DVD Digital Duality

Posted in Indulgence, Resources for Bands on December 26th, 2009 by Alex

Whilst recovering from the festive indulgent customary at this time of year I happened to find myself watching the 3rd installment of the Ice Age franchise which we bought as a Christmas present for my kid. The film itself is reasonably diverting which is nice, because I’ll be forced to endure it many many more times. More interesting than this animated child fodder is the fact that distributor has chosen to include a digital copy of the film on the DVD and are openly encouraging folk to stick it on their laptop and iPod to enjoy on the go. Now you may remember that this is precisely the sort of behaviour I have been suggesting for the music industry. It makes some sense to include either a digital copy with the CD/Vinyl or a promo code to download it for free – after all, the vast majority of buyers will simply rip the CD before they even listen to it. The latter option seems like a terrific opportunity for further cross sell and upsell as the download site would be crammed with advertising. Bands could even withhold hidden tracks or downloadable extras to incentivise fans to download rather than rip it.

I’ll be interested to see whether a) this becomes common practice for film and TV distribution and b) whether the (infuriatingly retarded) music industry will take the cue and start doing the same. We can only hope.

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Top 10 Tracks of 2009

Posted in Indulgence, Tracks on December 6th, 2009 by Alex

I’m not ready to publish my top 10 albums yet – I have to torture myself over this for a little while yet, plus there’s some bits and pieces that I’ve not heard yet that I wish to hear before making my choice.

These are my favourite tracks recorded this year as they stand right now. I have no doubt that this will change within minutes of me hitting publish, but I’ve got to stick a stake in the ground somewhere. They are in no particular order, as attempting to do so would certainly prove too much for my fragile musical sensibilities.

Here we go:

  • PelicanGlimmer (What We All Come To Need) – A gorgeous instrumental slow burner
  • OmThebes (God is Good) – Hypnotic, epic, looooong
  • Alice in ChainsLooking in View (Black Gives Way to Blue) – Like being sat on by a house
  • The Devil’s BloodThe Anti-Kosmic Magik (The Time of No Time Evermore) – A guitar duel to die for
  • The Devin Townsend ProjectHeaven Send (Ki) – Wacky, but in a mature way
  • GriftegardCharles Taze Russell (Solemn Sacred Severe) – The album title pretty much describes this perfectly
  • PhotonicCustomer Loyalty (Recorded Contact) – Randomness from New Zealand
  • MastodonThe Czar (Crack in the Skye) – Epic, schizophrenic, progressive and loud
  • Middle Class RutI Guess You Could Say (25 Years EP) – It’s shallow but cheerful
  • No Made SenseThe Epillanic Chorigi (The Epillanic Chorigi) – Neurosis style progressive heaviness

Notable omissions:

Various other tracks from both Black Gives Way to Blue, Recorded Contact and Crack in the Skye could have made it in there, but I didn’t want to clutter it with multiple tracks from a single band. Baroness’s Blue Record deserves a mention – as a whole it’s a brilliant album, but individually none of the tracks stood out enough to warrant inclusion. Other top tracks include:

Lamb of God – Reclamation
Extreme – Run
Pixie Lott – Boys and Girls
Dycian Maze – The Hand Inside
TrippyWicked – Movin On

This is all very nice, but the fact is, I’ve had a year of musical discovery, so much of the stuff that I’ve loved this year wasn’t recorded this year, which is why I don’t feel very satisfied with this list…but I’ll save those for another post.

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Don’t give up your day job…

Posted in Indulgence, Petulance on December 5th, 2009 by Alex
rat-race-wheel

Me, Yesterday.

It’s been a while since graced this dark corner of the internet with my presence. It may come as a surprise to you but I do have a day job, and these things have a habit of getting in the way of real life. I’ve spent the last couple of months being totally occupied by a project that has been progressively swallowing up my life for the past 2 years. It finally reached its zenith and now things are starting to calm down a little bit, hence my return to my ‘hobby’ – essentially talking shit to anyone who will listen.

There’s possibly an irony to be read into the fact I have a 9 – 5 (if only!) job, when many of the bands that I write about hold me in some level of contempt for doing so. Many a song has been written damning the ‘rat race’ – it seems to be a preoccupation for some bands. Cathedral damn me to the Corpsecycle, while Cancer Bats urge me to keep my chin up on Deathsmarch. Radiohead just want me to slow down.

