MUSIC TRENDS FOR 2018. WHERE TO NOW?

If we all had a crystal ball and knew the answer to the question we’d all be richer than Simon Cowell and like him or loathe him he is one of the key individuals who control the direction of popular music tastes on this planet and just maybe a few others too!
Because of the phenomena of streaming (Spotify is listing on stock exchanges as I write, worth around US$23 Billion), social media and YouTube access to pop is increasing every day, maybe even by the hour and although most of us have to buy our tunes there are sadly a lot of pirates out there as well. And Spotify launched in RSA this week as well.

The gurus at such publications as Rolling Stone, Billboard, Time and NME are calling where they think it’s all going in 2018. And as usual there’s a marked difference between the UK, Europe, the USA and the rest.

Looking for true talent has become an industry on its own. Think Idols, the Voice, Shine etc. etc. Can Rag and Bone Man really be the name of a new music star? You betcha and the Brits are touting him as one of the next big things.

Latin music is making waves again too and the biggest selling song of all time “Despacito” is rockin’ the clubs and music radio right across the planet. It has had nearly 5 billion hits on You Tube and many of us don’t understand a word!

Whilst Uncle Simon rules, boy bands will continue to grow like mushrooms. This year’s version of Back Street Boys and One Direction will see Why Don’t We, Pretty Much, BTS, Brockhampton and the Latin version CNCO. Their smash “Mamita” has already had 1 million hits on You Tube! Look out too for other Latin break outs from Camila Cabello, DJ Khaled who channels Santana and the return of Shakira, J.Lo and Maluma. Shakira and Maluma’s vid cracked over 2 billion hits!! And J.Lo is worth around US $360 million……that’s no petty cash!

Talking about the ladies look out for Willow daughter of Will and Jada Smith, apart from that pedigree the girl can sing as proven on her smash hit “Why Don’t You Cry”. She’s only 14 years old and has had over 7 million hits on You Tube for this song of teenage angst.
One of the more bizarre claims to stardom comes in the form of K-Pop sensation BTS.

K-Pop? Stands for Korean Pop and along with bands like Shinee, EXO and Seventeen, BTS has sold over 5 million albums, has 30million followers on social media and was the first Korean group to crack Spotify’s Global Top 50. Their mix of Korean and English lyrics, electro backing tracks, coupled with a very slick dance routine and boyish good looks has struck a major chord with teen fans the world over.

EDM is also set for bigger things during the current year. Electronic Dance Music packs out the dance clubs everywhere and the names to get those fingers snappin’ and toes tappin’ include Steve Aoki, Zedd, Martin Garrix and Dave Guetta. The sounds are a mix of great rhythms and synth overlays backing up some pretty cool vocal effects.

The next big thing for this year must be the return of Justin Timberlake who’s new album “Man of the Woods” featuring a live dancing robot on the first single from it “Filthy”, is a very clever visual tour de force and a low key live performance from this star who first rose to fame in the late ‘90’s. The album hit number 1 within a week of its early February release.

And finally let’s hear it for World Cup anthems. Providing Spy Poisoning or any other catastrophes don’t derail it this year sees another Soccer World Cup. This time in mother Russia. No doubt it will spawn the usual crop of songs dedicated to the round ball and the teams that compete for it. Watch this space!! Hasta la vista!

Mike on then Mic.

WHAT’S UP WITH THE GRAMMYS?

So this year’s Grammys have come and gone. Only one woman in the awards list and that was newcomer Alessia Cara and for my money the best performance of the night was Pink although Sting showed that he still cuts a mean groove. Bruno Mars swept the boards with the 4 big awards; Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best R&B Song of the Year all driven by his album “24K Magic”. Many music critics seemed less than pleased with these results feeling that Kendrick Lamar should have got more recognition. Lamar bagged 2 awards for best Rap Album “Damn” and best Rap Song “Humble”.

I am not quite sure what all the fuss is over the host James Corden who obviously has a great agent as he seems to be everywhere on American TV. He hosts The Late Late Show and has been the presenter at numerous awards evenings. He came to fame in “Gavin & Stacey” a Brit comedy TV series. Surely there are celebs with more stature and gravitas than he? Sorry I don’t get it!

