Fish Nation Information Station

News from the world of music, entertainment, communications, and technology.

NEWS ARCHIVE 2009

Citadel, Radio Broadcaster, in Bankruptcy

Citadel Broadcasting, a U.S. radio company and the owner of ABC Radio Networks, went into bankruptcy today. The debt that Citadel took on in 2006 to buy ABC Radio from Disney left it in a highly leveraged position. It was unprepared to face the decline in advertising revenue that came when the economy slowed down starting in 2007. Citadel will keep operating during its bankruptcy. It says it has a deal with most of its lenders to cut its debt by about half, and hopes to emerge from bankruptcy as soon as next month.

Citadel owns 223 radio stations and produces syndicated radio programming such as the Huckabee Report.

2009-12-20

Google Books Found Liable in French Court

From the outset of the Google Books initiative, which copies printed books to an online database, then displays them to the public, book publishers and authors have questioned the legality of the process. Copyright law, they have said, makes it illegal for Google to copy their books without permission. Now, in the first case on this issue to go to trial, Google has been found to have violated copyright law, and has been ordered to pay at least €300,000 to a French publisher.

If this becomes a trend, Google is in trouble. If a small fraction of authors and publishers were equally successful in their legal cases against Google, it would bankrupt the Internet search company.

Google, in response to criticisms of its plans, has recently shifted its book-digitization efforts to emphasize out-of-print books, but even in these cases, it makes no attempt to get permission to copy the books.

2009-12-18

Vevo Keeps Running Behind the Scenes

After a splashy launch, music-video site Vevo struggled for five days to keep its servers running, only to have to pull back and look for a different approach.

The site may be down, but Vevo the business is still operating. It wasn’t really its intention to become the destination for music video fans, but to be the central clearinghouse for prime music videos and the associated online advertising. The idea is to create an administrative channel for videos that may allow video creators to recover the costs of making a top-of-the-line music video, which can run anywhere between $100,000 and $1,000,000.

So Vevo may have exclusive rights to all the videos it shows, but that doesn’t mean those videos will appear only on the Vevo web site (when it returns). They will still appear on YouTube, MTV Music, in blogs, and so on, but accompanied by Vevo-approved advertising.

2009-12-14

Nielsen Sells Billboard, Closes Editor & Publisher

Nielsen is selling off its media magazines and closing two.

Billboard, The Hollywood Reporter, Backstage, Adweek, and three related magazines are being sold to E5, a venture capital group formed for the spinoff of the Nielsen magazines. The four magazines named provide the definitive inside view of their respective media categories of recorded music, movie production, casting calls, and advertising. The deal was announced today and is expected to close December 31.

Editor & Publisher, for 125 years the journal of the newspaper industry, was not part of the transaction, and will be shut down at the end of the year. Book-review journal Kirkus Reviews will also be shut down.

Nielsen will continue to operate its media trade shows, but will focus mainly on its core media metrics business.

2009-12-10

Notes

With the departure of songwriter Noel Gallagher, Oasis will carry on — under another name that the band hasn’t yet picked. The remaining members of the band have started to work on new material for a new album — something they proved they could do by writing nearly half of the songs on the last Oasis album.

Comcast is buying NBC Universal from GE and Vivendi as part of a deal that will see GE buying a 49 percent share in Comcast.

BTO lead singers Randy Bachman and Fred Turner have gotten back together to put a song on Randy Bachman’s forthcoming album, and probably a tour next fall. The song, “Rock ’n’ Roll Is the Only Way Out,” was written by Bachman, who says he then told Turner, “Fred, pick whatever vocal line you want and scream your head off, just like the old days.” If they do tour together, they’ll probably be using the name Bachman Turner, as they’ll be touring without the other two principals of BTO.

2009-12-01

Who for Super Bowl Halftime

The NFL has signed The Who to play at halftime in the Super Bowl, which is coming up Sunday, February 7. The Super Bowl is considered the biggest event in TV sports, and its halftime show has often featured legendary rock acts such as Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, and the Rolling Stones. For The Who, it is one of the few stages in the world that the band has not played.

2009-11-27

Aerosmith Squelches Breakup Rumors

The aftermath of Aerosmith’s last show at Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend two weeks ago left fans wondering the band was breaking up. It is not that anything was wrong with the show itself — lead singer Steven Tyler romped around the stage showing no obvious ill effects from his near-death experience three months earlier, when he fell from a stage and broke his left shoulder. But the overseas stint was done in such a rush that band members, Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry in particular, barely had time to talk to each other.

That talk would have to wait until last night, when Tyler showed up at a Joe Perry Project concert in New York City. Tyler made a guest appearance in the show to sing the Aerosmith hit “Walk This Way” and reassure fans that he would not be leaving Aerosmith. The band has planned a break of about seven months, to be followed by a new album and tour next year, and perhaps that will all go ahead roughly as planned.

2009-11-13

Steve Hackett Gets a Fresh Start — in the Living Room

Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth

The new album Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth came about after rock guitarist Steve Hackett was forced to make a fresh start. Pushed out of his previous business and moving to a new home, he set up to record in the new living room with the help of technology that is, he says, much smaller than the equipment of the past. The Sansamp, for example, produces a guitar tone in a much smaller space than the guitar rigs he used on past albums.

The small space didn’t limit the involvement of other musicians on an album that Steve described as “a solo record in name only.” The choir and orchestral passages were constructed largely in the living room by painstaking overdubs by the likes of Christine Townsend, who played violin and viola. Roger King was in the middle of the project, not only with keyboards, but also operating the computer on which the album was recorded.

Nick Beggs played bass parts, along with Chris Squire, who was returning a favor after Steve appeared on Chris’s Christmas album two years ago. There were at least 10 more singers and musicians involved. Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth is initially available on Hackett’s web site and at his tour stops across western Europe.

2009-11-06

Notes

The movie Mamma Mia was such a huge success (for example, the highest-grossing U.K. film ever) that the producers are trying to figure out how to do a sequel. Star Amanda Seyfried has been signed up, and the shape of the script will likely depend on which other cast members are returning. As for the music, since the original movie used up a quarter of Abba’s dance songs, there has been some talk of using songs from a source other than Abba in the sequel — but surely that’s just a ploy to try to persuade Abba songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus to write a couple of new hits for the new movie.

