I'm Here, Absolut-ely!
There is very little Absolut presence in Asia which is a pit - the brand could be the savior of this region's creative community
I was watching the Trailer for the new 30-minute short film Spike Jonze has produced for Absolut and somehow ended up going to MusicDIsh*China Sounds podcast and listening to Taiwanese singer-songwriter Crowd Lu. That's the Magical Mystery Tour one often ends up taking when on the net. The line how in the Absolut World, "Doing things differently leads to something exceptional" struck a chord with me. We really don't try to do many things differently, do we? We tend to watch and copy. Over and over again. I watched the Spike Jonze film about two robots in LA falling in love and thought about how much one can create when given the freedom- and the funding- to create. We all cannot be Spike Jonze, but this should not stop us from doing things differently 'cos, sure as hell, most of everything we're doing now is not working and is rarely anything exceptional.
There is very little Absolut presence in Asia which is a pity. The brand could be the savior of this region's creative community which is feeding off bones at the moment in an attempt to do things differently so we can get ourselves outta this malaise.
Still, both gave me hope- Absolut for always being on the cutting edge of everything and its commitment- though not in Asia- to have us "re-learn" and embrace our imaginations. Crowd Lu, known as "The Musical Wizard Who Survived Being Rolled Over By A Bus," is someone else who's, well, cutting edge and also cutting through the crap and clutter of what many "record people" think music fans want. He's helping Chinese music fans "re-learn" what they have been force-fed to accept for so long. And he's doing it with some unique music.
Crowd Lu is a manchild, a kinda David against Goliath figure who's making many in Greater China understand and realize that music and creativity is not about having a pretty face, gelled spiky hair and singing bombidy bomp bomp "Ho Happy," frothy and mindless music. This is what Hong Kong's Canto-Pop is still about. If Hong Kong could, it should foist most of its Canto-Pap smears onto the Eurovision Song Festival. I was listening to the "winners" this year from places like Lithuania, Poland and Armenia and it's quite alarming how grossly alike this rubbish is to Canto-Pop and how extraordinary- in a very bad way- how the music for Eurovision never changes. Someone came up with a formula and, thirty years later, people carry on this "grand tradition".
Same with Canto-Pop and Mandarin ballads: The latter is always two verses, a BIG chorus that sounds like the chorus to "The Greatest Love Of All," sometimes, there's the inclusion of a horribly dated guitar break, a bridge, back to the BIG chorus, a key change and then the singer beats that BIG chorus into submission, baby. Veer from this formula and even the most experienced music exec gets lost. Why? 'cos it's not "normal", meaning that it's not predictable. It's like listening to the new Jacky Cheung album. Some say is a "breakthrough", but it is, in fact, a breakdown and musical cliché. Someone want my copy? It's bloody boring.
As for Crowd Lu, he's not boring. Hardly. The guy might look like a geek, a nerd and could easily be on that shocking "reality" series called "Beauty And The Geek"- and which is great. Style over substance was getting way outta hand. At this very low ebb- actually the ebb is more of a tsunami- in the "lifespan" of Canto-Pop and the great dollops of Mandarin schlock being released today, Crowd Liu comes across as a very good musician, he knows his chords, he can actually play a musical instrument and for whom music flows easily and freely from his head. Yes, much like the creativity of someone like Spike Jonze- someone who was able to persuade Christopher Walken to dance on a Fatboy Slim video and make it almost scarily fun to watch.
Scottie, below with new wife Ida aka "Mini Me", introduced me to Crowd Lu over a year ago and mentioned how he was "now the biggest Chinese artist happening". I forwarded the link onto a few people in music companies and received no response. This is now always a sure sign that they have no idea if a talent is good or bad. Being non-committal about something like music shows no courage of one's convictions. The lack of balls is alarming.
It's exactly like not taking a punt and signing up a new artist until everyone and their dog starts "bidding" for them. Until then, they're not "good enough" to be signed. There are so few leaders these days and so many followers. What's worse is when the "leaders" cannot lead and how one just might be following the Pied Piper of Hamlyn. Or, what's more to the point, the blind leading the blind.
