No, Google. Just No!

November 20th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

We see what you did there…

Bye Bye, Spotify :(

November 11th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

I just cancelled my Spotify Premium membership.
Those who know me probably realise that this is huge for me.
I loved Spotify. When I originally discovered it, it was a light-in-the-eyes, Marcellus Wallace’s briefcase moment. When I signed up for Spotify premium I thought that it was a way of supporting artists directly, offering another way to sell their music. On top of this it was an excellent method of discovering new music.
Before Spotify, if someone mentioned a band and said you should listen to them, I had two or three choices -– I could borrow a copy of an album from a friend, play it, give it back and then buy it. Or I could buy it on spec and maybe hate it and never listen to it again. Or I could just pirate it -– either directly from my friend’s copy or from The Internets, and, if I had no friends that had the record or the type of music I wanted to hear, then I was stumped – piracy or blind-buying were the only options.
Then along came Spotify and, seemingly, a marvellous, glittering Fourth Way — track after track, album after album, sortable, playlist-ready, shareable and freely available. And that is important – freely available. Ok, so I paid a monthly premium for it or I had to listen to adverts and in a slightly lower quality (which, let’s face it, you’re not going to notice unless you have some serious equipment to play it back on) but essentially it was that magical word: FATPOD. Free at the Point of Delivery -– the way, in an ideal world, all art should be.
Suddenly, I could try new music at the click of a button. Not just a song or an album, but entire back-catalogues and an accompanying biography. I could follow an artist’s progression from debut to dotage, instantly and seamlessly and, if I liked it, I could buy the album, or all the albums. I could find other artists in a chosen genre or versions of a given song by a thousand different artists.
I loved it!
buy ALL the albumsIt was a lip-trembling moment of wide-eyed joy not equalled since Pinky succeeded in opening the vault at Fort Knox. I shouted and screamed and championed its cause left, right, and centre, until people grew bored of hearing about it from me. I thought it was win-win — a way to eliminate music piracy if we could just encourage enough people to use the service so that more and larger acts would make their material available.
I had a vision of Spotify championing the music and the artists, of freeing music up for the masses while still making money for the musicians. Rather naive of me, I know, but the alternative for downloading music at that point was pretty much piracy or nothing, unless you wanted DRM dictating how and when you listened to your music. At least, I thought, this was sending some money to the artists as I digitally restocked and re-lived my old vinyl collection.
So why cancel?
Well, I cancelled for pretty much the same reason I originally joined: I’m a musician, I love music and I believe in supporting the creators of things that I love, not just for some altruistic (or even non-altruistic) pay-it-forward sensibility, but because I want them to keep making the stuff that keeps me entertained.
However, the music industry is one of the few industries where the genuine makers of the art, the people who carry the art forward and breed the next generation of artist, are at the very bottom of the food chain. Back in the days of vinyl the recording industry was perhaps not balanced, but it was an ecosystem where the jobbing musician could survive, and in some cases even thrive. Sure, the record company fat cats were out there, chowing down, but there was money to be made and a halfway decent cut for the artist. The advent of the digital market though changed that. At first ignored by the labels, the internet was a bit of the Wild West for a while, until the industry noticed that their revenues were slowing down. Quite rightly, the Industry chaps decided that this would not do and they wanted a slice of the pie for their efforts.
On entering a brave new world one would think that the approach would be eyes-wide, arms open and baby steps. Unfortunately however, the industry fat cats were having none of that, and opted for a stance of blinkered belligerence and a nail-studded club in place of a peace pipe, flinging lawsuits here and there, stomping on the little guys that were the end user of their product, alienating them irrevocably. They didn’t want their fair slice of the pie: They wanted the whole pie. And the pie tin. And control of the oven that made the pie. And the pie delivery truck. And the very ownership of Pie — word and concept.
Unfortunately, with this being such a new arena, those in charge of judging the legality, blame and consequences of the initial free-for-all were at a loss for both precedence and context and instead of recognising the death of The Old Way, reverted to The Old Way’s rulings — not to bring back parity or equity but in a punitive, shock and awe kind of way: We won’t teach you the error of your ways, we will instead beat you to death with the book that explains those errors.
The end result is the situation as it stands, the knee jerk reaction of those early cases not restoring a status quo, but throwing mountains of digital profit at the labels that had made the noise and forgetting the artists themselves. Artists profits for vinyl sales could almost equal those for the record company. In the digital arena you’re lucky to see a tenth of the profit.
The recording industry is now a feeding frenzy — a fly-clouded mountain of bloated vultures, chomping on the carcasses of the labouring musicians beneath them, vomiting back just enough nourishment to sustain the muso-cattle’s output– while ignoring the fact that without the artists there would be no industry, no labels… and no Spotify.
And the sad Truth is, as you must know if you’ve been reading the news/twitter/facebook recently, that Spotify is simply an extension of the same outdated but self-perpetuating business model that that has kept the music industry an elite boys’ club for decades.
Having recently seen just how pitiful the artists royalties from Spotify play actually are (4/10000 of of a cent, anyone) I feel that it is very wrong of me to support the platform any longer.
It may be argued that the fault here lies with the record labels, that they negotiate the contract, but responsibility also lies with those people who support the record labels and their anachronistic business models.
Spotify could have changed all of this and made the playing field flat again.
Don’t believe that? Let’s do a bit of maths:
Spotify has over twenty million users. Now, I’m not even going to broach the filthy amounts of revenue a proven customer base of 20,000,000 users can generate in advertising exposure, but consider this: Of those users, over five million pay a premium of between £5 and £10 per month ($8-16). That means that the Spotify accountants are dealing with around twenty-five to fifty million pounds. PER MONTH.
That’s up to £600,000,000 per annum.
And that’s only counting the money made from 25% of their customer base.
That is a game-changingly obscene amount of money.
Some might say that Spotify have only been around since 2008 and could not possibly have foreseen their own popularity but, think about the point made above about convenience, about the huge, instant, global music collection. This is a service that could not fail. This was always going to be huge.
Spotify could and should have been something glorious, a chance to open up music to the world for various interpretations of Free, while still allowing the artist to make a very decent living from their music and still make a good profit for themselves.
Instead, they chose what has unfortunately become the mantra of the modern age -– get rich quick, which is usually followed by an under-the-breath “and fuck anyone who gets in the way”.
The record companies’ early posturing probably scared the then-newly-fledged Spotify into accepting draconian terms for their wares, but Spotify should have had, if not the foresight to see their own potential power, then the present day courage to stand up and admit the truth that the music industry seems to want to ignore:

