Sunday, November 25, 2007

NINETY-NINE PERCENT OF RADIOHEAD FANS ARE SNOBS: Sixty percent of snobs eat and don't pay

Your standard music journalists, the kind who get their music for free, can't write enough future-of-pop trend stories.

Today's New York Times, in an article (by Ben Sesario) gamely tried to put a bright candy-wrapper on pop music theft -- China-style. Stating an estimated 85 percent of music CDs are pirated and that all downloaded music is stolen in China, the newspaper nevertheless attempted to portray the nation as an opportunity for music, one that must be embraced in "For All the Rock In China."

Logically, American labels are always interested in capitalizing on masses of potential buyers but, for the most part, cannot and do not release records in China. There's no point.

Squeezing juice from the turnip fields of Chinese "consumers," who really don't have that much money to spend, is elusive.

(DD quoted a figure for a typical Chinese wage earner -- $132.00/month -- a while ago in Slave Labor Guitars.)

To the benighted New York Times reporter, sent on junket to Beijing, this seems to be good because it's "the future." The journalist even lines up some dink from the NYC band, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, to say it for him.

"It's the future," chirped "Mr. Nick Zinner" of the group.

How 'bout if we said cholera was in your future? Could you get down with that?

What happens when the future is that everyone not famous and wealthy is compelled to forfeit their music because that's the way the gale is blowing?

Answer: Quite a few get disincetivized to make it. And for many, they go back to the good old days of just playing in the local bar, where if one can draw a crowd playing oldies, you'll get some cut of the beer money or a nightly stipend taken from the door.

The theoretical "up" side of the coin is represented by the occasional big deal artist -- or desperate one fallen off the charts -- booking a tour of China in hopes of taking home a windfall in ticket sales.

The article boxes out a quote, meant to seem gnomic and inarguable: "There's 1.3 billion people there. It's becoming a much wealthier place. How can we ignore that?"

The same way we would like to shun the benefit-to-society of a million packages of a drugged but slave labor cheap toy called Aqua-Dots, tons of poisoned pet feed, or cold medicines and tooth pastes that contains anti-freeze because it's more inexpensive to make, one hopes. It's disingenuous, no -- make that really dishonest, to fail to mention that China is definitely not, per person, a wealthy place and because it is not it has become ideal for large American businesses to use as a slave labor pool of low skill zero-quality control work not bound by all the federal regulations imposed for environmental safety and workers rights in the US.

Naturally, some artists play China.

Beyonce Knowles, currently nauseatingly on TV every five minutes jigging around in gold lame with a piece of gold jewelry that says "upgrade" clenched between her teeth, "plays" China, informs the Times.

George W. Bush could, perhaps, play China and make good money at it, too.

Damone, a Boston-based pop punk rock act you have probably never heard of, played China a few years ago. It didn't help their debut album, From the Attic, reviewed by DD here. And it can be said with reasonable certainty that the cost of the trip and tour was subsequently tacked on Damone's bill by their record company, ensuring that if they ever sold any copies of their record, there would be even more to skim off their royalties before cutting any theoretical check.

Yes, but the record industry's future is China, implies the Times, getting someone to add helpfully: "Major record companies have two options in China ... Adapt or die."

And that brings us finally to Radiohead because it also has to do with stealing music and the imperious transformation of things which have value into valueless air. In October, Radiohead was applauded by almost 100 percent of the college of pop music journalist snobs for showing us all the way to the future by giving away their most recent album on-line and allowing "fans" to volunteer what they'd like to pay for it, if anything.

"Understandably, much of the talk about Radiohead's new In Rainbows has been about the band's audacity to allow listeners to pay as much, or as little, as they want for it," wrote the Orlando Sentinel. "No other band in the world had dared put the controversial issue of how much music is worth into the people's hands."

"How much is it worth, in the pick-your-price realm? I won't tell you what I paid for it, other than to say that I tried to be fair to the band," wrote the Sentinel's reporter, probably dissembling. "In retrospect, however, it was a sweet deal for what sounds like the best record of the year."

"It appears the only losers in this model are old-school retailers," wrote the Los Angeles Times, counting the chickens before hatched. "It's definitely scary for someone like me, who has been making his money off of this business..." said someone to the newspaper.

It was indeed an excting time, we were told, because "[Everyone thinks] it's clear downloading music will be the main way people get their music in the future, but everything else is up in the air."

"Is Radiohead here to save 'rock 'n' roll'?" the Los Angeles newspaper asked in yet another slobbering article, this one by Ann Powers.

"In the war to redefine the music industry, the Delaware has been crossed," she burbled.

The crossing of the Delaware was good for us but bad for the British in 1776. However, existence in Trenton, New Jersey, has remained stubbornly indifferent and, in any case, the Brits paid us back in 1812.

Radiohead is British so some readers must have logically wondered what Ann Powers was smoking.

"Radiohead's decision to independently release its new album In Rainbows in downloadable format next week, for whatever price fans wish to pay, has pop's movers and shakers alternately applauding and flinching in the wake of the attack."

"Early results show most fans aren't greedy moochers, as only about a third have opted for the freebie," wrote someone, guessing wildly, at the Miami Herald. "Average sale is $8." (In one month results would expose this fool. Most fans actually were greedily mooching.)

"At least 99.9 per cent of all Radiohead fans are the worst kind of musical snobs," wrote the Australian Daily Telegraph, around the same time.

It was about the only newspaper with someone rude enough in print to get close to the truth.

Earlier this month, the cat eventually got out of the bag. It was a mangy one.

"Another Internet risk: Letting us turn into freeloaders," wrote the Arizona Republic in early November, noting -- among many others simultaneously -- that relatively speaking, most of the snobs gushing about Radiohead's In Rainbows elected to eat and not pay.

"Ask people to 'name your own price' for downloading a new rock album, and the majority will say 'zero,'" reported the newspaper in a glum little piece. Sixty percent had declined to pay anything to Radiohead for its so-called record-of-the-year. And the forty percent who did were cheapskates.

Radiohead claimed that the count was inaccurate but declined to offer a convincing counter-accounting, a protest viewed as a perfunctory and routine denial, somewhat like the whinings distributed by politicians and generals when things aren't going as perfectly as imagined.

In other news, Led Zeppelin's Mothership CD/DVD package, retailing at something over twenty bucks, sold 136,000 copies its first week in stores late this month. The glorious future isn't quite here yet and some people still buy records without feeling self-conscious, stupid and obsolete. Goddamn them.

Link to music in China piece at el Reg, a couple weeks ago.

For All The Rock In China.


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