Pipe Dream

Despite repeating the mantra that content is king, the major labels never believed this. Nor did the movie studios. Distribution is king.Bob Lefsetz.

Many years ago I wanted to write about the music business and orient what would have been a scree around this same point. In fact, having hauled myself through the entire multi-volume history of the industry by the Sanjeks, I wanted to bolt my analysis to their missing this same point.

As much as the Sanjeks had to say about the rise of the major labels, they were silent about the implications of the labels having to keep the pipelines full of product, be it hit bound or (most of it) failed ‘out of the box.’ It was easy to fill those pipelines, too easy really, and so it quickly came about that the major labels could do so without having to market every product in the pipeline. Amazing! 95% failure rate but 100% roll out! That the labels developed marketing stupidity* into an art form goes a long way toward explaining why an entire industry has spent a decade swirling down a drain they played a major role in making.

All else, in effect, is irony and karma.

Back in those crazy days a musician reminded me that the labels “throw stuff up against the wall and see what sticks.”

I replied, “Believe me, they don’t throw hard enough to get much to the wall.”

(*Marketing stupidity in this sense: ‘product’ developed without any commitment to its later being placed in the market. i.e. on some chain or other store’s shelves. One of the most appalling turns the record industry took occurred in 1979-1981, when the majors started their project to destroy the niche stores that were the only hope for much of the labels’ projects/products. Still, this turn is in the context of the labels knowing fully ahead of time that they were in the business of launching dead-on-arrival projects…just to keep the pipelines full.

This isn’t to say the labels weren’t expert at focusing their resources upon the task of hit and star making. They were and they made a ton of money doing so. Yet what this means with respect to distribution is that the majors were best at meeting demand.)

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