While we sit here gnashing in the cold, and Nancy from Leaving Los Angeles posts commiserating comments about how those 70-degree days in California get boring after a while (sigh), and as our Ethan Lipton business spins up to a froth and a tizzy (are those master discs sitting over there on my desk? Why yes they are!) and there’s no time for sleeping or blogging anywhere in the land, it looks like the rest of the world is going right to hell as well. So at least I’m not alone in my scratchy handbasket.
For one thing, major movers in major shaking labels are dropping like Coco-de-Mer nuts this wacky week, and it’s about time.
If you thought the trouble with the modern music business stemmed from piratical digital downloading, you bought a bad line sold by an increasingly-notorious and ruthless bunch of lobbyists pretending to be advocates of rights and propriety. The problem never really had much to do with those squawky mp3′s and broadband campus lines. It was the usual trouble endemic to our current incarnation of vicious slash-and-burn capitalism, and had to do with opportunism and money-grubbing. When ruthless execs flog finance out of a horse that’s been getting sicker by the decade, and nobody bothers to feed the horse (why waste money on all that expensive food?), eventually the horse is going to vomit up blood and keel over. At this point the execs cluster around the corpse, look serious, clasp their hands behind their backs, and sagely say, “It’s downloading did this. Damn shame. Those thieves need to be taught a lesson.” Um, right.
Mind you the downloading thing does need to be dealt with. But it’s a small part of a very mean high-stakes puzzle.
Arista’s prez Antonio “L.A.” Reid (Outkast, Avril Lavigne) is suddenly out of a job, so apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought giving Whitney Houston somewhere between $20 million and $40 million to sweeten up her deal wasn’t such a hot idea. The rumor rope says that Elektra’s Sylvia Rhone will be toast by the end of next week (she is likely to free-fall to Universal), soon to be followed by Atlantic’s Val Azzoli and Craig Kallman, and Roger Ames at Warner. Even elder guru Clive Davis at RCA is fingered to be out sooner than later – and it’s about time.
Don’t worry if you don’t know who these people are. You’re not supposed to. Some are the ones who get fat by making music suck, and some are their agents. That’s fat like hundreds of millions of dollars fat. And that’s suck like what radio sounds like, as compared to the recordings you actually love and own and like the music that makes you wonder if music didn’t used to be better back in those days (hint: yes). That’s suck like goo produced to lubricate a system that runs on mammoth payments of graft for airplay, that takes bald-faced advertising and gussies it up to look like a reflection of popular taste. George Steinbrenner is just about saintly and idealistic by comparison.
Is this mess in the record industry all because of downloading? In a word: No. It’s about radio being run by a monopoly, and A&R guys and gals who refuse to sign new talent with lasting futures. It’s about rap and hip-hop junk, and sampling replacing actual composition.
The group getting fired this week isn’t especially evil: they’re just the first pins to go down in a crisis that has finally reached the executive level. The industry has downsized – that’s “fired without warning” in the Low Speech – a few thousand trench-level employees recently, and most of them made workman’s wages and loved, loved, loved their jobs and were thrilled to live and breathe music. More cutbacks are coming down the pike. If execs had been tossed out first and the grunts kept in the field, the world might sound a little different. Wouldn’t that be nice? But the execs were making that decision, so the ship sails on. Attention: iceberg ahead. And it’s about time.
There is some justice in this crazy world. Oldish news perhaps, but I just found out today that the Uniform Code Council (the bar code people) has been told by the Courts that no, they may not charge annual fees to customers like me who bought lifetime access to their bar codes. So that’s something. Nyah nyah.
A propos of nothing, Velcrometer has an exquisitely funny entry from Monday about the ins and outs of Max Payne 2 and Atari’s old chestnut Super Breakout. The blog – “Throwing Stuff at the Internet to See What Sticks” – is beautifully written and wry, and this post is a corker.
And our man in Los Angeles, never one to leave an icebound New Yorker in peace, checks in to update us on the weather out there.
Today: Mostly sunny. Highs in the mid to upper 70s.
It was so nice this morning — I put the top down on the Mercedes to drive into the office.
Writing this message in my short pants and t-shirt.