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Reprinted with permission from Hits Magazine

October 26, 2007

Last week's entry on the decline of the music business really struck a nerve with this column's readership. The outpouring of responses was surprising, as was the overall sameness of the themes. Most blame the industry's predicament on large corporations—the ones that took over the record companies and the ones that control radio, taking the biggest hits. Let's examine each.

First, record companies used to DEVELOP ARTISTS, over time and throughout the calendar year. The mantra would be to spend and break the record over the first three quarters of a year and then cash in on the results in the heavily-trafficked fourth quarter. Also, a multi-album strategy was the norm, wherein an artist would achieve artistic success on a first album and commercial success in the second or third go-around. The takeover by big corporations created the need to achieve quarterly profits and then month to month profits to appease Wall Street. So the necessity to score and score quickly turned the culture on its head. There would be no more success stories like that of Bruce Springsteen, a critical darling who grew with each release and who didn't deliver profits until album three. These days, if an artist is not "on the boards" with the first release, there will rarely be a second and almost never a third turn at bat. So, the culture of A&R changed and evolved with the need to achieve immediate success and the talent scouts weren't looking as much for pure talent as they were and are for the big hit single and instant gratification.

Concurrently, the conglomeration at radio led to more of a national than a local radio strategy. Instead of being able to break and develop artists in markets or regions, the sameness of radio pushed the game further and further toward the national hit single that would instantly call out and deliver. The stations, like the record companies, were and are also being judged by short-term success, which resulted in programmers taking fewer chances and having to justify to corporate every song they added to playlists. Additionally, in an effort to chase national advertising buys, the stations all began to program to the older buyer and ward off teens. And, as we know, the older we get, the less new music becomes a priority in our lives. So, as time went on, new and innovative sounds practically disappeared from America's airwaves. And as radio moved away from the younger audience, this audience grew up without radio as their friend and adopted other means of satisfying their entertainment needs. Radio needed the quick and instant gratification hit singles as well as more familiarity of programming, so they increased the mixture of recurrents and pushed back the priority of breaking new music. Hence, more than any loyalty to hit artists and appreciation for talent, they converged with the new A&R culture around songs and one-hit wonders to fill in around the comfortable proven hits that created audience comfort with the familiar.

And then the future hit. The Internet soared and took time and focus away from the music. Videogames became the new generation's best friend. Social networking became all the rage. Television offered more choices, and TiVo let you watch what you wanted when you wanted. Whereas generations had previously been defined by their "record collections," people now had unlimited choices besides music and the radio, and they took them. One generation learned how to find and steal music online and then taught their younger siblings the ropes. And while all this was going on, the leaders of the record companies, who were so obsessed with their short-term bottom lines, were unable to deal with the macro issues of how to plan for the future. And the future is an easy thing to ignore, while the present presents the pressure to succeed NOW.

And so we are in an awful mess. The consumer eventually realized what was going on, that individual songs had become far more alluring than bodies of work, and iTunes confirmed that assumption and gave them the choice to cherry-pick songs instead of albums, causing the current near-apocalyptic outcome.

So where do we go from here? It's easy to criticize, and many of you have. Corporate greed—that's easy to criticize. But, now I'm asking you to offer solutions. Unfortunately, we cannot turn back the clock and change mistakes made in the past. How do we deal with the current nightmare scenario and turn it back into a thriving business? The one we all loved and were proud to be a part of. The one that made us excited to wake up in the morning and get in the game. The one that made us shun vacations because we didn't want to miss a moment. Hit us up at lennybeerblog@hitsmagazine.com and GIVE US SOLUTIONS. Enough wallowing. Forget criticizing for a damned minute and let's see if a way exists to turn this thing around.



When motorized vehicles first became popular around 100 years ago, there was upheaval, finger-pointing, new laws challenging old laws, angst, anguish and gnashing of teeth. How will the nation's laws and infrastructure deal with the new technology? How will the horse and buggy establishment stay in business? Do these young daredevils have a right to speed and endanger life, limb and the pursuit of happiness? How will they be trained, supplied, regulated and held accountable?

It's really no different now with the far more efficient electronic transfer replacing physical recordings of music. The transportation industry and the music industry are both here to stay, but the Internet happened and (like the combustion engine), it's here to stay until the next new technology replaces it.

It is NOT corporate greed, it's just corporations not responding well to their primary product becoming obsolete. Businesses that only added value by marketing and distributing CD's must change or go out of business like the buggy whip makers of old. The solution is to add value to the electronic delivery of music, not sue to keep the cars off the road.

Specifics:
1. Billboard is still ranking songs and artists as if it's a horse race. The entrepreneur (Lenny, take note) who comes up with and publishes a system more reflective of the electronic age has an opportunity to supplant it.

2. The single is back since there is no longer a need to fill up a physical medium (vinyl or CD) with 10-12 songs released at once. Successful companies will support singles.

3. Successful companies must have a creative and flexible Internet presence (duh...), and since musicians are usually lousy programmers, "artist support" businesses will be needed to support Internet marketing beyond what MySpace does now.

4. The Internet-based music industry can support far more working groups at a lower income instead of the old model of a few mega-stars. Successful businesses must service a broad range of musicians.

5. Niche-based music can now be profitable since the Internet can more effectively match musician to listeners. One survival strategy may be to serve customers around the world with similar if otherwise eclectic tastes.

6. Hell, I thought of 1-5 just sitting here for a few minutes typing. Solution 6 would be to challenge any corporation with a will to stay in business to come up with 100 more ways of adding value to a non-physical, Internet-based music industry.

Footnote: Will a few companies stay alive selling physical recordings? Sure. There are still horse and buggies in Central Park after all.

IamMusic



Lenny:

There's a myriad of solutions needed for the industry to survive in any meaningful manner, and there will be others needed as technology moves forward at light speed.

But as for now, here's some immediate recommendations:

- Lower CD prices to: a) sell more units in a competitive marketplace where best-selling DVDs often sell for the same prices as CDs. When a title like Transformers comes out on DVD and can sell 8 million plus in one week, it's time to seriously rethink CD-pricing. And I'll bet that the demographics of the consumers buying those CDs are exactly the same demos the music industry wants; b) keep the disc format in the marketplace as long as possible while the transfer to online digital sales continues so revenuescan be maximized.

- Consider DVD Plus (and any other disc format enhancements) that elevate the audio experience for those consumers who do listen to music on good sound systems and not iPods. Also, market this format and educate the consumer as to the benefits of actually buying music in this format. All it takes is one listen to a great album in DVD Plus audio versus regular CD... it's like watching HD TV and comparing it to analog.

- Rally all the major-label leaders and their best creative people and tech people and try to set up a symposium of sorts with some of the best leaders at hi-tech companies to generate strategic partnerships which might result in real symbiotic relationships. If the RIAA was a meaningful industry association, they would have done this already several years ago instead of wasting precious time and resources filing a few hundred lawsuits monthly against downloaders.

- Re-invest in artist development and A&R and return to the strategic planning necessary to establish long-term artist careers, which in turn results in a healthy roster with depth of talent. What artists that have sold multi-platinum in the past decade will be able to sell out national tours 20-30 years from now like The Eagles do? Like Billy Joel, Elton John, Van Halen, Springsteen, Aerosmith, The Who, Bob Seger, etc., and others do? All of those great artists came out of labels that were rooted in developing talent for the long term. It seems those strategies worked. They can work again.

- Start utilizing real customer retention strategies like those already employed by airlines, restaurants, hotels, etc. I don't believe I ever heard the words "customer retention" in my 25 years working at two major labels. Times have changed. Selling the latest audio flavor-of-the-month isn't going to generate stability at any label or for the industry. It's a well-known fact that the cost of getting a new customer is higher than keeping the ones you already have. Establish databases (via online stores or artist websites) and start using creative marketing techniques to keep those customers coming back for more new music. Customer retention and relationship marketing works in every other industry and there's absolutely no reason why these strategies can't be put to good use in the industry.

- Create long-term strategic partnerships and alliances. If ever there was a time for the music industry to seek symbiotic relationships, it's now. The formation of these partnerships is becoming a key component in all corporate thinking and has been talked about recently in leading business publications. This from Business Week: "...companies should expand beyond their existing resources through licensing arrangements, strategic alliances, and supplier relationships." From Fortune: "Alliances have become an integral part of contemporary strategic thinking."

The most beneficial type of partnering companies can engage in is partnering with other companies that can provide compelling benefits for their customers. If used properly, the partnerships can be used to gain customers, protect them from predation by competitors, and protect profit margins. Of course, opening the doors to create such alliances means "thinking outside of the box" more than ever. But the rewards can be extraordinary. Peter Drucker has said, "The greatest change in corporate culture, and the way business is being conducted, may be the accelerated growth of relationships based... on partnership."

- Re-invent marketing. Aside from the fact that marketing is a critical element in all business planning, marketing can generate revenues beyond expectations if utilized with creative strategy, planning, and execution. Marketing can provide long-term success beyond what one might expect with certain artists. Just ask Madonna. She's been a one-woman powerhouse marketing machine for several decades. She knew exactly what she was doing and was brilliant at executing strategies for each and every album and successive tour. She "got it" in the biggest sense as well when so many others born from her MTV era faded faster than those old Polaroids you took.

- Embrace digital technology instead of fearing it. Yes, it's more difficult to generate the same profit margins by selling music online, but as more and more people do so, it will also mean decreased costs in disk manufacturing, shipping, returns, etc. The brave new world of digital technology offers as many opportunities as it does problems. But when one online store can sell 3 billion-plus songs (iTunes) and other online stores are on fire (Amazon.com), it's easy to see there's a whole lot of money to be made online. Utilize online stores to not only sell music, but music-related items such as: sheet music; instruments (again, think strategic partnerships); licensed products with artists logos and brands, etc.

- Shift even more promotion and A&R strategies to online social networks, independent artist websites, etc. New talent is emerging from all over ONLINE, not on radio. This generation of music buyers and the ones below it, are NOT listening to the radio to hear new music or discover new talent. If you doubt it, do some focus groups in major cities. I have over the past few years and radio is not where they go to hear music. They turn on their computers, instant message each other about music they discover online and trade MP3s with each other to turn each other on.

I could go on and on, but this isn't a thesis, it's just some suggestions for how to start turning the ship around. It's not going to be easy to do so, but it must be done if anybody on this ship wants it to stay afloat much longer.

Steve Meyer
Las Vegas, NV
stephennmeyer@earthlink.net



It´s ART and all that shit! Hey Tim, you got it.

Pena Schmidt
Auditório Ibirapuera
Instituto Auditório Ibirapuera

São Paulo, Brazil



First and foremost we must get rid of physical product. Inventory, distribution... All of this should be history in no time at all.

Record companies must be in the licensing business. Retail will sell CDs that will burn to order. Labels, publishers and artists will have to divide a $2/$3 licensing fee per CD.

We have to develop new and exciting product... We should finally take 5.1 seriously and work alongside the eletronic companies to establish a standart of speakers for surround and invest on great surround mixes.

We need to have exceptional graphics on all physical product.

Beni Borja
Rio, Brazil



True artist development and marketing execs should be able to create brands and stop making bands. Brands have emotion, image and equity and resonate in a consumer's mind. Radiohead is a brand, Bruce a brand, Pearl Jam a brand... Good Charlotte is a band, and bands won't last long in this current environment.

Sincerely,
David F. Caruso
Acme Content Co.




Lenny:

Corporate greed has never been so vibrant as that from the original Napster, Kazaa, Microsoft, Apple and now YouTube, MySpace, FaceBook, etc.

Bruce Springsteen was discovered by a legendary music middleman, who signed The Boss to Columbia Records, proclaiming, "I've seen the future of rock and roll!" (Ed. note: It was actually now-manager Jon Landau, not John Hammond, who uttered that immortal phrase). That eternal excitement of rap and rock music was jettisoned into the digital age by video games, as columnist Phyllis Furman wrote in the New York Daily News, "The ties between music and video games have never been stronger... video games are now seen as a critical part of breaking new artists, in the same league as radio and MTV." Or when Steve Schnur of EA stated ecstatically regarding the release of Madden 2006, "... consider that every song in the game will be heard and identified over one billion times—bigger than the #1 record in every country around the world—and you have an event unprecedented in music history."

When the time came for the Internet to grasp the power of music,WIRED magazine trumpeted that it will be a world without record labels, "a post-label world, (where) musicians might find other ways to get this help, from the American Idol model to the Broadway show model." WIRED went on: "All of these models would produce fewer global superstars and more locally successful musicians."

The voice of Internet technology was proudly announcing that they were here to downsize the rock and roll industry... and that American Idol would replace the real icons of rap and rock.

While the technology press offers quote after quote proclaiming how the entertainment industry doesn't get it, most recording musicians understand that technology corporations don't get it. In exchange for removing DRM, technology must remove counterfeiting software. Technolgy having it both ways is terrorism on our industry by "greed-driven" people who have no understanding of music or artist rights.

Best,
David Bean
BeanBag1.com




Lenny,

The answer is patience. Indie artists like Bright Eyes and The Arcade Fire have developed beautifully because they and the people around them were not trying to hit home runs, but have developed exactly the way Springsteen, R.E.M., etc., developed.

Billions of dollars of valuation has disappeared form the business and will not return over-night. To the extent that everyone involved, including the artists, can adjust to the fact that there is less money to go around, a smaller business revolving around "real" artists will grow and five years from now, some of them will be superstars. In fact, there is no question that this will happen—the only question is who among us will be around to be a part of it. And the answer is, a few geniuses, a few very lucky people and a lot of patient people.

Danny Goldberg



Hi Lenny,

Let's face the music everybody. There is no turning back the clock here, to the "good ol" days." Just about every artist is now available for "free" online via P2P. The genie is out of the bottle, and we cannot do anything about that. And now we have a whole new generation of kids who think that music should be "free." So, in moving forward, I would suggest that artists and labels find some sort of common ground, and I don't think it's the "360'"deals that have been bandied about lately. Those artist, management, label "partnerships" are just another classic case of, "Well, our revenues are down with the current model, so now let's find a way to ream the artist once again," in order to hold onto the sinking ship.

Labels must downsize, DRASTICALLY, and basically become what they used to hire out independently themselves, i.e., indie radio promo, indie publicity, indie marketing promo, etc. Were they NOT doing their jobs? Of course, this notion will not go over well with the powers-that-be, but if I were an artist today, I would look to upstart independent A&R, marketing, promotion and publicity firms to handle it all. Major labels need to realize that this is indeed what they will have to become to survive, and artists will finally be able to choose what "system" works best for them, either "major label marketing, etc.," or the "mom and pop version."

