One Bad Apple

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I made the mistake of going into a Fye store the other day to ask if they had a ska section. The overweight and entirely too sweaty assistant manager made a point of looking down his nose at me before informing me that ska was “over like 5 years ago.”

I considered this for a moment, and then asked him if he knew where the Donny and Marie Osmond albums were. He ponderously led me to them, indicating them with a sniff and derisive wave of his hands.

“Thanks,” I said, “Just checking,” and left him there, all a-quiver.

He didn’t have what I wanted, and he was an ass about it, so I went elsewhere. And although he certainly didn’t realize it, he didn’t lose my business. After all, it’s very hard to lose what you never had in the first place. I wanted a ska section that I could paw through in search of something new or to find a band I had never heard of. Not to buy, but to search for on Kazaa later. I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend money on something I’ve never heard of.

But I’ll happily download it. I can find all sorts of new stuff just by typing generic terms into the Kazaa search engine. It’s the equivalent of pawing through Fye’s non-existent ska section, not to mention all the other ones.

I’m the reason why a buck a tune is going to fail. Me, and people like me, which is most everyone. If you doubt me, take a look at the Gnutella meter. While there are a few specific searches, the vast majority are those that will produce multiple results. People aren’t searching for specific songs, they’re trawling for music, downloading dozens of tunes.

And there in a nutshell is the record companys’ problem. People will download all sorts of crap for free, just to see if a nugget or two of gold can be gleaned out of the megabits of dross in their download folders. There’s no way they will do that at a buck a tune, or 18 cents a tune, or even a nickel a tune. They’ll just stay with Kazaa, or Gnutella. They might pan for music at a penny a tune, but anything higher than that is unlikely. Very few people are willing to pay for music that they haven’t heard.

Take Floetry, for example. I don’t care how good the reviews are, I’m a middle aged white guy, and I ain’t paying 99 cents for a Floetry song I’ve never listened to, and since NPR isn’t likely to put them in heavy rotation, I’m not likely to hear them anytime soon. What I can do is download a couple of their tunes, or a dozen, since that’s just as easy, and stick them into my 30 gigabyte jukebox, where they’ll get played randomly for the next month or so. Eventually I’ll decide I like them and maybe buy a cd, or I’ll delete them. Hard drive space is still finite, after all, and having to advance through a song that’s disliked is a pain in the buttocks. I might not buy a cd, but just having their songs on my hard drive increases the chance that I will. It may be a small chance, but it’s more likely than it was previously, when it was no chance at all. It’s happened before; I own three Pizzicato Five albums because of Napster.

And where will I buy that cd? Let’s see here. I can buy Floetic right now at ebay for $8.50. There’s 16 tracks on that cd, which means each track costs me…….53 cents, and there are copies cheaper than that at Amazon. Or I can pay the Apple music store sixteen dollars for it, plus another buck for a cd to burn the songs to.

Now, why exactly would I do that?

The problem with the Apple music store, and all of the other digital music initiatives, is that the only thing they are selling is digital music files, and people can get those for free. If someone wants to make money off of digital music, then they need to use it to sell things that can’t be digitized. The two most common non-digital things usually mentioned are concerts and t-shirts, and record execs dismiss those with same short-sighted sniff and wave I got at Fye. They’re selling music, dammit, not fripperies. But there are other non-digital things that people will pay for, like membership and convenience, as anyone at Emusic can tell you. There are bound to be others, business plans that use digital music file as come-ons, or as additional value. The companies that develop them will rule the music world ten years from now, and labels like Universal will be as dead as Apple Records.

I cogitated on the Apple Music Store all afternoon, racking my brain for the name of a band, any band, where it would make financial sense for me to pay 99 cents for digital files of their songs. The group had to fit two criteria;

1. Their price of their compact discs had to cost more on average than 99 cents a track, even on the used market, and
2. They had to be somewhat difficult to find on the pirate services, for they were easy to find, why would one pay for them?

I finally came up with one, the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. You’ve likely never heard of them, though they do a kick-ass version of the Sesame Street song. I am regularly outbid for their discs at auction, and the cost per track average at Amazon is well over two dollars per, even before shipping. A Kazaa search for them turns up exactly four songs that meet my desired quality level of 160 kbps, all of which I already own.

So, having actually found a band for whom I was willing to shell out a buck a tune for, I downloaded and installed the ITunes music update on my Ibook, clicked on store, searched for Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, and got………”no music matches your search”. Bloody Apple, bloody music labels. Since I was already there, I searched on a few other bands.

No Toasters.
One Zombies song.

They did have the Osmonds, though, in case I was suddenly seized with a need to be even more retroactively whitebread than I already am. Can’t swing a dead cat in the music business without hitting an Osmond, it seems.

So, I didn’t buy anything. I did submit a request for TSPO to be added, so there is that slim reed of hope. I shan’t be holding my breath, though.

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  • KBeilke

    Awesome post, record people need to understand things better, it isn’t that hard to figure out.

  • Making that clerk show you their Donny & Marie section after sneering about how unhip Ska is wuz fookin’ brilliant. Gotta remember that one if I ever go into a record store again…