FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Big Squeeze and the Jolly Roger

Around the time that Thriller redefined the blockbuster hit in the mid’80s, I found myself reporting a vision. “What the record companies really want is to release one record a year-maybe one each, but maybe just one,” I said. “Everyone will buy it. They’ll be able to promote it for a year, and then carry it over for the first few months of the next year while they’re gearing up their next one. And that’s all there will be.” It was a little bit of a joke. Around the time of Celine Dion’s ascendance via the Titanic soundtrack, it seemed about to become reality.

Not quite. The five majors who constitute the FTC-defined distribution cartel sell only 85% of all the music, instead of the more than 90% they sold a decade ago, which is mainly the result of a hip-hop scene too volatile for them to be immediately imitated or bought out. But the dream’s alive and it’s practical, too. In essence, we now have just one company programming music radio, and just one company (unironically, the same company) packaging and promoting almost all of the big-league concerts. (I know it was Justice Dept. antitrust pressure that stopped the Clear Channel / House of Blues merger last week. Those guys are really good at locking the barn after the horse is lost.)

It will be a while before one album a year is all you hear. But the noose tightens. Billboard’s Ed Christman reports that former Island Def Jam chairman Jim Caparro has created a manufacturing and fulfillment (warehousing, shipping) concept that would unify those services for several, if not all, the majors. “With each major employing between 900 and 2000 workers in manufacturing and manning warehouse facilities, that means that if Caparro got some of the majors to back his plan, thousand of jobs could be trimmed,” Christman writes. He also reports that Caparro wants to handle sales and credit for small accounts. Reportedly several of the majors are wary but “the proposal only needs two majors to get started and could then serve as a test case for other majors.”

The real guinea pigs would be independent retailers and consumers. The plan essentially would create an octopus like the Standard Oil of old-which has reconstituted itself in recent years without a squawk from Justice. For retailers, this tightening of the cartel would mean price-setting on nonnegotiable terms. For artists, it would mean that not being a major label priority would be worse than ever, strung out for seven album cycles without a prayer of moving forward (or of getting paid if lightning struck, not that that’s new). For consumers, consolidation means less choice and even higher prices. Universal has already bumped star product up another dollar this year, for the first time making the $20 CD more than an omen on the horizon. If there’s an advantage to artists in the plan, I can’t see it, and it may well have anti-artist wrinkles.

The majors never really competed on this stuff, anyway. Universal’s price rise will be followed by all the other majors within 90 days, which is how it’s gone for more than the 30 years I’ve been writing, without a peep of protest from the FTC or Justice. At least all the thousands who lose their jobs will be is unemployed (and unable to afford $20 CDs).

Amateur music lovers are in bigger trouble if the cartel has its way. Last week, Universal/Motown put up an online survey on “Music Behavior.” To get into the questions, you had to click past a box that contained this: “Definition of music piracy: The act of making or distributing copies of copyrighted music without authorization from the music label. The only exception is the user’s right to make copies of his or her own legally purchased music for archival purposes.”

That’s a lie, but it’s also an escalation. Pirates go to jail.

DeskScan:
(What’s playing at my house)

1. “Cold Woman Blues” / “99 Blues” / “Outside Woman Blues,” Blind Joe Reynolds (from a CD burned by a friend of newly discovered tracks-plus the well-known “Outside”–by a country bluesman so great a friend commented, “He sounds like Robert Johnson’s lost brother.”
Very very scratchy 78 sources-try http://www.tefteller.com/html/intro.html for your own sample)

2. 1000 Kisses, Patty Griffin (ATO)

3. Return of a Legend, Jody Williams (Evidence)

4. Down the Road, Van Morrison (Universal)

5. Try Again, Mike Ireland and Holler (Ashmont)

6. Adult World, Wayne Kramer (Muscletone)

7. Anthony Smith (Mercury Nashville advance)

8. Talk About It, Nicole C. Mullen (Word/Epic)

9. Plenty Good Lovin’, Sam Moore (Swing Cafe, UK import)

10. Songs of Sahm, The Bottle Rockets (Bloodshot)

Dave Marsh coedits Rock and Rap Confidential. He can be reached at: marsh6@optonline.net

Dave Marsh’s Previous DeskScan Top 10 Lists:

May 14, 2002

May 6, 2002

April 30, 2002

April 22, 2002

April 15, 2002

April 9, 2002

April 2, 2002

March 25, 2002

March 18, 2002

March 11, 2002

More articles by:

Dave Marsh edits Rock & Rap Confidential, one of CounterPunch’s favorite newsletters, now available for free by emailing: rockrap@aol.com. Dave blogs at http://davemarsh.us/

April 25, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Selective Outrage
Dan Kovalik
The Empire Turns Its Sights on Nicaragua – Again!
Joseph Essertier
The Abductees of Japan and Korea
Ramzy Baroud
The Ghost of Herut: Einstein on Israel, 70 Years Ago
W. T. Whitney
Imprisoned FARC Leader Faces Extradition: Still No Peace in Colombia
Manuel E. Yepe
Washington’s Attack on Syria Was a Mockery of the World
John White
My Silent Pain for Toronto and the World
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Dean Baker
Bad Projections: the Federal Reserve, the IMF and Unemployment
David Schultz
Why Donald Trump Should Not be Allowed to Pardon Michael Cohen, His Friends, or Family Members
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Binoy Kampmark
Enoch Powell: Blood Speeches and Anniversaries
Frank Scott
Weapons and Walls
April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Paul Bentley
A Velvet Revolution Turns Bloody? Ten Dead in Toronto
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
Ted Rall
Stop Letting Trump Distract You From Your Wants and Needs
Steve Klinger
The Cautionary Tale of Donald J. Trump
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Conflict Over the Future of the Planet
Cesar Chelala
Gideon Levy: A Voice of Sanity from Israel
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail