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Tue, Aug. 4th, 2009 02:47 pm
Here Comes Everybody

An interesting conversation developed at the end of yesterday's entry, which had raised the vision of apps on the iPhone / iPod Touch / Apple Tablet replacing record labels. In conversation with krskrft, an Anon wrote:

"I guess I've always been fascinated at the point where an inclusive movement catches on and affects 'the public'. I get the feeling that someone like Momus might disown a movement precisely at that point; try to stay aloof from it or ahead of it. But it is an important emblem of the national mood, which uncountable independent creators all in their little cells might not be able to paint. It takes artists and journalists too. And even, yes, weasly business people."

Now, this exact point came up on Saturday night, in our buttons conversation in the Lustgarten. Jason Forest's partner, the artist Jen Ray, said to me: "I'm fascinated by what makes some things successful and other things not". We started talking about Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point idea -- what makes that tip tip -- and how it's the mystery at the heart of all marketing. Joe Howe -- who, with Digiki, actually plans to launch a label-like iPhone app -- came into the conversation and we got to talking about buttons again: whether, if there was a button marked SELL OUT right in front of you, you'd want to press it. (This was prompted partly by a comment on that day's Click Opera advising me to remake a Beatles album and sell a ton of records so that I could afford to live in Japan.)

I said -- rather gloomily -- that:

a) I'd never felt that such a button -- a SELL OUT button -- had been within my reach.

b) In fact, my instinct had always been to do things that were guaranteed not to work commercially, because it was more interesting artistically to try to do things the hard way (to unleash Apollo in a nightclub instead of the ever-popular Dionysus, for instance, to use white light instead of coloured light, to get things "wrong" instead of "right"), but also because there was a certain commercial logic to being non-commercial -- you can make money by making your unique selling proposition not-making-money, as many alternastars have discovered.

c) There's nothing sadder than someone who's obviously tried to press the SELL OUT button and failed.

d) Most successes worth their salt are accidental, anyway.

e) Almost every successful person says that success isn't all it's cracked up to be (many prove it by dying young or developing drug habits). Maybe we should believe them.



This talk of a SELL OUT button -- whether it exists, whether it would be desirable -- is the part of the buttons conversation I didn't report in Obvious buttons: the Ladytron lighting list. It's a typical indie conversation and a typical Berlin conversation, a question that comes up time and again when artists sit around discussing more-successful colleagues in more Babylonian cities.

I think I prefer the phrase Here Comes Everybody to buzzterms like "the tipping point". James Joyce ran a gamut of permutations on the phrase in Finnegans Wake; for him (as this book outlines) Here Comes Everbody is a principle, a character, a city, a man. Haveth Childers Everywhere was the third extract from Work in Progress (the prototype of Finnegans Wake) to be published, Anna Livia Plurabelle the second. If Anna Livia Plurabelle represents the River Liffey, Haveth Childers Everywhere is Dublin, the city. Anna is a woman, Haveth a man. And not just a man, but an alpha male.

Momus has a Georgie Porgy Pudding and Pie side: I'm rather afraid of the male principle, which is a principle of big-mouthed contention, competition, and spawning. Haveth Childers Everywhere means crowds, means populousness, means populism. HCE means the 02 Arena filled to capacity, it means queues, it means merch tables where the wares go like hot cakes. It is, of course, the ultimate principle of the city: to gather big crowds of people together, to circulate money, to put names in lights, to enjoy density and vitality, to go forth and multiply.

Could there be a sense in which Here Comes Everybody means Here Comes Nothing? Could the other side of the tipping point be a rapid chute to the garbage dump? Sure. Naturally, the downside of being part of a big crowd is the exact same thing as its upside: the fact that you lose yourself as an individual. Here Comes Everybody implies "there goes li'l ol' me". Similarly, the price you pay for the success of a product is often the personality of the product. A successful product answers to the needs of a faceless mass, and has to be, itself, faceless. An unsuccessful product is thrawn, stubborn and full of flavour and personality -- the very personality, in fact, which makes it fail, because it sticks in the craw of the crowd.

