Thursday, 20 March 2014

The Indie Man

One of the things that makes us all uniquely different as human beings is our own individuality. Whilst millions of people could have any one of the same songs that I have on their iPod's, the chances of any single one of them having an identical playlist to the one I'm currently listening to is infinitesimal.

Music is one of those things that defines us as individuals and is very special to us. That is why I never run down any musical artists, even if I don't personally like them. I find it quite shallow and egocentric of people when they make sweeping statements of their own opinions and present them as fact, e.g. "Westlife are crap".

I choose Westlife as an example because I personally can't stand them though clearly lots of people do as they have sold millions of songs. If asked for my opinion I'd just say I didn't like them.

Different people follow different musical genres and have different tastes. The one piece of advice I could offer to any youngster starting out on their own musical journey (that makes me sound so old) is to be yourself and like the music that you like - don't go along with the herd and like what everyone else is into just because you want to fit in. I'm thinking back here maybe 10 or 15 years to when every teenager was walking around in a slipknot hoodie. That was the thing to be into then.

I've always been different and indvidualistic, hence my complete failure to be a team player at Nielsen. I never could see the point of that whole thing to be honest. By being part of a team you are dragging yourself down to the strength of the weakest link and we had plenty of them. There's no team in "I"! So it has been throughout my life and I frequently shun popular trends and fads - don't ever try to talk to me about the X factor by the way because a stony silence and fierce glare often offends. And that's if I'm in a good mood.

This "Indie" nature of mine extends to all areas of my life. It's one of the reasons why I've not at any point attempted to seek out an established publisher for my books (assuming any would be interested of course!). I get more satisfaction out of the fact that I've done it all completely independently. To be fair if Penguin came calling I probably wouldn't turn them away, but at least I'd have the satisfaction of knowing I'd got to this point all by myself (so far).

So it is no surprise at all to discover that the genre of music I have always been drawn to is "Indie". Now I am not one of those people who goes around saying "I'm into Indie" or ever subconsciously planned to be into Indie music, it just sort of happened.

So what exactly is "Indie" music? It's not quite as easy to define as Heavy Metal or Jazz for example as we all have a clear idea what that means. It's not exactly pop, rock or dance, but can contain elements of all of these.

Originally back in the 80s it meant bands who produced their music independently as opposed to being signed to a major label. In the much missed Record Mirror which I bought religiously every week until it folded there was a whole sections dedicated to charts and this included an indie chart. This chart was dominated by the likes of The Smiths, Depeche Mode and New Order and many other obscure names which was exactly what I was into. I wasn't alone either - when I got to college to do my A-levels I found many others with similar musical interests so although retaining my independent outlook I at least had some friends to share it with.

Other the years the term "Indie" evolved to mean more of a style of music - so something that sounded "Indie" could well be produced by a major label. Everyone probably has their own interpretation but to mean it meant broadly the 80s indie scene as touched on above, the whole late 80s, early 90s "Madchester" scene and various other music of that time e.g Happy Mondays, Shamen, "Brit Pop" - Blur, Pulp etc and then the mid-noughties emergence of the likes of the Kooks, Kaiser Chiefs and Keane.

Depeche Mode - Kings of the 80s Indie charts.

Such music comes and goes and there are periods such the early noughties and now where there is very little seemingly happening on that front,  but just as I am about to despair, a new wave comes along.

How did all this fit in with me as a DJ? Very badly as it happened. Now I enjoyed my years working as a DJ but one of the things that was frustrating about it was that I very rarely if ever had the freedom to play the music I wanted to. That was purely down to the kind of DJ I was. People hired me for their parties and had various ideas of what they wanted - sometimes quite detailed and others not. But the key component most times was that it had to be played safe. So wedding after wedding, 40th party after 50th I found myself playing the same old "classics" - Abba, Wham, Bon Jovi, Rihanna, etc etc. I just simply couldn't go to a wedding reception and play something like "Eberneezer Goode" even if it was a big hit and reached number one two decades ago - that was not what people wanted. Then there were the requests - which you feel duty bound to play but which often go down like a lead balloon. I'm sure Fatboy Slim never has to fend off annoying drunken people asking him to play The Birdie Song.

