Sunday, 25 September 2016

Is the Concept of "Selling Out" Relevant to Music in the Digital Age?

I am currently enrolled on Berklee College of Music’s Online Music Supervision Professional Certificate. This multi-course programme specialises in all the key areas of music supervision – a field which involves the synchronisation of music with visual media, notably TV, film, advertising and video games. Of the five courses that comprise the certificate, I have so far completed Music Publishing 101, Copyright Law, Music Licensing and Music Production Analysis, and I am just about to begin Music Supervision – the final and most vital module in this particular certificate.

As an aspiring music supervisor, I am fascinated by the avenues to which music is placed in TV and film, processes that are extensively covered in the Music Licensing module. A theme that was discussed in this course, is the one surrounding the concept of “selling out”, and whether such a notion is relevant in today’s digital-focused music industry. The course cites the unprecedented licensing of Moby’s 1999 album, Play – in which Moby turned to TV, film and advert placement opportunities when conventional promotional methods did not succeed in expanding his fan base – as a prime example of the shift towards a more creative and inventive approach to licensing. Play became the first album to have every track licensed, and in turn challenged conventional artistic standards in relation to licensing music commercially.

If I were an artist, I would embrace opportunities to have my music placed in TV shows, films or adverts. The music industry’s digital shift saw the physical CD lose its relevance as the main generator of income for artists, and as a result, the ways in which music is distributed have changed drastically. In today’s digital climate — in which most music fans/consumers are discovering new music through the internet, whether it be through streaming services or social media — placements are a much sought after opportunity for today’s upcoming indie artists, many of which are building their musical presence by way of a DIY approach through digital means. In this respect, the hype that can be generated through the use of a song in an advert, or popular TV show/film is especially invaluable for these types of artists.

On this basis, I believe the concept of “selling out” is, for the most part, no longer relevant, especially for these lesser known indie bands, for which every advert, TV show, or film placement, not only benefits the artist financially, but is essentially another opportunity for their music to be discovered by a wider audience. Furthermore, advancements in technology, including music recognition apps such as Shazam, have provided music fans with an efficient method for identifying songs they hear through placements. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been enthused over a particular song on a TV show or movie, and after identifying the song and band, have then subsequently gone on to become fans of the artist as a result of exploring their back catalogue and attending their live shows. From a fan perspective, there is something particularly satisfying about being turned on to artists via a TV show or movie — artists of which I may have never discovered had it not been for such kinds of placements.

For mainstream artists, the concept of “selling out” might prove a more difficult notion to escape from, on the reasoning that the success of these artists surely places them in a position for which they can be selective over the uses of their music. However, the status of these more established artists also places them in a position of leverage when negotiating licence fees, which in turn, most likely secures them a more lucrative deal. One could therefore argue that this is not “selling out”; rather, it is an alternative method of generating income in an industry where constantly evolving technologies, along with the decreasing relevance of the physical CD, has led to significant profit loss for artists as a result of illegal downloading and streaming sites — the latter of which does not provide much in the way of compensation for rights owners. This coupled with the fact that consumers now have the convenience of being able to download individual songs, without the need to purchase an entire album, has ultimately left the music industry with a lot to adapt to. In light of these notable changes that have occurred as a result of the digital age, I feel that placements are more valuable than ever, and that the notion of “selling out” is rapidly losing relevance within the music industry.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Bryan Ferry at the London Palladium - 20/04/2016

Bryan Ferry returned to London last week for the first of two nights at the Palladium. The gig was an especially anticipated event in light of 2015’s postponed Royal Albert Hall show, in which a throat infection caused Ferry to cancel the performance just moments before he was due on stage. However, the inevitable disappointment that was experienced by fans as a result of the abrupt cancellation was outweighed by concern, especially following news that the remaining leg of UK tour dates had also been cancelled. Fans were therefore both relieved and thrilled following the announcement that the Albert Hall show would be rescheduled by way of two dates at the equally iconic setting that is the London Palladium.

