The InsiderOne Daily Report

  Friday, May 25, 2001

Death Throes

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: "It's all over for the record business," my friend (in the music business himself) said, referring to the corporate record industry, the Big Five companies. We were sitting out on my back patio, where, after a day of rather devastating heat, it was cooling off. "These days, a band has to think long and hard about signing with a major label," he said. "You can lose your credibility. You go in debt. They own the masters. They can keep sending you back into the studio, and mess with your music." He lit a cigarette; I noticed a crow had lighted on the grass. "It used to be, a band wouldn't think twice about it," he said. "If they got an offer, they'd go for it. It's not like that anymore." Nothing was happening at the major labels anymore, he thought. There was a time when a band or artist needed a record company to pay for the making of their record, but that's changed. Recording technology is cheap now. You can make records using a Mac — people do it all the time. If you want, you can make low-fi records using a $260 four-track. Even musicians who don't have the technical skills to do their own recording can find a cheap studio and record an album for a few grand. The cost of pressing CDs is pretty minimal too. And if a band doesn't want to spend the $1,000 or so to have 1,000 CDs made, they can burn the CDs one at a time at home, and do Xerox covers — put CDs together as needed to sell at a show. Already, thousands of bands sell their indie CDs at shows. "I bet there are at least 10,000 bands out there, each selling maybe 10 CDs each time they play a show," I said. Sure, it's not on the same scale as Tool, who sold over 500,000 albums in a week. But the whole star thing is myth that's been foisted on musicians anyway. Think about it. Spin only has 12 covers each year. Twelve artists get their faces on the cover. Only a ridiculously small number of artists sell even half a million copies of an album. I don't like to tell people to give up their dream, but I also have the feeling the odds of success are way better in the Vegas casinos. It's time for musicians to get real — and guess what? Many of them started doing that nearly 20 years ago. The indie record business was the beginning. Black Flag didn't think they were going to play stadiums. They wanted to play for the kids who wanted to see them, and sell thousands, not millions, of albums. They weren't going to be stars. It was the same for the artists on SubPop, or the label so appropriately called Kill Rock Stars. Record companies used to be the way artists got their music distributed, but now there's the Internet, which makes it possible to deal directly with the fans. 'Course, first you have to get some fans. But it's a BIG DEAL that you can now have a Web site with all the info about your band, and people can sample your music and buy it if they want, and anyone, anywhere in the world can get to it. The only thing that labels still do that you can't do without a lot of money is the marketing-and-promotion part of the deal, but alternative ways for real music fans to discover the good stuff are already emerging. I get an email each week from Other Music, recommending certain albums the staff likes. And I go to two or three record stores each week, like Aquarius and Open Mind Music, which make a point of carrying good new — and often offbeat — recordings. I don't have to hear Mouse on Mars on the radio to get interested. A friend told me their new album, Idiology, is really good, so I sought it out. If I wanted, I could have listened to it in the record store before I bought it, or likely could have found some samples online. Those of us who really love music are constantly looking for good stuff. We don't need to see a full-page ad somewhere, and we never listen to commercial radio, so even if a song were being played there, we wouldn't know about it. My friend thinks kids are really sick of the corporate hype. I got an email from a high-school student recently: "There are many other people my age with the same appreciation [as I have] for music," he wrote, explaining that he was into Low, Cat Power, The Eels, Badly Drawn Boy, Songs:Ohia and a lot of other interesting artists. "There's not as many MTV fans as you would think," he wrote. It was getting colder, so my friend stubbed out his cigarette and we went inside.

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Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

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