What We Learned This Year

Steve Barnett is a hero. He took Capitol from zero to the top of the heap. Shows what an individual can do.

Sound may be lame on recordings, but it’s living large at the Forum, where a dedicated music space has touring acts and SoCal fans smiling. Talk about virality.

Festivals are king. It’s still shaking out how many we need, but there will be more.

Warner Music is an enigma.

Publicity is everything. Taylor Swift proved it.

Max Martin is the biggest star in music.

“The Voice” helps the career of the coaches, but does nothing for the acts competing.

You can’t get a good ticket unless you know someone, have a credit card which is sponsoring the gig and has a presale or you pay a scalper. Income inequality lives large in the live space.

Electronic music still did not break through. The Electric Daisy Carnival in Vegas was the biggest festival in the U.S. but it got a fraction of the press of Coachella and Lollapalooza. Then again, the Sahara Tent at Coachella dominates.

All the money is in the ticketing.

Streaming won, you can tell by the debate. Just like with Napster, when everybody starts talking about it, the new era is here.

YouTube may not dominate. That’s the story of the month. How competitors are trying to lock up talent. Once again, it’s all about the acts, the acts have all the power. And he who pays most wins. Google’s deals suck. Just check their ad shares. No, that’s right, you’d rather bitch about Spotify, which pays so much more.

Pop, country and everything else. That’s the landscape.

A great record transcends genres. Sam Smith sounds nothing like anything else on the radio, yet it triumphed. The public is hungry for new and different, if it’s great.

Samsung was a fad, in phones. Tim Cook knew it was all about profitability, he gets props for that. Furthermore, the iPhone 6 is a gargantuan surprise/success.

Mark Zuckerberg is more than Facebook. He’s a force to contend with. His purchase of WhatsApp and Instagram illustrate that he not busy born is busy dying.

Jeff Bezos has revolutionized the “Washington Post,” it shows what money can do. It was the “Post” that broke the UVA/”Rolling Stone”/Jackie snafu. Proving once again that well-paid professionals with experience trump amateurs every day. You can have an opinion, but without facts you’re irrelevant. Which is why TV news is dying and all the online only news outlets have high valuations but don’t move the needle.

Data is everything. Nate Silver ushered in the era. But never forget, in art data is irrelevant, it’s all about inspiration.

In an era with no credibility, the one hit wonder is king.

We live in an on demand culture. People want everything at their fingertips instantly. Which is why we’re going to day and date in movies and the concept of windowing in music is fallacious. If you won’t sell it to me right away, I’ll steal it, never forget that. Your business model is not sacred, just ask television outlets.

We live in a mobile world. Everyone’s wired and connected. Sell to the handset.

Price matters. Otherwise, everybody would not be leaving AT&T and Verizon for the inferior T-Mobile. I love John Legere, but anybody with T-Mobile is just cheap. Because you want a high speed connection everywhere, and T-Mobile does not deliver this.

Usability is everything. Instagram just trumped Twitter because it’s comprehensible. We want instant news, but we want it in a format we can understand.

It’s so hard to break through in music, that when you do you and your record last.

Art is just a pawn in the game. As illustrated by the Amazon/Hachette war. It’s the writers who suffered. However, this was a corporate battle fought in secret. We never learned what the deal points were, it’s hard to side with the old institutions that say they support the artist but really are out for themselves.

Money. Either you have it or you’re envious of those who do.

Lucian Grainge is God.

Today’s Viral Video

“Cody Townsend’s Line Of The Year”

Greetings from Aspen, Colorado, where we’re in attendance for the 19th annual AspenLive conference, wherein old buddies reconnect and we discuss the music business on the slopes because we’re incapable of talking about anything else and we cement bonds that last a lifetime.

Truly. Almost my entire social life is based upon AspenLive people.

And what do you do in Aspen?

SKI!

At least I’m hoping to. I’ve had a resurgence of ankle pain as I’ve tried to get in shape for the season. Who knew that twisting it on Labor Day weekend would continue to be a factor as the months have ensued. And I live to ski, it’s the most important thing to me. (Other than Felice!) And as the years pass and I get older and it takes longer to heal I figure I’d better get my days in. I got 48 last year, 46 the year before. That’s right, with a laptop and an iPhone I can be ANYWHERE!

And there is a nexus between being in Aspen and the subject of this missive. You see a ski video is going viral as we speak. You need to watch it, even if you don’t ski, it’ll thrill you.

I saw it yesterday. I haunt the ski sites. I was stunned that Cody Townsend could hold it together. That’s right, it’s not the speed that gets you, it’s the anxiety.

I figured no one would care but me. But today the clip is blowing up. It’s all over social media.

So, the perpetrators of this stunt won.

And you will never forget it.

And I wonder why we no longer have viral tracks in music.

Well, we have them, but they’re so few in number. The last one I remember is Avicii’s “Wake Me Up.” You forwarded it to somebody and they couldn’t help but send it on themselves after being infected by the music in one listen.

Then there was that CeeLo novelty track before that.

And Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” before that.

That’s right, Taylor Swift may own the news cycle, but “Shake It Off” never went viral. You didn’t have to tell anybody about it. It was decent, right up the middle, a hit. I expect nothing less from Max Martin, but that’s the point, it was what I expected, not a surprise.

And PSY’s track was not a surprise, the video was. It’s easier to create great video than great music.

But the first time we heard the Beatles… Either you know what it was like hearing “I Want To Hold Your Hand” emanating from the tiny speaker or you were not alive and I pity you.

The labels try to manipulate virality. But it’s all in the service of money. We don’t have enough one listen tracks, stuff that makes our heads blow off, that we can’t forget.

Need another example?

“Sexual Healing.”

And it may have taken you a listen or two to embrace it, but you knew “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was different and important as soon as you heard it.

Today everybody puts money first and tells you to listen to their endless opus multiple times to get it.

I want you to hit me with your best shot. I want you to surprise me. I want you to illustrate that life is not boring, that music is not me-too, that testing limits pays dividends.

PLEASE!

P.S. Ignore the YouTube counter, this clip is on multiple sites.

P.P.S. Technology is good, without it we wouldn’t have the POV video.

P.P.P.S. Stay until the very end to hear Cody whoop and exclaim. That’s what being alive is all about. That’s what going to the show should be all about. We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.

Ferguson/Chokehold/Torture

This is how the sixties started.

We’ve been told to trust Big Brother, that the government and the corporations know more. That the rich are smart. That we should be thankful we’ve got flat screens.

Hogwash.

They’ve scared you. Frightened you into believing your life is at risk from external forces only they can protect you from. If the government doesn’t scan your phone calls and your e-mails, doesn’t break every law in the Constitution, our whole nation will go under and you with it. The truth is it has. We’ve lost our country and we’ve got to take it back.

There’s a fiction that musicians will lead the way. But they’re usually last. It’s the abused, those unjustly affected by the system, who revolt first. That’s right, the sixties began with civil rights demonstrations. Which is why high-paid NFL players protest the chokehold but no musician with millions of Twitter followers has written a song about it. Oh, you wannabes, don’t forward me your Ferguson song. You’re doing it for you, to get noticed. That’s what’s wrong with this nation, all the individuality, we’re only powerful when we come together.

Like with unions. Imperfect organizations, sure. But now the corporations have scared workers to the point where they refuse to organize. They’re just gonna move the plant elsewhere. To some state that will bend over backwards with tax incentives.

And I don’t want to hear any of this right wing Republican b.s. about downsizing the government, it was under your watch, under Bush and Cheney, that this torture took place. You’ll pay zillions for “safety,” for military equipment that ends up in your hometown, all the while bitching that somehow the government must be stopped from providing a safety net, I mean which way do you want it?

As for how long it’s taken…

One can argue strongly the sixties didn’t begin until 1966, when the antiwar movement took hold. It’s six years after the recession. How’s your job? How’s your lifestyle? Things improving for you?

And I’m gonna get tons of hate e-mail. But this too is no different from the sixties. When those drinking the kool-aid just couldn’t believe we were involved in an unwinnable war, that state governments were institutionalizing racism. Those who scream loudest wake up last, never forget that.

Artists have been marginalized in an economy that’s all about money. But those in Ferguson had no money, they were protesting based on what they felt, what they perceived. Why is it that only those with nothing to lose will stand up for what’s right?

Something is happening here and it’s sure not exactly clear.

But the truth is we haven’t seen protests like this since the sixties. Police abuse in Ferguson and NYC is emblematic of a police state wherein there’s a camera on every corner and you’re guilty until proven innocent. Just ask a black man, he’ll tell you.

And you’ll tell the black man that he’s not working hard enough, that he doesn’t have family values. But you’re clueless as to his plight.

As is the Supreme Court, which dismantles voting rights laws saying racism is dead. Rings a bit hollow now, doesn’t it?

As for Snowden… Someone’s got to break the law. Because sometimes the law protects the guilty. Because life is gray and when the institutions trump emotions you’re screwed.

So we’re fighting around the world to bring our lifestyle to them. It’s time we look in the mirror.

Oh wait. We are!

Just not anybody with a dime.

And the sixties taught us you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution. If your wealth is based on shipping jobs overseas, you’re part of the problem.

Right now the internet is driving the generation gap. Oldsters are all on Facebook when their progeny have moved on to Snapchat. As it always was. They were listening to Perry Como while we were listening to the Four Seasons.

And then the Four Seasons were trumped, overnight, by the Beatles.

And then the San Francisco bands raised money for causes as opposed to putting it in their coffers. Believing what’s right is most important. Knowing that music comes before money. And that personal expression is everything.

So while you’re sitting there in your cubicle, or at home dreaming up your app, ask yourself, what are you doing to improve our country, what areĀ  you doing to help your brother, what are you doing to make tomorrow better than today?

We asked those questions every day in the sixties.

People are starting to ask them now.

Our Country

If it’s just about money, why bother being an artist?

We have two worlds, the educated and the uneducated. Those willing to do the hard work and those who like to take it easy.

And in today’s world, artists like to take it easy.

Or else they’re all about the money. Witness Jeff Koons. Are his balloon animals really forever or are they just well-marketed objects the rich can trade while the lower classes argue over celebrities?

