Every Person Should Pull A Lifeboat Over A Mountain

Idolised French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once said, “Only the guy who isn’t rowing has time to rock the boat”. After 24 years as an academic and senior lecturer in Higher Education, I am leaving the profession. What amounts to almost a quarter of a century is quite a long consecutive run. Maybe leaving higher education will re-invigorate me or it might highlight the complete folly of the last 24 years; I guess I will find out soon enough. The good news is that I am returning to the international entertainment industry, an industry that I’ve worked in for the last 38 years and it feels great.  

Entering the teaching profession was not a conscious professional decision back in 1994; it was something I stumbled into. I completed an undergraduate degree in documentary filmmaking at the University of Humberside in my home city of Hull as a mature student. Joining a media degree at the age of 30, as one of only two mature students on the program, and after 16 years of working in the music industry was fun. Here I was hanging out with a load of hip young gunslingers for the next three years living and breathing documentary filmmaking. Upon completion of my degree, I worked very hard to obtain a first class with honours, the faculty Dean offered me some much needed, and well paid, part-time teaching work. That was the start, three hours teaching per week, which exponentially grew. 

I studied very hard for various postgraduate degrees, including a teaching degree where I specialised in adult learners, an area I was sort of already an expert in. Once I had some formal qualifications I was taken on at the University of Humberside as an ‘Associate Lecturer’, a post I held for two years before I started chasing better and better jobs at different institutions around the UK. Eventually I became a Higher Education Funding Council (HEFC) external examiner, a post I loved, which took me to different universities to advise on quality control, curriculum and resources. This was the golden period, in the words of England’s finest Baird, these where the “salad days“. My work was never boring, employers fantastic, salary and benefits above average and working conditions great. From my punk rock origins, I had now achieved respectability, my parents could discuss my career at their bourgeoisie dinner parties and be proud of their Timothy.  

After 19 incredible years working in the UK’s public university sector I quit my job and followed the girl of my dreams across the globe to Melbourne, Australia. Before I had even left the UK I secured a full time teaching job via Skype at a private college in South Melbourne. Maybe I was incredibly naïve, or just plain stupid, but I was expecting this role would closely resemble my previous academic world; it did not. Not only where the salaries much lower, by lower I actually mean half what I had earned in the UK, but the whole culture was different. Having been an educator for so many years I knew that a good teacher sets context, raises questions and the really good ones enter into a dialogical relationship with their students. I worked as hard and as diligently as I ever had during the previous 20 years in the UK but there was no reciprocation from my employer. On numerous occasions the young, some would say inexperienced, academic management team made some horrendous decisions regarding teaching, learning, curriculum, staffing, resource management and even car parking. In an act of collegiality I often made offers to help and made suggestions on how to improve. In very clear terms I was told to keep out of it and that a lecturer on my grade had no interest in such lofty and important matters.  

The salad had gone off; indeed it was wilted, limp and was starting to get kind of funky. Very quickly I became aware that lecturing staff were seen as a commodity. The pay was lousy, conditions terrible, no more conferences or research as “it’s of no benefit”. The academic staff where treated as a thankless workhorse. The majority of my academic colleagues were brand new to teaching, a lot of them ex-students. Professional development was virtually zero with only a token online program to keep the institution only just compliant with the external quality control organisations. Staff struggled; retention was terrible with some staff only completing one trimester. This was an extremely totally toxic environment and everyone knew it. This institution could only be described as a lifeboat. As with all lifeboats no one wants to be in it, exposed on open seas, in rough weather, it is uncomfortable and unpleasant but it just about keeps everyone’s heads above the waterline. I kept going, applied for many other jobs, obtained external position on boards, kept researching and publishing at my own financial cost but there had been a sea change.  

Gone were the days of using my in-depth 30 plus years of subject specialism to develop and deliver cerebrally stimulating lessons and learning environments. This was all about delivering standardised curriculum to a large student cohort as quickly and efficiently as possible; this was a factory, a degree factory. In addition to the crushing force of the omnipresent workload calculator, I saw fellow academics being targeted by administrations. I witnessed the administration protect at all costs the lecturers who everyone knew were ineffective and lacked integrity, but were the most vocal about their own ‘success.’ It’s often stated that Millennials prize ethics in their work, and I was learning that higher education institutions are very unethical places. The idea that a student could actually fail a unit or even an assignment was heretical. Student retention was the only relevant metric in this drive for profitability; lets keep the pipeline open at all costs.  

For the past five years I have had an extremely difficult time reconciling the educational environment that I was inhabiting. I had no secure datum line or that datum line had significantly shifted that I was not certain if higher education had changed or that I was becoming old and cantankerous. I felt undervalued, depressed, humiliated on a daily basis, that my talent, experience and formal qualifications were all wasted. The students had bought the second most expensive commodity of their lives, the first being property, on a loan from the government. The only entry qualification needed to obtain a place on one of these degrees was the ability to pay. Previously, I had worked in higher educations institutions with very high entry qualifications and expectations. As such, students were already high achievers. Many of the students I taught recently struggled with basic reading and writing. Making the assessed assignments project based compensated for this lack of basic cognitive skills. I am all for widening participation in higher education what I refuse to do is lower standards.  

You don’t need to be an academic within the higher echelons to see the writing on the wall. One doesn’t get into teaching for money, but for the ability to make an observable difference every single day. I came to the conclusion that I probably was not making a positive contribution and that I was financially penalised for what I thought was my commitment to a noble and worthwhile career. Time to pack my bags and move on. Luckily the moment I stepped away for academia and teaching, I was offered, and accepted, a senior management role back in the entertainment industry. Sometimes it all happens for a reason and it doesn’t help to overthink situations despite all of my years as an academic.  

