The shape of the funnel – fame, integrity and new media

GetInlineCartoon by Gabriel Robinson (@ebagpictures)

 

A small storm has developed in the music blogger world: Anthony Volodkin at The Hype Machine has kicked a bunch of bloggers off his aggregating platform alleging they were rorting the system. Here is an extract from what he wrote:

“A handful of labels and PR outlets have focused their efforts on illicitly gaining coverage on Hype Machine-indexed blogs. The most common approach is to become a contributor at an established blog and post their clients (or clients their friends are promoting). For maximum impact, the same person would then get a spot at multiple blogs to create the appearance of broader support for the release. In some cases, the people running these blogs were aware of this, in others these discoveries have come as a surprise.
We have stopped indexing blogs that support such behavior or do not select their writers carefully”.

Full article here: http://blog.hypem.com/2015/05/on-integrity-and-blogs/

The responses to The Hype Machine’s action can be grouped under three broad categories: “you are pure and are our heroes”, “you are self-righteous bores” and “I am not a scammer and you cut me off by mistake”.

Out of all the posts, Jesse’s feedback caught my eye. He wrote:

“You all are so self-righteous and full of shit. It’s unbelievable what sniffling hipster drivel buy into your bullshit. You falsely accuse blogs of these things without pointing to any evidence to back yourselves up, you immediately nix blogs that are submitted for zero reason whatsoever, and you feature the same horse shit that more or less all sounds the same.
You all are what’s wrong with music in the 21st centuries, not these blogs that you’ve kicked off for no reason, churning out the same homogenized garbage and featuring track after track that I know for a fact has been sent out by a PR group. But you all are absolutely clean, huh? Yeah… fuck you guys”.

I felt for Jesse: he eloquently expressed some of my same feelings when Facebook choked the pages’ reach (from 16% to 2%, I am told). The Hype Machine is purging its bloggers in pursuit of integrity, not advertising money but being made to shut up hurts, whatever the reason.

Furthermore, Jesse argued that the media game is flawed and no participant can claim purity, and I think he has a point. I don’t believe that fully independent media ever existed and while the issue of independence is not new, the way it presents itself is.

With traditional media, the dance was between PR reps and journalists/editors. How a press release surfaced onto an article took the form of background briefings, favour exchanges, cajoling, worse. The game was played by only a handful of professionals who controlled the scarce resource of media real estate.

The internet has given us all affordable media platforms: I pay $80 a year to maintain my website name and from there, I can say whatever I want. Multiply that by the millions and you get the weird, wonderful and fragmented world of social media: a selfie stick of global proportions.

By sacking journalists and crowd-sourcing their gate-keeping function we have foregone their good judgement and democratized the media funnel. But a funnel we still need as we can’t possibly absorb the ballooning amount of content being produced; we never did and we haven’t got a chance now: the offer volume is overwhelming and by fathering content, we spend more time talking and less is left for listening.

 

Joe_Moore_031Joe Moore (@joemooremusic) photographed in Pitt St Mall by ThePocketRoad

The filtering and aggregation of that mushrooming content is now done either by machines or by bloggers (by the hundreds). PR reps no longer tango with journalists, they bush-dance with algorithms, Google optimizers and scores of semi-pros. This requires some of the old skills and a few new moves. The process was not refined then and it certainly is not refined now that social media platforms fight for territory, for their own fame, for that mile-long email list that could land you world domination (or a fat take-over check, if you only got to medal placement).

We have sacked the journos but we still need PR professionals and with traditional advertising following traditional media down the drain, we need more and more of them because the media (orthodox and social alike) remains the key stepping stone to achieving fame and getting through that funnel is still key and still bloody hard whether the gate-keeper is democratic and techy or old-fashioned and beholden to a media mogul.

Despite its faults and back-room scams I still prefer curated media to what the algorithm-worshippers flogging Tivos and Spotify have to offer. I still value good judgement and look for the excitement of a fellow human pointing to something I did not know and could not have imagined that might fill me with surprise, delight and wonderment. Rupert Murdoch rigging an election or a music blogger promoting his friend’s lame song are still preferable – to me – to a system where the “if you like X, you’ll love Y” rule shrinks my world to a depressing bubble devoid of creativity.

Perhaps the way to navigate out of this storm is not ostracising the offenders but changing The Hype Machine’s ranking system to a humanly curated one. Reweighting the process away from number-crunching and towards good judgement.

