Friday 20 July 2012

Piracy : Google's Responsibility?

Over this last week, the UK news has shifted some focus onto the debate between the British Phonographic Industry (now calling itself the British Recorded Music Industry, but still abbreviating itself to BPI) and Google. The BPI is pushing for Google to take a more active role in preventing music piracy by preventing websites which are known for illegal file-sharing from appearing as a top result in searches. The example being thrown about is that performing a Google search for "Adele mp3" will provide links to infringing websites before displaying the likes of iTunes or Amazon.

Google already receives thousands of requests from copyright holders for the removal of links to sites that are providing illegal downloads, and has been upholding the majority of these. Theo Bertram, the UK Policy Manager for Google, has offered a reply-of-sorts to the BPI's demand, saying that Google is steadfastly anti-piracy but also pro-freedom of expression - and that the two are not mutually exclusive. Google instead suggests that the source of income that these offending websites have in advertising or payments for subscriptions should be removed, thereby making it financially difficult for the sites to exist. It does not feel liable nor responsible: the sites are indexed by Google, and shown as results based on popularity and relevance. Google isn't hosting the sites, nor is Google purposely promoting them.

My opinion (for what it's worth)?

I don't think Google should be held accountable nor responsible. For a start, keeping a track of all the illegal music-sharing websites and removing them must be a mammoth task. A task that will never end since the websites will just move, become mirrored, or find some other smart way around it. And other sites will also start up. Google is doing a pretty good job of keeping up with the requests for removal, but it's endless. As for adjusting the position of a website in search results... I think that could be the beginning of something dangerous. Is it up to Google (or another organisation/corporation) to dictate what should and shouldn't be a) indexed, b) searchable and c) listed highly (even if the click-through ratio for that site happens to be particularly high)?

Again: Google doesn't provide the content, it doesn't host the content, it doesn't associate with it. Google's search tool is just that: a tool. And although using similes is a lazy, flawed, and incredibly easy way to draw comparisons, I'm gonna' do it anyway...

The Internet is like an unbelievably huge city with billions of locations in the forms of websites, trillions of roads between those sites, and massive diversity between locations. Like any city, there are "bad" areas and "good" areas; places the public shy away from, and places that people flock to; locations with a reputation for wrong-doing, and those with metaphorical halos hanging above them. How do you find ANYTHING in a city like that? You need a map. The map provides you with the location of everything, as long as you know what you are looking for, and then off you go if you want to.

Google is your map. It doesn't tell you to go to the disreputable locations. It tells you where they are. Should our town maps cover up the areas where criminal activity is likely to take place, just so we find it harder to get there?

If I'm going to go really ridiculous with the similes, I could say: "A hammer is a tool. It is not the fault of the tool's manufacturer if someone buys one and then beats someone else around the head with it". But then things start to edge towards discussions about knife crime, or gun ownership, and really that's a little too far...

Google DOES have a certain amount of responsibility towards safe and sensible usage of the Internet, but I do not feel that they should be called up to begin a censorship programme at another organisation's demands. Equally, Google is not the only search engine on the Internet. It's own popularity should not make it a sole target. The BPI should be approaching ALL search engines and, *ahem*, "decision engines" that can be used to reach offending websites if it actually feels they are the root of the problem.

I admit it's a difficult issue, and a difficult battle. Back in the day, Napster was shut down because it provided the tools for people to illegally share music - even though it didn't host the files itself. However, it's intentions for infringement were substantially clearer. But where on earth do you draw the line, if you draw it at all?

I stand by Google's position, and I also feel it is unfair that they should become a target for blame due to the size of the company and its financial success. It is individuals that are pirating and sharing music. The public attitude towards music, it's value, and an artist's worth needs to be changed before anything major will ever happen. Piracy has often been seen as a victimless crime... a non-criminal crime, as such. Until this attitude changes, it's going to be a losing battle.

Incidentally, there's such a ridiculous amount of legal free music available on the Internet, that scouring sites for an illegal download of that latest Rihanna hit almost seems a little silly. Just because it's being freely distributed without any copyright infringement, doesn't mean it's rubbish. I mean, seriously, it's possible to spend your hard earned money on some serious dross, so why not go low-risk and discover something guilt-free too.

Saturday 14 July 2012

Radio 1 - The Chris Moyles Show

A few posts back, I mentioned my preferred choice of radio station: BBC Radio 1. It's the second most popular radio station in the UK, behind BBC Radio 2, and its daytime shows are very much geared towards chart-based music. It broadens its appeal significantly with the evening and late-night shows, covering various genres and niches, but certainly the 7am - 7pm slots are focused very much on 'popular music'.

