Saturday, October 16, 2010

An Irish rock band, DIY albums and the long tail ...

Cross-posted to my blogs Hogfiddle and The Mackerel Wrapper for COMM 150 students ...

The band is an instrumental rock group called The Redneck Manifesto, that plays live venues around Dublin and does very well - artistically and apparently financially, too - without a major record label. DIY albums are do-it-yourself CDs that you record and produce yourself. And the long tail is "a retailing concept describing the niche strategy of selling a large number of unique items in relatively small quantities." We'll meet the concept again as we study the Internet, which makes "long-tail" retailing a powerful strategy, and it will be one of the most important concepts we deal with in the last month before final exams.

(If you get my drift ...)

But first, a video from Redneck Manifesto:

I'd never heard of the band before, but they were mentioned in a story in The Irish Times today headlined "Golden age of Irish music" ... which would be now, even though the big labels just lost a downloading case in Ireland's equivalent of the Supreme Court. "The big guns may be cribbing about illegal downloads and declining sales," said Jim Carroll of the Times, "but in fact this is a golden age of Irish music." Read why, and ask yourself if the same things are going on in America. (Hint: They are, and you may have the opportunity to write about them later in the semester. You may even be able to work them into your midterm if you're alert enough to get my drift. Just sayin'.) Carroll says:
Contrary to the image that the majors presented in court, the domestic music industry is robust and vibrant. Much of this is occurring away from the gaze and control of the major labels and the record industry’s permanent establishment. You could say we’re seeing something of a golden age as new bands and releases come to the fore like never before. ...

* * *

Another reason to be cheerful: the number of new Irish releases is on the increase and the quality is far better than it has ever been. You could easily rattle off a list of home-grown albums from 2010 that more than hold their own with anything released elsewhere.
Carroll compares the scene today to 10 years ago, when "... there was an underground scene in Dublin in particular, with bands like The Redneck Manifesto beginning to take their first steps," but "it was still considered a novelty if a band took the DIY route to record, manufacture and distribute their EPs or albums. ... Most acts were still holding out for that elusive major label deal." Now Redneck Manifesto has been joined on the DIY route by numerous other bands in Dublin, Cork and Ireland's smaller cities. I haven't heard of any of them, but I hadn't heard of Redneck Manifesto either till I read about them in today's Irish Times.

But that's the point. These little bands are doing quite well without the international fan base that comes along with signing with the major labels. And they're more likely to have artistic control over their content. I'd say the production values in their video are pretty good.

And I'd suggest the long tail is what allows these bands to be reasonably successful playing live shows, burning their own albums and using the Internet to build their fan base. You don't have to go platinum to make a living.

Carroll lists "five changes for the better [for artists] in 10 years." How many of them apply in America as well as Ireland? How many relate to the main themes we're studying in COMM 150? Here they are:
1 The DIY ethic Recording and releasing your own album has never been easier. Why wait for a label to put out your masterpiece when you can do it yourself?

2 The gigging infrastructure Supportive venues in Galway (Roisin Dubh), Cork (Pavilion, Cyprus Avenue), Limerick (Dolan’s), Dundalk (Spirit Store), Kilkenny (Set Theatre) and Dublin (everywhere from Whelan’s to the Workman’s Club) mean bands can plan, book and promote national tours.

3 Alternative media Music blogs, online forums and radio shows on local stations dedicated to Irish music (take a bow Cathal Funge at Dublin’s Phantom FM, Colm O’Sullivan at Cork’s Red FM and Rob O’Connor at Waterford’s Beat FM) mean acts don’t have to rely on Ireland’s traditional music media for coverage.

4 Quality control A huge increase in quality means there’s no need for token gestures for Irish music any more. Talk about radio quotas for Irish music misses the point when acts like Cathy Davey, Republic Of Loose and Bell X1 are among the most played records on the radio. Are those seeking radio quotas doing so because their acts don’t get radio play?

5 The internet The internet means equal opportunities for all when it comes to showing off your wares. Yes, the major-label act may have a bigger marketing budget, but Soundcloud, Bandcamp and MySpace welcome everyone, regardless of how much they have to spend or where they’re coming from.

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