Now In Japanese!

bjandzepjapanedsCopies of Billy Joel and Led Zeppelin in Japanese. My first foreign language books!

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Thought for the day

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My Long Time Love Affair

Yes, it’s true.  I have had a longstanding love affair with… the New Music Seminar. As one in love, I can see its faults and still love it.  I have attended them since the second or third one, and missed only one or two since.  And this year’s was one of the best yet.

In its heyday, the NMS took over, in almost every sense of the phrase, the Marriott Marque on Broadway. There was a huge exhibit area, parties all over the city, concerts all over the city.  This was when the record business was charging full speed ahead, selling more every year.  There were panels about most things of interest to the DIY musician, the musician who desperately wanted to get signed, the manager who desperately wanted to get artists signed, panels on touring, panels on music journalism (my cohort Diane Patrick and I ran several panels that attempted to organize music journalists when we headed the National Writers Union Music Writers Caucus), panels on recording.  There were also panels on all manners of music, from introducing the 87-year-old calypsonian Roaring Lion to a generation that thought “Maryanne (down by the seashore sifting sand)” was a folk song, to some of the biggest artists of the time sitting on the Artists’ Panel that traditionally closed the show.  There were artists from the world over, come to learn, come to make music, come to take a shot at fame, come to get into the heart and gestalt of the music business.

This year’s (and the previous few since it came off of hiatus) was a much smaller affair, in line with the new realities of the 21st Century music business (so far), but also in tune with the future and possibilities of the music business as that century moves on.  The theme came from a speech that the NMS co-founder and executive director (and owner of Tommy Boy Records) Tom Silverman

The Billion Dollar Biz

Tom Silverman shows us how many more donations we need to reach the $1,000,000,000 Business

gave at MIDEM, another music colloquium earlier this year in the South of France: Building a $100,000,000,000 music business.  This is not as unlikely as it sounds at first blush.  The music business has risen phoenix-like many times since Thomas Edison pricked his finger on a stylus and captured his expletives on a piece of tin foil with another stylus (Mary Had a Little Lamb, indeed).  And most of these rises came on the coattails of new technology – the glass and lacquer record, the vinyl LP, tape, the CD, and now digital. While the businesses relationship with digital (which they didn’t invent) has been a bit dodgier than its experience with those previous media (which they pretty much did invent, or at least control from the outset), it has finally begun to set up a proper infrastructure so that recording artist will not disappear from the face of the earth.  Indeed, fat chance of that happening – over the last decade, the number of annual commercial musical releases has increased at least fourfold.

I tell my students that this is the most exciting time in the last 50 years, perhaps in history, to be involved in the music business, as it reinvents itself.  As one panelist put it, “The rules change every day.”  Some of the highlights and insights included:

  • The Ralph Simon led digital panel. Ralph has a way with the language that is only superseded by his abilities in the mobile music space.  Among his wonderful turns of phrase:
    • Screenagers – people who use multiple screens simultaneously.
    • Human doing – as  opposed to a human being.
    • But the term that came up most when addressing the rise of the cell phone as the preeminent musical source of the immediate future was “feels like free.”  How can the music business make their monetization painless, so that a generation that grew up with “free music” via downloads can continue to get their music “free”.
    • The new loathsome sobriquet for music: What once was “product” has become “content,” though I like the thought of it as an “asset” more.
    • The rise of the independent record company, the true musical entrepreneurs making major waves in the popular trenches, not too unlike the way things operated in the 50s and early 60s, before the corporate entities started gobbling them up.
      • For example, the fact that earlier this year, five of the top ten singles were indy
      • Indies have shown 12% digital growth over the last year.
      • That the Lumineers have had 100,000,000 streams – thought the monetary “effect doesn’t reflect that number.”
      • That the indies look at the new music business s as a net income business, while the majors still think in terms of market share.
      • While the majors still dominate radio, streaming and licensing have made the music business “more democratic.”
      • FDR taking over the legalities of the music business: beyond the “new deals” for the “assets”, there were the new ways of looking at remunerating artists, new models for “new deals” like 50/50 and 360 deals that give artists a choice rather than the standard advance/(small) percentage deals.
Jesse Clegg

Jesse Clegg, Son of South African star Johnny Clegg, makes his NYC Debut

One of the other things that the New NMS has downsized is the “New York Nights” that came with the event and would have me (in younger days) criss-crossing the city to see artists like the US debut of the Gipsy Kings, The Les Miserables Brass Band, and Barenaked Ladies long before they became a hit, among hundreds of others – often taking in all or part of five sets a night.  The recent Seminar had a somewhat more limited number of venues, most of which were within spitting distance of each other on Ludlow Street. They did, however, showcase well over 100 artists.  A couple of the notable ones I caught included the US debut of Jesse Clegg from South Africa, doing a wonderful, energetic (mostly) acoustic set and the winners of the Seminar’s “Artists on the Verge” contest Air Traffic Controllers, an Americana group that you should be hearing from shortly.


