The Art of January Releases

Malkmus and Jicks

It’s March and SXSW is wrap­ping up in Austin, which is the kick­off to the spring push in the music indus­try. What am I still pay­ing atten­tion, too? The lat­est Jicks record, Wig Out at Jag­bags. What else? The Against Me! album, Trans­gen­der Dys­pho­ria Blues.

Why? The answer is sim­ple. Both are Jan­u­ary releas­es. Jan­u­ary is a great month for media Mon­ey­ball. The owned the media cycle for a qui­et month and noth­ing real­ly rose to dethrone them in Feb­ru­ary, at least from a cov­er­age per­spec­tive in the social streams I fol­low. Will these albums be over­looked or giv­en short shrift come year end? Sure, but who cares? How much are year end lists worth in 2014 any­how? (Could be a lot; tell me if I’m wrong.)

Jan­u­ary is the per­fect month to release an album. Ever since LCD Soundsys­tem released their debut in Jan­u­ary 2005, I’ve asked why more bands don’t do this. Break away from the March and Octo­ber cycle, make as much noise as pos­si­ble and then tour if you can. This is espe­cial­ly genius with a “lega­cy” artist like Malk­mus, who has a pret­ty well-defined fan base. Maybe this bought him some addi­tion­al expo­sure. Jan­u­ary offers more “run­way” for an artist than the com­mer­cial claus­tro­pho­bia of March.

But why is it so smart to push an album before March rolls around?

A few rea­sons:

  • Crit­ics are just like us! They make res­o­lu­tions! Things like “I will lis­ten to more music this year.” Put out an album in Jan­u­ary and you’re the sole ben­e­fi­cia­ry.
  • There is no oth­er news. I must’ve read 4 or more fan­tas­tic, gen­er­ous inter­views with Malk­mus and prob­a­bly twice as many with Against Me!‘s Lau­ra Jane Grace.
  • Release an album in Jan­u­ary and you get expan­sive “nar­ra­tive space.” Malkmus’s sto­ry is nowhere near as grip­ping as Lau­ra Jane Grace’s, yet the nar­ra­tive that he’s been with the Jicks longer than Pave­ment shone through and the cov­er­age human­ized him unlike ever before. The inter­play with his kids’ lis­ten­ing habits was fan­tas­tic and the image of him singing to Avicii in a mini­van amazed me.

If you still think release dates are mean­ing­ful inas­much as it allows you to pre­pare for a news cycle, break free of the old meth­ods. To apply some busi­ness speak from Havard Busi­ness Review, adopt a blue ocean strat­e­gy and get your client out there in the open. To bring it back to Bil­ly Beane, find the mar­ket inef­fi­cien­cy and take advan­tage.


Why We Are Debating Free

The answer’s easy: it doesn’t work for music. Unless you were liv­ing under a rock on Fri­day, you prob­a­bly read Techcrunch’s post, “The Sor­ry State of Music Star­tups.” With­out going into great detail, Arrington’s com­plete­ly right, and for once, he doesn’t resort to the whole “music just wants to be free” argu­ment so com­mon among Web 2.0 types. Instead, he writes that “free stream­ing music” is about as sen­si­ble as try­ing to douse a burn­ing pile of mon­ey with a gal­lon of gaso­line.

With all due respect to Bruce Houghton at Hype­bot and Andrew Dub­ber at New Music Strate­gies, the dream is over. It’s time to wake up and smell the cof­fee. Con­tin­ue read­ing


Music 2.0’s Blue Sky Mines Collapsing

Blender’s print edi­tion is fin­ished. You prob­a­bly already know this if you spent any time on the Inter­net yes­ter­day, but it’s just anoth­er instance where a music mag com­plete­ly changes its appear­ance to remain “rel­e­vant” (what­ev­er that means now) and ends up clos­ing shop any­way. As Matos wrote on his blog, “It’s hot, it’s sexy, it’s dead,” which sounds like the sort of thing one might say about the pre­ma­ture death of a rock star.

Part of my music cru­sade has been to say how impact­ful events like this are for the music indus­try. There’s a great com­ment in the Idol­a­tor post on Blender’s clos­ing from the friend of an anony­mous flack who doesn’t know which out­lets will be left to pitch by year’s end. It’s that bad. That out­look, cou­pled with the industry’s retreat from pro­mo­tion in the name of rev­enue, viz. videos holed up on Youtube with no embed­ding priv­i­leges and the like, music will soon be hard­er to find than bin Laden!

Heck, even the thing peo­ple seem to enjoy most about music online is chang­ing. announced this week that they’ll be chang­ing their stream­ing poli­cies in many parts of the world, set­ting off a tidal wave of out­rage. Pow­er­ful music search engine See­q­pod will begin charg­ing devel­op­ers for its data, too. Omi­nous nois­es are com­ing out of the Imeem camp, too, no mat­ter what they’re telling Michael Arring­ton at Techcrunch.

Those of us who fore­saw the end of Music 2.0 can only shake our heads. Chris Anderson’s “freemi­um” dream is over. The blue sky mines are col­laps­ing around our ears.

What’s ahead? No one knows. I’m talk­ing to my friend Jason Her­skowitz almost dai­ly about the future of music on the web, espe­cial­ly around music dis­cov­ery. He’s been work­ing on some cool stuff late­ly, most recent­ly Play­dar, an idea I urge you to check out. Nev­er­the­less, he fears that Dark­net will soon replace any­thing remote­ly legit­i­mate for con­tent shar­ing online. It’s a fright­en­ing propo­si­tion for rights hold­ers who have any inter­est in pro­tect­ing their prop­er­ties in this brave new world, and equal­ly scary for those of us who care about music as part of our cul­tur­al fab­ric.


Saying Goodbye to SXSW

Last year I attend­ed my first South by South­west Music Fes­ti­val. It was a big deal! It was on the com­pa­ny dime! I lead a team of four peo­ple on a musi­cal jour­ney that took us from Rachael Ray to 2 Live Crew. We met a ton of inter­est­ing artists and talked to as many as we could on cam­era for I was real­ly proud of what we accom­plished in our first time out. Before we left for Austin, I ful­ly expect­ed that SXSW would be an annu­al event on my edi­to­r­i­al cal­en­dar.

What a dif­fer­ence a year makes. Con­tin­ue read­ing


The Sky Is Falling!

Here’s my absurd, reduc­tion­ist view­point on why edi­to­r­i­al will sur­vive the demise of the music indus­try: just because big con­glom­er­ates won’t make mon­ey sell­ing music doesn’t mean peo­ple will stop mak­ing it. Artists will keep doing all sorts of beau­ti­ful, irra­tional things, often at con­sid­er­able per­son­al expense, even if there’s no one to buy it. Some­one still needs to dig around to find what’s great, right?

If we as crit­ics con­cen­trate sole­ly on solv­ing the music industry’s prob­lems, we won’t be able to ade­quate­ly address our own. Jason Gross and I have been going back and forth quite a bit about this on Twit­ter. He wrote, “Music biz = our bread/butter (& our love). As for sav­ing crit­i­cism, do you mean the whole scribe trade or our just our own turf?” Con­flat­ing the music busi­ness with music itself is sil­ly. (I’m sure Jason agrees, but his tweet is illus­tra­tive nonethe­less.)

If crit­i­cism sur­vives it will be as a cul­tur­al fil­ter. It sounds imper­son­al, but it’s of cru­cial impor­tance to an audi­ence. We have to stop think­ing of our­selves as ser­vants of the music indus­try and con­cen­trate on being of val­ue to an audi­ence with pre­cious lit­tle time to spend think­ing about our pas­sion. Remem­ber, crit­ics have always been cul­tur­al cura­tors, so it’s not a rad­i­cal change in job descrip­tion. We just have to think of our role in broad­er terms.

Our love is writ­ing about music. Let’s not for­get that.


Pandora’s Box

Scott Ten­nent makes an emo­tion­al plea for music fans to ignore leaks over at  Pret­ty Goes with Pret­ty. We’ve all seen vari­a­tions of this argu­ment before. The MPAA even made spots that echoed this sen­ti­ment. It’s heart­felt, but hope­less. Count­less clich­es could be used to describe what’s hap­pened, but I’ll use this one: you can’t get the tooth­paste back into the tube.

Con­tin­ue read­ing