Tag Archives: itunes

New UK audio comedy label launches and initially gets 100% of its sales in US

(A version of this piece was published on the Indian news site WSN)

Neale Welch: in Shoreditch last week

Neale Welch – building something new in Shoreditch last week

Neale Welch is a busy chap.

This year, he took over-all charge of programming at the Comedy Cafe Theatre in London, a full-time job which continues.

But, in July last year, he also started his own independent comedy label Just The Greatest and, this month, it released its first three audio albums – by Anil Desai, Steve N Allen and Erich McElroy (all recorded live at the Comedy Cafe Theatre).

When I talked to him in London’s Shoreditch last week, he told me something very odd:

“All of the sales so far,” he told me, “have been in the United States.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I think there’s an element of If you build it, they will come. The sales are there. Sales started as a trickle and they are starting to increase.”

“The blurbs must be bloody good,” I said.

Anil Desai: Hey, Impressions Guy!

Anil Desai – the first album released by Just The Greatest

“Well,” Neale told me, “there’s only a very brief description of what’s on the albums – there’s no real space on iTunes for any promo copy or quotes. They’re just really good products. Very funny.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “They’re very good comedians but the Americans, presumably, don’t know them – To the Yanks, they’re Fred Hippity-Hoppity from Guatemala.”

“What I think you’re witnessing here, John,” suggested Neale, “is the power of the distribution channels – iTunes and Amazon. Who are we to know why Americans are buying the albums? It’s comedy, it’s spoken word, it’s British and it’s out there available to buy.”

“How much do they cost?” I asked.

“The distributors set the prices themselves,” explained Neale. “iTunes set the price by category and genre. The albums are $9.99.”

“So Yanks are forking out $10 for unknown-to-them comedians!” I said in amazement.

“But they’re getting to know them slowly,” said Neale. “And you can also buy cheaper individual tracks.”

“I guess, when it all develops,” I said, “your market is going to be Britain and the English-speaking pink bits on the map – plus the US?”

“And parts of Europe,” added Neale.

“This is like one of those rock star things,” I said, “where someone from Manchester is a major star in Botswana for no discernible reason. Or Right Said Fred  being massive in Germany, which they are. Massive.”

“…and David Hasselhoff,” added Neale.

“And David Hasselhoff,” I had to agree. “Did you expect to get foreign sales?”

“Not this early, no,” said Neale.

“So why did you start the label?” I asked.

Steve N Allen - one of the acts Yanks seem keen on

Steve N Allen is one of the acts Yanks seem very keen on

“Because,” explained Neale, “a few years ago, I was travelling alone around Asia and Australia and needed something to listen to when I was in planes, on beaches, in hostels. Videos are fine, but videos require your attention whereas, with a sound album, you can do other things when you’re in another environment.

“I came across a great podcast called Stop Podcasting Yourself by Graham Clark. So I brought him over to do a special gig at the Comedy Cafe in London, which was great, sold out, fantastic.

“Graham is signed to a podcast network in the States called MaximumFun.org, run by a guy called Jesse Thorn – a great inspirational guy who started this network with lots of free content, a little bit of paid content, lots of different shows, mostly run on donations.

“And I thought I could do something like that. I thought I want to do something that’s good and I want to work with original artists that are going somewhere and have got something to say.”

“Hold on though,” I interrupted, “You said, with a sound album, you can do other things while you’re listening. But doesn’t comedy require you pay attention? The build-ups and the punchlines?”

“Yes,” agreed Neale. “But not as much as visuals. I think there’s an opportunity for the re-birth of comedy albums in digital form.”

“And physical CDs?” I asked.

“It’s all digital,” said Neale. “At Just The Greatest, we’re not interested in physical products, though some of the artists are going to produce physical products – CDs – to sell themselves after their gigs. It doesn’t make any sense any other way. I don’t have a warehouse to store a load of stuff.”

“And CDs are dead anyway,” I suggested.

