It’s a mess out there and it’s hard to tell fact from fiction and pulp from friction. Everyone has answers and yet no one is asking the right questions. People facebook, sms, twitter, tweat and criticize what they don’t understand.

Suddenly, the DIY music world has made everyone a DIY expert on DIY music and DIY everything. What’s scary is that no one is really an expert on anything as there are so many grey areas which the “digital space” has thrown up and no one knows how to mop up. What we have is the dog’s breakfast. And now what?

Ask about publishing and how it works and approval processes in this netherworld of complexity and no one knows. People would like to charge you for advice, but what do they really know? Most know bollocks, but they give you these bollocks with a nice shiny glean.

What about copyright issues? Is it safe to post original material on YouTube or MySpace or any “part” of this “digital space”? What’s to stop someone from saying, “Thank you very much, I’ll take that part of the song and call it mine”?

In China, there are 28 people claiming to have written the same song and which means that song is tied up in litigation and going nowhere.

If you’re a struggling artist or band what are you meant to do? Hire a lawyer when you cannot even get a gig which pays something more than a few beers?

Technology has made it easier for consumers- and certainly music fans- to- what’s the mantra?- “Hear more music than ever before and anytime I want to”- but it has also helped create another fine mess, Ollie, out there and which will never be sorted out. So now what?

Pandora’s Box has been opened and the genie is out busily re-producing genies all the time. There are more genies being produced than music and supply is over-taking demand so quickly that there is way too much of everything and nothing out there. And now what?

Last week, a mate showed me his new iPad and an app priced at $1.99 called “Suicide Girls.” It’s the closest thing to porn one can get on the iPad, but how long would this “inter-active” titillation last? An hour, maybe two?

But, these tattooed “Suicide Girls” probably have a bigger “fan base” than most new bands-working artists- and the internet and now the iPad has given them a greater audience. It doesn’t seem right, but there’s no accounting for whims and taste- and reality. And now what?

There is a good little band in Hong Kong called Noughts And Exes just as there are good little bands everywhere in the world and which millions of people have never heard of and will never hear. Ever. Unlike “Suicide Girls.”

Denmark and Sweden, for example, are overflowing with “good little bands” who work hard, they play hard and they are hardly going anywhere. So they create a little hype and someone writes about them and they get a few thousand views on YouTube. And then what?A few gigs? Open for a big act and for which audiences seldom show up to see the opening act? I know some pretty big bands who have opened for the Stones. Did it help their careers? Nope. Some were even booed off stage.

In a city like Hong Kong where unless you sing in Cantonese or Mandarin, the media and the recording companies don’t wish to know whether you can sing, dance or juggle nine black cats on your head wearing a desmond tutu. Noughts And Exes have their work cut out for them. Maybe that’s the challenge- the impetus- needed to DTD- Do Things Differently. I’d take DTD over DIY any day.

Is this uphill battle to be recognized the “fault” of music companies? Not really. They have a business to run. So why get behind an act which is a band that will not make them money? And more on bands later.

So what does a band like Noughts And Exes do? They can perform ‘live,’ they write their own material, they produce their own videos- excellent stuff-  they have plans, they have ambitions, but how are these to be met when their financial support system are themselves? How far will this take them? How far will self-financing take anyone?

Yes, it’s a DIY world- but only up to a point and this DIY term is vastly over-used and overrated. One can blow rhubarbs at the  majors, but they have rich parent companies looking after them. They are truly global, they have proven track records, they have made huge dollops of money for artists- and vice versa-, they have all the right connections and which is why, today, bands like Radiohead, NIN etc can afford to go it alone and take chances.

Being a major recording company is like being in college and having your parents keep paying for you to go from taking one Major to the next until they cut off the funds and you’re on your own in the great big world.

The indies? They need either investors- and investors are the Shylocks of the world needing their pound of flesh-or else have had to put their hands into their own pockets so many times there are now holes in them and they are busy playing pocket billiards.

