The more I dug into Razortone, the more enthusiastic I got about it.

Every week or so, Ralph would email me a list of bands to check out.  Jim Testa was feeding me bands, too, and Rich had begun working on a bunch of different logo designs.  The ad agency was involved with a bunch of technology companies, and was going to talk to someone who could build the platform for us to serve up the downloads and ads in a secure way.

From the standpoint of bands, it’s pretty fuzzy to me today.  I remember being excited that the Swimmies were going to contribute a couple of tracks, and I remember talking to bobfields about being involved as well.  There were a whole bunch of New Jersey bands that were involved in a “build the scene” kind of project called Artist Amplification.  They released CDs every month (or something like that) and finding willing participants from those CDs was like shooting fish in a barrel – it seemed like every band that wanted to be involved recommended another band.

I remember making a list one night on a piece of notebook paper, and coming up with 35 different bands that had all agreed to contribute.  Some of the bands were well-known, some were not, but they were all very good and very enthusiastic about it.

I was positioning us as sort of the “anti-label.”  We were the company that was going to try and give the bands the power to do their own thing.  And I had a ton of respect for every band that agreed to participate.  We were asking these bands – many of which had no idea who we were, but were going on the recommendation of someone else – to give us their music so that we could give it away for free.

This was music that these bands poured their energy into, and that they poured their money into, and we were asking them to just hand it over to us.

Of course it made them feel better that we weren’t going to make any money on it either.  Our money was going to come from the sale of ads.  The bands’ money was going to come from the sale of merch and tickets.

There was no way it was going to work – we all knew that.  One of the bands whose name I can’t recall – a punk band from London – asked me that, point blank.  “How could you possibly expect this to work?”

“It’s probably not going to work,” I told him in an email.  “But somebody has got to be the guy to do it first.  Somebody has got to see if it’s possible for a label to exist without being a label, and still make money.

It’s not like I envisioned myself to be some great visionary or anything like that.  People were already releasing music over the internet.  But somebody told me once “Show me an artist – just one – that has been broken on the internet.  There’s no such thing.  The internet is nice, but it will never take the place of the record industry.”

But that was an argument that we both knew wouldn’t be usable for long, because it was just a matter of time before an artist was broken on the internet.  And today, the internet is a key part of every band’s marketing strategy.

I hated the record industry.  To me, the mainstream record industry were a bunch of leeches and thieves, locking young kids into restrictive contracts that were designed to do nothing but create losses that encumbered the band and made it impossible to get above water.  It was like some weird sort of indentured servitude, and it dated back to the dawn of rock and roll.  And in my mind, it was the record industry’s tired business model that drove me to madness with Dromedary, and ultimately caused me to put it on “hiatus.”

Meanwhile, the record industry railed against Napster, as if Napster were the reason why the record industry was falling apart.  Thousands of putrid releases every year by bands like Smash Mouth, and somehow it was Napster’s fault that the record industry was bleeding.

Somewhere, I read an interview with some RIAA guy who said “By going after Napster, we’re standing up for the mom and pop retailer.  The independent record stores are ones who lose, every time somebody downloads a U2 album illegally.”

I nearly lost my mind.  “Are you fucking kidding me?!” I screamed at nobody in particular.  If the record industry was so concerned with the health of the mom and pop retailer, why didn’t they launch an anti-shoplifting campaign?  I had to think that shoplifting was a bigger threat to small retail than digital downloading in 1999 and 2000, so why didn’t the major labels care about that?

They didn’t care because once the record was in the store, the label had already been paid for it.  Once the store took possession of the record, the label couldn’t care less what happens to it.  Steal it!  They don’t care – they already got their money!  Just don’t steal it before the label gets paid.

All this “digital downloading hurts the bands” and “digital downloading is killing the mom and pop retailer” reeked of the same spin that the record business tried to put on home taping, when they launched their “home taping is killing the record industry” campaign.  And home taping didn’t kill the record industry at all.  The record industry thrived.

I felt then – as I do now – that there were very few labels that were safe zones for artists.  Touch and Go.  Merge.  A few others.  I wanted desperately to be that, and yet the only band that was able to make a measurable amount of money from a Dromedary release was The Mommyheads.

In my mind, the band should always have an opportunity to make more money on a release than their label.  To me, Razortone was something even greater than that – it was a business relationship between a marketing company and a recording artist, but one where the marketing company stayed completely out of the artist’s business.  No royalties, no percentages, no cross-collateralization: you give me a song, and I’ll give it to someone else while I show them a commercial for a sneaker company.

Of course we knew the model couldn’t last long the way we had envisioned it.  First, there was no way to copy protect the music, so as soon as it popped up on Napster, nobody would need to come to the website.  Second, consumers were demanding faster and faster internet connections – eventually we wouldn’t be able to serve up enough ads during the download process to make it profitable.  We just figured we’d get it launched, learn what the customers liked and disliked, and then retrofit the business model accordingly.

~ by Al on December 4, 2009.

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