All posts tagged record

  • Rolling Stone ‘My Record Collection’ interview: Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol, January 2012

    An entry in Rolling Stone’s regular ‘My Record Collection’ interview series, published in the January 2012 issue. Click the below image for a closer look, or read the article text underneath.

    My Record Collection – Gary Lightbody

    Snow Patrol’s frontman takes us through his favourite albums

    “I’m certainly the one who listens to the craziest music,” Gary Lightbody says of his four bandmates in Irish rock act Snow Patrol. “I make mix CDs for everybody. Sometimes they’re met with raised eyebrows. If I make one for my Mum, it’ll definitely be little country songs, some pop songs, nothing too crazy. But I might throw in a cheeky wee Four Tet song!” Lightbody is on a promo tour in Amsterdamwhen RS calls, ahead of the release of their sixth album, Fallen Empires.

    Metallica – …And Justice For All (1988)

    “This was their best record, and probably the one I listened to most. That style of music was a bit lost on me, because I couldn’t emulate it on guitar. It sounded like alien beings were creating the music: virtuoso guitar solos, and chugging that I couldn’t match with my right hand. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t masturbating enough as a teenager. But it was still intense; I’d always be thrashing away, headbanging to it in my room, or with my mates.”

    Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)

    “This record changed everything for me. It made me realise that I can actually do something with my guitar. Nirvana brought music into the real world, for me. Writing from the heart, rather than playing from the head and thinking from the ballsack. Kurt’s songs were extraordinary deconstructions of the human mind. As a sullen, sensitive 15 year-old – who was very insular, awkward, and loved his poetry – Nevermind spoke to me, just as it spoke to millions of other kids around the world.”

    Super Furry Animals – Fuzzy Logic (1996)

    “This is just an insane record. These are all songs that I still absolutely adore today. The Super Furries are one of those bands that opened up all sorts of music. People call them psychedelic because they don’t have any other words to describe them. They’re on their own little trip; in a class of their own. If their boundary-less expression of music has showed us anything, it’s that you should never keep doing the same thing again and again. It taught us to be adventurous.”

    Young MC – Stone Cold Rhymin’ (1989)

    “When I was 18 I started going to clubs, so my music tastes widened. I still listened to guitar music, of course – I mean, I’m in a band that plays guitar music – but I found a lot of dance music, funk, soul and hip hop. This is my favourite hip-hop album of all time. I love it when hip-hop is playful, and not about guns, bling and bitches. His records were about things like ditching school, and first loves. There was a naivety about it that’s unusual in hip-hop these days, and even a little unusual back then, when hip-hop was so political and racially charged.”

    Midlake – The Trials of Van Occupanther (2006)

    “I completely fell in love with this record, as well as that whole genre of music – Americana-ish, bluesy- and folky-tinged rock music. ‘Roscoe’ could possibly be my favourite song of all time. It’s an extraordinary piece of music: sweeping, lyrically phenomenal, and dense. It’s incredibly tricky to take in on the first goodness-knows-how-many listens. That’s the testament to a great song: you’re always finding new things in it.”

    Bon Iver – Bon Iver (2011)

    “Their first album was incredible, too, but this is just a beautiful, beautiful record. I’ve just been in its little universe for the last few months, loving every minute of it. ‘Michicant’ and ‘Holocene’ are two songs that I’ll take with me forever, I think. They’ll always be on my mind.”

    Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (2010)

    “On The Suburbs, themes and little motifs reoccur. You discover more about the song before by listening to the song after. It’s the sort of record that is essential, and cherishable. That’s the style of record that we wanted to make, too. Goodness knows if we’ve achieved it [with Fallen Empires], but my God, our ambition was high. Bands like Arcade Fire make your ambition high. When I listened to it, I went, ‘Fuck me, we’re gonna have to be better.’”

  • The Australian story: Hillsong Music Australia, October 2011

    A short feature for The Australian’s arts section about Hillsong Music Australia, the record label arm of the Hillsong Church. Excerpt below.

    The power in grooving for God

    [Photo above: Hillsong Live plays at the Sydney Entertainment Centre in December. Thousands of fans attend Hillsong’s conferences and live album recordings each year. Picture: Trigger Happy Images Source: Supplied]

    The crowd roars as the lights dim. All eyes are focused on the stage, where smoke obscures the silhouetted figures. Four guitarists, four singers, two keyboardists, a drummer and a dozen-strong choir break into song. The sound is loud and clear. A boom operator swings a camera across the front rows; its images are fed on to three screens, which also list the song’s lyrics in a huge white font.

    The visual aids seem superfluous, though, as most know these songs by heart. Once the strobe lights disperse at song’s end, one of the singers asks: “Does anybody love Jesus here tonight?”

    It’s Friday night at the Brisbane campus of the Hillsong Church, yet the production values wouldn’t be out of place at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre, about 25km away. About 3500 worshippers surge through these doors each weekend for services on Friday nights and Sunday mornings. The first third of this 90-minute service is more rock show than sermon: there are about 600 people in attendance tonight, all grooving on the spot to the rhythm section, hands held aloft in praise, voices singing, “Our God is greater than all”.

    All the musicians on stage are volunteers, as are the sound and lighting technicians. But unlike other live music venues across Brisbane, there’s no pursuit of a pay cheque. Instead, we’re witnessing musical expression in search of divine approval.

    After the band leaves the stage, an advertisement for Hillsong’s annual live album recording appears. This year, the recording takes place at Allphones Arena in Sydney, where 15,000 people are expected to attend. Hillsong Music Australia manager Tim Whincop calls the recording — to be held this Sunday — “an extension of our church services”.