Kind of like "canned goods" in times of emergency, at least the majors will have their catalogs to ration off for themselves in the short term, easing the "starvation factor," but in terms of developing new artists in the long run, street-smart, innovative and savvy niche-driven companies will propagate. The majors brought this on themselves by turning a blind eye to technological advances, along with bloated excess and corporate greed.

It's funny how now that the barn door is open and Steve Jobs is ruling the roost, which has effectively forced major label "PressPlay" scenarios to be re-visited once again, in a last-ditch effort to save the burning house of cards. It seems that this time the majors will agree to at least form some sort of "common protectorate" to force out Apple's dominance, although I am sure that the SEC and FCC will get involved in any major-label collusion attempts. The chickens have come home to roost, and what a fine friggin' mess we have on our hands now.

Guy Eckstine
MIAATV.COM




Hi Lenny:

I guess in sticking my neck out, I have had some odd reactions to my latest TalkMusicBiz video "Endorsement Deals vs. Record Deals." It's based on Permission Marketing and bridging the gap between that "produced" artist and its fan base as well as directly participating with advertisers in a transparent way. Yea, no, maybe?

Love your writing!

George "Gibi" del Barrio
Advanced Media Marketing

www.pmg-international.com
The Most Effective Way To Deal With Change Is To Create It



The solutions you seek have already been discussed ad nauseum. Concisely there are four main points (in no particular order): set realistic goals amid the current climate, execute financial responsibility, commit to long-term patience and continually create quality music. That's it; very simple stuff.

Anyone with half a brain already knows this and anyone with a full brain is already doing this. When you ask, "How do we deal with the current nightmare scenario and turn it back into a thriving business?" if by that you mean, "How do we go back to the old business model of making so much money at the major-label level that they could blow tons of cash, all have fat salaries, huge expense accounts, throw lavish parties, etc etc."? If that's what you are really asking, the answer is: those days are never coming back. The only solution moving forward is to find ways to trim the fat, and make whatever profit you can. That's it.

Now, it is true, as you have so eloquently put it, that the constraints of a corporate culture both at records and radio are such that the corporate bosses can actually stifle the things that are necessary to create the next huge-selling artist a la Bruce Springsteen (i.e. patience and artist development are killed in the greedy demand for quarter numbers).

If these corporations continue on this path of foolishness, killing the long run in pursuit of short-term success, they may end up bankrupting every single major label. But there are many success stories out there right now of smaller companies "thriving" in this current climate. There are plenty of management companies, indie labels and management companies who also OPERATE indie labels who have all adapted to the "current nightmare scenario," and are surviving and thriving. Here's a thought for you: what if in the future, the "music business" were not dominated by four major music groups? What if there were, say, 100 mid-size indie music groups that all made moderate profits and "thrived"? This could be our future...

Either way, one thing is clear: We are witnessing a weeding-out process whereby, for one reason or another, anyone who is in this business for the wrong reason is getting out. And I, for one, am excited about that. These bad apples have been spoiling it for everyone for way too long and I say good riddance!

PS Lenny Beer, I love you because you have the same name as me.

Lenny LaSalandra
Combat Rock Promotion




Instead of hiring young people to do their bidding, the labels have to actively listen and observe their behaviors, then try like hell to meet their desires as consumers of music.

The label should not create platforms that are built under the guise of a cool site that dictates where and how you can listen to your music.

The artist, artist management, and their attorneys, who are the true content owners/providers, need to demand more creative contracts.

The labels and publishers also need to reframe their agreements to reflect how the current market place operates. Again they should not approach law firms with "new" contracts which are just schemes for the industry to revert back to 1950s cash grabs at artists' touring and merchandising revenue to save their business.

Jamison Antoine



Enough of the blame game, let's fix it!

First and most importantly: Every major label must conduct yearly tours. If American Idol does it, then the majors should have a tour department that requires new artists and artists with albums due out for the calendar year to tour for promotion. The advances given to many of these acts SHOULD afford the recording company a one-to-two month tour commitment along with album delivery. This is how it was done in the Motown days, and it has to be done now. There are more than enough talented promoters that can work with labels to get this moving.

Team up with the magazine industry: Each major should have a relationship with a group of print publishers which can distribute place cards for digital download offers. Millions of magazines and newspapers circulate monthly.

Move to direct online distribution of back catalog: If a buyer is looking for Mariah Carey's first album, they should be able to go to her artist site or Sony BMG's site and buy it direct. The reason why most people download illegally is because it's hard to find catalog items in a store. Digital catalog items should be $5 or less.

Run focus groups: Go grab 30 people off the street every month, give them some pizza, $20 and a free CD and let them listen to your new music brewing... Let them vote on tunes and move with what the people like. Look at the "head nods" to the tunes and what makes them eat less pizza while listening. Don't give them any artist names or anything, let them blindly tell you what they like and don't like. This will take care of the music quality issues. Run this focus group in every stately location a label has an office.

I know what you're saying by now, "All this is great, but SHOW US THE MONEY!"

Ok, here you go:

No cherry picking on new releases: Do not license new albums for individual track purchases. This is like buying a 2008 Mercedes Benz without the two back seats and two turn lights. Offer cherry-picking on catalog items only. The big BOOM: Remember that big boom Lenny spoke about? What if I was to tell you that labels can get $15-60 a unit while people get albums for free? Our KodeKey solutions along with our partners at trialpay.com are providing this capability to our clients right now.

Partner with advertisers: Every industry imports their revenue from advertising except the music industry. The cast of Friends made $1 million (each) per episode on a free TV network. Bundle $1,00,000,000 in collective advertising campaigns for every 1 million free albums distributed from a label. Record labels license the rights to market and promote music products, so use this right to maximize the profits while giving people what they want. Again, our KodeKey service makes this a breeze to facilitate.

If Apple can make retail cards, so can you: As the CD format continues to expire, retail locations are set to scale back floor space for the format. Gift cards are more popular than ever at retail stores and you can even find iTunes gift cards anywhere from Wal-Mart to your local supermarket. Why not sell your albums on plastic cards? The cost of manufacturing for plastic cards is only $0.07 per unit. And yes, our system does this, too.

There IS a bright day waiting for the music industry through this digital storm. They just need to pick up the right digital umbrella.

Many Regards,

William G. Blanchard
LAMbCast Ltd LAMbCase Division




I am sitting here after reading this edition of your blog and want to immediately reply to your call for a solution...but unfortunately, it's not so easy. I will try (like most), but for now, I just want to immediately comment on how eloquent today's blog was written by you... precise with no room to really disagree. Thank you for allowing discussions on such a passionate subject to be viewed by so many that care.

Tom Londo



It has to get back to the music. Plain and simple. Good songs, regardless of genre, and vocals that don't sound like everybody else, regardless of genre. That's the way it's always been and always will be, when you are talking about longevity and not instant gratification.

I know it's art and all that shit, but anybody that has done anything that has stood the test of time has those two TANGIBLE elements. Good songs and good (effective) vocals. You don't have to be a technically perfect singer, but unique (Willie Nelson, Dylan, Hendrix, Lucinda Williams, The Boss, Jagger, Stipe, Cobain, Buckley, Dulli... the list is EXTREMELY long).

The answers are in your article, it's just going to be the companies that don't take the short-sighted approach and get back to the music. It's the music business. If you're in the car business and you sell shitty cars...I'll let you figure out the rest.

Thanks,
Tim


HITS magazine is the most powerful information vehicle in the music industry, and is read religiously by all the top executives and everyone else.




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Reprinted with permission from Hits Magazine

October 26, 2007

1. Hotel Chevalier (iTunes): Dubbed The Darjeeling Limited Part I, Wes Anderson's lovely 13-minute prologue will be added to the theatrical feature this weekend while remaining available as a free iTunes download, where more than 500k have viewed it. Financed by the director himself, who calls it a short story, the film takes place in a Paris hotel room, where Jason Schwartzman primps for an apparently unexpected appearance by his ex-lover, Natalie Portman, set to the backdrop of Peter Sarstedt's strangely moving 1969 chart-topping U.K. hit, "Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)," playing on his iPod (making the iTunes connection a natural). The song, about a working-class girl who becomes a jet-setter, name-checks all sorts of cultural references, including Marlene Dietrich, the Rolling Stones, Picasso and French crooner Sacha Distel. The now-obscure Sarstedt was born in Delhi, India, where Schwartzman is about to travel and Darjeeling takes place—just another example of Anderson connecting the dots. Nothing much happens, unless you count seeing Portman's bare ass, as the two desultorily attempt to have sex, then suddenly stop to walk out on the balcony, where they view the city in an inexplicably exquisite wide-angle view. There's a sense of melancholy, fin de siecle romanticism and materialist exhaustion in the piece, a harbinger of the spiritual transformation Schwartzman is about to undergo on his pilgrimage. Now I kinda wish Anderson had created similar back stories for the characters played by Owen Wilson and Adrien Brody. It adds yet another layer of complexity to the intricacies of Darjeeling's miniature universe.