Ferry opened the set with the intensely atmospheric title track from current album Avonmore. This was surprisingly the only song — albeit one of the strongest — from the 2014 record to appear in the set, despite the current tour being in support of this latest release. The overall absence of Ferry’s recent solo material, however, was evident, particularly in the first half of the performance — which I found to be somewhat lacking, and could have benefited from Avonmore’s lead single ‘Loop De Li’, or the much loved ‘Reason or Rhyme’ from 2010’s Olympia. As it is, Olympia was completely absent, and much missed, from the set. That being said, Ferry did touch on the early Roxy Music catalogue, treating the crowd to classics such as For Your Pleasure’s ‘Beauty Queen’, while later in the gig delivering a greatly received rendition of ‘Virginia Plain’ from Roxy Music’s self-titled debut.

The second half of the set had a greater sense of fluency in terms of track selection, while Ferry’s vocals showed increasing strength and clarity as the night progressed, though were also further enhanced by backing vocalists Fonzi Thornton and Bobbie Gordon. A beautifully extended version of ‘Tara’ not only highlighted the fantastic musicianship of saxophone and keys player Jorja Chalmers, but also marked the first of a generous six tracks from 1982’s Avalon. With Avalon being my favourite Roxy Music album, I am probably biased in concluding that these songs were among the most enjoyable of the performance, however, the rarely-played ‘While My Heart is Still Beating’ and ‘The Space Between’, in addition to a full-band version of ‘More Than This’, were defining moments in the set, with the latter bringing the seated audience to their feet in appreciation.

Ferry and his band were on top form throughout the performance, and the acoustics in the Palladium could not be faulted, however, many of the songs were considerably shortened. While this technique allows for the inclusion of more songs, in this instance, it resulted in parts of the set feeling rushed and the lingering sense that many tracks were over before they had really begun. The reduction in song length is even more apparent when compared to Ferry’s last tour in support of 2012’s The Jazz Age — which featured a set that superbly transitioned from an orchestral-led performance to Ferry’s regular tour band, all the while allowing Ferry’s band to fully showcase the extent of their musicianship by way of spacious intros and guitar solos.

However, in respect of an extensive catalogue spanning both solo material and his career as part of Roxy Music, Ferry always succeeds in compiling varied setlists that include a healthy balance of both crowd-pleasing hits and rarities. While there was an obvious lack in recent solo material throughout this performance, the crowd were treated to unexpected songs from Ferry’s earlier solo work, such as Mamouna’s ‘The 39 Steps’ and the title track from BĂȘte Noire. Furthermore, it was a joy to hear so much early Roxy Music material in one set, most memorably a rousing rendition of ‘Do the Strand’, that was perfectly placed among the gig’s finale of fan favourites like ‘Love is the Drug’ and ‘Let’s Stick Together’. The excitement proved too much for one fan who invaded the stage during these final moments. An unfazed Ferry carried on as if nothing happened, before effortlessly drawing the night to a close with ‘Jealous Guy’.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

The Midnight Rambler - 'Tales From The Nightshift'

Reading-based band The Midnight Rambler, fronted by lead vocalist and guitarist Mike Lemin, offer up an eclectic mix of heavy blues and alternative rock on debut release Tales From The Nightshift. Though the album is wholly consistent in its delivery of infectious melodies and inspired lyrics, standout tracks come by way of the punchy, riff-driven ‘Shockwave', while ‘Nightswimming’ has all the key elements that contribute to a memorable album opener, with furiously fast-paced hooks and dynamic vocals that soar over an addictive chorus.

On the equally noteworthy 'Parallel', lyrics like “Somewhere / There’s another version of me / Living / The life I was meant to lead” are structured perfectly in a pre-chorus that fully succeeds in transforming the delicate, ballad-like simplicity of the keys-led verse, into a mid-tempo chorus that is complemented by a satisfyingly richer instrumentation. The song’s fine production and arrangement techniques, however, are qualities that are evident throughout the record. While the tracks mentioned here offer a strong overall representation of The Midnight Rambler’s impressively varied genre mix, the album in its entirety is a solid listen.