And, really, that's to my taste. There's a lot of people that dislike Radio 1 because of this tendency to play the more "commercial" songs (although it definitely does do a good job of highlighting some lesser-known artists and giving them a huge audience boost) and, if your taste is a little less mainstream and a little more alternative, then you may well find it easy to complain about its playlist. However, whilst my musical taste isn't confined to "the hits of today", I am happy to stand up and say that, yes, I like what they play. Or most of it, anyway.

Up until about six or seven years ago, I mainly listened to local radio stations. At that time it was SGR Colchester, which is now part of the Heart network. They played chart music, but also threw in various songs from the last thirty years or so. But, although I knew it is necessary for a commercial radio station to have them, the advertising drove me crazy. A friend/colleague then declared that I should really be listening to Radio 1. He moved the frequency, put it on, and that's what I'd listen to each afternoon at work. As a result I found myself getting back into music a little more, having become rather restricted in what I was listening to.

About five years ago, I started having the odd day where I would have to start work a lot earlier. I'd be out in a delivery van from around five or six in the morning and, even with someone sitting beside me, conversation is difficult when my mind is still focusing on how much it wants to be back in bed. Therefore the radio filled in the early-morning silences. And it was Radio 1's breakfast show that did the job: The Chris Moyles Show.

For the past eight and a half years, Chris Moyles and his team have been doing the breakfast show (from 6:30/6:55am - 10am). I have only listened for the last five years or so, and only on those days where I'm actually awake at that time in the morning with access to radio. So perhaps three out of five weekdays I'm a listener. But it is by far my favourite radio show, and far surpasses any of the other morning shows available. The show, and Chris Moyles himself, have certainly had plenty of criticism and controversy over the years; the majority of which is unfounded. And even I'm happy to admit that, from time to time, there are moments in the show that are a bit "laddish" and not especially to my taste.

But... on the whole, I love the show. The zoo format works particularly well as each team member is very individual, and it genuinely gives the impression of a group of friends just sitting around having a chat and a laugh. And, as a listener, I somehow feel very much part of this.

Ironically, considering both the *cough* purpose *cough* of this blog and Radio 1's supposed commitment to music, The Chris Moyles Show plays substantially fewer songs that any of the other shows. Fortunately, the chats and interviews that make up most of the show are enjoyable, usually funny, and enjoyable to listen to overall.

During last Wednesday's show (the 11th of July 2012), Chris Moyles announced his plans to 'wrap-up' the show, bringing it to a close in September. The reasons, although not given during the announcement, seem to be varied. Although still the second most-popular breakfast show (again, Radio 2 has the top spot, with Chris Evans), the listening figures have been dropping a little - although this is generally the case throughout radio. Also, Chris has been doing a lot more work outside of Radio 1, including television and an upcoming stint on stage as King Herod in Jesus Chris Superstar. Perhaps more significantly, Radio 1 is desperately trying to attract its desired 15-25 demographic. The average age of a listener at the moment is 32. Chris Moyles is 38. Other shifts in programming recently have suggested an attempt to bring the age of the average listener down, and ending Moyles' reign on the breakfast show similarly falls in line.

Personally, as a 29 year old, I think the obsession with the required demographic is foolish. Just for starters, I don't believe that those in their late teens even have much of a desire to listen to radio anymore. Music is consumed in so many different ways now, and traditional radio is probably not the key port-of-call for the lower end of the age-group that Radio 1 seems desperate to attract.

But ho hum... that's not really what I've chosen to write about.

It is disappointing that in a couple of month's time The Chris Moyles Show, with all of its sarcastic self-inflation and playful dramatics, will be no more. It genuinely has been the highlight of many mornings over the past few years, and it will be strange to no longer hear it. The new breakfast DJ, Nick Grimshaw, will no doubt do an excellent job (I do like his evening shows whenever I catch them), but somehow I can't see myself listening quite as intently. With any luck, Chris Moyles will remain working in radio in some form or other; preferably with a show elsewhere on Radio 1, and hopefully still with his team. Or perhaps he'll come back to fill in when Nick is away, who knows?

I shall miss The Chris Moyles Show.

"Any good music must be an innovation." - Les Baxter

Friday 13 July 2012

The Word - Issue 114 (The FINAL Edition)

Today in Tesco, prior to finding something suitable for lunch, I took my usual detour down the magazine aisle. This is my standard place to visit first, even if I rarely buy anything. I browsed the computing section, then moved onto the music magazines: Q, NME, etc. At the back was a magazine I've bought quite a few times before, but not recently: The Word. On its front cover were the words 'The Final Edition'. I bought it.

So, after about nine years of publication, The Word is ceasing publication. This was announced a couple of weeks ago apparently (BBC News, Editor's Twitter update), but clearly passed me by.

I was never a subscriber to the magazine - although it was considered several times - and I didn't even buy it that regularly, but I do feel it is a great shame that it has had to withdraw from the newsstands. The reason, as I'm sure everybody would guess, is financial: magazines are seeing a drop in sales and a drop in advertising enquiries, and the music industry has altered substantially over the last decade. All in all, the magazine just isn't making the money it needs to in order to survive. So, off it goes.

Since I only bought it sporadically, it seems a little hypocritically to bemoan its loss: I didn't exactly provide the full support that I could have during its life. But still, I bought it when a) I could afford it and b) it seemed to have something of particular interest within.

I think the biggest draw, for me, was the cover-CD. The free music provided was always varied, always of interest (even if I didn't necessarily like all of it), and frequently inspired me to find new music by some of the artists included. The loss of that alone is sad, even though I know that - with just a few minutes searching - I could probably find an equivalent source of regular new music online (indeed, PlugIn Music has been offering hand-picked free music for at least four years, and the site itself has been around in various forms for over a decade). But, beyond any freebies that the magazine gave away, the content itself was substantially different to other music publications.

Put simply: there was a lot of text. In a market that seems to favour an image-hungry public with short-attention spans, it was refreshing to find a magazine that took some time in pumping out articles with a heavy word-count. The reviews ignored any kind of rating system, preferring you to actually draw your own conclusion based on the writer's opinion... again, somewhat different to the habit of just scanning down to the 'X out of 10' mark. The Word was, well, word-y, and fortunately with the high-quality writing to go with it.

Although definitely a 'music magazine' it did also touch on other media like TV, film, books, etc. Essentially, even if the main feature wasn't to my liking, there would more than enough for me to read elsewhere inside.

With free options for everything nowadays, and the Internet being the prime source of information for most people, I suppose it was inevitable that a magazine which targeted a very specific readership would eventually suffer.

I shall sit and enjoy this final issue, listen to the last of its free CDs (which includes a new Reverend & The Makers track, so I am pleased with that already), and then slot it amongst the few other magazines that I've chosen to keep. Its website remains online for now.

The Word

"What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?" - Nick Hornby (High Fidelity)

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Weetabix Top Trax / Top Trax II - Various Artists

One of my first posts here talked about the song Young At Heart by The Bluebells; a song that I know and love, and has some good memories associated with it. Chances are that the only reason I know it so well is because we had it on a cassette tape that came free (with tokens, I suspect) from Weetabix breakfast cereal. The tape itself was given away during 1985, the song was originally released in 1984, and I was born in 1983. So I suspect that, without the tape kicking around my house, I wouldn't have ordinarily listened to it a great deal due to being so young when it was out.

But we did have the cassette.

In fact, we had several. Weetabix did two sets of tapes, one in 1985 and one in 1986, known as Top Trax and - imaginatively - Top Trax II. Each cassette has two songs on each side. I'm not sure how many tapes there were altogether. I still have six, and I believe that is all we ever had. Five from the original set, and one from Top Trax II.

I've had several visits to my post about The Bluebells track, which mentions the Weetabix tapes, so I've decided I'd mention all the tapes I have. Partly because I like listing stuff, partly because some people may be genuinely interested and (most importantly of all, considering the purpose of this blog) because these tapes defined my listening habits and tastes for quite some time.

From a very young age, these cassettes were played repeatedly. At first, played around/to me, but then later played by me. Long car journeys meant my sister and I bringing the cassettes along with us and shouting, "Mum! Change the tape!" after every four songs. I regard those six tapes as a single album of 28 tracks and, since I now own each of the songs on CD or MP3, I often consider compiling them into a Top Trax playlist so I can once again listen to them as a whole.

Here's my collection of the tapes:

Weetabix Top Trax/II Cassettes
Weetabix Top Trax/II Cassettes

And here's a list of what was on each of them (again, I point out that I don't have all of the tapes that were ever given away, so this is just a list of those I have):

Brian's Cassette:
1.1. Haircut One Hundred - Fantastic Day
1.2. Nik Kershaw - I Won't Let The Sun Go Down On Me
2.1. The Bluebells - Young At Heart
2.2. New Edition - Candy Girl

Bixie's Cassette:
1.1. Nik Kershaw - Wouldn't It Be Good
1.2. Bucks Fizz - My Camera Never Lies
2.1. Billy Ocean - Caribbean Queen
2.2. Irene Cara - Fame

