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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Spotify's new "Daily Mix" feature is a nightmare for music radio and the music business

Spotify have just launched a new "Daily Mix" feature. This provides me with six playlists of tunes based on the kind of things I've been playing in the recent past. Although each of these lists reflects what you could call an area of music I like, they've wisely not given them names. I can't abide those buttons that demand I choose between "country" and "hard rock".

Instead the buttons are a montage of the artists featured within, which works out roughly as follows:
Playlist 1: the bands and songwriters I've listened to for a lot of the last forty years: Steely Dan, Paul McCartney, Boz Scaggs etc.
Playlist 2: the more tuneful side of jazz: Basie, Ellington, Bix, Coleman Hawkins etc.
Playlist 3: Classical: Scarlatti, Liszt, Handel, Vaughan William etc.
Playlist 4: the ambient music I never know the name of: Nils Frahm, Luke Howard, Max Richter etc.
Playlist 5: edgy hip-hop, dance-type stuff: Blood Orange, James Blake, Tame Impala etc.
Playlist 6: some rather twee French pop of the kind that gets used on the soundtracks of comedy films.

On one hand no algorithm will be able to make the intuitive leap that guarantees you'll love what's been chosen for you. On the other hand it's a sight more likely to satisfy you than whatever radio comes up with because all music radio is a product of compromise. The more successful it is the more compromised.

The Daily Mix will get better. You can educate it by promoting or demoting songs you feel strongly about one way or another.

Funny how things change. Music radio used to draw its strength from the fact that it had all the tunes. and we didn't. Nowadays we all have just as many tunes as they do and we're free to listen to whatever we feel like whenever we feel like it.

For music radio and the music business it's a nightmare.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

I blame "media training" for the rise of Donald Trump

A CNN poll has found that people think Donald Trump is "more honest and trustworthy" than Hillary Clinton by a margin of 15%.

That's because of the way he talks. People have become so inured to the carefully-chosen words used by everybody in the public space nowadays and the soothing tone  with which they use them that the sudden appearance of somebody who gives the appearance of saying the first thing that comes into their head, who invents policy like a cab driver or a drunk, is seen as the long-overdue appearance of honesty and trustworthiness.

I blame media training.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

"Dadland" is the best new book I've read this year

When we were running True Stories Told Live, Keggie Carew was one of our turns. She came and told a story about losing her elderly father at a London railway station when he came up from the country to see her.

That's just one of the episodes in Dadland: A Journey into Uncharted Territory.It's about her father, who served in Special Operations in the last war. He was with the Jedburghs, three-man teams dropped into France and Burma to supply and organise partisans operating against the occupiers. These people were all brave but her father had such disregard for danger some of the others said that if they'd known they would never have gone with him. She accompanies him to a reunion and finds these elderly men in their blazers and berets are still impossible to control. It was their cussedness that got them through it all.

The book tells the story of his war and his peace, which wasn't all that peaceful. He had a lot of trouble settling into civilian life. The qualities that made him indispensable in a fight could make him a liability in a business. It's also an exploration of family with all its fascinating complexities. Most of all it's a really moving portrait of a former superman slipping into dementia.

They say what makes men cry at the cinema is sacrifice. Stiff upper lip as well. There's a scene here where she takes him to a Jedburgh reunion. His dementia is so advanced that he picks meat off his plate with his hands at the formal dinner and shoves it in his jacket pockets for his dogs. His old radio operator, who jumped out of a plane with him into the darkness over occupied France sixty years earlier, pretends not to notice.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

See if you can pick this up in your airport book shop

Heard Jeffrey Toobin talking about his new Patti Hearst book. He spoke of The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking as the best book on the hi-jack mania of the early 70s.  I managed to track down an ex-library copy. It's enthralling.

I remember how before airline security there was a time when it was fashionable to hi-jack planes and demand they take you to Cuba. I had no idea there were so many. Between 1970 and 1973 there was one every month in the USA.

Most of them weren't thought through. People took control of planes that had hardly enough fuel to get to the next city and demanded they fly halfway round the world. They handed barely literate notes to cabin crew demanding a million dollars from the airline. They often got it. Sometimes they demanded parachutes and jumped from the planes. The odd one survived. Sometimes they ended up in Third World countries where the government relieved them of the money. Sometimes they sloped back into America undetected and tried to start a new life.

"The Skies Belong To Us" is about one particular hi-jack from 1972 when a couple of stoners with loose radical affiliations took a plane from Seattle to Algiers under the threat of exploding a fictional bomb. The hi-jacker gets stoned on the flight deck. The passengers empty the plane's stock of booze back in the cabin. When the FBI try to interview them afterwards they find them too drunk to make any sense.

The amazing thing is that whenever people proposed fighting back against this blight by checking the bags of everybody getting on the plane it was argued that would be impractical and prohibitively expensive.

Bears out my theory that we don't need a programme called "Tomorrow's World" any more. We need a programme that reminds us of the day before yesterday.

P.S. A few people have asked why I recently disabled comments on this blog. No reason other than I just wanted to see how I felt about it this way.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

I've had it with post-laughter comedy


I quite enjoyed watching "Fleabag" but I only laughed once in the first three episodes. It was where the guy came into her cafe, said he didn't want to order anything and then plugged in all his various electronic devices.

It was a pretty tame, old-fashioned gag in the context of "Fleabag", where most of the jokes are about grim stuff. I'm not sure these programmes are actually supposed to elicit laughter so much as shared recognition of that grim stuff. I'm not saying programmes like this don't have a place. I just think comedy should make you laugh.

Of late I've started to take evasive action when I find myself not laughing. I watched the Ricky Gervais film "Special Correspondents". I like Ricky Gervais and this film had a good premise but I turned it off after three-quarters of an hour when I realised it wasn't actually making me laugh.

I watched a whole series of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt because I love Tina Fey and Ellie Kemper. Only at the very end did I realise that since the joke about the water bottle in episode one I hadn't laughed at all. However I read lots of pieces explaining how good it was.

I'm always hearing that comedy is essentially political, essentially provocative, essentially subversive, essentially challenging or essentially a feminist issue. Well, yes, it might be some of those things as well, but essentially it should be funny.

This is of a piece with the growing tendency to judge entertainment on anything other than its entertainment value. When Beyonce's last album came out the reviews in the heavy papers were about what this record "said" about women and celebrity and fidelity and a whole host of things that you'd expect slim volumes of fiction to be "about".

Pop music is only "about" one thing: tunes. If you haven't got those you're sunk. Same with comedy and laughs.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

My absolute favourite clip in the whole of You Tube.

 I think this is my favourite clip in the whole of You Tube.

 It's George Harrison watching a clip of the Beatles doing "This Boy", the B-side of "I Want To Hold Your Hand", on a regional TV show in 1963.

He's watching it in the year 1976. He's thirty-three. He's gone up to Granada in Manchester to plug his new album "Thirty Three and A Third".

Tony Wilson, who can be seen in the background, brings him into the edit suite and gets the editor to load the old reels into the Steenbeck editing machine so that George can look at this clip, which he has never seen. It's like he's looking back into the far-distant past. Thirteen years earlier.

Mark Cooper and I had lunch today. We were talking about the mid-70s, when the Beatles were all still around and only in their thirties. At the time nobody realised their reputation was only at the beginning of its ascent. That's when this clip was shot.

Think about the things that would have been inconceivable to the people in that clip. The internet, You Tube and John Lennon's murder for a start.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Which bands will be in the V&A in 2026?

The V&A have announced their Pink Floyd exhibition.

There are just four British acts who could justify this kind of treatment: The Beatles, Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Pink Floyd.

Queen and Elton John would probably attract the public but places like the V&A are first and foremost snobs and they'd be too snooty to have them.

So that's just four, all of whom made their names in the first twenty years after Elvis.

And they've all kept on adding fans with each successive generation so that they're all more popular now than when they were doing their most popular stuff.

Who's making music nowadays that you'll be able to say the same about?

Who's come along since 1975 who might get the V&A treatment in 2026?