The problem with concert tickets

Secondary ticketing – the sites ripping off consumers by charging enormous fees on top of industrial scale ticket touting – is in the news again today. We need more transparency about their charges, apparently.

That’s true: the sites use every trick in the book to hide their fees, which are ridiculous. There’s a huge service charge, which can be as much as 30%, and the sites take a cut of the seller’s money too, typically 10% to 15%. Consumers are gouged at every opportunity. For example, GetMeIn – owned by Ticketmaster and promoted heavily on its site, and on the screens in venues such as the SSE Hydro in Glasgow – charges £10.57 to post your tickets in the UK. You’d think its buyer and seller fees might include the cost of an envelope and a stamp.

Transparency isn’t the big problem here. It’s the entire industry. These sites, and the sections of the industry that feed them, are making music unaffordable for ordinary people.

What we really need is more transparency about the sheer corruption of the concert ticketing industry. Ticket touting is happening on an industrial scale, and the idea that reselling is just ordinary people who discover they can’t go is absolute bullshit.

This is an industry worth £1 billion per year in the UK.

Here’s Viagogo, one of the reselling sites, with one of the 28 pages of tickets for the Rolling Stones in Edinburgh. Many of the sellers apparently bought four or six tickets before suddenly remembering that they couldn’t go.

Here’s Iron Maiden’s manager, Rod Smallwood, who found nearly 7,000 tickets for his band’s tour on the resale sites within 48 hours of going on sale.

“The implication is that 6,294 people decided within two days of buying a ticket for a concert taking place in 9 months’ time, all of a sudden they can’t go. I mean it’s sheer nonsense, it was just profiteering to the worst degree. The secondary platforms give the real heavy duty touts the ability to sell tickets on an industrial scale.”

This is anti-consumer behaviour. It’s making art something only the well-off can experience, because whenever you have something for which demand will always outweigh supply you’ll attract sharks.

And the government knows this. This kind of profiteering with football tickets is illegal under section 166 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, further amended by section 53 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006. It was also illegal to re-sell tickets for the 2012 Olympics.

It should be illegal for music too.

If you’d like to know more, the FanFair Alliance has some excellent information for you.

DMGM: Never Lonely Again

This one’s about being enormously sociable on the internet and completely alone in real life. David came up with the main riff while messing around with the SoundPrism app, and despite my best efforts to turn it into a punk-metal song it ended up much more floaty. You can imagine Snoop Dogg rapping over it. Well, I can.

DMGM: The Sun Is Gonna Shine

This one’s three years old, and it’s about optimism: after a year of treatment my depression seemed to be on the way out, and I wanted to try and capture that in music. I love David’s guitar in this: it’s woozy and languid, which fits the subject perfectly.

Most of the time when I write words I imagine somebody else writing them, so while I’m in there not everything is autobiographical: it’s imagining somebody whose illness was much worse than mine, leaving burnt bridges and ruined relationships in its wake. So while it’s about optimism and starting again it’s also about the crushing loneliness of someone who’s hit rock bottom: “the sun is gonna shine today” is as much of a prayer as it is a statement.

DMGM: A Magic Pill

I was going to come to this one later in the series but given yesterday’s post on anti-depressants I thought I’d post it today.

As the title suggests, this one’s about the drugs. As I’ve explained in the YouTube description, this is our Everybody Hurts, a song about keeping on when you feel that everything’s falling apart around you.

The music basically appeared fully formed in David’s head, but it took me forever to get the vocal right. The one here is actually a guide vocal, because while I could probably sing it technically better I haven’t been able to recapture the feel of the vocal we’ve used here.

I don’t particularly like the sound of my own voice: I’m the singer by default because good singers are hard to find, make herding cats seem easy by comparison and are often madder than a satchel full of knees. I’d love to hear this sung by someone who isn’t me.

While I’m here I’ll quickly mention another of our songs, Hope and Faith. I wrote it in the run-up to the Scottish independence referendum but it’s about hope generally, the (naive?) belief that things can actually change for the better.

Musically it’s a bit of an in-joke: in my previous bands I was occasionally criticised for veering dangerously close to Big Country territory (for younger readers, Big Country were an anthemic and frequently excellent Scots post-punk band whose guitars often sounded like bagpipes), so when early versions of this were clearly doing exactly what I’d previously been accused of I decided to embrace it and ride proudly into Jockrock tartan anthem territory.

This is pure Restless Natives Big Country, DMGM on a motorbike that runs on Irn-Bru and deep-fried pizza, a song so shamelessly tartan that David had to physically refrain me from adding bagpipe samples. If we’d made a video for it we’d have had to film it on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile with kilts, shortbread, wee Scottie dugs, ginger wigs and tartan bunnets.

It’s not our best song, no. But it was fun to do.

DMGM: Three Fingered Salute

For those of you who aren’t of the Windows persuasion, a three-fingered salute (in this context) is the keyboard combination you press when a computer program crashes.

This song began with David’s string part, which I really love: it set the mood and tone for the whole song. David is incredibly self-deprecating about his musical ability, especially when it comes to creating new things, but he’s constantly creating things that surprise me. Generally speaking, if something in these songs is musically or sonically interesting it’s probably got David’s fingers all over it.

I think we put two live bass guitars in here (one for the low notes, one to play a melody) and turned up the reverb to get a nice swampy electric guitar: I don’t know what David was thinking but I was thinking The B-52’s instrumental Follow Your Bliss. I love that growly, 1950s American guitar sound.

If I were to re-record it I’d play the drums myself instead of using loops – you get a more fluid feel, especially on the hi-hats, when an imperfect human is hitting things with sticks – but that’s my usual inability to stop fiddling. The vocal isn’t technically perfect but it’s got a feel subsequent, more technically accurate attempts lacked.

The temptation with a song like this is to do the Full Bono thing and start emoting all over the chorus, maybe really ramping up the bombast towards the end, but that wouldn’t fit the lyrics. They’re about feeling tired, blank… the human equivalent of a computer crash. Hence me paraphrasing the IT in-joke: “have you tried switching it off and back on again?” and having the song stop dead. It’s the audio equivalent of a computer glitch, the sudden stop in a game or application.

The recording’s from December 2014 but I wrote the lyrics quite a long time before that, so they’re from a period when I was trying to fix my mental health. It turns out that I really did need to switch myself off and on again and “feel like a new thing”, but I didn’t do so for another three years.

DMGM: All Messed Up

I wrote about posting personal songs yesterday, but I want to start with one that isn’t. This one’s called All Messed Up.

I can’t remember who did what – David and I move between programming, keys, loops whenever we feel like it – but I love the way this sounds.

There’s a thing I love in music that I call the Godzilla Stomp, the feeling that a song could soundtrack you laying waste to a large urban area while making monster noises. This song has that.

Although it also has an unrecorded backing vocal melody I hear in my head every time I listen to it. That’s one of the reasons things take so long for David and I; there’s always One More Thing that we want to do. Sometimes you need to haul yourself away from a song and accept that you can’t work on it for eternity.

Lyrically it’s about heroes turning out to be zeroes: politicians mainly, but anybody charismatic who has people believing in them only to leave a trail of false promises.

Yesterday, when I was mad

One of the reasons I’m not a famous pop star, my stunning looks aside, is that it takes me an eternity to finish things. And when I do finish things, I tend to be shy about promoting them. Or I don’t promote them at all.

For example, back in early 2016, I uploaded a bunch of songs by DMGM – the name my brother and I use for our music – to Bandcamp.

“I really must put these on YouTube,” I told myself. “It’s the most important music discovery service for The Kids nowadays, apparently.”

I forgot all about it.

Still, better late than never, eh?

So just as I’m almost definitely no I mean it they’re nearly done for sure I mean it this time finishing off about three albums of new DMGM material, I’m uploading the stuff we did two years ago to YouTube. And what an emotional rollercoaster that’s turned out to be.

I’ve always written about personal things – a song I wrote in my late teens, What Did I Do Wrong?, is about somebody disappointed when “she looks in the mirror but she just sees herself”; my folks used to despair when I recorded endless four-track takes of a song called I Hate This Town (whose chorus, rather brilliantly, went: “I hate this town / I hate this town” and followed that searing insight with “I hate this tow-ow-owwwwwn”) – but listening to some of these is rather like being peeled.

The songs were all written before the, ahem, minor changes that have happened in my life recently. With a few exceptions they’re songs by somebody who’s quite literally losing their mind, the words of somebody not waving but drowning. It’s a very strange thing to listen back to them.

I’ll share some of them here over the next wee while. It’ll be a laugh!

Love and you will be loved

A few years ago I wrote a lyric with my young daughter in mind. It’s from the perspective of a parent hoping their child won’t repeat their mistakes.

Over 4 years later, my daughter – now 10 – has left a comment on the song on YouTube.

I love all your songs, especially this one!

The song hasn’t been heard by many people, but it’s been heard and loved by the only listener that matters.

Sex is hard

Writing about it, I mean. As the annual Bad Sex literary awards and Justin Timberlake’s new album demonstrate, it’s very easy to write about sex very badly.

Here’s Pitchfork on Timberlake:

Sauce invites you to imagine a partner’s “pink” pressing up against Timberlake’s “purple.” The title track features this charming depiction of foreplay: “But then your hands talkin’, fingers walkin’/Down your legs, hey, there’s the faucet.”

Part of the problem, I’m sure, is that it’s very hard to write about sex without using clichés. But a bigger part is that artists tend to approach sex in a way that’s, well, a bit wanky.