A couple of years ago I wrote a piece called Geodemographics put me in my place. Using sophisticated new market segmentation tools developed by Richard Webber and others, I discovered just how few people in the UK think and feel the way I do. Suddenly it became utterly plain to me why my bid for chart success had failed in 1989, why I'd always been on indie labels, why I'd stayed on the left side of the tipping point, why there'd never been a Here Comes Everybody moment in my career (you know, that whoosh feeling that pins you back in your seat, that incessant ringing of the telephone). It was because there simply weren't that many people in the UK who felt the way I feel about things. The two market segment categories in the Mosaic analysis that best described my way of thinking and feeling about life accounted for less than 2% of UK households. If I were a political party I'd lose my deposit.

It doesn't take a marketing wizard to tell you that you'll never have a SELL OUT button within reach if you...

a) remain true to, and fairly explicit about, your vision of life, and

b) share that vision with only 2% of UK households.

For such a person -- let's call him Nick, the anglicization of the french word niche -- there can never be a "here comes everybody" moment. And it's just as well, because this person, Monsieur Niche, doesn't feel comfortable in crowds anyway. Who'd feel comfortable in a great jostling mass you'd been reliably informed was 98% against you? If you couldn't blend in like a chameleon, you'd probably want to dart into the nearest dark cranny, like a lizard, and wait for everyone to go. TGE: there goes everybody.

36CommentReply


(Anonymous)
Tue, Aug. 4th, 2009 01:13 pm (UTC)

If Finnegan's Wake appeared today it wouldn't.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Aug. 4th, 2009 01:53 pm (UTC)

Yeah, they'd make him change the ending at the title would be Winnegan's Fake.


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magick_temple
magick_temple
magick_temple
Tue, Aug. 4th, 2009 01:32 pm (UTC)

if you had sold a single to all 1.2 million people that accounted for 2% of the British public at the time you would have sold as many as Dexy's Midnight Runners did with Come On Eileen and had the joint 14th biggest selling UK pop hit of all time.

Maybe you needed to target your audience more carefully :)


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magick_temple
magick_temple
magick_temple
Tue, Aug. 4th, 2009 01:39 pm (UTC)

Ah apologies... my memory was faulty... you would have had merely the 49th best selling single of all time in the UK, but hey, that's not so bad


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Aug. 4th, 2009 01:53 pm (UTC)

there's no apostrophe in finnegans wake!


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Aug. 4th, 2009 01:56 pm (UTC)

how many records did boy george sell, and what percentage of uk households held to his values?

you seem to be rather easily seduced by these sociology/marketing surveys. maybe its the bar charts


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magick_temple
magick_temple
magick_temple
Tue, Aug. 4th, 2009 02:27 pm (UTC)

Well OK Culture Club sold 22 million albums, but that was worldwide, so a mere .3% of the population... Momus is far more mainstream


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Aug. 4th, 2009 03:34 pm (UTC)

Sometimes it feels like the male-principle is very active on this board. Don't know enough, haven't read the right things, dare to venture a line of inquiry that is passé, exploratory or foolish; then you risk being (passive) aggressively put in your place. Ideas turn very easily into arguments, and egos start to jostle.

Momus, what is preferable to big-mouthed contention, competition, and spawning?

Compassion, understanding, carrying-the-other; an acknowledgement that weakness is in our nature?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Aug. 4th, 2009 03:39 pm (UTC)

Momus, what is preferable to big-mouthed contention, competition, and spawning?

Well, in Joycean terms, the opposite principle is Anna Livia Plurabelle, the river. Flow. But without the city, she flows from hills to sea rather pointlessly. I don't renounce that man principle, the city, entirely. In fact, Georgie Porgy Pudding-and-Pie is manly-beastly when he kisses the girls and makes them cry. It's not that he doesn't want to be a man, it's that he wants to be the only man, and embody "man" for the girls, unchallenged.


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kineticfactory
kineticfactory
this is not your sawtooth wave
Tue, Aug. 4th, 2009 03:47 pm (UTC)

Have you read Here Comes Everybody, btw? If so, what did you think of it?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Aug. 4th, 2009 04:43 pm (UTC)

Clay Shirky's book? No. But he's the 800 pound alpha gorilla of interactivity theory, for sure.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Aug. 4th, 2009 04:15 pm (UTC)

Surely there are examples of 'mass appeal' as a concept in itself (is the public arena really only good for money?) Did Paul Morley put teenagers into 'Frankie Says Relax' t-shirts all summer for the money – or as a perverse way to push aspects of Futurism and gay club culture, or just give a flavour to 1984?

