A LOT OF WORDS FROM OUR SPONSOR CONTINUED...
Without launching into too much of a diatribe on what I think is wrong with not only the present-day music business but also the modern world in general I will attempt to explain my perspective and reasoning in regards to some of my moves. (And those of you that follow my personal Facebook page will be familiar with some of this.)
Dystopia has arrived and maybe it is not as dramatic seeming as Ray Bradbury had foretold in 'Farenheit 451', but the subtle result is damaging to our collective memory and consciousness. Our age of newspeak values what is disposable and temporary, offering it up as an inexpensive distraction to anything that might place any demands on the artist or receptor...antiquated concepts like poetry and craft.
I will be the last to argue that folks who currently make a lot of money in music have no talent or work ethic. But the algorithmically driven playlists of today ignore the roots of what today's popular music is chopped up and refashioned from, so that rather than including a song like Timmy Thomas' 'Why Can't We Live Together' in a Drake-esque playlist (which Drake heavily sampled in 'Hotline Bling'), you will most assuredly be fed something more contemporaneous and equally lifted.
I recently saw a television show where Lyor Cohen (A&R and Executive at a variety of music ventures including Def Jam, Warner and YouTube) was working with a young artist. In an Upper East Side NY office after encouraging the young rapper to allow guest spots by other singers the artist didn't particularly care for Cohen then entreated the artist to "make more songs". That's make, not write.(He repeatedly used the word make.) You can extrapolate whatever you like from the subtext, but I consider that the most baseline acknowledgment that there is indeed something missing from either the craft or art part of the equation, I'm not sure which.
Anyway, back to Saustex. I started this label almost exactly 15 years ago while working a construction job, living in a motel room in Amarillo, newly sober, computer illiterate. I had no plan but had an extra $1,500.00 and wanted to help Stevie Tombstone get his album ‘7:30 A.M.’ out. (I figured that would be a higher purpose and use for the money than a 48 hour binge, at the very least.) It took on a life of its own from there.
The recorded music industry has completed a 360 since its origins at the beginning of the 20th Century. Without going into an excruciating level of detail I will put forth that the earliest records were really just something to sell the devices on which they were played (the technology/platform). It was wondrous enough to have a disembodied voice or sounds coming forth from the horn style sound projector, the recordings of the artists and songs (content) were almost an afterthought.
Then came the rise of radio, which forced the labels’ hands - they had to pursue the artists who were becoming popular on national and regional programs. Artists and managers had a stronger bargaining position. The mid-1950’s through the beginning of this century represented unbridled opportunity for the major labels, with the compact disc era being a de facto currency printing machine.
This unbridled opportunity begat unbridled greed as the suits at the labels failed to understand and underestimated the power of the internet. They totally rejected the idea of streaming, sharing and paid downloads. Physical CD sales began collapsing in the early 2000’s. Vinyl was dead. The cassette was dead. Illegal downloads soared via “services” like Napster. A bright spot emerged via Apple’s iTunes service. Paid downloads began to once again provide a dependable stream of income for small labels and artists. Vinyl began to re-emerge as a viable format. Then, bowing to the pressure exerted by the rise of legal streaming services ala the revamped Napster and Spotify, Apple launched its own Apple Music streaming service and sales of downloads collapsed.
I cannot post an iTunes buy link that is not first routed through the Apple Music service with the tacit message being “Hey dumba** - why do you want to pay $0.99 cents for a song when you can have a thousand times more music than any one person could listen to in ten lifetimes for only $10 a month?”....
Well, it’s certainly hard to argue with from the consumer’s perspective, but the net effect is that instead of capturing that $0.99 cent single song or $9.99 album sale my label will end up getting some percentage of a penny. Now, if you’re Jay-Z, Beyonce, Drake, etc., it’s not a bad deal because you’re getting hundreds of millions of streams, you’re able to negotiate a better royalty rate and the sheer number of streams allows you cut to better deals for endorsements and live appearances. BUT, for my label and hundreds if not thousands like mine it means that your CONTENT has had a value of ZERO imposed upon it to the end benefit of the PLATFORM and folks like the big stars mentioned in the previous sentence who reap that extra percentile of the penny that is inevitably extracted from the little guy’s end. Not to mention the peripheral issue of falsified and misappropriated streams (witness the Tidal scandal) which calls all the numbers and data into question.
The other villain in this scenario is Amazon - specifically Amazon Prime relating to the physical product side of things. I’ll keep this pretty short as it’s fairly convoluted. I will not be disingenuous - I use Prime. Sometimes I need things quickly. Sometimes it’s the only easy option for ordering this or that. Again, it is hard to argue with the consumer’s perspective: below MSRP pricing, free shipping and unlimited returns. Long story short - the very limited profit margin my label enjoys at the wholesale end of things is cut in half by Amazon when it is all said and done due to the discounts they enjoy, and, it’s trimmed significantly more than that when the promotional CD’s and LP’s that end up for sale on there are considered.
Again, the label’s content, products and catalogue and the artists' work are devalued as the price for being on the PLATFORM.
The end point of this conversation is that a very odd sort of corporate welfare is being extracted from Saustex and labels like it by these two TRILLION dollar companies, Apple and Amazon. Not playing is simply not an option, for the label or the artists, but for lower tier labels and unknown artists it is very disheartening.
Lest you think this all just an idle bitch session I am taking the following steps to improve the financial fortune and ongoing viability of Saustex:
- Raising wholesale prices. This will hopefully somewhat diminish the pricing power exercised by Amazon and make the prospect of ordering directly from the label more attractive.
- Implementing a Bandcamp site for the label which will encourage fans of the label and bands to pay a fair and sustainable price for downloads and streaming. Additionally it should allow the label to offer some digital titles and special offerings that simply don’t qualify a physical release. The Bandcamp site is only marginally operational for the moment but we do have Hamell's new albums up on there.
- Offering limited colored vinyl editions exclusively via the Saustex.com website and Bandcamp sites.
- Most likely we will cease to manufacture CD editions of our releases in the near future.
Saustex is admittedly and proudly a very niche, boutique label. Some may even consider it individuality gone awry. Nevertheless, I’ve tied a lot of time, energy and money up in it and have no intention of shutting down.
- I appreciate your continued support and reading my ramblings.
- ORDER DIRECT.
- SHARE THIS NEWSLETTER WITH YOUR FRIENDS.
- GO SEE SOME ROCK’N’ROLL.
IF you’ve read this far you understand that a great song is worth a lot more than ninety-nine cents and a great album is worth a lot more than ten dollars. I’m not asking for a donation or for anyone to buy something they don’t want - only that you support what is real at a real price rather than what is not for nothing.
No es por nada that I have a dinosaur on my logo. This is the battleground for the future of real music. Thank you.