TimDalton2014

I am available for lectures, seminars, workshops, master classes and broadcasts simply drop me a line to touringtim@aol.com and I will get back to you. 

We Care A Lot

Nothing brings Nietzsche’s theory of death consciousness into sharp focus like an un-expected death of a close friend or relative. On Saturday morning I awoke to the tragic news that original Faith No More front man Chuck Mosley had died at the age of 57. I first met Chuck and the rest of Faith No More when I was employed as their tour manger, sound engineer, driver and companion on their first European tour back in 1988. At the time I was a 25-year-old hot shot, up and coming tour manger/sound engineer with lots of connections. Two days before meeting the band for the first time, I received a panicked early morning phone call from Faith No More’s booking agent, Derek, in London. There was a massive cock-up. The band were in mid-flight on the ‘red-eye’ from California to London Heathrow (LHR) airport with no one there to meet them on their first tour of the UK and Europe. Luckily I cleared my schedule, jumped in a van for a five-hour drive to LHR to meet a band I’ve never even heard of, never mind seen, before. Obviously the agency was not making Faith No More a very high priority at this point in their career.

Initially there was some slapstick hilarity at the airport when I mistook a vicar with a school choir for Faith No More. The ‘Faith’ bit confused me as I thought they might be religious, thank God they weren’t. Confusion rectified and I am en-route to the infamous Columbia rock ‘n’ roll Hotel on London’s Bayswater road with the band. The following day, January 22nd 1988, Faith No More (FNM) hit the United Kingdom live scene for the first time. The tiny venue was Dingwalls in Camden, London. It was in fact the first time FNM had played outside of the United States. This show was the first date of a European tour that ended seven months later in July that year. I did not know it at the time but it was to be Chuck Mosley’s last tour with the FNM as he and the band would part ways shorty after the tour ended.

Those seven months on the first FNM tour was hard work, but fun. I watched the band develop musically and creatively while devouring the sights and sounds of Europe. As with any bunch of mid-twenty year olds cooped up for long periods of time in a van and cramped cheap hotels there were disagreements, jokes, name-calling, practical jokes, happiness, homesickness and not much sleep. We played every small live music toilet venue going and built a loyal fan base. The process of commodification had begun Faith No More were going through the process of turning an un-known band into a global brand. In business speak the band’s early fans were their investors. Even at this preliminary stage I could see the small cracks appearing between this diaspora of individual band co-creators. Each member of the band had a different version of the ‘finished’ FNM product. Chuck took the most hedonistic and reckless view; to him this was all very punk rock. It might not last long, so lets have some fun and lots of it.

With Chuck, drugs and alcohol fuelled a big part in his reckless enjoyment on this first tour. He enjoyed the different cultures of each country we visited and survived those long endless drives in the cramped old van with raucous good humour. As with any bunch of strong willed individuals brought together in very confined spaces in unusual circumstances there was going to be friction. One of the reasons for this tour was to “stress test the product” and check its integrity before a full commitment of investment was made by the international record company. Ultimately this ‘beta test’ product failed the stress test because by the end of the tour in July the tiny fractures were now full-blown canyons. Tension between all band members was high but especially so between guitarist Jim Martin and Chuck Mosley. I remember a huge fistfight between these two at Zurich airport, which finished with them on the baggage carousel, resulting in Jim breaking a couple of fingers. From this point onwards Chuck’s day with Faith No More were numbered. Upon their return to the USA, and the start of their third studio album ‘The Real Thing’, Chuck was unceremoniously fired. 

Paul Simon famously sang, rather insipidly, that there are fifty ways to leave a lover but this is pure song writing shtick, there are actually only two. The first is to realise that there is a problem and that the relationship is troublesome, dysfunctional, has probably run its course and is over. Time for both parities to be honest with each other, explicate the issues in a mature, rational and kindly fashion and then depart with everyone’s dignity intact. Or you could do it the Chuck Mosley way by behaving with increasing self-indulgent discourtesy, twattery and bellendry until everyone around looses their patience and ditches you. This method, normally perused semi-wittingly by people not entirely certain with what they want from life, has the bonus of subsequently allowing the person to feel self–righteously aggrieved by the sacking, almost as if it wasn’t their fault. Mosley sued Faith No More after his firing, claiming a partnership stake in the band, and they settled out of court.

After that, Mosley spent a couple of years singing for a later version of the legendary hard-core band Bad Brains (1990 to 1992). He also formed the funk-metal band Cement and released a couple of albums in the mid-’90s. From time to time I’d run into Chuck, who was always polite, courteous and he appeared genuinely pleased to see me. We’d often chat backstage or in a hotel bar over a few beers. After Chuck’s departure, Faith No More would continue morphing into a global commodity with further sacking and replacements until they achieved global recognition with the 1992 album Angel Dust, which sold by the truckload. I survived until the Phoenix Festival on 20th July 1997 when I was asked/told to move on. Almost a decade with a band is a long time, probably too long. Over the years, Chuck released a few solo albums, and he even reunited with Faith No More for two shows in 2015.

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Chuck recently played some solo shows around the USA

It’s difficult not to sound like a know-it-all smart ass, but the music industry is a very difficult and emotional place to work. Duty of care is an alien concept. In the pursuit of sales the body count is high. In 2015, Help Musicians commissioned the first global academic research into musicians and mental health, which was done in conjunction with the University of Westminster and MusicTank. This academic report looked at the whole gamut of health issues within the music industry. Through this report it became very obvious that mental health issues was a continuing growing issue in the music industry. Many organisations are now discussing ways of trying to end the stigma by encouraging musicians, and those in the industry, to come forward and talk about their challenges. This report highlighted that musicians are three times more likely to suffer from mental health issues, depression or anxiety than other professions. This is coupled with lack of sleep, poor and sporadic salaries, failed relationships, disrupted lifestyles, imposter syndrome and a whole gambit of other related issues. If you consider Paul Manning’s normalisation theory, as defined in his 2007 book ‘Drugs and Popular Culture’ to hold true (I do), then we also have to contend with the fact that the music industry is a place where drugs and alcohol are totally acceptable/encouraged. If we also factor in the psychoanalytical theory of Imago, we are in very dangerous territory. Chuck fought his demons courageously to the end with a great support network of family and friends around him. Addiction is a complex disease of the brain and body that involves compulsive use of one or more substances despite serious health and social consequences. He’d spent the last decade fighting very hard to maintain his sobriety. With such a strong personality, I am sure that Chuck’s cognitive dissonance kicked in hard one last time late last week.

As I read in the Brooklyn Vegan on Saturday, “We’re sharing the manner in which he passed, in the hopes that it might serve as a warning or wake up call or beacon to anyone else struggling to fight for sobriety. He is survived by long-term partner Pip Logan, two daughters, Erica and Sophie and his grandson Wolfgang Logan Mosley. The family will be accepting donations for funeral expenses.

Chuck1
Charles Henry Mosley III 1960 – 2017

I’ve read lots of press recently about the dangers of suicide in young male adults but I believe that there is another serious problem looming with the 50 to 60 years olds. Especially those from high profile careers in music, entertainment and sport; but that’s another blog post.

It was an absolute pleasuring knowing and working with you Charles Henry Mosley III, may you rest in peace. 

 

An Open Space for Creativity and Collaboration

I love the work I do so much that it doesn’t actually feel like work at all. My Linkedin page describes me as a “solution architect” and “knowledge broker” but that’s only a small part of what I do. As someone who has worked in the international music industry for the last 38 years, and the higher education creative arts sector for the last 24 years, I am required to solve problems on a regular basis. A few weeks ago I was involved in a meeting with a couple of high-ranking academic mangers from an international creative higher education institution. They had correctly identified that the traditional siloed approach to “teaching” the creative arts was not particularly productive, nor was it creative and that collaborative working between different creative disciplines was the way forward. Bravo, problem correctly identified but that is the easy part. Now comes the really hard part; how to make creative students from different siloed disciplines work in collaboration? A classic Vladimir Propp ‘dispatcher’ scenario instilled in me, now go forth and solve that problem.

I am a big believer that the most dangerous eight words in any institution, enterprise or organisation are, “we have always done it this way before”. So I find myself in a meeting of educators from various different creative disciplines, e.g. film, design, audio, games programming, etc. to solve the problem of how to initiate and foster greater collaboration between these creative silos. It immediately becomes apparent that it’s not only the students that are not working collaboratively but neither are the staff. Indeed each ‘department’ was more that happy to be working within their own discipline with hardly any positive noises been made by anyone in the room towards full and meaningful collaborative work. Creativity by its very nature is a deviance from those unquestioned norms. Having a position outside the mainstream can facilitate one’s questioning of accepted practices and everyday modes of thought. I was shocked that a room full of creative minds was so closed to change. Maybe it’s an age problem; I am a 54 year old who grew out of the post punk art school movement in the UK. Deviance comes as second nature to me. This is not the first time in my professional career that I had stumbled into what Irving Goffman (1957) termed the “total institution”.

Osram
Osram’s cutting edge open plan Munich office in 1957

I do not think that my learned colleagues had correctly diagnosed the problem. It’s virtually impossible to make students work on collaborative projects if the teaching staff can’t or won’t work collaboratively. In the same way that you can’t force people to love one another, you can’t force them to work collaboratively. The way to solve this problem is to get the teaching staff working collaboratively first; a classic case of some silo busting needs to be done. Traditional thinking here would suggest that a large open plan office housing the chalk face academic staff would result in collaborative approach. Not in this case. Each creative silo occupies one row each in a large open space. Just because a colleague sits within a PC’s throw away from the next, doesn’t mean they are going to talk to each other. Close proximity doesn’t generate productivity or collaboration nor is it conducive to creativity.

As a devout modernist you would think that I adore the concept of the open plan office. Ironically, it was a team of 1950s German modernists from Hamburg that conceived the open plan office to better facilitate communication and ideas flow. This new movement was termed Burolandschaft (office landscaping). But a growing body of evidence suggests that the standardisation of the open office undermines the purpose that it was designed to achieve. It’s my view that modern open plan office is a hegemonic device used to supress deviance and foster worker compliance. The problem here is that by its definition, great creative, collaborative work is by its very nature deviant in both form and content. It does not conform to established traditions in the field. Recent evidence published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology (Jungsoo. K, 2013) from a study of more than 40,000 workers in 300 U.S. office buildings, by far the most comprehensive research on this issue, came to the following conclusion, “Enclosed private offices clearly outperformed open-plan layouts in most aspects of IEQ (Indoor Environmental Quality), particularly in acoustics, privacy and the proxemics issues. Benefits of enhanced ‘ease of interaction’ were smaller than the penalties of increased noise level and decreased privacy resulting from open-plan office configuration.” Research journals love to use jargon but don’t let the jargon confuse you. The term “proxemics issues” refers to how people feel uncomfortable when they’re forced into close proximity with other people. In this case all the creative academics are stabled in a huge open plan office that resembles a call centre sweatshop rather than a highly creative space of voluntary collaboration.

The big issue here is one of physical creative space. One of the most important ingredients for an effective collaborative circle is a magnet place such as a pub (I spent an awful lot of time in pubs in the 1980s and 90s “working”) these days its more likely to be a café/coffee shop, corner shop, or even a lawn or garden; so long as it’s a place where group members can freely come together with each other to discuss new ideas and to talk and argue (constructively) about their work. A second key ingredient is for group members to have time away from the mainstream, time to look at issues and ideas from new perspectives without mental or social pressure to conform to accepted norms and attitudes. In the words of the inventor of lateral thinking, Edward de Bono, “Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way”. The blunt tool of management dictates, “you will work in collaboration”, will never be effective here in a similar fashion to the fabulous dialogue from Dr Strangelove (1964), “Gentlemen you can’t fight in here, this is the War Room”. In 2011, organisational psychologist Matthew Davis reviewed more than a hundred studies about office environments. Davis found that although open-plan offices often fostered a positive symbolic sense of organisational mission, making employees feel like part of a more laid-back, innovative enterprise, they were extremely damaging to the inhabitant’s attention spans, productivity, satisfaction but most importantly their creative thinking. A more intelligent, less obvious, critical and creative approach needs to be taken here.

Last month saw Apple Inc. unveil two new sleek and very expensive iPhones in their brand new Steve Jobs Theatre, housed in the $6.2 AUS billon dollar campus Apple Park. According to the theatre’s architect, Stefan Behling of Foster and Partners, it is “a building which is pushing social behaviour in the way people work to new limits”. Behling identified that creative people work best in a space which is not a beige, standardised open plan office space. As discussed at the start of this article, Behling’s approach to design has its roots in Modernism. In 1896 the essay, The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered by the founding father of skyscrapers Louis Sullivan stated that the loftiness of skyscrapers is to be “on a high road to natural and satisfying art”. Just like other Modernist ideas such as Socialism, the building of utopia is great but it’s intrinsically difficult. People in general, and creative types specifically, do not enjoy collisions, or having their social behaviour pushed. You can lead a creative to another but you can’t force them to work together.

Revolutionary painter Henri Mattise once said “Creativity takes courage”. To go back to the original problem highlighted earlier in this article, rather than forcing creative people to work collaboratively why not manufacture the physical and social conditions conducive to creative collaborations? This requires a fundamental change to the working conditions at this institution. The big problem here is that they have just undertaken a very costly multi million-dollar campus renovation and my solution to this systemic issue is somewhat challenging (they often are). Despite all the investment, open plan offices invariably fall short of the mark because they negatively affect workers’ satisfaction with their physical environment and perceived productivity. The main complaints often include: noise and lack of privacy. Cramming people one on top of the other is probably the human equivalent of battery hens, the egg gets laid but the chickens are far from being happy. By my direct observations the desks in this institution’s open plan office are only occupied for a fraction of time each day. People turn up in the morning and use their desk to check email or more likely their social media and dump their personal artefacts. I would argue that a specific dedicated desk is not conducive to creative or collaborative working. Indeed, in this institution most collaboration takes place around the lunch table or in the tiny, uninspiring and unventilated kitchen.

Here’s my solution. Close the car park and give everyone an interest free 12-month loan to buy a bicycle. My premise here is the more you drive the less intelligent and more isolated you become. Allocate everyone a specific locker and make all desks, including managements’, ‘hot desks’. When staff arrive to work they can source a desk, if needed, but make sure all workspaces are connected either with a computer or capable of accommodating your own (BYO) devices. The apotheosis is “activity based working”, an approach pioneered in the mid 1990s by Dutch consulting firm Veldhoen. Rather than sitting in one space staff should move around different zones during the working day working normally, focusing quietly, or collaborating or even indulging in total isolation.

Creative Office Interior Design
The BBC’s version of creative office interior design

We also need to accept and understand that creative types don’t all exhibit the same behaviours or work in similar patters. Lets create better physical space to exploit this? Most creative collaboration requires constant moving from communal discussions to individual focus and back again. Kill the open place office and provide a variety of stimulating spaces that people will naturally gravitate to depending on their activity as opposed to their specific creative discipline. I call this activity based working. Rather than forcing creatives to work collaboratively let’s try to re-engineer human behaviours through inspiring work spaces. Forced marriages have been known to work occasionally but the best ones are where people meet and fall in love.  

Now would be a fantastic time for institutions to stop using collaboration as the main driver for open-plan offices. Let’s be honest and realistic, although open-plan offices may have started out as well-intentioned Modernist collaborative experiment, these days they exist purely for economic reasons. It is far easier to cram twenty desks into a single space than construct some highly creative and stimulating creative paces. My main point here is that you cannot force collaboration onto anyone who doesn’t want to collaborate. Simply put, some individuals have their own style of “collaborating” and should be left to their own devices. My intuitive guess is if the teaching staff initiate collaborative projects of their own accord then student collaborative projects will follow. Unfortunately creativity and commerciality make for unhappy bedfellows and are always mutually exclusive. My ultimate solution for effective collaboration at higher education institutions is to devise a creative space that encourages and facilitates student and staff from all previously siloed disciplines to share, discuss, debate and collaborate on meaningful creative projects together.

TimDalton2014

 

I am available for guest lectures, workshops, master classes, conferences and panels; simply drop me a line with your request and I will get back to you.

Melbourne Music Education Sector Promo (MMESP)

DKHQ partner Tim Dalton has been working with the City of Melbourne to promote the city as a global destination for music education. One outcome of this collaboration was a promotion video featuring Tim Dalton.

