Notes From the Bungalow Vol. 4

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At what price?

$3.99.

I really enjoy a bargain. Probably equally as much, I enjoy finding that bargain. Like the treasure at the end of the hunt. I also enjoy collecting. Finding a bargain to add to a collection is the perfect storm of the shopping experience for me. It stands to reason, then, that I have a love-hate relationship with the Internet. Never has there been a tool so exquisitely designed to respond to the shopper’s itch than the World Wide Web. Information superhighway? More like commerce supermarket.

It’s dangerous, this virtual global mall. Just about anything and everything available for sale is just a click away. Yes, it takes a little bit of effort. A few missteps to sites that don’t have exactly what I wanted. Comparisons on product and price. In the end, though, if I have taken to the Internet to buy something specific, I usually find it and buy it, as well as some random other products I didn’t necessarily want, definitely didn’t need, but saw along the way. Like I said, dangerous.

For the music collector in me, the Internet has allowed access to stores and collections that would otherwise be impossible. It’s a gift in that regard, but gone for the most part is the thrill of the chase. If it’s out there with a price tag on it, it’s more than likely a search engine entry away from being found. So much for driving from record store to record store, scouring yard sales and thrift shops. The hunt has become a leisurely stroll.
Out of stock simply means try another website. Overnight shipping is ubiquitous. Cash isn’t even accepted, let alone required. For better or worse, what was once an economy that held the consumer hostage based on geography, time, and cost has become an endless, limitless commercial universe, always open, run on credit, and growing daily.

Naturally, this brings me to George Thorogood, the rock and blues bopper backed by the Bo Diddley beat. Bad to the Bone. Who Do You Love? Move it on Over. A multi-platinum-selling musician who, with his Delaware Destroyers, has been making records and touring the world for nearly four decades, Thorogood is an artist that has clearly earned his place in the pantheon of rockers.
So why am I getting an email from his record company offering a download of his latest album, 2120 South Michigan Avenue, a terrific assemblage of lowdown and dirty blues numbers, for the lowdown and dirty price of $3.99?
Why $3.99? Why not more? Why not less?

I’m reminded of artists like Radiohead, who allowed the consumer to pay whatever he wished to download its album from the Internet, a practice it employed on 2007’s In Rainbows, including paying nothing. A lot of people paid nothing. But that was Radiohead’s decision. A way, I would imagine, of saying the band’s not in it for the money. On the flip side, record companies are in it for the money. Only for the money. All the money. Clearly, Thorogood’s record company, EMI, home to the Beatles and one of the biggest labels ever, is no exception.

Thorogood isn’t as relevant to today’s teenager as Radiohead, but maybe Radiohead isn’t as relevant to today’s teenager as Lady Gaga, an artist who, through an Amazon.com promotion, sold her album this past spring as a download for 99 cents. Are we to surmise from all of this that Thorogood’s platter is four times more valuable than Gaga’s, and that Radiohead’s is theoretically worthless? Personal taste will have us arranging those three candidates in our own order of desire and worth, but when the high water mark for any of the three is $3.99, to me that says something. The bargain hunter in any of us would jump at the prospect of acquiring music we like for less, but at what price?

I worry that all of these practices, whether designed to boost album interest, draw attention to an aging artist, or cross-promote with a corporate tie-in, also have the unfortunate effect of devaluing the art. It runs the risk of implying that even the most popular artists of today are not worth more than a buck. Maybe they are, maybe they are not.

There is a reason why the remaining Beatles and their living representatives contractually insisted that its 2009 remastered CD series carry a price point of no less than $14; it’s because they believe their music is worth that much. I would agree. If I had to, I’d pay $14 for a new, remastered Beatles CD. If I had to.

This past July, at a monthly outdoor swap meet in the parking lot of Venice High School in Los Angeles, amongst the batteries and shampoo a dealer was selling were new, in the shrinkwrap, remastered Beatles CDs. After some negotiation I bought two for $15. The perfect storm.

      Recommended listening:

 

Voila_Capture89
Larson Sutton, 38,
is a writer/musician
living in Los Angeles.

Picture By Brian Gimmel

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  1. The market prices are set by what the market will bear. The price of $3.99 doesn’t sound like much. But those songs were taken from previously recorded, mastered and sold songs. It cost almost nothing to copy a file, even a song file. The same is true for software, once the development costs are paid there is little component or labor costs other than marketing.
    There was a time when musicians made money by playing and teaching.
    Copyright has been extended too long, so much so great-grand kids are living off the copyright gravy train with no incentive to create something themselves. Before recordings sheet music publishers ruled the market and many made huge amounts by copying public domain works. AP Carter, Disney all made money from stuff they didn’t create. Time and technology changes every business. It is about time for some changes to the music business.

  2. […] Vol. 4- Elvis Costello’s record label recently released a boxed set of his work with a retail price tag in excess of $200. This prompted the bespectacled Costello to urge his fans, via his website, to avoid its purchase until the cost comes down. The punk band Fugazi, long a champion of all-ages shows and $5 tickets, turned loose online 130 of a potential 800 concerts recorded during their heyday, available for download for $5 each or, and this is why their fans love them, for whatever the consumer wishes to pay. Phish, the road-warrior quartet of improvisational wizardry, also made available another live compilation free for download as part of their Live Bait series. […]