The artists is everything.
These are the people you should be working to reward.
Without them you have no commodity.

Adventures In Racism.

November 28th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

I don’t have the words to express my feelings at Racist Tram Woman (youTube. Warning: NSFW language, NSFAnwhere diatribe).
My first emotion – shared, I would hope, with most decent and educated people – is obviously anger. Crude ignorance of this level breeds rage more easily than anything else – a fiery, white-hot ire that takes your tongue and leaves you only shaking and clenching fists and jaws. Unfortunately, this vileness feeds on and, in the eyes of one so ignorant, is validated by, that same rage. It’s a horrific vicious circle that takes every whit of my willpower to break away from.
Beneath the anger is a numbing incomprehension.
I believe we all tend to cast the world and everyone in it in our own image, and that image can be as simple or as complex as our upbringing and as all-encompassing or non-inclusive as our education. Our beliefs and attitudes are informed by the environment we find ourselves in, particularly – but not exclusively – in our formative years, and then we spend our lives (hopefully) expanding on those values. I have a dual heritage – black African on my father’s side, white English on my mother’s. I also have a duality in my upbringing – I lived as one of only two or three non-white families in a predominantly white-Irish area of Birmingham (though the post-code hinted at the rather gentler Hall Green, the reality of the locale was entirely working-class Gospel Farm). Brought up by a single, white parent in this down-to-earth white area, what racism I encountered – and I encountered it often enough looking back – was for the most part lightweight and low voltage enough to wash over me as the norm. It was the sort of embedded societal racism that is administered without thought or hate or any real judgement; it’s “just the way things are”. Sure, I occasionally got called Tarbrush, but at least they let me into their houses and let me play with their sons and daughters.
Don’t get me wrong – the area wasn’t a hotbed of racist fervour, filled with a gaggle of cross-burning hillbillies, chomping on chitlins and waiting for their next lynching. For the most part the families I grew up round were salt-of-the-earth hard-working folks, kind and generous, from amongst whom I still have friends to this day. But the world was a very different place then – the world of Mind Your Language and Love Thy Neighbour on prime-time telly. A world where we read the tale of Little Black Sambo in infant school and I took part – in full black-face – in The Black & White Minstrel Show for one year’s school play. A world of a thousand constant tiny reminders that you were different and therefore not quite as good or important as everyone else.
It was just the way it was.
And anyway, I was okay because I was “one of the alright ones”.
I suppose this sort of thinking led child-me to reason that racism was something that everyone faced to start with but you could earn your way out of it by being quietly good-natured about the whole thing.
This ‘merit’ system held unacknowledged sway in my head for some time and I flexed my own racist powers in the same learned, low-level way in my young years, using “pakis” – newly arrived Indian and Pakistani families – as a handy bullseye that I could share with my white neighbours . As an added bonus, acting this way towards these Asian families made me even more of an “alright one” with the people around me.
I don’t remember the specific catalyst for my own eye opening, but, through a mixture of education, self-awareness and exposure – both as a victim to more sinister and violent forms of racism, and to the victims of my own prejudice – I realised that the world was not my neighbourhood, and my neighbourhood not the world and that what people around you do and say, though seemingly The Way of Things, is not necessarily normal or the norm. I learnt that the pakis and the wogs and the ragheads and chinks were people. Like me. Exactly like me. So much so that I myself was a wog when spoken of in my absence. And that these epithets, though mildly used and low in voltage, were a convenient first step on a very dark and nasty road, a road full of shambling horrors and pitfalls and danger that leads eventually to places with names like Lynch-Mob and Pogrom and Genocide.
And yet all of this was simply a learned way of interacting with those new faces and sounds and smells around our neighbourhood. The people there weren’t evil, they themselves were second and third generation immigrant stock who twenty or thirty years before had faced similar prejudice. Ninety-nine percent of those people were fine people, though as ignorant of other cultures or the niceties of social integration as I was myself. If I meet any of them now they are usually lovely, warm welcoming people, sometimes a little rough around the edges, but never anything other than that.
But the other one percent…
I’ve rather bizarrely had some Facebook friend requests from some of them, only to check out their profile and see that they are BNP supporters or that every other status update was about immigrants doing this or “blacks and pakis” doing that
In these few the low-level, low-voltage seed took hold and produced unreasoning, unquestioning hatred. They not only have no frame of reference in which to reconfigure their perception of other people and cultures, they have no need or desire for it, only a world-searing, animalistic malignance that should not exist in this day and age.
No matter how many times I come across, or am the target of, such blind hatred, the thing that I find most difficult to process is not the injustice or ugliness of it, but the utter lack of self-awareness that it shows. I can’t comprehend of a mind so lacking in compassion and empathy or just plain decency, that they can’t see that the people around them are just people. That the racist could really see those people as less than the racist themselves, simply because of their colour, is so utterly bizarre to me that just about every time it has happened to me in my life, my first reaction has been a surprised half-chuckle, followed by a blinking mental reboot as I realise that no, this is not a joke: This is what this person actually believes to be true.
As I said, I believe we cast other people in our own image and we tend to project ourselves into them. I want to believe that Racist Tram Woman’s scattergun ranting is a product of ignorance and environment. That, given a light to shine on herself, she would see – as I once did – just how that way of thinking robs not only her victims but also herself – both of dignity and of experience.
But in this case I think she is of the one percent, and the light would only find a cold core of hate in a dry void.
For this reason, and those listed at length above, I am as reflexively afraid of Racist Tram Woman as she is of me and my brown skin. And like her, I can do nothing but wish her away.

