MAJOR LABEL POP MUSIC LIVES!!! BELIEEEEEEVE IT!!!
Lady Gaga‘s legion of U.S. fans have helped her make music history. EW reports that, in its first week of release, her album Born this Way sold 1.11 million copies nationwide — the highest debut since March 2005, when 50 Cent‘s The Massacre sold 1.14 million copies in its first week.
You know who helped a lot more than her “legion of U.S. fans”? Amazon, who sold 440,000 of those copies for 99 freaking cents, and lost about $3.2 million dollars doing so.
Why aren’t there more saxophone solos in popular music? I’ve never — repeat, never — asked myself this, but Slate decided to.
So what happened to the sax? In part, the answer might be that the ’90s happened. The rock music that dominated in the decade of ironic detachment had little room for a shiny, curvaceous, elaborately valved instrument that it’s impossible to play while looking like you don’t care. Your cheeks puff up. Your fingers flutter. There is an earnestness and a delicacy to playing the saxophone, an irreducible musicality that was out of step at a time when shrugged-off riffs alternated with bashed-out power chords on the rock airwaves. It’s laughable to imagine someone smashing a saxophone into a stack of amps, like Kurt Cobain did with his guitar—the instrument seems too refined for the gesture, like trying to talk dirty in Latin. And while ’80s metal holdouts like Metallica unleashed elaborate barrages of guitar notes well into the ’90s, they framed their virtuosity as viciousness, a trick that’s much harder, if not impossible, to pull off with the sax. Compare the fanboy hyperbole. A guitarist shreds. What does a saxophonist do? Blow? Cook?
As someone who can play the saxophone as well as the owner of the coolest looking grunge rock instrument ever, a red and black Fender Precision bass guitar that I’m fairly certain I play with sufficiently ironic detachment, I think I have enough credibility to say that this is staggeringly overthought, even for something on Slate. They do have an interesting argument over what the greatest pop saxophone solo ever is, though (I care about this if for no other reason than that, as a kid, saxophone solos were why I learned to play the saxophone, and thus why I got into playing music) and that was pretty cool. I would only add that the solo in “New York State of Mind” is way, way, way better on this fairly obscure cover (the version I grew up with, courtesy of my Dad) than it is on Billy Joel’s original.
Hear that grinding, growling long note? Man, I wish I owned a tenor.
Now that the drum box seems to be executing it’s primary job of keeping my neighbors from shooting me, it’s time to expand it’s capabilities. We don’t just want to play… we want to record our drumming adventures, as well. Nothing professional, just a kick, snare, and a pair of overheads. But given the limited space inside the box, we have to think… OUTSIDE OF IT. (ed. – I see what you just did there.)
Not bad, eh? And this was all done with old, repurposed equipment. Cost containment — it’s just one of the many features of the Sullivan/Lavender Acoust-o-matic Drum Box. Up next… trying to actually make whatever goes on in there sound halfway decent.
The Lavender-Sullivan acoustamatic drum-box has gone through a lot of changes over the last couple of months. Weirdly enough, even in its pre-drum-room state, it was pretty useful for recording vocals and guitar, in part because it had an interesting little reverb sound to it, but more importantly because it let the singing members of Elementary get their work done without being distracted by my visual shenanigans.
But lest we forget, the original purpose of the box — and moving to the semi-suburbs, honestly — was to play drums, and that’s still the goal as we head into the late spring. To wit, we purchased some sound absorbers from Audimute (a company located, of all places, about ten minutes down the road from my old house in Cleveland) that arrived the other day while I was home from work eating lunch.
Now, Steve and I were a little skeptical about how well these things would work. To the untrained eye (i.e., mine), they look like glorified moving blankets. And once I took them out of the box, they didn’t seem a whole lot different; they were decently hefty, and didn’t seem cheaply made, but I didn’t feel like I was holding state of the art technology in my hands or anything like that. Still, we put them up inside the box, and I have to admit, they definitely work as advertised. They absolutely suck up the reverb of the room, and the result is a much quieter environment both inside and outside of the box. They don’t do much with bass frequencies, but of course, Audimute pretty clearly states exactly that in their promotional materials. With the blankets (including one in front of the door), we’re at about 75% of where we need to be for happy drumming with happy neighbors. They can hear us in their basement, but not in any other part of the house — and I’ve got a sneaky suspicion that it’s mostly the kick drum they’re hearing.
There are a couple other changes, but most of them are logistical or cosmetic. I threw up some weather stripping to try to create a better seal on the door, but to be honest, the door is kind of a joke and has so many fundamental issues that I’m doubtful it can be improved around the margins. I may need to rip it off at some point and just build a real door based on what the box ended up actually becoming. On the other hand, I did add an interior handle, which makes it a lot easier to shut that pathetic excuse for a door without jamming your hand in it.
