Sunday, July 18, 2010

Six years later...

July 18, 2004. Exactly six years ago. My first concert.

That's when I saw Evanescence rock the Molson Amphitheatre. I still remember how I felt, watching this band, who I completely idolized at the time, in the flesh. And sounding pretty damn good.

I've always loved the feeling of being at a concert. There's the excitement of seeing a great band in person, playing songs that you've connected with. It adds so much meaning to the song, often strengthening the bond.

It's interesting to meet other fans of the band, to see if there's a "type." Are most of them young, old, female, male, straight, gay, hipster, goth? Where do you fit in this group? Some of my favourite concert memories are lining up hours before the show with the other diehard fans. I've met a lot of different people and found out about more bands that I've come to love–if a person like this band, they might like other bands of a similar style.

At the Evanescence show, I saw guitarist John LeCompt standing in the sound booth while Three Days Grace performed. That's when I decided I needed to meet the artists behind the music. Ever since then, I've always attempted to chat with bands after their concerts. Sometimes I'm successful, and sometimes I'm not–though their willingness to meet fans often changes my perception of the band. There have been times when I've left even more enthralled with the music than before the show, and at other times it has ruined my image.

I've spent so much time at concerts squishing into the front row, being pushed in every direction down this river of screaming fans. Now I've discovered the trick of standing by the sound booth to get the best possible sound. You lose a little of the experience but gain a lot in the sound quality.

Going to concerts is one of the best ways to spend an evening. Even though I've been to dozens since my first (and seen Evanescence three more times), they still feel surreal, like I can't quite believe I'm hearing the song–most of the time–live. And later, when I hear the recording, I'm immediately taken back to the show.

This isn't the most informative post in the world, but it's a small milestone I like to recognize and celebrate in my own way once a year.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Should the Edge play Eminem?

I was listening to the afternoon show on 102.1 The Edge in Toronto while I drove home from work today. Josie Dye was on discussing Eminem's new single.

His new album has been at the top of the Billboard album charts for three weeks straight. He has sold almost 1.3 million copies of his new album Recovery in three weeks in the USA. His total in Canada is 155,000. That's incredible for an artist in this day and age, and he has the bestselling album this year so far.

Dye spoke about walking into a music meeting at Corus headquarters where they were discussing whether or not to play Eminem's music on the Edge. The album sales show that people like it. And of course, if people like it, they should play it, right?

No. No, they shouldn’t.

I have loved the Edge for years. I've always said it'd be a real dream-come-true to work for them—and I still want to.

I am too young to remember them in their glory days, where they would pay $1,002 if they were caught playing the same song more than once in 24 hours. I never heard Humble and Fred on the morning show and many would argue that I developed this love for the station long past its prime.

But I've heard a lot of new bands on the Edge. I've discovered a ton of bands that I often listen to, and I know that if I tune into the station, I'm pretty sure I'll hear some good music.

While it's still my go-to station, I'm finding myself growing much less interested lately. The biggest cause is the lack of variety in the music.

According to Barry Taylor, a former Edge DJ who was fired last year, the changes come from Ross Winters, program director for the Edge, who wants to make the station into a KROQ-FM clone with top 40 plus grunge.

He also said Winters restricted talk between songs to no more than 30 seconds. I truly miss the DJs discussing the music. Without the talk, I may as well just listen to my iPod.

I have nothing against mainstream music. I really don’t. I don’t mind that they play Billy Talent, Metric, the Tragically Hip, or any other big band, and I can see why Winters wants to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, especially considering the diminishing number of radio listeners. I still think of the Edge as alternative in the sense that they play music that isn’t found on Top 40 stations like Virgin Radio.

I prefer when they play the more unknown music (hence my favourite shows, Explore Music and the Ongoing History of New Music, both hosted by Alan Cross). It’s a great way to find out about new music that you may not otherwise hear.

But that’s beside the point.

Here’s my point. The Edge is supposed to focus on what’s on the edge of the mainstream ears. If Eminem’s new album came out and people requested it, or they received favourable response from their Sounding Board survey, fine. That’s one thing.

It’s a whole other thing to play it on the basis that it’s selling well. That’s not a reason to play a song on a station that considers itself alternative and edgy.

I know, I know, it hasn’t been alternative or edgy in years. But I have hope that it could get better. I still love the station and still have a dream of working there.

I’m upset they cancelled Spirit of the Edge, the Indie Hour, and Punkorama because you would at least know that you’d hear something different from the rest of the music they play throughout the day.

Now it’s Loveline, a talk show that is sometimes funny, but it’s syndicated program from KROQ-FM in Los Angeles. I much prefer Canadian music with Canadian DJs and Canadian content. It’s a decent show, but in my eyes, it makes the local feeling disappear.

I like grunge as much as any alternative music fan. But how many times a day do I have to hear Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana? There has to be more bands out there.

Any time a song gets heavily picked up by the Edge, I know I’ll get sick of it. I like Lisztomania by Phoenix. It’s a really fun song. But if I tune into the Edge for an hour, I’m almost guaranteed to hear it, and that’s going to make me hate it soon.

We need some variety. I don’t want to hear songs that I can hear listening to Virgin Radio. Like Eminem.

If the Edge starts playing Eminem because of his sales, where do they draw the line? Lady Gaga sells pretty well. So does Justin Bieber.

Please CFNY, don’t start playing his single. I don’t mind it once in a while, but I could not stand hearing it seven times a day. And we all know that if they pick it up, that's how often we'll hear it.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Not the end of the paper world

E-books are useful but print will live on, experts say

George Laidlaw says he once made three cents in royalties for an electronic book sale.

The company selling his book had a promotion where they took 99 per cent off of the retail price of the e-book.  Since the author earns around 10 per cent in royalties, he was left with a measly three cents.

“It was hardly worthwhile,” he says.  “If I’m lucky, I earn $100 per year for e-book sales, compared to thousands from paper book sales.”

With electronic readers becoming increasingly popular, how will e-books impact the book publishing industry?  Some experts say the industry needs to adapt to a future filled with screens.  Others disagree, saying readers shouldn’t make the switch just yet.

Raymond Coderre, president of Baico Publishing in Ottawa, says he is going to stay far away from e-books until authors like Laidlaw can make money from it.

Instead, authors should put the first few chapters online as a teaser, he suggests.  If the readers want to continue, they can buy a print copy.

Regardless, e-books won’t overtake the print world any time soon, he says.

“If you’re going anywhere on a trip or you’re going to the beach, what would you rather leave on a blanket?” he asks.

However, people might eventually bring their gadgets to the beach, says Raywat Deonandan.

They already bring their music players and cellphones, he says, so why not e-readers?

To gain popularity, e-readers must simulate the appearance and feel of a paper book, says Rita Toews, author and creator of the annual Read an E-book Week, adding that the problem with the Amazon Kindle is that it’s flat and doesn’t resemble a book.

“It doesn’t make me all warm and fuzzy,” she says.  However, with a cover on her Sony Reader, Toews says she has tried to turn a page with her finger, so immersed in the story that she had forgotten that it was an e-book.

Additionally, e-readers can help dyslexic people with the text-to-speech feature, elderly people with the enlarged font options, and severely handicapped people who may have difficulty holding open a book and turning the pages, says Mary White, director for the Howe Library in Hanover, N.H.

“It opens up worlds for people,” she says.

Although not everyone has turned to e-books, the numbers show they’re slowly catching on.

About 3.3 per cent of book sales in America are in e-book form, according to a February report by the Association of American Publishers.

It also shows that total e-book sales for 2009 reached US$169.5 million, up 176.6 per cent from 2008.

For every 100 print books sold, sells 48 e-books for the Kindle, a spokesperson for told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

For the first time ever, e-book sales surpassed print book sales last Christmas, according to an Amazon press release.

However, as with most good things, there is a downside.

When a product goes digital, pirates will be there hunting for treasure, as they did with the music and movie industries.

Online pirated books represent almost US$3 billion in potential losses, according to a recent study from Attributor, a corporation publishing companies can hire to peruse the Internet for pirated material.

The company treats each download as a potential loss, says Rich Pearson, general manager of Attributor.

When they find these copies, they ask the host site to remove the content, Pearson says, boasting a 98 per cent success rate.

This number can give publishing companies an indication of how much pirated content is available online—and being stolen by readers, he says.

Although Deonandan is a professional writer, he says he does not see much of a problem with readers taking free electronic copies.

This debate gives an opportunity for society to redefine the role of the writer, he says, and hopefully society will come to the realization that it isn’t about the monetization of the products.  He suggests authors keep their day jobs and write on the side.

This model would ensure that people who choose to write books only do so if they have a story to tell, he says, although he admits it’s a radical view.

Laidlaw, who is also president for Ottawa Independent Writers, says this is about the “dumbest thing” he has ever heard.

Although most authors write because they enjoy it, he says, they can’t afford to work for free unless they are independently wealthy.

But there’s one thing most experts do agree on: e-books will never completely replace print books.

After a period of intense discomfort and investment for the publishing industry, there will be a balance between digital books and traditional ones, says Richard Curtis, a literary agent.

One reason, he says, is that most people cannot concentrate or retain as much information when reading on a screen, as opposed to on paper.

On the other hand, the many benefits of e-books mean they may eventually become the standard for reading, says Tina Moreau, manager of Absolute Xpress, an e-book publishing company.

I’m optimistic that the many books that don’t need to be printed will dominate the e-book market,” says Canadian author Graeme Gibson.

Toews echoed his sentiments, explaining that pulp fiction books or romance novels tend to be thrown out when the reader is finished, and therefore are a waste of paper.

Although some experts suggest e-books will make publishing companies obsolete, they will always be needed for their roles in fact checking, says Jeff Sallot, an expert in multimedia journalism at Carleton University.

Courses in the publishing certificate program in the Chang School of Continuing Education often integrate e-books into the curriculum, says Stephanie Fysh, the academic coordinator, adding that nowadays, instructors consider electronic publishing to be simply part of the industry.

However, some people believe that e-books could change the way we read.

Tee Morris is credited as being the first person to read his books in weekly episodes through free podcasting—a term that combines iPod and broadcasting.

Although the free model revived the sales of his book, he says he doesn’t think people will ever get past that tactile feeling of turning the pages.

Devices like the iPad could instead lead to a more interactive reading experience, including soundtracks and videos, he says.

But as long as actual movies exist, there’s no need for a text/movie hybrid, says Deonandan.

On the other hand, if one thing has been constant throughout the ages, he says, it’s that we are very poor at predicting what the next stage will look like.

Although Laidlaw only earned a few cents from his one sale, others have found huge success in the technology.

Paulo Coelho, author of the Alchemist, took pirated versions of his own works and made them available on his blog, Pirate Coelho.

A pirated Russian translation of one of Coelho’s books caused his sales to jump from 3,000 to 1 million in less than three years, according to Jeff Jarvis in his book, What Would Google Do?

Coelho eventually became the number one translated living author, according to Guinness World Records.

Coelho asks his readers to buy a book if they like it to prove to the publishers that sharing content isn’t damaging to the business.

This kind of success is only possible with the rise of e-books, and for some, it's a way of keeping the printed word profitable.