Archive for the ‘The Music Biz’ Category

Reflections on 13 years of Record Store Ownership

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Hoodlums is having our 13th Birthday Party on Saturday, so New Times‘ Jason Woodbury asked me to provide some impressions on thirteen years of Record Store ownership for his Up On The Sun blog.

Wow, that’s a big task.  But if you’ve followed Hoodlum’s social media sites, or my little Random Babblings of a Record Store Geek blog, you’ve probably read blogs or seen video explaining “why I own a record store”… and you know I’m constantly analyzing my whacky little world… so I’ll give it a shot.

Random observations and opinions from a Record Store Geek:

It takes more than one hoodlum to run an indie business in a corporatocracy.  Luckily, my partner Kristian has been here for thirteen years to share the load.  Because I write, tweet, post, and do the marketing, I tend to be the more-visible of the hoods, but anyone who really knows the store knows that Kristian is a music-lovin’ force-of-nature. I could do a whole article on his talents and hard work alone.  I can never thank him enough.   (Big thanks also to Joe, Andy, and the many other hoodlums who make up our Hood Hall of Fame.)

The rise of digital music has had a far-less negative affect on the music industry than the idiotic decision-making of the record labels. High-prices, customer lawsuits, substandard artist development, corporate-retail subsidies, and a continual overdose of hype have killed off a ton of indie record stores and an entire generation of potential customers.  If the major labels would have embraced digital music, and found a way to monetize it, rather than waiting for Apple to change the rules of the game, the music business would be infinitely more healthy.

I personally think digital-only music is a rip-off.  Although Kristian and I have never been on a crusade to stop illegal downloading, I don’t do it.  So if I want to own a piece of music, I pay for it by buying the CD or the LP/mp3 combo.  I’m a collector.  If I like an album, I want to have it in my collection, and to me “owning” a file is like owning air. The music in my iTunes, iPhone, and iPod is an important part of my collection, but that part is about convenience.  I still get the files with a CD, so to me it’s a win-win.  When Hoodlums was on hiatus after the M.U. Fire, I went to the other indie stores to shop, because I need a record store.  Kristian did too.  That’s why we reopened… because we’re not the only ones that feel like this.

Not giving in to the fear of a digital future has allowed us to feed our families for thirteen years.  Thanks, thanks, thanks to each and every person that has spent a cent in our store for making that possible. I still recall our Sony rep warning us about Napster before we started.  Little did he know that Napster was just the tip of the digital iceberg… and yet we are still here.

I wish I could have another conversation with Brad Singer.  Brad was my old boss at Zia; the guy who started it.  As GM, I would go into his office daily and report on the stores, and then he and I would discuss/debate/argue about our ideas for the company.  A lot of our debate centered around my opinion that some of the things he felt most strongly about applied to owning/running one store, but not eight.  His unfortunate passing led to the formation of Hoodlums, and since then, as the co-owner of one store, I have come to understand his feelings a lot better.  I wish I could tell him that, as well how thankful I am for saving me from corporate hell (and a thousand other things).

Downloading has weened the “lightweight” music fans out of record stores.  You know, people that just want singles, the ones who “like the song but don’t know who sings it”… that sort of music fan.  Don’t get me wrong, we don’t have anything against music lightweights (every good party needs lightweights), in fact we understand.  The labels have falsely inflated album sales for years by not giving them the option to just buy the song, so the new digital world is perfect for them.  If they get turned on and want the album (or they don’t want to download for whatever reason), we’re here to help them, but the majority of the people we serve these days are serious music fans.  Junkies like us.

Most of my fellow record store geeks feel that at this point the economy is tougher to deal with than the industry and technology.  We feel that way too.  Ask almost any other type of shopkeeper, and they’ll tell you how much of a battle it is these days.  The only good side of the sad economy is that the guys in the Ivory Towers (Label bean counters, errr, Presidents) have finally started dropping prices.

I still love music more than any non-human thing on this Earth.  It is my passion. It is a part of my soul and my spirituality. I feel that spreading music to my fellow Earthlings is a very important job, because without it this would be a pretty sad place to live.  I couldn’t sell you cars, or homes, or clothes… because although those things are important, I’m not passionate about them.  But I can sell you music, because I believe in music.  I spread it around when I was younger, so Hoodlums is just a “business continuation” of what I was already doing.

I’ll stop there, although I could give you impressions all day (buy me a drink after the birthday party and I’ll answer whatever questions you’ve got).  Thanks again to everyone for your support.

Random Hood Facts: 

Steve/Favorite In-store: Michael Franti and Spearhead (although I was radically hung over from the Bowie show the night before… I loved the album, my 6-year old son was in the front row, and Michael was a free-spirited champ.)

Kristian/Favorite in-store: Ben Kweller (playing piano in the store with Jason Schwartzmann of Phantom Planet, making up songs and goofing around)

Andy’s Favorite in-store: Greg Graffin of Bad Religion (hanging with Professor Graffin was super-cool, especially for the store’s biggest BR fan).

Most people in an autograph line at an in-store: Weezer (650 preorders was all we could do in their allotted time)

Biggest single-day sales on a record: Format – Dog Problems (500 copies, all we had, during a street-date in-store performance).

Biggest single sales day: Record Store Day 2011.

 

 

 

Music 101: Major Label Stupidity

Friday, August 12th, 2011

Nearly every mainstream media article we’ve ever read has attributed the past decade’s loss of over a thousand indie record stores to the rise in digital music. In our opinion, short-sighted, corporate-favoring, customer-be-damned decisions by the the major labels have been a far bigger factor in the demise.

Some things never change… and the poor major label decision-making continues with the new Kanye/Jay-Z release (in this case, exclusivity windows for corporate joints).  As the video says, it’s not like we think things are going to change now… but we got a package in the mail this week that was just too stupid not to mock.  I threw on the glasses and made it “Music 101″ because I’m a goof.

To those of you that have only shopped at our current location, and haven’t heard us speak out on industry issues, a small explanation:

We used to speak out all the time about crazy industry decisions and policies (some examples are still linked on our press page) .  While our complaints and observations, and those of our fellow outspoken indie friends, often garnered attention and perhaps even slowed down the complete corporate takeover of our industry, they really didn’t stop any of the practices we opposed (inflated list prices, exclusive releases, multiple versions, suing customers, not monetizing file-trading, etc.)

At the time, we were a member of the Coalition of Independent Music Stores (CIMS), so we were more involved in the industry.  When our ASU store closed, we were no longer in CIMS, so when reopened as a “coalition-less” indie, we were sort of “not in the industry”.  That was totally fine, because as I said, the industry hadn’t shown any signs of sanity, and we had thrown our hands up in terms of trying to change things.  We figured we’d just do our thing and take care of the customers in the store.

Three years later, we’re back in the Coalition (see the blog for more info).  That puts us back in the industry.  As our industry “reps”, our leaders at CIMS made us aware of the Kanye/Jay-Z hilarity, or I’m not sure we’d have even known, to be honest.  Of course, we instantly said we were in agreement with the indie-store letter to the label and artists… but we didn’t have any plans to speak out directly.

Then we got that silly banner in the mail… and I couldn’t contain myself.

Have a great day.

Steve, Kristian, and the hoodlums at Hoodlums

Music: “Move on Up” by Curtis Mayfield.  Available at Hoodlums.

Hoodlums Music rejoins CIMS

Monday, June 13th, 2011

As of June 1st, Hoodlums is proud to announce that we have officially rejoined our sisters and brothers in the Coalition of Independent Music Stores (CIMS).

CIMS is a group of the USA’s finest independent music stores, banded together for more than 15 years to successfully fight the giant corporate bean-counters, er, companies that infiltrated retail music (to the complete detriment of the industry, of course) in the mid-nineties.

Our fearless CIMS representatives have been out there every day for 15 years, reminding record labels and the public just how important indie record stores have always been, and still are, to music fans and musicians throughout the world. Reminding everybody, via sweet events like Record Store Day, that (even in a digital age) indie record stores are still one of the primary places where breaking artists are discovered, gain traction, and turned into established acts.

Most importantly, Hoodlums and the other CIMS stores promote new music via monthly listening stations and programs. Each month, we will be featuring over 60 different new titles each and every month. Major artists, breaking artists, multiple genres… the Coalition stores promote it all. The video will explain more about the CIMS listening posts (and let you know just how excited we are about having access to all this great new music).

As you can see from the list of this month’s titles, the same CIMS reps have been out there working with the record labels to make sure that plenty of their advertising budgets are going to support the industry’s most influencial stores, to promote the artists that this veteran group of music stores think our customers might dig.

The Hoodlums/CIMS “Back” Story

A looser way to describe the Coalition would be to say that CIMS is a bunch of record store geeks, just like Kristian and I, that get together to brainstorm about business, share our passions for music and film, and party (what the hell else did you expect?).