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Google and the Record Business

In a long running thread about “monetizing the new music industry” on LinkedIn the other day, David Robbins Jr. from Extra Musical commented:

I remember when there were live concerts on the radio and I could copy my friends tape until I got my own copy, concert ticket and tshirt. Now it seems the band wants to make millions on everything and end up with nothing. Try letting file sharing go on, manage bands, don’t dictate, and see what happens. No one likes bootlegs, they just don’t want an album with one good song. They want liner notes.

When I read this, it occurred to me that, yes, this was the old paradigm of doing business that the “new” music business was supposedly reacting against. It also bore an amazing resemblance to the way one of the most successful companies of the last two decades does business: Google.

As long gone as the record industry it served.

Through the rock and roll era, the bulk of the record industry’s business was monetized by a few products. For every Michael Jackson, Fleetwood Mac, or Madonna shifting 10,000,000 copies of their work, you had 19 Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, Norm Nardini and the Tigers, and Adele Bertei’s getting signed, allowed to work for a couple of albums, but selling “disappointingly.” These artists, however, were able to build up enough of a following to earn a living playing music, even without the major label support.

This didn’t represent an industry just doing things they liked, though there was more of the thinking if I like it, someone else probably will. These artists all had to potential to do very well, but for whatever reason, they didn’t. As long as they had artists making them money, they could take a chance with artists who might or might not. They got it right about 5% of the time. Similarly, Google often throws ideas out there because they’re interesting, because there is the potential for profit there. Then they see if they catch on. The main difference there is that, when something doesn’t catch on, they try to figure out why.

Is Google the future of the music business, or is the music business a cautionary tale for Google?

When Google copies another company’s ideas for the sake of copying (c.f. all of their attempts at social networking), they’re never as successful as when they innovate. This is one of the reasons so many people are interested to see just what it is they’re planning for the music space, and how/whether it’s going to be any different from anything else out there, aside from the fact that it’s done by Google. This is one thing the record business never really got. Certainly, a lot of great bands got released when, for example, Nirvana topped the charts and suddenly everyone had to have a grunge band (or two). A few of them even did well, and many continue to be able to tour and support themselves making music. But a lot of pretty awful music got sucked up in that vortex as well.

They let ideas spread largely by word of mouth. Have you ever seen a paid ad by Google, at least about a new Google product? The early days of an artist’s release might have seen a trade ad, but most didn’t have that kind of a marketing budget. In fact, one of the key reasons (IMHO) for the collapse of the industry is the record companies got lazy – They had depended on radio to be their means of disseminating information, and as playlists got more and more restrictive, fewer and fewer artists got the work out. If a record ships and nobody hears it, does it make a sound? These days, less than 0.2 percent of music accounts for over 50 percent of sales.

So what can the record companies learn from Google? I’m actually not to sure. The fact that Google is getting into the music business at all reminds me of the old riddle – How do you make a small fortune in the music business?
You start with a large fortune. What I’m wondering if Google will learn from the record business’s mistakes.

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This is an experiment. I’m about to give away my book (shhhh! my publisher doesn’t know) in the hope of increasing sales.

This is an experiment.  I’m about to give away my book (shhhh! my publisher doesn’t know) in the hope of increasing sales.  This is a limited time offer, ending on Labor Day. At that point, I remove the link here.  I just got a sales statement for the past six months, so we’ll see how the next one compares!

Dirty Little Secrets of the Record Business

The book in question

Okay, here’s the deal.  I found a link to my book Dirty Little Secrets of the Record Business: Why So Much Music You Hear Sucks as a “Xmas Bonus” on a site called Fair Play for Music.  Instead of a cease and desist, I’m going to see if Chris Anderson is right, and I can drum up business by giving it away (If you haven’t read “Free: The Future of a Radical Price” it is never anything less than intriguing).  So, the link is attached. Enjoy!

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The following is from the Hollywood Reporter:

Why did Billy Joel cancel his memoir a little more than two months before it was slated to hit shelves?

One music industry source tells The New York Post his failure to confront his past — including his battle with alcohol and a high-profile divorce from Christie Brinkley — likely played a role. “He never fully confronted the 800-lb. gorilla in the room,” the source says. “There needs to be a lot of dish in rock memoirs.”

In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Elton John also said Joel has never fully confronted his problem and was still wrestling with his demons, calling Joel’s stints in treatment as “rehab light.”

The bio (titled The Book of Joel), which was due in June, was being ghost written by Fred Schruers, a celeb profiler who once worked at Rolling Stone.

Schruers would not comment on Joel’s decision to back out.

Joel has agreed to return a portion of the $3 million advance he received from Harper Colllins.

The Joel book was signed by Harper Collins Executive Editor David Hirshey and represented by Amanda Urban at ICM.

Neither have commented.

It’s not the first time Joel has nixed a book project: The Post reports that he scrapped a book on classical music for the Riverhead imprint of Penguin several years ago.

The last sentence is only half true.

This is from my book, Billy Joel: Life and Times of An Angry Young Man. As luck would have it, the new Second Edition of the book comes out this week! This is from the Afterword:

Up until now, there has been no really in-depth biography of Billy Joel. I now understand why. Billy is intensely private and has become even more so as time has gone on. If anything, this has fueled the public’s fascination with him as a person and a performer. How many other performers who haven’t recorded a new song in over a decade could sell out arenas—at $300 a ticket—on a regular basis?

This is not to say that the idea has never been considered, even by Billy himself. Peter Skolnick, now an attorney in New Jersey (he represents David “The Sopranos” Chase, among others), was a literary agent in the early ’80s. “Billy was, at that point, still with Frank Weber,” he recalls. “I was approached by Jeff Schock, who had recently joined Frank to take care of promotion and marketing. Jeff and I talked about an authorized biography. I went out to Frank’s office to meet with Billy. I must have gotten there early, because I’m standing outside there, having a cigarette, when Billy comes roaring up on a motorcycle. He doesn’t know who I am. He goes into the office. Then I came in.

“What I found fascinating and wonderful about the very short meeting we had is he said to me, ‘Why would anybody want to read a book about me?’ I was amazed. Everyone was fascinated by him. He told me, ‘I will do this book if you can find a writer who is so good that he could write a book that is so good, that if the reader had never heard of Billy Joel, he would still say, “Boy, what a terrific book.”’ That was a very tall order. I actually think that I found such a writer, but at the point when I started putting that all together, Billy famously had his falling out with Frank. That book never happened.

“Billy was genuinely humble. His question about why would anybody really care, I think it was a sincere question, and his whole notion that he wanted a book so good that even if you’d never heard of him, you’d think it was a great book, it was kind of refreshing.”

I don’t pretend to have written that book, though that was my goal. That’s my goal whenever I sit down to write: To make what I know of a subject interesting enough that even someone who doesn’t care about
the subject will enjoy the book. My test market in such matters is my father, who might have heard the names of many of the people I write about but goes out of his way to avoid the music.

This is not to say that I wanted to do a hatchet job on Billy. Despite his protestations, he is a fascinating enough subject without having to resort to that. During the course of writing this, I came to admire him a bit, and discovered that even people he’s vilified in the past—Artie Ripp, in particular—had very little bad to say about him. Billy just tries to live his non-professional life as best he can, out of the public eye, despite being in a profession that is intensely public.

If you were looking forward to reading The Book of Joel consider giving my book a glance.

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Tour Link

Tour Link Session

Tour Link Session

“We’re just a bunch of roadies,” production manager extraordinaire Charlie Hernandez said.  He then demonstrated how powerful a bunch of roadies could be.  After the Haitian earthquake last year, Hernandez got on the phone, got the use of a private jet from one client/acquaintance, got building materials, supplies, food, volunteers, and was on the ground in Port au Prince working while most organizations were still mobilizing.  Roadies work quick. Roadies build cities.  Every night.

Around 500 roadies and people who support the road crews spent three days in Scottsdale for the Tour Link Conference last week, and the power of the roadie was in full effect.  Everyone involved in putting on a concert, with the exception of the artist and the promoter attended, and did what they do best – partied hard.

