Friday, March 30, 2007

Busy, Busy, Busy

Even if I was blogging regularly, I couldn't be blogging regularly right now. Yesterday, I saw "Fracture" with Ryan Gosling at 11 a.m., "Disturbia" with Shia LeBeouf at 6:30 p.m. and then I went to see Darren Hayes of Savage Garden perform at Joe's Pub at 11:30 p.m. at night. LOTS of screaming girls there (about 70/30 women, I'd say). The new songs are great of course. My only disappointment is that he didn't perform "Casey," my favorite song off the new album (that I've heard so far). My feature on Darren will appear in the music issue of The Advocate, which I THINK will be the next one out. The most fun of the show was sitting next to Jim, who works behind the scenes in reality TV and handles the business end of Pink Is The New Blog, a gossipy website that is sort of Prez Hilton without the bitchiness. Jim is a huge Darren Hayes fan and it's always more fun to be with/near someone who is completely caught up in the music. Today I want to finish watching Gosling's "Murder By Numbers," watch "The Slaughter Rule" and then listen to some of the director commentary tracks on "Half Nelson" and "The Believer." Then I interview Ryan Gosling at 5 p.m., and then head to the new Athol Fugard play "Exits and Entrances" at 8 p.m. Saturday at 3:30 p.m. I interview Shia. Then at 8 p.m. I head to the revival of August Wilson's "King Hedley II" at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. I see the revival of "Moon For The Misbegotten" with Kevin Spacey. Monday at 1 p.m. is opening day at Yankee Stadium. And I have to write all those stories -- Gosling, Shia, Spacey -- as well as rewrite a story on the MacDowell Colony and write a story on Mike White's new film "Year Of The Dog," which I already did the interview for. Aaarrrghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

"American Idol" -- Results Show For Top 10

Ryan's faux-hawk was the most predictable part of a predictable evening -- predictable, that is, if you read my postings. I got lucky again.

Anyway, the Ford ad had an old West theme and again for some vague reason they seem less embarrassing to me than in season's past. But I still find it unforgivable that the kids act so pleased and happy about shilling for Ford after the ad has aired. And do you think the producers are trying to give a boost to Chris Richardson? They let him perform last when the most people are watching; if he and Chris Sligh had switched slots, it's arguable that Richardson would be the one going home. And then in the Ford ad they made him the outlaw, the most glamorous role, with Jordin -- another yungin' the producers would surely like to see last longer -- as the sheriff.

Then on to the three lowest.

PHIL looked very confident when he was standing up, which made it all the more amusing when he was in the bottom three. I try not to pay too much attention to who is in the bottom from week to week, thinking that your latest performance is really the only one that matters. But Phil should definitely be worried about constantly ranking low.

HALEY looked as if she assumed she would be in the bottom three. It wasn't the least bit surprising to her.

GWEN STEFANI -- she performed "The Sweet Escape" and did a fine chirpy job, though I've never felt the slightest compunction to buy an album of hers. But she's a pro. Akon came on to join her, but it might as well have been me. He was more of a cheerleader than a singer. Is all his solo success due to the big names that seem to appear on every song he does, or does he actually perform? During her performance, we saw a shot of Chris Sligh standing next to Gina. She was having fun; he was BARELY clapping along and was very unhappy indeed.

CHRIS SLIGH surely knew he was in the bottom three when it came down to him and Gina, since Gina had what will probably be her highlight of the season the night before. Sligh, indeed, looked...resigned. Perhaps he'd read my blog?

(And Chris Richardson by the way again got squeals from the girls. But his shirt was another horribly dated affair that only looked good compared to the hideous shirt he had on the night before. The show's costumer should be shot and anyone holding out hope that Richardson was gay would surely give up the ghost by now.)

GOING HOME -- Phil sat back down and then Sligh was sent home. I think just naming the bottom two is a big success. Actually guessing both of them AND the one going home is probably more just luck. I certainly have no tremendous Idol record in that regard but maybe I should go to Vegas. Sligh sang "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" and again sort of lost his breath and wavered on his vocals, but he did give hugs all around and joke to Phil that "You owe me 50 bucks." I liked Sligh and was sorry to see him go before Phil and Sanjaya and Haley, who are all less interesting singers. But at least he'll make the tour (somethng you think the show might emphasize so the people going home aren't painted as losers) and of course at this stage all that matters is getting down to the final three or four that are contenders. In this case, that would be Melinda, LaKisha, Blake and Jordin.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Oprah's Pick: Cormac McCarthy's "The Road"

Oprah Winfrey has always had excellent taste in books and her latest book club pick is just further proof. Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" was one of the most acclaimed books of 2006 and on most every Ten Best list for the year. (It certainly would have been on mine.) I think this just bumped up the possibility of the book being turned into a movie. It'll be fascinating to see what the ornery, private author is like with Oprah on TV (his first TV interview they say, though I thought he was on "60 Minutes" once). And I can't wait to find out what Oprah thought of the ending.

Harry Potter: The Final Book Jacket Art

Here's a look at the book cover art for the final Harry Potter. Scroll down to see the much inferior British version and scroll down to the bottom to see how the artwork wraps around to the back cover of the book. It looks like Harry and Voldemort are engaged in battle, with both of them trying to manipulate something we can't see.

"American Idol" -- The Top 10

Somehow, not a terribly exciting show last night for "Idol." Gwen Stefani seemed kind of sweet but she had one and only one piece of advice for the kids: shut up and sing the melody; none of those damn "runs" and trills, please. Good advice, but a bit one-note. (Pun intended.)

LAKISHA -- Donna Summer's "Last Dance." She looked good and had on some serious boots. The song was a breeze for her and she was a pro. Very fun. Clearly first to get the show off to a good start. And LaKisha is popular enough that the producers aren't worried about having her perform early. (Remember, performing early is always a danger because the audience builds every half hour for "Idol.")

CHRIS SLIGH -- The Police's "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic." He looked fine but Sligh has always been my favorite male until Blake started building steam. Now tonight Sligh has hit a wall. He had a very shaky start (did he begin the song in too high a key?). He was okay on the bridge but the bridge is where all the easy emoting comes in. He seemed absolutely lost and I suddenly wondered why he was still in it. One big difference popped into my head between the front-runners and the people just hoping to stay alive. LaKisha was performing. Chris Sligh was competing. He's in a very dangerous position.

GINA -- The Pretenders' "Stand By You." She looked fun and the boots with those crosses were crazy, helped enormously by fishnet stockings. She was a bit screechy on the high notes and the music overwhelmed her on certain passages, but overall this was a revelation for me. Who knew she could sing? I knew she could sort of rock and had a smart, fun personality, but she actually sang this song with conviction. It was her best performance by far, something I wrote down before Simon said the same thing. Her relief in front of the judges makes her vulnerable in an appealing way, which also helps.

SANJAYA -- No Doubt's "Bathwater." Gwen was as damning as she could be while still staying polite. "It's going to be very difficult for him." Uh, that was before you saw his crazy mohawk. Sanjaya, after a week or two of looking lost and scared and embarrassed that he was getting by when better singers were cut, has relaxed and decided to have fun. He is an entertainer and the air just proves that. The judges didn't even bother mentioning when he forgot the lyrics for a moment and just mumbled. And I'm sure it's my imagination but Sanjaya seemed to stumble and pause a tad every time he had to switch the gender in the song from "You're my kind of man" to "You're my kind of...girl." Perhaps he was used to singing along with the original lyrics? And again, he had a pretty good ending vocally, which is always the first thing on voters' minds and the hair was enjoyably silly. Damned if it wasn't entertaining. I wanna see what he's gonna do next week and so do a lot of other people. Simon was right again when he said, "You are in your own universe. And if people like you, good luck." Why bother critiquing him, indeed?

HALEY -- Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors." Her dress was good and she showed a lot of leg, but the hair and makeup and necklaces were too adult, too busy. She looked like a kid trying to look like a grownup. Just like the song actually. It was dull and had a very bad ending. When Simon nailed her ("Sweet but forgettable") the audience gave almost no reaction, which is always a bad sign. Definitely this week's Stephanie.

PHIL -- The Police's "Every Breath You Take." He looked pretty good, with the cap always a smart idea. Just like Chris Sligh, they added a lot of echo to his voice to sing this Police song. Faint and colorless were the words I wrote down while he was singing. Yes, he picked up a little steam and was a lot more forceful on the bridge ("Since you've gone I've been lost without a trace/I dream at night, I can only see your face") but that's where all the easy energy of the song is. Heck, I emoted the hell out of the song on the bridge when I sang it at karaoke during the Christmas holidays with the family. (And yes, I won.) The background vocalists helped fill in the upper falsetto on "Baby, baby PLEASE" which helped a lot on his ending. Somehow, not even dull enough to be memorably dull like Haley and Sligh. And did Ryan Seacrest really say, "That's the way we roll."? Yes, he did.

MELINDA -- Donna Summer's "Heaven Knows." Thank God it wasn't a show tune! I liked the pattern on Melinda's dress but the combo of the dress and the black tights wasn't appealing. But it was a fun look when the camera was close in (loved the tassle; very Seventies). For a change, she was fun and young and passionate. The curl on her hair was good too. Sailing through.

BLAKE -- The Cure's "Love Song." He looked much cuter in the video clip. On stage, he was wearing some awful 80s looking top with zippers and contrasting patterns that was awfully dated. He even seemed a little...fey, which is fine with me but still not the most aggressive. I philosophically like the fact that he sang the Cure but it was a very reserved song that kept him in check. He made almost no impression vocally and was generally very tentative. Simon said he was the strongest of the guys, but tonight that seemed like faint praise.

JORDIN -- No Doubt's "Hey Baby." Her school girl outfit was cute but made her look a little chunky, I thought. The big earrings were cool. Early in the song, she was getting lost on the low notes, but she picked up steam. After last week's sensational performance (I'm still annoyed none of the judges said they watched the playback and underestimated how great she was), I really wanted Jordin to capitalize. She held steady here and certainly didn't go backwards, but she didn't gain any ground. But fun.

