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Breaking the stars of the future

This Reuters story about bands’ online activities contains an interesting bit of information: record companies are using the Internet to assess acts’ potential before signing them to traditional record contracts.

Universal Music, the world’s top music label, has begun signing untested acts such as pop artist Derek McDonald to a “digital rights” contract before committing serious money to his career.

The label starts the riskier acts with a Web site, and if enough fan interest is generated online, Universal inks them to an old-fashioned record contract.

“It acts as an incubation label, if you will,” said Rob Wells, director of new media services at Universal Music UK. “It’s the Marillion concept.”

In beginning the unscientific process of “breaking” the young musician, Universal started with a Web site for McDonald (http://www.derek-mcdonald.com), selling ringtones and offering alerts on upcoming concerts.

“I believe the future for all artist Web sites is to make them fully commercial,” Wells said.

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Daring Fireball on iPod mania

The excellent Daring Fireball presents a detailed analysis of iPod mania, the iPod’s prospects and its future.

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And you thought the movies that get made are bad

I meant to blog about this a few weeks ago: Query Letters I Love is a ridiculously funny collection of movie ideas sent in by real people to real movie studios. For example:

“A sexually active choirboy at Bob Jones University spreads an ungodly STD to the entire student body during finals week.

CRABS! is a story about teen love, teen sex, and all the teeny creatures in between.

Genre: Comedy/Satire

CRABS! is a teen-spirited satire about a religious university overrun by an unstoppable STD. The main character is Chris, a choirboy whose blossoming libido makes him the epicenter of an unnatural phenomenon. The steroids he takes to strengthen his angelic voice embolden a rag-tag army of Crabs lodging in his underpants to visions of world conquest. Hidden and forbidden sexual needs are exposed on campus as Super Crabs effortlessly blitzkrieg the faithful. When Chris’s exchange student girlfriend is targeted as Pubic Enemy #1, Chris must choose between his singing career and his responsibility to her reputation. Either way, Crabs is an infectious comedy everyone’s going to get in the end.”

I’d probably go to see that.

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Mumbai calling

As regular readers will know, I hate advertising. Even a trip down to the front door can ruin my day, as yet another pile of unwanted takeaway ads litter the hallway; flyposters make me gibber; and my web browser is stuffed with every conceivable anti-ad plugin, programs with names such as “supernukeadspopupbuster” and so on.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate *all* advertising – I accept it’s the price I have to pay for watching commercial TV channels, or reading the Metro; as a journalist I’m vividly aware that without advertising I wouldn’t have a job; I’m experimenting with Google ads for a forthcoming feature – but I utterly loathe any form of marketing that’s intrusive. So for example I don’t mind little old ladies shaking collecting cans outside supermarkets, but I want to punch the gangs of charity collectors wielding direct debit forms when I’m in a hurry to get somewhere; I don’t mind magazine ads but I hate advertising features that ape the look and language of the real articles; I’m fine with ads on web pages but not the ads that float on top of pages and blast me with sound when I’m on the telephone, and so on.

My real pet hate, though, is unsolicited marketing: junk mail, junk SMS messages (which, thankfully, seem to have stopped again) and even worse, telesales. As a result I’m on every conceivable “don’t call” list, and I get very grumpy when I get marketing calls from firms who are flouting the don’t-call rules and simply calling everybody up from the phone book. I do feel sorry for the people who are calling – in most cases, they’re not particularly well paid and it’s a thankless job – but while I appreciate that people have got to make a living, I don’t see why that living should involve interrupting me when I’m trying to work, or take a nap, or make the dinner.

It’s not just the interruption that bugs me, either. It’s the assumption that I’m too stupid to know about products or services without some seventeen-year-old calling me up to tell me about them. Selling credit cards? Yeah, I know about credit cards. In the last six months I’ve written about 200 articles about them. Similarly pension plans, life insurance, health insurance, banking services. I’ve written endless comparisons of different broadband services, of telephone offers, of mobile phone deals. I know about these things. I don’t need telephone sales calls to tell me about them, and there’s no way in Hell they’ll affect my buying decisions other than making me want to boycott the firm and attack its head office with Molotov cocktails.

There’s a point to this, honest.

Despite being on every possible “piss off and leave me alone” list, over the last few months I’ve started to get sales calls again. They come in two forms: the first is from a human being, and the second is from a machine.

The first type of call is for life insurance or pensions, usually from US firms, and the call is invariably from India – a call centre in Bangalore, perhaps, or Mumbai. The man or woman making the call is lovely, but I have absolutely no interest in what they’re trying to sell me; however, because the call isn’t from the UK, I can’t do my usual rant about the don’t-call list and the various fines the company can incur.

