Music Industry

Fairness Rocks

So, have you guys heard of an independent film called “This Is Spinal Tap” ?

I guess you haven’t heard of this film because according to French media company StudioCanal it allegedly only made US$98 dollars in soundtrack and US$81 in general merchandise sales since it was released 34 years ago.

Yes, the Vivendi subsidiary allegedly stated the vinyl, cassette, compact disc, VHS, laserdisc, DVD and Blu-ray sales were that low. A rather interesting claim seeing that I managed to purchase Spinal Tap recordings and merchandise over the past few years, with little to no effort.

Seriously, this is a critically acclaimed film that has had a cult following since it premiered in theatres in March 1984. The quoted figures can’t be right so what happened ?

A lawsuit has just been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California by actor, writer and composer Harry Shearer alleging StudioCanal had “engaged in anti-competitive and unfair business practices, as well as fraudulent accounting, directly related to its management of the cult-classic film, This Is Spinal Tap.”

Harry Shearer co-created Spinal Tap with Christopher Guest and Michael McKean in 1978, co-wrote the film’s soundtrack and portrayed the cucumber packing bass player Derek Smalls in the film itself :

“Almost 40 years ago, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Rob Reiner and I created the somewhat legendary band Spinal Tap,” said Shearer. “We thought there was something real and really funny about the characters, and between that inception and the theatrical release of This Is Spinal Tap in 1984, we poured ourselves into nurturing and perfecting the paean to rock loudness that has entertained so many people, even today. But despite the widespread success of the film and its music, we’ve fallen victim to the same sort of fuzzy and falsified entertainment industry accounting schemes that have bedevilled so many other creators. In this instance, the fraud and negligence were just too egregious to ignore. Also, this time, it was personal.” – Press Release 10/2016

As a fan I had hoped that the creators of Spinal Tap had been properly compensated, ensuring the possibility of more sequels. But it as pretty much become the norm in the entertainment industry for creators to get crumbs for their work, making fans like yours truly wonder where content will come from in the future.

Yes, people will continue to write screenplays and compose music but the channels that most fan use to access material are controlled by the major players. And it appears that to have one’s material distributed one must get naked in a desert and hope the vultures won’t come in for a snack.

So what’s a fan to do ?

I, for one, had previously decided to wait for a blu-ray release that included the “Break Like A Wind” music videos, being quite content with the special edition DVD I had purchased years back. And i’m hoping that this will all work out so I will have the opportunity to complete my collection. But for now i’ve decided to only link the official case website, instead of posting links encouraging the purchase of the Spinal Tap film and soundtracks.

I support fair compensation for content creators, whether it is for music or for film, and will actively discuss and promote campaigns for both. I encourage fans to do so as well through their social media accounts.

Vinyl : Good News / Bad News

The Good News – A new 20,000 sq. ft vinyl record pressing plant will open in Burlington, Ontario in a few days and it will be the second largest plant in North America. Precision Record Pressing Incorporated will be handling independent releases, including some from Isotope Music, and major releases from Universal and Sony Canada.

The Bad News – Music blogger Pitchfork has reported that some independent records stores in the states have had their accounts closed by WEA, Warner Music’s distributor, because they’ve had less than $10,000 in orders per year. If this continues smaller retailers in the states might have issues keeping albums from Warner and their subsidiaries in stock.

CraveTV – First Thoughts

So I had finally decided to take a look at CraveTV, the streaming service that offers television programs and documentaries online and thought i’d give you my first thoughts on it.

Although I like having access to some concerts, music documentaries and the “Classic Albums” and “Behind The Music” television programs, it still feels like more can be done with the service.

At $7.99 it is quite affordable but unlike Shomi and Netflix, it only has a few feature films. And although I am tempted to remain subscribed for the extensive Monty Python, Absolutely Fabulous and Star Trek television program libraries, I don’t think I will remain on this service for long.

Like Netflix, there is just too little to watch on the service and i’ve already watched what I really wanted to within a month. The rest I already have on DVD or blu-ray.

CraveTV also would have held my attention longer if it wasn’t missing the Mythbusters episodes from 2011 and on. I’ve already watched the Seasons 5,6 and 7 episodes they have on Discovery Science and I get that channel for three bucks a month.

Perhaps I will rejoin in November and December to avoid the Christmas programming but I think all of the streaming services will need to add more television episodes, feature films and European releases to keep me subscribed for a longer period than three months.

Honeymoon Suite On PledgeMusic

Honeymoon Suite are working on a new nine track EP and are crowdfunding it through PledgeMusic. This campaign will end in two months. Click here for details.

Vinyl Sales Back But…

AOL UK Finance report that sales of vinyl have returned to the level they have back in the states in 1988. But recording artists aren’t getting much of anything from streaming.

Back when I heard streaming was going to go legit and a royalty scheme was in the works, I had assumed that they would get rates like that of radio. Those were acceptable rates. But for some reason considerably lower rates were adopted for streaming and artists get pretty much nothing, as made apparent by Cracker’s “Low” royalties – Pun not intended.

That band’s single streamed a million times on Pandora and the guitarist of the band reported on his blog that he got US$16.89 for those streams ; Less than the amount of royalties obtained from a t-shirt sale, according to this 2013 blog entry.

The Spotify royalties were slightly better for “Low“, at US$12.05 for just over 116 thousand streams. But that is still quite low.

I guess all one can do to support their favourite artists is to buy their merchandise and see them live.

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The Big Question

So, have you ever pondered the meaning of life ? Have you wondered what it all means, why we are here and what happens after people die ?

I have as well, amassing several theories on the subject matter. But this is a blog on music so I won’t be discussing it here. 🙂

The big question I am obviously referring to in the subject line of this blog entry is related to music ; Specifically what format I believe is the best from the many choices we’ve had over the years.

This is of course a contentious issue with audiophiles on the internet but I think most formats have their advantages and disadvantages.

Having been born in 1970 I was exposed to multiple formats through my childhood and teens, from vinyl and 8-tracks in the 70’s to cassette tapes and compact discs in the 80’s.

My parents had a small collection of opera, classical, jazz and contemporary trumpet long play records, along with a few contemporary albums from ABBA, Simon & Garfunkel and The Carpenters. And they also had a copy of some of these recordings on 8-Track tape, which we played at home and in the van. But when I started collecting music on my own I opted for cassette tapes, for portability and durability.

I loved the depth of vinyl and purchased 45’s. But I also loved listening to music on my JVC portable cassette players. And over time I had acquired a collection of cassettes, courtesy of Columbia House.

Audio cassettes had a great bass sound, like that of vinyl. But dust and scratches weren’t an issue in you cleaned your cassette deck regularly. And although some cassettes were eventually damaged or were loosing some of their integrity by the mid 90’s, I had already started to replace my favourites on compact disc, again courtesy of the CD Clubs (Columbia House Canada, BMG and CDHQ).

To prevent fingerprints, dust and scratches on these compact discs I invested in Pioneer, Technics and Sony compact disc changers, in which I stored my most favourite CDs. I also eventually started compiling my favourite music on CD-R and CD-RW to save space in those devices but basically waited for the mp3 players to get a significant amount of storage capacity before buying one.

By 2008 I had stored most of my favourite music on my hard drive in WMA and MP3, most at 320 kbps, and had begun to purchase the odd single or track on the legal music download services by 2010. But I still preferred to purchase compact discs, SACD and DVD-audio discs that featured more than four or five songs that I liked. And prior to the legal music download services I had purchased compact discs used if they had fewer than three good songs.

Since 2010 I have been buying significantly less music because i’ve pretty much upgraded all of my collection to compact disc.

I do buy the occasional music video compilation or live performance on DVD or blu-ray. But I only find myself dabbling in music downloads and streaming, finding the odd track here and there. And one has to wonder if compact discs or any high resolution formats are actually required for today’s pop music.

Let’s face it, we aren’t talking about multi-track productions with intricate arrangements here. There are little to no subtle nuances in most of today’s rather shallow pop music. It’s a consumer product with a short shelf life that’s mass produced and shipped out quickly to take advantage of a trend.

Streaming is of course adequate and ideal for this situation. Kids and teens don’t want to waste their time deleting the less trendy, older recordings on their devices to make room for the music their peers listen to. And a high bit rate isn’t required because of the aforementioned lack of production.

I had hoped that blu-ray audio would have swam against that tide but it appears to be faltering since it’s introduction in 2013 by Universal Music, who had released 36 titles that year.

Unfortunately we’ve all seen SACD and DVD-audio fail to gain traction but I think the industry simply failed to understand what the market wanted.

I believe when people go shopping and see DVD audio and Blu-Ray Audio discs they expect more than just superior audio. These discs are compatible with most video players so why wouldn’t they include music videos, live performances, “making of” footage, etc ?

Warner Music did manage to release Seal’s “Best 1991-2004” on DVD audio, which not only contains 14 of his hits but 10 acoustic versions and 10 of his music videos, all in 5.1 surround sound.

Yes, there may be issues related to rights when it comes to some visual material and some music video compilations have already had their audio remastered for their DVD release. But a significant amount of content can be released on one blu-ray disc.

Unfortunately, when I looked at the current blu-ray audio releases available from Universal Music and Warner Music, many were just audio, with no bonus tracks or material. But these are of course initial releases and perhaps Sony Music’s high fidelity blu-ray audio releases will contain this bonus material.

Sony are planning on releasing 20 titles by this summer, including Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, Cyndi Lauper’s “She’s So Unusual”, Billy Joel’s “The Stranger” and Pearl Jam’s “Ten”. And I guess I may consider buying a few select releases but I suspect that only the top best selling albums will be released on this new format, starting with those that were certified diamond in the states.

Basically i’m going to be dabbling in both vinyl and blu-ray audio over the next few years, buying my very favourite albums on either format as they are re-released. And hopefully I will get a chance to bump them here as well.