Production on the movie adaptation of The Hobbit is proceeding despite the cash problems at MGM, with Warner Bros. and some of the suppliers keeping things going. MGM is still hoping to avoid bankruptcy.

Yoso, the band formed by Toto’s former lead singer and former members of Yes, tested its stage show in a one-week tour of Mexico. The Yoso live show includes a few Yes and Toto songs and an already legendary version of “Stairway to Heaven.” The band’s debut album is essentially complete and will probably be released in advance of a much larger tour next year. After returning home from the tour, bassist Billy Sherwood took only half of the weekend off before going back into the studio to start work on his fourth solo album.

Pressing personal matters compelled Def Leppard to cancel the final month of its tour with Cheap Trick. The tour, which ran much of the summer, was to have continued across the United States and Canada from the end of October to the end of November. Cheap Trick has begun to schedule new shows, starting with one in Nashville, December 3.

The first Howard Jones album of new songs since the early 1990s is set for release November 6, with a week of U.K. album launch events scheduled.

Microsoft is trying to restore the T-Mobile Sidekick database it lost on October 2 after a routine hardware failure when, for reasons that have not been explained, backup files turned out to be inaccessible. After reporting at one point that the data was irretrievably lost, Microsoft then expressed confidence that it will eventually be able to restore most of the e-mail messages, photos, and other missing data. But it took Microsoft two weeks to partially reconstruct users’ address book data, and it has made no further announcements since. T-Mobile, meanwhile, appears to be preparing to abandon the current Sidekick platform and is trying to persuade Sidekick users to “upgrade” to another handset family.

The new Michael Jackson movie This Is It, made from rehearsal and backstage video from the final weeks of the singer’s life, delivers the vibe of a concert, according to fans who have seen it. The opening-weekend box office total in 97 countries, excluding the United States, is expected to reach $40 million. The movie was made by concert promoter AEG, and its theatrical release is expected to raise enough in revenue to cover the costs of the concerts that were canceled when Jackson died.

According to Billboard, U2 set a new record for largest attendance at a single U.S. concert by a single headliner with its Rose Bowl performance on October 25. There were 97,014 in attendance. U2’s 360° touring stage was specifically designed to allow better sight lines from more seats in a stadium. U2 also owns the second and third largest concerts on the all-time U.S. list, with its September 25, 1987, concert at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia and its September 29, 2009, concert at FedEx Field.

2009-11-01

Heart Guitarist’s New Album Was Composed for Babies

CD

The new album by Heart guitarist Nancy Wilson was actually recorded a few years ago. Nancy, along with Heart’s other guitarist, Craig Bartock, wrote the guitar instrumentals as music to put babies to sleep. Nancy played the record for her own children as they were falling asleep and gave copies to family friends when they had new babies.

Now, the album, appropriately titled Baby Guitars, has been released to the public, initially an Amazon.com exclusive. The music might be more quiet and soothing than you would expect from Heart, and absent any singing, but Heart fans will nevertheless find the sound and musical style familiar.

2009-10-14

T-Mobile Sidekick Data Vanishes

Around the beginning of the month, the Sidekick data service for T-Mobile phones went offline. What initially appeared to be a simple service disruption has turned into the most prominent public data loss ever, as it appears that most personal data that was on the Sidekick system has been permanently lost. According to T-Mobile, “we must now inform you that personal information stored on your device – such as contacts, calendar entries, to-do lists or photos – that is no longer on your Sidekick almost certainly has been lost as a result of a server failure at Microsoft/Danger. That said, our teams continue to work around-the-clock in hopes of discovering some way to recover this information.”

T-Mobile has hinted that it will credit customers for one month of access fees, and it may have to do much more than that to keep the Sidekick brand alive. The technology might have been cutting-edge in 2005 but is expensive and idiosyncratic when compared to other e-mail phones available in 2009. T-Mobile suspended sales and manufacturing of Sidekick devices over the weekend, apparently waiting to make sure the data service can be restored to a stable operating condition.

T-Mobile has cautioned users to keep the batteries in their Sidekick devices and keep them charged to reduce the risk of additional data loss.

The failure has called into question one of the promises of cloud computing, which stores working data on a “cloud,” an ever-changing array of computers at various physical locations. Before the Sidekick failure, cloud computing was thought to be better protected from data loss. But, as a user might ask, what happens if the whole cloud disappears? It is not a trivial question, as keeping a backup of the kind of distributed, encrypted database used in cloud computing is not a trivial matter. Individual users can save their own offline backups of their data, but this negates most of the convenience and energy savings that cloud computing was supposed to offer.

The confusion surrounding the cloud failure will almost certainly prompt Microsoft to postpone its new cloud-computing platform announcement that was to take place next month. The Sidekick data loss occurred, observers believe, because Microsoft pulled most of the engineers off of the Sidekick project as a cost-cutting measure. It would seem that the same failure could just as easily occur at any other Microsoft-managed cloud data center, all the more so as Microsoft’s traditional sources of revenue get squeezed.

In the meantime, Sidekick users are left to try to recollect their recent history from whatever clues they can pull together. Some users, for example, have been able to retrieve the subject lines of recent e-mail messages, but not the text of the messages. Others can only go by whatever notes they happened to write down on paper. It is somewhat as if a million e-mail phones were all thrown in the sea at once.

2009-10-12

Notes

Roxette is marking its return by participating in Night of the Proms, an annual classical crossover tour in Belgium, Netherlands, and Germany, from late October to late December. Roxette had been slated to perform in the 2002 series, but pulled out for health reasons, so in a way, the band is picking up where it left off. Wanting to make sure up-to-date versions of the band’s albums were available, record label EMI remastered the Roxette catalog and reissued the albums two days ago. Some of the albums are available on U.S. download sites for the first time. The reissued albums have several bonus tracks, but aren’t meant as collector’s items, according to Roxette songwriter Per Gessle.

After salvaging what it could of its U.S. tour after Aerosmith had to pull out, ZZ Top is on its way to Europe for a month of shows there.

