Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Right to Reply

I have to confess I thoroughly enjoyed following the Leveson enquiry, particularly watching the press squirm whilst trying to defend the indefensible. Just for once, those wronged by these cowardly bullies who thought they were untouchable, were able to bite back without fear of reprisal.

We heard a great deal about the need for a free press trumping everyone else's individual freedoms and indeed their human rights, and even I, who loathes the press would not wish to see it become the puppet of the government of the day. The simple fact however is that the newspapers are the only arm of the news media that is not already regulated. TV news is subject to regulation, as is radio, and you do not often hear complaints of the Sky, the BBC or even Talk Sport towing the government line. Government regulation is clearly not the answer, but there are a whole world of options between that and self regulation.

I would favour an independent regulator made up of people from all walks of life. Not merely a bunch of lawyers and media grandees, but also a few ordinary people. Teachers, Bin Men, The Unemployed, Sports people  Farmers, Policemen. Anyone who is or might be the subject of a press story is entitled to have a say on this subject.

A final word has to go to the most unabashed piece of indefensible grandstanding I have ever seen. Step forward that pompous arrogant twat Peter Preston. I saw him interviewed at the end of a day when we had heard endless harrowing stories of people being brutalised by reporters for no other reason than that they were good at whatever endeavour it was they had chosen for themselves. Mr Preston, bless him, actually had the temerity to complain that it was all very well for these people to make accusations against the press, but that it was unfair that the papers had no right to reply.

I swear, you could not make it up.

What a Pillock.
Peter Preston

Monday, 19 September 2011

Shovelling medieval sewage..

I have often said that managing bands can be both the best and worst job in the world.

If you are lucky enough to have a successful band then there is genuinely no job quite like it. Your clients will of course have convinced themselves that their creation of a work of unparalleled genius is solely responsible for their new found largess, but no matter, because their agent will actually return your phone calls for a change, your bank manager will become a real person again (as opposed to being an Asian call centre), the youngsters at the record label may actually remember who you are for once and you will suddenly find you have a large and interesting circle of new friends.

When things are not going so well however, being an artist manager is a little like being a medieval sewage specialist: lonely, labour intensive, hazardous, smelly and ultimately pretty unrewarding.

I have been lucky enough to experience both sides of the job, although like most of us rather more of the latter than the former, and what follows (with my tongue firmly lodged in my cheek) is a distillation of some of the lessons I have learned.

1. Nigel Lawson once said that there are only 2 kinds of Chancellor: those who get fired, and those who get out just in time. Same thing applies to Managers.

2. Management is a risky business. The odds that your act will cause the BBC to suddenly remember that their job is to play decent records as opposed to championing the latest bunch of musically incompetent teenagers masquerading as the industry's newest buzz band (god how I hate that term) would give any self respecting adrenaline junkie pause for thought, yet most of us stand loyally by our acts through thick and thin until... well see 1 above.

3. It is ALWAYS your fault. There are no exceptions. Get over it.

4. If you are expecting a pat on the back when things are going well, you will be waiting for a very long time indeed. Once again, get over it.

5. An accountant I used to know once said to me "If you are talking to a merchandiser, imagine he has a large red neon sign above his head. The sign is flashing and spells out the following message: I am stealing from you. You cannot stop me you can only limit the damage". This piece of advice took on ironic significance some years later when the accountant in question was convicted of embezzling large sums of cash from several of his clients to feed his drug habit. You really could not make it up.

6. Get a signed contract with your artist before you lift a finger, take a call or draft an email. Resist your natural inclination to get on with the job whilst your deal is being agreed. Remember, anything you manage to achieve on your artists behalf during the negotiation can only weaken your position. The more successful they become thanks to your selfless diligence, the more you will find yourself desperately trying to defend terms which your client and their lawywers would have agreed to without a second thought had you not been so trusting.

7. NEVER EVER represent your friends, because after the business relationship breaks down (see 1 above) you may find that you feel very differently about the people concerned, no matter how long you have known them.

8. Always issue your invoices on time and make sure you get paid. You may think that you are helping your act by deferring money which you are owed, but all you are doing is providing an unsecured loan to a business which (statistically speaking) is almost certain to fail.

