Song, by Toad

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That Sony Meeting

Sony BMG

Well because of the intervention of Homegame this post has been somewhat delayed, so apologies for that, so here we go.

Firstly a brief description of the circumstances.  A little while ago, London-based Winston’s Zen was the victim of another of those DMCA take-down hits.  Due to connections he was able to actually get through to the label at the source, Columbia Records, part of Sony BMG, and they invited him in to talk to them and suggested he bring along a couple of other bloggers and make something of a meeting out of it.  So last Thursday myself, Winston himself, Jamila from Fucking Dance and Tim from The Blue Walrus went along, the Sony people booked a table in a pub and we talked about stuff and drank ourselves into a stupour.

And what did we achieve?  Well honestly, I’d say not an awful lot, really.  We chatted, but I am not sure either side had much of a concrete idea of what we wanted to get out of the meeting, so it was little more than a start, I’d say.  Some thoughts, though:

1. Most of Sony BMG sees blogs as one homogenous bunch of pirates and copyright bandits, apparently.  The people we spoke to were about twenty-five, and had to arrange this meeting informally, to make sure we could actually talk to one another, rather than have it throttled by a high-level strategic strait-jacket.  Some of them, largely the young ‘uns, want to start treating music blogs as being as legitimate as the traditional press, and see them as the future of music journalism.

2. It is very hard to talk about how best to deal with marketing to blogs for a label that size.  Even I found myself lapsing back into old-school ways of thinking, talking about how many specific song listens an individual blog might be able to generate.  Blogs, I had to force myself to remember, are powerful not because the biggest ones are now bigger than the glossy music magazines in terms of readership, but because once something spreads amongst enough blogs it has the capacity to ignite and reach exponentially larger numbers of people.  You just have to have the material and the nous to get that to happen.

3. In future they are pulling back from simply setting the IFPI hounds of hell loose, brandishing swords crafted from DMCA steel, and they are going to get a list of infringements and examine it themselves.  This has changed since the Glasvegas business, and is a very very good thing as far as I am concerned.

4. If blogs are treated as ‘proper music press’ then that pretty much involves being pulled into the same machine as everything else.  We would become part of industry, part of the same juggernaut which a lot of us are fighting, and suckling from the same bloated expense accounts which make these massive labels as unwieldy as they are.  We become, in essence, part of the problem.  I don’t want to be sulky or snobby about all this, and I genuinely do want to engage with them, but it still makes me a little twitchy.

5. The Sony BMG HQ in London is a nightmare building.  It’s like a massive, overwhelming set piece from Nathan Barley, with ostentatiously stylish interior design, people carrying beer everywhere they go, and young fashionistas and blokes with Haircuts absolutely everywhere.  It was most uncomfortable, and I am very glad we ended up in a pub instead.

6. The people we spoke to were really nice, and I think it’s really important that the online community engage with them, prove them right, and show the powers that be at Sony that bloggers are legit, and that most of us want to be a positive influence not a negative one.  It will take ages though.  As with any company that size, change will take years, unless there’s a catastrophic crash in the company’s fortunes which forces their hand.  Meetings, departments, chains of command, all these things will slow the changes to a degree single-person sites can only begin to imagine.  I work with massive corporations in Proper Job.  They can’t innovate, really, because their internal mechanisms make it almost impossible.  The people involved aren’t bad or stupid, but the baggage required for a company that size to be able to function makes it pretty much impossible for them to act on anything quickly, or with focus.

7. Are our respective audiences even the same?  Well at the moment, not really.  But as blogs become more legit and more mainstream I think that will change.  So for right now there may be something of a mismatch, but in general I think that is likely to go away over time.

So, ultimately, was it worth it?  Yes, I think so.  It was interesting, certainly, and if it’s the start of blogs no longer being treated as the enemy, that would be nice.  Both sides have to be very wary of lazy thinking though, and not assume that it will be straightforward simply because we are all such nice folks and had a nice night out.  I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops though.

39 witty ripostes to That Sony Meeting

  1. avatar

    WoW! Very interesting. Yeah I can’t help but feel there is a big problem for some labels who still operate with that traditional model for the music business, which says that to make money you sell CDs. I help out at another major and to me they are really struggling to come to terms with the concept of blogging and how to harness or engage with the opportunities they might bring.

    I also completely understand that thing about getting too close to the ‘juggernaut’ as you put it. It’s a fine line really..

  2. avatar


    Are our respective audiences even the same?

    of course they are….people just don’t realise it yet.

    anyway cheers mate….it’s good that voices are being listen to, can only be a good thing.

  3. avatar

    Well, at least you’re all talking.

    For a conversation you describe as not having achieved “an awful lot” you seem to have covered a lot of necessary.

    Incidentally was there an old man in the sony building with a posh accent who said “No one will oppose us now. This studio is now the ultimate power in the galaxy”.

  4. avatar

    That pretty much sums up my thoughts apart from a little bit of 4:

    If being treated as part of the music press machine means getting promos at the same time as the major press outlets, possibilities of interviews, comptitions etc then I don’t see that as necessarily a bad thing.

    It can quickly and easily become a bad thing if blogs lose their independent thinking or writing and become part of that in-group rather than part of the fans, but that is up to individual bloggers. I’m sure some will move in that direction but equally plenty won’t.

  5. avatar

    Tim,

    Does this reflect newspaper and industry magazine reviews though? They get promos and yet write both good and bad reviews.

    Not snark, I actually don’t know how impartial the guys whose reviews I read are.

  6. avatar

    Great summary Matthew.

    I understand your worries in point 4. But I don’t really see us bloggers becoming “part of the problem” till we feel we owe these corporations something. For most of us, I don’t think that will happen unless “they” start paying our bills, and at that point we’ve surely stopped being bloggers in the first place.

    Oh, and that office may have been a little seeped in Nathan Barley ostentatiousness, but I’d happily swap the tiny little room in a Regus maintained building I work in for the casual dress and beer drinking freedom of Sony BMG. So long as a Haircut wasn’t obligatory. I’d never get any bloody work done though – just too damn noisy!

    And the lifts suck!

    btw – you have permission to refer to me as Brendan. :-)

  7. avatar

    I think that is one of the main differences between blogs and traditional media – blogs only talk about what they like (rants aside of course). It shouldn’t affect the reviews of good reviewers at all (and doesn’t in a lot of cases), but these outlets tend to be more broad in focus and less based around a particular taste. It is not necessarily the reviews that suffer from the in-group behaviour in my opinion, but the coverage itself. A label can barter a competition for interview space or a background piece on a bands tour, or even for access to another band. Hype can be and is used as a kind of currency.

    The fact that I don’t like an album does not necessarily mean it is bad. Major press are more open minded (and should be to a certain degree), and with more staff can probably find someone with a closer taste to the rlease to give it a positive spin. Blogs are more focused and more personal. If blogs became wider in focus they would be little reason for them to exist, as they would be doing exactly the same job as the traditional press.

  8. avatar

    I am not worried about us losing our objectivity at all. I doubt that would happen. I am much more likely to lose it when reviewing a friend’s band because I don’t want to hurt their feelings than I am to lose it because a label gives me lots of freebies.

    No, more, I am worried that in moving to the inside of the media circle instead of the outside, we might start to close ranks a little and act like all the wastage of Big Entertainment is worthwhile and perhaps then get locked into some sort of virtuous circle of playing ball=access to quality exclusive material=subsequent jump in traffic etc etc etc.

    It’s a way of getting blogs onside and playing the game the right way, and I am not sure that having the entertainment industry not quite understand how it works is a bad thing. Still, this shift is inevitable in the long run, I am just trying to figure out for myself how much I want to actually take part.

    Merlin – I am not talking about the CD-selling model particularly, more the press model, where you identify a relatively small number of heavy hitters and concentrate on buttering them up. I am not sure that works well for a medium whose power is in having lots of very small outlets. This may change over time as the really big blogs become more separate from the pack, but at the moment I think a wholly different approach is required.

    Talking to amateurs like they are professionals and have a legal department, a staff of writers and a receptionist doesn’t help either, of course.

  9. avatar

    Tim – cross posting!

    I agree entirely with that. I have already agreed to interview a band partly because the PR person in question is really nice and gave me interviews to a couple of others. Throw in a couple more of those incidents and it’s easy to see how easy a particular blogger’s cooperation could be railroaded, to an extent. And that’s just me – one of the most pig-headed writers out there.

    I would hate to feel that being invited to that meeting would make it harder for me to criticise the intentions of those who arranged it, for example, but I think that to a degree it would, almost inevitably, particularly if it happened more frequently and we became friends.

  10. avatar

    I find it really difficult avoiding reviewing friends’ bands. It all ends up with them getting offended by me ignoring them. At least that’s better than ripping them to shreds I think. c’est la vie.

    I think its easy for me to stay on the outside like you say at the moment as I really have no financial/employment plans in the industry. I see where you’re going though.

  11. avatar

    re – reviewing friends bands….tough shit really isn’t it…they put the material out……so they should be up for whatever anyone says about it.. ..and anyway they should know already if you like them or not…….as long as the review is honest and constructive….who cares

    no sycophants should apply!

  12. avatar

    Your right on about the slow change some of these giant companies are strapped with. Too many people and opinions mixed with folks trying to cover there ass, not stick out their necks. The only one taking a chance is the artist by putting their careers in the hands of pencil pushers.

    I read the pages here from the far side of the U.S. and come across artists that I would never hear about in my day to day. It’s an advertising vehicle that industry insiders could never pay for on their own. I buy tickets to shows and CD’s from the artists I find on sites like this one.

    Still, it sounds like a cool experience. I would like to get to a place where people started to pay some real attention to my opinions. Maybe I’ll start with my wife and work my way up. Good Job.

  13. avatar

    RCC

    I think there is a big difference between knowing what you should do and, doing it. It’s one thing to hate your friends music, and anther to announce it to the world.

  14. avatar

    Interesting sideline… a few months back, I read about an artist here on your site that I’d not heard of, liked her sound and bought the album thinking I had found a “jewel in the rough”. Then a weekend or so back, as I was prating about the house in my “god where’s the coffee?” state, I saw in Rolling Stone magazine, a review of said artist. What was said was so “familiar”, I had to go back and read what you’d written. Having no idea when the RS journalist wrote the piece, I can’t call foul, but I do question the “originality” of the RS article. Was so worked up, I forgot about coffee… any thoughts on plagiarism in the world of bloggers ‘vs’ coorps? Surely it happens… what, if anything, can be done? And could it be a way through the conglomerates bull shit a.k.a Pocketbooks?

  15. avatar

    Tender, any chance of finding the original text? I’d be interested to read it if there was a chance.

    At the moment, someone like me licensing things under a non-commercial Creative Commons license has next to no comeback on this kind of thing because quite frankly we can’t afford the legal muscle to defend our rights, whatever they may be.

    I’ve heard of other bloggers having similar problems, but I am really not sure what can be done, unless legal counsel starts to come at less than a fiver an hour.

    It would be nice to see government policy defending our rights as vigorously and enthusiastically as they defend their paymasters’ of course but, erm, I’m not a fantasist.

  16. avatar

    i’m with tom. if you reviewed the kays album and in a negative way, well i put it out there for opinion. its yours to give. so long as i am proud of it. if you love it, great. if you don’t, i won’t lose sleep over it. and like tom says, i already kind of know what to expect.

    as for the sony thing. do you have their permission to use their logo? eh???

  17. avatar

    I’d be really interested in what you thought their motivation was to hold the meeting Matthew. Oh and how high up in the organisation it was sanctioned.

    so many thoughts….

  18. avatar

    The most interesting point so far has been the one about bloggers crossing the divide between fans and the corporations.

    At the moment all the bloggers are on one side of that fence, and all the corporations are on the other.

    How many nights out on the company credit card, cross-pollonation schmoozing sessions in the pub, and – frankly – cheques, will it take for a few bloggers to jump the fence?

    Only time will tell, but it’s an intriguing ball that’s rolling now.

  19. avatar

    One if they have hidden cameras

  20. avatar

    These major labels are an odd bunch. I’ve been on a mailing list for EMI for ages, and have been send an awful lot of crap, but they obviously see the value in getting some ‘blog buzz’ for their rubbish new indie bands. It would take an awful lot to ‘jump the fence’ for these. On the other hand there’s the evil empire of Universal, who probably want to obliterate all mp3 blogs. Who knows where Sony are, and it’s probably not any clearer even now.

    As an interesting aside, what with all the fuss in the press today about Nick Hemming being nominated for an Ivor Novello, I wondered what would come up if I typed ‘Lesure Society Last of the Melting Snow’ into Google (as I bet loads of people are doing now) and this very blog comes up pretty high. That’s the difference between blogs and the world of major record comapnies. Watch them rush to sign Nick now…

  21. avatar

    What makes you so sure it’s that black and white, Dylan? Have you not read some of the big US blogs or some of our pseudo blogs like what’s found at Pitchfork or Stereogum? They have rather large budgets I assume and receive loads of freebies, not to mention the income generated by there cornea-searing stream of advertisements.

    This argument about objectivity strikes me as being completely false footed and ridiculous. Why assume that professionalism begets an authentic voice? Or better yet, that the taint of the corporate world engenders professional perks of such global scale that we amateurs can only hope to acheive by having the luck to have friends who make it big. Only then we’re fucked if we write a review of them! What horseshit!

    Oh I promised myself to just shut the fuck up, I’m off to a hot bath to sort out a more coherent and kinder argument, xx

  22. avatar

    Ok, calmed down, I’ll try again… I’m confused on how blogs become part of the problem once they become understood as “proper music press.” You have to be saying that proper music press is a pay to play system in that the labels somehow financially reward the music press for positive reviews of their artists’ work. Otherwise what is the problem with the proper music press? Is this some kind of argument for indie music again? Do you mean that blogs would gradually turn away from indie music in favor of the big labels because the rewards would be greater? I just don’t see that happening in this medium – it’s the internet dude :)

    Matthew, you claim to be pig-headed and objective yet you know you can be swayed by a PR rep who offers you something more (or by a pretty faced chanteuse, let’s all admit it, eh?) so any notion that any reviewer is objective really is false as well. I think the issue here is professionalism and the fact that “proper music press” reviewers mask their lack of objectivity in professional language while we bloggers just come out and say “damn, she was gorgeous too! and that certainly didn’t hurt her singing any” A reviewer for the New York Times would never get away from saying that but when he reviewed Carly Simon in 1973 or whatever, you know he was influenced by it. So, the real “danger” is that bloggers will begin to take themselves too seriously the closer they snuggle up to the big labels and hence lose their blogging voice and take on some “professional” voice that isn’t theirs. That’s what I was trying to get at with my muttering about authenticity. Of course some bloggers already conduct themselves much more professionally than Matthew (and I, for that matter)and don’t have as far to go.

    The bigger picture here is that corporations are freaking the fuck out over market share. And that has to do not only with products but also within the market of information and ideas. Labels used to have a corner on how information about their artists was disseminated, to a large degree, and that is gone or going fast. Blogs already are their equal or near-equals in that niche market, we know what artists are up to often enough and when albums are coming out, who’s album got leaked, what the cover looks like, track listings, etc… Labels might still think they have some say in all this but really the horse is out of the stable already (or whatever the fuck that metaphor should be). And don’t doubt for a second that information about an artist/album is almost as important as the album itself.

    So, let the labels worry. Blogs will continue to be sources of inside information – until Twitter replaces us all :)

    And Tim’s point is well taken – are you employed by the recording industry? Do you plan to be? If not, then run your blogs as you were and tell Sony whatever you want. That’s my opinion, for what it’s worth.

    P.S. But if you want to use your blog as a stepping stone to a career in the big label music business, (silly boy!) then don’t be sneaky about it and pretend to be all indie cause Matthew and the rest of em will slit yer throat!

  23. avatar

    no way are bloggers all on one side and corps on the other. you just have to go through a bunch of well known blogs and you’ll find that a lot of people work in the industry.

    i agree that having a close relationship with labels etc makes it harder to criticise things, however if a relationship is going to be formed they need to understand that a good percentage of blogs won’t see exclusive mp3s/other bribes as justifiable means to write a completely bias review of something.

    not a popular view but i really don’t see majors as the devils they’re made out to be. they enable and facilitate so much, it would be ace if they could actually get into the 21st century and adapt.

  24. avatar

    I’m not really all that concerned about the business side of things or any little mating dance between bloggers and the corporations. What blogs have shown me is that I can pretty much ignore big label artists entirely and still have plenty of great music to fill my days. If I just need to own a record by a major label artist, simple, I get my mother-in-law to burn me a copy. And if a blog or two gets co-opted by a big label, so what? It’s not like there are huge barriers to entry in the “blogging industry.” Another “independent” blog will come along to fill the vacuum. There’s millions of the little fuckers floating around the internet.

  25. avatar

    Dylan – Tart’s right, there are a lot, particularly in the US, who are already well on the way, if not all the way, to making that transition.

    Tart – I think that what I really meant was simply this: I want to be able to push this little Toad project further, but at the moment the only place to go is full-time, because I am at the absolute limit of what I can personally do in my free time. But I believe, really fundamentally believe, in the DIY approach to the music industry, and will continue to champion it.

    I look at companies like Sony and I think that they are bloated. The money to pay for that building, the beer sloshing about, the lawyers chasing down bloggers, all this has to be paid for and their only income come from selling entertainment, the same as any other label. So the artist gets squeezed and the punter gets milked.

    This is inevitable, of course, and as Jamila says they do plenty of good things too, just not things which I personally have much interest in. But to continue to be able to criticise the wastefulness of the whole process – the idea that you ‘have to’ spend thousands of pounds on a video or have a meeting with a bunch of execs in order to simply sit down with some bloggers and have a chat – I really don’t think I can take their expense account beer.

    You can’t criticise them for their bloated expense accounts, when you are the people they are entertaining with them, I don’t think. I don’t want promo copies or freebies from these labels because their music isn’t really my thing, and I don’t ask for them, so I don’t worry about that.

    So I want to engage with these guys and form a dialogue, but I am really wary of basically turning into a media whore and a hypocrite (alright, more of a hypocrite, then).

    So basically, Toad things will continue to be DIY and I will continue to only tangentially be involved in this kind of chat, I think, because it makes me jumpy.

    Tart’s comments about control of information and communication are bang on the money, incidentally. Which is another reason this makes me twitchy. You can see this in other areas of the press, most notably government, where access is bartered for obedience. It’s nothing like that dramatic in music, of course, but it’s something to be very wary of nevertheless.

  26. avatar

    See? I was right. It’s a very intriguing ball that’s been set rolling.

    The difference between the traditional paper-based music press and bloggers is that the traditional press is written and generated by professionals (I imply no indication of relative quality with the use of that word – I’m merely identifying individuals by their income streams) who have a career in the media; whereas bloggers have historically been music fans who earn their income from day-jobs elsewhere.

    Therefore it has been accepted that there’s an integrity to the established media where they cannot afford to be seen to favour one corporation over another for fear of losing their credibility; and that will affect their income, both from people on the street buying the magazine, and the organisations who choose to advertise on their pages.

    (I’m sure back-handers have always occurred – but they’re kept under the carpet.)

    The blogosphere, meanwhile, has largely existed without major label interference simply because the labels neglected to take it seriously.

    However, when the bloggers built up enough momentum to wake the sleeping corporate dragon, its first response was to attack, using the DMCA amongst other weapons; and that approach has pretty much failed. Okay, there have been casualties on the side of the blogs and some bloggers have been injured – but on the whole the blogosphere rolls on.

    I won’t be surprised if the next step the corporations take is to attempt to ‘buy’ the popular blogs. The bloggers have no income stream to protect, and no real expectation of impartiality to respect.

    If the big boys start coming round with nice juicy cheques, asking to use a established and well known blogs as internal marketing devices, then will every blogger turn them down?

    Is that what’s coming next?

  27. avatar

    I might make sense, but that kind of thing would have to work outside the corporate structure, to a degree, and they would have to learn some lessons from blogging:

    – People can smell insincerity, very very easily.
    – Standard competitive behaviour simply wouldn’t work. A corporate blogger would have to engage with other labels on an honest basis, and discuss their music, otherwise they’d be no more than an RSS feed of that label’s news ticker.
    – Free mp3s of other label’s music might become very tricky. Using other people’s music to drive traffic to your own site in order to sell your own music? A very grey area (and one I inhabit myself, I hasten to add).

  28. avatar

    C&B’s right though, they can do all this already, the biggest issue is ensuring that there remain no barriers to entry to the world of music blogging. As long as any random arse can start a music blog it doesn’t much matter what the big boys – Sony or Stereogum – get up to.

  29. avatar

    So does Song, By Toad have a price tag?

  30. avatar

    One meeeeeeellion pounds!

  31. avatar

    isn’t SbT priceless?

  32. avatar

    or did i mean worthless

  33. avatar

    One meeeeeeellion pounds = a fag and a few pints, no?

  34. avatar

    and that’s double the price of TBW

  35. avatar

    I’d ask for a lap dance at least, damn you British men and your prudishness!

  36. avatar

    Interesting stuff Matthew and I think all this is probably a good thing but I share your lack of belief it will lead anywhere fast.

    I tend to think that the moment you accept a free CD from anyone (Major or indie) you have crossed a line. I’m sure some people will be able resist temptation and stay true to their beliefs but human nature is what it is.

    My big worry about taking “free music” is that I’d lose all perspective and not know what was good and what was not. Or even what I liked …

    PS Good to meet you briefly on Saturday.

  37. avatar

    Really interesting blog and set of comments. I seem to be a lone voice in the wilderness here but I don’t think the future of the blogosphere is as inevitable as some other people seem to think. Pirate Bay case, French laws, proposed UK laws all have an ability to make life a lot more difficult if not impossible for bloggers.

    I can see that the music industry as currently constituted can’t continue in its present form. It may have to accept lower returns on its investment. But what I still can’t get my head around is how people who make music are going to get rewarded for it in a world where free downloading exists (I know that rather contradicts the previous para but indulge me).

  38. avatar

    […] article from Song, By Toad music […]

  39. avatar

    […] disconnects need not be within such a complex daisy chain, either.  Last year, when I met with Sony in London, the young, forward-thinking people I spoke to were enthusiastic about courting music blogs, […]

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