On balance, we have a lot of Ballardian inner space now, a lot of crannies. Meanwhile the public arena never seemed so lost.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Aug. 4th, 2009 10:12 pm (UTC)
Is The Observer being sacrificed to fund Guardian Online?

Or has it been making itself lifestyle & disposable for years?
Are the most popular sites on the internet just a big toilet for flushing away cash?
Is Paul Morley now working for Joe Howe's app?


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Aug. 4th, 2009 05:03 pm (UTC)

It's a bit of a self-serving argument to say you didn't have a hit because so few people share your values, isn't it? Actually, you didn't have a hit because Hairstyle Of The Devil sounded like the Pet Shop Boys only not quite as good, and anyway the moment for Pet Shop Boys soundalikes had probably passed. There are a lot of records a hell of a lot less conventional than Hairstyle which were nonetheless hits.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Tue, Aug. 4th, 2009 05:55 pm (UTC)

I think Hairstyle is melodically less strong than a lot of PSBs, but lyrically rather far ahead:

You found my comb behind her chest of drawers
She said she'd slept alone, but the bed was full of hairs
And when you matched them up, beyond a shadow of a doubt
The hairs belonged to Beelzebub and you began to puzzle out...
The inexplicable charisma of the rival


Later, Neil Tennant would write a song containing the lines:

I'm always hoping that you're faithful
But you're not I suppose
We've both given up smoking cos it's fatal
So whose matches are those?


It sounded to a lot of people like Momus lyrics, only not quite as good. Or, if you prefer, not quite as confusingly over-elaborate and literary and destined to go over people's heads. I mean, even just putting the name "Beelzebub" in a song, you've already lost at least half your listeners. The devil has very poor brand recognition for some of his subsidiaries. He hasn't advertised for thousands of years.


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Aug. 4th, 2009 05:36 pm (UTC)

I was thinking of this yesterday, on the toilet of all places. When Momus talked of (I'm paraphrasing) sad crooning songs from the mid 20th century during the reworking of Cliff Richard's 'The next Time'. I think a lot of folks became excited with the prospect of an album of 'Lovely Trees' or 'Nervous Heartbeats'. This may have been as close as Momus would ever come to selling out, so to speak. A percentage of fans may have felt the same.

Then a sudden change in direction occurred.

Did you get cold feet? Was this closer to right than wrong?

---
side note: livejournal spam catcha told me to type in "mixt Jarvis' before posting this comment,. So was turning down producing Pulp and Vampire Weekend also a question of being too right?


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eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
Tue, Aug. 4th, 2009 06:33 pm (UTC)

I tend to hold the view that pretty much anything can arouse public interest, provided it is promoted and presented 'out there' in some way. Remember that in many ways, supply creates demand - if people don't know a cultural product exists becuase they've not been exposed to it, then how can they know if they like it?
Unforunately, most people are rased on a diet of this (below), a musical range so narrow that they can't even begin to know what they like, as far as I'm concerned:


I think part of the explanation is that the arbiters of taste, on any kind of mass scale, are generally middle aged conservative types who don't make a move before speaking to the accountant first; the Tony wilsons and Alan McGees of this world are sadly far outnumbered and outweighed by the like of sony music or BMG. The result as we have seen are endless 'safe' soundalike acts and cover versions, fame schools, x-factors, pop academies and so on which came up on here only last week.
Yet anyone can look at that stuff and say, "Jesus, I can do that!" You celebrate mediocrity, you get mediocrity. People who could have achieved more won't, because they know that all they have to do is be "that" and they too can sell millions and make millions and have people love them because they're merely mediocre. And its a vicious circle, as many youngsters who might otherwise have written their own material, instead just join the queue for the castings for fame academy to be filmed being sneered at by a judge. Capitalism does not mix with culture - bring on the death of pop!
To be fair, occasionally something interesting slips through - I played people over here in Spain things like the crash test dummies and talking heads, which were top ten hits, yet sound very 'weird'. But if people liked it , then there is hope - if people are exposed to new , odd things, they CAN sell.

In any case, as we know the music industry based on record sales is dying and people find new stuff onthe internet more easily than ever before. So it's becoming a frgmented 'niche' affair in some ways....I think we've had this discussion on click opera already (??)
.


