.

The reason for this is pretty simple – I love Joni’s music. Think she’s pretty much perfect. But I don’t want to write music that sounds like Joni – that would be derivative in exactly the same way she never was – no, instead I want to WRITE MUSIC THAT MAKES ME FEEL THE WAY JONI’S MUSIC MAKES ME FEEL. That has that same sense of being spoken to, being taken on a journey, where the narrative and the music are married perfectly without ever feeling like either is being tugged in a wrong direction by some other unnecessary influence. Joni had her influences, from Dylan to Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. She started out as a folk singer. But she always had her own story to tell, and always sounded like no-one but herself.

That’s the plan. Is Rock Dead? I don’t see why the behaviour of ‘the mainstream’ should be allowed to be seen as killing of an entire genre, but the challenge is certainly there to avoid sounding like the new wave of ‘Stars In Their Eyes’ shit photocopies of 70s and 80s icons, and instead to take the language of rock into somewhere new and interesting, to tell a post-millennial tale, and sound track the current world paradigm, not the three day week, rolling blackouts and the rise of Thatcherism.

This disturbing case of Flt Lt Malcolm Kendall-Smith

This has been in the news a lot of late, the case of an RAF Doctor who has refused to go back to Basra on moral and ethical grounds. Jyoti’s blog on this is a fantastic piece of journalism so go and read that first.

He was quoted from the trial, in The Guardian as saying,

“I have evidence that the Americans were on a par with Nazi Germany with its actions in the Persian Gulf. I have documents in my possession which support my assertions,” he told the court. “This is on the basis that on-going acts of aggression in Iraq and systematically applied war crimes provide a moral equivalent between the US and Nazi Germany.”

How much more damning could an assessment be? This isn’t some peacenik, this isn’t me calling the government fascist scum, this isn’t John Pilger getting all hot and bothered again about some foreign place where people are dying. No, THIS IS A MILITARY DOCTOR, WHO HAS ALREADY BEEN TO IRAQ TWICE. He’s seen this shit with his own eyes. He’s just put his total career on the line in order to follow his conscience, a conscience that previously led him to join the RAF. That is a huge huge thing.

And that the legal system in this country (I initially wrote ‘our country’ there, but who are we kidding?) would jail him for this rather than applaud him and have him head up an investigation into the war crimes he says he can document (along with those that are already only-too-well documented), is a tragic tragic indictment. What a hateful regime. How can that happen? He’s apparently appealing the sentence, I just hope he can appeal to a civilian court where he might get a fairer hearing at least, if not a standing ovation for exposing the corruption, murder and deceit that is the illegal occupation in Iraq.

Campaign for an investigation into the Iraq War

as a rule, I find online petitions a problematic area – are they ever recognised by anyone? Are petitions in general trustworthy enough for them to carry any clout?

In this instance, the issues at stake are too great for any faffing over such triflings – the Stop The War Coalition, in a campaign fronted by the wonderful Tony Benn, are calling for an investigation into breaches of The Nuremberg Charter and Geneva and Hague Conventions during the Iraq War and occupation.

read about it over on Jyoti’s lovely blog of cleverness.

The legal smokescreen assembled around the Iraq affair is despicable – I understand the argument that when troops are committed we need to rally behind them. Yes, I understand, I just think it doesn’t hold any water when there’s a distinct possibility/probability/certainty that those very same troops are being shot and blown up on a false pretext, or conversely those troops are implicated in the convention breaches. The endless stream of news stories and first hand accounts of the fucked-up-ness of the treatment of Iraqi prisoners, civilians and those labeled as ‘enemy combatants’ (you’ve got to love the ability of the US government to invent euphemisms to undermine the critique of their behaviour) is damning in the extreme, but thus far none of the legal challenges have come to fruition. there’s a cross party campaign by MPs to have Blair tried for his part in instigating the illegal attack, which so far hasn’t come to anything. Hopefully this application to the UN for a proper investigation will get taken seriously.

Jyoti on downloading and the majors…

more great stuff from Jyoti Mishra on downloading. If the BPI starts getting trigger-happy with legal action against people for downloading music, we could end up in a v. bad place.

What they don’t seem to get at all is that more people will pay for music by artists they feel some connection with. Faceless corporate no-marks who happen to make nice music don’t engender any fan loyalty, so people will happily download their stuff. Why not, they’re rich enough already goes the argument. Whereas a band like Nizlopi allow free access to their video of The JCB Song for months, and instead of people just downloading it and then ignoring the record, they get a number one record out of it, totally outside of the music industry machine. It was a glorious success, not to mention a fabulous song, and shows what happens if enough effort is made to connect with an audience, to give them something of value.

The same thing has happened with a host of indie bands that launched this year- Jyoti talks about them with far more insight than I have, cos everything I’ve heard by the Arctic Monkeys sounds like shite, so I’ve not really taken much notice of them musically, but the story is one that fills me with hope, and the quotes I’ve heard from their fans suggest that they engender fierce loyalty.

And there are corporate rock monoliths that still do it. Iron Maiden, Queen and a few others have fans that will buy multiple copies of every single, on as many formats get released, even after they are well out of fashion. Marillion managed to raise the cost of making an album from their fan-base in advanced sales, for a record that wasn’t even written. Loyalty, trust, value. If people feel positively disposed towards an act, they are happy to part with cash. And those who never part with cash for music are going to get hold of it anyway – if you cripple software copying of music, people will just write software that records the audio – it means the copying will be slightly slower, but it’ll still happen, and the file-sharers will have the added buzz of getting one over on the wankers who want to fill their computers with spy-ware to stop them copying CDs to their iPods.

