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Chris Anderson’s theory of The Long Tail first appeared at Wired (of which he is Editor-in-Chief) in 2004. Subsequently expanded and published as a book in 2006, the theory’s fundamental premise is that online markets have allowed for greater diversity and inclusion of niches in the distribution of products such as music, movies and books.

Anderson says online distribution and retail reflects today’s ‘world of abundance’ and that it has profoundly increased our exposure to lesser-mainstream goods.

Physical retail outlets such as DVD (or video) rental stores, record/CD/DVD shops, and bookstores have to work on the economic premise of their products’ likelihood of return on investment (ROI). Simply, this means the physical space their products take up on their shelves is restricted and dependent upon their chance of selling, thus ensuring they were worthy of stocking and space. If an item sits on a shelf and isn’t sold, it is wasting space that could be used to temporarily house another item more likely to sell and earn a profit for the store. It is principally predicting the economic viability of each product, based on its likelihood to sell or regularly turn in a profit (in the case of rental stores).

Entertainment in a physical world, such as described above, also has implications for movie theatres. The relatively frequent high number of cinemas in reasonably-sized metropolitan areas is evident, and each cinema needs to find local audiences in order to make their screenings economically worthwhile. Managers must also take into account the limited number of hours a day they are likely to attract customers, and schedule their screenings and staffing requirements accordingly. All this results in an entertainment economy revolving highly around mainstream hits, as they are the most likely to produce a more impressive ROI.

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Anderson explains the primary difference between physical retail outlets and those that are purely digital services is that for the latter, both ‘hits and misses’ are equally viable financially. This stems from the fact that neither take up any physical space, meaning they are on equal economic footing and misses are ‘just another sale, with the same margin as a hit’.

What Anderson’s research has shown is when the demand for niche products is served, there is actually less interest in the hits. However, whichever online platform is selling or leasing the products – Amazon, iTunes, Netflix – they still receive an equal profit regardless of what the customer purchases. The only difference is the customer is more likely to be satisfied with their product, and I would extrapolate on this to say that subsequently, they are more likely to return for additional goods in the future.

Ultimately, Anderson calls this the ‘infinite shelf-space effect’ where subscription services (Netflix, Spotify) and digital downloading services (iTunes, Amazon) are able to offer more personalised products to customers through ‘stocking’ an unlimited number of choices.

The other important aspect of the digital entertainment industry is that through tracking patterns of user’s purchases, clicks (viewings) and interests in/of products, the service is able to ‘recommend’ additional products the user may also enjoy. I personally find it both helpful and overwhelming when viewing a book on Amazon to note just below ‘my’ book (the one which I have searched for/am interested in), a whole range of other books I might be interested in, thanks to what other customers interested in ‘my’ book also purchased.

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Similarly, to purchase products one creates an account which tracks your data and keeps a history of your views and purchases.

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Obviously this is commonplace in any online marketplace, and each operates through establishing a network of user preferences, similarities between customers, and analytical software and systems.

A key point Anderson makes however, is that digital stores are still highly dependent on the ‘hits’ or mainstream products to attract consumers in the first place. He writes:

Great Long Tail businesses can… guide consumers further afield by following the contours of their likes and dislikes, easing their exploration of the unknown.

The benefits of Long Tail businesses, as Anderson asserts, are numerous for both the entertainment industry and individuals. Customers are able to access (or are involuntarily offered) customised recommendations based on their browsing patterns through what Anderson calls an ‘increased signal-to-noise ratio’ – based on good recommendations – with the potential for introducing customers to alternate products and encouraging exploration into new fields connected through their customised network.

Businesses utilise recommendations as an efficient and effective form of marketing that also drives users towards lesser-known products which, in turn, are able to find an audience.

Anderson says the benefits for the entertainment industry are immense, with customisation leading potential to create a far larger market overall. Recommendations can ‘drive demand down the Long Tail’;

And the cultural benefit of all of this is much more diversity, reversing the blanding effects of a century of distribution scarcity and ending the tyranny of the hit.

Songs I Love to Hate: generally these songs are overplayed on commercial radio stations, may be used in advertising, are sung by mainstream artists worth millions of dollars who couldn’t give two shits about our opinion because ultimately, we’re listening to it whether we like it or not. Quite often, I’ll like the song the first time or first few times I hear it. It’ll be catchy and repetitive before becoming an unwelcome ear worm, slugging away in my ear; stretching out when it’s least wanted and curling back up to sleep when I’m actively engaged in something important. But something about their ridiculous quota of airtime and popular success ignites a passion deep within that sustains our interest enough for us to remember how much we dislike the song or possibly the artist. When the song/artist comes up in conversation we immediately pounce, saying how much we hate it/them and how if hear that song “one more time…” Yeah. We might find ourselves swimming against the current and that’s okay. Just so long as you know how to tread water while waiting for the storm to pass and everyone to get addicted to some other new release, possibly by the same artist but hopefully, by some new one hit wonder with better tone, musicality and talent than the last.

