The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Welcome To The Era Of The Mundane …

The quote at the top of this page is what Frank Sinatra said about Elvis Presley.

If anything was going to turn youth towards the new musical force of the King, it was going to be comments like that.

But what I find interesting is the ad industry should understand this point more than most … however, I’m not sure we do anymore.

We appear to take more delight in being accurate than being exciting.

Now I appreciate this makes me sound like an old bastard but hang on for a second …

What I find interesting – at least where music is concerned – is that in the past, it was ‘the establishment’ who were frightened of the new and misunderstood, but that seems much less the case these days.

If anything, the establishment are bored nothing is scaring them.

Now there are some explanations for this …

Some of it is because of how the music industry has changed …

Rather than breaking new talent, they’re much more interested betting on certainties, because there goal is for lowering risk not pushing things forward. [Hence their appropriation of TikTok to flog back-catalogue tracks]

Some of it is because technology has allowed music to get ultra niche …

Thanks to music streaming platforms, people can now choose the genres they like and pretty much filter out everything else. What this means is we can kid ourselves into believing there’s less new dangerous music being created when the reality is we’re keeping it out rather than welcoming it in. Add to that the decline of radio – which was a central and universal place where a lot of music discovery took place – and we are actively cutting ourselves off from the new and uncomfortable.

Finally, some of it is because the power of music is not the cultural force it once was …

Don’t get me wrong, music is still ultra powerful, but in some ways, it seems to have gone from being at the forefront of culture to the background of it. Some will say that has always been the case – the ‘soundtrack to your life’ – but for people who have always lived for music, it was rarely just an accompaniment to whatever you were doing.

For me, a lot of the ‘danger’ that used to be synonymous with music has gone into gaming.

When Grand Theft Auto came out, it was almost like punk in the 70’s.

A game both universally loved and hated for what it represented.

Rather than trying to be something for everyone, it shamelessly wanted to be everything to someone … and because of the shifts in culture, technology, media, business model and price points, it meant it could be a very lucrative business to be in .

Of course, like all industries, too many companies simply try to jump on whatever bandwagon is cool in that moment … but for me, if you’re looking for the new rock n’ roll, it’s in gaming.

That does not mean dangerous music doesn’t exist.

But it’s power to change culture is not what it once was.

It’s more likely to be found in a game rather than us discovering a new artist.

Which reveals the dirty little secret about people.

The real reason people this there is a ‘lack of danger’ in music is because we’re lazy.

In the past, we would crash into it thanks to mass radio and media – but now, with everything at our command – it requires us to actively put ourselves out there to find it and frankly, we don’t want to.

For all the brilliant things technology can do for us, it has made us lethargically comfy.

We want everything on a plate.

We don’t want to lift a finger.

And while tech could also help overcome this, it’s been designed to satisfy not aggravate … which is why the only way you’ll find the dangerous edges is if you walk towards it rather than expect it to come to you.

It’s something adland needs to remember, because while some may say ‘exciting is indulgence’, it’s got more economic and cultural power than being ‘accurate’.



Everywhere Is Spinal Tap …
October 9, 2020, 7:30 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, Audio Visual, Bangkok Shakes, Creativity, Music, Nottingham

So recently I went into a local cafe near the village that I live in to get a coffee.

As I walked in, I saw this …

When I saw it, I couldn’t help think about this scene – at 2 minutes 40 seconds – from the brilliant rockumentary, Spinal Tap.

What happens to their till when you use your phone?

Does it start coming up with random prices?

Does it write 54377017 … only the oldies will get that reference.

Bizarrely, I followed orders and didn’t use my phone for anything other than taking that photo … possibly because the Spinal Tap situation happened to me once.

Bangkok Shakes were playing a gig at a venue called The Mill, in Nottingham.

Carlsboro Sound had lent me their latest wireless guitar system to try out on stage and I was so excited about it … or I was until it picked up and broadcast the local taxi firm radio conversations.

Never used it again.

Which all goes to say Spinal Tap isn’t a comedy, it’s a documentary.



Why We Should Be Like The Blues Brothers …

Yes, this post really is about the movie The Blues Brothers.

The one where paroled convict Jake — and his blood brother Elwood – set out on a mission from God to save the Catholic orphanage in which they were raised, from foreclosure.

Where to achieve their goal, they not only have to reunite their R&B band and organise a concert so they can try to earn the $5,000 needed to pay the orphanage’s tax bill … but also have to navigate around a homicidal mystery woman, a bunch of Neo-Nazis, an entire police department hellbent on stopping them and a Country & Western band.

