Albini, Millard 1-4

Steve Albini, most known for producing Nirvana’s In Utero, has written an essay about how kids hoping to hit it big are virtually forced to sell their souls to the music industry for mere pittance. The industry lackeys sent to represent the industry are young, hip, and have indie cred. They are present in order to show the band a familiar figure they can trust. This “Artist and Repertoire” person is the first representative of the industry to make elaborate promises that will never come to fruition. Sadly, the “A & R” guy probably believes what he is telling the band himself because he is so young and has never had experience with industry goons who send out young people like himself to dupe bands into signing with big labels by telling them that no one will force them to change their creative ways. They band wrongly believes they are actually signing with this young music enthusiast. What is interesting to note is that both the “A & R” guy and the band are being fooled by those at the top of the food chain: the “A & R” guy believes his promises and the band believes in him. We see a chain of falsehoods. The band signs a binding contract disguised as a letter of intent that obligates them to finish a deal with the label. If they never want to sign a contract, no matter- there are many other bands salivating at the thought of being signed to a label, placing the label in the position of power and the band at their disposal. The band then leaves their little independent label for “greener pastures” and is pitifully left with almost nothing to show for it.

What strikes me as particularly wrong is the fact that the article implies that the label will interfere with the band’s creative processes. Creativity is difficult to cultivate when a controlling force is blocking out the sunlight. Musicians are prevented from growing naturally by an industry that is preventing them from indulging in their own creative processes and forcing them to conform to what the label demands them to sound like for the promise of riches. How can good music be made when the label is forcing the band to sound like what they are demanding of them instead of sounding like themselves? It is impossible. Good music is made when the artist has the freedom to “play” with their music as they please and make their own artistic choices.

At the end of the day, after the band has paid off all of its expenses, the members are left with the result of all their hard work; less than what one would make working at a convenience store and are actually in the hole on royalties. On the flip side, they have made the music industry far richer. This severe imbalance is downright depressing. Greed is the main incentive of the music industry instead of a true love for music. The industry people at the top of the food chain stuff their pockets while the bands earn beans. In a perfect world, there would be more a balance between the earnings of the bands and the earnings of the industry. Unfortunately, we live in no such perfect world.

Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, the apparatus that planted the seeds for today’s music business. The reproduction of sound could be produced through different arrangements used by different inventors, and each inventor guarded his secrets closely. This is reminiscent of today’s many music players and the closely-guarded secrets of the different companies in Silicon Valley. Each producer makes a somewhat differently manufactured good, but the end results are products that perform similar functions.

The coin-slot phonograph was used as a cheap means of entertainment during the Depression. For just one nickel, a paying costumer would be treated to music, even though the sound quality was poor. The popularity of coin-slot players grew, and Edison realized that making pre-recorded cylinders to play music would be lucrative. At the same time, Emile Berliner realized that the gramophone would become a musical entertainer if he could copy recordings. But it was Eldridge John was who found success first with his duplication process. This competition reminds me of today’s competition in the technology industry. All the different players want nothing more than to beat their competition in the race for the invention of new gizmos and gadgets. The phonograph was marketed as a “necessity in your home, not a luxury,” which is how most people today feel about the phonograph’s descendant, the iPod.

The phonograph created an entire industry. The Big Three signed classical musicians and vaudeville stars to record contracts, while independent companies were forced to seek new types of music to record (blues and jazz). This reminds me of major labels vs. smaller labels today. The major labels have mainstream stars signed to them, while smaller labels have indie stars signed and seek a different audience. We see how history repeats itself.

Unfortunately, the music that could be recorded at the time was limited. For example, very loud sounds forced the stylus to the edge of the groove and sometimes ruined the recording completely, therefore drums were out of the question. It is interesting to think that without the perfection of sound technology, it would be very difficult to hear certain sound ranges. We are rather spoiled in the modern era, where it is possible to hear numerous different ranges on our little portable music players while the people of yesteryear had no such luxuries.

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10 Responses to “Albini, Millard 1-4”

  1.    Amy Herzog Says:

    Joanna, this is a brilliant start to the semester– really insightful and very well written. I especially like your point about the “chain of falsehoods” that drive the industry. This is something endemic to many branches of contemporary media, and something potential recruits to the industry should keep in mind.

    We’ll be talking a great deal, too, about links between the business practices of the past and the state of the industry today.

    Looking forward to reading more!

  2.    robert shemanski Says:

    I really like your comments on Steve Albini. I grew up a huge nirvana fan. They changed the music industry forever because they came out with their own version of music that no one heard before. Steve Albini who created Nirvana’s Utero made music history. I agree with you that the falsehoods changed the industry. I think contempary media is a great career but is changing for the worse because of the way the industry is run and perceived by others. Kind like business practice vs sellouts. Is it right for a record label to force an artist to play the music your suppose to be listening to according to the radio the music that is in or should they be allowed to play what they want to which was discussed in class.

  3.    robert shemanski Says:

    I really like your comments on Steve Albini. I grew up a huge nirvana fan. They changed the music industry forever because they came out with their own version of music that no one heard before. Steve Albini who created Nirvana’s Utero made music history. I agree with you that the falsehoods changed the industry. I think contempary media is a great career but is changing for the worse because of the way the industry is run and perceived by others. Kind like business practice vs sellouts. Is it right for a record label to force an artist to play the music your suppose to be listening to according to the radio the music that is in or should they be allowed to play what they want to which was discussed in class!!!!

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