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More adventures in China, Happy Chinese New Year!

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

I’ve been in Beijing for the last month doing music projects, having meetings, and researching opening my music company Pro Soul Alliance in China. Now i’m in Hong Kong with my wife Felisha for a while before going back to Beijing.

It’s been an incredible experience, and I’ve learned more than ever before about China, and have done a lot more exploring on my own than before and am getting more confident interacting and doing things in this vastly different and immense culture.
I thought I would share some of my experiences with photos:
I’ve been working with some talented musicians you may know, and some new artists many people haven’t heard yet…

Elika Mahony, Jarome, Siria, Anna

Elika Mahony, Jarome, Siria, Anna

We’ve been working very hard! Elika just released 3 exciting new original songs we worked on last year, and we also launched a new Chinese Spiritual CD, and are working on a music video amongst other things…
Now Elika has a computer dedicated to the studio so she can record ideas right away before they are lost. Here she is with 3 computers:
Elika with 3 computers! (One is her new one)

Elika with 3 computers! (One is her new one)

We have lots of amazing tea to keep us going though, Tea is serious business in China!

Chinese Tea

Food is amazing in China, it is an important part of the culture. In cities like Beijing you can get any kind you want, and the food is amazing along with the presentation:

My $1 salad

My $1 salad

Desert, complete with dry ice. What presentation!

Desert, complete with dry ice. What presentation!

You find the strangest things in the food stores though…

instant mashed potatoes in a cup

instant mashed potatoes in a cup

There are all kinds of cheap and interesting ways to get around:

Man powered rickshaw

Man powered rickshaw

And never ending scenes of guys carrying way more than should be physically possible on a bike:

Man transporting wood on bike

Man transporting sticks on bike

Public pay phones sure look funny, they have very short domed covers, so if your tall, you’ll have trouble:

Public phones in Beijing

Public phones in Beijing

There are beautiful lanterns everywhere here, especially during Chinese New Year (which is today!):

Lanterns in street, Beijing

Lanterns in street, Beijing

During Chinese New Year, companies give Mandarin Orange Trees as gifts and they’re everywhere, it’s so cool:

    Mandarin Orange tree

Mandarin Orange tree

They have some fancy malls with all you can eat Vegetarian buffets with over 100 items, and movie theater (where we saw new Confucius movie with Chow Yun Fat, our first film in China), they have fancy lighted stairs:

Lighted steps at the mall in Beijing

Lighted steps at the mall in Beijing

There are so many amazing things to see and experiences to have, kind and warm hearted Chinese people. It can be very mysterious too when the fog rolls in and wind blows like it did in Hong Kong when we visited the giant Bhudda & temple nearby:

Felisha at a beautiful Buddhist temple in Hong Kong

Felisha at a beautiful Buddhist temple in Hong Kong

Felisha at the giant Buddha in Hong Kong

Felisha at the giant Buddha in Hong Kong

Hope to share more soon when I have a chance.
Happy Chinese New Year! gōng xǐ fā cái, Gung hee fatt choi! 新年快樂

Branford Marsalis on the state of musicians

Friday, June 26th, 2009

“All my students are really interested in hearing is how right they are and how good they are, the same mentality that basically forces Harvard to give out B’s to people that don’t deserve them out of the fear that they’ll go to other schools that will give them B’s and those schools will make the money.
We live in a country that seems to be in this massive state of delusion, where the idea of what you are is more important than you actually being that.
All they want to hear is how good they are and how talented they are, and most of them aren’t really willing to work to the degree to live up to that.

Today, Stevie Wonder would not get a shot (in the music industry)”

– Jazz legend Branford Marsalis, from the documentary film, ‘Before Music Dies’

Check out the film, it’s a great, honest look at the music industry today.


Before Music Dies documentary

Thanks Sarah Lynn for sharing this film with me.

Is professionally produced music important anymore?

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

I’ve had no problem getting work as a music producer, even in a recession. I’m working on 6 albums and keep getting calls for more, but then I’m cheap as far as many music producers go with my experience. Most of my clients hire me because I also compose and engineer in my own studio, so I’m a one stop shop.

