Song, by Toad

Archive for the Rambling category

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Edinburgh Council Completely Embarrassed by Queen’s Hall Fiasco

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Wonderful. Edinburgh Council spent Monday evening persuading people working in music here in Edinburgh that they are sincerely looking to find ways to encourage live music to flourish in the city, and not let it be dragged down by single complainants intent on damaging the cultural life of the city because they didn’t realise that moving in next to a music venue might involve hearing said venue going about its business from time to time.

And then today the Queen’s Hall was forced to remove all its external advertising because of a single complainant who objected. And instead of laughing at that complainant and telling them to grow up and piss off the council capitulated, and in doing so basically make themselves look a bit stupid at best, and craven, cynical and dishonest at worst.

Or, in slightly more familiar language for readers of this site: Jesus fucking Christ, this really is unbe-fucking-lievable, for fuck’s sake.

Neil Cooper – a journalist and formidable campaigner for the arts here in the city – pointed out the almost comically stupid double-standard here. When the Picture House was sold to Wetherspoons to be made into a megapub the likes of which Edinburgh very clearly does not have even the slightest need for, 13000 people signed a petition to protect it as a music venue. This in a city where they are closing all the time and we need as many as we can possibly preserve. So one complainant gets to prevent the Queen’s Hall advertising their own business, one crucial to the cultural life of the city. But 13,000 complainants asking the council to stand up to the big breweries are all ignored.

The imbalance is so utterly ridiculous it basically makes them either look stupid or corrupt. I have no idea which.

Now, the council seemed entirely sincere when they attended the meeting on Monday, and it seemed like a really productive conversation with genuine intent to tackle the problem, so this news today just seems embarrassing, but it highlights the problem very, very clearly. Simply put, one person complaining should never be able to have such a massively negative impact on one of the cornerstones and genuine work-horses of the city’s cultural life. It’s fucking ludicrous.

The Queen’s Hall may not seem like they support the local music scene all that much. You don’t see Edinburgh bands playing there all that often, let’s face it, but that’s because they’re a big venue and very few local bands can actually fill it. Having said that, as soon as anyone gets to that level, the support they give is fantastic. Withered Hand, Broken Records, Stanley Odd and Meursault have all graduated from the circuit of smaller venues to play the Queen’s Hall in recent years, and Plastic Animals, eagleowl and Rob St. John have all played support slots there. And that’s just Edinburgh bands. R.M. Hubbert, Rachel Sermanni, King Creosote, Randolph’s Leap… all these bands have come from the Scottish underground to play headline slots at the Queen’s Hall.

In fact, even if they can’t necessarily get away with it the rest of the year, the Queen’s Hall specifically take advantage of the extra footfall during the Edinburgh Festival to take a chance on other local bands who might not be able to fill the place otherwise. In other words, they know exactly what is going on and they give as much support to the local scene as they can, whenever they get the opportunity.

And that’s not even mentioning more adventurous stuff like Whatever Gets You Through the Night, Bastard Mountain and #Unravel – all risky, artistically ambitious projects related to music, but with much broader scope, which they have supported in recent years.

So, Edinburgh Council, the appropriate response when one dude objects to the Queen’s Hall relatively discreetly advertising their own business, a business which is a massive boost to the cultural life in Edinburgh, on the front of their own building, is this:

“Fuck off, you tedious, self-important idiot and stop wasting absolutely everyone’s fucking time with this bollocks.”

I won’t even trademark the response, so feel free to copy and paste it from this site for future correspondence.  The meeting should not have taken any more than about five minutes. “This guy’s a fucking tool right?” “Right” “Shall I just tell him to fuck off.” “Yeah I think so. We’ve wasted too much time thinking about it already.” “Cool.”  And that’s it. It deserved no more of your time than that. And no other response.

Because, let’s be clear about this Edinburgh Council, you should be absolutely embarrassed that this outcome was even suggested, never mind ratified. THIS is why you are such a big problem. It’s laughable. It’s pathetic. It makes you look like complete fools to absolutely everyone, and like enemies of the very community you are employed to administer. You are here to make our city work for us, remember.

Given the state of Nicholson Street in general, the very idea that you actually entertained this complaint for longer than it actually took you to read it all beggars belief. If the advertising was too cluttered and contravened planning regulations you may feel your hands are tied, but all you have to do is enter into a plan with the Queen’s Hall to tidy it up. This response is as needless as it is stupid.

13000 people can’t prevent an giant factory pub opening on Lothian Road, but one imbecile can interfere this seriously in a crucial creative enterprise.  I dearly, dearly hope Monday’s meeting is the first step down a road which ensures this sort of embarrassing nonsense never happens again. It genuinely seemed like there was a will to change within the council and I hope that is true.

Just commit to memory the fact that next time this happens all you really have to say is ‘ha ha, piss off’. That’s all.

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Don’t Make a Scene

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A couple of years ago I wrote a surprisingly popular post called ‘A Few Reasons Promoters and Bands Don’t Get Along’. I’d just got into regular gig promotion and was only just starting to get my head around the difficulties of doing it right. I’d spent a lot of time around bands at that point, and had heard complaint after complaint about promoters, whether they be amateurish, dishonest, spiteful, or just disorganised and I was absolutely adamant that I wasn’t going to become one of those promoters.

It’s tough though. As I started to get my head around it I started to realise, for example, just how hard it is to pay a band a decent fee. Never mind all the other stuff about decent food, a nice place to stay, actually turning up at the gig and being friendly – it’s actually tough as fuck to even do the bare minimum and pay a band even a cursory fee. So I wrote about it – about all the pressures on a promoter and all the pitfalls they face, and about what I myself understood about the difficulties of touring and what makes a gig feel worthwhile or otherwise for a band.

Basically I was trying to show how hard it is to make the requirements and obligations of both actually meet in the middle. I’d heard so much about dreadful promoters, but I also thought a lot of bands didn’t really appreciate how tough the job was and I thought some explanation of the mismatch of expectations or the simple impossibility of some of the economics would be helpful in making things a bit less attritional.

Rob St. John and Bart from eagleowl are two people who have both toured extensively in bands, both their own and other people’s, and who have also spent significant periods of time doing regular DIY gig promotion. They’ve both experienced the frustrations of both sides of this particular fence, so some time earlier this year they decided to compile a collection of anecdotes and advice from people involved in DIY gig promotion, to try and give people a bit of help navigating this particularly tricky terrain. They kindly asked me to contribute, and so I sort of re-visited the article I told you about above.

The resulting zine is called Don’t Make a Scene, and you can pre-order one here (they’ll be posted out in late November).  There are loads of other contributors too, along with illustrators and photographers, and I haven’t seen the final product yet, but I am really looking forward to getting my grubby hands on one.

Contributors include Chris Tipton (Upset the Rhythm, London: ‘Curate your event with imagination, honour and taste’), Sofia Hagberg (End of the Road / Sam and Sofia, Sheffield: ‘Advancing a show’), Emily Tracer Trails (Edinburgh and Glasgow: ‘A guide to not losing money on gigs’), Fielding Hope (Cry Parrot / Cafe Oto, Glasgow / London: ‘Applying for funding’), Andy Inglis (5000 / former manager of the Luminaire, London: ‘We’re good at taking things for free’), Matthew Young (Song, by Toad, Edinburgh: ‘Bridging the promoter-musician gap’), Johnny Lynch (Lost Map, Isle of Eigg: ‘Some things I’ve learnt about putting on gigs’) and Andy Abbott (That Fucking Tank, Leeds: ‘DIY bother? Reasons to keep doing it’) and many more.

Don’t Make a Scene contains new visual art, illustration and photography by Lizzy Stewart, Tommy Perman, Sarah Tanat-Jones (Synaesthete / Kit Records), Craig Coulthard, Neil Cammock, Matt Pattinson and Cammy Watt (Enfant Bastard).  

The zine features an interview with Marie Tippex (from booking agent Julie Tippex), and articles on DIY sound engineering by Tim Matthew (regular engineer for Lau); all-ages gigs by eagleowl’s Clarissa Cheong, setting up DJs and club nights by Malcolm Benzie (Papi Falso) and Lisa Brook (founder of Cafe Kino in Bristol and DJ Cupcake); and advice for prospective promoters from experienced touring musicians David Thomas Broughton, Mark Andrew Hamilton (Woodpigeon) and Dan Willson (Withered Hand).

The first edition of 300 copies will be released on 24th November 2014, reasonably priced at £4, and will be available for pre-order through dontmakeascene.co.uk.  Don’t Make a Scene was riso printed by Footprint Workers Co-op in Leeds using soy inks on recycled paper.