Sorry, but today, even an “indie” needs to be financially solvent and dependent and just being an “indie label” does not mean signing up every “indie acts” that comes knocking on their door. Beggars, Sub Pop, Cooking Vinyl etc are not running charities. They sign up bands like The National ‘cos they believe they will make money for and from them.

The irony is that many of the bigger acts signed up come to the “indie world” after having been financially set for life and having had a major’s machinery build up their fan bases. Except perhaps for EMI which is on a drip, the majors are still breathing reasonably comfortably.

So,when it comes to a recording deal or even a simple distribution deal, what does an unknown band like Noughts And Exes do? Sure, they can be “unsigned” and “gig”, but for how long before the money starts coming in- and from where?

More to the point, how long before their money dries up? Will DTD- Doing Things Differently- help? It can’t hurt. What does “doing thing differently” mean? Well, if I need to explain, it goes against “doing it”, right?

I am asking these questions so I can understand what the hell a band like this- anywhere in the world- can do- or need to do to break free from what seems like the shackles of “bandom”- or “abandon-ment”.

Noughts And Exes is a good band, but how is anyone going to hear them outside of Hong Kong? The same question can be asked about thousands of great unknown bands in small countries around the world. Word-of-mouth can only spread the news so far.

I still think of watching Nephew and Spleen United from Denmark when in Aarhus and thinking, “Jeez, to think that so many music fans have never even heard of these guys”- and Mew, Raveonettes and other Danish bands who can out-play and out-gun so many established bands out there.

Have we perhaps arrived at a time in the history of music when bands are no longer relevant, or “too expensive” or just “too much trouble”? Or is the “concept” of a band just “too Sixties” or “too Eighties”? Who was the last really big band? Coldplay? Just asking.

Or is now the time for a “new” type of band? Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett tried it with Gorillaz, but that effort became dated very quickly. The project died when it stopped trying to be innovative.

Is it also easier for sponsors and promoters to work with solo artists and Club DJs? Are they “easier” to manage and “easier” to promote and “easier” to keep together and “control” than 4-5 or even six individuals, some of whom might jump ship mid-stream?

Is it more hassle-free to build up the image of a solo artist as opposed to an entire band in this celebrity-driven and image-conscious world?

Why else would we have Justin Bieber. And Rihanna. And Katy Perry. Lady Gaga. Taylor Swift. Kanye. Charice. And everyone from any one of the television shows where there is no place for bands.

Does anyone really care what Rihanna sounds like? Isn’t it all about image? Isn’t this what the new breed of mainstream “music” fan is buying into: Style versus substance?

Today, it seems that a stylist is far more important than a record producer.

I heard Rihanna on the MTV Europe Awards and her vocals were all over the place. But she looked great. She looked expensive. Everything about her performance was blinged out expensive.

Is there even such a thing as a mainstream solo Rock Star? John Mayer? Perhaps. Someone mentioned Gene Simmons. Please. And look what’s happened to the KISS Channel on YouTube? It’s been taken down for copyright infringement.

The irony is that despite all his ranting against those who steal music and have no respect for copyright laws, here now is the very real possibility that KISS have done the same darn thing and these words spoken by Gene Simmons might come back to bite him on his fat ass: “Every little college kid, every freshly-scrubbed little kid’s face should have been sued off the face of the earth. They should have taken their houses and cars and nipped it right there in the beginning. Those kids are putting 100,000 to a million people out of work.”

See what I mean about no one knowing anything anymore for sure about nothing? It’s all a bit like that Dylan song about how “You ain’t goin’ nowhere.” And now what?

Today, there are plenty of online platforms to showcase new acts. There is a veritable buffet of platforms, but how effective are these?

Are they Good Samaritans out there to help struggling acts, or, businesses trying to find a place for themselves in this music industry jungle and needing content to build up subscriber bases?

Plus, how do these platforms market themselves? Who owns the Rights when an act appears on one of these “platforms”? What are the upside and downsides to appearing on one of these? Okay, you’re an unknown act, you give an online “showcase”. And then what?

That’s always the question for me these days: And now what?

There have been just too many acts who have jumped the gun hoping for the best, not doing their homework, not reading The Art Of War and finding themselves with everything except a deal- any deal.

