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The Cody Blog: Death to New Music Fridays

Friday, June 09, 2006

Death to New Music Fridays

On Tuesday this week, I was on the street talking to strangers in front of the Apple store with CNBC. I quickly figured out that the best way to put people at ease was to first ask a very simple question: “Do you like music?” No surprise that every one I talked to answered affirmatively. I badmouthed radio to an older couple who told me they love the radio. The thing is, I’m utterly sick of Top 40 music. Isn’t everybody?

I remember when my brother was starting his first heavy metal band in high school that my mom told him that he needed to make sure they covered some Top 40 songs so that people could relate to them. I got to thinking about that logic a few weeks ago at a dinner with a group of Hollywood and music agents and managers as they debated the future of the business of music.

The debate covered topics that I’ve been writing about for a long time, from the decline of bundling to piracy to immediate access to all music ever recorded. Now the first two topics are obviously negatives for the music industry, and one look at what has been a steady, several-year-long decline in music sales tells the story clearly. But the latter point is finally starting to kick in and I think the music content ownership business might be in better shape than I’ve previously argued. That is, I was wrong that the value of music content would be more impacted by the former points than the latter.

A somewhat silly anecdote that I’d shared on Kudlow & Company the day I held up a hand-written sign saying “MSFT” saying that I wanted to pretend like I was on a 70s game show underscores the shift. You see, a few weeks ago, I had an epiphany. I don’t ever want to bother buying Top 40 music. I hear the very same songs in line at Duane Reade, in the elevator of my former office in a hedge fund hotel, when I visit my father’s animal clinic in New Mexico, in my car, in…well, you get the point. I got to thinking that there’s been about 40 years worth of Top 40 hits since selling music became a valid business model. 40 years of, say, 150 Top 40 hits per year equals out to about 6000 songs. All of which I think know every beat, rhythm and nuance of the music, not to mention a good deal of the lyrics you and I can both recite off the top of our heads. “I’m bad, I’m bad, you know it”? Why do we have to know who sang those lyrics? (It was Michael Jackson for those of you who want to pretend you didn’t know that already.)

And new music? Until I’d had my epiphany, I’d been writing a “New Music Friday” column on TheCodyBlog.com for months, as a lot of people send me new CDs and I figured I’d pass on some of the bands I get into.

But then one late Saturday evening when I’d turned on the “Classic Rock” station on my TV and pumped it out over my Bose speakers in my apartment, I’d heard this cover of called, “Time Has Come Now”, an eleven minute jam that blew my mind from 1967. How could I not have ever heard this song before?

I went straight to my iMac and pulled up the iTunes store and looked up this band called The Chamber Brothers. And I started downloading a couple of albums from the band. And every song I listened to got better, because the band had created art with their ALBUMS. Not this one song of theirs that became a Top 40 hit that I’d just not happened to have been privy to for some strange reason given my obsession with rock and roll.

And I realized, I don’t know anything about music history, despite knowing every Top 40 hit in the last 40 years note for note.

In my office, I’ve banned all singles. I’ve banned all music from 1982 and on. (Why 1982? Why not?) I almost always have music blasting in the background when I’m reading and analyzing stocks and when I’m writing these pieces for my blog. And from Bob Dylan’s amazing Nashville Skyline album to Curtis Mayfield’s smooth Curtis album, I’m in music heaven. Now that I don’t listen to Top 40 anymore!

And the label that owns the rights to the three albums by this Nick Drake dude that I’d never even heard of until I Googled “Best albums of 1970)? Methinks iTunes and the power of the Internet are probably the best thing that ever happened to them. If only because everyone who reads this post can immediately go purchase this “Bryter Layter” album with out even getting out of their chair because I’m going to put a link to it right here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Cody!
Will you be posting a clip of the interviews that you did in front of the Apple store? That would be appreciated. I was not able to watch the Kudlow show where this was aired, and have not found a clip of that show. Thank you, and keep up your good work!

6/10/2006 02:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cody Willard is a sexy bitch.

6/10/2006 05:07:00 PM  
Anonymous J Rasp said...

Oh man! You hadn't heard of Nick Drake? O.K., neither had I until the VW Commercials a few years ago, but then I discovered him. Wow.

Newer artist, same vein, very George Harrison sounding---Elliot Smith. Start with the album, "From a Basement"

Old Artist, Roxy Music (Bryan Ferry's old band)

All right, I'm pretty sure you haven't lived in a hole, but, have you checked out any of the Talking Heads albums?

6/10/2006 08:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To anonymous who posted 6/10/2006 5:07pm, there are many sites that are designed for such lurking. Perhaps you would be better served by one of those.

6/11/2006 04:16:00 PM  
Blogger DEN said...

I'm shocked a music aficionado like yourself had never heard of Nick Drake.

6/12/2006 12:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I agree that the iTunes model is good for many artists who are dead or dying, figuratively and literally. Personal example for me: Golden Earring. I only ever wanted two songs by those guys, "Radar Love" and "Twilight Zone", so when I got some iTunes gift dollars recently I grabbed them along with a few Iron Maiden tunes, three by The Call, four by The Who, one by The Kinks, a couple by Kiss and even three by Ambrosia, for when I need to get my sap on. I would never have bought the albums necessary to get these songs, so the rights holders made money they would not have otherwise.

But I wonder where all this leaves artists who are hitting their creative strides right now. Pull up the iTunes page for Death Cab and you will see that most of the activity is downloading a few songs. Would long-term artists like The Who and Kiss (and Bob Dylan and Neil Young, to throw in a couple of Cody faves) have made it more than a few years if fans would have had the option to only buy the three or four songs they wanted when their albums were released? Pearl Jam's Ten sold enough copies to carry them for over a decade of declining sales. Now they're back. Will Death Cab make enough cash to do that?

Of course, maybe we would have all been better off if Kiss and Neil Young had been shut down in the 80's, but that's beside the point. They sold enough albums to get themselves through The Elder and Trans and beyond.

RHS Class of '86 reunion this weekend...anything you need from the rainless mountains?

--Jason B

6/14/2006 03:07:00 PM  
Blogger Cody Willard said...

Man, it's tough to know how to comment in here with some of the anon comments. Thanks for the sweet sentiments... I can't beleive I hadn't heard of Nick Drake either. I am addicted to his three albums. xxx Oh, man Jason B! I'm gonna try to get home for my 15 year reunion and Mom and Pop Willard will be here in NYC this afternoon for a long weekend. Have fun in Rumordoso! (as for the artists biz model...I have no sympathy for anyone who has to deal with technological change as it impacts their business models...such is life!)

6/15/2006 11:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your feelings on the issue of top 40 songs. These are primarily one hit wonders, although, there are worthy bands since 1982 who have, in my humble opinion, created entire albums worth listening through. Radiohead's Pablo Honey comes to mind, as does Hole's Celebrity Skin.

When I am working in my office, I enjoy listening to old favorites, entire albums by artists I know and love. Mostly Genesis, from the earlier days. I spent most of high school doing math homework to the Who (Who's next?).

The problem is that getting into an album 7 or 8 songs deep is a labor of time and love, and in the current time of accelerated living, and decreasing attention spans, people just don't spend the time. Too bad.

6/22/2006 09:09:00 AM  

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