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Young Fathers on Edinburgh’s Creative Environment

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I wasn’t going to mention Young Fathers’ Mercury Prize win here, because given I haven’t talked about them all that much in the past it would have felt a little bit like hypocritical attention-seeking on the back of their success to suddenly start mentioning them now that they’re in the news.

But but but but… that was before I read this interview in the Guardian in which G gets stuck into Edinburgh council for not supporting the arts in the city at all:

“Edinburgh council are really fucking bad. They shut down anything if you try to make noise. I’ve been in studios where these guys come with meters and tell you to get out. It’s a city for tourists and rich, middle-class people, it’s not made for people to be creative.”

This needs to be said, and needs to be said again and again. The Edinburgh Festival does NOT make Edinburgh an artistic city. The self-image of this town utterly ignores the artistic communities working here, spaces and venues are absolutely never supported and there appears to be absolutely no effort whatsoever to encourage what is happening here between the months of September and July . There are good things happening here, but I have never seen any sign that anyone outwith the tiny communities of dogged supporters actually gives the tiniest fragment of a fuck about any of it.

Consequently, the people actually working in the arts here are amongst some of the people I admire the most: that kind of perseverance in the face of general indifference, if not outright hostility, takes seriously thick skin and serious determination. And as for the handfuls of loyal fans who are the only ones who give us the encouragement we desperately need, well bless you all, you brilliant bastards.

Young Fathers won this despite Edinburgh, not because of it. Well done lads.

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I Have Been Reading Books Again

books Yep, that headline is absolutely as tragic as it sounds. What? Books? Like the internet, but analogue? You’re such a fucking hipster, dude.

I know. We all read books and we all love books. Well, pretty much everyone reading this site, anyway, I would imagine. And I am the same. I fucking love books.  But for some reason I lost the habit about five years ago – maybe even more – and I have been struggling to get it back.

It sounds like an incredibly banal lament, but for someone who absolutely loves books and reading, I just stopped dead for some reason. Back in London I used to read all the time. I was commuting to work, and for all it wasn’t a long commute and I didn’t exactly plough through the pages on the train, I was still getting into books by doing so, and it meant I was way more likely to read at home as well.

Then when I moved up here I was rather taken aback by Mrs. Toad’s disconcertingly early bed-time. I’m a natural night owl, so her insistence on going to bed at 10pm just felt weird, but it did mean I continued to hoover up books just as much as ever before. And then, probably some time in 2008 or so, I just stopped. Read the rest of this entry »

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Five Years of Audio Antihero

audioantihero Running a record label can be a little like being in Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition at times, in that I lose count of the times I get into conversations which start with ‘The toughest thing about running a record label… wait, wait, the two toughest thi… actually the THREE toughest things about running a record label are…’ and so on and so forth.

It’s not the same as being in a band, but it’s close. I don’t think maintaining a level head amongst near constant rejection and occasional hyperbolic adulation is quite as personal a challenge when you’re one step removed from the actual making of the music. But there is what can only be described as a crushing sense of responsibility to the people who choose you to be the one to do your best with their life’s work, and make sure it gets out in the world properly, particularly if you are small and tend to work with friends and people who personally trust you.

A pal of mine who I have known since very near the beginning of the label is Jamie from Audio Antihero. You’ve heard about Benjamin Shaw, Jack Hayter, Nosferatu D2 and Superman Revenge Squad on the blog before, but more or less everything the label releases is good. And he has the best label motto of all time: “Specialists in commercial suicide.” I wish I’d thought of that first.

If you don’t trust me on that one, well there is a very simple remedy. To celebrate their first five years of existence they are offering up a free sampler – well pay-what-you-like, which is NOT THE SAME THING! – which you can get from their Bandcamp page here.

If you want a clear indication of why I like this label so much, I think it is summed up in their press release which contains maybe even more sarcasm and bitter cynicism than even these pages:

“It’s our “Birthday” – Audio Antihero has been a label for five long years. It could have gone worse, I suppose. I hope you’ve enjoyed some of it. Thanks for supporting.

50% OFF:
Get 50% off anything from our Bandcamp for the next 48 hours (expires Friday) with the discount code “fuckthisshit” (after that, it’ll switch to a 15% off code). Valid on anything (CD/Digital/Cassette/Stress Ball).”

Kindred spirits, clearly. Anyhow, go and buy things. Or least listen to them closely, to make up for the fact that I didn’t write about the Cloud album when I actually rather liked it. Sorry Jamie. Here’s to the next five years old chap!

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An Orgy of (sort of) Exploitative Vinyl Re-issues

Frozen So many vinyl-reissues and only so much cash. I fucking hate this kind of choice, and I can’t help but feel a bit ripped off, but the truth of the matter is that for all it seems a bit cheeky, I still really, really want these immaculate new vinyl versions of old albums I love.

Part of Guy Hands’ comically disastrous purchase of EMI a few years ago was the anticipation of mining the back catalogue of the label for infinite re-packaging and re-release. It was supposed to be a viable new model, and for all it failed completely, the idea was clearly not crazy because a lot of people are enthusiastically embracing large aspects of it today.

For example Mute have just sold their back catalogue to BMG, and one of the first things that they did was to decide upon an immediate re-release of most of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ back catalogue. As a massive Nick Cave fan, of course this is thrilling news for me, albeit in a slightly wary sort of way.

But really, given I have already bought a lot of these albums a couple of times already (the old vinyl -> tape -> CD -> etc… milking process) there is a perfectly reasonable argument to make that this is basically just ripping off an existing fanbase, exploiting their nostalgia and love for the bands to get your hands in their now well-stuffed middle aged pockets. It can feel, no matter how much I love a lot of the music, pretty grubby.

This isn’t a new thought to be considering, of course, but at this point in time there are three series of these reissues which all seem to be approaching it a little differently, and I think it sort of highlights where I start to feel exploited, and where I think that it feels less like back-catalogue-flogging and more like fan-boy completism.

Bob Dylan Bootleg Series

It feels fair to say that pretty much no-one has exploited their back catalogue more (or indeed better) than Bob Dylan. Live show reissues, rarities, early demos, encyclopaedic album sessions… you name it, if he’s recorded it, someone has remastered it, stuck it on vinyl and flogged it to idiots like me.

For all I feel that my weakness for Bob Dylan has been identified and exploited, though, I am not sure I would really call the Bootleg Series exploitative. It’s a bit merciless, I guess – I mean, holy fuck, how many hundreds and hundreds of pounds have they managed to prise out of me since this series first started, but holy hell it’s good. The records are beautifully packaged and accompanied by gorgeous design and extensive writing and photography, and this really helps emphasise the raison d’être of the collection, as well as making it a wonderful thing to own in and of itself.

Some of it’s a bit obscure and weird, but for the most part this is all new material as well, things which existing über-fans and regular passive fans can enjoy equally. As an example, the 1966 Royal Albert Hall recording is arguably the greatest live album of all time. For a casual Bob Dylan fan, this contains some of the most ferocious and vital recordings of his music – it’s not just scratchy shit, played and recorded less well than the album the songs were released on, these are actually the best versions ever captured of many of these tunes. On the other hand my parents are huge Dylan fans – my mum was actually at the Manchester Free Trade Hall show which gets surreptitiously spliced into the recording part of the way through. They were, in fact, amongst the outraged folkies who howled in dismay as their hero went electric.

When I bought this for my folks I said ‘I know you’ll love the acoustic half of this, but just listen to the full band side – it’s one of the most electric (ha ha), confrontational performances I have ever heard’. Predictably, after a few weeks they got back to me saying ‘well yes, but the acoustic side really is incredible. It’s Dylan at his best really.’ But what surprised me was my dad taking the time, almost a year later, to agree that the second album, the plugged-in part, really was incredible – that it really was the highlight of the album.

So it works for casual fans, it works for lifelong fans, and for someone like myself it made me understand just how intense the betrayal when Dylan went electric really was for his fans, even to a degree for society itself, something I could never have understood from simply reading about it. This may be the pinnacle of Dylan’s Bootleg Series and an exceptional moment in music history, but if you are going to mercilessly mine a back catalogue for things to sell to people, this is how you do it.

The Wedding Present Reissues

The other vinyl reissues I wanted to discuss are a little different from the Dylan Bootleg Series, in that they aren’t releases of material people haven’t necessarily heard before, they are simply plain old reissues of old albums to an established fanbase. This is where things start to feel a little more dubious. ‘Hey, people who already bought this the first time, how about buying it AGAIN? This time for TWICE THE PRICE because it’s a deluxe reissue on heavy vinyl.’ You know what I mean.

