Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Legally mandated post about Tidal

Tense moments at the Top Gear auditions.
Upon it's launch, back in the mists of October 2014, Tidal was a brave streaming site with the novel idea of offering really high quality music, rather than the perfectly serviceable bitrates offered by the myriad of other streaming services all desperately trying to be the next Spotify. Then it was bought by Jay-Z, and that apparently made it even more interesting a contender to the title of "The Next Spotify" as the world plus it's dog lost it's collective shit about a business man with a portfolio including footwear, video games, champagne, and the occasional ground breaking album, decided to get a slice of the streaming pie. Then they gathered their collective shit and lost it again when he and around a billion dollars worth of close friends did a fancy launch of the service, desperately screaming to the world "This Is The Next Spotify!".

And it's all very lovely, all very impressive, Madonna got to be a briefly erotic granny, there was a lot of talk about paying artists more money than the other services (mostly by charging twice as much for in subscription as everyone else), and given that Mr Carter is somewhat of the entrepreneur it's going to make money. But will it conquer the world? Nope, I really don't think it will, because it's missing out on a couple of key things.

Firstly it's claim of being better for the musicians, by boasting about how much it will pay the artists. This is actually somewhat misleading, as it will pay The Rights Holders more than other services. If you are an artist who owns their recordings then you are going to be doing good, however a lot of people aren't on that great a contract when it comes to streaming so until they get those changed they will mostly be making not that much times two. Don't get me wrong, double is good. But when it's double of almost bugger all once the record label has taken the cash it's not really that awesome, assuming that Tidal can get enough subscribers which it intends to do though sound quality and guilt trips.

The sound quality thing is a curious "and" for me, as it's a kind of pointless exercise on a couple of fronts. If you are streaming at home then the other services product is available at sufficiently high quality as it is that you won't really notice the difference (especially when with high quality content you rapidly reach a point where the speakers rather than the source define a lot of what you hear). If you are streaming on the go then high-quality means lots of data means a service that's going to eat your monthly plan and/or your battery, assuming that you can connect to a solid enough signal to get the stream onto your phone. So you basically have something that you can already get at home via other services or that you are going to have to not use to it's full extent if you are on the go. This is before you reach the question of "can the listener really hear the difference?" which isn't being snobby but repeated experience of no-one I've meet really being able to tell if something is over 300kbps MP3 quality unless they really, really, concentrate very hard. I'm sure someone with a couple thousand pounds of audio equipment in their lounge would be able to tell the difference, but at that point you have to ask 'why haven't they got the CD, as that will always sound better'? And yes, you can download and listen offline, which is now basically the standard anyway and is done at perfectly acceptable quality levels by everyone else). BTW if you think you can tell the difference then take the test.

As the for the guilt trip? Given how much they go on about the artist and the way they "didn't like the direction the music was going" then it's clear that they are trying to attract the "real" music fan, by which they mean 'people who are willing to pay more for their music' and 'anyone who doesn't use those other, cheaper, nasty exploitative services'. Right... because history has proven that the average internet user is always willing to listen to moral arguments when faced with the choice of free-by-piracy or expensive-through-unnecessary-purchase. I can totally get that they are going to try for encouraging the fans, and week long exclusivity contracts, but other services had to keep their costs low for the single reason of the public's unwillingness to pay and I don't think having some of the richest starts in popular music standing in a line to go 'please, we need more cash!' is really going to help things. Maybe if they head a couple of unknowns or not so massive names on there as well it would have been different, but right now it's hardly presenting a radical redistribution of wealth that it's proportioning to be.

So, will it work? Yes, it'll work. There is enough artistic weight behind it and Jay-Z is a great businessman who is brilliant at PR. But I can't see it becoming gigantic, and I certainly can't see it becoming the next Spotify. It will become, gradually, a premium option, something for people who want to show their support or opulence off with. It'll find an audience of it's own and that will grow, but the chances of mass appeal are limited, especially with its key product differential being so mostly pointless and limited by the improvements of various supporting technologies. Still, it gave everyone on stage some nice hype, so it worked out in the end.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Kanye West At Glastonbury Is Perfect

In what appears to becoming an annual tradition, people are moaning about the Glastonbury Headliner and debating what is "the right type of music" for the headline slot, because whilst rap has been at Glastonbury for years it's apparently inappropriate to have it playing the main stage on the final night.

This flies in the face of the entire history of the event as one of the biggest melting pots of music going in the UK (well, if you like middle-class blandness and faux-shock) and not, as some folks are claiming "a rock event". It makes you wonder how people are defining rock, beyond 'band with a guitar, what I like', as I thought the big bitch about last years headline (who went down really well) was that they were too rock. Or maybe it's not well known enough to be up there (I'm sure some of his 81 million sales have happened in the UK), even if the complaint about The Rolling Stones was that they were too old to excite the crowd (which they did). Or maybe they think it's too Pop, like Beyonce (who went down incredibly well) in 2011.  Or maybe they think that the audience just won't like rap, like when they all loved having Jay-Z headline in 2008.

Now, there are a lot of people commenting that the problem is with Kanye West The Person. This is a valid viewpoint, because as the President Of The United States of America said, "He's a jackass" (presumably the words "irritating fuckwit who keeps on wrecking award shows" aren't presidential). He is, he really, really is. But that's an irreverence, because if you were to ban annoying, arrogant, opinionated people from the event then you would have half the bill empty, along with half the venue. It's also missing the fact that, as one of the greatest producers of a generation, that he has earned that arrogance. Because what he does he does unbelievably well, Including his live shows, which have flamethrowers in them (so he's basically Rammsteinn but using the word "Nigger" to highlight the ills of racism).

So what you have is a controversial booking of a highly successful and talented artist, that has managed to cause a controversy by being a bit outside of the box whilst having the professionalism and popularity to go down an absolute charm at the event. Further proof that Michael Eavis is a genius because he's managed to book a perfect act for his event. It's also proof that Glastonbury has got so big (thanks to the BBC) that people going 'I don't like it' is now a story that somehow shows the raw, racial undercurrents of the modern world, rather than the real headline of "IDIOT CONFUSES GLASTONBURY WITH V-FEST".

Friday, 20 March 2015

We have reached peak Meghan Trainor

I know, we all had the same hope. We all thought "here was someone to break the treadmill of pop cliches and do Modern Woman Pop". We all thought the sad old, worn out tropes of pop cliche would be removed by someone with a bit of sass and an average body type. But no, it's just the same "ladies, you're perfect if your man will fuck you" bullshit we've seen a million times before. And no, it isn't all about that bass, no matter how much you decide to rip off Lou Bega.

Dear Future Husband, her latest single, has a couple of modernistic tropes in it. For example it acknowledges that women are also now a part of the work force and... erm...  No, that's about it. Skip beyond that starling revelation and it boils down (in order) to; put up with me when I'm being 'crazy', flatter my ego to get sex, admit you're wrong even if I was in error, never leave me alone or get on with your own thing, buy me things, and a chorus. That isn't a recipe for a good, positive, modern relationship. At worst it's a call to arms for the benefits of Stockholm Syndrome and at best it's all the pressures and social prejudices of the doo-wop era with a very minor backline beef-up added into the mix.

For someone who's stock-in-trade is being outside of the current pop norms Meghan is surprisingly and safely within everything that has happened before, an Empress in slightly baggy clothing. All she is doing is trading on feminist rhetoric, without actually putting any of the concepts into her lyrics or the body of her work. It's a shame, a disappointment, and stealing the spotlight from artists who actually have something to say on the subject of bringing grown up concepts of equality and respect into love songs, (Looking at you; Adele, Florence, Lorde, and a thousand other equally talented but gimmick missing performers). That she has a sound that gets rolled out ever 10 years or so (think Jive Bunny with a proclaimed adoration of pie, yet suspiciously tailored jeans) only adds to the conceit, a well crafted revolution that is playing on nostalgia without having the guts to be as revolutionary as the Shangri-Las or even the bloody Spice Girls. Which is what leads to the main emotion here: disappointment, and anger at her devolvement into an also-ran. As with only a few lyrical tweaks, and a slight step away from the pop-nagging blueprint of 'empowered moaning', we could have had something truly wonderful on our hands.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

A few words on tickets.

There is something magical about a concert ticket, something about what is quite often just a simple bit of paper with a touch of ink on it. Mass produced and designed to last, at most, a couple of months, they are a prized item for the music fan that carry far more emotions than simple reminiscence of the night itself.

For a start there is the sense of occasion that a ticketed event brings with it. This is not a ‘turn up if you can’ show you may get down a pub or small venue (delightful though those are), this is an event that could sell out and that has asked you to confirm that you will be there with cash in advance. This is not a casual affair, this is an RSVP event for a limited few. And that limitation brings with it the apprehension of trying to get the damn thing in your hands. If it is a major event you have the phoneline and website hounding, waiting for the flag to be raised for you and the rest of the world to charge and grab the trophy; if it is a smaller event, it’s the quiet fear that you won’t get the ticket in time before the rest of the world realises how awesome the band is and decide to join in the fun. Either way, should luck or planning be on your side, once you have the ticket you want to hold it up high and show it off to the world as the rare prize it is.

But then, in a strange metamorphosis, it turns from a thing of joy into a totem of apprehension. The gig is only a few months away, but how many things can go wrong in those weeks? What if the band have to cancel? What if you can’t make the show? What if you don’t get there on time? What if you lose the ticket? So many things could happen, all of them turning those few cubic inches of printed matter from the token of high entertainment into a totem of bitter disappointment. But at the same time it also becomes a beacon of solace and a way to get through the daily trudgery. Whatever the world throws at you is survivable, as you have the solid reminder that the gig is coming. The magic that is live music, that is a live crowd, will be upon you soon. It’s a feeling that gets bigger as the date gets nearer: the ticket becoming more and more real, until it’s in your hand and you’re on the way to the show with it brandished like a pass to the riches of the world.

And then you arrive, you hand over the golden-ticket, and it’s just a bit of paper. Everything is on the music, the performance, the event. Until it’s all over, at which point it becomes a reminder of what went by; a thing to look at and remember with, the trophy to mount on your wall amongst your other mementos of great nights of music. But it’s not a simple reminder of where you were or what you saw, it’s more complicated than that. You didn’t get to see a movie or a broadway show, this wasn’t a performance that will have been repeated a hundred days before and after. And it’s not the tour t-shirt, showing a multitude of concerts that you may or may-not have been at, that can be bought without even having to be near the venue. This is an indelible marker of that show at that place on that date, this is a point in time that you were a part of. 

This is your place in rock history, not just of the history of your own journey, as the show will never happen again. And it is the tool for the whole ride that is live music, of the emotional journey you have gone through with that ticket, from hope to triumph to foreboding to consolation to eagerness to elation to remembrance and permanency.