Archive for the 'music appreciation' Category


Numbers Game


Making music is something I enjoy, and it’s something I do as a ‘serious hobby’. I have pretty basic equipment for this digital age -a 6 year old recording and mixing machine (8 full tracks plus the 4 double tracks), but then I mix on the laptop using freeware audacity. And lately I’ve been recording guitar straight through an effects peddle and a drum machine. It’s fun, but it’s still hard work.

Would I like it to be sellable? Sure I would, but first I have to take it up to ‘pro’ standards with, recording in a better studio and then getting it mastered. But then, it still needs an audience, people who’ll appreciate the kind of music I’m doing. I guess it’s like all forms of culture and entertainment -people need to be able to relate to it.

I may be an Australian but I’m no cricket fan. To me, it’s just throwing and hitting a little red ball that’s occasionally caught -but to some cricket fans, it’s the meaning of existence. Now, if all cricket fans are taken out of the equation, it doesn’t matter how skilled they are, how good the spinner is, how many times the batter hits it out of the field -it’s meaningless to non-cricket fans. No matter how many hours a day they put into their game, they’re not going to make any money from it.

I guess my point is, it doesn’t matter how much work you put into arts/entertainment/sports, if there’s no potential audience, you can’t earn any money from it nor do you deserve anything for it. Only if there is a potential audience -people who will genuinely be interested, then you need marketing to bridge the gap. In the digital age with so much available and so little time/attention space, you need the right kind of marketing (unless you can obtain a grant as a special cultural heritage etc…). Without the marketing and the demand, you don’t have a product that’s sellable.


Cynical in the age of digital recommendations

This idea of the possibility that computers can analyse or take in certain input data of that last few decades of hits and then use that to determine whether new songs are hits or duds leaves me a little doubtful.

Isn’t one major part of art all about the search for something new and different? If you rely on computer-analysed data to determine a ‘hit’ song, it’s going be limited by the previous input of the past which surely can only produce something that will sound generic and done to death.

That’s why when we describe hit music as a kind of ‘formula’, it’s got a negative connotation. Like the Stock, Aitken and Waterman hits of the 80’s. OK, they did sell, but they don’t carry the same credibility as bands/artists that write from the heart, not from formula.

Isn’t what we look for in artists and their song things like inspiration, honesty, courage and the vision for something new and insightful? Will computers, based on past hits and music be able to recognise such qualities?


Searching music online…

2:24 pm

As a fan of music, it’s overwhelming how many bands and artists can come at you these days. It’s crazy. And it seems to be one of the biggest problems at the moment.
Piracy may seem like a problem -that probably is for established acts who sold in the millions when everyone was buying CDs. But for the majority of musicians it’s the monumental task of helping music fans and consumers connect with the artists and types of music they want.
This is what I’m reading and picking up from books like “Net, Blogs and Rock’n’Roll” and music industry bloggers -but I’m experiencing it more acutely. Particularly because I’m fussy about my music, and it’s often not genre based. I once came out of a CD store that had a sale with Groove Amada, 2Pac and Ice House -that raised an eyebrow from the shopkeeper.
But aren’t most music fans like that? By the time we’re into our twenties, anyway, because we’ve been through several stages perhaps -the pop stage in early teens, then classic rock, or punk, then emo, then maybe some form of metal, or hiphop, then 80’s pop, then singer-songwriter -then if you play an instrument you probably dabble in a bit of jazz or fusion etc… Because for many of us music is about exploration.
But the net has opened up so much choice -it’s both good and bad. I know there are some bands and artists out there that just suit me to a tea, but how do I find them? And it seems like every day, I mean literally every day, there are bands and artists coming at me both online and in the mainstream media that I’ve never heard of before, but journalists etc are telling me I’ve got to check out.
It’s a big world out there, and any band in any city that builds a following into the hundreds of thousands will be talked about -but the net allows them all to be talked about and it’s too much to absorb.
But is there an answer to it? Harking back to the old days of MTV, the problem was they had so much control to dictate our tastes -Do we want a monster like that? iTunes is handy for buying music from all kinds of artists and genres, but I wouldn’t want them dictating what I should buy -because then it’s back to the lowest common denominator, like Britney Spears and boy bands etc…
The way I’m coping is I write down any bands/artists I read about in the media that seem to be up my alley in a list throughout the week, then I’ll check them out (on Myspace, Youtube etc) and see if they’re what I might get into. The problem is, it’s often hard to say after one listen, and I can easily collect over ten bands in a week.
My theory is, for most music fans, they’ll become fans of particular artists because a) their friends are into it, then b) they see the band/artist at a gig or festival, and get into them from the experience. c) would be some form of radio -but these days it’s more like they would have to chose which radio -online or traditional etc… and that’s more up to the individual and perhaps whether they drive a car to work.


