Blockbusters cover picA friend of mine drew my attention to this book (BLOCKBUSTERS Hit-making, Risk-taking, and the Big Business of Entertainment). My reading list is already way too long so I won’t get round to it for some time but the research is interesting.

The question it addresses is: should the entertainment industry bet bigger or smaller? The answer, with a lot of detailed examples, seems to be that blockbusters make bigger returns even taking into account big bets that fail.

To some extent this validates the longstanding (and to me baffling) record industry practice of signing 100 artists when only one will be successful.

(The rule of thumb always was that only one in ten signings release anything and one in ten of the releases make money. So, one in a hundred overall. In practice, post-2000, fewer artists get signed and fewer releases break even but the general principle remains.)

This also answers the question, if things carry on the same way, will the Internet fundamentally change how the music business mainstream works? Maybe not, after all.

If you have read it let me know what you think.

Dabbling with DAB

Is there a future for digital terrestrial radio in the UK?

DAB radio logoThere’s been a lot of chat in recent years about DAB. About the growth or lack of growth and about analogue switch-off in the same way analogue TV was switched off.

We have 5 DAB radios here, and terrestrial radio  has become a DAB thing for us. Mainly because there are more BBC channels on DAB.

But not in the car. Digital is useless in a car, even though it’s being fitted as standard these days.

I recently replaced two devices in the dining room—an old DAB radio and an old iPod player—with one new DAB radio. It has an audio input so we can play phones and music players through the radio. Then we noticed something very odd.

For those of you outside the UK, iPlayer Radio is a BBC app that streams BBC radio. So you might think it’s like DAB but it isn’t. It’s better. It streams all the UK BBC stations (Radio Ulster, Radio Scotland and Radio Cymru) and you can’t get Radio Scotland on a DAB player in most of England.

Now, that’s a small thing. And if you don’t care about the provinces it’s irrelevant to you. But it makes me wonder why I have a DAB radio. Except as an amp for the Internet.

An iPod plugged into the DAB radio can stream KGSR or WRIR from the USA. It can stream more BBC stations than DAB can. And any other radio station or web site online. The only place that isn’t practical is in the car (mobile data is too expensive at the moment). And DAB doesn’t work in the car anyway. So why have I got any DAB radios at all?

And why does the government want us to have DAB radios? We’re not daft, mostly.

As a terrestrial radio solution FM beats DAB hands down. It works everywhere and it works in the car. More often than not it sounds far better than DAB and a portable FM radio can run for weeks on one set of batteries. So that’s another reason DAB doesn’t move us forward.

For broadcasters the Internet is far cheaper than setting up a DAB station. Supply or demand, I can’t see a compelling argument for DAB either way. As a BBC listener I can’t see a compelling argument and as a driver DAB is simply irrelevant.

Increasingly music comes to us online: YouTube, cloud players, streaming stations and players. Time-shifting apps enable us to catch up online. If there was a neat, economic solution I would ditch all our DAB radios and simply plug in Wi-Fi players as needed.

The radio station structure locked inside the DAB box looks utterly pointless.

Rob Chapman

Hello again. It’s been a splendid summer and I haven’t been blogging since, er, before the summer. But now the blog season is upon us so here’s one to get restarted: Rob Chapman’s top tips about everything for new guitarists. If you skip the small amount that’s about blues, rock and metal I think this applies for everyone.

If you haven’t heard of Rob, he’s one of the many, many musicians, artists and writers these days who  don’t do it the old school way. It’s the change I was hoping for when I started my web site in 2002 and it is now well and truly among us.

Rocky Horror

$(KGrHqF,!iEFD0ez!ZYEBRBYreQb7Q~~60_35Last Wednesday I heard Richard O’Brien recalling the origins of The Rocky Horror Show on the BBC World Service programme Witness. In 1973, in his spare time, O’Brien wrote a fun musical of the kind he wanted to see. It opened for a 3 week run in the 62-seat experimental space at The Royal Court, with a budget of £2,000. It ran in London at progressively larger venues for the next 7 years, opened in Los Angeles in 1974 and on Broadway in 1975. 40 years later it still tours the UK.

