Jim Urie is the President and CEO of Universal Music Group, which has spent the last two decades buying up every label it possibly can to become the world’s largest music conglomerate. Like all record company CEOs, Jim Urie is trying to curb illegal downloading. Also like all record company CEOs, he’s not having much luck. So he’s begging you to help him out by signing this handy online form letter to representatives in Washington, D.C. which claims that illegal downloading is destroying American music.
Urie gave a real whiz-bang presentation about all this in front of other industry honchos at the NARM convention earlier this year, and got so fired up at the response that he created a Facebook page called Music Rights Now as a “call to action.” He recently asked the folks who champion independent record stores under the banner of Record Store Day to promote his Music Rights Now page, and they obliged with a click-through banner on their site.
He also asked them to distribute to independent record stores this statement he wrote, which reads in full:
I’ve received hundreds of e-mails enthusiastically reacting to my “call to action” at the National Association of Recording Merchandisers convention last month. The music business is facing huge challenges from piracy and theft. Never before in American history has an entire industry been so decimated by illegal behavior. Yet the government has not responded in a meaningful way to help us address the crisis. My call to action is for all of us to become more aggressive in lobbying our government, more outspoken in drawing attention to the problems caused by piracy and more actively engaged. We cannot win this fight alone.
Governments outside the U.S. are legislating, regulating and playing a prominent role in discussions with ISPs (Internet Service Providers). Sales have dramatically improved in these countries. How is it that the U.S.—with the most successful music community in the world—is not keeping up with places like South Korea, France, the UK and New Zealand?
As I said in my speech, I hope that the industry can negotiate a voluntary deal with the ISPs. We need our government representatives to encourage this. But whether or not we reach a deal with the ISPs, our government needs to know that we’ve got a piracy problem and we need real solutions. To accomplish this, our government needs to hear from all of us, so they know that their constituents are out here. Join me in calling on our elected officials to fight piracy. Please help by forwarding this email to your colleagues, friends—everyone who loves music. And consider enlisting your entire company to help in this fight. Then by clicking on the link below, a message will be sent to your representatives in Washington. Help us launch a viral campaign to cut off access to the online sites that are used to steal our music, our property and our jobs. It only takes a second, but it can make a tremendous impact.
You might think: A valiant crusader in the fight for justice! Except as a supporter of the ideals behind Record Store Day, and as one who thinks hometown record stores are just as important as gigantic conglomerates (Universal Music Group owns the catalogs of Motown, Def Jam, Island, Interscope, Geffen, A&M, MCA, Mercury, Verve, Lost Highway, Polydor, Decca, Hip-O, Prestige, Riverside, and lots of others), I say let’s look at this Urie guy a little closer.
Here’s the thing. In March this year, Urie announced a new $10.00 suggested retail price on most titles for Universal’s new releases. (The Roots’ How I Got Over and M.I.A.’s ///Y/ are the first that come to mind.) Which seems like great news, right? Consumers have been asking for cheaper CD prices forever! Everyone knows how little it costs to make a CD by now, and most people justifiably feel like charging $19.99 is outrageous.
But when Universal rolled out the new pricing structure, they conveniently forgot to mention who’s making up the margin. It’s not Universal. Instead, Urie is shifting the burden onto record stores—and in particular, independent record stores.
Let’s look at the M.I.A. record as an example. Big-box stores order so much quantity and so little variety that they’re able to get concessionary wholesale pricing from labels on new releases, but independent stores order nearly all new releases from distributors called one-stops. Under the old pricing tier, an independent store would have ordered a copy of ///Y/ for $10.99 from a one-stop, sold it for $15.99 and made five bucks.
Under Universal’s current “Velocity” program, the suggested retail price for ///Y/ is only $10.00, a fact touted clearly to customers on the overwrap sticker on top of the CD:
But how much does that CD cost the store? Below is a screen grab from the B2B ordering site at AEC, one of the country’s largest one-stop distributors to independent stores, and I swear it’s not Photoshopped. The first figure on the bottom line is the suggested retail price. The second is the wholesale cost to stores.
$10 MSRP, $9.99 wholesale. That’s right: The independent record store makes a one-cent profit. Essentially, Jim Urie is telling record stores to fuck themselves. Who could possibly be happy earning one measly penny per sale while making Urie’s company look like saviors for lowering prices?
The end result is that independent stores are threatened anew not by illegal downloading but by Urie himself, who apparently only wants to sell CDs at loss-leader outlets like Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target—retail behemoths that continue to drive independent stores out of business. Urie doesn’t care; he’s shifted the burden to store owners, so he’s still making money. How the indie-loving people behind Record Store Day could even speak to the guy, let alone promote his agenda, is totally beyond me.
Well, it only took them ten years, but we take such news when we can get it!
The Magnetic Fields’ brilliant song cycle 69 Love Songs is finally seeing a vinyl release. Spread across six 10″ records, each in a separate gatefold sleeve, the set will be bound with a cardboard slipcover and a large version of the CD version booklet. It should be out
sometime in August April 20, 2010, it’s apparently limited to 3,000 copies, and it’ll cost about $100.
I’ve had a running list of albums that should be on vinyl going for quite some time, and 69 Love Songs has been right up near the top since its release ten years ago. Most record companies in 1999 didn’t see any benefit to releasing vinyl, although Merge Records has always been great about LPs—they even pioneered the LP+mp3 download coupon idea, which I covered pretty extensively here last year. Now if they could just release Crooked Fingers’ Red Devil Dawn on vinyl, we’d be set!
