Thursday, March 12, 2009

Just What the World Needs...

Just what the world needs - another record label. (Attributed to Frank Zappa).

I said I'd write more on Jack White's announcement yesterday regarding his new band The Dead Weather, and Third Man, his wet photo studio, music studio, performance space and record company.

Jack's band The Dead Weather sounds interesting, a bit like The Kills with a decent drummer. The record company venture sounds more interesting, if très Marc Bolan. Alas for music, T. Rex Wax Co. ended up putting out only T. Rex material and the money was diverted offshore to a holding company that thirty years later, is still holding it. (I think his son got his first payout a couple of years ago.) Jack probably has more common sense, and the business has changed a bit since then.

[Jack said] Third Man would focus mainly on his musical projects. He aims to reissue whatever music of his own that's out of print as well as recordings that are out of circulation, and he spoke energetically about restoring some of the physical component of experiencing music that's been lost in the age of downloading and what he calls "invisible music.""Only 20% of music released during the 20th century is available right now," White said. "That's a lot of music that's getting lost."
I couldn't work out from Jack's comments in the LA Times article quoted above whether he intended to do anything about the 80% of 20th Century music that is no longer available, or he just wanted to make sure his music was immortal. The latter doesn't make sense - if 80% of music issued on vinyl last century is unavailable, then creating your own company to issue your own stuff on vinyl is not redressing the problem, it's adding to it. Duh!

He says he can record a band that comes through Nashville in the associated studio and have vinyl at the band's shows in three weeks. Faster than the old record companies, but a crawl by digital stands. Phish can play anywhere, and have the soundboard mix available as mp3 on their website in a couple of days - and there are bands trying to have CDs available as you leave the concert hall. I know Jack White doesn't like digital, but apart from a few retro students and boho basement dwellers, vinyl will continue to be a minority taste. Most people prefer to go to a gig and have the mp3, or just plain stay at home and listen to the mp3. I can see this catching on with the thrift stores and vintage clothing crowd but with most folks not so much.

I suppose the business plan assumes the money will come from the artifactual nature of vinyl – it's a manufactured object, and can't be duplicated for online free trading. (At least until 3D printers are in most houses which will take five years or so.) In that sense it's like a White Stripes matryoshka, rather than a sound recording.

I like the model of having the pressing plant just down the street. And it's great that he knows a good acetate cutter. It's a dying art and keeping it together is valuable, the same way my local mission employs a blacksmith to make stuff using 18th Century technology.

But if making music immortal is the real goal, you need get it into the Cloud. As any fool kno, dead vinyl goes to YouTube to dwell forever at Tim Berners-Lee's right hand. For example, one of Marc Bolan's influences, the wonderfully named Sleepy La Beef (Sleepy Labeef in YouTube land, for search engine purposes) can be heard playing his hit rekkid All The Time there.

It's said to be an inspiration for Jeepster.

Fight for net neutrality and fair copyright laws, folks. We could lose YouTube, you know, and without it Jack would have a lot more music needing to be saved from oblivion.

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