I liked to plan playlists but that frequently went out of the window once I got to a place and assessed the audience. Sometimes it was better e.g. Halloween I really could put together a playlist sneaking in a few songs to my personal taste and get away with it because it was a Halloween theme. But I never truly got the chance in all those years to put on a gig anywhere purely with my own set, saying "this is what I like - and it's for all indie fans of my generation", with no requests, no hassle, just me doing what I really wanted to do with an amazing four hour set of true indie classics.

So I have put together this, my dream indie list. OK, so not all of it you might consider to be Indie, and I haven't put all my favourites in - after all there is no point putting in a load of songs from artists no-one has ever heard of so I've kept it relatively mainstream. I'm sure there are some glaring omissions you would have expected to see as well.

NB: I haven't organised it into any proper playlist order - in fact it is roughly chronological.

I probably never will get the chance to perform my dream set now, though if offered the chance I might even consider coming out of retirement to do it. But just in case I don't, I've put it all together for you right here, so stick this lot into your iPod, close your eyes, think of me with my little DJ booth and think about what might have been!

Love Will Tear Us Apart Joy Division
Reward The Teardrop Explodes
Just Can't Get Enough Depeche Mode
Boys Don't Cry The Cure
Blue Monday New Order
What Difference Does It Make The Smiths
She Sells Sanctuary The Cult
Crash Primitives
Fools Gold The Stone Roses
Getting Away With It Electronic
All Together Now The Farm
Dub Be Good To Me Beats Internationl ft Lindy
Step On Happy Mondays
Real Real Real Jesus Jones
This Is How It Feels Inspiral Carpets
Shine On House Of Love
The Only One I Know Charlatans
Birdhouse In Your Soul They Might Be Giants
There's No Other Way Blur
The Size of a Cow The Wonder Stuff
7 Ways To Love Cola Boy
Move Any Mountain Shamen
3AM Eternal The KLF Feat. The Children Of The Revolution
Out Of Space Prodigy
You're in a Bad Way Saint Etienne
Animal Nitrate Suede
Rocks Primal Scream
Girls & Boys Blur
Basket Case (1994) Green Day
Inbetweener Sleeper
Alright Supergrass
Disco 2000 Pulp
Roll With It Oasis
Ladykillers Lush
Place Your Hands Reef
Monkey Wrench Foo Fighters
Nancy Boy Placebo
Your Woman White Town
Lovefool The Cardigans
Ready To Go Republica
Avenging Angels Space
Push It Garbage
You Get What You Give New Radicals
Sunburn Muse
Mr E's Beautiful Blues Eels
Buck Rogers Feeder
Danger! High Voltage Electric Six
Take Me Out Franz Ferdinand
Left Outside Alone Anastacia
Golden Touch Razorlight
In the Shadows The Rasmus
Mr. Brightside Killers
This Is The Last Time Keane
Dakota Stereophonics
Feel Good Inc Gorillaz
Jerk It Out Caesars
I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor Arctic Monkeys
Love Me Like You Magic Numbers
You're All I Have (radio edit) Snow Patrol
She Moves In Her Own Way (radio version) Kooks
Monster Automatic
Chelsea Dagger Fratellis
Love It When You Call Feeling
Grace Kelly Mika
Starz In Their Eyes Just Jack
Same Jeans The View
She's So Lovely Scouting For Girls
Goodbye Mr. A Hoosiers

Jason's third book all about his adventures in the world of sausages, is now available. Click here for more details:

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Fully booked

Last Saturday Claire and I went out for our monthly nosebag, heading once again into Bicester - Oxford will come later in the summer.

Usually I book somewhere but what with all the focus on Cheltenham last week (which went very well, thank-you) I did not get around to trying to organise something until Saturday itself. When I rang Denis they could not fit us in until after 9pm, so we decided to chance our arm and walk into Pioneer Square and see if we could get in to one of the three new restaurants there all of which we've been to and enjoyed before.

I was struck by how lively and vibrant the whole area of the square was. The new restaurants and the cinema have brought the centre of Bicester alive and it was great to soak up the atmosphere of lots of people around all enjoying themselves. I really do believe that this new development is the best thing ever to happen for Bicester and as more units fill up it will get even better.

The drawback of all off this was that the restaurants were all full up. We enquired first at Nandos and then at Prezzo but both had significant waits for tables. We had a look in Deans which looked full too but didn't enquire. I see that more as a lunchtime place, it's brash and bright and fun but not so much the place for us two wanting a quiet meal for two. If we'd had the kids with us it would have been a different story, as it's perfect for them though.

This left us a little short of options. We didn't want to go to the Copper Kitchen this time as although really good we went there last time. There are quite a few places that we don't fancy because of our own personal likes and dislikes. Claire doesn't like fish, I don't like curry (even the smell of it makes us heave) and neither of us is keen on Thai so Trinity has been off the rota since it got taken over. I really miss Maba which was my favourite - every time we went there it was superb. I could have a good old steak and chips without a lot of fuss. Some might scoff at my traditional tastes but I know what I like and I'm a confirmed, heart on the sleeve, meat and potatoes man and always will be.

However, what I do like is a good chinese and so we thought, "let's try the Yin Hong". This is one of Bicester's oldest established restaurants and I've visited many times over the years but with all the fuss over the new establishments, I'd almost forgotten about it of late. We went round there and although busy they managed to squeeze us in a table for two and I'm so glad they did. I've always enjoyed the food in there, but it seems better than ever now - clearly with all the new competition they are right at the top of their game. They do an "all you can eat" menu for a set price of £15.95, though there are limits - you can't just order everything on the menu. Not that this was a problem for me - we ordered a plate of mixed hors d'oevres to start - all excellent. The ribs were some of the best I have ever had - pure meat coming straight off the bone, no chewy bony gristly bits that you often get in takeaways. We then had some duck with pancakes. I ordered a 1/4 duck but it seemed a lot more than that. Again excellent. We then had 3 mains and a bowl of rice. All of this was more than sufficient and I felt quite stuffed afterwards. There was certainly no room for dessert!

It was only my second day of the month consuming alcohol so along with the meal I ordered a nice bottle of Shiraz. I know I have said it before but alcohol is so much nicer now it is a treat. This was pretty powerful stuff as I noticed on the bottle it was 15%. That's really high for wine, almost fortified like Port. Usually I buy wine with around 12% - 13% from Majestic so it was really noticeable. Afterwards we planned to go for a few drinks so we went down to the Kings Arms to see our old pal Funky Mike in action (playing to a rather mature audience on this occasion) but we were so stuffed full of food, even one pint was hard work to get down, so we were home well before midnight.

It was really good going to the Yin Hong again and great to see them doing so well in the face of all the new openings and it was great to see all the new places fully booked and thriving as well. It's not that long ago that a comment complaint about Bicester was that it was full of Indian restaurants and little else. Now there's a real choice and something for everyone.

Just before I go, I'm pleased to announce that my first book, Fortysomething Father now has a brand new professionally designed cover. Why have I changed it - all shall be explained in my next blog entry!

NB: The bags of crisps and pepperamis
 are in the back pockets!

Jason's third book all about his adventures in the world of sausages, is now available. Click here for more details:

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Dare to be different!

This blog entry is predominantly about horse racing so if it doesn't interest you, it's probably best to look away now. I suggest looking back through the archive for some of the "funny" posts about sausages instead!

Our school's motto is "Dare to be wise". I like this. I have changed one word though for the purpose of today's post, because I like to "Dare to be different".

What do I like to dare to be different about? Well all sorts of things really. When it comes to popular culture, the more popular something is, the less I like it. Mass market TV such as The X Factor is a big no-no for me. I've always nailed my mast to the cult and niche interests. In my teenage years and beyond it was indie music all the way. In fact if a song by an act I liked made it to No.1 in the charts, I'd go off them! Fortunately the likes of The Smiths, Depeche Mode and others never scaled such dizzy heights.

Being a Doctor Who fan was also tough going during the 90s when it had gone off the air and was considered uber-geek territory by many. But now look at it! NB: I've made an exception for Doctor Who, I still like it despite its huge popularity now.

Today is the first day of the best race meeting of the year - The Cheltenham Festival. To us fans of the jumping game the whole season leads up to this point. As many of you know, I do enjoy a bet and I'm sure you've all got tired of hearing of how my latest holiday has been paid for by some horse or other, but every year, there are fantastic opportunities to make money betting at Cheltenham.