I’m not going to defend the repetitive cycle of daily toil for an uncaring master, but it does have its benefits (like a regular salary), as does life in a band, however in the latter’s case these are often short lived or entirely illusory. The glitter and glory of life in a band is rarely what people expect. Layne Staley complained that his all consuming heroine habit “seems so sick to the hypocrite norm” while progressively removing himself from the gene pool – he was not a happy guy. Mustain’s and Hetfield’s foray into the rock and roll dream nearly destroyed them, and in Kurt Cobain’s (and countless others) case it actually did. These are just a few high profile cases shadowing countless others.

There’s glamour to these grubby tales, but for the vast majority of musicians a much more terrifying fate is to befall them: normality. Most artists don’t get to live the dream for very long, and when the fickle and unforgiving masses forsake them they more often than not have to join the merry rat race with the rest of us. Q magazine used to run (and may still do) a morbidly entertaining regular titled ‘Where are they now?” (or something similar) which tracked down short lived bands in their current purgatory. Cue quotes like “I haven’t seen John in a while, last I heard he was selling shoes in Birmingham”, or “I’m happy in my life as a full time mother and community worker, it’s far more fulfilling than being in a band”. However, there are countless stories of rock stars dropping off the radar to lead a mundane existence only to reappear decades later to pick up where they left off, a process documented in the gloriously deranged rockumentary Anvil.

Obviously assimilation into the rat race doesn’t need to be the end of a life in music, in many cases the day job exists largely to facilitate the music. As the money drains out of the music industry this will more and more become the norm, and certainly shouldn’t be shied away from. But is it possible to have a serious career as well as maintaining a fruitful career while maintaining a productive band?

Of course plenty of folks go on to have well paid and fulfilling jobs helping other bands pass through the music industry grinder.

I fully intend to break the shackles of the rat race at some point. At my age it’s probably a little late to try my hand at the rock n’ roll dream, maybe I’ll just take up cheese making instead, after all if it’s good enough for Alex James…

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Dear Lily…

Posted in Indulgence, Rants on September 30th, 2009 by Alex

This is perhaps the best summary I’ve seen on the file sharing debate. As I stated previously, there really isn’t a debate at all, merely those who are adapting to the changing environment and those that aren’t. This is perfectly and amusingly encapsulated in this video – at the end of the day, it’s all about money. The way people view and consume music has changed folks, get over it already, PLEASE!

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An open letter to the Music Industry

Posted in Indulgence, Rants on September 16th, 2009 by Alex

mosh_man_cropIt’s still happening you know. Just as the majority of the world ignores the unfolding inevitability of global warming, the music industry continues bury it’s head in the sand with regards to the basic reality of file sharing. I’m going to keep it short, as I’m almost certainly shouting into the storm on this one (not to mention repeating what’s been said a hundred times before).

I’m not going to get into the morality or legality of file sharing or copyright ‘theft’. I neither indulge in nor facilitate illegal file sharing. The ethics of the issue are entirely beside the point. Here is the point:

To try to stop file sharing, or any other type of media sharing for that matter, is like trying to stop Niagara Falls using a sieve.

So here’s my open letter to the music industry. It’s mostly directed at the bigger players, but everyone has a part to play:

Dear Music Industry,

Your attempt to scare file sharers and ‘copyright thieves’ into submission with sporadic (and costly) guerilla legal terrorism is not working, and will never work. It’s an unsustainable strategy. The UK government’s plan to stop it at ISP level is not only too late, but it’s doomed to failure.

Understand this: the techies and hackers and media junkies that facilitate the technologies that enable the easy propagation of media are for the most part determined, distributed, sophisticated and well hidden. This is not like Vietnam for the music industry; it’s not even comparable to the war on terror – it’s a much harder war to win. Your enemy understands the terrain, the war, and the weapons infinitely better than you do. All you have is transparent politics and clumsy legality. Even if you do manage to shut down this cell or that, or contain a few types of technology, then more will quickly spring up in their place that are tougher and more elusive. You have not the skills, money or time to fight this and maintain a viable business. I make no effort to legitimise or glamorise what your enemy does, I’m just stating a simple reality.

