Show Me the Money

At the moment, Guy Hands, the newest owner of EMI, in unveiling his new plan for the company. He will cut 2000 jobs, refocus on A&R, rewrite the model to attract more revenue from touring and merchandise, and do away with things like advances* (in favour of a reward system) and even management structure throughout the world.

There is a lot I can say about why this model is insane. But the point is – EMI don’t sell CDs. They sell artists. And yet their whole plan is about making more money of the artists’ output, than investing in the artist.

So you have a company that has no staff left to take care of the artist, and a very public backlash from the major artists, and they expect to sign new bands for less money and ask them to give EMI more ways to make money off them?

Laughable.

Worse still, this could kill EMI. And it’s smaller, more famous labels. Parlophone, who had the Beatles. Capitol, home of Sinatra, Beach Boys and Crowded House (also the Beatles in the US). Virgin Records. Hands will either sink it, or turn them into corporate brands like Paramount.

So maybe I’m being a stick in the mud here. Yes, I’m biased. I’m a big fan of the old labels. They loom large in my legend. Mo Ostin is my hero the same way Bob Dylan is my hero. My interests in music extends past the sound, to the culture of it all. Album covers to radio stations, great music venues to musicians favourite films. To me that’s all part of the rich tapestry of being a music fan.

I also played in bands for a long time. And in a funny twist, I hated marketing anything I was involved with. When it came to playing music, any thoughts about leaking tracks or viral campaigns (let alone corporate sponsorship and digital royalties) were not anything I gave a shit about. I didn’t start writing songs so I could make my childhood dreams come true of assigning ISRC codes to tracks.

(Fuck, I didn’t even like mastering)

And I know a lot of people in bands, and want to be in bands. And I have conversations with those people. And we all want to make money, but we all want to play music. Its common for a band who has some audience to take a low advance for higher royalties. REM did that back almost 20 years ago. Are EMI going to try and convince bands to take the money over exposure? Where does that lead them on their second album?

It’s the problem with the Radiohead model. They made more money than ever, but sold less albums. Sure, they do more than enough of both to survive. But so many bands don’t. And will Radiohead continue to lose their audience now?

But at the heart of this is the philosophical argument for me. I work in the industry of music. There is a ‘coolness’, an un-attainability. A credibility, at heart, to put out music to the world. And by the world, I mean taxi drivers, nurses and kids in the suburbs, not what the Indies are doing.

This could all come from the fact I watched Jerry Maguire recently. And yes, he went for the money. But the success came with the personal touch. Investing in your artist – taking the risk together. You have to protect, as well as exploit, your artists. But artists don’t work for the record company. The record company works for the artist. And EMI is going on about putting artists on a salary.

Strange comment alert: the music industry is a beautiful thing. When it works. Elvis Costello’s career was so well managed. He had a talented artwork person behind him. Great label. Good manager. And they rode the pipes to a degree of superstardom. Now he plays around the world all the time. There arer so many, many positive stories. The Zombies in America scoring a hit with Time Of the Season. Drums on Sound Of Silence. Musicians having a sympathetic circle around them can only lead to good.

The general consensus seems to be: from the music industry – shock and disgust. From the two guys in the Indie sector – joy. From the business sector – loud applause. Time will tell. I hope he doesn’t destroy EMI, but if I was a betting man I would be betting he will.

Today is not a good day for music.

Danny

Other points to note.

Hands, from an investment background, is sending out a lot of press to the business side of newspapers. It is, of course, great copy in that section of the paper. If a company like, say, Motorola, can cut staff and costs, in actually encourages people to do business with them. The same cannot be said in music. Why would a band sign to you if you have no support staff or money? It’s a really fundamental error there.

Guy Hands has done an interview where he claims to have paid £40 for the In Rainbows box set. His credibility is paper thin. Geez. Doesn’t he know that what we deal in is credibility? That is number 2 from music. That’s image. Idiot.

* Advances. Bands get ‘advances’, that is, a sum of money, that is paid back to the record company through album sales. It can come in all sorts of ways. A recording advance is simply a label putting up the money for studio time. Tour advances is when a label puts up the money for a band to go on tour. The most talked about advances at the moment is the signing advance. When you sign a band, you usually give them an advance. There is DEFINITELY a side of it where it’s a back slap, but essentially, it’s money for the band to live on. Buy some new guitar strings, get a haircut, don’t worry about where your next meal is coming from, you concentrate on doing what we are paying to be.

It is, essentially, NHS/Medicare for musicians.

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We shared some history, this town and I

There’s a bit of catching up to do on this thing.

The last few months have been up and down. There was a big issue at work that almost made me walk away. Emergency passed, but I’ll be frank; it shook me up. More than anything it was because my happy little bubble of being in London got truly burst.

Life picked up again and I spent some weeks at home.

I have so much to say about Australia. So much. Friends. Family. Elections. Houses. Music. Life.

I loved my time there. My friends (who let’s face it, are still the only people who might be curious enough to be reading this). But there was such a feeling of leaving things unsaid.

The song that comes to mind is Flame Trees by Cold Chisel. It’s such a great song. I felt like the only tourist in town. Visiting where others live. A strange pinch in the gut when conversations would lead to things happening after I’ve gone. Get togethers I wouldn’t be a part of, gigs coming up…etc.

So, not shitcanning anyone or anything here, but since I’ve been back, the common question is, of course, ‘how was Australia?’

I’m not sure what to say. It wasn’t, clearly, a three week concentration of the best things I could ever do in Sydney, slipped right back in and lived like a king. And that’s not anyone’s fault.

