May 27, 2004

Frontline Review [7:00 am]

In anticipation of tonight’s Frontline, the Boston Globe has a p/review: How pop music became ‘Idol’-ized

In a one-two programming punch too deliciously ironic to have been planned, PBS is broadcasting the “Frontline” documentary “The Way the Music Died” the night after a new “American Idol” winner is crowned.

[... Michael] Kirk examines a variety of important trends. Some are inherently wrong-headed, such as massive radio chains with strict playlists that squeeze out anything but the most commercially viable tracks. Others have unexpectedly negative fallout, like MTV, a creative force that has become so powerful that now it’s nearly impossible for artists lacking hot bodies and a three-minute single to break out.

[...] Melinda Newman, West Coast bureau chief for the industry trade magazine Billboard, reports for the camera that of 30,000 albums released each year, fewer than a hundred are hits, and that sales have fallen from $40 billion to $28 billion in just three years. These are among the few hard facts and statistics Kirk offers in the program, however, which — in decidedly un-”Frontline” fashion — emphasizes anecdote over analysis. It’s an entertaining and informative window on the industry’s woes, but surprisingly incomplete.

The most glaring omission is the hot-button issue of Internet file-sharing and downloading, which the recording industry touts as the root of its woes. Where are the interviews with — and perspectives from — high-level executives at the major labels? They undoubtedly have different views from Danny Goldberg, a major-label expat now running the independent label Artemis, who paints an articulate but hardly exhaustive picture.

[...] Perhaps most telling are the segments with Sarah Hudson and her label’s A&R executive, Joanna Ifrah, who gushes about finding the anti-Britney, the “cool chick who looks strange, dresses strange, didn’t get all the guys, and had parental problems,” and then goes on to supervise Hudson’s makeover into a mainstream pop tart. Hudson’s single, “Girl on the Verge” was released last month but — as the closing voiceover informs us — it has yet to find its way into the hearts of music lovers.

Frankly, props to Mathew Gilber to saying almost the same thing in his short blurb in Critic’s Corner:

Tonight at 9 on Channel 2, “Frontline” is running “The Way the Music Died,” a look at why the rock recording industry is having financial troubles. “They’ve made business more important than the art,” complains Jackson Browne. Said another way, the executives are a bunch of happy idiots struggling for the legal tender.

Update: Slashdot discussion: The Way the Music Died including a reference to the important Merchants of Cool

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