CHRIS RICHARDSON -- No Doubt's "Don't Speak." He had on a goofy jacket and tie combo that looked okay in a dorky/cute way. And in a night where for the first time I felt the men lived down to their reputation as being out-classed by the women, Richardson stayed true to form as the rest of the guys. He was pretty good, but not special and like all of them seemed a bit lost. He was definitely competing, not performing. (Like Randy Johnson, I'm gonna have one idea and keep repeating it.) I'll say this about Chris: he looks EXACTLY like what you would have thought the winners of "American Idol" would look like: a male boy band pinup (or sex bomb a la Britney Spears if you're thinking of girls). And that's exactly the sort of winner the show has NOT produced in its first five seasons. Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken, Taylor Hicks, Fantasia -- really, only Carrie Underwood has fit the idea of a star in the making that a record label would pick out of a lineup. America has focused much more on singing and personality instead of sex appeal. That's why Richardson was in the bottom two before and will be again sometime soon.

WHO'S OUT -- Sanjaya is always the wild card. No one would ever be surprised if he were in the bottom two and no one would ever be surprised if he were sent home. But I think he's safe for another week. My initial picks for the bottom two are Chris Sligh and Haley, with Sligh going home. But Phil and Chris Richardson and even Blake are vulnerable too. Sligh just seems more vulnerable because he sang early in the show when viewership is lower by millions and was so...nothing. Bummer, because I've liked him all along and thought last week's "Time Of the Season" was one of his best yet.

Man Found Living With 80 Sheep

He lived upstairs and the sheep lived downstairs. As my brother Chris said when he sent me the link, "In a related story, they also found 500 cartons of cigarettes."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What Is Happening To The Music Industry?

I've been having repeated discussions and debates with friends over the past few months about the music industry. Clearly, massive changes are roiling the business. Album sales for Billboard's Top 10 are down dramatically. Just five or ten years ago, the #1 CD would often sell 300,000 -400,000 copies, especially a new release. Today, if you sell 100,000 copies in a week, you're a blockbuster. Hundreds of record stores - including the iconic Tower Records -- have shuttered. People are buying iPods and digital songs and ringtones for their phones, but is that really making up for the shortfall in CD sales? No. Here's my back-and-forth with a friend at

Here's a New York Times article from Monday on the same issue.

And here are my thoughts on what's happening with the music industry.

The late 80s to the late 90s featured a bizarre, once-in-a-lifetime spike in sales for the music industry, thanks to the introduction of the compact disc. The CD dramatically changed the business and over a decade the record labels significantly increased the cost of an album from $8-$10 to $18 or more.

They also destroyed the singles format, even though the single was once the lifeblood of the industry, a great way to break new artists and the entry level purchase for kids and teens that got them in the habit of buying music, a habit that would last a lifetime. Why? Because the record labels thought it was clever of them to force people to buy an $18 CD instead of a $2 or $3 single, even if people suspected or knew they didn't really want the whole album or simply couldn't afford it.

Finally, the CD allowed the record industry to convince everyone to replace albums they already owned on LP or cassette or 8-track with a far more expensive copy of the same album on CD. Then they convinced you to buy it AGAIN on CD because the album had been remastered or now included bonus tracks. Imagine the joy of publishers if they had a product that convinced everyone to replace the hundreds of books they owned with more expensive, more profitable versions of the same title. This is what happened in the music business and it was a fluke that led to a bulge in sales that simply could not be maintained.

The CD is often compared to the DVD, but the comparison doesn't hold up. Yes, both formats were far superior to the ones they replaced. But CDs were more expensive than cassettes, while DVDs were far less expensive than most VHS tapes (not to mention laser discs) or at worst the same price but made available far more quickly and with extras that the VHS tape could never begin to match. The DVD solidifed the burgeoning habit of building a film library the way people own libraries of books and music. Yes, some homes had lots of VHS tapes, but except for titles for their kids and, say "Top Gun" and "Beverly Hills Cop," most homes didn't have more than a handful of videos. Nowadays, lots of homes have DVD collections. It's a $20 billion business. Has some of the money that would be spent on CDs gone to DVDs? Absolutely.

Now, the new formats for CDs are hi-def CDs with even better sound quality and digital downloads. No one cares about the next generation of CDs; the sound quality simply isn't that dramatically better to convince people to make the switch. And of course they come with higher prices that the record labels would love to maintain. If the next generation of CDs had vastly better sound quality and more extras for the SAME or less money, record labels would be learning the lessons of DVD. But they're not.

And then there are digital downloads. In almost every way, this format is inferior to the CD. Digital tracks that play on an iPod can't be easily switched to a different machine. Buy a digital track from one company and it won't play on another company's player and certainly not the iPod. Wanna put that song on your phone? Good luck. If your computer crashes, every single digital track you have ever purchased may very well be lost for good. The sound quality isn't even close to a standard CD. The record companies fought digital downloads tooth and nail and still make it extremely difficult and unpleasant for people to use with ease in the ways they could reasonably expect.

And yet, people are spending billions of dollars on them and more "units" (ie digital downloads of singles and ringtone and entire albums, etc) were sold in the digital format than CDs last year. One big reason? After years of being dead, suddenly people can buy singles again. How many times in the 90s did you hear people complaining about buying a $15 (or $16 or $18) CD that only had one or two good songs on it? The record companies forced people to spend more money to get, say, The Fray's "How To Save A Life" when people suspected they would really only want that one song. It worked in the short term as CD sales boomed but it made people very unhappy. It also kept kids from buying music, so they migrated to video games and mangas and other diversions. Now, suddenly, people can again buy a single and for the cheap price of $1. And the one way that digital downloads are far superior to CDs is ease. There's a record store in virtually every single home in America. Yep, there's, which has more albums available than any record store in history. And there's iTunes, with an increasing number of songs available.

There's also the mobile phone. People are spending billions of dollars on ringtones, a market that's much more mature in Europe and Asia and will only get bigger here. People are buying singles and putting them on their phones both to appreciate the music and say, 'This is the person I am; this is the music I love.' Record labels are making billions of dollars off of singles via digital downloads and ringtones, the very format (a cheap song that kids could snap up, play over and over and then move on to the next one) that labels crushed into nothing, despite the worries of radio stations and other observers who knew this was a big, big mistake.

Record labels are going to see a HUGE increase in the next few years in catalog sales for singles. If a song is featured in an ad or on "American Idol" or "Grey's Anatomy," people can go online before the show is even over and purchase that old Tony Bennett gem or the Archie's "Sugar, Sugar" or whatever new song it is that has caught their fancy. Will they spend $18 on a CD that contains that song? Not always. Will the consumer be happy and be encouraged to buy more music by this experience? Yes.

But one thing clearly is NOT going to happen. People are not going to replace their CDs with digital downloads of the album for the obvious reason that they already own it and can rip the music off the (better sounding) CD and put it on their computer or iPod. I doubt we'll see any other format in our lifetimes for movies or music or books that convinces people they need to buy a new copy of something they already own. It was a fluke thanks to CDs that created a huge bump in sales (powered by boomers who wanted CD copies of all their oldies) that we won't see the likes of again.

So album sales were artificially inflated for a decade by the remarkable CD. Sales were goosed by people buying 40 year old albums all over again for more money. That will never return. As the NYTimes says, signing young artists to a one or two or three single deal and seeing what happens is exactly the way the music industry worked for most of its history. Having songs available for sale as a cheap single (or ringtone) is also the way the industry worked for decades. It's definitely a major positive that singles are back.

I haven't even touched on MySpace. Today, if you read about an artist in a story, there's usually a link to a song of theirs so you can immediately hear them and decide if you like them. If there isn't a link, most music consumers know they can type in a band's name and find its MySpace page where three or four songs can be streamed. It's on-demand radio for virtually every artist out there today. Yes, people are file-sharing but iTunes has made it clear that if music is reasonably priced and could be swapped from player to computer to phone back to player again, people will choose not to steal.

And no, the single is not "replacing" the album and the album isn't dead. The single is simply bouncing back where it belongs -- side by side with the album as a format just as important and exciting and fun as a CD. (It's not only 45 minute albums that make people love music. It's also the 3 minute single.) The single won't replace the album any more than a concerto would replace the symphony. They're different and serve different artistic needs.

More music is available more easily to more people than ever before in history. Every home contains its own record store, not to mention its own on-demand radio station via MySpace and artist home pages. Many artists can afford high-quality recording studios and will go the indie route since they can record and distribute their own albums and make a lot more money than via a record label. Young people are snapping up singles again, something they weren't allowed to do for a good decade and which forced them to go underground and file swap. It is a great time to listen to music.

Yes, the music industry is in major upheavals and fat, stupid suit-heavy record labels might be dinosaurs. Why would any artist with deep pockets and name recognition sign with Sony when they can make so much more money on their own? Paul McCartney's new album will be released by Starbucks, for heaven's sake. Clearly something is up. The record label isn't going anywhere; it's just going to have to get nimbler and adjust to lower sales. The album isn't in trouble; it's just going to have to readjust to a world where the single is also a major player and huge seller in the business instead of the bizarre decade when it was shunted aside by stupid record labels. Music stores can't compete on price with Wal-Mart for the top few artists and indie stores can't compete with the range of selection and penny-pinching prices of online sellers. So a lot is changing. It's a very tough, sad time for indie music stores and I have no idea what the future holds for them -- though I can't imagine a world without them. But when you add in ringtones and ringmasters and digital downloads, music sales aren't down so dramatically. When you figure that the sales of the 90s were goosed in a way by catalog sales that can never be reproduced and adjust expectations accordingly, music sales are pretty solid right now and the future looks so bright.... (There's a good example: does anyone need to own an entire album by Timbuk 3 or will they be a lot happier with just that song? And which is better for the industry long-term?) As soon as record labels stop shackling digital downloads and make them easier to use for all players in all formats, they'll be able to combat illegal file-sharing a lot more effectively and make a lot more money in the digital realm.

So anyone who thinks there aren't major changes afoot for record labels and record stores and music fans is clearly dumb and blind. But anyone who thinks music long-term is in "trouble" or that the album is going to disappear or that there aren't any good artists out there or people just don't care about rock and pop and soul and country and jazz and classical and world music anymore, well, they're just deaf.

