Youth is wasted on the young, or at least music shouldn’t be

Old_FanLauren Laverne is a slightly divisive character and seems to annoy lots of people, not in a Jeremy Clarkson or Simon Cowell kind of way but more in a Zane Lowe way in that I think most people are quite jealous of their jobs and so get all a bit bitchy. I always think that is a terribly unfair way to treat people who’ve done nothing but tirelessly promote music but that’s folk for you. What it does mean is that her voice probably isn’t given the weight it deserves, she’s rarely the first one to be quoted in pop culture debates (unless it’s an early evening BBC3 documentary). So when last week she wrote an excellent piece for the Guardian I thought it was worth sharing further, so here it is, go read it.

Good eh? For those that didn’t bother it makes an excellent case that those of advancing age, in particular those over 40, shouldn’t be excluded or made to feel outsiders at music events. As someone fast approaching that age, as in indeed is Laverne, it’s partly a view born from self interest, I don’t want to stop going to things just because I’m old and falling apart. But that aside it’s a good point anyway, there is no reason parts of culture should be off limits to anyone, for any reason. You wouldn’t make a comment suggesting a women or a gay guy shouldn’t be at a gig, so you shouldn’t do the same just because a 55 year old civil servant wants to use his free time to get drunk and dance very badly to painfully hip indie electro. If you like the music you should be able to enjoy it without ridicule or insult. This is even more so in the modern music scene when half the world’s top DJs and musicians are well over 35 with a not insignificant portion of the biggest names in music being at least in their 60s. Music may once have been the preserve of the youth but no longer. So next time you see someone of an older generation at a gig don’t make a joke or sneer at them, instead be happy the music you like has such a diverse fanbase.

There is also a larger point outside of music to be made too. As Laverne points out you can enjoy literature at any age and can, of course, enjoy music just the same. You wouldn’t ostracize someone for owning lots of books at 60 so don’t have a go if it’s lots of mp3s instead. But her analogy could be used for many things beyond music too – if older people want to play video games, watch cartoons, dress up in silly costumes, learn to DJ, start a band, start playing a sport, go to university, learn to drive or do anything else that was once considered “childish” or “for those under 30” then they should not only be allowed to but be encouraged to do so. Have fun and enjoy what you want, and celebrate it when others join in, no matter how old – I want to be going to gigs, playing board games and reading Harry Potter to the day I die (aged 157 in my countryside mansion in the loving embrace of my sixth wife). Fun things shouldn’t be stopped due to some bizarre and outdated social convention. Life should be about embracing the things you love to the fullest extent you can, and life doesn’t end when your twenties do, so neither should they.

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Some sort of news…

robotsNo gigs or festivals this week so I’m afraid we’re back into the rough embrace of the music industry during the summer months. This is not good as usually there is close to little news. I know the mainstream media have their “silly season” with little going on (leading to The Sun displaying a boy with the “Mark of the Devil” on their front page), yet usually there is the odd scandal, disaster or war for them to talk about. But the music business just about completely shuts down. Everyone is on holiday, at a festival, drunk, fucked on other chemicals or probably all at the same time. And whilst that might be fun for those involved it doesn’t make for interesting news. Still I’ve dug out a few little nuggets for you, some of these might just be worth reading…

There was a lot of talk about some young lady called Tulisa the last couple of weeks and she claims to be a musician but I’m not covering that so instead have a read about how Duran Duran are suing their own fanclub. Seems a bit harsh but hardly worthy of much debate and analysis, so let’s move on, sure there is something more interesting out there….

Well Jeff Mills is doing a show with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra which might be enticing to those of you that like techno. I don’t, so I’m really not that bothered. Not living in Australia further limits my interest. Moving on it seems some people are upset about streaming royalties again but even I can’t get excited by that. It really is a quiet week.