From a music aspect there was little to make 2017 memorable although the super energetic Latin hit ‘Despasito’ by Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee apparently had over 1 billion hits on You Tube when first released. That is very impressive. It’s a catchy song with gorgeous girls and boys bumping and grinding their way throughout. Apparently it means something in the region of “Take it Slowly” and the lyrics seem fairly explicit but perhaps only to this conservative mind. I am sure the Latinos are quite comfortable with it!

It occurs to me that it must be increasingly difficult to judge the music of our times as it has become so diverse. Rap, House and Hip-Hop are quite difficult to relate to as they lack melody which has always been important to my ear. However the rhythm and lyrics are often compulsive and clever so I can see where the appreciation of the fans comes from. I guess it’s a little like in my teens the older generation could not understand why we loved the Beatles and the Stones. Each generation deserves its own music genre.

Earlier I mentioned the performance by Pink. She sang her song “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken” a great song and a stunning performance. This lady can sing!! She brought the house down.

Apparently this awards event lasts for a very long time and all we see is a very cut down 2 hour edited version. The actual event lasts over 6 hours. The audience should get an award for patience. This year is its 60th year and many in the industry feel that these awards mean very little. I can’t say that I agree with that. The Grammys may not impact directly on sales of music but they do provide prestige and credibility and I am sure that artists, composers and producers benefit from being able to include a Grammy in their CV’s.

Despite what I or anyone else thinks the Grammys still have international impact. 19.8 million viewers tuned in to the 2018 show, admittedly down 20% on the 2017 version, but that’s still a significant audience and if the organisers indulge in some innovation and get a host who has a wider appeal then the show will go on!

Mike on the Mic.

IN HONOUR OF BRIAN WILSON

It might have been true that the 60’s music scene was dominated by Brit Pop and the so called British invasion but there was a group of California boys creating their own special magic and they owed most of their success to an enigmatic genius called Brian Wilson.
Born in California in 1942, Brian Wilson formed the Beach Boys in 1961 and had a long string of hit singles and albums, helping to establish the “California sound” along the way. By the mid-60s, however, Wilson looked to move beyond the cheery, simple, teen-based formula that characterized much of the Beach Boys’ early music. The result was 1966’s Pet Sounds, which is ranked by many as one of the greatest albums of all time. But at the peak of his creative powers, substance abuse and mental illness took their toll on Wilson, who for much of the next 25 years lived in seclusion. After breaking free from psychologist Eugene Landy, who exerted an excessive amount of control over Wilson’s life during the 1980s, Wilson revived his career and released several solo albums in the 1990s. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, remarried in 1995 and was honoured by the Kennedy Centre in 2007 for lifetime contribution to the performing arts. Since that time he has continued to tour and record albums and was also the subject of the 2014 biopic Love & Mercy.
In my book this man almost single handedly changed the face of pop music with some evergreen classics like California Girls, God Only Knows, Wouldn’t It be Nice, Kokomo and many others. We still listen to these songs today and marvel at the layered harmonies, the wonderful production techniques and sheer musicality of the work.
His more recent work might be somewhat less accessible but that doesn’t take away from the brilliance of the music. But by the mid-60s, Brian Wilson had begun to experiment musically, conceptually and chemically, and he sought to push the group’s sound beyond the light and accessible sun-and-fun formula that characterized its early music. By late 1964, he had quit touring with the Beach Boys, due in part to a nervous breakdown he had suffered on the road, and he used his time at home to begin work on the band’s next album. Initially inspired by the Beatles’ Rubber Soul (1965), Wilson’s goal was to create an album where “every song mattered” and that would “make people feel loved.” After collaborating with his friend Tony Asher on the lyrics, and writing and arranging the music almost entirely on his own, Wilson then employed the famous session group known as the Wrecking Crew to commit his vision to tape.
The result was Pet Sounds an iconic album ranking with the Beatles Sgt. Peppers and the Stones Sympathy for the Devil as collections that changed pop music forever. Do yourself a big favour and hunt out this man’s music on the internet, It will open your mind.

IS MUSIC AN IMPORTANT PART OF OUR LIVES?

The origins of music date from the earliest civilizations of the world who tried to imitate the sounds of the nature and soon realised that there was a pattern to various sounds made by the animal and bird kingdom. It was also means of communication. The earliest form would have been in Africa where the use of drums, rhythms and simple melodies are now lost in the mists of time itself.

A lot of people say that music reflects the kind of person you are. Is it true?

There are a lot of styles of music in the world, even in one country there are many genres. In Latin America and Africa, the music is often very cheerful and rhythmic while in Europe it is more sedate and gentle.

Music is considered as an intangible cultural heritage in all its variety and complexity.
This means that music is one of the most mystical expressions of humanity because it is capable of transmitting feelings and thoughts. It connects.
Music is one of the most important elements of culture because it helps us to understand the evolution of society.

Identity can be matched with the kind of music you are listening to, because some people express that they are calm, quiet or reserved. They prefer listening to classical music, otherwise they might be extrovert or feel depressed without it.
But science says you can feel whatever you want to feel with the music you most like. 

Can music show your identity? Not really because music reflects a mood and you are likely to enjoy more melancholy melodies when feeling depressed and much jollier tones when you are excited and happy. Having said that different styles of music can help identify you from a cultural perspective. Jazz and blues are great examples of this although you certainly don’t have to be an African American to identify with these two styles. There are many excellent exponents from many different race groups and many fans from across the globe. Music has the ability to unite. That’s pretty unique.

In the modern world with our sophisticated communications it is possible to listen to music from any culture anywhere on the planet. Not all of it will appeal but much of it will contain elements that we like.

The truth is that music is the universal language and can connect even the most disparate of cultures. As with all humanity try to find the good in it and your enjoyment will be multiplied 100-fold.

Seasons’ greetings and be blessed in all you do.

SENSITIVE HEARING

I was very interested to read about a group of individuals in this country who have started a Noise Pollution “crusade” against restaurants and stores that play their music at high volumes. It got me to thinking how difficult it is to please all of the people all of the time.

The efficiency of the sensory organs—vision, hearing, taste, smell, and touch—declines with age, but the age of onset and rate of decline differ markedly among people. What is it like to hear only a mumbling voice when someone speaks to you? How does it feel when loud noises hurt your ears? The senses become less efficient with age. But age is not the only factor causing deterioration in the senses. Disease and environmental factors are also important. Intense and prolonged noise affects hearing, smoking reduces taste and smell sensitivity, and diabetes may affect vision. Sensory changes can influence the way we see, hear, taste, smell, and respond to touch and pain. This in turn affects how we experience the world and react to things. A significant sensory change can rob us of many simple pleasures and complicate the tasks of daily living. It may mean reduced mobility, increased dependence on others, inaccurate perception of the environment, reduced ability to communicate and socialize, or loss of self-esteem. Sensory changes vary from person to person. Fortunately, until their mid-80s most older adults are free from major sensory problems. If you experience sensory changes as you age, understanding these changes can help you respond effectively.

A hearing loss is potentially the most serious of the sensory impairments because it is our “social sense.” Unlike poor vision, hearing loss rarely inspires empathy and understanding. The seeing eye dog, thick glasses, and white cane all help identify the blind and visually impaired, but the person who is hard of hearing is not as easily identified. In regard to her deafness, Helen Keller, who was both deaf and blind, stated: “I am just as deaf as I am blind. The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex, if not more important than those of blindness. Deafness is a much worse misfortune. For it means the loss of the most vital stimulus—the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir, and keeps us in the intellectual company of man.” Hearing loss affects more older people than any other chronic condition. From age 20 to 60, the rate of hearing impairments increases from 10 to 75 per 1,000 people. Between the ages of 60 and 80, the rate increases to 250 per 1,000 people. Approximately 30 to 50 percent of all older people suffer a significant hearing loss that affects their communication and relationships with others. Hearing loss can be devastating. It can lead to withdrawal, isolation, and depression. Even a slight loss can be emotionally upsetting, particularly if it interferes with understanding family and friends. Trying to understand conversation becomes frustrating and exhausting. Many people will withdraw from group situations, restrict their activities, and stay at home when it becomes difficult to listen and understand the conversation around them. Misunderstood conversations can lead to suspiciousness, paranoia, disagreements, and alienation from family and friends. Older people who try to cope by responding to what they think is said may be viewed as cognitively impaired, rather than hearing impaired. “Silence is golden. But the silence that comes from a hearing loss can make for loneliness.”

