Tag Archives: CD Baby

Barn Empty. Horses Still Visible?

Towering Inferno

I got an email today from Jim Urie, President of NARM (National Association of Recording Merchandisers) reminding me of his primary mission for 2010 regarding intellectual property and ISP involvement. At the recent awards dinner he made a keynote speech entitled “Call To Action“. The thrust was that the government (!) needs to intervene in the war on piracy before all is lost, because people are sharing music illegally. 

Well…duh

Urie (also the head of Universal Music Group) is seeking a viral marketing campaign to bring the issue to the attention of our elected representatives to force cooperation from Internet Service Providers, a tactic which he says has worked in other countries to reverse the trend. From his email: 

The music business is facing huge challenges from piracy and theft. Never before in American history has an entire industry been so decimated by illegal behavior.  Yet the government has not responded in a meaningful way to help us address this crisis.  My call to action is for all of us to become more aggressive in lobbying our government, more outspoken in drawing attention to the problems caused by piracy and more actively engaged.  We cannot win this fight alone.” 

 

I have mixed emotions about this issue. On one side, the record industry could have done the right thing all along – like any sane business – and by anticipating the future and changing with the times. But they stubbornly held on to their antiquated sales model years after its atomic half-life expired, and even when blatant warning flags like Napster came along to wake them from their slumber, they just didn’t get it

First it was the loyal mom and pop shops who took the hit. Few at the top of the record company foodchain gave a shit, because they were concerned with their mega-chains and their superstar artists and keeping their hand in your wallet 24/7. But when seismic shifts happened – like Tower Records collapsing – then and only then did the movers and shakers start to admit that change was evident. 

It’s 2010…Tower filed for bankruptcy in 2004 and closed in 2006.  

So much for preemptive strikes; even Tower’s demise didn’t force the issue. The barn door has been open for years and years and I’m not even certain the horses are still in view. Had they not been so greedy and foolish, we wouldn’t be having this exchange today. 

Ten years ago Kodak was still stubbornly insisting that digital photography was a fad and that film cameras would be around forever. That egregious decision almost sunk a billion dollar corporation; what was a seventy dollar stock price in 2000 now hovers at five. They will survive, but they’ll probably never recover from the failure to act. 

Maybe I’d feel more sympathetic towards the music industry if I didn’t witness so many labels treating artists like cattle, failing to reinvest their huge profits into artist development and coddling flavors of the moment instead of nurturing long-term relationships. Tend the fire? They couldn’t even keep the kindling lit. They support gougers like Ticketmaster. They support the monopolies of national promoters because they are also a monopoly

Now they’re drowning. Think Ticketmaster or Live Nation gives a shit? 

 

On the other side, I am acquainted with a lot of people who are musicians and artists who are watching their product get stolen (and in some cases sold for money they have no share in). I know writers and publicists who lost their jobs. I know many record stores that aren’t there anymore. 

And as much as I can blame shitty radio or the drive to satisfy tweens or the myriad of other ways to spend an entertainment dollar, the fact remains that a large part of their potential income is lost because people take their art and give it away without their permission. Put as much lipstick on that pig that you want, but that is called theft

And I realize that a lot of those people getting that free music would never have paid for it; they only got it because it was free. That’s not the point. And if you try to sell me the idea that attainability is possession, I’ll respond with a hearty fuck you – just because you can grab something does not mean it belongs to you. If possession was ownership, there would be no shoplifting, no breaking and entering, no kidnapping, no grand larceny. I’m not trying to equate file sharing with kidnapping, but the premise is the same – someone taking what they want without concern for anything but their own gain

 

I’m all for the availability of music, but I firmly believe that the only person who decides what price you should pay is the owner of that music. And more and more often these days, that’s the artist, not the record company. But even as assholic as the record companies have proven to be, if they legally own the music, it belongs to them. Let the paradigm change as artists discover they can do it better on their own rather than have a large faceless corporation bury them in a financial blizzard. 

It’s a simple fact that a musician selling CDs on CD Baby can reap five to fifty times the royalty rate they would get on a major label deal. An independent artist with controlled overhead and fiscal sanity could sell a thousand albums and make a living. Try doing that on a major label

 

So you can see why I’m divided on this issue. On one hand I’m disgusted that the record industry waited long after an appropriate time to try to resolve the issue fairly; they banked on the fact that the tide would come back in and everything would return to normal. On the other hand…theft is theft

So check out the links below and make up your own mind. Maybe you’ll sign a petition. Maybe you’ll patronize the artists instead of the torrent sites. Maybe you won’t do anything. 

In the end it is your conscience and your wallet. Do the right thing

 

Music United website

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Under The Radar: Welsh Rabbit

Welsh Rabbit was another band I stumbled across on those late-night “sounds like” tangents that I have been addicted to for most of my life. Back in 1991 all I was able to get my hands on was West 11th Love Letters. I wrote it up for Cosmik Debris but lost track of them soon afterwards and figured they might have been yet another band who high-fived the brass ring but didn’t grab hold.

As you can see from this CD Baby comment page, I wasn’t the only person being pleasantly surprised. It also appears like I have a fellow Tangent Monkey in the commenter who cites following a recommendation based upon his purchase of The Rosenbergs. You’ll note references to Weezer, Elvis Costello and The Beatles, although I think the Soft Boys and Big Star references more accurately pick up the dissonance they employ.

But we all agree that they’re a band worth checking out. Here are my original thoughts on that first EP…

I must admit when I heard the first few notes of “Where You Are,” I would have bet the farm that the singer would launch into “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” but it was merely a tip of the cap to the Fabs (as is the closing vocal harmony). West 11th Love Letter is a low-frills EP collection of some basic tracks laid down in vocalist/guitarist Nick Levine‘s basement. The sound is good, but more impressive is the charm of the songs; they’re amazingly strong for a first recorded document.

Somehow “Do You Want To Dance” juggles the indie cred of early REM with the hypnotic guitar work of The Edge in his prime. “My Summer Girl” and “Tonight” both have great hooks and show that the band can handle midtempo as well as power pop. Bassist Kyle Chilla, drummer Ian Campbell and keyboard player Rolf Nordhausen form a tight quarter with Levine. Overall the lead vocals are pretty good, although the harmonies are stronger; the guitars go for the jangle over the flash. For the first five tracks, anyway.

Nothing prepared me for the closing song, though. “Rollin'” is a ten-minute track that doesn’t waste a second. Somehow the pop path veers off into Neil Young meets Radiohead territory, and it works. Haunting, pulsating guitar work drives the song as the melody gains steam and the vocals build into a crescendo, tagging a minor chord to reset the mood. I know that most of their songs are now a little shorter and sharper, but this is one that I hope they keep playing at full length – it’s a stirringly emotional piece of music that few bands outside of Built To Spill can pull off well.

Looks like they are now a trio (Nick, Kyle and drummer Jordan Selman) and finally have a full-length album out called Don Quixote vs. Sancho Panza. I’ll have to grab that along with the other EP I missed, Forward Motion.

Welsh Rabbit on MySpace

Welsh Rabbit website

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Under The Radar: Pop Mafia

Another blast from the trolling tangents of The MP3 Files for Cosmik Debris. Wish I could tell you that these guys are alive and well and making records, but I haven’t found anything since 2003. And yes, I’ve tried Pop Mafia and Popmafia.

The review in Billboard was pretty effervescent: “Remember when rock music was no-frills fun? Somewhere between the new-wave era and the hair-metal movement, rock was simple, unabashedly pop, but aggressive enough to keep punkers happy. Maybe we’re just showing our age, but they sure don’t make music like that anymore.”

I was on board as well. Any time a press release lays down the gauntlet by promising ” the influence of early Elvis Costello and the Replacements” my ears perk up, and so does the high bar. Down at the Astoria is certainly not a stone cold classic like This Years Model or Pleased To Meet Me, but a good fun band and a record well worth your listening time.

Here is my review from 2001…

Let me get this straight…three of the five guys are named O’Donnell, O’Brien and O’Connor, and the band is called Popmafia?

Ahh, never mind, doesn’t matter, because their CD Down At The Astoria flat out kicks ass. They’ve got a skintight hard rock sound down pat, and the production sends it out crisp, clear and loud. Steve O’Donnell’s vocals are strong throughout, ballsy without lapsing into screaming, and bassist Paul Conway and drummer Steve Selezniov are locked into a groove that won’t quit. If Blink 182 covered “She Comes” or “Just Go Away,” we’d all be dancing to the killer hooks. Good songs about sex, love and rock and roll; from the temperate “Believe In Me” to the fiery “Automatic” and the clever “Taintshaker.”

Too many wannabe bands try to combine modern rock with a surf-punk edge and fall flat on their faces; Popmafia never forgets that melody and good musicianship doesn’t mean overkill. Guitarists Matt O’Brien and Steve O’Connor leave no doubt that they’re monsters, but they do it by driving the rhythm and then diving in for clean crisp solos. “Prizefighter” is a good example; as the band slides into double-time, O’Connor rips notes like a boxer nailing his opponent with a flurry of jabs. Hell, make that uppercuts, it’s too good for jabs. I’d love to see these guys open for The Dictators because an audience like that would get it in spades.

Listen to clips and grab a copy via CD Baby.

A later EP Delusions of Grand Avenue also available there.

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Under The Radar: The Lieutenants

Lieutenants EP

Do you miss The Jam? Do you pine for a band that blends English soul, workingman punk and a dash of pub laced power pop? A streetwise sense of purpose reminiscent of The Clash, but not at the expense of the melody? Then you should check out The Lieutenants.

Guitarist and lead singer Adrian Symcox penned the six tracks on their eponymous EP, and if his vocal on the leadoff track “Burning the Backwoods” doesn’t make you think of Paul Weller, I guarantee you the fluid basslines of Tom Branch will evoke fond memories of Bruce Foxton. Branch is all over the neck like a snake, and his dominant pulse is the backbone of the band’s thick urban sound. You might be thinking U.K. like I did, but the band is based in Los Angeles. Looks like a personnel change has taken place; Jason LaRocca and Joey LaRocca of The Briggs played on the EP but Phil Robles (guitar) and Jordan Bryant (drums) are listed as band members on the website.

As one might surmise from song titles like “Down At The Revolution” and “The Church of Lesser Saints”, the songs rip against commercialism, apathy and the mind-numbing after-effects of trying to fit in where you don’t belong. The lyrical power is supported by the tension in the music, a quality that is consistent no matter what the pace of the song. But the musical highlight is undoubtedly the closer, “Keep On Moving”, a mash-up between anthemic BritPunk and the propulsion of a Stax or Motown track (the underlying rhythm is a direct descendant of “I Can’t Turn You Loose”).

I’m not saying this is a brilliant release, but there’s a lot to like here. Having heard an earlier version of some of the tracks, I think the band is moving in a good direction. I’m anxious to hear their full statement, but for now this very reasonably priced EP is available at their website and vendors like CD Baby.

The Lieutenants website

The Lieutenants on MySpace

Promo video of “Cemetery Life”

The Lieutenants

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