The Only Bands that Matter…………..


I was given my first album at age 5, a disc by the band The Four Seasons. They were a cheesy vocal pop band that competed with the Beach Boys at the top of the charts in the early sixties. (you’ll notice that they don’t appear on the list later in this blog) From that moment I was hooked. I have been collecting and, more importantly, listening to music compulsively. I don’t watch TV. I don’t follow sports (I do enjoy baseball as a live spectator sport)  Now why, you may ask, do you give a damn about this little personal biography?

50,000,000 fans can't be wrong

50,000,000 fans can’t be wrong

Oops!  Forgot one or two

Oops! Forgot one or two

It’s simple really. For the past 48 years I have been listening to music, mainly rock, and learning what counts, what is related to whom and what is truly worth listening to. If you are in a band then listening to other bands is the most important thing you can do. It’s research. It’s what influences your thinking and what shapes your music.

If you are a young musician then most likely you are obsessed with one or two bands or at best obsessed with a particular rock movement like Nordic speed death metal with superhero themed concept albums. This is natural when you are young. You are developing your sense of aesthetics. (feel free to look that word up, I did) You may also be convinced that French guitar pop or Early 80’s straight edge hardcore or Electronica or Zydeco or Polka blues is the most important music in the universe. You are wrong.  It is very important to you and it has its place in the great pastiche of rock but it is not the only form of rock that is important.

The most common mistake bands make (other than not firing the drummer)is they are too focused on the one or two bands that they love. As a result they end up sounding just like the bands that they admire (or worship) and end up making music that is a pale imitation of another band.

I have listened to thousands of demos in the past thirty years. Really great bands are rare. Really bad bands are equally rare and often can be highly entertaining because they are so awesomely bad (The Shags for example) the vast majority are OK, mediocre, uneventful and they are always derivative.  This is the mistake that almost every band makes; they sound like another, successful band.  They fail to do anything new, to do anything risky, and to do anything that makes them truly special. Why listen to a band that sounds like the Black Keys? Why not just listen to the Black Keys?

No one bought our record and now we're the theme song to that 70's show

No one bought our record and now we’re the theme song to that 70’s show

That brings us to the subject of this blog and likely a few more to follow – What bands really count? What bands are great?  And I mean undeniably great. I intend to list a shitload of bands in an effort to outline a good basic knowledge of rock and roll. As you read through the list you will likely say to yourself, ‘hell, I know all these guys. There is nothing new here’. That may be so. I doubt it but assuming you do know all of these bands are there any on the list that you haven’t heard? If it’s on the list and you haven’t heard it then you should check it out then wonder ‘what other cool bands are out there?’.

I am also posting this list to spur people to comment. Please suggest additions to the list. Feel free to criticize my choices and to justify your suggestions. I know that I have ignored large sections of rock history. This is a result of putting together a quick list. Feel free to post bands the comments section.

I will be posting some lists from other people soon. I am certain that the following lists will highlight some of the holes in my first list.

Finally I’ll close with a rock anecdote. When Columbia records acquired The Clash for the American reissue of the first Clash record and for all the follow up records someone at the label’s PR department came up with the slogan “The Only Band that Matters!” In one of those truly rare moments in history the record label had it right. In many ways The Clash were the most important Punk band and Punk was the most important change to come along in a decade.  Over the intervening years it became apparent that The Clash summed up and perfected all of the elements that made Punk important.  You may disagree with this opinion or you may agree.  If you never had bothered to listen to the Clash’s five main albums could you really claim to have an understanding of Punk and be certain that your Punk band is really something fresh and new, something great with a capital G?

