By Bartley McGowan
Jun 28, 2007
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The other day I went ahead and did something I’d never done before -something that millions of people half my age and millions more twice my age had already done. I downloaded my first album EVER from Itunes. I know this is supposed to be a blog about the search engines, but much of my background is in the music industry. I started my own record label over 10 years ago when nobody was doing digital downloads. Back then, you were a really cool band if you had thirty second Real Audio clips on your webpage – if you even had a web page. Recently, I spent a few years at a merchandise fulfillment company for rock bands where I even learned how to program downloads in to the stores we ran, but I still never downloaded one from Itunes.
I am not even close to a Luddite, but I am certainly no early adapter either. I think I bought my first CD in the mid 90’s and I still play audio tapes in my vehicles and watch videocassettes at home from time to time. I am just not all that impressed with the technological advances we’ve see in music formats over the past decade. Even in college, when my roommates where building their vast music collections for free via Napster, I was still hiking to the corner to spend my afternoons digging through the used bins at the local record store.
So what took me so long? Why has my Dad been downloading podcasts for years and I can barely figure out how to get my tunes from the computer on to the Ipod? Well, I like so many of my peers, still love the idea of the album – of an actual physical product with a cover and liner notes that you can hold in your hands. But this past Tuesday, one of the more influential people (for me at least) in rock n roll released his second solo album via a digital only record label. I am talking about Ben Weasel from the long running (but barely touring) punk act Screeching Weasel. who released “These Ones Are Bitter” this past Tuesday.
Ben’s been a voice in the punk rock scene for years now. He’s been in bands, opened for even bigger bands, been signed to the biggest indie label in the land at one time, ran his own record label which he then sold to a bigger one. He knows the biz and how to make some money without MTV, radio airplay or much label support. He’s managed to avoid getting a real job for his entire adult life because of his bands. So this time, he banked on his longtime fans (many now in their 30’s) opting for the convenience of a download over the nostalgia of a physical product. Well, he’s actually releasing the album in a physical format down the road, but it’s going to be a limited edition LP, so you still won’t be able to get this on CD unless you make it yourself. There’s the DIY spirit.
He’s also one of the first musicians I remember to start a blog, which he mainly devoted to talking about baseball at the time if I remember correctly. Recently, he started doing an online radio show (which is probably in jeopardy of getting yanked off the air due to some new regulations) and for generally being a guy who started listening to records when they were actually records, he always tends to be a step ahead of the bigshots when it comes to these things.
So, I wonder if Ben planned the release of his album only three days before the Iphone hits stores intentionally. Are we going to start hearing one of his new tunes in a commercial for the $600 gadget? Does he have some sort of digital master plan to get himself put back on the musical map? The day before I purchased this download my Dad sent me an article from Forbes.com titled “Compact Disc’s Outlook Worsens.” As you can imagine, the article mostly focuses on the rise in the sales of downloads (expected to rise by nearly 30% in 2008) while predictingthat CD sales will drop another 20% in 2008 on top of the 18% they are expected to drop this year. Wow.
No it doesn’t take a genius, to know that the CD is a dead format, but Ben is still somewhat a Viking by being one of the first artists to do this. An artist that easily could have gotten a record label to waste their money on a traditional release with production and manufacturing costs, but as always, it looks like Ben may be getting the last laugh on this one. His fans are already giving it rave reviews and if you want to check it out, you can hear the whole album for free here at AOL. Me, I still like the old stuff better, but maybe it just takes some getting used to.