Bizarro World

For those unacquainted with early 1960s DC comics, I’d better explain what Bizarro World is…

In short it is a cube shaped planed called Htrae (“Earth” spelled backwards) that featured in a series of Superman comics. In this world, everything was topsy-turvy and back to front. Beauty was despised and ugliness celebrated; stupidity was regarded as a positive attribute, and to be called intelligent was a grievous insult; creating anything deemed to be perfect was a crime. You get the picture.

Imagine if we had a similar culture here and now. What would it mean? Here are a few possible examples…

  • Katie Price would have a trophy cabinet full of literary awards for her erm… “novels”.
  • Every McDonalds “restaurant” (do they know how ironic they’re being by describing their fast food outlets with that word by the way?) would be awarded the coveted Michelin star for culinary excellence.
  • The Daily Star “newspaper” (another unintentionally ironic description) would have a string of Pulitzer Prizes to it’s name.
  • The head of Volkswagen’s diesel car division would be the recipient of a Nobel prize for outstanding contributions to combating climate change.
  • Donald Trump would be declared sane.
  • Tony Blair would be made a Middle East Peace Envoy (oh… hang on, that actually happened, didn’t it?)

All of these things, including the last one, all seem too ridiculous to be true don’t they? But we DO live in a world where things just as absurd are happening. Allow me to explain…

Out of all branches of the arts, the music industry seems to be the one most populated by critics and awards panels who, frankly, couldn’t find their own arse even if you drew them a map. Witness the recent Grammy awards. The young lady who swept the board (I’m not going to name her because she has quite enough publicity already, thank you very much) is considered by many to be a supremely talented singer/songwriter. Such is the adulation she receives you would imagine, if you’d never heard a single note of her music, that her use of chord progressions was ground-breakingly original; that her voice was the type that only came along once in a generation; that her gift for lyrical & poetic expression was on a par with Dylan Thomas or William Wordsworth; that her skills as a writer of melodies set her apart from her contemporaries much like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Someone who possessed all of these attributes would, surely, deserve the critical acclaim she has received in recent times? Right? Well, it is at this point that we leave planet Earth and head directly for Bizarro World. The recordings inflicted on us by many award recipients these days (including those by the heroine of this tale) are full of the tell-tale digital artefact that is evidence of a performance which has been enhanced by pitch correction software. Can’t hit the difficult notes? Don’t worry… we can just use auto-tune to fix that & you’ll still get the Grammy (we can even do this for your “live” shows too these days). Stuck for ideas for your new song? Never mind, just use the same formula you used on the last one, churn out another big power ballad & the award can still be yours. Scared you might fluff a big, important performance, even WITH auto-tune? Fear not… It’s OK to just mime nowadays.

Let’s not ignore the phenomenon of plagiarism either. Another recent Grammy & Brit awardee was found to have directly lifted the melody from someone else’s song & had to give them a credit (and, presumably a royalty cheque) as a co-writer for the ditty which won him his gong. Was he stripped of his award? Of course not… he was considered to be “cool” and that, ladies & gentlemen, trumps everything in the music industry equivalent of planet Htrae.

What can be done? Well, how about instituting the same system as in other fields when it comes to giving out awards? Which chef gets a Michelin Star (for example) isn’t decided by ordinary punters who can simply tell if something is tasty or not; these awards are adjudicated by people who know their way around a recipe and can tell if a dish is truly original in it’s use of ingredients and preparation… as well as being scrumptious. The Palm D’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival has NEVER been won by a superhero blockbuster franchise, no matter how “cool” or commercially successful it proved to be. And you don’t award Olympic Gold to the “coolest” athlete… it goes to the person who crosses the finishing line ahead of the others. If they are found to have cheated, they have to give their medal back. Seems fair to me.

Imagine if Brits & Grammys were given out by a panel who actually looked at the sheet music for a song, and rejected those nominees who were just churning out yet another 70BPM, Aeolian Mode woeful dirge documenting a failed relationship. Imagine if musical awards were distributed on the basis of actual musical talent (can you or can’t you hit those high register notes without the sound engineer’s laptop giving your voice a leg-up?)… and not just doled out to whoever had shifted the most product that year or whose publicity machine had managed to get them the most coverage in the popular press. If that were to be the case, then these awards might actually be worth something. Now there’s a thought!

