Monday, October 6, 2008

Random Thoughts

As I sit here watching the stock market drop below 10,000, worrying about my 401(k) imploding in the global financial meltdown, watching the value of my house drop below the amount I still owe on it, and wondering if I'll have a job in the coming months at the post-merger media company where I currently work, I've found my mind wandering onto other, less fiduciary subjects to take the edge off.

Like, for example, why is it necessary to "not talk about" albums before they're announced? See here. This has never made any sense to me. We all know the album is coming, Puffy have officially said an album is coming. So what's the point of withholding any further info, or talking about it as if that's not what they're doing in the studio and on these photo shoots and whatnot all this time?

I know all the rationales. I used to work in marketing and still sort of do (just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!). I know it's all about "maximizing impact" in a "coordinated campaign". I also know that there may be details that are still not set and may change, and you never want to say something publicly that you're not sure will end up really happening.

But come on. This is all based on pre-internet, old media traditions. It's from the days when you needed to make sure all your PR was ready for the various magazines' and newspapers' deadlines, and many of them only published once per month. It's also from back when radio and TV were the only "fast" media outlets, but time and space on them were limited, such that you needed to have enough real content ready all at once to make it worth covering. That's all still true to some extent, but the internet is a different medium, working in real time without limits or constraints on content - and it's made this self-conscious withholding of info we all otherwise know already seem a little silly.

Tell us what you know. Show us the process. Some artists already do this - maybe not coincidentally, the ones who do it best are not under contract to a traditional record label. (Not that I'm suggesting this could be a path for Puffy - I merely suggest that record labels themselves might want to look and adapt.) It doesn't hurt your message, it helps it. It lets you dribble out info a little bit at a time, keeping fans interested on an ongoing basis rather than hitting them with everything you've got all at once and then watching them fall off, knowing that you've already blown your load.

So Puffy's working on an album. What's the concept? Who's playing on it? Who's writing it? Thought of any potential titles yet? Got any artwork, or at least artists that we might know? Where's it being recorded? And how's the recording going?

Yes, all this anticipation probably just heightens the frenzy among their hardcore fans. But there are more than just hardcore fans to please out there. I just don't think all this old-media traditional secrecy is the best way to reach a broad internet audience on an ongoing basis. And even hardcore fans can lose interest in the absence of news. (Maybe you've noticed that I sometimes go weeks without posting anything. I am not immune - when it seems like Puffy aren't active, I've got other bands that I listen to. I mean posting these TV show clips of Puffy playing the same old songs is only interesting for so long.)

The second thing I've been wondering is a) why don't live music venues in the United States ever check for cameras anymore?, and b) why are live music venues in Japan still such fascists about doing so? Talk about extremes.

It used to be that if you got caught with a camera at a concert in the United States, they would take your camera. And you wouldn't get it back, either. Just meant some bouncer at the venue got himself a free camera.

Nowadays, they don't even bother. Some places don't even say cameras aren't allowed anymore. At the last two shows I've been to - the 50th Anniversary Jazzmaster concert and My Bloody Valentine - there were no signs, and some people were using big SLR's in plain view. At the two Puffy shows I've been to (one and two), it was a similar story. You can't read a show report written in this country anymore without a butt-load of photos and videos attached.

Really, that's the way it should be. The bands get more free exposure, the concertgoers get a free memento and those who didn't get to go are excited to see new photos of their favorite artists online. I just wonder why the change. Maybe the venues are too busy looking for bombs these days, and don't have time to waste on innocent stuff like cameras. Especially with cell phones and little pocket cams being so ubiquitous.

In Japan, though, it seems that change never happened. Cameras are still not allowed and that rule is strictly enforced. It's frustrating as a reader of concert reports from afar, and I'm sure it's frustrating for the concertgoers too. What is the point of this rule? It's never made any sense to me. I sort of understood it back in the old-media days because the bands thought they could make more money by selling "official" photos to magazines and such, or get themselves better coverage by bartering "exclusive" photos to go with whatever show review or other story a publication was writing in exchange for better placement.

Today, it seems like the additional exposure from thousands of people posting photos to hundreds of blogs and web sites for potentially hundreds of thousands of readers would easily trump the possibility of any additional revenue or exposure from selling official band photos or doling them out as "exclusives". Especially with a band like Puffy, who are probably not going to get top billing anymore simply for handing out an exclusive photo from a show. Puffy are already one of the world's most photographed musical acts - what's a few more going to do besides keep the interest level up?

I guess my feeling is that "controlling the message" is less important these days than promoting your act. And the two things are not really dependent on each other.


  1. It's obvious that Puffy's management lacks promotion acts on selling more CDs. But when I take into account that Puffy are the artists relying on media exposures especially on TV commercials (which makes a lot of money in Japan), I kind of understand they have more feeling to "controlling the message".