That’s the description we love the best. That’s the part we missed the most. The comraderie.  The brotherhood. And yeah, the party. Because after all, we’re all just partying slackers at heart, posing as business people, so why pretend? That’s us in the picture on the right, at our 10 year anniversary in Seattle at the mighty Easy Street Records (Thanks again for the great event, Matt).

What do I mean by “missed”?  Why is this a “rejoin”?  Let me explain.

Hoodlums was fortunate enough to be a member of CIMS from 2002 – 2007.  During that time, we made a lot of friends, and learned a lot about our industry, ourselves, and how to run a better record store. We talked, listened, debated a number of industry issues, and worked with our colleagues to develop some of the “think indie” strategies (including Think Indie Distribution, which peddles the limited-edition, indie-only titles that you love so much) that have helped keep many of the country’s indie stores cranking in today’s challenging competitive environment.

However, when a fire closed our ASU store in 2007, we were no longer CIMS members.  Of course, at that point we were no longer a store… period. The developments at the Memorial Union had led us to the decision to move on to new challenges, and we did not intend to reopen.

Then we found this perfect new location and changed our minds. We formed a new store, with a new philosophy, and we moved forward. While we were still featuring cool new music, we put extra focus on making sure that we had the very best mix of classics and a phenomenal selection of used LPs, CDs, and DVDs.

The strategy worked. Our customers responded. But something was missing.

Then we got the call from our old friends at CIMS. Would we be interested in rejoining?

We met with our old comrades, took a new look at the programs, and decided to jump at the opportunity. We moved our old listening posts back in (much to the chagrin of my tired back), filled them with new music, recorded the video, and started listening. It’s gonna be great to have all that new music around.

But not as great as it’s gonna be to see the gang at the conference. After all, we haven’t forgotten our real priorities.

 

Hoodlums say “no” to excessive ticket fees

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

How do you feel about unexpected service fees on your concert tickets?

Yeah, we hate ‘em too.

That’s why we won’t be selling tickets to the upcoming Phoenix show at the Marquee Theater.  Because the co-promoter/venue (Luckyman/Marqee) is asking us to collect an unwarranted and in our opinion, excessive, service charge above the advertised ticket price.

No tickets for the Phoenix show to due excessive service fees, sorry.We are sorry to inconvenience you.  We understand that some websites (like AZCentral.com) have us listed us as a place to buy tickets.  However, the tickets are advertised as $25… and we are being asked to collect $28 from you.  That’s just not the way we do it.

We aren’t shocked about this development.  We didn’t just fall off the concert industry turnip truck or anything.  We understand various levels of service charge hilarities have been going on forever in the concert biz.  Nevertheless, we think its bullshit. That’s one of the reasons we hoodlums don’t personally buy a lot of tickets to the corporate shows (the other being the normally-excessive price of the ticket itself). It’s for sure why we don’t sell tickets for the corporate venues and shows.

If you’ve done business with the corporate ticket sellers and promoters in this town (and anywhere in the country, since a handful of corporate giants basically control the industry), you probably know how the concert ticket turnip tastes as well:  The ticket buyer, trapped in a tightly-controlled industry, gets ambushed with a ton of extra “service” charges as the ticket buy proceeds, levied by anyone from the venue to the promoter.  Good ol’ corporate greed doesn’t stop with Wall Street.

But we ain’t corporate, baby… we’re indie. We put our cards on the table. Our philosophy is that a person should get some extra service above and beyond what their basic purchase if they are going to have to pay extra.  In addition, we believe the charge should accurately reflect the level of extra service.  In our opinion, that’s not the case with this Phoenix show.

Are we entirely against service fees?  Of course not.  As an indie ticket seller, we have to charge them. But the fee has to be reasonable… and it should be charged and collected by the person providing the service.

If you buy tickets at our store, you know that we only charge a ONE dollar service fee.  We know of none lower.  We feel that is a fair price for our customers to pay for the convenience of not having to travel to the venue, and it covers the time and effort we put into the organizing, promoting, and selling the tickets.  We aren’t involved in the contract, the show itself, or any of its proceeds… so that one little dollar is all we collect on tickets sales.

We think that’s fair.  Our customers agree.  They don’t mind paying a fair price for a little extra service… and we give them one more reason to visit the hoodlums at Hoodlums.  We certainly aren’t in the ticket business to make money, we are in the ticket selling business to provide a service to our customers… so it works for everyone.

Normally, the whole process is smooth.  We only sell tickets for indie shows and indie promoters, mainly with our buddies at Stateside Productions. They find the venue, they find the band, and they price the tickets as high or low as they want.  Once they negotiate the price of the tickets, they print the price on the ticket, and give them to us to sell.  We add on our dollar, and everyone is happy.  No deception.  No service charge for anything other than actual service.

Then we get our Phoenix tickets, and we are being asked to start collecting three bucks above the advertised ticket price?  Like we said: We don’t do that.  We charge ticket price plus a buck, not ticket price plus four bucks.  That’s not a fair price.  Besides,why would we collect an extra service fee for someone else’s service, especially when that “someone else” hasn’t provided ANY extra service.

If the venue wants to charge extra for their service, that’s their prerogative to negotiate the higher ticket price.  If the venue wants to charge extra at its own box office, so be it.  If the promoter, or the artist, or management, or anyone involved in the negotiations needs to charge $28 for the tickets in order to make ends meet, we aren’t in a position to debate that either.  While it is our sincere belief that concerts in general need to be cheaper in order for the concert industry to thrive again, setting the ticket price is none of our business.  You need to make an extra three bucks?  Make it a $28 ticket.  Don’t make it a $25 ticket and ask us to collect $28.

So to those of you that expected to be able to buy Phoenix tickets at Hoodlums, sorry.  They are a great band, and we are sure that you will enjoy the show… but we just can’t bear the thought of charging you an excessive fee for “ghost” service.

We will still proudly sell tickets for Stateside shows, but unless the Marquee relents and loses the extra fees, we will not be able to sell for that venue.  We realize the Marquee gets a lot of great bands, bands that our customers dig, and we hope to be able to continue to provide the extra service of saving you the drive to Tempe Town Lake, but we have to stick to our principles on this one. Hopefully you understand.

Have a great day.

Music Biz observations from our first year

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

The following blog is actually an email that was sent to our “Music Biz Bigshots” (which is how we lovingly refer to all of the record label and distributor people that we have done business with for twenty years now) email list. We always made it a point to let the industry know what we think of their hilarious decision-making while we were at ASU, and we are still doing it out here.  This time, we figured we’d at least leave it out there for the customers. After all, you guys are affected by their short-sightedness as well.

Hello fellow music biz geeks,

Are we still in this crazy business?  Man, it seems like forever since we talked.  Back in the old days, back in the time when we thought we understood the phrase “uncharted waters”, we used to send charts out every week.

Steve Wiley - Professional HoodlumAnyway, down there you will find a chart.  It’s our top 99 of our first full year at the new store.  Although the old store has a totally new personality, mine is still the same (insert smart-ass comment here), so I figured I’d comment on some of the industry-related things we noticed in our 1st year at the new joint.  If you want to scroll down and skip the babble… we’ll never know.

So what’s been going on at Hoodlums, you ask?  How’s biz and all that?

Well, we are officially a year old.  If you remember, we soft-opened on Saturday, September 20th, and our grand opening was in early October.  Two days later the stock market dove, officially signaling the start of the freakshow economy.

Since then we’ve had our first real holiday season, six art shows, and Hoodstock.  We’ve stirred up conservative radio hosts, interacted with our community, learned how to buy used vinyl, and watched another unbelievable year’s worth of changes in the music industry.  Joey Kramer used our bathroom.  So did Peter Yarrow.

We haven’t sent you charts because we’ve been focused on the customers and building up the store.  It isn’t cause we haven’t been paying attention to this crazy $#%& (I haven’t turned anti-vulgarity, I have to do that in case customers are on the list) industry.  As usual, we can’t speak for other stores, or any of you cats, but we can tell you how the music biz looks from our tiny little vantage point.

1. Prices are getting better on catalog.

Let’s start positive.  Those WEA 7.99 titles (Talking Heads, ZZ Top, Bonnie Raitt, Faith No More, etc.) and those Sony 6.99 (Ten Years After, Mike Bloomfield, Milt Jackson, etc) titles have been huge sellers.  We brought a bunch in around February and they have been moving along better than we had hoped.  For 6.99 new, people will buy that David Bromberg album they used to love.  Now, with most of those great Sony 11.99 titles selling at 9.99 (don’t give me that “we don’t have a list price” bullshit, we still base price on cost, not the margin Sony decides we should lose), we are sporting a pretty mean selection of classic CDs at ten or less.  That’s what we’ve been talking about for eleven years: Cheaper prices = More sales.