Welcome to Birmingham.

March 22nd, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

And America thought it had the monopoly on weird rednecks…

Birmingham man who had sex with sheep jailed – Sunday Mercury.

Listen to Yourselves

March 11th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

“You need to identify this man before someone kills me”
David Calvert

No, they need to restore order and reason before someone kills you.
I hope the tabloids are pleased with themselves when someone does get hurt.

And neither is my wife...

44 Blues

April 7th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Had the blues, then got some new strings for my guitar and finally figured out a reliable way of mounting my camera onto my guitar without a/ making it unplayable or b/ being in danger of twisting the next off.
Anyway, for your delectation, here is my rendition of 44 Blues…

Best Photo-Cataloguing Software?

March 10th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

I need your help.
I’ve been into photography – both as a viewer and a photographer – for a long long time. I’ve also been designing for web and print for some time. I also save any images that catch my eye on the internet, be they advertising, funnies, art, stock or erm… entertainment. This means that over the years I have accumulated many, many thousands of images spread across hundreds of folders on three or four different hard drives.
I have decided that instead of choosing folders in which to save images – followed at a later date by a frustrating search for the image when I want it – the answer is to simply dump the whole lot into a single folder. All of them, no sub-folders, or separate drives, nothing. then I’ll use tagging and/or cataloguing software to sort it all into a searchable, comprehensible image library.
The question is, what software to use? I know of Picassa but have not used it since its beta stage when it was ok but a bit… clunky
So, what software can I use to achieve the above scenario? Or are you thinking, “God, no! Don’t do it!!”
Oh, one more thing – free is the new black.
Oh, one more more thing – it must work with all image formats, or at least with PSD, TIFF, PNG, EPS, GIF and JPG.

Two Wrongs

June 24th, 2008 § 2 comments § permalink

________

Update: YouTube got rid of the video on me so here’s the song again. Not quite the same without seeing Snoop line dancing and singing the chorus with Willie Nelson, but I still like it.
________

Two wrongs don’t make a right. That’s what my mother used to say to me.
There are many things that I have found over the years to prove my mother wrong. Unfortunately, as child I didn’t know what I know now so she got away with it all.
I didn’t know, for instance, that if you take the sickly-sweet wrongness of Malibu, mix it in equal measure with the equally, barfmakingly wrong Bailey’s Irish Cream and pour it over ice, the double wrongness become very, very right.
Similarly, take two other very, very wrong things:

  • Country & Western music and
  • Snoop Doggy Dog(g?)

