The New York Times takes a mildly interesting topic–what people listen to when they work out–and gives it the academic treatment today. It has contributions from several professors (one likes to ice skate to the Buena Vista Social Club! another suggests that “Push It” might be the perfect workout track!), the confusing revelation that Oliver Sacks likes to swim to Wagner, and the assertion that people find music from Rocky encouraging. But there was one sentence that caught my attention.
Haile Gebrselassie, the Olympian from Ethiopia who has won the gold medal at 10,000 meters, often requested that the techno song “Scatman,” which has a B.P.M. of around 135, be played over the sound system during his races.
Of all the ’90s technopop tracks, why the Scatman John track “Scatman”? That’s the question your article should have asked, Times. Now we might not ever know. My personal choice would be 2 in a Room’s “Wiggle It” (below), but maybe that wasn’t a big hit in Ethiopia. Either way, next time you hear someone scatting over a techno beat while you’re out running, look and see who might be jogging past you. It’s your chance to see a gold medalist in action!
Sure, we’re ten days into the new year, and the music year just passed has been covered in every imaginable manner, but have we heard the contributions of the true driving force in the music industry? The consumers who are keeping the leaky ship afloat? The voice of those people has been heard… through the announcement of Verizon’s top ten ringtones for 2007. The list (which is, curiously, arranged in alphabetical order) after the jump, but for now a few thoughts.
THE GOOD: I suppose the good news depends on your opinion of one-hit-wonder rap hits of the past year (Hurricane Chris, Sean Kingston, Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em). Maybe the good news is that there’s only one Fergie song on there, and it isn’t “Big Girls Don’t Cry (Personal).” THE BAD: “The Way I Live” by Baby Boy Da Prince, and of course, Fergie. THE WHAAAA? With Interscope announcing that Soulja Boy hit the three-million mark in ringtones, yet had only just reached gold status as far as actual album sales, it nearly makes my head hurt to think of where the music business is going from here, or if anyone will actually be releasing songs that last more than 30 seconds by this time next year.
“A Bay Bay,” by Hurricane Chris
“Beautiful Girls (Main Chorus),” by Sean Kingston
“Buy U A Drank (Shawty Snappin’),” by T-Pain
“Crank That (Soulja Boy),” by Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em
“Glamorous,” by Fergie
“Party Like A Rock Star,” by Shop Boyz
“Rockstar,” by Nickelback
“Stronger,” by Kanye West
“The Way I Live,” by Baby Boy Da Prince
“This Is Why I’m Hot (Chorus),” by MIMS
There’s an wonderful chicken and waffles restaurant in Phoenix that features a sign on the wall which (more-or-less) reads “If we don’t meet your expectations, please lower your expectations.” It might be a good idea for a similar sign to be placed in the office of everyone who makes economic forecasts for a music retailer in America, what with both Barnes and Noble and Trans World Entertainment releasing their sales information for the holiday season.
One has to wonder who is setting these expectations in the first place, and if they should consider medication for their delusions, but it’s a little late now.
Trans World Entertainment Corporation (Nasdaq: TWMC) today reported a comparable store sales decrease of 12% for the nine-week period ended January 5, 2008. For the five-week period ended January 5, 2008, comparable store sales decreased 13%. Total sales for the nine-week period were $378 million compared to $469 million for the same period last year, a decrease of 19%. Total sales for the five-week period decreased 24% to $264 million compared to $348 million for the same period last year. The Company operated 14% fewer stores, on average, during the nine-week period as compared to last year.
“Sales for the holiday season were well below our expectations,” commented Robert J. Higgins, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Trans World Entertainment. “As a result, we expect to report a net loss for
fiscal 2007 in a range of $15 to $20 million.”
For the eleven-month period ended January 5, 2008, comparable store sales decreased 9%. Total sales for the period decreased 12% to $1.192 billion compared to $1.353 billion during the same period last year.
