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January 2005

Bright Eyes, or The Story with the US Singles Chart, Keep Your Hype to Yourself
January 7 2005 01:39 AM ET (Permalink) (Comment)

Haven't had a good reason to rant in a while, so here's one.

In November, Bright Eyes nabbed the top two spots on the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.

As we near the release date for the two albums relating to those singles, I'm reading more and more stories relating that accomplishment, making grand assumptions about Bright Eyes' popularity and his/their potential for far-reaching success.

For the record, I'm not much of a Bright Eyes fan. Not because I hate his stuff - more that I just haven't heard much of it, and what I have heard of it doesn't really appeal to me. The point of what I'm writing here isn't to bash him. It's more to bash music journalism stupidity.

Here's the deal: in the week that Bright Eyes took the top two spots on the US Singles chart, each single sold about 7,000 copies.

Yes, you read that right: 7,000 copies.

In the UK, 7,000 copies will barely get you on the singles chart. The number one single on the UK Singles chart typically sells about 50,000 copies. And, yes, the population of the UK is about a fifth of that of the US.

In fewer words: the US Singles chart is a joke.

To be perfectly honest, it's been that way for a LONG time. For years, I've wondered why they even bother reporting the thing, as it's almost completely meaningless.

Ever since the ascention of CDs, singles have been cursory items in the US music scene. Major labels have generally only manufactured them for hip-hop and pop singles. The US simply is too fragmented in terms of popular music genres: it's not worth making enough copies of a single to have them in every major music store in the country. Make that many and fail to sell them, and it's a huge loss. (Plus, convincing someone to buy the whole album at $15 for the one song they want generates significantly more revenue.)

The problem with the US Singles chart really became obvious with the dawn of popular alternative music in 1992. Until that point, Top 40 radio and the Singles chart had pretty much gone hand-in-hand, meaning that the Singles chart was a solid arbiter as to what the country was playing, hearing, and buying. In the years that followed, though, there were many, many popular songs in the alternative format (that still get regular airplay today) that were not released as singles, so they never charted.

In 1992, Boyz II Men broke the then-record for consecutive weeks at the top of the US Singles chart with "End of the Road". MTV News decided to send a reporter out to survey people to see how popular the song really was. None of the people they interviewed could identify any lyrics of the song beyond the main title line.

Sure, that's anecdotal. But the fact that a single that sells 7,000 copies can be number one should tell you a whole lot more.

I'll add: that an indie artist can sell 7,000 of anything in a week is a solid accomplishment.

But Bright Eyes at #1 is not some signal of impending success. If anything, it's closer to the moronic overhyping of certain specific indie bands, as has been the case in the last couple of years. Every couple of months, some band is given the crown of "next big thing" and hyped all to hell.

The Strokes, Interpol, Modest Mouse, Franz Ferdinand, Arcade Fire, Bright Eyes: NONE of them are/were the "next big thing". Yes, I know your local alternative station is playing a bunch of these. And you're "cool" for having heard of them and bought their albums. But in terms of gloried "Billboard success", there's not a platinum album between them. They are niche bands deserving of niche hype, not this overblown "we just found the key to the universe" type bullshit.

It was vogue circa 1992 to look to the future and "the next Nirvana". Well, guess what? In the thirteen years since, we never found it. There have been a number of brilliant bands since then (including some of the list in the last paragraph), but none of them reached the mountaintop of "the next Nirvana". So why are we still looking? Why are people still actively seeking that holy grail?

I applaud the efforts of the indie community to get unknown bands heard, but this has become ridiculous. Music journalism has become so unbelievably fucking LAZY that once somebody utters a name, everybody goes bezerk and anoints them music's "savior". It's HYPE, just as bad (if not worse) as what the majors are doing with their "bands".

The worst part about it is the wholesale abandonment of these artists once their moment of hype has passed. Am I the only one who heard the regular drops of "Interpol? Them again?" before their recent album release? If their first album was so amazing, why did so many people roll their eyes when their second album was announced? And why so did many people feel the need to defend their enjoyment of the new album?

This is everything I hated about working at college radio multiplied by five thousand. (Play random tracks from a new band's album six or eight times in a week, rave about how awesome they are, then ditch them like yesterday's leftovers within a month.) At least then it was local. Now we have national scenesters. And guess what? They still suck.

Seriously, just enjoy the tunes and tell your friends if you like them. Tell the hype-driven kids to shut the fuck up.

Oh, and now that you've read this, read the NME's flaming turd about Bright Eyes. (I should probably let them off the hook 'cause they're from the UK. Nah, they should know better.)

The Ashlee Malfunction
January 9 2005 02:14 AM ET (Permalink) (Comment)

Considering the game was several days ago, I know this has been done to death already. But I keep thinking about it (especially since people seem to still be talking about it).

Ashlee Simpson's people seem to think that she got booed at the Orange Bowl because of the SNL incident. It didn't have anything to do with her choice of neo-Lavigne "lets look all cool and punk an' stuff to make it appear like we're the real thing" wardrobe with requisite anarchy logo.

But, honestly, I think it goes way beyond that.

I blame the numb-nuts who booked her in the first place.

I mean, seriously? Who books a neo-pop-star for halftime of a college football game?

If this were the Super Bowl, it'd be an entirely different situation. Most people seem to accept that the Super Bowl halftime show is going to be some random no-talent performer singing some random song with some random people dancing around them. And it's going to be missed by 90% of the people watching the game, and easily half of the people actually at the stadium.

How many people watched the "wardrobe malfunction" when it happened?

(I still remember that the big deal with halftime at the 1989 Super Bowl wasn't the act performing: it was the 3-D Diet Coke commercial. I watched halftime that year - I only remember the commercial.)

I understand that with the BCS, we now have a "title" game worthy of national attention, but do we really need a special halftime extravaganza?

Every other bowl just gives the participating college bands a chance to perform, then brings out some travesty like the high school "massed band", where they basically cram as many high schoolers onto the field as humanly possible. Travesty, yes. Enjoyable, no. But it's a reasonable halftime act for a college bowl.

The usual college bowl halftime can occasionally bring out something unexpected. At the 1995 Peach Bowl, the University of Virginia sent their pep band rather than the usual marching band. Among the group were several, um, "balloonists" and a cello. It was hands-down the most entertaining college halftime show I've ever seen, even if the crowd wasn't so enthused.

I go specific with the "college" category of "most entertaining", as it would be hard to cap the massed Jazzercise dance extravaganza that the Atlanta Falcons hoisted on us some years ago. Imagine a football field full of housewives wearing spandex. Giggli... I mean, "dancing". *shudder*

Dammit, give me Frisbee Dogs any day. Best halftime show evar.

Okay, back on point. Part of the reason that you don't see the other "winners" of the pop-star category getting booed on national television is because they only play in front of their audiences. It's kind of like a Bush stump speech - they go to extravagant lengths to make sure that no "dissenters" are at the event.

Think to yourself the kind of person that goes to a college football game. Lemme guess - you're not thinking of pre-teen and teenage girls, right?

Had Britney Spears "played" the halftime of the Orange Bowl, she'da gotten booed. Christina, yep. Justin, yep. Lindsay, yep. It doesn't matter that it's the "National Championship" game - people don't go to it just because it's an "event" like they do the Super Bowl. (That may happen someday, but I don't think we're there yet. The BCS is just too screwed up.)

Ashlee needs to stick to the KIIS / Z100 circuit where she can perform, get her thirty seconds on Entertainment Tonight, and start the slow crawl back to her fanbase. They're already on their way to returning: you can already guarantee that the next season of her MTV show will feature her crying about getting mistreated by the media and the general population on a weekly basis, and that kind of melodrama is pure crack cocaine for the pre-teen set.

But WTF was with the anarchy logo? I'm easily fifteen-thousand times more the "anarchist" than Ashlee, and I wouldn't be caught dead wearing the badge.

Anybody else think somebody showed Joe Simpson a copy of the video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit"?

Hmm. Maybe that's just me.

Inside Pitchfork Media
January 9 2005 11:12 PM ET (Permalink) (Comment)

I somehow missed this article from the Chicago Sun-Times from last week, but I think it covers a lot of the issues of what I was mumbling about the other day.

Chicago Sun-Times: Perfect Pitch

It's an in-depth article about the indie website Pitchfork. I'll admit that I read the site regularly. But I have to admit that I seriously dislike some of their more brazen and obnoxious reviews. The site has often seethed pretension. Sometimes, it can be funny, but usually, it's completely unnecessary.

It seems like it's been toned down of late, though. Not sure if that's thanks to the departure of longtime reviewer/contributor Brent DiCrescenzo or to the site's semi-recent realization of its value to the indie community.

It actually seems strange to see an article about a site like Pitchfork in a mainstream newspaper. Tells you how things have changed in the last few years.

January 13 2005 10:41 PM ET (Permalink) (Comment)

I saw this on Matthew Good's blog, and just thought it was a nice read:

[Edit: Links now to local version - Matt entirely deleted his website a few days after this post.]

The father of Matt's friend Daniel is in his last days, so Daniel took a step back and wrote this entry about him.

The End of WHFS
January 14 2005 12:42 AM ET (Permalink) (Comment)

In random also-news, I saw the blips today about the demise of long-time DC alternative radio powerhouse WHFS. My initial reaction was the typical "Why!?!?" until I re-thought it and remembered all of the stories in the last couple of years about how the station was being "re-tooled". By most accounts at the time, the "re-tooling" was not a good idea, and was more of a last ditch effort than anything else.

I remember travelling through DC back in 1992 and hearing They Might Be Giants on WHFS and being in absolute shock. Until that moment, I had never heard They Might Be Giants on a major radio station. I kept listening, and heard all kinds of strange songs that I'd never heard before. Yep, back then, they were still the loose free-form alternative station that had made them so influential in the 1980s.

The downfall really started once they fell under the ownership of Infinity Broadcasting at the end of 1995. The station had to be "commercial", and narrowed their playlist significantly. It worked for a brief time as alternative music was really starting to find its audience and, at the time, they were the only game in town.

Towards the end of 1996, though, DC-101 finally decided to join with the times and stop playing the sludge rock that to that point had been their trademark. And they were serious: they even lured 99x night guy Will Pendarvis, whose alternative show "On the Edge" was arguably the impetus for Power 99 to change formats in 1992, to work mornings. (I still can't believe that one. Will was so absolutely a night guy.) By the late 90s, DC 101 was out-HFSing HFS. It didn't help that WHFS's reception in DC was absolutely abysmal, granted that their tower was out in Annapolis, Maryland.

So here's to the end of an era.

January 19 2005 12:12 AM ET (Permalink) (Comment)

A couple of weeks ago, one of my housemates noted that he was going out of town from Friday to this Wednesday. Perfect, I thought. This would give me plenty of time to record vocals and whatnot. (I seem to have this mental hang-up that prevents me from recording when anyone else is in the house. My other housemate tends to be gone most of the day.)

Wednesday rolls around, and I get a phone call about helping out with catering work on Friday and Saturday. No way I'm going to turn that down to record vocals. Sunday's already out because of the usual Sunday madness, so I aim to record on Monday.

Naturally, I forget that Monday's a holiday. It's just like Sunday. No recording.

Monday night, I get the tickle. The throat tickle. I know I'm in trouble.

I wake up Tuesday with full-blown sore throat, accompanied by a nice full head. And I laugh: just last week, I'd pondered to myself that I hadn't been sick in a while (and I'd pondered how few vocals I'd recorded during all of that time of not being sick).

Of course, this nukes Wednesday, too. I'm helping with catering, anyway, so it wouldn't have happened with or without the sore throat. The house will be back to its normal routine on Thursday.

The sad part is that crap like this has happened the last several times I've tried to record vocals. I'm starting to wonder if God or Fate has decided that I've recorded all the vocals I'm ever going to record. You will not finish these songs. Feh.

Or maybe this is just payback for the phenomenal weather we'd had through last Thursday. I seem to typically get sick when the weather changes.

I guess I've got one fewer complaint: my other housemate got a flu shot last Wednesday and came down with a full-blown upper respiratory infection this past weekend. The two events seem to be unrelated, but it certainly had us wondering before the diagnosis. (Had to wonder if I needed to blame that flu shot on whatever crap I've got now.)

And, no I didn't get a flu shot this year. The betting windows are still open.

Somebody's Listening?
January 29 2005 11:44 PM ET (Permalink) (Comment)

From: Pitchfork Media: Get That Out of Your Mouth

Many people just dump their mp3s on their own sites, like a distress call from the middle of the Atlantic, and hope that somebody's listening.

Now, who would do a thing like that? ;)

I think I'd be more vigilant if I were touring and playing shows and such. But, as many of you are already aware, me playing a show is a sign of the apocalypse.

Speaking of which, Friday marked the second anniversary of Once Every Never finally existing in a form other than on my computer. I went ahead and uploaded one more tune, "Thwarted Needs", just to mark the occasion. (And because I'd already uploaded it to the Myspace account that I have yet to do much with.)

Granted my lack of vocal power in the past week or more, I spent some time tinkering with some older recordings. And I mean older recordings. The first batch of real four-track recordings I ever made were thrown together in a fourteen hour mess back in May of 1995. Drum parts were written and recorded at the same time, basslines were written on the fly, and some songs lacked lyrics until the dead last minute. (The drumming was particularly awkward, granted that I wouldn't possess a drum set for another two years.) And, seriously - all but the drums were recorded in my dorm room. Mostly a mess, but it gave me something to give some friends when I got home, and it ended up turning into a band.

I've been threatening for years to "release" the studio demos (eight songs) that said band (called Stoneykirk) recorded that summer. My cousin helped me convert the DAT of the final mixes to CD-R a couple of years ago; they're just waiting for mastering. Someday.

But there are a couple of songs on the four-track demos that didn't get re-recorded, and never got decent mixes (granted that I didn't know what I was doing). So, granted the illness, I spent a short amount of time working on it this week.

Yet I keep pondering to myself: why bother? Does anybody really care about the stuff I recorded ten years ago? Is this just a diversion from the new stuff I should be working on?

Feh. As long as I'm coughing, I'll use it as an excuse.


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