There’s a whole lotta other dream albums out there that would be released on vinyl if there were any sense of justice in the world. Here’s a few from the ongoing wish list. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments below.
Please, Record Industry: Put These Albums Out on Vinyl!
Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
The Boredoms – Seadrum / House of Sun
Los Lobos – Colossal Head
K’naan – The Dusty Foot Philosopher
John Prine – In Spite of Ourselves
James Carter – Chasin’ the Gypsy
Gillian Welch – Time (the Revelator)
The Velvet Teen – Out of the Fierce Parade
Uncle Tupelo – Anodyne
Smoking Popes – Born to Quit
Arvo Pärt – Alina
Steve Earle – Transcendental Blues
Camille – Le Fil
Nellie McKay – Get Away From Me
The Rentals – Seven More Minutes
Don Byron – Ivey Divey
Greg Brown – Over and Under
Bebo & Cigala – Lagrimas Negras
Old 97′s – Too Far to Care
Wynton Marsalis – Live at the House of Tribes
Robert Earl Keen – Gravitational Forces
Knife in the Water – Soundtrack
“One request: ditch the cell phones and digital cameras. If they weren’t here, fuck ‘em.”
Apparently something happened tonight called the Grammy Awards, a bloated, self-congratulatory clusterfuck which, as a music journalist, I should probably attempt to care about. But even if for some sadomasochistic reason or another I followed the Grammys like a hawk, I’d have to opt instead for witnessing an event infinitely more electrifying and significant: Billie Joe Armstrong’s grand return to the stage at 924 Gilman Street.
Gilman in itself holds a big place in my heart; from 1990-1995 I played there, slept there, volunteered there, and went to more shows there than I can count. And of the 20 or so times I saw Green Day—including the time they fulfilled a request to play my own high school in 1991—none was as special as seeing them at Gilman, because it was and still is the most miraculous and amazing club the world has to offer.
Billie Joe, now a decorated Grammy alumnus himself, suffered the psychological blow of not being able to perform again at Gilman—essentially his home and breeding ground for six formative years—when Green Day signed to Warner Bros. in 1993 (the club explicitly bars major-label bands from its lineups). In a number of songs and interviews, he made the scars public; yet skirting back to the venerable warehouse fifteen years later, his less-mentioned but no-less-brilliant “other band” Pinhead Gunpowder was added onto tonight’s hush-hush Sunday evening show. (Judging from the long line that snaked around the block as the doors opened at 5pm, the news that Billie Joe was playing didn’t exactly escape the wildfire of Message Boards and MySpace postings like the organizers hoped.)
Pinhead Gunpowder does not play a lot of shows. In fact, they’ve only played 17 shows in 17 years. And though the band had just finished up a round of Southern California dates the previous week, tonight’s show carried a particular historical weight.
“We’ve played some shows, like down in San Pedro, the kinds of shows I haven’t played in 15 years,” he explained to me, hanging around the side door before the doors opened. “It’s been fuckin’ great. But this place…”—he paused, stared nervously at the club—“I haven’t played here in a long time.”
Playing Gilman again for Billie Joe is probably a lot like getting dumped by an amazing girlfriend, only to have her call up years later out of the blue for a roll in the hay; strange, kind of awesome, and more than slightly nerve-racking. Nearby, some people arrived with video equipment; “What are they filming for?” asked Billie Joe, no doubt concerned that his private communion with Gilman could be turned into a documentary critique.
But if the love showered on him tonight was any barometer, then Billie Joe needn’t have worried. Two girls at the front of the line, who’d arrived at 7:30am, came around the corner and approached him; some gushing-adolescent conversation and a couple of hugs later, the girls ran back to the line shaking, shuddering, and coming precariously close to throwing up in excitement.
And onstage, after setting up his own equipment and adjusting his own mic stand, Billie Joe had the world in his hands, from the opening chords of “Find My Place” to luminous chestnuts like “MPLS Song” and “Losers of the Year.” Not a drop of animosity remained from 1993. Bodies crushed, heaved, and lurched as one in the wonderfully chaotic fray of the crowd, where I and hundreds of others tried to stay on two feet. Gilman staffers on either side of the stage, most of them in grade school when Green Day were banned from Gilman, all sang along.
“Welcome home!” someone yelled.
“Welcome home!” replied Billie Joe, in a sort of gleeful amazement at the phrase, and then began singing, “Welllll-come hoooo-me, wellll-come hoooo-me!”
Obviously enjoying the shit outta the occasion, Billie jumped around like a madman, quoted John Denver and Don McLean lyrics, and slashed away at his black Gretsch guitar. Through “Reach for the Bottle,” “Before the Accident,” and, in a dedication to Pinhead Gunpowder’s old guitarist Mike Kirsch, “Future Daydream,” he couldn’t have appeared more inspired on Gilman’s well-worn stage. Being tangled in the sea of people up front, I swayed and sweat and gasped for air along with every goddamn beautiful moment of it all.
After “Mahogany,” the lights came up, the side door opened, and Billie Joe Armstrong ambled out onto Eighth Street. I caught up with him, steam emanating from his drenched body, in the same spot where beforehand he’d expressed uncertainty.
“That,” he told me, “was great.”
P.S. Pinhead Gunpowder brought out a lot of faces I haven’t seen in a while. Jesse Luscious, Robert Eggplant, Paul Curran and Patrick Hynes: nice seeing you all. You too, Aaron. And massive kudos to the opening band, Zomo, who were almost as great as the headliner.