Meanwhile the indies keep providing MP3s, writing blogs to stay in touch with their audience, answering emails, playing gigs and selling merch, and it’s rolling along quite nicely thanks. Balls to the Sony share-holders.

SoundtrackMichael Manring, ‘Soliloquy’ (Michael has spent 20 years on various record labels, putting out great music. This time he makes the album of his life, puts it out himself, and is no doubt doing better from it than any previous album. It’s better packaged than any of his other albums, it’s beautifully recorded and is almost without doubt the most complete musical statement I’ve ever heard from a solo bass guitarist.)


The problem of religion.

Jyoti’s ever marvellous and provocative blog has a huge rant on it about the place of religion in politics. His contention is that religion is irrational and bad things are done in the name of God, and has no place being used to define political life…

The weird thing is that, as a believer, I at least partly agree. Not that all spiritual belief is irrational (clearly, that would be a weird thought for someone who aligns them self with the christian faith), but that the use of one’s faith to solely define one’s view of the world can end up in a very totalitarian view of the world.

This paragraph of Jyoti’s is interesting –

I’m an atheist. More than that, I’m a radical, materialist, proselytising atheist. That means that not only am I opposed to Christianity as an irrational pile of poop, I’m also against Hinduism, Buddhism, paganism, Judaism, Scientology, spiritualism, astrology and, of course, Islam. (I’m obviously not anti-religious people. Some of my best friends are believers, honest guv! Love the believer, abhor the belief, I say.)

Now, the last sentence is clearly an irony, but the strength of opinion expressed in the first half is very close to what I hear from devout thinking people of faith. It’s clearly not raving madness, but it is dogmatic to a slightly scary level.

One of the wonders of post-modernity is that we are now wrestling with the definitions of truth can something be ‘factual’ by untrue, or vice versa? Can two seemingly contradictory accounts of The Way Things Are both be true. We’re now able to wrestle with the concept of abstracting truth from its linguistic strictures, from it’s cultural contexts and examine things for what they point to as much as what they state. We can embrace the concepts of ‘finite’ and ‘infinite’ truth, with infinite truth being essentially unknowable but anything that points to or describes in any way the infinite truth is ‘finite’ truth.

The deconstructionists told us that all language is a metaphor, that words resonate with other words, and within the context of the semantic buildings in which we bring them to life – so the word ‘dad’, on the surface means ‘the guy who impregnated your mother to cause you to be born’ but is on a deeper level going to mean so many different things to different people based on their experiences of father-figures.

However, we still have the tools of history, or literary criticism, of science and biology that can act as boundaries and sign-posts for our discussions, as bridges between our experience and the posited notions of the various religious traditions. So, when Jyoti says,

I don’t believe the stories about Jesus, Thor, Isis, Satan, Apollo, Vishnu, Allah, Buddha, Spiderman or The Great Pumpkin. They’re all lovely stories, and I appreciate the wit and wisdom of the writers but are they true? No. They’re mostly stories written by men to help shape their societies and keep the majority of ordinary people, especially women, oppressed. Apart from Spiderman, of course, that’s very egalitarian.

there’s some pulling apart that needs to take place – which of those stories collapse under scrutiny, and how? What is being brought to bear to cause them to collapse, and is what’s driving that motivation itself substantial

Would you want to live in a country under Scientological Law? Or Odin’s Law? Does either proposition sound like a reasonable way to frame a civilised country’s legal and social system? No? So why does it make sense to run a country according to Christian or Muslim myths? They’re no less ridiculous, random and invented.

Let’s me spell this out: the problem isn’t with fundamentalist Islam or right-wing US Christians or huge churches run by ex-Hitler Youth members.

It’s with religion itself

Enshrining irrationality at the heart of our societies, validating myths and letting them define our human rights is an act of supreme idiocy. We all have the right to live, to love and pursue our dreams and no-one should be able to deprive us of those rights by waving a crumbling sheaf of lies in our faces.

He then goes on to present two stories of people be tortured and killed in the name of religion, and comments –

That news story is from June 2005. That’s what happens when people believe 2000-year-old superstitions to be literal truth.

Look at the Muslim terrorist attacks on Britain and America. Look at the God-steered response by Bush. That’s what happens when old men hear their God’s whispering in their ears.

If religion had its way, we’d all still be cowering in caves, blinking fearfully at the ghosts and goblins in the darkness.

We need to step forward into the light of reason, to embrace the hard truths of our mortality and unimportance rather than the comforting bedtime stories about gods and everlasting life.

That means we must oppose the irrational whoever promotes it and whatever colour their skin happens to be.

The Future of the music biz…

I’ve gone on about this enough times that you don’t need me to say it all again… however, it’s really nice when other people say it in a slightly different way with better graphics – step forward, Jyoti Mishra – surely you’ve read things on Jyoti’s lovely blog before? If not, you’ve not been following the links from here very carefully – his is a fab blog. Anyway, his is also the only blog I read by someone who recorded a number one single in his bedroom. He’s in a good position to offer an analysis of the industry.

As a spoiler, he comes to the same conclusions as me – that artist to end user is the model of the future, with no intermediaries. You buying music direct from us (or us buying direct from you if you’re musicians as well!), us charging less but making more, you feeling some level of investment in the process and ongoing loveliness of the music, and us being vocally grateful for your patronage.

Have a read of his post – it’s pretty succinct (then go and have a listen to his last album ‘Peek and Poke’ – a marvellous slice of low-fi tune-heavy electro-pop. Retro in all the right ways.)

Right, now I’ve got a million and one jobs to do, so less blogging, more hoovering…

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