More Rapacious-Label News
The major record labels’ attack on the selling of used CDs has the lower level of the nation’s retail industry in an uproar. The first wave of pressure came over the winter, when the labels said that they’d block co-op dollars (i.e., contributions to the cost of advertising that featured the particular label’s products) for ads mentioning used records. Now WEA (which distributes Warner Brothers and related labels), Sony (Columbia and its sister labels), and Cema (Capitol and others) have, pulled all co-op money from stores that sell used CDs.
Fighting back is the newly formed Independent Music Retailers Association, an alliance of small chains–the sort of operations most likely to sell used records along with the new ones. (Large chains like Musicland and Tower have so far stayed out of the used biz.) Director Don Kulak, in New Jersey, says that the organization has 200 stores enlisted by word of mouth (there’s apparently none in Chicago yet), and that a national solicitation went out last week: he hopes to recruit between one and two thousand stores. Record sellers are a notoriously disorganized bunch, but the cumulative arrogance of the record labels’ moves seems to have struck a nerve. What’s happening is this: CD prices are grossly inflated already and, despite a decline in manufacturing costs, are increasing steadily. (Right now distributors are in the process of jacking up list prices another dollar.) But the labels aren’t content with simply counting the extra cash that sheeplike consumers continue to give them; concurrently they’re maneuvering behind the scenes both to (a) keep the idea of reselling their CDs out of consumer minds (the De Beers gambit) and (b) limit their opportunity to act on the idea if they want to.
Being on the business side of the equation in most matters, the association doesn’t quite frame the issue in terms of consumers’ rights, which is how Hitsville sees it. “Are records priced too high?” asks Kulak rhetorically. “That’s a relative term. They’re not priced too high if you can get credit on an exchange.” Instead, the association is casting its campaign in proartist terms. “One of the things that make independent retailers unique is their ability to be a proving ground for new artists,” he says. “They can offer the product at a few dollars less [than mall chain stores], “Plus, if the customer doesn’t like the record, they can offer to take it back in trade.”
Can the indies take on the majors? The stores’ first strategy is the retail version of a work slowdown. WEA, Sony, and Cema product is being taken off sale racks, in-store playlists, and promotional walls. They’re also expediting returns to the companies and slowing their back-catalog ordering. Billboard’s breathless reporting on the issue has the majors holding firm; they’re ready to take some heat for the sake of the long term costs involved. Of course, what a label sees as “costs” would be described by you or me as “money in one’s pocket.” Hitsville hopes retailers think long-term too and gird for battle. Kulak and the association can be reached at P.O. Box 609, Ringwood, New Jersey 07456, or at 201-831-1317.
Notorious nogoodnik GG Allin and his band, the Murder Junkies, will appear at Medusa’s Friday, though the show nearly fell through. The club’s owner, who goes by the nom de nightspot Dave Medusa, says that an Allin appearance on the Jerry Springer show got his landlord and his insurance company upset, but now everything’s Jake. Even as a new wave of bad-taste behemoths with names like the Impotent Sea Snakes and the Genitorturers now tour America, Allin stands out: his deranged onstage persona traffics in live sex and violence, with liberal helpings of blood and flying excrement to liven things up. Allin drew a lot of attention a couple of years back by promising to commit suicide live onstage; he didn’t go through with it, apparently because he was in jail at the time, though nobody seems to know exactly why he was incarcerated. How wild will Allin be? Medusa isn’t sure. There was even some talk of Allin’s putting on a “clean act,” he says. “It’s not really what he’s supposed to be doing,” he notes reasonably. “I mean, what are you seeing GG Allin for? His beautiful voice?”…”Just continue with what you were doing.” With those words–directed at a small crowd of friends–Steve Albini showed off a new band Monday night at Augenblick. The group–apparently called Shellac–played three unannounced free sets at the Damen Avenue club. The music, played at a volume just this side of earsplitting through a crystalline mix, was based on an enthusiastic and crisp rhythm section (Albini won’t give out names, or talk about the group at all), over which Albini contributed his convulsive, whipsaw guitar work and agitated vocals. The result was to Rapeman, Albini’s last- combo, what Rapeman was to Big Black–the sound a bit less mechanical, his sarcasm and anger perhaps slightly ameliorated. Highlights of the first set were a concussive opening number; a ten-second cymbal solo in another song; a false ending on another, during which Albini waited until the audience began applauding before slamming back into action; and the self-conscious sardonicism of the one discernible lyric I heard:
Dog and pony