Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Best Lede You'll Read This Week

Some time in the next few months, the Sex Pistols will pass into the hands of private equity.

Kind of breaks your heart -- even when coupled with the absurdity of considering EMI to be "independent." The death of the music industry has been heralded for several years now and while some observers seem to lament the development (Frontline and Rolling Stone, for example), I couldn't be happier to see the old music business model fall by the wayside, if for no other reason than I think it will result in a return to a model that has largely been ignored for roughly 15 years.

The FT piece provides a hint of things to come:

Artists themselves are recognising the declining importance of album sales compared with the revenues they can make from live performances and merchandising. Prince agreed that 3m copies of his new album could be given away for free in the UK last weekend in a newspaper promotion by the Mail on Sunday. Music retailers protested that the 3m units exceeded their usual total weekly sales. But other artists are adopting a strategy – made famous by the Grateful Dead – of not worrying what their CDs sell for, because they calculate that the albums will stimulate interest in their tours.

Back in the early 1980s small punk rock labels would put out albums that would basically be used as promotional fodder for the tours the would go on. That's where the money was for them. It was brutal work -- lots of traveling, endless hours of down time, and a complete inability to establish roots in a community -- and eventually destroyed most of the working relationships among the bands that hit the road, but that was how many of those musicians stayed solvent. That put a lot of pressure on the bands to both put on a good show that people wanted to see (in many cases the easy part) and be able to plan tours efficiently. It was the latter that proved to be incredibly difficult due to lazy and/or unscrupulous venue owners/promoters/scene-sters. Hopefully that will now change with a good generation of business experience under the collective belts of most smaller venue owners (think of the Rave in Milwaukee, the Barrymore in Madison, First Ave. in Mlps., the Vic in Chicago, etc.).

Like all things, musicians, promoters, club owners, et al. will figure out sooner or later that of they want to make money they're going to have to make the concert going experience a little more than waiting an hour in line to get frisked by a 350 lb. skinhead only to stand for 3 hours in stale bear and fresh vomit slowly going deaf. Sure, I'll be nostalgic for those days, but even Vegas had to eventually clean up its act.

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