the ballad of the little band that couldn’t



now playing: aunt pat, “the saddest cowgirl”


(all printed copies of the first aunt pat album are history…so i’ll be keepin’ mine pretty close to my chest.)

nik everett seems to be a member of the very, very small circle of people i can talk to and bitch, moan and complain about the music business in a completely unbridled fashion and yet not feel as though all fuckin’ hope is completely lost when i hang up the phone. i think that’s because i know he’s doing this for the right reasons.

that’s probably why i’m in his band, too…it sure doesn’t hurt.

we were talking today and something popped into my head that had never occurred to me before today…no, it wouldn’t be our discussion about how even the bad music in the seventies was better than the bad music now (my quote: “i’ll take kung fu fighting over i’m too sexy for my fuckin’ shirt anyday, man.  anyday.”).

but we did get drawn into talking about bad music…and about how the open mikes nowadays have been taken over by hacks who feel it’s their right and privilege to learn to play guitar before an audience, no matter how unimpressed they might be…and i wondered aloud about what it must be like to be an A&R rep for a major label in the midst of all this. we were talking about how out of touch they seem to be with what’s worthwhile and what’s not, and it occurred to me that if i were in A&R, i’d be just as lost as they are.

here’s why.

let’s say that you’re an A&R rep for a major label, and a scout or an attorney acquaintance of yours brings you a tape (because that’s how it works nowadays…you have to connect with someone on the outer perimeter of the business who’ll be willing to call in a favor for you in order to be heard), and this tape just completely blows you away. you listen to it over and over in your car on the way home from work, and you actually take it out of the stereo and bring it inside with you…it’s that good. you contact the band, find out they’ve been playing to very receptive audiences in their hometown and getting a little indie radio play, and that they’re very professional and a solid unit to the last member. they’re in this for the long haul. you ask for more music, and they send you a CD with 16 songs on it, and every single one of them is amazing.

you just can’t believe it…you don’t understand why some other rep hasn’t already scooped them up. you put together a package on the band and start lobbying your bosses on their behalf. you bring their CD to the weekly staff meeting and you play it for the whole room, with a big shit-eating grin on your face as you watch their jaws drop. you champion their cause to the label until they relent and sign the band. they turn over the masters from the songs that they sent you, and you decide to release them as-is, based on the fidelity of the masters – their record will be out within six weeks.

the machine has kicked into gear.

you’re already planning on how you’re going to spend your bonus money when they pick up the nest new artist grammy the week the record comes out. the disc hits stores on tuesday, and the following week, you stop at the newsstand on the way to work to pick up the newest billboard because you can’t wait until you get to work to see how you’ve done this week.

you get into your car and put your coffee into the cup holder as you’re frantically flipping the pages towards the hot 100 chart, and you feel your heart sink directly into your pancreas as Reality Sets In:

your band…and at this point, you’re calling them your band…the band that has been your passion for three months – debuts at number 89.

at number one on the hot 100 that week, for the fifth straight week, is macarena by Los Retardos, or whatever the fuck they were called…

and you watch in horror for the next month as their masterpiece of an album fails to crack the top seventy, while simultaneously watching willard scott and katie couric doing the fucking macarena on the today show, as this irritating non-song pours out of every car that works its way next to you at a traffic light, out of the stores at the mall, out of your kids’ room, even.

the band you championed ultimately sold about 65,000 units, thanks to some sparse promotion at AAA radio and a solid following that they brought with them to the album deal, but that’s it. before the year is up, brass at the label has already decided that they’ll be dropped at the end of the year…and you’re in line at best buy with a copy of the macarena CD in your hands because your kid wants it for christmas.

what do you do at that point?

i think, much to the detriment of music in general, that most of these poor bastards decide that they obviously were wrong about the band that they championed, even though that wouldn’t be the case…they were right. absolutely right. had this happened in 1970 instead of 1995, the band would’ve put out a second album, and then a third…and they’d have gotten an opportunity to build support in pre-clear channel radio, and they’d have stood a fighting chance to be heard.

but it doesn’t work that way now.

so, if you want to continue to be an A&R rep, you learn to look for what will sell quickly…what will capture the attention of the dyslexic record-buying public long enough to get them to part with their money, and you become part of the problem…because being part of the solution lies further up the chain of command than you can reach…

…and, after all, a man’s gotta eat.

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