Tag Archives: Audities

Broken Records


I started to type this in response to a few posts about the music industry on Audities, one of the oldest music discussion sites on Al Gore’s Interwebthing, but it got too verbose for a bulletin board reply. (Oh, you lucky blog fans, you and your hand-me-down thoughts…) 

The set-up is this: in their latest stab of brilliance, the major labels are trying to call back the horses into the barn with their new strategy – lower the price of CDs at retail. Of course, this doesn’t mean your mom and pop stores, mind you. Why would the industry support anyone who invested in a business to help move their product to the street in atmosphere that would attract the ideal customer? No, please take care of those big box stores, who are probably only a decade away from making you irrelevant by making you produce product on consignment, since you will have killed off the very competition that was your last remaining negotiating tool. 

But I digress. You can take Marketing 101 on your own time. 

So the Big Three (or four or two – I’m not checking my watch as I’m typing) think they can save themselves and the way that it was, simply by selling a ten-dollar CD. Great idea, pencil geeks…and about twenty years too late. Why they’ll even put the price right there on the spine of the CD so that you can see just how charitable they are. 

Two problems: The box stores don’t want to be told what to charge and they’ll mark it up anyway. And the indie stores can’t make a profit when the margin is now razor-thin and meant for national sales volumes. 

Nice move, dumbass!

So we were kicking this idea around on a list that’s populated by musicians, writers, label people and music fans where the age of the members probably ranges from late teens to Social Security. Some could give a rat’s ass about CDs, others don’t like downloads; although most do realize how hard it is for an artist to survive in this business. So needless to say, we see the pros and cons to the collapse of the industry. My thoughts… 

It’s hard to be objective as I grew up buying singles then albums then (skipped cassettes and 8-tracks) CDs and DVDs. I only reluctantly buy digital downloads, as I am sadly conditioned to think that it’s even less that what I was getting as a CD, which was less than what I got on an album.   

But I must also realize that I live in a world where the vast majority of the target market for most releases is used to getting whatever they want whenever they want for free.   Ironically, most of these people with large digital storage probably amassed a hundred times the amount of music I own in a fraction of the time and an incalculable amount less expense. It’s all there at the click of a button or two or three. 

It travels with them constantly, and if they were to lose it the smart ones have two or three backup copies at different locations – or they could just spend a short bit of time doing it again. I’m amazed, but I’m not jealous.  Even though they never had to turn down an apartment or a house saying “but there is no room for my albums“. 

Three dimensional and tactile

But they never had the pure joy of sifting through racks and racks of albums during thousands of days spent perusing record stores, poring over liner notes, cracking that shrink-wrap, seeing your murky reflection in the black vinyl grooves. And god knows how many gazillions of hours holding and reading the paper 45 sleeve or the album liner notes or (god bless us every one) the gatefold album’s multiple uses if you know what I mean and I think you do. It’s the same reason I would never buy a Kindle. I want to hold a book in my hands, whether I’m reading on the beach, on the train, or in…um…the room in my house with the best echo

I remember vividly when CDs were coming out and the promise was that they would be cheaper to manufacture, distribute, store and sell than vinyl. Yet they initially cost more than the albums and never dropped – even when the cost of blank CDs dropped sixty to seventy percent at retail stores. Yet the prices of CDs went up! You dug your grave with a round plastic spoon, major labels, and you still don’t get it.   

(And wouldn’t this be a great time to remind them that the Miles Davises and the Johnny Cashes and the Van Morrisons of the world who they dropped – because they weren’t selling to the new hip demographic – might have been providing them with an annuity stream all this time? It won’t be too long before the old guard is the highest seller in the physical market simply because the young market moved completely to downloads and the remaining audience is too old to adopt to yet another format.)

The Bird is the Word

So while major labels scramble to survive standing on the shoulders (and corpses) of their artists, maybe they should wake up if they still want to survive for a short time until the last of the tactile people like me die. 

Sell me a CD/DVD package for $10-12.  Put some videos, interviews, demos, documentaries, live cuts whatever on the DVD. Yes, I know I will probably be able to YouTube it. Yes, some zeroid will probably have it on a torrent site before you can say “oops”. But you can certainly put all that together and offer it to enough people like me who will say “that’s a great deal”, and not as many people are going to pirate the DVD as you think. And there are still a lot of us who would prefer to hang on, however futile that cling to the past might be. 

I will DVR my favorite TV shows, but I also wind up buying many on DVD because of the commentaries, the deleted scenes, the documentaries – the stuff above and beyond.   Make it special. It will work with CDs if you do it right. I have the tools to burn my own music and I could go steal it if I wanted to. But I’m right here offering you money to dress it up for me. To paraphrase a great line from Glengarry Glen Rossare you man enough to take it

There are a lot of people rooting for the death of the industry who gloss over the fact that a distribution model is still needed. Sure, I can find your band on MySpace or YouTube if I am purposefully looking for it; maybe  I’ve seen you play or you sent me a link. But with hundreds of thousands of bands now just faceless files in the ether, you’ll never be able to capture me with inventive cover art or the good fortune to be alphabetically racked near someone more famous. I will never find you by accident. You will be just another grain of sand on an endless beach. 

Be careful what you wish for. 

Stores gone. Radio dead. Hey - good luck!

National Record Store Day is April 17, 2010.


Filed under Editorials, Music

Mixtape: Vinyl Devotion

I put this mixtape together many many years ago for a tape tree on the Audities mailing list. I look at mixtapes as something to be taken in one sitting, ideally something slapped in for a car trip where the flow of the music is the center of attention, like I’ve got one shot to program an hour on the radio to win you over. So I started going through my vinyl alphabetically; just vinyl albums – no singles, CDs, or cassettes.

Remember mixtapes? Remember vinyl?

As the people I was trading with have pretty deep roots, I avoided the obvious (ie Beatles, Big Star, Cheap Trick, etc) and went for other songs that stir my stewpot. By the time I got through the “D”s, I easily had twice as much as I needed, and that wasn’t even taking into account the 3-400 albums that were in the “to be filed” pile.

But I came up with a beauty filled with great bands and great songs. I’ve included the original track-by-track annotations that I used for Vinyl Devotion’s liner notes, and since this was in the mid 90s, some of the references will be out of date. But the music is timeless – not a tune that doesn’t stand up today.  Mixtapes were a labor of love; even the needle dropping at the start of side A was intentional.

Side A

01 THE BOYS – “First Time Out”
Since you need something to get you out of the driveway, why not something young, loud and snotty? This was quintessential New Wave pop punk. Billy Joe of Green Day probably has a Boys lunchbox. (LINK TO A LIVE VERSION)

02 THE ATLANTICS – “One Last Night”
If INXS were cool and they grew up on 50’s and 60’s American radio, they’d sound like this. But they weren’t, andthey didn’t, and they don’t. Singer’s a bit of a crooner, but it’s a cool song nevertheless.

03 DANCING HOODS – “She May Call You Up Tonight”
Yep, the Left Banke song. I think this version is better. I loved this band but Relativity sank like a stone and these guys with them. The singer, Bob Bortnick, is now in A&R and Mark Linkous is in Sparklehorse. Too bad.

04 THE dBs – “Working For Somebody Else”
So why does everyone hate THE SOUND OF MUSIC? I think the Holsapple era is great. This is almost Chilton-ish rock – the harmonica solo, ringing phone, and the great way Peter pronounces the word “car-REEEP”.

God Bless the late Country Dick Montana,who was Keith Richards in chaps. The BEAT FARMERS were the best bar band ever and always kicked your ass from wall to wall. This Joey Harris tune is a nice taste. R.I.P. fellas! (LINK TO A LIVE VERSION)

06 THE ACCELERATORS – “Two Girls In Love”
Another great band no one knows, what is it about that water in North Carolina? This band rules, but they only put out a record every five years; tho I heard they just re-formed. I love the drum sound on this song.

07 BEAT RODEO – “Just Friends”
Slowing it down, this Don Dixon/Mitch Easter production is anything but twee. Despite the cow name it’s just pure pop after all. Saw these guys live and they were absolutely wonderful. I miss songs like this.

08 DON DIXON – “Your Sister Told Me”
I’m convinced that if Motown were in North Carolina, Dixon would be Holland, Dozier and Holland. One of the many on my “how can this guy/band not be friggin’ HUGE?” list. And my hat tip to The Woods, his roots. (LINK TO A STUDIO VERSION)

09 BILLY BREMNER – “When These Shoes Were New”
The true M.V.P. of Rockpile. From the lp BASH which only his parents and I bought. Will Birch co-wrote and produced most of the songs, and it’s wall-to-wall great. I want to play piano like the guy on this track.

10 ANY TROUBLE – “The Trouble With Love”
Clive Gregson just didn’t fit in that New Wave movement, but his band put out five killer records with great songs like this. You may know his records and gigs with Christine Collister and their gigs with Richard Thompson

11 THE A’s – “Heart Of America”
From Philly, natch – is this one of the ten best rock and roll songs ever made? Mott The Hoople meets Elvis Costello and drop the gloves. Killer guitars, horn section, and the one of the most unusual solos in rock history.

12 THE CRETONES – “Real Love”
When Linda Ronstadt “went punk” that year she butchered “Alison” and two of this band’s songs; “Mad Love” is the other. This is pretty mainstream, but fun when you realize there isn’t a female voice on the record.

13 THE DUROCS – “Saving It All Up For Larry”
Try this: Brian Wilson goes sandbox, but instead of Stamos and Johnston the Beach Boys sign up Flo, Eddie, Zappa and Todd. Actually it’s Nagle and Matthews, right around the time they produced John Hiatt. Great, great record! (LINK TO VIDEO VERSION)

Side B

01 JOHN CALE – “Guts”
From the album that even Cale-haters like. Uses the words “parrot shit” and “hyperbole” in the same verse. Top that, Lou Reed! This record is known for a suicide-inducing drone version of “Heartbreak Hotel”

02 THE CRUZADOS – “Motorcycle Girl”
Tito and the boys cooking up East L.A. spunk in the days before they hooked up for gigs as Bob Dylan’s band. Bassist Tony Marsico is now with Matthew Sweet.

03 HERMAN BROOD – “Sleepin’ Bird”
My favorite Dutch ex-junkie porn star rock god, and the best rock and roll band in the world. He’s a famous painter now. Had an American hit with “Saturday Night” in 1978 but put out several searing records in Holland. Yowza! (LINK TO A LIVE VERSION)

04 THE DRONGOS – “Overnight Bag”
Life before Crowded House in New Zealand. What a great guitar player! I wouldn’t try to make love to this song; it’s better suited for popping popcorn! Went to see them one night only to find out they broke up that afternoon.

05 THE DIRTY ANGELS – “Call My Name”
Remember in 1979/80 when everybody got signed and dressed in pastels on album covers? Well, DA had nude mannequins with missing appendages. Ah, so what. But I know the name David Hull from elsewhere.

06 THE DICTATORS – “Heartache”
Scott “Top Ten” Kempner and Andy Shernoff both could write big hooks, but the underwater production buried them. Too bad. When you got past Ross The Boss’ guitar god act, these guys had some great songs!

07 CITY BOY – “I’ve Been Spun”
Jellyfish, eat your heart out. These guys could really rock, too, but were known for the unbelievable vocal harmonies. The guitar player, Mike Slamer, makes me grab the air guitar frequently over six records.

08 BLUEBELLS – “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool”
No, not the Dean Martin song. You may remember “Cath” or “Syracuse University”, but I always liked this the best. One of those “why isn’t this on CD” records, but frankly most people can’t even find the vinyl!

09 THE DAVE CLARK FIVE – “Because”
Because after 33 years it’s still great. Because Gary Frenay and Artie Lenin played it at my wedding and people were breaking out in tears. Because it’s my tape. Because.

10 ARTFUL DODGER – “She’s Just My Baby”
Even Artful Dodger fans gave up by this record. While earlier records were like a poppier Rod Stewart; I hear a perfect blend of Dwight Twilley and The Records. Why was this band not a major, major hit? (LINK TO THE PROMO VIDEO)

Live cut done at the drop of a hat in a Chicago station. Unbelievable how great he and the guitar sound just by themselves! So far he’s played Lennon in Beatlemania, Holly on film, and made one of the best debut records ever.

12 GARY CHARLSON BAND – “Hey Deanie” & “Go Back”
Another live in the studio gig from an incredible pop guy, these are two of my faves. Bought this based on Bruce Brodeen‘s adjectives (it’s an OLD record). So where is he now? And who the hell was this incredible drummer? (LINK TO A GARY CHARLSON MEDLEY)

13 SHAUN CASSIDY – “So Sad About Us”
Yeah, go ahead and snicker. The backup band is Todd and Utopia, and the whole album could have been called Faithful – Part Two! Messed up Shaun so badly he didn’t resurface for years, and then showed up with “American Gothic”!



Filed under Reviews

Celebretards or Great Music?

It’s that time again. The over-hyped commencement of the biggest train-wreck on television. Yep, like clockwork, millions of people have started fawning over that self-flagellating, uber-participatory mash-up of The Ed Sullivan Show, Ted Mack’s Variety Hour and Jerry SpringerAmerican Idol.

Crying all the way to the bank

Crying all the way to the bank

I won’t bore you with a long dissertation about why I hate reality television (classic oxymoron, yes?) but I just wanted to remind you that this is the one time each year when two completely opposite comets cross paths. (“What’s your vector, Victor?”)

x axis: American Idol is starting to weed through candidates to present us with their Ultimate Cash Cow for 2009.

y axis: I, on the other hand, am sifting through over 150 releases to finalize my “Best of 2008” music list.

Yes, I already locked in my top ten for The Village Voice and submitted a tentative top twenty to my favorite online poll, Audities. But my deadline is, has always been, and always will be Super Bowl Sunday. Saving you the long story, it’s the occasion when I first started sharing lists with my friends and it’s a tradition that continues to this day. So over the next two weeks, I’ll start lifting the veil on my favorite music from 2008, album by album, plus I’ll be peppering in a ton of worthy albums that you need to at least give a listen to. No two people’s lists should coincide exactly, but I’ll bet you find several keepers in the bunch.

So the battle lines are drawn, and now it’s up to you to choose:  good music recommendations or a television filled with celebretards.

I can only take you so far, grasshopper. Take the pebble if you can.

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Filed under Editorials, Film/TV, Music, Reviews