I recently spoke at the 2008 Communications Policy Research Forum in Sydney on disruptive innovation in the music industry. My presentation looked at the reasons for why Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails pursued online release strategies for their respective albums In Rainbows (2007) and The Slip (2008), and evolved from some initial thoughts here. The reasons suggested in media coverage – Web 2.0 experiments, disruptive innovation and freeconomics – were ‘true yet partial’ explanations. They overlooked two significant facts: (1) both artists were in the ‘label shopping’ phase near the end of their contracts; and (2) both artists were frustrated with their respective labels EMI and UMG, who each triggered artist defections due to post-merger integration problems. The presentation also discusses the role of Disruptive Innovation Markets, the Disruptive Information Revelation principle, and lessons for journalists, new media theorists, policymakers and valuation analysts. Thanks to the Network Insight Institute team (Mark Armstrong, Cristina Abad and Mark Armstrong) and the two anonymous reviewers for their help.
Steven Sebring’s sprawling documentary Dream of Life explores a 12-year Saturnian arc in the life of poet and musician Patti Smith. She moves from Detroit, Michigan to New York’s Chelsea Hotel after the death of husband Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, and reactivates her touring band. Sebring interweaves historical glimpses of her early recordings and encounters with Beat author William S. Burroughs with the praxis of a return to performance: late night ideation sessions, fellow musicians tuning Smith’s guitars, a meditation on Coney Island, backstage warm-ups, impromptu jams, and onstage free-form poetry. Smith situates her search for stillness in the mundane (an angst-free visit to her parents for dinner, scenes with son Jackson and daughter Jessie), the spiritual (breaking down during a reading in memory of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg), the aesthetic (visits to the graves of Beat poet Gregory Corso and Decadent author Arthur Rimbaud), and contemporary politics (a call to arms against the Bush Administration). Amidst the Romanticist rage for life are moments of quiet revelation: Smith tells how her brother’s death triggered a transmission of baraka (grace).
The live shows are amazing when the band focuses on the music but things fall apart in between.
That’s the narrative arc of No Way, Get F*#ked, F*#k Off! an SBS/Beyond International documentary on the reformation of the Australian rock band The Angels after eight years of legal battles. The documentary contrasts fan jubilation with the band’s in-group struggles: leadership battles between lead vocalist Doc Neeson and rhythm guitarist John Brewster over setlists and song arrangements; drummer Graham ‘Buzz’ Bidstrup’s disagreements with management over the contracts for merchandise and songwriting royalties; and the weight of the past, notably an archive trip with revelations about The Angels‘ support tours at their prime with David Bowie, Cheap Trick and The Kinks.
No Way, Get F*#ked, F*#k Off! wisely steers away from The Angels’ live performances on a small club tour. Instead, we see how subgroup coalitions form over the tour, from rehearsals to the final gig. Neeson and John Brewster’s strong personalities act as two magnetic poles. Neeson appears frustrated that Brewster and lead guitarist Rick Brewster use pincer-style tactics to get their way on key decisions. John Brewster feels compelled to defend The Angels’ management which is taking on the financial risk of the tour, and the record company which offers a favourable deal. Bidstrup is cautious because of past contracts that signed away his
legal rights during The Angels’ 1976-81 vintage period. He also points that Brewster-Neeson-Brewster received royalties as the core songwriters, so there are incentives and power imbalances in the group that affects the decision-making process.
As the tour unfolds the group dynamics change. Neeson extracts an early concession to have Neeson-Brewster-Brewster on the tour merchandise. Bidstrup demands further assurances on the scale and scope of the tour contracts. John Brewster claims Bidstrup is being “difficult” because of his business management and entrepreneurial experience outside The Angels. Brewster and Bidstrup misinterpret eachother in meetings as Neeson withdraws.
No Way, Get F*#ked, F*#k Off! ends on an uncertain note: management refuses Bidstrup can attend a pivotal meeting, Brewster defends their decision, and Neeson counters that he is uncomfortable with excluding Bidstrup. As the credits roll Bidstrup wonders on-camera if he will remain in The Angels or if he joined the tour just to “close the circle” on earlier events. Bidstrup could leave, as Jason Newstead and Joey Belladonna did respectively from Metallica and Anthrax (after their Among The Living reunion in 2005-07). Alternatively, The Angels could partly resolve Bidstrup’s concerns with songwriting credits for new songs to all band members, as Queen did on their final studio albums with Freddie Mercury.