The other kind of funny part of this is that I finally cut out the stupid beam that bisected the doorway, although it wasn’t easy correcting this very poor design decision. Having had enough of extended use of hand saws from my days reconfiguring Feathers’ old garage a few years ago, I broke down and bought a circular saw for about forty bucks. On the plus side, that’s not a lot of money, and it works really well. On the negative side, I’m terrified of it, although I managed to make a few cuts without disemboweling myself, and that’s been good for morale.
At any rate, here’s a look at what the box looks like today.
Vacation over. I had a very quiet, very Rhode Island time hanging around with my family, including the next generation. That meant a lot of time ambling around in 45 degree, sunny Portsmouth pre-spring weather, climbing trees, moving bricks, and digging through pond scum with a big stick. I also had several great birthday dinners, one of which was a surprise apparently organized by my very clever wife and attended by some of this site’s most frequent readers, who I definitely don’t get to have dinner with often enough.
So, fat and happy, I return to Washington to conduct the people’s business, by which I mean the people that I work for. They’ve got a lot on my plate, but there are also numerous musical goals to accomplish, a giant wooden box that’s nearly finished, bikes to ride, basketball games to be played, and even — gasp — the somewhat remote possibility that I might change careers in the near future. You never know, do you?
As for the site, I probably don’t have the bandwidth for any large, current-event-driven rants anytime soon (although you never know), but let me go on the record and say that I hope we get out of Libya by the time I get an extra minute to express in writing how disconcerting I find the way that we got in to be. Other than that, we’re looking at an all-Celtics Troncast this weekend, and I’d say the redesign is pretty much finished.
Now go out there and be somebody.
This is why I learned to play the saxophone.
Okay, not really. But that is still awesome.
(via Andrew Sullivan.)
“And the beauty of taking your allowance money and making a decision based on the jacket, not knowing what the record sounded like, and looking at a couple of still pictures and imagining it… I hate to sound like an old man now, but I am, and you mark my words, in a generation from now people are going to say: ‘What happened?’ Steve Jobs is personally responsible for killing the music business.”
Translation : “Bon Jovi is sad because no one buys Bon Jovi records when they can find out how terrible they probably are without buying them first.”
You know, sometimes when I think about the music I love, and how I love playing it, I wonder whether it’s the music I’m actually fond of, or just the period of time in my life I associate it with. When I was in college, for instance, and I’d see a band setting up, and I’d want more than anything to be up there setting up, did I really miss that experience? Or did I just want it to be summer again, when I’d be spending good chunks of my time setting up for shows with my friends and other people I actually liked?
For me, the answer is — as usual — a little bit of both. But that blindly sentimental outlook on life is everywhere, and there’s no better example than this. Logistically, the experience of getting any music you want, cheaply and instantly, with a vast amount of easily accessible information about it available to you before you commit to buying it, is an obviously better purchasing experience. Unless, of course, the experience of buying music is largely sentimental to you, in which case major procedural changes or simplifications are always going to be inherently bad, even if they’re more efficient or help you find music you actually like faster and with less of a hassle.
Plus, if we’re going to refer to “the music business” as the exploitative cartel system punk rock bands spent decades railing against (unless they were profiting from it, or in many cases, while they were profiting from it), then I’ll shed no tears over its death/destruction/etc. I don’t actually care if “the music business” dies, as long as there’s a lot of music out there for everyone to enjoy. And trust me — there will be touring bands and new records to buy for a long time, even if they aren’t propelled by unrealistic (but technically possible) dreams of owning your own arena football team.
No, I don’t look for this kind of thing. I even got here from clicking on a work-related e-mail, so I don’t know what you want me to do. Avert my eyes?
Read that carefully. Of all the things you could possibly give away, I’m not sure I could come up with something less valuable than a “piece of art”, containing a single lyric from a soon to be released pop song that you will hear twenty billion times a day in your car, or probably while trying to watch an NBA playoff game.
Someday, are my kids going to download this crap? I mean, I just don’t know what to say. Ten year olds just shouldn’t be on the internet. You know what I liked when I was ten? ACE OF BASE*.To me, that’s a kind of sacred, special, childhood idiocy that viral marketers just shouldn’t be allowed to go after.
* (in my defense, They Might Be Giants were my favorite band, but hilariously, I was more embarrassed about liking them than I was about liking the more socially-acceptable-to-popular-11-year-olds Swedish dance-pop group. The lesson, as always — kids are stupid.)
