Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Super Bowl Halftime Show, Pay to Play?

According to this latest FORBES story the NFL is considering making the Super Bowl Half Time show a pay to play deal, according to the article it will not work. So far the NFL has brought this deal to Coldplay, Rihanna and Katy Perry and they are not biting and you can't blame them. Currently the HF show is a free deal, artist usually take the gig because it gives them an album sales boost due to increased exposure. Bruno Mars saw a Unorthodox Jukebox shoot from No. 7 to No. 3 on the Billboard 200 as sales soared 92% to 81,000 in the week after last year’s Super Bowl performance. 

This move could be another set of cracks in the NFL Shield besides the concussion issue. While the other is caused by brain damage from playing the sport,  these fractures are caused be something unrelated to football; changes in the music industry. The ripples from these changes are now affecting other forms of entertainment as well. The internet and illegal downloading means that artists must now make their BANK solely on tours. A free show at the Super Bowl cuts into their tour schedule and their earnings. As a culture institution the Super Bowl HF show might be seeing the erosion of it's relevancy as a powerful marketing force for big name acts.This pay to play system could cause the entire show to slide into oblivion, as the only acts that are willing to basically pay 2 million (for what is basically a live commercial) are more lesser known up and coming acts who need the extra media exposure. Then again why do that when a twitter feed can do it for free and might reach even more people, because lesser acts who can use the extra awareness cannot afford to plop down 2 million for a show. This is why as of right now, we will never see Taylor Swift do the show, one she does not need the increased publicity nor does she want to do a show for free let alone pay for it, it will cost her money and in the end not help her.

But with more and more artists are not biting the BIG name acts that people want to see, The event that Michael Jackson made into a marquee attraction 1993 the HF show might go back to the dark days when all the NFL could get was the creepy cult like Up With People. Many viewers tune into the big game for the HF show and the commercials, if the NFL cannot get the A list talent, then they tune out and loss of advertising revenue follows with it.

Also an issue is what if an act does pay for the spot and they decide they can do what they want since they paid for it. Lets say in the 2016 Super Bowl Kayne West gets the bid and then decides He "owns" it either does an act of total lewdness that make nipplegate look tame, or uses it instead to entertain but to spout some crazy tirade about some cause or issue that has gotten under his skin. The negative media attention will be horrendous, for a league that is already being hammered over issues of player safety. The NFL hates negative attention and so far this plan is getting very negative reception, so hopefully the NFL will scrap this idea quickly.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Taylor Swift, live stream reveal and Shake it off After Action Review

1989 was Transitional year in history and is a transitional album for Taylor Swift.

It is official Taylor is going full on pop, personally I am not at all surprised. Looking back at the history of modern music many other artists and music acts have done this. They get to a point in their careers where they make “THAT” album, you know the one” THAT” is different from their previous work and leaves even their most hard core fans thinking “WTF”?
While her new video Shake it off is getting mixed reactions, some like it, some hate it, and others are crying racism. This leads me to worry that 1989 might also be “THAT” album for Taylor Swift, the one that makes the swifites think “WTF”? Why? Because we have past examples of other successful acts attempting the same thing. Taylor said she wanted her next album to sound nothing like her past ones, wanted to change things up and offer something new.” THAT” album is always the result of an artist wanting to do just that, always the result a creative crisis and the desire to be taken “seriously” as musicians. More often than not, this desire for something new results in the artist falling face first into the dirt, here are some examples of transitions what were total disasters.

Example #1 Case of Musicians who wanted to be taken seriously

Kiss “Music from the Elder Vol 1.”

The 1980’s began with KISS facing a crisis, they were in a transition from being the Knights In Satan’s Service that terrified their parents,  to their fans becoming parents and bringing their own children to concerts. So the band softened up their music as a result, and that resulted in softer album sales. Fans and industry people felt KISS went from being a hard core sex, drugs and rock band to a commercialized circus act. That resentment had a ring of truth to it as action figures, comic books, and an atrocious TV movie did not help build a reputation as serious musicians.

Speaking of MERCH, Big Machine Records, if in some slim chance you are reading this, any chance we can get Taylor Swift legos?Thought I'd Ask.

Paul Stanley wanted to go back to a harder sound, but Bob Ezrin decided to take a drastic departure and to make an epic symphonic album that was to be an epic heroes tale that would span several albums.  Final result was an EPIC disaster, the management team was confused by what they heard and so were the fans as Elder became worst selling album KISS ever made.  Sales were so poor that the band did not undertake a promotional tour instead did several TV performances.

Example #2  I want to change everything, even who I am

Garth Brooks becomes Chris Gaines

In 1999 Garth Brooks wanted to go Alternative, Pop, or rock, eat pop rocks or whatever. His strategy was to take on a new persona of Australian rock sensation Chris Gaines. Never hear of him?  Well he never existed, Chris Gaines was a fictional character who was supposed to be in a movie titled The Lamb by Paramount Pictures. Problem arose when He took on this persona and made music and a video before the film project was set in stone, the album was to be a “pre-soundtrack” to a film that was not even in pre-production yet. Just like The Elder it was a soundtrack for a story that did not exist, unlike Elder a film was in planning. The film deal went south and his loyal fans all thought He lost his mind.  Daily Show summed it up best “This shows that even Garth Brooks has gotten sick of Garth Brooks.”

Example #3 Double Threat, another soundtrack for things that do not exist and a switch to Pop

U2: Passengers Original Soundtracks 1 and POP

Bono not learning the lesson from KISS and Garth, decided to do the entire soundtrack to non-existent movies. Like all successful acts Bono and Brian Eno got bored and decided to form a new group called the Passengers and made Original Soundtracks 1, it was another concept album, the concept of soundtracks for a movie that does not exist.  (Except for Miss Sarajevo,  Ghost in the Shell and Beyond the Clouds) So far seems to be a popular choice for artists who want to experiment, (let’s hope Ms Swift does not get a brain fart about doing an album of songs for fairy tales that do not exist., Vol 1)  Just like Elder it was going to be first of many, and just like Elder it ended up being the only one. The project was such a flop that Drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. voiced his disapproval "There's a thin line between interesting music and self-indulgence. We crossed it on the Passengers record."
Except for the memorable Miss Sarajevo with legendary Luciano Pavarotti, the rest of album being was passed over by U2 fans and was the least selling in their discography second only to the next outing which this was a warm up for.
POP goes the record sales

Bono and the band were not done screwing up, after Passengers they wanted to go for a new musical style, a U2 album that you can dance to.  After Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr got a Grammy nomination for their electronica theme for the Mission: Impossible movie and they all thought, DANCE was the way to go. Like all disaster albums, there was trouble behind the scenes, Mullen was absent for most of the production do to recovering from back surgery, and producer Nelle Cooper left in May 1996 to work on the Romeo + Juliet film score.
Thus POP was born, and the tour was announced at the Lingerie department of the NYC Kmart. (I kid you not) All those problems came to the surface during the 1997 ABC one hour prime time special U2: A year in pop, much of the rehearsal time was taken up to make final tweaks on the album and it showed in the special as it was the lowest rated non-political documentary in the history of ABC.

The album suffered the same fate, while it was initially a commercial success, the reviews were mixed and it now has the lowest lifetime sales of all U2 Albums.  Even U2 themselves distanced themselves from POP as their next album All That you Can’t Leave Behind had a more traditional stripped down approach and they played less and less of songs from POP in future tours. 