This is Rock

This is Rock

[for the sake of brevity I have only included bands and artists from the first 4 decades of rock, that is to say 1950 to 1990]

Classification(s)  B-blues, J-Jazz, P-Punk, PR-Prog Rock, CR – Classic Rock, F-Jazz/Rock Fusion, H- Hardcore, I-Influential, S- Soul, A- Alternative Rock, N- New Wave, O – Folk, SY-Psychedelic Rock, C-Country, Reggae –R, Metal – M, Glam Rock -G


The only bands that matter Part 1

The Clash – P, The Sex Pistols – P, The Buzzcocks – P, The Damned – P, The Germs -H, The Dead Kennedys – H, Mission of Burma – A, The Modern Lovers – I & A, Velvet Underground –I & A, The Beatles – CR, John Lennon – CR, Paul McCartney -CR, George Harrison – CR,  Big Star I &  CR & S, The Small Faces -CR, The Faces -CR, David Bowie -G, Robert Johnson – B, The Kinks CR, Jimi Hendrix –CR, Creedence Clearwater Revival –CR, Velvet Underground-I, The Soft Boys- I, The Pogues – P, The Band – CR, XTC- N, Nick Drake – O, Tim Buckley – O, Fairport Convention – O, Sandy Denny –O, Richard Thompson –O, Traffic –CR, The Byrds –CR, The Ramones –P, The New York Dolls – I, Yes – PR, King Crimson – PR, Frank Zappa –PR, Captain Beefheart  – I, The Talking Heads – N The Creation – SY, Love-SY,  Scott Walker –SY, The Pixies –I & A, Genesis –PR,  Leon Russell -CR, Cream –CR, Derek and The Dominoes – CR, Hank Williams –C, Johnny Cash – C, The Dictators – P Tommy Roe –CR, Jimmy Webb –CR, Joni Mitchell –CR, Janis Joplin CR-, Lou Reed –I, Jethro Tull –CR, Echo and the Bunnymen –N, Bebop Deluxe – N, War – S, Sam and Dave –S, Otis Redding – S,  James Brown –S, Gang of Four –N, The Smiths –N, Curtis Mayfield – S, Booker T and MGs – S, Ray Charles –S, Blind Lemon Jefferson – B, Bob Marley and the Wailers –R, Peter Tosh – R, Jimmy Cliff –R ,  Bob Dylan –CR, Led Zeppelin –CR & B,  Van Morrison – CR & S, Temptations –S, Ike and Tina Turner –S, Peter Gabriel –N, The Who –CR,  The Rolling Stones – CR, The Dead Boys – P, REM – A, Flamin’ Groovies – I, Thelonius Monk – J, John Coltrane – J, Charlie Parker –J. Count Basie – J, Chet Baker – J, Santana –CR, The Feelies – A, John Cale – I & A,  The Replacements – I & A, Deep Purple – I & CR, Little Feat – CR, Grateful Dead –CR, Metallica – M, T Rex – G, U2 – N, Elvis PResley – CR, Buddy Holly – CR, Beach Boys – CR

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

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New Format and things I like…………..


Any old readers, returning to this blog, will notice that I have dumped the old format of Black and Red. It worked well for awhile but as the number of posts grew it became unmanageable. So I have trotted out a new format.

I haven’t posted in a dogs age. Instead I have been compiling everything I have written and expanding the material for a book. This, unfortunately is not as fun or easy as tossing a blog up onto the web.  Feel free to send comments on the idea of a book and what should be included.

Well that’s enough blather, on to today’s subject – listening to cool bands.

So far all of my postings have dealt with the mechanics of being in a band and promoting yourself up the food chain. I haven’t spent much time writing about music. Music, is, of course, central to the whole damn experience of being in a band. In some of my early blogs I posted what I was listening to as I was writing. I did that to, hopefully, turn people on to cool bands that they hadn”t heard.

A large part of being in a successful band is writing undeniably cool music. Even if you are gunning to be the next Madonna you need to understand cool music and have a good grounding of all the rock gods that have come before.  The more you listen to music the greater the spread of your tastes should become. For me this is certainly the truth. I have been steadily listening to music since 1966 and I am still finding cool things that are new to me.  If you only listen to your favorite band and the half dozen other bands that sound like them you are doomed to writing music that is derivative and likely boring. Your influences are like a color pallet is to a painter. You need many colors and influences in order to have depth and art to your music. You can argue that Picasso painted cubist masterpieces with one basic color scheme. You would be correct.  If you are the equivalent of Picasso in his blue period then you don’t need my advice on influences. Of course Picasso traveled through the history of painting and explored color and light and perspective masterfully before he decided to reinvent art by becoming a cubist.  If you ever had the great fortune to meet Picasso and ask him how to be a great painter, and he answered your question (he was notorious for being cryptic). He would likely tell you to teach yourself the history of art.  It’s the same in music. You need to know the past in order to forge ahead.

