Ramblings 3/15/10

Ramblings are back!

In this edition, we examine the case of OK Go and Capitol Records and ask the question: Do music artists need major labels? Features include the new movie on the Runaways, a quick hit review of Coconuts by the Archie Bronson Outfit, and spotlights on Daytrotter shows and two live shows from the Talking Heads.

OK Go

Ok Go Leaves Capitol–Do music artists need major labels?

Ok Go and EMI/Capitol records parted ways last week following a February NY Times Op-ed column in which Ok Go expressed concerns about Capitol’s meddling with video releases on You Tube.  Basically, it was about artistic control and marketing.  EMI wanted to reap revenue from videos streamed on You Tube (a paltry sum if you believe Damian Kulash of Ok Go), and put several restrictions about embedding videos on other websites–namely, music blogs.  This story draws to question the idea of how major labels will evolve given the paradigm shift in how music is recorded, distributed, and consumed.

According to a LA Times story, Kulash states that there was an amicable parting between Capitol and his band.  Now Kulash and his mates are on their own. Admittedly, they are financially solvent and this is due in part to their ten-year affiliation with EMI/Capitol.

However, Ok Go follows Radiohead in departing EMI/Capitol–a major hit for the label and an indication that the old model of doing business isn’t working well there. Increasingly, we are seeing the role of major labels in the market diminish, and this is related to the proliferation of smaller labels and independently produced materials, as well as the continuing troubles with the distribution and sales of recordings.

Before we start throwing dirt on the major labels, Fiona Sturges suggests we take a moment to consider the value of the major label recording industry as we know it. Sturges’ contends that the major labels have (puns aside) the capital needed to effectively promote and market new acts looking to make it big. Beyond capital, major labels also have access to venues, promoters, and the know how to navigate artists to successful exposure. So, it’s a matter of changing how these labels operate.

Sturges points out that Lily Allen was quietly backed by her label when she made her splash through You Tube and MySpace. What appeared to be viral was carefully calculated and paid off well for the artist and the label.  Now, she’s a household name.

Still, Sturges states that beyond changing policies, major labels need to exercise patience, and “learn to put musical innovation and artist longevity ahead of instant profit.”  My belief is that Lily Allen worked out well, because she “blew up.” We don’t know about those who failed or were left behind, or the losses experienced by  record companies who have struggled adapting to the new model.

One model that appears to be working is akin to Major League Baseball or maybe more precisely, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. In the past five years, we saw indie bands like the Decemberists and Death Cab for Cutie jump from small labels to major labels (Capitol and Atlantic respectively) after garnering a substantial following. Both bands toured heavily, allowed their live music to be streamed, and used other non-traditional methods to reach their audiences, and eventually the pocketbooks of the major labels. Hardcore fans called them sellouts, but these moves exposed both bands to a wider audience, and each is more popular than ever. R.E.M. had the same experience 15 years before Death Cab and the Decemberists, and I am guessing that Warner has no regrets on that signing.

Just like the Red Sox/Yankees analogy, it is more lucrative to develop your own talent who hit big, but signing a proven commodity reaps big rewards with a simple payoff.  I am not suggesting that this is a sustainable strategy, but one that can be integrated with other approaches.  That and not scrounging for every last penny from consumers.

The Runaways Movie Premieres at Sundance


The big picture feature on the Runaways, the first big all female rock band, opened at Sundance and it is drawing good reviews.  The Runaways emerged in the mid-1970’s and featured future rock mavens, Joan Jett and Lita Ford. The band achieved success overseas, but had little popularity in the United States.  They broke up in 1979, when Jett was just 21 years old.  Cast in the role of Jett is Twilight’s Kristen Stewart. Needless to say, I am looking forward to this one…

Here’s the trailer:

Daytrotter Sessions

I LOVE DAYTROTTER! The problem with Daytrotter is keeping up with all the sessions.  For a long time, I’ve wanted to make a mix with songs from Daytrotter shows. One of my favorite sessions is from 2007 with the National, which features a great cover of Pretty in Pink.  For more recent sessions, I recommend you check out sets by Local Natives, Throw Me the Statue, and Brazos.

I Recommend (4.5/5  Stars)

Coconut – Archie Bronson Outfit

On March 1, the Archie Bronson Outfit released their third LP, Coconut. It’s been four years since the well-received Der Dang Der Dang was released, and I am here to tell you that it was worth the wait.  Coconuts is great, and shows tremendous growth for the band out of London.  Highlights from the album include Hoola, Magnetic Warrior, Hunt You Down, and the album’s first single, Shark’s Tooth.

Here’s the official video for Shark’s Tooth

Archie Bronson Outfit – Shark’s Tooth (mp3)

Archie Bronson Outfit (MySpace page)

Live Music – Talking Heads

Talking Heads

Two Talking Heads Shows are currently receiving heavy play on my mp3 player. The first show is from late in 1977, when the Heads were a buzz band in the burgeoning post punk movement in New York City.  The second is from 1983. By this time, the band was well established and at the height of their popularity. The two shows are an interesting contrast.  Both are remarkably good. Thanks to Captain’s Dead and the Aquarium Drunkard for the original posts.

As of today, these posts are still maintained on these sites. I will repost when these posts go down.  Get ‘em NOW.  Links are in the titled date of the show.

Talking Heads live in San Francisco 12.3.77

  1. uh-oh love comes to town
  2. with our love
  3. the book i read
  4. artists only
  5. stay hungry
  6. the big country
  7. new feeling
  8. thank you for sending me an angel
  9. who is it
  10. psycho killer
  11. no compassion
  12. 1,2,3 red light

Talking Heads live in Saratoga, NY August 3, 1983

Set 1:

  1. Psycho Killer
  2. Heaven
  3. Thank You For Sending Me An Angel
  4. Building On Fire
  5. Book I Read
  6. Slippery People
  7. Cities
  8. Big Blue Plymouth (Eyes Wide Open)
  9. Burning Down The House
  10. Life During Wartime

Set 2:

  1. Making Flippy Floppy
  2. Swamp
  3. What A Day That Was
  4. This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)
  5. Once In A Lifetime
  6. Big Business >
  7. I Zimbra
  8. Houses In Motion
  9. Genius Of Love (Tom Tom Club)
  10. Girlfriend Is Better
  11. Take Me To The River

That’s all for now…

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