Tag Archives: Audiophile

The Monkees, Marketing & The Instant Gratification Music Business

Last week my music buddy Frank pinged me about a special deal on Amazon for a live album by the remaining Monkees — Mike Nesmith and Mickey Dolenz — for more than 50-percent off.  The album documents the so called “Mike & Mickey Tour” from a couple years back, a wonderful concert which I saw (many of the live images here are from that Mountain Winery show in Saratoga, California). 

When the live album came out early last year — called The Monkees Live: The Mike & Mickey Show — my only disappointment was that it seemed priced a little high at nearly $40.  So… I decided to wait a bit.  And then Covid happened, so my focus on buying the album fell from my immediate attention. 

Fast forward to last week and the texts from my friend Frank, and all those memories rushed back into my head. I realized Frank was right and that I needed to move on this quickly as a $15 price tag made it a “no brainer” purchase. 

Click “Buy.” Done.  And I figured I’d have to wait a couple weeks to get the album, all things considered.

Onward through the fog.

Much to my surprise, the next day I get another text message from Frank that his copy of The Monkees Live: The Mike & Mickey Show — which he had ordered the day before mine — had arrived already! And just about at that same moment I received a separate text from Amazon that my copy had been delivered as well!  I thought, this has to be a mistake.… But, sure enough I went downstairs and there was an album in a plastic baggie (no box) waiting for me.

Talk about instant gratification!  I texted back to Frank. We talked on the phone. We were both a bit gobsmacked by the whole purchase experience, which got me to thinking about some bigger ideas. More on that in a moment…

The performance on The Monkees Live: The Mike & Mickey Show is great and the two LP set sounds generally excellent, mastered by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio. While I doubt this is an analog recording, Christian Nesmith — who did the mixing and who also played guitar on the tour — did a fine job sculpting a nice organic sound for the music which rings true. Kudos also to producer Andrew Sandoval who I’m sure had a hand in this authentic pop aesthetic.  

The point is, don’t go into this expect any sort of attempt at “current” production flavors on this album, an approach which marred some of the Monkees’ 1980s reunion albums. This is a very good thing, mind you.  The band is tight and the harmonies are spot on.  Ok, we’ll talk some more about the album a little later… Now I want to share those bigger ideas with you, Dear Readers and perhaps friends in the music industry.

Lets go back to that overnight delivery magic that happened for me and Frank. So… I paid $15 on Wednesday evening and received a physical album hand delivered to my door the next Thursday morning. That is a pretty remarkable feat when you stop to think about it. 

Now I don’t know if anyone has really tried to do this intentionally with a new release yet (if they have please let us know in the comments below) but it seems like there is a golden opportunity waiting here for the music industry to riff on.

It is especially stunning when you consider that one of the factors which many fans of digital downloads and streaming relish is the ability to “get” the album almost instantly. Instant gratification. Its the essence of the impulse purchase psychology. You see a cool thing at the check out in a favorite store and you get it without any heavy mental considerations. 

Boom. Its done. For the purpose of this article, I’ll call it the “Instant Gratification Factor” or IGF.

In the recent past, physical media hadn’t really been able to “compete” with this IGF, save for buying an album at an artist’s concert before it hits the market. So called “pre-ordering” aimed to address it but even that has become an issue as pre-ordered titles don’t necessarily show up early or even near release date. Heck, even many of us writers who get advanced copies of albums for review purposes don’t get the physical versions until the brick and mortar stores have been serviced! 

That said, imagine if there was a different IGF model put in place leveraging the giant that is Amazon (and maybe some of its competitors… more on that in a moment)? Lets start with major artists who have achieved a certain level of success…. lets say… Justin Bieber or Black Pumas or Lady Gaga or Cardi B or even Madonna and Dolly Parton for that matter.  Lets say they want to put out a new album in a physical form first and make it available to those fans before the digital and streaming versions…  What is stopping them now? Nothing, it seems… 

They could ship off adequate quantity of the product to the key markets where these artists are popular. Then, announce the album’s availability — at a reasonable price akin to this Monkees album, a loss leader promotion effectively in a limited window of availability — via text, email and social media promotions. Then fans would log in to their Amazon accounts. Click “buy” and within 24 hours the artist would have in place a passionate instant “street team” of serious fans who will be telling the world about their great pre-ordered new physical vinyl record album.  

A day later traditional radio gets the release serviced to them at the same time as the streaming services. And of course key retailers get their stock to accommodate the general public who are starting to hear all the buzz about this new release and want to check it out. 

If the record industry doesn’t want to deal with Amazon, they could probably set up their own “instant drop” delivery service via an affiliation with Fed Ex, UPS or even the good ‘ol US Postal Service! 