As management of restaurants or stores it is incumbent on you and your staff to be sensitive to your customers’ needs. If they complain about music levels react and turn down the volume, but be gentle. A 10 percentile reduction is usually enough and see if you can tailor some of the content to make it age appropriate.

I spent most of my life wearing headphones in studios. My hearing is still good, but not perfect. Loud music does make me uncomfortable but then I don’t do much clubbing these days!!!

A good rule of thumb is “listen to your clients”. Mother Grundies please stay at home!

USING STORE MUSIC FOR RETAIL ZONING

What is In-Store Music? It is many things to many people. Some want the bland concept of what is commonly referred to as “lift music”. Some want some kind of radio station with DJ, ads, messages and a continuous bombardment of somewhat useless information and yet others prefer a more focussed brand complementary selection aimed at pushing all the right buttons with customer and staff alike.
Done correctly and professionally it is quite a science and even an art form. Creating a sound scape that gets a positive response on the shop floor takes research, understanding and musical knowledge.
It’s obvious that playing Death Metal is not going to work in a retail environment where the customer demographic is the 40+ age group. Nor is playing Mozart and Bach going to appeal when you are trying to purvey skinny jeans.
The point here is you need to understand who the customer is and tailor the music accordingly. Good music played over decent quality equipment will sound wonderful. Not played at a level that you can barely hear but made loud enough to lift the spirits.
Very few retailers create different moods for different areas of their store. In my view that is vital. If you are a store selling a mixture of foods and wine, fashion and homeware and also have perhaps an eating area like a restaurant, these are 3 distinct stores within a store. Each needs to have music suited to its focus. I have found that creating a playlist that contains modern pop along with a smattering of blasts from the past is an excellent way to create the right atmosphere for the fashion, homeware and clothing departments. Foods could include some French, Italian and Greek tunes to blend in with other songs that relate to the food experience. In a restaurant or café environment cool jazz is a great accompaniment to the meal and remember that people generally like to interact with their companions so be sensitive to that by the keeping the volume at a slightly more confidential level.
One can even take it further. A fine wine or expensive gift emporium, even an exclusive book seller would be pleasant to spend time in if they were playing a selection of the light classics to assist in promoting the right mood. Not perhaps the heavyweights like Wagner and Beethoven but the lighter works of Mozart, Bach, Brahms and Schubert.
And do try to set yourselves apart from your opposition. Get your music management team to work with you suppliers creating the right music for your brand. This can lead to other opportunities like putting your play lists on-line for downloading or releasing it as a CD.
Finally make sure you are compliant with the necessary music copyright bodies. In this country there is SAMRO who looks after the rights of public performance of composers, SAMPRA who protect the rights of the record companies and their trade – marks and CAPASSO the new kids on the block, who look after the rights of the artists.
If you would like to ask questions, please see our email addresses elsewhere on this site.
Have a very splendid August.

RETAIL TRENDS AND INNOVATIONS.

There’s been a lot of discussion about the impact of on-line shopping replacing the physical store space. In South Africa it’s a slow process that quite frankly seems to be very sluggish taking off. And that doesn’t surprise me. Although Amazon.Com is amongst the world’s largest e-commerce companies it has still to show a significant R.O.I. It’s my belief that people continue to prefer to enjoy a more tactile experience when shopping. Feel the cloth, try on the look, test the make-up, even taste and smell the foodstuffs.

I have been looking at the world’s top 10 retailers by turnover and find that as well as being household names most of them are innovators too: –