Case in point:

Anything by T.Swift especially 22, One Direction (lol, R.I.P Haylor), Lily Allen, Thrift Shop by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Diamonds by Rihanna, Somebody That I Used to Know by Gotye ft. Kimbra, Glamorous by Fergie

But You Belong With Me has the cutest video clip ever!

Songs I Hate to Love: on the other hand, I find myself mildly embarrassed to love some songs. They are commonly commercial hits by international acts with huge budgets and an entourage of hundreds running behind. The good thing about secretly loving these songs is that more often than not, you’ll find you’re not alone in your singing while driving, dancing in your bedroom or stalking the twitter account of the artist. The most obvious way to out a secret lover is by catching them humming the melody, or by scrolling through their iTunes Most Played playlist, and finding the artist’s entire album slotted in alphabetically after an impulsive download late at night. Unlike those we Love to Hate, it might take us a while to grab onto the wow factor of these tunes – if there is any wow involved at all – but once we’ve caught on, we’re hooked for good. These songs also may be connected to memories or occasions that mark special moments in one’s life. The artists may be better performers than musicians, speakers than singers and give great interviews obviously scripted by a smart publicist wanting to sell tickets. But ultimately, they’ve most likely got me, and you, between their hot little hands, ready to refresh our browsers 101 times at 9am to get a ticket to their next gig.

Case in point:

Sexyback by Justin Timberlake, Beauty and a Beat by Justin Bieber ft. Nicki Minaj, Scream & Shout by will.i.am ft. Britney Spears, Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepson (shout out to the Bieber/Gomez/Tisdale video clip), Gangnam Style by PSY, Festival Song by Pez ft. 360, The Sweet Escape by Gwen Stefani ft. Akon, Girlfriend by Avril Lavigne, Party in the U.S.A by Miley Cyrus

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These past few years I’ve not seen many films in the cinema. I’ve seen plenty of movies and watched seasons of many series’ at home, but I’d say that generally I would have been able to count the number of times I’d set foot in a cinema on one hand. I think 2013 is going to be the year in which I venture to the big screen more and more, if these first two weeks are anything to go by.

This weekend alone, I’ve been to the movies twice. Last night, I saw Hitchcock and this evening, The Perks of Being A Wallflower. So I thought I’d gather a few thoughts and pen them to page – or type them or whatever you’re supposed to say when press keys down and magically your thoughts appear on the screen in front of you.

***Potential spoiler alert***

Sadly/shamefully/oddly, I knew almost nothing about Alfred Hitchcock before last night. I knew he’d directed Psycho, and that was about it. I knew the screeching Psycho music but would not have necessarily associated the sound with the silver screen. Hitchcock is directed by Sacha Gervasi, a journalist-writer and a relative newcomer to the directorial scene. The story is thought to be a biographical story of the lives of Alfred Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville, yet is based on Stephen Rebello’s book, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho.

Anthony Hopkins is a portly Hitchcock, with intriguing lips and a waddle to be applauded for what must have been the result of in-depth character development. Hitchcock, or ‘Hitch’ as he is more commonly known, is an avid eater, a charmer and a risk taker, who believes in himself and his work so much that he will mortgage his house to make a film will very little backing from producers or distributors. Yet he has undoubted support from his wife, Alma, a stubborn, hearty and dedicated Helen Mirren, who portrays her character with great integrity. I can only imagine the real Alma, had she lived to see this production, would have been proud and satisfied with Mirren’s performance. Ultimately, it is a story of relationships (aren’t they all), but more specifically of the strength of a woman who dares to live her own life while standing by her husband and all of his endeavours. 

The film also features Scarlett Johansson, James D’Arcy, Toni Collette, Jessica Biel and Danny Huston, who to my eye, looks like he’s just jumped out of a Walt Disney picture. His face is so huge and animated, it consumed me almost as much as it filled up space on screen.

All in all, it’s not a must see, but definitely is well-directed, well-cast, and acted thoughtfully and thoroughly (if that’s even a ‘thing’). I kind of wish it were nominated for an Oscar or two, best supporting actress being the stand out pick, if any.

On a completely different note, Perks was something I’d been wanting to see since hearing it was coming out as a film, many months ago. While Hitchcock was seen on a whim, this had been in the pipeline for a long time. I feel slightly unauthorised to speak about this film considering I haven’t read the book, which I feel indebted to read even more as a result of seeing the film. I always think it’s best to read the book first, but for some reason, I didn’t get around to it. Let’s say it’s now etched into my ever-growing To Read list.

