Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Download cards with vinyl are wanted

Some record labels are grumbling about including download cards with vinyl pressings. Given the low redemption rates - between 5 and and 25% and dropping all the time, according to a survey of labels by Vinyl Me Please - it's easy to see the labels' frustration at the additional cost.

The alternatives, though, are either prohibitively expensive or inconvenient. I'm not prepared to pay Spotify £120 a year to stream music I already own. If they have it, of course.

YouTube is free to use, but you can't access any other apps if you're listening to it. Yes, I know it's a visual medium, but I don't need to stare at an album cover for 40 minutes.

Record labels have a different idea about the value of downloads than the record buyer. They want our email addresses so they can spam us with their newsletters. No thanks.

If you're demanding a download is sent to an email address, many people use an old hotmail address that they never otherwise check. If as happened last week, you demand a name and email address but I get the download directly, you'll get something like this:

Direct email marketing doesn't work. Labels know how effective download cards are. Before bitching quite so much about download cards, perhaps they can share the efficacy of their email marketing.

There are many better ways to reach fans - if I like a band or label, I follow them on Twitter. I don't need an email as well.

Some labels know this, of course. Which is why they let you download the album via one of your social media accounts. So they can use your account to harvest more contacts for their spam. Mate, I only want the Loyle Carner album download, which I've paid for, you don't get anything in return:

We know that technology drives music consumption. So when people had an ipod they had thousands of MP3s. Someone left a comment on my blog a few years ago claiming authority on music because he had over 100,000 MP3s. He reminded me of the young man I met at a party who had 11 Jonathan Richman albums. Great, I thought, we've got plenty of common ground to chat. But he'd never played even one of them.

The people who want downloads now are music fans. Storing them on a separate hard drive (or several hard drives) is fiddly and expensive, but still cheaper than a year's Spotify membership.

Unlike that student who had thousands of MP3s he's never listened to, I have a job. This means most of my music listening is done either commuting or at work. So I find the download card very important.

Of the 3 albums I bought last week, I've played the one without a download card the least. If I really loved that album I'd have digitised it so I could play it more. Which reminds me, sometimes the album really isn't very good, which is the only time I don't use the download card.

It's worth labels using quality as a metric - did the unsuccessful albums have a lower download rate? If so, they might just not be very good. The buyers have spoken.

What's never mentioned is that a lot of CDs come with download cards. This isn't so weird when you remember that a lot of people use laptops without CD drives. The CD is about the same price as the download, so they may as well have a CD for back up purposes, and because they want a physical object.

I don't know what the answer to this problem is. I know for sure that if labels stop making download cards then the saving won't be passed on to the buyer.

I do know that a centralised streaming service like Spotify isn't the answer for me. Free access to the album on a streaming service for vinyl buyers might work.

Free download at point of purchase from the label, which Numero Group do, doesn't work unless you live in the same country. You know about overseas postage rates, right?

And the answer is definitely not 'fill in this postcard with all of your details then pay for a stamp and post it to us' which Rough Trade tried in 2006:

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

The Whooperups

This is generic without being derivative. That's some trick to pull. The Whooperups - misleadingly named after a Victorian term meaning "inferior, noisy singers" - do simple fuzz, close harmonies and instantly accessible pop. 

Yes, other bands do that, or try to do that, but they don't do them with gently fizzing guitars quite like this. These are exhilarating songs.

Sure, the band numbers moonlighting members of The Spook School, Charla Fantasma and Wolf Girl, but they don't sound like those bands. They sound different. What? You really want comparisons? Okay, try Mercury Girls and Veronica Falls in a sort of 'if you like them you'll love this' way.

The past - the scent of an old perfume, the pains of being 17 - is as alive in these songs as the present. Which makes The Whooperups' future look very good.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Bill Botting and the Two Drink Minimums - Better Friends

In which Allo Darlin's Bill Botting swaps his (metaphorical) stripy t-shirt for a (very real) trucker cap and plaid shirt. Better Friends is a country rock album that's written to be played on the radio and listened to in the car with the windows wound down.

These songs - they're all hits - have the southern rock punch of Tom Petty, the careworn intimacy of Neil Young's ballads and the maudlin melodies of The Go-Betweens' Tallulah.

Bill's assembled a crack band (including Darren Hayman and members of The Wave Pictures and Tigercats) and these titular better friends make the album so much fun.

They're clearly having a brilliant time, not least on Treating You Right's backing vocal pay-off line "he's an asshole, yes he's an asshole", and lifting Hanson's MmmBop and running it through a lap steel on Know You When.

The one misstep on this album is a cover of Paul Simon's Graceland. Not because it's too close to the original (although it is, even if Bill changes the lyric about his travelling companion's age to match his child's age) but because it's too close to what Bill did with Allo Darlin.

What this album does is give Bill Botting a new path after Allo Darlin's success. Anyone who saw Allo Darlin will know well how much Bill enjoys being on stage. Better Friends suggests different ways that Bill can enjoy making music while entertaining us richly. What's that line from Bye Bye Pride? The door is always open wide.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Heart Beach - Kiss Your Face

I think we're all agreed that Heart Beach's Counting was one of 2016's best singles (by "we" I mean "me, myself and I" and by "best" I mean I played it more than most other singles and I'm still not tired of it).

There are only a few songs as good as Counting on the Kiss Your Face album, but then that makes them modern classics. The whole album is great, though.

Like the Mary Chain they take simple pop tunes and record them with the lights off and sunglasses on (listen to Record). Like Southern Comfort they do nagging, ragged bliss (listen to Sleeping). And like Dum Dum Girls they do basic feedback and instant hits (listen to Brittle).

Friday, 20 January 2017

Francoise Hardy interview, 1996

"I've got a very limited voice, which can be effective on some songs. I like the contrast between big music and a little voice. I really like the Jesus and Mary Chain."

Published 21 June 1996. I know it's a bit crumpled. It's been stuck between some Francoise Hardy records for over 20 years.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Buzzcocks show time's up for box sets

Buzzcocks' Spiral Scratch ep is being reissued. Great. Every home should have one. So is Time's Up, the semi-official bootleg album. Only completists really need that. It's not very good.

If you want both, that'll be £23. Fair enough. If you want both in a box, that'll be £50. I know. Although you do get some badges and photos and posters with that.

Remember NME's 2007 redesign which featured a "Weekly Planner catering for younger readers"? That was the magazine's death knell, a sign it had moved so far from its roots and mission, that its closure was inevitable. This box set stinks of the same desperation for the box set market.

The £50 price tag is telling. This sounds like a record company trying to bring back the 50 quid bloke, a term coined by journalist and magazine publisher David Hepworth in 2003:

"This is the guy we've all seen in Borders or HMV on a Friday afternoon, possibly after a drink or two, tie slightly undone, buying two CDs, a DVD and maybe a book - fifty quid's worth - and frantically computing how he's going to convince his partner that this is a really, really worthwhile investment."

50 quid bloke died, possibly with Borders and HMV, replaced either by Vinyl Revival Man (repurchasing those cheap CDs from HMV with £20 180g virgin vinyl reissues) or by 79p download man.

Whoever buys this box set will have a hard time justifying it to anyone if they have to. It doesn't offer anything like value for money.

The marketing team have subtitled this 'Mk 1 Box Set'. Let's imagine what will be in Mk 2 Box Set. All 3 studio albums? What about Mk 3 Box Set? All the singles? Well, if that's the case then Box Sets Mk 2 and 3 would be a reissue of the 5x LP 1989 Product box set. 

Then you could rightly say "ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"

Friday, 13 January 2017

Field Route - Dreaming

Field Route make extreme music. Extremely small, beautiful and poetic music. This kind of extreme indiepop seems to rile people no end, even though it takes an adventurous and thoughtful path as any blissed out rock or pscyh band.

If you want to annoy people, play this record out. Play it in a set with The Wake's O Pamela, The Field Mice's Emma's House and St Christopher's Crystal Clear. It's in that lineage. In the same way it's got the quietly rousing grandeur of The Walker Brothers, which riles no one. That's cultural perception for you.

I can imagine them releasing a stripped-back acoustic ep of New Order covers. Based on this excellent start (well, this is two of Horse Beach moonlighting, so they've got previous), whatever they do next will be worth catching.