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The Rockologist: How Exclusivity Deals Are Nailing The Coffin Shut On Music Retail

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Although it’s been pretty much common knowledge for awhile now, let us start by stating the obvious. The record industry, at least in the traditional sense we once knew it, is all but dead.

There I said it okay?

The list of suspects as to who actually fired the fatal shots is of course a long one that most of you reading this have all seen before. This would include everything from the advent of easily accessible downloads on the internet, to the short-sightedness of the traditional record companies themselves in their failure to embrace the emerging new technology rather than fight it, as they initially did.

I could go on and on about this. But in the end what’s the point? If today’s music market is going to embrace a technology that sacrifices both warmth and sound quality for the mobility of a delivery system that is often delivered through a speaker no bigger than your thumbnail, there’s just really not a lot the rest of us can do about it.

And as much as I admire the efforts of guys like Neil Young and T-Bone Burnett to come up with a viable alternative, the expense of warmer sounding technologies like Blu-Ray or even going back to vinyl, make it somewhat cost prohibitive for the rest of us at this point.

So this is the new revolution. Welcome to it.

Just don’t expect to be seeing any artistic works with the same sort of sonic depth as a Sgt. Pepper, Pet Sounds, or Born To Run anytime soon. When today’s music delivery systems of choice don’t exactly measure up to that sort of ambition, what would be the point of it?

What I really want to talk about here though is the ever-increasing, and to me at least, quite disturbing trend of “exclusivity deals,” with mega-retailers like WalMart.

My good friend and fellow Blogcritic Donald Gibson recently sent out an e-mail to the rest of us here at BC about AC/DC’s deal with WalMart for their upcoming album, with the rather humorous headline “AC/DC Signs Walmart Deal; Glen Boyd’s Head Explodes.”

And while I can assure you that my head remains quite intact — and that Donald was obviously having a little good-natured fun at my expense — my feelings about such deals are both real and I think quite valid.

The fact is, I take this shit both seriously, and yes, quite personally.

Not only did I gain much of my knowledge and appreciation about music as I was growing up by going to locally owned record stores staffed by people who actually gave a shit about music. I also eventually worked and managed a few of them myself. In time, I even ended up briefly owning a record store of my own.

For me, there is simply no substitute for the experience of walking into a cool record store, browsing through its racks, and bonding with the fellow music geek behind the counter. Not Amazon. Not MySpace. None of it. I also can’t begin to count the number of great bands I was introduced to in this way — from Issac Hayes to Joy Division to Public Enemy. Bands I would have never otherwise discovered on my own by listening to the crap they spoonfed us on the radio.

Later, I also had the pleasure of being able to do the same as the guy on the other end of the counter. To this day, I’ll run into somebody at the supermarket, the drugstore, or wherever from time to time who will stop me to thank me for introducing them to the Clash, Elvis Costello, or R.E.M. before they got big. It all goes back to when I was cutting my own musical teeth in retail.

Now, I can almost excuse guys like the Eagles, Garth Brooks, or even Journey for their deals with the devil, who in this case goes by the name of WalMart.

All three have huge fanbases consisting of what I would mostly call casual music fans. They may buy the new records, listen to them once, and then go back to their tried and true copies of Hotel California or Infinity for example. The bottom line is these guys are simply cashing in, and far be it from me to rain on the parade of good old American capitalism in action.

AC/DC and Genesis — who just signed their own deal with WalMart for their live When In Rome DVD — don’t get off the hook so easily however.

Genesis owe their very existence to geeky guys like me who poured over the lyrics of albums like Selling England By The Pound and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, back when most folks knew them only as a bunch of weirdos with a lead singer who had an odd habit of putting on foxheads and the like while performing in concert.

No excuses there.

But AC/DC in particular oughtta’ be ashamed of themselves. Much like Metallica, this was a band who was built from the ground up largely through word of mouth, and equally so through independent music retail. This was back in the days before Highway To Hell hit big, and long before rock radio would touch them with a ten foot pole.

I can actually remember going to a concert where AC/DC was on the bottom of a bill with Cheap Trick and Ted Nugent. This was back when Bon Scott was still alive. And although they ended up eventually winning the audience over, the crowd initially wanted nothing to do with them. The common consensus at the time was that with a name like AC/DC, they must have been a bunch of punk-rockers. You had to be there to understand, but back in the mid-seventies the punk and metal crowds were about as far apart as fans of the Village People and Led Zeppelin.

Okay, so most of these people have long since grown up right? True enough. But have you ever noticed how most WalMart stores are located either in the suburbs or in out of the way rural areas? With today’s gas prices, you might as well figure in a couple of extra bucks for the drive.