At very least, Barnes & Noble had the Harry Potter book to prop up “disappointing music sales”; what did FYE have to offer? An excellent selection of High School Musical 2 posters? The question isn’t really how Trans World will react, but possibly whether next Christmas you’ll be able to purchase list price discs from one of the company’s retailers at all.
ONE-LISTEN VERDICT: Missy Elliott has largely been missing in action since 2005′s The Cookbook, which featured a more “to-the-center” (read: less weird) sound and Timbaland largely off the side. To tide people over until her new album–which has Timbaland back in the main production chair– is theoretically released this spring, Missy has turned out another soundtrack cut for Step Up 2, a film in which young love is found at a dance school, or something like that. As for the song itself, it’s fine (and thankfully free of Fatman Scoop), but nothing too thrilling. The chorus emulates Busta’s interpolation of Daft Punk, albeit a few years down the road, and a few minutes after listening to the track, the verses and melody have already faded from my memory. But, hey, Timbaland’s back for the new disc, whenever it comes out!
It seemed like a marriage made in corporate heaven. The deal that had Starbucks and satellite-radio company XM Radio working together to blend overpriced premium coffee with stylish adult alternative tunes has fallen apart, with XM giving $22 million of its stock to the coffee conglomerate in order to flee with a remnant of its dignity. So, what happened?
If you can believe it (and I have a hard time believing it myself), XM decided they didn’t want to make millions of dollars in payments to Starbucks for the next two years.
Things seemed to be going so well. Starbucks has Hear Music, its own commercial-free music station on XM, where it pumps out the same artfully jazzy tunes that fill the air in its java hubs. The companies also have spent the past few years cross-promoting CDs.
And even though Starbucks itself has been a shareowner disaster lately — it shed 42% of its value last year–it’s a growing force in music. Paul McCartney’s latest studio CD, which Starbucks released, was a runaway success.
But even though the relationship seemed symbiotic, XM was making payments to Starbucks as a partner. Now that XM has grown at a quicker pace than Starbucks — and since rival Sirius has grown even more quickly than both companies in that time — paying $22 million now is apparently a better business decision than to keep sending money to Starbucks until the original termination date in 2009.
It’s hard to conceive of any segment of the music industry that’s considered to be growing, but XM has found a way to pull it off, albeit not as successfully as Sirius. Regardless, it’s somewhat difficult to see what XM was getting for their money, since Starbucks seemed to pull little effort into plugging the radio station, instead focusing on the connection with iTunes and their own label, and the radio station did even less to return the favor, with the Paul McCartney and Joni Mitchell discs receiving only a few spins last year. At some point, the power of Feist prevailed and made the XM Cafe station powerful enough even without the Starbucks endorsement.
Happy 63rd birthday, Rod Stewart. You’re going through an odd era as far as your status among critics goes, with appreciation for the Faces on the rise, while nearly everything that followed only seeming to chase trends and, in the words of Rolling Stone, “become a bilious self-parody.” While one would be justified in questioning a tribute to you, considering your later work–including the seemingly endless tribute to the “American Songbook,” which was wildly popular with my mother-in-law and sold incredibly well for being a sign of the apocalypse–everyone, no matter how severe their aesthetic crimes, deserves recognition on their birthday. So here’s ours…
Since we didn’t make it to the model train store before it closed last night, the best thing we can offer is the four minutes and twenty-three seconds of your one tolerable ’80s hit, 1981′s “Young Turks”.
Rod, even with your tenure in the Faces and the occasional interesting moments of your solo career to consider, I think you could help your long-term legacy greatly by just issuing a blanket apology for your daughter, Kimberly. A simple “I regret the trouble I solved by ever helping to conceive her” would suffice.
A profile of the producer/singer/guy-who-wears-wads-of-cash-as jewelry The-Dream (government name: Terius Nash) in Women’s Wear Daily starts off as one might expect: He likes expensive things and is part of the line of producers who have remade urban radio in their own image, stealing some of the spotlight from the singers of their songs. In the middle of the piece, however, writer Jacob Bernstein manages to capture the unsustainable nature of the current urban music business.