After finding success with albums on letters and numbers, They Might Be Giants has released a new children’s music album celebrating science and technology. Here Comes Science includes songs about planets, elements, photosynthesis, kinematics, and the electric car, and the sound is more reminiscent of the Beatles than the band has been in the past.

The Blu-ray movie format seems to be catching on. At this point, Blu-ray players are being purchased not just by early adopters, but also by movie fans. Hardware prices around $200 might keep the technology from going mainstream this year, but prices for entry-level Blu-ray players are expected to fall below $100 next year.

2009-10-01

MGM Seeks Emergency Funding

Movie production company MGM is desperately short of cash, according to multiple published reports, and is seeking emergency financing to get through the next six months. There is nothing strange about a Hollywood company with cash troubles, but MGM is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy while holding rights to Robocop, The Hobbit, and James Bond and not seeming to have the cash to produce any of these movies.

MGM’s newest release, a remake of the 1980 show business high school film Fame, isn’t helping its case. Reviewers describe the thoroughly rewritten screenplay as tepid (or worse, a High School Musical ripoff), and the Los Angeles Times suggests that people might want to stay home and clean the garage instead.

But even if Fame turned out to be a surprise hit, that still wouldn’t give MGM enough leverage to produce The Hobbit, a movie that should have started casting by now, but hasn’t had its budget approved yet. MGM gains nothing by going into bankruptcy, so some observers think the most likely scenario is that MGM auctions off its Robocop and The Hobbit rights to raise the money to produce the next James Bond film.

2009-09-25

FCC to Propose Net Neutrality

Two top FCC officials have indicated publicly in recent days that the FCC is preparing to propose rules that would require a neutral approach to network content by Internet service providers (ISPs) — a stance commonly called net neutrality. The rules would not permit ISPs to adopt network management practices that favor one application, web site, or type of content over another. ISPs could not, for example, block Internet radio to make sure that e-mail goes through.

Non-discrimination rules are likely to be included. These rules would prevent ISPs from favoring one customer over another, if both are receiving the same level of service. ISPs could not, for example, give customers of one political party priority over those of another political party.

A specific proposal is expected to be announced next month, and a “baseline” set of rules that cover the most general situations is likely to be adopted by next year.

2009-09-22

Coming Up on 09/09/09

In a few days it will be September 9, 2009. The numerical symmetry of the day, which can be written as 9/9/09 or 09/09/09, is proving popular with people who have a product to announce or release. In some ways, it is shaping up to be even bigger than 06/06/06 was three years, three months, and three days earlier.

These are some of the big events coming up on 09/09/09 (roughly in chronological order):

2009-09-05

Notes

Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler was seriously hurt and lucky to be alive, he says, after falling off a stage during a power failure. The accident occurred August 5 in a concert at a motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota. After being airlifted to a hospital and treated for a broken shoulder and other injuries, Tyler is recovering nicely and is looking forward to performing again “very soon.”

As the remainder of Aerosmith’s tour with ZZ Top was canceled, ZZ Top rushed to arrange tour dates of its own, covering many of the same cities, in order to stay out on the road and avoid disappointing fans who were preparing to see them.

A new DVD set will allow viewers to look over the shoulder of producer Alan Parsons as he goes through the various stages of recording music. The Art and Science of Sound Recording covers recording from both a big-budget, big-room approach and a small-scale, home-studio approach. The 3-DVD set should be ready for release before the end of the year.

Internet telephone provider Skype, facing the possible loss of the underlying telephone technology it has licensed since it started up, has started on the process of developing a replacement technology.

Apple has released a new Mac OS X version, called Snow Leopard (or 10.6). It incorporates many of the engineering improvements Apple undertook to create an operating system for the iPhone. It introduces new nonvisual user interface elements that will be especially useful to blind computer users, and may also hint at greater interactivity for future screenless devices, such as the iPod shuffle.

Death: Les Paul, inventor of multitrack recording and the electric guitar.

2009-09-01

Writer Leaves Oasis

Noel Gallagher, the guitarist and songwriter responsible for all of Oasis’s hits, has been kicked out of the band.

Oasis was scheduled to perform at a festival in Paris Friday night, but the band members left the festival before their set would have started. The promoter announced about an hour before they were due to take the stage that the band would not be performing because of an altercation within the band. There were reports of smashed guitars.

Noel immediately posted a message on the band’s web site that gave some the impression that he had left the band in anger. He apologized to the fans and said he had quit Oasis “with some sadness and great relief.”

Some context for Noel’s departure came in a second message a day later. Noel clarified that he had been forced out of the band. He said that there were escalating problems within the band, including “violent intimidation” and “lack of support” from management and band.

So far there has been no statement from anyone else in the band. The two remaining shows on the Oasis schedule apparently will not go on. The consensus among fans, who have seen problems within the band before, is that this is effectively the end of the Oasis story.

2009-08-30

Attack Takes Twitter Offline

A spam-based denial of service (DoS) attack on Twitter started around 6 a.m. PT Thursday and kept the service basically offline for 3 hours. Limited service was restored by 10 a.m. PT, but with multiple problems that are still being sorted out two days later.

Facebook, LiveJournal, Blogger, and YouTube were also targeted in the attack, which apparently was intended to silence a single blogger. The effects on the other sites were more limited, though, partly because they have been in operation longer and have better funding and more capacity, and partly because the other services are more decentralized in the way they operate.

As of Thursday night, only about one fourth to one third of users were back on Twitter. Problems were reported with various APIs and network connections. Some were resolved on Friday, but Twitter still appeared to have reconnected to less than half of its usual users.

Late on Friday, Twitter acknowledged that changes in its web servers were preventing the web site from receiving updates directly from Firefox. Apparently, other popular browsers are also affected. Those issues might not be resolved until Monday.

Twitter has become so important to the world, and so reliable in recent weeks, that people can forget what a small operation it is. Google, in a statement, said it was sharing information with other sites targeted by the attack to try to identify the attackers.

2009-08-08

Paying for Internet Content Should Be Easier, Says EU

Paying for Internet content is too complicated, suggests a European Union (EU) report released yesterday.

The study found that most Internet users did not know whether they were paying for audiovisual content. In a 2008 survey, 4.8 percent of Internet users “paid for” and 28.8 percent “didn’t pay for” audiovisual content such as music and movies on the Internet within the previous 3 months. An astonishing two thirds of respondents could not say whether they had paid or not, highlighting the confusion that the Internet still holds for most users.