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Watch the video here

Melbourne is a globally recognised music city and music education is a key element of the industry eco-system here. Melbourne has a range of education and training facilities to choose from. If you are keen to study music in Melbourne, but not sure which course is right for you, have a look at our latest video to see all that our city has to offer or drop me a line. 

This video was produced by BENCU for City of Melbourne in partnership with The Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music – University of Melbourne, RMIT University, Collarts, Australian Institute of Music, SAE Creative Media Institute and Box Hill Institute.

Time For A New Slogan?

Last Saturday, 16th April, was Record Store Day (RSD) and what a super successful event it was too. Over the last three years that I’ve been a RSD ambassador I’ve seen it go from strength to strength. The success of RSD has made me think about how we can move forward to develop a more sustainable local music ecosystem. In particular, I am keen to see small local music venues survive in what is increasingly becoming a hostile environment. Local music venues are under attack from all angles including, gentrification, urban planning, outdated laws and the general ongoing financial climate. Bodies such as Music Victoria have done amazing work in helping to keep grass roots music venues operational but as with all ecosystems some of the responsibility lies with us: the general public.

I’m old enough to remember the slogan ‘Home Taping is Killing Music’ with the logo of a cassette and cross-bones on record sleeves during the 1980s. The major record labels in the United States and the United Kingdom instigated this slogan to publicly confront and shame domestic consumers over the private copying of music onto blank cassette tapes. Industry trade groups, such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), mounted publicity campaigns aimed at combatting the practice of ‘home taping’. In addition to this sloganeering, they threatened to take legal action against home tapers, lobbied governments for new copyright legislation and tried to have a tax levied upon blank cassette tapes. The home taping of CD and vinyl recording onto blank tapes was publically condemned. Lots of people did it. I remember friends giving me their home-recorded tapes of popular music albums. This practice was labeled as piracy, even though private, non-commercial copying was predominantly legal in both the UK and USA.

Home_taping
Is it time for a new slogan?

In a significant precursor to the digital file-sharing battles of the 1990s and 2000s, fans and musicians widely objected to these attempts by trans national corporations at media control, often through highly creative responses. I would argue that downloading has pretty much killed tactile music sales, well almost. Thanks largely to the Internet, the music industry has been thrown into a state of flux and re-organisation. This new paradigm has resulted in artists at all stages of their careers becoming reliant on money from live shows to pay the bills and survive.  Even international rock stars have mundane bills to pay too, from the mortgage to their beans on toast!

There’s only one problem and its a pretty big problem. Unless the artist is lucky enough to be ‘loved’ by a huge audience, playing the local enormo-dome with tickets selling at $200 plus, they will probably be found playing smaller grass roots music clubs across the country. It’s a fantastic circuit which both musicians and fans love. So how about we introduce a new slogan of ‘Not Buying Tickets In Advance Is Killing Live Music’? Through the creative deployment of this new slogan we could help keep music venues open. Walking up and paying on the door is par for the course for many fans of live music. Many local and regional acts can attract good numbers, even though they probably won’t sell out the venue. The problem here is that come the night of the show, if it’s raining or the punter just can’t get off the sofa, it’s easy not to bother showing up. If punters don’t walk though the doors then small promoters get nervous, chew their nails, panic and often they will cancel the gig if they don’t sell enough advanced tickets.  It’s understandable for small venues which operate on very tight margins. If a small 200 capacity venue only sells 50 advanced tickets, you can fully understand why they get twitchy when they are committed to paying bar-staff, door personnel, technicians, turning the lights, AC/heating on and providing power for backline PA and lights. The break-even point in a 200 capacity venue is probably around 180 tickets; those last 20 ticket sales are the ones that make the show worthwhile.

I’m very lucky because I live in Melbourne one of world’s great music cities. According to the Live Music Census (2012) there are 62,000 gigs annually taking place in over 470 venues in the Greater Melbourne area with 14.4 million patron visits resulting in an industry worth $1.04 billion per year. Those figures are staggering, even more so when you consider that live music in Melbourne employs the equivalent of 116,000 full time jobs. To put then into some type of perspective the combined automotive engineering industry in Victoria only employs approx. 25,000 people. Without good governance, stringent financial management and our own active involvement, this fragile musical ecosystem could be eroded and eventually lost forever. One big irony is that prime TV talent shows have commoditised popular music to such an extent that many people will no longer venture outside of their front door to enjoy live music at a venue. The economic environment and the general tightening of the purse strings have all taken their toll on live music ticket sales. The big hangover from the above is that gig fans are being a bit choosier and many are not buying advance tickets for shows with a detrimental effect on live music venues.

The other casualties are full band shows. It’s no surprise that more artists are performing solo or with slimed down backing bands/tracks rather than with a full band.  Fees have gone down in the last few years so it is much easier to take less risk with booking a solo performer. Fine for someone who plays and sings, but not so good for some artists with one string to their bow. Ultimately its the audience that suffers. While I love the intimacy of the solo gigs, you can’t beat rocking out to a complete band with a ‘full production’ show in an intimate venue.

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The Tote Hotel music venue in Melbourne. Buy tickets for their shows in advance via their web site and help them stay in business

It’s not just the small venues that tread a fine line, look at some of the medium and larger sized venues and to some extent the touring festivals in Melbourne. It’s very frustrating that increasingly, with each passing year, more and more people prefer to pay at the door rather than buy tickets in advance. The numbers end up the same in the end, but it puts the promoters under a great deal of financial pressure in the run up as they work out how many paying customers they need to break even or occasionally turn a profit. Buying a ticket in advance diminishes these financial worries and keeps venues open. If people bought tickets in advance there would be no need to run campaigns along the lines of ‘lets keep venue X open’.