Wow, this silly web site now has over one thousand posts. Incredible! And for the record, I’m kind of a country bumpkin who isn’t nearly as versed in international affairs as he probably should be, but since this site kind of functions as my personal paper of record, I should mention that what’s going on in the Middle East right now is pretty incredible. I mean, are you watching this stuff? Is Jordan going down? Saudi Arabia?
Anyways, quick updates on my suburban, tax-revenue generating life:
- I have a new nephew. Actually, I got a new nephew on my inlaws’ side last year (who is hilarious and a freakishly coordinated baby; he just stands there looking at you, holding the TV remote, which would be normal except for the fact that he’s a freaking baby and shouldn’t be able to stand there like that), but the latest addition to the Sullivan line of things is also very exciting. I only have one sibling, and she is really stepping it up with the whole “give our parents adorable grandchildren” thing. It almost makes up for the five times she tricked me into cleaning her room for her when I was little. Anyways, buying presents for kids is ten-thousand times easier than buying things for adults, so this should just make Christmas that much more fun.
- I am working on a couple of cool musical things, but they are taking forever. One is the Elementary album, which Feathers and I are slowly — and rather incredibly — snatching back from the jaws of bitter, hopeless defeat. Using the power of the Sullivan-Lavender-Acoustamatic-Box, plus Feathers’ new bitchin’ amp, we re-did every single guitar track, distorted, clean, and acoustic, for seventeen tracks. It sounded pretty damn good while we were tracking it at my house, and it sounds better now that Elementary’s basement-dwelling-cat-nerd (the other one, not me) has mixed it. We’re going to end up re-doing all of the vocals, too, but having a lot of work to do isn’t nearly as depressing as thinking that you’re done and that your efforts (and by extension, you and your friends) are just completely worthless.
- The other thing is a kind of elaborate, touch-and-go punk rock project with some dudes I found on Craigslist. So far it’s been a strictly remote-demo-making thing over the internet (although we did meet up and hang out once, just to make sure we were all semi-normal), but we’re talking about some seriously talented people (outside of me), and some seriously fast music. Plus, the working over the internet thing is just inherently appealing to me as a busy, somewhat anti-social geek. Anyways, as usual, all this stuff we will be available online eventually, so stay tuned. It’s a little back burner, but honestly, there’s so much going on, I’m not convinced I really have a front burner anymore.
- As mentioned, the Lavender-Sullivan-Acoustamatic-Box is now nearly complete, with full inner walls, a roof, a frame design based on a 17th century pirate ship, and best of all, a working door with hinges. That’s right — my Dad recommended I try giant gate hinges, and they work almost disturbingly well. We did some early acoustic tests and it actually seems to do its job; the only thing left to do is figure out what we want to stash between the two walls, stuff it, and then to slap up the outer layer of plywood. And then… we drum like there is no tomorrow.
- We did a fairly major re-build of our little home this weekend, inheriting a couch from work, moving our current crappy little children’s couch into the basement, re-organizing about 2/3rds of the place, and even building a desk from box-scraps, which my wife somehow engineered to work properly without cutting anything. I don’t know how that worked, but it did; it was like some project for little kids where everything just snaps together because you don’t want them to use scissors. The basement is now decidedly more pleasant; plus, our crappiest furniture looks way cooler down there than it ever did in the living room (where it generally just looked kind of sad). Instead of “oh, is that your couch?”, it’s more like, “hey, cool, a couch!” We also bought two awesomely cheap lamps, a desk chair, and a Dewalt power drill that, while only sixty bucks, is fantastic, feels like it was built to last a million years, and makes me want to drill holes in every wall in the house. No wonder people like power tools.
- My terrible basketball team (we were 2-6 in the regular season) stepped it up in round one of the league playoffs and managed to knock off the #1 seed in our division, largely on the back of hot shooting from three of my teammates who are all old enough to be my Dad. I ran around playing defense and turning the ball over every ten seconds, as usual, but I did hit all my free throws, and we managed to win anyways. I also blocked the crap out of someone from behind in transition, which, despite questionable relevance to the outcome of the game, pretty much justifies getting up in the morning.
- The live Troncast is still waiting to be edited. I need to get it to Jeff-tron, as he is going to take a shot at putting this one together. Now that my “Editing Room” isn’t full of bicycles and crap, I hope to get that and a bunch of other technological errands done this week, which I can totally pull off if I can avoid giving up and playing SimCity or writing stuff like this until one in the morning.
Whew, that’s all for now. Oh yeah, I still have a pretty interesting full time job — which I still try to avoid writing about here — and a very interesting part time job working with Taryn — which I also try to avoid writing about, lest Google decide to index those references (which it shouldn’t be doing, technically) in a pathetic attempt to provide search results for something else it shouldn’t be indexing.
I know, that made no sense. I’ll explain when I’m famous.
So, it looks like digital music sales aren’t going to ever be enough to make up for the loss of the compact disc, which cost about 10 cents to produce and could then be sold for eighteen bucks. Shocking.
In each of the past two years, the rate of increase in digital revenue has approximately halved. If that trend continues, digital sales could top out at less than $5 billion this year, about a third of the overall music market but many billions of dollars short of the amount needed to replace long-gone sales of compact discs.
“Music’s first digital decade is behind us and what do we have?” said Mark Mulligan, an analyst at Forrester Research. “Not a lot of progress.”
“We are at one of the most worrying stages yet for the industry,” he continued. “As things stand now, digital music has failed.”
Digital music, which does five billion dollars in revenue a year, has “failed”. Failed at what? Sustaining a stupid, unsustainable, exploitative cartel? And at any rate, what have we learned from all of this? Is it time to start thinking about a better market solution to distributing creative works and compensating artists?
Of course not! It’s time to shut off people’s internet access!
Ms. Moore said the recent introduction of tough anti-piracy laws in South Korea and France, which authorize cutting off the Internet connection of repeat offenders, showed that stricter enforcement could persuade listeners to seek out legal alternatives to unauthorized file-sharing services.
In South Korea, where the music business has long been blighted by piracy, digital music sales rose 14 percent in the first half of last year, after the new law went into effect in 2009, the federation said. The first account suspensions occurred in the autumn, and the group said the publicity surrounding the crackdown should help convert more consumers.
Up next, the South Korean government seals off your garage so you can’t store all those stolen televisions in there. GARAGES ARE A PRIVILEGE, NOT A RIGHT. USE THEM RESPONSIBLY, OR DON’T USE THEM AT ALL. NO RUNNING IN THE HALL!
Any other big ideas, music dinosaurs?
“The television is a great opportunity,” said Thomas Hesse, head of the digital business at Sony Music Entertainment. “We haven’t innovated in the living room for many years.”
Thomas is certainly half-right — Sony hasn’t innovated at all for many years. But do you really think I’m going to pay for music to come out of my (Sony brand, of course) television? Don’t I already have a stereo for that? I mean, this sounds an awful lot like your “subscription” fantasy from 2002, where I don’t own any content, plus you get recurring revenue and your customers become dependent on the quality of your service. You’ve been pushing that line since I was in college, and no one’s especially interested.
Around the world, 10 million people have already signed up for subscription-based online services from Spotify, Rdio and Deezer, some of which have attracted additional millions of users with free, advertising-supported services. Many executives hope the growth of offerings like these can reduce the industry’s dependence on sales of individual tracks through digital stores like Apple iTunes, a model that has attracted little interest from young music fans, particularly outside the United States.
So, you’ve got 10 million people in the entire world (.02%) signed up for these services, and an even smaller group of people who will sign up for these services, but only if they’re free. And, you’re optimistic about this, but disappointed by FIVE BILLION DOLLARS in normal sales??? Guys, guys, guys…. join the winning team here. Hint : it’s not “Zune Pass”.
With growth in digital revenue slowing nearly to a standstill, analysts say, it is no surprise that talk of mergers and buyouts is again swirling around some of the Big Four music companies — Universal, Sony, Warner Music Group and EMI. Warner, for example, is said to have hired bankers to explore a sale of the company or a purchase of EMI.
“What has been keeping labels afloat has been the digital story,” said Mr. Mulligan, of Forrester Research. “If, all of a sudden, what they have been telling the market is the future turns out to be a failure, that radically changes the conversation.”
Yeah, I see, and if we don’t have giant record labels, we won’t have music anymore, right?
Wait… you mean the labels don’t actually make music? They just restrict access to it, and then pester me with cross-promotional advertising campaigns for Taylor Swift, and then shut off my South Korean internet access if I’m not willing to pay them enough to cover their 3000% profit margin expectations?
For the last time (yeah right), suit-wearing-or-non-suit-wearing-industry-dudes. Your product went through a dramatic cost-change — access is not valuable anymore. CDs are dead, and music is now a volume industry, not a high-margin one. If you don’t want to play in that economic sandbox, go somewhere else. Otherwise, stop complaining and figure out how to make five billion dollars (which you’re basically getting because Apple, and then Amazon, swooped in and built you an ass-saving distribution channel, which they go so far as to manage for you) go far enough to sustain your companies. If you can’t, I’m sure someone else will, because five billion dollars is a lot of money to make from selling someone else’s idea, digitally, over someone else’s website.