Until next time,

Have fun.


John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson… Guitarist

Becoming a Radio Presenter

Recently, I completed a new musical project – I took the basic definition of a classical symphony & decided to see if I could translate it to a rock band line up of bass, drums, guitars & keyboards. I’m pretty pleased with the way it turned out & you can hear part of it here. I also have the whole thing available for download here.

Anyway, now I’ve got the shameless plug out of the way, it’s on with the story… Basically I lent a copy of the symphony to a mate who has a show on the local community radio station, Palace FM. He loved it & passed it on to the station manager who in turn, not only invited me in for an interview during her drivetime show but also played the whole 30+ minutes of music in the symphony. This was all fantastic exposure for my music, but it didn’t stop there…

Dee, the aforementioned station manager, actually does a weekly spot on Fridays playing guitar & singing a couple of songs on air, so I asked if I could come & join in. “Absolutely!” came the reply & we agreed to meet up to rehearse a couple of songs for the following week. I’d also noticed an ad on the station’s website asking for people to try out as presenters & on a whim I asked if I could have a go…

Next thing I know we’ve got a couple of songs organised for the Friday evening show, and I’m being shown how to use the “Rivendell” software which pretty much runs the station. All the music is played through this interface, as well as all the news bulletins, jingles, ads & so on – no CDs & definitely no vinyl – it’s all done with a keyboard & mouse clicks in an interface remarkably like Spotify. I also get a crash course in how to do links, how to cue up songs & jingles, how to “back-time” to hit the top of the hour etc. etc. It all seemed like a lot to take in, & I was beginning to wonder if I’d bitten off more than I could chew.

This was all on the Saturday before I was due to play guitar on Dee’s Friday show. My own show was scheduled to begin on the Tuesday, so come Tuesday morning I don’t mind admitting I was as nervous as a tomcat in a vets waiting room! There I was, sat in the radio station reception trying desperately to remember everything I’d been told, then before I knew it I was in the broadcasting booth, the “top of the hour” jingle had finished and I was on air. Talking about the songs I had in the play-list in front of me… googling for info while a song was playing if I didn’t have anything to say about it & needed material for a link… Doing the odd time check & asking listeners to tweet messages to the studio etc etc… Before I knew it, my two hours were up and I’d made it through my first show with no calamities, which filled me with confidence for my Friday evening slot jamming on air.

Curiously, I was much less nervous about playing the guitar on air than I had been about talking on air. Perhaps there’s some deep reason for that, perhaps not. All I know is that I enjoyed being cramped into a small windowless room, with no A/C on the hottest day of the year, struggling with a guitar which was determined to slip out of tune mid-song, playing material I was unfamiliar with (Dee had decided to dump one of the songs we’d rehearsed in favour of one I’d never heard of. Thanks Dee!) while thousands of people listened in. No pressure, then!

Anyway… we all survived the heat & the out of tune guitars and I hung around for the rest of the show having a laugh and nattering on air about music, items in the local press, and life in general. Apart from being conscious of making sure I didn’t swear or curse, I forgot I was broadcasting and it just felt like two people having a chat & playing some tunes. It was great fun! I must have done OK because the next thing I know I’m being asked to come back next week & co-present the whole show, as well as doing the “live music” slot.

So, now I’m doing my own show on a Tuesday lunchtime 12-2pm – a collection of great music, Sinatra to the Sex Pistols & all points in between, plus stories from the music business and in addition I’m co-hosting the Friday drive-time show 4-6pm including playing guitar live on air. I’m enjoying it immensely and the nerves are gone altogether. I find myself practicing links at home… timing myself to hit the top of the hour… thinking of guests to book on the show and all the other stuff that (I’m guessing) radio hosts do on a regular basis. You can listen in & see how I’m doing by going to Palace FM and hitting the “listen live” button – or listen via TuneIn either on your PC or via their app on your smartphone or tablet.

This is all great publicity for my guitar tuition business, but it’s something I’m beginning to think may be a career path for me. As a very wise person once said… “Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. Amen to that!


John Robson Guitar Tuition & Musicianship Coaching