woensdag 18 maart 2020

Income, Bands and the End: a discussion

When men of a certain age starts conversing on things past, there's a chance that things turn grumpy and -everything-was-better-in-the-past-when-we-were-young kind of discussion. This may seem the case in the below, but is not. It is an expression of genuine concern. Too many bands that have been lauded on this blog, established in 2012, have folded in the meantime, despite being fairly successful. Is that of all ages?, probably yes, but something more seems to be going on as well, starting with a disinterest of youths to buy/pay for music. It will be the end of music except for the greatest artists. So here's a discussion that started with (the comeback of) vinyl.

Mark, 26-2:
Vinyl revival - but many people no longer have the means and opportunity to listen to records properly. I haven't been to one yet but "listening bars" which originated in Tokyo are apparently now trending in London in response to this problem:

And in New York too: https://www.timeout.com/newyork/news/you-can-bring-your-own-records-to-play-at-this-new-bar-022520 

My latest charity shop find today in Cheam (south London): a 1963 Decca single "Diamonds" by ex-Shadows Jet Harris & Tony Meehan (bassist and drummer). Jimmy Page no less on rhythm guitar.  Mint condition, plays perfectly - no crackles etc. Cost: £1 !

On the live front, I will see Van Morrison on 21 March - and Hiroko and I have just got second row (!!!!)  tickets for Richard Thompson at Alexandra Palace in June.

Wout, 27-2:
'Vinylgeddon' was the heading in my newspaper, totally old-fashioned I'll admit, circa a week ago. There are only or better were, two companies left in the world, who made the so called lacquers allowing records to be pressed as copies later on in the process. One in California, holding 80% of the market, and one in Japan. You can guess which one burned down to the ground. Replacing the machines would be so expensive that it will never be won back economically, vinyl being the niche market it is.

The result may be the end of vinyl as the few records Japan could handle will probably be making prices soar thanks to scarceness. The alternative is Direct Metal Mastering but that does not work well for all sorts of music. What that sort is, was not explained by the Dutch expert of the old Bovema (later EMI) factory in Haarlem, producing 8 million LPs a year still. In NL 1.2 million are sold on a yearly basis it was noted.

So my new hobby of buying a LP every once in a while, probably many times more than the average Dutchman, although the zero most buy makes for difficult sums in percentages, may come to an end soon. So back to cds? Good question.

Showwise I am fairly slow this year. Early March I have two lined up: Vreemde Kostgangers (Stange Boarding guests, I think), a superband bringing Boudewijn de Groot, Doe Maar singer/bassist Hennie Vrienten and Golden Earring guitarist George Kooijmans together. This is their final tour as De Groot does not want to perform any more. Too stressful.

Two days later I am going to Canshaker Pi, an alternative, indie band from NL for the first and last time. Three albums of which two great, and they call it a day. Three members decided to go to university anyway. I notice that a lot of young bands are calling it quits in the past few years. There's no money to be made in any way. They do not get a chance to score hits as everything in the charts is dance nowadays or youth is just not interested in bands any more, another possibility. They don't sell any records and streaming is killing everyone except the biggest artists, who probably still sell enough units. To perform bands sometimes have to pay the venue when unknown. One of the best viewed talkshows over here, used to have one minute for bands every day. Unknown bands had to pay a casting bureau € 1.500 for the one minute exposure and name dropping I've been told by bands who thought they'd have a chance but could not afford the money.

In my opinion, although I can understand the economic choice perfectly well, and I think it is a choice you also faced, Gary, it is a shame that it happens to the best alternative bands this country has on offer. Before they can really start to bloom and grow bigger. There is no bigger any longer. So they change careers before having to be a cleaner of parcelvan driver for the rest of their lives. We will never have another Golden Earring and bands of that stature again. Only new Afrojacks, Tiëstos and Armin van Buurens. Now they make a lot of money. By flying USB sticks around the world. A sad thought that is.

So two shows, two farewells.