So let’s just finish off this disappointing litany of so-called-news with a brief look at Damon Albarn’s recent performance to an audience of robots. Actually it was a couple of robots and some humans but you get the point. Presumably it was an unsubtle way to promote his new ‘Everyday Robots’ album though it’s not a bad idea for bands struggling to sell out a venue either – just pack the place out with robots. I can even see a business opportunity here, lifelike robots that just bob up and down in time to the music. I may have failed as a music news blogger but I can now become the Miles Dyson/Dr. Robotnik/Tony Stark of the music industry. So screw you guys I’m off to to my secret cybernetics lab!

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Guilfest 2014

Guilfest_2014_1Last weekend I went to my single festival planned for the year in the shape of Guilfest. I’ve been a couple of times before as long time readers may recall and whilst not the coolest nor most glamourous of festivals it really was good fun. For starters it was much less muddy than last time, indeed there was no rain and plenty of sunshine, getting to the point of being too hot on a couple of afternoons (especially for this pasty Englishman who prefers our more traditional summer weather of cool temperatures and grey skies). There was also plenty of excellent music, my thoughts on which I thought I would share with you guys as we really haven’t been talking about actual music enough recently.

Before I begin I feel I should explain why I go to Guilfest instead of a festival with a better reputation – I imagine that question formed in your mind the moment I mentioned it. To start with you shouldn’t be so judgemental, it’s actually a really solid festival. It’s relatively cheap; it’s on a nice site that’s easy and quick to get around; they don’t oversell the tickets, packing the place out unnecessarily; they have the organisation nailed so you never have to queue for a beer or the toilet; and most importantly the lineups are actually interesting rather than the cookie cutter list of bands and DJs you get at most festivals. Sure it tends to trend to older bands but there’s always plenty of new acts too, especially on the electronic side of things, and you get to see people you won’t see anywhere else this year. I’ve regularly been to other festivals such as Lovebox and Field Day but just couldn’t face them this year. The former had the most obvious DJ lineup ever (totally lacking the older electronic bands and rock acts that used to pepper the list) and the latter just seem to have the same bands in a slightly different order every time. And don’t get me started on the rock-orientated events that’ve been wheeling out the exact same nine or ten bands for the last decade. So honestly Guilfest has a lot going for it. It also helps it’s a couple of miles from where I grew up, a bunch of my mates still living in the provinces always go along and I get to sleep in a proper bed at my parents…

Anyway onto a collection of my highlights…

Friday

It was hot, too hot, on Friday afternoon but a constant supply of beer and water just about kept us going as we started off the festival. We began with a sampling of chilled electronic acts on the second stage including the perfectly nice but just a touch dull Paper Boats. As the temperature finally started to fall we dragged ourselves to the main stage for the accurate and talented but ultimately just-a-cover-band Doors Alive followed by the Fun Lovin Criminals. Now I know a lot of people love them, in particular frontman Huey Morgan, but not me, I have always found them a little dull and obvious. Their live show did little to change that but they did a pretty solid job, it was fun, just ultimately a little bit samey and lacking in tunes I actually like.

A little later in the evening, after food (one of the most disappointing hog roasts I’ve ever had), some more beer and perhaps one or two other bands I’ve forgotten about, the main stage headliners, The Boomtown Rats, came on. Other than pop classic ‘I HatGuilfest_2014_2e Mondays’ their repertoire had pretty much passed me by, but I was intrigued to check them out if only to see Sir Bob Geldof in his shouty glory. And shouty he was, along with dull and quite annoying. The songs were rubbish and they were pretty average all round. I’m afraid if Live Aid has never happened they would be zero chance the band would have ever headlined any festival, let alone one 30 years after their heyday.

