One of my favourite bands from the 80s, The Sundays, slipped from public view in the late 1990s. And yet their alternative, melodic pop still sounds as sweet today as I remember it decades ago.
When I play their music, it makes me feel like I am padding my way through the Enmore Theatre, shoes sticking to the crunchy carpet, the sound reaching all the way around me. It transports me back to unknown, particular moments that are a fine pastiche of worn through memories. Were you there? Was it this band or that? And what did we eat for dinner – maybe kebabs. Or Thai. It’s all jangling around in my mind like the guitars in this song.
If you are like me, you’ll enjoy The Sundays this sunday, with a blast from YouTube.
Today’s announcement making Spotify Premium available to Vodafone mobile subscribers amps up the pressure on the music and media industries with more disruption on the horizon.
They say that the number one reason that startups fail is due to distribution. It’s not a poorly designed product, or an inexperienced team or even bad customer experience. The challenge, as it is for any new business, is reaching a market.
Now, it used to be that we knew where to find music – on radio stations, at record bars and on Countdown. As a kid, I’d go and see Mrs Fry at Sandy’s Music in Dee Why (and yes, it is still there). With her son, Nigel, they were the go-to people when it came to new music – from the most interesting punk coming out of the UK through to the emerging Birthday Party more locally, they had their finger on the pulse. They could steer you through both country and western, knew the difference between Boy George and Marilyn and would even keep an autographed single behind the counter for you.
Nigel and Jenny were the central node in a local music marketing network. And each week, they inspired their customers with stories of new music, artists and breakthrough video clips. Their knowledge and passion was extensive and their enthusiasm was contagious. Each person would leave the shop knowing just a little bit more about the music they were about to listen to. In effect, they were creating and cultivating advocates – people who would influence their friends and family through music.
But the shift to digital has transformed this kind of relationship. Our music discovery is no longer curated in the same way by the programming directors, radio hosts or record bar owners. It’s at the mercy of algorithms, networks and big data stores. And it feels like it … but I digress.
Most importantly, we are playing under new rules of distribution. Music needs to find its audience – and increasingly, that audience exists at the end of a data stream. The device that transforms that stream into music is a phone. And this places mobile phone networks in a powerful position.
With the ink now drying on the Vodafone + Spotify partnership, Voda customers will have access to the Spotify Premium package as part of their plan – that’s $11.99 a month in value. And while the deals are not yet up on the website, I’d expect you can chat with customer service about it.
But this is not the end of the line for the music industry. Nor is it for the media industry. After all, disruption also breeds opportunity – and the very thing that made Sandy’s Record Bar popular is still the thing that we crave. And for all the technology under the sun, we haven’t been able to replicate that yet.
I grew up in a different age. In the age of collections and artefacts. Where the dusty smell and the near transparent pages of old books seemed to corral the imaginations of every person who had ever read them.
On weekends, my friends and I would meet at the local Record Bar. We had befriended the owner, Ken, who would share his love of music and musicians. And stories. He’d worked in radio and had met touring musicians – some bands that we knew, and many we hadn’t. He had a glint in his eye and a spring in his step. And in a conservative, seaside town, he’d wickedly roll out some Birthday Party to open the store or subversively blast Culture Club across the empty courtyard pavers towards the shiny, sliding doors of K-Mart.
Ken would also introduce us to the music of his youth. There was plenty of 70s rock, some Country and even a little Western. His taste was wide and his interest knew no bounds. He was able to show us the path from his music to ours, connecting the dots, enriching our appreciation with his own. And creating a great conversation between generations.
And even as we fell, through our teenage years, into the darker, more gothic expressions of The Cure or The Smiths, Ken would find light and promise in every song. He celebrated the creativity and art in the music and helped my friends and I to see, hear and feel it too. He was faithful to the creative impulse that brought music to life.
For some time, we were slaves to the music charts … the flyers that would magically appear each Tuesday, setting out the Top 40 singles and Top 10 albums. We’d look for what we knew and what was coming. We’d order the latest and then wait for the single to arrive. Some kids, the cool kids, would pick up the UK music magazines and only buy “imports” or limited edition vinyl. It would arrive months later, way after the rest of the world had moved onto the next, next thing. But from where we sitting, those expensive, rare, imported records came laden with street cred and were well worth the wait.
When visiting with friends, I’d check their collections. What were they listening to? Did they have a limited edition? What about the flame yellow vinyl of U2’s Unforgettable Fire? Now that’d be brilliant. Maybe a limited edition, picture single – featuring the band on the vinyl. Or a special fold-out poster. More often than not, I’d just read about these rather than see them. Or touch them.
And it was this collectability that was as inspirational as the music itself. It somehow brought the music closer to us. We could own it. Take it with us. And even show it to our friends.
With every purchase, we were building not just social proof, but marking out the limits of our identities. We were using the music and lyrics to announce to the world the ME within that could not yet articulate itself. We were borrowing a word, a lyric, a feeling and owning it. And in many ways, these small collections somehow grew to tell the story of our adolescence.
These days, that feeling of ownership of the music feels long forgotten. But sometimes I hear something that reconnects me. And it’s not about the beat or even the lyric. It’s the soul. It’s the story. And it’s the connection with history and tradition. And then I can almost hear Ken explaining what to listen for and how to interpret it. And then I know I’m home. There in the music.
Some months ago, when I began talking to Isadore Biffin about her plans, I was shocked. Here was an eighteen year old girl working on a major project for her final year of high school, and she had a mind to change the world.
Isadore’s idea was to raise funds for charity. Great, I thought. But it wasn’t just ANY charity. You see, a couple of years ago, Isadore had done her Year 10 work experience (senior school) in Ethiopia – working as an aid worker; and while there she learned of the plight of a large number of children who were being recruited into the military in nearby Congo. She was determined to do something about this. The plan was to raise funds to help rehabilitate these kids – to give them a chance to heal from the horrors of what they had seen and done.
During 2008, Isadore began with some fundraising – she gave speeches at local community organisations and schools, she made cakes and so on. But she had a bigger idea bubbling away – what about a concert – like Live8 but smaller? That meant a whole lot more planning and effort … it meant funding, organising bands and speakers, finding a venue (and convincing them to support it); and it meant getting people along to a concert.
Over the last few months, I have been mentoring Isadore … helping her with a marketing plan and advice on how to execute it. We have discussed logos and designs, posters, advertising, social media, competitions, mobilising communities and so on. In all this, Isadore has shown tremendous resolve to move outside of her comfort zone – speaking with journalists, sorting out the various issues that arose, committing to contracts and gaining the support of businesses. She has shown true leadership.
On Sunday night, the Article Thirty-Nine concert was held at The Factory Theatre in Enmore. Over 250 people attended and over $6000 was raised for the Jesuit Refugee Service (the agency running the rehabilitation program). There are some great photos of the event on Isadore’s blog – and Moshcam will soon have streaming video available on the web (Moshcam generously supported the concert by filming it for free).
It just goes to show what CAN be achieved by a strong purpose and a supportive and interested community. And if you would like to contribute to the Article Thirty-Nine cause, leave me a comment.
When I first visit a new friend’s home I find myself drawn to two things — their bookcase and their music collection. From these two personal, living artefacts I can glean many things … I look for similarities with my own collections and also for differences. I look for recognition — is there something that I have heard about but never explored? What stands out and why? By digging into these two different collections it provides me with an entry to the narrative of my friends’ life — no matter where I dig in I am sure to learn something about some part of their life.
Of course, this can sometimes be a fraught and dangerous investigation. From time to time, this kind of personal archaeology can uncover the key date piece. This is the piece of music or the book that marks a trauma or a major personal change … and in bringing up a discussion about it can change the relationship you have with your new friend. For better or worse (I am sure you know what I mean).
For some time I have been updating another blog which carries a series of YouTube videos of the music that I love. Each song has been specifically chosen for a reason. In many ways, every song is a key date song … every piece marks a turning point for me in some way. Sometimes I write an explanation of this, and at other times I let the music speak for itself. Feel free to take a look, comment or suggest your own favourites for me to listen to!
At the moment I am listening to Bridal Train by The Waifs. When I first heard this band I was not impressed, but they have, over time grown on me. In fact, one of the turning points was the interview that they did on a TV show — Enough Rope with Andrew Denton. In the interview they talked and played, telling the story of their lives and music, interweaving discussion with short performances and heart-felt honesty. The story of Bridal Train, which won the 11th Annual USA Songwriting Competition (the first time it was awarded to a non-American group), and the short performance, was part that got me. (Unfortunately the video below only covers the segment where the girls talk about being live on stage with Bob Dylan.)
This song tells the story of their grandmother who married an American sailor during WWII and caught the train from Perth to Sydney and then sailed to her new life in America. Take a listen below.
A little hypertext lovin’ has found gold … pure gold.
KG over at Write Now is Good has a post on Billy Idol’s new Christmas album. This is one album that I never saw coming.
Not only that … there are links straight through to Billy’s MySpace page.
What strikes me most about this is the decision of an artist such as Billy Idol to produce a Christmas album. When I was recently visiting the Hunter Valley I was could not believe the number of times I heard Rod Stewart being piped through the speakers of the wineries, cafes and art galleries. He was omnipresent.
Now I must admit I have never been a Rod Stewart fan — but the middle of the road jazz of Rod Stewart was pushing me over the edge. Now the question is, will Rod be bumped from the podium by Billy? Perhaps. Will I like it? Hmmmm. I don’t know … Billy Idol in a suit — It just feels wrong.
But as KG says, perhaps that means it is just soooo RIGHT.