Consider this: within the next decade it will be possible to contain all the songs ever recorded onto a single, portable device that can be purchased cheaply. This is not being developed to undermine your ability to do business – file sharing is the least important thing that such a device will do.

Now, I do realise that the legal onslaught from the music industry is largely a charade while you buy time to work out how they actually survive this conflict. Whether you, being the entities that currently occupy the music industry, survive or not matters little to the folks on the outside of it. This isn’t the death of the music industry. it’s also not a revolution or insurrection – nothing that dramatic. What we have here is an evolution, and if you want to survive this Darwinian episode then you’ll need to evolve – find new ways to monetize, commoditise, homogenise and abuse these technologies and trends – in other words, doing what you do best.

Please stop whining and just get on with it.

To those who are embracing the brave new world then true glory awaits you. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.

Yours hopefully,

Alex

I’m aware that no-one in the music industry will read this, or agree, or care, but I feel better for having said it.

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The last.fm straw – A Tale of Addiction

Posted in Indulgence on August 28th, 2009 by Alex

last-fm_audioscrobbler_logoI stand (well, sit, slightly reclining to be more accurate) before you a broken man. But I laugh in the face of addiction and say to you all now I will fight this blight and become, once again, the man I once was. My name is Alex, and I am a scrobble-aholic!

It all started so innocently, I mean, what self respecting music fan wouldn’t jump at a service that logs all the music you listen to? We refer to this filthy habit as ‘scrobbling’ and it has the potential to take over your life.

I began my ascent into scrobble addiction on the 22nd January 2007 with just a few scrobbles, just to see what it was about and to feel part of the crowd. It took a while for the addiction to really take hold, but within 6 months, I was logging in daily, often several times a day to satisfy my cravings.

The scrobble addiction is a pernicious beast. My music is important to me, and what I listen to on a daily basis is an expression of this. Keeping a log of what I listen to, over time, is like keeping a diary – a little expression of my inner self, and a document of my moods and tastes. To have this for myself is a wonderful thing, but my last.fm playlist is public, and that’s where the trouble starts. The concept of someone knowing exactly what I’ve been listening to and appraising it is an uncomfortable one for me. I pride my self (rightly or wrongly) as being open minded and having a diverse music taste. I’m happy with this conviction/delusion and the last thing I want is for someone to barge in and scupper my self-satisfactory conceit. But my playlist is out there, and public, so that’s exactly what could happen.

You can see the levels of paranoia that this foul addiction has driven me to? Is there really an elite of musically diverse fanatics out there queuing up to take their shot? These people certainly exist (I am one of them), but could they give a badger’s testicle about me? I think not. But the paranoia persists. For this reason I don’t friend people on last.fm, I attempt to remain on a happy island – an island like the Galapagos, diverse and special and protected. Stay of my land!

So at this point, my addiction and the accompanying neuroses were under control. I had a manageable addiction that wasn’t affecting my daily life, but like all addictions it developed and spiralled. Here we come to the second stage of scrobble addiction: taste distortion.

While opportunistically lingering around the various widgets and stats generators that gravitate round last.fm, looking for a stronger fix, I happened across a nasty concept called AEP. The Anti-Exponential Profile is an unsophisticated statistical algorithm that propounds to calculate your musical taste’s diversity. This uses your all time top 50 bands and the number of listens that they have, and give you an indication of skew – are you a fanboy for a particular band, or do you tend to spread it around a bit? This is a number between 1 and 5, where 5 is really diverse (the mythical state of having listened to everything an equal amount of times) and 1 (or below) means that you’ve listened to a few artists loads and not much else. In the AEP world of musical snobbery, 5 is ultimately virtuous, and 1 or less is slovenly, narrow minded, low-brow and reprehensible.

I ranked at something like 3.5, which is unacceptable. Utterly and totally. Un-accept-able.

The scene of the crime

The scene of the crime

Part of the problem was that, at that time, I’d spent rather a lot of time listening to The Dillinger Escape Plan’s latest album Ire Works, which has quite a lot of short songs and bears repeated listens. It had totally skewed by AEP! So I banned myself from listening to TDEP entirely until I’d got to at least and AEP 4. Why 4? Not just because it’s a nice round number, but once I achieved this number, I could join the last.fm group called “We don’t have exponential profiles” which is limited only to that elite of folks that have AEP’s of 4 or higher. I had to be a member of this group, not doing so, as soon as possible, would constitute absolute and total failure.