The story is directed by and the screenplay, adapted by Stephen Chbosky, author of the original novel. With a young yet all-star cast, he has done a wonderful job of portraying youth through relationships, sadness, conflict and self-doubt. Coined as a coming-of-age novel, it has a cult-like following and this group will no doubt have grown since stars Ezra Miller and Emma Watson have jumped on board.

A narrative spoken by Charlie (Logan Lerman) tracks his growth from a shy freshman with many secrets and no friends, to his time as a young man with knowledge of love, experiences of beauty, fun and an ability to speak the truth and be heard, without shame and free from judgement. Charlie is introduced to drugs, sex, pain and honesty through his friendship with Patrick, (Miller) and his step-sister Sam, (Watson). The film deals with issues that could have been brutalised and vulgarised if not handled with appropriate care, including gay relationships, mental illness, sexual disturbance and violence. But it is a testament to the story, the acting and the greater direction and production of the film, that each of these occurrences are told with authenticity and respect. The depiction Charlie’s inner torment and his time in hospital is delicate, as are the subtle yet powerful references to various characters’ sexual abuse.

A stand out performance award must go to Ezra Miller, previously best known for playing the title role in We Need to Talk About Kevin, one of my favourite films. In Perks he is Patrick, a queer/queeny, enthusiastic spark with a confidence sure to be envied by teenagers and adults alike. Apart from his distinctive physical features, his acting is impeccable. The first Rocky Horror scene is possibly the one of the best moments in theatre ever. You have GOT to see it, words cannot describe… Other casting is also superb, including Paul Rudd as Mr Anderson and Mae Whitman (whom I love from Parenthood) as Mary Elizabeth. Additional familiar faces include Joan Cusack, Kate Walsh and Dylan McDermott.

I would highly recommend Perks to people of any age. It is an eclectic mix of romance, drama, teen-fiction and simple, raw emotion. It will make you feel something. And whatever that feeling may be, is special in itself.

Maybe these are summaries more than reviews, or thoughts rather than star ratings, but I felt compelled to write something about my hours in front of the big screen this weekend. If nothing else, I hope you too, might now venture out to see either of these films, and do let me know what you think of them. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

It’s crazy how we define ourselves by numbers so often these days. Numbers find their way into our lives as restrictions, boundaries, descriptions and ultimatums. To be a fight attendant you must be a certain height, dieters seek a number on the scale, people are obsessed by clothing sizes and how they differ between labels, students finishing year 12 receive an ATAR score which determines what university course they get into, there are age limits for drinking, driving and most public pools have an age you must be to swim unsupervised. And these are but a few examples. In some cases, age specifics are sensible, others, maybe not. But defining one’s self by a number is, for the most part, unhelpful, especially considering that number may grow, fluctuate or change over time.

Last night, I saw Les Miserables, the story of 24601, or Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a prisoner in a pre-revolutionary France, who breaks parole but is touched by kindness and God, and spends the rest of his life doing good deeds while running from the watchful eye of police officer, Javert (Russell Crowe). The Victor Hugo novel became the one of the most watched musicals of all time, and there was much anticipation for this film production that was released in Australia on Boxing Day.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of music theatre. However, back in 2005, I saw an amateur production of Les Mis and was far from taken by the music or the story. Based on this production and my thoughts thereafter, Les Mis has always been a bit of an in joke in my family, as we laughed in awe of how such a depressing, bland musical could ever have become so popular. In retrospect, I think I was too young to see the complexities and depth of the superficially simple plot, and I suspect by the time the production I saw came to a close, it was probably a late night and I just wanted to be in bed. The show is very lengthy, as is the movie. But the screening we went to last night only started at 10:30pm, and I was most certainly kept away for the film’s full duration.

What struck me about the film were a few key decisions made by the production crew, which I’d read about before seeing the film itself. Firstly, the casting was (almost) impeccable, and was broadly international in that it was far from a Hollywood/strictly British cast. With leads from Australia, the US and the UK, the search really had gone out for the best of the best. The casts came from a range of backgrounds and experiences, with Anne Hathaway as Fantine (reprising a role her own mother played when Hathaway was a child), musical theatre-famed Aaron Tveit and Samantha Barks (my personal favourite), and new faces including the superb Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche, with an almost blank entry on imdb. Character actors Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as Sir and Madame Thenardier stayed true to their roots, and the majority of the cast were able to sing in tune, with clear diction and didn’t make me want to block my ears. That’s pretty good for a blockbuster movie.

