Well, it’s first thing Monday morning and already something is pissing me off. Raise your hand if you’re totally surprised by that revelation.
Yeah, that’s what I thought.
You’ll remember, my friends and co-conspirators, a few weeks ago I posted an article detailing my deep disappointment with our old pal Billy “it’s my band and I’ll be a douche if I want to” Corgan and his slow fall from heir to the alt-rock throne to laughable relic of yesteryear. Well, I don’t know if old Mister Zero read my post or not, but Brent at Two Assholes sent me a link to the Pumpkins’ official website detailing the upcoming album “Teargarden by Kaleidyscope” (whatever).
The Rat In A Cage sounds pretty plaintive these days. I guess it has to do with the fact that everyone he’s ever worked with can’t stand to be in the same room with him anymore, and the legions of fans he won during the “Siamese Dream” and “Mellon Collie” years decided his later projects sucked so much they moved on to wearing skinny jeans and listening to independent garage-band pabulum. Yes, that’s right – Billy Corgan’s music is so patently bad that Panic At The Disco has become the lesser of two evils. (And yeah, I’m aware there’s supposed to be an exclamation mark in that name, but this blog has to have some standards.)
Like you, I was underwhelmed by this news. The Smashing Pumpkins haven’t performed in their original lineup in close to a decade, and frankly any “artist” who keeps monopolizing on the band name that first made them popular – even when the rest of the lineup has since moved on to greener pastures – is kind of pathetic. It’s like going to a Saturday night jam at your local watering hole to watch all the weekend warriors haul out their vintage Stratocasters and wank all over the pentatonic range, trying desperately to recapture whatever glory they had back in 1988 when they played guitar in their college speed-metal band that never made it anywhere. And yeah, Axl Rose, I’m looking at you.
What piqued my interest, apart from Corgan’s sanctimonious prose (which I love tearing apart), was the way he’s marketing this inevitable failure. Here’s a direct quote from the man himself:
“Each song will be made available absolutely for free, to anyone anywhere. There will be no strings attached. Free will mean free, which means you won’t have to sign up for anything, give an email address, or jump through a hoop. You will be able to go and take the song or songs as you wish, as many times as you wish.”
First of all, just because something is free does not mean it’s worth taking: try offering me a flaming bag of ostrich poo for free and see if I take it off your hands. But leaving that aside, Corgan hammers the point home over and over again throughout the article that his new magnum opus will be available “to ALL” (caps included) for absolutely no charge whatsoever, and then – it seems – he sits back and waits for the congratulatory comments to roll in, as though he’s done us some sort of service by handing out his most recent masturbatory offal without making us pay for the privilege of stuffing our ears with the used tissue.
Am I supposed to stand up and applaud? As I mentioned before, I was once a die-hard Pumpkins fan: I bought everything from “Siamese Dream” all the way through to their best-of record (why I purchased an album featuring 99% songs I already had, I’ll never know) and though I never saw them live in concert, I would have happily paid just about any price to see the original lineup perform. I figure my total costs exceeded two hundred bucks, to say nothing of teeshirts, posters and whatever other crap I purchased. Doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider I was one of millions of devoted fans who bought into the hype, all of a sudden the dollar value on Corgan’s previous work starts to approach the same scale as his towering ego. Free for all, Billy? I’d be more impressed if you hadn’t already made millions off the backs of the fans you’ve been consistently disappointing since 1998.
But much as I love to castigate Billy Corgan, he’s far from the only big name (or has-been-name) to jump on the free music bandwagon. I’ve talked before about how the prevalence of the internet and specifically of peer-to-peer filesharing is changing the face of the music industry, and what we’re seeing now is, I think, an artist response to the rapidly-mutating industry landscape.
Thom Yorke and Radiohead have been doing something like it since 2007, when they released “In Rainbows” as a digital download on their website featuring a “pay-what-you-can” payment plan. This idea netted the band almost a million and a half downloads on the first day the album became available, though nobody would comment on how much they made from those purchases. I remember thinking at the time, “hey, what a neat idea”, not because I’m a particularly big fan of Radiohead (haven’t really been interested since “OK Computer”) but because it marked the beginning of a rather unique marketing initiative uncommon to major-label acts (or at least acts on popularity par with Radiohead).
The trend continued with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, a personal favourite of mine. In early 2007, the band became embroiled in a battle with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) regarding leaked material from Reznor’s upcoming album “Year Zero”. Turns out Trent deliberately leaked the tracks himself – get this – by leaving hard drives and USB keys scattered around in venues the band played while on tour. When fans discovered the data and uploaded it, the superheroes at the RIAA leaped into action to ensure the hammer was brought down on these hardened criminals. The thing is, Interscope had already signed off on the press stunt, so the RIAA was left with considerable egg on its face, and Trent continued his campaign of free “extras” for his devoted fans.