2. Prices are still too high on catalog.

In the meantime, I shudder to think of how many CSN, Radiohead, or Led Zeppelin CDs we could sell at a realistic list.  18.98?  17.98?  In this day and age?  I can’t even believe those are still a price points.  Is there an economist in the house over in those Ivory Towers?  There must be someone who understands supply and demand.  Call me crazy, but since I’ve been lobbying lower prices to the industry for years to little avail, I’ve decided to make a plea to the artist.  Read the “Robert Plant – A Story and Video Plea” blog here.

3. High list prices more or less kill plans to develop and sell newer jazz, blues, and world.

While the catalog pricing offers some reasonable options in these genres, when it comes to new releases, who can afford it?  Note to the Ivory Tower: After years of watching the way you market these genres, we assume that you don’t ever want to target any young adults at all… but we should at least mention that baby boomers are price conscious too, and pricing every artist on every adult genre at 17.98 or 18.98 list is a bad idea.  I’d love to turn someone, young or old, on to a new Joe Lovano or Roy Hargrove CD, but why bother trying when you can turn them on to a classic Jackie McLean, John Coltrane, or Sonny Rollins CD for under ten bucks?

4. Hang on to your obscure, and not so obscure, CDs.

We are starting to see a lot of CDs go out of print.  Speaking of supply and demand, you want LeRoy Hutson’s Greatest Hits?  It’s gonna cost you no less than $150 on Amazon (pretty much the same price they wanted for the Beatles boxes, isn’t it?).  That plays right into our little hands, because when it comes to finding special orders… a scrappy little joint like ours is the place to go.

5. Label reps that set up records are a dying breed.

It may be because we are just a little joint – but we rarely see a label rep set up new releases any more.  There’s still a few out there that can be counted on to consistently do so (Jay from Sony/now Nettwerk, Melissa from Epitaph/Anti, and the gang at Fearless come to mind), and some that are starting to come on board, but for the most part it feels like we are on our own when it comes to deciding what it worthy of promoting or not.

That’s not all bad, and we aren’t necessarily upset.  After all, we are more than capable of finding stuff for the posts.  But for sure on the right releases a great set-up makes a huge difference… and for sure a great rep that know what to push at your store (or in this day and age, one that pushes at all) can make all the difference.  Look at all the Sony and Epitaph stuff that made the chart.  There’s no way that NASA makes this chart without support.  Would we have brought it in?  Sure.  One copy.  Would we have put it in the post?  Probably not.

How does the lack of set-up hurt?  If someone would have worked with us on the recent Noisettes or Raveonettes CDs, we probably would have quadrupled sales so far.  Do we react once we see demand?  Sure, but it hurts at first, when it matters most.  In this economy, in this industry, we do our new release buying with caution.  Often, we aren’t quite sure what customers are going to want (since the internet has given every customer the ability to find out their own street dates, we don’t quite get the “pre-buzz” like the old days).  People just sorta show up on street date and buy.  It’s easy with proven champs like Flaming Lips or Built to Spill, but since we don’t listen to the radio or monitor internet activity, its tough to judge whether those mid-level groups still have interested fans.  If we don’t hear from anyone at the label, we assume the label isn’t really behind them anymore.  If we buy the CD at all, we buy one.

Like I said, our little store may not rate the coverage… and we can live with that, but I don’t think that’s it.  We seem to be on the radar still.  We still get visits from out-of-town Music Biz Bigshots.  We still get stuff in the mail.  It seems more likely that either: a) there aren’t enough label reps (Phoenix doesn’t have a WEA, Sony, or EMD sales rep – and our UNI sales rep is covering like 32 states or something);  b) many of the labels out there aren’t focused on on physical product at the indie stores; or c) lack of accountability and direction are at an all time high.  Probably a little of everything.

6. Everything is still free on the Internet.

Somehow in spite of those FBI stickers… in spite of the lawsuits… in spite of the “switched” street dates, the branded play copies, and the Congressional testimony… every release is still out there for a grand total of nothing.   I know because we have to get a lot of our play copies, the ones we need to help sell your CDs, the same way that a huge portion of the rest of the world has been getting their music for twelve years now.

Can you guys finally relent and monetize the file-sharing?  Maybe that way CD prices will continue to fall and those who want to collect and peddle the hard copies can do so – while those that are content with files can do their thing legally.  While we are on the subject: A buck a song is still too much.

7. Labels, in true form, are already stifling the vinyl resurgence with ridiculous prices.

It was totally predictable.  Customers find value in LPs… so labels jack prices until the value goes away.  It’s the same Ivory Tower game plan that has helped kill CDs sales over the past twelve years.

