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YouTube

Midi controller, powerbook and keyboard. Sometimes two hands just won’t do it. The morning was spent rearranging furniture and trying to make sense of the kilometers of cables in BlancoMusic HQ. Piano Segundo and SubMachena both use some complicated setups, especially with the dub element of SubMachena. Now at least Robin can get some practise at the art of playing three keyboards at once. All that Czerny and Chopin over the last few months will have helped.

Robin’s got something of a busy time ahead.¬† Later this month he’s off to Ibiza to record the next Nightmares on Wax album with bandmates George Evelyn and Chris Dawkins. Between now and then there’s the production and recording of Vanito Brown’s album Cambios, plus continuing remixes of BudNubac and SubMachena work. Every once in a while he turns up with a silly grin and a USB stick with a new Piano Segundo track all recorded and ready. Clearly the man has a well-compartmentalized mind.

I’ve been putting music up on YouTube this week, although, to be honest, I haven’t done any today. Previously I’d been reluctant to do so, mainly because it seemed counter-productive to be making music available to listen to on the site without having a decent video to go with it. I’ve changed that approach mainly because it seems ridiculous to have a body of work here on my hard-drive stretching into three-figures’ worth of tracks, and not anywhere else. We are developing a fanbase, and it’s clear that in the new economics of the music business, fans are not likely to wait around indefinitely for new material from the acts they choose to spend their attention on. That seems reasonable fair to me, actually. Artists have rarely had much to do with the ‘lead time’ concept that applied to releases in the old music industry model. Frankly, having an album sitting around gathering dust on a record label’s hard-drive is the last thing that most artists and acts want, and the practice was developed more out of a wish to maximise profitability and returns than anything to do with ‘gauging the zeitgeist’ . Mainly, lead times were about making sure the album you released wasn’t competing with another similar release that might be more tempting to the kind of listeners who only ever buy one or two albums a year anyway. That, plus making sure that all the publicity and advance promotional effort could be co-ordinated to the same date. Doesn’t apply to us, what little promo effort we make for our music, is done on a rolling basis anyway.

So why YouTube? Well, Soundcloud would seem like the obvious option in our position – putting the tracks up there and making them public links for people to hear when they want to. What bothers me about Soundcloud is that it’s a pay-to-listen arrangement. Users get a limited amount of time on their account before they have to buy a membership. It’s a bit of an impediment when you’re hoping people will take a chance on listening to something they’ve not heard before – to expect them to pay for the privilege. This isn’t some huge about-face on our part here at BlancoMusic. We’re still as stubborn as we ever were in our belief that music is a valuable luxury, and that expecting it for free is an insult to the very artists whose efforts go into creating something that will resonate within you. That doesn’t mean that those artists, and us, the label, should have no chance to let people hear the music without committing to a purchase. We’re not entirely without self-awareness here – we can accept that there are some poor misguided, cloth-eared types out there who, gasp, might not actually like our music! And we will endeavour to hunt them down and destroy them, obviously (joke). No, seriously, of course everyone should have the opportunity to hear a record before deciding they want to buy it, it never worked any other way. Still, it just seems that streaming sites, or any other site that charges people a subscription fee to listen to music whilst letting artists and their labels go unpaid for that music (or as near as dammit), break a bond of trust between artist and listener. Both listener and artist feel they are being short-changed, and in fact, they are. For the moment, even though we have no videos made for any of the newer tracks, YouTube seems like a good place to put the music. It’s free for everyone, it demands a certain interaction from the user rather than being something that just goes on in the background and gets ignored, it can be linked to from other sites, embedded into blogs and has a comments facility. Who knows, maybe we’ll even consider going back onto MySpace next!

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More from You Tube

Please excuse me today from writing a proper blogpost. We’ve decided that it’s time to start pushing SubMachena a bit, and the uploading process is taking quite a bit of time today. What I’ll do instead of writing, is post an embedded video to ‘Lef’ Handed Shite’, so that if you haven’t heard anything much of SubMachena yet, you’ll have more of an idea of what they’re about. Well, I call it a video, that’s a bit of a glorification. It’s just an image, to go with the music. Anyway, the music’s the important bit. SubMachena are a two-man unit: Robin Taylor-Firth and Rawle Bruce. If you’ve ever heard ‘You’re Not Alone’ by Olive, or even the Tinchy Stryder remake of the tune, you’ll be aware of Robin and Rawle already. The two were members of Olive back when the band formed, and after it split, stayed in touch, recording music with their other band – BudNubac. This track – ‘Lef’ Handed Shite’ was written by Rawle, the bassplayer, and is as big and bassy as you would expect from everything SubMachena do. Hope you enjoy it.