Book I’m reading: Net, Blogs and Rock’n’Roll by David Jennings

 Found this in the local library. At first I thought it’s just introducing the uninitiated to the blogging and social networking world regarding music, but past the first chapter and I’m finding there’s a lot of useful stuff.

For example, one chapter looks at certain marketing data in the UK analyzing the varying enthusiasm of music listeners from ages 16-45 (2003-2005). Out of that age group about 40% don’t really listen to music -they’d rather listen to talkback radio or sports than a music station. Then there are three grades of listeners -‘Casuals’ (32%), who are more into the social experience of music, the ‘enthusiasts’ (21%) who are more serious into music, like to stuff their ipods and explore niches, and finally the ‘savants’ (7%), fanatics who are often musos themselves, or dedicated fans who run blogs and websites about their favourite artists.

I wonder if I qualified as a ‘savant when I was at school. I went through several stages, the first being Bon Jovi, then 70’s British punk (loved to collect the fanzines as well), then guitar music as I took up guitar -which meant lots of Jimi Hendrix and Santana, then there was the moody Cure phase into my early twenties.

What was interesting about the noughties decade is that many people over 30’s still maintained an active interest in music (which includes me), but a lot of this enthusiasm is focused on retro stuff from 60’s to 80’s. Looking in my local newsagent I notice many mags devoted to all the past great bands and well-known artists -almost as much as mags devoted to mew music! Is it that new bands don’t have as much credibility these days?

I guess the internet has opened everything up. The established media can’t cope with it all, so it reverts back to the common denominator of the artists prior to about 6-7 years ago. That’s why the top artists are still U2, Radiohead, Sade, Britney Spears, Madonna yadda yadda… Only the odd  new act gains as much traction to dominate the charts (which apparently don’t sell like they used to anyway).

Back to the book… It gives some good insights into how the whole music culture online works with different types of fans. The savants may only be around 7%, but if an up-and-coming act gets their attention, then those savants can make a decent impact in spreading the word to enthusiasts and so on.

But I always find it amusing when these books refer to psychologists doing studies of youth culture -like they’re some kind of aliens who need analyzing. Didn’t those pyschologists go to school? Or were they the nerds not into music? I’m just being silly -it’s all good.


Lefsetz discusses listeners’ preference for singles and the death of the album

He seems to hit the nail on the head with this article

The album does seem to be dying, and the new generation of listeners and music fans have a different concept of how they listen to music. After all, who needs albums now unless you’re an audiophile?

That’s why I’m buying up cheap albums in the dying record stores while they’re on special -i.e. cheaper per track than itunes.

I did a few cartoons in a previous post



Joanna Wang -the savior of the Chinese pop scene

Having lived in Asia for several years (China, Taiwan, Korea) sometimes I like to check out the CD stores in Chinatown -there’s one artist recently who I first came across called Joanna Wang…

After decades of ‘Canto-pop’ and ‘Mando-pop’ from Hongkong and Taiwan dominating the Chinese music industry, Joanna Wang is a refreshing change and in my mind virtually the savior of the Chinese pop scene…

Why? Because she’s different, honest and original (She has a great jazzy voice -not unlike Sarah Blasko, with a kind of jazz-cabaret indie style of songwriting). Her style markedly contrasts with the conservative pop blandness of 90% of the pop divas, boy bands and girl bands. It doesn’t surprise me the Asian public seek this kind of refreshing change.

Mind you I listen to a few Asian pop idols -I’m a fan of Jay Chou, just because he’s a great songwriter. And I became a fan of Coco Lee after hearing the “Hidden Dragon Crouching Tiger” soundtrack -I’d no idea how well she could sing. However, not all the songs on her albums are of the same songwriting and production caliber as a song accompanied by Yoyo Ma.

Generally speaking the Chinese and Koreans have loved their pop idols. The Chinese have a saying to describe the top pop stars – The Four Great Heavenly Kings of pop. They love their pop songs, their love ballads, their sexy dance tracks etc… Other genres have always suffered -from what I hear the indie rock scene makes virtually no money, has virtually no media support and are pretty much unknown by the mainstream population except a few eager students. But perhaps with online avenues of promotion and distribution things are changing.

My impression is there isn’t enough support in the industry by passionate supporters who are not so focused on making money but rather seeking to support some great indie and alternative bands. The feeling is the desire and knack to make it in the pop world is the prime motivator of labels, where as in the West, boy bands and divas may dominate but there’s still a lively support for indie music and many indie musicians seem to make a good living from their art.

Joanna Wang is fortunate in that her father is a prominent music producer and she grew up in the states with different influences.

But I suppose Asia is more “karaoke dominated”  -they’re more inclined to sing a balled rather than pick up a guitar -though that’s a very broad generalization.


Joined the itunes bandwagon but not ecstatic

I’ve just joined the iTunes bandwagon since receiving some gift cards this Christmas. I’ve had an ipod for over a year, but that’s just mainly to play music from my CD selection, and I still prefer to rummage through CD stores for any gems or good deals.

I was a little disappointed but not surprised when trying out iTunes for the first time. Tracks are $1.69 per track (Australian dollars) or around $16 per album generally, but I did notice a lot of classic songs selling for over $2.

At that price I’ll only buy downloads if I’m a dedicated fan, but lately I’ve been finding good enough music in CD stores for $10 -admittedly they’re usually discount bins, but I’ve seen stuff like Jeff Buckley, Groove Amada, 2pac sold for this price.

The plus side of itunes is you can listen to samples before you buy. I wanted to check out Japanese court music, because I like some traditional Asian music, but when I listened there was an awful hiss, so I didn’t buy it. But I did buy a track from a Taiwanese band I’m interested in, and there’s no way I’d find a CD copy in a shop.

Interestingly there’s an article from Billboard about the decline in growth of digital sales:
Analysis: It’s Official – The Digital Slowdown is Here
And it touches upon the price of itunes (in the US).

I feel in Aus, generally speaking, $1 is the best price for digital downloads -it’s an unlimited supply, why make it so pricey? If I can by $1 per song now in some CD stores (or less now that they often add bonus tracks) and have the album artwork and pics and add it to my shelf, why pay more for a download?

And why make consumers worry about the math -if it’s a dollar per song, they immediately know that with a $20 card they’ve got twenty songs -why be stingy and make them work out how many songs they can squeeze from a twenty dollar card at $1.69 per track?

And maybe there’s a tipping point. If tracks are so cheap, people will sign up and add tracks in large numbers without tallying each song. They’d be more likely to take gambles on music, check out bands in their town, look into new music. But at $1.69 per track I guess they’re not going to. If it’s convenient and tracks are 20c, that’s like a phone call. No one worries about tallying up their local phone calls -they make em’ all day long.

But this is a gamble for musicians and the industry. For it to work consumers would have to download 10 times more -but it’s possible if it’s convenient to do so. And the supply is inexhaustible -isn’t that an important economic fact?

But I suppose this is all in the ‘music like water’ debate.