And once you get there? You’ll probably be greeted by a pimply faced teenager in a blue shirt that says something like “Hi, My Name Is Steve,” who likely doesn’t know the difference between AC/DC and Jay Z, and is even less likely to give a shit. After all, he’s working for minimum wage and no benefits, which WalMart is all too glad to pass along to the consumer in the form of dirt cheap prices.

It’s the American way.

I also understand that WalMart is in the process of shrinking its already not exactly deep selection of music. Think you’re gonna’ find that great new record by a developing buzz-band like Seattle’s Fleet Foxes there? Think again. And even if you were so lucky to find it, do you honestly believe that the hapless employee working the music department that day will be able to steer you towards any other great new music? Again, highly doubtful.

Back in the day when independent music retailers actually broke as many records as radio did, they of course also committed a multitude of their own sins. Anyone who has ever walked into a Tower Records store, and endured the condescending, snotty attitude of the pierced and purple haired guy behind the counter can attest to that.

Still even there, at least there was a personal touch about it. You may have wanted nothing more than to tell the hipper than thou clerk to stick it where the sun don’t shine as you brought your John Denver album up to the counter. But at least you were interacting in a personal way with an actual human being.

Between the instant access offered by the internet, and the grocery store sort of experience offered by big-box retailers like WalMart, I fear this sort of personal interaction may be close to being lost forever. The one thing I know for sure is that WalMart won’t be breaking any future AC/DC’s anytime soon.

The good news is that there are still a few independent music retailers out there. But in most cases, the key to their survival has been diversification. In my own West Seattle neighborhood, Easy Street Records probably saved their ass by expanding their space to include a cafe. Good for them too, as they seem to be thriving.

Maybe it’s partially because I’m getting older, but I just find myself missing a lot of things about the good old days. Like most everybody else, I miss $1.50 a gallon gas, drive-in movies, and mom and pop burger joints not called McDonalds or Jack In The Box. I miss the days when someone named Bush or Clinton wasn’t my president.

But most of all I miss my neighborhood record stores, snotty hipper than thou counter jockeys and all. What’s most sad, is that I think they are going the way of the 8-track tape and won’t be coming back anytime soon.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • http://www.soundclick.com/bands/default.cfm?bandID=463156 JC Mosquito

    Spot on, Glen. Unfortunately, you’re preaching to the choir here for the most part, and if the occasional debbil reads your column, he probably doesn’t care anyway.

    I mean, when did rock and roll as financial security ever weasel its way into the concept of rock an roll as alternative culture or even as aesthetic rebellion? Probably since the day Elvis had his first number one hit, I’d guess. And even though I’m OK with anyone who makes good money in the industry, I still think “music” should be the most important word in the phrase “music business.”

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Thanx Skeeter. Like you say, I guess the only thing that remains to be seen here is just how many so-called rock fans actually do care enough about the future of music to give a whiff, right? One would hope that it’s a significant enough number to make a difference. But I have to admit that at the risk of coming off like some sort of pessimistic curmudgeon, I’m somewhat skeptical.

    =Glen

  • http://www.soundclick.com/bands/default.cfm?bandID=463156 JC Mosquito

    Glen, since you’ve served in various capacities in the industry, maybe you can supply some rough numbers – and maybe some other contributors can also do this as well. Where does the money go? How much markup does the small retailer need to stay afloat as opposed to the Music dept. at WallyWorld? And how much does the manufacturer/record company need to cover the cost of manufacturing and producing a CD? And where does the artist make any dough? And the biggest question – so, who is making the lion’s share of the profit in a multi-billion dollar industry?

  • http://www.EurocriticsMagazine.com Christopher Rose

    Glen’s point is pretty accurate but it doesn’t really matter; music itself died over a decade ago…

  • http://donaldgibson.blogspot.com/ Donald Gibson

    One thing I find particularly distressful about this AC/DC deal is that this one, more than Walmart’s other exclusivity deals, reeks more of financial opportunism than as a viable means to distribute albums.

    Let’s be honest here, AC/DC has never subscribed to the “family friendly” image that Walmart likes to portray. Walmart banned Sheryl Crow’s albums in the late ’90s, for crying out loud, because she wrote a (fact-based) lyric about someone buying a firearm at their store.

    Now,apparently, it’s alright to ride the “Highway to Hell” so long as it runs through Walmart’s aisles.

    – Donald

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    The short answer to your question Skeeter is that music retailers don’t make much on the CDs they sell. Maybe 30 points on their very best day, but more often it’s something closer to 15 or 20 points, because the retail prices have to be slashed in order to compete. Especialy now.

    The same CD you see selling at 15 to 20 dollars retail, is bought by the reseller at usually somewhere between 10 to 12 dollars.

    What that means, once you figure in your overhead costs, is that you’d better be selling a buttload of CDs if you plan on surviving. Probably the number one factor when I had to make the painful decision to close my own store, was the fact that a big box retailer who opened down the street from me was retailing CDs for less than my own wholesale cost. I had him beat for selection on the specialty music items, but at that point it no longer mattered. I just couldn’t compete with his prices on the hits, and at the end of the day the hits are still what traffic to the store.