So my advice in today’s blog is to learn to listen to new things. Be aggressive about it. Dig into the info on bands you love and find out what their influences were. Then listen to those bands/artists. This will take you down new paths that will provide inspiration.

In my next blog I will post a list of some great bands that you may or may not know. It’s impossible to be comprehensive but the list may introduce you to a few names that you have never heard. I also encourage every reader to post band names in the comment section. DO NOT POST YOUR OWN BAND! That’s a cheap trick and we reserve cheap tricks for me.

© 2012 Brad Morrison/ Billiken Media

Pussy Riot, music as the voice of dissent………………


Those of you that have read my blog know that my main topics of discussion always relate to succeeding with your band. (or music) I write about the practical end of becoming a rock star and getting your music out into the world, or, failing that, the mechanics of making the music or firing your drunken bass player. I have never addressed a deeper, underlying question, why is music so damn important? This, in many ways, has been my motivation to be involved in music and to spend my life listening to or producing music.  Today’s blog will address that core idea and, because they have earned everyone’s support, discuss how Pussy Riot are important.

Courage under fire

Those of you that haven’t now heard of the Pussy Riot trial, yes there may be a few of you living inside an asteroid, orbiting Neptune, with only old MTV to watch on your steam powered wrist watch communicator, Pussy Riot are a Moscow based band. They sound like the Ramones but with Russian lyrics. They love to do outrageous things like fuck in public or, in the story that is taking the world by storm, jump up on the alter of the Orthodox church and shoot a video of them miming one of their songs. The song in question calls the President of Russia a tyrant. I have to assume that is what the lyrics say since I speak Russian a little bit better than I speak Elvish.  They uploaded the video and the shit hit the fan. They were arrested and have spent months in jail while the Russian government and Church fume over the fact that this band pointed out the tyrannical rule of the psycho Vladimir Putin. I am guessing that they picked the Orthodox Church since the Church, historically, has gleefully helped the Russian Rulers oppress and bleed the Russian Population.

The band has now been tried, convicted and sentenced to two years in jail for Hooliganism. For this act of oppression I hope, quite earnestly, that the feral dogs of Moscow get to feast on Vladimir Putin’s entrails. I hope that they get fed this megalomaniac’s liver real soon.  I have stated in another blog that this act of protest by Pussy Riot was a PR stunt. This is certainly true. The band does things like copulate publicly or stage a video on the altar of a church to get in the press, to get people’s attention, to succeed at Rock. There is nothing wrong with the young ladies in question being whores for attention. I expect it of them and their fans  certainly love it anytime they do something outrageous.  This is punk.  Punk, and I can humbly state that I am an expert on the purpose behind Punk, is an art form that at its heart is social protest. Of course the band pulls stunts to become famous, they are doing what any good rock band does to get their music listened to.  The important point here is that their message, and yes they have an intelligent, adult message, is that they are living in a country that isn’t free.  They are voicing the dissent of the young people of Russia. They have guts to do it and they deserve our support for having the courage to stand up and speak out.  They knew that they would get stomped on if they spoke out and that is exactly why they did it.

Music has often been used to voice dissent. Musicians are usually outcasts from everyday society and often see themselves as outsiders looking in on Mainstream life. They are, if they are any good, on the cutting edge of change.  They speak out using their art. They are uniquely qualified to do so. They are compelled to do so. This is the core reason why music is so damn important.  This is why Punk is the most important trend in the late twentieth century. (along with Rap)

The members of Pussy Riot could have chosen to play any style of modern music. They could have taken dance lessons and tried to be the Russian Britney Spears.  They chose to play Punk and Punk is, at its heart, social protest music.  They believe, as many young people in Russia believe, that they are living in an oppressive political system. They’re right. Hell, Vladimir Putin was the former head of the Soviet secret police.

This could be you………..

The band’s uniform, short dresses, punk boots and ski masks is pure genius.  The coming battle over rights will center in many ways around the fact that the world’s power elite are rolling out a complete surveillance system to oppresses us all.  In the years ahead masks are going to become an important part of standing up to oppression. The governments of the world are working very hard to identify, tag and track us all. We, on the other hand, have a right to be anonymous if we choose.  The members of Pussy Riot have made this an issue to fight over. We should all thank them for that courageous act.

The band has been convicted of Hooliganism. The power structure of Russia are treating the band as if what they have done is the equivalent of a drunken soccer fan setting a car on fire.  This is an artful lie. The band are destructive but they are out to destroy a system that is oppressing and controlling the culture they live in.  That is fundamentally different than random mindless destruction.

So please understand the message of this blog. Music has been and can be a powerful vehicle for dissent. It is an idiom that crosses boundaries of language and culture. It has a long history of putting pressure on the world to change for the better. When it moves in that direction I believe that we should all support its purpose.

And finally I will send a message to the scum at the top of the Russian Government. When the band Pussy Riot called attention to your tyranny you had a choice. You would have served your own interests better by ignoring them.  You took the bait and decided to make an example of the band. That was a big mistake since the band knew that you would be forcing the youth of Russia to choose sides.  Now you have a tiger in a sack.

I know that my blog is read by many people in Russia. To those readers I say -stay the course and support this band. They know what they are doing and they are acting as leaders and heroes for all of the youth of Russia……………

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2012

Pussy Riot, music as the voice of dissent………………


Those of you that have read my blog know that my main topics of discussion always relate to succeeding with your band. (or music) I write about the practical end of becoming a rock star and getting your music out into the world, or, failing that, the mechanics of making the music or firing your drunken bass player. I have never addressed a deeper, underlying question, why is music so damn important? This, in many ways, has been my motivation to be involved in music and to spend my life listening to or producing music.  Today’s blog will address that core idea and, because they have earned everyone’s support, discuss how Pussy Riot are important.

Courage under fire

Those of you that haven’t now heard of the Pussy Riot trial, yes there may be a few of you living inside an asteroid, orbiting Neptune, with only old MTV to watch on your steam powered wrist watch communicator, Pussy Riot are a Moscow based band. They sound like the Ramones but with Russian lyrics. They love to do outrageous things like fuck in public or, in the story that is taking the world by storm, jump up on the alter of the Orthodox church and shoot a video of them miming one of their songs. The song in question calls the President of Russia a tyrant. I have to assume that is what the lyrics say since I speak Russian a little bit better than I speak Elvish.  They uploaded the video and the shit hit the fan. They were arrested and have spent months in jail while the Russian government and Church fume over the fact that this band pointed out the tyrannical rule of the psycho Vladimir Putin. I am guessing that they picked the Orthodox Church since the Church, historically, has gleefully helped the Russian Rulers oppress and bleed the Russian Population.

The band has now been tried, convicted and sentenced to two years in jail for Hooliganism. For this act of oppression I hope, quite earnestly, that the feral dogs of Moscow get to feast on Vladimir Putin’s entrails. I hope that they get fed this megalomaniac’s liver real soon.  I have stated in another blog that this act of protest by Pussy Riot was a PR stunt. This is certainly true. The band does things like copulate publicly or stage a video on the altar of a church to get in the press, to get people’s attention, to succeed at Rock. There is nothing wrong with the young ladies in question being whores for attention. I expect it of them and their fans are certainly love it anytime they do something outrageous.  This is punk. Punk, and I can humbly state that I am an expert on the purpose behind Punk, is an artform that at its heart is social protest. Of course the band pulls stunts to become famous, they are doing what any good rock band does to get their music listened to.  The important point here is that their message, and yes they have an intelligent, adult message, was that they are living in a country that isn’t free.  They are voicing the dissent of the young people of Russia. They have guts to do it and they deserve our support for having the courage to stand up and speak out.  They knew that they would get stomped on if they spoke out and that is exactly why they did it.