That reminded me of Chris Donald who started Viz comic from his bedroom in 1979 and ended up selling over a million copies per issue a decade later. The magazine still runs today although Chris himself left some time ago.

Then there’s Oliver Postgate. He thought he could do better than the children’s programmes he stage managed for ITV in 1957. After two in-house animations he set up Smallfilms in 1959 with artist Peter Firmin and produced a string of legendary stop-motion series from Ivor The Engine and Noggin The Nogg to Clangers and Bagpuss.

I could mention many more examples like this—creative people who made something they wanted to make without an eye on the charts or the ratings, and had great success in their respective businesses. In 1973 nobody would have put The Rocky Horror show on Broadway. Viz was banned from the high street shelves of WHSmith but succeeded anyway. These kinds of projects not only defy convention they re-invent what is expected and spawn numerous imitators.

Obviously, there are still careers to be made following the herd. The Ralph Murphy talk I posted on Thursday is proof of that, and 99% of the mainstream seems to be inspired by a previous mainstream product. But if you’re reading social media and music business advice, wondering whether there’s room for new, different, untested ideas the answer is definitely yes. If you try 100 insane projects and just one of them turns out to be The Rocky Horror Show people will be coming to you for advice.

I don’t know if you’re more likely to have success with a new creative idea than with a retread of something that’s already happened but it must be more fun.

Music discovery


Kyle Bylin ( recently raised the question of music discovery again on Hypebot.

I agree with his summary and a lot of the subsequent comments, and for me they all boil down to the fact that it’s never going to be automated.

You can automate music suggestions but not personal discovery.

When I think about the music that has stayed with me, either temporarily on heavy rotation or as a long term must-have, the original discovery was never predictable.

A friend at college lent me loads of his records: Gentle Giant, Uriah Heep, Black Sabbath, and Yes were among them. Yes clicked in a big way and I would never be without their first half dozen or so albums. Uriah Heep and Black Sabbath were part of the soundtrack to my blues rock period but didn’t last among my favourites. These days I have enormous respect for what Tony Iommi did in Sabbath but it’s no longer something I’d go out of my way to hear. Gentle Giant never really clicked.

Pink Floyd I loved during Umma Gumma. I have a deep attachment to the album cover and still love the album itself. Outside of that I must have the Syd Barrett classics (See Emily Play and Arnold Layne) and some of the other early psychedelia but later albums left me cold until The Wall. Following that I can live without the rest (and Roger Waters’ solo work until Amused To Death). So there’s a body of 20 or so albums of which I really only need 3 or 4.

Umma Gumma came to me through a friend at the time and The Wall re-ignited my interest through the late-night documentary about the making of the film. Then Amused To Death was a random cassette copy borrowed from a passing acquaintance. The whole sequence of likes and dislikes is so complex it defies analysis.

I recognise two consistent themes running through my music collection. The strong influence of people I knew, events I happened upon, and a complete absence of any other pattern whatsoever.

Bevis Frond (Nick Saloman) popped into and out of my life ever since his first DIY album. While I tried his music many times and never got into it, his music business style and projects always interested me. Until Valedictory Songs hit me like a ton of bricks. The lyrics astonished me, his persistent fuzz guitar solos seemed to finally come to life and the songs! How did I miss that songwriting before? I now have all his albums apart from the first four and one or two others, and they will be fixtures with me as long as I have ears. There is simply no way to automate that experience. Software could suggest the music of Bevis Frond to me for years but without the context and whatever it was made me listen to Sugar Voids one day 12 years ago I would never have made the discovery.

I think I have said before that discovery is something we do, not something software does to us.

(Where have I been recently? The short answer is learning Japanese. The long answer is probably not very interesting so I’ll spare you that, but I am reading more books and finding it very satisfying.)