While traveling the world as a member of Twisted Sister, Jay Jay tracked down the most esoteric and obscure gear imaginable. He has stories about audio, the music biz, and pretty much everything else, and he shares them in Copper.
When Pop Music Meets Politics…
Originally published in Issue 31 of Copper Magazine, April 24, 2017
..things may not go as planned.
The recent presidential elections highlighted the use of pop music by candidates, and the controversy that the use of the music caused. This article will help to explain this use and answer the questions I get asked the most in this regard.
The reason why I am especially qualified to discuss this is that Donald Trump used one of our most famous songs, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and that caused much controversy, both for and against.
First, some basic information regarding the use of music in public spaces:
When you walk into a bar, gym or sports arena for example, you hear music. Usually sports teams in particular find the 10 songs that work the best, and play them over and over. Twisted Sister is one of the fortunate artists who have not one but two songs on most sports teams ‘must play’ list: “We’re Not Gonna Take It” & “I Wanna Rock”.
The organizations that license these venues to allow the use of the music and keeps records of the amount of play are ASCAP, BMI & SESAC. These are performance rights societies. All songwriters are signed to one of them in the US.
The venues pay a yearly license fee (how much depends on the size of the venue) and then the venue can play any of the songs that are licensed to the provider.
Between the three organizations they cover 99% of all music you know. Once you have that yearly license you don’t have to ask for permission, you just use the song, whenever and however you want. The venue then accounts to the performing rights organization, who in turn pays the writer/publisher for the use of the song(s).
When friends of mine go to any sporting event and hear my song, they text me and say “Hey man, just heard your song at the Mets game…Ka-Ching…”
Here is the deal.
The artist who performs that song (including the singer(s). And musicians, get paid….”0” That’s correct….nothing, nada.
The songwriter (or music publisher who owns the song rights), however does get paid….about 2 cents per play. You are reading that right…about 2 cents.
Now… you may wonder then, how and why. Well, as was explained to me years ago: “That’s the way the system operates”.
If you have a very popular song and you multiply that play times all the stadiums, bars, gyms etc then the pennies do add up— but only for the songwriter.
Now let’s deal with politics.
When a candidate, or really anyone or any organization, who rents out or uses a venue like an arena, auditorium or stadium for a rally, and that venue pays performance licensing fees, then the user can play whatever song is controlled by these organizations (about 30 million!) they want without asking any additional permission.
The difference between using a song at a sports event or a political rally is simple. When they hear a song at a sports event, no one automatically assumes that the artist who is performing that song is somehow favoring that team. People know that the use is generic.
But…when a politician uses a song, there is an assumption of support.
This all began in 1960 with The Rat Pack recording and performing the song “High Hopes” just for JFK. Jimmy Carter had the Allman Bros. play at his inauguration ball, Clinton used Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Thinking about Tomorrow” and also had them perform. John McCain used Chuck Berry’s song “Johnny B. Goode” as his theme song.
With that as background, Donald Trump started using famous rock songs as intro music when he walked on stage. He used songs by the Rolling Stones, Adele, Queen, Springsteen, and Twisted Sister at his rallies.
Because of the controversy Trump created by his inflammatory rhetoric, all these artists asked their publishers to have their songs taken off Trumps playlist (remember, he had the right to use the songs without having to gain permission.
Trump ignored the requests.
The only way left, if the politician (in this case, Trump) does not want to stop using the song is for the artist to publicly shame the user. This always works. That is what The Stones, Queen, Adele & Springsteen did. Politicians, in these cases, don’t want the protracted negative publicity and stop using the songs immediately.
In our case, my singer, Dee Snider, was a contestant of Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice and Trump helped Dee raise money for his selected charity. The use of our song, therefore, put us in a sensitive situation.
We were getting hammered by our fans about Trumps use of our song in public, at rallies. We were accused of either supporting Trump, or of selling out for a ton of Trump’s money!
Dee decided, and I fully supported this, to not publicly shame Trump but to go behind the scenes and explain to Trump that the band has historically stayed away from group endorsements of politicians and that this was creating a problem for us with our fans. That we didn’t want to publicly shame Trump either.
Trump stopped using our song immediately.
Read the original column in Copper Magazine.
How owning an audio system is like “Chasing the Dragon”
Originally published in Issue 30 of Copper Magazine, April 10, 2017
A old friend of mine became a gambling addict. His thing was Off Track Betting. He is extremely intelligent and while we were growing up never showed any signs of a personality disorder, let alone a gambling addiction.
One day i asked him how it started. He said “Well, I was hanging out with A friend of mine one beautiful spring day as he went to the local OTB and, as he was placing a bet, suggested that I put down 10 dollars on a horse. I had never bet a day in my life. I didn’t know how to fill out the slip and, more importantly (or so I thought) knew nothing about the horses running. He just told me to bet on the horse that he was betting on”’
The horse won.
And my old friend, on that beautiful spring day, won a couple of hundred dollars. Adrenaline pumped through veins. He thought that, somehow, his instincts were incredible and that it would lead to bigger and bigger wins.
The next day he went back to OTB.
He lost $300.00.
He then spent the next 30 years and $50,000 trying to get that $300 back…
My friend was Chasing the Dragon.
That is how I sometimes feel about my obsession with my audio system.
I think it is safe to say that to most readers of this magazine the love of music preceded any knowledge of “audio”.
I was 11 when my mother gave me a table top radio to listen to when I was home from school for three weeks in February 1963. I turned the dial until I came upon the number one radio station in America at that time: 77 WABC.
The number one song in the country that week was “Hey Paula”. The top twenty (actually, the top 10) was played over and over and that is when my addiction to pop music happened. I spent the following summer of 1963 listening to all the hits over a transistor radio that my dad gave me.
A transistor radio with a 1’ speaker.
A tinny, crappy, battery powered transistor radio.
But the songs…ah..the songs like “One Fine Day” by the Chiffons, “So Much In Love” by the Tymes, songs by The Beach Boys, The Surfaris, Jan & Dean and Little Stevie Wonder’s “Finger Tips part 2”.
All that and more, streaming out of a piece of crap transistor radio, and y’know what? It was fantastic. I fell in love with all of it.
Then, 9 months later, The Beatles hit the US with the force of a category 5 hurricane.
My parents bought me my first album Meet The Beatles and with it, a Westinghouse stereo record player with built in speakers.
What a difference that made. I never heard music like that.
And so it began.
Next came a Zenith record player with removable stereo speakers so you could spread out the sound.
But that wasn’t enough. I wanted more. I wanted bigger. I wanted better.
And the music….well, there was great music still to come but I could no longer listen to it from a transistor radio.
I was hooked on better audio. Listening would or could ever be the same again.
The way high end audio is marketed, it appeals to all of us who want to get closer to the music. To be fair, the best products do just that.
I can’t say that we get to the Absolute Sound as defined in that magazine as the “sound of an acoustic instrument in real space” that almost all audiophiles can reference because that is a myth. It is impossible simply because a performance is recorded.
What we strive for is to get closer to how the music sounds when it is played back in the studio where it was recorded or mixed. That’s as close as anyone can get. If it ain’t on the tape, no amount of money will get you closer. But, along the way, some of us just get lost in the hype and technology.
Would money actually allow me to buy audio gear that would give me the thrill and magic of hearing what I heard when I was 11, through that radio, come back? For years, I thought it could.
The more I spent, the closer I got (for short bursts) until I realized that I was no longer listening to the music. I was listening to my audio equipment.
I really thought that my audio (now High end audio) addiction was somehow justified by that journey.
One day I realized that all I was doing was an audio version of chasing the dragon.
As time went on, however, and without intervention or therapy, I reached bottom.
I had to remind myself that If a song was great, it was great because the song was great, not the audio system. If a band sent a demo to me, and I fell in love with it it was because it was always the music.
I began to learn to listen in a new way: I started to trust my emotions again. I started to put technology in perspective. That a reference system is a great luxury but not a necessity.
I can truly marvel at the ability for my reference system to create an immersive and emotional connection to the music I love and, if one can afford it, the toys to get you there are plentiful and amazing but I also have learned over the years that convenience trumps quality a lot of the time and that the music remains enjoyable regardless of how you play it back.
Okay…The audio Genie out of the bottle and I am not listening to music on a transistor radio but one can buy very inexpensive gear and still enjoy the music.
That is a testament to the quality of audio products available today (after adjusting for inflation) that sound amazing.
Now, 50 years later, I have also finally gotten to the point (it took long enough) where I actually listen to the music and not my system (s).
