Pearl Jam, Target and Giving Music Away

OK, first, I finally was able to post the actual NBC video for Pearl Jam’s Got Some performance to my previous post via Vodpod. Totally cool!

What do I think about the news in the Rolling Stone that they recorded a commercial for Target for Cameron Crowe, though?

Well, I’m not crazy about the idea. OK, I’ll be honest.  The first thing that comes to mind is their buddy, Neil Young’s This Notes for You:

Now to show you how insidious advertising is, I remember describing the original MTV video of this to my friends at the time, about how the video ended with a drunken Spuds McKenzie (the Budweiser commercial party animal dog), and their then grade school age kids were outraged: “Spuds wouldn’t do that!”  What a great role model for kids – a beer swilling dog hanging around Budweiser babes!

Ouch!  I feel really bad slamming the guys in Pearl Jam with Neil’s song though. As I said, I’m not crazy about the idea.  I certainly don’t want to see the commercial (hey, that should be easy – I seldom watch tv and mute the commercials). On the other hand, it’s hard to totally avoid the corporations seeping into everything, and this is fairly minor as it goes (their manager, Kelly Curtis, says in the Rolling Stones article the Backspacer cd will be released to some independent stores at the same time Target has big box rights, and of course, an exclusive online release as well).  Then there is the money issue in an era where fans want the music for free.  Finally, Cameron Crowe’s involvement has to have something to do with it, especially with a future concert film in the works.

The film Festival Express comes to mind, about the shocking idea that bands actually want to make some money from their music.  Festival Express is a great film about a cross country tour of Canada by train in 1970 by an incredible entourage of musicians, including Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, and The Band. You got to check it out – great concert footage and these incredible jams on the train.  It turned out a lot of their fans, and as I recall, even the Mayor of one of the towns, expected them to play for free.

Janis Joplin from Festival Express:

Wow, almost 40 years later, and her singing still sends chills down my spine.  One of the sweetest scenes in the film is when Jerry Garcia awkwardly tells Janis how sweet he’s always been on her, and she’s like “Aww!  Then a while further down the road they come on stage hand and hand.  What can I say, I’m a romantic!

So, the Napster generation (original Napster, not the corporate version I listen to now) didn’t start the idea that music should be free.  I’m not quite sure why this is.  Most of us want to be paid for our work, and especially our talents (if we have any – still working on that one myself!).  People don’t complain (too much) about the money talented professional athletes make (and I think they realize it really would just be a home team of guys, or girls, out after after work if the games were free). 

Now, some of the younger musicians have other ideas.  Today’s Seattle PI reports that the local band H is for Hellgate is going to just “give away their music as they record it.”   They’re going to have a club called the “Hellgate Club for Musically Advanced Ladies and Gentlemen” and in addition to giving away CDs of three new songs at each show and mp3s to their out of town fans, singer/songwriter Jamie Henkensiefken says they’re “going to have fun events for people in the club — listening parties, video shoots, maybe I’ll even invite them to my wedding.”

Awesome!  I’m just not sure how well this is going to work in the long run. Hopefully there’s still enough to be made at their gigs or elsewhere to be sustainable.  Sure, starting out, just having people come out and hear you is great.  Eventually people have families, or want a few more things in their life, and will be taking on day jobs, if they stick to music at all (and, like the weekend athletes, that’s not going to work too well for music.

I don’t know.  Maybe I’m becoming an old curmudgeon!

Oh well! 

I couldn’t help but be a little amused at some of the PI’s questioning thoughts on the matter: “Although no clear economic model has emerged, the music industry seems to be willing to try anything, including simply giving music away,” and “It’s a bold choice to give away one’s hard work,” given that the PI recently folded their print addition and is currently an online only publication giving their journalism away for free.


I’m not sure how that one is going to work, either.  All this has been part of the irony and a dilemma for our on-line world.  It’s been great having all this access to all the newspapers and music you want, many of it we wouldn’t have any idea existed if not for the internet.  Yet if journalists and musicians can’t find a new model and make enough money from their talents, what will we have left?  Yes, everyone with a blog thinks they’re a journalist, and every karoke singer and Guitar Hero player thinks they’re a star; but really. . . Will we have in depth investigative reporting?  Will groups like H is for Hellgate still be together playing great music years later, with the fans wondering why they’re starting to look old?

Just wondering. . .


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