Monday, March 26, 2007

"Life" And Death

The latest unnecessary iteration of the once iconic Life magazine is dead. I think that makes eight of its nine lives. They're bringing back the name at the end of the year to anchor a website that will contain a huge chunk of their massive archive and make the images available to the public.

"Battlestar: Galactica" Season Finale

SPOILER ALERT -- I'll be discussing the plot twists of the season finale so stop reading if you haven't watched yet. This was a very problematic season of BG for me. A show that just got better and better from its miniseries through seasons one and two suddenly hit a wall in season three. Many episodes felt like simply treading water. The massive upheaval in the plot -- having them colonize a planet they thought was safe and then being taken over by the Cylons -- was dismissed in just a handful of episodes. That situation was ripe with parallels to Iraq, not to mention fascinating and involving. I hate it when shows change EVERYTHING and then dump it all after a few shows and go back to where they were before. Sure, there have been repercussions throughout the season, but not enough to justify throwing such a big changeup and then dropping it just as quickly. I will always regret they didn't spend the entire season on that planet with a resistance and collaborators, etc. It was fertile material. Even worse, suddenly everyone was in a relationship we KNEW wouldn't last (especially Starbuck and Apollo's marriages) that were annoying and a waste of time. I felt like I was watching a soap instead of the smart sci-fi series I had been. Then Starbuck was "killed off" with just a few episodes to go in a manner that made clear she would be back one way or another. Everyone I'm sure expected the final moment of the season to be something like a shot of Starbuck coming out of the birthing goo and realizing she was a Cylon. Instead, in a really enjoyable twist, they outed FOUR main characters as Cylons. (The Dylan song was a truly bizarre touch worthy of "St. Elsewhere." And while the lyrics are wildly impressionistic and vague, they don't seem to relate to being a Cylon in any way shape or form. So why THAT song?) And when Starbuck did return it was in a vaguely uncertain manner that left us not sure what to think. So from a show that was at its best the finest show on TV, I'd have to seriously downgrade this season. But if they explore the many possibilities opened up by the four new Cylons (and it doesn't help that Roslin's asst is simply not a good actress, albeit quite pretty), there's hope they can turn things around. One thing to watch for (in 2008, no less) is how quickly they get Apollo back in uniform. I'm really bored by Adama either yelling at his son or blubbering at him in a sentimental outburst. Their relationship isn't growing; it's just switching back and forth at random. Interestingly, SciFi suddenly re-upped the show for an entire season of 22 episodes after first ordering only 13 episodes. If that means SciFi wants to tout Season Four as the final one, then I hope they do so soon so the writers can prepare a fitting conclusion.

NOTE: In my bid to not blog so much, I haven't been reading so much online. I see that John Aravosis at Americablog was also deeply disappointed in this season.

NOTE: And here's a good post-season finale chat with Roslin, Adama and creator Ron Moore.

The Secret Of "The Secret"

It's very hard not to blog. Don't I need to tell people the weekend box office and express my amazement that "The Last Mimzy" made $10 million? I just couldn't picture anyone other than an eight year old saying, "One for 'The Last Mimzy' please.'" I feel silly even typing it. Watch my astonishment if this poorly reviewed film doesn't drop next weekend. (Why don't people just go see "Bridge To Terabithia" instead?) Don't I need to break down the overnight ratings and tell you that reruns of serialized dramas are dead when even a red-hot show like "Grey's Anatomy" only reached 6.5 million viewers -- about 25% of its typical audience. Dramas running for six months are a thing of the past; networks need to realize that and schedule all of them the way they do "Lost" and "24." That means they need twice as many shows to fill their schedules of course. Oh and the "Grease: You're The One That I Want" finale barely moved the dial -- it reached a typical 6.78 million viewers. I loved how the judges were AMAZED when Max won the role of Danny, even though all three of them pushed for him. Austin just did NOT look like anything remotely resembling Danny and the poor guy's macho, body builder stance (with his arms manfully poised at his side) bespoke someone uncomfortable in their skin (to me). But th most fun of all was Max's beauty queen reaction to winning: his hands flew to his mouth and then he immediately turned to his opponent with a look of sorrow. "Grease" is a show that doesn't need stars, really, in the short term, but without a lot of imagination from director Kathleen Marshall it's gonna be tough not to feel this is a roadshow version.

But I couldn't resist blogging to tell you there's a book deal for a title called "The Secret Of 'The Secret,' " a book about a book that looks at the silly claims of the "The Secret" and wonders if the power of positive thinking really works and whether Einstein et al were really in on The Secret. A book about 'The Da Vinci Code' makes sense; there are lots of historical things to toss around. But why would anyone who hasn't read "The Secret" want to read this? And if they have read "The Secret" and liked it, why would they want it debunked? If they didn't like it, why do they need someone else to tell them what they already know? I may not pay my rent, but at least I don't have to work on foolishness like this.

Just interviewed Kevin Spacey, but in 40 minutes I felt I barely scratched the surface. Definitely looking forward to seeing "Moon For The Misbegotten," though.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The 2007 IRAs -- Official Results

The 2007 IRAs - the grand finale to the awards season -- took place Saturday night from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. It's the 32 year the IRAs have taken place and age took its toll: only eight members were present (the lowest total in memory), with another four providing absentee ballots. Teaching engagements, family crises, living in other parts of the country and more have all taken their toll. After more than a decade of membership, I tentatively brought in a new member, Aaron, aka richboy. His taste was mocked, his entries were belittled, his lack of cinematic knowledge was challenged. In short, he was accepted. Since Aaron has never known a world in which the IRAs didn't exist, hopefully he'll contribute to its continued existence for years to come. All absent members were missed, but the results were excellent nonetheless.


Best Picture -- L'Enfant
Best Director -- Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, L'Enfant
Best Actor -- Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
Best Actress -- Maggie Cheung, Clean
Best Supporting Actor -- Anthony Mackie, Half Nelson and We Are Marshall
Best Supporting Actress -- Carmen Maura -- Volver, Free Zone and Queens
Best Screenplay -- (tie) Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, L'Enfant and Guillermo Del Toro, Pan's Labyrinth
Best Cinematography -- Emmanuel Lubezki, Children Of Men
Best Score -- Philip Glass, The Illusionist and Notes On A Scandal
Best Production Design -- Eugenio Caballero, Pan's Labyrinth
Best Costumes -- Sharen Davis, Dreamgirls, The Pursuit Of Happyness, Akeelah and the Bee
Dramamine Award (For A Movie That Makes You Sick) -- Babel
Sominex Award (For A Movie That Puts You To Sleep) -- The Da Vinci Code
Mechanical Actor -- Robert Downey Jr, A Scanner Darkly, A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints, Fur: An Imaginary Portrait Of Diane Arbus, and The Shaggy Dog
Mechanical Actress -- Julianne Moore, Children Of Men, Freedomland


Again, 8 members were present, with 4 more members providing absentee ballots. For each category, we go around the room, naming our top five point selection. Then we go around the room again, naming our five nominees in order (with descending votes of 5 pts, 4 pts. 3 pts. and so on.) A winner is tabulated, a vote to rescind is made (in which a majority of the people voting must reject the first place vote-getter) and a winner is crowned. This takes a remarkably long time.


Sharen Davis for Dreamgirls, The Pursuit Of Happyness, Akeelah and the Bee -- 35 points
John A. Dunn for The Notorious Bettie Page, Factory Girl, The Return -- 27 points
Chung Man Yee for Curse Of The Golden Flower -- 20 poiints
Ruth Myers for The Painted Veil, Infamous, Monster House -- 12 points
Sabine Daigeler for Volver -- 10 points

The dirty secret of the IRAs is that just like the Oscars it can focus on flashy period films and fantasy tales for the tech awards, rather than, say, exploring the subtle use of costumes to explore character in, of, Half Nelson or the like. So Dreamgirls -- written and directed by one-time IRA voter Bill Condon -- won the first award. It garnered what would be the highest point total of the night. Did this presage a Dreamgirls sweep?


Eugenio Caballero for Pan's Labyrinth -- 32 points
(tie) John Myhre for Dreamgirls -- 22 points
Jim Clay and Geoffrey Kirkland for Children Of Men -- 22 points
Ann Chakraverty, Pierre Pell and Stephane Rosenbaum for The Science Of Sleep -- 13 points
Gideon Ponte for The Notorious Bettie Page and Nacho Libre -- 9 points

Dreamgirls has another strong showing but it's the flashy, Oscar-winning work of Pan's Labyrinth that triumphs handily. Some grumblings about highlighting a film that already won an Oscar can be heard. But what can you do? Pan's Labyrinth was hardly a typical Oscar winner and it was clearly seen and appreciated by the IRA community.


Philip Glass for The Illusionist, Notes On A Scandal, Roving Mars -- 20 points
Alberto Iglesias for Volver -- 18 points
Alexandre Desplat for The Painted Veil and The Queen -- 16 points
Neil Young for Neil Young: Heart Of Gold -- 14 points
Brian Eno, David Roback and Tricky for Clean -- 13 points

Philip Glass, one of my favorite composers and a touchstone throughout my entire journalism career, wins his first IRA award in a tight race. There was some back and forth: some voted for his atypical score for The Illusionist but NOT for his more Glass-ian work in Notes On A Scandal while others preferred their Glass straight up and voted for Scandal instead of The Illusionist but ultimately his body of work for the year was acknowledged. No one had seen Roving Mars, an IMAX film. I was thrilled for Glass, but my first choice was Neil Young's brilliant songs for the terrific concert film Neil Young: Heart Of Gold. And this was probably the first nomination for Brian Eno, another personal favorite.


