Deep Catalog Experiment Works For UMGI

stuart_a1.jpgIt happens all the time.  I get a craving to hear some old, forgotten song.  A few weeks ago it was “The Saints Are Coming” – the original version by the Skids – and it’s nowhere to be found online.  Wal-Mart, the closest so-called “record store” in my small town, obviously won’t have it, and even if Newbury Comics did, it’s not worth the hour-plus round trip, and I want the song, not the whole album.

So I fired up LimeWire and stole it.  I felt bad, but music junkies like me are unaffected by guilt when confronted by such situtations.  What else was I supposed to do?

I’m fine with buying songs, though I prefer to hear them on Rhapsody through my subscription.  Either way, copyright holders are compensated.   But when the track’s not available through legal channels, what’s a music fan to do?

If, on the other hand, record companies digitized everything and made it available online, things would be different.  Universal Music Group International sensed this, and in January launched a program to see how unlimited availability might affect demand for music too marginal to keep in physical release as compact discs, releasing thousands of out-of-print songs as digital-only tracks:

The UMGI programme is open-ended, expected to extend well into the future and involve substantial investment, particularly for the excavation and digitisation of older, rare analogue material.  Planned for delivery before the end of 2006 are thousands more deleted tracks.

Last week, the company made public the initial results of this experiment:

Online music fans have downloaded more than 250,000 tracks of previously out-of-print recordings by European artists since the launch of Universal Music’s pioneering digital catalogue reissue programme earlier this year.

Consumers bought music by a diverse, eclectic range of performers, including rock bands such as France’s Noir Desir, Germany’s Accept, and the U.K.’s Del Amitri, Cast and Eddie & the Hot Rods, as well as household names Chris De Burgh and Nana Mouskouri, and cultural icons Jacques Brel and Brigitte Bardot.

Interestingly, the top album download was “Steeltown” by Big Country, the band Stuart Adamson formed after leaving the Skids.

The programme validates the theories explored in Christopher Anderson’s “The Long Tail: How the Future of Business is Selling Less of More,” says a Universal executive:

It’s easy for our consumers online to find and download current artists and current hits, but through this deep catalogue reissue programme, we are now able to respond to and quantify the appetite for more eclectic, diverse recordings from the past.  It’s clear that this is a ‘tail’ worth chasing.

“We are now able to respond to and quantify  the appetite…”

This approach exposes demand where no one suspects it exists.  I won’t reproduce Anderson’s work here.  Everyone should read his book.    “The Long Tail” reinforces the fact that once content is digitized and published, its value increases with each purchase.  If it’s unavailable, it has no value.  Once the revenue from purchases exceeds the cost of digitization, the value curve moves ever upward.

It’s interesting, as Tower Records shutters its doors, what’s most lamented is the lack of a retail establishment that has, literally, one of everything.  The physical space required to make it possible is too cost prohibitive for the business model to work.  With digitization, all that’s needed is cheap hard drive capacity and, I suppose, encryption to control piracy.

Closer to home, a local band held a CD release party the other night that was marred by their distributor, who didn’t ship the disks in time.  Had the band digitized the record and published it to a digital music store, they might have simply collected email addresses and sent links to everyone who bought the record.  As it was, they had to schedule ANOTHER release party in three weeks, and apologize profusely to their fans.

With those email  addresses in hand, they’d also have a mechanism for reaching fans with music and news later on.

This only works as digital distribution becomes the norm.  We’re not there yet, but it’s getting closer every day.

Today’s Free Download – Ingrid’s Ruse

ingrid.jpgIn honor of Saturday’s show at the Heritage, here’s a taste of Ingrid’s Ruse, one of the finest bands around these parts. You’ll need to go to their MySpace page, where three out of four songs are available for download. My favorite is their cover of Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” but “Dimming of the Day” (another Thompson selection) and “Everybody Knows” are also excellent (and free).

But don’t slurp up the complimentary stuff and leave! Come to the show Saturday and get your copy, or if you can’t make it, head to Bulls-Eye Records in downtown Bellows Falls and pick it up.

Shamus Martin, drummer, producer and record company mogul, emailed me a track list yesterday:

  1. Vincent Black Lightning 1952
  2. John Barleycorn Must Die
  3. The Dimming of the Day
  4. In the Pines
  5. Everybody Knows
  6. Matty Groves
  7. The Immigrant Song
  8. Surprise hidden track

Local Rhythms – Farewell, Ingrid’s Ruse

ingridsfinal.jpgThe good news is that Ingrid’s Ruse, one of my favorite area bands, is finally putting out an album. The bad news is that their CD release party, which happens this Saturday at the Heritage Tavern in Charlestown, is also their farewell show.

Real life calls many a talented musician home. Singer/guitarist Ingrid Ayer-Richardson earned a degree in mathematics, and an opportunity in Maine gave her a chance to put it to use. After a bang-up appearance at this year’s Roots on the River festival, she and husband Micah packed up and headed north.

Saturday’s show will be a bittersweet coda to a promising chapter in area music.

The roots-folk foursome formed in the summer of 2005, immediately winning fans with a sound that sat between the modern baroque of Richard Thompson and the easy pop of Fleetwood Mac. The band’s namesake was also its focal point, with a voice that could rise stealthily from the mist and suddenly engulf a room.

Ingrid had stopped by one of Ezra Veitch’s open mike nights at PK’s Tavern in Bellows Falls, and Ezra liked what he heard. They quickly put a band together; Veitch played bass and contributed some of his songs.

He and drummer Matt Parker eventually left, ace guitarist Josh Maiocco (who inherited PK’s open mike when Ezra left town last summer) and ex-Stonewall bassist Kam McIntyre joined up. Drummer Shamus Martin anchors the Ruse’s sound.

Martin runs Exsubel Records in Saxtons River, and he handled production chores for the record in addition to playing on it. Fans who buy the CD this weekend will also receive a copy of the final live show.

It will be great to hear them again after so long, and their unique interpretations of songs that range from Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” to U2’s “One,” along with the odd Nirvana or Joni Mitchell cover.

My favorite, though, is their gender-bending take of Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” which paws like a cat at the opening, then roars to full speed like the über-motorcycle of the title. It’s the perfect distillation of Ingrid’s Ruse’s soon to be missed sound. Do yourself a favor, and join the hometown crowd to give them a good sendoff.

What else is on tap for the weekend? I’m glad you asked:

Thursday: A New Kind of Blue, Sophie & Zeke’s – Wm. Kinsella famously wrote, “If you build it, they will come.” They did, and now word is out about Thursday and Friday night music in downtown Claremont. This fine jazz combo, led by vocalist Emily Lanier, is the de facto house band Thursdays. Tomorrow, it’s bluegrass with the Spiral Farm Band, who gets more popular with every appearance.

Friday: Keith Hollis & The Po’ Boyz, Salt Hill – If you’re a fan of the Allman Brothers Band circa 1970, you’re going to love these guys. Hollis plays the Hammond just like Gregg, and slide guitar ace Cory Williams is a scary-good Duane disciple. How reliable is their pedigree? When Hollis was starting out, he played in a band with Elijah Blue Allman – yeah, that one. He’s even done the Leno show.

Saturday: Kurious, Claremont Opera House – Christian music has evolved (perhaps not the right word, I know) from the tambourine-shaking shiny happy people of yesteryear into something with a bit more, shall we say, teeth. Creed and Jars of Clay are good examples of this trend. Pennsylvania-based Kurious blends edgy, melodic rock with spiritual reverence, and does a pretty good job. This is a free with donations accepted show.

Sunday: Kaki King, Iron Horse – Prestidigitation with a guitar master. Known for her percussive guitar styling, reminiscent of Ani DiFranco and La Guitara cohort Patty Larkin, she’s made a couple of changes this time around. She’s singing for the first time, and plugging in with a band. With a reputation that’s already earned her the title “Queen of the Guitar” in some circles, this could be her moment.

Tuesday: Lisa Rogak, Canoe Club – An area writer who is best known for biographies of famous people like “Da Vinci Code” writer Dan Brown and the late low carbohydrate diet guru Dr. Robert Atkins. Like Stephen King, she uses music to unwind. Unlike the Down East Bard, she prefers eclectic jazz and smart classical to garage rock. That’s a perfect fit for the Hanover supper club crowd.

Wednesday: Bo Diddley, Lebanon Opera House – A member of the second class of performers inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, the man with the square guitar has been making music for over 50 years. Famous for the rhumba beat in songs like “Mona” and “Bo Diddley is a Gunslinger,” he’s joined at the Opera House by blues ace Alvin Youngblood-Heart and the soulful Ruthie Foster.