Music has often been used to voice dissent. Musicians are usually outcasts from everyday society and often see themselves as outsiders looking in on Mainstream life. They are, if they are any good, on the cutting edge of change.  They speak out using their art. They are uniquely qualified to do so. They are compelled to do so. This is the core reason why music is so damn important.  This is why Punk is the most important trend in the late twentieth century. (along with Rap)

The members of Pussy Riot could have chosen to play any style of modern music. They could have taken dance lessons and tried to be the Russian Britney Spears.  They chose to play Punk and Punk is, at its heart social protest music.  They believe, as many young people in Russia believe, that they are living in an oppressive political system. They’re right. Hell, Vladimir Putin was the former head of the Soviet secret police.

This could be you………..

The band’s uniform, short dresses, punk boots and ski masks is pure genius.  The coming battle over rights will center in many ways around the fact that the world’s power elite are rolling out a complete surveillance system to oppresses us all.  In the years ahead masks are going to become an important part of standing up to oppression. The governments of the world are working very hard to identify, tag and track us all. We, on the other hand, have a right to be anonymous is we choose.  The members of Pussy Riot have made this an issue to fight over. We should all thank them for that courageous act.

The band has been convicted of Hooliganism. The power structure of Russia are treating the band as if what they have done is the equivalent of a drunken soccer fan setting a car on fire.  This is an artful lie. The band are destructive but they are out to destroy a system that is oppressing and controlling the culture they live in.  That is fundamentally different than random mindless destruction.

So please understand the message of this blog. Music has been and can be a powerful vehicle for dissent. It is an idiom that crosses boundaries of language and culture. It has a long history of putting pressure on the world to change for the better. When it moves in that direction I believe that we should all support its purpose.

And finally I will send a message to the scum at the top of the Russian Government. When the band Pussy Riot called attention to your tyranny you had a choice. You would have served your own interests better by ignoring them.  You took the bait and decided to make an example of the band. That was a big mistake since the band knew that you would be forcing the youth of Russia to choose sides.  Now you have a tiger in a sack.

I know that my blog is read by many people in Russia. To those readers I say -stay the course and support this band. They know what they are doing and they are acting as leaders and heroes for all of the youth of Russia……………

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2012

Why the Flamin’ Groovies are cool……………….


So do you know about the Flamin’ Groovies? It’s likely that you haven’t heard of them since they are still relatively obscure.  The fact that there is a chance that you’ve heard of them is a major improvement compared to thirty or forty years ago, that is to say, when the Flamin’ Groovies were still a band. They made a few albums. They were signed to a major for a nanosecond.

The coolest trash in San Francisco.........

Then they made their own recordings and released them on little labels. They went through personnel changes. They became hip among  hipsters in France and still no one paid attention. They were ahead of the curve and they could write songs. Here is a video of them on French TV in 1972. The song,  “Slow Death” is in the grand tradition of drug songs like “Waiting for my Man”, “Sister Morphine” etc.

http://youtu.be/EL3pP29N-Wc

The song even got them banned from airplay.  This is often a step towards glory in the sun, success, stadium shows. In their case it never worked. The point of today’s blog is that there is a difference between being cool and being successful. The Groovies are cool. They wrote some great songs which have survived to be covered by other cool bands. They were never successful, at least not in the terms of becoming rock stars.  They did all the things beyond coolness wrong. They signed with a label that promoted kid pop. Since they weren’t kid pop they were ignored by the label.

Don’t take this little tale in the wrong way. Cool is great. Cool is very important. The world needs bands like the Flamin’ Groovies, or Big Star, or Mission of Burma or The Velvet Underground. These bands show us the way to creating music that is new and exciting. My point is that more often than not these bands aren’t very successful.  Instead they are influential. Their music echoes through other bands that go on to make it big.

