What’s Wrong and How to Solve… “It”

I just left a sponsored party at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip. Tickets were available via web lottery entry and I jumped at the opportunity. One of this year’s hottest acts were the centerpiece. The band “fun”, were actually doing a free show with an open bar on the Strip and all were invited. So what went wrong? In a word… “Everything.”

This event was a perfect display of the mismatch that is currently dominating the music industry as it tries to embrace the very tech platform that has it in a chokehold.

Tonight’s corporate sponsors T-Mobile and AOL apparently know little about music or how to market it, What they do know, is that music is a window to make their irrelevant and dead brands attractive to potential young customers.

This is what was on display tonight, and it was an embarrassment to the sponsoring companies of the event and unfortunately to a very cool band that ended up being associated with the event.

Imagine that you arrive to queue up for the free event early because it’s a hot ticket with a great band. The early crowd flows in and then… no one else shows up. Bartenders are standing around with no one to serve and two thirds of the venue remains empty. The sponsors have all the marketing clout in the world available to them but they cannot fill the room. The sponsors have the hottest act of the summer on stage and yet they can’t fill the room.

Branding for the “Signature Sounds” program they are promoting is everywhere, and the first thing that you are given when walking into the room is a box of popcorn with the sponsor’s name on it that is inedible. Serendipity. At no point does anyone give a short talk on the program, post a press release at the venue’s entrance, nor is there as much as a flyer on the tables or bartops pushing this new brand.

It gets worse. The indie pop act that folks have come to see are now being warmed up by a D.J. playing anything but what the feature band’s fans want to hear. In fact the organizers have decided to hire a saxophonist and violinist to play over a D.J. in some sort of new age train wreck. The result is that every person in the room is miserable. The entire venue is lifeless and waiting for something… anything fun or positive to happen. It never does until the band hits the stage hours later.

There’s a big screen set up on stage and the organizers have a Twitter feed running for the event. Problem is, that it’s running 15-20 minutes behind real time. Did I mention that this event is being run by two huge tech companies that want your business?

The DJ warm up is over and we are moving on to an hour long set of hip hop from the “house”. Problem is that no one is here to listen to hip hop. T-Mobile and AOL apparently don’t know whom they’ve hired to play their own event or who the band’s fans actually are. The result is an hour of folks looking at each other with a “what is going on?” glaze in their eyes. The event is crashing and burning.

Back at the bar the staff are looking at an empty room, on an open bar. They’re overstaffed and unhappy because no one showed up and they are sharing tips that aren’t coming.

This is a perfect snapshot of the present disaster that is the meeting of music content and the bandwidth overlords. It’s not working for us… the musicians and labels, the ones who develop, invest in and build the actual content.

Execs that shouldn’t have jobs tomorrow have put together an event to push branding that no one understands. I showed up and saw a banner that said: “Signature Sounds” and that was the beginning and end of their marketing campaign. After wasting 3 hours waiting for a cool band to play, I still have no clue what “Signature Sounds” is, or why I should care about it.

This exemplifies the stalemate between music and tech. As long as the corporations that control bandwidth and advertising are the directors of marketing our music, we can’t win. They can’t explain their own event… how could they possibly explain why you should listen to a really relevant band who are busting their asses to make their own record.

How much further are we going to devalue content? iTunes now has us selling records for $7.99. Records have traditionally had a market value of around $12.00 to $13.00.

Until we decide that we have to take back what we own and begin using tech as our own managed platform to distribute our content, nothing is going to change. It seems like a hard thing to get your head around but in fact it’s pretty basic. The corps have nothing to offer… they need our content because it’s the only thing that makes them appear relevant to their customers.

We control our music, we CAN control our market place and we don’t need to co-opt with corporations who can’t fill a great venue on an open bar with an amazing new act. Bottom line is… they have proven that they need us more than we need them.

Making the corporation’s websites and distribution channels the conduit for music delivery serves them. We have the ability and the smarts to develop our own paths to share and deliver the content that we own… the sooner we get off the grid the better off we’ll all be.  Let’s make us the destination… not them.

Smoke Porterhouse


About Porterhouse Records

Indie Record Label Based In Los Angeles CA.
This entry was posted in Digital label, Music, Record Label, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to What’s Wrong and How to Solve… “It”

  1. Brian says:

    Dear Mr. Porterhouse,

    While I agree completely with your ideas about mismatched corporate sponsorship (although its not much worse than some of the famous touring mismatches of the 70s like Ramones opening for Blue Oyster Cult or Prince and the GoGos opening for the Stones), I really disagree on the content devaluation part. Back in the “good old days” there was physical product that needed to be be manufactured, distributed, stocked and sold…. physically. That was always the lionshare of cost for labels and the nearly insurmountable wall for “Indie” bands. I mean, as a band, how in the hell am I going to physically get my records into, say, 10,000 record shops across the USA and then collect my money from them? Answer: Who cares? There aren’t 10,000 record stores anymore.

    Nowadays, physical product is an anachronism. I’m an old guy, so I do miss records and all of the excitement and fun of shopping in cool record stores, etc… but its over and that doesn’t have to be all bad. From the “value” standpoint, how can it be argued that the selling price remain the same in perpetuity if 75% or more of the costs have been eliminated? The music industry never priced based on quality after all and it would be ridiculous to try.

    If I can sell songs directly for $0.25 each I am infinitely better off, as a musician/songwriter, than I would be even with the world’s BEST recording contract. If I can work with an aggregation site to sell 50,000 downloads and I only net $0.15 each, I am still pretty god damn happy. I am not defending iTunes, by the way. For the way that I like to buy music, and for my tastes, itunes kinda sucks. I would prefer to use “targeted” aggregation sites that specialize and understand specific musical genres and help me to find new and specialized content that interests ME. Hint, hint.

    The playing field is much more level now for “Indie” players than it ever was before. We, as independent musicians, producers, labels, promoters AND FANS, should be careful about how much power we are willing to give BACK to the corporate interlopers rather than waxing nostalgic about what we lost…. because in my opinion its not that much. Indie labels were always aggregation sites anyway…. I could always count on what an SST or TwinTone record would sound like. I trusted their opinion and they helped me find bands that I might not have been able to find without them. I think a successful label strategy might involve an extension of this kind of thinking. The last sentence in your post tell’s me that you are going in the same direction.

    I only write all this because all of the young whippersnappers out there have a really distorted idea of how easy everything was back in the good ‘ol days…..PS. Porterhouse Rules!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s