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More P2P Promotion: Napster Rescues Shaggy

Posted By Barry Ritholtz On November 23, 2004 @ 9:18 am In Finance,Music | Comments Disabled

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 [1]

I just finished Jacob Slichter’s So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star [1]. Slichter is the drummer for Semisonic [2], 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 [3].

Slichter offers Shaggy [4] 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 [4]” and “Angel: [4]

“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 [5], U2 [6], Wilco [7], Radiohead [8] 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 [9]; In many ways, this book lays out that critique from the musician’s perspective . . .

So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star [1]
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

Hotshot [4]
MCA, August 8, 2000

Feeling Strangely Fine [3]
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 [3]

The Problem With Music [9]
by Steve Albini

Article printed from The Big Picture: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog

URL to article: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2004/11/more-p2p-promotion-napster-rescues-shaggy/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0767914708/thebigpictu09-20

[2] Semisonic: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/search-handle-form/ref=dp_sr_00/002-4755284-4456864

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

[4] Shaggy: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B00004S7FJ/ref=ase_thebigpictu09-20/002-4755284-4456864?v=glance&s=music

[5] Eminem: http://bigpicture.typepad.com/comments/2004/11/no_coincidences.html

[6] U2: http://bigpicture.typepad.com/comments/2004/11/was_u2s_p2p_rel.html

[7] Wilco: http://bigpicture.typepad.com/comments/2004/11/the_internet_is.html

[8] Radiohead: http://bigpicture.typepad.com/comments/2004/11/_i_n_s_i_d_e_wi.html

[9] Steve Albini’s The Problem With Music: http://www.negativland.com/albini.html

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