Friday, March 22, 2013

Anti-gay marriage comments cancel tour

            Singer/songwriter Michelle Shocked found herself in hot water and potentially out of work after making anti-gay marriage comments at a San Francisco concert. According to MSN Music, Shocked was playing a show at Yoshi’s on St. Patrick’s Day and when returning for her second set, she went on a rant against gay marriage. Her alleged comments contained, “When they stop Prop 8 and force priests at gunpoint to marry gays, it will be the downfall of civilization, and Jesus will come back," she reportedly said, and "You can go on Twitter and say, 'Michelle Shocked says God hates fags.'” According to the San Francisco Gate, about two-thirds of the crowd walked out after the rant. The venue then shut off her microphone and stated that the show was over. Refunds were provided.

            As news of Shocked’s comments traveled across the Internet, venues began to cancel Shocked’s upcoming tour dates in April and May. Only one venue, the Harmony Bar in Madison, Wisconsin had not cancelled her performance. When asked about the show, staff could only comment that the owner was in Mexico and unavailable but told local press, “there’s no doubt in my mind he’ll cancel this,” per the Hollywood Reporter. Shocked’s volunteer publicist also walked off the job. Shocked has said she plans to show up to her schedule show in Los Angeles despite the cancellation and talk about gay bashing in L.A. mayoral race. The owner of the club she was to perform at, McCabe’s in Santa Monica, has stated she is not welcome in any way.

            Controversy over beliefs and comments to the press are no strangers to popular music. The biggest example is of course The Beatles in 1966 when John Lennon as quoted as saying the Beatles were bigger than Jesus. This sparked controversy from Christians all over the world but most notably in the United States. However, only one show was cancelled from the band’s 1966 US tour in Memphis and then was worked out so they performed anyway. There was an incident when a firecracker was thrown at the band in Memphis but no other issues. It’s rare that an artist’s comments end up with a whole tour being scrapped. I don’t think there has been another incident where is occurred. This incident shows the fine line of being an artist and not going over the line. It also wasn’t that Shocked expressed her views in song but in a blunt rant to the audience. I applaud the venue for shutting down the show and issuing refunds and other venues for cancelling her shows. While there should be room for free speech, spewing hate has no place in the music industry.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Getting Beyond The Next Day

            In a recent blog post entitled “If You Can’t Sing…” music industry veteran Bob Lefsetz weighs in on why people still send him demos and if that’s still the right idea, especially if they’re not outstanding, different, or radical. The problem he sees is publicity for bands is on its way out and is not the way to be discovered in the music industry in his eyes. He points out the example of the New York Times. Reviewers don’t make fans anymore, he says, because the Internet has turned us into clusters of fans by linking us. Most people don’t want to hear what an independent observer’s thoughts. That wasn’t always the case. “If you weren’t reviewed in the newspaper, it’s like your gig didn’t happen.” He then turns his attention to the new David Bowie record The Next Day. He says that if radio and MTV were still around to play the record, then it would be called a hit. Now, he just makes a record for fans. Those were the gatekeepers and allowed really spectacular music to make through. The difference today is music is everywhere so the mediocrity is not going to cut it.

            Another interesting look at the new David Bowie album comes from Steve Schneider at Orlando Weekly entitled “Watch that, man: Reading too much into Bowie.” In the article, Schneider states that Bowie’s explosion onto the scene with his first new album in 10 years, throws away all current industry conventions by not having the traditional social media build-up that most record releases have these days. The problem Schneider sees with that is he feels most will read into it that you don’t need that promotion to sell albums, as The Next Day will probably have great sales even without much promotion. An issue with that is not many artists are David Bowie and this album’s tactics aren’t going to work for most artists.

            What Schneider’s article misses is that this isn’t even Bowie’s creation. He is not the first artist to mysteriously drop an album. The major example of that is Radiohead, who famously released InRainbows just 9 days after announcing it on their own blog. The album was their first studio album in 5 years. The beauty of digital distribution is fans can get product now and since initial album sales are mostly fans anyway, that way artists can get most of their sales as soon as possible. Promotion is less needed with established artists because as Lefsetz pointed out, we are already clumped together as fans. Bowie fans will talk to other Bowie fans about whether the album is good or they will preview it on iTunes. They won’t buy it because MTV played the video or it had the most spins on their local rock station, which has probably been converted to another genre anyway. While this method does work for established artists, I don’t think new artists will try and do surprise releases like David Bowie. They will probably continue to follow traditional promotional methods as much as possible. A great example is Mumford and Sons, whose album Sigh No More was released to no fanfare in 2009 but by 2011 had become one of America’s biggest selling albums. This is what Lefsetz means in his post when the content is great, it will get noticed far more than any promotion or marketing tricks.

Here's a cut from David Bowie's new album to play you out: