St. Vincent’s new single is out, and boy is it great. It fills me with optimism regarding the singer/songwriter/weirdo’s forthcoming album ST. VINCENT. Even though this will be the singer’s fourth album, much fuss was made in the media regarding the fact that ST. VINCENT will be her first major label album. Why is this a big deal? I personally don’t care what sort of label is releasing her album, but after I read a few news articles online I noticed that all of them went out of their way to mention that this new record would be her first on a major label.
None of these articles came out and said so, but what I inferred was that this new record is going to be St. Vincent’s first real album. Like somehow being on a Universal imprint label (that’s right, folks, the album is going to be put out on a smaller record label owned by a conglomerate) legitimizes her as an artist. Though can that really be the case? Maybe I’m reading into this incorrectly…the only other thing I could think is that perhaps people view this as St. Vincent selling out. Ugh, I hate the business side of the music business.
I don’t think that the freaky-lady who recorded one of the best albums of 2012 with David Byrne is only now a legitimate force in the music world because Universal is going to foot the bill to put out her next record. I also don’t think anyone capable of releasing such a bizarre, interesting record with David Byrne is capable of selling out.
Anyway, St. Vincent’s new single “Birth in Reverse” is as funky and weird as one would hope from the lanky songstress. That said, one definitely gets the sense that she’s learned a thing or two from hanging out with pop-freak Byrne. “Birth in Reverse” maybe strange, but it’s also catchy and has a rad fuzzy-guitar riff. Say what you will about The Talking Heads, but the band always put out catchy but off-kilter songs. So, if Ms. Clark is going to take musical cues from David Byrne, I’ll forgive her for going to Christina Aguilera hairstylist.
“None of these articles came out and said so, but what I inferred was that this new record is going to be St. Vincent’s first real album. Like somehow being on a Universal imprint label (that’s right, folks, the album is going to be put out on a smaller record label owned by a conglomerate) legitimizes her as an artist. Though can that really be the case?
Maybe I’m reading into this incorrectly…the only other thing I could think is that perhaps people view this as St. Vincent selling out. Ugh, I hate the business side of the music business.”
Here’s what mentioning “first on a major” means.
It means that this is St. Vincent’s first really good chance to get on the radio and become huge.
Indie rock typically does not get on the radio, but indie rock bands signed to majors have a better chance of getting on the radio and being huge. Telling people that she’s on a major now is extremely important information, because we can now all assume that she wants to be bigger, she likely wouldn’t want to avoid the radio. You never know, sometimes indie acts have very little interest in commercial radio. But if you’re signing to a major, you would expect not to resist going on the radio. I, personally, would like to see St. Vincent much much bigger, among those at the top.
Ann Powers at NPR just wrote an article which had a lot of comments comparing Lorde to Cobain. Nobody liked that. But if you’re going to write that, you must really want a new Cobain, a new something. Some sort of change. And I can see why. Things are pretty awful. Perrygagacyrus get a ton of hype, it seems that we’re not supposed to see Perrygagacyrus as the Archies or the Ohio Express or whatever Top 40 bs that serious people never cared about, but as something important. Facts about the lives of these not very good at all Top 40 acts need to be known by the people!!! We never had to know that Joey Levine actually wrote the hits of Ohio Express, or that Ron Dante was the singer for the Archies. (The Archies Sugar Sugar was the #1 hit of 1969). At the same time as Ohio Express Yummy Yummy Yummy, and Sugar, Sugar there was Led Zeppelin I. That wasn’t on Top 40, that was the Archies. Music for children. On Top 40. And that’s the way it is right now. Perrygagacyrus is music for children. And we’re not supposed to be insulted when they ask us to treat this music for children as music for adults, music that should be analyzed. It’s an insult to ask thinking adults to treat Perrygagacyrus as anything but commercial product. If Top 40 needs catchy product, these are the people who are providing that product. The purpose of the songs are to keep people from turning the dial between the blocks of ads so that they can hear the commercials which were bought by companies who paid the money to the radio station so they could pay their staff and pay for electricity and all the other costs. The songs are there as filler. And the death spiral comes, focusing more and more on the core audience with increasingly stupid stuff, people stop listening to the radio, over and over and over.
At any time, radio could stop and say “hey, this isn’t working”. “What can we do to stop this death spiral?” “Well, we’re losing listeners because our music isn’t good or interesting enough. It may be that our core listener in any of our formats somehow has bad musical taste, probably because we chased away people who like interesting rock by not playing new interesting rock. Same with any format. Why don’t we just start playing good interesting music again? It might be risky, risk alienating core audience with new sounds that confuse and frighten them. Why don’t we put our best minds on that, figure out a way to get the people who like good, interesting stuff back without scaring away the stupidest, most awful, dedicated listeners we have been cultivating for years. But get the good, interesting stuff back on the air, full blast. Let’s start with St. Vincent. Elite credentials. 3 great albums. Before that, Polyphonic Spree, Glenn Branca. Then an album with David Byrne and a long tour. 10 guitaring 10 singing 10 songwriting 10 interesting 10 rock 10 looks. Unassailable. She just won an award from the Smithsonian. Yeah, this is what we want on the radio.”