Where these reissues make sense, however, is that The Wedding Present were at their most prominent during the nineties nadir of vinyl manufacture. A lot of their stuff was pressed, if at all, in runs so tiny that getting hold of the bastard things is a serious challenge. I know. I have tried. Bizarro and Seamonsters can be tracked down, but the likes of Watusi and Saturnalia represent a bit more of a challenge and can be rather expensive. So for all I kind of resent paying once again for albums I have already bought on CD, well, I still sort of get it, and really it’s my own stupid choice.

Plus, once again, the artwork may not be new but they have taken care with the re-packaging and included single b-sides and EP released around the time of the album as well, and the Wedding Present are a very good b-side band. I still am sulking about it a bit, I must confess. I have successfully tracked down Bizarro and Seamonsters second hand, and I am now looking at these re-releases wondering if I really, really think it’s worth it but… oh, I don’t know. It’s tricky. There’s good stuff here, but it does feel a bit like I am being tricked into paying for the same damn thing over and over again.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Reissues

This is actually today’s announcement: full vinyl reissues of more or less every fucking Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album. This was a proper fucking forehead palm-smack moment for me, because I have put a fair bit of time into finding these recently, and to own slightly tatty old copies when new, heavy, shiny ones will be available so soon is hugely galling.

Beyond just plain bad luck with timing, however, there are a couple of aspects of this which really do smell rather strongly of fish. The first and most obvious one is that this series of reissues includes fucking Dig Lazarus Dig, which was only released in 2008 in the first place.  Come on, lads, there’s surely no fucking way that merits a reissue already.

The second, and one which perhaps annoys me the most, is this: for all these are all being remastered the actual quote from the press release about the artwork is this: “Each album has been crafted to reflect the original release from the cover to the printed inner sleeves”. Now, I may be being unreasonably cynical, but to me that reads like they haven’t really done anything to the artwork at all. It’s possible that the original recordings were over-compressed in the mastering stage, because that’s what people did back then, but unless they are remastering the original mixes there’s not much that tweaking an over-compressed master can really do, so even that causes me to raise my eyebrows a little.

I suppose it’s also arguable that a lot of these were originally released on shitty 80s vinyl pressings where the record itself was wafer thin and the liner notes were minimal, so maybe these will just be slightly better quality, but these records are out there so for the most part their scarcity is debatable, with the exception of a couple.

The final product may prove me wrong here, but what this whole enterprise smells of to me is someone realising that the market for second-hand Nick Cave vinyl is strong, there is no in-house stock, and dammit that money should be ours. And that’s actually fair enough, I guess. If people are buying Nick Cave records, they should be buying them from Nick Cave.  But once again, I find myself in a position where I have paid for these damn albums so many times I am really starting to resent it. I love the music, I go to the shows, but if I am going to cough up for something like my third fucking version of Henry’s Dream then at least give me something new so that I don’t just feel like you’re taking the piss.

Conclusions

Well, simple, really. I assume that most of these records are being sold to existing fans. It’s possible that this is considered as a chance to gain new press for old material and perhaps address an emerging fan base who might be more likely to buy vinyl than they were ten or fifteen years ago, but in general this stuff is being sold to people like me: people in their 30s and 40s with slightly deeper pockets than we once had and an enduring love for the bands in question. So really, as much as I moan, I really do want these products.

I am delighted about the chance to hear Bob Dylan scare the shit out of his audience for having an electric guitarist and a drummer in his band. I’m actually quite excited about being able to get the three 10″ vinyl reissue of Seamonsters with all the accompanying b-sides and EP tracks. And actually, I hadn’t thought about how good an album No More Shall We Part is for ages, so I am pretty chuffed about it being available on vinyl as well. But please give me something. If you are going to come back for my money again and again for the same material, at least put effort into the artwork, the context provided by the accompanying material, the historical significance for dedicated fans of the band of the unheard material you include, and.. well pretty much anything that makes this more than just a clean, new duplicate of an album I already own, and probably also bought on CD in the 90s too.

It needs to be a bit more than that, because one side is giving dedicated fans something of depth, interest which strengthens their relationship with the band, and on the other is simply ripping people off because vinyl is back again and you know you can get yet another payday for the same damn material. So it’s a very fine line, but not one you want to fall on the wrong side of.

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Nostalgic Wandering in Manchester

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I am in Manchester at the moment, visiting my Granddad, who has lived in the same house in Withington since before I was born. I’ve lived here myself on two occasions, and for some reason the last one particularly comes back in waves when I walk around this part of the city, despite being back around the turn of the millennium.

I’ve said dozens of times before that my relationship with Manchester, where my mum’s family are all from, was always a bit ropey simply because I lived here during a couple of the most difficult parts of my life and for some reason it’s always coloured my relationship with the place.

That changed a few years ago when I started to come down here regularly for music events, and met some brilliant, inspirational people in doing so. Now I really look forward to coming down to Manchester, and think of it as one of my favourite places in the UK, but for some reason wandering around Withington always brings back that strange period of limbo after I graduated from university when my life was perhaps as sensitive to small nudges in one direction or another as it has ever been. Read the rest of this entry »

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Song, by Toad Says YES!

[Advance warning: this is too long, and if you can’t be fucked, don’t read it. I am not adding anything new to the debate, I’m just another idiot parping out their own opinion for no better reason than, I suppose, a bit of vanity. Don’t feel compelled to indulge me.]

I know no-one really cares what I think, but fuck it, I think is how democracy is supposed to work these days. People voice their opinions on the internet, read what a wide variety of people have to say and then decide which bits they do and do not agree with. Besides, I quite like the idea of nailing one’s colours to the mast when it comes to this kind of thing. It’s a pretty important question, after all, given that between the record label and Mrs. Toad’s job, we are probably now committed to spending the rest of our lives in Scotland.

Of course, I am not talking about the views of anyone on the label, which are fairly mixed I think, if perhaps vaguely Yes-leaning, but they are the business of the artists themselves and if you’re interested then you’ll have to ask them. I speak just for myself.

This could get long, like all the articles on this subject, but I’ll try and break it down into chunks so you can skim or skip entirely, depending on which arguments you can and cannot be bothered seeing re-hashed on the internet for the millionth fucking time. I think one of the reasons I am writing this is that I see it as a genuinely difficult decision and, for all once you’ve decided, you really have decided and there’s no going back, anyone who thinks it’s really simple one way or the other is just not thinking straight, whether because of ideology or simple rose-tinted excitement.

But it’s not simple. I don’t think any of the Yes arguments are as straight-forwardly compelling as a lot of the people making them seem to think they are, and I certainly don’t think any of the dire No warnings are all that realistic either. It’s muddy. It’s politics, and it’s people, and people are weird, unpredictable, vain, selfish and stupid as much as we can be generous, noble or compassionate. All of us are, in one sense or another, and that’s the country we will inevitably get. Read the rest of this entry »

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Why EXCLUSIVES!!! Make Me Hate Music

 Jesus Christ these damn things irritate the shit out of me, both as a label and as a blogger. You know what I mean, don’t you? EXCLUSIVE!1!!! FIRST STREAM OF WAYLOR STIFT’S NEW SINGLE ZOMGWOW!!!1! etc etc etc..

Firstly, there’s no such fucking thing as a fucking exclusive. It’s pointless. This is the fucking internet for fuck’s sake.

More to the point, though, this is just a fucking stupid act of desperation from both sides where they desperately try and exploit people they perceive to be marginally higher up the ladder than them in order to grasp that tiny little bit of extra attention which seems to be all most people are in music for in the first place. Premieres aren’t in and of themselves dreadful, of course – sometimes it’s just a nice thing between a writer who is a fan and a band who appreciate the support – but almost 99% of the time it’s one or the other or both just desperately hoping someone will give a shit about them.

The reasoning is simple enough, I suppose. The band thinks that the publication has a massive readership and by giving them the exclusive, they’ll get that bit of extra commitment from the publication to pushing it to that readership and KABOOM, fame and fortune are inevitable.

Publications, on the other hand, are looking to give as much support to the bands they love, and given how much support they’ve given them in the past, isn’t it nice that the first listen of their awesome new song takes place on our site even though they’re big now. We are building a genuine reputation for supporting the music we love, and showing people our fine taste and curatorial judgement.

The problem is that this isn’t really how it works in reality.

In reality, bands are rather pathetically offering up these premieres so as to give themselves the tiniest extra chance of getting coverage in what they see as the most significant and important publication they can reasonably aim for, hoping that audience and that stamp of approval will do something magical for their careers or give them some vague sense of validation.

The publications, on the other hand, are just looking to exploit buzzy bands to look cool. If we get this super-cool premiere from this super-cool band then all their legions of hip young fans will think that we are super-cool too and then they will always come to our website to bathe in our glorious opinions and we will become significant cultural touchstones for the fashionable youth of the 21st Century. Or if they’re not all that buzzy, at least they’ll spend all day trying to get their fans to come to our site, which means traffic nirvana.

The results are just painful and stupid.

From the point of view of  a label or a PR guy, I fucking hate this shit. It seems pretty much impossible to get a news piece on most of the more influential sites because they just aren’t interested unless you dress the fucking thing up as an exclusive or as a premiere. Why? What a waste of fucking time. If you like it, are interested in the band, or rate the music you should just fucking publish it. If you want to be a tastemaker that’s your entire fucking purpose.  Who cares if it’s a fucking exclusive or if a hundred other sites have written about it – respect your own opinions.

And how can you tell that most of the thinking in this area is a pathetic as I have laid out above? Well if the band are bigger than the publication then the publication will fart out any old recycled fucking news piece regardless of anything, just for the hits. I know this from writing a blog myself that timely articles about famous artists drives a lot of traffic, irrespective of whatever copy-and-pasted shit you put in there – that’s partly why I stopped doing it.

Alternatively, if you’re too small to demand the coverage off the back of your own status and have them scrabbling around after you then you’ll get leant on for exclusives so that they can exploit your entire PR effort driving traffic to their site in an effort to justify the feature. Basically, they are holding you to fucking ransom to push traffic to their site. I am at the point now where I am nervous about announcing things on my own fucking website, in case the fact that it is already out there puts off too many other sites from writing about it at all. I shouldn’t do it. You shouldn’t do it, it’s pathetic.

From the point of view of a music reviewer I find it equally irritating when PR people and bands I don’t know get in touch peddling exclusives and premieres.  I don’t need to be pandered to. There’s no need to offer me an exclusive. I have some fucking integrity, thank you, I’ll cover it if I think it is good or interesting and only then, as I have demonstrated about a bazillion times in the past. Ooh, an exclusive, I’ll definitely write about your shit band now.

What’s actually worse is when PR people get in touch linking me to another website, saying ‘our exclusive new single just premiered on hipsterpish.com, check it out!’ What they’re effectively saying is that now the important people are interested they’re trying to use their status to impress me into writing about stuff, and also that we are so far down the pecking order that they can’t even be fucked sending us the actual press release.  Once the big boys have picked the carcass clean, we small fry are invited to scavenge amongst the bones. Fuck off.

And why? I just don’t see the fucking point. Fair enough, Pitchfork’s Best New Music anointment means a lot of traffic and kudos, and maybe one or two others do, but most of this shit is fucking meaningless. Have you seen how few plays an exclusive premiere on one of the perceived larger online music magazines gets you? Pretty much fuck all, actually. You’re better off firing it around your fans most of the time, and letting their enthusiasm do the rest. Certainly if theirs doesn’t then there’s fat chance anyone else’s will.

The premiere seems to fundamentally misunderstand the network effects of the internet. If as a band you want things to go viral – which you do – then it’s not the one big important site that matters, but the sheer number of sites, fans, pals who share the thing around everywhere. And if as a publication you want to drive traffic to your site then you want the band to be talked about as far and wide as possible so that they get big and everyone starts looking for them on the internet, don’t you? This pathetic, status-conscious grovelling from both sides makes absolutely everyone look shit.

You can tell the good sites because a few of them genuinely do premiere stuff with almost no audience and which no-one else has heard of for no other reason than that they really like it. I love seeing that happen – that’s what music writing should be. But more often than not it’s sites desperately trying to chisel bands for every last bit of audience they can send their way instead of having some fucking respect for their own actual, real opinions about music. And bands are all too often desperately looking for that stamp of approval from the bigger fish and often neglecting the smaller fry, even when they have genuine enthusiasm for your stuff and actually might put some more effort into helping you reach a bigger audience.

Fucking hell, the ‘plea for integrity’. As if the fucking internet didn’t have enough of these already – almost as many as it has spurious fucking exclusive streams of new songs or pointless fucking video premieres.

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Stuart Maconie and the Virtues of Having a Bit of Patience

stumac It’s a monumentally frustrating business, doing PR. There’s a famous line attributed to one of the pioneers of advertising John Wanamaker which says that “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, the problem is I don’t know which half.”

