JACOB SLICHTER: So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star: How I Machine-Gunned a Roomful of Record Executives and Other True Tales from a Drummer's Life

I just finished Jacob Slichter’s So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star. Slichter is the drummer for Semisonic, which had a breakout hit single with “Closing Time.” Its an amusing look at the music industry by an insider, and was a welcome reprieve from my usual fare of economic/market related reading.

Towards the end of the book, there’s an interesting discussion: It turns out that Semisonic’s label, MCA, had a well deserved tin ear for deciding what was “single worthy” or not. The book suggests that a long series of missteps by MCA very much hindered the band. Despite critical acclaim, they never managed to really gain much traction on format radio beyond Closing Time.

Slichter offers Shaggy as an example of the pooor judgement of the execs at MCA. It seems the Jamaican born rapper handed in his new album, Hot Shot to the label, and the first two songs on the record suggested as singles were “It wasn’t me” and “Angel:

“Remember those song titles and read on: The MCA bosses listened to the album and complained “They’re no singles.” The bosses demanded that Shaggy return to the studio and record new songs, and Shaggy agreed. This was exactly the scenario that Semisonic had faced in late 1997 when Jay Boberg and other [MCA] senior executives heard no hit potential in Closing Time and suggested we return to the studio to record more songs. Jim warned us that if we recorded a new batch of songs, the label would choose the single from the new batch and forget about “Closing Time.” Fortunately, we heeded Jim’s warning.

When faced witht he same dilemma, however, Shaggy accepted MCA’s mandate to record more material, and no surprise, one of the new songs was selected as the single. The CD came out in August 2000, the single flopped, and within weeks MCA stopped working the album.

Meanwhile, a DJ in Honolulu, Pablo Sato of KIKI 93.9-FM, had downloaded Shaggy’s album off of Napster and started to play one of the other songs, “It wasn’t me.” KIKI was flooded with calls and “It wasn’t me” became a local hit. Bonnie Goldner and other Shaggy supporters at MCA seized on the success and advocated the song be pushed to other stations, and within a few weeks the song was a nationwide smash. By Christmastime, the album was on its way to number one, and after another hit, “Angel,” the album had sold 12 million copies worldwide, no thanks to the people running MCA. It was Pablo Sato, his listening audience, and Napster — the dread enemy of the music industry — who pulled Shaggy’s album from its grave at the Music Cemetery of America.”

I’m lost as to which is more amazing: the astonishing incompetence of the label at promoting their own bands, or artists actually being saved by P2P.

How many more of these stories are out there? Eminem, U2, Wilco, Radiohead and now Shaggy.
(If you have any other concrete examples of P2P functioning as a defacto promotional machine for the labels, please post them in the comments or send me an email).

UPDATE:  November 28, 2004 2:40pm
A commentor reminds me of Steve Albini’s The Problem With Music; In many ways, this book lays out that critique from the musician’s perspective . . .

Source:
So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star
Jacob Slichter
Broadway Books, 2004
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0767914708/ref=ase_thebigpictu09-20/102 7131547 9942524?v=glance&s=books

Shaggy
Hotshot
MCA, August 8, 2000
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B00004S7FJ/ref=ase_thebigpictu09-20/002-4755284-4456864?v=glance&s=music

Semisonic
Feeling Strangely Fine
MCA, March 24, 1998

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B0000062XN/ref=ase_thebigpictu09-20/002-4755284-4456864?v=glance&s=music#product-details

The Problem With Music
by Steve Albini
http://www.negativland.com/albini.html

Category: Finance, Music

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

One Response to “More P2P Promotion: Napster Rescues Shaggy”

  1. David Bennett says:

    I don’t know why should be startled by bands being helped by free music. The Grateful Dead spent the mid seventies to mid eighties in relative obscurity, but they encouraged all the “heads” to record their concents. This was their income for the most part until in the mid eighties they somehow “regrooved” ad became major.

    Now Dead history is a dream to truly “progressive” bands. I mentioned the yahoo group I’ve started.

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/processing_engelbart/

    To put things into perspective this guy demonstrated the first modern computer in 1968, mouse, links, images…

    Guess who helped him?

    Stewart Brand. The Whole Earth/Coevolution guy.

    whose mentors included Ken Kesey…

    cut to the Dead.

    You have people who were at so many centers. Haight Ashbury… to their own floating community of nomads. Made a living through it all. Kept their reputation.

    This is “the dream.” Free music was a part of the scheme. But can music execs market it?

    Socially I favor it. Though I have a lot of gripes with the Coevolution aproach and a lot of the other ideas that sprouted around the SF/Palo Alto axis, I do prefer it to the rather tired old leftism (calling itself new) that came to dominate Berkeley and a lot of places back east and has come to dominante the “progressive” paradigm (I discuss the meaning of this word in my new group) nowadays.

    I think you can create some interesting social philosophies around this kind of thing.

    And some of the “products” of tomorrow are going to be marketing a “whole life” sort of thing. Right now some of conservaative Christians are the only ones who have had much success doing this, creating everyhing from schools to products to record labels and publishing firms to social events, but it could be a wave of the future.