2. Jesus & Mary Chain/Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at the Wiltern, L.A.: "I wanna die just like Jesus Christ," wailed J&MC's Jim Reid during the encore of "Reverence" at the punk cult band's first L.A. performance in almost a decade. "I wouldn't sell my soul but I'd hang for this/I gotta get my goal cause I'd hang for this." Whatever prompted him and long-feuding brother, afro'ed guitarist William, to put aside their legendary differences and return to the front is hard to say, but you could tell their influence is still being felt today, especially in second-billed Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, whose own heavily echoed, reverbed punkabilly set paid sonic tribute to the headliners. Shorn of the ubiquitous fog, smoke and lights, the siblings Reid, who may well have served as the inspirations for the conjoined twin punk-rockers in Brothers of the Head, appeared rather staid and vulnerable onstage, never even acknowledging one another's presence, let alone new members Phil King on bass, guitarist Mark Crozer and drummer Loz Colbert. The group's trademarked feedback-drenched wall of sound came across like a primal buzz on favorites such as "Head On," which recalls their roots in the Ramones' three-chords-and-a-cloud-of-dust , "Some Candy Talking," which could have come straight off the Velvets' White Light/White Heat album, the "Be My Baby" Spector beat that intros "Just Like Honey," with its "I Got You Babe" duet, and the closing psychedelic rave-up, "Vegetable Man," a cover of the Syd Barrett/Pink Floyd chestnut that was a B-side on their first single 23 years ago. They also played an intriguing new song, "All Things Must Pass," which will appear on the upcoming soundtrack to the hit NBC show, Heroes. What makes J&MC so unique is the nugget of sweet Beach Boys-like melody underneath songs like "Sometimes Always," which would be just as effective as acoustic numbers. Evincing a professionalism that was a long way from when they'd petulantly storm off the stage after 20 minutes, these proto-punk pioneers have returned to claim their legacy, even if it all seemed kinda like an Apollonian representation of the original Dionysian explosion. "Walking back to you is the hardest thing I can do," intones Reid in "Just Like Honey," the song whose use in Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation helped revive the band. "I'll be your plastic toy." Almost 25 years after the fact, they've become just that—the latest amusement for a brand-new generation that regards old-school punk as a fashion accessory rather than a way of life.

3. Neil Young, Chrome Dreams II (Reprise): Posited as a sequel to an album that was never released, but produced some of his most memorable tunes, this latest edition of the world according to Neil Young offers a selection of styles that combines the wistful country of 2005's Prairie Wind (the elegiac opening "Beautiful Bluebird" and the hymn-like closer, "The Way") with the crash-and-burn polemics of 2006's Living With War (represented here by the lost, 18-minute-plus 1988 epic "Ordinary People" and the Crazy Horse-style workout on the 14:33 "No Hidden Path"). Young's bout with mortality after his brain aneurysm seems to have not only revitalized him, but pushed him back into his work with a vengeance. In the rocking "Dirty Old Man," he almost leers: "I do what I can/Tryin' to make a livin'," while in "Ever After," he reveals: "The world is full of answers/Some are right, some are wrong/The one that I believe in is a wish in a song," once more finding ultimate meaning in his own craft. Both the rambling "Boxcar" ("It doesn't matter where I might get off/It doesn't matter where I light") and "Ordinary People" reference his beloved freight trains, a metaphor for both the inevitability of change and the strong tug of nostalgia. There's a sense of closure on Chrome Dreams II that echoes the autumnal feel of Young's music that harks back to his wise-beyond-his-years youth. "We'll show the way/To get you back home," he concludes. "To the peace where you belong." The train that left the station in "Boxcar" arrives at its destination in "The Way," completing its journey from the past to the present and, hopefully, into the future, a chrome dream of destiny fulfilled.

4. Kate Nash, "Foundations": The latest in a line of impressive young, female, U.K. singer/songwriters, this Dublin-born 20-year-old's auspicious debut, Made of Bricks, on Polydor's Fiction label (home of Snow Patrol and The Cure), will be released by Interscope in the new year, but she's already topped the English charts. Often compared to Lily Allen, a noted admirer, the sassy Nash counts as her biggest influence fellow chanteuse Regina Spektor, as well as "London, punk, bored teenagers and John Cooper Clarke," according to her MySpace page, coming off as a real-life, present-day Georgy Girl. Check out the YouTube video for "Foundations," here, where she laments a relationship that is unraveling, as represented by stop-action animated toothbrushes and wristwatches turning away from one another, in a charming accent that recalls such '60s Britpop Invasion songbirds as Petula Clark, Lulu and Dusty Springfield.

5. Lynne & Tessa, "Barbie Girl": Far be it for me to speculate about why thousands of teenage girls find the urge to preen in front of their webcams lip-synching to this persistent 1997 novelty hit by the Danish pop group Aqua, probably best-known for the series of lawsuits and counter-suits initiated by toy maker Mattel against the band and MCA Records. For a song named by Rolling Stone one of the 20 Most Annoying of all time and #32 on VH1's list of "Most Awesomely Bad Songs...Ever," it still has a hook that grabs and holds despite itself. This latest YouTube performance here gets to me in ways I haven't quite figured out. The clip stars the archetypal teenage girls-next-door, Lynne and Tessa—except they're not from America, but Germany—in what appears to be their bedroom, not even dressed all that sexy, though the thinner, skankier one distractedly exhales a puff of cigarette smoke before launching into a hilarious give-and-take with her partner, whose exaggerated theatrics are irresistible. There's plenty of eye-rolling and mugging and even a glimmer of furtive lesbianism, but the whole thing has such a fresh, innocent exuberance that it's one of the best, most erotically charged three minutes I've ever spent on the Internet, and that's saying something. If you wanna see them do their thing on a variety of hits, including "Livin' the Vida Loca," "Wannabe," "All the Small Things" and "What a Girl Wants," visit their homepage at www.lynnetessa.de. The strongest argument yet that decadent Western pop culture is inexorably infecting the universe, one country at a time.