    I was toast.

    -Glen

  • http://www.themidnightcafe.org Mat Brewster

    Just don’t expect to be seeing any artistic works with the same sort of sonic depth as a Sgt. Pepper, Pet Sounds, or Born To Run anytime soon. When today’s music delivery systems of choice don’t exactly measure up to that sort of ambition, what would be the point of it?

    I completely disagree. You can’t tell me that every person who bought Sgt. Peppers listened to it with a state-of-the-art system. Most, I’d guess, listened to it on cheap turntable and cheap speakers. Yet people still loved it. Just because the speakers have gotten smaller (if still maintaining the same cheapness) doesn’t mean that great bands won’t be doing something interesting.

    Radiohead and NIN have both released interesting/layered albums of late, and the iPod generation ate them up.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    While I take your point Mat (at least somewhat anyway), I’d have to call something like In Rainbows a rare exception to the rule. And when the early versions of that were released as a download only product, the sound quality sucked, particularly when you take into account that the music itself was so richly layered.

    I bought the CD when it came out and I was quite literally stunned by the difference in sound. I haven’t listened to the MP3s once since. They just dont sound as good.

    I also agree that Sgt. Pepper was probably heard on just as many shitty portable record players as it was on higher end systems. But part of the key to the endurance of a record like that, is that most of those same people who had a shitty record player as a kid, bought nicer stuff as they got older. They also replaced their worn old vinyl copies for the most part.

    For me, the MP3 generation is much more song oriented, than album oriented anyway. Thats why all whoever the flavor of the moment needs to do is crank out disposable pop crap produced by the modern day equivalent of Tin Pan Alley.

    Radiohead and NiN notwithstanding….

    -Glen

  • JC Mosquito

    “Glen’s point is pretty accurate but it doesn’t really matter; music itself died over a decade ago…”

    Christopher – we had a similar series of discussions about a year ago: since then, since the Zeppelin reunion, the Radiohead album giveaway and the Eagles’ exclusivity deal, I’m starting to think that maybe you were right after all. Or maybe it’s just that last year was a slow year for good music. I guess we’ll see.

  • http://www.EurocriticsMagazine.com Christopher Rose

    Hi Skeeter, glad to see you’re finally coming round!

    I don’t mean to say that there is no good music now, just that it has by and large stopped evolving like it used to.

    You can take almost any music from today and throw it 25 to 50 years into the past and it wouldn’t sound out of place. You couldn’t say that in the 60s, 70s or 80s, even the early 90s…

  • zingzing

    “You can take almost any music from today and throw it 25 to 50 years into the past and it wouldn’t sound out of place.”

    that’s not quite true. and definitely not “50 years.” it is true that rock’s innovations have slowed, but that’s been true ever since the late-60s, when the heavyweights of the day turned back towards their roots.

    the 70s extended and refined the ideas of the 60s, the 80s brought new technologies and the effects of 70s punk’s great reduction/explosion. rinse and repeat for the 90s and 00s.

    think of the birth of rock n roll like a big bang of sorts. the explosion carries with it it’s own weight, and the universe seems to expand at unbelievable speed, but the change becomes less noticeable at its edges. after 50 years, the rate of change looks slower, but the edges are further apart than ever.

  • http://www.EurocriticsMagazine.com Christopher Rose

    I said almost any music so it IS quite true, zinger. Plus I wasn’t talking about just rock, but all contemporary music.

    I think your big bang analogy is a bit wishful thinking. I just think the muse has moved on and music, although there is still enjoyable and/or interesting stuff around, just isn’t what it was anymore.

    When was the last time you were genuinely gobsmacked by a new band? I haven’t felt that way this century…

  • Jordan Richardson

    When was the last time you were genuinely gobsmacked by a new band?

    Happens all the time for me, actually. I think there’s an awful lot of good stuff happening in hip hop, electronica/dance, indie, pop and experimental music at the moment.

    A few examples:
    Duffy!
    Vampire Weekend
    MGMT
    Black Kids
    Foals
    Ting Tings
    The Cool Kids
    Liam Finn
    Adele

    And so on…

  • zingzing

    “I said almost any music so it IS quite true, zinger.”

    true, you did say “almost.” but that doesn’t make it true either. you can’t even stick justin timberlake’s most mj-aping stuff back 25 years ago without it seeming ridiculously futuristic. don’t even want to think about 50 years ago.

    “I just think the muse has moved on and music, although there is still enjoyable and/or interesting stuff around, just isn’t what it was anymore.”

    ahh, that’s called getting old, chris. it happens to the best of us, and it will, i fear, happen to me. it’s beginning already in other facets of life.