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Video

SubMachena are not always as dark as this, but when they do dark, they do it right. It astounds me that this video was made without a single professional actor, cameraman, director, gaffer, bestboy or keygrip. History is an ever-turning wheel, fashions and trends are as accurate an indicator of what stage of the cycle we’re at as any. I write this sub-Matrix rot mainly because I was drinking coffee in a bar yesterday which had VH1 playing on a telly in the background, and I couldn’t help but have my eye drawn by the music videos that were playing thereon. There was a decent gamut of them, mainly from the 80s and early 90s. One that stood out was Nena’s 99 Red Balloons. If you’re as old as I am, you’ll have no problem remembering the song – it was number one in the singles chart for so long that Top of the Pops actually played the original German-language version of the song just to break the monotony of the song’s seemingly unbreakable run as the chart-topping final track played on the show. The song had an unforgettable bassline and a manically energetic performance on vocals by a girl who made up for any lack of raw talent with her sheer enthusiasm for the task in hand. Pure pop, it also caught the Reagan-era zeitgeist by choosing the scenario of mutually-assured nuclear destruction as its subject matter. What was interesting, seeing the promo video again for the first time in about twenty years, was the sheer cheapo amateurishness of the whole thing. The budget, which can’t have been more than a hundred deutchmarks, was mostly spent on filling a field with smoke and plopping a few balloons (multi-coloured, there didn’t even seem to be enough cash to pick just the red ones out of a big bag) around the place. The singer and band wander around the scene, attempting to be picturesque. That’s about it. This song sold MILLIONS of copies, more than Lady GaGa’s entire catalogue. And it sold them on the strength of the SONG, not the controversy surrounding the promo video, not on the cut of the bikini that the singer might have worn or the strength of their live following or how innovative their social web presence was. It was a good song, people bought it. That was all.

Another standout on the VH1 show was Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Sweet Child of Mine. Again, the video cost about tenpence to make. This time it was made in a studio, just the band making a video about, making a video. Cool-looking people hanging around in the background, a cheap cloth backdrop behind the drummer, but essentially – long haired blokes posing about with their instruments. But the song, oh my, the song! It matters not an atom whether you like rock or not, the opening guitar figure of that song burns itself into the memory like a cattlebrand, and it just builds up from there. Another song that sold millions. Can you IMAGINE a metal track selling units in the mainstream market now? Can you remember the last UK number-one that wasn’t marketed predominantly at the under-15s? (Rage Against the Machine was a protest, so doesn’t count.)

See, what’s gone wrong is that the video is now becoming more important than the song, and that’s screwed. The last time that happened we ended up with Duran Duran’s lame Reflex, then Peter Gabriel’s pretty-forgettable Sledgehammer and a spate of mediocre songs tied to the monthly press-release describing the promo video as ‘the most expensive ever made’. It took grunge and acid-house and US punk to clear that dross out of the system, and it’s still not fully purged. The problem now is that, because streaming sites and P2P servers and YouTube and blogs divert so much of the attention an act gains into non-revenue areas, the amount of hype it takes to deliver a revenue from music is triple what it was in the 80s. Any act releasing a record now has to factor into its equations the effect that all those lost sales, whether they be lost to streaming or P2P; or to other entities such as phone credit, video gaming, reduced discretionary spending. That means that only the most sickeningly over-hyped products have any chance of making the kind of economic returns that need to be made by the entities that create the hype. In a nutshell – the amount of publicity¬† and promo needed to propel Lady GaGa to number one costs millions. It brings in millions too, but the investments are enormous. The only bodies with that kind of investment capital are the major labels, so anyone who feels that they are helping bring about the demise of the majors by filesharing have got the wrong end of the stick altogether. They’re actually doing the very opposite – bringing the majors to the point where they are only willing to invest in a reduced number of acts which they know can be monetised. Right now, a couple of million invested in a GaGa video makes a whole lot more economic sense than spreading that money over five acts. Five acts will need just as much effort each to break through the audience apathy surrounding new acts. There is no easy way to break this cycle. If people really want the major labels to go away, for whatever reason they see fit, the only way for that to happen is by buying music by non-major acts. No low-budget act or label can afford to take the kind of losses to non-revenue music sources that the majors can soak up. Put your faith back in the power of a great piece of music and try to bear in mind that it doesn’t matter if it’s GaGa schlock or even if it’s highly-aware MIA killing redheads – in the end, these are just promotional videos, their job is just to promote the tune, not replace it.

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