A Test for DualDisc
Today, Interscope released two versions of Nine Inch Nails’ With Teeth . One is a normal audio CD with the standard $13.98 list price for a release by Universal Music Group—the parent company of Interscope. In addition, a DualDisc version of With Teeth was simultaneously released. It has a list price of $18.98—a full five dollars more for the extra DVD content.
This is the first true test for DualDisc. Of the previous big releases that were hailed as victories for the new DualDisc format, none got to compete against a cheaper CD version. Some, such as Bruce Springsteen’s Devils & Dust , were released only as a DualDisc. Others, such as recent albums by Ben Folds and Judas Priest, pitted a DualDisc against a higher priced CD version that was a special package likely to be purchased by collectors and more serious fans.
By releasing both CD and DualDisc versions, Interscope is testing the market’s interest in DualDisc and the perceived value in the added content. What the sales of With Teeth will tell us is what percent of consumers will pay more money for the added content. It’s an important question. Physical sales are down, and the music industry is hoping to inject some life into sales.
There are, of course, factors that will come into play: retailers’ sale prices and how retailers merchandise and advertise the two formats. (What are their relative prices, and which one gets more shelf space?) Still, by next week we’ll have a better idea of where DualDisc stands.
The Cons of the Internet
There’s no doubt that the Internet has changed music promotion. It’s given unsigned bands and indie labels a powerful platform to reach consumers. It’s enabled bands to build closer relationships with their fans. Feedback, too, is another byproduct of the Internet. Anybody, for better or worse, is a critic.
The Internet has also created a new dynamic, one that’s related to that last point. Along with instantaneous feedback and the community aspects of the Internet has come artists with incredibly short shelf lives. The very Internet that can so greatly help a band can also chop seven or eight minutes from the 15 minutes of fame bands got back in Andy Warhol’s day.
Two recent articles caught my eye. Both touch on this phenomenon. The first is a fine piece at The Guardian that captures the turn-and-burn aspects of new artists in buzz-hungry Britain. “What Goes Up…” takes a look at the short cycle that bands can complete these days. “Mild hysteria surrounds any group with at least one good song who can get through a live set without falling over,” wrote Dorian Lynskey. “Genuine enthusiasm snowballs into frothing hype in the blink of an eye. Backlashes arrive before there’s been enough time for a proper lash.”
One band that is a prime candidate for that two-year cycle Lynskey called “from screams of excitement to shrugs of apathy” is New York City’s The Bravery. The hype was built last year. Last month their debut album was finally released. Sales have dropped sharply since its release—a drop The Killers, a band to which The Bravery often draws comparisons, to not see when they released their debut last year. The Internet is full of backlash not even one month after The Bravery’s album hit the shelves.
Another artist who may see some backlash is Annie, a Norwegian pop singer who found herself to be well loved by Internet tastemakers late last year. Blogs followed suit and the stage was set for a successful American debut of her album Anniemal .
The situation, though, is ripe for an Internet backlash. New York Times writer Jody Rosen floated the idea in a recent article, “Much Ado About Annie” (subscription required).
“Annie may soon discover a downside to being American indie rockers’ favorite pop princess. Hipsters who hailed her when she was obscure singer from an exotic Northern land may recoil if and when she starts jostling for ‘TRL’ airtime with the Simpson sisters.”
Losing the hipster vote wouldn’t be all that terrible if she won over the larger mainstream crowd. Those hipsters, though, are a vocal and surly bunch, and they’ll go out of their way to try to bring her down.
Linkin Park’s Inflammatory Press Release
Like many pro athletes, rock band Linkin Park has decided to air its grievances through the press. Yesterday it issued a “>press release that blasted its label’s parent company, Warner Music Group, and threatened to leave the company. The timing of the statement cannot be ignored. WMG is preparing for an initial public offering.
The band took issue with WMG’s recent cost-cutting maneuvers and its planned IPO. “The new owners of the Warner Music Group will be reaping a windfall of $1.4 billion from their $2.6 billion purchase a mere 18 months ago if their planned IPO moves forward,” the band said. “Linkin Park, their biggest act, will get nothing.”
An article at Newsweek says the events that led up to the public statement included a demand by the band for “additional compensation because of their success.”
The band’s tirade brings up some interesting issues. Is it good, or right, for a band to air its grievances in public? Warner Music Group says the band’s chargers are “clearly a negotiating tactic.”
One curious aspect is that the band is taking the role of financial analyst. You could ask ten experts and probably get ten different answers about the health of Warner Music Group and the company’s future, but the only one that music consumers will hear is from a group of musicians—not financial experts. Right or wrong, the opinions of Linkin Park will help to form the public’s opinion.
Also, the band is indicting the actions of a company that is taking steps that are not all that uncommon in the business world. If the band actually got out of its contract with WMG, would it also be a watchdog of the financial transactions of Sony BMG, Universal Music Group or EMI?
The press release—and the public relations campaign that will follow—is clearly indicative of the public’s increasing mistrust and disapproval of corporate America. It also echoes the public’s widespread mistrust of large record labels. The music industry has a bad reputation, and it’s not just consumers who feel that way. It’s the artists on those labels as well.
Glenn works in the music industry in New York City. He writes about the industry and music in general at his blog, Coolfer.