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PostPosted: Fri Aug 22, 2008 2:05 pm
by Jamie Renton
Like most labels that concentrate on compilations, they put out too many of them & beyond the tweeness of the house design style, they also tend to go for the twee & MOR in their track selection. I also seem to recall Charlie revealing a few years back on this forum, that they slowed down a track (Toufek Faroukh's version of "Lilly Marlene" if memory serves) in order to keep it within the safe, mellow tempo of one of their compilations.

That said, they've still put out some good comps in their time. I have particularly fond memories of the "Mali to Memphis" collection of West African & US blues, released about a decade or so ago.

Like howard, I no longer get sent their stuff, though fRoots sometimes pass one of theirs on to me for review.

Re: In Praise of Putumayo (well, mostly)

PostPosted: Fri Aug 22, 2008 2:11 pm
by Adam Blake
Jonathan E. wrote:
How does anyone eat with sales like this? .


By duckin' and a-divin', teachin' and a-buskin'. By singing for your supper and remembering what music's for and being grateful to be in the business of music rather than in the music business.

PostPosted: Fri Aug 22, 2008 2:12 pm
by howard male
June wrote –

In fact, I'd go as far as to say that the distinctive, brightly coloured design is the very thing that makes it attractive to retailers, who know a decent bit of marketing design when they see it and who, crucially, would never have thought of stocking world music before.


But of course! I’m sure it’s absolutely essential in shifting all that foreign music to fundamentally conservative Americans. That’s just one more reason why I find these covers so execrable. For the same reason I dislike any kind of product that I feel is patronising me, I dislike those CD covers. I think one of the big problems with the way a lot of world music is marketed comes down to this same over ingratiating attitude. I like covers with edge and attitude, not covers that look like diluted Chagalls.

PostPosted: Fri Aug 22, 2008 3:16 pm
by Tom McPhillips
howard male wrote: ‘isn’t the world just one big shiny happy village of dancing simpletons’ covers, I’m sure that some of their CDs are perfectly acceptable.


As to cover art I'll endorse June's comments, and affirm that many of their CD's are much better than "perfectly acceptable" the Mali and Cape Verde compilations, for instance are indispensable as far as I'm concerned, often pulled out of the pile. A track on Music of the Tea Lands was the first time I heard Oki. My only criticism of the label is the proliferation of "Lounge" collections - most of the ones I've heard are fairly lame and much musak. But I expect that they've sold well or they wouldn't keep doing it.

I've never had a problem with the cover art - it's their brand, and knowing what it takes to build a brand my hat's off to them!

And, Howard the art's not aimed at you, rather you might be the one patronizing the "typical Americans". Should I worry about the validity of your reviews now? Seemingly judging CD's by their cover seems to be a big factor in judging the music contained within.

Putumayo's done well, built a great brand, is a caring and responsible company and gets good music in front of people who otherwise wouldn't encounter it, and Howard? Have you fulfilled any of that? Where's that book we can judge the cover of? Not to mention that I'm really looking forward to it!

PostPosted: Fri Aug 22, 2008 3:46 pm
by BenSerbutt
Jonathan E. wrote:
"And while we're talking graphic design, IMHO, Songlines spends far too much time on theirs, it looks too polished and fussed over — and there's waaay, waaaaay too much white space!"

Ian A. wrote:
"Whilst it's very nice to have magazines and CD booklets look jolly arty, we should never lose sight of the fact that their main purpose is to carry information and be read, so page design should first and foremost be reader-friendly. I know a number of magazines in associated fields where a cover feature will be under 1000 words, plumped up to 4 or 5 pages with groovy graphics - I mean, Straight No Chaser always looked great but there was very little to read in it. Whereas with fRoots a cover feature is 4-5000 words. Mind you, the editor of a certain US world music magazine was once overheard at Womex asking somebody why on earth anybody would be interested in reading all those long features we publish, but I didn't lose heart!"

"I'd say that the main problem with CD booklet designers these days is that many never learned the basic rules of typography (in particular, why stuff works). Too tight leading, widows and orphans everywhere - aaarrghh, my visual equivalent of the sound of chalk scraping on a blackboard! Get the typography right and better design flows on from it . . ."


This is my first time commenting on a forum, but I thought after noticing the above comments, I should test the waters and wade in. Being the Songlines art director and all.

Firstly, I'm glad to see that our design does get noticed and commented on and I'd love to hear some more opinions, as it's something I'm always working hard on and tweaking.