Also, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Good stuff.
I agree with this statement:
“It means that this is St. Vincent’s first really good chance to get on the radio and become huge.”
But disagree with this one: “Telling people that she’s on a major now is extremely important information, because we can now all assume that she wants to be bigger, she likely wouldn’t want to avoid the radio. ”
Nobody at St. Vincent’s level truly wants to avoid success/getting bigger. Some artists may profess to not care or maybe even act repulsed by the idea of mainstream success…but they wouldn’t be selling their albums if they weren’t in it for the money. Or getting their music out there or whatever.
The big deal about being on a major label is of course the possibility of radioplay. But in an age where many indie bands breakout via TV commercials or cool videos post to YouTube–does radio matter that much? For now it matters, but give it a few more years.
People comparing Lorde to Cobain does show that people are hungry for something more substantive. I didn’t see the comments where people did that, but I find it a little incredible. Firstly, I think it’s very lazy to compare modern artists to old ones. Secondly, how could you make a comparison like that with just one album? That’s the biggest problem I see in music today: modern acts don’t have time to develop they’re dropped the second they quit “producing.”
I think historically Top 40 (and hell, even stuff like the Grammy awards) have skewed Perrygagacyrus. Everytime I go back and look at the songs/albums on Billboard during the 1960’s and 1970’s I’m amazed at how many lame, historically irrelevant bands were really popular…at the time. Led Zeppelin was savaged by critics (even Rolling Stone) when they were an active band, I’m sure it was because Engelbert Humperdinck had a better publicist.
I get a little uncomfortable whenever people talk about how evil corporations are ruining radio. Radio is just giving people what they want: safe and comfortable music. You and I dig new and interesting music, but most people only want the familiar. That’s why you have people like Lady Gaga doing a Madonna impression and finding so much fame (yikes, just compared a new artist with an old one…getting lazy). Radio and the companies in the music biz are only giving people what they want, and that’s classic rock (mostly the awesome music shunned from the radio 25-30 years ago) and rehashed “new” stuff that really a fresh coat of paint on the same old Top 40.
Hopefully St. Vincent’s tenure with a major label will give her access to more people and make her some money. Maybe we’ll luck out and she’ll get to keep her artistic integrity AND find fame/fortune. But most likely she’ll meet her contractual obligations and then be back to the minor leagues. I could be wrong. I was happy to see Tegan & Sara blow up this year, so maybe St. Vincent will find similar success and she’ll wind up on the FM dial next to Katy Perry. Now wouldn’t that be something?
Good post there, Jason.
I agree w/ much of what you said.
A few random things.
About Cobain and Lorde – it was the author, Ann Powers, who made the comparison. She’s pretty well known. I’m not an expert on her, but when I saw the article was written by her, I thought – “oh, it’s someone I know”. Anyway, here’s the link to that.
About this one:
“Nobody at St. Vincent’s level truly wants to avoid success/getting bigger. Some artists may profess to not care or maybe even act repulsed by the idea of mainstream success…but they wouldn’t be selling their albums if they weren’t in it for the money. Or getting their music out there or whatever.”
It’s hard to say. There are potential problems with getting on the radio. A natural fan base indie growth process can be disrupted. It certainly isn’t true that everyone selling their albums is doing it for the money. Or that more money now is better than a slow and steady growth in the amount of money. There are plenty of acts that do at least pretend that getting bigger is not something they want. I can say on a message board for a good local indie music scene something like “hey, you guys are making a lot of interesting music, it would be great if a lot of you bands got more popular”, and a fairly common reply is “nah, we’re good, we like things the way they are, pretty much.”
Some people simply don’t like bands on the radio. Indie bands know this. It probably worries them, at least some. And I think we both know that indie bands have been very wary of major labels, even though they understand that they are in better shape to get on the radio with a major label. The concern might be more with getting ripped off by a major label than a concern that radio can be harmful. My own attitude toward bands on the radio is that if I knew and liked them, at least a tiny bit, before they were on the radio, they’re ok, but if I hadn’t heard of them, they’re worthless radio crap. This process might or might not give the best results, but there is a lot of worthless radio crap to filter out.
About this one:
“The big deal about being on a major label is of course the possibility of radioplay. But in an age where many indie bands breakout via TV commercials
or cool videos post to YouTube–does radio matter that much? For now it matters, but give it a few more years.”
Well, yes. But 20 years ago, there was MTV. When MTV was a mighty force, it was breaking a lot of bands, separate from radio. I’m not going to take the position that commercial non satellite radio will always be very important. But we are talking about now. And now, radio is important. In terms of indie bands breaking out? I’d say Pitchfork (and the others) has more to do with that than cool Youtube videos and TV commercials.