Among those who did not pay for Internet content, barely half could imagine a situation in which they might pay for Internet content. The survey did not specifically ask, but part of the thinking behind the reluctance to seek out paid content must be the suspicion that paid content is inferior to free content.

The EU report was supposed to identify possibilities for economic growth using the Internet, and it concluded that that potential could be “unlocked” only by simplifying access to content on the Internet.

2009-08-05

Notes

Kiss has just completed a new album that the band hopes will repeat the success of Psycho Circus in 1998. Details of the release are still being worked out, but it may be a Walmart exclusive.

Eddie Van Halen had surgery to remove a bone spur and related cyst from his thumb. Unable to play much guitar for the next four months of recuperation and rehab, he is taking the time to do some new writing.

Internet music radio may be barely limping along in the United States because of onerous music royalties, but there is plenty to be heard from other countries. A good example is Indie Love Radio, whose collection includes thousands of radio-worthy songs, all of them “100% Canadian independent music.” In the United States, Penn’s Peak Radio sidesteps some of the music royalty issues by having its own concert venue, and relentlessly featuring the artists on its upcoming concert schedule.

The Military Man live album from Asia featuring John Payne is finally shipping after a year of manufacturing delays. The band is currently on a tour of the northern United States, including an August 13 appearance at a Wisconsin summer concert series in a show that also features Night Ranger.

Last year it was consumers cutting back on land-line, or wireline, telephone service, as many people went to cellular-only service to simplify their lives. This year it is businesses cutting back, according to the new earnings report from Verizon. Some of it is cost-cutting, and some of it comes from business locations shutting down. Businesses are also cutting back on cellular phone minutes. The move away from telephone is part of a trend to do more business by e-mail.

U2 guitarist Edge is posting photos from the current U2 360° tour on Twitter.

Avril Lavigne is taking a more serious, acoustic approach for her next album, which may be finished this month for a possible November release. The new Avril Lavigne Black Star fragrance is also set for a fall release.

United Football League is field-testing a new American football league this fall with four teams in major U.S. cities. If it works, they’ll roll out a full league schedule next fall.

A story in the Daily Mail catalogs the changes on the tourist island of Skopelos since the Abba movie Mamma Mia! was filmed there. The newspaper story is a bit over the top, but then, so was the movie, so it all works out.

2009-08-01

Video Games Continue Decline

A year ago, it looked as if popular new games such as Wii Fit and Rock Band were dominating the video game industry and squeezing out other games. A year later, the decline is accelerating. Industry revenue was down 31 percent in June compared to a year earlier, and this week, Amazon, Microsoft, and others reported declining revenue tied to a drop-off in video game sales.

More players are moving to online games, but game publishers do not consider that a threat. A player who would be satisfied with the slower pace of online games would not be buying many new game titles anyway.

The industry is blaming the economy, yet video games were previously thought to be recession-proof; they are not so expensive to purchase compared to the amount of time players spend on them.

The video game business may be affected by other outside factors. The novelty factor of smart phones is taking some attention away from video games. And the steady onslaught of world news could make games seem less important.

The continuing popularity of Wii Fit, Rock Band, and Guitar Hero is not much consolation to the video game industry. When people play the same game for years, it doesn’t offer the same revenue opportunities that the industry used to find in players who would look for a new game every few weeks.

2009-07-25

Stage Collapse in Marseilles Cancels Madonna Show

Madonna’s scheduled concert in Marseilles will not be held after the collapse of the stage on which the show would have taken place. One worker died and two were injured seriously late this afternoon when the concert stage roof fell apart while workers were assembling it.

The Madonna Sticky & Sweet tour had been scheduled to arrive at Stade Velodrome in Marseilles, France, on Sunday night, but the city announced that the show would not be held minutes after the stage collapse occurred. Concern over the event crashed the ticketing site of promoter Live Nation France, which has not yet said whether the show will be rescheduled or refunded.

Madonna said in a statement, “My prayers go out to those who were injured and their families along with my deepest sympathy to all those affected by this heartbreaking news.” Madonna was in Italy at the time, between shows in Milan and Udine.

Early reports suggest that a crane failed and dropped its load, and that the frame that held up the roof shook and came apart slowly. None of that is confirmed, and even if true, does not indicate the cause of the accident.

Madonna previously had trouble with the Sticky & Sweet stage roof in a show at Dodger Stadium, in Los Angeles, last November 6. After an incident the day before that show, parts of the roof were damaged, and it couldn’t be put together. That show went on with limited lighting. There is no possibility of holding the Marseilles show because of the damage to the stage itself.

2009-07-16

Hobbit Movie in Doubt After Lawsuit

The Tolkien estate has filed suit against New Line Cinema, claiming it is owed a share of the profits in the Lord of the Rings movies. The movies were based on a novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, who sold the movie rights in 1969 on a promise of 7.5 percent of profits from the movies. New Line Cinema will apparently argue that the movies did not make a profit, and even if they did, that profit would be excluded from the basis for royalty calculations.

If the court rules against New Line Cinema, it could lose the right to make the Hobbit movie, for which production is already underway. The Hobbit was Tolkien’s first novel and involves several of the same characters who are central to the Lord of the Rings story.

2009-07-16

Internet Radio Hangs On After Music Royalty Deal

Not much is left of Internet music radio in the United States because of high music royalty fees, which in many cases exceeded the total revenue of the station. A new royalty deal looks to cut music royalties by a third or more while increasing fees for some listeners. The nine-year retroactive deal is thought to be enough to keep several of the major Internet radio sites going through 2015, though it may not be enough to make them profitable.

The deal was announced today between a group of stations and SoundExchange, an agency that collects the royalty fees. Pandora and Last.fm say they plan to keep operating now that a deal has been reached. However, there are no reports so far of the return of any of the thousands of Internet radio stations that shut down three years ago because of music royalty costs.

2009-07-08

Notes

Death: Michael Jackson, the defining pop singer of the 1980s. His 1982 album Thriller has sold more copies than any other album and its videos helped usher in the music video era. He had spent his last month preparing for what would have been a historic 50-show run in London — instead, the sold-out series will now be the largest ticket refund ever.

