Saturday, October 06, 2007

By Larry Leblanc

In this issue:

* The Autumn of Joni
* Dear CRIA
* Loreena’s Court Victory
* Long John Baldry--A Good Read
* The Three Grumpy Old Men Tour
* Gary Slaight Honoured
* EMI Sleeps Around


So Joni Mitchell isn’t retiring after all. In 2002, after issuing the two-CD Travelogue that revisited her catalog with orchestral backing, Joni had announced she'd had enough of "the corrupt cesspool, the pornographic pigs of the recording industry” and that she would record no more. Skeptics will note that Mitchell, 63, first spoke of retirement in 1970 during a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The Lady of the Canyon and writer of the ‘60s-defining "Woodstock” recently signed a two-album deal with the fledgling Hear Music label, operated by Starbucks Coffee Co., and the Concord Music Group. In its first week, Shine, her first collection of new material since Taming The Tiger in 1998, sold more than 40,000 units. It debuted at #14 on the Billboard Top 200, her highest debut ever. In Canada, it debuted at #13 and sold 4,872 units.

In a statement, Mitchell described her 10-song album as "as serious a work as I’ve ever done.” As she told The Word magazine in April, "I'm not interested in escapist entertainment when the planet is at red alert. We're busy wasting our time on this fairy-tale war when nobody's fighting for God's creation. I realized I wasn't ready for retirement."

Shine is one of several projects keeping Mitchell busy. “The Fiddle and the Drum,” a ballet based on her music of which she is the co-creator/artistic director, premiered in February with the Alberta Ballet in Calgary. A film of the ballet, produced by Joe Media Group in association with Bravo! and filmed at the Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary, debuted at the Sunshine Theatre in New York on Sept. 25. It will premiere in Canada on Oct. 22 on Bravo! As well, a mixed-media art exhibition of Mitchell’s work entitled "Green Flag Song" opened at the Openhouse space in New York on Sept. 25. The exhibit ends on October 6.

Finally, jazz pianist Herbie Hancock has released River: The Joni Letters on Verve Records. This, the second Mitchell CD tribute of the year, features performances of her songs by Mitchell as well as by Leonard Cohen, Tina Turner, and Norah Jones. That Mitchell made a deal with the Starbucks-affiliated label shouldn't come as a surprise. In 2005, Mitchell allowed Starbucks to issue a compilation of her music, chosen by Bob Dylan, Prince, and Elvis Costello. As well, she assembled a 18-song compilation of her favourite music – tracks by Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, Leonard Cohen and the New Radicals — for exclusive release via Starbucks outlets. Hear Music launched in June with the release of Sir Paul McCartney's 21st solo album, Memory Almost Full, ending his near 45-year association with Capitol/EMI.

Starbucks plans to sign 9 more established artists by the end of 2008. Its next release is James Taylor’s live CD/DVD set, One Man Band, in November. Under the joint venture, Starbucks handles artist signings while Concord handles marketing, and promotion. Hear Music is distributed worldwide by Universal Music Group and is available at traditional music retail, Starbucks stores and online simultaneously.

Hear Music can expand its artist portfolio because major labels aren’t dangling big advances in front acts like McCartney or Mitchell any more and aren’t likely to even service their music on a priority basis. The trimming of their rosters in recent years has led to a wave of veteran artists being made available to independent labels and distributors for direct signing, licensing or distribution deals. Hear Music is the latest to take advantage.

Despite Mitchell’s stature, Shine isn’t going to be a mega-seller. Consider that her previous album, Travelogue, in 2002 has sold only 72,000 copies in the U.S. and 9,000 copies in Canada. Her sales base—even with the Starbucks hookup—is quite small. Even with substantial media coverage, McCartney's album has only sold 500,000 units in the U.S. and 31,000 units in Canada to date, according to Nielsen Soundscan. Three weeks ago, with only 200 copies sold, it slipped off Canada’s album chart. However, McCartney and Mitchell provide Starbucks with significant media and favourable retail positioning at a time when the coffee chain is undergoing a slowdown--a 32% drop in its share price over the past year due to stiffer competition from McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts--while providing its customers with quality music by artists they have grown up with.