It’s simple, anything over $20 is TOO MUCH for an LP.  Even if the digital file in included.  Each week, as we decide what to bring in… we simply look at the list price. These days, instead of 18.98, which is fine (with the digital info), we see lots of 24.98.  If the price is over twenty, unless it is something we can’t live without (like the Wilco releases), we don’t bring it in.  The biggest recent example is the Muse reissues.  Four releases from a very powerful band at Hoodlums, yet only one (Black Holes..) is priced under twenty.  We brought in Black Holes, and it is nearing double digit sales.  The other three have become special orders.

There is it: Our take on how the music biz decision-making is looking at this little store.  As always, we appreciate your support… and your taking the time to read our opinions.  Have a great day.

Steve, Kristian, and the hoodlums at Hoodlums.

The Top 99 of Hoodlums’ 1st year (September 2008 – September 2009)

The album is the latest release by the artist, unless specified.

  1. Kings of Leon
  2. Neko Case
  3. Animal Collective
  4. Black Carl
  5. Darren Mahoney
  6. Fleet Foxes
  7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  8. Phoenix
  9. Wilco
  10. Bon Iver
  11. What Laura Says
  12. Andrew Bird
  13. Dead Weather
  14. Green Day
  15. Ray Lamontagne
  16. Neil Young
  17. TV on the Radio
  18. Bruce Springsteen
  19. Catfish Groove Farm
  20. Calexico
  21. Regina Spektor
  22. U2
  23. Kinch
  24. Iron and Wine
  25. Ben Harper & Relentless 7
  26. Leonard Cohen
  27. Bob Dylan
  28. VA – Thank You, Goodnight
  29. Fleet Foxes – EP
  30. Iron & Wine
  31. Decemberists
  32. Lucinda Williams
  33. Grizzly Bear
  34. Silversun Pickups
  35. Manchester Orchestra
  36. She & Him
  37. Sonic Youth
  38. Jack Johnson/D. Frankenreiter/G. Love
  39. Steve Earle
  40. Vampire Weekend
  41. Camera Obscura
  42. St. Vincent
  43. Adele
  44. Kanye West
  45. Fun
  46. Dan Auerbach
  47. Bloc Party
  48. Beatles – Abbey
  49. Of Montreal
  50. Dinosaur Jr.
  51. Arctic Monkeys
  52. Ben Folds
  53. Bob Dylan – Telltale Signs/Boot 8
  54. Dave Matthews
  55. Elvis Costello
  56. Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
  57. Abba – Gold
  58. Jolie Holland
  59. Jenny Lewis
  60. Beatles – Sgt. Peppers
  61. Ryan Adams and Cardinals
  62. Jeff Beck
  63. Q-Tip
  64. Death Cab for Cutie
  65. Damien Rice – Live at Fingerprints
  66. NASA
  67. Bonnie Raitt – Give it Up
  68. Mars Volta – Octahedron
  69. Killers
  70. Radiohead
  71. Mgmt
  72. Franz Ferdinand
  73. Derek Trucks – Already Live
  74. Milt Jackson – Sunflower
  75. Ben Harper – Live at Twist and Shout
  76. Interpol – Live
  77. Son Volt
  78. Peter Bjorn and John
  79. Bob Marley & Wailers – Legend
  80. Taj Mahal – Taj Mahal
  81. Slumdog Millionaire OST
  82. Byrne/Eno
  83. Eminem
  84. Robert Plant/Allison Krauss
  85. Michael Franti
  86. Black Keys
  87. Talking Heads – Remain in Light
  88. Clapton/Winwood – Madison Square
  89. Coldplay
  90. Lily Allen
  91. Mark Olson/Gary Louris
  92. Uncle Tupelo – No Depression
  93. Kings of Leon – Youth and Young Manhood
  94. John Mayer – Village Sessions
  95. Chet Atkins/Les Paul – Chester and Lester
  96. Ramblin’ Jack Elliott
  97. Pearl Jam – Live at Easy Street
  98. VA – Vintage Verve (I love this, as I was on the panel that selected it)
  99. Alejandro Escovedo

Robert Plant – A story and a video plea

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Thanks to the endless “wearing-out” on classic rock radio, I had tuned out Led Zeppelin for years. I had the CDs, but they didn’t get played.  Then one night after a hard days work and a couple bottles of Budweiser, while watching the amazing Led Zeppelin DVD that Brue had sent, I had a rock epiphany and rediscovered the band that defines hard rock.  I have watched it multiple times with my kids since that day, each time waxing poetic about how each of the guys in the band was at the peak of his game (OK, Dad, we get it).  So when I had a chance to go see Robert Plant at the Dodge, I decided to catch the show.

