The Greatest Showman

This could be the biggest act in the world.

I was clueless until my buddy Jeff Laufer hipped me to it, singling out the track “This Is Me,” an empowering anthem straight out of the “Fame” playbook, why is this phenomenon getting no ink, despite hiding in plain sight for six months, the flick having been released back in December 2017.

This has been on my mind, because Jeff keeps e-mailing me and because Saturday night as I was hiking in Will Rogers Park they were screening it at Street Food Cinema

Street Food Cinema

and there were more attendees than I’ve ever seen for any screening there.

And then, today’s “Record of the Day” informed me that in the U.K. the soundtrack was number one for the nineteenth time in twenty three weeks.

But we never hear about it!

Then again, the single “This Is Me” went to number three in the U.K. and only to number fifty eight in the U.S., could this be further proof that terrestrial radio in the U.S. has lost touch, that the U.S. is no longer the greatest country in the world?

Yes, if we want to make America great again, maybe we need to start playing the world’s hits, not only “This Is Me,” but “Human.”

Now “The Greatest Showman” is bigger than “Hamilton,” that’s right, it’s got more streams on Spotify, that’s the power of film.

Five out of the eleven cuts on “Greatest Showman” have triple digit million streams on Spotify. And the remaining tracks are deep into double digits.

Not a single cut on “Hamilton” breaks triple digits.

Although both cast albums are released by Atlantic, does Craig Kallman know something the rest of the industry does not?

As for the iTunes Store, “The Greatest Showman” is number three right now.

So what we’ve learned is despite the lauding of hip-hop, it’s not the only game in town.

But media loves a sexy story, which is why there’s a dearth of info on “Greatest Showman.”

And the barrier to entry in music is not as big as we think it is. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul wrote “The Greatest Showman” songs, ever heard of them? I didn’t think so. Then again, they’re not complete unknowns they won an Oscar for their song for “La La Land,” but mostly they’re working off the pop radar, in stage, films and TV. Are they being unjustly ignored?

Seems so.

So everything we thought was kaput, training, dues, melody, it seems the public still has a hungering for all of it. We keep reading in “The New Yorker” and other august publications about beat makers, top-liners, and I’m not saying they’re not successful, but they’re not the only action deserving attention. All the popsters going urban, they’d be better off going “Showman!”

So, you sing along with the tracks to “Greatest Showman.” You’re not going to be offended, you’re not going to want to take it off immediately, you might just get hooked.

But there’s no associated lifestyle, there are no shenanigans featured on TMZ. All the trappings of today’s success are missing, other than the LISTENING!

Beyonce/Jay Z Album

Money or mindshare, that’s the question.

In case you didn’t know, “Everything Is Love” is only available on Tidal, although a single is viewable on YouTube. Distribution is king, and Tidal ain’t got none.

Now let’s go back to the last decade, when the issue was early release, theft of product. Boy have times changed. The issue now is being ignored. And the hip-hop acts have all learned that advance promotion is worthless, you’re squandering attention when you need it most. Best to start at the same starting line around the world on the same day. Ergo, today’s surprise drop. If people are paying attention to you, this is the best way to do it, because news outlets all over the world will detail the release. You could never get this amount of promotion the old drip-drip in advance way. And the public is excited, wants to spread the word, but you can’t LISTEN?

We learned with the launch of Tidal that acts are not as big as they think they are, cannnot overcome market forces. When Tidal was launched, YouTube was still the standard for music. And then Spotify made inroads by having a free tier. And now Beyonce is dissing Spotify in her lyrics, it’s as if someone told you not to buy a Prius because they’ve got a personal beef with Toyota. Consumers don’t have a problem with Spotify, they love it, it’s only acts that are stuck in the past.

Furthermore, ‘Lemonade” is still not available on Spotify, begging the question how big an event Beyonce’s performance at Coachella truly was. You could see it, but not stream it other than live. And you’ve got to strike at the moment. Being available thereafter is so twentieth century.