In 2008, his four-volume album “Ghosts” was released, including a free download of the first volume available on the band’s website. Since then, he’s done some pretty amazing stuff with free content, most notably his DVD project in which he encouraged fans to videotape his recent tour and then send in their footage to a main database, where it could be shared, downloaded, and re-cut by fans to make their own unique concert DVDs, to say nothing of the content the band provided themselves. According to Brent, the full download of all the band content hit something like 400GB. “All for free.” Again, I remember thinking – wow. That is pretty cool.
Then came “The Slip”, which was a full-length album delivered by Trent and the band to their fans 100% free. They called it a thank-you gift for the years of support fans had given them. They even made the files accessible so fans could remix songs. Talk about handing over the keys to the castle – this isn’t just about file sharing anymore; this is about granting creative license to the people who got you where you are. Even cooler!
But you know what isn’t cool?
Yeah, you thought Billy was the only one in the firing line, but even his monstrous arrogance can’t compare to this fucking guy.
Anybody remember a little website called Napster? For those of you who’ve been living under a rock – with their fingers in their ears – on the moon – since the mid-90s, Napster was arguably the forerunner to all modern P2P file sharing networks, who made the mistake of illegally distributing Metallica’s sad attempt at hard-rock “music”. Drummer Lars Ulrich led a witch hunt against every man, woman and child suspected of sharing the band’s boring single “I Disappear”, resulting in Napster’s liquidation and Ulrich’s solidification as Rich Overprivileged Prick of 2002.
Now, I don’t necessarily agree with the idea of not paying for music. I’m a musician myself and I know I would be pissed if I found out people were running around behind my back, spreading my work around, with me none the wiser and not seeing a dime. However, as you may have guessed given I actually have to work to pay my bills, I’m not a rock star worth millions upon millions of dollars. There’s a big bright line, in my estimation, between bands like Radiohead or NIN or Metallica who have spent the last decade and a half (or more) savouring the fruits of their labour and literally rolling in money, and bands like mine that haven’t made it anywhere yet. Thom Yorke, Trent Reznor and Lars Ulrich’s grandchildren will never have to work a day in their lives thanks to the kind of support their fans have lent their respective bands over the years – I, on the other hand, have to make fun of Billy Corgan just to be afforded the privilege of eating. And that hurts. It really does. But I might be able to be persuaded to give old Lars a pass for getting up in arms that somebody didn’t actually pay to have a copy of “Enter Sandman” on their iPod.
Metallica’s record contract with Warner Brothers ended last year. They’re looking to get working on their next shit-festival of a record, but they don’t want to go with another major label. So they started making some phone calls, and guess who they’re talking to about their next move?
Do I even need to make a joke here? How about the last horse finally crossing the finish line? Can you imagine what kind of shit they’re going to take if they start trying to win back fans by handing out music for free after the Napster debacle? This brings me right back ’round to my original point.
Why am I shitting on Billy Corgan and Lars Ulrich, but not Thom Yorke or Trent Reznor? It’s a question of motivation. I know a lot of NIN fans and a lot of Radiohead fans, and frankly those bands have never really done anything to piss off their fan base. The way they’ve gone about their marketing of free or PWYC music has been, if anything, humble. Like I said before, Thom went on record saying “it’s up to you if you want to pay for this album or not”, and Trent said “hey, thanks for all the years of support – here’s a bunch of free shit” (incidentall, he also wrote a fantastic article on how to market your music in today’s industry culture. Run, do not walk, and read it.) Billy Corgan’s article reads like he’s saying “aren’t I great/groundbreaking/magnanimous for giving this to you, totally free of charge? How original and philanthropic of me!” and when Lars and the boys inevitably follow suit, they’re basically going to be slapping every burned Napster user in the face with their big corporate boners.
My point is this: when you’re a multi-million dollar business (and don’t kid yourself; that’s exactly what a hugely successful band is, a business), and you decide to start giving your product away for free after years of third-party distributors overcharging your customers, you should not be expecting commendations from the masses. You can argue with me all you want about quality of music, but in my opinion neither Billy Corgan nor Metallica have given us anything resembling good content in years. For Billy to turn around now and start delivering sermons from the mount about how greathearted he is for allowing us free access what amounts to bad poetry and a voice deriving from a terminal sinus infection – well, to me it’s the height of arrogance.
Maybe, just maybe, if we turn down the offer for a free bag of ostrich poo, Billy Corgan will stop shitting all over his palette and go back to Illinois. It’s what I said before – it comes down to motivation. Everybody’s motivated by a desire to either a) sell their records, b) spread their art, or likely c) both. But there comes a time to stop trying to cram mediocre crap down our throats – and giving it away isn’t any better. You want to give me a gift? Fine. Just make sure you include a gift receipt, don’t ask me to appreciate it, and for the love of what’s left of integrity in music, don’t expect me to sing your praises if you’re singing me garbage.
As usual, hate mail is expected, welcome and prepared for.