“Yeah,” agreed Neale, “CDs, DVDs… but downloads have made up for the decline in over-all sales. If you pay attention to who’s listening to podcasts – graphic designers, knowledge workers if you will – it’s people who are at their desk working a flexible, autonomous working day who can also enjoy audio entertainment. That’s the kind of demographic who are going to buy it.”

“Did you do market research in advance?” I asked.

Erich McElroy - North American but with Brit Identity

Erich McElroy – a North American but with Brit Identity

“The sales ARE the market research,” Neale explained. “I’m finding out now what kind of market I’m going into and it’s clear that there are opportunities. I knew in advance, obviously, that there were similar projects out there already. It’s not like I was wondering if people would buy a digital file; of course they will.”

“How do you think the market will it develop?” I asked. “Will iTunes’ dominance diminish?”

“In the digital market, I just do not know,” said Neale. “If you look at the barriers to entry and the coverage that they get… it would be a difficult market for anyone to attack. If you think that a company the size of Amazon aren’t even getting close, then…”

“And beyond that,” I asked, “you’ll develop radio shows, TV shows and major movies with lots of special effects?”

“No,” laughed Neale. “As you know, I’ve shot some small videos, but try and find someone in Shoreditch who hasn’t!”

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Comedy farter Mr Methane gets i-rate and i-noyed with Apple & Red Nose Day

Mr Methane gets iRate with iTunes on his iPhone

Yesterday, Mr Methane got iRate about iTunes on his iPhone

There seems to be no end to the bloggability of my chum Mr Methane, the Farter of Alternative Comedy.

I got an e-mail from him yesterday afternoon:

“Just over two years ago,” it started, “I produced a Mr Methane fart app. This was rejected by iTunes and remains unpublished due to Apple’s we don’t need any more fart apps policy of September 2010.

“They told me: We cannot post this version to the App Store because we are no longer accepting this type of app. We don’t need any more Fart apps. If your app doesn’t do something useful or provide some form of lasting entertainment, it may not be accepted.

“But fast forward to 2013 and, in the UK, Comic Relief now have a Fart App on the Apple Store.

“Something stinks here,” Mr Methane continues, “there seems to be one rule for me and another rule for someone else! In fact, I’d like to offer Apple my app as a charity download for those people pissed off with Red Nose Day. The profits would go to children in Africa deeply traumatised by being visited by Lenny Henry every year for a Comic Relief documentary.

“Seriously, though, I think Comic Relief needs to move on, get more radical and rediscover those anarchic alternative days of the 1980s when Comedy took on the Establishment and politicians, shining a light on their inadequacies and nefarious activities.

Red Nose Day is on 15th March this year

Red Nose Day is 15th March 2013

“I honestly think that if Comic Relief said Look, everybody! This year we are raising money for humanitarian aid to help families whose lives have been wrecked by illegal attacks from US and British operated predator drones, showed a documentary about it and then asked government ministers some awkward questions, they would have the biggest take in the charity’s history.

“That said, it’s a free country – allegedly –  and some people would say that I’m just doing what I always do – Talking out of my arse!”

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A chat about a Christmas video turns to talk of comedians in court in the 1960s

Matt Roper - Christmas in Soho

Matt Roper spends a Happy Goddam Christmas in Soho

Comedian Matt Roper is flying to India on New Year’s Eve for two months. At least, that was what he intended to do.

“I think my new principle should be Don’t book flights when you’ve had two bottles of wine and a load of Guinness and a few tequilas,” he told me over pizza in London’s Soho.

“I’d had a heavy night out and woke up in the morning. My life most mornings, if I’m being honest is… Well, if you’ve ever seen a window with condensation on it and it slowly clears away… That’s my brain in the morning… I remembered doing something about a flight, so I went and checked my emails and the Confirmation was there… Flying out on 31st December, which is perfect for me because I don’t like New Year… and coming back on June 3rd…. What?… June 3rd?!!… but the most surprising thing was I’d managed to choose my seat and decide what sort of meal I was having.

“I’ve been many, many times to India. I love it out there, but I haven’t been for about six years. I’ll go to Goa and then hopefully write my Edinburgh Fringe show in some hill station. But my point is Never book a flight when you’re hammered.

“Maybe that should be your Fringe show title,” I suggested: “Never Book a Flight When You’re Pissed. But you shouldn’t go to India. You’re in the iTunes Comedy charts at the moment with Happy Goddam Christmas, this Christmas song of yours.”

“Well, it’s an anti-Christmas Christmassy song, really,” Matt corrected me, “like Fairytale of New York.”

“When that was released,” I said, “it was inconceivable it could become a standard festive song like White Christmas.”

“It’s a British thing,” suggested Matt. “We’re maybe not drawn to the natural sugary, positive ditties.”

“Is it the first song you’ve written?” I asked.

“No,” said Matt. “All the Wifredo stuff you hear at Edinburgh is all orginal songs, though I did one of those in collaberation with Pippa Evans.

“With Happy Goddam Christmas, I had the music for a long time – the basic structure of the song – it was about an ex I was feeling particularly, you know, bitter and jaded about. But the song isn’t iactually about me feeling bitter about an ex. I took it to Pippa Evans and she added a middle eight onto it and we worked together on the lyrics.”

Pippa Evans performs as her on-stage character Loretta Maine. Someone once described her as ‘Dolly Parton as seen through the lens of Mike Leigh’.

“Arthur Smith has a little cameo in the video,” Matt told me, “and we have Sanderson Jones and Imran Yusef – in the video, they’re in the band – Arthur’s in the toilet brandishing his Hammond organ.”

“So you wanted to make lots of money with a Christmas song?” I asked.

“Not really,” said Matt. “It was just about having a bit of fun. It’s easy to release whatever you want on iTunes. It’s quite incredible how the music industry’s changed. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Edinburgh Fringe were along similar lines? If you could cut out all the middle people.”

“Well,” I said, “the Free Fringe and the Free Festival sort-of do that. Are you thinking of doing one of the two free festivals next year?”

“Possibly. I had a lot of fun with Just The Tonic this year. I would like to see the Fringe level out into an event where your established comics and TV names are on the ticketed Fringe and the less-established acts can realistically afford to do it and make at least a little bit of money by the end of it.”

Matt’s father, George Roper, was one of The Comedians on the seminal Granada TV comedy stand-up show of the 1970s.

It was a different era.

“There was a club called The New Luxor Club in Hulme, Manchester,” Matt told me.

I raised my eyebrow at the mention of a club in Hulme. I went to Hulme a few times when I worked at Granada TV in the 1980s. If you went to the Aaben Cinema there, when you came out, you might find three youths sitting on your car bonnet saying: “So how much are you gonna pay to get your car back?”

“In the 1960s,” Matt told me, “they would have ‘gentlemen’s evenings’ at some of the Manchester social clubs, working men’s clubs, cabaret clubs. It would not be uncommon to have six stand-up comics and six female strippers/exotic dancers on one bill. At this point in the 1960s, it was legal to be naked on-stage, but it was illegal to move.

“The police decided to bust The New Luxor Club and my father was one of the six comics performing there that night. The police raided the club and charged the comedians with aiding and abetting the club owner – a guy called Vincent Chilton – for running a disorderly house.

“The six strippers and the six comics were in the dock at Manchester Crown Court and the police had to stand up in the court and tell the jokes. I swear – no word of a lie.

“I don’t know the exact date, but the police had to get up and say something like On the 28th of June 1965, George Roper stood up on stage and said the following joke: ‘A policewoman and a policeman were walking ‘ome from t’station one night. Ooh, she said, I’ve left me knickers back at t’station. Ooh, don’t worry, said t’policeman. Hitch up yer skirt, let the dog ‘ave a sniff. Half an hour later, t’dog comes back with t’sergeant’s balls in its mouth’…

“Can you imagine? In the Crown Court? The public gallery had to be cleared because everyone was laughing so much.

“There was a guy called Jackie Carlton, who was the apotheosis of Manchester club comics at the time and all the younger comics like Frank Carson and Bernard Manning looked up to him. He was very camp, very flamboyant. When it was his turn in the dock, the judge asked: Was that one of your jokes? and he said, Yes, but I tell it much better than that. He was found guilty.

“My dad was the last comic up and, when it was his turn to stand in the dock, the judge asked Is that one of your stories? and he said Oh! Not heard that one before and, for some reason, he got off with it by playing the underdog, as he always did. The other five comics got fined, but my dad got off with it.

“I asked my uncle about it not long ago and he said people were queueing round the block to buy the Manchester Evening News to read the jokes that were told in court.”

* * *

Below, Jackie Carlton talks in the 1970s about camp comedy and obscenity…

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Being world class performers won’t sell albums if you’re not available on iTunes

Bobby Valentino and Paul Astles in London last night

In December 2010 I blogged about the wonderful Paul Astles and Bobby Valentino, both world-class performers. They should be living in mansions in Surrey in unhappy marriages and down to their last million like other rockers of a certain age.

Bobby has performed and recorded with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Mark Knopfler, et al and wrote/played the “annoying violin hook line” on The Bluebells’ classic hit Young at Heart.

I went and saw Paul and Bobby perform again last night, at their monthly Brockley gig in South East London.

“Friendly Street” – not available for download nor in shops

They’re still brilliant. As is their new-ish album Friendly Street.

“When did you record it?” I asked Paul after the show last night, while Bobby was getting me a copy from the boot of his car.

“We did it in the summer of last year,” said Paul. “I can’t remember when.”

“Where?”

Charlie Hart’s. He used to play with Ronnie Lane and Ian Dury. He’s Bobby’s next-door neighbour and our old friend and he’s got a studio. He’s playing around London with Slim Chance now.”

At the moment in London, you can stumble on the most unlikely, highly-talented musicians playing in the most unlikely of venues.

“Why’s your album not on iTunes?” I asked Paul.

“Just because I’m not together enough to do all the PayPal and bank accounting and all that kind of stuff you have to do.”

“How can people buy it, then?” I asked.

“Only if they see us. It’s a rare and precious thing.”

“You could be selling around the world on iTunes,” I said. “Not just in the UK.”

“Well,” replied Paul. “A man contacted me on my Facebook account from New York and asked me if I would send a copy of Friendly Street to him, so I did and he sent me a cheque for whatever £10-and-postage is in dollars. He was a very nice man.”

“You should put the album – and the individual tracks – on iTunes,” I told Paul. “You might find you have fans in Texas or you might become a big hit in the Ukraine. As far as I know, Right Said Fred are still mega-stars in Germany – they were a couple of years ago – and they make a very good living. Here in true UK, Right Said Fred are yesterday’s one-hit wonders; in Germany, as I understand it, they’re still selling shedloads.”

“Weren’t they Princess Diana’s favourite band?” Paul asked.

“Well, there you are,” I replied. “You can overcome any set-back. You have to be on iTunes. If you put your album on iTunes, the two of you might become a hit around the world.”

Even if they only became a cult hit in China or India, they could be living in mansions in Surrey in unhappy marriages and down to their last million.

Everyone should have aspirations.

And there’s still time. It just needs luck and distribution.

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Mr Methane causes a right Royal stink with his “God Save The Queen” ringtone

Mr Methane blows his own trumpet for Queen Elizabeth II

My chum Mr Methane from Macclesfield knows how to cause a stink. He is, after all, the world’s only professional performing farter.

But he is also a true patriot and says he wants to capture the British nation’s nostalgic mood in this glorious Diamond Jubilee year with his unique rendition of God Save the Queen on what he calls his bottom bugle. His press release starts:

I’ve spent most of my life looking back, so I think I know a thing or two about nostalgia. Over the last sixty years of Her Majesty’s reign, the wind of change has blown through Britain and all its pink bits on the map. My latest release celebrates this. 

When Her Majesty first sat on the throne, it coincided with Edmund Hillary conquering the heights of Mount Everest. I cannot compete with that, but I hope my Royal Fanfare will reach new heights of memorability.

It may well do. The ringtone was released yesterday morning, but he has already received 19 e-mails complaining about it. He is unrepentant.

“Perhaps it sounds like me blowing my own trumpet,” Mr Methane told me in the early hours of this morning, “but I think my long experience means I’m uniquely placed to put the ring into ringtone.”

“You are a smooth-tongued wordsmith,” I told him. “But how did you come up with the idea?”

“Well,” he told me, “Originally, I decided to release an iTunes album of various national anthems. But then I realised it’s the Big One this year for Her Majesty. I remembered the Silver Jubilee of 1977 and what fun it was. And then I saw TV news reports of Gary Barlow doing his bit fixing up a concert for this year’s Diamond Jubilee and thought, I’ll release my own very special gift to Her Majesty – a Diamond Jubilee ringtone – with the emphasis on the ring. One that’s slightly more anarchic and in the spirit of 1977 and the Sex PistolsGod Save The Queen than all this current corporate X-Factor-type, pass-me-the-sick bucket, arse-kissing stuff. 

“And yet,” he continued, “it’s actually totally harmless and all in good fun. It’s a very British thing. It’s something we all do. Even Prince Philip… though I suspect he blames it on the Corgis. My ringtone illustrates in just a few short seconds the unique relationship between the British monarch and her people – I mean, John, you really wouldn’t get away with this sort of thing in North Korea.

“I realise some folks,” Mr Methane admitted, “may just see me as one of the many children of Margaret Thatcher and her Thatcherite revolution… just using my dubious talents by jumping on every opportunity to  make a few quid. But no, no… How could anyone really think that of me, John? People are so cynical nowadays. I am a patriot.”

“Indeed,” I agreed. “Anything else coming up?”

“I have just been approached to appear on France Has Got Talent (La France a un incroyable talent) possibly because, as you know, last year I got through to the semi-finals of Germany’s Got Talent (Der Supertalent). Then, later this year, I’ll be following up the release of my God Save The Queen ringtone with a full album of various fully-farted national anthems… Australia, America, Italy, Germany, France, Sweden and others.”

“Are the British more or less appreciative of the art of flatulism than other places?” I asked.

“I think farting divides the British nation,” Mr Methane replied, “but not in the way you might think. The key to the UK is that, as a whole, we are a tolerant, polite and slightly oppressed nation with a class system that’s still intact and flatulism really takes off in that sort of an environment. The upper class gentry actually like a good fart performance more than the working classes but the middle classes, as a rule, hate it.”

“Will you be sending a complimentary copy of the ringtone to Her Majesty?” I asked.

“If she requested one, of course, I would send her the full blown-version as well as the shortened ringtone version. But, somehow, I suspect any request from the Palace is more likely to come from Prince Philip than from Her Majesty herself.”

“Why a ringtone and not a single?” I asked.

“A whim. But the downside is you have to find it yourself on iTunes. It has no direct link. I  can’t link to it from my website and you can only access it from a mobile phone, not from a computer – You just go to iTunes and search for ‘mr methane ringtone’. It’s only 99p.”

“I smell commercial success,” I told Mr Methane.

“It’s good to be British,” he said. “I look on it as a very British thing.”

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We may have mis-nominated an act for this year’s Malcolm Hardee Awards

So, eleven hours after starting the seven-hour drive from Edinburgh to London, I got home.

Don’t ask. Don’t intrude on private grief.

But I came down the M6 and went through Leicester.

Think about it, but don’t ask.

It was an English Bank Holiday Monday on the roads.

So this is the blog I wrote yesterday but did not post… I was too busy crying into my steering wheel.

________

Whenever Scots singer Andi Neate performs during the Edinburgh Fringe, I always try to see her show; a wonderful voice.

This year, in Edinburgh’s Jazz Bar, at least six people were recording the show on their mobile phones.

Welcome to the 21st century.

The relevance will become clear later.

This year, the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for best stunt publicising an act or  show at the Edinburgh Fringe was jointly won by Kunt and the Gang and his publicist Bob Slayer.

I saw Kunt’s penultimate Fringe show in Edinburgh last week and afterwards I thought maybe, as well as the Cunning Stunt Award, we should have nominated him for the Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award.

Bob Slayer was very keen on Kunt last year.

He harassed me into seeing the act upstairs at the small and cramped Meadow Bar as part of the Free Festival. I remember I was very impressed by Kunt’s talent, but thought there was an inevitable potential professional cul-de-sac ahead.

If you are called Kunt and you sing very explicitly about sex – however amusingly – you just ain’t going (at this moment in time) to get on BBC Radio, let alone TV; and you are not going to get signed by any major record label in the current economic climate, if at all.

I suggested to Kunt last year that, parallel to his Kunt and the Gang act, he could start to develop a second songwriting career not involving explicitly sexual lyrics; I thought he could make a fortune writing equally clever lyrics to equally compulsive pop tunes – whereas, with Kunt and the Gang’s songs, he would only make a decent, if steady, living playing to Chav and Torremolinos type audiences and he would be limited forever to that niche market.

He was not convinced.

And now, well…

I think I was wrong.

Watching his penultimate show in Edinburgh this year changed my mind.

I remembered Kunt had genuinely clever lyrics but they really are wonderfully clever. Not just the lyrics, but the vast use of populist names. And the songs have wonderfully bopalong tunes. He tells me the tunes are highly-influenced by 1980s TV ads. Whatever their origin, I sat through an hour of songs and every one was a can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head top pop tune.

His show as part of the Free Festival this year, at The Hive, had no weak spots – the songs were fascinating, the presentation he managed to vary – and he unleashed some kitsch 80s pop video choreography which last year’s Meadow Bar show had been too physically restricted to show off.

It was a 5-star show; a 100% Heat magazine crowd pleaser.

And it was the audience which changed my mind about Kunt.

For one thing, the venue was overflowing; it was an amazingly over-full house.

Then there were the smatterings of people in the audience who were singing along with the lyrics. They knew the songs well and not just the choruses – they knew every word of the verses too. This was a real pop music gig. Kunt has a solid fan base.

They had clearly watched the videos (which oddly have less energy and impact than his live performances) and/or downloaded the albums (which equally oddly are on iTunes – a particular shock to me as iTunes surreally removed the Killer Bitch DVD within three days for being distastefully OTT).

A few years ago, Kunt and the Gang would have had very limited potential but now everything is changing fast.

People are recording Andi Neate gigs on their smartphones.

Sales of books, newspapers, magazines, CDs and DVDs appear to be in unstoppable free-fall because of internet viewing and downloads.

Most of Kunt’s songs may still be currently utterly untransmittable on radio or TV and he may never get a recording contract from a major record label, but who buys CDs any more? Increasingly fewer people. They go to iTunes instead.

Kunt is potentially a major cult internet download target for the World of Warcraft and iPod generation and word of mouth could turn Kunt and the Gang into a high-grossing name.

Maybe.

Who knows?

In the current maelstrom of rapidly-changing media, who really knows what is going on and what may happen? Not me.

In Kunt’s recent fake Edinburgh Fringe press release, he and Bob Slayer wrote:

I know who my audience is and they find us naturally through the internet or word of mouth. They are proper people like bricklayers, carpet fitters, shop workers, central heating engineers, students and drug dealers.”

There is a lot of truth in that and what is being described is a mass-market British audience.

There is the Daily Mail audience and there is the Chav audience.

Both are massive.

Guardian-readers? A tiny if vocal minority.

Forget them.

Never underestimate the Daily Mail readership.

Never underestimate Essex man and woman.

Kunt and the Gang is potentially massive with one of those two audiences.

Meanwhile, on a more domestic front, my MacBook Pro laptop does not work, my Hoover does not work and the kitchen has partially flooded one drip at a time during the four weeks I have been away in Edinburgh, despite the fact the water supply was turned off…

Don’t ask. Don’t intrude on private grief.

Real life? Don’t talk to me about real life.

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Cut out the music industry middle-men, think small and make big money

I got a Facebook message from Ben Peel in Bradford, saying:

“I would love you to go check out my home-made video from my debut single here. It will sure make you smile. I have currently just released my debut album – which can be previewed here. ”

I don’t know Ben Peel nor his band The Wool City Folk Club, but his video and songs are interesting.

Quite soon some unknown person is going to achieve worldwide fame and become a millionaire through YouTube clips and subsequent audio or video downloads. Maybe the Arctic Monkeys have already done it, but only on a limited scale.

Perhaps in a couple of years time, Ben Peel will be a multi-millionaire.

Or maybe not.

The world is changing fast but no-one knows what the fuck is going on or what they’re supposed to be doing.

Shortly before Apple announced their new iCloud service, I wrote a blog in which I mentioned the on-going death of the traditional record industry – by which I meant vinyl, tapes, CDs and DVDs sold in shops.

The blog resulted in some interesting feedback.

Hyphenate creative Bob Slayer (he’s a comedian-promoter-rock group manager) reacted:

“It is at worst a myth and at best very misleading to say that the record industry is dying – there is more demand for music then ever. What has happened over the last ten years is that the music industry has completely reinvented itself. The X-Factor has had an effect and a smaller number of pop artists are selling a high number of records. They still operate in a similar way to the traditional industry.

“But everywhere else has radically changed so that the artist (and their management) can play a much more hands-on role in controlling their own careers.”

Mr Methane, the world’s only professional farter, who knows a thing or two about self-promotion and has made his own music CDs produced by former Jethro Tull drummer Barrie Barlow, tells me:

“Large record labels no longer have the money to keep well-known acts on retainers or publishing contracts like they used to and have pressed the ejector seat. New and well-known acts are not as a rule getting huge piles of money thrown at them to go away and make an album. The Stone Roses’ great rock ’n’ roll heist, where they made one decent album then got a shed load of money advanced to make another and did sweet FA, just would not happen in today’s economic climate – or at least it would be highly unlikely.”

We have entered the entrance hall of an iTunes world of downloads with megastars and small self-producing, self-promoting unknowns where good middle-ranking performers and groups will potentially be squeezed out. It is much like comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe, where the big TV names and unknowns on the Free Fringe and Free Festival pull in crowds, but it is increasingly tough for very good, experienced middle-rankers with no TV exposure.

Ben Peel, just starting out in the music business, says:

“The digital realm does not have time for people who are solely musicians. You have to evolve into some type of super musician / marketing guru to be able make an impact amongst people. I have to be 50% musician, 50% marketing and branding. The digital realm is creating a new generation of musician: one-man machines cutting out the middle-men. The downside is that the middle-men had collateral – and contacts.”

Self-promotion ability is vital, though Ben thinks e-mails are outdated in publicity terms.

“I do a gig… and send an email out… I get ten people there…. I do a gig and throw out a 30 second YouTube short… one a week on the run-up to a gig…. I get two hundred people to attend and the exposure of the viral promoting and people re posting is priceless…. You cannot buy ‘word of mouth’ promoting …. you can only inspire it through something quirky/ original/ funny/ catchy etc.”

