Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The International Songwriting Competition – Worth It or Not?

Today is ripoff day. A ripoff differentiates itself from a scam by not being downright illegal. The $25K grand prize for the International Songwriting Competition may or may not exist, the latter case which would vault it into the former category. The promoters of the competition claim that the judges include Tom Waits, Kings of Leon, Loretta Lynn, Black Francis, McCoy Tyner and Toots Hibbert, but even if that’s true, and those luminaries voted en bloc, they’d still be outnumbered many times over by a crew of schlockmeisters from the soon-to-be-defunct major labels. Ultimately, contests like these boil down to a glorified lottery. What chance does a musician’s hard-earned $25 entry fee stand? A look at last year’s winners provides the answer – and the organizers’ decision to make this information public may turn out to be the marketing disaster that shuts them down for good.

The grand prize winner was a generic trip-hop song. The production is laughably obsolete – the drum machine shuffle was over by 1996, something you would expect judges ostensibly the caliber of Messrs. Waits, Hibbert et al. to be aware of. Perhaps far more telling is that the song’s writers, fortysomething pop singer Kate Miller-Heidke and her husband Keir Nuttall already had a gold album and a major label deal in Australia when they entered the contest. Is this contest simply a lower-budget version of the Grammies, a major label circle jerk with zero acknowledgment of what the listening public might prefer? In other words, considering its association with the major labels, is the deck stacked against artists who don’t fit the cookie-cutter corporate mold?

The song that won in the rock category, by Kristopher Roe of the Ataris was even worse, an even more cliched emo-pop song. “The only thing that matters is following your heart, and eventually you’ll get it right,” Roe strains, affecting an intensity of emotion that his band’s third-rate Good Charlotte imitation reaches for halfheartedly before giving up. “Being grown up isn’t half as fun as growing up,” Roe asserts, a tautology for the comfortable upper middleclass children he envisions as a customer base. In case you’re not familiar with the band, they achieved some recent notoriety by recording an earnest Green Day style cover of a Don Henley song. The ersatz emotion recurs with the second-place winner, Quebecois emo-pop band Tailor Made Fable’s A Case of Mistaken Identity. At least the third-place winner, Irish band Chrome Horse’s Reflections of a Madman shows  some passion, even if the verse is a blatant ripoff of the Ventures’ Egyptian Reggae.

A look through the rest of the winners didn’t turn up much of anything worthwhile either. The second-place winner in the World Music category wasn’t remotely exotic: Leni Stern’s 1,000 Stars is a vapid semi-acoustic pop song in the style of the grand prize winner. Americana winner Kevin Meisel’s Cruising for Paradise is a third-rate Jimmy Buffett pop number with a little mandolin overdubbed to give it that down-home Americana flavor. Jazz winners the LeBoeuf Bros. Quartet’s Code Word at least shows some promise, even if it it’s not exactly edgy. And in case cutting-edge lyrics are your thing, for a laugh, here are the winners in the Lyrics-Only category.

In case you haven’t figured all this out by now, the winners here may actually be the best of what the judges had to work with. Consider – would your favorite cool band be caught dead entering a generic corporate talent search like this one? Imagine for a minute a first-class group like the French Exit at Emergenza. They’d clear the room in seconds flat.

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September 18, 2009 Posted by | Culture, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 108 Comments

Live Nation’s Club Passport Is a Scam

[by Lucid Culture’s chief cook and bottle washer]

When I was a kid, my family went through a hiking phase. I must have been about nine when they first became obsessed with it. By the time I was twelve, I’d been to the top of most of the smaller mountains in New England. One of the first was a humble little peak in New Hampshire called Red Hill. It barely qualifies as a mountain, but assuming it hasn’t been bulldozed for McMansions, it’s probably as good a place as any to show a fourth grader how much fun it is to set out for the summit hoping there’s water somewhere along the way. The day I was there, so was the fire warden, who had a peculiar sense of humor. He gave me a ticket which read, “This is a free ticket from the top of Red Hill. It’s not good for anything. It’s just free.” Same deal with the Live Nation Club Passport – except that it’s a scam that’s probably illegal. With a passport like this, you might as well stay home. And call the Department of Consumer Fraud at your State Attorney General’s office while you’re at it.

