As everyone knows, the music industry – particularly major labels – is in a huge giant enormous crisis. No one but old farts like me is buying CDs any more, and most of us geezers are buying like the umpteenth reissue of the Beatles catalog or something. Kids these days, with their pants around their ankles and the putting metal through holes in their skin and the tattoos and the settling for crappy sound quality with the mp3s and all; why in my day we’d spend hours with a slide rule and a carefully measured length of rope, positioning our special stereo-listening chair exactly in our individually tuned stereo speakers’ sweet spot so that it sounded like Roger Waters’ throat was, like, our throat, and it was our dad who was killed in the war by the damned fascists, and you’re so ungrateful with your hippety-hop and your indie 500 rock and – hey! get the hell offa my lawn! Yeah, you. Go get a damned job, lazy freeloader! Christ!
Where was I? You’ve probably heard about this: renowned indie producer and musician Sparklehorse teams up with even-more renowned producer and musician Danger Mouse on a collaborative project, which somehow ends up involving filmmaker David Lynch, with plans for a possible film, plus a book of photographs to go with the music. Oh – and there’s an all-star cast of musicians to sing these songs, and they’ve added their own compositional touches as well…people like the Flaming Lips, Iggy Pop, Frank Black, Suzanne Vega, guys from the Shins, the Strokes, and Super Furry Animals… And, the whole thing gets a big story on NPR, and all the tracks are being streamed from NPR’s website. But it’s a stream, not mp3s (so people need special equipment to record it), and so it’s an ideal project in that there’s a whole bunch of value-added material making it likelier that people will buy the product rather than merely download or bootleg the tracks.
So let’s say that you’re a major label, and one of the main musicians involved (Danger Mouse) is in some sort of dispute with you. So rather than work through whatever legal clearances are involved with musicians guesting on projects appearing on other labels (and that sort of thing happens all the time: check the notes on your old CDs and LPs, oldsters, and you’ll see all kinds of “Malmberg N. Plano appears courtesy of Cashhole Records” there), you decide to throw a big ol’ roadblock in the works, by preventing the CD portion of this project from being released.
I have no idea which label (if any) Dark Night of the Soul was due to be released on, but I know that a book of photographs (and a free CD-R: “use it as you will”) is less likely to be purchased than a book of photographs with accompanying professionally mastered CD. Especially since the music is already out there, and no doubt has already appeared on file-sharing sites everywhere. So thanks to this wonderful legal dispute, EMI will get jack, most every other label involved tangentially or directly will get jack.
I cannot imagine why EMI is being so stupid. Whatever their dispute with Danger Mouse, they would probably benefit more in the long run by not blocking this release. Lynch seems to be spearheading the distribution of the book and (now blank) CD at a dedicated website, and it’ll probably still sell out its limited run…but this is yet another case of labels having utter contempt for their audience, who are, I’m sure, far more concerned with music than with whatever legal issue is holding up this release.