But you’ve got to applaud Jay for dissing the Grammys. But wouldn’t it be better if this message was available everywhere, so it could have impact? Believe me, if “Everything Is Love” were on all platforms, all streaming services, it would go to number one and maybe even stay there for a while, gaining even more publicity. But now it’s hobbled. By distribution. Kanye’s album got mediocre reviews, but it was streamed ad infinitum. And let me tell you, anybody who’s buying should be forgotten, they’ve missed the memo, they’re not active customers, tracks and CDs are going by the wayside, going down, down, down, furthermore you only get paid once on them, whereas with streaming you get paid in perpetuity.

But Jay wants to prop up Tidal, which he owns. Ever hear of cutting your losses? Learned about sunk costs? Every investor has losers, even Warren Buffett. And Buffett famously stays out of technology and plays for the long term. He isn’t in early, but late. And of course there are exceptions to this game, but Jay made a mistake, and should admit it, at least to himself.

So he’s all about the dollars, when today it’s about cultural impact.

We keep hearing about challenged news outlets, that there’s not enough money in them. But the truth is they run the country. They decide what to write about, what to promote. And they used to own both content and distribution and the recent hubbub about Facebook is a challenge to their distribution model.

Meanwhile, peeps keep thinking the internet is free, that you can play and win online, but that’s so 2009, you can create it, but you can’t make people read, watch or listen to it. Which is why it’s such a conundrum that the Carters didn’t realize while they had the floor, they should give everybody a chance to partake.

So what we’ve got now is a Tower of Babel society where everybody’s in their own niche and inaccurate information is consumed. But Jay speaks the truth on the Grammys and…

If I were the Grammy organization, I’d just ignore the pressure, it will be forgotten. I’m not saying rap should be marginalized, that rap does not deserve awards, but that those in the marketplace infrequently send messages that fade, and the key is to play long enough to outlast them.

Ain’t that a head-turner.

That’s right, it’s a game. You have to learn how to play it, with modern tools.

Trump learned he could win with Twitter, something the oldsters like Hillary completely ignored.

That’s right, you cannot live in the past. Like the Trump voters mad at those who supposedly stole their cheese. The immigrants, the Jews, the Asians, the blacks… It’s the last cry of a dying constituency, when “”Black Panther” is one of the biggest grossing movies of all time, you know that racism has declined and the only ones who have not gotten the message are the racists themselves.

So, when the whole world is watching African-Americans, when hip-hop rules, you can either move the needle, illuminate issues, focus on change, as MTV did in its heyday, featuring a rainbow of colors, or you can look to your pocketbook, a failing strategy employed by the movie studios, the networks and the record companies,

Thats right, the last shoe has not dropped, the labels are about to take a huge hit. Once Spotify starts giving advances…

We learned in the past that the labels can be trumped. By MTV. By iTunes. You’ve got to play the long game. But Sony blew out most of its stock in Spotify immediately, and now the value of the streaming service has gone UP! And why has it gone up? Because of the advances to artists, which they said they were gonna give in their roadshow! It’s not like it was a secret. And if you think Rob Stringer, et al, are any match for Wall Street, you don’t realize Spotify is more valuable than any label and you cannot take away something the public has already become accustomed to.

It does take money to make it, now just as it did in the twentieth century. But money has no loyalty, you don’t need to get it from some specific place. And if you do a deal with Spotify you get much more than you did from the label.

And if you’re exclusive on Tidal, you’re playing that old Billy Preston song, “Nothing From Nothing,” which equals nothing in case you’ve forgotten.

Seymour Stein’s Book

Siren Song: My Life in Music

He takes a swing at Mo Ostin, multiple swings, in fact. He who writes history owns it, will this sway people’s opinion of the Warner majordomo, does anybody care?

That’s what struck me so much reading this book, so much is ancient history. The decimation of the Warner Music Group was in the middle nineties. Paul Ackerman is dead. I remember when Tommy Noonan ran “Billboard”‘s charts. Does anybody else, does anybody care?

