Today’s Boston Globe has a couple of stories on the ways of the music business. For a retrospective look, there’s Good times bad times, a profile of Unity MacLean, publicist for Led Zepplin. [pdf]
From 1975 until after drummer John Bonham’s death in 1980, MacLean worked in a two-story building on London’s Kings Road as Led Zeppelin’s publicist. They were the waning years of an era when rock stars were treated like deities, except God did not electrify his pearly gates to repel fans. Zeppelin hoarded the trappings of 1970s excess, including their own record label (Swan Song), a commercial-size Boeing, willing girls of hazy ages, and enough illegal substances to finance a South American dictator.
[...] Eventually, MacLean secured an interview with Peter Grant, Zeppelin’s manager. Grant’s size (almost 300 pounds) matched his reputation for intimidation.
[...] Grant, who died from a heart attack in 1995, ran the business “like the mob,” according to Bruce MacLean, who sometimes worked with obscure bands being considered for Swan Song recording contracts. “He thought he was the godfather.” One of Grant’s tactics was to maintain job insecurity in the organization.
So, we then can contrast that with this response to a current mechanism for selling rap records, the feuding record camps (and one can certainly wonder whether this article is in earnest, or just PR): A feud without rhyme o reason [pdf]
Yeah, I know beefs have always been a part of rap music. Even a cursory skim of the old-school files, when rap music was still largely consigned to block parties and small clubs, reveals a host of lyrical showdowns, including classic battles between Kool Moe Dee and Busy Bee, and KRS-One and MC Shan. But more than 20 years later Kool Moe Dee and Busy Bee are still friends, and KRS-One credits MC Shan with helping put him and his legendary Boogie Down Productions on the rap map.
Most important, the beefs never moved from wax to the streets. Even when MC Shan on “Kill That Noise,” his response to BDP’s “South Bronx,” rapped, “I don’t mind being criticized, but those who try to make fame on my name die,” no one believed Shan would be gunning for KRS-One.
But everything changed when first Tupac, then Biggie, died. This was a cautionary tale written in blood to rappers, their fans, and the media that helped stoke the so-called East Coast-West Coast rap war. Less than a decade on, it’s as if no lessons have been learned from the pointless deaths of two of the most influential artists in the history of rap music.
There’s nothing wrong with rivalries among musicians. The industry has always been competitive, and the need for one artist to top another has given the world remarkable music. Brian Wilson was so taken with the Beatles’ “Rubber Soul” that it inspired him to create his masterpiece, “Pet Sounds.” And in turn, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was the Beatles’ answer and attempt to top that Beach Boys’ 1966 album.
Finally, again in the modern business, the Rolling Stones are finding out that cut-throat competition at the retail level is leading to blowback for their decision to make an exclusive retail arrangement with Bet Buy: Retailers say they’re under Stones’s thumb [pdf]
Josh Bernoff, an analyst covering entertainment for Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, says the newfangled deals have arisen from the “ugly” climate in the music industry.
“Sales are down because of file-sharing, and the number of stores open is shrinking. There is less money to go around and everybody in the distribution chain is trying to take it out of somebody else’s hide,” Bernoff says.
[...] Meanwhile, the retaliation continues. Circuit City, a chief competitor of Best Buy, just canceled a Stones catalog promotion set to begin this month, according to Billboard. Trans World Entertainment, which operates 940 stores (including FYE, Coconuts, and Strawberries), is cutting the 72 Stones titles it usually stocks back to just five.
And the reaction has been even more severe in Canada, where retailers Pindoff Record Sales, Sunrise Records, and the 100 HMV Canada stores have pulled all Stones products off their shelves indefinitely, Billboard says. The Stones camp has expressed surprise at the developments, but not regret.
The band’s tour promoter, Michael Cohl, who brokered the deal under his company name of TGA Entertainment, says the Best Buy exclusive helps the band’s fans because they can get the four-DVD set for the “amazing price” of $29.99.
“The other offers we received from alternative distributors would have had the product being sold for at least $20 to $30 higher to the consumer, something which was unacceptable to the Stones and TGA,” Cohl said in a statement.