Monday, June 29, 2009

Soapbox Commentary

I finally broke down and bought the new album from Jim Black's Alasnoaxis band called Houseplant. It had been on my want list for a while, but I was dismayed at how much it cost - $19.99 + shipping on, which seemed exorbitantly high for a single compact disc. I know that the Winter & Winter label prides itself on its artistic packaging, and rightly so, they are quite distinctive, if occasionally annoying (how do I get the disc out without scratching it?) It marks an interesting line in the sand between art and commerce. One of the longstanding complaints about the transition from LP records to compact disc and eventually downloads was the loss of art, liner notes and the whole tactile and aesthetic experience of a record album. To their credit, W&W have tried to strike a balance with their characteristic parcel featuring fold-out artwork. But I wonder if the high prices charged for their music makes them run the risk of becoming a boutique label rather than a label that is on the cutting edge of new music. How much is too much to ask for a compact disc? Especially with the physical disc on the wane, twenty dollars seems like a steep price to ask. Perhaps if W&W adopted the subscription model of Artist Share or Greenleaf Records they would be a little bit more palatable? With both of those labels you can buy in on a sliding scale, choosing to purchase just the mp3, mp3 & disc, or more exclusive packages that add things like DVD's, extra downloadable content and other perks. I have no direct evidence to back this up, but I also think that charging so much for a compact disc would increase the incidences of music piracy, at least in pop music, where the sliding scales of involvement could on the other hand foster a sense of community between the artist, labels and fans. Publicist Matt Merewitz has talked about musicians needing to get involved in social networking and I think that labels reaching out to fans in this way would be a wise idea also. The traditional music labels are continuing their unabated slide into irrelevancy, and a label will really need to show some forward thinking in their relationship not only to fans but musicians and the media as well to survive. What are your thoughts?

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