by carl wilson

Worst Buy

Work-entombed for the moment, but if you missed Frank Chromewaves' post earlier this week on the debate within indie-label circles on how to respond to big-box store interest, specifically with an indie-bandwagon ad campaign by Best Buy - do you seize on it and potentially hurt the indie record stores that are your main support, or do you resist it and potentially hurt your artists? - it's worth catching up.

Other industry rumbles that might rattle your bars include Canadian supermanager Terry McBride of Nettwerk taking up arms against the RIAA anti-downloading lawsuits, and U.S. superproducer Bob Ezrin, among others, backing him. The illusion of consensus collapses. Good God! Topical reflection at Lefsetz Letter.

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, February 02 at 3:51 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (12)

 

COMMENTS

I am suprised to see few if any comments on Bob Ezrin's post. I am curious if your readers even know who he is Carl?

One of my fave memories of him is seeing him working with Hendrix in one of those great Hendrix documentaries.

Not only is he right but somewhat poetic. yah Bob!!

tim

Posted by tim on February 3, 2006 7:29 PM

 

 

Graham and DW, good points on pricing and downloading. I do want to seize on this question of the Marxist, or let's say Marxian, interpretation. I alter the adjective to say: I think few of us (though certainly not none) are genuinely, credibly, communists or anarchists who want/expect that capitalism in toto is going to be overthrown and are building a movement with that goal. Most of us are ameliorists, who want a more humane and less destructive mixed-market system, culturally as well as in other ways. But that does not mean that Marxian thought has nothing more to teach us - it does tell us that systems of exchange are important and that the material and capital conditions determine to some extent the cultural outcomes. (Sorry, I'm not trying to give a seminar but just put this in context.) So let's take those factors seriously. First, yes, it's great when we find non-monetary, non-consumer-based ways to interact as an "indie" community. However, our monetary interactions also count. So if some of the principles we might hold in common include a degree of localism and as direct as possible a relationship between artist and audience - and where possible a DIY-style erasure of the barriers between those two roles - I think it's consistent to say that independent retail is a less abstracted, more grounded middleman between musician and listener than a chain shop for whom music is at best a secondary concern. By concerning itself with the details about the nodes of exchange within a globalized, hypermediated cultural market, the "indie" model does have some Marxian grounding, and this issue is actually a bigger one than it first appears, howerver non-revolutionary the distinction might be. To say that it doesn't matter how the music gets out there as long as it reaches as many people as possible and the artists can make a living may seem like a more fundamental position but it leads to a less nuanced set of positions. I think the survival of independent, relatively non-corporate places to provide cultural products is a more significant political matter than, for instance, musicians selling songs for commercials, which seems like an accomodation to capitalism that has relatively few secondary economic effects, whatever its aesthetic drawbacks.

Posted by zoilus on February 3, 2006 2:09 PM

 

 

> The internet of course and its file sharing complicates this even further: is it indie to download shit off of indietorrent and not pay a lick for what you get?

I was thinking about that, too. I wonder how many Kids Today (sorry) think that buying music, period, represents a moral high ground that's plenty good enough. "Now you wanna tell me WHERE I should buy it, too?"

I also agree that in Toronto we are totally spoiled in that we can support a store like Soundscapes and actually SAVE money in most cases.

Posted by DW on February 3, 2006 1:24 PM

 

 

Wow, I can't believe you just went from Beefheart to Rilo Kiley in 2 sentences...

Posted by ryan on February 3, 2006 11:10 AM

 

 

Toronto's a little different in that its major independent stores (I'm thinking more of Soundscapes than Rotate) sell rekkids at comparable if not better prices than the major chains. After arriving in TO, I was shocked at the low prices in Soundscapes which is quite striking to say Zulu Records in Vancouver which is always more expensive than the chains. Here, it seems as if the situation is reversed. So, supporting the indie stores is much easier (on the wallet) here than elsewhere.

In the end, I think this discussion branches out to some of the most fundamental questions of "Indie" (capital i intended) and its place/position in relation to the "Mainstream." The commerce of our culture (is it OK if I say "our"?) IS our culture; in that we seem to define ourselves in the modes of (late) capitalist production and consumption. ("I make this. You shop here. We buy this. I/We am/are indie.") I think that might sound overwhelmingly pessimistic or marxist (ew) but if we think about the conversation that Frank is starting, really that's what it's all about. The internet of course and its file sharing complicates this even further: is it indie to download shit off of indietorrent and not pay a lick for what you get? (Etc.) Previously you'd have to greasy rekkid shops and hunt in the crates for that perfect Beefheart LP or whatever. But now, we can hop on the interweb or even go to Bestbuy and purchase our 9 dollar rilo kiley (and whatever accessories too).

This is getting much too complicated for me at 9 AM. I hope those two paragraphs up there were coherent.

Posted by Graham on February 3, 2006 8:56 AM

 

 

Marco - I edit features in the weekend Focus section, where my (usually) biweekly Thought Bubbles column also runs.

Ryan - Good points, but I think the experience of most small record (and book) shops in the past decade or so would probably show you that beyond some core music-geek part of the customer base, they really do need the more casual and uncommitted ones to keep going, and those are probably the price-sensitive ones who are there to get the Strokes album, and maybe have mixed feelings about the "coolness" of the shop (finding it both attractive and intimidating), so it's not so hard for them to be drawn over to Best Buy.

