meet the new boss.

It wasn’t long before Ralph mailed me a tape of new Footstone songs, recorded with Mike Moebius, an excellent young engineer who was playing (I think) in an excellent band called bobfields.

It was Footstone’s strongest music yet, and also the first batch of songs that Ralph had sent to me that weren’t recorded for me to put out.  That made me sad.  At the same time, though, listening to the songs, the hooks, and the power of the band gave me the same joy I always got from hearing new Footstone music.  It was definitely bittersweet.

This time there were no explanations of the songs, just a cassette tape that said Footstone ’99, and a handful of explosive, manic songs that sounded great.  Of all the people Footstone had worked with in various studios over the years, Mike Moebius did the best job, I think.  Lippy was an exceptional-sounding record, but I think the 1999 tracks did a better job of capturing what the band sounded like live.

The song that blew my mind the most was one called “For The Boss,” a song that was written for a New Brunswick band called Boss Jim Gettys.  Like many New Jersey bands in the late 90s, Boss Jim Gettys owed Footstone a debt of gratitude, as Footstone had influenced virtually every hard punk/pop band in the state at that point.  But Footstone fed off the younger bands as well, and when they found a local band they liked, they were pretty loyal and supportive friends.  In the early 90s they did it with American Standard and Outcrowd, as they got more popular in the mid 90s, they did it with Ff and the other Dromedary bands, and now they had nothing but the best things to say about Boss Jim Gettys – to the point where they wrote them a song.

Here it is.

The song borrowed a bit from the Boss’ style, but at the end was pure Footstone; fat hooks with that percussive, grooving guitar sound, Ralph’s voice barrelling forward above everything else, transitioning from one part to the next with ease.

Damn, I missed them.

When I asked Ralph what he was doing with the tape, he said “Well, we’re sending it out to labels here and there, hoping to find someone who will put it out for us.”

“Why bother with a label?” I asked.  “I could help you get CDs made, you could put it out on your own.”

“I can’t be bothered with that shit anymore,” he explained.  “I don’t want to do any of that stuff.  It’s way too much trouble.  If I can write music, play out once in a while, I’m happy.”

“But there are people out there who want to hear this,” I said.

There was really no answer for that.  As a band, you either wanted to get involved with marketing yourself, or you didn’t.  Footstone was always happy to oblige – they’d write you a bio, or give a great interview – but rarely did they market themselves hard.  Where The Mommyheads would tour each summer, making phone calls and working to promote themselves every day along the way, Footstone would book a show and do a small amount of promotion, but let their reputation fill up the club.

What really bothered me about it, though, was that a band like Footstone was ripe to be fucked by some major label somewhere.  Footstone wasn’t interested in lawyers or contracts, they were just interested in making music.  But by 1999, pop-punk music was beginning to turn into a mainstream phenomenon, and bands like Blink 182 and Lit were starting to dominate commercial rock radio.  Footstone were better than all those bands, and I found myself preemptively cursing whatever label was going to sign them and fuck them.

Meanwhile, the internet was becoming more and more of a viable means of distributing music.  There was some online service somewhere – maybe it was SonicNet, maybe something else – and Footstone had uploaded their music to it.  Somehow, inexplicably, Footstone found themselves occupying a high-ranking chart position (I was I could remember where it was, but I can’t – all I can remember is Ralph telling me this on the phone, and me pulling up the website and seeing – yep – Footstone).

Rich and I were sitting in my living room one night, discussing music over beers, talking about our growing disgust for the commercial alternative crap that was dominating the musical landscape.

The band Smash Mouth, to me, had become a badge for this.  Because of commercial radio’s penchant for overplaying songs, Ryan fell in love with their song “Walking On The Sun,” and we picked up a copy of the cassette.  It was the absolute worst rock and roll album I had ever heard, and I listened to it five or six times in a row, marveling at what a steaming pile of shit it truly was.  And yet it was huge.  It made me sick.

It also made me sick that even five years prior, it seemed so unlikely that a record that was so bad could possibly become so popular.  I mean, commercial radio generally sucked, but at least the rock music that charted so high tended to have some redeeming value.

Furthermore, Smash Mouth was an example of why it was no longer in the record labels’ interest to sign an exceptional artist and develop them, slowly increasing their sales over multiple albums.  It must have been immensely more profitable to sign a crap band like Smash Mouth, get one dull, drab, radio-friendly song and a bunch of filler, then release and promote one record that would go platinum right out of the gate.  The formula seemed to be for the labels to release as much music as they could, walk away from anything that didn’t catch on right away, and ride the small percentage of releases that happened to accidentally yield a hit.

Rich and I began developing a short list of exceptional bands that we knew who had been swallowed up by the major label machine.  The list was long and depressing – from Dromedary alone, there was Godspeed and the Mommyheads.

“Someone should invent a label that’s not really a label at all,” I said.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“I mean the labels aren’t really doing anything anymore.  They’re just a clearing house for bands.  They should all just go out of business.  I’d like to see a label that distributed their music over the internet.”

“Eventually you will,” Rich said.

“But it should be free.”

What should be free?” he asked.

“The music,” I explained.  “The model is changing.  You can get on Napster tonight and download virtually any song there is.  It’s free.  And the record labels can try and stop it, but they won’t be able to.  The technology is already there – once the technology is there, and college students have adopted it, the friggin’ RIAA isn’t going to be able to stop it.”

We talked further about how bands should embrace the model by giving their music away for free, and distributing it over the internet.  Then, they should make their money on touring, and on the sale of physical CDs, T-shirts, and other merchandise.  We talked about a world where consumers could legally jump online and access a web page that would contain all the relevant information on a band – free downloads, but also tour dates, an online store to buy merchandise and tickets, a complete window into a band.

“Well, why would you need a label, then?” Rich asked.

“The label still has to have a role,” I told him.  “When you look at these music websites – Audiogalaxy, MP3.com, Broadcast.com – they’re all just a big mish-mash of music.  You could search and I bet you’d find songs from Cannibal Corpse and Perry Como, both on some of these sites.  I think the record label is going to become more important.”

“How?” he asked.

“Look at labels like SpinArt, Matador, Dischord,” I tried to explain.  “If you buy something on Matador, you’re reasonably sure what you’re going to get.  The best labels have a style.  If you buy a record on Bar/None, you’re going to get songs.  I know people who just buy everything that comes out on Matador, without even listening.”

“So the label becomes a content provider?  Like, if you buy Sports Illustrated, you can expect articles on sports?”

“Yeah.”

“So how does the label make money?”

We started brainstorming ways a label could make money in that scenario – ad sales, subscriptions, charging bands for a storefront, publishing, and more.  And ultimately, we decided that the best way to do it would be to sell ads, serving up ads while downloads occurred.  The ads could be targeted toward the type of music that was being downloaded; for instance, selling ads to a snowboard company that played while a pop/punk song was downloading.

It sounded like a decent idea.

~ by Al on December 1, 2009.

One Response to “meet the new boss.”

  1. Foreshadowing.

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