More “In Rainbows”

Have you noticed how little discussion there’s been of the music?

Without a doubt, the online, pay what you want, release of "In Rainbows" is the biggest music business story of the year. But the focus has been on business, not music.

Have you heard the Eagles album? Unless you’re a fan, I highly doubt it. Worse is the Prince album. He gave millions away with the newspaper, but I dare you to name a single tune. We’ve created new business models, we just haven’t figured out a way to make the music itself important, to get people to rally around it who aren’t already devoted.

I don’t see how the CD release of "In Rainbows" is a smash. You’ve had the MP3s for months, what do you need the CD for? You desire something fresh and new, only complete diehards are going to purchase the disc.

Radiohead broke Apple’s cardinal rule. The day you announce is the day you sell. Steve Jobs stands on a stage in Silicon Valley introducing the new iPods, and fans of his brand RUN to the store to buy the product in a frenzy, to be the first on their block. There certainly was a frenzy to name your own price for the online downloads. What frenzy is there going to be now? If Radiohead was really interested in selling discs, they fucked up.

What, are there going to be reviews in the paper now? AGAIN? For who, the people who didn’t care the first time around?

What’s the hook? The video? MTV gave up airing Radiohead videos eons ago, before they gave up airing videos all together. Radio airplay? The kind of station that will add a track now, months late, is just the kind of station a Radiohead fan would never listen to. As for those who aren’t fans, if they’re not indifferent, they hate the mopey Englishmen and their devotees and aren’t interested in being turned on.

Radiohead is a cult band. The cult is quite large, but there’s a distinct line around the group of people who care. Beyond that, no one gives a shit. Guy Hands and the media care about the business story, but they don’t care about the music.

Used to be records were broken on the radio, careers were sustained there. Stations had fans, devoted to them. But the caretakers squeezing every last commercial minute into the hour, not interested in the people ultimately paying the bill, fucked with this devotion, rather than nurturing it, they abandoned it. So, it’s hard to keep a career sustained on the radio today.

As for print… Talk to anybody in the business, if print sold records, the head of publicity would make as much as the head of radio promotion.

The old tools are rusty. The new tools are incomprehensible, and don’t work efficiently. It’s like trying to turn a phillips head with a straight screwdriver. The blade slips, you can never twist the screw really tight. Online street teams work even worse than terrestrial ones. Surfers live to ferret out trolls. You can’t rig word of mouth. You can’t determine what someone plays on his iPod. Control is in the hands of the listener, and an act can make all the noise it wants, but it’s as easy to ignore as the siren in New York City, an everyday event that’s a nuisance, but blends into the background.

You can figure out all kinds of new ways to release records, but that doesn’t make them ubiquitous. You might be able to make money, but you’re not mainstream. Are the Eagles mainstream? They might sell millions of copies of their new album, but Rihanna got more airplay… There are TONS of acts with more airplay.

If you’re swinging for the fences, you’ve got to be aware that the public is not paying attention to the game. They don’t care if your record went number one Top Forty, they don’t even care if it went platinum. They only care about what’s in their iTunes library.

Sales have tanked not because of piracy, but a crisis in exhibition. There’s no simple way to get everybody to pay attention. And there are more records than ever. Never mind diversions like video games and cell phones and…

And isn’t it fucked up that there’s no discussion of the tunes amongst the general public. "Hotel California" and "Life In The Fast Lane" may have been track names, but by 1977, they were part of everyday jargon. Hell, people STILL reference the Hotel California. Are you referencing anything off "In Rainbows"? Are you seeing lyrics quoted in the straight press?

I’m not saying the music is bad. Somehow, that’s no longer the issue. Who gives a shit if a record gets a good review. Bands with careers will find their fans seek out the tunes and listen to them. No one not interested cares. Unless you’re flavor of the moment in some obvious radio format. Then people will steal your music or just buy the single and forget about you as soon as they burn out on the tune. You’re like toothpaste, and after you’re squeezed, you’re thrown away. You might not even get a glance in the supermarket. Hell, everybody’s famous for fifteen minutes.

It’s not about piracy and it’s not about subscriptions. But it is about the public’s lack of faith in music. Music is a second-class citizen. But to regain its greatness, to burnish its image, music must be rebuilt, from scratch, slowly. Music is like GM. The Detroit behemoth finally has a sellable car, the Malibu, but convincing the public will be oh-so-hard, after years of shitty vehicles.

While no one was paying attention, the public became interested in niche brands. Hell, do you know that Hyundais are not only cheap, but now good? And selling prodigiously? Remember when they were a joke? Well, the Korean company listened to critics, and built in reliability, and guaranteed it with an extended warranty. Where’s the music warranty?

But people need to drive. They don’t need to listen to music.

All the marketing ideas in the world are not going to get the public excited about music. Only the tunes and the people who make them will. The music can’t be disposable, listeners must be able to believe in the acts. And even when both of these criteria are met, you won’t be able to reach that many people.

But in the aggregate, we can grow the music sphere. Once we realize that not only is it not controlled by Doug Morris and his major label brethren, but not radio either. Music is now controlled by the people. And individual acts are making headway. Being able to play and connect with your audience is more important than how you look. Build from record one, person to person. Not from the top down. Because people are not paying attention to the hype. They’ve heard too many messages.

I have "In Rainbows" on my computer. It might be fantastic, I don’t know, I haven’t listened to it. Not because I’ve got anything against Radiohead, but because I’ve got so much other new music I’m investigating. Stuff that never sold and probably never will. Like Rodney Crowell’s "Don’t Get Me Started". Have you heard it? Won’t change your life, it’s not "Ohio", but the stringed instruments excite me, I love the changes. There, that’s my tip. And maybe if you tell me about a specific "In Rainbows" track, I’ll check that out too. But so far not a single person has weighed in with an "In Rainbows" track recommendation. Oh, they might be enjoying the album, but the discussion is only amongst the converted, the rest of us are out of the loop, and quite happy in our bliss.

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  1. […] Lefsetz, Bob. “More ‘In Rainbows.’” Lefsetz Letter: First in Musical Analysis. 8 Dec. 2007. Retrieved 9 Dec. 2007.  <;. […]

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  1. […] Lefsetz, Bob. “More ‘In Rainbows.’” Lefsetz Letter: First in Musical Analysis. 8 Dec. 2007. Retrieved 9 Dec. 2007.  <;. […]

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