From the Archive: Jimmy Page Discusses Tour and Album with The Black Crowes
From the archive: Jimmy Page and The Black Crowes discuss their 2000 tour and live album.
Musicmaker's business is mainly based on licensing existing catalogs from record labels and making them available for internet customers to use in creating custom CDs of their favorite tracks. As internet companies began taking a nosedive in the stock market earlier this year, musicmaker came under fire from disgruntled investors, who charged that most major artists' record contracts preclude them from cutting separate deals for internet distribution. So the unique contractual situation that left Page and the Crowes free to negotiate an internet deal for their live recording was as much of a godsend for musicmaker as it was for the artists -- if not more so.
"We've had some great success doing artist-specific projects like this before," says musicmaker President of Global Marketing Larry Lieberman. "We're really focused on getting great repertoire in five genres in particular: classic music, jazz, classic rock, Latin and contemporary Christian.
"What we're really talking about here is empowerment for the average Joe -- the grand promise of so many computer technologies. The fan at home can place the website's 19 Page/Crowes songs in any order he or she likes, or choose just a handful of favorites, again, in any running order. All this can be delivered as a computer download or as one or two custom CDs express-mailed to the customer's home. Buyers can even make up their own title for the CD."
"The one person who's disappeared out of the business is the A&R man," says Page. "Because the listener at home becomes the A&R man. He's the one who chooses what tracks he wants on the album. And that's cool."
"Once the site went up and I showed it to Jimmy," Lieberman recalls, "the first thing he did was say, 'Well, fuck y'all. These are the songs I want, and this is the order I want them in.' And he made one for himself and mailed it home. Then he came to me and said, 'Can I send one to Robert [Plant]?' I was like, 'Yeah, sure.' He went in and wrote himself a little title, picked some songs and shipped it off to Robert at home. We did it right out of a hotel room in New York."
What's even more appealing for artists is that internet outfits like musicmaker run much leaner than your average major record label. With less overhead, more of the profits can go to the artist. No one will quite say how much more in this case. "But the interesting thing," Curbishley notes, "is that we didn't get any of the old-fashioned -- dare I say it? -- thievery: the old-fashioned accounting tactics and procedures of major record labels. Like a royalty rate being based on 90 percent of CD sales for no good reason other than they don't want to pay you based on 100 percent. And there was no such thing as returns because musicmaker only manufactures what's ordered. They either do that or the customer downloads the music. So your sales figures are absolutely real. Also, in the ordering process, your accounting is done for you. When musicmaker reports back to us, not only do we know the name and address of every buyer, we also get a readout of how many records were sold and where. So it's not necessary to do an audit, which makes things a lot easier."
What also makes things easy is that, for artists of Page and the Crowes' stature, a substantial pre-sold audience already exists. So unlike a new band, these artists don't really need the promotion and marketing machinery of a major label. As Page said to Lieberman during one meeting, ''Anyone who's gonna buy this already owns the last 11 albums I played on."
But no one was about to rely entirely on word of mouth in marketing Live at the Greek. "I really felt that the only way they could drive people to the internet site to buy the product was by advertising and promoting in conventional ways," says Curbishley. "To drive the normal buyer to that site, you couldn't just do it on the internet. 'Cause all you'd be getting are those people who are avid internet users."
So musicmaker and the bands' management set up a radio promotion deal, whereby listeners in a given territory could order Live at the Greek directly from their local radio station's website, via a link to musicmaker. "We provide banners and links that the radio stations can put on their sites," Lieberman explains. "So a station like WBCN in Boston can announce, ‘That was the new song from Jimmy Page and the Black Crowes. It's not available at retail. If you want this song, come to our website.’ We give the radio stations a commission on sales the same way we would give any other retailer that sends us traffic. We have similar agreements with the major music retailers, who can also have links to musicmaker on their websites."
"The radio stations loved it," Curbishley adds. "They stood to generate income from the record in the same way a retailer would."
All these strategies paid off. "What Is and What Should Never Be," the first single from Live at the Greek, became the first-ever internet-only single to make into the Top 15 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart.
Meanwhile, the parent album is having a successful run as well. "Live at the Greek is certainly the best-selling custom CD ever in the history of this medium," Lieberman enthuses.
At the time of this writing, Curbishley estimated that, including downloads and custom CDs, sales of Live at the Greek are "nudging 90 to 100 thousand. Which is phenomenal for internet activity. So who knows where it will end up? It's constant. It's going to sell more with the tour this year. So who can say? The other interesting thing is that they're getting orders from everywhere around the globe -- Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, Europe... "
Curbishley adds that the album will most likely make its way into conventional CD release one day: "We always had in the back of our minds that we would probably go with a retail deal at some stage. But then we might change the album a little bit -- add tracks to it, take a couple of tracks away, or whatever. We've still got all those options. I haven't actively chased a retail deal yet. But there are several companies that have chased us -- by virtue of what happened when we went to radio."
Indeed, Curbishley is so pleased with musicmaker's sales figures of Live at the Greek that he has released a live album by another of his acts, the Who, via the website. "This probably won't be a Top 10 album," he says of The Blues to the Bush. "But there are a lot of people out there who would like that particular album. And this is a way for them to go find it and for it not to clash with other product. It can be sold over a long period of time. It's not any big hype or power sell. It is what it is."
Curbishley is among those who regard the internet as a potential partner for conventional record labels and retail outlets, rather than a threat or competitor. "My firm belief is that the internet will eventually become an avenue for sales that will probably generate five to 10 percent of additional global record sales for the major labels -- once they embrace it instead of running away from it. And I think that's great for the artist. Because the artist deserves to explore all avenues for sales."
Classic rock fans are one of many groups who feel disenfranchised by the current music scene, where corporate consolidation of the record business has led to a big-time dumbing down of the popular music marketplace. Can the internet become a home for music that isn't about suckering the 13-and-under demographic into buying vacuous teen pop and pseudo angry, de-politicized, suburban rap metal?
"I thought the music business was corporate back in 1988," says Chris Robinson. "But, Jesus, music is way beyond corporate now. We've been blessed to have a career. A lot of these young bands don't get a chance to be around that long."
"The corporate industry has way bigger egos than any band," Rich Robinson marvels. "You take the most ego-ed out artist of the last hundred years and those corporate guys have bigger fuckin' egos than any of them. And they're getting cocky about creating formulas. Like, 'We'll create you.' They build things up so they can tear them down. It's all about control."
''And that kills off so much of what's good about a band," Page adds. "We were lucky in the days of Led Zeppelin. Each album was different. We didn't have to continue a formula or produce a certain number of singles. Because, in those days, radio was still playing albums. That was really good. I don't know whether a band could get away with all that right now. I've heard it from top record executives, who say it just couldn't happen again. Just couldn't."
Maybe not in the conventional record business. But what about the internet? As a relatively new industry, internet music distribution is a little like the record business was during the first 15 years of rock and roll. All the angles haven't yet been worked out and reduced to a spreadsheet marketing formula. That'll come soon enough. But for now there's room for plenty of good music to seep through the cracks.
"In my romanticized notion," says Chris Robinson, "I wish it would be like the old days of Chess Records, selling records out of the trunk of a car. I gotta put it in terms like that, because I don't understand technology. But the way I see it, the internet seems like the way for bands to be on a more one-to-one basis with fans who know what they want.
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