Vinyl, cassettes, CDs, MP3s, streaming… and back to vinyl!

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Music is changing. I don’t often buy albums anymore. When I do it’s a special treat. It’s become like a visit to the cinema – overpriced and you only expect to enjoy half the experience. And if you can stream music, why buy it?

I just read that digital music sales dropped for the first time since iTunes was born. But vinyl is coming back! (Slowly!)

Streaming cannibalising sales is, apparently, not such bad news for musicians. Execs say the growth in streaming revenue has been offsetting the decline in digital sales revenue.

Some stats:
• In 2013, digital track sales fell 5.7%.
• Album sales suffered an 8.4% decline.
• The CD declined 14.5%.
• Vinyl continued its ascension and is now 2% of album sales in the U.S; digital albums comprise 40.6% and the CD is 57.2% and cassettes and DVDs 0.2%.

In 2013, only one album sold more than one million units, Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience, with 2.4 million units. By comparison, ten songs hit the million mark in 2012.

I’ll be sorry to see CDs disappear, if they eventually do. But if vinyl can survive, I will keep buying LPs, keep replacing those pesky needles and wiping the dust out of the grooves even if it has no effect.

Read more on the stats at Billboard.

And here is evidence DVDs are also in decline. Better buy that Blu-Ray player quick smart.

Photo from hankblog.wordpress.com

If music is social, why can I only hear noise?

When U2 met with Steve Jobs in 2004, they came away with a deal for a rather baffling piece of cross-promotion. Apple would produce a piece of hardware designed to reflect the band’s latest album at the time, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. With 30 GB and the signatures of all four members of U2, the special edition iPod was priced at US$349. Source: Wikipedia)

But it wasn’t just the kit that fans could love – if they bought the U2 iPod, they would also get a different version of the album to anyone buying it the old way, in the shops.

U2 iPods gave the owner special privileges, such as downloading songs for free, they also scored a US$50 coupon for a US$149 collection of U2’s entire back catalog.

Together, the band and the brand appeared were redefining the music industry. But if they did, where are all the follow-up music/hardware integrations? Why can’t I buy a Foo Fighters album pre-loaded on an iPhone or even a Ben Folds LP on a USB stick? The whole plan stalled at the starting line, leaving us buying CDs and downloading MP3s, occasionally with bonus videos or imagery in a ‘digital booklet’. This is not awe-inspiring stuff.

The biggest movements since then have seen Radiohead offering their song in your choice of format and at the price you think its worth. Beck offered his album in sheet music only in 2012 (hoping for a mash-up that never came), while last week, David Bowie was lauded as an innovator for streaming his album for free. Oh please.

While streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora may already have rendered the purchase of an album irrelevant for the next generation, I still like to have a physical object to show for my money. I make exceptions to this rule when the digital offering is far better than what I would get from a CD with its inserts. But this remains rare, and so, record stores still have kilometers of shelving dedicated to popular bands and their back catalogs. I am certain the CD wil not phase out until a new replacement comes.

Here’s one way things might play out, according to Bono…

Music apps – sounds good right?

The App as Music

I decide to buy an album … I download an app to my smartphone or tablet … I get a preview of songs and a teaser video of what else is on offer … I can then opt-in for the album (together with bonus extras, just like a DVD) or just select some singles to download and be done with it.

Sounds good so far.

But what if the app took me even further? Perhaps it could unlock a back-catalog of videos, or a list of demos and b-sides that took me into the studio like a producer, watching as the band developed each track and sifted through snippets, hooks and riffs to find the gold?

Here’s how Bono describes it, speaking, as he does every few years, of the band’s need to reinvent themselves.

He shrugs off the fact that the band have just recorded the biggest-grossing live tour in the history of popular music and wonders whether U2 can still be relevant. “We can play the big music in big places. But whether we can play the small music, meaning for the small speakers of the radio or clubs, where people are living, remains to be seen,” he says. “I think we have to go to that place again if we’re to survive.

“There are so many U2 albums out there. We need a reason for another one. The whole point of being in U2 is that we’re not here to be an art-house band. Our job, as we see it, is to bring the art house to the mainstream; our job is to puncture the mainstream.”

Earlier, he was using an iPad with the Achtung Baby songs and videos on it. “That’s probably what our new album will look like,” he says. “I’ve been talking about this for the past four years.

“Our last album was the first album to be made available as an app with BlackBerry devices, but it didn’t work: the functionality was not what it could have been. New formats are going to happen. I’m always banging on about this. The app format brings you back to that world of gatefold sleeves, of being able to read lyrics – and [now of] being able to play the album at home on your plasma TV.”
(c) Irish Times, 2011.

Socially, an app as an album could lift the experience to another level again. Imagine if, while listening, I can read other my friends’ comments on the songs, just as I should be able drop comments into the stream for others to see, if they so choose.

An in-built forum should also capture fans’ debate of the lyrics or the band’s missteps.

I should also be able to share it with a group of friends, having a virtual listening party, helping promote the songs to my friends.

I don’t really see why this is all yet to happen. I guess it could have something to do with the all-powerful triumvirate of record labels.

Right now, Spotify tells me – via Facebook and ad nausea – what some of my friends are listening to. But this form of socialised music listening fails at the first turn.

If I have never heard of the song or artist, there ends my interest… I’m done. I know I said I’d like to find out music recommended by my friends, but it turns out an automated feed of what they are listening to right now does not equal useful recommendations.   (Now, please leave me alone to continue sifting through the already mindless landscape of posts from ‘friends’ I barely know.)

Moreover, Spotify makes me annoyed not just at the technology but even at my real life friends who should know better. This is all little better than Apple’s Ping – an ill-fated foray into social music sharing. Nor is it any more user-friendly than the Washington Post ‘social reader‘ – a Facebook experiment that gained massive notoriety for increasing traffic then even more infamy following the mass exit of millions of users who felt violated by its sharing of all articles they had read.

Turns out we don’t need Bono or Steve Jobs. I am simply longing once more for music parties, where your friends came over, you put on a CD and you just discuss it; You tell why you like it, who it reminds you of, or you tear it apart because it’s rubbish.

If an app or online service can deliver that, sign me up.

It’s not me, it’s U2

Funny short legs don't you think?

The poster on my wall from the age of 12 through 16

U2, the band I grew up with, collecting their limited edition vinyl and attending every concert, are done. It’s over. They haven’t quit yet but I am confident they should, right after their next album.

In the same way it’s important to leave a party when it’s still going well – it’s time for my favourite band to die now. And I hope they do while they are still linked with the joy of their most profound musical moments.

I know the Rolling Stones announced this month that they’ll be quitting the stage, but that’s not reason enough for U2 to step down.

Oddly, my earliest memory of U2 is of knowing people wanted Bono to go away.

And those KILL BONO T-shirts I spotted 25 years ago are still on sale (Thankyou Internet)

To the point. Unlike Bono.

I’ve never hated the man. I have, at times, loved him. Now, a few things convince me their next album should be their last.

Bono has said that the band will quit when they release two crap albums in a row. Based on that theory, and following their last album No Line On The Horizon, their next album will be their final production.

The end began when U2 became stuck in a rut following the album Pop. Pop was dazzling, bringing together the inventiveness of Zooropa and the courage of Achtung! Baby, and drawing on every musical trick they had in the bag. Problem was, their creative energy was exhausted just as their core of fans began to lose faith.

As a songwriter, Bono has mined the poetry and narratives of the Bible better than any other pop star. His decision to stop this brought him to a personal crisis. Could he really hide the part of himself that paraded his Christianity throughout their early albums? (Could anyone expect to hide a messianic complex?)

We broke the bread, we drank the wine, everybody having a good time… Except you. You were still talking about the end of the world.

Until the End of the World

The band claimed that the mega-hit LP Achtung! Baby was the sound of four men chopping down the Joshua Tree, yet lyrically, the album was as full of biblical metaphors, just as any previous album. It did, of course, add industrial rhythms and spunk that had been missing and it stands out to most people as their best.

For me, the turning point came in the disappointing album All That You Can’t Leave Behind, which lacked sincerity, depth, and left us with the most radio-friendly/nauseating song of its time, Beautiful Day.

Elevation was the height of the nonsense…

A mole, living in a hole
Digging up my soul now
Going down, excavation

Elevation

The magazine Uncut said it best in their review, pointing out that U2 appear unable to write a song without an explosive chorus — think about it, it’s in nearly all their songs … and once the build up and climax is identified, it’s painful inevitability proves it a predictable, manipulative tool.

To be fair, songs like One and With or Without You are the exception.

There were reports around 1995, that the band had thrown out an entire album of songs only to start again from scratch – something they have a history of doing. They repeated it before the last album they released, No Line On The Horizon, when they not only sacked their producer but trashed an entire series of songs said to be taking them in a new direction. Instead, what we got was an album that avoided explosive choruses yet delivered confused tunes, some of which, I believe, lack a chorus altogether.

Mediocre reviews were only the half of it. When the band launched their latest hugely successful ‘360 Tour’, Bono’s voice was dead on arrival. I’ve just watched their DVD concert recorded at the famous Rose Bowl stadium. The stadium is packed and the stage looks phenomenal, but if this was the performance they thought deserved to be captured forever on film, I’ve got a feeling it is also the last one they’ll capture on film.

Dutifully, I went to the Sydney concert for the 360 Tour, and like the Vertigo Tour before it (pictured) the stage was an engineering marvel.

Childhood dream – tick.

Like many U2 fans still gripping on from the 80s and 90s, I continue to buy every album and attend every tour — a loyalty which puts enough money in their bulging pockets to make anything the band do look like a success.

But this loyalty conveniently disguises the fact their concerts are increasingly reliant on their greatest hits. At the last two concerts, I’ve been embarrassed to find, even a few rows from the stage, that no one is singing any of the new songs.

When the night takes a deep breath,
And the daylight has no air,
If I crawl, if I come crawling home
Will you be there?

In a Little While

I’ve read a few books on the band, and one early biography had great insights into U2’s belief in the power of a song. They don’t ever underestimate the ability of one pop song or one performance to transport people into a different mindset and a better life (if only for a few minutes). What’s even more powerful, Bono said, is that a rock song can change people’s minds and have them believe they can change the world.

He’s right, this time. I do think U2 have changed the world outlook of many people.

But that was years ago. I have been more loyal than most but now, even I must acknowledge that the exhilarating moments U2 brought me, the times I felt no other group could reflect my thoughts so well, were back in the 1990s – 15 years ago.

What’s left for U2, except to taint their legacy and possibly undo all the joy with crap pop songs in search of a chorus?

I don’t want to KILL BONO, but I do hope U2 die.

ARIAs cement their irrelevance by ignoring social media

Last night’s entire event played out like one of those prolonged montages – a chance to pay our respects and remember the late Australian Music industry.

The Arias are traditionally lame. It’s just the Logies with more tattoos, isn’t it?

I was especially appalled by its use as a vehicle for music acts with new albums coming out. I used to have a crush on Missy Higgins, but she has been completely off the musical radar for about four years so her appearance was largely based on nostalgia and because she has a new album pending. The nostalgia continued with extended Billy Thorpe tributes, The Wiggles reaching the Hall of Fame, and then it got truly bizarre when Delta serenaded every music artist who has ever died – right back to Dame Joan Sutherland!

WHAT WAS THAT?

Dame Joan Sutherland - a posterchild for the forward-thinking ARIAs

Twitter had no presence on the night, and so, with the broadcast failing to lead the conversation, the #Arias feed became an entertaining sideline of barbs and witticisms. It becomes a real problem when tweets taking the piss are undeniably more entertaining than the actual on-air event.

The ARIAs facebook page also failed to make a real dent. It has just 17,000 fans and most comments (85) came for a pic of Altiyan Childs.

How unsurprising that the producers didn’t care about social media. The night has always been a few years behind whatever is cool.

The Telegraph painted an even uglier picture back in October, saying

“The dwindling ARIAs are a microcosm of Australian music as a whole. The glitter has gone. Once, the charismatic superstar power of a key group of stellar artists kept the whole industry revolving – but today, there is a distinct staleness at the top of the charts and a general malaise across the genres, from pop to hip-hop.” Read more…

In the same article, Sarah ‘Superjesus’ McLeod says

“We are definitely in a pickle, it sucks being a musician right now.”

