What has the world come to when it's no longer enviable to be a rock or rap star?

15919__akon_lThere were two disconcerting things in this morning’s article on the continued decline of the American record industry. The first was an utterly depressing quote uttered by Street Records Corporation president Ron Rifkind, who candidly confessed, "I find myself, when I’m signing a record deal now, asking, ‘Can this sell as a ring tone?’" Granted, he was quoted in reference to the new record from Akon (pictured) and he is the head of a hip-hop label — a genre whose beats and samples might naturally lend themselves to ring tones — but it’s scary to think about record labels across the board adopting such a mindset. Do we really want new musicians having to be concerned with whether or not their songs can be annoyingly sampled on some 12-year-old’s way-too-expensive phone when they’re negotiating with a record label? What would a TV on the Radio (who put out one of this year’s top albums, in my opinion) even sound like?

Disconcerting thing number two was the almost throwaway claim thatmajor labels are asking "new artists seeking record contracts to givetheir label a cut of concert earnings or T-shirt and merchandiserevenue — areas that had once been outside the labels’ bailiwick." Idon’t know how often — if at all — the average concertgoer thinks aboutsuch things, but T-shirt and merchandise sales are sometimes the only way that some bands make any money.

I was reminded of this fact this weekend while watching Tell Me Do You Miss Me,a wonderful and melancholy look at the New York band Luna’s farewelltour (if you have not heard Luna, do yourself a favor and buy the albumPenthouse). There’s one part in the movie where the band’sguitarist Sean Eden admits that the sole money Luna is getting fromtheir tour across Europe is going to come from selling T-shirts and CDs(a fact made even more depressing when their French airline seems tolose their merchandise bag) because all the ticket receipt money ispaying for the tour itself. They go and play Barcelona and London andcome back having barely broken even. It’s one of the few rockdocumentaries I’ve seen that made me never ever want to be in a band.And they even got to keep their T-shirt money.

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  • Rich

    Cry me a river. Many of the great artists of the past died in anonymity and poverty. These guys get to make a living (albeit not as lavish as in the past) and travel across Europe playing music, and they’re complaining?!? Make a documentary about their working in the “real world.” Not as fascinating, is it?

  • N’Jeri

    What’s even more depressing is the Akon is amazingly popular. He two singles out right now are played continulously on the radio and they’re incredible degrading to women. There’s “I Wanna F**k You,” which is about his need to have sex with a pole dancer. And then there’s “Smack That” with such amazing lyrics as:
    smack that, all on the floor,
    smack that, give me some more,
    smack that, ’till you get sore
    Just in case you couldn’t figure it out, “that” refers to a lady parts.

  • Paul U.

    The music industry is in the dumps because people are stupid. They would rather stay on the cell phone 24/7 than be bothered with music. That’s all it is to them, a ringtone or a download that they will never listen to. I feel sad when I look around me in traffic and all I see is people on their phones. I used to like seeing people rocking out to their car stereos. I treasure my driving/music listening time, personally…but I think the habit of listening to music at all is falling out of favor. I sound like an old fogey now, but it seems like soon I am going to be missing the experience of actually going to the store and buying a PHYSICAL CD or DVD.

  • Ep Sato

    Labels cutting into T-shirt sales? That’s F’ed up. I’ve known smaller labels to do this. For example, a now defunct ska label from NYC was known for making “band” t-shirts, and then would fail to give the bands money for them. When the bands would tour the country, no one would buy t-shirts from them as they had gotten them from the label a few months earlier. Meanwhile, the t-shirt sales were, in the words of the bandmembers “what we buy food with”. If that became industry standard, it would be a baad thing.
    While I won’t be so worried guys like Kanye won’t be able to eat, I am concerned about the impact this would have on bands who are signed by indy labels.
    As for labels only being concerned about the bottom line, come on, is this 1960? Record labels have ALWAYS been concerned with what will sell because their product is meant to be “lowest common denominator”.

  • Josh

    Rich — I don’t think it’s the fact that they’re barely breaking even that makes this upsetting. It’s that on top of that, the executives are raking in multi-zero figures.
    The divide between upper and lower class continues to diminish, even for rock stars.

  • Phil

    I admit, I go to alot of concerts, and most of the time, I don’t pay since I get industry tickets comped, which is extremely helpful, but not always viable for more than a few people. Ticket prices besides the point, I find myself wandering around the food & beverage as wel as Merch sales counters while at shows, and my jaw just DROPS. I mean, seriously, most people would say spending $25 for a t-shirt at a store such as Abercrombie & Fitch is something short of insane, and yet, I see these really tiny t-shirts (GUY’s, NOT EVEN the few pieces of yarn that pass for girlie tees these days)with a band or artists logo for like $40. FORTY FREAKIN’ DOLLARS! And as I already pointed out, being 6’3″, most of them are already smaller than normal shirts for a guy my height, and tend to be shrunk after 1 (MAYBE 2) good wears. THATS SOME COLLECTIBLE! Now I understand this might be how some artists make their money, off of merchandise sales, but really? A sweatshirt for $75??? If i had paid the price for my ticket, got maybe 2 drinks (which is about average for a 3 hour concert) and did not eat, but still longed to bring a momento home with me, you’re looking at $200 EASILY in alot of cases. I won’t even comment on the EW article a few weeks ago about the fanatical Steisand fans & how much they spend (that to me is just…SICK…)But my point is I understand an artist needs to eat, and respect them for enriching our lives with their music. But until the quality of their t-shirt fabrics improves, I definitely won’t be buying any loot at concerts to bring home anytime soon.

  • t3hdow

    N’jeri, in defense of Akon, I did like ‘Locked Up’ and ‘Ghetto’, two of his earlier and more meaningful singles. I can understand not liking him now, since those new songs sound retarded, but download those two singles or search for a Youtube video…they’re not half bad.
    Anyway, the cell phone thing is beyond annoying. Call me old fashioned, but I still go out and buy plenty of CDs to listen to in my car or near my computer. I hate that every new popular rap/pop song has to be some club anthem or something catchy enough to be set as a ringtone. They (as well as overly repeated radio songs) KILL songs fast. It just waters down the music industry even further in a time when it’s watered down as it is.
    As for the T-Shirts…wtf? It’s depressing when some talented bands have to sell useless merchandise just to make a buck, yet William Hung makes an a$$ of himself on American Idol and gets a record deal. Granted, Hung’s version of She Bang is hilarious, but come on…

  • Ron

    Today’s music industry stinks!!!!

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