Recording for a new Heart album is well underway, with some tracks recorded in hotel rooms during the band’s recent tours. Heart also plans a children’s book based on their early album Dog and Butterfly. Both album and book could come out before the end of the year.

Former Heart guitarist Howard Leese is busier than ever. He is touring this summer with Bad Company and releasing a solo album Secret Weapon later this week.

Spinal Tap added a second show to their One Night Only world tour, which nevertheless concluded last night at Wembley Arena. The tour promoted their new album Back From the Dead, now available worldwide, and the Blu-ray edition of their well-known tour documentary This Is Spinal Tap, due on July 14. The album is on Label Industry Records, picked because of its willingness to release an 11-inch vinyl version of the album. Spinal Tap and INgrooves are sponsoring a video contest on YouTube for user-created videos for selected songs of theirs. We can expect to hear more from Spinal Tap in the future. As Derek Smalls put it, “There are no chapters in this book, only page numbers.”

Heart: http://www.heart-music.com; Howard Leese: http://www.myspace.com/howardleese; Spinal Tap: http://www.spinaltap.com; Spinal Tap Make Your Own Video Contest: http://www.youtube.com/spinaltapcontest.

2009-07-01

Fans Stranded As Flooding Stops Music Festival

The persistent rains in the eastern half of the United States have taken their toll on the outdoor concert business this month, but few concert weather situations have caused more inconvenience than the B-93 Birthday Bash in Ionia, Michigan, this weekend.

Thunderstorms Thursday and Friday were enough to bring the Grand River up into the parking area at the Ionia Fairgrounds by Saturday afternoon, but at the 9:45 a.m. weather advisory, when the concert was getting underway, the risk of flooding still seemed slight.

By the time promoters called off the rest of the event, which had been scheduled to run through today, the access road was already under two feet of water. Thousands of cars were stranded in the parking area, some in three inches of water, as seen in this report Grand Rapids Press posted yesterday.

The river continued to rise, and state police evacuated the area before nightfall, although people had time to remove any possessions that they could carry from their cars. Many cars are expected to be in water about one foot deep today. Police said they do not think it will be possible to remove any of the cars until Wednesday.

Update: As of Thursday, June 25, the parking area remained flooded. Officials expect to begin towing the cars to higher ground around Monday, but estimate that they will be able to move only about one car per four minutes. At that rate, it may take more than a week to move all the cars out of the parking area.

2009-06-21

Michael Jackson Prepares for London Run

For Michael Jackson, touring has been such a low priority in recent years that a lot of fans are ready to buy concert tickets — so many that concert promoter AEG Live thinks Jackson might be able to sell out 50 shows in London.

That’s how many shows Jackson and AEG have scheduled at the O2 Arena between July 13 and March 6. In scheduling the 50-night run, they had to work around the many other acts on the O2 Arena’s schedule, such as Madonna, James Taylor, 10cc, and Martina McBride.

Jackson is currently rehearsing in Los Angeles, and he told fans there that he was anxious to go on a new world tour. An AEG executive told Billboard that a Michael Jackson tour could follow the engagement in London.

Michael Jackson: http://www.michaeljackson.com.

2009-06-06

Notes

The U.S. Army has declared war on Ashton Kutcher. The way the army sees it, the biggest army in the world is more important than any Hollywood celebrity, so it should be the most followed account on Twitter. But so far, the top Twitterers don’t have much to fear from the army’s public relations machine. The U.S. Army has recruited about 10,000 followers on Twitter, a far cry from Ashton’s army of 2 million followers.

Recording for the second GPS album has taken a more orchestral turn, according to singer John Payne. “I would say it’s more European than the last album,” Payne says. The album was said to be substantially complete last fall, but is now being revamped.

The new Star Trek movie has drawn praise from all quarters, including original Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy, who has a minor role in the new production and praises director J.J. Abrams for making a movie that “has great heart with the characters right in the center of it.” The movie grossed $200 million in its first three weeks of U.S. release, making it the biggest Star Trek property ever.

Jon Anderson is putting together a short summer tour of northern Europe.

Roxette is also starting a summer tour of northern Europe, and then plans to go into the studio to record a “fun” album, or perhaps something shorter than an album.

After many summers of touring together, Chicago and Earth Wind & Fire and looking into recording an album together. The album “would sound big,” says Chicago’s Robert Lamm, bigger than the sound either band produces separately. This summer’s Chicago-EWF tour starts June 5.

2009-06-01

Time Warner Dumps AOL

Time Warner will be able to breathe easier later this year after it spins off its perpetually struggling Internet unit AOL. AOL, then also known as America Online, bought Time Warner in a deal in 2001 that was initially valued at $147 billion, but business declines and revelations of accounting fraud and spam schemes at AOL quickly ate away most of the market value of the combined company. At times, the future of AOL Time Warner was in question.

Time Warner regained control of its board of directors, dropped the AOL name from its corporate identity, and looked for a buyer for AOL for years without success. AOL’s advertising business and technical operations have improved over the years, and it now stands a chance of surviving and perhaps eventually showing a profit as a standalone company.

A possible partnership between AOL and Yahoo was discussed last year, and something might still come of that. One scenario is for AOL to provide search functionality to Yahoo if Yahoo ends up selling its search business to Microsoft.

2009-05-28

The Simpsons Usher In New Postage Rate

The USPS postage rate for letters goes up to 44¢ tomorrow, and the first stamps to bear the new rate are the cartoon characters of The Simpsons. One billion of the stamps featuring television’s Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie Simpson are at post offices, and the USPS invites fans and stamp collectors to vote for their favorite Simpsons stamp at http://www.usps.com/simpsons.

2009-05-10

UK Keeps Rocking after ISP Collapse

Some music-oriented web sites are operational again following the March collapse of their London-based Internet service provider, Trinity Street. MSHK, which operates the dance-oriented Ministry of Sound web store, says it will probably operate its own servers from now on. “Just six months ago the outsourcing model made sense,” MSHK told Music Ally, but the changing economics of the Internet make an in-house operation more cost-effective now.

Oasis lost its web site, and is making do with its MySpace page for now. The band says it is still sorting out the orders that came in on its web site in the days before the collapse, and asks for fans’ patience. In the meantime, Oasis is directing new orders to its new official online store at recordstore.co.uk. Oasis promises a new full web site is on the way.

Ministry of Sound: http://www.ministryofsound.com; Oasis: http://www.oasisinet.com.

2009-05-05

Notes

Yes and Asia are making plans to tour together for the first time this summer. The combination means extra work for guitarist Steve Howe, a key member of both bands. It may also provide an opportunity for Asia keyboardist Geoff Downes to reprise one or two of the songs he recorded when he was a member of Yes before forming Asia.

Meanwhile, a new progressive rock supergroup has formed that puts Toto lead singer Bobby Kimball together with the members of Circa:, who have previously played with Yes and Asia. Using the name AKA, the band began recording an album early in April and have completed basic tracks for ten songs. Vocally, AKA could sound quite like Toto if it chose, as the two singers from Circa: singing together sound similar to the other two singers you would remember from Toto. Instrumentally, though, the band is likely to sound more like Yes than Toto, as it features Yes founding keyboardist Tony Kaye.

Another former Yes member, Trevor Rabin, made a brief and rare concert appearance April 18 in a charity tribute to John Lennon in Snoqualmie, Washington. He performed along with Yes members Alan White and Chris Squire, in a star-studded concert that included dozens of other well-known musicians. In the concert, Alan White played on the same drum set that he played 40 years ago as a member of Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band.

Pro audio/video software company Avid is formulating a new identity, starting with a new logo built out of the directional triangles that label control buttons on tape recorders. Over the next couple of years, the oompany plans to start to integrate the operations of its Avid, Digidesign, M-Audio, Pinnacle Systems, and Sibelius businesses, which so far have operated largely independently of each other.

The flu outbreak in Mexico, the United States, and 20 other countries could lead to widespread cancellations of concerts and the exclusion of live audiences from sports competitions if the new flu, which apparently originated on a factory farm at La Gloria, Mexico, remains as dangerous as it has been so far and continues to spread. The Mexican government has ordered events canceled, especially around Mexico City, but so far the flu outbreak has led to few restrictions on travel except for those who show high fever or other signs of flu. Elsewhere, public events are being canceled mainly at schools where the new flu strain has been found, but authorities in New Hampshire and the United Kingdom, at least, are considering a ban on mass gatherings, including concerts and sports events. In Poland, a rock band returning yesterday from concerts in Mexico City was sent to a hospital for screening as a precaution. In South Florida, SunFest is going ahead as scheduled this weekend, but with signs and hand sanitizer dispensers installed at key points throughout the site of the festival.

The Lilith Fair tour is returning next summer. Although no details have been announced, featured performers could include the tour’s founder Sarah McLachlan and Avril Lavigne, both of whom are scheduled to release albums next year.

A new Bob Dylan album, Together Through Life, looks certain to hit #1 on the album chart in its first week of release. Dylan’s 2006 album Modern Times also hit #1. Dylan plans a summer U.S. tour that will include Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp.

Avid: http://www.avid.com; Bob Dylan: http://www.bobdylan.com.

2009-05-01

Sun Microsystems Acquired by Oracle

The Unix era ends with a whimper, as the last significant Unix vendor, Sun Microsystems, has agreed to be acquired by database vendor Oracle.

In its purchase of Sun, Oracle was mainly interested in Sun’s Java development platform, specifically for server-side applications. Oracle’s Fusion Middleware, a key part of its recent revenue growth strategy, is based on Java.

The acquisition casts doubt on the future of Sun’s other products, including the client-side Java that allows applications to be embedded in web pages; Solaris, Sun’s big-business version of Unix; and OpenOffice.org, an office automation suite open source project. There has been no statement so far on the future of Sun’s unprofitable hardware business, but it is unlikely that Oracle, a software-only company, would have the expertise to turn it around.

Oracle is paying an estimated $7.4 billion for the company in a deal expected to close in the third quarter.

Sun came to prominence in the early 1990s as a maker of high-end workstation computers that cost $20–50,000, but was unable to craft an identity for itself as computer hardware prices fell. Unix was created in the late 1960s at AT&T, and in the 1990s was the foundation of operating systems from dozens of companies, including Sun. By the end of the 1990s, Unix had given way to its more modern imitators, notably Linux and BSD.

2009-04-20

Hotter on Twitter: Ashton or CNN?

Chartbeat is currently hosting a live chart showing a race to 1,000,000 Twitter followers. The race is between aplusk, Ashton Kutcher, and cnnbrk, CNN Breaking News. Based on recent trends, both are likely to pass the 1 million mark tomorrow morning, but who will get there first? With the live chart, you can keep up with the “race” minute by minute.

2009-04-16

CompUSA Opens New Stores

CompUSA looked to be a web-only brand after it liquidated and closed stores two years ago. But in January, another online retailer, Tiger Direct, bought what was left of the company, and now it is starting to open new stores. So far there are 23, mostly in Florida. The new CompUSA is testing a new retail strategy it calls Retail 2.0, which aims to make the retail store an extension of online shopping. The strategy is based on well-organized displays, bright lighting, and in-store Internet access, an approach that previously has been tried mainly by the Apple Store.

The new CompUSA thinks that the recent bankruptcies of Circuit City and Ritz Camera give it an opening to sell discounted consumer electronics. But it will have to test its retail approach before it decides whether to open hundreds of retail stores across the United States.

CompUSA: http://www.compusa.com; Tiger Direct: http://www.tigerdirect.com.

2009-04-11

Beatles Catalog Remastered

EMI announced today that the Beatles catalog has been remastered for release on September 9, the same date as the release of the Beatles edition of the Rock Band video game. The remasters include the 12 original British LPs, plus Magical Mystery Tour (based on the 1987 CD) and Past Masters (previously issued as two volumes).

There is no word yet on any digital download release.

EMI: http://www.emi.com; The Beatles: http://www.thebeatles.com; Rock Band: http://www.rockband.com.

2009-04-07

Notes

Styx is playing some shows without J.Y. The guitar player is helping his wife recover from a medical incident involving a malformed blood vessel, and can’t predict his schedule more than a day in advance. Two recent shows marked the first times Styx had ever performed without J.Y. present.

Sweet is about to release an album Live in America recorded on its U.S. 2008 tour. The U.S. version of Sweet is led by original bassist Steve Priest, and isn’t connected the European Sweet tours led by guitarist Andy Scott. Priest was the lead singer on one of Sweet’s hits, “California Nights.” Sweet is continuing to perform this year with casino and festival dates.

The new White House web site has live video streaming of major events and statements. It’s part of an effort at the White House to make government “more transparent.”

The last Virgin Megastore in the United States, on Times Square, closed last weekend. Although this location was profitable as a record store, the new owners needed to move the records out to make room for a new line of low-end clothing.

Firefox 3 has become the top browser in Europe. StatCounter puts its share at 35.05 percent compared to 34.54 for Internet Explorer 7. Internet Explorer 7 had lost a point in recent days as about 1 percent of web users switched to Internet Explorer 8. However, the trends show that some users who consider Internet Explorer 8 are switching to Firefox instead.

Styx: http://www.styxworld.com; Sweet: http://www.thesweetband.com; Live Streaming Video at the White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov/live/; Firefox: http://www.mozilla.com.

2009-04-01

Billy Squier Prepares Summer Tour

It might be Billy Squier’s first extended tour in a generation, but that doesn’t mean he has to form a whole new band. Keyboardist Alan St. Jon and bassist Mark Clarke date back to the time when Squier was recording albums with the band, and drummer Nir Z has been around for years, so the only new band member is guitarist Marc Copely.

Squier plans to play about 60 summer shows, but so far, only about half of those have been nailed down. It looks like the tour will crisscross the Northeast and heartland from June to August, with a few dates farther west in September.

Last summer saw Squier along on Ringo Starr’s tour for the second time, an experience that inspired him to write and record two new songs. If this summer’s tour goes well, fans have reason to hope that a new album could follow.

Billy Squier: http://www.billysquier.com; Marc Copely: http://www.marccopely.com.

2009-03-25

BMG Music Service to Close

BMG Music Service is preparing to close June 30.

The record club, which included the remnants of the Columbia House record club, will continue to take orders from members for music CDs through May. After that, the club will direct members to Yourmusic.com, a music CD subscription plan in which members select a list of CDs and receive one by mail each month.

The announcement of the closing of BMG Music Service comes less than a month after Universal and Sony BMG gave up on Total Music, an online music subscription service.

One difficulty has been that club sales do not count toward chart positions. Record clubs and, to a lesser extent, subscription services have had difficulty getting access to new albums, and have had to rely on older albums and albums from bands that weren’t trying to make it onto record charts, a tough position in an industry otherwise geared toward hot new releases.

The Columbia House record club was folded into BMG Music Service, but Columbia House continues as a DVD movie club, with a greater emphasis on TV series than in the past.

2009-03-09

Notes

Klaus Voormann and Yusuf Islam teamed up on a charity single, a recording of an old George Harrison song. Yusuf picked “The Day The World Gets Round” because “The song speaks of the split nature of this world: comparing the love and joy of sharing what we all have on this earth, with the ‘foolishness in man’ and his quest for more, thus causing war and loss in the process.” The Yusuf & Klaus single is available in the United Kingdom, with proceeds going to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and Save the Children. The song will also appear on Voormann’s forthcoming album The Sideman’s Journey, which is meant to raise money for a project for the Oglala Sioux in South Dakota.

The satellite radio company Sirius XM can keep operating, with half a billion dollars in financing provided by satellite TV company Liberty Media, but the 15 percent interest rate on the loan means that the company will have to quickly line up new subscribers and find a way to keep more of its existing subscribers.

The new U2 album No Line On The Horizon ships tomorrow (a day later in the United States, already out in Ireland). The band started writing the album in Fez, Morocco, in early summer 2007. Recording and additional writing continued right through 2007 and 2008 in Dublin, London, and New York.

Ozzy Osbourne is recording a album, his tenth, and a new TV series. The series, Osbournes: Reloaded, is said to be more intentionally entertaining than the past Osbournes reality show. The album is expected out in time for Christmas. A tour will follow. There will be no Ozzfest this summer, as Ozzy is postponing his touring plans till winter.

CBS didn’t buy CNet for its Download.com Music site. It is hoping to redirect music fans and musicians to its other music site, Last.fm, which is geared toward fan playlists. Fans can still download songs at Download.com Music until March 11.

These haven’t been good times for the newspaper business. Bankrupt: Philadelphia Inquirer, New Haven Register. Closed: Rocky Mountain News. Rumored to close soon: San Francisco Chronicle.

Death: Kelly Groucutt, bassist for Electric Light Orchestra in the 1970s and lately a member of The Orchestra, died February 19. Groucutt suffered a heart attack a day after he played his last concert with The Orchestra in Berlin February 17. He never regained consciousness and died in the hospital the next day.

2009-03-01

Leg Surgery Wipes Out Yes Tour

Yes bassist Chris Squire underwent emergency leg surgery last week. Doctors consider the surgery a success, but are advising Squire not to walk for the next month to allow the leg time to heal. As a result, the dozen or so remaining shows on the Yes In the Present Tour have been canceled.

Yes’s tour plans have been ill-fated lately, starting with keyboardist Rick Wakeman bowing out because of health concerns associated with an extended tour. Shortly before a tour was to begin last June, singer Jon Anderson suffered acute respiratory failure and was unable to perform. The revamped tour got underway with two substitute musicians and has been well received by critics and fans, but ends early as a third band member is physically unable to perform.

Even if Yes wanted to try to reschedule the remaining shows with a substitute bass player, probably a bad idea for more reasons than one, they cannot, as guitarist Steve Howe is scheduled to prepare for a spring tour with his other band, Asia.

2009-02-19

Facebook Backtracks on Owning User Content

Facebook raised more of a controversy than they wanted with a terms of service revision at the beginning of the month, and the company has spent this week backtracking, particularly on a clause that seemed to claim ownership of all user content that was posted on the site. On Monday, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg tried to reassure users that they could still delete their content at will. He said that Facebook wouldn’t use anyone’s photos or text in an inappropriate way, even though the terms of service gave them that right. But users were not reassured, and thousands rushed to delete photos and cancel accounts. By Tuesday night, Facebook had retracted the recent changes in its terms of service and set about writing an extensive revision that might avoid this kind of controversy.