6. Robert Dimery & Bruno MacDonald, Rock & Roll Heaven (Barron's): Death and rock & roll have been mixed into the DNA of one another's mythology from the very beginning, which is where this lavishly appointed coffee-table/textbook starts—with Robert Johnson's death at the portentous age of 27 in 1938 from drinking a cocktail of whiskey and rat poison concocted by an irate husband with whose wife he'd been caught cheating. Starting at the crossroads and moving in chronological order by date of death through 120 other rock star martyrs up to and including James Brown last December, Dimery and MacDonald provide a breezy, informative glimpse at what amounts to the very foundation of the music's Faustian legend. Interspersed through the litany are a selection of "Cursed bands," who have either lost multiple members (Temptations, New York Dolls, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Ramones) or merely had a number of people associated with them die under strange circumstances (Motley Crue, David Bowie) and a look at several "behind the scenes" figures, like Dewey Phillips, Bill Graham, Peter Grant, Jack Nitzsche and John Peel. Of course, most of them died in very unnatural ways; that's part of the fun. Also included are Top 50 Death Songs (Louis Armstrong's "St. James Infirmary Blues" and Billie Holiday's "Gloomy Sunday" are 1-2), 20 "Reaper Cheaters," those who, despite their own best efforts, remained above ground far past their expiration date and a ranking of rock's most dangerous occupations (referencing Spinal Tap, it's, of course, the drummer). Neatly art directed, with prescient quotes highlighted, classic photos and a real apprecation of the music itself, Rock & Roll Heaven is the next best thing to being there.

7. Cheryl Hines/Robin Quivers: The women behind the men, these two underrated performers help soften the bile of their respective top bananas, the "fictional" Larry David of Curb Your Enthusiasm and the just-as-fictional Howard Stern of his celebrated Sirius Satellite Radio show. That Hines and Quivers manage to humanize and make sympathetic their more prominent partners make them unsung heroes in allowing the duo's pure obnoxiousness to be enjoyed, and laughed at, from a safe distance. This observation was driven home by the most recent episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm during a season in which David has become even less likable and more uncomfortable to watch than ever, his increasing petulance and whining making the ability to identify with him impossible. In a plot development that mirrors Larry's real-life divorce from wife Laurie, Cheryl decides enough is finally enough and walks out, prompted in part by him telling her to call back because he's busy with the TiVo repair man when she phones in from a plane threatening to crash. Without the calming influence of Cheryl, who tells him that, despite what people think, there is no redeeming side to him, Larry is cast adrift, pathetically misreading Lucy Lawless' suggestion they go to her house instead of dinner as an invitation for sex. And while Curb itself has been even more unpleasantly strident and squirm-inducing than usual this season, that Larry David has chosen to deal with painful issues, like which side the estranged couple's friends take in the aftermath of a split, is promising indeed. In like fashion, the King of All Media's longtime Queen Quivers serves as a valuable sidekick to Howard, grounding his sometimes race-baiting antics by pointing out how the fascist tendencies of political correctness can ground humor to a halt. Often derided as Stern's apologist, with her deep-throated hyena laugh egging him on, Robin brings an element of civility and common sense to the boys' locker room atmosphere, and while she sometimes tries to place herself above the fray, she's also quite capable of getting down, dirty and rolling with the punches.

8. The Beatles, "A Hard Day's Night" in Yiddish (YouTube): Thanks to my old pal, publicist extraordinaire Ida Langsam, your #1 source for all things Jewish on the web, for hipping me to this. Sure, I've heard the Fab Four sing "I Want to Hold Your Hand" in German, but this YouTube viral oddity, which you can see here, struck my funny bone with its strange juxtaposition of the sprightly Moptops davening one of their well-known hits in perhaps the world's most guttural tongue. What, there's no Yid equivalent for "You know I feel alright"? How about b'seder? Though they do throw in a "gay shluffin" (for "I should be sleeping like a log") and a cathartic "oy vey." And who knew that "yeah yeah yeah" translated into "oy oy oy"?

9. Chi McBride: This veteran TV actor, who has been a regular on Boston Public, House and the short-lived The Nine, plays fast-talking private investigator Emerson Cod on the new ABC show Pushing Daisies, bringing a refreshing air of wise-ass cynicism to this fractured fairy tale. His often double-entendre asides deflate the ongoing romanticism between the show's two leads, Lee Pace's wide-eyed pie-maker with the magic touch which brings dead people to life, and Anna Friel as the woman he revives, only to be unable to touch her. McBride is constantly arching his brows at their predicament and his cynical, hard-boiled patter adds a welcome air of up-to-the-minute reality to the proceedings. A forensic whodunnit wrapped in once-upon-a-time fantasy is the most original network offering of the year, and McBride's sarcastic, cracking-wise dick on-the-take gives it much of its contemporary feel.

10. Gripe of the Week: As such disparate current cultural events as Mad Men, Ann Coulter's rap about Jews "perfecting" themselves into Christians and Halle Berry's Tonight Show gaffe about a doctored photo that shows her with a big nose which makes her look like her Jewish cousin point out, anti-Semitism still exists to this day, even if it's been swept largely underneath the rug by the media. I don't mind, as in the case of Coulter and Berry, blatant expressions of Jew-baiting, it's the insidious, behind-your-back comments, as exemplified by the corrosive attitude at the ad agency in Mad Men, that bothers me. Of course, Jews are usually the first to turn the joke on themselves, which is fine, but once others start in, that's when the line gets crossed, as in the case of the dentist in Seinfeld, who wanted to convert so he could tell Jewish jokes. It's the best thing to get this discussion out into the public consciousness, where the issues can be debated and discussed, rather than allowed to seethe and fester underneath, only to erupt in something even more horrible. With anti-Semitism on the rise everywhere, it's no longer enough to try to make it go away by censoring it. Now, it's time to dig below the surface and find out what continues to fuel it and why. Because you know it's still out there, even if it's buried a lot deeper below the surface than it was back in the Mad Men days. If it takes ignorant inanity by the likes of Coulter or Berry to bring the issue out into the open, where we can get below the age-old fears and prejudices and closer to the plain, unvarnished truth, so much the better...Now, as for Jews having horns or drinking the blood of Christians...


HITS magazine is the most powerful information vehicle in the music industry, and is read religiously by all the top executives and everyone else.




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Reprinted with permission from Hits Magazine

October 24, 2007

Next week, the industry goes on a Carnival Ride.

Arista's American Idol and Grammy Best New Artist winner Carrie Underwood kicks the fourth quarter into moderate gear with a first-week total that is looking between 400-450k, more than enough to thrust her into the top spot on the next HITS Album chart.

Rounder's odd couple of bluegrass diva Alison Krauss and Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant on the album Raising Sand, is good enough for #2 with a total that appears headed for between 80-90k. The unlikely pairing was produced by Grammy winner T Bone Burnett.

Hard-living country troubadour Gary Allan's aptly named new MCA Nashville album, Living Hard, is showing some nice strength, good enough for a bow between 70-75k.

Columbia prog-art-rockers Coheed and Cambria are up next, looking good for a Top 5 debut with the latest in their on-going sci-fi saga, No World for Tomorrow, which could rustle up 60-65k.

System of a Down vocalist Serj Tankian makes his Reprise solo debut with 50-55k for Elect the Dead.

Wind-up South African rockers Seether are at 50k, give or take, for their new album, Finding Beauty in Negative Spaces.

Colombian Latin Grammy winner Juanes is back with his Spanish-language La Vida... Es Un Ratico, on Universal Music Latino, which could trend at 50-55k, with an expected bump from Puerto Rican sales.

Reprise legend Neil Young's epic Chrome Dreams II is in the 40-50k range, while J Records emo conceptualists Say Anything's double-CD In Defense of the Genre, could rustle up between 25-30k.

Meanwhile, the market was down nearly 5% vs. last week, down 20% vs same week last year and now down 14.4% year-to-date. Yeeesh.

Next week, your trick and treat bag will be filled with The Eagles, Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys and Josh Turner.


HITS magazine is the most powerful information vehicle in the music industry, and is read religiously by all the top executives and everyone else.




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By Kenny Kerner

The Stooges, Snow Patrol, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Modest Mouse, Patti Smith, Kings of Leon Muse, and Daft Punk are amongst the acts set to join Pearl Jam at this year's Lollapalooza to be held August 3-5 in Chicago's Grant Park.

Apple has announced that it has sold more than 100 million iPods since its launch in 2001. Other incredible sales figures include iTunes online music store selling in excess of 2.5 billion songs, 50 million TV shows, and more than 1.3 million movies.

Hot CD releases this summer include product from Smashing Pumpkins, Velvet Revolver, They Might Be Giants, Meat Puppets, Beastie boys, Wu-Tang Clan, Crowded House, Korn, and Yellowcard. Some powerhouse releases set for the fall and pre-holiday season with sets due from Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson, Gnarls Barkley, Dido, and Barry Manilow's Greatest Songs of the 70s.

Superstar Bette Midler has signed a two-year deal to replace superstar Celine Dion at the Colosseum in Las Vegas. Bette opens in February 2008 with ticket prices ranging from $95 to $350 for the 90-minute show. Dion's show, which began in March 2003, grossed more than $500 million in that 4100-seat venue.

In 2006, the United Stated music industry released about 75, 774 albums—15,000 more than the previous year. Yet, album sales of new artists dropped 9.4%. Digital-only CDs were up some 9,000 pieces with independent releases leading the way. Whether from a major label or Indie label, total digital-only releases accounted for only 1.22 million units in sales.

The most prestigious award in music, The Grammy, is finally getting a home of its own right across the street from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. A Grammy museum is scheduled to open in September 2008, in time for the awards 50th anniversary. The anniversary show will be broadcast live from the Staples Center on CBS-TV on February 10. Nominees will be announced on December 6.


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