It’s a bit like that with PR. You just never know what’s worth the effort and the expense and what isn’t. I learned this when I was just about to give up on sending our promo material to one particular journalist as I hadn’t heard from him for three years and thought he might have moved house, only for him suddenly to invite me to do an interview with Word Magazine about one-man labels, out of the blue.

With Stuart Maconie it’s slightly different, but still another aspect of why it takes oceans of patience to do this job, as well as a lesson in remembering that you don’t really ever know what other people are thinking.

Radcliffe and Maconie – the daytime 6Music show which Stuart presents alongside Mark Radcliffe) has absolutely never played any of our songs. Not one. Not even ones which everyone played – and yes, stop sniggering, we have actually had a couple of those. Kind of.

I know our music isn’t always all that suitable for middle of the day play on national radio, but we’ve had breakfast plays, ‘drivetime’* plays and plenty of love from Lauren Laverne and Steve Lamacq who also present daytime shows, so it can’t just be the kind of music we release, someone presumably just doesn’t rate it all that highly.

I can be a bit tribal about this kind of thing, so my response to that tends to be a little along the lines of ‘oh right, well fuck absolutely everyone involved then and a fucking massive pox on all their houses.  And, come to think of it, their friends’ houses. And the houses of their favourite TV chefs.’ They don’t rate us, then fuck them, I don’t rate them either.

I think most people who release music have a bit of that in them – the ‘everyone who doesn’t like this is an idiot’ instinct. It’s a useful defence mechanism, I guess, because the other option is to wonder whether or not the music you’re releasing might actually be a bit shit, and no-one wants to think that. Or alternatively, I suppose, that you are simply being ignored, and the latter possibility is a pretty frustrating thing to face if it is your job to actually get publicity for someone else’s music.

Surprisingly, though, despite my total failure to get through to Radcliffe and Maconie, things are not quite as clear-cut as they might seem. Because Stuart Maconie has another show on 6Music, called Freakzone, and the other day be played a meandering seven and a half minute song by David Thomas Broughton, from our latest Split 12″ and described us as “one of my favourite record labels”.

In fact, on Freakzone Stuart Maconie played, I think, the very first thing I ever sent him. I am pretty sure it was Salt Pt.1 from Pissing on Bonfires/Kissing With Tongues. And although there is plenty he doesn’t play – he doesn’t have all that much time on air, remember – he was really into Trips and Falls, and every once in a while will play something unexpected, just when I start to think he might have lost interest.

So actually, perhaps he does rate us. And perhaps he does listen to most of the things we send him. In fact, it seems pretty obvious that he does.

And honestly, for a label, that is a great feeling and brings a weird sense of relief. I have no problem with people listening to our stuff and not liking it, this is music after all. But the idea of simply being ignored is a tough one to get your head around.

So why don’t we ever, ever get played on Radcliffe and Maconie, then? Truth is, I still have no idea. But you know, there could be loads of reasons. Often the playlist of a show is picked more by the production team than the presenters, and it could be the producers just don’t rate us. Or they want more high-profile bands than we tend to work with. Or whatever.

Truth is, it doesn’t really matter. For whatever reason, we haven’t ever quite yet fit what they’re trying to do with the show and you have to remind yourself that from their point of view it’s not about your music, it’s about their radio show.

But the fact is we are at least getting through to people on the show and, as evidenced by the Freakzone plays, we’re still being listened to and are actually held in some affection. And with our budget and our scale, that represents really significant levels of success actually. And if we don’t get a play for this or that, or some things are more suitable for some shows than others, you can’t complain about that.

So as frustrating as it is to see Kasabian getting any radio play on 6Music at all, alongside all these major labels, well-established indies and expensive plugging campaigns we are still getting a very fair crack of the whip indeed, and that’s incredible. So for all the Radcliffe and Maconie silence might imply Stuart and the team ain’t that into our stuff, the occasional plays on Freakzone remind me that actually maybe they are, and I should just have some patience and trust that the DJs and producers and writers are listening, and they will do their bit for us when they get the chance.

It’s not like one tiny label in Scotland is the only place flooding them with crap, after all. In fact it’s a bit of a miracle we get the success that we do. But these little surprises are a big help in reminding me to have just a little bit of patience from time to time! And to be thankful for the successes we do get.

Oh, and the seven-and-a-half-minute song he played? It was this one below, from our third Split 12″ release which came out earlier in the year.

*Yes, I know. Yuck.