2009-02-19

Two Satellite Music Bankruptcies

There may be two bankruptcies in satellite music this week.

Muzak, which mostly provides music for business environments, filed for bankruptcy protection this morning. Muzak management said the company has strong cash flows and will be able to make all payments to its suppliers, but it could not get financing to pay $100 million in bonds and notes due last month, or $300 million more due in the coming weeks.

A merger between Muzak and competitor DMX was approved last April, but the search for a possible buyer who could combine the two companies, a challenge in the current financial climate, cannot resume until Muzak is out of bankruptcy.

It is a different story at Sirius XM. The two satellite radio operators had trouble showing a profit since they launched, and the financial difficulties were compounded by revenue losses and merger-related expenses in a merger last summer. The combined company’s stock value has fallen to a tenth of what each company was worth separately.

With no money left to make bond payments, Sirius XM has retained bankruptcy attorneys and is expected to file for bankruptcy protection in a few days. It will continue broadcasting for now, but it will have to find a way to cut costs further without accelerating the loss of subscribers.

2009-02-11

Krauss, Plant Win at Grammys

The big winners at the Grammy Awards last night were Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, who won five Grammys, including Album of the Year. The album in question was Raising Sand, a set of 13 American roots covers selected by producer T-Bone Burnett. Krauss and Plant toured extensively last year to promote the album, and performed two songs during the awards show. Krauss now has 26 Grammys.

Other performers at the show included Coldplay, Paul McCartney, and Neil Diamond. U2 opened the show with a live performance of their new single “Get On Your Boots.”

Other winners included Radiohead, Pete Seeger, They Might Be Giants, and John Mayer.

The 51st Annual Grammy Awards Winners List: http://www.grammy.com/GRAMMY_Awards/51st_show/list.aspx.

2009-02-09

Notes

Music around the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama was provided by, among others, Shakira, Aretha Franklin, John Williams, and Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen will show up again at today’s Super Bowl halftime, where he says he will try to squeeze one of his marathon concerts into a “12-minute party.” In between, Springsteen found time to release a new album, Working on a Dream. Could a summer tour be on the way?

Madonna’s first extended tour is, not surprisingly, the biggest tour by a solo artist ever. The Sticky & Sweet tour resumes July 4 in London, and Madonna will mostly go to cities she has never been to before.

No Doubt is due for a tour, and is planning a summer tour of outdoor venues across North America. Paramore has signed up as the opening act for the tour.

Convicted of false imprisonment in connection with a drug-fueled binge of violence at his London home, Boy George will spend 15 months in jail.

The new very short Paul McCartney live album Amoeba’s Secret, previously available only on vinyl, is now on CD. The four-song set, recorded at a surprise in-store appearance at Amoeba Records, is most notable for offering a live version of “C Moon.”

2009-02-01

Advertising Tightens

Google and Clear Channel are among companies announcing cutbacks due to weak advertising sales.

Google is shutting down its two-year experiment in newspaper advertising next month. The high price of printing ads in newspapers meant that Google’s targeting techniques weren’t much help in print. Google will continue to sell online advertising for newspaper web sites, and it is continuing its tests of radio and television advertising.

Clear Channel reported a stiff quarterly loss, amounting to $10,000 per employee, in the face of a 7 percent decline in radio advertising revenue. It plans to cut its workforce by 9 percent. The company’s other main business, outdoor advertising, also fell.

Other cutbacks are taking place at Time Warner, and across the cable television and newspaper industries.

2009-01-21

Circuit City to Liquidate

Circuit City, which had announced the closing of 155 stores in November, then entered bankruptcy, now says it will liquidate the rest of its assets and close its remaining stores. Only a few of Circuit City’s announced closings have already taken place, so the electronics chain has more than 550 stores to close.

Like many electronics retailers that failed before it, Circuit City had experimented for several years with an aggressive upsell approach, strongly encouraging customers to buy expensive extras such as extended warranties, in an attempt to boost revenue. In recent years it tried to make its shopping experience more friendly, but by then, most potential customers were no longer paying attention.

2009-01-16

ITunes Store Revamps

Apple today announced a series of changes in its iTunes Store:

These changes bring iTunes Store in line with some of its competitors. Amazon.com, for example, has been offering DRM-free music and tiered pricing for the past year, and some cellular networks have been offering music downloads over the air (though usually for prices like $5.99 per song).

2009-01-06

Notes

The second Lily Allen album, It’s Not Me, It’s You, is finished and is expected to be out in about a month. Lily will tour the U.K. for a week in March.

Circa: have also finished their second album, this time with drummer Jay Schellen, as original drummer Alan White has been busy with a Yes tour. The new album Circa: HQ could be out in January. The core of Circa: is two former Yes members, organist Tony Kaye and vocalist Billy Sherwood.

Roger Dean has released his third book of fantasy art, Dragon’s Dream. His first two collections were big hits in the 1970s.

Elton John and Billy Joel are about to set out on what they say will be a two-year tour. Elton celebrated New Year’s Eve with a concert in London.

A new Rick Aster book is out today. Fear of Nothing covers the broader implications of clutter. Today, Rick is advocating “no clutter” as a new year’s resolution, but cautions people not to give themselves a long list of things to do for the new year — a list, he says, quickly becomes another form of clutter.

On Monday, Electronic Arts (EA) starting selling its hit game Spore without the copy protection scheme that enraged fans when the game first shipped in September. The new download version of the game is not DRM-free, but comes with a much simpler, less intrusive form of digital rights management. Gamers who buy the game in a store will continue to find that it permits only a limited number of installations, which means it’s just a matter of time before it stops working.

A similar problem was introduced in the 2008 edition of U.S. tax prep package TurboTax, which introduces a $10 “filing fee” just for printing out a tax return. There is an easy workaround, however: copy the numbers by hand from the computer screen to the tax form.

ZZ Top has a striking new picture on their web site, along with a new year’s message promising, “New tour dates. New record. New everything.”

2009-01-01
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