Hard News by Russell Brown


Friday Music: Virtual Rockstar Accountant

All week, Matt Nippert and his new colleagues in the New Zealand Herald's investigative team have been dropping hints about Matt sweating over a spreadsheet. What corporate malfeasance was about to be laid bare in the cleansing sunlight of Nippert's forensic fu?

Turns out, it was Matt returning usefully to a story he's covered before: the numbers behind Lorde's success. At midnight, she turned 18 and thus became legally able to control estimated career earnings of $11 million.

Matt constructed an earnings model based on informed assumptions about her various contracts:

... taking into account fees typical in management, recording and publishing contracts and using publicly available sales and streaming information, suggests she is one of the highest-paid individuals in New Zealand. The bulk of earnings appears to come from the sale of 2.7 million copies of her album and a combined 17 million singles, including more than 10 million for Royals.

Several music industry figures reviewed the model and said, while acknowledging the specific details of Lorde's contract details were unknown, that the assumptions made were reasonable and the resulting numbers realistic.

Earnings of at least $11 million to date, with the prospect of significant and ongoing royalty payments from her songs being played on radio and used in films and commercials, are comparable with her winning Lotto's Powerball last year, and then guaranteeing a first division prize annually.

He joked to me that he was thinking of turning his exquisitely-crafted Excel doc into an "interactive rock star accountant" -- you put in the contract terms and it spits out net income. I reckon there's a video game in that.

Lorde's success is also Universal Music New Zealand's success. The company saw a 50% increase in revenue for FY13, driven largely by US sales of Pure Heroine and its singles. Licensing revenue rose from $3.7m to $12.1 million to give the company its best result since 2005.

Ironically, the birthday girl probably wasn't thinking about any of that as she turned 18 some hours ago. What she wrote on her Tumblr was all about this, the video for 'Yellow Flickr Beat' ("i wasn’t thinking too hard about story or a specific narrative, more a mood; a harsh, crackling heat"), which went live at midnight:


The other thing that happens today in the local music business is that for the first time, the official New Zealand singles charts will include audio streaming data alongside retail sales.

Recorded Music NZ has closely followed the practice adopted by the UK. Only on-demand audio-only streaming is counted (ie: not radio-like "passive" services such as Pandora). So far Spotify, Xbox Music and Google Play are providing data, with others to come.

The chart itself has effectively been a digital one for a while, and single downloads will still likely constitute about 80% of of chart performance. The "audio conversion rate" being quoted has 175 streams of a track equating to a single paid download.

Australia is about to launch a very similar system, leaving (as is so often the case) the US at an outlier. The Billboard charts use an unpublished metric that includes sales, radio performance and video and audio streams, including YouTube. There is also talk of throwing social media interaction into the magic formula, at which point your chart positions would start to look like quite an artificial construction.

Anyway, here's this week's singles chart, which is worth a look if you haven't seen RMNZ's nifty interactive presentation of it before: you can mouse over each track to get preview audio, video and a link to buy. I haven't found the button that makes the music sound better though, bah humbug, etc, etc.


Something new of note: the Canadian producer Ryan Hemsworth has a new album, Alone for the First Time, out this week. It's all dreamy beats  and covert pop. I like it. And of particular note is that track two is voiced by Wellington's Eddie Johnston, aka Lontalius, and it seems to be winning him quite a lot of attention. Here's the album on Spotify:


Some very ancient tapes of the Detroit Hemroids have started popping up on Souncloud and Facebook. The what, you say? They were a Christchurch pre-punk garage band assembled around 1975 by intriguing Englishman Olly Scott and including Nicky Carter (the Playthings), Paul Kean (Toy Love, The Bats), Jane Walker (Toy Love) and Mark Wilson (the Androidss). This is some historical shit here, people. They played a lot of covers, as was the custom of the day, and my favourite of the new uploads is this great, swinging take on the Stooges' 'I Need Somebody':

There's more here, in a Soundcloud account set up by Olly's friend Raz Illa. Olly died three years ago, and Raz now has custody of the tapes, which include very early Gordons recordings.

And also this, which is the original live recording of 'Sit Down Stand Up' which ended up on the Playthings' debut release, a 7" single. Completists and fanboys will thrill to the unmastered vibe and the additional five seconds of applause at the end, but more so to the knowledge that the version pressed to vinyl was inadvertently slightly sped up:

I believe Janine Saundercock, who sang and played guitar on that track, is now a wedding planer or somesuch. She should on some distant day die happy that she wrote the lines: "Loosen up your platinum breastplate, turn yourself down / Plug into my sizzling power-point / We'll wake this bloody town!"


Similarly intriguing, although of more recent vintage, is a Soundcloud account launched this week by FromTheCrate Records, which has been releasing vinyl records from within the orbit of the OpenSouls, She's So Rad and Jeremy Toy for more than a decade. There's a some great stuff there. They're not downloads, but a number of the tracks turn out to be available for a handy $2 each from the FromTheCrate Bandcamp, including this great dubwise take on OpenSouls' 'Turn It Up':

The Tornadoes' warm and sprightly afrobeat cut 'Huihui':

And this mint version of Dusty's 'The Look of Love' from Toy's recent jazz alter-ego Leonard Charles, which is a free download:


More tracks ...

Paddy Buckley has put me on to yet another good Australian DJ -- Dr Packer, who's in the mode of his countrymen Late Night Tuff Guy and Copycat. I like his acid dub job on Dennis Edwards' 'Don't Go Any Further', which you can buy here:

And this kind of obvious, but nicely-executed, mash-up of 'Good Times' and 'Rappers Delight':

And also this mix, uploaded yesterday, from a crate full of early (late 70s-early 80s) rap records, from back when a lot of it was people jamming over disco tracks. It's pretty sweet, and although the embed's not showing a download button, it's there if you click through:


This video for Seeep Dog & Wolf's 'Glare' was won its director Thunderlips and  producer Candelit Pictures the best music video award at the Show Me Shorts do in Auckland last night. That light is the sun, in a place 12 hours north of Adelaide called the Moon Plains.


 In the fairly fresh bin ...

Sexy-talking minimal funk from Auckland's Jellphonic, who seems to have something to do with She's So Rad (again). It's from an EP out on Modern Man Records, who offer no clue at all as to how a recording might be purchased:

On TheAudience, spacious bass beats 'n' soul from the Wellington-based Kakapo:

Moody soundscapes from Thirsty:

And a sweet little indie-pop song song from Wellington's Towers:

And with that, I'm off. By the time of next week's Friday Music I'll be in London. I'm not sure what I'll be posting, but I will try very hard to post something.


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