Big Star is another case of too cool to be huge. They, once again, got signed to the wrong label. They were a Beatlesque band with soul roots signed to a large southern soul label. When I first heard them in 1979 they were completely unknown since they sold less than 3000 records total. They were a hidden treasure. People passed around tapes of their songs from hand to hand. They never made it. When I met Alex Chilton, one of the two writers in the band, he had given up playing for almost a decade and was living in a tent in the woods.  Eventually the girl pop band the bangles would have a hit with alex’s song September Girls. Then, in a cruel twist of fate, another of their tracks became the hit theme song for That 70’s Show, performed by Cheap Trick.  Once again cool wins through but not for the band that was cool.

Too cool for words

The ultimate combo is an ultra cool band that explodes all the way to the top.  If that is you send me your tracks so I can come along for the ride. If not, learn about cool and learn how to make it your own since it will open doors and pack in the fans as you struggle to succeed at rock………..

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2011

Further thoughts on why Major labels suck….


Now it’s 2011. As I mentioned in my Christmas post I intend to add tons of new posts in the first 4 months of 2011.  As of now I don’t have any structure or plan covering these upcoming posts so I will encourage everyone to post their suggested topics as comments. I will certainly be adding more info on recording, playing live and band politics. Beyond that I will just write what comes to mind.

This morning I had a conversation with a musician friend about the demise of the music business.  It’s interesting to note that some people are still arguing that the music business still exists. This is complete lie. The days of the huge labels controlling a massive industry are over. The labels that remain are pale shadows of their former selves. How did this come to be? It’s simple. They did it to themselves. 

In the late 1980’s and early 90’s the music business underwent a format change. Vinyl records became obsolete and the CD became the new format.  For the major labels (names like Columbia, Warners, RCA, BMG, Arista etc) this brought in a deluge of unearned money.  It’s important to understand why this money wasn’t earned.

rebel yell

All you labels suck!

When CD’s were first introduced they were viewed as some kind of miracle. The supposed quality was in a new class.  This new technology was promoted as extremely expensive to produce and manufacturer. This, of course, was a lie. Yes, the earliest releases cost huge amounts of money to create. Yes, the new production plants were expensive to build. Yes, the digital format had higher apparent clarity and as a result the recordings needed to be carefully produced in order to exploit this clarity but the whole story was cleverly hidden from the musicians and more importantly the public. The real story was that the manufacturing process was like most manufacturing processes and as the amount of units created rose the costs per unit plummeted.  Soon after the introduction of CD’s the cost to produce each CD dropped from $6-8 to $1.25 per unit,  On the other hand the labels had used the introduction of the new format to raise retail prices from about $7 per vinyl record to $14 for a CD.  Their production costs had risen slightly and they had doubled the price.  And then, like a rain of gold from the gods, every hit record from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s became hits again.

What most people don’t realize is that the vast majority of music is bought by people 16-24 years old. This is a key factor in understanding the mechanics of the music business.  It defines the way records are marketed. It drives the cycles of music movements and it means that a tyranny haunts the record labels. If they don’t get you to be a fan of some of their artists in that 8 year period then you are lost to them forever. Yes, there are some odd characters, like me, and, perhaps like you, that listen to new bands for decades of their lives but most people are not like this, they fall in love with certain bands as a teenager and they listen to them ’til the day they die.  This makes the music business obsessed with youth culture and youth trends. They create them. They track them. And they exploit them.

The format change to CD’s didn’t change this pattern of human behavior but it did add an interesting wrinkle to it. Suddenly everyone that had loved music when they were young decided to completely rebuy their favorite artists of yesterday. This translated into a deluge of cash to all the major labels.