Steve Wiley - Professional HoodlumThe morning of the show, I called our SonyBMG rep, Mary, to say thanks for the tickets, and I jokingly said, “Hey, why don’t you call the radio guys and get me some backstage passes to meet Robert”.  Mary had scored the tickets for me, and we were friends and long-time music biz geeks, so she knew what sort of pipedream it would be to arrange a meet and greet with a legend like Plant… especially on the day of the show.  Like I said, it was a joke.

Lo and behold, she called the radio guy anyway.  Amazingly, a couple of hours later Mary called me and said, “You aren’t going to believe this… but you are going to meet Robert Plant tonight.”

Now I’ve been in this wacky industry for 22 years, so I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a rock star or two over the years.  Not as many as a concert promoter, or a venue guy, or a radio geek, or a label geek (hmmm, I guess we are sorta at the bottom of the geek chain)… but it does happen.  Anyway, I always appreciate the opportunity, but I don’t get too worked up (you know, act like you’ve been here before).  But wow – when we’re talking about the front man for Led Zeppelin, we are talking about the upper echelon of rock royalty – so I was pretty damn excited.

My buddy Cheesy (I still use nicknames for all my friends… it’s a Nodak thing) was going to be joining me, but I decided not to tell him until the last minute.  Once we were in the car on the way to the venue, I sprung the good news. You think he was stoked?  Doy.

We got to the Dodge, and we tracked down our contact (Mary couldn’t make it… and yes, she was envious).  Stage left.  Before the show.  Nervously… nah, let’s just say excitedly… we waited.  And then they took us back.  Robert, and the entire band (Strange Sensation) came back and shook hands with everybody, and then we posed for a picture (it’s the one you see, obviously), which showed up in my inbox later that night (you have to love the digital age for actually seeing your pics with rock stars, but that’s a story for another blog).

Why am I grinning?  Because thats ROBERT PLANT for Gods sake.

As a super, not-like-normal-backstage bonus, I was lucky enough to get a minute of conversation with Robert, which, unbelievably, was started by Mr. Plant himself.

The rep introduced us (Rock Legend; Meet record store geek), and Robert said, “You own a record store, huh? Do you sell vinyl?”.  I said “Yeah”.  He said, “What’s your number one seller right now?”

This story takes place in July at the old store.  We only had a small new vinyl section at the time, and as any of our old summer school customers can tell you, the place didn’t exactly jam in July, so there weren’t a whole lot vinyl sales period.  In addition, we didn’t stock more than one copy of any given LP title at a given time, so our weekly charts weren’t exactly ranked… more like “these are the ones that sold last week”.

But somehow, on this particular week, I had reordered an album, and somehow we had happened to sell two copies in a week.

So I had my answer ready: “Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon“.

“No kidding?”, he said.  “That’s fantastic”.

He shook my hand and said he had to go do a show, and I said thanks for meeting with us, and he took off with the band.  We watched the show in a daze, and I haven’t shut about the meet and greet since… just ask my fellow hoodlums.

There’s my story.  Why am I sharing it? Two reasons: 1) Because I felt like writing, and I figured I’d save you from having to hear it at the counter; and 2) Because I wanted you to know that I love Robert before I make this video plea to him to lower the stinking prices on the Led Zeppelin CDs.

Bon, where are you now?

Monday, October 27th, 2008

Two nights ago, Chris at Mac’s asked me if we would be carrying the new AC/DC CD, or if it was true that it was only going to be available exclusively at Wal-Mart.

At that point, Chris and the four other poor souls sitting around the bar had to listen to me get worked up on the subject for about the next ten minutes.  As anyone who knows me will tell you, if there’s one thing I can do – it’s rant about the idiocy of the music industry.  You don’t want to get me started.

Then again, that’s what blogs are for, right?  So consider me officially “started”.

I’m upset with AC/DC.  But more importantly, I’m disappointed.  Disappointed to lose another of my favorite bands to a complete and total sell-out to the corporatocracy.  Why do I say “complete and total”?  Because selling your CD exclusively at the world’s most boring department store is about as rock and roll as eating toast with your Grandma.

AC/DC isn’t the first of my favorites to weasel into this kind of a deal.  The Eagles were the initial instigators of this particular business model (for the same reasons – which I will get into later) – which was another mutation of prior corporate-loving maneuvers by the Stones, U2, and a ton of other big bands.

But AC/DC… at Wal-Mart?  Holy hold-the-rebellion, Batman.

