Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

in praise of sales

"In my mind and in my car
We can’t rewind we’ve gone too far
Pictures came and broke your heart
Look I’ll play my VCR”--old Buggles song

As a distraction prior to getting ready for work, I read interviews which I located on the search engine. This morning I read a discussion with Aimee Mann, who managed to sell 200,000 copies of her CD without a major label contract. I remain fascinated with the competitive advantage that a marketing team and an advertising budget gives to record labels. At the same time, the slow pace at which the replacement of the corporate record labels continues to occur surprises me.

I tend not to disparage large corporations merely for being large corporations, because that outlook seems to me to be quite limited, limiting and unproductive. For better or worse, the corporate form proves itself a useful engine to accomplish
large-scale things. All a corporation turns out to be, of course, is a legal vehicle for people to invest monies with limited liability. A number of large entities work without this fiction, of course--the largest that comes to mind right off the bat is the old Lloyds of London insurance syndicates. But the vast majority of everything in this country commercial is done through corporate forms. I apply no rule that disparages investors and owners for wanting to make money. I find needlessly narrow the view that making money is always bad.

Instead, the "problem", as I see it, with large record labels and a conglomeratized radio station system is that they will each promote the materials which they believe they can most easily market. Over the past few years, forms of vapid teen pop and rather uninspired "swaggering street cred" hip-hop have filled two central niches in this effort. The internet and improved inexpensive recording and mixing technology mean that lots of alternatives exist out there to this malaise. The curious thing to me is that so relatively few people are buying the indie material which now is blooming in profusion.

I think it's a problem of marketing. Independent print publications no longer hold the sway they once held for the rock and pop communities. Although "dance clubs" still 'break' songs and create subgenres, it's hard to imagine a "dance club" being as culturally significant in 2005 as, say, in 1980, largely because the illusory aura that any one place is "particularly hot" is rather old-fashioned thinking these days. The promise of marketing progress lies in the internet, which has "broken" a number of artists. Yet people really still look for the Sony (or RCA or Geffen) label rather than experiment with the unknown.

I hear lots of things I think are wonderful in the genres I like, recorded by people at home doing amazing things. Yet so many of these voices are barely heard.

So many times people posit the question as--"there are no good artists out there these days", but the reality is that there are too few effective marketers of independent music. People tend to knock marketing and promotion as soul-less and unworthy. Yet the reality is that people earn a living from music only if they sell, and they sell only if they are marketed. Not only is there nothing wrong with this--this is the basis of any paid occupation.

In this vein, I think that the salvation for rock music does not lie in a new piercing guitarist or an amazing lyricist, but in good, plain fun marketing CDs

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