They also learned, networked, and met some of the legends in their field.  Folks like Dinky Dawson, who has been on the road since the early 60s, and Benny Collins, who worked on Michael Jackson’s road extravaganzas for years.  This is one of the high points of Tour Link.  Everyone is available and accessible, and a maximum of two degrees of separation from you.  The show is intimate – even a first timer like myself (albeit working on the staff) – could meet and talk with pretty nearly anyone there.  No one thinks of themselves as “too important.” It was not unusual to see younger tour personnel hanging out with people who have come up through the ranks to positions of responsibility and their own companies.

Put on by the folks who put out the Road Book, Venue Book, the Mobile Production Monthly, and the

Larry Smith holds court

Larry Smith Holds Court website (in the interest of full disclosure, I’m one of them) this is all the brainchild of Larry Smith, who was Senior Director at Performance Magazine and the Summit Conference back in the day.  To hear everyone tell it, this year’s Tour Link eclipsed the old Performance conferences in scope, spectacle, and attendance.

Most people don’t think of the professionals behind the scenes when they go to a concert, but these are the guys who make the modern concert experience what it is: The truckers and freight companies that haul everything, the bus drivers, coach companies, and private jet charter companies that haul everyone, the hotels where they stay, the riggers, lighting peeps, video peeps, backline techs, caterers, tour designers, tour managers, tour accountants, two-way radio companies, and on and on.  That’s who Tour Link celebrates.

And celebrate they did. The highlight of the concert is the Top Dog awards show.  Here, the best caterers, video and lighting companies, hotels, road managers, everyone who puts the show on, has the opportunity for recognition.  Like the Grammys, The Top Dogs are voted on by their peers.   The tour that took the most awards this year was Bon Jovi. The party ran until three in the morning, and beyond.

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Thought for the Day – For cousin Gregg

In the portable closet

In the Portable Closet

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I’m On TV!

The cover of the first edition of Billy Joel: Life and Times of an Angry Young ManYowsah! The Biography Channel is finally rerunning the Billy Joel Biography based on my book, Billy Joel, Life and Times of an Angry Young Man.  It will be on Tuesday, January 4, 2011 at 10PM.  I’m one of the many talking heads, as are a bunch of people I interviewed for the book.  Check it out!

By the way, the second edition comes out via Hal Leonard in April.  Lots of new information, six new chapters and lots of updates!

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The RRHoF Gets it Right

R&R HOF Building

Pei R Triangular: The Rock Hall Building

Often, I have issues with the Picks the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame makes for their inductions.  I won’t go into them now, except to say that they are mostly sins of omission (Ohio Players anyone? The hall is in Cleveland).  This year marks the Hall’s 25th year, which means, according to it’s bylaws, it can induct itself.  Don’t put it past them.

Neil Diamond

He's in the Hall...

At the 25th anniversary induction ceremonies, Darlene Love, Neil Diamond, Alice Cooper, Tom Waits and Dr. John will enter the pantheon as performers,  Jac Holzman alnd Art Rupe as non-performers, and Leon Russell as a sideman. These are great, and in a couple of cases even heroic selections.  For, while Neil Diamond turned into the kind of schlock later in he career,  the period Chuck Klosterman describes as “cool in the kitschy, campy, ‘he’s so uncool he’s cool’ way…”, he also had some of rocks more enduring hits, hits that transcend generations, like “I’m A Believer,” “Red, Red, Wine” (which also transcends genres) or,  if you’re a Red Sox fan (Booooooooooo!), “Sweet Caroline.”   Similarly, Tom Waits s a great choice, despite a lack of “hits” or sales.  A musicians musician (like fellow inductee Frank Zappa), he has explored some of the far reaches of rock.

The Ohio Players

... And they're not.

As to Darlene Love and Dr. John, they fall into the “it’s about bloody time” category.  Both have had long careers, might hits, and epitomize all that is right about rock.  On the same note, Jac Holzman has been at the forefront of the popular music business from the time he founded Elektra to his current project Cordless Records, Warners “E-label” (was “Elektric Records” taken?), half a century give or take a week or two.

The brickbats are going to start flying, but I want to offer at least one “Bravo.”

R&R HOF Building

Pei R Triangular: The Rock Hall Building

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