Dear Music Industry,
With the new Adele album, 25, selling like hot cakes, people who haven't bought music in years are suddenly paying for music again and the industry is starting to believe that some sort of corner has been turned.
Not so fast.
I am what you call "one of your best customers" despite you doing everything in your power to ignore my existence. When I was a kid, I was so rabid for new albums that I would buy many sight-unseen. That was because, back then, there were no listening booths at my local hardware store, department store, or even the mall Musicland location.
In a funny sort of way, it was pretty idealistic of you to presume that you could just stick a few thousand albums in the bins and we kids would just naturally help ourselves to whatever struck our fancy without, you know, actually getting to hear what we were buying.
I eventually honed my ability to sniff out winners like U2, the Police, Adam & The Ants, Bryan Adams, The Cure and Duran Duran (hey, don't judge me, I was just a kid) six months before their music was all over MTV and Top 40 radio. I also sniffed out a lot of great stuff that never crossed over to the mainstream through some unfortunate "perfect storm" of circumstances, but I never blamed you for your seemingly random manner of choosing which artists to promote and which ones to criminally ignore. No, I merely thanked you for making such music available in the first place and continued spending hundreds of dollars a month on new music with a religious fervor.
But a funny thing started to happen around 1998 or so...
Fewer and fewer of the artists you were signing appealed to me on any level. In a way, it was an insult to see just how little you respected your biggest consumers. Rather than deliver quality product to a discerning yet die-hard demographic, you began shoveling schlock to the tweens. Now, before you suggest that I (and others just like me) merely outgrew my adolescent love affair with new music, allow me to inform you that I was buying Butch Walker (he of the Marvelous 3) and Dan Wilson (he of Trip Shakespeare and Semisonic) records long before you maxed out your first expense account.
While you've made both of those talented mofo's rich beyond their wildest dreams co-writing for the likes of Avril Lavigne, Pink, and Adele, what about those with actual talent who were already signed to your label that you couldn't be bothered to propel to stardom?
Seeing all the fuss being made about the aforementioned Adele, whose new record is selling like hot cakes, one can't help wonder why the same fuss couldn't have been made for Alison Moyet twenty years ago? Now SHE had some pipes and an actual pedigree, having fronted Yaz.
Which brings us to Geggy Tah, a band that was criminally ignored to the point of breaking up after three great albums, thereby freeing up band leader Greg Kurstin's schedule so he could lend his considerable talents to Adele at a much later date. Yeah, makes perfect sense; appeal to the fair-weather fans who only buy an album if the song is placed in the right TV show or commercial and let the career artists like Geggy Tah, or Spain, Tripping Daisy, and Elefant to name just a few.
Now, I'm not saying that Geggy Tah were the greatest thing since sliced bread, but if Greg Kurstin is good enough to warrant producing the new Adele record, maybe his band deserved a fair shake, too.
Ah, but that would have taken patience, perseverance, and a little thing called "artist development".
What is 'artist development" you ask?
Once upon a time there was a band called Journey. Now, Journey weren't cool by 2013 standards, much less early 1970's standards, but the brass at CBS Records saw something in them and signed them to a deal. Their 1975 self-titled debut album was a heady mash-up of San Francisco hippie rock and jazz fusion that peaked at a lowly position of #138 on the Billboard charts.
Undeterred, both label and band remained dedicated to the cause and released Look Into The Future a year later. The album peaked at #100 on the charts.
By its title, a third album, Next, seemed almost resigned to commercial failure, but at least it broke the Top 100 and reached #85. At this point, both band and record company could have chosen to cut their losses and you wouldn't have blamed either one, but together they pressed on. With the band's own management feeling the band needed a better singer and visual presence, new singer Steve Perry was recruited and their fourth album Infinity finally broke the band through to a mass audience, hitting #21 on the Billboard charts as songs like "Wheel In The Sky", "Lights" and "Feeling That Way" were all over the radio.
What followed was a string of six Top 20 albums (with Escape hitting #1 and Frontiers #2, respectively) and eighteen Top 40 singles that would have otherwise not happened at all if the label had thrown in the towel after any of the band's first three albums. As a result, the group's Greatest Hits compilation remains one of the best-selling catalog titles in all of music, moving a minimum of 100,000 units year-in, year-out every since it was released in 1988.
Please do let me know if, twenty years from now, the combined yearly sales of Avril Lavigne, Pink and Adele catalog titles comes even close to that mark.
Ah, right, but the way people purchase music these days has changed so much that the idea of selling 100,000 of any title is much cause for jubilation. While you, the industry, surely blame that on illegal downloading and the current ease of streaming just about any album that has ever been released without paying for it, perhaps it might be worth pointing at least some of the blame at yourself.
See, it was right around the time that I, and other die-hard music consumers began feeling that the industry had all but written us off that a little thing called Napster came along.
For those of us who'd been forced to re-buy our entire collections when vinyl was kicked to the curb in favor of CD's, or yet again when, sensing we had too much money in our bank accounts, "deluxe editions" of many of our favorite albums began showing up with increasing frequency.
Oh, you can't be bothered to give us anything new, but you're more than happy to allow us the honor of paying $100 to own a 4-CD reconfiguration of a 35-year-old Bruce Springsteen album that we'd already bought three different times or yet another Beatles collection that arrives ever so coincidentally just in time for the holiday shopping season.
Now, I'm not one to say "what comes around goes around", I'll save that for Ratt, but the fact that today's top-selling artists are only moving a fraction of the units that were being sold 20 years ago might have just a little to do with treating your key demographic like shit and a whole lot to do with you being stuck shoveling assembly-line pop crap to kids who could just as easily waste that money on more Candy Crush "lives".
It's just kind of sad to see you cast aside millions of dedicated music lovers who grew up placing immense value on music, and the purchase thereof, in hopes of holding the attention of a younger demographic with the attention span of squirrel ("DID SOMEONE SAY SQUIRREL?!") who place absolutely no monetary value on music.
Yep, sounds like a winning business plan to me.