Caffeine-crazed consumers have made Starbucks a modern day success story after Howard Schultz founded the company over two decades ago. Starbucks has gone from 165 stores in 1992 to 12,000 locations worldwide. In its most recent fiscal year, its revenue totaled $7.8 billion. Its long-range goal is to have 40,000 stores worldwide. Starbucks opened its first Canadian store in Vancouver in 1987. Today, there are 680 stores in Canada. While its music initiatives seem to appeal to the fast-lane set who define their very existence by the green logo on their cardboard cup, Starbucks-- selling an estimated 3.6 million albums in North America in 2006-- is offering a convenience model in music to people taking a moment out in their lives to have a cup of coffee. Unlike other merchants that carry music as a smaller component of their overall business, Starbucks does not use music as a loss leader. If its 44 million customers weekly want to pick up CDs by such veteran acts as Ray Charles, Herbie Hancock, Carole King, Dave Matthews, Etta James, Sly & the Family Stone or by such newcomers acts as Low Stars, and Antigone Rising, they can pick it up there. No matter the CDs cost more--$2-$6 in Canada on titles widely available elsewhere to $22.95 for Starbucks’ in-house titles.

Starbucks' beginnings in music began in 1995 when its Seattle store managers made compilations for customers. In the next three years, the chain released 36 titles. In 1998, Starbucks showcased the artists performing at the Lilith Fair festival. A compilation, featuring such Lilith acts as Sarah McLachlan, Liz Phair, and Lucinda Williams was sold at tour stops and select Starbuck locations. In 1998, Starbucks became a significant music retailer with the acquisition of San Francisco-based five-store Hear Music chain, acquired for $10 million. It led to a significant expansion of its music operations. It was, however, its 2004 alliance with Concord Records on Ray Charles' Genius Loves Company that catapulted it into the ranks of major music industry players.

This week Starbucks and Apple rolled out a new iTunes service in New York and Seattle that lets customers buy and download music. The service will be rolled out in San Francisco in November followed by Los Angeles in February and Chicago in March. Starbucks plans to have the service operating in 25% of its U.S. stores by the end of 2008 and in all U.S. stores by the end of 2009. Canadian and international rollouts will follow. From Oct. 2 to Nov. 7, Starbucks is giving away 50 million free digital songs to its U.S. customers to promote the iTunes service. Some 10,000 of its U.S. stores are handing out an estimated 1.5 million "Song of the Day" cards per day. Thirty-seven artists are featured in this campaign, including Bob Dylan, Sir Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Joss Stone, Dave Matthews, John Mayer, Annie Lennox, and Band of Horses. Meanwhile, Starbucks has dropped plans to roll out CD-burning kiosks beyond its Hear Music Coffeehouse outlets in Miami, San Antonio, Santa Monica, and Bellevue, Washington that each carry about 5,000 music titles.


In the aftermath of the recent decision of the popular Dutch-based BitTorrent tracker Demonoid not to service Canadian-based users because of “a threatening letter” from a lawyer at the Canadian Recording Industry Assn., “a former music buyer” has posted an open letter to CRIA summarizing what’s wrong with the music industry and how it alienates its customers.

As well, the letter is pertinent with the US record industry winning a key victory in court this week after a Minnesota single mother, Jammie Thomas, 30, was found guilty of copyright infringement and ordered to pay $220,000 to six music labels. This is an important test case because it is the first time that a consumer has elected to forgo settlement and argue the case before a jury. Thomas was accused of the illegal sharing of more than 1,700 songs on peer-to-peer network Kazaa. The charge was later cut to 24 songs. This is written by a heavy metal fan, but many people will identify with his frustrations with the music industry:

To Whom It May Concern at the CRIA:

I have been an avid music collector for many years and have approximately 1000 CD’s in my collection, not counting albums that I have purchased over the internet and own only digital copies of. I purchase approximately 30-40 new CDs per year. However, thanks to your recent decision to block Canadian users from accessing Demonoid, I have decided that I cannot continue to support this backwards, dysfunctional industry with my money any longer, and as such, I do not plan on purchasing music ever again if it means that one penny goes to your organization.

I listen to heavy metal music, a form of music that “the industry” stopped supporting many years ago, so I have a hard time feeling any sympathy. Sites such as Demonoid have done far more to promote the music I love than your organization or the industry in general has ever done. I can find out about new artists and new releases from artists that are never promoted. I can listen to music from artists that have never been played on the radio, will never be shown on MuchMusic or MTV, and never have a review or even mention of their new album written about in the local newspaper. From listening to this music, I can make an informed decision if I wish to purchase the album or not, as I am not going to gamble $15-20 on something that I haven’t heard anything off of before. 25 years ago, I primarily learned about music from friends who dubbed a copy onto a cassette tape, where I could listen to it and make a decision if I wanted to buy the tape for myself. Now, many years removed from school, my “gang” of friends to share music with has shifted from cassette tapes and the school cafeteria to sharing mp3’s online. I listen to some things that I don’t like, and consequently, I don’t buy those albums. What I do like, I buy, or at least I used to, before your decision intended to stop me from hearing new music.

The industry cries that record sales are down, and blames this all on internet downloading. I won’t be so naïve as to say that internet downloading has no impact on the sales. Down-loading has certainly stopped me from making the stupid purchases where I heard one single that I liked and bought an entire album only to find out that the rest of the songs are crap and the CD sits collecting dust on my shelf. But for every CD that I didn’t buy based on those premises, there are 2 or 3 other CDs that I did buy because I heard of them for the first time on a site like Demonoid.

In the meantime, the music industry itself needs to recognize that they are to blame for sagging record sales. For years, they have been marketing recycled crap, and people are getting tired of it. On the odd occasion that something fresh and new accidentally slips through and gets radio play, the music industry immediately signs a seemingly infinite number of clone bands that makes the “new, fresh” sound boring almost instantly.

It seems the music industry doesn’t even care about making or promoting good music any more. Instead, they market a young, pretty face that can dance provocatively and lip-synch well, and push this on the radio stations to play while getting the tabloids to print large pictures of their breasts. If bands like AC/DC or Motorhead were to emerge today, they would never be successful; not because of poor record sales due to downloading, but due to the fact that they’re ugly, so the record company wouldn’t promote them, if they picked them up at all. In the meantime, they’re falling all over themselves to promote Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, or any teenage tramp that can be airbrushed to look sexy. The record labels cry about downloading cutting into the profits of the sales of albums. They put out “greatest hits” albums by 20-year olds with 2 or 3 albums under their belts, released with one new track to try and sucker the fans that already have both albums into spending another $20 for one new song, or re-releasing a 3-month old album with a “previously unreleased bonus track”. Then they can’t understand why people aren’t buying them, and cry foul that people are downloading the one new song instead.

I know not only the record companies are crying. Artists that have been around long enough to have enough clout to get a cut of the record sales are concerned about their cut, like Metallica, that also clamor that “downloading is evil” and then go on to sell over 9 million copies of their last album instead of 9.1 million. Boo hoo. Meanwhile, many younger, smaller artists favor downloading, because they know it’s the only way that people will get to hear the music and in turn come out to see their shows, because the record label sure as hell isn’t promoting them. But they can’t say that out loud, can they? If they do, guess which band is going to get dropped by the label? So tell me, what does the CRIA do to promote metal? Oh, right, you’ve got a link to the top 50 “metal” albums in Canada, which after a quick glance at the top ten this week includes punk acts like Dropkick Murphys, Finger Eleven, and Billy Talent, and rock acts like Nickelback and Queen, but very little that resembles heavy metal. (Perhaps you should ask the Celtic punk band, Dropkick Murphys, what they think of being labeled as “metal”.)

And also tell me, without Demonoid, where would I have found out about bands like Evile or Dublin Death Patrol and made a decision to purchase their album online (because no record store that I have found in Canada carries either one). And god forbid the CRIA would care about the promotion of Canadian talent, such as longtime recording artist Annihilator, which released one of the better albums of 2007. However, I have yet to see their new album sold in any store in Canada, including HMV’s flagship store on Yonge Street in Toronto, and I ultimately had to buy a copy from a UK website. Considering the only place I had heard about this album was having downloaded it from Demonoid, do you really expect anyone to make this kind of effort to buy an album without ever having heard it?

The record labels and CRIA have gone to great lengths to tell us that downloading and sharing music is killing the music industry. Open your eyes and you will see that the music industry dinosaur has already been killing itself for years, and by resisting technology rather than embracing it and using it to their advantage. “Oh, but they have”, you try to insist, pointing to the sites devoted to selling music in mp3 format online. I notice that most of the metal bands I am interested in are still not available through these services. I also notice that buying an entire album ends up costing as much, if not more, than if I went to buy it in the store, even though there are no longer costs of materials or shipping that have to be paid for, and once again, I fail to come up with any sympathy for the music industry. I hope the music industry does die, because I know that music itself will not die, so, with the corrupt aspects of the industry gone, only then might music once again flourish.


