Thursday, January 27, 2011

It's The Same Old Song... (for 5 times the cost, if you're lucky.)

The following is a letter from the February issue of MOJO that feels more like the type of article that should be written about the ever-increasing decline in record sales. Author Izzy Young may have been focusing on one particular release in his complaint, but with articles about the record industry appearing every other week---another is running in the recent L'il Wayne issue of Rolling Stone---no one ever seems to give it to the majors, their greed, and total disregard for the people who keep them in business, the record buyers.

Mr. Young seems to have nailed it with his personal gripe, while most reporters only report, playing it safe, and rarely exposing the countless examples that have brought the industry to its knees.

MOJO's assessment of Bruce Springsteen's The Promise box was on the money and a jaw-dropper indeed. However, what makes this old Brucehead "mither" about the actual song "The Promise" is an unflattering part of the narrative that hugely pissed off a lot of people when "Tracks" emerged in 1998. "Tracks" had certain nailed-on bankers and "The Promise" was one of them, an absolute cornerstone of the "Darkness On The Edge Of Town" era and his career so far. However, it was nowhere to be seen. Then, a few months later came the 18 Tracks 'sampler' with three extra songs, one of which was a knock-off demo of--guess what?--"The Promise." Bruce's quote at the time was along the lines of not being able to source a decent version of it, which was an eye-brow raiser to this hardly extensive collector who had five perfectly brilliant, unflinching versions which knocked the 18 Tracks effort into Miami Steve's cocked hat.

This was pre iTunes (although I suspect it would have been an album-only purchase), pre your Pirate Bays and their ilk and pre "burning your mate's discs." So shell out again many of us did. Columbia have proved pathological with multiple version over the years but it impacts negatively on the huge amount of humanity and integrity Bruce possesses to have obviously sanctioned such daylight robbery from his core audience he claims accountability to. Love the guy, can't imagine my life without his music, but it stunk badly at the time and diminished, for me, the best thing he's ever written.

In 2007, my business partner and I wrote an OP-ED for the New York Times, citing the many wrong turns made by the major labels, which subsequently helped kill themselves.
You can read it if you like below.

Four years later and it seems to be getting worse. Another MOJO letter which immediately follows the one above says this:

To the dismay of my bank account, as a serial record buyer I've pumped even more money into the record industry as I have happily returned to vinyl. The advent of getting a download card with my records so I can iPod it during the day but return home to my beautiful, big warm vinyl is the best thing to happen for years. Hail the record companies who are doing this. It's a lifeline to a dying animal, yet some still resist it. In an era where the major labels complain of people stealing music let me say this: "I want to buy the new Neil Young album!! But I haven't. Why? Because WEA are charging £30 for the vinyl!! As I type, it is £40 on Amazon. Trawling the net for over a month, I can't get a copy for less than £28. At the same time Sufjan Stevens double LP on his own lable is available for a tenner and the Of Montreal record on 180 gram vinyl for £12. This strikes me as a graphic example of how the major labels operate and how greed has got them into the position we now see. Clearly, if the indie lables can afford to sell a record for a certain amount, then the big muti-nationals can too. Why rip someone off and risk them not returning to you? And to Neil Young, of all people, a champion of analogue sound.

I'm not sure it's as simple as A. Horne says above, but I don't believe he is far off the mark when stating the price gouge of the majors.

It's a real head-scratcher to read how the concert promoters are scratching their heads at the particularly lousy season they just had. What is it they aren't getting? A pair of tickets for a major act starts at $200. $35 for the new Neil Young album. $200 bucks to see a show. I'm sure I saw this on an episode of The Jetsons.

I know this is old news.

"So don't go!"

"I only see indie bands at clubs"

"There is free music everywhere."


This really isn't the point.


Shriner said...

At some level, the record industry is currently like the comic book industry: The "labels" keep bumping up prices so much for some aspects of "the product" that the new people coming into the hobby are priced out and search for free (read "pirated") versions of what is out there.

But the companies don't care -- they know the people who actually pay for things are older and (presumably) have more disposable income and -- because they are hooked -- will continue to pay the price increases. So while numbers of actual sales continue to fall, the amount of money coming in is relatively stable.

(I've ranted about this on comic boards. Marvel Comics is awful at this -- bumping prices to $4 for a 32-page comic during a recession. And "32-pages" really means 22-pages of story...)

Coming back to the music industry, I'm not surprised that promoters (and artists) will charge as much as they can for the "stadium" acts -- they know the boomers have the cash for this.

Eventually, this will crash somewhere.

Anonymous said...

I have been saying the same thing lately. I grabbed the 180 gram vinyl of Ben Nichol's "Last Pale Light..." for $10 bucks with a download included. Most (not all but most) new releases on the majors are at least $24.99, often without the download. I want to support the artists but there is no way I am buying it twice. They haven't "gotten it" in years.

Anonymous said...

The points brought up are absolutely on the money....having purchased some of these recordings three-four times thru the years(vinyl - casette - cd and yes - even 8-track), I now have no problem searching out releases and downloading them whenever and wherever I the same time, being a musician, I don't have a problem selling my discs when I play for people (for a few dollars) and have absolutely no problem with people copying them for friends.....
it's a shame that money changes well as the LACK of it.....
Shriner is correct - there's a bottom to this....and we'll be seeing it one of these days!
Guy B.

steve simels said...

Somebody gave me a 25 dollar iTunes gift card for my birthday in October.

As of today, I have used it to buy exactly one relatively obscure song. Everything else -- and we're talking a LOT of stuff -- I've wanted to get I've been able to find on the net for free.

I'm not sure what this means, except I apparently have no compunctions about keeping deserving artists from getting their royalties, which as a former musician I find...hypocritical and troubling, but there you are.

soundsource said...

don'g get me started but let's just say that since your wonderful establishment shuttered it's doors I've felt no compunction regarding the highway robbery of music from the record labels. I realize this hurts the artists in some ways but most of the ones I listen too have either gotten rich from the business or are still be screwed out of their royalties. yours truly Ned Kelly
oh yeah and fuck rhino handmade too

Noam Sane said...

I'm 100% with Anonymous. Kick a dog enough times, he'll turn around and bite you in the ass. Fuck the big record companies, and frankly, fuck any musician who thinks he/she is entitled to millions of dollars in perpetuity for making records. coughMetallicacough

Making a living, that's different. I still buy CDs (or mp3s), but I usually download first, and I have to really like it to buy it, because otherwise, I don't listen to it and it's not a good investment.

Shriner said...

What's wrong with Rhino Handmade? I've bought a few things from them that it would have been otherwise impossible to find elsewhere at the time (ie, the DEVO stuff).

(Well, at least until somebody else who bought it put it on-line somewhere, I guess...)

And I give them props for continuing the Monkees reissues (even though I couldn't bring myself to drop $60 for the Head box set...)

Sal Nunziato said...

I'll answer that one, Shriner.

Handmade's "strictly limited, numbered, exclusive, wrapped in cashmere" releases priced for "collectors only," have mostly been reissued cheaper. So if you dropped $80, plus tax and shipping for the complete Aretha at the Fillmore, you can now buy both Aretha's and King Curtis' sets for a combined total of $25, less 5 songs.

They've done this way too often. I many cases, Howard Tate comes to mind, they issued it thru retail just months later for a few bucks less. Of course now, they are all out of print, but that's hardly the point.

Anything Should Happen said...

Record Comapnies are an easy target Sal, but they make it thus.

From the cash cow that was cd reissues with a few bonus tracks to Greatest Hits with two exclusive songs to the "tour edition" of an album released six months earlier.

The vinyl to cd transition was their latest saviour because along came downloading that they didn't have control of, let alone price control.

The internet has been a bad thing in some ways, it's closed the small record shop, although music is far more disposable to the generation below us.

It closed the mail order company and is now closing the net niche seller.

The Record Companies were complacent, net speeds were initially too slow, they didn't see the speeds increasing at the rate they did.

MP3 was a lossy file, no right minded collector would want the quality drop, they didn't foresee the ipod and that Apple would take on the retailing of music.

Nor did they see how the collector would embrace the ipod.

Supply and demand went out the window when you could source what you wanted from GEMM, Ebay, Amazon or the likes of Not Lame and Kool Kat.

The world became your market and you made contact with collectors you could never have fell over in previous times.

So that rarity could be shared, people didn't have to fork out for everything.

They cry now at the downturn of HMV, exaggerated by the RC's embracing Supermarkets.

HMV were always going to go into decline but not at the rate they did.

As you know I run a blog and have made the following comment on it.

The music blog world has been decimated as the Record Companies have blamed them for the downturn in sales and has robbers of musician's food money.

12 months ago these self same people were having meetings and encouraging A and R to get friendly with these blogs as it was a really cheap way of breaking artists and reaching fan bases.

They are currently up in arms about Intellectual Property and the Review Judge is daring to ignore their figures for piracy.

All he's saying is show me evidence of how you calculated the figures, they won't, of course they can't because it's all plucked out of the air with worse case scenarios and averages of averages.

Piracy has affected music, but they are not the sole blame.

No one could have seen the industry's rapid decline, but the Record Industry cannot blame everyone but themselves.

It's over for them, maybe not today, but the DIY Culture is taking over and hopefully one day we might just see the Indy appear on our high street again with websites that have exclusive album downloads with money that feeds both them and the artist and not a coke habit of a dick in a 400 dollar suit he bought in 1990.

William S. Repsher said...

Sal, how many "record" stores do you recall being open in Manhattan in the prime of the recording industry (through the 90s)? Not making any point here, just trying to recall where I hung out/shopped as it all seems like a weird dream now. There was your place on Amsterdam Ave, the HMV on 72nd and Broadway, Tower on 66th (and 4th) and Broadway (a few other locations, ditto HMV), Virgin Megastores in midtown and 14th Street. And J&R, bless them for still being around!

But the Village was my usual haunt, with that big Tower, and Other Music (still around) across the street. Sounds ... the first record store I set foot in mid-80s upon coming to NYC and my sentimental favorite. (Also recall that store in west midtown one of the women who worked there started on her own ... nice while it lasted.) The various stores that existed across the street and at various times along St. Marks. Norman's, just around the corner. That store that specialized in Broadway and soundtracks (was it Footlights)? West Village, Bleeker Bob's, Rebel Rebel, a few smaller stores along Bleeker St., the few stores on 8th St west of 5th Avenue.

And sometimes I'd go out to Hoboken to hit Tunes (still there?).

And lest we forget the really bad chains around midtown like Sam Goody's, Coconuts ... I know there are a few names I'm missing.

Breathtaking when you think about it, this massive amount of records stores that went up in smoke over the course of the last decade or so. Big or small, indie or chain, didn't matter. I remember when Tower went down, thinking "this is it ... the death blow."

I guess life goes on, but as noted, it's like I dreamed that previous life of hanging out in record stores for hours and coming away with 4-5 discs every time, most of them good to great. I took to downloading like a fish to water (been an emusic member since 2000), but that physical feeling of being in a record store ... mostly gone.

Sal Nunziato said...

I remember them all, William. I went to all of them on a regular basis, though not as often once I opened NYCD.

(Greta, an old friend...STILL a friend..from Sounds, opened Future Legend in midtown.)

All these comments make me feel like we have the same issues. I can't help but think...and I admit, I LOVE thinking this...the majors fucked it up for everyone.

The most righteous will grab free music these days, even those that can afford it. Why? I think they...we...feel betrayed.