Lessons Learned

Of all these music disasters POP holds the best parallel to 1989. This is an album that is a stark departure the Taylor’s previous work, and if it fails, just like U2 expect to see a more stripped down  return to her more traditional music, such as an acoustic album and she will then may Shake off this experience by deleting 1989 from her future concert playlists.
While Taylor’s change does echo some of these historical disasters, Taylor might be able to pull this off. Why? Unlike these examples, Ms. Swift or her management team is smart and could be aware of these fumbles. She just did not JUMP into pop. She tested the waters first, RED has several pop songs, State of Grace, 22 and We are never getting back together. Her most POP song before Shake it off  was Sweeter than Fiction for the movie “One Chance”.  The song was a throwback to 80’s pop songs and a foreshadowing to Shake it off and the idea behind 1989. A country artist recording a pop song for movie was a smart move, a great way to try something new and minimize the risk. If the song failed, Taylor could always distance herself from the song and style saying to it was made to fit a movie and is not a part of her larger work. While this is a new musical change for Taylor her fans were not left in shock as many were already suspecting it , unlike KISS, GARTH and U2, Taylor groomed her fans for this change, that is the major difference here. Her change is not an abrupt one, it is pop but not under some self-indulgent concept that is going to fly over her fans.

Final Verdict

What got my attention of the live stream was her use of Polaroid photos and her mentioning of loving tangible photographs. We now live in an age of digital everything, music is now downloaded directly into digital players, and purchased or “obtained” online. This is also true for all media, DVD is giving way to live streaming and torrents, and Broadcast TV is giving way to downloading and binge watching. Even reading has changed as paper books are giving way to kindle. Even  video games are becoming direct digital downloads. Our entertainment is no longer physical, music is on ipads and people live virtual lives in online games and it seems as more and more of the real world is slipping away.

It is possible Taylor senses this and wants to hold on to what is real in this world. For her album name she chose 1989, because it is her birth year, but there is something more profound going on with the choice of 1989 that even she is not aware of.  Taylor said that “It was, apparently, a time of limitless potential. … The idea of endless possibility was kind of a theme in the last year of my life." If you look deeper there was a reason for this, Taylor said the album is reflection of the last transitional year in her life, and 1989 was a transitional year in world history. 

 A month before Taylor was born a major event shook the world. The Berlin Wall, a symbol of the cold war came down, the climax of events that punched holes in the Iron Curtain earlier that year. 1989 was also interesting in another aspect; she was born at a transition in our society one where the digital age we now live in was being born.  Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist on March 12, 1989, he wrote a proposal for what would eventually become the World Wide Web. Personal computers were starting to appear in people’s homes; in music cassette tapes were giving way to compact discs. Two years later High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991 was passed thus building the foundation for the World Wide Web.

1989 was just not the year Taylor was born but it was the last year of our world before everything started to become totally digitized. 1989 was a transitional year, the end of one decade and the start of another. But it was not an abrupt change as the old world faded and blended into the digital world from 1989 to 1994 with the founding of Yahoo. So far Taylor’s transition from country to pop is not the abrupt jump like many failed attempts before, but a slow blending from one style to another in a seamless transition. Will this be a successful change?  We will have to wait until the album comes out in October.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The real lesson football is teaching teens.

Something is happening in our high schools, something that has the adults troubled and perplexed. It's not drugs or twerking, It is apathy, they apathetic about football, the God of all high school sport, the cornerstone of school spirit. In my high school days, this would be as unthinkable as the current trend of teens being apathetic towards driving.
Everyone has something to blame, it's those evil video games or kids today are just lazy (because of those evil video games) and don't to want to put in the work. Or it is because boys today are too soft and are being "feminized". Then there is the concussion issue, which unlike all the others has real merit. It could be a bunch of these issues, but as I do more and more research I am seeing something different in this current generation of High Schoolers.

There is one stark difference, unlike my generation, these students have far more access to information then I ever did, I graduated HS in 1995 and did not get my first exposure to the internet until my freshman year in college in 1996. These students were born after I started college, and grew up with the world wide web and now have it in the palm of their hands. It is the reason why religiosity is in decline with Gen Y, because they are getting information, reviewing it and coming to the conclusion that religion is by and large a bunch of bull.

You think that these students not playing the sport are missing out on a great experience, learning values and important life lessons like team work, and perseverance etc. Well these teens have examined the issue and learned a new lesson, Get a return on your investment. They see that football requires a high level of effort, hard strenuous practices, year long strength training. For what in return? To get benched on most games, to play for a HS team that loses all the time. The conclusion is this, The workload is heavy, time and energy that needs to be spent is great for something where the rewards are few if any. What about college you can get a scholarship, here is the truth only 2% of youth athletes get college scholarships, most of those are partial ones as those vaunted full ride deals are practically non-existent.

Then there is the concussion issue, rewards are few but the consequences of those long hard hours are great. Lifelong health issues from injuries, from bad backs, torn ligaments and bum knees then the nightmare of Concussions and the disease of CTE. Which has caused the deaths of many NFL legends and other living retirees to say they will never let their sons follow the same path. When Brett Farve says it, that cuts deep into the psyche of teens and their parents. Unwillingness to play this sport is not out of laziness, but simple economics, it is understandable they want to get out more than what they invested in. Football just does not offer that, it is a bad investment of time and energy compounded with real risks.

Another reason, as a mentioned above with religion, today's teens getting more and more easily accessible information from the web. They are getting more informed, smarter and more literate than their parents and grandparents. Fact is, they just might be too smart for football. Football like MMA are violent sports that are visceral, physical and are tied into the hyper-masculine culture. This is a culture that appeals to men of a certain lower educational level, this culture of violence appeals to those in environments that lack quality educational institutions. These teens raised on computers, video games are more cerebral orientated thus have no appetite for real violence.

Case in point 2013, The Elite Lawrenceville Prep school in New Jersey announced that they will end their 100 year plus House Tackle Football will and be replaced by flag football. The alumni cried betrayal as they abandoned this hallowed tradition and Rush Limbaugh and Daily Caller cried this was a liberal plot to destroy football and all other institutions of manliness in the agenda of feminizing boys. Yet we did not hear a peep out of the current students, the drivers of this policy change. Just like High School teams, the Houses (dorms) were having trouble getting enough kids to field an 8 man team. These new teens are just not interested, it is not "wussification", "feminization" or kids getting soft. Boys are not  getting more feminized just more civilized. This is a change that should be celebrated as a societal triumph.

It is a  change that means we have a new generation of boys will will mature into men who will not become wife beaters and child abusers. But rather be parents who raise their children though intelligence not ignorant cruelty. The trend that is killing high school football could be also spelling doom for domestic violence and child abuse in the next 25 years, we could be winning the fight on what is one of our great societal cancers, football and MMA could be collateral damage. 

As we get smarter, we actually get less violent. We see this in society at large, communities that have a good educational system have lower violent crime rates, go to any crime ridden ghetto what do you see lack of good schools. Here is where we can blame video games...for making teens LESS violent, popular games like the Call of Duty series feeds those same visceral desires but in a safer and more convenient manner, thus eliminating the need for teens to strap on helmet and pads and slam into each other. I bet you the farm if the Houses in Lawrenceville had LAN parties for COD Advanced Warfare tournament this fall, the number of volunteers would be staggering.

We are seeing it in civilization at large, as the world becomes more and more scientifically advanced VIOLENCE decreases and so does our tolerance for it.  In this current conflict the USA is in,  it has lasted longer than Vietnam, but with a fraction of the KIA, yet people call it a blood bath. More US soldiers died taking Normandy on D-Day than the entire War on Terror. Today when 10 soldiers die in an IED attack we call for our troops to come home. 100 years ago thousands on young men were thrown into the meat grinder of WWI, in battles that were even more pointless.  Just like WWI, football tries to recruit young men into its ranks by the same methods. It is a great adventure that will build boys into better strong men, like that Great War we are starting to see the reality. The War did not take boys and build them up into men, it just broke them. Sent them back wounded and shell shocked, Football takes healthy boys and sends them back as men wounded and brains ravaged by dementia.