My message is very simple. If you want to keep live music alive and kicking in small and medium sized venues, then you need to cough up for the ticket early and persuade a bunch of mates to go with you. You’ll have an amazing time, inject some much need cash into the local community, provide employment for all types of trades and help support the local music ecosystem. My very simple equation is thus Beer + Live Music + Friends = Good Times and if you don’t believe me then go out and test my theory. So if you see a gig you like, buy the ticket as far in advance as possible, otherwise it might not be on when you get there!

The Golden Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll

David Hepworth’s new book Never A Dull Moment claims that 1971 was the greatest year for popular music as it saw the release of more “monumental” albums than any year before or since. It’s an interesting claim and one that I will contest here. I also think it’s a really odd book title considering it’s the same as Rod Stewart’s superb 1972 album; why not give the book a namesake title from a “monumental” 1971 album? Granted 1971 saw an unprecedented number of album releases, but does that single metric make it the greatest album release year? Anyone who knows me will confirm that I love a good argument and so here it goes. Dave Hepworth is a fantastic music journalist but he got it completely wrong. His book should have been about the era from 1969 to 1981; the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll.

Taste is a very slippery concept as Immanuel Kant proposed in his 1790 Critique Of Judgement. Kant calls aesthetic judgments “judgments of taste” and remarks that, though they are based in an individual’s subjective feelings, they also claim universal validity. It could be claimed that Hepworth’s book is an attempt to canvass some form of universal acceptance; or he might just be trying to sell more books. The viewing of an art form is anything but a passive activity. Art should rouse us to an intellectual involvement with the world in which it was created. Good art results in a discourse and the better the art the more tumultuous that discourse should be.

Only last year (2015) I published my own book, Album Rescue Series, in which I tried to show some love to mistreated, misunderstood and underrated albums. On page 129 of this book, I rescue Jim Ford’s excellent 1969 Southern funky rumpus album Harlan County. During this album rescue, I argue that this album was largely overlooked because of the year of its release: 1969. Harlan County was probably the strangest but most compelling release of 1969, but what a year for popular music. 1969 was the launching pad for an era of unparalleled creativity in popular music the likes of which we’ll never see again. Hepworth’s identification of 1971 should not be viewed as an isolated year but as part of the twelve-year continuum of popular music’s most prolific era, which ran from 1969 to its sad demise in 1981.

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During the 12 months of 1969 we see releases from Bob Dylan (Nashville Skyline), The Beatles (Abbey Road), Tim Buckley (Blue Afternoon), Led Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin II), King Crimson (In The Court of King Crimson), The Who (Tommy), Captain Beefheart (Trout Mask Replica), Nick Drake (Pink Moon), Sly and the Family Stone (Stand), The Rolling Stones (Let It Bleed), The Band (The Band), The Stooges (The Stooges) and a host of other amazing albums. How on earth could Jim Ford, an unheard of artist from the back hills of Kentucky, with his unique blend of country, funk, soul and rock ‘n’ roll ever get noticed in the company of these esteemed artists? If you’ve never heard Harlan County then go out and buy this album and give it a spin; if you don’t like it, I’ll give you your money back. I was seven years old for the majority of 1969, and didn’t turn eight until mid December, but all of these albums I distinctly remember. What I do remember is zeitgeist of 1969, the break up of The Beatles, the violent end of the peace and love generation presided over by Rolling Stones at Altamount and the white heat of new technology manifested by Neil Armstong standing on the moon. No wonder 1969 was such an epistemic year for popular music.

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Don’t get me wrong, I agree with Hepworth when he cites some exquisite, delightful and ground-breaking albums of 1971. You cannot dispute Carole King (Tapestry), Badfinger (Straight Up), Rod Stewart (Every Picture Tells A Story), Emerson Lake & Palmer (Pictures At An Exhibition), Rolling Stones (Sticky Fingers), John Lennon (Imagine), Paul McCartney (Ram) and George Harrison (All Things Must Pass); all of which I play on a regular basis. Back in 1971 record sales were growing too fast for the record companies to exert any kind of meaningful creative control. They threw an awful lot of shit at the wall and hoped some of it would stick; not the type of approach prescribed in the business manuals that would follow in the 1980s. Amongst all this shit though were the shining diamonds of perfection as listed above. Back in 1971 the record business was in an unprecedented boom period, profits were good and re-investment in product development (A&R) at an all time high.

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For the next decade the music would be good until it died at the end of 1981. Even as a musically precious nine/ten year old I remember 1971 very distinctly mainly because of the music which I was already showing signs of being obsessed with. During this era it was de-rigour for acts to be signed to two albums a year recording contracts, which meant they were all extra productive at their most creative age. Everybody played live all the time. Neil Young wrote and recorded Harvest while on the road during 1971 in locations as far apart as Barking, East London and Nashville. The classic T. Rex singles were recorded at stops on their 1971 American tour. Pink Floyd spent weekdays recording Meddle and weekends playing colleges. Nobody took months off. Nobody dared. During this era, popular music was getting serious and corporate. The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, was their first album under the distinctive tongue ‘corporate’ logo and released on their own ‘independent’ label. I would argue (I like arguing) that this Stones album was almost as notable for its cover as its content. 1971 was the year Brown Sugar, the last truly great Rolling Stones single (but that’s another article for another day), went to number one.

While discussing this article at work last week with my boss (Gareth) he made the point, and a good point it is too, that 1981 was probably the last truly great year for popular music. In terms of this article/blog I am prepared to state that 1981 is the end of rock ‘n’ rolls’ most creative and productive era. 1981 is an interesting time as Modernism is all but dead and post modernism has well and truly taken hold. Consider the albums that were released during 1981: The Rolling Stones (Tattoo You), Stevie Nicks (Bella Donna), Motorhead (No Sleep Till Hammersmith), U2 (October), Human League (Dare), Miles Davis (Directions), New Order (Movement), The Cure (Faith), Simple Minds (Fascination/Sister Feeling Call), The Psychedelic Furs (Talk Talk Talk) and The Police (Ghost In The Machine). In many ways these albums signal then end of rock ’n’ rolls creative and profitable golden years and signal the start of a new era; a new way of conducting business.

Behind the scenes the creative, maverick, iconoclastic and entrepreneurial music managers were been driven out by the faceless beige suited office drones, obsessed by spread sheets and quadrant charts. By 1981, Thatcherism was starting to make its presence felt in the UK; the good times for a whole host of traditional industries was well and truly over. In the same year, Ronald Regan came to power in the USA. Between Regan and Thatcher, the traditional Anglo American power base of popular music was well and truly under attack from monetarism. How can any creative endeavour survive when it’s exposed to monetarism’s money growth rule? 1981 was the end of making lots of great records and the start of making a small number of profitable records. In a head on fight between creativity and commerciality, the one with the muscles is always going to win.

I hate to end this piece with such a downbeat message so here is some good news. Head down to your independent local record store as every album listed above will be for sale. Have a listen to these albums and test my argument. Record Store Day happens on Saturday 16th April this year, so why not head out on this special day and treat yourself to a classic piece of music. Not only will your purchase make you smile for many years to come but you will also have supported a local independent business and that’s a good thing. In the words of Mott The Hoople’s 1974 hit The Golden Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll

The golden age of rock ‘n’ roll will never die
As long as children feel the need to laugh and cry
Dont wanna smash, want a smash sensation
Dont wanna wreck, just recreation
Dont wanna fight, but if you turn us down
Were gonna turn you around, gonna mess with the sound

Ohh, ohh, ohh
Its good for body, its good for your soul
Ohh, ohh, ohh
Its the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll

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Record Store Day Australia 2016 by Tim Dalton

Record Store Day Australia (RSDA) falls on Saturday 16th April this year. It’s the third year that I’ve been asked to be an ambassador, something I’m extremely proud of. Ever since I left school in 1979 at the age of 16, I’ve earned my living working in the music industry in one form or another. Physical formats such as records, tapes and CDs are almost part of me; in many ways they define me and who I am. I live in a house that has a whole room devoted to my music collection; rather metro-sexually I refer to this as the “media” room. This curated musical collection tells the story of my life, which hopefully is still a work in progress. Planning and writing about RSDA has got me reminiscing about the first record that I ever bought and about some of my favourite record stores that I’ve visited over the years. The first record that I ever bought was a 7” vinyl single of Son Of My Father by UK band Chicory Tip. I vividly remember budgeting 37 new pence (70 Australian cents) of my birthday money to buy this record from Shakespeare Records, located inside Paragon railway station in my birth city of Hull. The word ‘Paragon ‘ is an interesting choice here as the word means “a person or thing regarded as a perfect example of a particular quality”. The station actually took its name from the street it stands on, Paragon Street, but I still love the way the word is misappropriated.

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Back in 1972 there were approximately 39 record stores in Hull city centre serving a population of around 200,000 people. This begs the question why did I choose Shakespeare Records and not Sydney Scarborough, Stardisc, Sheridan’s or one of the large department stores such as Hammonds or Debenhams or any of the other 39 stores? Paragon Station was a fabulous unmodernised Victorian building so much so that it has appeared in numerous feature films and TV shows. One attraction was that Shakespeare Records was a small building, more a pre-fab really, inside another enormous building. Subconsciously it could be the 11 year old me signalling that music and travel would forever be connected in my life.

Originally this record store was called Shakespeare Brothers but in a bid to move with the times in the early 1970’s they dropped the ‘Brothers’ and replaced it with ‘Records’, very hip and groovy. Mid December 1972 and it was a right of passage type day as my Dad drove me to Hull city centre in a tepid blue Vauxhall Viva to make my first ever purchase of what I now know would be many future records. I didn’t know it at the time, but this record is actually a cover of a Giorgio Moroder/Pete Bellotte tune that was released in 1971 under the name Giorgio. The 1972 Chicory Tip version features the very first top ten appearance of a Moog synthesizer in the UK. AIR studio manager Roger Easterby heard the Giorgio original and persuaded Chicory Tip to re-record their version, with additional lyrics added by vocalist Michael Holm, in a weekend. The Chicory Tip version was rush released where it went straight into the top ten and eventually hit number one. AIR’s resident record producer Chris Thomas played the dominating Moog synth part.

Released in February 1972, it took me almost 10 months to get around to purchasing this record. Listening back to this record I can see why I developed my lifelong love and obsession with synth pop. This record has all the DNA of 1980’s synth-pop, such as the synthesizer as the dominant musical instrument, which I came to love a decade later. For an 11-year-old kid from a cultural backwater like Hull, this record demonstrates a musical maturity way beyond my tender years.

This visit to Shakespeare Records set me on a course that would see me visit many record stores all over the world for both business and pleasure. Only 16 years after purchasing my first record I’d left school and was working in the music industry, albeit on the very bottom rung of the ladder. Over the next 36 years I was lucky enough to travel the world many times over and visit record stores in just about every major city that I’ve visited. One of the biggest stores I regularly made visits too was Tower Records at 1 Piccadilly Circus, London. This massive 2,300m2 store opened in 1986 and was their European flagship store. London also had the Virgin Megastore on the corner of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road and that was also enormous. These enormo-dome type record stores ushered in the ear of the ‘in-store’ performance or as we called them in the USA music business “the shake and howdy”. If someone had told back then that this behemoth of a record store chain would completely disappear off the face of the planet within a few short years (along with all the other major high street retailers) I would have thought them completely insane.

In these big stores a small stage and PA could be incorporated onto the sales floor allowing for acoustic performances. These performances normally coincided with whatever touring band was in town playing at the local venue. The normal schedule would be an in-store early afternoon, sound check late afternoon and show on the evening; we liked to work our acts hard back then. These in-stores would pay a dividend in terms of record sales, through in some ‘specials’ some free nibbles/barrel of beer and significant sales would follow. In-stores are now a common component in the arsenal of engagement tools of the music retailer.

The sheer scale of some record stores is breath taking, such as Amoeba Music in LA, which is the world largest independent record store spread over 2,230m2 and holding over 100,000 titles. It’s the sheer variety of independent record stores that I love. Some are genre specific, some location specific but all of them love and know music. Some of my favourites, in no particular order, are: –

  • Aquarius Records in one of my favorite US cities San Francisco. This store has been a fixture of San Francisco’s music scene since 1970, making it one of the longest-running independent record shops in the United States. The store carries a wide range of stock, but is most famous for its extensive selection of psychedelic, metal, and drone music, as one would expect of a San Fran store.
  • Spacehall Records on Zossiener Straße in Berlin, which I first visited in the mid 1980s. You cannot even begin to talk techno or house or dub or any electronic music for that matter without bringing up Berlin’s Spacehall. The beautiful minimalist, modernist design of the store suits its refined, highly stylish musical aesthetic. It’s like a classic 1980’s BMW, stark, functional but never out of style.
  • Rough Trade East is the daddy of UK record shops. London’s Rough Trade East, which opened in 2007, may be the younger brother of Rough Trade West, but is also one of the biggest independents in the UK. The store sells predominantly new stock of vinyl and CDs, racked up across a huge 465m2 sales space, and has a handy cafe at the front. Rough Trade is more than just a shop, it’s also one of the most influential labels in the UK, and has put out influential records by The Smiths, The Fall, The Strokes, Arcade Fire, Belle & Sebastian and more. Rough Trade East also plays host to in-store gigs, film screenings, and talks on film, music and literature. This is more than a record store, it’s an institution and I can’t get enough of the place.

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  • Probe Records, in a city where I lived for over a decade, Liverpool. In a city with such a fine musical pedigree, it takes a lot to stand out and Probe does that. Though it’s moved premises through the years, Liverpool’s Probe Records has been going strong since 1971. Established by legendary Twisted Wheel DJ Roger Eagle and music entrepreneur/producer Geoff Davis, it was more than a record store it, was the epicenter of a movement. Pete Burns of Dead or Alive and Paul Rutherford of Frankie Goes to Hollywood have both worked there along with countless other wannabes and rock stars. In the wake of punk, Probe Records became Liverpool’s go-to record shop, attracting clientele from Echo and the Bunnymen, The Lighting Seeds and OMD. The shop launched its own record label Probe Plus in 1981, which has released work by cult Merseyside act Half Man Half Biscuit.
  • Good Vibrations, Belfast. The film Good Vibrations named after the legendary Belfast record store of the same name and released last year, was brilliant. It told the story of local music lover Terri Hooley’s attempt to expand his store into a label that would go on to release DJ John Peel’s favorite record Teenage Kicks by The Undertones in 1979. But the film’s popularity also sparked the store back into life. Now in its 13th incarnation, and proclaiming itself as “Belfast’s poorest record shop”, shoppers can still bump into Hooley, now aged 65, working behind the till. Visit it soon as it has a history of going bust very quickly.
  • I know I’m very biased but my favorite of favorite record stores is Grimey’s in Nashville. Nashville is a town of institutions and Grimey’s is no exception. It’s a store beloved by the city’s residents, and has a sort of hometown family feel about it. I first Mike ‘Grimey’ Grimes when he played guitar with local rock band Bare Jr. who I was working with at the time. Grimey has an uncanny King Midas knack of turning whatever he touches into cool. When I lived there he took over a run down bar, The Slow Bar, in the very un-trendy East part of town and within a few weeks it became Nashville’s coolest, muso bar and late night hangout. It’s exactly the same with his record store. The store has a vast selection of new music, and next door at their “too” (sic) store they have an abundance of “pre-loved” music. They supply their consumers with all formats including CD, vinyl and cassettes. But what really makes them stand out is they do a lot of activities to bring artists into the stores and make them accessible to their patrons. They have many releases and after hour in-stores in ‘The Basement’ located obviously beneath the store. This is a cozy little live music bar to catch a local artist performance while drinking a beer. This is a very special kind of record store that I recommend to anyone that stops in Nashville. This place holds a special place in my heart just because it’s so damn cool. And who knows? Maybe if you’re lucky you’ll visit at the same time as locals like Taylor Swift, Steve Earle, Bobby Bare or Ke$ha.

In my now adopted hometown of the last three years of Melbourne I’m totally spoilt for choice. From recollection there are approximately 87 independent records stores, a number that grows each year, in the metropolitan area alone. There are some fine record stores in this city as there probably are in your city/town/suburb of residence. My suggestion is to go out on an adventure and find the one you like. Find the one that stocks the style and genre of music you like in the part of town that appeals to you. I’ll be out and about but it’s doubtful I’ll physically be able to visit every single independent record store in Melbourne on RSDA on 16th April. If you see me in an independent store around Melbourne on Saturday 16th April come up and say “Hi”, I might even show you what I’ve bought.

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