Secondly, the fact that the cast sang live, to the camera is very impressive. I’m a stickler for badly-sunk television or film, as it just takes the picture so far away from anything actually authentic being portrayed. But in Les Mis, each lead was fitted with an ear piece so that the orchestrated score was played to them as they sang. In my opinion, this made the movie. It is both thoughtful and effective, and the fact that the actors sang live on set showcases their talent and their adaptability. If the character was sobbing, their singing was disrupted, but in a good way. Things were incredibly fluid and the immediate emotions were complete and whole, like they should be – and would be, on stage.

Finally, the big budget of the film made it possible to have a really large ‘ensemble’, or cast. The opening scene where we meet Jean Valjean as a prisoner, the Work Song is sung and the choreography (if you could call it that, perhaps movement is more suitable) is performed, as well as the scenes of the barricades are vast and people-strong. I don’t know how realistic that first scene is, but it’s certainly visually spectacular.

I wasn’t expecting much from the film to be honest, so I was pleasantly surprised at the talent and the production overall. If you’re not a fan of nonstop singing, maybe it’s not your thing. See The Hobbit instead?

Now I’m just hoping for that rumoured stage revival in 2013. A new year, another number. Just wait 365 days and that will change again, too. Here’s to the last 23 hours of 2012.

In January this year, she up and moved across the country. She packed her clothes, her dancing shoes, shipped her car and transferred her position at a nation-wide store to another state. She’d worked hard and travelled to the United States to gain experience. She’d auditioned for a panel of industry experts who analysed her singing, heard her monologue and watched her dance in the call backs. And she impressed them.

With so much talent, she gained a place in not one but two performing arts colleges. The decision was made and in a matter of weeks she’d relocated. A tiny bunch of first years with the hopes and dreams of the Fame school in tow, twenty lucky and talented performers were given their chance to shine. They’d come up on top of hundreds of applicants and their time was now. And it is now.

She’s been back and forth between states numerous times throughout the year, but as of the weekend, she’ s back for good. Well, for the summer. And we caught up today in the heart of Windsor, among slow walkers, people sipping coffee, thrift shops and free ice cream at the opening of the new Ben and Jerry’s store.

It’s crazy how different two people’s experiences of their first year of university can be. Her course is full on. Full time. Five days a week of learning, stretching, rehearsing, training, dancing, singing, keyboard playing, costumes, blocking, acting, performing, bonding. The small intake each year gives students the chance to become a family, as well as befriending and housemating second and third years of their course. The course has traditions. The theatre is full of traditions. They have houses allocated to the school that have been passed down through the generations of graduates. The second years fundraise for the third years and perform for the first years. They train together, they party together. They live in each others back pockets and secrets are scarce. But it sounds incredible. Arts school. Performing arts college. It’s traditionally American but uniquely Australian at the same time.

The graduating Class of 2014 come from all corners of the country. From Cairns to Adelaide, Mooloolaba to Sydney, Perth and of course, Melbourne. They’re of different ages, some straight out of high school, some in their twenties, and a mix of boys and girls. They may be as different as they come, but share a united vision of soloing in a Broadway show, name in lights and closing to a standing ovation. To an outsider, it may seem like a long shot, but these kids have got what it takes.

We visited the auditions for next years intake which were going on down the road. In so many situations you hear of the older group making fun of, teasing, belittling or scoffing at the younger group. But as my friend told me, her class are so excited to have ‘new first years’. It is such a community and the vibe is invigorating.

There’s something about the performing arts that’s like a disease. You catch it and then you’re plagued with it for life. Amidst such tough competition, everyone is there to support each other. There is something in performers that runs through their blood, constantly pumping through their veins and it makes them come alive. They have a dream and they’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen. They work when they’re sick, they rehearse insane hours, they push on when their feet are sore and life is throwing everything at them. But I guarantee, when they perform, you are witnessing their heart and sole on the line, every single time. They show their vulnerabilities and it takes guts to expose yourself to an audience like they do. Once song may have hours and hours of work behind its facade. And making it seem easy and effortless is only part of the task.

But don’t be misled. Performers have skills that trick you, and lead you into a world outside your own. You’re suddenly inside their world, the world of the stage and in that world, anything is possible. It’s a wonderful place to be in and it’s there for the taking.

So go and see a show. Book tickets to a musical, a play, a showcase. And after the curtains have closed and you’re processing what you’ve seen, take a minute to consider the hard work that’s gone into that performance. It’s a mindfuck. And then leave with the confidence that by seeing that show, you are helping to sustain an industry and the life of individuals who live for the stage and the thrill of performing. And then go and book tickets to another – ’cause you’ve been tickled by strains of that blessed disease. The performing disease. All the world’s a stage, you just have to open your eyes.