Local Rhythms – How not to run a business

Screen shot 2009-11-05 at 10.30.28 AMThis is a story about two industries, one fat and complacent, the other hungry and scrappy.

The first is record labels and the second is music.  Believe me, they’re not the same business.

Remember the fanfare last September, when the remastered Beatles catalog finally came out? Turns out EMI didn’t make enough of the most coveted item to satisfy demand.

As a result, my copy of the Beatles Stereo Box Set took nearly two months to arrive.

Big labels always blame fans for declining revenue, then sue customers and lobby Congress to do their bidding.  Yet when the most popular band in history made its biggest announcement in years, fans were made to wait in line to spend $300.  How does such a thing happen?

You’d think someone might have seen this coming.

Leave aside the fact that 10 years into the MP3 revolution, Beatles songs still aren’t sold digitally (300 USB apples don’t count as far as I’m concerned), or that the reissues contain no new material.   The suits at EMI need to spend less cash on lawyers and more on market research.

9-9-9 was the Beatles big release date.  It’s also the number that you dial in England when there’s an emergency.

I think it’s time to pick up the phone.

Contrast the behavior of annuity holders like EMI with bands that actually have to work for a living.

I’m not just talking about the musicians I write about, the ones with day jobs. Phish posts audiophile-quality soundboard mixes of every show for download. On Halloween, they played the Stones’ Exile on Main Street in its entirety.  I bought it the next day.

One of my favorite new records is Sainthood, from Canadian alterna-pop duo Tegan and Sara, not just for the bristly love songs, which are great.  I also like it for coming in enough flavors to make everyone happy.  The crazily passionate fans can buy a limited edition package with three books and a signed, one of a kind Rorschach print.  A vinyl version comes with a free CD of the pair’s last album, The Con.  Or, you can just get it on iTunes.


The other night at the Claremont Moose, a packed house watched the Agonist top the bill with Hexerei, TranScenT, Hung and three others.  The Agonist’s lead singer Alissa White-Gluz worked the merchandise table right up to the start of the band’s set.

That’s pretty impressive for a headliner.

If record labels reached out to their customers in the same way, things might be different.  But I’m not holding my breath.

On to the rest of the week:

Thursday, Nov. 5: John Gorka, Four Corners Grille – Gorka writes literate songs, rooted in place and time.  “Houses In The Field” looks at the costs of progress; on “Bottles Break” he crawls inside the mind of a denizen who wants nothing more than “to buy this town and keep it rough.”  “Mean Streak” would have been a smash hit if John Mellencamp recorded it. I could go on, but you should see him and get it for yourself.

Friday, Nov. 6 Heather Maloney, Sunapee Coffeehouse – A memorable season continues with singer-songwriter Maloney, whose balance of upbeat and plaintive will appeal to fans of Paula Cole, Joni Mitchell and Beth Orton.  The just-released Cozy Razor’s Edge is a taut, layered work with a big sound.  In a coffeehouse setting her songs will be quieter and intimate. Either way, Maloney is worth checking out.

Saturday, Nov. 7: Ansambl Mastika, Immanuel Episcopal Church – The band call its sound the New Balkan Uproar, a musical melding of wide-ranging influences: the clarinet ‘miroloi’ of northern Greece, Macedonian gypsy music, Serbian, Turkish, Middle Eastern chalgi, Klezmer, Bulgaria wedding band.  The list goes on, but like they used to say on American Bandstand when a song got 90 or better – it has a beat and you can dance to it.

Sunday, Nov. 8: Dartmouth Gospel Choir, Hopkins Center –This fall’s concert by the well regarded student ensemble explores heaven in its many forms– what is the afterlife?  Choir Director Wes Cunningham said in the program notes that he’s looking for “heaven on earth” with contemporary songs like “I’ll Take You There” and “Circle of Life” alongside more traditional fare – “Oh Happy Day,” “Amazing Grace” and “O Give Thanks”.


Tuesday, Nov. 10: Mark LeGrand, Windsor Station – Known for down-home Americana with the Lovesick Bandits and romantic country-flavored songs with his wife Sarah Munro, LeGrand is a regional treasure.  The chance to see him in an intimate setting like Windsor Station shouldn’t be missed.  The restaurant has really beefed up the musical offerings of late – it’s worth a visit.

Wednesday, Nov. 11: Tad Davis, Skunk Hollow – Tad Davis helms this weekly affair. If you’ve ever wondered whether you should take your playing to another level, this is a good starting point. Bring your axe and your songs. You have 15 minutes. The best part is that Simon Cowell is nowhere to be found, and the food’s better.

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