More Frank Ocean

Apple is not threatening Universal.

After all, it’s just business. And in business, you protect your turf.

Prognosticators are saying this is the end, that since Frank Ocean’s second LP of last weekend was independent, not under contract to Universal, we’re at the advent of a new era wherein power shifts from the label to the distributor and the majors decline.

Don’t hold your breath.

Let’s assume “Blond” was truly indie, no one knows for sure. Let’s even assume Frank Ocean played his cards correctly, that he read his contract and saw an escape clause, which is dubious at best. But, if so, don’t expect it to happen again. Read a recent recording contract? Used to be rights were for the world, in physical formats. Now they’re for the universe in all formats now known and to be discovered, usually for the life of the copyright. Those twenty five year reversions that allowed acts like Aerosmith to get another bite at the apple? Pfft…, they’re gone.

Of course if you’ve established independent success you can cut a better deal, with more revenue and a shorter term, even with rights reversion. But if the label built you, it not only wants a pound of flesh, but your whole body.

We’ve been hearing that the major labels are going to be disrupted for fifteen years. Hasn’t happened and still won’t in the foreseeable future. Because of rights, i.e. the catalog, which labels wield like a parent corralling an unruly child, and relationships. Just try getting on terrestrial radio without being on a major, it’s nearly impossible.

It’s always those far from the center, usually not involved in the day to day business, who prognosticate about change and evanescence. Those inside know it’s a fight for survival, and you circle the wagons, load up with ammo and fight back to protect what you’ve got. And the majors have done this oh-so-well.

As for playing out your contract and going indie… Just ask Trent Reznor, he hated Universal but then moved on to Sony after his indie interlude, because running your own ship doesn’t scale. You’re in charge of only one project, a major can spread its costs amongst many acts, furthermore, you can’t staff up in every area. Sure, you can hire indies, but after they get the check don’t expect them to deliver. You’re one of many, you might not have another project for years.

Which is why the majors continue to triumph. Their lunch was eaten by Napster, they got snookered by Steve Jobs and iTunes, and now they’re partners with Spotify. Literally, they’re investors. Which is why when you hear that Spotify is out of contract you should not waste time thinking about it. The majors want Spotify in business. And they also want a free tier, they want their new projects heard, especially at a site that pays better than YouTube, one upon which they can exert their leverage.

But along comes Jimmy Iovine, friend to all.

But Jimmy’s history is winning for himself. Where is Ted Field today?

And the majors granted licenses to ensure competition, but they’re not about to let Apple run the table.

That’s right, Apple was complicit with Frank Ocean, and for that it must pay. Not with a check, but remorse. Lucian Grainge took its golden ticket away, no more exclusives. Jimmy didn’t fight fair and now Lucian is showing his armor.

Very interesting.

But even more interesting is that Apple provides little beyond cash. You get placement on its service, where most people aren’t. Success is about exposure which leads to ticket sales and endorsements. Reduce exposure and you’re collapsing the enterprise. Sure, Frank Ocean is swimming in media today, but the lion’s share of the public either doesn’t care or stole the product. Is this any way to run a business?

And if you want to do it yourself, you fail. Remember the saga of Garth Brooks, who refused to embrace the new paradigm and did it himself? Garth is clueless and lost. His last project failed miserably and he’s missing out on streaming revenue, believing the disc will come back and files will have a renaissance. Might as well invest in BlackBerry while you’re at it. The biggest name in nineties country music has to play by today’s rules, or be relegated to the dustbin. Sure, he can sell concert tickets, but so can Def Leppard and Styx, and you don’t see them anywhere on the chart. Which is fine if you want to ride the road to retirement, but if you’re young you’ve got to still put points on the board, via recordings.

Money changes everything. It’ll get people to work against their interests. Exclusives may put cash in your pocket, but they hurt your career. Music is a mass medium, and if the masses are left out, you’re toast.

So, Apple knows how to distribute. But it is not the dominant player. The majors saw the MTV movie, which is why they invested in Spotify and wanted a competitor to it at the same time. But MTV faded away and the majors remained. Because distribution is not enough. It’s about investing in acts, developing them, exposing them. Sure, you can take the cream off the top. But there’s very little cream and then the froth evaporates. The music landscape is littered with that which hit today and is forgotten tomorrow. Lucian Grainge and his merry band of executives have longer careers than almost all the acts Universal has ever signed, remember that.

So, Frank Ocean is not a harbinger of what’s to come. No more than acts doing direct deals with Wal-Mart were last decade. He’s an outlier. A momentary blip. And to the degree “Blond” punched a hole in the dam, it’s being plugged as I write this.

As for disruption…

It’s about music, not systems. Want to own the world, change the landscape? Write a hit tune that sounds nothing like what’s on the chart and then dominate. That’s the story of the Beatles, that’s the story of classic rock. It wiped the deck clean of the old players, not only acts, but executives. And then Peter Grant employed his leverage to make live a 90/10 split, in favor of Led Zeppelin. All the change came from young ‘uns, not the established players. Kind of like music discovery lives on Spotify, with its algorithms, Discover Weekly and Release Radar. Jimmy pays lip service to discovery, doing it the old way, via hand, but Spotify wins, it’s running circles around Apple because it’s run by the young not inured to old ways.

The enemy is not the major label. And it’s not the streaming service either. The enemy is you, your brain, which prevents you from thinking different, which believes doors are closed and you’re constricted. The music business has been and forever will be one of leverage. He with hits writes his own rules. And he who controls more hits changes the game.

Don’t bitch about minor skirmishes, don’t fight wars that cannot be won or are irrelevant. Spotify payments suck if you’re no one, they’re gargantuan if you’re someone.

So be someone.

That’s your challenge. If you’re trying to win via subterfuge, via contracts, you’ll never succeed. But if you’re emerging victorious via art, you write your own ticket.

Virtual Reality How To

You’re gonna want to be sitting down.

Daniel Glass wanted to know if I’d seen the “New York Times” VR video of the retaking of Fallujah. Alas, I’d thrown the viewer out when it came with the paper way back when. Didn’t know I was doing that, but realized it after the fact, when the “Times” kept advertising its content and I couldn’t see it.

I don’t know whether virtual reality is the future or the next Google Glass. I do know all the techies are talking about it and most people are left out. So, I want to give you a primer, a little help.

You need a viewer.

I assume you’ve got a smartphone, Apple or Android, doesn’t matter.

So, go to knoxlabs.com Not to Amazon, it’s actually more expensive there.

Click on “Products” on the top line.

You want the Knox V2 on the resulting page. Buy it, it’s only ten bucks, they’ll charge you another $2.65 for shipping, but that’s a bargain, to get in the door, to see what’s going on.

Everything has a hurdle. And those who’ve jumped it care not a whit about those left behind. If anything, they ridicule them. Most people still don’t seem to know that you can synch streaming tracks for offline use. Every day I get e-mail from people decrying data charges and complaining about lack of coverage, they want their music 24/7, and you can have it, assuming you pay the $10 a month, just synch it to your handset and as long as you have juice, you can listen.

But this is about VR.

I didn’t dip my toe. I was turned off by the hype. I followed the stories, about Oculus Rift first and foremost, raising money on Kickstarter and then selling to Facebook, but I could sit on the sideline just fine.

Reminds me of the first computer era, back at the turn of the decade, from the seventies to the eighties, when the Apple II was infiltrating law firms and I was still using pen and paper, believing the IBM Selectric with memory was good enough.

But when I started my newsletter and loaded up on Apple equipment I was stunned, I entered a whole new world with tons of functionality.

But that was back when there were still manuals, instructions. I follow orders, I’ll take the time to read.

VR comes with no instructions. Which is why I’m helping you out here.

So, you’ve got your smartphone. And you’ve ordered your viewer. Do this, please. So we’re all on the same page, so we can talk intelligently, it’s less than the cost of a movie, and the unboxing and first experiences are worth the price of admission.

So, it’ll take you a week to get your Knox viewer.

And when it comes, you’ll be excited and flummoxed.

Be VERY careful opening the box. Because this thing IS cardboard and you can ruin it quite easily.

But after you unbox it you’ll be too scared to make your next move, which is why I point you to this YouTube video,

“Hands-On with Google Knox V2 – Google I/O 2015 – I AM CARDBOARD 2.0”

This will teach you how to extract the viewer from its case, which is intuitive, yet it’s in its sleeve so tight you’re afraid you’ll break something removing it.

And then…

You’re at the mercy of the instructions on the viewer itself, which are poorly done and might as well be in Greek, despite being pictures. Bottom line? Fold the flaps back towards the lenses and then secure them with the Velcro tabs. I wish I could be more explicit, if you’re confused I’m sure there’s a video for it.

And then…

You need content.

The Knox viewer comes with a little pamphlet and implores you to download an app. DON’T DO THIS FIRST! I did, and was mightily confused.

So then I went searching on the “New York Times.” I discovered you’ve got to download a virtual reality app, search on “NYT VR” and download it. But don’t do this first either!

No, what you want to do first is download the Google Cardboard app, even if you’re using an iPhone, it’s platform independent.

So now, after you’ve downloaded Google Cardboard…launch it and click for the demo.

If this is the future, Google owns it, because at least they give a few instructions, like where to put your phone in the viewer and how to close the cardboard to hold it in place. (Just to be clear, you put your phone into the viewer on the backside of the lens holes, close the cardboard flap and secure the Velcro tab to hold the phone in place, or you can do this with your hands for easy, ongoing accessibility, which you’ll need.)

Now, for you oldsters out there…

You’re gonna need your reading glasses to download and launch the apps, but you’re not gonna use them when looking into the viewer. Got that?

Oh crap, I can’t get back to where I started, and I’m trying to tell you how to do it!

Bottom line, first I saw birds and… There was a white dot and I couldn’t figure out what to do with it.

Turns out the Knox cardboard box has a button, on the upper right side, you push down to select, this is everything, try it!

And then, to go to different VR movies in the Google app you turn the cardboard box sideways and click on what you want.

Now this is getting too complicated, but it’s somewhat intuitive, I know you can do it and…

I didn’t do it this way. I started off with the Knox-approved app and couldn’t make anything work.

And then I went to the “New York Times,” and I knew enough to know that you turn your head to see multiple views and I wanted to see behind me and got up and promptly lost my balance, which is not good, I’m still recovering from shoulder surgery.

So, like I said up top, you’re gonna want to be sitting down.

And you’re gonna want to use the Google app first, because when you fly like a bird…IT’S VERY COOL!

So then I jumped back to the “Times” and the movies kept stalling.

I’ve got a speedy connection, but it turns out you’re best off downloading movies in the “Times” app.

And the “Times” app is not quite as intuitive as the Google one. You download it, launch it, click on a movie and employ the option to download it and then you’re confronted with two choices, two pictures, one for “GOOGLE CARDBOARD” and one for “SMARTPHONE,” choose “GOOGLE CARDBOARD,” that’s the one that works with the Knox viewer. Otherwise, you can just watch the movie on your phone and pan…but it’s not the same thing.

So now I’m thinking I’ve overloaded you, confused you, you’re throwing your hands up like you don’t care.

But you do. And you will get the hang of this. You’ve just got to take the plunge.

So, once again, go to knoxlabs.com and buy a viewer, it’s easy, go for it.

And then, when it arrives and you’ve unboxed the viewer and installed the apps you’re 90% there, you’re on your way home, it’s only then you’ll have to fumble a bit, but by this time you’ll be excited, you’ll see stuff through the viewer, you’ll be part of the new paradigm, on your own adventure into the future.

Oh, one more thing!

Use headphones. Preferably Bluetooth ones, but any old wired ones will do, even the pods that came with your phone. It’s not necessary, but it’s a much better experience.

P.S. Once you’re up and running you can go to the App Store and search on “Paul McCartney” and download the app to watch his VR movie, along with one about Jack White. However, it worked at first for me and now the content won’t download. I just checked the speed in the house and it was 100 Mbps down, so who knows what’s going on, maybe it’ll work for you, but it’s glitches like this that hold new technologies back, we need an AOL for VR, then again, do we really need VR? I’m still not sure…

The Twisted Sister Movie

It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n roll.

In Jay Jay French’s case, ten years.

Dee Snider? From the time he joined it took six plus years to get a deal, and then the record company went bankrupt.

I don’t care about Twisted Sister, I occasionally get e-mail from Jay Jay French, who doesn’t like “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” but watch a documentary on the band? It’d be a seventy five minute lovefest with no perspective, fuggedaboutit.