    “With so many services across a weekend, we don’t often get chance for our whole church to worship together at the same time,” Whincop says. “Our gathering at Allphones Arena will allow us to achieve this, and we will take this opportunity to record our next worship album.”

    Since its first album in 1988, Hillsong Music has become one of the most successful independent record labels in Australia. According to Whincop, the label has sold more than 12 million records worldwide, and more than one million records in Australia. It has 21 ARIA-certified gold records to its name, 11 certified gold DVDs and one platinum CD: the 1994 live album People Just Like Us, which sold more than 70,000 copies. Yet, apart from when it pops up in the charts a handful of times each year, the label exists outside the nation’s mainstream music industry.

    Hillsong Music emerged in 1983 out of the congregation at the Hills Christian Life Centre in Baulkham Hills, Sydney. Whincop says its music interests have grown from “a small team of passionate people to a group of hundreds of singers, musicians, songwriters and production volunteers” based at three campuses in Sydney, one in Brisbane and 12 extension services held in venues including bowling clubs, universities and cinemas.

    Hillsong Music Australia — a department of the church — employs 17 full-time staff.

    Its artists and repertoire have little in common with other labels. Where a company such as Dew Process in Brisbane has a diverse roster of artists, such as Sarah Blasko, the Panics, Mumford & Sons and Bernard Fanning, Hillsong has just three bands on its roster: Hillsong Live, Hillsong Kids and United, the church’s best known “praise and worship band”, which was founded in 1998 and has 13 albums under its belt. Like the Hillsong Live series, United releases an album each year. The label’s next release has a Christmas theme.

    For the full story, visit The Australian. [Note: you may have to register for an account to read the full article, as News Limited has imposed a paywall as of October 2011]

  • AusIndies.com.au guest post: ‘In praise of earplugs’, September 2011

    A guest post for AusIndies.com.au, the online home of the Australian Independent Record Labels Association (AIR). Excerpt below.

    In praise of earplugs: A live music reviewer’s perspective

    Anyone who regularly witnesses live music and doesn’t wear earplugs is an idiot.

    This is non-negotiable. No ifs, no buts. If you watch bands playing their music through amplifiers on a regular basis and you don’t wear earplugs, you’re silly.

    It’s the aural equivalent of staring into the sun. Sooner or later it’s going to hurt, and it’s going to make your life worse.

    Human nature being what it is, I completely understand why people are hesitant to take proactive measures to protect their hearing. The conversation tends to go something like: “If there’s no problem besides the occasional ringing ear after a concert, what’s the problem? Ringing ears are part of the live music experience, right?”

    Right, to an extent. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

    Picture it like this. You started life with 100% hearing. By exposing yourself to prolonged periods of loud noise – like, say, The Drones owning The Corner Hotel for 90 minutes on a Saturday night – you’re consistently chipping away at fractions of that 100%. Human hearing has no natural regenerative properties. Hearing aids may work in some circumstances, but that’s a reactive measure; something you might look into once you’ve made the mistake of standing next to the speaker stacks once too often.

    Like mental illness, hearing loss is easy to overlook because it’s something experienced by the individual, and rarely observed by outsiders. Tangible evidence is rare. If you start losing your hearing, your friends might even notice sooner than you do. They’ll see you straining to hear them talk in noisy environments – like, say, a music venue – and they might mock you for being hard of hearing.

    They have every right to – as long as they’re wearing earplugs. Because hearing loss is preventable, even among the most avid live music fans, as long as certain precautions are taken.

    Like wearing earplugs.

    I generally encountered two main concerns when I raise this topic.

    One: “I’ll look like an idiot while I’m putting them in and taking them out”.

    And two: “They’ll ruin the gig’s sound quality”.

    To read the full article, visit AusIndies.com.au.

  • AusIndies.com.au guest post: ‘Artist patronage’, September 2011

    A guest post for AusIndies.com.au, the online home of the Australian Independent Record Labels Association (AIR). Excerpt below.

    Artist patronage: What does it mean to be a fan in 2011?

    If you tell me you’re a fan of The Jezabels or Kanye West in 2011, what might you mean by that?

    Let’s assume that you mean that, at a base level, you enjoy listening to music written, recorded and performed by a particular artist or band. You identify with their music, or lyrics, or image, for whatever reason. And so you elect to align yourself with this artist or band by listening to their music, ‘liking’ them on Facebook, telling your friends about their music, following them on Twitter, buying a ticket to their nearby shows, buying a t-shirt advertising their name, and perhaps, buying their music.

    The latter three are optional, nowadays; the last one, especially so. In 2011, buying music is like the ‘maybe’ you select on a Facebook event invite so as to not offend your friend, even though you immediately know you don’t want to attend. You know that you can buy an artist’s music, but you know that you can just as easily hear their music without making a transaction. You know that YouTube, streaming services and torrents are the most efficient methods of listening to music without having to pay for it.

    In 2011, it’s easier than ever to be a fan of an artist without ever parting with your money.

    This is a problematic situation for all but the biggest artists, many of who were already established before Napster smashed the piñata with a sledgehammer and left the entire music industry scrambling on the ground for pennies.

    It’s a bizarre situation where you can know all the words to your new favourite band’s debut album and catch their buzz-driven set during summer festival season without ever making an explicit donation into their wallets. They’ll get a performance fee from the tour promoter, of course, but generally speaking, the road to the Big Day Out is paved with poverty and hardship for every artist without wealthy benefactors supporting their art.

