Blue Jean Baby

Alright, so I have been trying to write a piece full of righteous indignation about the new Gap Ads. There is something about Brandon Boyd from Incubus singing Elvis Costello's “Allison” while trying to sell me jeans that doesn't sit right with me. But after looking at the Gap's press release I am left with questions more than anything else.

For example: Is there any correspondence between favorite song and favorite fit of jeans? I mean, I have never associated “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys with “Original Ultra Low Rise Flare” jeans, but if both are Joss Stone's favorite, than there must be something there right? Is “Boot Fit” a more ironic, spiteful cut of jeans? As if purchasing jeans wasn't hard enough before.

Concerts of the Future...Today!

I hate people as much as the next guy, but this seems a little extreme. For those who are not interested in following the link, it describes a festival where people listen to music over headphones, and chat over IRC! Think of it, all the fun of sitting in your house alone listening to music, but you get to do it with other people. At least you know that “girl” in the chat room is actually a girl, so that is something.

And you actually have to bring your own headphones. I wonder if headphone envy occurs. Or something like: “wow, that guy has the new noise canceling Bose headphones, he must be very successful. What is his IRC chat name? Oh bartender, please send a Chimay over to imanidiot534 over there.”

I love this quote from the organizer:

"I just like being in your own head," she says, laughing nervously, "and not hearing dumb conversations like at other concerts."

The article doesn't mention ticket prices, but people who pay for this deserve each other.


I Hate Love

While I don't officially advocate the death penalty, or killing in any form, Mike Love should be shot numerous times for what he has done to the Beach Boys. As if Kokomo wasn't enough, I am currently listening to a remake of Fun, Fun, Fun that was recorded in 1996 with Status Quo, who apparently are a 60s “psychedelic/garage punk band.” And I believed that the most irritating person that the Beach Boys had worked with was John Stamos.

On top of this, I see that someone has the audacity to actually have started a Mike Love Fan Club. For $7.00 you can join the fan club and get a quarterly newsletter and a membership card. It is eerie though, we can get together, listen to Pet Sounds and burn some cards and remember a time when Mike Love was relevant.

UPDATE: I am adding the song "Student Demonstration Time" to Mike Love's growing list of crimes. The lyrics come close to conveying how bad the song is, but you really should listen to the song to really appreciate how evil Mike Love really is.

By the way

This might be one of the greatest songs ever written.

Late Registration

Let me add my voice to the early praises of Kanye West's new album “Late Registration.” Pitchfork and RollingStone have already given the album a 9.5 or 5 stars respectively, and while both publications have their faults, they got this album right.

I haven't listened the album that much yet, it hasn't even come out yet. But wow. At first listen it is more compelling than “The College Dropout.” There is an intensity and urgency to this album that wasn't present on his last album, and is rare on second albums.

Second albums tend to be comprised of songs that didn't make the first album. I ideally like to wait until the third album to really judge a band. It is the third album that cemented Radiohead's and The Clash's legacy for example, and probably killed Counting Crows' and Pearl Jam's. Though admittedly, the current state of the music industry doesn't really allow for this yardstick to be used.

I tend to think of the rap genre as more of a single based art form. There are not many rap albums that I think work as a complete album, and they are the predictable ones: “It Takes a Nation of Millions”, “The Low End Theory”, and “Illmatic” come to mind. This album has to be added to that list. This album has the guy from Maroon 5 on it, and I still like it, that is how good Kanye is.

I hope to get a real review in soon after a few more listens, but you really need to get on BitTorrent right now.


Nam qui facit, quod non sapit, diffinitur bestia

Over at Ionarts, Mr. Downey has a discussion of singers who don't know much about music. My favorite quote:

“Fine voices are like fine instruments, because people will go to extraordinary lengths to hear them played. However, the best instruments can be given to the most skilled and intelligent musicians, while the voices end up with whoever has them and cannot be transferred.”

The problem is that you have to distrust anyone who can sound good at their instrument without actually learning anything about music. Singers are the most prone to this problem obviously. A singer can sound great without learning anything about music. A great singer has been given a gift, and it is a shame when they treat it as such. I don't mean to imply that there isn't a craft to singing, or that singers can't know a lot about music and be great musicians. Actually, the fact that there is a lot of craft and knowledge that can go into singing makes it a greater tragedy when great voices don't study it. Does any of this matter when you are listening? No. But it can drive you insane when you are playing with them.

Just to show you that I can be fair, the other instrument that is most prone to this disease is the guitar. With the invention of tablature, a guitarist can sound fantastic and not even know the name of a single note. I was at a bar once with a moderately well known singer songwriter who seemed to be almost proud of the fact that he didn't know the names of any of the chords he played.