This regular work has in no way filled me with delusions about the importance of professionally produced music to the general public though. I have found myself asking more and more, what is the point of what I do for artists anymore? Is there a future in professionally produced music? Do the majority of people care?

Before you scoff at this question, peruse these valid issues that have partially led to it, such as:

  • The decline of record labels and shift of the industry into the hands of DIY artists with limited budgets
  • The proliferation of affordable music production equipment and software allowing artists to Do It Themselves at home
  • The popularity of live, reality ‘Idol’ type music shows and Youtube
  • The proliferation of poor quality music formats like 128 kb MP3 files
  • The popularity of poor quality music playback devices like iPods with headphones
  • The question of the value of music in a world of free downloads

One could argue that people are used to professionally produced music, and so they will still demand it, despite the shrinking budgets for artists and music lovers. There is no question that the world is shifting towards enjoying more music than ever before, and that music is increasing in popularity.

But my most significant argument for the rapid decline in value for the music producer is, given the above, can the average person even tell the difference between music with no producer and that which is professionally produced? Will they be disappointed with acoustic versions of songs?

Tests I’ve done have proven the answer is no. Most listeners primarily want to hear the singers voice, and the melodies sung with simple instrumentation, and everything else seems superfluous.

I think a producer contributes significantly not just to the quality of sound of the music, but to:

  • The performance, emotion, and confidence of the performers
  • The arrangement of the song, including lyric phrasing and song structure
  • The melodies and musical instrumentation of the song
  • The accuracy of pitch and timing and sonic quality of the recorded parts
  • The range of tone across the frequency spectrum of the music
  • The mood, feeling and energy of the song

But of course, I’m biased! And as illustrated, these are decreasing in importance to the general listener.
In industries like film, TV, and advertising, these elements have become standard, so there is no question that they will require professionally produced music.
For music in general though, the question remains, given it is proven most people can’t hear the difference, is there a future for the professional music producer?
Will a shift in the importance of the arts and education in society affect the demand for musical perfection only an experienced producer can provide?

recording in bedroom

Producer as artist manager

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

I’ve been so busy lately that it’s been very hard to blog, not only because of the time issue, but because I have so much to blog about it’s hard to know what to choose…
Right now I’m in Beijing working on 3 different music projects and doing some other music business meetings.
As I’m working here not only as a music producer, but artist manager through my record label, Pro Soul Alliance, I’ve been thinking about this dual role I play.

In the past, it was considered a conflict of interest to be a music producer and artist manager, but it has always made sense to me because you would naturally want to see success for something you worked on and are invested in. With more and more artists taking the ‘Do It Yourself’ method, a traditional manager may not only be unnecessary, but also impractical for many artists.

I think in the internet age of the new music industry, more than ever, with the right person, this is a practical solution for artists.

More thoughts on this can be found in the article here:
www.hypebot.com/hypebot/2008/08/the-producer-as.html

I’ve launched a new video on ProSoul.com featuring myself talking about what were doing for artists, but given my schedule, it still needs a lot of work…

The new James Bond movie theme

Monday, December 1st, 2008

I went to see the new James Bond movie Quantum Of Solace the other day with low expectations. I know the new movies are about Bond’s early days, but the modernized Bond has lost all the things that made Bond unique in the action adventure genre, and now it’s become just another Mission Impossible, Die Hard standard film. Don’t get me wrong, it was good, but it lacked the unique entertaining qualities Bond used to have, and without Q and his gadgets, it’s a tough sell really. (I really loved John Cleese as Q and miss him a lot)

What was really appalling though was the theme song for the intro credits that every Bond film has with the dancing silhouettes and Bond pointing his gun and all. This song, “Another Way To Die” performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys, was just atrocious and a terrible choice for a Bond film that in the past have had very strong themes to introduce the film, a trademark of the series. That a song this bad and poorly suited to the film could be placed in such a major release is a sure sign of the record industry’s demise (It was coordinated by Warner Bros). Just my opinion, but I thought it was a lame choice.

But for me this goes a lot further than opinion, and is really all about what makes a good song, something the record industry seems to have forgotten. Luckily, the Do It Yourself movement and the new music industry, which is putting music business back in the hands of artists, is going to be all about the quality of the song, and of music in general, something that has been a long time coming.

Call me old fashioned, but these are songs worthy of a Bond movie (ignore the retro visuals…):

Duran Duran: “View To A Kill”

Sheena Easton: “For Your Eyes Only”

China trip and the launch of Pro Soul Alliance

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

I’m back from an amazing and productive trip to Beijing where I got to meet and work with some fantastic new artists as well as the immensely talented Elika Mahony. I blogged all about it on the new Pro Soul site, where I will be posting a lot of my music business entries from now on: www.prosoul.com

Yes, that’s right, Pro Soul Alliance, the new innovative 21st century record label is now live and ready to take on the artists of a new music industry! It’s a very exciting accomplishment, and we’ve put countless hours of research and effort into creating a truly ground breaking solution for artists everywhere.
We’ve assembled an amazing international team that is consistently expanding to provide an incredible range of services and research to assist artists of all genres from all over the world to connect with their audience and monetize their music in new ways that reflect the changes in the way people want to hear music.
There is really nothing like Pro Soul out there for artists and you will undoubtedly be hearing more about it in the near future! Would love to hear your comments and feedback.

It sure has been an exciting year, and things are just getting going! Hard to beleive it’s almost December.

Where is the music industry going?

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

I’ve been hinting at a big venture I’ve been involved in and working hard on with my partner Roshena Huang for some time now, even though haven’t said much lately, but i’m ready to start talking more about it. It’s the relaunch of my record label, Pro Soul as a totally reinvented company… more on that later. First though, why exactly did we have to reinvent the company? Because the music industry is drastically changing as is more than evident these days.

So where is it going? Well, no one can really predict the future, so we can really only guess. As Andrew Dubber has said, Anyone who says that they know where the music industry is going is either a liar or a fool. Either way, ignore them.

We DO know what the future of the music industry WON’T be. The future will not be the past.

That means if you’re doing what you were doing ten or even five years ago, you are simply not relevant in the music business! If you are not undergoing an aggressive period of radical change, completely redesigning your business from scratch in this industry right now considering where things are going, then your in trouble, just like the big guys.

So that is what were doing with Pro Soul Alliance – aggressive, radical change and complete redesign. And it’s a lot of work, but it’s also very exciting and different, stay tuned!

Shocking music industry facts they prefer you don’t know:

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

From Soundscan stats released at the yearly NARM conference:

– 80,000 Records were released in total in 2008
– 80 percent of them sold less than 100 copies each.
– Most sales were from only 1000 titles
– Only 10 percent of hit records represent actually purchased music

And regarding copyright according to Andrew Dubber:
“It’s estimated that less than 2% of all music that has ever been released in a commercial format is currently for sale in any way, shape or form. That 6-million tracks thing that iTunes goes on about is hardly even the tip of the iceberg.” (Because of corporate ‘copyright hording’, preventing creators from access to their own works)

There are many more, but I don’t want to overwhelm you…

The problem with digitally distributing cover songs

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

I’ve just finished producing a fantastic new cover song for Heather Doré’s Pop music debut. I’ll tell you more about it soon when she launches it. She is a 21st century artist, so she is releasing her music, as it is completed, from her website, and you don’t have to wait, you can get it right away!
But releasing a cover song for digital distribution only from her own website has proven to be complicated as many simple things are in the music industry as it is overrun with paranoid obsession and unbelievable bureaucracy…

If you want to release on CD, or on iTunes within the country it was produced, then it is much more simple, but on your own website, where anyone in the world can buy it? Problems.
This is because the music industry works on a per country basis, that’s why it took forever to get iTunes in most countries because of all the deals and paperwork they had to do for practically every song.