Jack_MF_112_B&W_sqMr Shepherd (@mrshphrd) photographed by ThePocketRoad

…and if someone can teach me how to blog an artist to stardom, I have got a few young busker friends, who look like movie stars, play music like demons and have been working hard at it for years. They could do with a leg up and I’d be eternally grateful for the social media lesson.

Maurizio Viani
www.thepocketroad.com
https://www.facebook.com/ThePocketRoad
@thepocketroad

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Joe Moore’s Street Symphony

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I feel guilty about waking Joe: he looks so peaceful in his sleep, head on his pillow, one hand holding his guitar case… After a first confused look, he beams a smile and starts our conversation with a self-effacing joke: “I spend my life sleeping on benches”.
 
The bench in question is in Sydney’s Pitt St mall, the “Mecca” of Australian retail: it is the most expensive commercial real estate in the country and the 4th most expensive in the world. A square meter of shop floor here will set you back more than $10,000 a year: less than in Hong Kong, New York and Tokyo but more than London, Zurich or Paris. Nespresso and Zara opened here when they planted a flag on our map and rumour has it that Esprit is shutting down because rent has grown bigger than revenues for their Pitt St store.
 
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A small gang of buskers has taken residence on this pedestrian thoroughfare and entertain the thousands of tourists, shoppers and office workers that pass by daily. I wonder what it takes to get a spot on such a desirable stage? English councils license their buskers; where I come from, performers often pay protection money to shady figures; here they wake up at the crack of dawn and wait for their one-hour afternoon slot. For the last 6 years, Joe has been setting his alarm clock to 5am to secure his spot. “I brush my teeth, put on some clothes and jump in my car; from the inner city it is a 10 minutes drive and if nobody has beaten me to it I get the first slot […] at Christmas shopping time, buskers start queuing from 2am”.
 
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Joe Moore -23 this January – got the music bug at 14 from his dad, who taught him how to play guitar on Oasis’ “Wonderwall”. Joe spent the following year teaching himself chords. “I could not play the B chord for ages” he says, and chose songs accordingly: if one had a B chord in it, it was out.
The first song that he remembers writing is “Nobody Cares”; at 14, with a drummer school-friend; the oldest still in his repertoire is “I am not leaving”: his reaction to his family’s decision to emigrate from the UK to Australia. “Leaving England is one of the hardest things I have ever done and the easiest time to write songs – for me – because it was SO much in my head: all I had to do was start singing and it was coming out. I did not even need to write it down, I just remembered it. I wrote that song in ten minutes: I wrote it in about the same amount of time that it takes to sing it today: I wrote the chorus & thought: that’s good; now I need some verses; I wrote the verses; done”.
 
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The creative process is not always that easy and not always solitary: his friend Dan Burrows writes lyrics for him: “sometimes it is just notes on his phone, different stuff jotted down that I stick together & then start playing some music and I just sing them and make them fit somehow & it is actually really cool! It turns out a really good way of finding a melody because it is almost like the melody is already there because I have to sing [the words] in a way that make them fit, therefore the melody is decided by how long the words are”. Dan wrote the lyrics for “Smile” about his new boss, whom he fell in love with (and whom he is marrying in March) & Joe put it to music, while “Lost People” and “Symphony”, which took him to Australia’s Got Talent’s grand finale were written at a Gosford studio with Hayley Warner, Andy Mak & Thom Macken. Joe owes the opportunity to collaborate with more experienced songwriters to his performances on the Australia’s Got Talent TV show, which attracted the attention not only of the general public but of the music industry as well.
 
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I am not surprised to hear that in his late teens he was repeatedly offered to audition for talent shows: Joe is talented, good-looking and committed; when he performs, his connection with the public is immediate and effortless. Women – especially – are spellbound and almost mechanically pull out their mobile phone and start filming him. The romantic theme of his music might help cast the spell: all of his songs are about love. He says he wrote one about being hung-over once but even that could be classed as a borderline love song. Whatever it is that makes him so appealing, it is working: he has 10,000 Facebook fans and when he mentioned an upcoming trip to Europe he was asked to perform (and offered a couch) in most of that continent’s cities.
 
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So I am not surprised he was approached for TV, what makes me cringe is that he said no. Repeatedly. He said no to Australia’s Got Talent too and only relented at the insistence of Greg Beness, the show’s producer.
 
Joe acknowledges that “It is very cool to be able to see someone grow; watch them go to that first audition and then watch them turn into a superstar”; “but you lose some of the magic”, he says. His idea of a new band is that they should come out of the radio sounding like “they are just magic, in your head, like they are from a different world” and jolt the listener into wondering who they are. His concern is that talent shows might take away that wonder and amazement by putting singers in front of the wider public too early.
“But I changed [my mind] because I went on Australia’s Got Talent!” he quips. “By then I had been working with my manager for a year or so, I had become a lot better than I was and Australia’s Got Talent was not going to make me into something else, all it was going to do is showcase me: let me do what I do here, on a stage in front of the whole country”.
 
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I listen to his argument but all the while I am thinking: “are you crazy? In an industry that promotes boy bands and child acts, you said no to potential teen-stardom!”… And then it dawns on me that what he is saying is that he was not ready. The music industry might search for 16-year old pop stars, who have an affinity with the lucrative pre-teen market but is that desirable for the chosen ones? I am the proud dad of a handsome 6-year old; would I feed him to show biz ten years from now, when his limbs and brains are not yet fully formed and his moral compass is still searching for North?
 
I ask why I don’t hear him on the radio; why he is not signed with a label and spitting out CDs like they are going out of fashion (which I am told they are) and he says that pop/rock is not currently on trend and that both domestic record companies and media are focused on folk/indie, not pop. He is writing songs all the time but he is not planning to release a new album soon. A few thousands people have bought his Symphony EP either directly from him or from iTunes but he would like a wider exposure for it before he returns to the recording studio. He is planning a trip to Europe & the UK in April to see if the industry’s gatekeepers over there prove more receptive to his work.
 
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It is the small market curse: I come across it over and again living in Australia, bending creativity to whatever mold is deemed fashionable: in visual art, you ought to photograph dead birds and make found objects collages to get into galleries, in poetry you ought to be stuck in post-modernism & be as obscure as you can to get prizes and publishers; literary agents routinely seek copycats of the latest blockbuster: magical sagas after Harry Potter, vampire stories after Twilight; in music it has become hard to promote even pop love songs… Madness.
A domestic market only 22 million people strong breads risk-averse creative industries with little room for artists outside the straight and narrow of what it is deemed “in”. In such an environment, the obvious choice is to go global & trying to make it overseas, like so many artists do. I reckon Joe’s trip is a smart move: it might lead him to a wide and diverse enough market and to producers who recognize that he is just ripe for the picking.
 
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Maurizio Viani
http://thepocketroad.com/
https://www.facebook.com/ThePocketRoad
 
More photos of Joe:

http://thepocketroad.com/images-page/nggallery/images/joe-moore

 
Symphony video:

 
Joe Moore on the net:
https://www.facebook.com/joemooremusic
twitter @joemoore_music
Instagram @joemooremusic
http://WWW.JOEMOORE.COM.AU

 

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Dave’s Wave Music Compilation

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I met Winny at school (his daughter is in my son’s class) and I quickly grew jealous of him: he seemed to be constantly travelling to one tropical paradise after another! When I enquired after his line of business I found out that he is a professional surfer – “Winny” is how bodysurfing in-the-knows call the champion Dave Winchester.

 

I watched a few bodysurfing videos on the net and was amazed at what Dave can do in the water: he harnesses the waves’ energy and uses it to propel his acrobatics: he remains airborne – frog legs out wide – for way longer than the laws of physics should allow and his mid-air somersaults look graceful, almost effortless. As someone with better lingo than me said on YouTube: “Winny shreds!”.

 

This music compilation carries Dave’s name because I pinched his surfing videos soundtracks and mixed them. Gotye contributes the first three tracks. He deservedly cleaned out this year’s ARIA awards and he just makes for a great start to my list. I owe the Cee Lo Green song to my friend Annamaria, who showed me his beautifully choreographed video; the rest is what I could find scouring the programs of a couple of US music festivals. Jovanotti features twice (both songs are from his latest album “Ora”); he is a great Italian singer songwriter and he sits – in this mix – very pretty.

 

 

Maurizio Viani

www.thepocketroad.com

 

Title Artist Album
Eyes Wide Open Gotye Eyes Wide Open – Single
Somebody That I Used to Know (feat. Kimbra) Gotye Somebody That I Used to Know (feat. Kimbra) – Single
Learnalilgivinanlovin Gotye Whip It (Music from the Motion Picture)
Dangerous Boys The Protectors Tarantula – EP
Shakeytown I Heart Hiroshima The Rip
Playing God Paramore Brand New Eyes (Deluxe Version)
A Shot In the Arm Wilco Summerteeth
Can’t Stand It Wilco Summerteeth
Cry Baby Cee Lo Green The Lady Killer (Deluxe)
La notte dei desideri Jovanotti Ora (Deluxe Version)
Megamix Jovanotti Ora (Deluxe Version)
Cinco The Ruby Suns Fight Softly
Chariots of Fire Mission Control Innerspace – EP
Smile O. Children O. Children (Bonus Track Version)
Tin Roof (feat. Nathan Edwards) Barnstormers Graveyard Town
Little Bit of Feel Good Jamie Lidell Jim (Bonus Video Version)

 

 

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A Day in the Life of the Curly Cousins

The Curly Cousins

The Curly Cousins


It has become a bit of a tradition for us to give books and music to our young friends for Christmas. We have a fair few littlies to give presents to so our December shopping turns out to be a bit of a survey of what is available for children in the festive season.

This year we went for a mix of old an new: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Little Prince, Slinky Malinky, Kids’ poetry collections and The Legend Of The Golden Snail by Graeme Base, which is so amazing that we had to buy two copies: one for our Godson Leo and one for little Layla.

As for music, we headed to the ABC Shop thinking we could not go wrong and we bought what we thought was an excellent selection: theme songs from old children’s shows, Christmas songs for kids, and minor actresses’ forays into children’s music… And the Curly Cousins of course from Mullumbimby bookshop, our very own “private Wiggles”. We were keen to sample our musical booty and we popped the CDs in the car stereo one after the other and were gob smacked by the difference in quality: the ABC stuff was dull leaning towards patronizing; flat and almost devoid of fun. Truly disappointing.

Thank the Lord for the Curly Cousins! We knew the Cousins are good: we have been to their concerts in town, own and love Rochelle’s (the Cousins’ Sunshine) “Jambu Tree” CD and my son and I have been regulars at Mandy’s (alias pigtail-Coco) Singing by the Sea weekly gigs for kids. Their CD is just as good as their live performances.

What sets the Curly Cousins apart from the more commercial releases is that they sound like they like using their brain, have a flair for irony, the right mix of talent for success and, most important of all, they sound like they are having fun. Their CD is  – as stated on the cover – “parent friendly”, which is no small bonus if you re going to play it a gazillion times for your young ones.

My three-year old LOVES the Curly Cousins and I like them too because they remind me of the “Lorraine Bowen Experience”. Lorraine was the main act at Club Montepulciano, which was roaring in London’s Camden Town in the late Nineties. It was a quirky club: it had a barber’s chair for late night haircuts, a green table roulette where one could win chocolates (or just get some from the glam-croupier if luck did not smile at you on the night) and had an octogenarian Argentinean singer serenading the crowd with intense, over-dramatic tunes. And then there was Lorraine, who came on stage dressed in a sixties’ dress (what mum would have called a “scamiciato”) and an ironing board where she rested her electric piano. She played hits like: “Sunday Afternoon Sex” and “Everybody is Good at Cooking Something, I am Good at Cooking Crumble”. She was nothing short of fantastic and the Curly Cousins – to my mind – are a G-rated new and improved sort of Lorraine Bowen: funny, clever, lovely, talented musicians.

My personal favourites? “Coconut Woman” and “Fruit Salad” got me roaring like a lion and singing about groovy pomegranates. I can just about see their videos on MTV’s top-ten charts.

If you have a long car trip planned for the New Year, pack the Curly Cousins’ “A Day in the Life” and Rochelle Wright And Rob Shannon’ “Jambu Tree” CDs, you won’t regret it.

Maurizio Viani

Internet Resources:

http://www.curlycousins.com.au/

http://ihearmusic.com/62/rochelle-wright-&-rob-shannon/the-jambu-tree/

http://www.graemebase.com/

http://www.lorrainebowen.co.uk/

The Curly Cousins

The Curly Cousins


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