Joe Sparrow : The Target Shoots Next

I’ve launched a new weekly radio show. It’s called The Target Shoots Next and you can listen to it every week on Mixcloud. The songs in the show are chosen by a rotating cast of anonymous industry insiders: each week, I ask them what their favourite song or artists is, and they tell me. Maybe it’ll be their newest protégé, the next big thing, an over-hyped wannabe… or maybe it won’t.

The point is: you’ll know what they’re really listening to. So, if you like minor insider industry gossip, playing guessing games, and/or listening to good music, subscribe to the show, and follow me on Twitter to get updates and other info about this moderately dumb one-note radio show.

It’s called The Target Shoots Next, because these anonymous industry bods picking the songs are the targets for manipulation, persuasion, and attention. It’s them who make fundamental decisions about songs and artists, and the twist is that they may – or may not! – actually be into something else entirely.

Their job is to shoot first – to pre-empt public opinion on an artist, music, label, etc. that they work with. But there’s a good-to-middling chance that what they’re actually excited about is something off Astral Weeks, or some old Mr. Fingers 12″ B-side they found on Youtube, or maybe they’re stuck listening to The Low End Theory for the millionth time.

Hence The Target Shoots Next: it seems reasonable to assume that their first priority is the music these insiders are really passionate about, and then what their job dictates. That’s my logic anyway. (And that’s why all suggestions are anonymous.)

I lifted the show’s name from a brilliant music industry documentary called The Target Shoots First by Chris Wilcha. You can watch the documentary here, as well as read some more info and my thoughts on what it all means. (Apart from why the documentary is called The Target Shoots First – answers are welcome.)

Like the documentary, hopefully the songs in the show will shine light onto all the confusion, bullshit, and guesswork that accompanies building a multi-billion dollar business around art, artists, highly subjective opinions, deeply-drawn emotions, and melodies.

And if you’re a Music Biz Insider™ and would like to anonymously share the song that you really like:

Joe Sparrow : The Target Shoots First

I recently launched a weekly radio show called The Target Shoots Next, which has a playlist chosen by anonymous music industry insiders, and you can read more about here.

I half-inched the name of the show from The Target Shoots First, a brilliant DIY-documentary by Chris Wilcha, which captures the end of the glory days of the old music industry while he worked at Columbia House music club. Somehow, the young Wilcha was allowed to video everything he did – private meetings and all – at his new job. The resulting documentary, and version of the music business it captures, is a window to another time.

Growing up in the UK, we didn’t have Columbia House, but the equivalent was Britannia Music Club, which operated similarly: you were recruited by a friend (who got a free CD for doing so), and then you ordered cheap CDs from a regular catalogue, mailed out every few months. There was a sneaky – and remarkable – catch. You had to order one CD per month, and if you didn’t, the club would send you a CD of its own choosing, and you’d be charged for it.

The documentary is a brilliant peek into the music biz, capturing all the confusion, bullshit, and guesswork that accompanies building a multi-billion dollar business around art, artists, highly subjective opinions, deeply-drawn emotions, and melodies.

The full documentary is embedded above, or you can watch it on Wilcha’s Vimeo page. There are also some more links and reading below.

Here are some good articles and interviews with Wilcha and some of the key players he filmed:

Joe Sparrow : Some things I have written for Music Ally

Here is a selection of the things I’ve written recently for the ace music business analysis, data, and news service Music Ally. (I’ll keep this updated as more stuff is published.)

MUSIC/TECH STARTUPS IN 2019: this was fun – I spoke to labels, lawyers and startups about what they all thought of each other, and, well, you can guess the rest.

WMG AND CAPITOL INNOVATION INTERVIEWS: these next two were quite fascinating interviews with the people charged at major labels – slow-moving but powerful beasts – with keeping up with, and incorporating, cutting-edge music-tech into the wider business.

STARTUP FILES: I’m writing a series of analysis and industry-connectivity pieces about new music-tech startups and how they fit in (or otherwise) with the ever-shifting Music Business. Only one of them got me in hot water so far.

Joe Sparrow : MONTAG: an infinite magazine

MONTAG.WTF was an utterly uncommercial print magazine of weird sci-fi and future-tech that I pitched to, and, thanks to the boldness of Thom, their then-CMO, it became real. It was backed for two years, creating six themed online issues, a weekly newsletter, four print runs totalling many thousands of truly beautiful copies, and 14 podcast episodes.

It was made really good by some amazing artwork by an excellent Italian artist called Edo, and an incredibly talented writer, technologist and everything-er, called Kathryn.

Inevitably, MONTAG eventually got canned after various supportive senior staff members moved on, and MONTAG became this weird promo thing from the early days of a startup that had also moved on. We had no KPIs to hit, and no data points to prove our worth, and thus we trudged sadly to the chopping-block.

Now that MONTAG is dead, Grover – once a rare startup with a really cool and interesting creative product that they could promote their business with – is now in a preferred, safer position of being a big startup with lots of money and success.

Anyway: MONTAG was not only great fun to do, it showed that with some bravery, vision, creative thinking and hard work, a business can create something unusual, beautiful and unique to help it stand out from the crowd.

Here’s the best bit: after I left, Kathryn – who is, as I mentioned, pretty brilliant at everything she puts her mind to – trained a recurring neural network on the many hundreds of thousands of words we had written for MONTAG, and now the AI posts a brand new article every week, over on MONTAG.XYZ. The articles are remarkable: almost believable and human, but with staggering injections of weirdness just when you don’t expect it.

MONTAG.XYZ: “everything we do online is Translate.”

This is fascinating and a minor triumph for Kathryn; it’s also possibly the first time an established magazine staff has been wholly replaced by an AI. The MONTAG experiment will now live forever in an endless series of AI-written posts – and that’s something I didn’t expect when we started. But that’s what comes of taking small creative gambles like commissioning MONTAG.

(I rounded up some of the stuff from Issue 1 here.)

all posts

11The Target Shoots Next
10The Target Shoots First
23Some things I have written for Music Ally
22MONTAG: an infinite magazine

6Embrace nostalgia carefully to build the community you love (and thought you’d lost)
23Selected posts from MONTAG Issue 1

15Spot the gif-ference*

9Oasis’s “lost” third album: Forever… And A Day
28Oasis minus the fun
24Blackstar, Big Exit

25The Sandinista! Problem
28Gifting Music
6How NYPD Blue is the Instagram of cop shows
24Against The Grain: Grand Royal Magazine
9Simon Cowell, political agitator
11I thought I got a tiny glimpse into what being a woman in the music industry is like, but of course I never will
29Gray’s Papaya
5Surf’s Up; or Surf’s Everywhere, all the time

22Everything, everything
8The Kids are all right
19Why I (almost) killed A New Band A Day
4I just figured out why I love pop music…
29Music streaming, scarcity and breadth vs. depth
26Scale x Time: How Spotify Works Right Now [Part 1]
18Are Sleaford Mods the best band in the UK? (Yes.)
7Bearable wearables
4Narrow and deep: the undead album, and seeing work in context
16Super-local socialism and disappearing Diners: New York City’s cowardly rush for gentrification
15A couple of paragraphs from an email I wrote to a friend about Tommy Ramone’s death, and rock fetishism