I really hate a monotonous ringing bell

I seem to remember a time where the Salvation Army used to stand around in the winter playing Christmas carols with a band. The band was always made up of strange looking people who you would never think would want to play any sort of instrument, let alone in public. Generally a mix of generations with a couple of really old people sitting down and a few middle aged people showing the effects of too much eating and not enough exercise, and always some skinny bloke in his early twenties with a haircut that showed he lived alone and cut his own hair in the mirror.

Their abilities were always a little suspect, but the pure effort they had obviously gone to made it something quite special. It was like we were seeing the people who were the stereotypes for dad’s army (a British (now cult) comedy about the people who helped protect the home front during World War II). Yes they sounded terrible. Often it seemed that they were all playing slightly different versions of the same music, some with different tempos, and most trying really hard to make at least a quarter of the notes either flat or in an entirely different octave.
But the result was good enough, festive enough and sweet enough that you felt obliged to throw a few coins in the bucket.

That world has sadly now gone! And has been replaced by a single person ringing a bell continuously. I think some people must have thought long and hard about the type of bell to use and the frequency of ringing. Because there is no way that purely by accident could they have worked out the most annoying tone and level of repetition?

Terrible does not even start to portray the sound that these people now make. I LONG for the days of the sally army quartets. In retrospect these were relatively beautiful.

I’m sure there collections have gone down, as the only donations that are now getting are from shop keepers trying to bribe them to move somewhere else.

I feel like going around to the sally army offices and just pressing their doorbell continuously, just to see how they like it.

Bah Humbug

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I’m Hep!

Olly Murs singing "Heart Attack"
Olly Murs singing “Heart Attack” for ~30 of us at the Sony Club

So I’m picking up my monthly supply of currently legal anti-fat guy pills at the GNC and I realize I recognize the song on the radio station!  No, not the “oldies” station that still plays Ronnie James Dio mind you, the one that the young people enjoy.  It was a song by emerging Sony artist Oliver Murs from the UK who did a quick two songs a cappella at the Sony Club a few weeks ago when I happened to be there following a branding conference in that building.

While checking out I even found a way to slip in a comment about how Olly (I can call him Olly because we’ve met), was really enjoying America and touring with One Direction (I think that’s one of those popular “boy bands” like the New Kids on the Block).

Don't be a "square!"
Don’t be a “square!”

The young cashier flashed me a look that indicated she was skeptical about my level of “hip” and tried to trip me up by asking me, “What’s his story?”  I searched my memory banks for anything else I remember from the Sony event and recalled something about him being on a British show called the “X Factor” so I replied with that little nugget and a snide remark about how annoying that “Simon” guy is (he’s on or owns all those “Star Search” shows since Ed McMahon died I’m pretty sure).  Well, I got the approving head nod so I must have nailed it.

Anyway, I got the hell out of there before I got any questions about anything else and now I’m walking around feeling pretty “hip” for the first time in a long while.  Being hip is getting tougher and tougher though and I overheard some young people referring to Facebook as “Oh, that’s sooo 2008!” so I guess even the Gen Xers and many of the Millenials are in danger of becoming squares now.  As for me, I’ll bask in the glow of total personal coolness status for both 2012 and 2013 (I’ll avoid the GNC til at least January 2nd so that counts as 2013), secure that at least a few young people consider me “hip” (or is it “hep” these days?  Or maybe I’m a Hep-cat now???… Dammit, I can’t keep that stuff straight)-

Cab Calloway was "Hep"
Cab Calloway was “Hep”

 

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Piracy – Dealing with a niggling issue of the internet this decade.

There are many cultural transformations taking place right now, due to the pervasiveness of the internet. Many established business practices are changing either to take advantage of the internet or because the internet is forcing them to change to survive.

Media companies, of all types have had to find new ways of working. Newpapers (the ones that have survived so far) have had to find ways to make money outside of just printing copies on paper. While movie companies and the music industry are slowly moving from terrified laggards towards embracing the possibilities of online distribution. Slowly but surely cinemas are moving to digital distribution of films, actually getting out of printing and shipping celluloid, and instead downloading high res digital copies directly to the cinemas.

The end of the movie rental shop is upon us, as people move from browsing shelves to browsing the itunes store. The people who prefer to “own:” or “pickup” a DVD from a video shop are slowly aging to the point where they don’t visit the shops often enough to make them viable.

The issue of piracy has been with us since people would listen to a new opera and hand write the words and music they heard to sell on the street. Every child and student from the 60’s onwards has “bootleg-ed” and today there are millions of copied movies available for download from the internet.

The challenge is that if movies are placed outside of the range of a potential viewer, then these viewers will find other ways to get them. This applies to price, censorship, regional availability or any other limiting factor. I’ve tried and failed to get movies downloaded onto a multitude of devices from many sites (a range of on-demand services and amazon), and if it wasn’t for itunes and the i-range of apple devices I would probably have given up and carried on either buying DVD’s and ripping them to my computer (legal) or if I couldn’t get them that way downloading them from the internet (illegal).

I still have an issue getting non-us movies legally in the US. I really like a lot of the output of the UK, France and Australia, but it can be really difficult to get these online. I have a multi-region DVD player (not called a DVD player as the title DVD actually is protected but if you don’t use the name its legal, go figure!) and purchase disks from other countries for this purpose. But many TV shows just are not available, and it’s really frustrating. I’d be happy to pay to get them online, but the possibility of selling a license to a company in the US at some point in the future, stops companies allowing us to do this, even when they haven’t sold a license for viewing in the US! (and often never will)

The point here is that if you make it easy for people to get movies legally , nearly everyone will. But when businesses makes it difficult then people will take the path of least resistance.

The same goes for the music industry. Pandora, spotify and their ilk are really great. They allow you to listen to music whenever you have the internet. But there are times when I don’t have the internet (travelling abroad, driving in the boonies, on a plane or a subway) and for these times I do download music. Again I use iTunes for this. In the old days I used to buy CD’s and have nearly a thousand of the buggers. The space they consume is horrendous, and so I now prefer downloading songs from iTunes. The new service from apple called iTunes match is fantastic. It has allowed me to create a library of all the music I own (CD’s and downloaded from itunes) and use it on all my i-devices at a very good bitrate, and I can download the ones I want to listen to dead zones. I can afford my music and so see no reason to pirate.

But that’s the issue; I choose to get my movies and music legally, because I like the services available and the quality of the product.

I came to my conclusion to be legal because it works for me. If I couldn’t afford music or the music I wanted wasn’t available to me for regional reasons or censorship or age related reasons I may well have made another choice.

Wake up media industry, think like a consumer, make it easy to be legal and people will.

When you use the law to fight your consumers you actually create a sub-culture that thrives in “putting it to the man”, and you actually create more piracy. Play nice.

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When is a tribute valid?

So what exactly is a tribute band? I would suggest that any band that is playing music that was previously performed by another artist is actually a tribute band.

NY Philharmonic

This would include bands such as the New York Philharmonic and the London Philharmonic. Clearly these are very talented and professional operations, but the works they perform were original to other artists. That makes them tribute bands in exactly the same way that Strawberry Fields is a Beatles Tribute band and Almost Queen is a tribute band to Queen.

Almost Queen

I’d go one step further and suggest that many bands end up being a tribute to themselves. When a band stops creating new works, but instead performs their previously popular material then they are in fact a tribute to themselves.

Today Roger Waters makes a great living travelling the world performing the Pink Floyd rock opera “The Wall”. I’ve seen the performance a couple of times and it is great. I saw it performed in Berlin a year after the wall came down, and again in New Yorks Madison Square Garden a couple of years ago. It was a perfect facsimile of the original work. And I would class it as an excellent tribute to Pink Floyd.

Roger Waters – The Wall

Sir Paul McCartney regularly performs works from the Beatles and Wings, again it’s wonderful that the ancient Liverpublian can still croak out these works in tribute to the fab four and the rebound group in which he performed with one of his earlier (and well respected) wives.

I’ve seen Level 42 perform their hits from the 80’s in the 2000’s and Grand Master Flash pay homage to themselves.

Last year I got to see and hear Earth Wind and Fire (at least the last couple of original members with a dozen newbees) play their most famous hits from the 70’s

There is nothing wrong with tribute bands. In fact I’d go as far as to say when music is so great it is played by others, or even the original performers as a tribute it can be wonderful.

There was a time when tribute bands were frowned upon, as being something less than new creations. But having spent a little time today listening to MTV, I’d suggest that most creative innovation in music is highly overrated, and often a tribute is a much better option.

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