Trying To Get To You

Monday, July 23, 2007

Oh, How Ironic

There's a lengthy piece in today's L.A. Times (site reg required) about rock artists participating in advertisements. Reading it, I can't help but be struck by a certain irony: Once upon a time, most rock artists (even the left of center ones) made commercial music designed to sell records and be played on the radio (i.e., be popular) - and then avoided advertising like the plague. Now, many rock artists make music that is deliberately noncommercial or obtuse (under the guise of being "uncompromised") and then place their music in advertisements because they find that their music isn't reaching as big an audience as they thought they would (or should).

Now I know the arguments contrary to that: Record sales are down, radio doesn't play doesn't do much for rock artists anymore, it's harder to get an artist exposed these days, etc., etc. All of which has truth to it. But there's another part of the equation that rarely gets discussed - for over fifteen years, the vanguard of rock artists have looked down their nose at making music that is obviously melodic or accessible, and the genre has suffered an enormous loss of popularity because of it, resulting in the erosion of popularity of modern rock on the radio, and the winnowing of outlets that expose left-of-center-but-accessible rock to a broad audience. Yes, obviously the internet revolution has had an enormous hand in this. But I ask the question: If modern rock radio (and artists) had really been delivering the goods, would everyone have run away so fast?


Anonymous said...

Ah, the age-old debate about commercialism and music.

Radiohead refuses to put their music on iTunes because they don't want it sold by the track. Is Radiohead taking a meaningful stance here? Or are they just a bunch of pretentious "artists" who feel that they should control the order in which their music is consumed?

Meanwhile, U2 has a special edition iPod created with their signatures on it. Is U2 the biggest sellout in the history of rock music as a result? I don't think so...

Ultimately, there's probably no artist more "commercial" in nature than Prince.

He was charging money for membership at his website at a time when no one was even considering that as a possibility.

He gave away his CD ("Musicology") at his concerts and completely blew up Billboard's model for measuring album sales.

He performed the halftime show at the Super Bowl (nice job sneaking that phallic symbol onto the air... was that in homage to Miss Jackson?).

And he recently gave away copies of his latest album in the UK to anyone who bought the Sunday paper (it was included with the paper).

Does that harm his legitimacy in any way? Not really. In the end, it's about making good music or not, and he realizes that.

When Prince puts out a crap album, it does nothing for his legacy. When he puts out a great record, the response is positive. And the commercial steps he takes along the way become wholly irrelevant.

I think it's sort-of funny today to look back at the mid-1980s, when a well-respected rock star did a cover of his own song for a beer commercial...

Watching it today, are you 1% as enraged as you (probably) were back in the mid-1980s when Eric Clapton committed this blasphemous act? Or have you just been completely desensitized to commercialism?

Not sure what the answers are, but thought this might be good food for additional thought...

Anonymous said...

Then there's Peter Gabriel, who apparently sees DRM as a kind of pointless exercise, but yet, how to ensure artists get their due compensation without it? His answer, We7, is blatantly "commercial" yet could turn the industry model on its head. Curious to know your thoughts on whether his ideas might work.

Ben Lazar said...

I've never heard of We7 - I definitely need to check that out. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

That's a good concept, Anonymous!

I'm not sure I'd personally love having to listen to an ad (even sub-10 seconds) before each track, but for someone who wants free music, it'd probably be fine. And it solves a very real problem, particularly for indie artists who can't command $0.99 per track at iTunes.

As far as my own personal trepidation, I'm in the minority, someone who's actually willing to pay $1.29 per 256kbps track at iTunes rather than simply paying $0.99 for the standard 128kbps protected AAC. In other words, I'm the exception, rather than the rule.

I wonder how much it would cost a company like Coke to subsidize free music on iTunes in aggregate, and whether it'd be worthwhile for them?

Ben Lazar said...

I'm not feeling so much. I get the idea. But I have no desire to have my files embedded with advertising - even if they're free. It's just not an enjoyable experience.

In my opinion, digital music needs to be far less expensive with far more choice. I'm willing to pay 99 cents for a FLAC file - but there's no way I'm paying that much for a 128aac file. I know I'm in the minority, but I believe the record companies would be far better off if they created a product and sold it in a way that got hardcore music fans excited rather than thinking about the lowest common denominator first.