Article by Scott Sterling-Wilder

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Disaster, concussion and gutter phenomenon
“If I could pick just one person to work with it would be Prince. He’s a genius in stiletto boots,” Christina Aguilera’s named her idol for a collaboration on the next album.

Sundown over capitalism - Audio sculptures: shot by both sides

A walk down any High Street is an exercise in futility if you happen to be looking for something different, unique, underground. The reason being that there are the same chain-stores everywhere, the identical shopping malls, the same restaurants, the identikit cafés; we don’t want UNIFORMS, we don’t want the American vision - we want variety. Not clichés, not knock-offs, watered down, generic stuff, not regurgitating the old and flogging the same concept indiscriminately and in every conceivable place…

Alas, utilitarian economic approach by property developers is created by the corporations that are public companies. Shares-capitalism has a myopic view of the biz as a conveyer-belt-profitability… Alas, with the world becoming even more corporate there is little room for outsiders, visionaries, eccentrics… In popular music in particular.

Reports that EMI is on the verge of buying Wind-up Records sounds familiar for all the wrong reasons. Wind-up is a successful US independent label - which is why one of the majors [there are only four left] wants to wind it down. The idea is to pay £70 million and fold the label into Virgin Records.

That’s what the corporate music biz does these days: instead of grooming talent, investing in development of songwriters, it waits for [someone’s] field of dreams to bloom some place else and then turn up with the combine harvester. Wind-up’s big act is Evanescence who sold 6 million copies of their debut [and, so far, only proper] album, ‘Fallen’, in the States - alone. EMI did the same thing with Virgin Records.

It used to be a forward looking, brave and spirited label that launched with Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’ in the early 1970s and only few years later scored a hit with Krautrock-forefathers Can and then ‘shocked’ the world with giving home to the Sex Pistols. Alas, by mid-1980s it had true hit-makers on its roster - Culture Club. Then, in the last decade EMI made Richard Branson a bid he’d have been a fool to refuse. [He also needed funds for his then fledgling airline.]

The same thing happened with Island Records: Chris Blackwell founded the label that introduced ska/reggae to this country and produced the only-true star of the genre - Bob Marley. Island is now just an imprint of Universal-Vivendi conglomerate, never to be heard of again. Keane appear to be on indie Independiente but the truth is - it is a part of SonyBMG.

Coldplay’s Chris Martin slammed EMI earlier this year for issuing a quarterly profit warning over the band’s delayed album - man cared for quality, for what’s worth! - by attacking “the slavery that we’re all under to shareholders”. They’ve forgiven him as soon as ‘X&Y’ shifted google of copies and is still selling after reaching #1 in 30-odd countries.

EMI’s chairman Eric Nicoli dismissed Martin’s outburst as that of “an artist, not a stockbroker.” With accountants running the bloody music business we’d just need to get stockbrokers developing songwriting talent! [Or former soldiers - like that Blunt fella!] But then, if I were an investor - and EMI shares are worth only one-third of their peak days! - I’d be concerned about Martin spending too much quality time with his child and wife rather than on the road. Or, Robbie Williams having too much fun not to deliver his next opus on time since EMI’s next quarter’s earnings hinge on the Stoke’s favourite son.

When Pink Floyd’s sales - after reformation for Live8 - jumped 1400 per cent, we wonder who had the biggest party… Still, what do we know? In our time Stiff Records were blooming by getting any kinda shit and throwing it to see what would stick. I was reminded of it in the recent ‘Ray’ biopic when late Mr Charles - a respected gospel and soul singer at the time - decides to cut a Country’n’Western song as his next single and, following a 30 second think, gets the green light. Today, that’s unfathomable and small progress that Coldplay actually make with every subsequent album - is to be applauded.

From the industry run by producers with a passion for music to the ‘suits’ who are more interested in dividends and a perma-eye on takeovers. It shrinks the business and consumers get crap for choice. What’s the moral, if there is one, it is not clear to us in this celeb-circus: good-lookers of no fixed talent. (15 Aug. 2005)

Woolworth 'to sell music chain'

Retailer Woolworths could announce the sale of its music and video chain as soon as today [Monday], it has been reported.

A consortium led by corporate finance specialist Argyll Partners is reportedly set to buy loss-making business MVC, which sells CDs, DVDs, video games and digital music downloads.

Woolies put the chain up for sale in March after deciding it needed "substantial" investment. At the time, it said it was closing 14 stores to leave it with its current network of 67.

According to the Financial Mail, Stockport-based independent chain Music Zone was close to agreeing the terms of a takeover of MVC in June, but the negotiations failed.

In its last financial year, Woolworths said MVC's performance improved. Despite like-for-like sales falling 4.8%, losses narrowed "substantially" due to better margins and tighter cost controls.

The group said last week that tough conditions on the high street had continued to take their toll on the wider business, with same-store sales at its core Woolworths chain 4.4% lower in the 24 weeks to 16 July.

It said the retail climate had remained difficult and that it was continuing to take action to improve the business by keeping stock and costs under control.

Woolies has enjoyed a revival under chief executive Trevor Bish-Jones, lifting 2004 profits by 5% to £73.1 million, although this has since been offset by the disappointing sales performance so far this year.

The group is due to announce interim results for the 26 weeks to 30 July on 21 September.
(31 July 2005)

SonyBMG's payola: behemoth to pay $10 million for ‘pay-to-airplay’

Sony BMG Music Entertainment - an umbrella organization that includes Arista Records, Columbia Records, Sony Music International and So So Def Records - agreed today to pay a $10 million settlement in an industry-wide investigation by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer into payola, the practice of paying radio stations for airplay of their artists. The corporation will cease paying for play and, according to Spitzer, will also hire a compliance officer to keep tabs on its behaviour.

"Our investigation shows that, contrary to listener expectations that songs are selected for air play based on artistic merit and popularity, air time is often determined by undisclosed payoffs to radio stations and their employees," Spitzer said in a press conference Monday morning. The settlement, he added, "is a model for breaking the pervasive influence of bribes in the industry."

Spitzer's investigation revealed that SonyBMG not only hired independent promoters to provide payments to radio stations for airplay, but funded vacation packages, radio contest prizes and even some station production expenses. Internal emails between SonyBMG executives proved that they were aware of these practices, and one message from an employee to a station read, "What Do I Have To Do To Get AudioSlave on WKSS This week?!!? Whatever you can dream up, I can make it happen." AudioSlave are among SonyBMG's artists, who also include OutKast, Britney Spears and Whitney Houston.

Spitzer stated that some employees attempted to cover up the transactions as paperwork for fictitious contest winners.

The accepted but rarely acknowledged practice of payola is "wrong and improper," conceded Sony spokesperson John McKay. "Despite federal and state laws prohibiting unacknowledged payment by records labels to radio stations for airing of music, such direct and indirect forms of what has been described generically as 'payola' for spins has continued to be an unfortunately prevalent aspect of radio promotion. SonyBMG acknowledges that various employees pursued some radio promotion practices on behalf of the company that were wrong and improper, and apologizes for such conduct. SonyBMG looks forward to defining a new, higher standard in radio promotion."

According to Spitzer, the $10 million settlement will be distributed to a number of non-profits and set aside for music education programs.

Spitzer has requested documents and information from other industry powerhouses: EMI, Warner Music Group and Vivendi Universal SA's Universal Music Group. Those investigations are currently under way.
(26 July 2005)

EMI in tune for bettering performance

EMI, the world’s third-largest music group, said it was confident of delivering an improved performance for the current financial year, following the global success of new albums from its bands Coldplay and Gorillaz.

It a trading update at its annual meeting, the record co. said it had shipped almost 6m units of Coldplay’s ‘X&Y’, the eagerly awaited third album from the globally popular band, which hit the Number One chart position in 32 countries.

Close to 2 million units of Gorillaz’ ‘Demon Days’ had also been shipped. The company said yesterday that revenues and operating profits for the year to date were running ahead of last year’s levels in both the recorded music division and the publishing operations.

The music division expects to release albums from Robbie Williams, Sir Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones this year. EMI continued to see rapid growth in digital revenues in both recorded music publishing, and the group’s digital revenues for the first quarter to June more than doubled to 4,8 per cent of total revenues, up from 3.5 per cent in the fourth quarter of the previous year.

The group has said that, in five years’ time, it expects 25 per cent of its revenues to come from digital sales. [Personally, we reckon they are rather conservative in their estimation as the larger percentage of earnings will come from Downloads as more people discover the delight of non-material musical enjoyment. But then, most of the company’s bosses are on the wrong end of youth.]

Analysts said music publishing businesses cold see the effects of this month’s Live8 concert. Music retailers have reported an uplift in sales of albums of those who performed at Live8, especially older bands such as Pink Floyd and The Who.

Not surprisingly, EMI shares closed 3 point up at 258p.
(15 July 2005)

EU online music 'system'

The European Commission on Thursday [07/07/2005] proposed a single Europe-wide copyright and licensing system for online music, to boost the European Union's music business.

EU Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy said European online services had to be improved to make copyrights cheaper for artists to obtain.

"We have to improve the licensing of music copyright on the Internet," McCreevy said, adding such a system would ensure "Europe's creative community will get the lion's share in revenues achieved online."

Currently artists have to secure copyrights in each of the EU's 25 member nations, with each country requiring separate copyrights for the right to transmit songs over the Internet, a complex and expensive process the EU head office said.

As a result of these costs, online music sales in Europe have lagged behind those in the United States. Last year, the U.S. had an estimated $248 million in online music sales compared with Europe's $32.5 million.

Musicians make money from their music after registering copyrights with collective rights managers. Those managers then license songs to online services, radio stations, dance clubs and other outlets. All these registrations are complex and costs artists a lot of money. The EU head office said a single system governing music rights would save money.

