Monday, April 30, 2007

Quibbling while Rome burns

It falls to me to put together the CDs that come with each issue of Word. The way this works is I get lots of suggestions from people at the magazine, put in requests to the record companies and then try to make a satisfactory 15 track compilation from the ones we get approval on.
There's always a certain amount of arm wrestling involved.
The big labels, if they'll give you anything at all, try to fob you off with something which is so ordinary they can't imagine ever wanting to use it for anything else. (If somebody says 'It's track seven' I often say 'we'll pass' without even listening.)
They also say 'no, you can't have that. It's the single'.
Whereas the independents say 'That's the single. Please take it.'
They know it's all about getting exposure on the track that best represents the act. Whereas by some twisted, outdated logic the product managers at the big companies seem to think 'if we give them that track then Word readers won't go out and buy the single'. This seems to ignore the fact that hardly anyone buys singles and Word readers never do it.
I've been observing the record business at close quarters for 35 years now and it seems to me that all the promotional activity on a record takes place before it comes out. The pre-release window provides them with a kind of alternative reality in which they can do their thing. That's the only time the record companies feel as if they have the whip hand, offering or withdrawing press cooperation, parcelling out exclusives to TV shows, sending out thousands of unsolicited advance CDs ringed with copy protection and accompanied by lawyers letters about the dire consequences of illegal copying.
Once the record's out they seem to lose interest.
This is what killed the singles chart. When I used to plug records to Radio One in the 70s they wouldn't play something unless it was out. Then they got into this cosy little cartel where they were supplied with records over a month before they came out. Radio One loved this because they had a product that you couldn't get anywhere else. The record companies loved it because the BBC were forced to promote the release date every time they played the single. In some spheres this would be called ADVERTISING. Anyway, it was this practice that killed the golden goose.
A couple of months ago I had an exchange with a major record company where I said Word would do a spread on a completely unknown act if they would give us a certain track by them for the CD. They said no because that was the single. I said, call me back when it's in the charts.
I haven't heard from them yet.


  1. Still, it must be incredibly satisfying knowing that you're introducing folks to new stuff they might never have otherwise got into.
    I have Word CDs to thank for falling in love with Fountains of Wayne, Rilo Kiley, The Decemberists, to name but three. Can't imagine now how I ever got by without them.

    God bless you, Sir.

  2. Hello David, please do forgive my cheek, but if you would like to put a track by Patrick Cleandenim on an upcoming CD you can have any track you want (including the next single Days Without Rain). Steve Yates gave it a great review in your previous issue. Cheers, Alun

  3. Maybe you should just go with track 7 every time, then if we like it we're sure to like the album.

    I have bought a couple of albums on the strength of hearing Word CD only to find rest of album is pretty average.

    Guess it is a difficult one as I find more and more now that in the world of itunes artists are more and more happy to fill out albums with dull filler.

  4. Anonymous10:12 am

    If that's the new Word CD cover style then I approve. They have gone through a few incarnations already in Word's short life (my favourites were the 50s advertising style dolly-birds) but the current version, which features a collage of the artists included, strikes me as dull and a missed opportunity to create an extra identity for the magazine. I subscribe to Word but often treat other mags as purchase of a CD with a free magazine attached, rather than the other way around. I'm sure many others do the same and if this is the case then branding the CDs to make them look more desirable and collectable can only help create added customer loyalty. (I'm sorry about that last bit - I worked in retail for nearly 20 years and some of the jargon and mind-sets are hard to shake off.)

  5. Anonymous10:55 am

    Hi David,

    Given that the large record companies won't give you a 'good' track while they are in the midst of album promotion, could you not ask the big boys for a 'good' one a year after it was released? I'm sure us Word readers wouldn't mind getting into an album/artist a year late.


  6. But at that point they're no longer promoting it and therefore they won't do anything. At that point you might even say that they'd prefer it to just curl up and die. The sleeper hit is the promo man's nightmare in that it leaves him open to the charge that he should have worked it harder in the first place.