This is the anti-Clive book, although Seymour takes a swing at Clive too. “Siren Song” is not self-aggrandizing, not a tribute to himself. Be sure, Seymour takes credit for his signings, and shouldn’t he? His acts will last, have a much greater impact than the blowhard Clive’s ever will. Seymour Stein is the heart and soul of American rock and roll, Clive is just another schlockmeister. As for Mo, it’s Seymour’s acts that buoyed Warner in the eighties. Seymour signed Madonna, as well as the Talking Heads and even Seal.

So…

Usually these tomes focus on the stars, I did this, I did that, the household names we’re all familiar with. Whereas “Siren Song” spends a substantial length on history. Not only Seymour’s personal one, but most especially Syd Nathan and his King Records operation, an outfit that was already superseded when most baby boomers started paying attention, after the Beatles.

You cannot have a conversation with Seymour without him mentioning Syd. Here he goes into detail. How Syd owned every piece of the chain other than radio and retail. He signed and manufactured and shipped. He drove a Buick as to not appear too glammy, and he did it all out of CINCINNATI!

As for Seymour…

Before he worked for Syd, he interned at “Billboard.” He knows all the history, to this day.

And he scraps and scrambles to make it. Forming Sire with Richard Gottehrer and limping along on the U.S. rights to British records until he hits it big with Focus, whereupon his wife Linda tells him to squeeze Richard out. Never underestimate the power of a spouse, you need a TEAM!

But Seymour is GAY!

But this isn’t a coming out story. Seymour always knew he was gay, his first sexual experience was with a man, but he kind of fell into it with Linda, before he fell out of it. Meanwhile, he was part of the scene, Elton John and his lover/manager John Reid stayed at his house during the height of Elton’s fame. That’s right, SEYMOUR! If you know him, it’s hard to believe, but Seymour’s got the gift of gab and is always a friend and his wife needed the action.

As for signing all those acts…

He combed international before anybody else.

And he signed the Ramones, Depeche Mode and…

The list is too long to mention. Sure, he had a bunch of flops. But for a while there…

And he just knew it in his gut. It was all about songs. And records.

So the truth is he believes Mo screwed him financially. Essentially stole his company for $2 million. Hmm… He admits he needed a joint venture to get Warner’s team behind his records, and there was a contract, doesn’t Seymour bear some of the fault?

I’m sure he does. But he keeps hitting it over the fence and he feels mistreated emotionally, not only financially. He makes a good case for Mo running a cult wherein he was king and demanded fealty and still might squeeze you out.

As for Geffen, he’s up on the man, because David helped AIDS patients, even those he didn’t know, without publicity.

And in between, you’ve got Roger Ames and the story of the death of Warner. He doesn’t blame Morgado, but the egos involved. And it is interesting that both Mo and Kras could not succeed on their own, after the fact.

It’s been a long ride, and Seymour has loved every minute of it. In a business where you work 24/7 and don’t complain, where your personal life is demoted and those around you suffer but you just can’t get enough of the action.

But it’s all about those records, the songs.

At the end of the book Seymour pays tribute to national anthems, Hebrew hymns, and I must say, those songs in shul turned me on, made me a music fan.

“Siren Song” is not “Hit Men,” it’s not the best book ever written on the music business. But other than Fredric Dannen’s legendary work, and Tom King’s book about David Geffen, “The Operator,” “Siren Song” could be the third best book about the music business ever. Because it pulls no punches. It gives history. It tells how the business works. It illuminates a path to success.

It’s easily readable.

You should buy it.

P.S. Drives me crazy how the book was not proofread. This happens again and again with books from major publishers. In this case, articles are left out constantly, there are many missing “to’s,” “the’s” and “and’s.”

P.P.S. Unlike Joel Selvin’s Sammy Hagar book, “Siren Song” is not written in Seymour’s voice, it does not sound like him, he doesn’t talk that way, but his emotional self does shine through. Seymour is passionate, a complainer with a gleam in his eye. He’s Jewish through and through, and he owns it!

P.P.P.S. Seymour is not afraid to pass judgment. He says Michael Ostin suffered from working under his father, he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, whereas Lenny Waronker did not work for his dad at Liberty and Michael Rosenblatt did not work for his father at his labels.

P.P.P.P.S. Seymour is unafraid to delineate people’s pluses and minuses. He thinks Howie Klein knew how to make the trains run on time, but was a bad A&R guy. You have to get the gig that fits your strengths.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Of course Seymour is biased, of course he’s got scores to settle, but at least he’s honest about all of it. This is a two-faced business, where most people are not friends, despite glad-handing. To get how Seymour truly feels makes the book resonate, whether you agree or not.

Prince’s Vault

Hey, look me over
Tell me do you like what you see

Michael Howe asked me if I wanted to experience Prince’s vault. He was the Purple One’s last A&R guy at Warner Brothers, he’s the archivist.

Who’d turn that down?

So I went to a listening room in North Hollywood and…

The walking wounded. There are a ton of us around. Who experienced the golden age of music. From the Beatles to the internet. And I’m not saying the internet is bad, I love Spotify, but something’s changed.

It used to cost a lot of money to record.

Very few acts, relatively speaking, could be distributed.

Getting inside was almost impossible. But if you had passion and a work ethic, you could penetrate the bubble, although it was always hard to stay in.

And music drove the culture, it was everything.

We read the liner notes, we played our albums over and over. And the holy grail was to get inside the studio, where the sounds were laid down on tape, where the magic happened.

Not that you could not get close at home. It just required a few thousand dollars, to buy a stereo setup. That’s what you showed off, that’s what you were proud of, not the number of likes, not pictures of where you’d been, but the pure sound you could reproduce at home. And you had a mental wish list, you always wanted to upgrade. And you judged people on their sound system. And you listened. For the pure joy of it.

That’s what it was like in the room today.

First there was the equipment. Lipinski towers and subwoofers, a brand I’d never heard of, although I know EveAnna Manley, whose products were the link between said speakers and…the laptop. Yes, this would be impossible way back when. You’d have to change reels.

And that’s what Michael Howe has done, gone through all the reels. Prince recorded just about everything. From demos to live shows. And when his voice came out of the speaker…

You thought he was still alive.

It was that clear, it was that present. He’s counting down the numbers, instructing the band and…

Some famous tracks were written years before, there are multiple iterations, you can hear them develop.

And there’s video too.

This was back when you could only experience it at the club. When your show wasn’t dictated by the videoclip, when it wasn’t all on hard drive, when you used to have to know how to play!

And to see Prince in action…

His mop of hair going from styled to stringy as the gig progressed. Twisting and turning the lyrics for an audience rapt in attention. And then squeezing out notes on his Telecaster…

Yes, he didn’t always have the custom axes. He had to prove himself. He had to pay his dues. He had to make it.

And it was a slow ascent. His talent was there, but he did not emerge fully-formed. He changed. Didn’t always sing in falsetto, worked with different musicians, because you need a band, you can’t do it alone. On some of the demos he does play all the instruments, but to deliver live…

The band was well-rehearsed, he conducted it.

It was everything.

Now I listened to finished versions of songs made famous by other people.

Demos of household name songs.

Soundcheck workouts of songs long before they were finalized on wax.

It was amazing.

Not that everybody will care.

And it is kind of weird that he was lord of his kingdom, deciding what to release, and now he isn’t, and his vault is being raided.

But we want to know how he did it. We want an explanation. How did he become a star?

Through sheer will.

He needed it.

The same way Steve Jobs needed to change the world, Elon Musk too.

But back then it was music. A club. Quite large, but some were more passionate than others. They followed the game like sports.

And giants walked the earth, who might not be so good at speaking, but they could sure lay it down on tape.

This was the magic.

This is what we lived for.

It’s so weird to be jetted back to the garden, to have your brain prick up and your hair stand on end. Back when musicians channeled truth as opposed to being celebrities. When you listened to a record to be taken away, to a better place, a nirvana that only players had the roadmap to.

He’s so alive on the recordings.

But so dead in real life.

It’s a conundrum. Couldn’t his death be prevented?

But we’re all lords of our own domain.

But it’s our individualism that draws attention.

Prince was one of a kind.

Still is.