For the first time in music history, here’s a ticket that won’t get you into the show you just paid for. “Introducing the Live Nation Club Passport, – see unlimited club shows for remainder of 2009 for just $50, all-in, no fees, limited time offer.”

Yeah right. See below.

As the fine print says, purchase of this ticket DOES NOT GUARANTEE YOU ENTRY.

Now wait a minute – that’s what a ticket is, isn’t it? A voucher that proves you purchased a seat or a space at a show, that proves you’re not trying to sneak in?

No. This ticket costs you $50 but it won’t get you in anywhere. It’s a glorified CMJ pass, except that the bands at CMJ are way better, which is pretty depressing. What Live Nation is trying to do is A) get your personal info so they can spam you about a million overpriced shows you’d never want to see and B) fulfill the task known in club circles as “papering the house.” See, no club owner wants to look foolish when nobody shows up and the band plays to an empty house. Now combine the depression with overpriced concert tickets and the picture becomes clear – other than shows at small, reasonably priced clubs and a few jam band gigs, people simply aren’t going out anymore in numbers like they used to. So to avoid looking foolish and getting bad press, wannabe-monopoly concert promoters Live Nation and their soon-to-be-sister firm TicketBastard are dumping cheap tickets by the truckload for shows that are selling badly. To take one recent example, wish you’d seen AC/DC in Foxboro, MA? You could have. For free. Once you get out of the small clubs, it’s amazing to watch the corporate rock world imploding before your eyes.

But the Live Nation Club Passport is a complete ripoff. First of all, you can’t even use it as a ticket, which if for some reason you couldn’t attend an event, you could sell or give to a friend. The Club Passport is non-transferable and requires that you show photo ID when attempting to enter a venue. Secondly, you have to attempt to reserve admission to the show you want to see before 4 PM the day of the show – when you will learn whether your reservation has been accepted OR REJECTED. See, Live Nation reserves the right not to let you in because they think there are a few more full-price ticket buyers out there. Of course, the Live Nation website encourages you to show up at the venue right before showtime and then try to get in.

But what if they still won’t let you in? Isn’t that fraud?

If you read the fine print, you’ll see plenty of other nasty nickel-and-dime rules. For example, what if you’re a diehard fan who wants to see a band at the club in your hometown and then at a Live Nation venue in an adjacent state? No way. They’ll only accept your Club Passport in your home state.

Realistically speaking, people everywhere are doing the same thing as Live Nation and TicketBastard: realizing they can’t afford the concert they stupidly shelled all that money for, they’re unloading their tickets on craigslist, facebook, the bulletin board at your local laundromat…pretty much everywhere. And you may want to see “Andrew Bird, the Mars Volta, Dragonforce, All Time Low, Common, Pitbull, Trey Songz, Psychedelic Furs, and many others,” as Live Nation’s site advertises, but a check of available Club Passport shows at New York’s Irving Plaza and Gramercy Theatre revealed that those aren’t available. Can anybody say “bait and switch?” Still,  if you’d like to see once-popular 90s ska-punk band Bowling For Soup, actress Juliette Lewis – who’s also apparently a singer  – or the Sam Roberts Band – oh boy, can’t wait! – and don’t mind paying $50 for the privilege, the Club Passport is probably right up your alley. In fact, if you added Craig Owens of screamo band Choidos to the list, your Club Passport would almost pay for itself. Assuming, of course, that you weren’t denied admission to those shows – and you know that the day Craig Owens of Choidos sells out a club will be a cold day in hell.

Comments from consumers and law enforcement are invited, just use the comments button below.

September 18, 2009 Posted by | concert, Culture, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 9/18/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Friday’s song is #313:

Michael Caine – It’s Over

The Roy Orbison original may be a classic, but it’s the version by Michael Caine in the 1998 film Little Voice that’s the best. Caine’s character is a villain, a drunken clubowner singing this song onstage with his house band in a moment of particular unease, and his acting is amazing. Caine is actually a decent singer impersonating someone who can’t hit a note to save his life, imbuing a pretty despicable character with some actual humanity. Here’s a torrent of the whole movie.

September 18, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment