I can’t get over what a non-event the release of an album is today. Oh, the media trumpets the dropping of these discs like the second coming. But no one’s paying attention. Well, that’s not really true, VERY FEW PEOPLE ARE PAYING ATTENTION!
We used to live in a small universe. Fewer than 5,000 albums were released a year. And people like us, we knew every one. Now nobody knows every one, and not many people care that they’re uninformed. But it gets worse, sales superstars like Avril Lavigne release "monster hit singles" that nobody hears. "Girlfriend"? A hit in the media, but most of America has never heard it.
Then there’s Patti Smith’s covers album. She just got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she’s riding a wave of publicity she hasn’t been the beneficiary of since the seventies. But will anybody buy her record?
Doesn’t matter how good it is, most people don’t care.
And it’s not Patti. If you’re a heritage artist putting out a new record…nobody wants it. They just want to hear your old stuff.
And if you don’t have a big time rep, then you’re not going to break through, unless you sell your soul to the promotion/marketing machine, and then you STILL won’t go platinum probably, and you’ll just be a footnote in the history of music.
What the hell is going on?
Back before publications like the L.A. "Times" printed new album previews, we were hungry for the new discs of our favorite bands. We wanted to hear all the new albums, maybe someone would surprise us and we’d BECOME a fan. Now, an act has a hard core of dedicated fans and that’s IT!
But it gets worse. Household names? They don’t have a dedicated sales base. Oh, they might be able to tour if they’re from the classic rock era, but all those famous people from the last forty years, they can’t sell tonnage. NOBODY CAN SELL TONNAGE!
Oh, let’s not make it black and white. There might still be phenomena. Nickelback is a phenomenon. Then again, their initial monster hit predated this new era. People were still listening to Top Forty radio and watching MTV when "How You Remind" me broke. Same band releases same initial single today? Much less impact. Hell, let’s look at it this way, if Nickelback’s latest album had come out at the turn of the decade, at the height of CD sales, it would have gone diamond, done in excess of ten million in the U.S., I have no doubt. KID ROCK went diamond, and he had FEWER HITS!
We read about these new discs, it’s as if these acts can sell records, but they can’t. And sure, there’s no more Tower and the big boxes are stocking fewer albums, but the real story is there’s just no focus. There’s a coterie of not quite adolescent girls following the mainstream, and then everybody else is off in his own niche.
Used to be an album release was just the beginning. It was like starting a fire on "Survivor". Once you had your flint and your logs, you were gonna blow on the tinder, if you did it right you were gonna have a CONFLAGRATION! Now the PEAK is when the record drops. It’s all downhill from there. Oh, a few discs build. But most just fade off into oblivion. They’re run up the flagpole and then they disappear, as the media runs another record up the flagpole.
Acts used to be excited. We’ve got an album coming out! We and the label are going to build it into a raging success! No you’re not, if you’re lucky you already have a road audience and you’ll sell the disc to the people coming to the show, or actually AT the show.
Don’t buy the hype. All those stories, all the reviews, almost nobody’s paying attention! Who could, it’s overwhelming!
But the media and the music business don’t stop. If the public isn’t interested in reading the reviews of a zillion new records and stories of how they’re being made, how come they’re printing this stuff ANYWAY? And if you can’t release a record with the hope of it going platinum, why are you investing so much money, time and effort? If you’re only going to sell 25,000, maybe you should cut the album more cheaply and maintain a really good mailing list to get the word out, rather than employing high-priced publicists who try to reach the masses who don’t give a shit.
This is reality. The blockbuster era is done. The business is living a giant lie, the purveyors are participating in a giant circle jerk. The public has tuned out, and is only listening to each other.
It’s not about beating acts or labels up. It’s actually depressing that the scene is so saturated and there’s so much choice that it’s almost impossible to go gold. In the future there could be a new avenue of exposure that builds hit acts, then again, maybe not.
So don’t be impressed when you read about so and so’s new album. There’s nothing going on other than this story. It’s a cardboard facade with carney-level sales figures behind.
And if you’re a musician, realize that it’s about those who you know, serving your fan base, growing it organically. Your dream of a big break and mass appeal? That’s not gonna happen. And, if it does, like a flash mob, the audience will move on to something new soon thereafter.