Thankfully we only had to put up with half an hour of it before the night’s real headliners, Public Service Broadcasting, started on the second stage. We’ve written about them a few times on With the DJ and I saw them live with Bump at the end of last year. After much consideration of that and their tunes I’m now beginning to think that despite the slightly gimmicky hipster vibe they are probably the best electronic act to breakthrough in the last couple of years. They didn’t disappoint at Guilfest either, whilst they played the same set as last time (with more or less all the tunes from their first and only album included) it was delivered with even more wit and verve than last time, clearly now very assured in what they do. Hopefully some new material will be delivered soon to stop staleness setting in but for now and for that hot, sweaty Friday night in the home counties they were quite, quite excellent.

Saturday

The searing heat had slightly abated on Saturday though the increased humidity meant even more beer and water had to be consumed than the day before. Sadly all the alcohol in the world couldn’t make up for the biggest disappointment of the weekend when we missed Jedward’s early afternoon performance. A tragedy to be sure. The second biggest disappointment followed when we settled down in front of the main stage to watch I See Monstas. They were once simply called Monsta, until trademark infringement got in the way, and I’ve been a fan of their blend of drum n bass and gospel vocals for a couple of years so I was very much looking forward to see a live rendition of it. Clearly I should have done a little more research for it was no live show, perhaps they don’t even have one. Instead it was simply two guys DJing some very cheesy and very poor EDM shite. I don’t know if they’ve abandoned their original sound or just thought such pop nonsense would work better with the crowd, either way it was rubbish. A massive shame.

Guilfest_2014_3Things didn’t improve much as we wandered around the smaller stages and tents encountering a mix of the forgotten, the broken and the never where. The only highlight being the worst tattoo of Arnie ever committed to skin – see left for horror and hilarity.

As is so often is the case the early 90s and Madchester came to the rescue in the shape of The Farm – a bunch of angry northerners belting out dance-tinged classics whilst you jump around with a beer in hand being one of the better experiences life can offer. And whilst they might not be Primal Scream or The Stone Roses they were still bloody good fun.

We then had a quick detour into comedy music with Mr B, the Gentleman Rhymer. I’m not really a fan of comedy music, it’s very serious business you know, but he was excellent. Funny, talented and respectful of his source material (a mix of hip hop and dance music) it was good fun and a nice change of pace. We then returned to the 90s when we moved on to Space, who even back then were much less cool and much less fun than The Farm, something even truer today. I found them rather dull which was made much worse by a very weird singer who had a horrible voice and looked more like a maths teacher than a rockstar. Something I’m sure Form 5E would have confirmed first lesson Monday morning.

The day finished off a couple of decades further back in time with Kool and the Gang. I’d expected little from them, imagining heading off home after twenty minutes, and the first couple of tunes only fulfilled that expectation sounding far too much like early 90s Boyz II Men R’n’B. But then they gave up that crap and pulled out the party funk – it was awesome. A dozen extremely skilled and extremely well practiced musicians letting it rip on stage and bringing the large crowd with them every step of the way. Classic after classic played to perfection. By the end we certainly were celebrating good times…

Sorry I couldn’t help myself…

Sunday

Sunday started with a hangover and took, as with the first two days, a little while to get going. Norman Jay playing to a tired and thinned out crowd was dull, Ward Thomas a country-pop duo of posh sisters were pretty but even more boring and even The Correspondents, famed festival act, were merely fun but shallow. But with the last rays of the weekend’s sun things improved significantly when Dreadzone took the stage. They’ve been around more or less since the dawn of rave and were certainly shGuilfest_2014_4owing their age but it didn’t stop them putting on an excellent show. Their recordings are a mix from chilled, epically-tinged electronica through tracks with a dash of rock to full on reggae & rave party tunes. The live show however is very much all about the latter which meant they didn’t play all my personal favourites (which tend to the more chilled elements of their catalogue) but it didn’t matter it was still great fun with cool tunes, proper full on bass and all round bloody good fun.

With Dreadzone done we scurried to the main stage to see one of With the DJ’s all time favourite acts, The Human League, who once again didn’t disappoint. From the sparse, white set that looked like a cross between an Apple design and the bridge of the Enterprise, to their ball gowns and suit attire they looked awesome. And obviously, sounded even better, playing one genre-defining piece of synth-pop after another. The only minor complaint was the addition of slightly too many newer tracks and more obscure releases – perhaps not the best choice for a festival crowd – but as the show came to an epic, hands-in-the-air, singalong climax with Don’t You Want Me and Electric Dreams no one cared at all. A great ending to a quality weekend at an unfairly maligned festival – I may have been a massive musical snob about some of the acts but the highlights made it more than worthwhile and I’ll happily be attending again next year.

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The News

good-news
Actually there’s no news – it’s the middle of summer, what do you expect? Check back next week and see if anything has happened.

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Time to change…

BeatportWARNING – The following article is only of interest to those who find the discussion of musical copyright in the internet age engaging. I think that should be anyone who listens to or pays for music online in the 21st century but I accept some may disagree with that view…

Now the wasters have gone I thank the three of you that have kept reading, you truly are wise souls. What I want to talk about is a recent speech at the excitingly titled “Music 4.5 IP & Licensing” event in London by ERA boss Kim Bayley. The ERA is the Entertainment Retailers Association and represents people who sell all those lovely cultural artifacts that are created by auteurs, geniuses and Justin Bieber and then parceled into easily consumed DVDs, CDs, mp3s and the like. These days that means HMV, some independent retailers and a bunch of online stores. The speech was concerned with only the latter of those and in particular the online stores that sell digital music. The full details of her speech can be found here but in essence she was saying it’s far too complex to get the required licences to sell music online; the fragmentation of rights between labels, publishers and dozens of collecting societies is far too confusing and the lack of decent databases makes even identfying who owns what music very difficult.

Obviously I’m a big and vocal supporter of copyright and do think that online stores should get the right licenses and ensure that creators are paid when their music is used or sold. It’s also not, despite what anyone might want, ever going to be a simple process with the complexity of law and data volumes involved both being hugely challenging. That said I agree with much of what the speech contained, I’ve written about these issues before and no doubt will do so again. The music industry has to stop using 100 year old business models and have an offering that new, agile online businesses can use to offer music digitally. If the industry doesn’t support the services that want to be legal then music fans have no choice but to go the illegal route and that helps no one. Well apart from the pirates I suppose. So I thought it was very sensible in general however some of her smaller points were a little unfair on collecting societies who do a reasonable job in a complex business. I think she could have thought through some of those arguments a little more as right now the industry can point to her mistakes and poor assumptions and write off her whole speech.

Helpfully Bayley outlined her top 10 issues with the process and, as everyone loves an internet articles that includes numbered lists, I thought we could have a close look at each one and see, in my humble view, what stands up and what needs more thought (the original points are in italics, my genius not in italics):

1. Does it really make sense that while in the physical world publishing rights are accounted for in the cost of a CD, in a digital world services need to secure three separate licences?

No, it makes no sense it all. Someone, somewhere managed to make the argument that downloading an mp3 is somehow a performance because it moves down a wire. I know, mental isn’t it? Did I watch Beatles perform last night or did I just make a copy of one of their songs from Apple’s servers? Obviously the latter but the music industry doesn’t think so, instead it’s classed as a performance and a whole load of new rights holders get involved and more complexity for everyone.

2. Does it really make sense that in a supposed Single European Market digital services are obliged to deal with over 30 different licensing bodies to secure publishing rights alone?

the euNo it doesn’t, there is in fact a complete lack of sense, although for once you can blame the EU and not the music industry. The latter wanted to set up one central place for managing the rights but the EU said that was uncompetitive and banned it. A, stupid, short-sighted decision if there ever was one and one of the times when the EU has actually annoyed me. (For some reason the ruling isn’t a key part of the UKIP argument, probably because you need a medicum of intelligence to understand copyright and therefore well outside the capabilities of the average UKIP supporter.)