For a start, there's tremendous value on offer. It's the equivalent of Tesco, Sainsbury and Asda fighting to the death in a bitter price war over the staples, practically giving away their eggs, milk and bread. I've talked about value many times with regards to supermarkets, but it's there with the horses too. Prices vary between the bookmakers and you can back a horse at a variety of prices, some value some not.

So if the value on offer is so good, why do you never see a poor bookie? Because the vast majority of punters aren't clued up enough to seek out the best value, and are also duped by pundits and other punters in the pub and betting shop into backing the same obvious selections and the bookmakers have long seen them coming.

This year's big race is the Champion Hurdle, and all the fuss and betting revolves around the first four horses in the market who are all priced around the 3/1 to 4/1 mark. As is always the case, no-one can see beyond these four horses. All of the media coverage is about them, nearly everyone you meet who wants to express an opinion will tell you one of them will win - and the fact of the matter is, one of them probably will. It is more likely than not. But it is not the certainty that everyone would have you believe, and I have always preferred to row against the crowd and find another horse that everyone else has written off as not being good enough and consequently priced at very attractive odds.

People are scared to back these horses because everyone else says they have no chance and they are frightened of the ridicule they'll get if they say they are going to back them, so instead they go along with the herd and back the same short priced runners. But if they were to look back at the ten year trends box in the Racing Post they would see the following winners of the Champion Hurdle.

2004 Hardy Eustace 33/1
2007 Sublimity 16/1
2008 Katchit 10/1
2009 Punjabi 22/1
2012 Rock On Ruby 11/1

So there's five double figure prices in the past ten years alone. All good horses but seemingly not considered quite good enough on the day to be picked by the punters, whereas many of the so called good things crashed and burned.

So what am I looking for today? There's a horse that fits the bill perfectly, plenty of winning form, nice price and exactly the sort of horse that in the long term pays dividends for patient punters who are willing to endure a few losers whilst waiting for a big payday. You see this horse is unlikely to win, but the whole point is, a long term strategy of backing this sort of horse in the big races will make you money in the long run - as long as you get on it at the right price which is the MOST important factor of all.

The horse I am looking at is called "Melodic Rendezvous". The odds on it vary from as low as 18/1 to as high as 33/1 with one bookmaker (Stan James) as I write.

I said it was extremely unlikely to win, but the whole point in backing at these sorts of odds is you don't have to be right that often. Those punters backing the 3/1 favourites have got to get it right at least one time in every four bets to make a long term profit. I only have to be right once every 33 times with this sort of horse, and I tend to do a lot better than that! NB: Backing random 33/1 shots is not a profitable way of betting by the way, but selectively identifying horses offered at such odds in big races like this one today is.

At the end of the day, it boils down to simple mathematics, pure and simple. The house always wins in roulette because they've got a zero on the wheel. I like to see this method of betting as betting on roulette with the zero taken away and a few other numbers as well.

I mentioned it was all about getting value and it is. There is no way the starting price for this horse will be anywhere near the 33/1 - it will be more like 20/1 I imagine. So this is how you get the value, get on to Stan James and nick that 33/1 while it is available. Failing that the next best price is 28/1 with Corals in town, which is still a backable price in my opinion.

Over the years I have had many such winners. Most memorable was a horse called Barna Boy in the very last race of the festival about 15 years ago. My long priced strategy was looking a bit suspect that year as I hadn't manage to bag any winners at all, but on that last day I had a sizeable bet on Barna Boy in the morning at the 33/1 odds available. He was supported all day down to a starting price of 14/1 ridden by the great Richard Dunwoody. So just one winner for me at the whole meeting but it was a profitable one.

What will I find this year? Who knows. I am not going to give out a list of tips because I don't want to raise expectations and anyway, isn't it just that bit more satisfying when you pick them out yourself? My advice is, ignore the pundits and pub bores with their cliched theories, pick out the longshot no-one else wants, find the best odds you can for it and enjoy the ride. Have a great Cheltenham and I'll see you in the Bahamas.

Jason's third book all about his adventures in the world of sausages, is now available. Click here for more details:


Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Dear Walls

Now that the book launch is out of the way, it's time to get moving on some other projects. You'll recall my new sausage ideas which I broached at the turn of the year. I think it's now time to pitch these to the industry, so who better to start with than a name synonymous with two things to launch my new "sausage ice cream" product.