Indeed, the Arias’ national irrelevance is confirmed each year in the following day’s ratings report.

@MJGAL: #ARIAs ratings are in. 369,000 tuned in. (almost half last years audience)

The industry is in a different kind of pickle. Record sales continue to plummet. The labels keep dumping staff…

So, where did it all go wrong?

    • Was it the moment Guy Sebastian shaved his afro? (Does anyone like his head better how it is now?)
    • Was it the removal of the A4-size ARIA charts from record store counters? (What gives? No one starts up iTunes just to check the charts, guys.)
    • Was it the astronomic rise of concert ticket prices thanks to a few large promoters running an oligopoly? (I paid $100 for U2 to bring me a spaceship. I shouldn’t pay that for Roxette at the Entertainment Centre.)
    • Was it the disappearance of our most lovable music presenter, Jabba, from Channel V? (It’s not too late to go back, Jabba.)
    • Was it Australian Idol? (You can’t beat the emptiness of realising all those singers you thought would make it are now back on the scrapheap… )

Anyone have any other ideas?

Cloud Control playing Splendour In The Grass

These are screenshots of YouTube’s live stream of the event.

I do think that band are rather cool, but my main interest is that I know the bassist, who ironically, did not play this gig. (His wife just had a baby. Well played, dad.)

Dear Aussie music industry, it’s not 1982!

I get it, we all like nostalgia, but is any 70s or 80s band beyond reforming? They ALL seem to be touring – look at the list!

And I know a singer’s death never stopped INXS from touring but didn’t the guy from Dragon also die?

As I cheekily looked into the actual cost of a John Farnham ticket ($99-$149) I was appalled at the number of bands touring as if it’s still 1982. That’s 30 years ago.

The trend of bands reforming – probably to help them pay off debts/illegitimate kids – has been around forever, but I am pretty certain there are now more bands from the 70s and 80s touring than there are new bands.

Let’s blame the internet and cashed-up Gen-Xers.

Meanwhile, I still await a BROS reunion.

Why you must see U2 live, dammit.

U2 have recently stopped being my favourite band. I don’t have a replacement, yet. But seeing they are in the country, I am nostalgic about them and eager to see their latest live incarnation and think EVERYONE else should cough up $40 to see an unequalled live event. (Yes, that’s all they cost)

Since I saw the live for the Zoo TV tour, I have been saying to  people that they have to see U2 live once in their lives.

I don’t think any live band comes close for spectacle. And don’t we all live  for a bit of spectacle?

A U2 concert tops the fun of the World Cup and the camaraderie of the Olympics. It’s open-minded yet it feels like an enormous spiritual moment as the crowd moves as one enjoying goodwill and some brilliant songs. Plus, awesome technology and production!

My connection with U2 has always had a spiritual element and at times it is hard to imagine anyone could like them without feeling God in their music.

Now, the music, for me, has taken a back seat. Their presence is bigger than their songs and that’s a dilemma. For the first time I am headed to a U2 concert not to see them play their latest album – or to play those embarrassing Mix-FM numbers like Pride or Mysterious Ways – but just to see the show.

Here’s where i think they went wrong. In an insightful review in UNCUT mag after the LP All That You Can’t Leave Behind,  the writer pointed out that U2 can’t write a song that doesn’t explode with a big, inevitable chorus. (The delicate, cool song New York was one particularly ruined by this.) The whole song hinges on it happening, that moment you get lifted up, possibly with tingles in your neck hairs and then the bass and guitar drench you in joy. It feels great but not when it becomes a cliché. I can’t stand hearing Beautiful Day for just this reason.

So, the strangeness of their latest album made some sense to me. No Line On The Horizon has a title track that is awkward at best. Because Bono has tried to write a whole album of songs that creep up on you but never leap out. They stir you but don’t frighten or enlighten you. Sadly, he is no good at this. He can’t do drama.

Yes, the album has bright spots but the low spots are the best for me – Moment of Surrender, particularly. It doesn’t go anywhere, and that, for once is fine. Many of the other songs still haven’t found what they’re doing there.

I imagine it will all come together and may even make sense at their concert. They are one band that is meant to be heard on stage, not on bloody Mix-FM.

Now, go buy a ticket.

me tweeting

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