Anyway thankfully after years of confusion and inefficiency things are changing and a handful of central “hubs” are being created so an online service only need get a licence from a handful of places not 30. It’s taken far too long to get here but least it’s not the music industry’s fault for once.

3. Why is it that songwriters have to fund the costs of all these different collection societies – can it really make sense that five collecting societies alone cost half a billion dollars to run?

History is the only reason – they were set up nationally a century ago and it’s just stayed that way. This may change in next few years as we see more centralisation of processes and systems (Sweden’s ICE database shared by the British, Swedish and German societies is a good example) but it’ll be slow.

As for the cost, I have no idea where that figures comes from. The UK’s PRS only costs about £60 million to run, a reasonable figure for a complex business employing hundreds for skilled people (like me…). I promise if songwriters and publishers each had to manage it themselves it would cost a hundred times that figure.

4. Does it make sense that while almost all digital services account monthly, it can take literally years for the money to reach the artist?

Nope it does not make sense and it doesn’t happen when managed by proper collecting societies, such as PRS, who pay out money from online services in 3-6 months. It is fair to say, however, that not every collecting society in the world is so efficient and those that aren’t shouldn’t be allowed to continue that way.

5. Why is there an apparently arbitrary allocation of the publishing rights between performance and mechanicals in different territories?

A technical question with a technical answer but basically because they can do whatever they want without logic or sense. Generally it comes down to who wins the fight for the money in each country, if the publishers win it goes to the mechanicals, if not then it might go the performance.

6. Is it right that a digital store in one territory is prevented from selling to consumers in another territory?

Actually yes it is, if they haven’t got the the licenses for the other territory. Of course it should be much easier to get those licenses, ideally from only one or two places, but you should still have to get all of those licenses.

7. Can it be right that licensing bodies are unable or unwilling to provide details of precisely which rights they control and therefore services are obliged to provide all their data to every licensor?

Well no I don’t think it would be right but then I don’t know what licensing bodies are doing this, whilst the repertoire that any society, publisher or other body control changes constantly as deals are signed and expire, I’ve not heard of one refusing to say what the license they offer covers. A poor question I think.

8. Or that licensing bodies cannot guarantee that the right artists are being paid once the services hand over payment?

DataThis is the question I have most problems with. Whilst some of the ones above are a little combative or lacking in evidence, the general points being made are fair. This one however is nonsense. Imagine receiving from the various online stores the details of every single of the 1.24 billion tunes sold online in 2013 and trying to find out who wrote it based, more often than not, purely on the track title and the artist. If you’re lucky most of them will match to your database of works but there’ll always be some that don’t (for a dozen different reasons) and on top of that the cost to process that volume of data (the vast majority of which is worth fractions of a fraction of a penny to the artists) is so huge you’ll end up spending more to process it then you received from the licensee in the first place. So the licensing bodies do the best they can and get as much of the money as possible to the right people. It’s not perfect but it’s not a bad attempt.

I’d also like to flip the question and ask most online stores if they guarantee that they pay the labels whose music they are selling? Because as someone owed several hundred pounds from stores due to arbitrary thresholds and criteria I don’t think they do.

9. It surely is not helpful that copyright owners have no obligation to respond to licensing requests at all, or can string out negotiations to literally years, by which time the market has moved on.

Well Tesco’s don’t have to sell us pints of milk but they’ll go out of business pretty quick if they don’t. In the same way the music industry isn’t going to survive without embracing the online world but they don’t have to survive if they don’t want to. So yeah it’s not helpful but you can’t force someone to remain in business if they don’t want to.

10. And it definitely does not help that the need to have a comprehensive set of licences gives a perverse incentive to licensors to be the last to strike a deal.

Not sure I agree on this one either, as we saw last week with YouTube, striking a deal last can actually be a massive handicap.

So there we have it – in general some good points about the archaic nature of the licensing process let down by some errors and a lack of evidence. Maybe she’d have been better off with a Top 5 issues?

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