Rather than seeing it for what it was, an aberration, a strange one time gift, they decided that this was the new normal pattern and expanded their staffs – fueled by the river of money rolling in the door.  The mania reached a fevered pitch and the word that money could be made in this remarkable way spread. Sony, the Japanese electronics giant, bought Columbia and Epic records in an effort to acquire their catalog. The thought being that they could introduce yet another format change ( the mini disc) and sell billions of dollars worth of gear to those crazy americans. They falsely believed that they could once again resell the complete catalog to the whole american public. All the while that this was going on the web was growing in scope in the background. It didn’t occur to any of them, as they counted their millions that the massive price increase that they had duped everyone into paying wasn’t in direct opposition to the MARKET. That’s the MARKET as an entity. The type of entity that levels playing fields with brutal indifference.

It is interesting to note that my experience working inside record labels as a manager had taught me that on the whole the executives of the large labels were lousy businessman. The upper echelons of the major labels are stocked with people who couldn’t run a Carvel ice cream store with any authority. On more than one occasion I sat through a lecture by an executive about how the music business was different. The normal rules and market forces didn’t apply.

All of this carping and self-delusion was a smokescreen to cover a little considered fact.  It’s a dirty little secret. The Music Biz is an illegal cartel. To state that more clearly in case my terminology is kinda vague, the biz is a group of huge corporations that meet secretly to fix prices and control all supply to the stores. The same companies own the production and large portions of the distribution networks.  They own it all and they never compete in the one area that counts, price. That’s why a visit to any large music retail chain will find the average music buyer looking at a sea of releases, all at the same price. Imagine that, what an interesting coincidence. How do they get away with it? Do you really have to ask? The answer is bribes. Big ones paid to politicians and regulators.

So now this particular blog has moved up to recent history. Starting in the very late 90’s the music business started to hemorrhage money. It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving bunch.  Let me take a moment to point out, so as to be crystal clear, that I am not talking about musicians. Musicians have little to do with the music business. The music business if made up of people who know little about music and in my experience have little interest in music and more to the point none of the are musicians.

As file trading came on stream the fact that music CDs had never fallen to a market driven price sent the feeding frenzy of kids downloading into overdrive.  Any what did the major labels do? Did they let the price of CDs fall since they were a dated technology? No they sued their potential customer base and got together to decide that they should RAISE the price of CDs. What utter idiots.

Now they are attempting, yet again, to use a potential price controlled monopoly system to get everyone to pay ridiculous prices for music – Apple’s I tunes. Yes it’s an amazingly convenient brilliant new technology that demands you pay the same damn price that doesn’t work in the stores. It makes this demand even though there are no costs of delivery, no physical format to manufacture and minimal artwork to produce.  I expect that some of you will argue with me on this point. Go ahead I will argue back. Please keep in mind that the rise of filetrading devalued my life’s work by a factor of ten. Nonetheless I believe it can’t be fought and needs to be utilized cooperatively.

What does this mean to you, the dudette playing in a band? It means that the labels are of no value to you. They are whales beached in the sun. Their continued attempt to dominate the market will only serve to drive music from the center of youth culture. It will only serve to make every band have to make it by playing live and promoting themselves. It means that the labels will now move aggressively into merchandise (t shirts and stuff) and live fees as part of their contracts. It means that you should avoid labels like you avoid herpes. Oh wait a minute that’s a bad analogy for musicians…fill in your own…..Is there a way out for the majors? Yes, but I am not about to tell them how to do it.  Right now there is a kid in his bedroom that has the same thought and he will end up buying their catalogs. Good for him……………..

Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2011

It’s all about being famous again…..


For those of you that are following along rather than just reading random postings tonight’s blog strays from the promised path. I will get to beating up Reader Oliver in the next blog. For the moment I will take a moment out to revisit the original post, “it’s all about being famous”. This is the most popular posting on my blog. Night after night it gets the most hits. I suspect that this is the result of being the first “lesson”. It may be that another factor is that it is the most important point I make in this blog.

There is no question that this concept has been debated heavily through the years. Once again I am going to come down on the rock star side of things and say it really is all about being famous.  If you would like to putter around in obscurity then please don’t read my blog. This isn’t a value judgement, well, maybe it is a bit of a value judgement but it isn’t a monumental denunciation from moral high ground. There is music made at all levels of fame and success and it is all valid. That’s not what this blog is about. instead this blog is designed to be a lecture series for those of you that want to make it big with your band.