All of these key mechanisms would (a) sell recordings, (b) make money for the artists and labels and (c) stimulate word of mouth street buzz, one of the most valuable forms of advertising which can’t really be purchased.  

For those of you who may still be questioning the viability of vinyl (and physical media in general) consider these details from a report in Billboard at the end of December:

“As predicted, U.S. vinyl album sales hit another historic high, as 1.842 million LPs were sold in the week ending Dec. 24, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data. That’s the largest week for the format since Nielsen Music/MRC Data began electronically tracking music sales in 1991. The previous high was set only a week earlier, when 1.445 million were sold in the frame ending Dec. 17.”

Those are some significant number. And to recap, the appeal of the large scale physical vinyl format to many customers is generally better sound than the most popular streaming services such as Spotify and a more engaging listening experience — I suspect there is a tendency towards more focused whole album listening (vs. individual tracks on playlists running in the background while doing something else).  For the artist, they make more money selling physical products than they do on streams and there is a stronger opportunity for artistic expression with the large format media size (as opposed to a mere JPEG file on a stream or a CD sleeve).

Food for thought…

Anyhow, getting back to the review, The Monkees Live: The Mike & Mickey Show is a great way to catch up on how this influential group sounds in present times — great vocals, great band, great arrangements!  While the versions of classics like “Last Train To Clarksville” and “I’m A Believer” are fabulous, the real stand outs for me are previously rarely (if ever) performed tracks like Carole King’s “As We Go Along” from the movie Head and Mike Nesmith’s “Tapioca Tundra” (B-side to “Valleri,” also appearing on the 1968 album The Birds The Bees & The Monkees).  It is kind of amazing to hear obscurities like “St. Matthew” (from 1969’s Instant Replay) performed live.  

Also, hearing the newer Monkees songs in concert is a fantastic thing, so look forward to the epic “The Birth Of An Accidental Hipster” and the beautiful acoustic version of “Me & Magdalena.”  I only wish there were more of those new songs on this album.  

To that, if you haven’t heard The Monkees’ fantastic 2016 reunion album called Good Times, you owe it to yourself to listen. Click here for my review of the album and here for the companion 10-inch EP of bonus tracks. It is a superb collection with new songs written for The Monkees by Andy Partridge (XTC), Rivers Cuomo (Weezer), Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie), Noel Gallagher (Oasis) and Paul Weller (The Jam) as well as new classics by Carole King and Neil Diamond!  The title track is even a duet with Harry Nilsson! 

Good Times, indeed!

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Drummers Drumming: Bernard Purdie’s Purple Vinyl “Purdie Good!”

It is kind of amazing to stop and think how a drummer who has played on an enormous amount of hit recordings over the past 50 years is not really a household word.  I mean, a quick look at the Wikipedia page for Bernard Purdie lists albums he’s played on by Nina Simone, James Brown, Al Cooper, Shirley Scott, Yusef Lateeef, Eddie Harris & Les McCann, Miles Davis, King Curtis, Aretha Franklin, Bette Midler, Hall & Oates, Jimmy McGriff, Wilson Pickett, Larry Coryell, Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Cocker, Cat Stevens, Steely Dan, Gato Barbieri and so many more. 

Chances are you have a recording in your collection featuring this legendary pulse-maker of popular music. Heck, even on his website he is touted as “the world’s most recorded drummer” (a role he may share with Hal Blaine or Earl Palmer, just sayin’).  

It’s undeniable that he is a session drumming legend.  Musicians and deeper collectors of jazz and soul grooves are into him, for sure. But I suspect that not many average folk know of his albums from the late 1960s and early ’70s, many of which are much sought after collector’s items.  

Thankfully, the good folks at Craft Recordings have reissued a real solid Bernard Purdie album —Purdie Good! — via its Jazz Dispensary subsidiary in conjunction with Vinyl Me Please (subscription club) which might help to open some new ears to this man and his music. The results are excellent.  

Issued in limited colored vinyl editions of 1,000, these albums were all mastered AAA from original tapes, with 180-gram colored vinyl pressing done at the respected RTI (Record Technology Incorporated) plant.  

What makes Purdie Good! stand out is the quality of his group and the material Mr. Purdie lays down.  Right from the start of his driving cover of James Brown’s “Cold Sweat” through to rollicking originals like the title track, it is apparent that Purdie is out to deliver some memorable fun.  The grooves are thick, tight and swingin’…

It is worth noting that pulling off a James Brown cover credibly isn’t easy and Purdie delivers that rich stuttering first-funk groove in a way that hits a bit harder than the original in many ways — the rhythm is the central focus on Purdie Good! and this funky drummer takes it out into territories where the percussion can own the spotlight.

While there is no denying the beatific stride of James Brown’s band The Famous Flames on the original recording, the focus there is pretty much always the vocal until James lets his drummer (I think it was Clyde Stubblefield, if the internet is accurate) take the lead for a bit.`

Just listen for Purdie’s interaction with Conga player Norman Pride during the breakdown in the middle of his version of “Cold Sweat.” While there may be no Maceo Parker firing up the horn section, Purdie more than makes up for the heat with his rhythms… and his band members are no slouches either. 

In general, I think this Jazz Dispensary / Vinyl Me Please reissue of Purdie Good! is pretty great. The recording by Rudy Van Gelder is excellent and the album pressing at RTI is dead quiet and well centered. And it is on lovely opaque purple vinyl with some slight swirls of red and blue. 

Probably the only issue at hand here is the price on this reissue which feels a little high (and some readers on Facebook have asked me about VMP’s pricing in general). There is no doubt its a premium priced platter.

However, finding a pristine original copy would no doubt cost a lot more and probably wouldn’t sound quite as quiet as this one.  There are only a handful of VG+ plus copies on Discogs at present, each costing more than $60 per album. It is no wonder that this purple vinyl edition is already getting some high priced listings (also on Discogs). There is a less costly UK edition out there, but that seems to be a direct metal mastered version from a digital source so it probably won’t sound as nice as this. Food for thought…

If you aren’t quite ready to plunk down the cash for the reissue just yet, you can listen to Purdie Good! streaming in high 24-bit, 192 kHz resolution on Tidal/MQA (click here) and on Qobuz (click here). This might be a good place to start until you can find a vinyl copy. Both streaming versions sound good but don’t deliver quite the same warm vibe I was hearing on the Vinyl Me Please reissue. Of the two, this time ‘round I am leaning toward the Qobuz version which seems to have a little less hard edge to it, but I’m admittedly splitting audiophile hairs here – both sound fine and about the same ultimately. 

Either way, check out Purdie Good!  Sweet grooves live here.

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

My New Year’s Audio Resolutions

Normally, I’m not especially given to self-imposing a set of personal improvement dictates I know will very likely be broken. I can be emboldened with dreams of a better physique, being a better person, or any of the myriad things we command ourselves to accomplish at the beginning of the new year. 

Not that I have little room for improvement because I certainly do, but in reality, I’m basically a very happy person. I decided a likely better course of action was to set for myself some audiophile resolutions for 2021. Maybe I can make these last longer than some misguided hope of buying the same sized pants I wore in high school. 

Broaden My Musical Selections

Looking back to my fifteen-year-old self, my trail of preferred musical genres is rather limited. I began with what was heavy metal of the day – Led Zeppelin, The Who, Black Sabbath, and others. I pretty quickly progressed to basic rock, then pop and then jazz flavored pop. Groups like Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears gave way to the Rippingtons, Dave Koz and Eric Marienthal. I became enthralled with what is now known as smooth jazz and have remained as such for more than forty years. 

I also, surprisingly, developed a taste for classical and country but only certain types. I prefer big, large scale symphonies as opposed to, say, a flute concerto. I also like country but less of a 1950’s “twangy” sound and more of a modern country, rock-oriented sound. 

So, my first resolution is to develop some semblance of interest in more pop music, more Broadway music and more music in general outside my historical norm. I want to experience more than the typical smooth jazz sounds that play ninety percent of the time through my speakers. 

Be More About Music, Less About Gear

I suppose I really can’t help it, but I love the process of being an audiophile. I love the means to the end. In other words, I enjoy the equipment probably as much as the music the equipment recreates. 

It is reasonably fair to say that years ago I passed the point of common sense when it comes to the investment I have made in my system. I wrote those checks willingly, even happily, but it seems that now, I have a system that exceeds budgetary normalcy in every way. Can I purchase better components that will improve the sound? Absolutely. Do I really need to do so? Umm, well, probably not. 

My second resolution, therefore, is to simply enjoy the music. Be happy with my system as it is, right now. Stop worrying about the next 1% of improvements. Besides, given the cost of my system as it now stands, making significant improvements can get really expensive. I would rather spend that money, if I spend it at all, elsewhere. 

Stop Tinkering

If I am guilty of anything audio related, it would be that I love to tinker. What makes no real sense at all is very often, I’ll be enamored with the sonic presentation for months on end. Suddenly, for no real discernable reason, I may easily find myself crawling around on the floor moving speakers and subs. I may also start experimenting with settings on the equipment. 

What makes this all the more absurd is most often, after making some measure of change, and after some short period of time, I will undo all the “new and improved” changes and put everything back the way I had it before. And of course, as convinced as I was the “new and improved” sounded in every measurable way better, I will, quite predictably, become equally convinced I had it right before and change things back. 

My third resolution is to leave the system alone and pay increased attention to resolution number two. 