1. Walmart operating in 28 countries

2. Cost Co operating in 10 countries

3. Kroger operating in the US only

4. Schwarz operating in 26 countries

5. Tesco operating in 13 countries

6. Carrefour operating in 34 countries

7. Aldi operating in 17 countries

8. Metro operating in 32 countries

9. Home Depot operating in 4 countries

10. Walgreen Boots operating in 2 countries

And what of their innovations? Walmart’s supply chain process is recognised as world beating. It is based on 3 pillars; distribution practices, operating its own fleet of trucks and technology. Costco invented the concept of the warehouse club where members benefit from huge buying power and an entrepreneurial spirit. Today, along with its massive range it offers merchant accounts, banking and financial planning, web development and group health plans, so there is often little need for members to venture anywhere else. Kroger has installed a technology into 2,300 stores across US which has cut average time to be served at their check out points down to less than 30 seconds from 4 minutes. The technology uses infrared sensors and predictive analytics to provide store managers with real-time data to make sure cash registers are open when customers need them. For the rest some have been responsible for roof top garden projects, growing fresh produce on rooftops of stores and selling it on to customers. Can there be any fresher? Another has introduced high-tech robots to retrieve shoes from stock shelves and offer them for fitting. Thereis a virtual fitting room whereby you can see how a look works for you without removing a single item of your clothing and so the list goes on.

Yet despite all of these innovations, a recent international study has shown that many retailers pay too much for their IT products. The most extreme example of excessive margins is regularly found on those lower volume, spontaneous, ‘as and when’ purchases. These are typically unplanned purchases consisting of items such as memory sticks, power adapters and cables.

Today’s procurement managers don’t have endless amounts of time to talk to multiple suppliers to find the best price. What they need is for there to be greater transparency between suppliers and customers. Perhaps a brokerage that does the leg work for them. That is certainly our approach at FDM when it comes to sourcing hardware, installing it and managing content. And we keep abreast of the latest trends in audio technology.

We are always happy to talk to clients about systems and products that can save them money.

Have a joyous July!

CHALLENGES OF THE MODERN MUSIC SUPPLY CHAIN

We have already established that the days of “In-Store Radio” and “Background Music” have largely been consigned to history. So where are we headed?
Pavia University in Lombardy, Northern Italy has done extensive research into how humans respond to music. This seat of learning is one of the oldest in the world and is well respected for the high quality of its research. Their project showed that people are very affected by music. It can have an impact on heart rate, blood pressure and obviously, mood.
It is this type of research that drives us in our choice of music for our clients. We focus as much as possible on the response we want from customers. Challenges can be intense. Take for example a café or restaurant environment. During a trading day it can change from a quiet personal space to a raucous conversation pit full of patrons, eating, drinking, laughing. Include as well the kitchen sounds, coffee grinding, coffee making, pots, pans, crockery and cutlery all being crashed about in this hive of activity.
Firstly, you need to consult on the finishes. I have sat in environments where the hard surfaces of the ceilings are so reflective that when the place is full the volumes of people speaking and laughing have been so loud that it’s hard to even think. That makes for a very unpleasant and uncomfortable experience. So be sure to break up the ceiling finishes to make sure that the sound waves are also broken down into manageable portions. We use a combination of speaker power and direction and would prefer to use some form of AGC or automatic gain control. This reads the ambient noise levels and adjusts the music level accordingly. The AGC filter attempts to make the audio level constant, without causing noticeable changes in the sound.
A day in a café, coffee shop or restaurant should start with bright, toe tapping sounds to get patrons and staff to get the dopamine levels increased. Happy yet relaxed. And a quality speaker installation that includes a three-way system (tweeter, mid-range and woofer) is the way to go as it produces a much more pleasing quality of sound and as we have discussed previously, this reduces listener fatigue in a big way.
By mid-morning the music can be more mellow and relaxed so as not to impinge on those patrons who are either working their lap tops or just chilling for a mid-morning coffee break. Lunch is a busy time and again the music needs to drive the mood – busy, excited, happy! Mid-afternoon is back down to more mellow moods and then picks up the pace again towards closing time.
We think it important that the style of music matches the brand. When the brand is Chinese or Japanese cuisine then the music should complement it. When it’s French or Italian the same applies. But not the complete play list; just a flavour of tunes to create the desired atmosphere.
Check out the effective use of music in the various zones of the Woolworths mega-store at the Mall of Africa and it will assist you in understanding the philosophy.
And going forward we shall be creating very specific soundscapes for particular display areas. Jeans, fragrances, foods, fashion, homeware to name just a few.

MALL OF AFRICA

When you’ve been in the music industry as long as I have the chances of becoming jaded increase exponentially! That said don’t get me wrong. I still love what I do and still learn something new and exciting every day. As they say it’s what floats my boat! And my boat turned into a luxury ocean liner at the opening day of the Mall of Africa. The Woolworths store there is truly world class and our sound system and music management system is the same. Yes, I am a very proud CEO!

The quality of this store is due largely to the vision of the Woolworths design team under Errol Solomon and Nick Criticos. For us the brief was to find a speaker that not only provided a great sound but also matched the look of the beams installed throughout the store. With the assistance of suppliers, we found exactly the perfect solution in the TOA F1000BT speaker and the DSPPA DSP6061B speaker. Driven by TOA and Bosch power amps and mixer amplifiers and controlled by Giada Media Players, this system provides high quality sound throughout the whole store.

As is usual there are separate playlist for the 3 main merchandising areas of the store, fashion and textiles, food market and café. The tunes are specially chosen to reflect the brand and we believe that the Woolworths sound is a unique experience designed to keep shoppers and staff in a happy and positive frame of mind.

The quality of this sound allows the system to be driven at quite high levels of volume which creates a real vibe in the environments.

By virtue of the white noise created by the cooling fans on refrigeration units it is paramount that music levels in the Food Market need to be adjusted to compensate. This we have achieved.

The concept of background music is a thing of the past. Today’s shopping space demands a more theatrical approach. Industrial theatre is a more appropriate concept to develop than in the previous generation of stores. Woolworths Mall of Africa buys into this in a very big way. There are different “stories” and themes that now abound. Everything is light and airy and displays are dramatic focussed to draw the customer’s eye and engage with them. And the music choice compliments this buzz.

All of these aspects have been successfully achieved in this store. It’s a delight, an experience, an extravaganza, a shopper’s paradise and a pleasure to walk around and enjoy.

Frankly when I saw the state of the Mall on the Tuesday before its official opening I thought it would never be ready by deadline. The only store that looked as if it might get there was Woolies. However, working full shifts for a straight 48 hours saw the finishing touches completed just in time. Then 97,000 Gautengalings descend on day 1 and 100,000 on day 2. All involved in getting ready for the big push on opening day breathed a sigh of relief and the verdict from all was “This is a winner!”

It is reputed to be the largest single phase shopping precinct under one roof in Africa and the Woolworths is the largest store in the group. Love it!  Congrats to all!!

Mike and the FDM team.

SUCCESSFUL MUSIC PROGRAMMING

If you don’t know as yet successful music programming is much more of a science than you might believe. Let’s face it getting a bunch of songs together is a pretty simple exercise but making them work for your target market and keeping those fine folk in the best of possible moods is another story altogether.

Let’s begin at the start of the day. Your store has just opened and the shelves are bristling with product. Waking every one up is a good goal so bright, tuneful, finger snapping, toe tapping sounds are the order of the day. Keep it light, fresh and appealing and run like that until around midday when you can inject a little more of the contemporary top hits of the moment approach, mixed in with some classic “golden oldies.”

From midday to 2.00pm is usually peoples lunch time and those who have to shop and get back to the office need the fillip of happy, urgent music to keep them moving along at a good pace and keep them in a positive frame of mind.

The afternoon is a more mellow and laid back time and this is the time to feature the gentler sounds, great ballads and occasionally some romance but from around 4,00pm until closing time this is when the pace can pick up again and bring the tempo back up to where it should be.

If you are using messaging to communicate with customers keep the sound bites short, uncluttered and clearly enunciated. Don’t bombard them with information. Short and sweet is the order of the day. A short message of welcome for the first hour of trading is a good start to the day and a short message regarding the closing time is also a useful inclusion near the end of the day. It creates an awareness in the customer and clears the floor by closing time so that staff can repack shelves and do the other “housekeeping” necessary. And the volume ratio of speech to music is important. Run the levels of each element on a 60/40 basis. 60% speech to 40% music. You need that higher volume for the speech in order to cut through the ambient noise and make sure that the spoken element is heard with ease.
Of course the type of music you programme depends on the demographic of your customer and the type of customer you wish to attract. It’s not rocket science but as with most things, listening to the customer as well as the department responsible for in-store marketing and design is the way to go.

Don’t just take the easy way out. Do your research and be sure that your decisions are correct. And if you are not sure ask. It’s what we do here at Future Dimensions Media and with many years’ experience of music programming under our belts we can offer you good advice.