The Strange Case Of Brandi Carlile

Bob,

Speaking of what we know…what’s your take on Brandi Carlile and her awareness strategy?

A year ago she was a "discovery" with big word of mouth following, and now she is everywhere.

2 weeks ago,  "The Story" was itunes free single of the week and then a week later ABC ran a "greatest moments" episode of "Grey’s Anatomy" that closed with a "music video" of "The Story" — Brandi and her band on a stage belting out the song, cross cut with a montage of all the Grey’s Anatomy clips we had just endured.  It’s actually not a bad song, but I’m wondering what effect this obvious big massive push is going to have on her cred?

Thoughts?

Michael in Toronto

I was turned off before I heard a note.  There were just too many MARKETING messages!

Funny business we’re in.  It’s like a gang.  You can’t say anything negative about it.  Oh, you can decry the shenanigans of the personalities, but you can’t question the underlying belief in the power of men to ram product down people’s throats.  It’s their birthright.  People need this stuff.  If they just would stop stealing, everything would be all right.

Wrong.

It’s not 1985 anymore.  Not even 1995.  When all publicity was good publicity, when the world was music hungry.

All publicity is no longer good publicity.  Doubt me?  Then why don’t you ask Britney Spears, never mind Michael Jackson.  Their images have been trashed.  Oh, maybe they self-destructed, maybe they asked for it, but each misstep was covered in the press, amplified for the world to see.

You see it’s not that hard to get the message out.

Oh, the wannabes will tell you otherwise.  That they just need a BREAK!  That they’ve been fucked by the system, unjustly.  And if they just got a chance…

They don’t deserve a chance.  They suck.  There’s more bad music than ever before.  There’s a GREATER PERCENTAGE of bad music than ever before.  But the people making it and flogging it, they don’t believe this.  If you don’t like their stuff you’re an old fart has-been who just doesn’t get it.

Well, it seems the whole country doesn’t get it, because they’re not interested in this crap either.

So on one hand we’ve got Top Forty radio.  Playing a very narrow selection of music over and over again.  Hell, that’s the story of TERRESTRIAL RADIO!  You know what’s number two on AC?  Snow Patrol’s "Chasing Cars".  Shit, has that been out for the better part of a YEAR?  And number three is the equally aged Fray’s "How To Save A Life".  Sure, AC’s notoriously calcified, but how can you have a vibrant business when records have such long chart lives?  Isn’t this inherently a tune-out?  When you hear the same damn songs on the radio FOREVER?

Yes, the average listener has tuned out.  The majors are in bed with terrestrial radio, which is in bed with advertisers.  No one cares about the audience.  But that’s the fault of the audience, RIGHT?  Wrong.

But what if you can’t get on terrestrial radio?

Then we’re gonna carpet bomb the audience into submission.  We’re gonna have so many marketing messages that you can’t miss out, you must be ensnared by the campaign.  We’re gonna have TV show tie-ins, and commercial tie-ins and…

Now maybe some oldsters are living under a rock.  But everybody under the age of 35 is surfing incessantly.  They’re EXPOSED to these messages again and again.  It’s a TURN-OFF!  But no one in major media, no one at a major label, no agent, will admit this.  Because these marketing techniques are all they know, and they’d rather take the easy way out.

We’ve lost our audience.  Because we’ve browbeaten people to death.

Oh, there are some casual buyers who’ll purchase the hits of the American Idols.  But all those people who used to follow the scene, live for the music, they’ve tuned out.  They’ve been sold expensive crap for too long.

We’ve got to bring these people back.  Doing the same damn thing over and over again is not going to achieve this.

You’ve got to start with trust.

And trust only grows person to person now.  NOBODY trusts the machine.  EVERYBODY knows it’s just about the bucks.  That any star will appear in any ad, sell his soul for exposure, to make it.  Advertising is history.  And product placement and overhype is the same.  It’s just the machine trying to convince us to buy.  And we don’t care anymore.

All of a sudden, in the last two weeks, I started hearing about Brandi Carlile over and over again.  Did she kill somebody?  Did she write the new "Jagged Little Pill"?  Did she do anything to deserve such attention?

Go to her MySpace page.  It ain’t very convincing.  A developing artist who doesn’t deserve this kind of attention.

But I only went to the MySpace page to prove my point.  I was boycotting her before this.  I don’t want to give the company my money, and most people don’t.  We live in a pull world, but the entertainment business is pushing harder than ever.

Hey, why don’t you check out this guy: Russell Chesham

Hi Bob.  Met you at the Strombo show (at the CBC etc.; you wrote back).  I spent part of my day off reading a backlog of your letters, because I could.  One of them made me want to send you this.  He recorded it in his apartment, on his mac, probably in his bathroom (I’d know because I talk with him).  He does this sort of thing full-time.  Gave up the day job and all…

Frank Salvino

I spoke with this guy for ten minutes in Toronto.  But he didn’t try to sell me anything, he’s not in the music business, just passionate, with a keen intellect.  So, I’m going to check out what he recommends.

He’s a fan of the last MySpace track.  But I’m more into the very first.  There’s an honesty, an immediacy that you don’t find in the overproduced crap.  This is the promise of the future, the tools, a computer and MySpace, allowing artists to reach the public.

You want to know what kind of new music I like?  This!  Not trendy stuff, but honest stuff.  Is this the best thing I’ve ever heard?  Absolutely not.  But, it’s on this side of the line, I want to hear it more than once, it touches my insides, it doesn’t just bounce off.

And there was no machine involved.  Nobody selling me.  If there was, I wouldn’t be telling you.  But since it’s all private, just between us, I am.

Don’t sign this guy.  He doesn’t belong on today’s major labels.  He’s not making radio-friendly music.  It’s not 1973 anymore.  Terrestrial stations don’t play singer-songwriters.  The form is still valid, it’s just the system that’s moved on.

So, you can whore yourself out to the highest bidder, like Brandi Carlile, and get your handlers, your INVESTORS, to try to convince us by beating us over the head, or you can just make your honest music, and if it’s good, it’ll find us.  We’re always open to something good.  But not interested in being sold.

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