in the Dollhouse
never payed much attention to the Dresden Dolls, thinking
the world didn’t need one more gaudy, Weimar-influenced group
and all that goes along with it. I think I need to be a little
less of a jerk about these things.
The money end of the group, Amanda Palmer, has a solo album
(Who Killed Amanda Palmer) that is beyond outrageous,
and lately she’s been making waves by declaring war on her
record label, Universal imprint Roadrunner Records. Roadrunner
is the home of, uh, Nickleback and a whole bunch of commercial
Some of the problem is the classic artist/label creative differences
stuff: Roadrunner wants mainstream “hits” (whatever that means
these days), Palmer wants to follow her muse and build on
her already considerable fanbase. She thinks her album is
a fine representation of her, and that means complex, intellectual
and rowdy. The label wants something it understands, like,
oh, say, Nickleback.
Things went totally south when the label’s promo department
told her they wanted to photoshop or edit out some shots of
her bare midriff in a video promoting the album because they
said she looked flabby. She, understandably, went ballistic,
and fans have launched a Belly Solidarity Campaign with tribute
sites on the web featuring and celebrating photos of bare
midriffs of every shape and size. Roadrunner, pathetically,
tried to capitalize on this with their own “show us you belly
button” campaign with Palmer-related prizes, which didn’t
exactly help relations with Palmer or her fans.
Then she reported that, while touring Australia a few weeks
ago, Roadrunner’s Australian head of digital marketing had
no idea what Twitter was, saying dismissively that Australians
are sometimes slow to catch on to things. Incredulous, Palmer
sent out a Tweet and a few hours later hosted a party in a
nearby park for 150 fans.
It all got so bad that Palmer’s now written a song directed
at the label entitled “Please Drop Me,” has been playing it
live, and is encouraging fans to record it and post it on
YouTube. All this and she’s been hilariously feeding her fans
the drama in real time on her blog and on Twitter to a thunderous
response. Her fans helped finance her elaborate tour when
the label wouldn’t, and she’s now got the kind of intimate,
rabid, and lifelong fans most artists can only dream about.
She rocks. She’s my hero. Which Dresden Dolls album do I start
Meanwhile, you may have heard that the iTunes store this week
began selling tracks with variable prices: current chart-toppers
priced at $1.29, selected older catalog stuff at $.69, and
everything else at $.99. Amazon jumped in a few days later
with a similar pricing scheme.
As we’ve mentioned here before, there’s no reason that all
music ought to be the same price. Hits are worth more to people
than non-hits, right? But then, this may just be so many deck
chairs on the Titanic. People aren’t buying and they’re are
getting music for free, one way or the other, more than ever
before. That’s why the labels are looking at an alternative
that they derided as lunacy for years: the “celestial jukebox”,
where all music is available all the time over the Internet
and in the air for a modest subscription fee. The labels have
hired Internet guru Jim Griffin, the guy who coined the phrase
“celestial jukebox” back when the Internet was in its infancy,
to set it up. He’s calling this new and as yet un-launched
service “Choruss.” Look for Choruss to be rolled out at selected
colleges fairly soon, and available though Internet service
providers after that.
Will it work? It’s doubtful. Similar things (Ruckus, Napster)
have failed on campuses before; kids are now so used to free
that any payment seems draconian. And at this point,
almost anything associated with the major labels is poison
for many people. They just won’t play.
The second problem is tracking use. The money collected will
theoretically be spread around to labels and publishers and
artists and songwriters pursuant to some sort of mechanism
that keeps track of what music is being downloaded, listened
to, and shared. And there is no really satisfying way to do
this without some measure of snooping into what individuals
are listening to.
Maybe that’s not such a big deal. I dunno. Few people care
that their ISP and Google keep track of their internet activity,
so maybe it’s not a huge leap to accept a reasonably limited
intrusion on listening habits. We’ve already surrendered out
privacy. So pay up.