Posts filed under “Music”

JT bypasses the Labels


Disintermediation:  In economics, the removal of intermediaries in a supply chain.


James Taylor provides a text book example of "disintermediation" in the music industry, with the release of his new album. Following his 2002 album, "October Road," Taylor had fulfilled his contractual obligations to Columbia. He has not since signed to a new label.

Taylor decided to try a few things he hadn’t previously done:  First, he recorded "James Taylor: A Christmas Album" — his first holiday recording. Then, he cut a deal to sell it exclusively in Hallmark Cards. Lastly, the price for the disc is a more modest $10.95 — or only $6.95 with the purchase of three greeting cards. The CD is Hallmark’s exclusive this holiday season, and in 2005.

There was no advertising, and almost no press. How did the disc do? James Taylor: A Christmas Album has sold over one million copies — in less than two months.

That’s a home run by any measure.

Here’s what the NYT had to say:

In selling the CD, Hallmark is taking a page from Starbucks, which has had tremendous success selling Ray Charles’s "Genius Loves Company" and other releases alongside its chai tea lattés and espresso macchiatos.

"Our expectations from the beginning were very high," said Ann Herrick, integrated marketing manager at Hallmark, "but this project ended up exceeding our expectations and we all here are very happy about it."

Industry watchers say that more artists, particularly older acts who are somewhat out of the current music retail scene, will look to outlets like Starbucks or Hallmark for fresh opportunities."

TBA Network, an entertainment-consulting firm, negotiated the deal with Taylor. A similar deal was brokered for Hallmark with Christian music artist Steven Curtis Chapman.

The success of the holiday CD has Hallmark considering expanding its music promotion: "A Valentine’s Day album by the country singer Martina McBride is scheduled to hit stores in 2005. And Ms. Herrick added, "We’re looking at opening it up to other seasons, not just holidays."

That might not be a particularly welcome development for the major labels; it is, however, good for music fans — and for a music industry that’s becoming increasingly less dependent upon the labels. 


James Taylor’s Got a Friend at Hallmark Cards
New York Times, December 17, 2004


Category: Music

Is the RIAA successful or not?

Category: Music, Web/Tech

What is Radio Selling?

Category: Finance, Music

Artists Perspective on File Sharing

Category: Finance, Music

How Did Terrestrial Radio Lose its Audience ?

Category: Finance, Music

Universal Music Takes Matters into its Own Hands

Category: Finance, Media, Music

Universal Dominance (so much for Piracy)

Category: Finance, Music

Wal-Mart / U2

Category: Finance, Music

Live at St. Ann’s Warehouse: DVD + CD

Category: Finance, Music

More P2P Promotion: Napster Rescues Shaggy

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 . . .

So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star
Jacob Slichter
Broadway Books, 2004 7131547 9942524?v=glance&s=books

MCA, August 8, 2000

Feeling Strangely Fine
MCA, March 24, 1998

The Problem With Music
by Steve Albini

Read More

Category: Finance, Music