Friday, July 27, 2012

State of the Music Industry, Press Releases, Horrible Band Photos, and the Second Coming


For the past few days I’ve been going through my inbox, trying to clean things up a bit.  Back in May I got a bit behind on things and things kind of snowballed since then with the number of new emails appearing growing exponentially each day.  The vast majority of these emails come from publicists and are press releases about the various artists in their clientele that are going into the studio, or signing with a new record label, or going on tour, or releasing a new record/EP. 

Now before I go on let me preface this by saying that I appreciate all of the folks at different labels and PR companies that have taken the time to answer my emails, send me material to review, and add me to their email distribution lists.  Everyone that I have corresponded with has been super nice and helpful and I greatly appreciate it.  The following observations are not a slight or attack on them as individuals or on the companies that they work for, they are merely the opinions of a simple middle-aged man in Oklahoma

Have you ever seen a music related press release?  They usually include lofty descriptions of some artist or band’s amazing live performance or ground breaking new sound or some such thing.  The paragraphs tend to get pretty longwinded and can at times not really say anything.  Almost always the press release includes a photo of said band or artist.  Often they are striking a pose trying to project the right amount of attitude, sensitivity, or supposed bad ass-ness.  Many of these artists have long beards, ginormous ear rings, or incredibly ornate neck tattoos and often (especially the ones that tend to be of the heavier variety) tend to lean their head’s back while looking down at the camera with a stern grimace or snarl.  These pictures are intended to give the reader a glimpse into the band and bring one closer to the artist.  Unfortunately more often than not, the poor band/artist pictured simply looks like a douche bag.  At first you give the band a listen, no matter how pathetic, moronic, or asshole-ish they look.  Generally within the first few chords I can tell whether or not this is going to be something that I might like and want to review or something that makes me want to violently retch for hours and then curl up in a corner asking the scary people to go away.  

The truly sad part about the horrible, frequently pretentious, band photos is that you can determine what a band is basically going to sound like based on their photo.  There are the super heavy acts; they tend to look angry and sound like barking dogs.  Then you get the folky hipsters; they usually have long beards and desperately want to sound like Fleet Foxes or Bon Iver.  Then there are the modern shoegazer and ‘90s fuzz revival bands; their pictures are often distorted.  I could go on but I think you’ve got the picture.  Things have gotten so cookie cutter, even in the indie/underground scenes, that one wonders if any of these people have a single original thought. 

For whatever reason the music industry thinks that they need to shroud every band in glowing praise, making like they are the second coming of the Beatles.  They also seem to think that putting bands into ridiculous contortions for press photos will make them look special or original.  A press release shouldn’t read like 19th century poetry and band photos shouldn’t look like Salvador Dali throwaways or like someone who will mug you.  This has nothing to do with the fact that many, if not most of these artists have tattoos or piercing and everything to do with the glossed up world that we live in where it is considered news reporting to stalk celebrities. 

Here’s my suggestions to all of those out there that write press releases and take band photos. 
1)  Stop being so grandiose when talking about the band.  Yes there are times when it is warranted but when it is done in ever single press release, the pretty words become as reliable as those spoken by a politician. 
2)  Keep it simple.  Talk about the band and where they are from.  Describe the music without sounding like a newly converted religious zealot. 
3)  Make sure to include a list of RIYL (Recommended If You Like).  At this point there is practically nothing original in music.  What can be done with a guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums has been done ad nauseum.  Now that’s is certainly not to say that there aren’t amazing artists out there bringing their own voice to the rock ‘n’ roll landscape, because there are, but no one should be delusional enough to think that what they are doing is truly original.  That is where the RIYL comes in really handy.  It gives the reader a point of reference when deciding if this act is something that he or she wants to check out. 
4)  For the love of god please stop with the pretentious and asinine band photos!  A simple picture of the band sitting or standing or playing would be great.  Don’t make them strike weird-ass poses or look like they are pinching a loaf.  It’s just not right.  Seriously, you’re making a lot of these bands look like complete fools and in most cases they are probably nice people, but you sure couldn’t tell by the press photos that make them look like they are taking this music thing way too seriously.  I can tell you from experience, there is nothing worse then a band with a rock star attitude.  A musician that is rude, stuck up, or acts like he/she doesn’t appreciate his/her fans is a huge turn off, so why in the world would a photographer want to project that image? 

The really sad part about these press releases is that the music industry thinks that they are a good idea.  Hell, maybe I’m totally off base here and these things really do work.  But what is more likely is that these press releases have been designed to grab the attention of the hipster music sites like Pitchfork in the hopes of getting their clients to be the next flavor of the week (it did seem to work for Lana Del Rey and Fleet Foxes).  The problem with that though is its shortsightedness.  Granted, shortsightedness is an affliction that plagues most of the major corporations in this country so this isn’t simply a music industry thing.  In the case of music though, this type of marketing takes budding artists, chews them up and spits them out (just ask any former one-hit-wonder).  It doesn’t have to be that way though.  Just look at artists like The Gaslight Anthem, Dropkick Murphys, and Hot Water Music.  They have garnered loyal audiences through hard work and great music.  None of these acts relied on flashy photography shenanigans or ostentatiously written press releases.  They didn’t need to because the music speaks for itself. 

The music industry, like so much else in art and popular culture, reflects who were are and where we are as a society.  Right at the moment we’re in a pretty sad place.  We look to celebrity for salvation while waiting to tear down whoever has a slip of the tongue or an unpopular opinion.  We hold up and glorify horrific behavior while mocking those who live simple and good lives.  We piss and moan about entitlements and taxes and paying our fair share, while at the same time try to game every system for our own benefit or believe that we are owed something because we are rich or poor, black or white, gay or straight, devout or unbelieving, purple with pink polka dots, or whatever other title, agenda, or role we see ourselves in.  It’s all about me and not about us so one can see that this is not just a problem with the music industry.  

My point to all of this wasn’t to attack anyone individual but to highlight the preposterous nature of things.  Do I blame folks for doing what they’ve got to do to not get fired?  Absolutely not; times are tough and we all need our jobs.  I just think it’s sad that things have gotten to this point.  So for all of those PR folks and photographers out there, keep plugging away.  Maybe with a little time things will come back down to earth and we can simply talk about and enjoy music without making a spectacle of it all.  

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