We haven’t heard too much from our very own Grinch this year; I suppose that means the restraining order worked. Unfortunately, he’s just reminded us that we have a contractual obligation to publish his annual High Five contribution. Feel free to read this, but please bear in mind that it contains bad attitude from the outset.

CopicatLoop pedals

Why does every performer these days want to use a loop pedal? It was a challenge in the seventies when John Martyn and Brian May used WEM Copicats with real tape loops (well, where did you think the name came from?) to beef up their guitar noodlings. It was proper difficult then because you never knew when the tape would wear out or jam. Then KT Tunstall went on “Later” and suddenly every cheapskate player and singer wants to ditch the rhythm section and everyone sounds like everyone else. It’s a nice gimmick but it’s not a substitute for real players. Just leave the looper at home; it’s not big and it’s not clever.

FestivalsFestivals

What’s going on with festivals now? When I was a lad, you only had Reading (Jazz and Blues) Festival to contend with; Glastonbury was just a couple of hundred comatose stoners looking for ley lines and T in the Park wasn’t even in the horizon for Stuart Clumpas. Festivals only happened in the British summer month(s) and featured bands that everyone knew. And now there are mainstream festivals, corporate festivals, boutique festivals and bonkers local festivals with tribute bands, has-beens and newcomers. But watch your step; if you buy a ticket for a festival, buy it with a credit card, because there’s a pretty good chance it won’t actually happen – your choice.

MadonnaMadonna

I know, it’s a shocker; Madonna has a diva strop. Who would have predicted that? Ms Ciccone gets on stage just under an hour late in Manchester and what does she do? Well, most of us would apologise, wouldn’t we, but not Madonna Veronica Louise. No she rips into the booing audience and calls them diva bitches. There’s a lesson to learn here; if you have all of your light show (and your backup vocals and Autotune settings) stored electronically, then back the fecking things up, and not just once. Don’t use data loss as an excuse, because it’s no excuse, especially if you offer it up two days later. We all screw up; apologise and get over it. Your audience are paying your wages; never, ever forget that.

Tidal Launch Event NYC #TIDALforALLStreaming

Well, we were all blown away by the stupendous Tidal launch this year, weren’t we? A motley bunch of rich musicians (and isn’t that Ms Ciccone again?) investing in a scheme to make themselves even more money, that’s just what we need isn’t it? The launch event looked like a failed PowerPoint training exercise, proving that musicians should stick to what they do best. It’s been pitched as an attempt to generate decent loyalties for writers, but it smells of elitism and the music-buying public have ignored it in their droves. If you still believe that music has any value, you can ignore streaming services completely and buy physical copies of your music.

VinylVinyl and CDs

So we’re all supposed to be streaming now and no-one wants to buy physical copies of music any more. Well it’s a bit confusing, but I’ll do my best to make it simple and use small words. CDs: apparently they’re on the way out at the same time as they’re on the way back in again. If you believe the insiders, CDs are about to become a premium product, for the second time as a medium for ultra-high quality sound, while vinyl sales (and record deck sales) are still on the rise in 2015. If the public are showing signs of paying to actually own musical artefacts, then I’m well chuffed, but my inner cynic starts to get twitchy when Tesco are selling vinyl again and ‘classic’ albums that were originally released on vinyl, then cassette, then CD, then online as MP3s and streamed versions are back to vinyl again. I’m just pleased I kept hold of all my old 8-tracks.

So, what have we got this time then? A new premium-quality music streaming service; well, that’s just what we need; isn’t it? Especially when you line up a bunch of superstar investors for a launch event that makes the service sound like it’s going to put an end to world conflict. I’m not even giving you a link to the video of the launch because on the tedium scale it’s somewhere between a party election broadcast and watching custard set. Here’s the summary: two minutes of introductions (to a crowd that apparently hasn’t heard of any of the celebrity stakeholders), ten minute ‘inspirational’ speech from Alicia Keys, two minutes of signing ‘the document’ and two minutes of standing around looking embarrassed while someone tries to find a border collie or a cattle prod. Sixteen minutes and Madonna only hogged the limelight once; that has to be a record. I’ve had more fun at the dentist.

Just take a look what this motley crew (they’ve got one thing in common, but we’ll get to that) are so evangelical about; what are they actually trying to sell you? Basically, the sales pitch is that it’s like Spotify but better, which means you have to pay twice as much for it. I’m not saying Spotify is perfect but if the alternative is punters downloading illegally and artists being paid bog all, then I’m on the side of Spotify. Tidal isn’t an attempt to address the big issue of music having no value because you can download it free from any number of illegal sites, it’s purely about commercial rivalry; we’re better than Spotify but that’s reflected in the subscription price. Unlike Spotify, there isn’t a ‘free’ version of Tidal, you buy in or you don’t.

And then there’s “lossless” compression. In the words of John Lydon, ‘ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated’ – there’s no such thing as lossless compression. You can compress something so that it sounds reasonable on a phone or a media player, but why not try playing that same file through a decent hi-fi setup. No, don’t, that was rhetorical, it’s going to sound horrible; if you take information out of an audio file, it’s going to be noticeable eventually if your ears do more than keep your head balanced. If you stream audio, the higher the quality, the more problems you’ll have with buffering so you wouldn’t want to make things more difficult by introducing video playback, would you? Yeah, you just might, and you might want to introduce social features (nothing new) and have the music carefully curated (obviously not patronising at all – we’ll tell you what you should like) while you offer exclusivity (you can hear the new Beyoncé song here first).

So, the bottom line is that you can pay twice as much as you would pay for Spotify for the dubious privilege of “lossless” streaming which will sound just the same on your earbuds or PC speakers; anyone buying in to that yet? Thought not; how about new artists, surely an ‘artist-owned’ service would help to bring new talent through the system. No, not even a mention, so who benefits from this premium service? Easy, the bunch of artists on the stage at the beginning of this piece. The bunch of artists who have one thing in common; against the odds in the twenty-first century, have already made huge amounts of money from the dying embers of the music business. None of the artists involved in this enterprise actually need more money, but they’re happy to take if they can get it.

Maybe Jay Z’s pissed off that Dre managed to corner the market in headphones, but that’s no excuse for launching this ill-conceived ‘premium’ service. No-one involved with this project comes out of it with any credit.