This is a band that I looked to when I was continuing to learn how to rebel, and they set the example that a rock band is supposed to set for young, impressionable little trouble-makers.  The former AC/DC lead singer, Bon Scott, used to say being a bad boy ain’t that bad.  Bon gleefully bragged about being a problem child.  I still remember reading the “letters to the band” on the back of High Voltage album cover…. now that made trouble look like fun.  AC/DC helped teach me to be a hoodlum.

The first time I saw them was in Minneapolis with Fastway.  The boys and I drove nine hours from North Dakota.  It was one of the highlights of my young life.  Since then I’ve seen them numerous times.  I was even fortunate enough to meet the entire band on Valentine’s Day (my wife was cool enough to go with me after the initial show had been canceled due to Brian Johnson’s father’s death).  They were super gentlemen and incredible professionals, as I have told anyone who would listen since.

So it killed me when I heard that they had gotten in bed with the all-time champion of retail blandness and, in my opinion, one of the leaders of our country’s movement away from non-American manufactured product (read “No Logo” by Naomi Klein).  I am proud to say that I haven’t been in a Wal-Mart since 1992 (when I moved from Flagstaff), but now AC/DC says I’m going to have to visit again if I want to buy their CD.  Sorry Angus, but I don’t intend to go to Wal-Mart unless it is the last store on Earth (which might be their mission statement for all I know).

Trying to be fair, I said to Kristian, “Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on AC/DC.  It isn’t like they are the only band to sell out”. He said, “Sure you should be.  Just imagine what they would have said in the late seventies if someone would have asked them to sell their album exclusively at Sears?”  Wow, that’s a great point.  I’d like to think of Bon punching someone.  That’s the AC/DC I know and love.  Rough, rowdy, and rebellious.

But that AC/DC doesn’t exist anymore.  Today’s AC/DC is scared and safe. Old and totally willing to not-rebel.

You see… with this deal they get paid no matter what.  They don’t have to put the album out in the open market – and let it stand on it’s merits.  They’ve made their sale… to the company that won’t sell your album if there is “objectionable material” on the cover.  Oooh, that’s rowdy.

But wait, there is another layer of safety.  On the open market, the album isn’t being used as a promotional tool to sell toilet paper and Holiday decorations, so it would be priced based on Columbia’s (their label) still-ridiculous superstar list price of 18.99, which requires more consumer risk.  Since Wal-Mart’s main concern isn’t profit on the CD itself, it will get peddled for roughly ten bucks, which requires less of a financial decision on the part of the consumer… essentially making the CD an “impulse” item.

This is incredibly important for one reason: AC/DC doesn’t seem to be able to make good albums anymore.  That’s the real reason that all of these old bands are making these deals.  They can’t cut the artistic mustard anymore. – and they don’t dare fail in the open market.

In my opinion, AC/DC made a bunch of great albums with Bon, but the only truly great album they made with Brian was Back in BlackFor Those About to Rock was half-ass at best (which was apparent the minute you heard the title track), and it was still the second best post-Bon effort.  There have been a few good tracks here and there, but even though I consider myself a lifelong fan, I no longer own any of the subsequent albums.

I don’t want to say it.  You might not agree.  But to me, that’s the way it is.  And the reason they made this money-making, yet disgraceful, deal.  Because people like me, who buy albums and are AC/DC fans, haven’t been buying AC/DC albums, and they want to get paid.

That’s what I call a sellout.

Does it mean I won’t listen to Powerage again?  Hell no.  It just means that I will never look at the band the same again.  Just like the Eagles… and U2… and the Stones.

Blog Note: In spite of their claim to “exclusivity”, it is actually quite easy for a scrappy little record store like ours to carry the Black Ice CD without ever setting foot in corporateville.  The question is, knowing our personal feelings on the subject, do we stock the CD for customers that really want it?  After all, many people don’t feel the way we do, and they want to hear it.  By stocking it – we do move one more sale from the corporatocracy to a local merchant – but we do reward a band that sold out.

Blog Note 2: AC/DC, after feeling the backlash of this deal, attempted to make right by giving the vinyl version of the album exclusively to an indie distributor.  For the record, we don’t think any CD or LP should be exclusive anywhere… but we have learned to live with the sad reality of the practice over the years.  In spite of vinyl’s resurgence, its still no where near the popularity of the CD, so in this case it was too little; too late.

Blog Note 3: I could have posted a similar take on the Guns and Roses deal… but GnR couldn’t even put together two solid albums when they were hot, so you already knew that album was going to need some corporate help.