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Tue, Aug. 4th, 2009 08:03 pm (UTC)
I would prefer not to





Bartleby


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jdcasten
J.D. Casten
Tue, Aug. 4th, 2009 10:02 pm (UTC)
Auto-Evangelizing

I always like finding a good artist or music band I’ve never heard of before… sometimes being rarer can make you more “valuable,” at least to a few. But I think it’s also a natural tendency, as an artist, etc, to want to spread out one’s influence or acceptance: to survive and thrive in the cultural ecology.

With the internet, finding new music, for me has gone far beyond browsing record stores, reading music magazines, and listening to the right DJs—now we also have websites like eMusic, etc, that have networks of associated acts (sometimes calculated by who buys what together). Now it’s not just about breaking into radio and magazines (and I think Television still ranks highest as far as public exposure is concerned) but hitting a “tipping point” where you’re part of the network of associated acts—where you get exposure based on “sounding like” other acts!

Promoting music, as little as I understand it, requires more than a bank loan… you’d also need a lot of addresses and contacts (for venues, radio stations, magazines, ezines, etc.)—and to know which ones are going to be a fit for your style. There are a few promoting companies (like RadioIndy, or MusicSubmit) that quite a few acts use that I’ve never heard of, nor will probably hear from again. DIY promoting can take more work than making the art in the first place.

Adam Sandler talked about his rise to fame on The Charlie Rose show recently… from his perspective, he just went for it and got it, but in retrospective, he has little clue as to how he could do it again. This sounds to me like directors, such as Roman Polanski, claiming that a movie coming together well was like a crap shoot: too complicated to predict. But luck does seem to strike in the same spot or person again and again—there’s a bit of skill in getting lucky.

Finnegans Wake, as much as I love it, proved to be a dangerous book for me, the study of which coincided with my fall from sanity; here’s a link to my “Finnegans Wake Cross Referencer”:

http://www.jdcasten.info/FWCR/FWCR.htm


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(Anonymous)
Tue, Aug. 4th, 2009 10:05 pm (UTC)
Twit Opera

I don't want to be successful ANYWAY, I'm far too smart.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Aug. 5th, 2009 12:18 am (UTC)

I have a solution to this. If it is true that you are a genius, and contain multitudes (and I think we can safely assume that it is with posts like these), then it logically follows that you also have a dumb, mundane, populist, middle of the road side as well. Instead of repressing this bit of your personality, put it to work. Just use a pseudonym. Disappear behind a nom de plume so as not to sully the good name of momus with such lowbrow stuff. A man with your gift and command of language should be able to knock out a string of thrillers a la Jeffrey Archer, or children's books like dumb boy Potter, or maybe a string of romance/erotic novels -- Debbie's Bidet say, or The Stableboy and the Clydesdale -- in no time at all. Use your down-market, prosaic, demotic side as your golem to do this lowly, but ultimately monetarily rewarding work, Then, as the books top the bestseller lists, perhaps you could hire one of your out of work, ready to hit the sell-out button friends to do the inevitable book tours, talk show circuits, etc... All I ask for, if this idea works, is that you don't get too rich and too lazy, (or end up lost in the cloud cuckoo land of drugs) to stop updating Click Opera... and 10% of the (net) profits.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Aug. 5th, 2009 12:21 am (UTC)

Orroight, The Stableboy and the Clydesdale it is, Guv'nr. Keep me in best baccy for years, it will. An' a tip o' the hat to yew wot fought of it an' aw.


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rudetuesday
rudetuesday
Close Enough for Jazz
Wed, Aug. 5th, 2009 05:23 am (UTC)
Synchronicity!

I started reading Finnegans Wake very recently and have been getting smacked with all the HCEs all over, then I manage to wander here to your LJ after a Google search on something else.

If it makes you feel any better, Mr. Joyce's peers didn't know what to make of his immense "Work in Progress" (that was the work title), let alone the larger reading public. As regards popularity for one's own work, I think there are a very select few who are able to Sell Out. Berry Gordy's Motown and MTV both were able to create a hunger AND create the products that fed the hunger they created.

There's a certain blindness to people's individuality one has to have in order to do this sort of thing. I think blindness to Art helps too. As soon as you start referring to your work as "product", I think you're halfway there to truly Selling Out.


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