But I kept getting e-mail about it. That it was on Netflix, and I had to see it, to the point I fired it up, that’s how everything works in this world, now, more than ever, it’s word of mouth. And if you’re on the selling side…you’re knocking on every door, you’re in stasis, not getting ahead, and then the right person crosses paths and…

It begins.

So I’m waiting for Jason Flom. A great storyteller, I heard Jason tell the tale at a UJA function, about singing the act, jumpstarting his career.

Atlantic didn’t care. Doug Morris told him to stop mentioning the band or he’d be fired.

But Jason never appeared!

I’m watching the flick, I can see it’s longer than two hours, do I really want to make the commitment? And it’s getting boring, they’re going into such minutiae, but I’m gonna wait for Jason…

And then it becomes a joke.

THEY DON’T GET SIGNED UNTIL THE LAST FIFTEEN MINUTES!

It begins…

In 1972. When your only options were the movies or a band. That’s it, There wasn’t a soul alive who hadn’t been to a club to hear a band. Manny’s and Sam Ash were kept alive by the wannabes, never mind the local shop in the middle of nowhere.

But Jay Jay, et al, were in New York. Where the Manhattan clubs were small and didn’t pay.

So they went to the island, as in Long, as in put down even more than New Jersey if you live on the east coast. And yes, the band ended up playing in NJ too!

Jay Jay went to see the Dolls and they sucked. They did! It was a hype, a scene, Jay Jay thought he could do better than that.

And there begins our adventure.

Some go to college. Some become professionals.

And everybody else scrounges for a living.

Rock and roll is played without a net. Those who survive…give them props, they’ve been through the war, endured unheralded battles that kill most comers. But still, getting everybody else to care? Damn near impossible.

They’re selling 2,000 tickets. 3,000. Today, labels would be all over them, because today you prove your worth on the road and if you can put butts in the seats, everybody’s interested. But back then it was all about recordings, did you have talent, could you write hit songs?

Twisted Sister was a performance band. Their goal was to destroy all others. They had to be the best, they had to conquer.

And the fans testify.

The fans will crack you up. With their dems and dose. These are New Yorkers, the rank and file. We hear so much about the richies that we forget the average outnumber them. Twisted Sister was a band for the average.

They played almost every night. They got laid, Jay Jay and Dee didn’t drink, but the others did. They assaulted the audience, they needed to win.

But victory, the big time, always eluded their grasp.

They ruled the tri-state area, but beyond that…crickets. And it didn’t pay to expand into new territories, they were making too much back home.

And it’s so AMATEURISH! Outfits handmade. Posters and other tchotchkes done by those on hand. When you’ve got nothing, you lead with little, and you try to advance along the way.

In the professional world… You earn your degree and lord it over the rest of us.

I earned the degree.

But I was bitten by rock and roll.

It was nothing like today. Music is everywhere, but then it was a religion, the only thing that spoke to our generation. Sell out? The corporations wanted nothing to do with us, the Fortune 500 weren’t lining up, they were staying away. And then the music built and built and took over the world.

And then it cratered, like everything too big for its britches.

Twisted Sister lost its record deal, half a decade after signing with Atlantic, cast into the dustbin, the professionals needing something new.

But the fans never forget. This music changed our lives.

Everyone interested in making it in music must watch this documentary. Because this is how it really is. The struggle, the dead ends, the loss of optimism, the jadedness as you soldier on. Only now do we think you can do it without paying your dues. And sure, the machine props up nobodies, but then those nobodies are replaced by other nobodies. Those who last… Worked hard at it. This was their only option. They could never give up. Twisted Sister persevered when no one cared, when they were losing audience because they were no longer the new thing.

After realizing the band wasn’t gonna be signed until the end of the flick, when Flom finally showed up, it dawned on me that what I’d watched, however down the rabbit hole at times, was the journey of every successful act. It’s boring, there are tons of details. So many blind alleys until you hit the big time and everybody pays attention.

I couldn’t turn “We Are F***ing Twisted Sister” off.

And you won’t be able to either.

Because in it you’ll recognize yourself, your passion, your belief.

That’s you.

And that’s me.

I wanna rock.