    “When was the last time you were genuinely gobsmacked by a new band? I haven’t felt that way this century…”

    it still happens a good 4-5 times a year for me.

  • http://www.knownjohnson.com Tom Johnson

    “When was the last time you were genuinely gobsmacked by a new band?”

    If the intent of your question is to point out a lack of good new bands, then I’d say this outlook may be due more to your general attitude toward new music and/or your age than anything else. Music wasn’t any better “back then” – it’s just what you were more familiar with and you’ve magically filtered out all the junk. There’s a lot more choice today than ever before, and as a result I find a lot more great stuff that divides my time. Listening with an open mind and fresh ears will help you hear new, great things all the time. As Zingzing said, it happens multiple times a year that I find new bands that completely enslave me. It would be very sad if it didn’t happen. Attitude toward new music makes a very big difference.

  • http://www.EurocriticsMagazine.com Christopher Rose

    Jordan: I’ve only heard a little under half those artists but of those, whilst the music is good enough, it ain’t gobsmacking. If you think it is, you can simply not know your history very well.

    zing: It isn’t me that’s got old, it’s music. As I said, there is good new music around, but very few new ideas.

    Justin Timberlake is one of the best contemporary artists around and I have both his albums, but I believe his stuff could have been made in the 80s. Maybe I should have said 15 to 50 years ago if you want to be picky about the numbers rather than the point I’m making.

    I’ve obviously considered whether it is me or the music that is getting old and I genuinely think it is the latter.

    You claim to be genuinely gobsmacked 4 or 5 times a year. I want names and reasons…

    Tom: I carefully didn’t say there weren’t any good bands. The point I’m making is that most music around these days is unsurprising.

    I’m well aware there’s more choice than ever before and a lot of it is great. However, that doesn’t contradict my point that the vast majority of it is ploughing someone else’s field rather than opening up new ground.

    It’s not so surprising really; the pace of musical evolution from the late 50s to the 80s was one of the most intense periods of musical evolution the world has ever seen and that pace has naturally and understandably dropped off.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Jordan: I’ve only heard a little under half those artists but of those, whilst the music is good enough, it ain’t gobsmacking. If you think it is, you can simply not know your history very well.

    And here I thought art was a subjective experience…

  • bliffle

    Maybe people should listen to less music.

  • http://www.knownjohnson.com Tom Johnson

    Jordan, you obviously just don’t know a good “gobsmacking” when it hits you.

    I think us providing you with evidence of our “gobsmacking” will simply provide fodder for you putting down what we’re listening to, Christopher. I don’t think you’d possibly find anything remotely positive to say about anything new no matter what, but I’ll toss out Cloud Cult as one new band that I’ve been “gobsmacked” by recently. It doesn’t matter why – they “gobsmacked” me, by jove! That’s what I think bothers me about your question – you’re trying to quantify it and qualify it, and it doesn’t need to be. If you were “gobsmacked,” then you were “gobsmacked,” and that’s all there is to it.

    I love the word “gobsmacked.”

  • Jordan Richardson

    I’m pretty sure Duffy gobstruck me (huh? huh?) with Rockferry but of course I could be totally wrong about that and merely deflecting my experiences with some sort of misfiring neurons or something, thus meaning my malfunctioning brain is actually not telling me my wife’s pasta sauce is good and even absolutely astounding.

    Oh the implications…

  • zingzing

    chris: “It isn’t me that’s got old, it’s music. As I said, there is good new music around, but very few new ideas.”

    that’s been said since 1968.

    “Justin Timberlake is one of the best contemporary artists around and I have both his albums, but I believe his stuff could have been made in the 80s.”

    on a production level, that’s just impossible. on an idea level, he poaches too many nuances from r&b and electronic music’s last 10 years of development. if his albums had come out in 1983, they would have been visionary and a new standard of production. today, they are good pop music. at least half the time.

    “Maybe I should have said 15 to 50 years ago if you want to be picky about the numbers rather than the point I’m making.”

    yeah, i’m not trying to be picky about the numbers either. timberlake’s albums have been state of the art pop music. while michael jackson’s music had a significant influence on timberlake, there are many ideas at work that simply weren’t around in mj’s day.

    and timberlake is a fairly middle-of-the-road pop artist. he’s not on the outer fringes of music. innovation rarely comes from the middle. it filters in from outside. there are musics out there that 10 years ago would have been called “not even music,” and are now on mid-major labels.

    “I’ve obviously considered whether it is me or the music that is getting old and I genuinely think it is the latter.”

    sorry, chris, but music constantly replenishes itself while you have, unless you are peter pan, aged. you’re in your 30’s, correct?

    “You claim to be genuinely gobsmacked 4 or 5 times a year. I want names and reasons…”

    alright, for the past year then:

    fuck buttons–beautiful music from ugly sources; also an amazing sense of structure and drama.

    beach house–gauzy and strange, yet beautifully constructed and simple.

    burial–great mood and mystery. minimalist and expansive at the same time.

    sunset rubdown–and anything else featuring spencer krug. he’s as prolific a songwriter as prince or the fall, with an identifiable style and endless amounts of inspiration.

    dan deacon–goofy, yet very serious about compositional technique. looney tunes-dance pop-john cage.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Good call on Fuck Buttons, zinger. Great record.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Certainly a great band name. Can’t speak for the music as I haven’t yet had the pleasure. MP3s anyone?

    -Glen

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    While were on this “gobsmacking” topic, I have to say that I was “gobsmacked” pretty good by Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree last year. Granted they’ve been around since the nineties and I was just a Johnny-come-lately, but Wilson’s talent just really floors me. They were really the first band to that for me since probably Radiohead.

    I also think last year was a great year for music. This year has definitely much slower thus far though.

    -Glen

  • JC Mosquito

    Actually, I’ve postulated the Big Bang Theory of music many times over the years as it applies to any musical movement: 50s r’n’r, the 60s movement, punk, hip hop, whatever.

    Direction,
    expansion,
    realization (fill in the gaps), and finally,
    stagnation, at least til,
    rejuvenation.

    No doubt all those bands zing mentioned are all wonderful artists making cool music. But will they ever have the influence on a generation like the artists of the 50s, 60s & 70s did and still do? Or was that simply a type of nostalgia artificially created by the industry to keep itself going?

  • Jordan Richardson

    I don’t think it’s the quality of the bands or singers that have changed. If anything, more technology has enhanced what can be done musically and MANY groups are taking advantage and exploring new frontiers of sound. I think the issue really is, more or less, how people are listening to music.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    And the thing is that the quality of music today vs yesterday was never really the subject of this article in the first place. The fact that the comments have kind of evolved into that topic is fine — good a place as any I suppose.

    But when you get right down to it, the perception of music is always going to be somewhat subjective anyway. What I saw, or continue to see in Dylan, Neil Young, Springsteen, or Radiohead is not dissimiliar to what a fan today might see in Duffy, Fleet Foxes, or even the hilariously named Fuck Buttons. Its an argument neither side can really ever win.

    I sure do think that name is funny though. Guess I’m just easily amused…

    -Glen

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/eric_whelchel Eric

    nice article and thought-provoking…but…

    Glen – unless I am mistaken, most of the bands and artists making such exclusivity deals are the fossil/dinosaur acts anyway, who are targeting a very specific demographic (ie, AC/DC fans don’t want to go to the local indie record store to get their fix).

    I don’t think it’s a major sign that the retail industry is collapsing – the vast majority of bands still sell their product in the usual channels (retail, indie stores, downloads, etc).

  • http://www.EurocriticsMagazine.com Christopher Rose

    Jordan: art is a subjective experience but that doesn’t mean it exists in a vacuum.

    bliffle: maybe, but doubtful…

    Tom: I don’t know why you would think that I’m trying to put down what anybody is listening to; I thought I was pretty careful to explain the point I was trying to make.

    I researched Cloud Cult and found them to be doing some interesting stuff – but gobsmacked? Not really.

    I’m absolutely not trying to quantify or qualify anything, but if you’re even broadly familiar with most of what has gone on musically since the late 50s, I don’t understand how anyone could dispute that music has become more generic even whilst it has grown in number.

    Rock in particular has become more like Disco, in the sense that it has a sound that many people can do without establishing a unique identity. This may or may not be a bad thing, but it sure is different.

    The Isle of Wight Festival was on this weekend and two of the three headlining acts were bands that have been around for over 30 years. There weren’t any bands from the 30s, 40s or 50s headlining festivals back in the 60s, 70s or 80s.

    Jordan, revisited: Rock Ferry is good stuff but not gobsmacking unless you haven’t heard an awful lot of other music.

    zingzing: I’ve no idea who was saying there were no new musical ideas around back in 68, but whoever they were was obviously an idiot.

    I don’t really agree with your contention about Justin’s sound, much as I love it. Not convinced R’n’B or Electronica has evolved that much in the last ten years either. Changed, for sure, but evolved? Hmm.

    I don’t think it is proven that music constantly replenishes itself, at least not at the kind of pace that it did in the latter part of the 20th Century. If you look back over the previous 500 years, the changes were pretty radical but again not at that pace.

    Having had some time to think it over, I don’t really think your big bang theory holds up; it’s more like the gaps between the wildly diverse work of others is being filled in, that’s detailing.

    I’m listening to Fuck Buttons on MySpace as I type this and, whilst they do sound good, I find it hard to imagine that you are genuinely gobsmacked by them. I’ve certainly heard other bands doing similar stuff, so there is no big sense of surprise there.

