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

Two Years After the Payola Bust, Major Labels and Corporate Radio Still Playing the Same Game

Repost from the Future of Music Coalition via Lefsetz:

Using playlist data licensed from Mediaguide, Future of Music Coalition (FMC) examined four years of airplay – 2005-2008 – from national playlists, and from seven specific music formats: AC, Urban AC, Active Rock, Country, CHR Pop, Triple A Commercial and Triple A Noncommercial. FMC looked at each playlist and calculated the “airplay share” for five different categories of record labels to determine whether the ratio of major label to non-major label airplay has changed over the past four years.

The data in the report indicates almost no measurable change in station playlist composition over the past four years. While this may lead some to conclude that payola is alive and well, and that the Spitzer and FCC agreements were ineffective, the report instead views these results through a broader lens, using the data to describe the state of radio thirteen years after the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. The playlist data analysis underscores how radio’s long-standing relationships with major labels, its status quo programming practices and the permissive regulatory structure all work together to create an environment in which songs from major label artists continue to dominate. The major labels’ built-in advantage, in large part the cumulative benefit of years payola-tainted engagement with commercial radio, combined with radio’s risk-averse programming practices, means there are very few spaces left on any playlist for new entrants. Independent labels, which comprise some 30 percent of the domestic music market [editor’s note: actually less, considering the hundreds of thousands of independent, label-free releases every year], are left to vie for mere slivers of airtime, despite negotiated attempts to address this programming imbalance.

This report also confronts a practical challenge in measuring the effectiveness of the policies negotiated by the FCC, broadcasters and the independent music community in 2007. The ambiguous language of the Rules of Engagement and the voluntary agreements make it difficult to set specific policy goals and effectively measure outcomes. In this report’s conclusion, FMC puts forward three policy recommendations – improving data collection, refocusing on localism and expanding the number of voices on the public airwaves – designed to assist both broadcasters and the FCC in ensuring a bright future for local radio and for the music community.

Read the full report here.

May 7, 2009 Posted by | Culture, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment