July 28th, 2009 By Brian Baker | Music | Posted In: Music Commentary

Music Industry Needs Money But Not Press?

I hate to talk shop but I think it’s worthwhile that you understand the lengths the media goes through these days to bring you our opinions on the music that gets released each and every week. Three of this week’s reviews in my weekly online column for CityBeat, I Shall Be Released, are there for no other reason than a blogger out in webworld saw fit to post the music. Setting aside the natural “downloading is stealing” paradigm for the moment, it should be noted that if I hadn’t found the titles posted on a blogger’s site, I wouldn’t have been able to review them at all, because neither the label nor a publicist could be bothered to send me the discs for that very purpose. And they were asked to. Repeatedly.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, but it’s a puzzling one in light of the industry’s economic woes. I’ve been trying for weeks to secure an interview with a relatively high profile band and it looks like it’s not going to happen. The sad fact is that I have no idea how it’s going to play out because the publicist has simply stopped answering my e-mails. That’s the kind of ostrich mentality that‘s driving the music business at the moment.

Another example: I’ve been trying to track down a disc to review for I Shall Be Released, later in August. No less than five independent sites — including the artist’s own page — state the name of the label. When I e-mail a contact within this large corporate structure and inquire about said disc, I receive a terse, four word reply, as if they are being charged by the letter for their electronic responses: “not on our label.” Apparently the company is always the last to know.

Last month, I tried on three separate occasions to contact a large but normally cooperative indie label about getting a disc for review and looking into the possibility of an interview with the artist. No response. Not one. Not even a discourteous but at least honest “Go away, middle-market pissant. We don’t need your help.” I did finally get the interview, but only because my editor had the number of the artist’s manager and we went straight to the source. And I never got the disc. I downloaded it from a leak site.

Two years ago, I tried to get a rising young band on the phone for a feature in a nationally-distributed independent magazine. The publicist actually worked hard to come up with a time but the band couldn’t be bothered. Two weeks after my fourth attempt to get them on the phone, there they were in Rolling Stone, complaining about how their profile in Europe was great but they couldn’t get any radio play or press coverage at home. It was funny in a way, but their refusal to do the interview lost me a feature in that month’s issue which was reflected in my paycheck the following month, so in another way, I hate them still.

That said, the vast majority of labels and publicists work hard on behalf of their artists to help us get the word out. The ones that don’t are an oddity but it’s worth noting that they seem to be increasing in number as sales figures continue to plummet. The band that I’m awaiting word on at the moment has a fairly big album out now, and yet they’ve sold less than 150,000 copies. Back in the day, that wouldn’t be enough to crack the Top 100, but these days unit sales like that will get you in the Top 10. Guess they’re content with that. I wouldn’t be.

07.30.2009 at 10:03 Reply
When sales (in any business) are way down, to survive you have to protect margin by reducing cost. In that sense, everything that you write about (with the exception of the band not doing the interview) makes sense. If you know that the marketplace simply is not buying like they used to, you have to reduce costs to be able to earn a profit off the lower volume that you will sell.... so obviously reducing marketing and promotion budget would be a logical move. It would be different if people were in fact still buying, and the issue was still a matter of trying to get the biggest piece of a large pie for yourself... but that's not the situation here. The pie is a fraction of what it used to be, and no amount of promotion or promo copies is giong to change that... it'll only knock your costs out of line and destroy your margin. Using your own sales figures.... if 150k used to break the Top 100, and now it's the Top 10, it stands to reason that you would also therefore want to spend only about 10% of the resources on marketing... as the larger market simply no longer exists. If we weren't talking about a dying industry's model it might be different... but that is what we're talking about. Not slumping... dying. We all know that the old recording industry model is gone forever, and that they only way they will survive on any level is through reinvention of how it works from the ground up. Seems reasonable that that would include marketing and promo efforts, too. If as a label you know that the vast majority of the market will find a way to get your product for free anyway, it makes sense to me that you would save what you could by having reviewers, etc. deal with downloaded copies, etc. also. Being available for interviews is another matter, and I'm in agreement with you there.


07.30.2009 at 02:04 Reply
Good points, Den. I agree with you, but these companies still do market bands, buying advertising in our very paper. Reviews are essentially free advertising. It's especially baffling if a review/interview is tied to a concert, where all the money's being made today. PR companies have started the shift towards download review copies, which is a hopeful sign for reviewers I suppose.


07.30.2009 at 08:00 Reply
Sure, I wasn't implying that they weren't marketing bands at all... just that it seemed reasonable to refrain from sending out as many promo CDs, and also that they'd probably slash the size of the PR and marketing depts/budgets, which would likely mean less people to respond to requests, having to focus on higher priority outlets, etc. We're in agreement that the interview thing is just wacky. On the other hand, maybe it'll lead to more copy space to devote to the DIY bands who are grass rootin' it w/out a PR firm, label, etc....