    Historically, this role has been inhabited by the record label: the wealthy benefactor who provided cash for talented musicians so that they might grow and mature as songwriters and performers. So that they might sell more records, play larger venues, and eventually provide a return on the record label’s initial investment. Labels were banks, signing mortgages to artists who might someday be able to own the house outright.

    Labels are banks, still, but they’re no longer the only service provider. Canny media platforms and service providers like Bandcamp and Topspin can become surrogate record labels for artists by distributing and marketing their music on a worldwide basis. Canny artists, too, can manage their own affairs, if they’re willing to invest significant attention into the business side of creativity. A third – and often overlooked – option exists: fans as artist patrons.

    We Are Hunted co-founder Nick Crocker defines patronage as, “One that supports, protects, or champions someone or something, such as an institution, event, or cause; a sponsor or benefactor: a patron of the arts.

    This notion of artist patronage is what we need to foster among the next generation of music fans. That music is valuable, because talent isn’t free.

    To read the full article, visit AusIndies.com.au.

  • Mess+Noise ‘icons’ interview: ‘Lawrence English + ROOM40’, December 2010

    An interview for the Mess+Noise ‘icons’ series. Excerpt below.

    Lawrence English and ROOM40

    In an age of disconnect, Lawrence English still believes in the life-affirming power of new sounds. It’s what’s kept his label ROOM40 going for 10 years, writes ANDREW MCMILLEN.

    If you’re an experimental sound artist looking to distribute your music internationally, no matter where you’re based, the name Lawrence English is bound to crop up in your research. English [pictured right – kind of] has operated the label ROOM40 out of his home in Brisbane since 2000, or, in his own words, he’s delivered “sound parcels from the antipodes since the turn of the century”. Such is the man’s reputation for courteous professionalism, kindness and amiability among the world’s non-mainstream music community that he could well front a Tourism Queensland campaign for international relations.

    “The six degrees separation thing in this particular field, I think, is much less than six. Even your top level guys, your Brian Enos, the degrees of separation, are like two or three at the most,” English says. “One of my very good friends, Ben Frost, is Eno’s current mentee. We put out Ben’s first album. There’s this great flow-on effect. I think the really good thing about this particular area is it is really like an extended family, in the best way possible, not in the kind of squabbling way.”

    English’s greatest passion appears to be sharing interesting sounds with others. As far as I can gauge, this is why ROOM40 exists. Every release is a labour of love, carefully choreographed with a selection of artists hand-picked from around the globe. ROOM40’s Australian releases over the years include John Chantler, Chris Abrahams (of The Necks) and Rod Cooper.

    “I’m a big believer in that generally in music, there’s enough room for everyone to do their thing and to find an audience. The kind of competitive, closed spaces that sometimes happen with more contemporary music – I just don’t believe in that because I think there’s plenty of room for Big Day Out, for Soundwave, for all these major festivals. I believe in open systems. The cycle of the fringes to the centre and back around again; that’s what keeps it interesting.”

    As 2010 marks ROOM40’s 10th anniversary, I dropped into English’s home in Kelvin Grove, a suburb of Brisbane, to discuss its past, present and future.

    I’ve read that you consider ROOM40 not just as a label, but a multi-arts organisation, which encompasses the label, distribution, promoting shows – what else?

    Festivals, art curation, and art installation. It started as an umbrella so it was like the label publishing editions and all that kind of stuff; the opportunity to bring people to Australia and send Australia overseas, like a kind of cycle thing … We’ve had some great international artists. Christian Marclay was here a few years ago in Melbourne at ACMI [Australian Centre for the Moving Image]. But we are yet to see that celebration of contemporary sound culture or a kind of connective thing – this thing is, for most Australian musicians in this area, their profile is overseas. Someone like Oren Ambarchi, for example, that guy’s touring in every other country. He plays in Australia maybe three times a year or something. He might play 50 shows. The same for me: I played two shows this year and by the end of the year I’ll have played like 30 or 40 something. Ninety percent of them will not be in Australia. It’s just because the opportunities are elsewhere and Australia is just one of a number of countries that you can go to.

    For the full interview, visit Mess+Noise. Thanks for being one of the most interesting people I know, Lawrence. For more info on ROOM40, visit their website.

  • triple j mag story: ‘Music Counts For Something’, September 2010

    A feature for the September 2010 issue of the recently-renamed triple j mag, which discusses what Australian musicians make from selling music as a proportion of their overall income. The full article text is underneath.

    triple j mag story, September 2010: 'Music Counts For Something' by Andrew McMillen

    Music Counts For Something

    by Andrew McMillen

    We asked some top independent artists to speak specifics on the art of selling music in the digital age – and to advise up-and-comers on how not to get rorted.

    Throughout the history of recorded music, album sales were a strong indicator as to artists’ personal wealth. The equation used to go: gold and platinum record sales + sold out tours = money in the bank. But in 2010, people are less and less likely to pay for recorded music, with the equation continuing to shift away from sales toward touring.

    The Presets

    The Presets’ Julian Hamilton is blunt when discussing musical economics, as an ambassador for APRA – the Australasian Performing Right Association – might well be. “These days, if you want to be a working musician can’t just rely on record sales to make money,” he says.

    According to Julian, music sales through publishing account for “around a third or a quarter” of The Presets’ overall income. “But it’s tricky because the way that musicians earn money is so varied, through so many different revenue streams that come in at different times. Some months, you might make no money.”

    His advice to aspiring musos: “Try to keep the creative and business sides of the bands different: don’t talk about money when you’re rehearsing, and don’t talk about lyrics when you’re in a business meeting. Set up a group account under the band’s name, where all members can see where the money’s going.”