“A former music buyer”


Following CTV Globemedia takeover of CHUM being greenlighted in Ottawa, and following a number of senior executives at both CTV and CHUM leaving, a corporate reorganization was announced this week. Susan Boyce is president of CTV Globemedia’s array of conventional, specialty and digital platforms, charged with programming and scheduling. Ed Robinson is now executive VP of programming at CTV. Also at CTV, Scott Henderson is now VP of program communications; while Mike Cosentino has become senior VP of program scheduling. In a move that raised some music industry eyebrows, MTV's Brad Schwartz, senior VP and GM of youth and music now oversee MuchMusic, MuchMoreMusic, MuchVibe, MuchLoud, MuchMoreRetro, PunchMuch and Razer. David Kines now reports to Schwartz as senior VP of youth and music. Finally, Jordan Schwartz, senior VP/GM of CTV's entertainment group has added Star!, the FashionTelevision Channel and SexTV, to his portfolio responsibilities that also includes “eTalk”.


Britain’s High Court sided today (Oct. 5) with Canadian singer Loreena McKennitt over her privacy action against former employee Niema Ash, who had signed a confidentiality agreement agreeing not to publish a book on McKennitt. This follows a judgment by Justice Eady in the Court of Appeal in 2005, which found that McKennitt's privacy had been intruded upon and that the duty of confidence owed to her by Ash had been violated. Ash had self-published a book, Travels with Loreena McKennitt, about McKennitt in 2005. After a 10-day High Court trial in late 2005, certain passages of the book were restrained by order of Justice Eady. A settlement was announced on Oct. 4th, 2007, in the High Court before Justice Eady. A statement read in Open Court made it clear that Ash undertook to the Court not to publish a new version of the book or any other information about McKennitt. Ash also agreed to make a payment of costs. However, Ash later published a second edition of the book. McKennitt took the view that, even in its amended form, the book still intruded on her right to privacy and that it fell foul of the injunction granted by the Court at the end of 2005. She started a second set of proceedings. Ash has now agreed that she will not publish Travels with Loreena McKennitt any further, nor publish or disclose any other information about McKennitt. She has also agreed to make a contribution in payment of court costs.

“At the end of this long process, privacy law has been developed and built upon”, says McKennitt.


Canadian author Paul Myers’ new book, It Ain't Easy: Long John Baldry and the Birth of the British Blues (Greystone), is a terrific overview of the career of the influential British blues performer. Myers, who lives in Berkeley, California, did two years of research into Baldry’s life. He secured interviews with family members, including Baldry’s 27-year partner, Felix "Oz" Rexach, his siblings, Margaret and Roger, and such artists as Sir Elton John, Sir Paul McCartney, Mick Fleetwood and Rod Stewart.

I owe much to Baldry-- nicknamed "Long John" because of his six-foot-seven height -- who died in Vancouver General Hospital after fighting a chest infection. It was through John I met my wife, Anya Wilson. He coaxed her to leave Britain and come to Canada to work with him. In the U.K., Anya had worked as a radio plugger on behalf of John—promoting his "Let The Heartaches Begin” to # 1 in 1967—as well as working with T. Rex, David Bowie, and Paul McCartney. Her former fiancée, Pye Records’ producer/songwriter Tony McCauley, wrote “Let The Heartaches Begin” and, incidentally, co-wrote the Foundation’s #1 hit, “Baby Now That I’ve Found You” about Anya.

One of the founding fathers of British Rock, Baldry grew up being fascinated with American blues legends like Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon. He performed with such influential bands as Blues Incorporated and Cyril Davies' R&B All Stars in the 60s. He also fronted the Hoochie Coochie Men, which included Rod Stewart, who later joined John in Steampacket, which also featured keyboardist Brian Auger and singer Julie Driscoll. After a brief period with Bluesology (with Reg Dwight (aka Elton) on keyboards), Baldry became a solo act. In the book, Stewart states he wouldn't be where he is today if Baldry hadn't spotted him singing at a railway station and asked him to join the Hoochie Coochie Men.

