Selective Listening: Notes from the desk of the General Manager, August 2015.
Now that’s what we call a BM*!
Because I have a very TOP LEVEL and (let’s just say…) incisive understanding of the contents of my email inbox, I was recently made aware of an interesting and modest experiment in music distribution put together by a musical trio from Minneapolis called The Hand, whose members have all done or still do time in other bands and whose mean age is 46 (approximately 750 in band years, and near-certain assurance of their lifelong anonymity). You can read all about it yourself here. And, this thing is interesting for a bunch of reasons, not least of which is the following description, which, to me, seems like a pretty good raison d’être for any band or any record label still standing, and one which we’d unabashedly steal or co-opt were we not, at some root, dna-type level, constitutionally unable to full-stop commit to anything so definite and old guard as a mission statement.
It goes like this:
“we promise to never put up anything we don’t think is worth $4, and to try not to be boring and/or behave like “professional musicians” with a “career” (because we’re not and we don’t). you promise to not….i dunno, be an asshole about the whole thing.”
Not at all coincidentally (because it was only his email to me on the subject which managed to disrupt my usual laser-ish focus on important business-related matters here in the professional music business), I am familiar with one of the folks responsible for this thing: it’s our old friend Zak Sally! Zak is probably best known to you for playing bass in Low for 10 or 12 years. He is further known to me as one of those people who provide plain evidence of my own laziness in way that is frustratingly difficult to ignore (and I have tried…). In addition to his time spent in Low, and doing stuff with The Hand, he’s also a cartoonist, a comics art professor, runs his own small publishing company, and put together an upcoming 2-day festival of independent culture called Autoptic. All this in addition to being a parent, spouse, and exceptionally solid dude. I’m sure there’s more, but I already feel badly enough about myself.
Relatedly! Low, the other very excellent MN-based band mentioned above (whose records it is our good fortune to release unto the world bearing the Sub Pop imprimatur of occasional quality), have a top-notch, BJ Burton-produced new album called Ones and Sixes, coming out in September. We have released a song or songs (who knows?) from this record as clear proof of that aforementioned top-notch-ed-ness. Please listen, love, buy, stream, or otherwise consume, won’t you?
But I digress mid-digression…
What I’m going to go ahead and charitably refer to as my point here is that a good business model, like the one that The Hand put together, is increasingly difficult to find. Why, even seasoned music professionals, like those who I’m told work here at Sub Pop Records, occasionally falter. And here’s where a couple of illustrative examples might fit nicely:
- As it happens and in spite of what we recall as countless magazine articles on the great, cresting popularity of the cupcake trend of the recent past, people are largely unwilling to pay $15.98 for a cupcake with a download code for a full album of mp3s, and this is especially true, to a degree that borders on discriminatory, if your company does not just outright excel at baking or food safety standards compliance.
- Same with sliders!
- Though nearly every single software developer who has ever cold-called and then set up a meeting with us [or… my boss, which I then had to attend when she bailed for more interesting or relevant uses of her time,] has practically, though not exactly, in so many words, GUARANTEED us that just having an app, regardless of what that app might do, is a disruptive, game-changing, fucking RAINMAKER, we have come to learn that there are shockingly few people interested in GrungeSquish-ing a selfie at $1.29 a pop.
- Suffice it to say that we were profoundly surprised to learn, only after pouring great, pornographic sums of money into the much-ballyhooed new SAP streaming service for MIDI-fied music, that today’s savvy music consumers expect or even demand more than one album from the catalog of such a streaming service. Further suffice it to say that SAP still seems marginally more interesting than Pono.
As a company which has overtly (for a carefree, golden time before the Business Affairs Dept. noticed…) declared ourselves “Going Out of Business Since 1988,” it’s probable we’re not anyone’s first source of insight on how to navigate the complicated mess of the music business ca. right about now. That’s probably for the best and anyway, who cares?
As long as there are outfits like The Hand coming up with great, innovative BMs (and we occasionally wake up long enough to steal their ideas), it’s alright. We can have our cupcake and listen to it, too.
*With “BM,” of course, I mean to evoke “Business Model.”