"The most effective model for achieving this is to enable right-holders to authorize a collecting society of their choice to manage their works across the entire EU," said the Commission in a statement, adding such a system would "considerably enhance" earnings for artists.
(08 July 2005)

Techno dark age

Make the most of your iPod, wi-fi and Blackberry because new inventions will be thin on the ground in years to come, a report has claimed. Technology will run out of steam within 20 years as we enter a new ‘dark age’, a top physicist has concluded.

Jonathan Huebner, of the Pentagon’s Naval Air Warfare Centre, believes the growth in innovation has slowed since reaching a peak more than 130 years ago. By comparing the number of major inventions and scientific advances to global population, he found that 1873 was out golden age.

And it has been all downhill since then, he told New Scientist magazine.

“Perhaps there is a limit to what technology can achieve,“ he said. “It is more difficult now for people to develop new technology. We are approaching the ‘dark ages point’ when the rate of innovation is the same as it was during the Dark Ages.”

But his critics argue there is plenty of evidence to show that innovation and technology is advancing as fas as ever but in different ways. John Smart, of the Acceleration Studies Institute in California, said: “People are heading for a comfortable cocoon where the machines are doing the work and the innovating. But we are not measuring that very well.”

Mr Huebner is not the first person to forecast an end of innovation. In 1899, the commissioner of the US patents office announced: “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

A short list of inventions:

1023 - First paper money printed in China
1050 - Crossbow invented in France
1182 - Magnetic compass comes into use
1458 - Printing press with metal moveable type invented by Johannes Gutenberg
1510 - Pocket watch built by Peter Henlein
1624 - William Oughtred’s slide ruler
1799 - Alllessandro Volta invents the battery
1835 - Charles Babbage’s mechanical calculator
1910 - Thomas Edison demonstrates the first talking motion picture
1921 - First robot built
1937 - Chester F. Carlson invents the photocopier
1956 - First computer hard disk used
1962 - Audio cassette introduced
1979 - mobile phones invented
1991 - Introduction of the World Wide Web
(30 June 2005)

Nas in da Republic of Brixtonia

Police - who were called to the Brixton Academy in South West London following reports of shots being fired inside the venue and crowds fleeing the scene - claim two bullets aimed at the ceiling were discovered once the auditorium was empty. “Two bullets and two casings have been recovered from the scene,” a WPC confirmed.

These gunshots at the Nas’ show in Brixton few nights ago [Springday 2005] - causing no injury to 2,500 strong audience but mass panic - will definitely fuel the debate about [more like AGAINST, methinks] rap music in general. Yo, this incident has come with a price-tag due to negate our privilege to enjoy Hip-hop acts, as much domestic as American stars on Brit stages.

As the perpetrator hasn’t been caught (yet? ever?) we have no idea about a motive. Hormonal, disgruntlement, hatred, lunacy? Or, it could be that this ‘fan’ comes from a part of the world where shooting into the blue/night/any sky is an expression of joy and approval! It’s an explosive ‘Bravo!’ in certain lands, as near to Central Europe as Montenegro.

Alas, these shots provide further argument for the anti-Rap lobby. With all the shenanigans the local artists have been painted with, it is hard not to see this as the lost stand of ‘gangsta’ krews. And, it couldn’t have come at the more inopportune time due to Hip-hop coming out of the US being this benign… well, ever. For all the ‘bravura’ of Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent or … [insert latest flava] have more in common with the ‘black-pop’ the contemporary R&B has become than with NWA! [Long live Public Enemy!]

It’s not pessimistic speculating that this will probably close most venue doors to the genre and it may even affect Eminem. To an average Briton, IQ of 107, this is gone too far and councils will be under pressure not to grant licences for events of this kind. If they do, it will be the case of such stringent security measures that would push prices so high that only City bankers could afford it. And, traditionally - they ain’t a rap-mob.

That, combined with the stronghold of cultural conformism plus censorship and the Brits’ proclivity for schadenfreude will definitely halt it: how else to explain a member of The Stranglers’ being arrested for wearing a T-shirt with Ford-logo spelt ‘Fuct’ back in the 1970s? Or, the late Wendy O’Williams’s band Plasmatics being refused a licence to play Hammy Odeon on the grounds of “unsafe” pyrotechnics when everyone knew it was because the lady wore a shaving-cream bra onstage!?

And, so on. What these gunshots represent is shrinkage of our freedom some more. It is claimed there were 100 security guards on duty, frisking fans, and we experienced it ourselves: it ain’t thorough, bro! It’s like they are instructed to look more for filming/taping/[mobie] snapping gear than weapons of any kind. An Academy spokesperson [of female gender] said there had been a “high level of security”.

On top of it, Brixton Academy’s future may be in jeopardy. Not that long ago it nearly closed down as a live venue but an agreement was reached that turned Rainbow in Finsbury Park into a community/religious centre whilst the Brixton’s Art Deco building was saved for concerts.

In the gunfire of the event - how long will Brixton Academy continue to operate as a gigging place? (24/03/2005)

Scott Sterling-Wilder