    “If you can sort the shitty business side out, so that you don’t worry about it, that’s gonna make the fun stuff even more fun.”

    Gotye

    Under the pseudonym Gotye, Wally de Backer put himself $30,000 in debt to fund his ARIA Award-winning album Like Drawing Blood in 2006. That risk paid off: following mainstream interest in his independently released second LP, Wally eventually made over $100,000 in album sales and royalty payments.

    At the release of the first Gotye album, 2003’s Boardface, de Backer got the feeling that “making music wouldn’t ever be more than something I could produce and finance in my spare time from ‘real work’. Having been a full-time musician for a couple of years now, I’m amazed at how much time can be spent dealing with accounting, chasing and checking royalty statements, managing budgets, and basically financial planning so you don’t end up in a bus in middle of Eastern Europe with a maxed out credit card and the bank foreclosing on your mortgage back at home. I’d rather be on top of everything and organise my music-making time accordingly, rather than remain oblivious and potentially have tax and income issues down the track.”

    His advice for young musos: “If you can cover all or most bases and get your career off the ground yourself, then you’re in a strong position to negotiate good deals later on, rather than being at the mercy of ‘industry standards’.”

    Eddy Current Suppression Ring

    Melbourne rock band Eddy Current Suppression Ring’s third album, Rush To Relax, debuted in the ARIA top 20 earlier this year.

    Despite their popularity, the band’s guitarist (and manager) Mikey Young is frank about how he and his bandmates treat the project.

    “We all have other ways of making money. We treat this band like a hobby. Outside of shows, we get a random few grand every so often from record sales, APRA and publishing, but once it’s split between the four of us and we put a bit back towards the band, it’s really just bonus pocket money.”

    “None of us could solely live off [the band’s income]”, he continues, “But that’s our fault and not due to the state of the music industry or anything. We choose to keep our band a thing we do for fun when we feel like it, so we’ve never made that leap into having a crack and living off it.”

    Urthboy

    Tim Levinson – better known as MC Urthboy, in addition to being a founding member of The Herd and head of Sydney independent label Elefant Traks – reveals that royalties from album sales comprised 14% of his overall income in 2009. The majority of his earnings came from touring and label-related revenue.

    “If a musician has only ever had a part time job to sustain their real passion of playing music for a living, you can understand how vulnerable they become,” says Tim. “It’s important to take this into account when understanding the significance of how much sacrifice artists make to pursue their music.”

    For all but the biggest fish in the Australian musical pond, Tim confirms: “If you’re a musician, you can never piece together anything resembling an income without including some sort of regular or fall back job. But if you’re instinctively passionate about it, you have no choice. You are compelled to do it. It’s art that is created out of just a necessity to express yourself, and that’s a great thing.”

    Philadelphia Grand Jury

    Philadelphia Grand Jury’s manager, Martin Novosel, runs us through the economics of a popular, self-released indie band. “Once a quarter, the band will see approximately $8-9,000, minus 25 per cent in distribution, minus pressing costs for the albums (if more needed to be pressed), minus any marketing costs, minus mechanical costs, and finally, minus management commission on profit. In real money terms, this equates to something in the vicinity of a couple of thousand dollars per quarter for the band members.

    “However it does go up if you are a commercial act,” he continues. “The reason for this is because bands are kept in consumers’ minds through media presence.”

    Martin acknowledges that the indie market is very live-driven; “An act needs to be playing often to keep its currency with media to get that exposure. And an act can really only tour Australia twice or three times in an album cycle before it has overplayed and needs to provide new material”.

    Compared with their income from touring, publishing and merchandise, Novosel estimates that the Philly Jays’ music sales comprise only 5-10 per cent of the band’s overall income.

    The Butterfly Effect

    The Butterfly Effect’s bassist, Glenn Esmond, suggests that about 25 per cent of the band’s yearly revenue is from album sales.

    Though he grew up idolising the glam rock model of luxury and privilege – private jets and the like – as he got older and started playing in cover bands at local pubs, Esmond realised that “it’s just enough to be able to pay your rent, and have a bit of money left over at the end of the day to buy a beer.”

    He suggests reading the book Music Business, by Shane Simpson. “You might decide to be independent or you might go with a label, but at least you’re informed about how the industry works, and how deals are recouped. I’ve read about some bands who signed deals where the label makes 85% of the band’s income while retaining the rights to the masters. It’s insane, man. How does anyone ever make any money? Sometimes people don’t, and that’s the reality.”

    With a laugh, he concludes: “You’ve gotta do it for love until you get too old, or your missus goes, ‘Sorry mate, you’ve been doing this for ten years and you’ve made no money – you need a real job!’”

  • Waycooljnr post: “Why Beggars Group Want You To Repost Free MP3s”

    This is a guest post that appeared on Waycooljnr.com.au in November 2009.

    Last month, Nick and I went to Perth for One Movement For Music; he as a panel moderator, and I as a reporter for the One Movement blog, which I’d edited since July.

    One Movement "Busting Open Digital Myths" panel

    Nick moderated a panel called “Busting Open Digital Myths“. My highlight of the panel was when Nick asked Simon Wheeler – Director of Digital at The Beggars Group, which consists of indie labels like 4AD, Matador Records and XL Recordings – about Beggars’ approach to online promotion, since they’re widely known and loved for allowing music blogs to repost free mp3s. Footage of Simon’s response is embedded below, as well as a transcription underneath.

    Simon Wheeler:

    “Everything we do is geared around a particular artist or release. One of the challenges we set ourselves – and it’s not a particularly scalable model – is that every campaign we put together around an artist or release is bespoke. It’s quite a labour-intensive way of working, but I think it’s very important that we try to do the record justice. When you’re working with very original artists making original pieces of work, I feel strongly that the marketing around that has got to be original as well.