    Beach House was a bit lacking in dynamics for me but Burial sound pretty cool, although again not gobsmacking.

    Sunset Rubdown, you got my hopes up with your references to The Fall (I worked with them during their time on Rough Trade and was listening to Live At The Witch Trials only yesterday) and Prince but they just seemed like one of probably millions of generic indie acts to me – sorry – and Dan Deacon just isn’t my kind of thing either.

    Thanks very much for getting me fired up enough to track down all these new to me artists, but I don’t think any of them disproved my original contention.

    Glen, thanks for the reminder about Porcupine Tree, who I’d not heard for a few years. I think I’ll have to check out their more recent stuff a bit more thoroughly, although again they are working within a fairly well established field.

    JC, once again, we are in agreement. Weird, huh? ;-)

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Eric,

    Although your contention about the bands signing these deals being old is by and large correct, I see two problems with it.

    1.) Although AC/DC are indeed older than dirt, a very large portion of their audience is still in their teens. They are kinda like Kiss in that respect. Cartoony, and in AC/DC’s case, naughty as well. Many of their fans aren’t even old enough to drive, so how do they get to WalMart?

    2.) Even if the younger acts haven’t yet caught on to this particular goldmine, the precedent being established with the big money deals the old farts are making insures that it is only a matter of time before they do. Hip hop acts in particular are all about the bling, right? I don’t think its a stretch at all to imagine Jay Z, Puffy, Kanye, or 50 Cent making exactly this type of deal next time around.

    Food for thought?

    -Glen

  • http://www.soundclick.com/bands/default.cfm?bandID=463156 JC Mosquito

    Yes, Christopher – it’s odd how perspectives can change – I don’t pride myself on being immovable – stuff happens, things change, life goes on. You make me think about the purpose of classic rock; zing shows me the great lost Beach Boys’ album;; Glen makes me rethink about what it is those record company guys actually do.

    If nothing else, Christopher, if we want to get serious, we can always reopen the great White Stripes debate of ’07, can’t we? ;)

    Rockin’ it to ya (whatever that means nowadays),

    Skeeter.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    No, no, no…not the White Stripes can of worms!!! (Throwing up my crucifix!)…

    -Glen

  • zingzing

    chris: “I’ve no idea who was saying there were no new musical ideas around back in 68, but whoever they were was obviously an idiot.”

    it was those bemoaning dylan’s “john wesley harding” and beatle’s white album that were saying so. and they had a point, to a degree. rock had reached a breaking point, and the major artists retreated in some sense. of course, that’s not all that was going on at the time, but there have always been (and always will be) critics saying that what came before was better and the newness of the new can’t compare to the newness of the old.

    “I don’t really agree with your contention about Justin’s sound, much as I love it. Not convinced R’n’B or Electronica has evolved that much in the last ten years either. Changed, for sure, but evolved? Hmm.”

    pop music evolves in strange ways. it’s not always for the common good. r&b stagnated as its own genre and moved more towards pop, while electronica has moved away from pop as its moment faded. still, the technical aspects of electronica infiltrated pop and, subsequently, r&b. back in the day, r&b was organic, but, partially due to michael jackson’s success, more electronic sources moved into r&b. it’s all evolution. it’s just not all good.

    “I don’t think it is proven that music constantly replenishes itself, at least not at the kind of pace that it did in the latter part of the 20th Century. If you look back over the previous 500 years, the changes were pretty radical but again not at that pace.”

    i see the point you’re making, but i’m making a different point. music moves on whether you want it to or not. as you get older, culture in general is going to pass you by. music is a part of that culture, and it never stops. it’s just when you stop… keeping up with it, i suppose.

    “Having had some time to think it over, I don’t really think your big bang theory holds up; it’s more like the gaps between the wildly diverse work of others is being filled in, that’s detailing.”

    nope, the musical universe keeps expanding. new borders are constantly being created, and someone is going to populate them. sometimes, it does move faster than others. i would have to say that music is moving as fast as ever, and i kinda doubt that it’s going to slow down bar some major catastrophe. (like no ability to make money making music, which is fast approaching.)

    “I’m listening to Fuck Buttons on MySpace as I type this and, whilst they do sound good, I find it hard to imagine that you are genuinely gobsmacked by them. I’ve certainly heard other bands doing similar stuff, so there is no big sense of surprise there.”

    it’s very slow, deliberate music. there’s a sense of drama that builds up during a song, but it really reveals itself over the course of the album, which is called “street horrrsing,” i believe. they aren’t on the outer edges of noise music at all, but i think what they did with it is pretty special.

    “Beach House was a bit lacking in dynamics for me but Burial sound pretty cool, although again not gobsmacking.”

    beach house doesn’t impress immediately. i didn’t even know i had it for months and then it just hit me one day. burial’s latest is a pretty damn amazing album. find “archangel.”