That’s right, the corporate music industry complains, bitches, moans, publicizes and sues about losing money, but they make you jump through hoops and practically give up your first born child to help them make money with their music! Just give us what we want! How simple is that? It’s what, the first rule of business or something? Give the customer what they want. How could scores of billion dollar corporations worldwide forget that rule? It seems intense greed and lust for power blinds one quite severely, and this is why they’re losing money, NOT because of downloading. They would rather destroy their entire business before making it easy for you to give them money.
Good, change is good, and this is all causing music business to move back in the hands of the artist, making the importance of good music key. And that is a very good thing! Ok, rant over.

Basically I am still on the phone with the Canadian Music Rights Reproduction Agency and the song publisher regarding the song, so I don’t have any definitive answers for you. (The CMRRA doesn’t even have anything about digital distribution on their website, but at least we have such an agency to make some things a bit easier than they would be with payment of mechanical royalties in Canada)
What I can tell you is iTunes has done a deal where they pay out royalties as required for sales in each country for cover songs sold, so that simplifies things when releasing cover songs digitally this way.
But if you want to sell the songs on your own website to the world, which is my recommended method of selling music (NOT on myspace or facebook, but on www.yourname.com personal website), you have to obtain special rights for the world to sell the song, AND pay monthly royalties to the publisher yourself with detailed financial statements. And you may have to negotiate with different publishers for different parts of the world. Imagine having to negotiate with 3 or 4 publishers for each country in the world just to sell a song digitally from your website! Within 5 years, most music will be sold electronically!

So you think, ok how hard can that be, you just pay online at the publishers website with a credit card, right? Sorry, you must be taking about an industry that is efficient, progressive and meets the needs of it’s customers, and that’s not how the music industry works, and that is one of the many reasons why they are losing money.

Needless to say we aren’t going to work on many cover songs any more, as fun as it may be.

The end of the music industry as we know it

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

Last year I blogged about how the music industry is changing along with a lot of others…
Recently, A very detailed 18 page report has been published by renowned technology and market research company, Forrester. I don’t have access to the entire article, as that would be expensive, but here is the essence of it:

  • Half of all music sold in the US will be digital in 2011 and sales of digitally downloaded music will surpass physical CD sales in 2012, reaching $4.8 billion in revenue by 2012, but in 2012, CD sales will be reduced to just $3.8 billion.
  • Media executives eager to stay afloat in this receding tide must clear the path of discovery and purchase, but only hardware and software providers can ultimately make listening to music as easy as turning on the radio.
  • The average MP3 player is only 57 percent full, suggesting that the devices are underutilized (correct in my case)
  • DRM(digital rights management copy protection)-free music enables every profile page on MySpace.com or Facebook to immediately become a music store where friends sell friends their favorite tracks
  • Cable TV style subscription music services will show modest growth, reaching just $459 million in revenue in 2012, while experiments in ad-supported downloads will be silenced by the powerful combination of DRM-free music and on-demand music streaming on sites like imeem.com
  • It is now very clear: Digital Ownership IS The Music Model For The Future
  • Forester’s recommendation to the ailing music industry: Solve The ‘Discovery Of New Music’ Problem Consumers Have First, Then Get Out Of The Consumer’s Way!

And the MOST important finding of this whole article in my opinion is:
“The industry has to redefine what its product is, said analyst McQuivey. Music executives have spent years tracking CD sales. But the ARTIST is the product not just the source of it.
New forms of revenue will come from unexpected sources. For example, the industry has failed to capitalize on the growing popularity of video games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band. In a market where musicians are happy to sell a million copies of a CD, a video game market where titles can sell five million copies is enough to motivate even the most depressed music executive.”
The Forrester report is based in part on a survey of more than 5,000 consumers in the US and Canada.

I found it particularly interesting that way back in 2001, Forester did a study that the industry essentially ignored that proved digital music sales to be the future of music.

More here: www.news.com/8301-10784_3-9874319-7.html
Forester document: www.forrester.com/go?docid=43759