According the insiders Bernstein interviewed, the superstar producers driving the urban market at the moment are also likely to be its downfall. Artists like Rihanna are seen as interchangeable, but the payments made to those producers are astounding in an era of rampant music business belt-tightening: they’re often paid $50,000 or more up front, and then receive radio and ringtone residuals, as well as chunks of the money garnered by selling songs to television or film. In contrast to the standard label practice of paying money up front for a song, then owning nearly all of its backend, producers like The-Dream and his partner retain the publishing rights, withholding what can often be the most lucrative long-term source of revenue. Bernstein details the benefits of that arrangement for The-Dream, which include a nearly endless stream of $100,000+-priced vehicles that he paid for in cash. (“I’m going to have, like, 10 cars by the time I’m done,” he tells Bernstein, “and I’ll pay for all of them up front. Credit just gets you f—ed up.”)
Of course, when the music industry perceives that someone’s getting rich before they are, there’s likely to be grumbling.
While hit-makers have been cashing massive checks since the Motown era and earlier, it’s hard to think of a time when the music business has been this strapped for cash. In the most recent fiscal quarter, both Sony/BMG and Warner Music reported losses, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. And the economics of “urban” music are frequently cited by industry players as being the worst in the business today, with leading rappers and producers demanding far more money than they can guarantee delivering.
“Because of these producers and the massive fees for guest appearances by rappers, the risk-reward ratio in urban music is upside-down,” says Tommy Silverman, the head of Tommy Boy Records, which launched the careers of De La Soul and Queen Latifah. “The cost no longer justifies the investment.”
Another former label head, speaking on the condition of anonymity, says, “All of these labels are spending a fortune, hoping to sell like it’s 1995. It just doesn’t happen. How do you spend $250,000 on one song? It’s crazy.”
And being hot one minute doesn’t guarantee success the next. In 2005, producer [Scott] Storch seemed to be on fire, with massive hits for 50 Cent, Chris Brown and Lil’ Kim. In 2006, the labels paid him millions of dollars to produce records for more than 30 artists, among them Jessica Simpson, Nas, The Game and Paris Hilton. Not one of his songs even reached the top 10….
Recently, there’s been some evidence that a correction is coming. Going forward, some are predicting that the labels will begin to move away from the high stakes poker game of manufacturing big stars and
invest more resources in developing artists who write and produce their own music. This would likely leave fewer blockbuster acts, but would lead to more constant returns and lower overhead, they say. Even
Nash says his own attempt to go solo is partially a way to generate another revenue stream without introducing the high costs associated with building pop stars. “With my projects, it’s not really about me,”
he says. “It’s us saying we can deliver this type of product at a lower cost. We’re going to write 300 f—ing songs a year anyway. So don’t give me front end. I don’t need any money. But give me ownership, and I can make money from record one, when it sells the first copy.”
It’s probably wise for The-Dream to develop as many revenue streams as possible, because the story told there should be a wake-up call for any producer looking for a six-digit payday. While having Timbaland on a track can even turn what sounds like a third-rate Fray song into a hit, Storch’s recent dry run and the (for now) fading Neptunes have to put some fear into executives who are desperate for the immediate financial gratification of digital sales and ringtone purchases. With Soulja Boy and the like creating hits on their own that can be picked up by labels without the development costs normally associated with the cultivation of hits, why bother paying up front–and through the nose–for a hit when someone might just make one in their bedroom that can be had for half the price?
Like every home, I’m certain, the Casa de Gibson has been busy compiling our own year in review package for publication in our annual Arbor Day newsletter (it’s a long lead-time publication). While we were discussing our top five events of 2007, there was some disagreement about the top spot, with my wife Tara’s contention that the birth of our daughter should be No. 1, and my contention that since said birth on Dec. 17 missed the Dec. 15 cutoff it will have to wait and see how it does in 2008. Rules are rules, I say. I placed the Happy Mondays reunion at Coachella up top, and that’s when the real ugliness began.
Either because she’s totally insane or deliberately hurtful, Tara made the statement that she didn’t see what the big deal about the Happy Mondays was.
It’s OK. Take a moment to recover. I certainly did.
What about this, wife of mine?
Somehow, this needs to be resolved. Tell my wife she’s wrong (or take her side, I suppose, and have history judge you).
Sometimes when rock crossed over into the literary realm, the results are amazing crossed with awesome. On the other hand, there’s a coffee-table book coming from Hatebreed lead singer Jamey Jasta. And that isn’t the only book he’s putting out this year!
“The first is a coffee table-type book,” Jasta said. “It has all my HATEBREED lyrics in them alongside stories of how and where I wrote them and general tales from the road.”
The second is a document of Jamey’s three and a half years hosting MTV2′s “Headbanger’s Ball”. “That book is more of a retrospective of all the bands and interviews we conducted, more of a look back,” he explained. “I was so glad I got to do that show; somehow, with no TV experience, they picked me for the job over 300 other people who applied for it. Because of that, I met some of my heroes and got the chance to help out so many of my friends with exposure on the show. The book is all about that and the behind-the-scenes nightmare of trying to schedule everything with a full-time touring musician. There were a lot of flights.”
I picture the “tales from the road” portion as being a cross between Kon-Tiki and Slipknot’s tour rider, which is making the idea seem a bit more appealing, but it’s difficult to imagine who would release not one, but two books by a band currently without a label, although you never know. In other news, Riki Rachtman is trying to find a publisher for some of his more salacious MySpace blog postings compiled alongside the most interesting graffiti found on the bathroom walls at the Cathouse. Look for that in stores early next year.
Anyone who has been in a promising local band knows about the tricky situation of trying to promote your music act–sure to be the pride of Toledo or Yuma or whatever–while not throughly irritating every person you know or meet. Sacramento act We Prick You faced the same dilemma; however, in trying to get the word out to local reporter Eddie Jorgensen, they might have gone just a step too far.
A quick lesson for you up-and-coming rock stars: if you pester a journalist to the point where he writes an entire article about how irritating you are, that’s a bad sign.
I should never have given Marcus Cortez my phone number.
But I thought, as someone who writes about music, why not make myself available to the lead singer and guitarist for the hard-driving, Bowie-allusive local rock trio We Prick You? Really, what harm could come from it?
We first met outside the entrance to Old Ironsides, one of the many locales at which Cortez and his band like to wreak havoc. By then, I’d already heard them–serious rockers in the great tradition of early Local H and Queens of the Stone Age. So far, so good in my book.
And as he madly papered cars outside the venue with his show fliers, Cortez seemed like a nice enough guy…
Without missing a beat, Cortez then asked, “Can I get your number?”
Carelessly, I obliged. First mistake, last mistake. Since that first chance meeting more than a year ago, I’ve received somewhere near 1,000 We Prick You-related text messages.
One time I woke up to a text about a Blue Lamp show at 1:30 a.m. and just about threw my phone out the window. Another time, my girlfriend and I were enjoying a movie and my cell phone registered five texts before the end credits rolled. I even received a phone call directly after a text from Cortez after already receiving a flier on my car, an e-mail and a MySpace bulletin.
And I know I’m not alone.
Although Cortez isn’t willing to give out the total number of contacts now forever trapped in his cell-phone, he does mention there are “at least a baker’s dozen.”
So what on Earth gave him this seemingly limitless energy to promote? “Substances may or may not be involved,” he said vaguely, “but I meet a lot of really cool people, catch a lot of good music and support a lot of my friends in doing so.”
Maybe in the end, Cortez’s methods can be considered successful, since his band’s upcoming show was featured, even after all the writer’s complaints. However, when you’re forcing those who might publicize your band to change their phone number (as Jorgensen eventually did), you might not see any sort of favorable coverage (or coverage at all) in the future. We Prick You, consider focusing on your manners for a bit, or you’ll never become the next Vampire Weekend.