Emmanuel Lubezki for Children Of Men -- 24 points
Guillermo Navaroo for Pan's Labyrinth, Night At The Museum -- 18 points
(tie) Alain Marcoen for L'Enfant -- 12 points
Tobias Schliesser for Dreamgirls -- 12 points
Gokhan Tiryaki for Climates -- 10 points
Gyula Pados for Fateless, Basic Instinct 2 -- 9 points

Coming into the IRAs, I was most worried about Army Of Shadows, a 1969 film by Jean-Pierre Melville that had played at Film Forum. I liked but didn't love it (I'd take Le Samorai or Bob Le Flambeur any day) and philosophically rejected the film as clearly being a revival, whatever the technical ruling might be. (A film is eligible for an IRA when it is first screened in NYC during a commercial run and that was the case with Army Of Shadows.) But Dreamgirls and Children of Men were two more movies I liked but didn't love that were showing strong support. If Children Of Men deserved any award, it was cinematography for the exciting camerawork (and Dreamgirls getting costumes made perfect sense too). My pick was L'Enfant, another hand-held gem from the Dardennes that I found utterly gripping. And no one could imagine what life must have been like for Pados to go from the grim Holocaust film Fateless to Basic Instinct 2. The mind reels at the weirdness of it.


(tie) Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne for L'Enfant -- 17 points
Guillermo Del Toro for Pan's Labyrinth -- 17 points
Rian Johnson for Brick -- 12 points
(tie) Robin Campillo and Laurent Cantet for Heading South -- 10 points
Bill Condon for Dreamgirls -- 10 points

Another satisfying win for me. Some objected that the script Pan's Labyrinth made no sense and violated its own rules. (Hey, you can't trust a faun, so expecting it to follow its own rules is crazy, I say.) It made perfect dream-sense to me (ie. it felt right) and I'm a sucker for fairy tales. Tell me I've got three tasks to complete and I'm sold. And having L'Enfant tie for the win was very promising. It was one of my ten favorite films of the year, but I didn't think the film would be widely seen enough by the IRA voters (I didn't really recall them touting the Dardennes before) so I started scribbling in that film in the upper categories, hoping it might become a player. And Brick, with the cleverest fake slang since Clueless, was a welcome sight as well. The only surprise was the coming strength of Heading South, a film I'd never even heard about before the IRAs.


Carmen Maura for Volver, Free Zone and Queens -- 23 points
(tie) Simone Signoret for Army Of Shadows -- 14 points
Lily Tomlin for A Prairie Home Companion -- 14 points
Lubna Azabal for Changing Times -- 12 points
Meryl Streep for The Devil Wears Prada and A Prairie Home Companion -- 12 points

A happy for Maura after reuniting with Almodovar in one of my favorite films of the year. I was probably the only one to see the terrible, half-witted Queens so I couldn't get enough attention to have her award designated for the other two but NOT Queens. And everyone was astonished and disbelieving -- had Maura really had a small role in Amos Gitai's Free Zone? Apparently she had. Surely Signoret will never be nominated for another IRA, having been dead for many years. And much bickering over whether Streep was a lead or a supporting role in Prada. Since I strongly believed she was a supporting role (Anne Hathaway is clearly the sole lead), I was glad to see Streep mentioned here.


Anthony Mackie for Half Nelson, We Are Marshall -- 25 points
Nick Nolte for Clean, Over The Hedge, Off The Black, Peaceful Warrior -- 22 points
Mark Wahlberg for The Departed -- 21 points
Sergi Lopez for Pan's Labyrinth -- 12 points
Eddie Murphy for Dreamgirls -- 11 points

Now I'm really excited. Mackie wins best supporting actor in a really tight race? That bodes well for Ryan Gosling, I think, unless the film has just squandered all its good will. In any case, I'm thrilled Mackie beat Nolte out of winning for Clean. He was a fine presence in that film, but I just didn't like it. And though someone said Nolte is always good lately, they clearly hadn't seen the absurdly bad Peaceful Warrior, which is getting a new commercial launch this year after playing for a few weeks in 2006 at Sundance Cinemas.


Maggie Cheung for Clean -- 27 points
Penelope Cruz for Volver -- 22 points
Maggie Gyllenhaal for Sherrybaby, Stranger Than Fiction, World Trade Center and Monster House -- 14 points
Shareeka Epps for Half Nelson -- 13 points
Charlotte Rampling for Heading South -- 11 points

Well, I wasn't fond of Clean and Maggie Cheung's character was no Marianne Faithfull. (Really, I found the finale almost unbearable and silly.) But she's talented and of course beautiful. If only she hadn't been blocking Cruz, who gave the best performance of her career in the best Almodovar film in a long, long time. Seeing Epps on the list also pleased me; another good sign for Gosling, who I prayed the IRA voters weren't going to dismiss because he'd already received so much attention (including an Oscar nomination) or simply because of The Notebook.


Ryan Gosling for Half Nelson -- 30 points
Jeremy Renier for L'Enfant -- 23 points
Sacha Baron Cohen for Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazahkstan -- 13 points
Joseph Gordon-Levitt for Brick -- 11 points
Melvil Poupaud for Time To Leave -- 10 points

Hurrah! Gosling wins with the biggest point total of any acting category. Well deserved, since it was a remarkable performance that established him as one of the most exciting actors around. And the runner-up was the lead from L'Enfant? Now I'm really thrilled at the possibility of these two films duking it out for Best Picture. More good news: Cohen getting deserved attention for Borat, last year's winner Gordon-Levitt getting a nod for Brick (my favorite film of the year) and Poupaud for Time To Leave, another film on my ten best list. This is shaping into a very good year for me, IRA-wise.


Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne for L'Enfant -- 33 points
Pedro Almodovar for Volver -- 25 points
Alfonso Cuaron for Children Of Men -- 18 points
Guillermo Del Toro for Pan's Labyrinth -- 13 points
Lajos Koltai for Fateless -- 8 points

Now L'Enfant is gaining momentum. Half Nelson is nowhere to be seen, but frankly the actors were far better than the script or the direction, so I'm not upset. And yes, Children Of Men is here, but its way behind Volver and L'Enfant in points total, so things are looking good.


L'Enfant -- 27 points
Half Nelson -- 18 points
Volver -- 17 points
Children Of Men -- 14 points
Pan's Labyrinth -- 12 points

Hurrah again! I'm just enthralled by everything the Dardenne brothers do, so I'm thrilled to see them acknowledged at the IRAs. And Half Nelson and Volver and Pan's Labyrinth as well? This might as well be my top ten list. Children Of Men is the only filmI wouldn't include myself, but Cuaron is a major talent and I found the film interesting if not wholly successful and it's only ranked fourth, so I couldn't be happier. The list of my five picks for Best Picture coming into the IRAs (meaning the films I would push for and thought had a chance) were Brick, Volver, Pan's Labyrinth, Borat and Half Nelson. I had L'Enfant way down in my picks for acting and directing, but immediately threw them towards the top once I saw a core group of people voting for it. That's the key to smart voting in a group like this: you've got to adjust your ballot on the fly and encourage people to keep voting for a movie you like, even if it's not your first or second pick. Also, you might even throw in a movie someone else is supporting that doesn't have a chance; just give it a point or two so they'll hear their film mentioned and keep voting for it. Why? To keep them from dumping their favorite and throwing their allegiance to another film that DOES have a chance and you don't want to win. Oh the machinations of the IRAs.


Babel -- 21 points
13 Tzameti -- 14 points
Little Miss Sunshine -- 10 points
Manderlay -- 7 points

Babel -- aka Crash with a passport, as some dubbed it -- was a well-deserved winner here. Despite some decent acting in certain sections, the links between the segments were forced to say the least and the overall structure is a silly, meaningless stunt. How many times will they remake the same film with diminishing returns.


The Da Vinci Code -- 12 points
The History Boys -- 8 points
The Good German Shepherd -- 7 points

Voting is always widely scattered in these negative categories. There are a lot more films that bore you than thrill you. I was happy to bring attention to The Da Vinci Code and get it honored here. I loved the play The History Boys but the film did somehow manage to completely bollocks the transfer from stage to screen. And The Good German Shepherd is a very funny mashup of The Good German and The Good Shepherd. Personally, I thought The Good German was a fun stunt (and Cate Blanchett was terrific) while The Good Shepherd was very interesting and is one I'm eager to see a second time.


Robert Downey Jr. for A Scanner Darkly, A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints, Fur: An Imaginary Portrait Of Diane Arbus, and The Shaggy Dog -- 21 points
Kevin Spacey for Superman Returns -- 11 points
Chazz Palminteri for A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints, Running Scared, Little Man, Arthur and the Invisibles -- 10 points


Julianne Moore for Children Of Men -- 19 points
Vera Farmiga for The Departed -- 16 points
(tie) Abigail Breslin for Little Miss Sunshine -- 13 points
Bryce Dallas Howard for Lady in The Water and Manderlay -- 13 points

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Best CDs of 2006

Don't miss my annual Best CDs of 2006 list, along with my favorite boxed sets, singles, reissues and early picks for 2007. Go here to read it all.

Big Changes At Popsurfing

A note from your fearless leader.

This Weekend: The IRAs

No, award season for movies is not over. This weekend is the 30+ annual IRA Awards, a terribly exclusive event in which grumpy movie buffs get together and argue over their favorite (usually obscure) films, mock each other's choices and eat cake. After a decade (can it be?) of attending, I'm bringing Aaron aka richboy aka watchboy into the group as my first invitee. Beyond the need to watch and admire offbeat fare, the central trait of an IRA member has to be the willingness to argue and bicker and attack someone else's opinions with venomous flair. He'll fit in just fine. I'll give you the full rundown of the winners and losers on Sunday.

Not Quite Curtains For "Curtains"

I always feel a certain protectiveness for a show I write about. So I was not terribly surprised to see mixed reviews for the new Kander & Ebb musical "Curtains." (I'm seeing the show Tuesday.) The friendly reviews are pretty modest and even the negative reviews are polite. But I was pleased to see that everone agreed on one point: David Hyde Pierce is a genuine star and holds center stage with ease.

"Ugly Betty" Etc.

I skip through half the show (anything to do with murder and intrigue) but I have to admit I find the tone of the show and the central character Betty winning. Just as they get schmaltzy with a touching letter from the magazine's editor, it's undercut by having Patti LuPone reject the swishy Marc St. James (Michael Urie) when he comes out. And why don't I find Marc annoying the way, say, Jack on "Will & Grace" was annoying? Maybe it's just a matter of time. Jack was pretty funny for a season or two until the supporting characters took over the show. But there's something grounded and genuine about that character -- in the context of a silly, over the top show, of course. And having Marc decide to come out because his mom made mean comments about the super-gay nephew of Betty is just one dividend of the show's creators admitting Justin is gay and would realize it/come out in seasons to come. Sadly, it could BARELY edge out the ,ild game show "Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader" and -- bizarrely -- lost to it in the key 18-49 demo I would have expected "Betty" to shine in.

