Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Why Pandora is self-interested

If someone loudly claims that they're looking out for your interests, there's a good chance that they're actually looking out for their own interests.

Remember when poor Pandora was about to die because of the terrible machinations of evil corporate radio? Back in 2008, many people (including myself) wrote to Congress after Pandora issued a call to action:

September 26, 2008

Listeners we need your help... NOW!

After a yearlong negotiation, Pandora, artists and record companies are finally optimistic about reaching an agreement on royalties that would save Pandora and Internet radio. But just as we've gotten close, large traditional broadcast radio companies have launched a covert lobbying campaign to sabotage our progress.

Yesterday, Congressman Jay Inslee, and several co-sponsors, introduced legislation to give us the extra time we need but the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), which represents radio broadcasters such as Clear Channel, has begun intensively pressuring lawmakers to kill the bill. We have just a day or two to keep this from collapsing.

This is a blatant attempt by large radio companies to suffocate the webcasting industry that is just beginning to offer an alternative to their monopoly of the airwaves.

Frankly, I never did bother to find out if the bill passed both Houses, but Pandora has not collapsed so I guess everything worked out OK.

Except that there are now new allegations of evil company machinations - and this time Pandora is being cast in the black hat. The surviving members of Pink Floyd wrote an editorial:

Great music can inspire deep emotions, and businesses have long sought to harness this power in order to make money. Nothing wrong with that – everyone deserves to make a living – but too often it leads to less than scrupulous behavior. The latest example is how Pandora is pushing for a special law in Congress to slash musicians' royalties – and the tactics they are using to trick artists into supporting this unfair cut in pay....

Last year, we joined over 130 other bands and artists to oppose Pandora's campaign to cut the royalties paid for digital radio spins. Widespread artist opposition stopped them last year, so this year Pandora is trying to enlist artists support for their next attempt at passing this unfair legislation.

Musicians around the country are getting emails from Pandora – even directly from the company's charismatic founder Tim Westergren – asking them to "be part of a conversation" about the music business and sign a simple "letter of support" for Internet radio.

Sounds good. Who wouldn't want to be "part of a conversation"? Who doesn't support Internet radio? What scrooge would refuse to sign such a positive, pro-music statement?

Of course, this letter doesn't say anything about an 85% artist pay cut. That would probably turn off most musicians who might consider signing on.

And it's not just Pink Floyd that is displeased with Pandora. David Lowery (of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker fame) has compared his royalty statements from various sources. The figures that Lowery provided for comparison include $1,522 from terrestrial AM/FM radio, $181 from Sirius XM...and less than $17 from Pandora. Lowery is not pleased:

Soon you will be hearing from Pandora how they need Congress to change the way royalties are calculated so that they can pay much much less to songwriters and performers. For you civilians webcasting rates are “compulsory” rates. They are set by the government (crazy, right?). Further since they are compulsory royalties, artists can not “opt out” of a service like Pandora even if they think Pandora doesn’t pay them enough. The majority of songwriters have their rates set by the government, too, in the form of the ASCAP and BMI rate courts–a single judge gets to decide the fate of songwriters (technically not a “compulsory” but may as well be). This is already a government mandated subsidy from songwriters and artists to Silicon Valley. Pandora wants to make it even worse. (Yet another reason the government needs to get out of the business of setting webcasting rates and let the market sort it out.)

Another artist, Blake Morgan, noted that both musicians and music companies were united against Pandora' efforts:

"You know when you've done something when music labels and artists are hand in hand agreeing on something," Morgan told HuffPost.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

On Slim Whitman, 192x? - 2013

I saw several concerts during my years in Portland, Oregon, including concerts by Devo, Jan & Dean, Willie & Kris, and Gregor Samsa. But my favorite concert (sorry, Josh Rosen) was probably the Slim Whitman concert that I saw.

This was during Whitman's infomercial-fueled (and Johnny Carson-fueled) resurgence in popularity, when his name became known to those of us who weren't around during his first bit of popularity in the 1950s. When he appeared in Portland, Slim appeared along with his son Byron, and there was a bit of comedy regarding Byron's attractiveness to the ladies. (Well, Byron was younger than Slim.)

Afterwards, Slim stayed and signed autographs, because that's what you're supposed to do.

A class act in every way.

Slim passed away - for real this time - earlier today. He will be missed, but he will be remembered.

And yes, I still think that Brian Eno is his son, but that theory is for another time.

And no, he never did cover Pink Floyd.

And no, he never formed a supergroup with Martin Gore and Ralph Tomaselli.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Now we have Dr. Merle Haggard and Dr. Buck Owens

In my business blog, I recently posted a list of several people who have received honorary degrees from the University of Southern California, including Dr. Steven Ballmer.