Making it big, becoming famous, getting a hit, breaking through whatever you choose to call it is not just luck. There is certainly luck involved in making it but luck doesn’t rule the game. Instead the proper attitude, actions and philosophies allow some people to weight the luck in their favor.

My five-year old son loves the song “Hey Jude”. He lives in a home without TV. He lives in a home that is saturated with music. He has never questioned this he just accepts it. He is, after all, five. Out of the constant pastiche that flows around him he has picked “Hey Jude”. What can I say, the kid knows a hit.

This morning as I dropped him off at his preschool he suddenly decided to explain some of the details of his school life.

“Mr. Ben sometimes plays us songs on his ipod. He has the song Hey Jude but its the song without the singing and only the piano. I told him that no one could love the kind of Hey Jude without the singing!”

What is my son seeing here? He recognizes that an instrumental cover version of the massively famous song “Hey Jude” is a pale shadow, a retarded Doppelganger, a fading echo of something that is rightly  famous for its beauty and magic. Do you want to spend time with the freakishly robotic cover version of the music that defines your favorite bands? Of course not. You want the real thing. So does my son.

There are many ways to define fame and influence in music. I certainly have spent many hours listening to obscure yet influential music. This is one level of fame. It is the level of notoriety that resides on the side of hipness and art. Many of the questions and emails I have received revolve around musicians wrestling with the worry about becoming some kind of robotic boy band nightmare in exchange for fame.  This is a false concern. For most of my readers the possibility that this is your route to the top is slim. Instead the majority of sacrifices and conflicts lie in the realm of understanding that the path to the top involves mastering the craft of showmanship.  PT Barnum, Andy Warhol, David Bowie, The Sex Pistols, David Blaine, KeithRichard, The Grateful Dead are all the same from the viewpoint I am trying to teach. When you look at the list did you recognize every name? Why’s that? Simple they are all master showman.

When I signed the Figgs to Imago I set about creating an aura around them. I signed them to a big booking agency and I told the agent that I wanted to the band to do a tour that would go on, and on and on and hit every little town and every mom and pop venue.  The label, of course, loved this idea. The agent thought it was overkill.  I wanted to do it for a reason that none of the people involved except for the band and I understood.

When the tour was booked it ended up being 147 dates in a row with just a few breaks. The band were young enough and dumb enough to do it. When they finished they looked, acted and played like they were five years older.  This was a bonus. As they got ready for the next journey onto the road I printed up a shirt – on the front was a drawing of a van gripping the world in its arms and the words The Figgs, on the back was a list of 147 dates in small type and the words “The Giggs”. Towards the end of the list on the texas date for the club Goats Head Soup the date was listed as “Burnt Down!”. It just happened that the band pulled up to sound check to find the club on fire.

Why did I do this? I , of course, was after fame for the band. That was my job. I decided that I wanted them to be known as the hardest working band in rock. As the band prepped to go out on the Van’s Warped Tour I had the record company calling every human on their list and dropping the words “the hardest working band in America” in every conversation. I would answer their incoming calls with “The hardest working band in rock!”. Three months of this stupidity and everyone else was saying it too.

Remember that with your music no one has decided what to say about it. Often you have the opportunity to put some of the words in their mouth. Ask yourself “What would be the ideal thing to be famous for?”. You certainly could pick “the band with the biggest cocks!’ (as long as Zeppelin isn’t touring). You can pick to skip it. In that case you better be happy with whatever the press wants to tag you with. My two decades of experience with this kind of thing tells me that if you aren’t  crafting your band’s image then you will likely end up with nothing.

I recently read a review of the Figgs from a live gig. The writer was about twenty. He used the phrase the hardest working band in rock twice. The band hasn’t  used that in their press pack in years but it follows them nonetheless. I can think of worse tag lines……

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010