Music Industry Needs Money But Not Press?

I hate to talk shop but I think it’s worthwhile that you understand the lengths the media goes through these days to bring you our opinions on the music that gets released each and every week. Three of this week’s reviews in my weekly online column for CityBeat, I Shall Be Released, are there for no other reason than a blogger out in webworld saw fit to post the music. Setting aside the natural “downloading is stealing” paradigm for the moment, it should be noted that if I hadn’t found the titles posted on a blogger’s site, I wouldn’t have been able to review them at all, because neither the label nor a publicist could be bothered to send me the discs for that very purpose. And they were asked to. Repeatedly.—-

This isn’t a new phenomenon, but it’s a puzzling one in light of the industry’s economic woes. I’ve been trying for weeks to secure an interview with a relatively high profile band and it looks like it’s not going to happen. The sad fact is that I have no idea how it’s going to play out because the publicist has simply stopped answering my e-mails. That’s the kind of ostrich mentality that‘s driving the music business at the moment.

Another example: I’ve been trying to track down a disc to review for I Shall Be Released, later in August. No less than five independent sites — including the artist’s own page — state the name of the label. When I e-mail a contact within this large corporate structure and inquire about said disc, I receive a terse, four word reply, as if they are being charged by the letter for their electronic responses: “not on our label.” Apparently the company is always the last to know.

Last month, I tried on three separate occasions to contact a large but normally cooperative indie label about getting a disc for review and looking into the possibility of an interview with the artist. No response. Not one. Not even a discourteous but at least honest “Go away, middle-market pissant. We don’t need your help.” I did finally get the interview, but only because my editor had the number of the artist’s manager and we went straight to the source. And I never got the disc. I downloaded it from a leak site.

Two years ago, I tried to get a rising young band on the phone for a feature in a nationally-distributed independent magazine. The publicist actually worked hard to come up with a time but the band couldn’t be bothered. Two weeks after my fourth attempt to get them on the phone, there they were in Rolling Stone, complaining about how their profile in Europe was great but they couldn’t get any radio play or press coverage at home. It was funny in a way, but their refusal to do the interview lost me a feature in that month’s issue which was reflected in my paycheck the following month, so in another way, I hate them still.

That said, the vast majority of labels and publicists work hard on behalf of their artists to help us get the word out. The ones that don’t are an oddity but it’s worth noting that they seem to be increasing in number as sales figures continue to plummet. The band that I’m awaiting word on at the moment has a fairly big album out now, and yet they’ve sold less than 150,000 copies. Back in the day, that wouldn’t be enough to crack the Top 100, but these days unit sales like that will get you in the Top 10. Guess they’re content with that. I wouldn’t be.