Well, California State University Bakersfield just awarded two honorary degrees.

Cal State Bakersfield presented the Oildale-bred singer-songwriter [Haggard] with the university’s highest honor Friday at commencement ceremonies for the School of Arts and Humanities. Joining him posthumously was his equally famous contemporary, Buck Owens, who was represented by his eldest son.

However much of an education Haggard's songs have provided to us, apparently the lure of education was not great for Haggard himself. Even today.

Then, while the audience was distracted by the imminent recitation of the graduates’ names, Haggard slipped out the back, just as he had done so many times before, so many years ago.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The piece that I never submitted to MungBeing Magazine

When Mark Givens announced that the theme for issue 50 of MungBeing Magazine was "Names," I drafted a couple of written pieces having to do with names, and then promptly forgot about them and never submitted them. When issue 50 was actually released, I had even forgotten about the items on which I had worked.

Until Saturday, when I ran across an email to myself dated May 2.

I really need to check my empoprises gmail account more often. (And I had even starred the thing.)

Well, I need to use everything up at some point, so I figured that I'd post one of the items here. (I never really worked on the second item, and all that I have there is some material that someone else wrote about the name letter effect. You can read that material at http://www.psych-it.com.au/Psychlopedia/article.asp?id=99.)

So, without further ado, here is "Styx and Stones."

Wait, I take that back - here's one further ado. Whenever I write something for MungBeing, I try to make some type of reference to every other piece that I have contributed to MungBeing. This explains, for example, the reference to Martin Van Buren.

OK, NOW without further ado...

If you were to run into Smiley on the street – and he was often on the street – you would just think of him as a ne’er-do-well who blurted out opinions – the shorter the better. But those who knew him better realized that he had, back in the day, been a marketing genius who was responsible for shaping much of the popular culture of the Western world.

He received his nickname “Smiley” when he spent several years in London in the early 1960s – a city where, like all other cities, he had a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

One night he was sitting in a small club and began talking to the bass player in the club’s band.

“What’s your band’s name?” asked Smiley.

“The Cliftons,” responded the bassist without real conviction. He was concentrating on the girls who were sitting a few tables away.

“And what’s YOUR name?” asked Smiley, not noticing that the bassist was distracted.

“Perks” was the response.

“That’s a stupid name,” said Smiley, who walked out. Perks then moved to the table with the girls, but Smiley’s comment obviously remained lodged in his mind.

Several years later, Smiley had drifted back to the United States and found himself at a parish hall in suburban Chicago, listening to another small band argue over its name. The band had just signed to the small label Wooden Nickel Records, and had decided that the current name, TW4, just wouldn’t cut it for successful recording artists like themselves.

One of the band members piped up. “Hey, why don’t we call ourselves Schlock?”

Smiley, unbidden, piped up from his chair. “That’s a stupid name!” he yelled.

The band members reluctantly agreed and sat in thought until another tossed in a suggestion. “Martin Van Buren?”

“Nah,” said Smiley, piping up again. “They’ll think that the lead singer is named Martin Van Buren. Too confusing.”

“I know! I know!” said another band member. “Mister Roboto!”

Smiley stared at him, shaking his head.

The first band member, angered by the interjections of this stranger, spoke up anyway. “How about Desperation Squad?”

“Now that’s the most idiotic name I’ve heard yet!” shouted Smiley. “Your band is dead in the water! I’m going back over the river and getting as far away from you as possible!”

Smiley was surprised a few years later when the band became extremely famous.

Monday, June 10, 2013

On Enya's "Covers" album

We always forget that the public image of a person is just a small aspect of the entire person.

Until this past weekend, I thought of Enya as some ethereal person who took nice quiet bubble baths while reading some of Tolkien's lesser-known works. This image was suggested by her music, and what was known about her, including her single name. Heck, I normally don't know what her real name is.

So when I found her "Covers" album on Spotify last weekend, the choice of titles seemed intriguing. "Big Balls" by AC/DC? "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" by Joan Jett (and others)? As I looked at the titles, I thought to myself - how is Enya going to do those songs in her Irish syntho-folk style?

Well, this may be a spoiler if you haven't heard the songs yet, but the answer is - she doesn't. She covers these songs in the original style, which is a bit - unsettling.

And I don't know if was being intentionally ironic or not when she covered Devo's "Beautiful World." I found an interview by Enya about the album, and here's what the Irishwoman said when asked about that song:

Well, I guess I've always been a spudgirl, so I knew that I had to include that one in my album.

Well, this has caused me to re-evaluate everything that I ever knew about Enya. If you want to have your mind literally blown, be sure to read the interview yourself.

And if you're not on Spotify and would like to hear the cover-loving Enya, her version of "Smoke on the Water" can be found here.