9. In management, he who makes the fewest mistakes wins. The odds against your act succeeding are so steep, and there are so many ways they can fail which are beyond your control (to quote John Malkovich), that to add to them by arseing up stuff which IS within your ambit is careless at best and flat out suicidal in most cases. I once stupidly upset a very powerful promoter and it cost me my business. No matter that I had been ill, or that my wife was in hospital, nobody cares, and rightly so. The odds are just so long that you simply cannot afford errors. I made a mistake and I paid for it.

10. Hunter S Thompson once said "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side". I have always tried to be neither a pimp nor a thief, and on the whole I feel I have succeeded. Whether or not I've been a good man is for others to judge, but I certainly feel, in so far as my dealings in music are concerned. that I have occasionally been treated like a dog, even if I have not as yet died like one.

Monday, 12 September 2011


A couple of years ago I wrote a blog about my father. Recently I was looking through my old documents and I found the following tribute to my mother which I wrote after she passed away, and read at her funeral. At a time when my life seems so full of anger and disappointment, I felt the need to spread some love, so I would like to share this with anyone who cares to read it.

"My mother was the bravest person I have ever met.

During the last 25 years of her life, she endured a bewildering succession of life’s cruellest tricks, whilst maintaining, at least outwardly, a quiet but stubborn sense of optimism, and, given some of the blows she was dealt, a quite remarkable lack of bitterness about her lot in life.

Most of the people who knew her during the last 10 years of her life will remember her as a kind, sweet, funny, caring, lovable, occasionally feisty but endlessly entertaining person. Someone who was full of life, and full of fun. Very few of those people however will ever have seen the depths of despair from which she repeatedly extricated herself with nothing more than sheer will and cussedness.

For myself, I would not say that I really knew my mother in any normally accepted sense of the term, until 1986. Even then, it was not until I had lived through some very difficult times with her that I truly began to appreciate either her strength of character or her incredible ability to bounce back from seemingly hopeless situations. It was during those first few years of getting to know her well that I learned something which helped both of us on numerous occasions. I found that if I could make her laugh, no matter how grave the situation seemed, she would generally be back on her feet in pretty short order. In fact it was only when I realised ten days or so ago that she could no longer raise a smile, that it dawned on me that this time there may be no way back.

I have to confess to not being any sort of an expert on the etiquette of these occasions, having thankfully not had to attend too many, but when I read through the cards I received both from Mum’s friends, and indeed my own, it struck me that it might be a nice thing to do to share some of those people’s thoughts with you.

With that in mind, here are a few examples:

“Dorothy had amazing spirit and determination and loved being surrounded by people. She had the ability to make friends with people of all ages because she was genuinely interested in what they had to say. She was warm and sincere and liked to laugh”.

“We are very glad that we had the chance to meet her, and were full of admiration at the way she coped with her illness… She was so full of fun and good spirit it was hard to realise how ill she really was”.

“You Mum was such a great woman, so wry and sharp, amusing and inspiring. We miss her”.

“Your Mother was a wonderful friend to me and I already miss her”.

For myself, I am happy to say that I have an abundance of great memories to treasure, amongst them some of the funniest and most memorable times of my entire life. Some of my fondest of them concern her unique talents. For example, her ability to sustain a conversation, seemingly for days on end, by questioning me on the minutiae of the restaurant menus I encountered on my business trips abroad was genuinely awe inspiring.

I think though that if one story sums my mother up then this is it.

One Friday afternoon, probably around 1994/5, when she was living in Dymchurch, I got a call at the office. “You have to meet my friend”. “Oh, OK” I said, “who is she and where did you meet her?” “I picked her up in my cab”. “Ah.” It turns out that during her days as a cabbie, Mum had arrived at Charlton station in the pouring rain to collect a fare. Unfortunately whoever it was had long gone, and the only person in view was a young woman in floods of tears. Having established that this person (a) was not her fare, and (b) she did not have any money or place to stay, anyone might have been excused for making the appropriate sympathetic noises and driving on. Not a bit of it. “Well you’ll have to come home with me then” was the predictable response. Ingrid remains a close friend to her to this day, having invited Mum to visit her in Vienna on at least a couple of occasions.