Soon I was policing the very music I was listening to. “Hmmm, feels like an Opeth moment” I would think to myself, but then, “hold on, no, listened to too much Opeth lately, it’s starting to skew my list, need to listen to something further down”. On other occasions: “Why is my AEP not moving? I know, if I listen to the stuff at the bottom of the list, then that should help even things out a bit, and by bottom end will be nearer to my top”.

Crises would occur frequently. Accidentally not syncing my iPod before listening to something on iTunes (and thus negating my ability to scrobble the tracks recently listened to on the iPod) would leave me in a seething rage. On occasion, I would accidentally leave my iPod playing over night. Once, right from the beginning, so my iPod thought I was on an AC/DC binge. This posed a horrible dilemma – do I sync the iPod and have my profile skewed towards AC/DC (clearly not what I’m into at the moment!) and see my AEP plummet, or do I not sync, and lose the ability to scrobble all the other tracks that I really did listen to before? No choice really, the AEP is paramount.

I finally achieve AEP 4 and hastily joined the elite group of anti-expontialers. Heaven. But was my appetite sated? No!

The next escalation came when I discovered a tool that calculated my “long tail”. Basically, the percentage of your overall scrobbles that were generated by bands not in the top 50. This is a further indication of musical diversity, and thus overall righteousness. Subsequent to finding out that my long tail was less than 50% (unthinkable!) I largely stopped listening to anything in my top 50 (still at around AEP 4), basically all my favourite bands.

This didn’t seem like utter madness to me until I started to have anxiety about Opeth (now way out front on my scrobble count), TDEP, Radiohead or anyone in my top 10 bands releasing new albums. Should I listen to these and run the risk of liking them, thus skewing my AEP?

Every recovering addict has a moment of self realisation – the pure moment where cold, hard reality floods in on you – and this was mine. This had to stop!

So here I am today. My last.fm account is still alive, but I have resolved to stop looking at it. Is this enough to break the cycle? Maybe not, after all I’m still scrobbling. Baby steps, and over time I’ll conquer this. I feel a sense of relief, but the urge to take a peep is sometimes overwhelming.

But has this changed me permanently? What exactly is my taste in music? How will I know if the stuff that thought I liked was not just a product of my addiction? Only time will tell I guess…

This has been very hard for me to write, but at the same time cleansing and cathartic. I hope others reading this who have suffered as I have are able to take some strength from my words – brothers and sisters, we can fight this together.

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – Part 1

Posted in Indulgence, News, Tracks on August 20th, 2009 by Alex

The Good

Devin Townsend nonchalantly Tweets:

@dvntownsend counting down…late nights, great progress…suddenly very happy about record 2. Released around Nov 20.

and unleashes more verbose psychobabble on the world:

Musically, ‘Addicted’ is along the lines of the big, wall-of-sound hard rock/heavy metal of Ocean Machine and (The Devin Townsend Project’s) ‘Accelerated Evolution’ — even Physicist at points. It is a very direct and ‘to-the-point’ album with an emphasis on groove and the chorus.

Exciting stuff, seriously. If it’s 1/10th as good as Terria or Accelerated Evolution, it’ll be amazing. Perhaps more tantalizing however is:

On other notes: I have been rehearsing with a new band, and we will start touring in early 2010, representing all the back catalogue of solo material, from ‘Ki’, ‘Addicted’, Physicist, Ziltoid, Terria, Ocean Machine, The Devin Townsend Band, Infinity etc… I have some big plans for this and rehearsals are sounding amazing. The touring entity will be called ‘Devin Townsend’ and is essentially a way for me to get out there and interact again and showcase 15 years of music that never really got its fair shake. We look forward to seeing you out there!

Yeah! You better be doing that in the UK Mr. Townsend!

Next – A new track released off of Megadeth’s anticipated new album:

Do I hear some leanings back to Countdown to Extinction days? Speed metal loveliness indeed!

Every Time I Die released another new track off of the forthcoming New Junk Aesthetic on their Myspace. This is a delightfully pleasant recording, but does anyone else notice a hint of a softer, more commercial sound seeping through? Could this be the beginning of a slippery slope for the southern hardcore mavericks?

