Moving the product

There once was a time when the primary concern of a record company was something other than how many units were shipped, as Mark Alger notes:

There was a reason that music overtook the consciousness of so many people in the ’60s and it didn’t have anything to do with hippie ways or political movements. It had to do with who was running the record companies and their outlook toward their “product.” In fact, I would peg the start of the decline in the industry that we see the other end of today to the period in time when use of the term “product” to describe music became current and acceptable.

This is not to say that there weren’t some blatant examples of mercenary behavior, even among the revered record men of that era. Berry Gordy, Jr. was indisputably one of the Good Guys, but he was ruthless when he thought he had to be: irked that the Funk Brothers house band was moonlighting for Eddie Wingate’s small family of Detroit labels, and unable to persuade them to stop doing so, Gordy wrote a large check to Wingate, ostensibly to acquire Edwin Starr’s contract, and bade him go away.

Still, even on the Motown assembly line, it was never “product.” Nor was it at Warner Bros., where acts like Randy Newman, whose first two albums never charted at all — Harry Nilsson actually did better than Newman with Newman’s own songs, at least at first — weren’t threatened with loss of contract if they didn’t shape up.

It’s disheartening, to me anyway, that so many of the great labels are now nothing more than that: labels, logos slapped on the finished product.


  1. It’s an unhappy FMJRA Saturday. « A Conservative Shemale »

    12 December 2009 · 9:32 am

    […] CG Hill looks at one of the reasons music sucks so bad now. […]

  2. John Salmon »

    12 December 2009 · 9:36 am

    That Nilsson/Newman album was probably the only successful album Harry, despite all his talent, ever did. Left to his own song-writing devices he’d sing goofy stuffy like that Coconut song.

  3. CGHill »

    12 December 2009 · 9:57 am

    Odd thing about Nilsson: other people had the hits with his songs, he did better with other people’s. Case in point: Three Dog Night got the hit out of “One”, the Monkees from “Cuddly Toy”; Harry’s biggest include “Without You” (a Badfinger number) and “Everybody’s Talkin'” (by Fred Neil).

  4. Mark Alger »

    12 December 2009 · 11:31 am

    If you hang out at all among independent musicians, you’ll quickly discover that there is a LARGE contingent of those of whom you might say, “Didn’t you used to be somebody?” People who were reliable mid-listers, turning out top-quality journeyman work in a reliable time frame, and doing so with interesting artifice that people actually wanted to hear. (As opposed to that teenagers seem unable to resist — for 30 seconds.)

    And their stories are depressingly the same. They were cut by their labels, had to work like dogs for years to get their masters back, and are now selling more copies of more albums than ever before, and doing it on the Internet through MySpace and iTunes and so-forth.

    You can tell who they are by the fact that, even with NO national media exposure, they can sell under 250 tickets to a show and still gross in the high five figures per date. 200 days a year.

    Meantime, the record companies have disgustingly slick sites for people who don’t know what end of a guitar the sound comes out of. They sell 500,000 copies of a song on iTunes and they’re a star. Until next week when the new flavor comes along.


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