I just find it amazing that in music you can get away without really knowing anything about the discipline. I don't know if this is comes from an idolization of people like Charlie Parker, or a remnant of punk music, but it drives me insane. We love natural ability in music, and deify it to the point where we want to leave it untouched by the ravages of knowledge. Sometimes I think that authenticity is a quality valued to highly among musicians.


Hell Yeah

“I was a terrible waitress so I started to write songs.”
-Ani Difranco

So I have had this lyric stuck in my head for the past few days, probably because I am not a very good waiter. I am not horrible, like bring you the wrong food or ignore you for long periods of time, but I am just not very good at all. Although I am better than people have been treating me.

But anyway, this lyric has made me wonder if the music industry is really a service industry. At first glance the question seems stupid. Of course it is a service industry, people want to hear music from time to time, but don't need to. But after working, even however briefly, in a real service industry there are important differences.

We go to restaurants and expect everyone there to make us happy. It is the waiter's job to do anything, REASONABLE, to make your experience as enjoyable as possible. That is what we expect.

I wonder if we expect the same thing from musicians. Take Ani for example, I get the sense that she makes music that makes her happy, and doesn't care about the rest. That is probably why she started her own label after all. Maybe that is why she was a terrible waitress, she just wasn't very good at trying to make other people happy. I mean, if an artist takes steps to make as many people happy as possible, something every restaurant is trying to do, then they are called sell-outs.

I don't know, I am tired and my body hurts...and I smell like hamburgers.


Who needs Ambien when you have Charles?

Tommy left a good comment on my last post that has forced me to clarify my position on payola. Be warned though, I was an economics major, so I am going to substitute boring music theory with dreadful coma inducing economic theory. I should start advertising this site as perfect for insomniacs. Or put some disclaimer up: “Do not operate heavy machinery or drive a car until you know how you will react to A Single Syllable.”

The question is does payola get bands more airplay than they deserve? First I have to clarify what I mean by deserve: we are in a business world so quality of music doesn't matter. For example, from an aesthetic standpoint I don't think that “Let Me Hold You” by Bow Wow (featuring Omarion) deserves to be played at all. But that is not the question of course. In this world deserve refers to the number of listeners the song brings to the radio station.

For the purposes of this post I am going to use Clear Channel as my radio conglomerate. They are not the only, but they are the one most people have heard of. They also own a lot of radio stations and probably control what you are listening to.

Clear Channel is a big publicly traded company. They conduct a lot of research do determine what listeners want to hear. I know, I have actually participated in some studies. They called me on the phone and would play two songs at a time and ask which I preferred. So we will assume that have scads of data on songs and what the expected number of listeners would be if they played a certain song 10 times a day.

Clear Channel wants to maximize listenership as much as possible. The more people that listen, the more they can charge for advertising and thus the more money the company makes. Each song on the radio is calculated to get the most number of people listening to, say DC101 in DC, as possible. Remember that the in the current radio business model, Djs don't get to select the music they play. Similarly, I don't think the meager music that gets played on MTV reflects the preferences of the Vjs.

The use of payola assumes that the song being pushed would not be played as much, or at all, without the use of a bribe. If that song were not going to be played as much, then the assumption is that fewer people would listen to the radio station if it were played. Thus the song played as a result of payola represents a loss in revenue for Clear Channel. As a publicly traded company, Clear Channel wants to maximize revenues and profits to increase dividends and stock price. That is their goal. So the only way that payola can get a song on a Clear Channel station more than it deserves to be would be for that payola to make up for, or exceed, the loss in revenue that occurs by not playing whatever they would be playing absent payola. Economist's love to talk about choice, so remember that the choice to play a payola song is a choice not to play another song, there are only so many hours in the day.

So what was the payola? I have taken this list from an editorial by Eugene Robinson: personal trips, plasma TVs, laptops, Playstation 2s. Now I find it tough to believe that these covered any loss in revenue.

But payola still exists, but why? I suspect that it is a habit held over from a different era in music. It made more sense when Djs could play whatever they want. The famous payola case involves Alan Freed. He could play what he wanted, and didn't have to worry about revenues. He made a salary, so payola was just more money to him and thus it makes sense why he would change is playlists as a result or bribes. My point is that in the current business model that choice doesn't make sense.

If payola is really resulting in a change in playlists and thus a decrease in revenues than that is a problem of Corporate Governance and needs to be handled appropriately by shareholders and the SEC. According to Clear Channel's website, the stock is currently being traded at $32.80. To assume that payola is effective would be to assume that that price would be higher without it. If that is the case, then shareholders should be the truly outraged party here.

I believe that record labels still engage in payola because they have been for so long and all of their competitors still do it. It has become sort of an irrational arms race.

This isn't an apology for payola. I think that the people who engage in it should be prosecuted, or fined, or whatever. This also isn't a love note to Clear Channel. This is just an explanation of why I don't think that payola is putting songs on the radio that wouldn't be there in the first place. Basically, Eliot Spitzer is not going to get the New Pornographers on the radio.