This week I discovered that not all Metalcore sucks, with the introduction to my music vocabulary of Burnt by the Sun. Like a darker version of Hatebreed, they keep the breakdowns to a minimum and deliver top notch aggressive metal. I may even put on some big sunglasses and a fake beard (to wear over my real beard) and venture out surreptitiously to but a copy.

Other stuff keeping me happy:

  • No Made Sense with their brutal progressive hardcore and stupid sounding album title
  • Photonic, which has lead me to dust off various albums by Fugazi, Pavement and Guided by Voices
  • Oceansize. Apparently they have an EP out soon.
  • Earth. Slowly I’m getting my head around this most frustrating of bands. Albums Pentastar and Hex are simply beautiful but also infuriating.
  • Revocation. Everyone is carping on about them like infatuated teenagers thanks to Cosmo Lee’s article suggesting that they may be the next great metal band. That’s probably going a bit far at this early stage, but they are pretty good. The guitar solo on Dismantle the Dictator is to die for. No doubt Metal Hammer will be forcing them down our throat for the next 3 years.

The Bad

Desparately naive wannabe journo’s laying into indisputably legendary bands like Black Sabbath. Why on earth would you write such an ill-informed bucket of badger shit is totally beyond me.

Music streaming site Spotify is part owned by the evil overlords of the music industry in an attempt to keep the site afloat in the face of pitiful advertising revenues and in lieu of paying out royalties to the record labels. If this isn’t depressing enough, it sounds like the artists aren’t getting any royalties either and are unlikely to see any dividends when some cash burdened corporate is stupid enough to buy this service which is as likely to see profit as I am likely to turn green and transform into a million dollar bill.

…and the Ugly

This dude bustin’ some classy moves. I have been known to do this after a couple of beverages, which is when it gets truly ugly.

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Critical Mass part 1: A century 9 years old going on 21

Posted in Indulgence, Petulance on July 14th, 2009 by Alex

There’s an old adage that states “everyone’s a critic”. I’ve no idea who originally said that (and the internet is doing a poor job of enlightening me) but in the current musical climate, it may be the most erudite thing that anyone ever said.

Some metal fans debate the merit of Metalsucks best albums of 21st century

Some metal fans debate the merit of Metalsucks best albums of 21st century

A few things in my little world have got me thinking about the nature of criticism (at least the musical kind) in the internet age and I think they bear a little more exploration. I’m going to break this one up into chunks as it’s going to be quite long.

Firstly we have the now infamous 21 best albums of the 21st Century compiled by caustic metal blog Metalsucks. These guys earnestly gathered a list of 500 or so metal albums released in the past 9 years and sent it to a bunch of metal fraternity notables and insiders. The list seems exhaustive and the panel quite balanced. The resulting tally was repetitive and for the most part predictable and in theory should have proved quite uncontroversial. However, the bitch-festival that ensued was nothing short of astounding. With a few exceptions, the choices, the order and the very integrity of the blog itself were fiercely contested. The abundance of Killswitch Engage and Lamb of God (bagging the #2 slot with As the Palaces Burn) polarized the readership and the altercations these triggered in the comments were epic.

For my part the list was a populist document of American metal’s stalwarts from the past decade. It was also very repetitive. It was great to see Opeth represented so well, and I’ve no issue with the likes of System of a Down and Deftones appearing, but overall the list was heavy on the stadium metal and light on the challenging, ground breaking or genre defining. Metalsucks themselves have subsequently published a list of albums they wished had made the cut (including Isis, Neurosis, Emperor, Strapping Young Lad, and perhaps most controversially, Andrew WK), which was much better received.

Why publish a list that so poorly represents the taste of your audience? I’m aware that this was a panel voted list, and perhaps this is the problem. I suppose that they thought that giving the vote to a bunch of industry types would give the list credence, but all it did was show up how blinkered the industry is to anything even vaguely challenging. They’d have been better off either a) giving it over to the readers to decide, and then they only have themselves to blame when Linkin Park get the top spot or b) thrash it out amongst the editorial team, and then it’s at least representative of what they actually believe.

It’s impossible to get this right, as no-one will ever agree. Music is so subjective, and context and zeitgeist have a huge role to play. Probably, the best approach to this endevour would have been to wait a decade, then asked the question again – I wonder what the list would look like then?

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