Friday, February 17, 2006

Ah Tony

Tony Brummel of Victory may be the Bill O'Reilly of indie music. His rantings to music biz tipsheet Hits magazine are now almost as famous within the business as his bands. But you gotta hand it to him... everyone who read his iTunes bloviation certainly talked about it (and knows of a certain upcoming release.) And that's his game all along! So hats off to him in pulling a wonderful PR stunt.

Everyone from boardtrolls to bloggers seemed to chime in on this topic, so as I'm late to the table, I'll just post some of my favorite hightlights and my own personal feelings on the matter.

1) Apple/iTunes do not care about independent labels or, for that matter, the record industry. Without the music industry, their site and their iPods are useless. Why did the major labels bend over and super serve Steve Jobs free content without negotiating a % of each iPod sale, variable pricing of singles (if the labels CHOOSE to make one available from an album) and other say in how the content is sold? Has anyone looked into any stock option kickbacks here? Since when do record companies give their content away without extracting an advance? If the major record companies wanted to take a stand they would PULL their content. But, if they all pulled their content in unison, Apple would claim collusion… I say, pull it anyway. The defective hard drives are making people deaf as it is.
Pandora's box is now fully open with digital music and photography. 85% of kids don't even listen to the radio anymore. The web is it. There's no going back. Don't you think SONY (remember the Walkman?) who owns Epic and Columbia would have proverbially shit themselves to have thought of this vertical hardware/software/content solution during the mid 90's? What about Matsushita Panasonic, who owned Universal Music during the glory days of Web 1.0? They were certainly capable- but they, like Brummel, are married to the CD. Furthermore, what other business model gives the consumable goods producer a percentage of the hardware?? The detergent company doesn't get a percentage of dishwasher sales do they? It's an ass-backwards thinking process. Like it or not, those deafness-inducing hard drives are here to stay. With digital downloads accounting for 7% of music revenue (and growing fast) those who aren't selling their music in any format possible are ultimately shooting themselves in the foot.

For an indie, Victory is in a really unique position. They've had enough success with bands to command major-label respect from the buyers at all the key chains. They can afford to do a $300,000 end-cap campaign to support their latest slew of MTV2 advertised releases. They also make a ton of money from all those "special edition reissues." But what Tony really doesn't like is that nobody wants to give him, just another software vendor, preferential treatment and massage his ego. It would be refreshing to hear, "I just want to keep on milking this sweet deal I have, and by going digital, I can't continue on my gravy train." If I were in his postion, maybe I'd feel the same way. (I'm not, and most of us aren't.)

2) I absolutely believe that allowing people to cherry-pick the tracks they want from each album cannibalizes full-length album sales and is ultimately detrimental to the artists who created the music.
Buying the one good song and not having to suffer through album filler is the way it is. I personally still buy complete albums as I'm concerned with the "body of work". But letting people just get what they want isn't so bad. Again, my feeling is that this goes back to the major label mentality of "sell them a $16.98 CD so they can get the one song they saw on Fuse." If bands make great albums, they'll start selling complete works.

To compete this, I imagine artists may go back to the model that existed before Album Oriented Rock became the buzzword in the 70's. Sinatra, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, The Beatles, and scores of Motown artists recorded some of the most memorable "sides" in history, not albums. Albums were really just glorified compilations of greatest hits, possibly re-recorded, with maybe a few new tracks included. Even in the days of early 80's hardcore, those short blasts of (collectible) music on 7" were (and remain) a precious commodity.

3) If only 4% of this business is iTunes, who cares? Focus on the 96% which is traditional retail. Traditional retail supports music 1,000 times more than iTunes does. If someone does not want to leave their house, they can go to our webstore, Amazon or the hundreds of other online sites that sell music. For the very casual consumer. there are digital consumption models that will work when and if properly deployed. People are using iTunes because they like the iPod. When Dell or Samsung makes a better device, iTunes will lose relevancy.
Not for long. Like I said above, digital accouned for 7% of WMG's revenue, while CD sales continued to take a dump. Web media means more to the music marketplace than radio or MTV (note their recent push into Overdrive.) As far as iTunes model? I agree that there are other models that work just as well. Like I said many times before, I use Rhapsody, Emusic, and iTunes to get my legal music fixes. Will someone build a better mousetrap? Amazon? Maybe. Until then I'm pretty psyched with my 60g video iPod.

iTunes makes music disposable. It makes it a faceless impulse item. It steals its soul.
No. It makes it convenient and on-demand, which is the lay of the land in today's market. It's as meaningful as you make it. What makes it faceless and without soul is crass commercialization.

I'm outta gas right now... maybe I'll have some more later.


Aaron said...

Tony has done a good job at building up his label to be in the class of the major indie, but his anti-iTunes rant may indicate that he is loosing touch with the quickly changing music landscape, which may ultimately leave him and victory behind as his business strategy looses effectiveness and he fails to adapt.

On another note: I really enjoy reading your blog, you have a forward-thinking spin on the industry that is refreshing to read.

Virgil Dickerson said...

Bill, Virgil here from Indie HQ/Suburban Home. Thanks for checking out our site. I have been checking out No Revolution for a while now and love the site. I would love to trade links.

Thanks and keep up the great work.