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A few years late, but: DiG!

with 2 comments

The movie DiG! is a rockumentary about the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre. The intricate details of how absolutely fucked up Brian Jonestown are and how self-absorbed the Dandys are are mostly irrelevant because we’re four years from where the movie left off.

I think what’s still relevant, though, is the not-so-subtle message in the movie about record labels (that, and the giant, free anti-drug promo that the movie is).

I’d recommend the movie if you’re into stuff like this:

More importantly, I’d recommend the movie if you want to see how record labels just totally mess with artists. When you have a band like the Dandy Warhols and their label, Capitol, spends $400,000 on a music video for them — before they even have a product — something is wrong. You can argue until the cows come home that this is the nature of the beast, that corporations mess up, blah blah blah.

But I’m sorry, there is no way to excuse spending 400k on a band that you have no reason whatsoever to believe will be successful. But that’s what labels do. This is not to say all bands signed to major labels are evil or that they are sell outs. It’s just that labels don’t often have the band’s best interests at heart. They exist to maximize profits in exchange for helping the bands get their music heard — which is fine, to some degree. But this often gets lost in the middle somehow, and what you end up with is entirely bland, generic, soulless music. The labels act much like a mafia. “Beautiful band here. Shame if something ever happened to it… I could, for a price, offer some protection.” So the band signs. And just like when you get involved with the mafia (I would know!), you get pushed in all sorts of weird directions.

You don’t get to choose what songs are on your CD. You don’t get to choose the tour dates, the booking routes, the venues, what the videos are like, etc. The Dandy Warhols got stuck using a single they didn’t want. Be Your Own Pet was forced into Warped Tour (which they somehow got out of by saying they were too tired?). A lot of bands basically become tentacles for the labels.

This is not to say I don’t listen to or like music from bands on major labels. I’m a huge defender of a band’s right to sign to any label they want and make any kind of music they want. I don’t “own” them and I’m not their mother.

This is purely a reflection on the labels, not the bands. I guess I just don’t see the labels as having much creativity or desire to produce good music. They want to sell a product that people will buy — and that’s totally fine, that’s how the market works. But in the process of that, they run through a lot of brutal, unfair tactics and complete dishonesty at the expense of the bands and the fans.

What bugs me most about all of this is that fans haven’t yet stood up and demanded labels change their ways. I believe this is happening somewhat indirectly due to filesharing. Piracy may be the wrong way to go about things, but it’s also getting people’s attention. I predict that within the next 20 years, the “major label” will be dead. EMI has already started laying off a lot of workers. And why would you want a big label when someone can record an impeccable sounding record in their bedroom? Why would you need a label to spend millions of dollars on you when you either already have big name recognition (ie, Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails) or when you have the entire world at your fingertips through the internet? I don’t see how the major label can possibly survive — especially in its current form. It has to at least change something, because being obstinate and suing fans, like it’s doing right now, is not going to fix its problems. I’ve seen people vaguely mention, “Oh yeah, my friend so and so at such and such label says that they know they’re in trouble, they just can’t think of how to fix anything, so they’re suing pirates to buy time.” Great, but that also hurts your long term credibility, because seriously, who looks good when the RIAA takes down single mothers in middle America? Nooot the music industry or the RIAA.

And I mean, I think the minute art hits a wall is when the word “industry” follows it. How can you have an “industry” of art? But unfortunately, major label music is a big industry these days. Again, this is not directed at the bands or the fans, but at the labels. The labels are a joke.

When Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre says that “I am the record company” and “Until they [the record companies] can write the letter that I am writing, they are the postman, and I am the letter writer,” I think he’s really predicting the future. In the next 20 years, musicians will be more independent than ever. There’s already an overload of information and data as it is. We’re surrounded by music, movies, video games, books. We’re surrounded by so many things we’ll never have time to experience. There’s just that much out there right now. Right now anyone can spend about 1,ooo to 1,5oo bucks on some cheap recording stuff, an amp, and an instrument and make a CD. Add in three or four other guys and you have your average rock band just recording an entire CD using something like Garage Band (Apple plug™).

Where is your record label now?


Written by M

July 4, 2008 at 4:54 am

Posted in Commentary

Tagged with , ,

2 Responses

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  1. I’ve been watching DiG! clips the last few days on YouTube (with respects to Viacom). Those dudes are crazy…

    But you’re absolutely right. About all of that. It doesn’t take a million dollars to start a career anymore. All you need is the internet. And labels are having trouble coping with that, so like you said, they’re going to do irrational things like sue fans to get what they can while they can. The internet is such a great thing for music and most forms of art, but industries like record labels and Viacom do things that sort of taint it.

    Jacob Z

    July 4, 2008 at 11:35 am

  2. I just saw this recently. Despite the fact that Anton comes off as kind of a scary wackjob (at least at times) he IS a really inspiring dude when it comes to the idea of getting music out to people.

    Sarah K

    July 5, 2008 at 8:40 pm

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