Dunk's Cassette:
1.1. Thompson Twins - Doctor! Doctor!
1.2. Tears For Fears - Shout
2.1. Dexy's Midnight Runners - Come On Eileen
2.2. Kirsty MacColl - There's A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis

Crunch's Cassette:
1.1. Tears For Fears - Mad World
1.2. Big Country - Wonderland
2.1. The Jam - Beat Surrender
2.2. Status Quo - The Wanderer

Brain's Cassette (this is the one with a torn label, so I don't know which side is which):
?.1. Bucks Fizz - If You Can't Stand The Heat
?.2. Thomson Twins - We Are Detective
?.1. Bananarama - Robert De Niro's Waiting
?.2. ABC - The Look Of Love

Bixie's Cassette - Top Trax II:
1.1. Thomson Twins - Don't Mess With Doctor Dream
1.2. Tears For Fears - Head Over Heels
2.1. Five Star - System Addict
2.2. Baltimora - Tarzan Boy

For me, the three standout artists from that bunch are Nik Kershaw, Tears for Fears, and Thompson Twins. Mainly because, several years later, I got myself the greatest hits CDs of each of these and discovered other songs that have gone on to become particular favourites. And there is no doubt that my enjoyment of music from the 1980's began with these tapes.

EDIT (05/08/12): I have just realised that I must own at least one other tape, because I'm certain that Nik Kershaw's Wide Boy was a featured track. When I return home, I must search...

EDIT (08/08/12): Yep, I actually have one other tape:

Brian's Cassette - Top Trax II:
1.1 Nik Kershaw - Wide Boy
1.2 Big Country - Look Away
2.1 Bronski Beat - Hit That Perfect Beat
2.2 Jim Diamond - Hi Ho Silver

Weetabix Top Trax II - Brian's Cassette
Weetabix Top Trax II - Brian's Cassette
The photo above also shows how awesome my mum was, in that she'd type little inlays for all the cassettes, just to make life easier searching for the tape we particularly wanted. To be honest, I'm surprised I forgot about this one. Side 1 must have been played an awful lot.

"People go to movies or listen to music because they want to be inspired" - Daphne Zuniga

Monday 9 July 2012

Everything She Wants - Wham!

So... one of the labels/tags I've given this post is, 'Guilty Pleasure?'. Personally, if I'm being totally honest, I don't think there's really such a thing as a guilty pleasure (hence the question mark). Just because you enjoy a song that many might consider to be 'frivolous', or a little too 'pop', or lacking any classic status, doesn't mean you should feel guilty about it. Some of my favourite songs could probably be considered as being too 'commercial' or too 'produced' or too 'manufactured'.

But, quite frankly, I don't care. If I like a song then I'm not really bothered as to how mainstream it is or isn't. I'll just hit here and enjoy it all by myself thankyouverymuchindeed. And Wham!... well... they were about as pop and commercial as the 80's got (and there was plenty of competition for that accolade, too). I know that and recognise that, sure. That's why I'm labelling it that way. But really, I don't feel bad about liking it at all. Apparently, George Michael (one half of Wham!, with Andrew Ridgeley) has stated that this is his favourite of the group's songs, and isn't so happy with some of the less-credible back catalogue.

I don't remember this song when it was first released, mainly because I wasn't quite two years old at the time (1984). I don't even recall hearing it as I grew up, nor when I started developing my own love of music from the 1980's. In fact, I even bought Wham!'s greatest hits album, but I'm pretty sure I didn't even bother listening to this track.

As far as I'm aware, the first time I heard this song was when I bought a compilation album of 1980's 12" mixes: 12"/80s/Dance. That was probably when it was released in 2006, so I was only about 22 years late listening to it.

It didn't take long for me to start listening to it on repeat, learning all the words, joining in with the oohs and aahs, mimicing the synth-drum intro (which seems to pop into my mind at least once a week), and ultimately letting it become the only song I listened to each day during my journey to and from work.

Unusually for a track by Wham!, there appears to be a little more of a story to the song. It isn't just, "I love you, you love me, wooo!" or a series of obvious rhymes tentatively linked together. There's a process, a verse-by-verse account of events that gives the lyrics a little more depth. Again, this is something I don't really feel can often be said for Wham!, and I feel a little silly for even suggesting it. But to hell with it, this is my breakdown of what happens:
  • Guy starts relationship with Girl.
  • Guy's friends say, "Watch it buddy, she's seriously materialistic and is just after money."
  • Guy ignores them because, hey, he's in love.
  • Six months later, Guy realises his friends were right: she's always after the next new thing.
  • Guy questions how he can possible please her.
  • Guy questions why he is trying.
  • Guy points out that the relationship now just consists of him working so that she can have new stuff.
  • Guy demands that things become less one-sided.
  • Girl tells him she's pregnant.
  • Guy feigns happiness.
  • Guy warns that he can't take much more
  • Guy questions how he can possibly provide for both of them
  • Guy questions if he even loves Girl anymore
  • Guy acknowledges that having all this stuff together is meaningless.
  • Guy is aware that it will soon end...
Poor Guy, huh? Or perhaps foolish Guy for letting it get that far.