    There’s no standard practice to what we do. There’s a few common traits that we have. One that started in the US particularly is to make an mp3 available when we have an album coming out.

    It’s kind of crazy how the music industry works; we shout and tell everyone about a new record. “It’s really exciting, it’s great, you can hear it on the radio.. oh, but actually, you can’t buy it for two or three months. Is that okay? Can you just not download it off of anywhere? Just wait two or three months, we’ll get it in the shops soon!”

    So, going against that, we know that fans are passionate about an artist, and they’re very excited about a new album. So to be able to give them something to satiate that demand somewhat has been quite effective. There’s also the purpose of giving people a piece of music to ‘try before they buy’, if you like. We get a lot of love and a lot of coverage in the blog world, because I think our artists are very suited to that world.

    We don’t give music blogs free reign, because you’d find that each blog would post a different track from the album, and so ten minutes after you’d publicised the album, people could just go and download the whole album (laughs).

    So by making available one chosen, one focus track from a new album – much as you take a track to radio – there’s kind of an unwritten dialogue between us and the bloggers. We don’t tell them to post it, we don’t say they can’t post it; if people post the whole album, we’ll definitely say they can’t do that, and we’ll get it taken down. But they understand that if we post an mp3 to one of our label sites or blogs, then they won’t get any grief from us at all [if they repost it to their blog].

    This really helps focus the campaign around a lead track, much as you do when taking a track to radio. There’s no new science here; this is just what the record industry has been doing for decades. We’re just applying that to the digital age.”

    I knew that the Matador’s Matablog saw traffic and sales increase after adopting regular mp3 launches, but it was so refreshing to hear Simon’s response. He showed that Beggars Group understand the value in creating a dialogue with music bloggers, as well as giving fans a portable sample of a new album to take with them.

    On a national level, contrast Beggars’ approach to what I see each week from major Australian labels, who release key tracks to radio using encrypted software, and who often disable the ability to save the audio file in a portable format.

    The Beggars Group music blog strategy filters down to indie labels like Sydney’s Remote Control Records, whose blog regularly reposts promotional downloads from the likes of Matador, XL and 4AD. I interviewed their marketing director, Steve Cross, for Mess+Noise in October.

    Simon’s outline above begs further research into how the group measures the return on the free mp3 promotional strategy. We’ll contact him for a guest post in the future, but I’m interested to know how Way Cool Jnr readers interact with label blogs.

    Beyond Remote Control, EMI Music have maintained The In Sound From Way Out for over six months now. Though they’ve been shy about giving away too many mp3s just yet – check out the downloads page – their stream of the new Massive Attack EP ‘Splitting The Atom’ brought thousands of new visitors to the blog. (Disclosure: EMI is a Native Digital client)

    Australian indie label Speak N Spell recently relaunched their site, which features a blog and free downloads. Sydney’s Difrnt Music are occasionally known to exchange songs for email subscriptions. And Melbourne-based boutique label Hobbledehoy took the unique approach of offering much of their catalogue for free download, in partnership with US provider Gimmesound.

    Which other Australian labels see the value in using promotional mp3s to drive music sales and site traffic?

  • The Music Network story: ‘For The Record: An Album Retrospective Part 5’, August 2009

    In the final piece of a five-part puzzle, Andrew McMillen examines the digitally-inspired shift in consumer habits away from the long-established album format. After speaking to passionate Australian artists like Hungry Kids Of Hungary, Urthboy and Eleventh He Reaches London last week, Andrew verbally prods two innovative Brisbane-based acts who have turned the album-release expectation on its head.

    Were this album-centric article series an actual album, we’d have since bypassed the hit singles, the forgettable middle filler, and the surprising experimental freak-outs. This’d be track twelve; the last gasp that’s strategically-placed to reward the attentive hard-core of fans. Luckily, reader, track twelve is this metaphorical album’s hidden gem: it describes two Queensland acts who’re subverting the traditional cycle in favour of a flexibility that benefits both artist and fan. Press play and get comfortable, won’t you?

    Drawn From Bees: animal loversBrisbane natives Drawn From Bees [pictured right] are riding a healthy buzz following their recent national tour and more than a few nods of approval from Triple J. The art-rock four-piece have self-imposed an interesting alternative release strategy: a new record every six months. Explains bassist Stew Riddle: “Over a few drinks after our first rehearsal last year, we decided to use the fact that we’re a band of four songwriters to our advantage, and aim for a prolific introduction to the band. We felt that it would be interesting to break from the new-band cycle of ‘release an EP, tour for 6-12 months, release another EP’, and instead try to put something out every six months.” But the Bees are in a unique situation that encourages frequent releases; Riddle admits: “Dan, our singer, is also a producer, so we can afford to record very cheaply. If we had to hire studio and producer time, it might be a very different story.”

    Two EPs into their two-year experiment, Riddle contemplates the band’s feeling toward the album format: “I tend not to think about what we’re doing in terms of working towards an album, as to me, the length is largely irrelevant. I feel that each record needs to make a statement, and to be a snapshot of where the band is at that particular time. Our third release is looking to be an 8 or 9 track record that has a more melancholy flavour. Is it an album or an EP? We don’t know, so we’ll just call it a record and let other people decide!”