    Also I sometimes have the impression of Puffy that they(or Sony Music) don't care much about the quality of their music but about maintaining themselves as celebrities on the media.

    By the way, it's quite disappointing the world stock markets have plunged even after government bank bail-outs in the US and Europe. They failed to stem fears of slower global economic growth. And Japan isn't the exception at all. Earlier, Japan's stock hit the lowest index since December 2003. It's the same low level as the US.

    I understand the worry about coming recession and the drop of housing (land) value in the US. In Japan the land prices were at the peak in 1989 or 90, and they are now only about 30% of the value of 1990.

  2. 30%?! If that happens here, there will be blood in the streets. There will be riots. The whole economy will collapse. I would stop paying my mortgage if that happened, and so probably would everybody else. I hope that doesn't happen, though it might in certain areas. I don't think it will happen where I live, which has less people buying and selling real estate and more people actually living in real houses.

    About Puffy, yes I think the only explanation for this secrecy in this day and age is that several of their songs are tied up in TV commercials and they need to wait for those companies to be ready with their own campaigns. And that's annoying, but I guess it just goes with being one of their fans. Especially since it's probably what's keeping them in business at this point.

    I'm not happy about it, though. I didn't feel like they were like this when I first started listening to them; it seemed like they didn't care as much about being so commercial anymore at that time. But maybe they got scared by the lack of money coming in, so they changed again.

  3. On the first point, Jeff, I think you're absolutely right. Puffy have nothing to gain by keeping secrets and should attempt to whet people's appetites for their next project.

    That's me speaking as a punter.

    As a one time musician, engineer and producer, there are times when you don't want to give out information as albums change during their gestation - songs get left out, guest musicians are ommited from the final mix, songs get written (and then dumped!) and so on.

    So how much to tell people?

    While I'm at it, the music industry in Japan seems to be completely different to the industry elsewhere. I was amazed to see that record shopes in Japan don't really have 'Bargain Bins' but continue to sell albums at full price forever. If one was of a suspicious mind, one might think there was a cartel going on...?

    Speaking of which - hate to be you with your mad economy. And thanks for bringing the rest of the world down with you. I think we're all a bit worried about the future/savings/jobs/ and your daft election.

  4. I think we shouldn't be so sure about an upcoming album...
    Back in 2006 (at least here in Brazil) we all expected a new studio album by the beginning of 2007 with Hataraku Otoko and Hazumu Rizumu, but instead they came in a compilation; the actual new album came out about 7 months later.

    I guess PUFFY are probably recording only to have material, but not sure what exactly they're going to do with that. Besides, recording one song can take weeks... Maybe there will be an album, maybe not... I'd even consider a live album with a bonus EP (I know it's not the most likely thing to happen, but it would be nice hehehe =D)

  5. Well, except that they've said there's a new album coming. I linked to one of the posts where they've specifically mentioned that above, but that's not the only one. That was my main point - they have announced that a new album is in the works, but they won't talk about it. (Ami said just today that even she's irritated by that.) It would be different if they hadn't announced anything, and were just saying "we're very busy right now" - at least that would be consistently secretive. But instead, they're being open about certain things but not about other things. I'm sure they think they're doing everybody a service by telling us what they can, but the inconsistency is kind of frustrating.

    I don't really blame Puffy, I just blame the whole screwed-up idea of what good marketing and promotion is. I'm sure a lot of it is restrictions being put on them by producers they're working with, as well as advertisers who have commissioned some of these songs.

    I feel like they've actually been spending an inordinately long time in the studio. For Splurge and Honeycreeper, their total time in the studio was about two weeks after the initial singles (so for about the last 6 or 7 songs). They don't normally do much until the instrumental tracks are down; then they come in and do the vocals and leave. That's actually got me wondering if they're not a little more involved this time.

    Either that, or maybe the advertisers they're working with are being a little more demanding than they have in the past. I've often wondered if their advertisers have final approval over the songs they plan to use in their commercials.

  6. Well remember at the start of the year when Ami said that they would have some big surprises this year, maybe this album could be something special. There was also an interview at the start of the year or late last year where they were asked about trying different music styles and Ami said "You'll have to wait and see"...or something along those lines. They also mentioned that theyve been going to lots of recording studios so they've probably been working with lots of other artists like with Splurge and honeycreeper, since Ami has been mentioning lots of j-indie and punk bands in her blog im hoping they might be involved in the new album. But I guess we wont know until some news comes out and they said that should be in the next few weeks + theyve got that book coming out as well.
    They have been very busy the past few years so maybe they just decided they will take a little more time on this album.