Personally, guys like Scottie should be working for a music label in some capacity 'cos people like him are way more in touch and in sync with what's happening in and what can work in that world called The Internet. The youngest son of Canto-Rock icon Sam Hui, he's grown up in the States, he's worked in films, gaming and is also more than familiar with music and the people and politics of the Hong Kong and Chinese music industries. He knows hip from hype, fact from friction, jazz from "jassy", "r'nb" from renminbi.
More importantly, someone like Scottie knows what the music fan today is listening to, where they go, what the gamers are watching and where they go, where the kids are getting everything for free, what "apps" are really, well, applicable- and more. He is a one-man Youth Marketing Research Team. One can gain some invaluable insights into the minds of the youth market by making the time to shuddup and listen to people like him. He should be getting paid every time he says, "Hey, have you checked out…."? And when he asks me that, I always check it out.
For all the "new media people" and "IT people" hired by music companies, many are still way behind the eight-ball when it comes to "the digital world" and knowing the wants and needs of the music fan. Why? Wrong hires.
Just 'cos someone has "experience" means nothing any more just like it means nothing to have "once worked in a music company". Once upon a time is in the long gone past. Hiring and continuing to hire "the past" and wondering why things are still not working is just plain stupid. The "new media" geniuses in many music-related companies wouldn't know apps from saps and are simply- and simple- corporate toadies without an ounce of imagination and creativity. Someone pour them a shot of Absolut. It might kick-start their imaginations.
This lack of anything creative and new-fashioned thinking isn't just happening within the music industry. It's happening in every industry and happening everywhere.
"Going digital" is said by many and understood by so few. It's like the music executive who bent my ear a few nights ago about how "the internet is the future" and how "the internet is where you can find new talent" but who has never ever been onto MySpace. It's bloody strange to think this guy actually runs a music label and is being paid for such "forward thinking". And you still wonder why the music industry is down the crapper?
Listen to the anger and frustration of the grunge/punk outfit Fanzui Xiangfa from Beijing and their track "Kill Your Television" and one realizes that there are some very pissed off young people over in China.
What are they so pissed off about? Probably that no one "gets them" and their determination to kill off what is no longer relevant. Killing- or stopping watching television- might, to them, be the start to thinking outside of the box and "re-learning" everything. We/they have been pre-conditioned for way too long and something has to give. And soon. Who would have thought even five short years ago there would be a band outta Beijing spitting out the same vitriol and frustration of a Sex Pistols, or The Clash? But this frustration is everywhere and it's spilling over. Soon "Dancing In The Streets" will be more like "Blood On The Tracks".
It's like all those MySpacers who, after all these years, are now suddenly starting to twig on that they're going broke and so end up saying, "Time to stop being cool and time to try my luck on 'American Idol.'" This Season, there are more MySpacers on "Idol" than ever before. They've probably thought, "Forget Cool, Think Money and Survival 'cos I'm now 28 and tired of giving away my music for free".
As for China, it's still one of the most challenging markets in the world. Anyone who says they "know China" is fibbing. They might guess, they might have an opinion, but they don't know. China is like The Long March. It's A Long Educational Process. At the end of the journey, one still might not know where they are. It's like trying to find ways to work with mobile giant China Mobile and having to go through their "vetting process" just to get them to use your tracks. It's like trying to work with the powerhouses that are www.qq.com or www.10cent.com . It's thinking how and where and with whom one should partner so there can be the monetizing of assets and see- and feel- ka-ching- a real return on investment.
China is a challenge and overrated in certain areas whereas the rest of Asia is simply underrated and shunned by many- even Asians- too quickly. The way the musicianship of many Asians is underestimated needs to be addressed- and their music needs to be heard. There are guitarists, especially, from the Philippines, who can blow many of their Western counterparts off the stage. Anyone thinking that audiences in the Philippines are simply gonna roll over and accept mediocrity from a buncha white boys who might look the part, would be sorely wrong. They would be hurled off stage like a plate of pork adobo in an Indian restaurant. Same with many Rock guitarists emerging outta India, Indonesia and Malaysia. The songs might be average, but the musicianship is right up there. These guys have been brought up on Steve Vai, Slash etc and they know their chops. What they need is some "direction of home/like a complete unknown/like a Rolling Stone". We all need direction and we all need someone to lean on and bleed on. Simple as that.
Listening to the podcast on Musicdish, I was reminded of how diverse the music scene is in Greater China and how many acts one never hears about. Sure, there is some pretty awful music- but, somewhere, someone, is listening to it and liking it and buying into it. This is where subjectivity still reigns supreme in music companies. It's this "If I don't like it, it will never work" attitude which has killed off many hits. And has stopped many music industries from being current and relevant. What happens in the end is that everyone feels the need to "fall in line" and "toe the line" and suddenly it's all part of one Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory with the Oompah Loompahs churning out the usual rubbish and then wondering why it does not sell.
The ignorance, the arrogance of people never fail to amaze- and embarrass me. There is talk- always talk- about "new business models", one-sided "360 Degree" deals, purchasing "catalogue" etc, yet no one is really making any real money. Projections remain projections and "breaking even" is not making money. That's like when Robbo and I used to stand up at EMI Worldwide Meetings and say, "Good news, everyone! This Quarter we're only down 2% and not the projected 5%" and be applauded for these "splendid numbers."
No, now is the time to take a leaf from Absolut's philosophy- not really new, just bloody obvious, but they're actually doing what they preach- and look beyond the obvious.
Earlier today, I was watching illusionist Cyril Takayama, below, on the Nat Geo channel and in Malaysia. Amazing. Like Kriss Angel, Darren Brown, David Blaine, illusionists are as Rock Star-ish as Slash. Why more bands and artists don't work with these guys is something I fail to understand. Rock and Roll and illusionists are a great fit and audiences want to be entertained. The days of the one act playing for two hours non-stop and with ten-minute guitar solos is over. Ask Bruce Springsteen. It's become bloody boring.
Sure, no one is buying CDs these days, downloads are becoming dull and boring and there's way too much mediocre music around. There is also a dearth of ideas and creativity and with people looking in the same old bankrupt rabbit and cubby holes. There's a whole unexplored, untapped world out there. Absolut-ely!
Illusionists on Rock shows? Why not? Have you seen what you can do with your music by working with Nat Geo Music? Why must it always be the usual music channel suspects? Does Nat Geo Music itself know what it has and what more can be done with it?
If Slash can create a "darker version of Idol", why can't you or I? Okay, lack of funding and you're not Slash. Then again, Slash is not you and if in Asia, there are more opportunities here than anywhere else in the world. Every other country has ripped off "Idol" but there'll always be need to give new talent a platform. Create it, "embellish" it. Yes, do things differently and find yourself doing something exceptional.
Nearly everyone today is either whining, depressed, confused, hustling or trying to put up brave shop fronts. Sure, life is a bitch and life is a hustle and which is why even in this DIY world there is a need for teamwork. Without the team, there is only work and without work there is a team staring into space. Which is why teamwork and giving and taking is essential. One can have ideas but with no one to bring them to fruition. And then there are the doers with no ideas. Ideas are priceless and executing them with the right team is something which has become difficult to find. But it's not impossible. Creative people attract other creative people who attract other creative world and so it goes and so it grows.
The End Is Not Nigh and there are ways to monetize anything. But this anything must be something of value. Sure, you can have your websites but if no one ever visits them, what's the point? It's like the pub with no beer- especially if you visit a site and there's nothing there. But then visit www.absolut.com and one can spend hours there. It's nothing to do with finding out about drinking vodka. It's all about appreciating the creativity of the brand, how the brand appreciates and embraces creativity and how it is just so absolutely Absolut.
Now, if only this same "business model" and "mission" can be applied to music, a new-fashioned music industry with new players working together with musicians who refuse to "toe the line" and only wish to see beyond the obvious. And no one says this cannot happen.