Thanks, but no thanks

Dec 04 2010

Now that the glow of the Thanksgiving holiday has worn off (although the extra five pounds remains), the mind turns inevitably to slightly darker topics. Like things that really !@#$*F! me off. Maybe that’s a little strong— but when I start thinking of all the nice things that I’m thankful for, I can’t help but also contemplate the stuff I really can’t stand. So as a brief, but inevitable rejoinder to last week’s grace-full meditation on all things good and positive in the music biz, here’s a brief blast of negativity and bile. ‘Tis the season.

FIVE THINGS NOT TO BE THANKFUL FOR:

1. Myspace Music.

Maybe it’s your space– it’s not my space. In fact, it doesn’t seem to be anyone’s space anymore. In a new record of corporate bungling, within what seemed like only months of having purchased Myspace for $580 million, Rupert Murdoch had turned the once-essential site into the most awkward, slow, cumbersome, ugly, ad-heavy and useless social network of them all. Then, over the course of several years, after several revamps and corporate upheavals, the wizards who were going to make Myspace the hub of the music world actually managed to make it worse. At this point, any A&R guy faced with the prospect of having to search through Myspace to source talent should receive hazard pay. The time it takes to load, the number of pop-up ads, and the generally ghastly design make it a mind-numbing experience (and most A&R’s minds are pretty numb already). Plus, it’s just not cool.

Rupert Murdoch

The point is: If you’re sending a link to an A&R guy, make it to your own website, or YouTube, or SonicBids, or any other music site– but please, no Myspace. No one has that kind of time.

2. YouSendIt and other file-hosting sites with expiration dates and pop-up ads.

So you send it. Then it arrives in an A&R person’s box. But they’re out of town for three days. Then it’s the weekend. Then they come back and listen to the 15 things that their boss or their artists are screaming about. Then, on the seventh day, they open your email and go to listen to your music. But alas, the link has expired, and now the A&R person must email you back, and start the whole process all over again. There are plenty of file-sharing services, like Box.net, that do not carry a time limit on them. Go with those, or don’t send it–instead you can provide a link to your website, or YouTube, or anything but Myspace.

The point is: To songwriters and artists submitting material, a week may seem like a long time. To people that receive dozens of submissions a day, a week is not a long time. Your time-frame is not their time-frame. These arbitrary deadlines are not realistic.

3. Sendspace and other file-hosting sites supported by advertising.

This is not a sending space. It is advertising space. It is free for you– but for the person receiving the email, it is not free. It is cheap and tacky. Give one misguided click on any of the half-dozen pop-ups invading your computer screen, and suddenly up flashes “Congratulations! You’ve won!” . But of course, you haven’t won. You’ve merely been trapped into a whole other burst of online advertising.

The point is: you’re running a business. You’re trying to establish a brand. Businesses and brands do not send out emails filled with cheesy advertisements. Use something that looks clean and professional.

4. American Idol

I admit, I never liked it from the start. By combining the aesthetic quality of karaoke with the overwrought emotion of reality television and the B-level production values of a cut-rate beauty pageant, this show has always managed to both offend and depress me at the same time. Still, I have to admit it– over the years, it has launched some genuine stars, like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Fantasia, and maybe even Adam Lambert. And, as sad as this is, it has kept the music industry, and especially the songwriting and publishing business afloat at a time when there was very little else that caught the public’s interest.

Kris Allen

But now it’s dead. We all know it. So please– spare us the revival with J-Lo and Steven Tyler. Spare us the “new” “bigger and better” version. For all the stars launched by American Idol, it has killed dozens of other potentially interesting new artists, who simply couldn’t compete with a karaoke singer already seen weekly by 20 million people. In fact, most labels have all but ceased signing mainstream pop artists, with the knowledge that American Idol has essentially owned that particular market. To call the show a mixed blessing is to be generous.

The point is: Simon is gone. The fat lady has sung, again and again. This game is over. Let’s stab it with our steely knife and kill this damn beast.

5. Walmart, Best Buy, and other false friends.

A major label A&R guy recently explained to me Walmart’s new innovation in music retailing– downloading stations where you can compile your own six-song collection for a dollar a song. Of course, this is one more effort to reduce the amount of retail space given to music and to kill off the 10 song CD altogether. Given Walmart’s position as the leading mass retailer of music product, it will almost inevitably work to do exactly that. If you have any attachment to the “album” format, sound quality that exceeds an mp3, or some kind of old-fashioned, perverse pleasure in actual physical product, you’d better buy what you want now. Because music retailing is going to disappear entirely, to make way for a greater selection of jumbo shampoos and paper towel 20-packs.

For this, the music industry has no one to thank but themselves. By chasing after Walmarts, Best Buy, and other large chain mass retailers, often offering them better pricing or exclusive promotional programs, or even exclusive rights to superstar product, the industry managed in one decade to kill off both the small and large music-specific retailers. These business-owners, most of whom were genuinely passionate music fans, and most of whom knew far more about music than most of the people at the record labels, have been replaced by people who have absolutely no inherent interest in music, and no vested interest in the music industry. We killed our friends, and sold our souls to the bean-counters. In these retail environments, whoever sells the most, gets the space. It’s not hard to see where this is going.

The point is: When you make decisions as an industry to diversify the way you sell product or to support new outlets, you have to think about how it will affect your business partners. This is particularly important as we now see the pressure to support new “free” music spaces like Spotify. While we all want to find new ways to create income, we’d better stop to think how “cloud-based” businesses will affect our current partners like iTunes, who actually do manage to sell alot of music– even if it is for a dollar a song. We don’t want to kill off iTunes before we know if these ad-supported services can actually make us more money.

Okay– I know it’s a lot of negativity in one big blast. I think of it as a sort of pre-holiday purging. Now that all that’s off my chest, I can face the holiday party rounds next week with a smiling face and the good cheer one expects of a Music Weasel at an open bar. Hope you all have a great holiday season!