Meanwhile, while "Andy Barker PI" is slipping in the ratings, I found the second episode found a certain gentle rhythm. You've just got to love a show whose hero says "Fudge!" and "Cheese and crackers" when he's frustrated. Go to MediaWeek's Marc Berman for a complete ratings breakdown.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

"Doctor Who" Back For A Fourth Season

No word on whether David Tennant will still be playing the good doctor. Remember, they did a great job of revealing him unexpectedly as the new Doctor at the end of Season One. The show has spun off too many other series, but the main one has remained fun family entertainment, a great revival of a classic show and has already launched Billie Piper into a major career as an actress in the UK. So good news in general.

Overnight TV Ratings -- "Friday Night Lights" Struggles

Go to MediaWeek's Marc Berman for a complete ratings breakdown. All I'll mention is that "Idol" seems to have finally plateaued. If the show increases its viewership overall this season, it will be very a very slim margin.

And poor "Friday Night Lights" had another tough week. This show had a rock steady audience whether seen on Tuesdays or Mondays. Then the show was moved again to Wednesdays and actually increased its viewership to the highest levels since the show debuted. So what did NBC do? It panicked when the following week (opposite "Idol," mind you) the show hit a new low of 5+ million, rather than mid 6 million. So they yanked the show for two weeks in favor of Dateline reruns. Last night, after two weeks of being on hiatus, the show rebounded somewhat from February 28th's 5.1 million to last night's 5.4 million. Despite NBC's best efforts to kill the show by moving it twice, airing it opposite "Idol" and then hiding it for a few weeks, the audience might actually find the show again. Typically, it was another terrific episode.

Laverne & Shirley Reuniting?

In an odd bit of news, Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams of "Laverne & Shirley" fame are reportedly reuniting for a scripted series that will air on TVLand. Marshall is easily one of the most successful female film directors of all time, with smash hits "Big" and "Awakenings" and "A League Of Their Own" to her credit. But after that run of movies in 1988, 1990 and 1992, she fell on hard times. "Renaissance Man" in 1994 only hit $25 mil, but did introduce Mark Wahlberg to acting. "The Preacher's Wife" in 1996 hit $50 mil, which had to be solid numbers for that project. And "Riding In Cars With Boys" five years later hit only $30 mil. But again, the budget couldn't have been that big since it was a small-scale female-centric story. But Marshall has done nothing for the past six years and doesn't even seem to have anything in the works as a director. Did she lose interest, waste time on projects that didn't come to fruition or get squeezed out after a few modest missteps?

"Battlestar Galactica" Fourth Season Renewal Increased To Full 22 Episodes

In a rather bizarre unexplained shift, SciFi has changed its mind about "Battlestar Galactica." Initially, the channel had renewed the show for only 13 episodes, the equivalent of about half a season. It's the channel's most expensive series (by far), the ratings had remained relatively modest after moving to Sunday nights and the series was approaching 80 episodes, just about enough for running it nightly in reruns. Obviously, the end of the road for the show was nigh. But just a few weeks later, SciFi has bumped up the number of episodes to a full season of 22 shows. No word on what made them change their mind -- maybe the cost of keeping everyone intact for half a season was so expensive anyway that an extra nine episodes wasn't exactly a doubling of the budget and they figured, why not? In any case, their signature series lives on.

"American Idol" Recap

First, Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits sang. He's a real performer and knows exactly what to do with the modest voice he has left. Never much of a singer, but he works well within his limitations. I loved the shot of Simon ignoring him completely. And the audience cheered when he first came onstage, as if they actually knew and cared about him. Bless 'em.

Ford Ad -- I think the goofy ads the cast does are quite a bit better this season. Certainly this one set in a laundromat was pain free and modestly entertaining. (I did like seeing Melinda do gymnastic twirls down the row of machines, though I can't get it out of my head that some people dubbed her Shrek.) Nonetheless, after the ad we got a group shot and again they seemed way too enthusiastic about having to do a car ad. High fives over an ad? And placing Brad Garrett in among the kids was a new low, even for FOX.

The elimination round -- Phil hooted like a maniac when he was saved and certainly should have -- I thought he'd be in the bottom two. Plus, I like our nickname of Bat Boy for him, but I also saw online that people call him Nosferatu and that's pretty on-target too.

They had a nice bait-and-switch by putting Sanjaya and Haley and Gina together -- I'm sure everyone assumed they'd be the bottom three. It certainly fooled Chris Richardson. You could see him saying "Wow" when he found out they were safe and realized that meant he and Stephanie were the bottom two. I've always thought Blake and Chris Sligh were stronger than Rochardson, but bought into the hype because he was appealing. (Though I did wisely say he belonged more on a CW sitcom or drama than as a singer.) Still, I should have pegged him as vulnerable since he can't sing that well and the arrangement of the song highlighted that. Shame on me.

I loved the bizarre sign we saw quickly in the audience: "Clay Aiken Hurt Me." What could that possibly mean and why in heaven's name did FOX let it get on the air?

LULU -- "To Sir With Love" (the very first -- and noly -- single my sister Leslie ever bought). She was a much better coach than Peter Noone and she did a much more exciting job performing. Even when her voice cracked and wavered she was delivering emotion. Her vocals just have a great quality about them. And she looked pretty darn hot.

Then Chris and Stephanie were front and center (with Chris's shirt artfully semi-untucked, as always. He had the right response to being safe: relief and then properly consoling Stephanie, even getting her to laugh briefly, which looks good. I picked Stephanie to go and I'm not surprised in the least that she did. It was certainly a slap in the face for Chris, who's heard nothing but squeals for a few weeks now.

I was hoping for a comment from the judges -- did they say anything the entire night? It would have been nice to hear if any of them listened to the show again and realized they undersold how sensational Jordin was on Tuesday. Ah well, there's always next week.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

ABC Renews "Brothers & Sisters" and "Men In Trees"

You knew "Ugly Betty" was a given, but ABC also just announced they were renewing the on-the-bubble shows "Brothers & Sisters" (which apparently has improved mightily on the creative end since it debuted) and "Men In Trees," another fave of the execs that didn't show much traction in the ratings. "Boston Legal" -- another show that was iffy -- is also back, as are the usual suspects ("Dancing With The Stars," "Desperate Housewives," "Grey's Anatomy" and god help us "The Bachelor"). "Lost" was also a given but unfortunately they didn't announce that season four would be the final season of the show -- that would be the best thing for it creatively and ratings-wise. Here's hoping NBC shows similar faith in "Friday Night Lights."

Big Changes At Popsurfing

I've been popsurfing for about 15 months now. I was itching to continue the habit of blogging I developed when I was contributing modestly but regularly to Americablog in its early days. And of course pop culture is my main beat. It's been fun, but I need to pull back. I was gone for a week and still haven't sorted through all my emails. In a few weeks, I'll be gone for a month again covering the Cannes Film Festival. I've got to devote two weeks -- full time-- to trying to put my taxes in order. Something's gotta give and it's gonna be popsurfing.

If I'd wanted to try and turn this into an actual business, I would have had to focus it on one underserved area -- a successful blog covering all of pop culture has too many major outlets like Entertainment Weekly and Hollywood Reporter and even IMDB and about a million other sites to compete with. (I might still do that down the road with a blog focusing on books; it's almost impossible to find out what's being released each week in bookstores.) To succeed commercially, you need to focus on one genre or even one tv show or a particular style of music and then duke it out with the hundreds of other blogs devoted to the same topic. But I was never interested in doing that. This was all about just having fun.

I'll still blog but it will only be when I've got something to say -- no more daily postings on the overnight TV ratings, or the weekend box office, or the music charts in the US and the UK or the book charts or breaking news or anything of that sort. When I've read a good book or want to talk about a show or CD or simply want to critique some lazy journalism, I'll blog. But for now I'm going to try and step away and not feel driven to post constantly throughout the day. You might check the blog once a day or once a week to see what I'm up to and frankly that's all most anyone has done anyway. There will just be a lot fewer postings for you to read.

Thanks to the tens of people who've visited here on and off and provided comments and feedback (and even a little money in the form of donations). I'll still be here, just without the rabid intensity of before. Maybe I'll miss it and come back full force. (It's been a major effort NOT to post the new Billboard Top Ten CDs article, for example.) Maybe I'll go cold turkey and find I have time to rediscover my wife and play with the kids ("Who are you?" they'll ask when I walk into their room.) and actually get ahead at work. And if anyone wants to donate say $50,000 I'll be glad to keep blogging full-time. Otherwise, thanks for surfing.


"American Idol" -- The Top 11

I thought bringing on the guy from Herman's Hermits and Lulu were pretty sad choices for British Invasion week. But Peter Noone was okay (at least we could tell who he liked and who he didn't) and Lulu was terrific -- one of the best guest judges ever. Her advice was specific, on-point and enthusiastic.

HALEY -- "Tell Him" -- I would have said this was by the Exciters, an American group from Jamaica, New York. I know the song from the "Big Chill" soundtrack. I've looked in my books, but can't find any earlier version that charted in the US or UK. The Exciters charted in '62. Someone named Billie Davis charted in the UK with the song in '63, his sole Top 10 that country. So how is this part of the British Invasion? Anyway, it wasn't a great vocal but it was fun and Haley looked cute in a youthful, innocent way. So often, the women think they have to dress for their prom on this show. Her look will get Haley through to the next round and, hey, that's half the job of a pop star. The only caveat is that she performed first when the fewest people are watching and that's always dangerous.