I wonder if there's been any equivalent debate to this among, say, the organic-food movement: Does anybody dispute that it's good for ethical farmers to get their produce and meat into the big grocery chains, and say they should be loyal to the health-food stores that share their values rather than legitimating the chains? (Even though many consumers might not be able to get to specialty shops?) ... Or is it different because the long-term goal is to get everybody to switch to organic for health/environmental reasons, while nobody sensible has that fantasy about 'alternative' music, so the social-network trappings count more? The post-Nirvana boom definitely decimated a lot of indie-culture businesses, for instance, which left a hole after the trend cooled and the mainstream went back to being mainstream. Creating social bonds among the indie audience, which indie record shops are good at, matters more than with organic food consumers, because that's the sustainable, self-renewing approach. And it's also not as elitist to be against the big-box stores as against the grocery stores, because CD's can always be ordered by mail or downloaded if you're not within reach of a good record store - that's not as easy to do with eggs and milk.

As you say, Ryan, there's no easy answer. Dammit.

Posted by zoilus on February 2, 2006 9:12 PM

 

 

Those are great points w/r/t the smaller indie stores, and that's why I wanted to make it clear in my post that I wasn't trying to be a dick. I like and support the small indie stores as much as the next guy (asshole clerks and purposefully obnoxious in-store music notwithstanding). I mean, my real point was that labels/artists shouldn't have to suffer just for the sake of being "indie." And I think that, at the root of the problem here is a misconception of where the burden should lie. The burden shouldn't be placed on the label/artist (as it seems people are doing). Nor should the burden be placed on the indie store, or even the MegaGigantoMart. The burden should fall directly on the shoulders of the consumer. If you want to support the little guy, then pay the extra $3 for the disc at his shop. The whole situation calms down quite a bit if we just assume that people who typically shop at the indie stores can resist the temptation of saving a few bucks by going over to Best Buy. Because I doubt that very many regular Best Buy shoppers ever set foot in the indie store anyway.

Sigh; I've probably got some flawed logic in there too. Dammit, there really is no easy answer.

Posted by ryan on February 2, 2006 8:25 PM

 

 

O/T

just curious... what part(s) of the paper do you edit?

Posted by marco on February 2, 2006 7:04 PM

 

 

PS - But I also don't think it's wrong for people to say that what they like about "alternative" culture has something to do with the kind of world they want to live in, and that this worldview favours small-scale market models as opposed to suburban big-box branch multinational behemoths and to try to persuade their peers to keep working as much as possible within a more mutually supportive network. Which is not the same as heaping on blame when that's not viable and yelling SELLOUT, or at least shouldn't be.

Posted by zoilus on February 2, 2006 6:13 PM

 

 

Josh, that would be so, so cute.

Ryan - When I think of my local indie record shops, I have to say that some of them do as much, within their place, to promote a culture of independent music listening and appreciation as the labels do. They give people ideas and info and pleasure with their display choices and in-store concerts and an obvious place to find knowledgeable (if, okay, sometimes surly) tour guides. And while Best Buy might stock Bright Eyes and Rilo Kiley albums, they're NEVER going to stock the free jazz and nihilistic industrial noise and a million other things that aren't the indie labels bestsellers but arguably their deeper cultural contribution (is it more important to have ten types of pop music or to have non-pop music, period?) - a contribution that's funded by those bestsellers, on both the retail and the label level. So the loss of the stores that will sell them might mean the loss of some of that music too. If Cat Power's already going to sell really well, does it have to be in Best Buy if that's gonna wipe out the feisty little Stealer's Wheel across the street, and that in turn is going to HURT all the less-marketable artists on the label in the long run? (It's not just a choice between stores and labels, the two relate.) On the other hand, many communities don't have anything BUT Best Buy, but the chain model doesn't let labels pick and choose between outlets.

I don't think there's an easy answer. Though you're certainly right that shitting on Mac McCoughan isn't it!

Posted by zoilus on February 2, 2006 6:10 PM

 

 

not to divert too much from the best buy issue, but i think it would be fitting for our government to use local "indie" bands in their public service announcements - just like when otis redding recorded his 'stay in school' song. this way, bands would get paid/exposure and wouldn't need the best buys of the world. and those commercials reminding us to get our flu shots would be set to the constantines' "love in fear." cool idea, i think.

Posted by Josh on February 2, 2006 5:02 PM

 

 

"...do you seize on it and potentially hurt the indie record stores that are your main support, or do you resist it and potentially hurt your artists?"

That's definitely the main point, innit? While it's easy for a 16-year old with a Black/White understanding of the music world to cry "SELLOUT!", I think that for the rest of us, it's pretty easy to see that if the label/artist's interests are being served, that's obviously the most important thing. I'm not trying to sound like a dick here, but if the label/artist goes under, we lose the music altogether. If we lose the indie retailer, we just lose the indie retailer.

I mean, just because you're in an indie rock band, you shouldn't have to refuse putting food in your kid's mouth or shoes on his feet just to keep some dinky little record store in Paramus open for business.

And the fact that anyone would call out Mac for this is complete and total bullshit and it infuriates me to no end. Don't piss where you drink, you assholes.

This little Indie Rock World we all inhabit would not exist, I assure you, were it not for the efforts of Mac Macaughan and Merge Records proper. That man deserves a fuckin' statue erected to him, smack dab in the middle of the Chapel Hill Town Square.

Posted by Ryan on February 2, 2006 4:52 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson