Does The New Business Of Music Change The Way Music Sounds?

Police at Staples
photo by Zeetz Jones on Flickr

I was on a panel at Bandwith Conference last week and the “Who is going to play The Staples Center in five years?” question came up again. I answered (again), “Who the fuck wants to see a show at The Staples Center?” Do we judge the health of the music business by how many people are pulling half a mill in a single show at a terrible venue? I don’t. Let me be clear, unless your sole source of music discovery is network television and Radio Disney, I hope you never have to see your favorite band at The Staples Center. I saw Bob Dylan there once. It’s a bummer, only fun for the people counting the money.

Admittedly a) I’m one of those movie and TV-hating music fanatics who over-zealously thinks music is the answer to the world’s problems, b) I’m an optimist, c) my professional success is tied to the success of the new music business. So it’s not at all surprising and obviously self-serving I would naively believe these technology changes would have a positive impact on the music landscape, but I do. My friend Jay Babcock (LA will miss you, Jay, NY beware) and I used to argue regularly about the effect of technology on culture, Jay of the general opinion that technology has compromised our quality of life since the dawn of man and me believing basically the opposite.

Not only do I marvel at the notion that a kid from my hometown (Goshen, Indiana, where I used to have my mom drive me an hour to buy a copy of Maximum Rock N Roll so she could then write me checks so I could wait weeks to hear the music I paid for) has the same access to music as I do here in LA (that’s a lot of change in 20 years), but I think the rise of the new music business is actually going to change the way music sounds — the kind of albums that are made five years from now will certainly be different than the ones that were made fifteen years ago.

In 1991 a band called On A Friday was signed to EMI/Parlophone and changed their name to Radiohead at the label’s request. They were told what every band was told: “There’s just a few targets out there and they’re called radio formats — Modern Rock, Top 40, Country, Urban… AIM AT ONE OF THE TARGETS, BOYS.” Radio and MTV were the marketing channels. So Radiohead made “Creep”, a song that both gave them their career and haunted them for the rest of it. Thankfully Radiohead navigated the waters and found their way to become a band who can afford creative freedom. But how many bands have tried for the hit at the insistence of their investor only to alienate their would-be fans, too? Would the Dandy Warhols records on Capitol have sounded different if Capitol wasn’t hoping for hits and videos directed by David LaChapelle? Hard to say for sure (Perry WR, what do you think?) but I think it’s easier to answer the question: If an artist and producer is making an album for their fans is it going to sound different than if they’re making it for a hit in the limited radio marketing channel? In most cases, yes.

I had a conversation with a Nashville-based artist two weeks ago about how he’s changing the way he makes records. In the days past, when he was shooting for hits (he had five #1s on one record in the late 80s), he would hire the best band in town and pay them 2x union scale. Problem is, when you’re doing more than one session a day with the best players in town it gets pretty expensive pretty quick, so you try to do the recording in a few days as possible. Now you’re a great songwriter and the musicians are top-notch so this isn’t the end of the world, you can make a few (soul-less, homogeneous) hit songs this way. But he sees a different way of making records in the future, one that appeals more to music fans than country radio. He sees getting great musicians that are his friends together for a month or more and saying, “We’re going to eat well and have a roof over our heads but we aren’t going to get paid union rates. We’re all going to take an ownership stake in this record.” I don’t know about you, but I can hear the difference between the record that was made in five days by the “best musicians in town” and the one made in a house by a group of friends over a couple of months, and personally I’d definitely prefer the latter. It’s the difference between “Blondes Have More Fun…Or Do They?”, Rod Stewart looking for (and finding) a disco hit, and “Every Picture Tells A Story”, a bunch of rejects making the music they loved (and an enduring hit to boot).

While I typed this, for example, I listened to Paul Westerberg’s best album since The Replacements (IMHO), his (now unavailable) 49:00. Then I bought (ironically, 2x the price of 5:05) and enjoyed 5:05. This is definitely not the product of someone backed by a label looking for a hit at college radio, even, and I’d argue it’s better as a result.

It’s a matter of taste, of course, but I’m sure a few people are feeling the same thing, no?


Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

The new David Byrne and Brian Eno album, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, is available here:

And at

And at your site if you just grab the embed code. Please do.

Please post comments and feedback in the comments section of this previous post, just to help me consolidate them into a single place.

I wrote a much longer post on Topspin’s blog. I’ve been up since 4:30am (taking Zoe to the airport so she could fly the nest for good, college time *sniff*) and I’m starting to see spots. Just posting quickly and going to try to catch a few hours of sleep before Lucinda wakes up.



Byrne/Eno Via Twitter and the Flickr Pool

Well day one of Byrne/Eno went very well. Unlike Radiohead and NIN before us, there were no outages (*knocks wood*). We’re pleased and proud.

My favorite URL of the day is without a doubt this Twitter search for “Byrne”. It’s been amazing watching the word spread (and getting some decent feedback on our software).

I’m also *really* pleasantly surprised by how many people are embedding the album on their pages. We started a Flickr pool to try to aggregate them all. If you add to your blog, please add a screen shot to the pool. Thanks!


Everything That Happens Will Happen Monday


David Byrne and Brian Eno launch their new album, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, exclusively on, using Topspin software, on Monday.

I’m working on a longer post for the Topspin blog to coincide with the release, but I wanted to ask that the ten of you who read FISTFULAYEN do me a favor: try the before and after release experience and let me know what you think. We already have a list of a hundred ways we’re going to improve the experience, but I’m curious what the most important things to you are. So go over there right now and get the free MP3, then first thing Monday morning come back and listen to the album, embed the album in your blog, buy the album in one of the three packages (get the FLAC files!), buy one for a friend, etc.

Looking forward to your comments. Thanks.


Music Is The Best, August 2008 Edition

Between work, family, vacation, and Zoe heading off to college I haven’t had much time to post here lately. Tons of music to write about, though, so I’ll just spit a bunch out quickly and let you do the research. Sorry I don’t have time for more words, but the music is more important anyway, no?

What’s with some of the best albums of the year being illegal? Dig, in chronological order:

Ratatat Remixes Vol 2
Ratatat vs. Notorious B.I.G. – Party and Bullshit
from Ratatat Remixes Vol. 2
I tell ya, if I were Jimmy Iovine I’d be figuring out how to get these dudes to be the Neptunes for the Guitar Hero generation. GET ON IT before I get enough loot to do it myself.

Rhymefest - Man In The Mirror
Rhymefest and Mark Ronson vs. Michael Jackson – Can’t Make It
Rhymefest and Mark Ronson vs. Michael Jackson – Mike The Mentor
Rhymefest and Mark Ronson vs. Michael Jackson – No Sunshine
get Rhymefest and Mark Ronson – Man In The Mirror
This record, available FOR FREE from his Web site, blows away his debut release IMHO. Rhymefest is a skilled MC and the concept is well-executed, serious in its lack of seriousness. Note that Michael’s cover of “Ain’t No Sunshine” was ENCOURAGED by copyright law once upon a time but Rhymefest/Ronson’s reinterpretation is illegal. Think on that one for a bit after listening to the Lessig episode of Sound Opinions.

Girl Talk - Feed The Animals
Girl Talk – No Pause
get Girl Talk – Feed The Animals and pay what you want
I paid $10 for Girl Talk’s latest without hearing a note. I loved Night Ripper so much I didn’t need to know much more than there was a new set from Mr. Greg Gillis. It didn’t disappoint. This thing literally powered my rental car on a 4am drive back to the airport recently and Zoe knows every cut inside and out. But what’s amazing is that they are UP FRONT about the album featuring 300 uncleared samples. Illegal Art is basically saying, “We’re claiming Fair Use, come and get us.” No one wants to take ‘em up on it because if you lose, well, it changes the industry forever and if you win you just shut down an album that’s going to sell, what, fifteen thousand copies?

Santogold/Diplo - Top Ranking
Diplo/Santogold – Dutty Six Pack
Diplo/Santogold – Find A Way
get Diplo/Santogold – Top Ranking from Turntablelab
Well-reviewed on Pitchfork, it really is that good. Not only does it contain great use of Black Flag and Dead Boys samples, there’s a decent Bad Brains cover at the end. Not sure how this came about or what Santogold/Downtown Records’ participation is, but it’s damn good.

Switching gears to albums with zero samples…

Melvins - Nude With Boots
Melvins – Billy Fish
buy on Amazon
In case you missed it, Melvins merged with Big Business in the rock merger of the decade, forming a superforce of melodic heaviness. To the cool kids who think Melvins are yesterday’s news: LISTEN AGAIN, PUNKS. If a brand new band had put out this album people would be falling all over themselves writing about this amazing new band that’s a cross between Sabbath and Kiss but since Kurt Cobain liked Melvins fifteen years ago no one even bothers to listen when a new record comes out. Listen up cuz I’m tired of saying this: Melvins are through their “noise” phase and making their best records in a long time. Get this one as well as A Senile Animal (which is actually slightly better) and join me at The Troubadour on August 30th to celebrate my 36th birthday in rock.

Torche - Meanderthal
Torche – Grenades
buy MP3s on Amazon
Sludge supergroup Torche are back, doing what they do, with what’s probably their best record yet. I missed them opening for Boris at The Echo a week back — too much to bear thinking about.

And in the “friends doin’ big things” department…

Zack and Jon finally released their killer One Day As A Lion project…
Brody and Tony finally released a full-length Spinnerette song into the wild…
And Martel, Mr. Dope America, and Z-Man are signed to Island/Def Jam and BLOWING THE FUCK UP as One Block Radius. Zoe *just* called me to tell me they are #6 on KISS-FM’s “top 9 at 9″.

Music is the best,