Long time no see.

3/26/2011 07:21:35


Nicolle, here. Haven't updated for a while because I've been busy with my current project, 4Music.com. The website for Channel 4's musical endeavours, 4Music.com. I spent a year during my MA learning about the non-commerical side of music and digital culture and now I'm fully entrenched in a role that requires me to make a great product ... that makes money. So how do we do it? 

It's not that there's not money to be made. The challenge is making content that we as journalists can be proud of. There are lots of sites that offer celebrity gossip and music news that don't delve into entertaining journalism. 

The other challenge is making a site that leads technologically. 

I guess you, the audience, will be the judge...
It's been over a year since I started my work at The British Council and since then, I've learned an immeasurable amount not only about British cultural relations but diplomacy and the "creative industries". My degree was on the Culture Industry and my minor was The British Council (which seems a tad strange for a Canadian, though it gave me incredible insight into arts funding and what I might call patronage), but my major was the music industry, specifically the way music is distributed digitally. Of course you can see the product of my research on this site.

Which leads me, in a roundabout way, to write about the UK Young Music Entrepreneur awards. I've been working on this awards programme across an incredibly interesting spectrum of sectors - all in the creative industries (fashion, communications, design, to name the ones I've been most involved with). But the most exciting, to me, is this year's exceptional list of candidates to compete for the UKYME award.

The longlist is as follows:

Katie Brockhurst – Kdot Online    
Daniel Cross – Record-Play Ltd    
Ruth Daniel – Fat Northerner Records
Polly Eldridge – sounduk
Dave Haynes – SoundCloud
Ian Hogarth – Songkick.com     
Jack Horner – FRUKT
Edward Millett – Connected Limited
Karen Pearson – Folded Wing
Karen Piper – Radar Maker Ltd
Nikhil Shah – Mixcloud
Storme Whitby-Grubb – Little Touring

They'll come in next week for interviews with our panel of judges and I am lucky enough to be able to sit in and hear about their businesses. I'm really looking forward to it. I'll update on the interviews when we announce the shortlist. But one thing's for sure - it's anybody's game.

X Factor vs Rage

12/19/2009 16:41:17


After finishing my Culture Industry MA, which deftly criticised the "creative economy" and moving along to work at The British Council, in the heart of the government's plight to push the creative economy forward, it's hard to say which side I'm on at the moment.

The debate around the Christmas number one in UK is definitely important in lots of ways. First of all, it speaks to the kind of power that The X-Factor has here in the UK. Ten million people voted for Joe McElderry last week. And almost half the population of the UK watches X-Factor. Whether or not you think it's in good taste really isn't the issue. It's, for the most part, what the people want.

Well, not all of the people. Because over 930,000 joined the anti-X-Factor pro-Rage Facebook group. Which is great - I bought the RATM single, admittedly, some of the only music I've bought this year.

Personally, I'm not one to support the recording industry. At least not the mainstream recording industry. And I did watch X-Factor. I never voted, though. I contributed to the show's success by watching it, which is enough, but I've never given any money to the franchise. To be honest, I can see lots of benefits, especially for someone struggling to find work in the media industry at the moment. The show creates jobs for so many people - I can list the number of people I know working for Canadian Idol back in Toronto. It's a great production to work for, because it poses little risk of being cancelled in a climate that makes it difficult to secure employment.

Yeah, it's pablum for the mind, but it's a job. A sorely needed one. And, really, a show featuring heavy metal bands just can't draw those ratings. For that, I don't dismiss the show.

Of course, I've always been a hard rock fan and have dedicated lots of time, money and love to bands like Rage, buying records, going to shows and buying merch.

So I had no problem buying the Rage single. Yeah, to make a point. Not to poo-poo on Joe's Christmas day - I'm sure he'll be fine. But to say, yeah, I like quality music, too. And even if they don't beat Joe, I think the social media campaign displayed two very important things: people still care about real non-manufactured music and social media is doing its job: slightly democratising media.

Merry Christmas!

Last night, I was lucky enough to be invited to sit in on the opening speeches and reception of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)’s c&binet forum conference. A huge event put on by the government, populated by the who’s who of media and music, among other superstar sectors, c&binet “was created by the UK Government’s DCMS to foster international dialogue about the creative economy.

The second talk of the event was entitled Peer2Peer, which was essentially a discussion about how to stop filesharing. There was little wiggle room for anyone who actually doesn’t think filesharing is a crime against humanity, but Jeremy Silver, CEO of the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) tried to argue his corner, if not a bit weakly if I’m being honest. The panel was obviously representative of one demographic: white, middle class and male. It was obvious when they walked onstage and then, as I looked around the room, I found that demo widely reflected in the audience as well.

I wasn’t the only one who noticed: Anita Ondine, a Young Creative Entrepreneur from the British Council’s UK YCE programme (where I work), made the same comment during the talk. She was then asked to stay on for the rest of the conference by Ben Bradshaw (Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport). Which is great, don’t get me wrong, but why was such a uniform group of people invited in the first place? Of course, the DCMS did invite our YCEs, meaning they were looking for youth. So we have that.

But in terms of the P2P conversation, the leanings of the UK government were pretty obvious: filesharing is wrong and “we don’t condone it.” (A statement echoed several times throughout the discussion). As Silver put it, anything we shut down in terms of filesharing will just be a speedbump. My issue is: when will the powers that be realize that filesharing is a reality and it’s not going away?

Waging war on filesharing is a Sisyphean task – the past ten years and attempts to shut down Napster and The Pirate Bay are just case studies in support of that statement. While John Reid, the chairman of Warner Music, whinged that newspapers are only taking notice of what has been happening to him for ten years, I wondered, why didn’t Warner think like Apple and try to capitalise on innovation rather than shut it down?

Here’s the thing: the UK can try its best to stop filesharing, but as long as you have other countries in the world that are making an effort to embrace it, it’s going to be damn hard to eradicate it. And while you have the CEOs of record labels lobbying government, you have millions of citizens (who vote), who are against a ban on ISPs and want those charged with filesharing to have a trial. That’s going to cost the government millions in court fees, clogging up the system, when the government could be focussing on… real crime.

So, stream c&binet. Get your thoughts in and your questions answered! It’s your tax dollars being spent on the conference, so get involved!
I know this isn't really a "digital music industry" related post, but I wanted to touch on the topic anyway. Like millions of Britons, I watch the X Factor. Sure, it's a guilty pleasure, but it's also undeniably good television. On Saturday night, X Factor judge Dannii Minogue outed contestant Danyl Johnson on air, putting him in the incredibly awkward position of having to define his sexuality.

Her comments, which suggested that Danyl shouldn't have changed gender references in his performance because of what she read "in the papers", implied that Danyl is gay. To which he responded, "I'm not ashamed." At which point, I think my heart broke for him.

Many people have spoken out against Dannii's ridiculous - and irrelevant - commentary, citing that it was out of line and an attack because she personally doesn't like Danyl. People have come to her defense, saying that she is "pro-gay" for outing Danyl as gay. Um, since when is it Dannii Minogue's business if any of the contestants on X Factor are gay? If they've made their sexuality public, then fine, but what's it to Dannii? Obviously, it was a thoughtless comment and from her expression, she thought she was being quite clever.

But it could have been a big deal to Danyl. Maybe some of his family members are homophobic and she's just made some silly tabloid's claims valid. Dannii forced Danyl to come out to the world, ready or not. An innocent performance of a song meant to entertain people shouldn't have to reflect one's sexuality if one doesn't want his sexuality reflected. It's ridiculous that she would mention it in the first place. It was a cheap shot and it was meant to throw him off. (Perhaps Bourdieu might have called this "symbolic violence")

I don't think there's anything wrong with being gay. But I certainly don't think there's anything wrong with someone wanting to keep their being gay a private matter. For those who argue that being a pop singer comes hand in hand with unwanted publicity, that's fine. Let the tabloids do their nasty thing. But it wasn't a judge's place to bring it up, especially not during judging - it is irrelevant! And in that case, perhaps Lance Bass should have come out at the height of his fame rather than when he was making a last ditch attempt at a career. Does anyone even know that Michael Stipe is gay? He came out 21 years after REM formed.


A quick note to go along with this post: if you happened to see Mad Men (SPOILER!!!) on Sunday night, then you'll notice that the show also dealt with homosexuality in an ongoing storyline about gay character Sal, who is basically fired because he's gay. That's sort of the less complex version, but it's definitely a great storyline and it's worth checking out. Kudos (again) to Mad Men for tackling subjects that would seem didactic to write about in a series set today but make total sense when we cast a glance back in all our enlightenedness.

It's a great episode - there's one scene where the housewives are lauding the civil rights movement while the black "help" is in the background, serving. It's a great testament to the fact that we're all so quick to be politically correct while we really continue instill forms of servitude on people from different groups (gay people, women, ethnic minorities, etc). 
But what, after all, is a law? [...] When I say that the object of laws is always general, I mean that law considers subjects en masse and actions in the abstract, and never a particular person or action. [...] On this view, we at once see that it can no longer be asked whose business it is to make laws, since they are acts of the general will; nor whether the prince is above the law, since he is a member of the State; nor whether the law can be unjust, since no one is unjust to himself; nor how we can be both free and subject to the laws, since they are but registers of our wills.
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau

I really like Lily Allen. Her music is not only clever, it's nice to listen to. She's someone I really respect and think of as an artist. Lately, she's gotten involved in the music piracy debate, probably out of interest in the issue from the perspective of a regular person. A regular person who knows nothing about copyright. This was made clear when people from TorrentFreak went through her sites with a fine-tooth comb and found that she was infringing a million and two different copyrights.

Fair enough. She's against filesharing, but doesn't have a clue about copyright. Most of us don't have a clue about copyright - as Joi Ito said last week when I heard him speak, we break copyright law every few seconds.

I don't necessarily agree with Allen since her views are a bit uninformed, I understand the point she's attempting to make: artists should be paid for their work. The problem there is that there are a million issues around that point that she (and a lot of other people) aren't taking into account.

The modern world, as I hope we were able to convince viewers in our short doc, needs to catch up and get over the fact that people download. Most downloaders don't have a political agenda - but a lot of them feel like the music industry had a free ride for 70 or so years. Whether old formats/media like it or not, filesharing is a reality. Copyright infringement is usually far from intentional and it's a sticky subject.

I think the main thing to learn from this great example is that no one knows what the hell is going on. That's why we need a clear, universal set of rules and regs that are easily accessible by everyone.

Ultimately, this debate is centred around laws that are no longer effective. Once the general public stops obeying the law, isn't it time to reexamine the law itself?
A little background on OpenMusicMedia – it’s an event founded by Jonas Woost (who we interviewed for Broken Record) and Dave Haynes (UK manager of SoundCloud) where industry insiders and music aficionados alike get together once a month to drink pints and talk about the digital music industry. I’ve been going since I discovered it a few months ago while filming Broken Record.

The past three discussions: music videos in the digital age, the culture of music and most recently, creative commons and its relation to music (you may have noticed Broken Record’s CC license) have all been incredibly interesting.

Speaking of Creative Commons, the OMM people didn’t just plan a discussion, they snagged Joi Ito, CEO of Creative Commons, to come speak at the event. I was definitely chuffed (Briticism!) and quite enjoyed the talk. Joi stressed the fact that he wasn’t against copyright – quite the opposite. CC tries to simplify and standardize copyright law globally in an age where the law is so complex, “You’re probably breaking copyright law every couple of seconds.”

“It’s complicated,” Joi says, “because you think you’re doing something legal, but you’re not.”

He also commented on the current evolution of formats in terms of digital media and advised the label people present (who I’m sure are already well aware) that “no one’s watching the kids to see when they’re pulling out their wallets.” 

In terms of Mr. Lessig’s legacy, Dave commented that there’s “value in teaching people to create things themselves.”

It was an enlightening talk all around. For more information about Creative Commons, check out their site.
Kurt Cobain is rolling in his grave. Yes - he would probably have never wanted a cartoon version of his image singing a Bon Jovi karaoke classic or Gwen Stefani vocals. But, uh, should anyone really be that mad? Cobain's estate has aleady been ravaged by every Tom Dick and Courtney around. Walk along Yonge Street in Toronto and you'll find posters, t-shirts, buttons and keychains that all boast Cobain's image.

It was just a year ago you could buy a pair of Converse "honouring" Cobain - his writing was featured on the shoes. Was that okay? It was obviously approved. It's not that Cobain's image is being used, the point that Love is stuck on is that it can be unlocked to sing other songs. I wouldn't go feeling sorry for her, though. This is a contractual issue. It's got nothing to do with "selling out." That was done a long, long time ago.

Some publicity

9/17/2009 19:42:44


People have watched the series! That's exciting. More exciting is that they've written a few words about it. That was nice of them.

Andrew Dubber (who you may recognize from Broken Record, ha) gave us a mention on his blog, New Music Strategies.

Jen Tse did a fantastic write-up in Evil Monito Magazine.

StudioManifesto.ca also gave us a mention a couple days ago.

Thanks, people. Keep on passing us along. One day we'll go viral. Sigh.
Episode One! Check out Episodes page for more info.