The really odd thing upon returning is how much THE question, the ‘how was Australia?’ question, is asked with sympathy over here. It’s more a sense of ‘did you get through it?’.

I feel like, I barely did. I got to see a lot of people – but not enough. I wasted a lot of time. I got pretty stressed to the point of intense sickness. All the places I couldnt wait to go back to, didn’t feel like home. Everyone says I’d be surprised how little changes. But I was more put off by the small changes that did happen.

It’s not a new feeling, I’m sure. Flame Trees alone nails it, and nailed it a good 20 years before I felt it. The saving grace is the words from someone I didn’t know very well, sharing a cigarette in the London cold, telling me it gets easier. It’s just odd, and completely unexpected, that Sydney would not be easy.

The one practical lesson that floats up immediately is to not do things for old times sakes. The townie was a bit depressing. Where as seeing friends new houses and things seemed very exciting. Still, it felt like I’ve arrived very late at a party, and I’m far too many drinks behind to catch up.

I love Sydney. I spent a surprising amount of time on my own, though not by choice. Stuck somewhere or other and I found myself wandering through a lot of old haunts. The sun setting whilst walking through Camperdown Memorial Park one day. Walking over the Harbour Bridge. Even Parramatta, the crazy expanding Borg Ship that is Parramatta.

I was pretty inspired by it all, an there is something I want to say about all that stuff. Like I said, I have a lot to say about Australia and I’m writing a lot of it down.

So since being back, it’s been pretty normal up and down of pretty normal life. Christmas was, well, it happened. New year’s was good, an nicely sensible. Back at work and very busy. I was already working last January, and for the first time in London, looking over the cold Winter of Kensington, I think, here I am again.

Which is all a pretty long way of saying, not much to report. Things are… fine.

Love, Power And Responsibility

An Open Letter To Joe Quesada

I wanted to write about your editorial decision to separate Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson in the Spiderman comics.

You have made many claims that a single Spiderman is a better Spiderman. It gets more into the core of the character. The struggler. The melodrama. The soap opera. By making Peter single again, it will tap into the golden spirit of Spiderman.

Fuck the golden era of Spiderman.

If you were to retell those golden stories now, it would be a dated pile of shit. Terribly ham fisted plots, one dimensional characters and cheap pulp novel dialogue. We really, really, need to say goodbye to the Stan Lee era of comics. The era when comics were made for an unsophisticated child audience. Because that is no longer your audience.

You can’t expect to turn back time and get Paul McCartney to wear a Beatles wig and write you a new Can’t Buy Me Love. You can’t expect Dylan to write another Times They Are A-Changin’. And you can’t change the modern Peter Parker into the nerdy, struggling teenager, being terrorised up by Flash Thompson (or some updated version).

There is a unique quality of comic book serials that is, as far as I’m aware, unwritten about. That is it’s strange use of time over a long period. Batman is 70 next year, yet still has a decent set of abs. It’s something that cannot happen in TV shows, as people age. And I can’t think of anything other than comics where you have characters that survive continuously for 50 year plus without “aging”.

But not aging doesn’t mean not changing. Superman was a villain when he started. Over the years, talented writers and artists refined him into the classic image of him. They introduced kryptonite years later. Perry White. The bird/plane line. Then the up, up and away line. The whole Smallville thing. Then Supergirl came a long.

Superman is such a great example, actually. Because in so many ways, the public view of him is frozen in that first, Richard Donner directed Superman movie. The phone booth. The glasses. Lois and Jimmy. But so much has happened to the character since. On an adventure level – the dude DIED. On a personal level, he shares his secret with Lois. Characters have to grow.

And Spiderman is no exception. If, as you claim, that the core of what sets Peter Parker apart from Batman and Superman is the secret identity side, that Peter is dealing with the true struggles of life behind the mask, then I don’t see why that has to change when he’s married.

A good writer, and there are many, can turn the Batman/Robin relationship into a powerful drama. A man with HUGE parental issues trying to be the guardian of an angry, reckless kid? There is a wealth of stories here.

I’ve never been married, but I can imagine dealing with life is not necessarily easier. And think of all the great modern fiction about married couples, as they struggle to make their marriage work. Set that to the backdrop of “great power comes with great responsibility”. Drama. Struggle. Soap Opera.

In the end, I don’t think you have a bad premise. You have a bad approach to writing. There are no bad stories, just stories badly told. And having no good stories for a married Spiderman is not going to help you find them for a single Spiderman. You can’t use a 64 track recording studio with a one track mind. And stop looking to the Stan Lee era to solve your problem.

Why do I care so much?

Because I love, more than Peter Parker (the name of my first ever band too), I love Mary Jane. I love that relationship. I grew up with it. I fell in love with it. As a teenager, reading the comics, it was (as I’m sure was the writers intention) how I felt about girls, right there in four colour. And I followed it all, rooted for Parker all the way. And when they got together, it meant a lot to me. It made me, lets face it, think about Love.

(And yeah, OF COURSE it’s fictional. Yes. It’s just a character. So was Dumbledore. And it was pretty sad when he died, wasn’t it? So shut it.)

So seeing you piss on that, Mr Quesada, all those good times I spent disappearing into that world, is sickening to me. It’s like finding out that those love songs I love were written and performed with indifference.

And think of all the writers who poured their own hearts, and their own stories, into Peter and Mary’s. But you’re the Editor In Chief of Marvel Comics and I’m not. But I’ve lived through many of you, and someone will come along and correct this. I lived with John Howard for 11 years. I can wait this one out.

And even if it never happens, you wont be able to rewrite the history in my mind. When I think of Peter Parker, I will think that he loves Mary Jane Watson, and she loves him right back. Always.

Danny
London