The second type of call is automated, and tends to happen every two days or so. The phone rings, I let the answering machine get it, and a recorded voice urges me to call a premium rate number to get my free cruise, or kitchen, or ridiculously large sum of money, or whatever. You can’t interact with these calls – no matter how creative your swearing abilities – and more annoyingly, you can’t hang up; occasionally the sales message will finish but the call won’t disconnect properly, meaning you can’t dial out. Which could be a bit of a problem if you’ve set the house on fire and need to call 999.

What both of these marketing techniques have in common is that you can’t prevent them – in the first case, because the firm is outside the UK; in the second, because it’s a recording – and that they’re only possible thanks to technology. Communications technology means it’s now cost-effective to do outbound telesales from call centres in Mumbai; communications and computer technology means it’s now simple to record an MP3 and make a computer auto-dial number after number after number. Unfortunately, computer and communications technology isn’t advanced enough for me to send a huge electric shock to the testicles of each company’s chief executive.

As far as I can tell, there’s nothing I can do about either kind of call – perhaps complain to the telecoms watchdog in the case of the recorded messages, but I very much doubt that such a complaint would have any effect. Has anyone out there found an effective way to stop these calls from happening that doesn’t involve rounding up a posse of vigilantes and delivering wedgies to corporate executives?

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Must-read: Grumpy Old Men

I’ve just finished David Quantick’s “Grumpy Old Men”, and it’s one of the funniest things I’ve read in years. Not to be confused with the TV programme of the same name, Quantick’s book (subtitled “A manual for the British malcontent”) is a curmudgeonly rant about modern life’s various irritations: wasps (“bastards”), cats (“bastards”), the French, bad restaurants, idiots on trains, people with tattoos, urban cyclists, skateboarders, caravans… they’re all soft targets, of course, but despite the rather hackneyed themes Quantick tears into everything with giddy abandon. The sections on minicabs and on the location of restaurants’ “specials” boards are worth the purchase price alone, and damn near put me in hospital.

[Incidentally, the Amazon link above isn’t an affilliate link, just a link to the book’s info page.]

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First, the U2 iPod – now, the George W Bush iPod!

As creator Mathowie puts it, “Yeah, I know, it’s a cheap shot, but hey, a funny idea is a funny idea.”

Click here to see it.

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Why a Video iPod doesn’t make sense

There’s an interesting snippet on MacMinute about video iPods: Jupiter research analyst Michael Gartenberg identifies some common-sense reasons why a video iPod isn’t a great idea just yet.

Unlike music, it’s illegal to rip a DVD to your hard drive, Pixar or otherwise. Simple. No same company wants to get into that legal issue with the studios and provide those tools… The only other source of legal video content is recorded TV and Apple at the moment has no interest in playing in that market. Should they? Perhaps, but that’s another story. Now there’s always personal created video but the market for that is tiny… There’s no market for the video iPod for Apple’s customers at the moment. No evil schemes. No Machiavellian thoughts behind it. It’s just not a good move for Apple without the sources of content they need. They will be there and we will get a video iPod one day. Just not this one.

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The *real* power of the iTunes music store

Me: That Rasmus song…
Lovely wife: Sounds like something from the eighties, doesn’t it?
Me: Yep. Foreigner or something.
[attempts bad singing of “waiting for a girl like you”]
Me: Hang on.
[searches iTunes music store for the song]
Foreigner: I’VE BEEN WAITING!
[switches to music library]
The Rasmus: I’VE BEEN WAITING!
Foreigner: I’VE BEEN WAITING!
Me: God, it’s identical!
Lovely wife: Erm, I’m going to bed.

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New iPods: expect the expected

So, the new iPods are out, and there aren’t any big surprises: a new iPod photo, which replaces the standard screen with a colour LCD and enables you to display your photos on a TV, and the U2 iPod, a rather nasty looking red and black effort that seems to have been based on the colour scheme of teenage boys’ bedrooms in the early 1980s. Which may be rather appropriate, come to think of it. Heh.

The U2 iPod comes with the band’s autographs but not the new album. Instead, you get a $40-off voucher for the forthcoming “everything U2 have ever recorded” iTunes download.

The most important thing to me is the improved battery life: 15 hours on the iPod photo if you use it for music only. That’s a big improvement and if it weren’t so much more expensive than the standard iPod, I’d have my credit card out right now.

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Seven-character album review: Rammstein, Reise Reise

\m/ \m/