I know of very few people better at making and keeping friends, and none who are or were more universally loved by those close to them. In her own gentle way, she set me an example which I hope I can live up to, and I certainly would not be half the person I am if it were not for having known her."

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The emergence of the Musical Middle Class

Whatever your views of the iniquities of the record industry (and mine are pretty strong it must be said), the fact is that business to all intents and purposes is ancient history. In the 10 years since the peak of the record business in 1999, it has been steadily dying and now it is dead. Not dying, dead.

This however should be a cause for celebration for anyone who cares about music as an art form and as a business, because it means that the whole process of making and discovering music is back in the hands of the people that matter - the artists and their audience. Clearly the few remaining people in major labels would disagree, but frankly I cannot get too upset about them - they who spent much of the last decade spending millions and millions of pounds on terrible records that never saw the light of day (Jo Lean and The Jing Jang Jong anyone?).

So why is it such a cause for celebration?

First, it is much easier to make "records", but this can be both a blessing and a curse. The upside is that people who have talent are able to express it far more easily, and with far fewer distractions, and thus more great music gets made. The downside is that all of those people from the "unmade bed" school of inspiration who think all music is art no matter how lacking in talent the perpetrators may be, or how awful the noise is, clog up the digital pipes with a lot of that sort of nonsense.

Secondly it is far far easier to make money as a musician. Now I realise that this may sound counter-intuitive, but that fact is that there are more and more simple ways for music creators to connect with music consumers on a commercial basis, and the process is truly democratic. If what you create is any good, people will want to listen to it, and you will find an audience. If you have an audience de-facto you have a business. For an example of what I mean take a look at www.topspinmedia.com

Thirdly as the traditional music institutions crumble, so the artist is able to retain and "collapse" his own copyright. Now this is where it starts to get really interesting commercially. Best way to explain this is to give an example:

I work with a new band called The Union who have a small but committed and growing audience. The band made it's first single available to anyone who wanted it as a free download. At the same time via their website (using Topspin) they offered a digital EP featuring the single plus a live track and an acoustic track for £1.99. Crucially they also offered the digital EP with a T Shirt as a bundle for £14.99 and over 30% of the transactions took the t shirt option, giving us more than £6 per transaction. Within days we had generated £1,000s of pounds of income for the price of printing a few T Shirts. This may not be as sexy as lear jets and fancy hotels (which was always a nonsense anyway), but you do not need to go much further along than that before the artist is making a living doing what they love. Also, as I said earlier, the democratic nature of the web means that the more people like what you do, the more money you will make.

In short what we are seeing is the emergence of a musical middle class.

It is true that it is now immeasurably harder to achieve global commercial success, but that is not such a bad thing in my book, as hopefully now all the idiots who become artists dreaming of the rockstar lifestyle will bugger off and become hedge fund managers instead.

It is of course utter nonsense to say that bands will stop making "records" or that their audiences will not want to listen to them. You only have to pop into your nearest Apple Store to see what utter tosh that is. What has changed forever is the entire physics of the commercial relationship between the artists and their audiences. This is excellent news for both the producers and the consumers, and the end of the road for all of the middle men and rights owners, and frankly - good riddance.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Amazing soda shop

I thought this video was amazing. I could not help but be struck by the parallels between the soda business and the record business.

People like this guy are heros. I urge you to take a few minutes out of your day to celebrate a guy who is fighting to make the world a slightly more interesting place.

Next time I am in LA I am going to pay him a visit. Be sure you do the same.

You will find him at 5702 York Boulevard, Los Angeles, California, 90042

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Sound advice

I'd never heard of Michael Masnick or Techdirt until recently, but Mike's presentation to Narm earlier this year is as good and compelling a case for the new direct to fan models in our industry as I have seen so far.

If you are in a band and are serious about having a career this is essential viewing.

NARM 2009 State Of The Industry: Michael Masnick from NARM on Vimeo.