Starving Foxes

Bob Lefsetz’s take on the record biz’s latest snake oil, 360 Deals, is worth absorbing.

Lefsetz letter 360 DEALS This whole business is top-heavy. And these lumbering giants are trying to maintain their power, however ignorantly.

The key today is leaving some money on the table. Be willing to give the audience something for free, you’ll get paid back in spades, if you’re good.

“360 deal,” the new means for dinosaur record labels to glom on to musician’s ancillary profit centers. Except, of course, what they really want to do is glom onto the artist’s primary touring and swag profit centers under the guise of integrating all efforts behind the about to expire CD ‘hard goods.’

So, once again, in exchange for contacted obligations to the artist the label will reach into the artist’s pockets for monies they never before could get hold of. There’s no charitable way to characterize the foxes figuring out a new fangled way to partner with the hens in exchange for the foxes being allowed to, so-to-speak, guard the henhouse doorway.

I think the record industry has hollowed itself out enough by now that it’s okay to hold the honchos and their minions accountable for this self-destruction. So, with the ‘360’ it seems like starving foxes are offering the hens to do guard duty. At this late point in the old fashioned record industry’s death spiral, I’d blame the artist and their management for being stupid enough to even consider a ‘360.’

Among the many pithy things about the record business artists have told me over the years, one of my favorites was when one described label marketing as: “Somebody making a lot of money whether they are good at their job or not.” Another favorite is concise: “They sit around and do nothing.”

Crazy Bald Head

Incredible the king of the crates, D.J. Weirton, has tracked me down and tomorrow I’ll pitch him some props. He was my right hand man at the Record Den and even outlasted me as he served out his commission right up to the point the ship rolled and sank under the waves.

I can’t wait to find out what happened when he resurfaced. It’s been 8 years. He played a very important role in my musical journey. I’ve put together a seeqPOD mix that highlight six of his biggest tips: the downtempo sometimes drum & bass of Lamb; the crooklyn dub and roots of Dr. Israel; Bjork; Lee Perry.

However this doesn’t do his game changing contribution or the story of our working together in the last days of the old school record business any justice. I can summarize and suggest that he remade an inveterate jazzer by creating the conditions through which his own diverse good taste could rub off a bit on an old geezer. I especially got jazzed by drum and bass, illbient dub, the Bristol chill, and, much of the turntabilism he’d toss on sound system.

The curious thing is that the store was decidedly urban and its customers’ tastes ran mostly from G to R&B. I’m basically a longtime enthusiast of southern soul, whereas Cleveland is a northern soul town. DJ Weirton loved old school hip hop. We both loved Prince. We could get behind Badu and D’Angelo, but we were out of step with the trends even if selling those same trends paid our checks.

But we sure had fun turning ears with all the DJ Spooky and Skratch Pickles and Grooverider and Roots Manuva and Meters and Bill Laswell, Ninja Tune crews and many others we’d spin solely for the sake of preserving our insanity while watching what happened on the floor, as-it-were. Heavy props to the rest of the Den crew, Amadeus, RJ Sax.

  • Lamb – Cottonwool (Fila Brazilia remix)
  • Bjork – Army of Me (Liquid Riot remix)
  • Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry – Purity Rock (DJ Spooky remix)
  • Dr. Israel – Reconnection

Rocky Roots

I’ve known my friend Kate for forty-two years. She comes back to town every now and then to visit her parents and we get together for brief moment. As it has happened, her husband, Rocky Maffit, is a fine professional musician with a long pedigree and very diverse musical interests.

She played me a track from his new album, a record close to the end of its journey to completion.

It was killer! The sound was gospelish with more than a nod toward the atmospherics of Daniel Lanois and the syncretic Peter Gabriel, and rootsy Ry Cooder. What also jumped out was the great care and intricacy of the assembled track, especially the subtle rhythms woven throughout. Now I just have to be patient!

One other thing: Rocky might be termed a globetrotting but regional kind of artist. I’ve tagged his link DIY Creative. This is the tag I use for musicians who have figured out how to make a go of it without yielding to the exploitative old school industry. See my page here: Business Advice for Musicians. The page sums up much of what I’ve learned after 20+ years in the business.

Marlon Mix

[Grooveshark removed]

  • John Martyn – May You Never
  • The Band – Lookout Cleveland
  • Mose Allison – Seventh Son
  • Bob Marley & the Wailers – Stir It Up

Back in the day, I was part of a coterie of long-haired music fans who bounced between hi-fi safe houses. Those houses would be anywhere we could lay around and invoke the rituals of listening and mild albeit ‘chronic’ experiments with our consciousness. One of the brethren shot me an email yesterday after many years. Memories rushed in and, soon after, rushed in the tunes. This podcast is for you Marlon, a nickname posed to protect the not-so-innocent at the time.

He introduced me to Bob Marley and the Wailers, to Catch a Fire, to be exact. (I’m pretty sure–he was in room, I mean the room was smoke filled!) It took a while for me to be fully bitten by the reggae bug, but Marlon was there first and, impressively, got it. In this sense, at times, we were each other’s initiates. Marlon opened the rasta door of perception and we rushed in.
Continue reading “Marlon Mix”

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.)

Now Pop for Power People

Another way to put up a podcast is via SEEQpod. Basically, you use its nifty search engine to line-up tracks residing on somebody else’s server. This is legal for the time-being but the concept breaks down someday on at least the piggybacking purloined hot links.

Anyway, here’s what I put together in a couple of minutes of searching. All four bands are–of course–favorites. Beachwood Sparks reminds me of the International Submarine Band with their reverb drenched psychcountryrock. Panda Bear‘s Person Pitch was, along my discovery of Megan Hickey and Last Town Chorus, deliverance for my sweet tooth last year. Jellyfish was short-lived paisley precursor who just about perfectly split the difference between Badfinger and the Beach Boys. They have the greatest band motto ever: ‘turning bullshit into marmalade.’ And, their break-up caused The Grays (with Jason Falkner and Jon Brion along with Buddy Judge and Dan McCarroll) which in turn caused the greatest one-of power pop disc ever. Leaving the Wondermints, Brian Wilson’s first call backup band; say no more.

[Groovesahrk removed]

  • Beachwood Sparks-Let it Run
  • Panda Bear-Comfy In Nautica
  • Last Town Chorus-Modern Love
  • Jellyfish-New Mistake
  • Wondermints-Guess I’m Done
  • Brian Wilson-Surf’s Up

Drum Lesson

I once made the mistake of making a suggestion to a master musician about what I observed while they played. Learned right then it is best not to pose a guess hiding in an observation. What I said was: “Wow, when you play the daf, your fingers are so independent!”He looked up and replied: “No, they’re quite coordinated.”This wasn’t a small point even if ‘finger independence’ is one way to describe the crucial feature, coordination. I’m sure the master understood what I was trying to say. Here’s Raquy Danziger, proving the point.