And yes, I am really saying we should be like them.

However this is not because I am advocating violence against authority [ahem], or even a return to the true definition of rhythm and blues [versus the sanitised version being flogged by record companies left, right and centre] but because of how Dan Aykroyd – the writer and actor of the movie – ensured the creative value of the artists appearing in the film was rewarded rather than exploited.

Music has a long history of exploiting artists.

Where their talent is used to fund the lifestyles of everyone other than themselves.

It’s been going on for decades and affected everyone – including those who got to ‘the top’ like The Beatles and Elvis Presley [there’s also a great book on how badly Bros got ripped off, which is worth checking out] … however no group of musicians has been as badly affected as black artists.

From not being paid to not being played … black artists has consistently been exploited and abused by white music industry leaders, from record companies to MTV.

To give you an idea of it, here’s a clip of David Bowie challenging MTV about their lack of black artists on the channel …

Bowie, as usual, was right.

Recently I watched a documentary where legendary musician, Herbie Hancock, talked about his iconic Rockit video and how they purposefully created something that didn’t really show his face to ensure MTV would play it in heavy rotation.

THIS IS NOT A LONG TIME AGO!!!

And while you may think the music business is now dominated with black artists, the reality is they are still getting screwed by organisations who want to profit from their talent.

Which leads me back to the Blues Brothers.

You see this movie was dominated by African American musicians – and while many studios would try and underpay them by saying the worldwide exposure they’d gain is commercially valuable to them, Dan Aykroyd did something else.

That’s right, he let them keep their publishing rights.

Which means every time a song or the movie was played, the artists behind the music would get paid.

Not the studio.

Not the writer.

Not the networks.

But the artists.

What’s sick is that 40 years later, this act by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi is still rare.

Since then, we have consistently seen people of colour have their creativity exploited and profited from by others.

Whether that is through acts of cultural appropriation to corporate intimidation to down right theft.

Frankly, nothing highlights this more than the plight of Dapper Dan and his store in Harlem during the 80’s and 90’s. Here was an individual who created fashion that changed and impacted culture on an almost unprecedented scale … and yet he faced a constant barrage of abuse, exploitation and theft from organisations who appreciated his talent but just didn’t want to pay for it or acknowledge it.

Given black culture is the driving force of almost all youth culture around the World, it is disgusting how little of the money it helps generate ends up in the pockets of the black community … which is why I suggest another way companies can demonstrate their diversity and inclusion ambitions is to follow the approach of the Blues Brothers.

Included.

Represented.

Acknowledged.

Respected.

Paid.

Enabled.

Empowered.



Memories As Music …

OK, full disclosure, this is a post about Queen.

It’s also a post about parents, love, death and sentimentality.

So in some ways, it might be ‘peak-Rob blogging’.

But it’s not about me, it’s about a story I read recently that I just thought was beautiful.

OK, so it kind of reminded me of the time my Dad surprised me by buying The Works, Queen’s 1984 album, but most of all it just reminded me how music and memories are so deeply entwined that it has the capacity to act as some sort of temporary time machine.

And that is pretty wonderful.

With that, here’s the story …

For what it’s worth, my dad took me to see Queen at the L.A. Forum in’77.

I was 10.

This band Thin Lizzy opened for them. I remember thinking, “Who is this Lizzy chick?!?”

Then the lights went out, and Jailbreak began. I’ve never been the same …

All this is the introduction to one of the greatest moments of my life.

If ya have a moment, here’s the story …

I was 9 when I saw the full page ad in L.A. Times Calendar.

My parents had just divorced.

The Forum show was on my 10th birthday.

I called Dad …

“Hey Dad, um, Queen is playing on my birthday …”

“Yeah, I know. I tried to get tickets, but they’re sold out.”

[Damn!]

So Dad picks me up on March 3rd, and says “Let’s go to Sizzler for your birthday.”

“Okay, Dad, sounds great.” And it did, because I was thrilled to be with him.

So on the way to Sizzler, we ‘happen’ to pass The Forum.

In HUGE flashing lights: QUEEN TONIGHT!!

I thought ‘Oh man, what a dick! How could he torture me like this?!?’

I said nothing about that and we ate.

Afterwards on the way back home, we pass The Forum AGAIN.

Dad says …

“Oh, can you grab something out of the glove compartment for me?”

“Sure Dad,” I reply.

I open it and there – on top of the papers – is an envelope.

“This, Dad?” I ask.

“Yeah. Open it for me, will ya?” he says.

Guess what.

2 FUCKING TICKETS TO SEE QUEEN TONIGHT!

I will NEVER forget the sheer joy of that moment.

I still have the tour program.

Dad passed away, and at his memorial, I jammed all my brothers and nieces and nephews into my van and BLASTED Bohemian Rhapsody.

When it ended, there was complete silence.

It was freakin beautiful.

Thank you for reading.



Art Writes New Rules …

One of the things I love about this industry is our way of re-writing rules.

I don’t mean that in terms of post-rationalisation.

I don’t mean that in terms of rebellion.

I mean it in terms of letting creativity take us to new places.

That said, I think a lot of people forget this.

Clients and colleagues.

Specifically the one’s who encourage work to go where others have gone before.

Or where the brand has previously been.

Or just killing ideas before they’ve had a chance to start to evolve.

Of course I appreciate what we do has a lot of implications on our clients business.

That to get it wrong has serious ramifications.

But – and it’s a big but – doing the same thing over and over again doesn’t move you forward.

The opposite in fact.

They know this.

We know this.

And yet I hear words like ‘optimisation’ far more than I do ‘creativity’ these days.

Now I get it, you want to get every bit of value from something that you can, but our obsession with models and processes just limits our ability to invent and move forward.

Please don’t think I’m discounting the value of experience.

There’s a lot to be said for it.

But basing the future purely on what has happened in the past – specifically your individual past – is not experience, it’s blinkered.

Case in point.

Mouldy Whopper.

Here was a campaign that was attempting to do something differently. But rather than be curious about how it would be received, industry people – the same folks who are supposed to be pushing for creativity – were violently writing it off from the beginning. And when I pointed out that no one really knew what the campaign was trying to achieve – I copped it too.

Hell, I didn’t even like it very much, but I appreciated they were doing something different and evidence showed it was getting people to talk about preservatives in food – which was a positive for BK – so at the very least there were something positive in that. But then a senior industry person challenged me – said it was only people in the bubble of adland doing that – so when I proved he was wrong, he just disappeared. Happy to throw out personal opinion but not happy to be shown it was just his personal opinion. And that was my issue, we didn’t know how it would go. We had thoughts, we had opinions but we didn’t give it the time to see how it played out and apparently, it did pretty well by a whole range of metrics.

Of course, the great irony is that when you do have a brand that believes creativity can move things forward in unexpected ways, then you get accused of your job being easy.

I can’t tell you the amount of times people said to me, “it can’t be hard working on NIKE, they love being creative”.

Of course, the people who say this have never worked on NIKE and tend to be the first to criticise anything they think is ‘too creative’.

My god, when Da Da Ding came out, the wave of, “I don’t get it”, “it’s indulgent” was amazing.

But not as amazing as the fact that a lot of the abuse came from white men not based in India.

But I digress.

I love creativity.

I use that word specifically as I see it as being much bigger than advertising.

At least in terms of where the inspiration can come from and how it can be applied.

I am in awe when I see ideas taking shape. Things I never imagined coming together in the aim of changing something rather than just communicating it.

One of my greatest joys was running The Kennedys, because I saw that in possible its purest form.

From making takeaway coffee cups into dog frisbees to re=programming Street Fighter to represent the lessons they’d learnt over the previous year … was epic.

Sure, sometimes it was scary, frustrating and painful.

Sure, there were arguments, walk-outs and moods.

But as I wrote before, great work leaves scars and while that doesn’t mean it can’t be an exciting journey to be going on, it will have many twists and turns.

Or it will if you are pushing things enough.

And that’s what this post is about, because recently I read a story about John Kosh.

John was the creative director of Apple.

Not the tech company, but The Beatles.

John Lennon loved him and at 23, he found himself art directing the cover of their iconic album, Abbey Road.

What many people fail to realise is the band name was no where on the cover.

And while John had logic behind that decision, many in the industry thought differently.

Especially at their record company, EMI.

In fact, the only reason it ended up happening is that timing was so tight that it was allowed to slip through before anyone else could stop it.

Another example of chaos creating what order can’t.

What a story eh?

And before anyone starts saying I’m wrong …

I’m not saying the decision to remove the bands name from the cover made the album successful. This was The Beatles after all – the biggest, most successful band of all time – so it was always going to sell by the bucketload. However I am saying the decision to remove the bands name from the album cover helped make it iconic … which arguably, helped make it even more successful.

Not to mention make the zebra crossing on Abbey Road one of the busiest in the World.