CHRIS RICHARDSON -- "Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying" -- How telling is it that Chris said, "My goal this week is to finally nail a song." Boy, did he and Peter Noone not get along. How many different ways could Peter make clear he didn't like Chris's singing? He was never this blunt again, but for a moment I thought the Brits were gonna be tearing it up with their tart tongues. I thought it was good of Chris to try and just sing a song this week and the acoustic guitar arrangement was nice. The only problem? It all just highlighted what a weak voice he has. Frankly, it was a little boring. But he had some good moments (especially when he spiced it up) and a nice falsetto at the end. The final closeup had Chris playing too much to the camera and seeming too in love with himself. But he saved it a bit by immediately switching to a disarming smile when the song ended, as if to acknowledge the cheesiness of the moment. Simon didn't know the song? Bizarre. Overall, he was sensitive enough to go through.

STEPHANIE -- "You Don't Have To Say You Loved Me" by Dusty Springfield. Pretty good and she looked cool in the boots. But somehow it was completely forgettable to me. It's better to be great or horrible on this show, frankly. The most dangerous thing you can do is give a performance that is simply unmemorable. That's what she did here.

BLAKE -- "Time of the Season" by the Zombies. Great song choice and Blake had some cool plaid pants on. I thought it was a bit draggy and he was rough on some of the high notes but somehow the overall effect was fun and somehow sexy. Still, the judges overreacted i their praise. I think they realized they were hyping LaKisha and Melinda too much and needed to suport some of the top guys. Not that it's plotted out; just instinctive on their part. Randy said how remarkable it was that the song was 40, 45 years old and Balke made it seem contemporary? Uh, it's timeless, dude. And "Time of the Season" in particular is such a wacky, crazy tune that it would sound completely contemporary as is, if it were released today.

LAKISHA -- "Diamonds Are Forever" by Shirley Bassey (personally, if I'm singing a Bassey Bond tune, it's gonna be "Goldfinger"). I dug Lulu's passion for "You're My World" and given her ultimate performance, LaKisha should have listened to her. Her performance just wasn't as brassy as it should have been; placid is not the word you want coming to mind when singing the hyper-dramatic Bassey. But she looked good and her performance was certainly good enough to go through. LaKisha certainly had the best line of the night: "You take the good with the bad and the ugly," she said when talking about the judges. If Ryan HADN'T made his joke about knowing which one was ugly, I would have taken away his hosting license for good.

PHIL -- "Tobacco Road" by one-hit wonders the Nashville Teens. (And no, I never would have guessed that they were British.) Very Chris Daughtry-like performance from Phil. For me, it was his best performance yet. But he still bores me.

JORDIN -- "I Who Have Nothing" by Shirley Bassey. Again, Lulu seems like a great coach, especially if you consider half of their job being to instill confidence. Jordin had a great night because she came across as adorable in her video with Lulu and chat with Ryan, something that can't be underestimated in the voting. But her performance! I was absolutely BLOWN AWAY by it. I thought her singing was sensational, dramatic, sophisticated in a way I didn't expect from someone so young and generally just thrilling. It was a HUGE leap forward for Jordin, in my mind. The one word I scribbled down while she was singing? Fabulous. At the recap at the end of the night, her performance popped out again at me and I went back and played it again and even taped the damn thing. It was one of the best performances of the season. What stunned me even more was how reserved the judges were. I thought they were gonna heap praise on Jordin and instead their comments were nice but mild. Even Paula didn't go crazy. I have no idea why they didn't hear this properly but the crowd went wild and for a change it wasn't just because of one big dramatic note -- it was because the performance overall was thrilling. She is a contender.

SANJAYA -- "You Really Got Me" by the Kinks. Who knew Sanjaya could sing any louder than a whisper? Frankly, I hope he makes it through to Heavy Metal night because obviously he's got the hair for it. As I suggested before, Sanjaya may have been soft but was almost always on key. Tonight, he was loud but a little flat and off-key in places. But it was silly and fun and he actually seemed to be enjoying himself, which was a relief. And of course it was the first of 700 closeups of the little girl who cried every time anyone appeared on stage because she was so excited to see them. And Sanjaya is a BIG hugger. If India's cult figure Amma (the Hugging Saint) ever retires, Sanjaya could take her place.

GINA -- "Paint It Black" by the Rolling Stones. She had on a cool outfit and it was a cool song but not the right song. "Paint It Black" is pretty flat melodically most of the way through and Gina seemed lost. It was more like wathcing some play a rock and roller than actually hearing one. But she got stronger throughout and had a pretty good finish. I think being the lone rocker might keep her safe (along with the fact that she's very funny and personable during the videos and chats) but it's a dangerous week for her. Lulu again came through with a very specific useful suggestion of a key change.

CHRIS SLIGH -- "She's Not There" by the Zombies. (Is it too much to hope kids will run out and buy the Zombies classic "Odessey and Oracle?" If you don't own it, you should.) I thought this was a great fun and a really good vocal PERFORMANCE by Chris. Strolling through the crowd, playing to the camera, toying with Simon -- I've always thought Chris was a wild card who could get to the finals with his solid vocals and smarts but this is the first time I thought he was an entertainer. Except for that high note on "She's Not There" his vocals were great. And how fun is it that Chris's family and friends were touting a sign that said, "Bringing Chubby Back?" Hilarious. Terrific ending, too.

MELINDA DOOLITTLE -- I've been a big fan of Melinda from the start but one MAJOR problem is reappearing again and again -- her absolutley dreadful song choice. It's British invasion week and she chose "As Long As He Needs Me?" From "Oliver?" Ths is American Idol, not Broadway Idol, Melinda. And coming on top of that song from "The Wiz," she is going show tune crazy. It's just a dull, dull song (and I like musicals, don't get me wrong). But of course Melinda sang it well and even caught me up a bit emotionally at the end. Yep, she'd be terrific onstage, but if she wants to be a pop star, she needs to start singing some pop songs. I';ve always said she could be the first adult to win Idol, an artist that appeals to the Anita Baker crowd rather than the Britney Spears crowd. But that's no excuse. Simon was right on target as usual.

MY BOTTOM TWO -- I'm just going to assume that Sanjaya is safe for another week; his performance was too goofy and fun (plus he got to hug the little girl first). So my bottom two would be Stephanie and Phil, with Stephanie going home because she sang third, when fewer people are watching. My backup pick for the bottom two: Gina.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Adam Sandler Hosting "Letterman" Tonight

Dave is out with a stomach virus, so Adam Sandler will be the host and Don Cheadle one of his guests. (I guess I should have been checking my cell phone earlier.) They both star in "Reign Over Me," a new drama that uses the classic Who song. As monkeyboy said, you just know the movie's gonna suck because they didn't even bother to call it "Reign O'er Me," like the song ("Love, Reign O'er Me"). For God's sake, if you're gonna use a classic song as the linchpin of your film, use it right.

My "Daily Show" Bit

I already know what my first bit will be when I get hired by "The Daily Show" as their gay correspondent. I'll sit next to Jon, he'll introduce me as the newest member of the team, I'll start to speak but my cell phone will ring and I'll take the call and excitedly listen and tell the person "Hell, yes, make the deal!" Then I'll hang up and pause sheepishly. "Gosh, Jon, this is a little awkward. I really appreciate the opportunity to work here, but someone saw me on the show, liked what I was doing and well, I got a sitcom deal with FOX. So I'm gonna have to go now. But it's been great working here."

Bowie's Days As A Record Store Clerk

A sweet reminiscence from David Bowie about his days working as a record store clerk.

A record shop was just about the coolest place one could hang out in back then — perhaps not quite as cool as a coffee bar or the burger-selling innovation known as the Wimpy Bar, but it ran a very close second. People who were “aware” were attracted to record shops.

There really was no bigger thrill than telling somebody who needed impressing, “You really have to hear this”, as I pulled out the latest by Nervous Norvis. I quickly realised that to recommend was an intoxicating power and it’s something that gives me a true buzz to this day.

I fear that someday this will rank alongside memories of working as a blacksmith -- a quaint tale of a lost tradition. But it was fun while it lasted.

"Buffy" Season Eight Begins

In comic book form, that is. Creator Joss Wheedon shares the details with Publishers Weekly.

Dennis Miller Comes To Radio Monday

Personally, I'm intrigued. Sure, Miller tied himself too closely to Bush and still can't admit teh guy is bad for our safety. But his wide-ranging interests and sharp mind seem ideal for talk radio. I'll be listening.

What Keeps "Idol" Humming?

My pal Beth Pinsker writes about the behind-the-scene people that keep "American Idol" the #1 show in the country. The one element I think she missed: the savvy decision by the "Idol" producers to fight FOX tooth and nail and keep "Idol" a once-a-year event that starts in January. FOX begged and pleaded and cursed and threatened in a desire to get two editions of "Idol" going -- one in the fall and one in the winter. I was wrong in thinking "Idol" should remain a summer show but I was definitely right in thinking Fox were idiots for wanting to overload us with "Idol>" The show would already have tailed off dramatically if FOX had had their way.

The Naked Actor

I stole that headline from The Guardian, which has a lovely chat with John Hurt.

Elvis Costello Retires From Recording; Plans On Simply Reissuing His Classic Albums Again and Again Every Three Months

No, Elvis Costello hasn't stopped creating new music. But his almost obsessive and certainly offensive reissuing of his back ctalog has become downright vile. How many different iterations of his classic albums does Costello expect us to buy? They've been put out on Rhino and Rydodisc and of course by his original label and now by Unviersal this May. Fans looking for that odd bonus track have been plagued with never-ending reissues, all just slightly different from each other. Some artists don't take enough care of their catalog. I certainly wish Springsteen would spruce up al his titles. A good rule of thumb is that every ten years you can take another pass at your masters and make major improvements. But Costello just keeps doing it again and again. There's certainly no compelling artistic or sonic reason for all of this; the sad conclusion is that he just keeps switching labels and doesn't mind or care that his fans are being soaked. Sure, no one has to buy them, but when you plonk down hundreds of dollars to buy definitive editions of his classic albums, it is dispiriting -- to say the least -- to see them displaced a year or so later but a newer, MORE definitive edition.

TV Viewers Mock Heather Mills of "Dancing With The Stars"

It's nice to know her disability doesn't stop viewers from treating Heather Mills the way they would treat any other celeb -- if they hate you, they hate you and artificial leg be damned. Check out the nasty comments posted online at Apparently, America does NOT like it when you break up with a Beatle.

Rodrigo Barred From US

Rodrigo Sanchez of Rodrigo Y Gabriela (who made my list of favorite singles of the year) cna't get into the US because of visa problems. Why? Because his name is similar to someone on a terrorist watch list. How hard is it for someone to research his case and solve this problem? Apparently, very.

Broadway Houses: Bring On The Scalping!

Broadway theater owners now want to gut scalping laws. Why? Because they've figured out a way to defeat the scalpers and keep Broadway from turning into opera, a world that stagnates creatively and which only the super-wealthy can afford to attend? Nope. Because they want to get in on the scalping action, too. I knew $110 for a ticket in the second tier towards the back was too good to be true.

Joe Roth Mocks Director Julie Taymor

In a New York Times article about a creative struggle over the new Julie Taymor movie "Across The Universe," producer/director Joe Roth mocks the artist. The movie uses songs by the Beatles to tell a wacky, almost surreal tale of two star-crossed lovers -- it sounds arty and awful, frankly. But Taymor has a 128 minute version and producer Joe Roth went behind her back to cut a 98 minute version and test it with audiences. First, he acts as if it's standard operating procedure for studios to take over a movie and cut out half an hour to produce their own cut. Sure, it happens, but it's hardly a given. Roth acts as if Taymor is an idiot for not knowing this. Taymor doesn't comment for the article, but her people released a very politic, reasonable statement. Roth on the other hand, won't shut up. Then Roth endears himself to women everywhere by saying Taymor is overreacting and refers to her "hysteria," because of course women can't have creative differences without being emotionally unhinged. Frankly, having seen Taymor's movies I'm sure the movie is opaque and arty. What the hell did Roth expect from her? And he's behaving like a prick.

Overnight TV Ratings -- "Dancing" Tops

Personally, I feel ABC shuold have held off on "Dancing With The Stars" til the fall, when "Idol " was resting. Sure the numbers are big and maybe they're hoping reality overkill will dampen "Idol" down the road. But to me, this isn't the smart thing to do long-term for a franchise. Remember "Survivor" -- that used to be big till it wore out its welcome with endless new seasons. I finally caught up with "24" which has its mojo back after the usual mid-season sag. One big plus: the coma for dull as dishwater President Palmer. Another big plus: Ricky Schroeder (no more Rick!) as a real dick. For a complete ratings breakdown, go to MediaWeek's Marc Berman.

8 p.m.

1. Dancing With The Stars -- 20.59 million viewers
2. Deal Or No Deal -- 14.05 million
3. Prison Break -- 8.26 million
4. How I Met Your Mother -- 7.53 million/Old Christine -- 6.86 million
5. Everybody Hates Chris -- 2.66 million/All Of Us -- 2.46 million

9 p.m.

1. Dancing With The Stars -- 22.73 million viewers
2. Deal Or No Deal -- 14.05 million
3. 24 -- 11.88 million
4. Two and a Half Men -- 11.62 million/Rules Of Engagement -- 9.32 million
5. Girlfriends -- 2.11 million/The Game -- 2.14 million

10 p.m.

1. CSI: Miami -- 17.43 million
2. What About Brian -- 7.38 million
3. The Black Donnellys -- 5.83 million

What Up With CD Sales? Popsurfing Vs. NYCD

Here's an email back and forth between myself and Tony, one of the two co-founders of my favorite music store NYCD. I call it a music store, but they shuttered their brick and mortar outlet and now work out of an office, doing most of their business online at and elsewhere. Tony and Sal have a passion for music and they had a great store with a great location (originally) in a boomer neighborhood with no competition for used CDs or indie store customer service. And it just didn't work. Now they're hawking used CDs online. Before, their used copies of say the new Norah Jones had to compete with dozens (even hundred?) of copies located in different stores around the city. Now, anyone can go online and find thousands of copies on sale and the only way to survive is to cut prices. I kept seeing the glass half full, talking about the billions being made in ringtones et al. Tony saw his dream of a career championing new music to music fans slipping away and said I was a schmuck. Here's my longer piece on what's happening to the music biz. Here's our original email debate:

It began with Tony emailing me a Wall Street Journal article from last week that began:

In a dramatic acceleration of the seven-year sales decline that has battered the music industry, compact-disc sales for the first three months of this year plunged 20% from a year earlier, the latest sign of the seismic shift in the way consumers acquire music.

The sharp slide in sales of CDs, which still account for more than 85% of music sold, has far eclipsed the growth in sales of digital downloads, which were supposed to have been the industry's salvation.

MICHAEL: Hmmmm. You look at the sales total of the Top 10 albums and clearly something is up.
But for an article in the Wall Street Journal, this piece is rather bizarrely devoid of hard numbers, mainly dollar amounts. (There's one ref in the middle to digital singles followed by CD units, which are apples and oranges of course.) The only numbers he usually offers are percentage drops from last year. The vaguest number of all was when he said that sales of physical and digital are down 10% this year and even if you include subscription services (a paltry figure, surely), ancillary merchandise (whatever that means -- t-shirts at stores? But not presumably DVDs) and ringtones sales are still down 9%. That means ringtones and ancillary stuff is just 1% of all sales? That is absolutely untrue. Ringtones in 2006 were a billion dollar business. Unless music sales are $100 billion, ie $1 TRILLION dollars, ringtones account for a lot more than 1%. I really find this article unhelpful and unilluminating. What was the annual sales total in 2006? Break it down in dollar figures by CDs, digital singles and albums, ringtones, etc. How does that compare to 2005? Also, is he talking US or worldwide? (Not that worldwide sales aren't in turmoil too, they are.) Does it include music videos on DVD?
In 2005, before ringtones and ringmasters got even bigger, digital singles and ringtones+ were already 8.8% of the business, per the NYTimes.
I assume that figure grew to a conservative 10% in 2006. And the biggest explosion was in ringtones, per Billboard.
Here's a SoundScan-based article about 2006 from an industry newsletter.
It says that SoundScan says music sales were up 19% in 2006 from the moribund 2005 and that online sales were up 65% (which is a slowing in the growth but still growth. 22 songs sold more than 1 million digital copies online (does that include ringtones?) which is a huge jump over the past decade, when singles were basically phased out. The most interesting figure is that 32.6 million "albums" were sold online, as in Van Morrison's Moondance being bought solely in digital form. But only 11 albums sold more than 100,000 copies. That means a LOT of "long tail" sales, you know, the idea that the unlimited availability of titles online means instead of selling 8 million copies of Norah Jones you sell 8000 copies of a hundred different albums.
Half a BILLION digital singles were sold. That's $500 million in sales and doesn't include the 32 million digital albums sold, which is another $300+ million. And that doesn't include ringtones and ringmasters, which are another $1 billion in sales and estimated to grow much more. The music industry destroyed the singles market and now digital sales and ringtones have brought them back. Young people spend $1 to $3 or $4 on a hot single and play it endlessly. That's the way it was for most of the rock n roll era. Labels made that impossible for years. Now it's returning and will be more than 10% of all sales. Digital singles mean catalog albums and songs can be accessed with more ease than ever before. People don't WANT to steal music. As soon as sales can be easily transferred between players (hello, iPod), it'll improve.
But again, that article is very vague and half-assed and even though I've been looking I still can't find hard dollar figures anywhere for the first quarter. But since 2006 was a 20% jump in sales over 2005, then if sales dropped 10% that would still be 10% better than just two years ago. Yep, I'm confused too.

TONY: So if ringtones and digital single sales are saving the music industry, why does the music industry appear to be collapsing? You don't see label execs lighting their Cohibas with $50 bills nowadays, you see them laying off entire departments. Ringtones are wonderful, no doubt, and if you believe that listening to a snippet of a song on your phone is going to make lifelong music fans of the kids today, then God bless ya. But clearly, something isn't adding up. Perhaps the number of digital singles and albums purchased include a large number from subscription services, where a song costs something like 15 cents? I've heard that the labels barely make any money at a buck a song on iTunes, so I can't imagine what kind of revenue stream 15 cent songs produce.

In a nutshell, my guess is that the article is correct -- to make up for the loss of a $15 CD sale, you've got to sell quite a few $1-4 ringtones, even if your margin is higher. And that ain't happening.

My guess is that, eventually, the vast majority of music will be given away, and supported by advertising dollars on the web. Physical CDs will be little more than a merchandising tool to promote the live show, at least for pop music -- I think that jazz and classical fans will want the higher fidelity that physical objects provide. The really interesting question, apart from what kind of work will Sal, Tony and Rob find, is how this will affect the music itself. And on that count, your guess is as good as mine.

Did you read that REVENUES were up in '06 over '05? Or sales? Because, from what I know, '04 has been the only up year this decade, and that was less than a 1% increase. I think revenues have been tanking fairly steadily since 2000. Do you have evidence to the contrary?