There is a story in today’s “New York Times” that is so horrifying and eye-opening that if everybody read it and understood it there’d be riots in the street.

Actually, there are riots in the street, at least protests, and I view this as a good thing. When have you heard of white kids being accidentally shot by the police? (Thanks to Chris Rock for this reference, read his interview with Frank Rich in “New York” magazine, it’s the best thing I’ve read all weekend.) Under the pretense of keeping ourselves safe, as if the terrorists are going to go to Missouri or Oklahoma, we’ve beefed up the police and eliminated privacy to the point where everybody’s guilty until proven innocent, at least if you’re a black man.

But the point is entertainers don’t understand money. Their handlers do, that’s why they’re all up the ass of Silicon Valley, investing in tech. But today’s entertainers come from the lower classes, believing that fame is its own currency, however fleeting, and that if you’re getting paid one cannot evaluate the work.

So this leads us to a nation wherein a country artist famous for speaking her truth in song hooks up with the producer do jour to make disposable mainstream music and after drumming up interest on social media the press lauds her for selling a miniscule number of albums, because our nation is all about the digits.

But how about Relational making $188 million in two years?

That’s real money. The kind entertainers barely score. The kind they can make once and not again. Notice that U2 isn’t doing stadiums this time around? They’re afraid they can’t fill them.

But back to Relational… They split up a profitable steel and ball bearing company in order to fill their coffers. Those in control now want to add debt to a company with little previously. They want short term returns.

So the rich get richer and the rest have no idea what is happening. Meanwhile, Carl Icahn buys a scrapyard and gets rid of worker health insurance. Huh?

And all this has me pondering my own path.

When I graduated from college, where I was immersed in the liberal arts, where there was no business track, it was all about the journey, one of self-exploration and expression. That’s how we got that great music and art. It was made by those with a safety net who believed they could make a difference.

No one wants to make a difference anymore, they just want to get paid. And can you blame them when the truly fat cats live a lifestyle you can only dream of?

So if I graduated from college today I’d get on the career path, immediately. Those matriculating from elite universities all do this, out of fear that they’ll be left behind. If you don’t start today, you won’t even have a chance tomorrow. You can’t make it as a social worker or a teacher, and if you didn’t go to college you can’t make it at all. Unless you win the lottery.

And that’s what art has become, the lottery. A way for the poor and uneducated to win a payment they’ll fritter away nearly instantly.

Believe me, if you needed an advanced degree to make it as a pop star the landscape would look vastly different.

Instead we’re told if you’ve got no wrinkles and can gain an audience on YouTube you’re a king. No one can argue with millions of views. Say the content sucks and the joke is upon you.

Meanwhile, Dave Grohl, our patron saint of credibility, makes a marvelous documentary on recording history and then bores us to death with new music you never even have to hear once. That’s right, “Sonic Highways” is stupendous until the Foo Fighters start to play, then you want to turn it off.

But to criticize Mr. Grohl is to antagonize his fans. Who only have his fame to hang on to. They don’t know the people running this country. They might go see the classic acts live who once impacted the culture, but those acts are running on fumes, creatively bankrupt.

So I’m flummoxed. I don’t want to encourage the great unwashed to pursue their musical dreams, because they’re too young and too uneducated to have anything to say.

And I’m angry that the faceless rich get all the good seats and opportunities and I’m closed out of a world I’m only vaguely familiar with.

This is not a music business problem. This is an American problem. One in which we venerate the rich and tell the poor they’re just not working hard enough. Whereas the truth is the poor never had opportunities and we’re all beholden to the corporations who want short term results.

Come on. Did you ever find an artist who could create a lasting hit from scratch in two years? Research and development is everything. But that’s been gone in music since MTV minted instant stars based on looks, a paradigm that continues to this day on reality television.

Scott Borchetta should be home in Nashville, developing talent, as opposed to mentoring wannabes working for advertisers on television. Has any great talent emerged from TV shows? Carrie Underwood’s hits are written by others. But Scott can’t turn down the money and the fame.

No one can turn down the money and the fame. Those are the currencies of our culture. And neither one will keep you warm at night.

So I’m angry. Label me mad as hell.

If only those not privileged were aligned with me, if only those not winning would agitate for change. But if they complain, the corporation won’t endorse them, won’t give them a leg up. And none of them understand that art is more powerful than money, every day of the week.

But you need to be educated to know that.

You need to live in a culture where what is exalted is the great, not the profitable.

That’s right, they ruined movies and they ruined music too.

And they’re laughing all the while. Because they’re all getting paid, they’re all living the lifestyle the rockers used to. The nerds running these companies are getting their revenge.

But remember, nerds were never cool.

These are drones.

We need intelligent anti-thinkers who believe hard work is shredding in their basement as opposed to promoting themselves on social media. Who realize not everything they do is great. Who understand the spoils go to those who go their own way.

But we live in a nation of sheep.

Might as well be a shearer.

That’s what the bankers and corporate titans are.

You’re the product.

Wake up.

“How Wall Street Bent Steel”

“In Conversation With Chris Rock”