Friday, December 1, 2017

Drug of the nation

In celebrating the latest incarnation of The X Factor, Simon Cowell called it the ‘greatest A&R process in the world’. Of course, it’s nothing of the kind.

A&R or artist and repertoire is a function or a department found in record labels whose role is to find and develop artists, acting as their conduit with the label. The success of an artist can depend on the relationship between raw talent and how it is developed, recorded and ‘sold’ – A&R sits in the middle of this process.

Whilst not denying the obvious successes of X Factor and its subsidiaries, it is not involved in the process of developing acts. It is simply a processing plant, a sausage factory where each act is stuffed into a straight-jacket and paraded before the public. The success of X Factor has little to do with talent and a lot to do with television. It is a means of demonstrating how intense and sustained television exposure can sell anything.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The public (dis)interest

I used to despair of those who claimed no interest in politics, as if it had no effect on them. Latterly I’ve wished that I could be the same.

I’d greatly prefer that the pronouncements of Government didn’t send me into an inconsolable rage. That their idiocy, lack of compassion and hatefulness was irrelevant to me, instead of producing an apoplectic, fuming, bile-spewing monster.

Each day seems to concoct something new. Every hour it seems there’s yet another reason to hate them more. Perhaps it’s due to the ‘always-on’ nature of social media, drawing a new outrage to my attention on a minute-by-minute basis.  As they stumble from one pathetic blunder to another I twitch like an inebriated Kevin Spacey in a boy’s only casting session.

Boris Johnson thoughtlessly condemning a UK citizen to spend longer in an Iranian jail, pah! He never thinks ahead (or at all), why would I be surprised? Priti Patel lobbying for cash to fund illegal operations in foreign countries, whatever. Same old, same old. David Davies saying there are no reports on the impact of Brexit on industry when six months earlier he’d claimed there were between 50-60, yawn. They’re all fucking liars anyway why should one more lie matter?

Perhaps it’s the drip, drip effect like a form of infuriating water torture. One that’s more infinitely annoying than Piers Morgan’s Twitter feed.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Cast off

My relationship with radio is broken. Since slipping quietly out of the business I’ve largely stopped listening. I don’t apply my general habits to others so I recognise that I’m an anomaly. Radio is a great medium and means so much to so many, I’m just not one of them right now.

I know I will return to it but currently my listening is dominated by trawling through Spotify and a regular diet of podcasts. It’s been over a year since I wrote about the breadth and beauty of the form and, as a friend recently noted, the recommendation/discovery process for pods is unreliable at best. Note that I never usually call them pods.

Alvaro Serrano via Unsplash
A few that I mentioned previously are still staples – The Allusionist, Freakonomics, Ted Radio Hour, This American Life, The Untold - but, as I’m consuming up to ten episodes a week whilst commuting, I constantly need fresh blood.

Blood has been the basis for many of them. I’ve been a fan of the true crime genre for years and the plethora of podcasts focussed on unsolved crimes or miscarriages of justice have provided a fertile resource for my, often grim, entertainment. Among these you’ll find Someone Knows Something, Convicted, Up and Vanished, Murder In The Lucky House and many others. Some have more to recommend than others and the pace can sometimes drag but find a story that interests you and the narrative can keep you involved for many a long haul.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

These adverts

They follow me around

Hourly, daily

Haunting, insinuating

They don’t seem to know that I’m a man

My buying decisions are immediate or not at all

Instantaneous or prolonged

But they do know

Few women are shopping for shaving subscriptions

Boxer shorts, bomber jackets

They know, yet still they chase

With their repetition, their re-marketing

Their consumer analysis, sales cycles and targeting

They do know me

Where I am, what I want

And still they come

These adverts know me too well

Monday, September 25, 2017

It’s all catching up

There’s a lot to be said for ‘letting go’. In my intermittent pursuit of self-help, I’ve read a lot about it. Forgetting the mishaps and flaws that drag you back is invariably good advice, you can’t change the past so why dwell in it?

If only it were that easy. Our characters are created by the melting pot of our heritage and experiences, we can attempt to banish some bad bits but they are inevitably part of who we are.

My perception of the path I pursued to get to this point begins in the early 1980s. A regular gig-goer and avid reader I tried to combine my passions by writing about music. I started scribbling some thoughts for a monthly paper called Brum Beat. They seemed to like what I did – or just needed someone to help them fill the pages – and consequently I became quite prolific.

It got me into a lot of gigs and provided a physical and mental escape from a desk job with Sandwell Council that wasn’t much more than a means-to-an-end existence. I didn’t have the greatest grasp of English but I was eager and driven to emulate the music-writers of the time that I liked: Paul Morley, Julie Burchill and their ilk. I was deluded.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Making nonsense of it all

I was waiting to make sense of it all, but there was no sense to be had.

I was writing to clarify, to make sense but no sense was possible and nonsense may well be preferred.
Then I heard that Alan Bennett say: ‘Writing is talking to one’s self’. Does that ever make sense, talking to yourself? I’ve often tried to give myself a pep talk, to provoke myself into action. It rarely works. Yet I still had the desire to write.

In recent times the written word has become the only word. My children’s generation rarely use the ‘phone for its invented purpose, they mostly exchange text in one form or another. The spoken word has generally been my ally. Is there much better than a well written and delivered speech, monologue, lecture or soliloquy?  
In the age of Trump we’re unlikely to witness many of those. It was the spoken word that brought me back here. In a podcast I heard Seth Godin, entrepreneur, author, blogger and all-round-thinker, say that it was our duty to tell ‘our truth’ and tell it regularly. He suggested daily but that’s inevitably a step too far.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Be like Ed?

Want to be more popular? Ask yourself: what would Ed do?

If we acknowledge that the current criticism of Mr Sheeran may be, at least in part, due to jealousy, is it better to wonder what lessons Ed can teach the music industry and musicians generally?

He is clearly the right man for these times, one who can straddle pop and ‘RnB’ whilst keeping a semblance of credibility, hanging with the right icons and failing to offend the majority.

That’s the superficial stuff. He is a singer-songwriter in a singer-songwriter dominated industry. One who understands the power of song to make connections, a story teller with a populist eye.

His songs resonate with a wide audience, old and young. Universal themes and generic melodies that are standard and traditional. The big selling stars of the current music business are those who have cross-generational appeal, something achieved by acknowledging the past-masters.

To some people, I know that will seem like an apologist’s summary for trite and all-too-familiar songs and structures. It is no exaggeration that I listened to ‘Divide’ once and recognised similarities with many pre-existing hits.  Accusations of plagiarism are best left to lawyers, for now we only need note that Ed rules the roost and that should be good news for British music.