And as much as I waver, as much as I tell myself it’s not the same and I’ve got to get out…

I watch something like this and I realize there’s no choice.

I’m a lifer.

A Hard Day’s Night Live At The Hollywood Bowl

All Songs +1: The Beatles Are Live And Sounding Better Than Ever

What kind of crazy fucked up world do we live in where a fifty year old recording of a defunct band trumps the work of the modern masters?

One in which most acts play to track in search of perfection and have lived their entire life in the spotlight, one in which talent is secondary to image and you fake it to make it.

Imagine being able to sing to qualify.

I constantly get e-mail from lame singers pointing me to their lyrics, and when I tell them the vocal is substandard and the words don’t carry the track, they point me to Bob Dylan…and I respond yes, Dylan had a less than perfect voice, but he was THE BEST LYRICIST OF ALL TIME!

And Dylan was famous for being one and done, doing very few takes, he wanted to catch the essence and then move on. Comping vocals back in ’65? Give me a break. Not only was live about energy, but recordings too, it was about capturing the magic, evidencing humanity.

I’m shocked how good this live version of “A Hard Day’s Night” is. My modern cynicism tells me it was overdubbed, fixed in the studio after the fact, like most live albums, but then I remember John Lennon’s been gone for decades and George has departed this mortal coil too.

But they left us this magical cut, a window into what once was, that will drop your jaw.

It was the rehearsal, all those gigs in Hamburg, all that work when no one was paying attention, experimenting, honing their chops. Whereas today everybody’s playing in plain sight, putting videos up on YouTube before puberty, believing they deserve attention, wondering why they haven’t already gone to the top of the chart.

“Meet The Beatles” blew it up in America. “The Beatles’ Second Album” came shortly thereafter. Diehard fans went back and bought the VeeJay LP, “Introducing The Beatles,” and by the summer of ’64, we were all on the same page, Beatlemania reigned, and “A Hard Day’s Night” was released.

First came the album. A truncated version on United Artists in the States. There were too many instrumental interludes. But the Beatle originals, they were devastating. Even sans the magical “Things We Said Today” and the outright tear of “Any Time At All” which were included in the UK LP but were absent from the American iteration.

And it all started with the title track, “A Hard Day’s Night.”

There was that opening chord…

All baby boomers hear it and immediately think of the movie, the four lads running down the street, the excitement, that bubbling adrenaline, which overtakes your body and excites you, drowning out all intellectualism, you’re running on feeling.

And you couldn’t get enough of that, so you went to see the act live. Assuming you could get a ticket.

But this was when PA’s were laughable, before we expected you to be able to play, never mind sing. Remember CSNY’s vocals in the “Woodstock” movie? Our expectations were lowered in person, although we were thrilled to be there.

And then we find the progenitor, before Peter Grant flipped the remuneration, before Showco and the Clair Brothers built infrastructure, blowing the roof off a joint that had no roof to begin with!

There’s that CHORD! There’s no way they should be able to recreate that live. And then John starts to sing…LIKE HE BELIEVES IT! He’s not punching the clock, he’s trying to CONVINCE YOU! Reveling in his expertise, knowing he’s blowing minds. And the harmonies… Really? How can they do this?

And then we have Paul’s soulful middle eight, whew!

And then the band is locked into it once again. Just four guys, no support, yet it’s enough.

Greatness is always enough.

George is not missing notes in the break, Ringo is propulsively keeping it all on track, a band without a solid drummer is no band at all.

It’s like being jetted back in a time machine to an era with no cell phones, no social media, when if you weren’t at the show you completely missed it. Talk about FOMO? It was much worse back then.

And the girls are screaming, the band throws in bits of improvisation, and you’re listening believing you missed something, something incredible.

And then you remember you were there, when Beatlemania took the country by storm, when optimism ruled, when the youth stole the country from the establishment and ran with it.

And it was all powered by music.

And the Beatles were there first.

P.S. If you haven’t already, pick up Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” and read the section on the Beatles, wherein the writer posits the Fab Four played more gigs before they were famous than most bands today play in their entire career. There’s your 10,000 hour rule right there. You become world class by putting your time in via hard practice, winning over audiences who don’t care. That’s what the Beatles had to do, play endlessly, converting those who didn’t care. That’s your job.