    When asked where he thinks the album format belongs in the future of music, Riddle is sceptical. “It’s a hard one to judge. It seems that while the physical single is dead, the digital single is now king. No one buys albums anymore, but if you look on my friends’ mp3 player, they tend to collect not just full records, but full catalogues of acts that they love. I think that the album will live on. Certainly, at least in the sense of releasing bodies of music that make various statements at different points in an act’s career. Does it mean that the length of an album will remain between 30 and 70 minutes? Maybe not. Musicians aren’t constrained by the format anymore; vinyl and plastic don’t dictate the length.” With a fourth release due around Christmas to bring the four-EP commitment to a close, what’s next for Drawn From Bees? “We’ll probably do an album. Or a greatest hits box collection, who knows?” laughs Riddle.

    From a regular-release ideal to a staggered album: meet Brisbane indie rock band 26 [pictured below left], who’re midway through an ambitious project to release a twelve-track album in three-song installments every three months. After releasing two albums in the standard manner since their 2005 debut The King Must Die, singer/guitarist Nick O’Donnell explains the genesis of the concept dubbed 26×365: “We don’t sell all that many hard copies anymore, so we decided to release the next album in small portions. We were finding that people were buying singular songs rather than the whole albums off of iTunes.”

    Each of the four parts to 26×365 is priced at $3.39. O’Donnell continues: “We thought maybe we could package a couple of songs together at a lower price point and you could get people buying them because they think they’re getting a bargain, as they’re getting three songs for the price of two. By April next year we’ll have the twelve songs that you can buy as a whole product, but our true fans can get the songs every three months. This allows us to introduce the songs gradually into our live set; in terms of the record, it’s like our fans are coming along for the ride.”

    26: averse to smiling

    With the new release, the band are aiming to reduce the comparative tedium that they’ve experienced with past releases. “It’s not like the situation where the band records the whole album and they’re already already kind of over the songs; you know, you’ve already been playing the songs for a year or so. As an artist, you get to the end of the album process and the songs aren’t fresh for you, but they are for the public. So you’re pretending that they’re new to you, but they’re not.”

    The band’s website further addresses the reasoning behind the project. Perhaps unwittingly, 26 have put their heads together and specified a bold manifesto for independent artists the world over. 26 state:

    Unless you’re Coldplay, Metallica or Andre Rieu, the one thing a band must do is maintain momentum. Peoples’ attention span is becoming shorter and shorter, so we want to be attracting CONSISTENT attention.

    The 26×365 release process will allow:

    1. New material to the audience, but not so quickly that it will lose its impact.
    2. Offer a time-based point of interest for the band
    3. Allow the audience to see how we are progressing as a band
    4. New content for an entire year, including pictures, videos, blogs, and give aways
    5. New gig material for an entire year and having it ready for consumption on iTunes. No waiting for the whole album to be released.

    The purpose of this article series is not to eulogise the demise of the album, or to bemoan the recording industry’s omissions. Instead, it’s to highlight that right now is a better time than ever to consider the ideal manner in which to distribute music to an artist’s fanbase. For independent artists, a direct artist-fan (one-to-one) connection may be the most appropriate business avenue. For bigger artists – the aforementioned Coldplays and Andre Rieus – a one-to-many, traditional distribution method may still be the ideal outcome. The keyword in this discussion is choice. Not only do customers now have the ability to choose how they consume music with more freedom than ever before; now, artists are privy to a wealth of release strategies, business models, digital distributors, while still retaining the option to engage in traditional physical product manufacturing and distribution.

    “A lot of purists tend to complain now that an album’s artwork is gone. I think it’s really great, because what has gone is all the shit surrounding the music. You can still get the music itself, so you’re getting the purest version of the art, because it’s just the music. It’s nothing else.” – Nick O’Donnell, 26.

    Brisbane-based Andrew McMillen writes for several Australian music publications. He can be found on Twitter (@NiteShok) and online at http://andrewmcmillen.com/

    (Note: This is part five of an article series that first appeared in weekly Australian music industry magazine The Music Network issue #748, July 27th 2009. Read the rest of the series: part one, part two, part three, and part four)

  • The Music Network story: “For The Record: An Album Retrospective Part 4”, August 2009

    In the fourth piece of a five-part puzzle, Andrew McMillen examines the digitally-inspired shift in consumer habits away from the long-established album format. This week, Andrew quits hypothesising, and instead speaks to those responsible for history’s loved and loathed albums: musicians!

    In the last three weeks, we’ve indulged in much reminiscing and theorising on the value of the album format in an era of unparalleled consumer choice. “The track has been disengaged from the album!” “Artists shouldn’t automatically sprint toward the album endpoint as a result of historical programming!” “It’s easier to choose to part with around a dollar for a song you’ll love, rather than $15-20 for an unfamiliar collection!” You’re familiar with these arguments, professed from this writer’s listener/critic position. But, er – what about the artists themselves? The ones who make music? Where do they think the album belongs in 2009?

    Hungry Kids Of Hungary: Bigger fish to fryBrisbane’s Hungry Kids Of Hungary [pictured right] write hook-heavy songs that’re informed by a studious observation of the pop legends of generations past. Their two EPs have attracted radio attention, festival slots and, most recently, a Q Song award nomination. Are they treading down the pop-proven album release path? “We sure are!” replies singer/keyboardist Kane Mazlin. “We’re currently demoing and writing songs for a debut album. Like most independent bands, it’s a matter of balancing time and finance as to when we will record and release, but we’re certainly hoping to be in a studio within three months. I think it’s just a natural progression for us to put our ideas down on a long player. It will give us more scope to present ourselves more accurately, which is something we’ve only been able to touch on when creating EPs.”

