There were two disconcerting things in this morning’s article on the continued decline of the American record industry. The first was an utterly depressing quote uttered by Street Records Corporation president Ron Rifkind, who candidly confessed, “I find myself, when I’m signing a record deal now, asking, ‘Can this sell as a ring tone?’” Granted, he was quoted in reference to the new record from Akon (pictured) and he is the head of a hip-hop label — a genre whose beats and samples might naturally lend themselves to ring tones — but it’s scary to think about record labels across the board adopting such a mindset. Do we really want new musicians having to be concerned with whether or not their songs can be annoyingly sampled on some 12-year-old’s way-too-expensive phone when they’re negotiating with a record label? What would a TV on the Radio (who put out one of this year’s top albums, in my opinion) even sound like?
Disconcerting thing number two was the almost throwaway claim thatmajor labels are asking “new artists seeking record contracts to givetheir label a cut of concert earnings or T-shirt and merchandiserevenue — areas that had once been outside the labels’ bailiwick.” Idon’t know how often — if at all — the average concertgoer thinks aboutsuch things, but T-shirt and merchandise sales are sometimes the only way that some bands make any money.
I was reminded of this fact this weekend while watching Tell Me Do You Miss Me,a wonderful and melancholy look at the New York band Luna’s farewelltour (if you have not heard Luna, do yourself a favor and buy the albumPenthouse). There’s one part in the movie where the band’sguitarist Sean Eden admits that the sole money Luna is getting fromtheir tour across Europe is going to come from selling T-shirts and CDs(a fact made even more depressing when their French airline seems tolose their merchandise bag) because all the ticket receipt money ispaying for the tour itself. They go and play Barcelona and London andcome back having barely broken even. It’s one of the few rockdocumentaries I’ve seen that made me never ever want to be in a band.And they even got to keep their T-shirt money.