Elton John partially lifted Long John's name for his own stage name. Baldry also talked him out of getting married at one point. The experience inspired “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.” Stewart and John teamed up to produce Baldry’s best albums, 1971’s It Ain’t Easy, that featured "Don't Try To Lay No Boogie Woogie on the King of Rock n' Roll” as well as its 1972 follow-up, Everything Stops For Tea, both for Warner Bros.

Living in Canada for over 20 years, Baldry recorded for Capitol Records-EMI and Stony Plain Records. He did voiceovers and received a Grammy nomination for narrating a Walt Disney Music recording of The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.


Seventy music fans will travel from Toronto to Vancouver for three days (Nov. 10-13) by VIA RAIL train while being serenaded by cowboy balladeers Ian Tyson, Tom Russell and Ramblin' Jack Elliott (joining in Winnipeg) in a private section of a 1950's stainless steel train. Sleeper accommodations and meals are provided. The cost per person is $2,689.00. Russell will appear at an informal kick-off party at Hugh’s Room in Toronto on Nov. 9. A press release on states: “If you play music, write songs or just love listening: join Ian, Tom and the whole Roots on the Rails crew and an amazing cast of characters for an unforgettable trip on one of the great railway journeys in the world.”

Russell, a veteran of such train ventures, will fare well; Ramblin’ Jack will keep the stories flowing, but septuagenarian Tyson confined in a small space for three days with possibly over-refreshed fans? I know country radio station PDs still talking about hi fan meets in past years.


++ Neville Quinlan has been appointed managing dir. of Peermusic Canada. He had been GM since 2005.

++ Allan Reid becomes the GM of Maple Music Recordings, effective Oct. 15th. He is currently senior VP of A&R at Universal Music Canada

++ Shawn Marino has been appointed dir. of A&R / Content at Universal Music Canada. He had been the International Manager. Further additions to the A&R department are planned.

++ Folk Alliance has opened an office in Ottawa at the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals offices. Erin Barnhardt is the new coordinator.

++Michael Murray is the new Popular and World Music Officer at the Ontario Arts Council.

++ Stephen McGrath now heads media and artist relations at Arts & Crafts.

++ Nettwerk CEO Terry McBride and Insight Production Company CEO/president John Brunton are the newest inductees to the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame. They will be awarded with the Lifetime Achievement Award at a gala March 6 in Toronto.

++ Gary Slaight, president/CEO of Standard Broadcasting, is the recipient of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ 2007 Gold Ribbon Award for Broadcast Excellence. He will be awarded the honour Nov. 5 in Ottawa.

++ Shaye manager Sheri Jones takes issue with a recent profile of the vocal act in the Toronto Star. She points out that the group’s namesake, Shaye Martirano, did not die of cancer as was written. She died in a car accident in 2002. Jones claims that EMI Music Canada has not dropped the act nor have they “thrown in the towel” despite Tara MacLean’s departure. If you are counting, MacLean is now expecting her third child.

++ Chantal Kreviazuk is in Ethiopia to help raise awareness about the African AIDS crisis. This is not Kreviazuk’s first overseas trip with War Child Canada. She visited Iraq in 2001 to film the charity’s award winning documentary, “Musicians In the War Zone.”

++ Record collectors should be aware that the Canada Revenue Agency has won a federal court order requiring eBay Canada to turn over the names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of all high-volume sellers on its website. It wants to find out whether those individuals or companies are reporting the income they make from online sales.

++ EMI Music and Fairmont Hotels & Resorts have joined forces in a multi-phase music program to provide guests in North America with music and entry to exclusive live events and concerts. This will later expand to other countries. Through Fairmont President’s Club, members will have the ability to access EMI artist’s music exclusively via CD or digital downloads. As well, Fairmont Fit will supply participating guests with pre-loaded digital music players featuring tracks by EMI artists to sweat to.

++ Universal Music Canada has signed a partnership deal with Montréal-based singer Gregory Charles. His debut for the company will be a French-language album, Loin, being released Oct. 23. It features a duet with French star Chimène Badi.

Journalist/broadcaster/researcher Larry LeBlanc has been a leading figure in Canadian music for four decades. He has been a regular music commentator on CTV’s “Canada A.M.” for 35 years, and has been featured on numerous CBC-TV, CTV, YTV, Bravo! MuchMusic, MusiMax, and Newsworld programs in Canada; VH-1, and EEntertainment in the U.S.; and BBC in the U.K. Larry was the co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record; and the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard for 16 years.

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