Tungsten Sodomy Bingo
David Lee Beowülf
Yes, another “Music Industry” issue of Ink Nineteen, as if every issue isn’t a “Music Industry” issue. The title, Tungsten Sodomy Bingo, is a band name Ian came up with years ago during a game of “sit around and think up gnarly band names” That’s certainly one of the gnarliest I’ve heard.
Since 1991, I think I’ve written countless thousands of words devoted to criticizing the music industry, yet it’s still not enough. No one has listened. In fact, it’s become worse. I shall explore how really horrible it’s become, touching on two particularly galling facets of the mucus, er music biz. (The “mucus” vs. “music” is a rather ironic typo I’m prone to; fitting, Isn’t it?)
Show Me The Money!
I saw the film Jerry Maguire for the first time last week. I thought it was really good, not story-wise, but acting and character wise; plus I’m a big fan of Rene Zellweger, who was superb in the vastly underrated and shamefully ignored The Whole Wide World. I now understand where “show me the money” comes from and why it’s so funny.
Apparently there have been actual bidding wars between record companies over punk rock bands. Equally apparently, a lot of independent record labels have gone under or merged with larger companies. The latter is a sign of a coming depression within the industry, affecting both bands and the people who work for/with them.
Two sub-points: a) Record producer Steve Albini recently wrote an excellent diatribe concerning how screwed a band gets when it signs a recording contract. Apparently, a band can expect to owe the record company until they sell at least 100,000 units. I wanted to reprint Mr. Albini’s essay, but when Ian let me know that “Steve” is not exactly fond of the music press, I decided to not even bother checking into things. However right-on-target Steve Albini is regarding the sleaze factor in the music business, (1) he makes money before a band he’s produced does, assuming he’s in business to make money, and (2) bands that have being ripped off have been well-documented since before the Beatles. In fact, a major contributing factor to the Beatles’ break-up was recording-contract related; Black Sabbath was screwed out of royalties on their first five albums; Hall and Oates didn’t make a cent for years — even with all those number one singles! It’s well-known, known, in fact, for more than 40 years, that recording contracts are designed to make the company money first, the band money last. How do all those promo reps, distributors, regional managers, etc. get paid anyway? Hey, they work for a living, not like some lazy rock and roller waiting for the “big break.” Bottom line: It’s not possible for a band to get “taken;” no way, the recording business has been around far too long and its methods too well-publicized for anyone to not know what they’re getting into. b) The 1990’s (man, they’re nearly over, has it been that long) makes the so-called “Decade of Greed” pale in comparison. We are in an era of hyper-moneymaking not seen since the days of Jay Gould or J.P. Morgan, Sr. At one point, it seemed like every 1990’s “garage” band (read: sorry attempts at “grunge”) was being signed to lucrative recording contracts. Well, guess what? Since I’m a “writer,” and therefore it’s important that the promo folks get me a few units of their pet product, I have about 1,000 CDs that suck worse than the Shaggs could possibly ever suck. I don’t listen to them, they just sit. One day I will throw them away. And likewise, because they suck, no one bought them, consequently the retail outlets couldn’t move them, the distributors were screwed, and the label went belly-up. I consider this a good thing. Primarily, it’s a good thing because metal is set for a comeback, thanks to the failure of “alternative” music.
Horrible Radio – We Still Haven’t Learned
I am grateful to the Lord for gracing me with the talent that landed me a decision-making job where I’m in the field 40% of the time. However, being in the field requires using a company car, and only one of them has a tape deck. I haven’t been assigned the tape deck car yet. But this isn’t a problem if my projects are in the vicinity of New York City; I have my choice of two consistently excellent radio stations: WFMU, the greatest free-form radio station on the planet (http://www.wfmu.org) and WSOU, Seaton Hall University’s 24-hour Metal station. If I’m down, I know SOU will pick me up with the latest from Slayer; if there are people with me, I know I can shock them with FMU’s Irwin Chusid mixing Yak Herding Music with bad polka — or something like that.
The rest of New York City radio is an incredibly horrible field of dung (not counting the commie stations or other “specialty” programs, which, like the above-mentioned stations, are targeted at limited audiences.) Last week I had to drive far out of range of my beloved WFMU and WSOU. I managed to pick up a bit of WSBU from Stony Brook, New York, which played lots of late 1970’s punk rock and some strange station from East Hampton that was playing odd electronics and obscure film soundtracks. But the rest of the airwaves was filled with the same old classic rock crap or the same old “alternative” crap.
I can’t believe I heard bits of Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock,” The Doobie Brothers’ “Listen to the Music,” and a “triple shot” of John Cougar, not to mention “Against the Wind” by Bob Seeger. I’ve heard those musical bowel movements since they came out — when I was in Junior High School in 1976 — and I’ve hated them — HATED them — from the first listen. Now, in addition to that shit, this “alternative” crap is still around. I heard bits and pieces of, as REO Speedealer so eloquently put it last month, “College Mope-Rock,” for hours and hours! (As you can guess, my finger was glued to the “scan” button.) Is this the legacy of Nirvana’s “breaking?” I say, No! It’s the fault of tin-eared college radio twits who had delusions of grandeur when it came to their own futures in the recording industry. Those Program Directors back in 1992 were handed the ball in 1998 and, since they know where the money comes from, they’re even more conservative than their middle-of-the-road classic rock forebears.
That’s why we’ll never hear the Ramones on “classic rock radio,” that’s why we’re not going to hear “album cuts” from the punk bands that “broke,” and that’s why the millions and millions of “alternative” music scenesters will never hear a song like the Dickies’ “You Drive Me Ape (You Big Gorilla).”
But you know what? I don’t really care. I don’t! If I don’t have access to good radio in the car, I can shut it off and think about the music I like, I’ll hear it in my mind, which is where it really counts! And I’ve always got my record collection if all the labels go under. So go ahead and play the crap of all ages, go ahead and keep glutting the market with pooh-pooh, continue to rip off naive bands (they deserve it for being naive, anyway), and keep exploiting the hell out of the latest underground trend. It’s no skin off my peach.