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FLUSH THE INDUSTRY

 

For too many years brain-dead executives ruled the now nearly defunct major record labels. I’m not talking about publicists and artist relation staffs, just the misguided hacks at the top of the shit heap from punk’s 1977 heyday ‘til now. These stuck-up money-grabbing twerps were the ones who offered secretarial staff’s health insurance but were too cheap to provide it for their own artists – the people responsible for making them money. And what’s now ironic is how the corporate giants who raped and pillaged the industry are now getting raped and pillaged by free internet downloads.

In the ‘50s, ‘60s, and early ‘70s, independent labels such as Motown, Atlantic, and Stax were well-staffed with producers, artist relation people, and executives who understood and loved the rock, soul, and folk beaming like beacons through radio’s amplified waves. Moreover, these important smaller labels had major distribution and powerful promoters hyping new music through radio lobbying and payola tactics.

By the time punk and rap came along and newer indie labels emerged, major labels got scared and avoided the street noise coming from places like CBGB’s and Bronx schoolyards, allowing commercial radio to become a pathetic place for flaccid conservative fodder. Major labels and commercial radio made sure punk and rap could not receive commercial radio access, major distribution, and breakthrough sales at a time when they enjoyed the benefits of thriving ‘heritage’ rockers such as Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles – not to mention the disco fad. Even more corrupt than in the past, the major labels shunned the punk and rap movement and promised more grass, wine, and, of course, payola money, to make sure indie labels and artists couldn’t receive commercial airplay lamer major label artists received.

And here’s how the major labels finally got their comeuppance – overpricing newly marketed Compact Disc’s during the ‘80s. This alone decreased access for developing punk and rap artist’s as impressionable teens were not only unable to discover worthy new independent label product at corporately sponsored record stores, but they also refused to absorb the inexcusable, exorbitantly priced ‘new tech’ CD’s being marketed at highly inflated rates.

Collectors of cool independent music stopped buying! In the ‘70s, $4 albums were bought on teen’s $200 a week wages and taking chances on newer artists was fairly cheap. This made access to a growing number of new glam-rock, prog-rock, soul, and country artists easy to afford, especially compared to the ‘80s, when Compact Disc versions (with smaller, compromised cover art and sterilized sound) sold for $12 when teen’s had $300 a week wages. That’s a 300% jump in price for a sound carrier that a mere 50% wage increase couldn’t absorb a decade hence (and I didn’t adjust for inflation!).

In other words, teen consumers’ budgets got tighter and their interest in discovering developing indie artists decreased. Audaciously higher pricing for a cheaper-to-make sound carrier undermined teen buyers.

In reality, the arrogance of the major labels finally caught up to them. Face it major label thieves, it costs one penny to make a CD and the high warehousing costs previously encountered for drying and storing vinyl no longer existed. These labels had the stupidity to price themselves out of existence. And the lack of commercial radio exposure depriving independent artists of a fair playing field partially ruined the careers of better ‘80s artists such as the Minutemen, Replacements, and old school rappers. Due to major labels neglectful tactics, independent artists of all stripes were kept them down on the farm at college stations way below the 92.1 radar on the FM dial. This is the same despicable depravation black slaves suffered through at the birth of this supposedly great nation.

And that’s why parasitic major label execs deserve to perish. They used gifted artists for their talent, paid cheap wages, and got rich. So don’t feel sorry for the last few remaining stiffs surviving major label downscaling. I doubt there are any in tune with what’s happening beyond the velvet rope for over a decade or two. Most of these clueless, careless executives have no doubt moved on to divorce, drugs, and pettier careers (perhaps in real estate).

The kick in my ass is I’m used to relying on free promotional advances from both major labels and indie start-ups – hard copy CD’s with artwork, pix, bio, and publishitty ephemera. And now due to major label downsizing and indie label cutbacks, I may be forced to only receive free promotion links with limited access time to download. Not sure how I feel about that. I’ve never considered myself a music collector, though I own thousands of CD’s and records. I’m just a big pop fan with free access to great independent (and co-dependent) music.

I’m so accustomed to building a record library that it’ll probably be like quitting heroin now that I’ll stop getting physical copies of 90% of the stuff I want. It’ll still be free. Oh yeah. Nothing will stop me from downloading whatever the fuck I want anyhow. Luckily, the major labels that still exist now offer even fewer artists I care to spend time listening to. Besides, everything worthwhile starts on the streets at indie labels (if they survive).

As for the artists, whose work I’ve cherished and kept coming back to for years, the game is over for high-priced major label signings, big bonuses, and boondoggled bonanzas. I always thought if Steely Dan wanted to just sit back and make albums without touring, go the fuck ahead. They still collected a disturbingly limited monetary stipend off album sales and royalties but were able to somehow survive financially. But the game may be over for that kind of introverted musical lifestyle.

Simply put, if you don’t go out on the road, you’re gonna have a helluva time collecting money these days in the music biz. So studio rats like rappers, producers, and introverted rockers beware. Then again, those rappers, producers, and introverted rockers who’ve got skills in visual arts, web design, or cheesy promotional devices beyond the merch table, may be able to eke out a meager living.

Sure there’ll be those mega-selling teen faves – the Jonas Brothers (yea for Wyckoff, New Jersey!) and Miley Cyrus (whose dad’s got big Country/Western bucks) – but blockbuster sales will be close to nil. Many teens’ computer games now have 10 or more songs on them anyway and that will further cheapen audio CD’s by one artist.

I do get a kick out of the rap community, so eager to protect the rights of their artists by sending promo CD’s with interrupting ‘sound bites’ and stupid messages all over ‘em so any music critic who dares give free access before release date will be compromised. But that’ll only hurt their record sales as pre-release buzz evaporates. Besides, isn’t the majority of hip-hop culture based on free access to sampling and duped instrumentation? Sure they must pay now for their borrowings, but not in the past. Ask James Brown and George Clinton. Their records got transformed through hip-hop into something new.

But the samples were originally lifted for free to underscore a rapper’s flow and then sold for profit when the major label industry and its distribution system thrived. Now, when access to recordings is free, the rap community is looking to protect profits derived mostly from sampled dupes.

Isn’t that ironic? Steal from the majors’ older recordings and get pissed when the system breaks down and you can’t make a buck off it. Go on the road, dudes. Then again, I hear the Wu Tang Clan’s recent tour didn’t suffice financially. Most likely, the Clan wasted any advance money during the tour. And it seems like the Clan is pissed off at producer-agent RZA for not paying ‘em proper residuals on last year’s new album (which the group disowned on impact). Well. The disc probably sold less than ‘gold’ (500,000 copies) and the group most likely stayed in the same fancy hotels quaffing expensive liquor as the now-dead major label execs once did.

It’s funny how the teen consumer gets the last laugh. My sons and daughter alone have downloaded hundreds of songs for free – and I feel no guilt. Neither should you. The internet has freed the teens from corporate greed. Though the enslaved artists still suffer from unfair monetary reciprocation, at least they’ve gained instant worldwide exposure and the chance to make small money.

-John Fortunato

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A C.M.J. STORY

A CMJ STORY FOR THE KIDS

Oh great! CMJ’s music marathon is coming to the Big Apple again. Well, this is my happy CMJ story for the impressionable kids who’ll attend this year.

Once upon a time in the late ‘90s, I lived free and easy, going to any show my bulbous ass desired. As October rolled around one year, I got an email from College Music Journal’s outside publicity department, inviting me to get a free laminated pass for their annual ten-day music marathon hosted by many of my favorite clubs: the now-defunct CBGBs, Mercury Lounge, Irving Plaza, and several smaller spaces. This was a time before the Bowery Ballroom became the mecca of indie rock, dethroning a more mainstreamed Irving Plaza (a.k.a. the new Fillmore).

So anyway, I thought, ‘What the fuck! I’ll get the silly laminated pass and have access to any event without making a call or sending an email to the record label or outside publicity staff.’ Everything seemed cool, man!

 

The first night of CMJ’s prized music marathon, featuring hundreds of budding bands, is about to begin. And I’m going midtown to pick up my all-important all-access pass. No prob. I leave Jersey early but get caught in a traffic jam during an unexpected downpour. Still, despite working an eight-hour day, I make sure to get to the building where CMJ told its constituents to meet. I fight traffic and get there five minutes before the 9 PM cut-off time. I head downstairs where a sign distinctly says ‘CMJ Registration.’ I get there. No one’s home. What the fuck!

Someone tells me registration’s been moved upstairs so I scamper to an elevator and find the right floor. It’s now 8:58. I walk off the elevator and head quickly to the registration room. I wait ten minutes and get told by fat lunk-headed security thugs that registration, for this evening anyway, is closed. And they were being douche-y about it being closed, no less.

So I said, “Closed? I just hustled here for no fucking reason when I could’ve called the label or publicity for access to any event I wanted to. You fucking assholes! Get me Scott Frampton (CMJ editor) on the fucking phone now!’”

First of all, I didn’t even want their goddamn stupid laminated badge of courage. Out of town journalists look like such loser assholes wearing those stupid things around their necks anyway. Thankfully my life doesn’t suck enough to wanna display some pedantic CMJ badge to look cool trying to pick up hideously trendy splotch-faced hair-damaged chicks. And I hate the droll post-teen flops wearing those badges unaware of how much of a sniveling shit I know they look like.

Hell. The years prior to this, I’d just call publicity when I needed tickets for a certain CMJ event. Like any respectable journalist (of which there are fewer nowadays), I’d cover the shows without needing the goddamn CMJ laminated pass. But that momentous rainy night in autumn, CMJ bungled badly. In previous years, I never had to worry ‘bout gettin’ in to see the bands I truly admired. Never. It was just a phone call or email away.

Anyhow, I felt it was my precipitous duty to show the CMJ security thugs just how I felt about not getting my useless all-access pass. After some further yelling, I picked up a newsstand holding new copies of the precious CMJ Weekly and tossed ‘em all over the floor. I took a few that were stuck in the newsstand and brought them street level to be dumped into the muddy puddles in front. And then I headed to whatever-the-hell show it was I felt like going to anyway.

Funnily, the next day I call a friend in publicity and relate this entire story and hear silence, then laughter, on the other end. The publicist snickers, “Yeah. We heard. We had four kids from a Pennsylvania college come in to town and they were behind you on line when you went off the wall. They called us right after it happened and were a little scared but also happy you did it.”

I’ll probably attend several CMJ shows this year. But I won’t trust CMJ’s invite. Especially now, since I just ripped ‘em. But I do feel it’s necessary to get critical about CMJ’s content, which lacks objective opinion and thereby sucks.

Plus, CMJ has not been a worthy barometer of true college ‘tastes’ for years. Why? The same heritage indie rockers that were around when CMJ began too often crowd the inane top 10 too frequently. I’d guess the chart placements are manipulated by whatever few corporate ad dollars still lie around the comatose record industry – but that’s just speculation.

The real truth is: CMJ’s never been into writing critical reviews about the artists it covers, probably to soothe label’s artists then given exposure at their annual New York ‘snowcase.’ Their non-opinions are a bit shy for my tastes. Worst of all, I feel the non-entities that run that out-of-date publication couldn’t give a shit about the artists they cover. They even suck more cock than RollingStone does now (since they cover American Idol douchebags and Britney Spears non-talents to gain sales).

I’d never even care about their insignificance if they hadn’t fucked me over that night. Fact: I was there on time, jerkoffs. And I went out of my way going midtown instead of heading right to the downtown events to start with. Thankfully their simian security scum that night probably have nightmarish memories of the incident. That is, if they were smart enough to have recollections at all.

-John Fortunato