Thursday, May 10, 2018

I Should Have Made That Left Turn In Albuquerque



I had lunch with two long time pals yesterday and we discussed everything from New Orleans to the New York Yankees to The Beatles and back. One thing leading to another, as it always does, and the new record by Rita Coolidge was brought up. One friend said, "Who is that record for? I mean, how many fans does Rita Coolidge have, total, like 3,000 maybe?" It was an interesting question and what felt like a totally random number of worldwide fans. The same friend posited, "Is there another artist other than Billy Joel, who chose to stop recording, while arguably still at the very top of it all?" Was my friend implying Coolidge should not have bothered making a record?

The conversation got out of hand very quickly, as the three of us tried to make as many points and give as many examples as we could in the time it took our chicken with eggplant lunch special to be ordered and then eaten and paid for.

Later that day, someone posted this question on Facebook,"Which artist died before reaching his potential?" My immediate answer was Neil Young, but others took a more conventional approach, citing the obvious like Kurt Cobain, Buddy Holly, etc.. The thread must have about 600 comments by now, but I gave up paying attention as soon as I realized no one found my Neil Young comment amusing.

One last thing, I mentioned yesterday how I had just read something in Billboard online, showing a graph that streaming has become the top way to listen to music and that among vinyl, tapes, CDs and downloads, downloads had the shortest shelf life of eight years, as the go-to choice for music.


Now that this table has been set, here's what interests me:

If no one is buying CDs or downloads anymore, and vinyl, though very trendy, is still only a very small piece of the sales puzzle, and touring and merch tables have become the meat and potatoes for an artist, how do the Rita Coolidges make any money? Where are they headlining? 150-200 seaters? A club or cafe? And if these bottom level artists sell out a 200 seater, how many of those attending are buying a new CD after the show?

As for Billy Joel realizing that making records would not be as lucrative as a monthly slot at MSG, well, I still can't think of another artist of his stature that just stopped recording altogether. And while I have made it very clear here a number of times before, how I feel about Neil Young and what is now about a 30% to 70% ratio of good records versus bad, I would still rather have more Neil records down the road, just in case he does have another ""After The Gold Rush" in him.

There's a lot to discuss here, but we don't have to do it in a lunch hour.



25 comments:

Dr Wu said...

Al Green becoming a minister and recording nothing but gospel music for nearly 15 years after ‘The Belle Album’ seems as close to retirement as I can imagine. At the very least a lengthy hiatus.

Anonymous said...

there's a club north of Houston called the Dosey Doe that seats a few hundred and charges a minimum ticket of $150 to see the likes of John Sebastian, Tanya Tucker (who still puts out good albums), Shawn Colvin and Blood, Sweat & Tears. I assume that's Rita's market - affluent suburbs where the audience is rich enough to spring for an autographed cd as a souvenir - and that there's a national circuit for it, kind of the LiveNation of house concerts.

Sal Nunziato said...

Dr. Wu,
I see your point regarding Al Green, but he truly never stopped. Early 90's, he had a secular resurgence, with no less than 5 pretty decent R&B records.

JAYESSEMM said...

Okay --- I think your Neil Young line is funny!

Shriner said...

Did Rita Coolidge make enough money (and invest it wisely) back in the day that she just releases something new and/or plays whatever the modern equivalent of "folk clubs/coffee houses" because she has the muse and doesn't do it to live on?

A quick google search (which I didn't know was a thing) said:

Rita Coolidge's net worth is estimated to be in the range of approximately $419338907 in 2018, according to the users of vipfaq.

At 72 that's a decent chunk to just retire on so maybe she's just doing it to keep busy?

Troy said...

Another artist who just stopped making records at his prime is Bill Withers. Although he stopped music altogether, no shows or anything.

Sal Nunziato said...

First off, I didn't mean to focus on Rita Coolidge so much as the "Rita Coolidges." It could be anyone in their 60's or 70's, without a hit in the last 30-40 years. Where are the decimals in Rita's net worth, by the way?

buzzbabyjesus said...

I saw that Rita dropped a new one and wondered who it was for, and in my head, imagined listening to a couple tracks.
Like so much new product by, er, mature artists making a "comeback", it resembled her past work, but without relevance, or fire, and with the subject matter pandering to awful baby boomers.
I hope I'm wrong and it's a terrific return, sells better than expected, and wins a Grammy.

I'm glad it's not because he's dead that Billy Joel is not recording. His shows at MSG are probably fun.

Syd Barrett and Skip Spence both stopped recording for the saddest possible reasons, but I'm still glad it's not because they died.

I went to NJPAC to see King Crimson last year and bought a pricey T-shirt from the merch table. I've been a fan since 1974, and I think the current edition of the band is the best yet. But it was more like an orchestra performing a symphony than a rock concert.

I haven't bought any music, except for the occasional thrift store lp, and The John Sally Ride since NYCD closed (2006?). Meanwhile, I've illegally downloaded 2 terabytes of music I hardly listen to.

I've just finished a solo album of my own and am considering getting a small run of cd's made, even though I don't know who they'd be for besides me. I figure I'll hand them out like business cards.

I'm not sure why I haven't got into streaming. I ditched Spotify, and haven't checked to see if my Pandora account is still active.

At least when you buy a cd or vinyl, you're getting a tangible thing, rather than an ephemeral file.

It's a different world than when I grew up hearing actual music played on AM radio. I have no idea what's next, and I hope I'm surprised by something good even though my expectations are the lowest possible.

I'm "Mr. Sunshine" this morning.

Dr Wu said...

I submit John Lennon. Acknowledging he resumed releasing material in 1980, however, he retired ENTIRELY from the music business in 1975 while he was still enjoying hit albums and singles. In an era when artists released new material annually - and often multiple releases in a single year, his five year absence from music I believe to be the equivalent of Billy Joel’s current retirement. Enjoying the topic, Sal. Thanks!

Brian Campbell said...

XTC. Why can't we have new XTC music? They maintained high quality work right up to the end.

Sal Nunziato said...

I would give my remaining teeth for a new XTC record. BUT, no one could call XTC a band of the same stature as Billy Joel. Same with Bill Withers. Billy Joel sold a gazillion records and was selling out 30K seat arenas and larger stadiums when he stopped.

Troy said...

I partially misunderstood the topic. I didn't realize you meant commercial success or viability. I thought you meant creative viability, as in still making quality music. Especially given your remarks about Neil Young. Certainly Bill Withers was never as commercially successful as Billy Joel. If the topic is focused on commercially successful artists who walked away from recording, I got nothing.

Anonymous said...

Led Zeppelin - I totally understand why Robert Plant does not want to take the Led Zeppelin Jukebox out on the road but I've always held out hope that he, Page, Jones and Jason would do something in the studio just to satisfy their own curiosity as to what kind of music they would come up with at this stage of the game. There's no written mandate that states they have to go on tour if they make new music.

Randy

Ken D said...

Grace Slick fronted one of the biggest bands of its day, and then just had enough...

Noam Sane said...

I've got nothing, but felt this was worth noting: at my recent foray to the Sellersville Theater in Sellersville, PA for the Kasim Sulton/Utopia date, I was perusing upcoming shows. On the schedule were acts like Marcia Ball, Al Stewart, Shelby Lynne, Gary Puckett & The Union Gap, The Association, Beausoleil, Tinsley Ellis, Roomfull of Blues, the Ventures, and Y&T. Only one act had a SOLD OUT sign slapped on:

Uriah Heep

Chris Collins said...

I wonder the same thing all the time- how do a LOT of artists make money. I wouldn't trust that net worth. I've googled people I know and found that their net worth online was laughably off.

But I recently saw Debbie Harry at the Carlyle. Well, when I say recently I mean a year ago. BUT, the point is that I realized that Debbie Harry is probably the most famous person to play this room in most cases. She's probably ok. But I just took a look at people performing there now. Linda Lavin (Linda Lavin sings??), Gina Gershon (????)- how much can these people POSSIBLY be making from these appearances. And that's in NY! How much do not-so-in-demand stars get for playing small dinner theaters in PA? Tennessee?

I guess the entertainment biz doesn't owe you a living. But I hate to think about the fate that befalls a lot of gifted artists who do not make Billy Joel money.

DaveF said...

Cat Stephens abandoned his very lucrative musical career for nearly three decades. He was all over the charts in the late sixties and seventies then simply vanished into his new found interest in the Islamic faith. Selling off his guitars he remained out of the music business until around 2006.I remember he was huge in the seventies and was one of the quintessential singer songwriters of the day.

JD Seid said...

I can't stop laughing about your Neil Young comment. Classic.

JD Seid said...

How about Lauryn Hill?

Sal Nunziato said...

Lauryn Hill made one groundbreaking record. Not 100% convinced the retirement was voluntary.

kodak ghost said...

1. Loved the comment re Neil Young.
2.I am very much in the same boat as BBJ. I have not bought any CDs for ages ( except music I can't get by DL ... the Rails and Martin Simpson being recent purchases). I also have about 2TB of music which I should listen to. I do use Pandora a lot. I always throws up some interesting mixes. I have Linda Ronstadt Radio on at the moment (hmmm what does that say) and some great juxtapositions.. same is the mix for Bonnie Raitt.
3. I have no idea how anyone makes any money at the game. I am in three bands (all crap, but people come and listen and put their dollar down). But would people pay any more for some "real" interesting new music. How does a new artist cut through? There are so many (legal) sites for posting your music for free.... so much to listen to and I am overwhelmed so tend to default to the known and/or recommendations... so thanks for the heads up on Ms LaVette which is a brave record.
4. So back to the original question re the "Coolidges" of this world. It takes money to put any recording together, and then more to get it out there. So some thinktank/focus group obviously thought it was viable... just like the recent Steve Stills/Judy Collins collaboration etc. There is a market segment that is still buying CDs, and that segment still has CD players and don't need anything aurally challenging!
6. Nic Jones (Penguin Eggs) was at the height of his powers before the car crash way way back.
7. Sorry for wittering on.

kevin m said...

I think venues like City Winery exist for artists who's record sales (or streams) are minimal. People like Lloyd Cole, Karl Wallinger, Marshall Crenshaw can charge up to $50 or more for a ticket and sometimes just for an acoustic show.

And speaking of Karl Wallinger, he did indeed almost die! But thankfully he has recovered but has yet to release any new music in the decade since.

rick said...

If there are no decimals, then she is very comfortable indeed.

Michael Giltz said...

See? I get my laptop back from Apple (again! Screen replaced. Again!) and here's Sal back from New Orleans and on Burnwood. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, adding in commentary on the weekend mix etc.

I laughed out loud at the Neil Young comment. V funny.

Rita Coolidge -- why does she record a new album? Perhaps because it's what she has done for decades. It's why 70 year old drake will put out a mixtape. Maybe she's made her money and just feels the desire to record something new so her concert will have a new focus. I have no particular knowledge of Rita by the way. But she put out a memoir in 2015 and now puts out a new album out, her first in a decade. gathered musicians she knows like Dave Grissom on guitar and JT Thomas on keyboards and went for the vibe of her earliest Laurel Canyon-like albums. Heck, I'm gonna stream the damn thing! I mean, why the heck not? It's the same reason I keep writing even though people stopped paying me ages ago. She's doing it for the love of it.

Billy Joel -- I can't think of anyone who walked away from their recording career at a commercial peak the way Billy Joel has. From everything I've read, it was an artistic decision: he felt he'd run out of things to say. It was not a "oh the real money is in touring" decision or anything like that. Very punk and admirable of him and I think, the right decision. Woody Allen might take a cue and hold off on doing a movie every single year....

Creatively, Bill Withers is a great pick of someone who walked away from a satisfying career. I keep hoping....

And though he came back, Cat Stevens sure took a damn long break.

I guess very very few acts are as big as Billy Joel in the first place. But even just creatively successful artists walking away are few and far between. Most seem to have faded for reasons like Karl Wallinger or my buddy Paddy McAloon and his hearing issues. I guess the old cliche that they'd do it for free is happily true.

neal t said...

Sly?