In regards to the white space, being one of those annoying design-types, I'm always looking to introduce more, but as with all my design decisions, they are based on reason and ideas, rather than just wanting to be "arty". And I assume Jonathon, you are only talking about the features section of the magazine, as there is very little throughout the other 60% of pages, which is why I use as much as I can for the features.

The main reason for this is to give a change of pace to the magazine. We clearly define each section of the magazine not only in the Contents (Upfront, Features, Regulars and Reviews), but visually through design. As the rest of the mag is crammed with info, including the best use of photography we can afford, the features lend themselves to having more breathing space. This hopefully enables readers to spend some more time on them, easily find them when returning to the issue and generally enjoy some graphic design and photography.

To give a little insight into the process, my design decisions begin with the article in question and the music within - I always listen to each album and attempt to reflect some qualities of the writing and music in the layout and typography, bringing an individuality to each piece while maintaining an overall 'Songlines' feel. Just as I wouldn't design the same album cover for Britney Spears and Ali Farka Touré, I wouldn't apply the same design to each article. We restrict ourselves to two body copy fonts and three other fonts (with occasional strays, but always kerned and leaded precisely!) to give readers a unique Songlines experience always trying to make sure it is all reader-friendly, but also accessible.

Each feature follows a hierarchy of information and we try and use captions and pullout quotes as visual access points to each story. As most readers read any magazine article only after reading the headline, standfirst, pullout quote and captions, it's important to get these right and use them to draw readers in. I completely agree with Ian when he says "page design should first and foremost be reader-friendly". And following our redesign in 2006, which was when we brought in the white space (amongst everything else we did, obviously), we have seen a recognisable increase in sales at news-stand, at record trade and in subscriptions/renewals.

In terms of the length of features, that is mostly beyond my control, but I do sympathise with the US magazine editor. We are all bombarded with so much information nowadays, online, in newspapers, in magazines, that not many of our pieces go over 2,500 words, as people just don't have the time to read every page in every issue but we want to tempt them to at least want to! Having said that, we do operate in a slightly different market to fRoots and are attempting to draw in as many casual readers as we can, especially by selling on competitive news-stands such as WHSmiths. In the same way Putumayo builds a strong and recognisable brand (nevermind that the artwork is not to my taste), Songlines has a lot wider readership than the hard-core world music fans, so when they are flicking through it before their train arrives, I do hope the design, and dare I say it, the white space, occasionally sells a few more copies of the mag.

PostPosted: Fri Aug 22, 2008 3:52 pm
by howard male
Tom wrote -

Should I worry about the validity of your reviews now?


Yeah, you probably should, Tom. I wouldn’t go near them with a barge pole if I were you. Like every other reviewer that’s ever lived I am unfortunately susceptible to irrational influences. But having said that, my bad review of the global blues compilation I mentioned earlier had nothing to do with the art work. It really was a very poor collection.

PostPosted: Fri Aug 22, 2008 4:03 pm
by howard male
Benserbutt wrote –

I do hope the design, and dare I say it, the white space, occasionally sells a few more copies of the mag.


Hi Benserbutt. Welcome to the forum.

I am fairly sure the white spaces do help sell copies, and I do, on the whole, think Songlines is better looking the fRoots, although something between the rather dry, old-fashioned look of fRoots and the relative pizzazz of Songlines, would be my ideal. But it’s certainly interesting to get something of an insight into how a designer is thinking when they put together a magazine.

PostPosted: Fri Aug 22, 2008 4:05 pm
by Tom McPhillips
howard male wrote:Tom wrote -

Should I worry about the validity of your reviews now?


Yeah, you probably should, Tom


Don't worry, I've never worried about them much anyway - but enjoyed them? Yes very much! Keep posting them here, for those of us who would like to but can't really justify the outlay of our diminished dollars to TWO publications, and tend to alternate between them. I wish we had more reviews here on the Forum in general - seems like we used to. Maybe those editors got a bit miffed by the re-publication - might lose them sales...

PostPosted: Fri Aug 22, 2008 4:18 pm
by Ian A.
benserbutt wrote:Just as I wouldn't design the same album cover for Britney Spears and Ali Farka Touré, I wouldn't apply the same design to each article.

In our case, however, because advertisers bombard us with so many different typefaces, graphical styles and colours over which we have no control, we long ago took the decision to standardise fRoots feature page designs, otherwise we feel the magazine just becomes a daunting graphical jumble that doesn't draw the reader in to the meat of it. Thus the editorial side anchors the rest, and I feel that it gives more authority to the features too. Seems to work, especially as we have a lot more words, and it's not an unusual principle in magazine design (meaning we've stolen ideas from the best!).

But it's horses for courses . . .

benserbutt wrote:We are all bombarded with so much information nowadays, online, in newspapers, in magazines, that not many of our pieces go over 2,500 words, as people just don't have the time to read every page in every issue but we want to tempt them to at least want to! Having said that, we do operate in a slightly different market to fRoots.

More likely just a different type of reader: my impression of our average reader is that they already know they want to read the features, whether it's an artist they've heard of or not - that's what they tell us anyway. To return to the topic in hand, it's not unlike the way Putumayo do very well at drawing in the casual, entry level CD customer who will dip in and taste, and some may then be inspired to go in deeper. On the other hand the Rough Guide compilations are much more for people who are already in the door and committed, know they are interested and want more depth, but might be daunting to the beginner. Each has their place and each is a valid approach, but I wouldn't expect many people to be equally attracted to both.

PostPosted: Fri Aug 22, 2008 4:25 pm
by howard male
Tom wrote –

I wish we had more reviews here on the Forum in general - seems like we used to. Maybe those editors got a bit miffed by the re-publication - might lose them sales...


I’m sure most editors have neither the time nor the inclination to worry about such things. I’ve certainly never had an email telling me not to post them.

With the IoS ones (I've only very rarely posted Songlines or Word reviews) I just thought the odds were that only one or two forum regulars at most bought the paper, and the reviews didn’t seem easily reached on-line, so why not stick them up here once the date of their initial appearance had passed.

Initially I tried quite hard to persuade other forum journos and non-journos alike to post their reviews, but there were very few takers. Perhaps there was a degree of paranoir that they’d be told off. But I just felt that if I was told off, I’d just say, ‘sorry, sir. It won’t happen again, sir,’ and that would be that.

PostPosted: Fri Aug 22, 2008 4:51 pm
by CantSleepClownsWillGetMe
From a review in fRoots July 2008 edition:-

'Various Putumayo Presents African Party & Putumayo Kids Presents African Dreamland

Coming soon to a pot pourri and scented candle emporium near you. Nothing inherently wrong with many of the selections here, but this is music as lifestyle choice and the truly inquisitive will find the best of this music by other means. Meanwhile these albums will sell by the bucket-load with some of the proceeds going to AIDS charities, so everyone's a winner. '

which I interpret to mean:

Widely available to the mainstream public. A good selection of African tracks, (including Bonga, Chiwoniso, Toumani Diabaté, Ballaké Sissoko, and Mapumba to name but five) but this is music the plebs will buy only to try and appear intelligent, while people as clever as we are don't need bright graphics or clever marketing tools to find these artists, we just know. Meanwhile these albums will sell extremely well in comparison with most other world music compilations with some of the proceeds going to AIDS charities, so everyone's a winner. Oh bugger.

June

PostPosted: Fri Aug 22, 2008 5:03 pm
by Jonathan E.
ROTFLOLWJSOOAMVLAC

PostPosted: Fri Aug 22, 2008 6:33 pm
by Rod B.
Made curious by this thread I had a look at the Putumayo website, and I noticed that they'd uploaded this article by Telegraph family correspondent Tamsin Kelly, which I suspect tells you exactly how their CDs work, ie as used by families with young children as car music, as party music, or as end-of-the-day anaesthetic.

http://www.putumayo.com/pdfs/telegraph.pdf

But I couldn't help noticing her third sentence:

I also had a long-held belief that world music was what men you didn't want to date professed to like.


Blimey, that's a new one: world music fans as bad dates. But I guess it would make sense, what with all the sandal-wearing, bark-chewing, muesli-choking, and everything
;-).

PostPosted: Fri Aug 22, 2008 6:54 pm
by Dominic
Rod B. wrote:Blimey, that's a new one: world music fans as bad dates. But I guess it would make sense, what with all the sandal-wearing, bark-chewing, muesli-choking, and everything
;-).

Don't forget the beards!!!

PostPosted: Fri Aug 22, 2008 7:16 pm
by Jonathan E.
The English, at least the ones who stayed behind, are very funny with their incredibly restrictive and "correct" signifiers of style. Better not be even a millisecond out of step with your own little musical sub-culture. Chew the right bark at all times.

Is it true that even female world-music fans in the UK wear beards?

Or is it just that most music journalists, not the ones on this forum of course, are complete and utter wankers and can't think of anything worthwhile to say about their subject and so descend into name-calling at the first possible opportunity?

Ummm, not to indulge in any name-calling or anything like that myself, of course.