Bob Slayer manages not only the wonderful Japanese rock group Electric Eel Shock but also internet phenomenon Devvo and tells me:

“At his height, Devvo was achieving over a million hits on every YouTube clip we put online. We had no control over who was viewing them but, as they were mostly passed around between friends, he found his natural audience. Devvo is not really understood outside the UK, so that massive following came largely from the UK and predominantly in the north. It meant that, he could easily sell-out medium sized venues anywhere north of Birmingham and strangely also in Wales but, for example, we struggled to sell tickets in Brighton.”

Financially-shrewd Mr Methane has so far failed to dramatically ‘monetise’ the more than ten million worldwide hits on just one of several YouTube clips of his Britain’s Got Talent TV appearance. but he sold shedloads of CDs and DVDs via his website after appearances on shock jock Howard Stern’s American radio and TV shows because small local radio stations across the US then started playing his tracks. They were small local stations, but there were a lot of them.

Only Bo Burnham, winner of the 2010 Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award, who straddles music and comedy like Mr Methane and started as an online phenomenon, seems to have got close to turning YouTube clips into more mainstream success and music downloads.

The fact Mr Methane made a lot of money online, sitting at home in Britain, after very specifically local US radio exposure is interesting, though.

At the bottom of his e-mails, Ben Peel has a signature:

“Dwarves are like tents… a lot easier to get out of the bag than they are to put back in.”

Yes indeed. And that is very true with new technology. But it made me remember something else.

Years ago, I attended a Writers’ Guild of Great Britain meeting where the speaker’s message was “The way to make money is not to think big but to think small.”

He suggested that one way to make money was to create a weekly five or ten minute audio insert which could be run within local US radio shows. If anyone could come up with an idea, made in Britain, which would be of interest to Americans on a weekly basis, you could sell it to local US stations at a very low price.

If you tried to sell the mighty PBS network a weekly half hour show for £2,000 it was unlikely they would buy it.

But any small local US radio station could afford to pay £5 for a weekly five or ten minute insert. If you could sell that same insert to 499 other small local US radio stations (not competing against each other because they are small purely local stations), you would be grossing £2,500 per week for creating a five or ten minute item. And you could distribute it down a telephone line.

If you could persuade the stations to buy it for £10 – around $15 – still throwaway money – then, of course, you would be making £5,000 per week.

The trick was to price low and sell in volume.

That was before iTunes, which became successful by that very same model of micro-pricing. It was worth buying a single music track if it only cost 79c in the US or 79p in the UK. If iTunes had priced a single music track at £1.60 in the UK, they would almost certainly have sold less than half as many units, so would have grossed less money.

Think small. Think cheap. Think volume.

Modern technology allows ordinary bands to record, mix, cut and put their own tracks on iTunes alongside music industry giants. It also allows people in New Zealand to listen to and watch Ben Pool on YouTube just as easily as people in Bradford can see him play a live gig.

Think small. Think cheap. Think volume. Think worldwide.

Just as some comedians are looking into e-publishing, bypassing traditional publishers, Ben Pool in Bradford and local bands in South East London can now expand beyond selling their own CDs after gigs and could reach a worldwide paying audience of millions with no music industry middle-men.

Last year, I wrote a blog titled Britain’s Got Talent in Pubs about an astonishing regular pub gig I saw in South East London featuring Bobby Valentino and Paul Astles.

A week ago, I saw Paul Astles perform again, this time with his seven-man band Shedload of Love in their monthly gig at The Duke pub on Creek Road, Deptford, not far from Malcolm Hardee’s old Up The Creek comedy club. They also play the Wickham Arms in Brockley every month. They are astonishingly good. Formed in 2004, they recently recorded an album at Jools Holland’s studio in Greenwich.

Both the Paul Astles bands are world-class, playing mostly locally but, if promoted on the internet, they could garner a worldwide following with no music industry middle-men.

There are, of course, as with anything involving creativity and cyberspace, those big words IF and COULD.

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Filed under Comedy, Internet, Music, PR, Radio, Rock music