About this one:
“That’s the biggest problem I see in music today: modern acts don’t have time to develop they’re dropped the second they quit “producing.””
Who are those acts? I mean, I can think of good bands that broke up because they were dropped. They didn’t “produce” because the radio didn’t play them enough. Major labels are overly reliant on radio today (maybe not sometime in the future, but we’re talking about today), and radio isn’t (today, maybe next month will be different) looking for interesting. Do you actually have examples of how bands, who were signed to majors were dropped, and this had a major negative effect? Back in the old days, there really weren’t indies, there wasn’t a wide disparity between indie music and radio music. Between indie rock and radio rock. I get the allaccess.com emails. And they send out a lot of them. I learned something today. There’s a band called “Young Guns”, and they have a song called “Bones”. And “Bones” was the most played song on Active Rock radio this
year. Somehow, I completely missed the entire existence of this band “Young Guns”. I haven’t heard this song, I might check it out, but I expect that it will not blow my mind, melt my face off, or anything like that. At some point, Young Guns will be dropped. Bands like Buckcherry and Red Jumpsuit Apparatus have had some success post major, getting on the radio, continuing to tour, etc. But the overall music situation is basically the same whether or not Buckcherry and RJA ever existed. If they never existed, the radio would’ve played something similar. There is no shortage of bands like that. Every town has an active rock band, they all pretty much sound the same, they rarely tour because the people who like that type of music can get it from the active rock radio station or from their own local bands.
I’m in agreement with your historical analysis. I too like looking at old data. I would add that the Grammys were worse back then – 40 years ago.
I’m in disagreement with this one:
“I get a little uncomfortable whenever people talk about how evil corporations are ruining radio. Radio is just giving people what they want: safe and comfortable music.”
Well, about “evil corporations”. You sound like a conservative. I’m a conservative. I love free markets. But we don’t have free markets. We have oligopolies/monopolies. Free markets give great outcomes, oligopolies don’t, typically. I haven’t talked about “evil corporations” though. My concern, I think, is that specific people at the top, the bosses and their top minions, just tend to suck, today. Although I can’t point fingers at specific people, or a set of specific instructions that I have personally seen, my argument does tend to point in that direction. It possible that an oligopoly could push out content that I personally like better than a free market can. But now, it’s awful, getting worse. Maybe St. Vincent will save the day?
About “what they want”: No. Some of “they” want safe and comfortable music. Others of “they” have stopped listening to the radio because radio does not give them the good and interesting that they want. There’s been Top 40 music. Archies, Ohio Express back in the day. Perrygagacyrus today. If I never have to hear about crappy Top 40 music, I’m fine with there being crappy Top 40 music. Out of sight, out of mind. And, until very recently, everyone knew that crappy Top 40 music was crap, and it stayed on the Top 40, and we didn’t have to hear about it. But now, it seems, they, whoever they are, bosses and their minions, are aggressively pushing this crap on us and we’re not supposed to complain about it? Maybe the only difference is that Lefsetz has written 4 emails with Gaga in the subject in the last month. Something has gone haywire, recently. We have an oligopoly. The bright side is that when you have so very very few decision makers, they should be able to stop on a dime and correct course. The same people who have said “all Perrygagacyrus, all the time” can say “he’s right, Perrygagacyrus is crap,
we haven’t been doing much anything but crap. No more Perrygagacyrus.”
“You and I dig new and interesting music, but most people only want the familiar.
That’s why you have people like Lady Gaga doing a Madonna impression and finding so much fame (yikes, just compared a new artist with an old one…getting lazy). ”
No. The seller of the music is hammering these specific acts. There’s a tv show, I haven’t seen it, called Iheartradio. They had an hour show about Lady Gaga and it was the least popular show on tv that night, the fewest people watched it. If Lady Gaga was popular, people would have watched that show. Perry also had a show, it too was the least popular. People are being fed this music. The people left will eat what you give them. Everybody else is running away.
The bosses and their minions I think stopped caring about making money. They have to understand that the reason people aren’t buying music is because the product is bad. People who listen to Top 40 music are not the same people who
spend a lot of money on music. I go to a lot of shows. And I have to spend a decent amount of money on gas to get there. You have a ticket, occasionally a vinyl or a cassette, beers, and gas. That’s where I’m spending a good amount of money. On music. The gas company happens to get a lot in my case. And about Madonna, that’s just accurate. Almost everyone who cared made the same comparison, there isn’t a modern equivalent. I think the whole idea was to make a new Madonna. Rock sells the records, it has traditionally. Beatles, Elvis, Zeppelin, Floyd.
“Radio and the companies in the music biz are only giving people what they want, and that’s classic rock (mostly the awesome music shunned from the radio 25-30 years ago)”
What? Classic rock was shunned from the radio? Maybe I don’t get what you mean?