I know what you’re thinking – “there’s no need to worry about those two getting together beacuse… well… you know…”
Either one of these alone is enough to make me gnaw my own foot off to escape it and yet… Mom, you lied to me again

An 80’s Odyssey

September 11th, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

Cheesy moments from history (and my record collection).
Looking through my old and neglected vinyl – purchased from the age of eleven onwards – I decided to see what I could find of it on YouTube. Here are some selected results…

Donna AllenSerious
I bought the 12-inch of this when it came out because I loved the mad harmonies in the chorus (although they’re a bit lost in this mix. I still have it, I still love them, but I really wish I could turn the drums down.
Oh, and there’s no excuse for yellow spandex, Donna. None at all.

Five StarStay Out of My Life
I’d forgotten I owned this. Sound-wise, it’s a catchy one but I’m amazed at how much of an aural rip-off of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears. Not in the music itself per se but in the production and subtleties like the guitar sound and solo style and the arpeggio accent to much of the song.
Also, what the christ is going on with the lead singer’s eyebrows?

RushCountdown
Spread my entire album, single and CD collection around a football field, don a blindfold and fire an arrow into the air. Chances are it will hit something by Rush.
Here’s a song from the Signals album, written after they visited the launch of the Columbia Space Shuttle. It was a weird period for Rush, not one of their best but with brief glimpses of old glory and genius.

Judas PriestTurbo Lover
Don’t tell anyone, but I love the album Turbo. People who love Judas Priest generally slag it off, but I’m not that big a Priest fan and I love it. Puerile lyrics and one long metal cliché, but by god, it rocks.
What a bizarrely shit video though.

Go WestDon’t Look Down Girl
Yes, I own Go West’s debut album. Again it’s the loud-drum-big-snare production that dates it, otherwise it’s a great album. Peter Cox may not win any prizes for his dancing (or his miming) but he’s got a voice I’d kill for.
I love this song although, as with all their videos, they’ve changed it somewhat for this and added some weird noises and such. Still as cheesy pop-rock goes, it’s excellent and I can’t help buzzing a little bit when I hear it.

Night RangerDon’t Tell me You Love Me
Yes, 80’s Hair Rock. Ok so they video (which they won’t allow me to embed so you have to click here) contains much guitar wanking and slo-mo hair but say what you like about NightRanger, they weren’t afraid of furious, chugging dual-guitar riffs, and they knew how to end a song.

The SugarcubesHit
Not strictly 80s, more early 90s but this track from the album Stick Around For Joy is a classic and a reminder of just how fucking good the Sugarcubes were. Also the video is a reminder of just how beautiful mental warble-pixie Björk was before madness ate her face.

I think that ought to do you for now…

Found it!

September 8th, 2004 § 0 comments § permalink

Remember when I asked what poem this excerpt came from?

Scratch’d by a fall, with moans
As children of weak age
Lend life to the dumb stones
Whereon to vent their rage.
And bend their little fists, and rate the senseless ground;

Well, I found it today after all these years of searching. It is actually from an epic poem by Matthew Arnold called Empedocles on Etna. The bit that I read all those years ago is just a small part of the whole thing but it is a small piece of genius and sums up my feelings on religion and the reasoning behind man’s apparent need for it…

Born into life—who lists
May what is false hold dear,
And for himself make mists
Through which to see less clear;
The world is what it is, for all our dust and din.

[…]

Nature, with equal mind,
Sees all her sons at play
Sees man control the wind,
The wind sweep man away;
Allows the proudly-riding and the founder’d bark.

And, lastly, though of ours
No weakness spoil our lot,
Though the non-human powers
Of Nature harm us not.
The ill-deeds of other men make often our life dark.

What were the wise man’s plan?
Through this sharp, toil-set life,
To fight as best he can.
And win what’s won by strife.
But we an easier way to cheat our pains have found.

Scratch’d by a fall, with moans
As children of weak age
Lend life to the dumb stones
Whereon to vent their rage.
And bend their little fists, and rate the senseless ground;

So, loath to suffer mute.
We, peopling the void air,
Make Gods to whom to impute
The ills we ought to bear;
With God and Fate to rail at, suffering easily.

Yet grant as sense long miss’d
Things that are now perceive’d,
And much may still exist
Which is not yet believ’d
Grant that the world were full of Gods we cannot see;

All things the world which fill
Of but one stuff are spun,
That we who rail are still,
With what we rail at, one;

Genius.