    No surprise, then, that the Hungry Kids are album purists. Drummer Ryan Strathie explains: “Artists put a lot into creating an album as an entire piece – a single song is only one part of the album puzzle. I think it’s crucial for an album to be experienced in full, artwork and all. For me, its just not the same without the whole package.” Strathie cautions, however: “Artists – big or small – need to take responsibility for the quality they put out. If you can’t put out 10 great songs, then don’t do an album! It’s obvious that people will still buy a record if it’s any good; too many artists maximise on a single song or a hit and put out an entire album, even if it’s not good enough.” He concludes: “People aren’t stupid, they have been burnt!”

    From young upcomers to an established act: Perth’s Eleventh He Reaches London [pictured below left] have forged a respectable name for themselves at the intersection of the nation’s hard-rock, metal and hardcore communities. Their 2005 debut album The Good Fight For Harmony preceded 2009’s Hollow Be My Name, for which the five-piece received a $13,000 recording grant from the Western Australian Department Of Culture And Arts. Drummer Mark Donaldson rationalises the decision to release music in this manner: “We never really gave any thought to releasing an EP or singles, because we believe that you can get more enjoyment out of our band across an album. We wanted to release something that was quite cohesive, and had some continuity, with a good hour-long running time.”

    Eleventh He Reaches London: simply red“I’m still a huge fan of putting on an album and listening to it all the way through. It’s very rare to experience an album that you can listen to from start to finish, and not get bored. It’s very rare to experience that, and it’s one of the things you look forward to in life, as a music fan – that next band that you’ll become completely obsessed with.” When questioned about the free MP3 downloads offered on the band’s Last.FM profile, Donaldson continues: “It’s still good for people to be able to download a song in reasonable quality, just in case they are thinking about downloading the full album. Because we’ve basically arrived at the situation where you can download a song for free, get a feel for the quality of it, and then decide whether you want to waste your bandwidth on it!”

    We laugh at the madness of trying to explain the rationing of 60-100 megabytes to a music fan fifteen years ago. But how does he feel about fans of the band who purport to love their music, but who’ve never bought anything from the band? “There’s no ill feelings toward those who don’t pay. What I don’t like is when people download the album, love it, but then don’t attend a show when we’re near them. That really cheeses me off, because touring is such a massive effort. You look forward to sharing the music with the audience, and that’s what playing live is all about. Being able to share your love of your songs with others.”

    As co-founder of the Elefant Traks label and a renowned hip-hop artist in his own right, Sydney’s Urthboy [pictured below right] understands the record business better than most. Born Tim Levinson, his third album Spitshine is due in August 2009. He reasons: “I love the idea of the album because it allows an artist to make a little book, rather than a short chapter. I completely respect that people receive music in their preferred form, but as an artist I think the whole LP is worth holding onto. The album allows the artist to stretch out a bit, and from that perspective you’re able to tell a better story.”

    Urthboy: both dapper and chipperIt’s a valid comment, given that hip-hop song structures are perhaps more reliant on narrative than their rock counterparts. When asked about digital distribution’s effect on the album format, Levinson concedes: “It’s slowly changing people’s attitudes and expectations toward consumption of music. We’re in a transition period where albums retain a huge significance – but some signs suggest it’s disappearing. Stranger things have happened and trends don’t always result in their predicted outcome, though.”

    Levinson’s position at the helm of Elefant Traks informs his optimistic wisdom. When asked whether Elefant Traks have adopted alternative release strategies to album delivery, he responds: “We’ve discussed it a lot; I want to keep open-minded about it. One of our key methods of promotion is bundling as many activities into the one ad spend. Usually this is simple: the album and the tour. We’re a record label, but we’re also a default management company – we spend money to invest in the artist who hopefully invests in themselves, and in turn helps us sell their records. Touring is not lucrative across the board – that’s an industry myth – but it forms part of the overall picture. The point I’m getting at, is that not every artist can simply put out a few songs regularly, sling ’em to radio, excite the public’s imagination and wait for the money to roll in. There are significant costs associated with any release, whether EP or album. The public may like the freedom of picking and choosing but I don’t believe they’ve fallen out of love with the album yet. Singles aren’t for everybody, but our music industry is; there’s no use writing eulogies at this point in time.”

    It’s worth reinforcing that the purpose of this column series is not to eulogise the album as a whole. Rather, it’s to highlight that digital distribution has allowed listeners to choose how they consume music, and musicians to choose how to deliver their creations to listeners. Next week, we’ll meet some artists who’re rejecting the album-release expectation in favour of innovation, and look to a bright future where musical expression isn’t necessarily confined to 10-12 tracks.

    Brisbane-based Andrew McMillen writes for several Australian music publications. He can be found on Twitter (@NiteShok) and online at http://andrewmcmillen.com/

    (Note: This is part four of an article series that first appeared in weekly Australian music industry magazine The Music Network issue #747, July 20th 2009. Read the rest of the series: part one, part two, part three, and part five)

  • The Music Network story: “For The Record: An Album Retrospective Part 3”, August 2009

    In the third piece of a five-part puzzle, Andrew McMillen examines the digitally-inspired shift in consumer habits away from the long-established album format. This week, Andrew ruminates on the death of a pop icon, worldwide grief counselling through iTunes’ figurative cash register, and recent digital sales trends.

    One of the joys of writing on a short schedule is the agility with which weekly publications such as The Music Network can relate to current occurrences. After tracing the history of recorded music in the last two weeks – from technological advances, to the reduced reliance on singular album entities in favour of a more liquid, portable state – a significant event in musical history occurred. Thursday, June 25 2009 found Michael Jackson dead, aged 50.