So, without further ado I dashed off this little missive today, and now eagerly await the response!

Dear Walls,

Good evening. Allow me to introduce myself, just in case you haven’t heard of me. My name is Jason Ayres, aka “The Sausage Man” and author of the book of that title (check it out on Amazon). During 2013 I held the coveted role of VIP Judge for the annual industry awards, judging the best of the nation’s sausages alongside celebrity chef, Simon Rimmer.

In the last chapter of my recently published book, I cast my crystal ball into the future to try and come up with some new ideas to revitalise the sausage world and drive sales forward in the 21st century. My new year’s resolution was to bring these ideas to reality. Due to sundry other matters which I need not trouble you with here, it has taken me until March to get on to this, but you’ll be pleased to hear it’s now full steam ahead on the new product ideas.

So why am I contacting Walls? I shall explain. One of the new ideas I came up with was “Sausage Ice Cream”. Why? Well, I was thinking, there are many people out there like myself who do not really have a sweet tooth and would like a savoury alternative to more traditional ice cream on a hot summer’s day. And hence the idea of sausage flavoured ice cream was born.

During my thought processes I was playing around with the words “Sausage” and “Ice Cream” in my head and that’s when I thought of you. Of course! Walls Sausages and Walls Ice Cream! The stuff I grew up on in the 70s! Who better to make the product than the very company that makes both. Brilliant! I’m amazed you’ve never thought of it before to be honest. Well, you are lucky I came along because this is the idea that could make all of you (and me) millionaires!

I envisage a frozen product sold in a supermarket where you have the sausage flavour ice creams sold with a sausage banded to the side, a bit like the way salads have spoons attached, or two products can be sold in the same carton like Muller Corners or Dairylea Dunkers. How it would work with the sausage ice cream is that you detach the sausage and then microwave it. When it’s ready you just pop it into the ice cream (like you would with a flake) and there you have it: A sausage ice cream “99”.

If successful I see no reason why this concept could not be extended into other areas e.g. bacon flavour ice cream with maple syrup or lager flavour ice cream with pork scratchings but let’s not run before we can walk. 

I will be more than happy to get involved with the promotion and launch of the project. I am offering very competitive rates for celebrity endorsements so if you wanted to have me front your ad campaign or even just have some blurb on the packaging along the lines of “As endorsed by Britain’s Official VIP Sausage Taster 2013”, then let’s talk. I’m also happy to appear on chat shows, conduct radio interviews and get involved in any other press coverage which will invariably follow once the product gets off the ground. We can discuss terms at a later date, all I’m looking for today really is confirmation that you’re interested in the project. I need to get working on this as soon as possible in order that we don’t miss the crucial summer market as before we know it, Christmas will be coming round and I’ve got to get on to Mr Kipling next to talk to him about my idea for mince pie sausages.

Many thanks for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you very soon!

Kindest regards

Jason Ayres – aka “The Sausage Man”.

Now let's see what sort of response this generates!

Jason's third book, an hilarious account of his adventures in the world of sausages, is now available. Click here for more details:

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Promoting Kindle books with Amazon KDP Select free days

As a new author I found it quite daunting when first venturing into the realm of selling Kindle books. How would I get noticed? How would I get reviews? And many other questions. Coming in as a complete novice with my first book almost a year ago I certainly made a few mistakes.

But I've learnt a lot since then, both from experience and reading as much as I could from other writers in the form of blogs, message boards, and simply by talking to them.

Quite early on, I realised there were two hurdles to overcome. It was hard to make sales without any reviews. And it's hard to get reviews if no-one has bought your book. It is all very well putting a book on to Amazon and hoping people will buy it, but this is not the equivalent of having it on display in the front window of Waterstones. In fact you have about as much chance of it being spotted as you'd have in Waterstones if they agreed to stock it, took one copy and then hid it behind the cistern in the staff toilets.

When you go on to Amazon and look at any product you'll see lots of things on the page such as "People who bought this also bought..." or "What do other customers buy after viewing this item". Well with no sales your book will not appear in any of them. So what can you do? You've written an amazing book, put it on Amazon and other than a few close friends and family made no sales. What's the solution?

Give it away.

Now I know that may sound crazy for some. Why on earth would you want to give away something you have spend hundreds of hours creating and put your heart and soul into? Well - the answer for some is merely the pleasure of knowing that someone else is reading your book. But it does have long term benefits too. You will shift some copies which might lead to reviews, and will certainly lead to it appear on the "people who bought this also bought" lists. In short, you'll be increasing your book's visibility.

I've been experimenting a fair bit with these free promotions. If you aren't familiar with how they work, Amazon will let you give away any Kindle book free for up to 5 days in any 90 day period, as long as you are signed up to KDP select (which gives them exclusive sale right to the Kindle edition).

I've experimented with doing all five days in one go, or one or two days at a time. Every time I've got a steady trickle of sales, but not exactly an avalanche. It all depends on how much time and money you are willing to invest in the promotion.

I've done some promotions where I've done absolutely nothing to promote and still shifted a few dozen copies. There are always people sifting around for free Kindle books, searching categories and ordering by price to get all the free ones at the top. Other times I've tweeted and facebooked the hell out of it, though I can't say it's had a hugely noticeable effect. I am well aware that if you constantly bombard people with "Buy my book" all over facebook you are likely to achieve little more than to piss them off. So I try and keep this to a minimum.

Then there are sites out there that you can get to promote your book for you by various means. Some are free, some not. Most of these are based in the USA but they will accept UK authors submissions. You'll just have to be aware that if your book is of limited interest to the market outside the UK (for whatever reason) these may not be the best places to go.

The other problem is getting them to even accept you. It is generally accepted that being featured by one of the big US sites such as Digital Book Today or Pixel of Ink can get you a huge boost in sales leading to thousands of free downloads. But getting into them is really difficult. They have very tight selection criteria - for example Digital Book Today won't accept any book unless it has a minimum of 20 reviews with an average of 4* plus. I can't imagine that many new authors can be anywhere near that. The vast majority of books on Kindle have got nowhere near 20 reviews so as a budding new writer you've got little chance of being accepted by them. There are many other free sites out there which don't have such strict criteria but they get many more applications than many of them can feature, and I haven't had that much success getting featured by any of them.

Your other option is to pay to have your book promoted by sites, bloggers, tweeters with thousands of followers, you name it. The most well known one is BookBub which many swear by. They claim that they will get you substantial downloads (for example the average in my category is 11,000). This will certainly get you noticed. On the downside it is expensive ($210 for my category) and they also receive way more submissions than they can handle. But if it is as good as they say it is, and gets you launched as an author, then it's probably $210 well spent.

There are many smaller operators out there offering promotional deals so I decided to dip my toe in the water with some of them. I signed up with Author Alliance and Melanie Rockett on Twitter who for just a few $ each promoted my book for me via tweets and on their websites. I can recommend both of them. While I may not have seen astronomical free downloads of the kind of levels promised from Bookbub, it definitely had a beneficial effect as the promotion (now on its third day out of five) has done much better than any of the promotions I did before. You can analyse all your sales by country, so to take the USA for example, I have had  around 140 free downloads so far - that's about 5x as many as when I put Austerity Dad on without promotion earlier in the year.

Most importantly of all - one of those 140 reviewers has been kind enough to leave me a fantastic review already. It was not 5*, it was 4*, but the point is, it was a really good review. The reviewer clearly got my humour which shone through in her review - to quote one line:

"I question his claim to be allergic to chlorophyll, but he does make artery-clogging processed meats very entertaining".

Rather than cut and paste the whole review into this blog, it's probably easiest if I just give you the link to the book so you can see for yourself. (US Store Link) (UK Store Link)

It was definitely worth the money I spent on the promotion for this one review alone. The good thing about reviews on the US site is that they also appear on the UK site, so I am not unduly worried about the majority of promotional options being US based.

I will definitely be using these two services again.

As a final word before I go, far be it from me to bring up a stereotypical old politically incorrect joke about Germans and Sausages, but I was amused to see that I've had quite a lot of free downloads in Germany - more than all the other countries (excluding US and UK) put together. It seems that it is true, the Germans do love their sausages, perhaps I can get my book into the local Waterstones branch in Berlin - hopefully not behind the cistern!