They have the CD, the videos, the EPK, the merchandise and some mates wearing their t-shirts and that’s it.By the time they get a recording deal in some shape or form, the music is old, the video looks ancient and it’s back- again- to the drawing board. Plus, everyone is a year or so “not younger” and unless 19 or 21, few have the time to start afresh as no one wants a “new” thirtysomething Pop/Rock/Alternative band.

Ageism is rife, especially in music and it needs to be faced. If a band that’s over thirty, the perception is that they have “failed in the past”.

I was watching Bon Jovi receive an “icon” award at the MTV Europe Awards last week and the whole “ceremony” looked like one of those film tributes to Clint Eastwood. Though Jon Bon Jovi still has great hair, the band looked ancient and sounded outta place.That’s why all these “reunion tours” by once-great bands like The Who give me the creeps. It makes legends look like greedy wankers.

For Noughts And Exes, they somehow need to make their “Hong Kongness” work for them. It’s their one real USP. How? That would be a free lunch.

Like the new partnership between OK Go and Samsung, the band is also in Asia- and which means in a good position to get a brand like this behind them. These days, a sponsor can be more important than a recording deal and, somehow, the competition to get to a sponsor is not that difficult in this part of the world- as long as its a win-win situation. And, yes, then what?

Noughts And Exes- any new band anywhere- needs an overall marketing strategy covering online, mobile, on-the-air and online and not one-shot solutions. This cannot be done DIY. It needs experience and skill and connections. Yes, it means DTD- Doing Things Differently.

All this should be part of any act’s plans before work of any kind is started. If not, it all goes stale very quickly as time is taken up trying to put god back in the details.

Plus- and this will sound shallow- a band today must have some style to them- and I don’t mean the “synchronized swimming” and cheesy choreography of boy bands.

When, all those years ago, Brian Epstein put the Beatles into suits, he knew exactly what he was doing. He was giving four lads from Liverpool some style- and which became a point of difference.

The Stones and then-manager Andrew Loog Oldham went against this style- and this was that band’s point of difference.

Today, ambling up on stage in jeans and t-shirts is okay if in a bar band playing covers or a high school band, but not if you wish to be noticed. Not if you wish to attract the right people. Oh, and the music better be bloody good.

As for Noughts and Exes, they have a resource few have: Laundromatte, their own production and post-production facilities.

Yes, the band is  “only from Hong Kong”, but they are one of the very few, if not the only band of its kind out here. And so what?

They must find a way to be part of the new musical sound that this city so desperately needs and not “just another band” that can be heard anywhere else in the world. Yes, easier said than done, but it can be done.

It’s also perhaps time for all bands to manage expectations and to look at managing the various “properties”- and content- it could be owning instead of giving away.

A band today must be run like a business and not something put together for a lark- not if it’s to be taken seriously.

Passion, commitment, “art”, they are all fine, but if none of it pays the bills, it’s like Van Gogh cutting off his ear to spite his face.

Or, having gone through this thought-process, could the days of being in a band or having a band come to an end- at least a “band” in the way we have always known it to be?

If one were to re-define a Rock band for right here and now, what would it be- and sound like and look like?

Just asking.

  1. joy says:

    Clever about Epstein and putting the Beatles in suits.
    Had not thought about that and proof again that the Beatles were always ahead of everyone else.

  2. Brandon N says:

    Tough love!!!!
    A bit cruel but so true!

    It IS ALL image today and will be for years to come.

    There is just no place for bands except in bars and dives.

    Guys going broke making music in garages has been replaced by kids wanting cars in their garage even before they can drive.

  3. Craig says:

    Has there ever been a black rock band? Jimi Hendrix and the Experience doesn’t count. I am talking about an all black rock band. If not, why? Just asking!

  4. Steffi says:

    The truth hurts and this is a very honest article.

    No one cares about music anymore and it is all about image.

    I also agree that bands need to re-invent themselves.

    I managed three and fired them all. There was no money in it and everything had been done and we were all losing time and money trying to make old ideas work.

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