A Word on Music Discovery

I don’t know how many YEARS it took me to final­ly real­ize Ein­sturzende Neubaut­en were cool, but it took an awful­ly long time. And they were favor­ably com­pared to bands I liked all the while. So while it’s cheap­er to down­load some­thing today, it does­n’t mean peo­ple will instan­ta­neous­ly hit that tip­ping point, even if it’s free. Isn’t that the per­il of the long tail in a nut­shell?

Do you remem­ber star­ing at the stack of CDs you found at the used record store, try­ing to fig­ure out what you were buy­ing and what you’d leave behind? Man, my stom­ach still turns just think­ing about it.


In Praise of Trophy Bike Garage

Want to give spe­cial thanks to my friend Lois and the rest of the crew at Tro­phy Bike Garage for fix­ing up my bike. It’s back to rid­ing like an absolute dream after giv­ing me a good scare on 17th street. Now I’m back to com­mut­ing to and from work safe­ly, which my fam­i­ly cer­tain­ly appre­ci­ates.


SXSW Music Festival 2009

As I read this post over at Goril­la vs. Bear, I could­n’t help but think, “Who’s actu­al­ly going to SXSW next year?” I went for the first time in 2008 and had a lot of fun. Sure, I was lead­ing a team on a gru­el­ing four day mis­sion in desert heat for my day job, but that’s the trade­off. It was a cool expe­ri­ence. But will I go back next year? Prob­a­bly not.

Why? There are a few rea­sons, but let me start with the most obvi­ous. Few peo­ple care about SXSW cov­er­age, even among indie enthu­si­asts. The blo­gos­phere is glut­ted every March with chat­ter and video of new bands. It’s the sort of noise that turns peo­ple off. It’s also not all that inter­est­ing when many of these bands will criss-cross the coun­try on their route to Austin, or as they depart. Why go when the band will be com­ing to you any­way?

And video? It’s impos­si­ble to shoot, edit, and cut fast enough to keep it inter­est­ing. I talked to my friend Bran­don at Stere­ogum about how tough it is to make SXSW cov­er­age com­pelling when the audi­ence is fed up by the time the fes­ti­val ends. I don’t even know if I saw’s cov­er­age on their site! It’s dis­heart­en­ing because this is the sort of con­tent pro­duc­ers want to work, main­ly because few out­lets can pro­vide HD video on-site, which keeps it above the ama­teur shaky cam shots you see all over Youtube. It’s a great idea that has­n’t yet been real­ized. Maybe Qik and oth­er livestream­ing prod­ucts will make it work, but we’re not there yet.

What does that mean? It means going back to basics. It means out­lets big and small will send few­er cor­re­spon­dents, if any, to cov­er an event that grows larg­er every year. SXSW has defied the odds as the music busi­ness con­tracts, but I won­der how it will fare as the econ­o­my con­tracts as well. I sus­pect that they’ll see few­er cor­po­rate spon­sor­ships, which will make those pesky, fun free shows more dif­fi­cult to pro­duce. SXSW may regain con­trol of its beloved fes­ti­val, but who’ll pony up for those lame cre­den­tials? All the fun stuff hap­pens at the unsanc­tioned events!

2009 will be an inter­est­ing year for the music indus­try as fes­ti­vals and entre­pre­neurs try to buck con­ven­tion­al wis­dom. (If you haven’t read Idol­a­tor’s take on the Top­spin mod­el, I rec­om­mend you do.)


Music Industry Shrinkage

I’m catch­ing up on the starred items in my Google Read­er and as I sift­ed through posts about awe­some can­dy bars to Rosselli­ni, I came across this item from Idol­a­tor about how quick­ly the music indus­try is shrink­ing. Now I’m sure that my for­mer self could’ve nav­i­gat­ed the Bureau of Labor Sta­tis­tics for clear­er num­bers, but there’s some­thing that comes up in Mike’s post that inter­est­ed me: the notion that at some point of labor equi­lib­ri­um, the music indus­try will return a prof­it.

The idea that the music indus­try is still bur­dened by the bureau­cra­cy that grew dur­ing their boom years is a pop­u­lar one. One imag­ines beau­ti­ful peo­ple attend­ing par­ties and doing lit­tle else in gild­ed offices in New York and Los Ange­les, with exec­u­tives doing laps in vaults like Scrooge McDuck.

Of course, if you’ve been to a major label’s offices in the past few years, you’ll find quite the oppo­site. When I vis­it­ed Uni­ver­sal/Is­land-Def Jam to hear Mari­ah Carey’s E=MC2, I was shocked to find spar­tan cubi­cles orna­ment­ed in lit­tle more than pro­mo­tion­al posters and the odd gold or plat­inum record. The office was staffed almost exclu­sive­ly by young peo­ple — very young peo­ple — most younger than me.

This is pure­ly anec­do­tal evi­dence, but I think the music indus­try is being man­aged in much the same way any busi­ness look­ing to scratch out a prof­it is: rely on cheap, young labor and hope for the best. “Cut­ting the fat” may help, but what does one do when all the fat’s been cut? Worse, what hap­pens when you cut the fat only to real­ize that those peo­ple would’ve been bet­ter used to build new busi­ness that’s been neglect­ed for lack of ded­i­cat­ed staff?

(Here’s an idea of their des­tiny in the New World Order.)


The Thermals Sign to Kill Rock Stars

I got the press release that the Ther­mals signed to Kill Rock Stars just as I got home from the office. I think it’s great that they were able to stay on a clas­sic North­west label, but it seemed more strange that they would­n’t re-up with Sub Pop.

Coin­ci­den­tal­ly, Swedes Loney, Dear — a band signed in the post-“Young Folks” hys­te­ria — recent­ly depart­ed Sub Pop as well. Not to get too pulpy, but is there more to this than meets the eye? Loney, Dear were poor­ly reviewed and their Sub Pop debut, Loney, Noir, was a stinker. But the Ther­mals seemed to be the sort of act that Beg­gars Group would’ve poached in a heart­beat just a few years ago.

I’ll stop beat­ing around the bush: I’m shocked that a band like the Ther­mals would end up on such a tiny label at this point in their devel­op­ment. I know the music indus­try is bad, but labels like XL are still sign­ing bands and reis­su­ing albums a year after every­one in the blo­gos­phere down­loaded them. But that’s just busi­ness.

Think of it anoth­er way: if Deer­hoof — a band that crit­ics once show­ered with praise — does­n’t gen­er­ate heat a month after drop­ping their new album, Offend Mag­gie (7.6, no less), can they work a band that may have out­lived its hype cycle? At this point in his­to­ry, it does­n’t even seem to mat­ter if a band is hit­ting its stride. Every­thing is yes­ter­day’s papers the moment it leaks.

Don’t believe me? Read this pul­lquote in the Pitch­fork news piece from this after­noon and tell me it did­n’t make you wince.