Have a good day none the less,

Gary, 27-2:
Yes the economics of music has changed significantly over the last 60 years… in the 1950s/60s/70s bands (even solo artists had their own bands!) would have more or less unlimited venues to play, even if the pay was poor. There are thousands of stories of bands being ripped off by unscrupulous promoters, managers, agents and record companies some of which I took direct action against when I was a Musician Union official in the late 70s and early 80s. As you allude to Wout, my own experience was that even in the mid 70s my bank balance was always in the red as musical equipment/lighting, road transport and road crew costs were more than what I would get from a promotor! But saying that, if you didn’t mind a little poverty you could still get by and live the rock’n’roll lifestyle that was the passion of the age.

From the 80s onwards the vice-grip of the record companies weakened and the Indi-market became king until it to surrendered to the nascent computer gaming market in the 90s onwards… and that is where I believe the current problem lies. Gaming has become central to the youth market and where music is associated almost exclusively to vocal performance… When is the last time you have seen a public hot dispute over who is the greatest modern guitarist/keyboard player/drummer/bassist etc? I am becoming convinced that for true musicianship to continue to exist we may have to go down the classical music route of subsidy and art grants to keep the skills alive!

You mention the global scarcity of vinyl lacquer, I also share your concern but it wouldn’t surprise me if China doesn’t become a supplier (coronavirus crisis permitting) in the not to distant future? Vinyl is definitely become a viable market even if expensive for new units and should be seen as a hole in the market by investors/entrepreneurs…

Thinking about gaining to the 1970 Isle of Wight festival in September… this looks amazing!

Gary, 27-2:
Forgot to add that today there are still bands making a living playing covers and ‘tribute’ acts… My nephew’s band 'We’re The Chaps’ http://www.thechapsband.com do okay even though they do have part-time day jobs… Brilliant band that makes you wonder just what they could do if they had the right commercial backing and management?

Wout, 27-2:
I am quite certain, Gary, that these coverbands make more than bands playing originals. Especially the ones that are good, play music by artists that no longer tour (or worse) and make it to the larger venues. I'm sure that they do not even need jobs on the side no more. It is our future and especially for those coming after us. People still go and listen to Beethoven, etc. Not too long from now cover bands are the real thing. It is an intriguing question whether people will go and see "the Rolling Stones" or "the Beatles" in 2100. Will it be integral albums, like a symphony or opera or hits or hits of the time from different artists combined? Who will last and who will fade?

Two other examples. About two years ago I was at a release show of a Dutch band presenting its first album on the invitation of the label. Introducing myself after the show to the label owners, during the conversation it turned out that no one on stage, three artists in all, nor the label made any money. It is all for the love of music. The only people making money worked at the venue it seemed and perhaps even those behind the bar are volunteers.

The other is about a Boston based label. Nearly every day I receive email from the label owner on new music he's releasing. Early this week one of his emails held an interview with him. He gets up every morning at an unsaintly hour to work for the label, goes to his regular job, returns home to work for the label some more and his wife chips in when and where necessary. 'Are you making any money'?, the interviewer asked him. "We don't lose too much", was the answer. The label releases dozens of albums a year, all by obscure punkrock bands of a certain age. A lot of them make great music, release great songs, but for whom? At least for me, but I get all the music for free.

In the early 90s there was a subsidy for Dutch bands paid to the venue. The foundation guaranteed a minimum amount so that they could hire bands for that minimum or more. At the time I knew the girl who had to check the accounts. Most venues made a mess of their administration so that the money could not be paid to them. At least not before she came back to check again. I think these sort of subsidies all have been slashed in our austerity phases of the past 20 years. Our liberal government does not rate art highly and sees it as a leftish hobby or at least it used to not so long ago, hitting classical orchestras, musea, etc. hard. Imagine imagination making money. I hate these sort of people, but then there was not much that was not slashed in the early to mid 10s. Only for some of it to be reversed over the past two years.