    The grieving process translated into an outpouring of public reminiscence, which resulted in astounding sales figures for Jackson’s back catalogue. According to Billboard.com, US sales figures put the singer’s album sales for the week ending June 28 at 422,000, of which 225,000 were digital sales. A staggering 2.3 million individual song downloads found Jackson far and away the first act to sell more than a million downloads in a week. Within Australian shores, the disparity between albums and singles was curiously less noticeable: Jackson’s album and single sales were placed at 62,015 and 107,821, respectively, according to Undercover.com.au, while in another strange, archaic turn, only one out of every five Michael Jackson albums sold in Australia last week were digitally downloaded.

    Goodnight, sweet princeRegardless, Jackson’s enormous sales in the US simply couldn’t have eventuated ten years ago. Record stores inventories would’ve been exhausted across the country, and compact disc factories would’ve rushed to press more discs to meet the demand. Both of these outcomes still eventuated, but instead of experiencing weeks-long delays, music consumers have the option of instant online gratification: his 2.3 million download count resulted in six Jackson tracks appearing in the Billboard top ten.

    The Jackson phenomenon highlights several points central to the discussion raised in this column series. First, consumer choices are trending away from the album as the favoured mechanism of music release. Choice is key here: it’s easier to choose to part with around a dollar for a song that you’ll love, rather than parting with $15-20 for an unfamiliar collection. If money is no object to the consumer, then time surely is: as industry analyst Bob Lefsetz phrased it in his July 5th, 2009 Lefsetz.com column, “Who’s got the time to listen to an hour of music that you’re not truly interested in when there are all these other diversions that fascinate you?”

    Second, the popularity of digital music sales continues to snowball the trend away from the album as the industry’s singular organising principle. The modern music consumer can now purchase music from her home, without being subject to an array external factors while travelling to the record store. This operates in a similar manner to the ease with which she can cherry-pick her favourite songs from an online store, and ignore the rest, A simple point to make, but it’s worth reinforcing that digital distribution is the spark that set alight the consumer’s reliance on the album.

    Finally, a startling counter to the arguments that copyright theft is the primary factor crippling record labels’ established business models. In the period between Jackson’s June 25 death and July 1, streaming media analysts at VisibleMeasures.com report that combined views of the “Thriller” music video totalled in excess of 28 million. Considering that his aggregate single-song sales during the same period were 2.3 million – and just 167,000 for that particular track – it’s somewhat surprising that less than 10% of his fans chose to buy his music, and instead opted to stream it for free. But to step back within the boundaries of this discussion, let’s discount Jackson’s untimely demise and instead examine recent digital sales trends.

    The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) – comprising 1400 record companies in around 70 countries – released their annual Digital Music Report in January 2009. This report quickly became infamous within the recording industry, as media hurled themselves upon the IFPI’s estimation that, after collating studies in 16 countries over a three-year period, over 40 billion music files were illegally file-shared in 2008, which resulted in copyright theft rate of around 95%.

    But to focus on the near-past so as to not bore you with figures, here’s five key points garnered from the IFPI’s report on the international digital music business in 2008:

    • The digital music industry saw a sixth year of expansion in 2008, growing by an estimated 25% to US$3.7 billion in trade value
    • Digital platforms now account for around 20% of recorded music sales, up from 15% in 2007
    • Single track downloads, up 24% in 2008 to 1.4 billion units globally, continue to drive the online market, while digital album sales grew 36%
    • Consumer demand for music is higher than ever – NPD research found that total music consumption in the US rose by one third between 2003 and 2007

    The typical music listener, as imagined by marketing execs everywhereAt a national level, ARIA’s 2008 figures revealed that:

    • Physical sales declined from 51,866,917 to 44,438,874 (down 14%)
    • Digital sales overall rose from 47,267,034 to 128,532,126 (up 171%)
    • Digital album sales rose from 788,316 to 2,853,040 (up 261%)
    • Digital track sales rose from 17,647,057 to 23,464,576 (up 32%)

    It’s important to distinguish the disparity between album and track sales. While digital album sales experienced growth in Australia, they were still outsold nearly ten-to-one by single digital tracks. Why? In an era of musical abundance and complete portability, the consumer is spoiled for choice. We live in an age where you can experience “Thriller” for around a dollar, with a minimum of fuss – or you can stream it from YouTube, if you’d prefer. Freed from the constraints of physical products, we’re able to sample sounds before purchasing so as to reduce the rampant buyer’s remorse that we both feel while casting our eyes across our music collections.

    The record industry marketplace has fundamentally changed for content creators and consumers. To pound a cliché into your head: the internet has theoretically afforded any artist the chance reach your iPod earbuds. The barriers to entering the recording industry have been lowered, and the costs of bedroom production and online distribution are trending toward zero. As a result, it’s unreasonable for artists and labels to continue propagating an album-release business model that’s so firmly rooted in the past.

    But what about the present? I’m glad you asked, as part four of this five-piece puzzle will find me removing my hats marked “boring history” and “boring sales figures”. In their place, I’ll hatlessly hammer the thoughts that current musicians feel toward my incessant prodding of the album; that alleged, proverbial dead horse. Expect well-articulated rock-posturing, before part five finds us exploding in an orgy of alternative release models, innovative case studies and an unerring optimism for a recording industry who’ll eventually realise that as music fans, all we really want is our favourite artists to release great music as often as possible.

    Brisbane-based Andrew McMillen writes for several Australian music publications. He can be found on Twitter (@NiteShok) and online at http://andrewmcmillen.com/

    (Note: This is part three of an article series that first appeared in weekly Australian music industry magazine The Music Network issue #746, July 13th 2009. Read the rest of the series: part onepart two, part four, and part five)