    “Sunset Rubdown, you got my hopes up with your references to The Fall (I worked with them during their time on Rough Trade and was listening to Live At The Witch Trials only yesterday) and Prince but they just seemed like one of probably millions of generic indie acts to me – sorry – and Dan Deacon just isn’t my kind of thing either.”

    if a band ever sounded like a cross between the fall and prince, i would orgasm til i died. but, that’s not going to happen. having said that… anyway, it was more to do with the fact that if you hear a spencer krug song once, you’ll always know a spencer krug song, like you’ll know a prince or fall song from the first few notes. “always the same, always different.” he’s a prolific and spectacular talent that is a little hard to penetrate, but once you do, he’s something else.

    dan deacon is manic color. and he’s funny. hard not to like, i say. plus his shows are the sweatiest. had to wring out my shirt.

    “Thanks very much for getting me fired up enough to track down all these new to me artists, but I don’t think any of them disproved my original contention.”

    to each his own, i suppose. thing is that there’s so much more out there. it’s fucking endless. and so easily accessible. the fact that you hadn’t heard any of these artists, especially burial, who is pretty damn big over in your native england, might suggest something to you. i didn’t go for the obscure here.

  • zingzing

    glen, you mention fleet foxes, who i didn’t want to mention just because they ape the 60s so much.

    but they are pretty great. and from seattle! their harmonies rival the beach boys and their arrangements remind me of phil spector meeting up with the band.

    i’m taking off my pants now.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    I’m kinda of a sucker for that whole California hippie folk rock thing. Springfield, Byrds, Mamas, and all that. I just love those kind of harmonies. And also because obviously a Seattle thing…

    You can go ahead and put your pants back on now.

    -Glen

  • http://www.knownjohnson.com Tom Johnson

    There is just way too much gobsmacking going on in here. It’s starting to sound a little perverse.

    No one has mentioned the Genesis DVD that Walmart is carrying, beyond Glen in his article. I went out in search of this bastard today and I think I found out exactly why we should fear Walmart’s exclusivities. When they opt to release something in extremely limited numbers, where are you supposed to turn? When it’s sold out both online and in store and, in fact, store employees have absolutely no friggin’ idea what you’re even talking about, where are you supposed to go? This makes the Best Buy blue shirts look like geniuses in comparison. I wound up finding a copy, among about 6 others, at Sam’s Club (a store that one of the Walmart employees I asked about the DVD set didn’t even know was tied to their employer. That’s just scary stupid.)

    That said, I find the attacks on Walmart pretty questionable when no one has attacked Target for doing exactly the same thing years ago (U2, Ziggy Marley, John Legend – there are more, but I can’t think of them.) They’ve had exclusive releases long before Walmart and never raises a questioning eye. I think most of the ire is due more to people jumping on the “Walmart is evil” bandwagon than anything, something Target is more than happy to stand by and watch. Believe me when I say Target is no different – I worked there long ago and they treated their employees with no more respect than Walmart’s employees get from the reports I’ve seen. Terrible place to work. Anyway, they’ll let Walmart suffer the bad publicity for a while and then they’ll start unveiling a bunch of their own new exclusive releases, probably tied with some kind of carbon-credits or something like that to make it look nice and green against Walmart. Bookmark this piece, come back when Target does something next year, proclaim my visionary . . . vision.

  • http://www.soundclick.com/bands/default.cfm?bandID=463156 JC Mosquito

    You ever see that SNL skit where Garth Brooks, as an aspiring songwriter, tries to sell his soul to the debbil (played to the hilt by Will Ferrell) in exchange for a song, but all he has to offer is a lame-ass surf tune called “Fred’s Got Slacks?”

    Ummmmm…. I forgot the point I was going to illustrate with that, but it’s funny all the same.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Well I singled out Walmart in this piece I guess because of the timeliness involved more than anything.

    But you are absolutely right. It doesn’t really matter which mega-retailer we are talking about, because its all the same damn thing. No difference bewteen what AC/DC and Genesis are doing now and what the Stones did a few years back with Best Buy. Or Target. Or Freaking Pet Smart if that were the case. Same deal all the way around.

    On another subject, they’ve been running a shorter version of the Genesis When In Rome DVD on VH1 Classic, and the visuals are pretty damn spectacular. I have to begrudgingly admit that the band sounds great too, although I’m a bit more partial to the proggier stuff that only seems to make up about 25% of this show. But the stage presentation is pretty amazing. I think you’ll like this one Tom.

    -Glen

  • http://donaldgibson.blogspot.com/ Donald Gibson

    While my curiosity runs deep and encompasses indie artists and bands, the artists that have “gobsmacked” me this decade are of a commercial ilk and, i should say, it takes more than one great album to meet my criteria on this one:

    Alicia Keys: classically trained, innately soulful musician…i liked a couple songs from her debut, but while i could perceive her talent, i wasn’t hooked until her second release. seeing her in concert, actually singing and playing live instruments, solidified the deal for me. and she keeps getting better, exploring and expanding the scope of her music.

    Coldplay: i haven’t heard the new album yet (though i got it on itunes as soon as the clock struck midnight)…but there’s something genuinely moving about their music to me. there’s a melancholy motif that runs through songs like “trouble” and “the scientist” that’s viscerally affecting. i saw them on their x&y tour and i was mesmerized in ways that transcend the mere mechanics of a song.

    Norah Jones: there are reasons she’s the most successful female artist of the decade. i’ve read articles that speculate that, after 9/11, large segments of people wanted music (especially by females) that wasn’t as ostentatious and contrived as mariah carey or whitney houston (and norah arrived at the right time, essentially). and to a degree i think that’s a fair analysis. but also i believe her voice and the ways in which she phrases her songs are simply exquisite. she’s not an original to be sure (vocalists from billie holiday to ella fitzgerald to nina simone to diana krall preceded her in similar veins). but norah has carved her own niche that blends the best of what preceded her with her own distinct sound and stylings. i think she’s the finest female vocalist to emerge this decade.

    – Donald

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/eric_whelchel Eric Whelchel

    Good points Glen, but I tend to think that isolated examples are being used to point to a non-existent larger trend . I see this only happening with “big name” artists who focus on image and the almighty dollar anyway.

    Let those artists make whatever deals they want – I still don’t think it will change the fundamental way people hear, discover, and purchase music.

  • http://www.EurocriticsMagazine.com Christopher Rose

    Donald, you are incredibly soppy, bless you.

  • http://www.marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    soppy? gobsmacked? man, will you please speak english?! ;-)

    uhmm…ok, i totally agree with donald on Norah Jones. that woman’s voice is packed with so much subtlety and inner detail.

    as for other other bands/artists, most of the ones that have knocked me out in recent years have come from the world of what pico refers to as “whack jazz”. in that arena, there’s almost TOO much of a good thing going on. almost.

  • http://www.EurocriticsMagazine.com Christopher Rose

    Yeah, Norah’s got a voice but, like so many, she doesn’t really know what to do with it…

  • http://daslob.blogspot.com/ Pico

    “as for other other bands/artists, most of the ones that have knocked me out in recent years have come from the world of what pico refers to as “whack jazz”. in that arena, there’s almost TOO much of a good thing going on. almost.”

    Amen, brotha.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Eric W. (Comment #40); See my comment #30.

    -Glen

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    So, let me get this straight… You say the recording industry is dead and they failed to embrace the new technology that is at hand.Yet, you get upset with them same record companies for striking lucrative “exclusivity deals” with major retailers that push product at such a high volume.

    Since when did record companies embrace new technology easily and why is it such a problem that these same companies continue to focus on a revenue based mindset??

    I guess, maybe that I didn’t read the article well enough because I don’t see your pov…

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    I guess I can understand your passion for the indie record shops and the connection to the people but those shops didn’t embrace new technology either! I’m sure if a lot of those shops invested in a website that promoted & sold the music that they carry, they wouldn’t be “going the way of the 8-track”.

    I personally think that everyone needs to embrace new technology to a point not just some people.

    Ultimately, that’s the problem here!

    (More later…peace)

  • http://donaldgibson.blogspot.com/ Donald Gibson

    Boyd: “Even if the younger acts haven’t yet caught on to this particular goldmine, the precedent being established with the big money deals the old farts are making insures that it is only a matter of time before they do.”

    I just read a news clip confirming that Taylor Swift, the young country starlet, will be releasing her upcoming album exclusively through Walmart.

    – Donald

  • Mat Brewster

    I’m way late on this (sorry I’ve been out of town) but I’ll add another thought.

    I’d have to call something like In Rainbows a rare exception to the rule.

    I’ll agree with that, but also say Sgt Peppers was an exception to the rule. The 60s were a very inventive time in rock and roll but there was still a massive amount of crap being released as well. Just listen to “oldies” radio to see what I mean, and that’s through the filter of decades.

    For me, the MP3 generation is much more song oriented, than album oriented anyway.

    This seems to be true, though these things seemed to be cyclical.

    Thats why all whoever the flavor of the moment needs to do is crank out disposable pop crap produced by the modern day equivalent of Tin Pan Alley.

    Hasn’t this always been true though? I mean how else did we get the Monkees? And Tin Pan alley created some pretty darn good songs in its day.

    I get your point, and agree with it somewhat. But ultimately I think that hard core music lovers, and ones who truly care about sound quality have always been in the minority, and likely always will be.

    As for records stores, I get the joy you can get out of them, but I find the same satisfaction in interaction right here online.