A too brief but fascinating article about the influence of black musicians in Liverpool on the Beatles in their earliest years. A whole book could probably be written on his subject and somebody should. And the sooner the better.
Archive for the ‘newspapers’ Category
The New York Times article on Cee Lo Green and the supposed impossibility of making a living as a musician, even when you’ve sold five million downloads of a single song, came out a while ago, but I’ve been fuming about it ever since so I thought I’d better get something down before I explode. The article seemed so obviously to miss the main point and to be so selective in its evidence that I was surprised to see some people taking it seriously and even expressing sympathy for Cee Lo in his dark hour. It is the paper of record, after all; how could it not be true?
First, of course, there is the obvious elephant in the room: the idea that Cee Lo can’t make a living making music, and instead has to depend on product endorsements, judging singing competitions, hosting talk shows, and playing extended gigs in Vegas. The fact that none of these things would have happened if it wasn’t for “Fuck You”—and “Crazy” before it—seems to have escaped the author. As did Cee Lo’s perfectly respectable career and living before those hits, including his time in the Goodie Mob and as a pre-Gnarls Barkley solo act. The guy’s been in the business for over twenty years, but somehow, according to the Times, he couldn’t make a living until he started shilling Seven-Up.
And why couldn’t he make a living? Because nobody, but nobody, can make a decent living selling records, that’s why. That’s gospel now, and you’re not allowed to doubt it. Even a monster hit like “Fuck You” made Cee Lo only an estimated $650,000. Forget for a moment that that figure is probably more than Cee Lo made in all his years in Goodie Mob, and possibly most of his solo career as well, but think about all the other money he made off of records this year. Royalties off of “Crazy”, for a start, which are probably still coming in. Then there are songwriting royalties for any cover versions of both songs (hello Gwyneth Paltrow and the Glee Cast). Finally, there are the performance royalties that are collected each time either record is played or sung on the radio, TV, in karaoke bars, and by cover bands. Chances are Cee Lo cleared at least $2 million off of “Fuck You” alone, and I’m being conservative. Then there’s the album, Lady Killer. The Times cites sales of 450,000 copies, which it considers lacklustre. Compared to a decade ago, that figure is low (though describing a top ten debut as “modest” is going a little far—how high does the Times set the bar, anyway?), but even if you figure Cee-Lo only made about $1.50 off of each copy, that’s close to another $700,000, a number that for some reason the Times doesn’t include in its article. In other words, in record sales and publishing alone, Cee Lo has probably made close to, and possibly more than $3 million dollars in the last year, more than enough to keep even the most flamboyant would-be “Loberace” alive and well-dressed for a couple of years at least. The rest is cash-in and retirement security.
I don’t begrudge Cee Lo any of it (though he’s got a lot of nerve describing himself as a “working-class” musician), but articles as misinformed and misleading as this are, I think, ultimately damaging to the industry. Certainly it is to the artists, if only because it makes it look as though the music business is hopeless in ways that it isn’t, and creates a feeling that any one, no matter how successful they are, is doomed to an endless grind of endorsements and television appearances, just to keep their heads above water. I have a feeling that some in the business would love to have people think so, in order to maintain their appearance of usefulness and keep artists chained to the system. It’s enough to make any hopeful musician chuck it in before they get started, even though there are plenty of ways to make a living outside the system. If you’re lucky, you can even do it by selling records.
This may not make any immediate difference, but Nielsen Business Media is reportedly selling Billboard, and a host of other entertainment trade magazines, to News Communications Inc., which also owns Who’s Who and the insiderish political magazine The Hill. I wouldn’t expect any immediate changes, but I would love to see the equivalent of The Hill’s all-encompassing reporting applied to the music industry.
The best part of the joke is that Walsh doesn’t play on that album.
I know things are bad for The New York Times these days, what with declining circulation, online competition, editorial queasiness regarding hard to define words like “torture”, dishonest contributors, and feeble attempts to draw readers by running stories about the porn industry on the front page, but you’d think they’d know better than to open themselves to ridicule by printing paragraphs like this:
In the middle of the night, Diane Van Deren will leave her house against the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. She will cut west through the dark canyons with her running shoes and a headlamp, but without a kiwi-sized part of her right temporal lobe.
This is a questionable story for the front page anyway, but to open with a passage that, if it were the start of a novel, would be a candidate for the Bullwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, makes you wonder if the editors at the Times are leaving parts of their brains at home as well.