So, there you have my rant. Musicians should be supported somehow, at least while starting. Through the venues was a good system as it works in all directions.

Gary, 28-2:
Quite right Wout! And as we say in the Musicians Union here in the UK… “KEEP MUSIC LIVE!”

Wout, 28-2:
And then comes yesterday's newspaper. For "Dutch artists 80% of music sales comes from streaming".

Now I don't know if the proceedings have become better for artists, but I remember an article from a few years back on artists' income through streaming. If an artist buys an album directly from the company (for ca. €2) and sells it for € 10 it can keep the full € 10 to him/herself. It was counted down to streaming on Spotify. In between was all sorts of steps, including sales via retailers, etc. I can't remember all the details but remember that to earn that €10, a song had to be played 650.000 +. Then look at how many times songs are played when you type in an artist and see the five most popular songs displayed in Spotify. A few thousand, a few 10.000 and you do real well, except financially. They earn dimes and nickels through Spotify.

I googled a little to find the original article. I couldn't (and can't really remember where I read it). In an article from 2014 my newspaper wrote that a few hundred spins made the same as an album. That sounds good, right? Alas, in March 2019 an article writes that sources claim, Spotify doesn't tell, 0,0013, per song. That is more like the €10 story I remember. No one can exist on that. I remember a singer-songwriter playing in our home a while back saying she got €0,10 from Spotify. The transaction costs most likely are more expensive. A million hits doesn't do more than €1.300.

Another sad little bit concerning Canshaker Pi, the band I mentioned in my previous email. In the same newspaper yesterday the band was mentioned as one of the 15 bands to watch out for in the 20s. The newspaper is not even aware that they have four last shows to play in this and the next weekend and it will be all over for one of the 15 sure bets for the 20s. A quote for Mark: "The band approaches The Fall levels". Time for a listen, Mark.

On a another non-musical note. The newspaper tipped 101 artists of all elks all in all. One of them is the cousin of one of my best friends, that he's been telling about for years. She now works out of the U.K and is a digital narrator.

Mark, 28-2:
I haven't heard of Canshaker Pi before and I see there is a  review that references Pavement and Can as well as the inimitable Fall. So I will take a listen!

Boudewijn de Groot .....amazing he is still around. Calling him the Dutch Dylan may be a bit harsh. Did they ever meet? 

Wout, 7-3:
Tonight is Canshaker Pi. News now is that they go on a hiatus, with only four shows to accompany the new album. The pages long interview I read, sounded very definitive though. Time will tell. If this was it, three fine albums is the band's legacy. And singer - songwriter Willem Smit already has other outlets for his songs it seems. He's one of those guys where music just keeps pouring out of him that have to find their way into the world no matter what.

Boudewijn de Groot and Dylan? I don't know very much about the man to be honest, so can't tell. He was certainly influenced by Dylan in the mid 60s. One of his first hits was a translation of the Dylan classic 'The Times They Are-a-Changing', but also a Charles Aznavour song. He hit his stride with 'Weltrusten Mr. De President' (Sleep well Mr. President), a strong anti-Vietnam protest song.

The main difference with Dylan is that De Groot at the time did not write his own lyrics. They are by Lennaert Nijgh, his classmate in Haarlem. The classical troubled poet, who drank himself to death, slowly but surely. From 1966 onwards he went into psychedelia more and more, before going on his first hiatus. De Groot turned his back on music a few times, always to return. He lives fairly close to me I just heard. Colleagues of my girl friend run into him regularly at the local supermarket there.

Facing his 76th birthday this may be his real retirement from music. A real shame as his voice is still perfect and the songs he wrote together with Henny Vrienten of Doe Maar and George Kooijmans (Golden Earring) are excellent, full of nostalgia for things long gone. The show Thursday was fine, the review is online today.

So I got to see him finally, just before his retirement. Enjoy Van Morrison, Mark, 75 this year.


Geen opmerkingen:

Een reactie posten