The Bad Sex awards are always good for that: writers trying too hard, coming across as if they’re trying to pass some kind of Big Words exam. It’s not remotely sexy.

At the other end, as it were, you have the writers who come across like giggling schoolboys because they can’t be remotely serious about sex for one second (like me in this post and Viz’s Finbarr Saunders in the following strip. I said “strip!” Fnaar fnaar etc).

And in the middle you have the simply incompetent, such as Fifty Shades and its imitators.

I’m not slagging people off here, because I feel their pain: as a songwriter I’ve tried and failed to write sexy songs. It’s difficult enough when you’re only writing about a single aspect of it. Trying to encompass all of it, the seriousness and the silliness and the filth and the fun, is damn near impossible.

Making music sexy is easy. Making sexy music about sex, music that combines the sacred and profane and engages your head as well as your hips, is much harder.

Prince managed it, and so does St Vincent (pictured).

I’m a little obsessed with St Vincent’s Masseduction album at the moment: it’s a record of incredible highs and lows (not least the devastating vocal at the end of Slow Disco, “Don’t it beat a slow dance to death?”, which has me in floods of tears if I let it catch me unawares).

One of the highest highs is Savior, a song about sex and kink and role-playing that’s actually sexy.

Here’s the song. The lyrics may not be safe for work if you’re a vicar, or if the album cover pictured is enough to give you palpitations.

It’s an extraordinary song and performance, all wonky instruments, louche delivery, some properly funny bits – the “none of this shit fits” line cracks me up every time, it’s just so perfectly drawled – and then the most incredible, skyscraping chorus.

And then, just when you think the song’s climaxed, it gets even better.

Guitars that have been loved and lost

This is a blast: from the previously mentioned Professor Batty, a blog about guitars he’s owned over the years. Discover what happened when Gibson lost its collective mind, what a “demented” guitar that shouldn’t exist is actually like to play and why he’s still got bits of the worst guitar ever made.

Guitars are odd things. I can’t claim to have played, let alone owned, the variety of guitars that the good Professor has, but over the years I’ve still loved and occasionally lost the following:

  • Fender Stratocaster (two: one cheapie as a teenager, one good one now)
  • Fender Stratocaster 12-string (heavier than a mountain)
  • Various Squier Telecasters (fun and painfully trebly sometimes)
  • Fender Telecaster (a proper one; my weapon of choice during my gigging days)
  • Epiphone Riviera (milestone birthday present: beautiful guitar)
  • Fender Jazz Bass (sold the real one years ago, have a Squier copy now)
  • Squier Precision Bass (genuinely one of the most fun things I’ve ever played, whether I’m playing bad punk or bad funk)
  • Aria Pro II Bass (a pointy purple one. It was a long time ago)
  • Enormous Epiphone Elvis acoustic (big one with what looks like a giant moustache)
  • Fender Marauder (a distinctly odd Modern Player cross between a Jaguar and a Strat. Sounds fantastic, plays great but feels like it’s made of balsa wood)
  • Yamaha Electro-Acoustic (another gigging guitar, now in the smaller hands of Girls Rock Glasgow).
  • Epiphone Les Paul Studio (currently covered in dragon stickers and played by my daughter)
  • One of those Ovation copies, a roundback acoustic made of fibreglass that sounds like you’re playing a wheelie bin

I’m sure I’ve missed a few too.

It all seems a bit wasteful when I’m a terrible guitar player, my lack of ability made considerably worse by RSI and subsequent carpal tunnel surgery. But musical instruments have a weird appeal whether you can play them or not, because many of them are just incredible objects. For example, here’s what my Epiphone Riviera looks like:

Isn’t beautiful? I look at it more than I actually play it.

Despite still owning more guitars than is necessary or sensible, I still find myself lusting after guitars in unrequited fashion. I particularly desire Gibson’s Explorer, a coffee table with strings often used by U2’s The Edge:

And I’m constantly arguing with myself about the equally mad but slightly rounder Thunderbird bass, on the grounds that I already have two perfectly good bass guitars already. But look at it! It’s a spaceship with strings!

I think it’s one of the most beautiful musical instruments ever made. It’s the work of a chap called Ray Dietrich, who designed car bodies for the likes of Lincoln, Ford and Duesenberg in the 1920s and Chrysler in the 30s, where his designs included the very pretty Airstream. As a huge fan of the subsequent craze for tailfinned cars, the Firebird guitar and Thunderbird bass really appeal to me: they were specifically designed to echo the tailfins of 50s cars.

But everybody has their favourite, and when it comes to guitars mine is the Fender Stratocaster. My one’s a Mexican reproduction of the 1960s original, but it’s a genuinely beautiful guitar to look at and to play.

And even in my raddled hands, the noise it makes is glorious.