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Friday, August 06, 2004


Tony Alva's comment on my blog about mp3's (Why Do You Listen) is a very good point. Gone are the days of a "complete package". Pink Floyd's "Dark Side Of The Moon" is case and point. We will never see anything like that again. Not sonically or visually. I was attempting to read the liner notes for Rush's new "Feedback" record (all covers, highlight - Neil Young's "Mr. Soul"), and I failed. The print was so small I couldn't read it. Maybe I'm an old foggie, but I do long for those days of vinyl, when cover art meant something, and liner notes were legible, if incoherent. There was a time when I would browse the bins in record shops and often buy records based on the cover art alone. Sometimes I'd regret it, sometimes I'd be pleasantly surprised, but it was an adventure. Now I never buy anything new unless I've already heard it and like it, which is rare. Mostly I buy records made years ago when making records was an artform.

You would think that the record companies would have jumped all over the marketing void being left with the emergence of smaller packaging (or no packaging) and found ways to replace the point of sale visibility lost to downloaded music. Your sentiments about buying records on the strength of the cover art alone is hard hitting. Kids base many of there purchasing decisions on how cool something, or somebody looks as we did when we were that age. MTV fills this gap for some, but not all of this aspect. I really think that this shift from a multimedia packaging format to scrolling through lists of titles on a website has contributed hugely to ever declining record sales numbers. Think of all the records you�ve purchased that are recognizable by the cover art alone. That is huge. �Dark Side of The Moon� being a classic case. Nobody can deny this absence by simply asking the question, �Name one record released in the last 10 years that you think would be recognizable by the jacket art alone?� I�ve bought an assload of CD�s in the last ten years and I can�t think of one.

Some will say that acts and record companies alike are having to rely on core content alone now and that is good a thing (i.e. it�s the music stupid). I have very mixed emotions about this. For instance, would the New York Dolls have been as successful, and more importantly, impactful if not for their appearance in person, or on their album packaging? Some acts go to great lengths to avoid the pratfalls of �selling out� to a created image of any kind in order to maintain credibility and thus take a very counter position to being �marketed�. There are artists who truly don�t care how many records they sell, but these acts are a rarity.

I think the wisdom that comes with age centers me with this issue. Meaning this� Let�s face it, marketing is an unavoidable part of the music business. You will never be successful without it from a sales perspective, and more poignant, we enjoy(ed) the marketing aspects of it as consumers and fans. I don�t see this as being much different than the brand loyalty NASCAR fans show for products being advertised on the side of their favorite drivers car. Would NASCAR be as popular if the cars weren�t adorned with all that brand advertising? I absolutely don�t think it would. This is the missing factor for music purchasing these days. As much as I like the convenience of the latest formats, and at great risk of sounding like some retro puke that can�t handle change in technology, I dare say that we have jumped the gun with this downloadable music thing and, for the most part, fucked up all that was good about purchasing/acquiring/and listening to music in it�s wake from purely a fans perspective. Any downloading mechanism being used today works very well for any instance that one might have if they already know what they are looking for, but in no way lends itself to the idea of browsing for the pure purpose of finding something new to try. Without anything to look at while you browse it�s woefully less affective than the old LP record jacket in a bin at a store.

As much as was wrong with the record retail biz (price fixing, etc�), music content packaging and the fundamental changes that have occurred in the way we go about selecting music to purchase is an underestimated factor in the tailspin the record industry is in currently.
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