MICHAEL: I think you're right about music being given away basically. 90% or more of artists never made money on album sales at major labels anyway -- they made all their profit touring and in merchandising. I think the artist of the future just doesn't need a record label so much. You can make yor music available to the world with MySpace, develop a following there and touring, get placed on a TV soundtrack and so on, or get exposure via a major label and then go independent, etc. etc. etc.
I think it's a great time for the music. I read about an artist and half the time they have a track for me to listen to linked to the online article. Or if I just read about an artist in print, I can go and type in their name and find their myspace page and immediately hear three or four songs from them and see if I want the album, rather than just having to trust a review. It's music on demand and my Best Of list is crowded with all sorts of people. So creatively, I think it'll be just great.MOre music is more available to more people than ever before.
I gave you the links below to the articles I cited. But just like the WSJ article, they were vague with their figures, lacking all sorts of distinctions between wholesale revenue and retail revenue and CDs versus a combo of CDs and digital versus a combo of CDs and digital and ringtones and t-shirts.
I don't dispute that major record labels are becoming dinosaurs and struggling to find out where the money is. But people ARE spending money. Just because Warner bros. isn't making its same margin of profit doesn't mean the money isn't being spent. I've spent five years listening to people say the movie industry is collapsing, that movie budgets are WAY too expensive, that marketing costs are spiralling out of control and that it's insane to think anyone can make any money from movies that cost $100 mil to make and market -- that's the average cost of course, not the $300-$400 mil they'll spend making and marketing say Spiderman 3. Meanwhile, I know that Spiderman 3 will gross $1 bil from straightforward box office and DVD sales worldwide, minimum. They say the sky is falling because the box office drops from say $10.2 billion in 2002 to $9.5 billion in 2003 (I'm making up these numbers), ignoring the fact that movie studios grossed $20 billion on DVD , money they never made before. Who cares if the box office goes down $1 billion, if the trade off is an extra $20 billion in DVD sales? There's also huge growth overseas in DVD and box office. (China and India have barely scratched the surface of screening US movies and that's another 2 billion people ready to see Spider-Man 8. The movie industry has gone - in the US alone -- from a $4-$5 billion business in the early 80s when I first started following the figures to a $40 to $50 billion industry. Almost no articles recognize this simple fact and so they are hopelessly clueless about how much vastly bigger the pie is.
I can't help feeling there is a similar narrowmindedness in the music industry coverage. As an outsider, I don't care if the money is spent on ringtones or digital singles or album sales. The massive sales of the 90s was a fluke when the record industry had a tremendous product and convinced everyone who owned a copy of Dark Sidfe Of The Moon on LP to buy it again at twice the price on CD. That clearly won't be happening again on digital. When you add up all the money, sales are down, but not that much; it's just that the money has migrated from high profit CDs to low profit digital singles and ringtones. But people are still spending money. That doesn't help your business and it certainly doesn't help the major labels but why would anyone with any name recognition stay on a major label? You can make so much more money on a truly indie label or on your own. Paul McCartney just brought his entire catalog to Starbucks and that catalog is incredibly valuable. Obviously, things are changing and major labels have become outmoded. But people are still spending money on music. Just not as much as they were in the 90s, when there was a once in a lifetime fluke that we haven't seen since the LP (and that wasn't so dramatic because people owned a lot fewer 78s and piano rolls). No one buying cassette or eight track felt the need (usually) to buy their LPs all over again in the new format. It was a bizarre, thrillingly lucky moment for the labels when they were printing money by reselling albums again and again.
Oh dear, I've said all this before. I think this WSJ article annoyed me because it was so VAGUE. Percentage drops year to year without any hard dollar figures behind them or historical perspective are pretty useless.


This market analysis by Gartner was covered in Billboard and a lot of other places when it came out six weeks ago. Note that the figures for 2005 and 2006 are hard figures, not estimates.
Music downloaded to cell phones and the like (not digital tracks for iPods) WORLDWIDE (it's a much bigger business in Japan and the rest of Asia, then Europe and then the US in terms of size):
2005 -- $6 billion
2006 -- $9.1 billion
2007 -- estimated $13 billion
and then it goes on to see huge growth. That $9 billion worldwide -- figuring a very high per CD cost of $20 is the equivalent to an extra 450 MILLION CDs worldwide. That is a lot of ground made up in album sales. Yes, the CD as the defining source of revenue may be over. But did that Wall Street Journal add in the $9 BILLION from worldwide ringtone sales to a look at how the business is doing? No, they did not. It's just as dumb as looking only at a movie studio's box office revenue and ignoring the fact that they make twice as much money via DVD sales. Again, if movie box office goes down $2 billion but the trade off is $20 billion in DVD sales,. seeing that as a decline is ludicrous. In music terms, this does ignore the fact that margins are much lower on digital singles, though I'm not as clear as to how it plays out on ringtones.
The NYTimes article on the album by Akon was actually perceptive. No, the album didn't do as huge as it should, but there are a lot of new revenue streams.
Maybe the album only goes gold because kids bought two of his songs at $3.50 a pop for the ringtones instead of the CD. But it's still money.
An MSNBC article quoting the IFPI says digital tracks and albums (not ringtones) account for $2 billion or 10% of all sales worldwide and they believe in 2007 it will make up for the shortfall of CD sales.

Per article:

Kennedy said he now hoped online sales would compensate for the decline of CDs sometime this year.

“There’s nearly the holy grail in three major markets — the United States, Britain and Japan. Next year I would like to be announcing that is the case for around 10 markets,” he said....

Kennedy pointed to mobile music sales as a major area for growth this year, with the launch of Apple’s much anticipated iPhone and the development of music phones by Nokia Corp. and Sony Ericsson. [He's talking about the US of course. It's already huge overseas.]

End quote.
That means the worldwide music sales are $20 billion and that does NOT include the $9 billion spent on ringtones. In other words, music sales were down 3% in a year that grossed $20 billion worldwide. But the total figure when you include ringtones and ringbacks and all that other crap worldwide is more like $29 billion. Guess what? Music sales are UP; it's just that the money isn't going into CDs and isn't going into record label pockets. Seriously, how can you discuss the fortunes of the music industry and not include figures that account for almost 50% of sales? That's exactly what the WSJ did.

TONY: I think the difference between the movie companies and the record labels is that, at the end of the day, the movie companies' bottom lines are fine and they're not crying wolf. If the record companies were merely bitching about CD sales and actually raking in the bucks thanks to ringtones, you'd think they'd be telling their investors about it so their stock would still be performing. And that's simply not the case. Music companies' stocks are plummeting, and investors are headed for the exits. You'd think that if ringtones were the cavalry coming in to save the day, more would be made of this fact on Wall St. I'm not saying that the investors aren't wrong or shortsighted, but it does seem like there are a lot of people who don't agree with your predictions.

(I also think the movie biz is fucked, once computers come along that can do with movies what is currently being done with music. The DVD biz will tank, people will download movies illegally, and those $400 million blockbusters will become money losers. It's just gonna take a few years for that to happen.)

As for the $9 billion number for ringtones -- that would mean that every man, woman and child in America bought ten ringtones last year. Or wait, was that worldwide numbers? That still seems quite inflated, considering that in 2000, the music biz's peak, only about $25 billion worth of music was sold, by my best guess. And again, the bottom line shows that everyone's losing money -- not something the labels want to tell their investors, especially if it's not true.

I do like this spirited conversation, even if we never agree on who's right!

MICHAEL: The $9 billion is a worldwide figure. Only $1 billion comes from the US. The other $8 billion comes from the rest of the world, led by Japan (which has HUGE phone bills thanks to texting, ringtones, etc.) and then followed by Western Europe. The US is way behind in ringtones as a business for lots of reasons, but that just means lots of room to grow.
And movie companies do in fact cry wolf all the time. They love to bitch and moan about the high cost of making movies because they hate paying actors $20 million to appear in films the studios esxpect to gross $300 million worldwide. The film studios also desperately keep info on DVD sales as close to the vest as possible. Unlike weekend box office, they will adamantly refuse to divulge any hard figures on individual DVD titles. It is literally a state secret. In Billboard,. all they do is list titles in order of popularity, with no hint of how much money they're actually pulling in. Once in a while, they'll trumpet the number of copies shipped to stores for a title like, say, Toy Story 2, but again they are ferociously private about sales figures. Once, -- once -- they announced that "XXX," the awful action flick had grossed $100 mil in its first weekend on DVD when you add sales and rentals. I did a story on it and asked everyone why they didn't have a weekly chart for DVD grosses like the weekend box office. Everyone in the DVD divisions said they would love it but that the studios would never let them and in fact they were surprised the company released the figures on "XXX" and said it was kept secret for the very reasons I've mentioned. I've pushed repeatedly and they repeatedly say it's because the studios do NOT want to emphasize that the DVD pie is TWICE as big as the box office pie. They already fight off the biggest stars who want a cut of DVD sales and don't want anyone else beyond Tom Cruise and Speilberg getting any bright ideas. It is a massive cash cow and they like to pretend it doesn't exist. Of course, when they're talking to themselves they can't help admit the business is doing great, like when the MPAA spoke to the theater owners and crowed about the massive growth in audiences over the past 40 years, when ticket sales have increased by more than 50%. In the 70s, 980 million admissions were sold per year on average. In the 80s it was 1.1 billion admissions average per year. In the 90s it was 1.3 billion admissions and the 2000s are so far averaging 1.5 billion admissions per year. That's in the context of an era in which consumers have TRIPLED the amount of money they spend on movies, from X amount of dollars at the box office to 2X amount of dollars on DVD, for a total of 3X. ie. from $10 bil roughly at the box office to $30 bil overall, in the US alone for just admissions and DVD. In the thousands of articles written about the travails of the movie industry and rising film budget and marketing costs, when have you ever heard the two simple facts that movie audiences continue to grow by leaps and bounds AND people leave the theater and buy the movie on DVD.
The easy availability of movie downloads does NOT have to mean people will start stealing bootleg copies of movies. People do NOT want to steal, but if it becomes so difficult to buy a copy and use it any way you want (ie play it on your computer or tv or burn a DVD and use it on your portable laptop or make a second copy to keep in your weekend home etc) then yes people will start stealing just like they do with songs. But it's the fault of the major record labels. They should simply refuse to make their music available to iTunes until iTunes opens up its rights management. More importantly, they should stop putting all sorts of idiotic restrictions on the music, like they did with the Neil Diamond CD. THAT'S why people go to bootlegs. Not because the world is filled with criminals but because record labels make it so hard to be good.

I will respond to the rest of your email later, because I love this kind of thing. But, personally, I ABHOR paying for downloads. I will do so if I have no other option, like with the Herb Alpert albums that are only available on iTunes. But if I can find it easily enough, I'll steal it every time. If I spend money, I want a physical artifact, not a fucking file on my computer. I have no idea what kind of minority I'm in on this one, but I'd assume there are others like me. And it's not like I want to be a criminal or anything. I'm very happy to spend too much money on a CD. I just don't like paying for downloads, that's all.

MICHAEL: Me too.

Wait, "me too" you love this kind of argument? Or "me too" you hate paying for downloads?


I fear being labeled an old fogey because I've never downloaded a ringtone. Actually, the one time I tried to download a ringtone, my cellphone wasn't compatible or something and I lost $2. Never again, I say. NEVER AGAIN. Do you download ringtones? I will not judge, regardless of what your answer is.

MICHAEL: Ringtones, no. I can't be bothered.