I live in Manhattan where, instead of owning multiple cars, I own multiple audio systems that serve different purposes:
—A Sonos system when friends are over that costs about $1,500.00 which Is on 75% of the time;
—A system hooked up to my computer so when I’m writing I have stereo music on my desktop. It costs about $1,000.00, and I listen to about 15% of the time.
—A vinyl based reference system that runs about 100K that we listen to on Sunday evenings with a glass of wine.
It’s like owning two Camry’s and a Mercedes: Camry’s are always dependable and easy. A Mercedes (like a high end audio system) is a very different animal….Like I said, We listen to my vinyl reference system on Sundays while having a nice bottle of wine.
It really does sound incredible, and It stands as a symbol.
It always reminds me of the time when I started Chasing the Dragon….
Read the original column in Copper Magazine.
The Audio Tourist
Originally published in Issue 29 of Copper, March 27, 2017
[ To get perfectly nerdy: if you drew a Venn diagram showing the overlap between metal fans and audiophiles, the union indicating common members would probably be tiny. And that’s a damn shame: both groups can be fanatical about music and sound quality. Jay Jay French may not be well-known to most audiophiles, but he is indeed a hardcore ‘phile: while traveling the world as a member of Twisted Sister, Jay Jay tracked down the most esoteric and obscure gear imaginable. He has stories about audio, the music biz, and pretty much everything else, and he will be sharing them in Copper. He mentions PS here only by way of intro—Ed.]
I first contacted Paul McGowan in 1987, seeking to upgrade my PS Audio 200c power amp to a 200cx. This upgrade was just the latest move in my lifelong search for the ‘holy grail’ audio experience.
Like me, most audiophiles could write an episode of “In Search Of….” I’m not sure how and when this group-think comprising of mostly males and beginning in the early to mid 1960’s, decided that the search for better audio would become a life-long obsession. At some point I will list, if for no other reason than to establish my cred, the very long list of gear that I have owned since this all started with a Sony receiver and a pair of KLH 6’s in 1968.
Suffice to say that in 1984 I bought a pair of Acoustat 2+2’s and the PS Audio power amp at Sound by Singer in Manhattan, after having walked out of Lyric HiFi due to the a very rude and disrespectful salesman. At that time, my band, Twisted Sister, was at our commercial peak having dominated MTV and the national FM radio conscience with the songs “Were Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock”.
At that time both Stereophile and The Absolute Sound dominated my reading lists and, because of our worldwide fame, I was able to indulge my audio habit in many of the countries that we toured in.
While the other band members would make arrangements with the local promoters to visit nightclubs or strip joints on our days off, I wanted to go to the audio factories or shops that were located in or near the cities that we visited (and yes, I will be telling some of those stories in future issues of Copper).
I spent my afternoons in search of audio gear and because of my new found celebrity, there were people who were excited to for me to find it and buy it. I bought Koetsu cartridges and a Nakamichi Dragon in the funky back rooms of appliance stores in the Akihabara in Tokyo, bought a preamp during a visit to the Perreaux factory in New Zealand, and purchased Quad pre- & power amps with B&W speakers in London.
I came back home after our first world tour with tales of audio purchases for my friends.
I was in audio heaven.
This is not exactly the Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll story that you may have wanted to hear but….this is an audio magazine so get used to it…
This brings me back to my talking to Paul McGowan.
In 1987 Twisted Sister stopped performing live. In 1990, with the 200cx still rocking my system, I was driving through the west on a vacation. Paul had invited me to stop by and visit him and his family in Vail, Colorado— you know how those kind of phone conversations go: “If you’re ever out my way, please come on over for dinner”….Like someone is really going to take you up on that…
Well, I did. My wife Janice and I spent a great evening with Paul & Terri.
It is now 27 years later: both Twisted Sister and PS have morphed into something much greater than either Paul or I could have imagined.
It has been a very long and strange trip for both of us.
I now contribute business articles for Inc.com called “The French Connection,” a Beatles column for Goldmine Magazine called “Now We’re 64!,” and features for the Jewish Daily Forward newspaper.
Over the next several months, thanks to an offer from Paul, I will indulge my audio fixation with stories that I hope you find interesting. Trust me when I tell you that, with high-end audio often as a backdrop, my life took turns that you won’t believe.
Oh yeah— Paul & Terri, get dinner ready. I will be over again, real soon!
[Remember, Jay Jay…they’re vegetarians! —Ed.]
Read the original column in Copper Magazine.