As well as a guilty pleasure, I also labelled this song as being life-changing. I mean that entirely from just my perspective - I doubt very much that it caused any great alterations in the world. But, for me, it had a slight effect. Two years into owning this song, I happened to be in a relationship that I wasn't entirely happy with. Things felt decidedly one-sided, financial burdens seemed to be solely upon me, and I knew that things weren't heading the right way.

Then, one morning as I drove to work, my iPod shuffled to this song. I hadn't forgotten about it as such, so it wasn't some great rediscovery, but I hadn't really listened to it for a little while either. But up it popped, and I sang along as I always do. Two key lines hit me as I joined in:

"They told me marriage was a give and take,
Well you've shown me you can take, you've got some giving to do."

"My God, I don't even think that I love you."

Sure, I wasn't married, but that's not the point. The thing was, as I sung these lines, I made myself ever-so-slightly more aware that, actually, this wasn't working. It was as though I was reminding myself that I wasn't happy, and make think an awful lot more about it. I wouldn't go so far as to say, "Listening to this song made me end the relationship," but it was like a wake-up call. I was singing the things that I was already thinking, and maybe should be saying.

And so that's why I label as one of only a handful of 'life-changing' songs.

Believe me, I would have laughed uncontrollably if someone had told me, "Wham! will make you re-evaluate your life".

"Song is the heroics of speech" - Thomas Carlyle

Friday 6 July 2012

Habits : Rediscovery

In a previous post, I mentioned how I tend to alter between listening to the radio and listening to my iPod, because I start to get anxious about either neglecting a collection of music I already own (and much of which I might not have heard of), or about missing out on something new. One thing that both options can offer me though, is rediscovery.

Generally, if I'm listening to the radio during the day, then I am listening to BBC's Radio 1. In terms of musical variety, the daytime shows admittedly don't offer very much; focusing primarily on what is currently considered to be a chart hit, or is expected to be successful. I am not bothered by this at all because I do enjoy a lot of accessible, mainstream music. However, some of the evening and late-night shows are less to my taste. If I happen to be driving at night, listening to the radio, and Radio 1 isn't providing me with something I like, then I'll usually switch to one of two local radio stations.

Both stations play a broader mix of music. Not so much in terms of genre, but in age. Although peppered with advertising between songs (and this is the main reason I don't generally listen to it), local radio can provide me with music from the last four or five decades.

Occasionally... very occasionally... I'll be listening to the radio and a song will begin to play that I haven't heard for a very long time. A forgotten song. And not just any forgotten song, but a song that I my have once loved. Pretty quickly I will spot that the introduction is familiar, and then I'll turn up the volume and suddenly find myself rediscovering the tune again.

For me, it can be quite a profound feeling. It's like finding a letter from long ago and, as you read through it, you begin to remember parts of it even though the details had left your memory. It's like getting a whole wave of nostalgia rush past... no specifics, no great moments from time picked out. Just a few minutes where the memory of the song is reignited again. I love that feeling.

It doesn't exclusively happen when I'm listening to radio either. If I scroll through the music I own in iTunes, there's plenty in there that I haven't yet listened to. They may be songs on a compilation album, or I may have just forgotten that I even own them at all. Regardless, shuffling through them can sometimes bring up one of those little gems.

Usually, once I've rediscovered a song, it'll then be played incessantly for some time (repeat is my friend, remember?). Then I guess time will pass. My love-affair with the song will burn out. Perhaps, a year or two later, it'll suddenly pop up once again, and we'll rekindle our affections.

All this means is that I'm pretty much feeling pulled between three musical options:

  1. Stick with my familiar and comfortable musical partners, and remain content with what they give me.
  2. Go out looking for a hot new fling: some new song that I've yet to hear, but can soon embrace.
  3. Suddenly come across an old-flame - that song I once loved - and continue where I left off.

I flick through all of these options week by week. The only conclusion I can come to is that I must be some kind of manwhore for music, but also very lucky in that option #1 always takes me back.

DISCLAIMER: My musical habits do not mirror my relationship habits :)

"Music washes away from the soul, the dust of everyday life" - Berthold Auerbach