Introduce The Audiophile Hobby To More Young People

This is, not surprisingly, a difficult resolution to accomplish. Maybe it is even a fool’s errand. Making this a reality presupposes the belief young people have any interest whatsoever in high performance audio. 

Making this a successful resolution presupposes the idea young people will have even an inkling of intertest in foregoing earbuds – and headphones – wirelessly connected to a smartphone in favor of a home-based system. 

Making this work is fraught with difficulties. Still, however, if I see an opportunity to demonstrate to a teenager, and hopefully their parents, what is possible sonically, I’ll make the effort to do so. 

While it is in every way a long shot, and one our hobby continually struggles to reasonably accomplish, my fourth resolution is to try and bring our youth into the hobby in some meaningful way. 

Give Back

This one is not so much a resolution, as the term implies self-betterment, but really a hopeful enterprise. High performance audio has been a lifelong endeavor for me. I have been interested in music all my life and have had a commanding devotion to the hobby since I was fifteen. 

I feel the need to somehow give back. I’m not at all sure how to do so but if an opportunity presents itself, or if I feel like I can somehow accomplish this goal, I will try to do so. 

My fifth resolution is to somehow, in some as yet unknown way, return the favor to a hobby that has brought me so much joy and satisfaction. 

So, there are my resolutions. I could have mentioned other ideals, such as increased knowledge for not only myself, but also others. In fact, that is not a bad idea. But I stand with my five resolutions as they are. If I can accomplish any or all of them even incrementally, I feel like I will be a better audiophile. 

How long any of this lasts remains to be seen. I do know, however, my own personal chances of making any of them a reality is significantly greater than fitting back into the pants size I wore in high school. Besides, I have a more focused vision of these audiophile goals than putting on a pair of bell-bottomed, button fly jeans. Perish the thought. 

Here’s hoping all audiophiles have a wonderful 2021. 

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Drummers Drumming: Jack DeJohnette & Idris Muhammad Rock Rhythms From Different Directions

The good folks at Craft Recordings’ rich Jazz Dispensary subsidiary unearthed a handful of tasty jams toward the end of last year including near-forgotten albums by two of the greatest drummers in music history.  Issued in limited colored vinyl editions of 1,000 in conjunction with the equally dedicated team at Vinyl Me Please, these albums were all mastered from original tapes, with lacquers and 180-gram colored vinyl pressing done at the respected RTI (Record Technology Incorporated) plant.  

Jack DeJohnette’s Sorcery is a 1974 gem that pushes a lot of boundaries into free jazz, groove and near-psychedelic free-for-all. For the latter, I use the word “near” because if you’ve listened to Charles Mingus, Frank Zappa and later period John Coltrane you’ve no doubt heard explosive momentum like this. That isn’t a bad thing, mind you but I wanted to paint a picture with words so you know what to expect. 

Sorcery is a diverse album with moments of beauty and sadness (“Four Levels Of Joy,” “The Reverend King Suite”) and elation (the chanting on “The Right Time”). “Epilog” wraps the album with a sweet funky jazz fusion groove that is only missing Jean Luc Ponty soloing spacey electric violin over it. The lovely stone grey vinyl is perfectly quiet and well centered so the music just jumps out of the speakers. The fidelity varies as this was recorded at some different studios including Bearsville in Woodstock, NY. its not a bad sound at all here but don’t go into this expecting a Rudy Van Gelder (RVG) vibe. Sorcery is its own thing with much magic and wizardry happening courtesy of players like John Abercrombie, Dave Holland and Bennie Maupin.  Not surprisingly Sorcery has been sampled a lot (click here to explore whosampled)

Idris Muhammad’s Black Rhythm Revolution on the other hand is a RVG jam recorded from 1971 that gets right down to the funk-sou-groove from the opening notes of “Express Yourself.”  For those not in the know, the formerly-named Leo Morris was an important player coming out of New Orleans having played on Joe Jones massive hit “You Talk Too Much”) and perhaps most notably –according to the wiki and some sources — Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill” (note: the wiki and other sources also indicate that Wrecking Crew legend Earl Palmer played on that track so keep that in mind). He worked with Jerry Butler and even was in the cast of Hair for three years in New York, he also toured with Lou Donaldson. 

Black Rhythm Revolution is a groover through and through including a smoking cover of James Brown’s “Super Bad” — this album is worth the price of admission just to hear the snap of his snare drum here.  “Wander” has some incredibly over-the-top Tom Tom pitch-bend soloing going on in the middle of what turns into an epic sound safari.

Surprisingly this particular album hasn’t had seen a lot of sampling traction according to WhoSampled.com but others of Muhammad’s album have so that might explain some of the demand for an album like this. With guitar work by no less than Melvin Sparks and Clarence Thomas on saxes plus great trumpet work by Virgil Jones, Black Rhythm Revolution is a winner. 

Original Resource is Audiophile Review