Frank Gutch Jr: The ACMA’s, The Majors, The Seven-Second Rule, and Music As Education…..

Normally, I do not watch award shows.  I didn’t watch the ACM Awards show last week either, but by happenstance clicked by and hit a moment I wish I could forever erase from my mind.  As I remember it (and I am trying hard to disremember, trust me), Reba McEntire introduced KISS (wait a minute, was this the Academy of Country Music Awards?) who spent way too long looking and acting like primadonnas in full makeup and halloween attire opening an envelope so that they could announce a winner, and it would have made no difference who because if Nashville is about nothing else these days, it’s about formula.

I cringed as the announcement was made, wishing I’d never stopped clicking because it was no more nor less than an awards show-equivalent to reality music shows, the supposed love seeping through the TV screen like a skunk smell on a hot and humid day.  Sorry, Nashville, that little sequence made me throw up in my mouth and I would have projectile vomited but for the fact that my carpet is already dirty enough and has already had its share of putrefaction over the years.  How can a little three-minute clip (I’m assuming it was three minutes though it seemed much longer) reinforce everything I hate about Nashville, the major labels and the music industry in general?  I don’t know, but it did.  Nothing against Ms. McEntire, KISS or the Antebellums (though could at least one of them have conjured up enough chutzpah to resist the embarrassing charade which passes as, kaff!, entertainment?), but if I wanted to watch something as lame as that, I would watch The Voice or The X Factor or American Idol or any of the other prefab and staged attempts at making money.  I shake my head.  You would think that if these people were as talented as they are purported to be, they could at least read the teleprompter and make it not sound like thick cardboard passing through a chipper.  And anyway, aren’t the people who inhabit these awards shows supposedly intelligent?  Do intelligent people laugh at lame jokes and applaud for things and people they don’t really like and sit with plastic smiles on their faces for what must seem like forever?  Evidently, if there is money in it they do.  I’ll bet most of them had cramps in their faces when it was all over.  Rant over (and you can bet I will never stop on an awards show again).

The Major Labels and Why They Are Evil…..

Did you know that at one time, there were seven major labels in The States?  Hell, there might have been more, but seven was the magic number when I exited Eugene in 1973 for the yellow brick road of Los Angeles.  At one time I could have rattled them off alphabetically, but I barely remember those days anymore except in spurts and stutter steps.  I think there are essentially two now— Universal Music Group and that other company.  That other company would probably like to merge with UMG, but there are complications.  There are always complications.  Most, in the music industry, come from within.

Like when they threw Alan Freed to the wolves.  He was supposedly handing money to radio stations and dee jays to get records played.  He probably was.  Thing is, in those days everybody was, unless they were unlucky enough to be in a market which had little or no influence.  The truth is that handing over money for airplay in Bend, Oregon back then was akin to buying stock for a company which had just gone out of business.  So why was Freed pinched when others doing the same exact thing were not?  Politics, kiddies, politics.  The government was on a rampage testing its powers and the record people were covering their asses.  Not the government’s asses, but their own, see?  Alan Freed?  Sure, he’s guilty.  Just don’t look our way and we’ll give him to you on a silver platter.  And if you have to mention us, please do it kindly.  Tell you what, we’ll start our own investigation.  We’ll let you know what we find.  A million to one they never found anything.  A million to one, they never even looked.

They didn’t have to.  The record business in those days was as dirty as it came.  Radio was fairly new, of course— rock radio, I mean— but the jukebox business wasn’t.  What?  You don’t think there was a connection?  Think again.  Music was music and music was big business.  You dipped your fingers wherever you could when money was involved.  Now, I’m not saying that every radio station and every jukebox company was crooked, but there were enough.  In fact, there were investigations into stocking records on jukeboxes in exchange for money.  It was big news in the trades.  Of course, who read the trades back then except for the people in the business?  You get where I’m going here?  It was complicated.

I have never met a musician who made money off of a record deal.  Granted, I do not float around in circles which include Ringo or Jimmy Page or Neil Young, but still, I have met hundreds of musicians over the years, many of whom were involved in major label recording deals.  So let me repeat:  I have never met a musician who made money off of a record deal.  Of course, I include neither the signing bonus nor expenses while on tour, nor do I include publishing.  Still, wouldn’t you think that bands like Cowboy or Heartsfield or any of the many bands who did not break through the charts would make some money?  Evidently not.  Some musicians have even told me that when they asked for an accounting, they were either denied or handed a sheet which contained numbers they could make neither heads nor tails of.  Strange thing is, years and years later, major labels are re-releasing the music, either by themselves or through agreements with companies outside their realm, and still no money.

There is indeed a battle going on at present which addresses a number of questions, the most prominent being ownership of recorded music.  The Copyright Act of 1976 was supposed to give certain artists the rights to their recordings after a certain period (too involved to go into here, but you can google it and find plenty), but here come the majors, crying foul.  Should Sony be forced to hand over Bruce Springsteen’s recordings from the Seventies?  There are others, too.  I use Springsteen as an example.  Sony doesn’t think so and they have a building full of lawyers to fight it.    The point is, the record company knew the deadline was fast approaching (or should have, since the act was passed and signed in 1976), yet waited until now to file suit.  Legal Skullduggery.  Bullshit.  Cheap Trick (not to be confused with the band of the same name).

I will give you a prime example why I hate the majors and then we will move on to other things.  The majors lie.  There you go.  The cat’s out of the bag.  All of the time I worked in the music biz, some thirty-plus years, major labels have lied whenever it was convenient.  To distributors, to record stores, to musicians and everyone in between.  It is part of their culture.  Now, don’t confuse this with my saying that major label people are liars.  Most of them do not go out of their way to lie (though I suppose it could have happened).  What I’m saying is that even legal contracts are not sacred to them.  Their word?  Don’t make me laugh.  When money is involved, there is no ‘word’.  They tell you whatever is convenient for them.  Case in point.  I worked at Peaches in Seattle when the chain was in bankruptcy.  CBS (now SONY) wanted to do an in-store appearance for Third World, which would have been fine except for the fact that we were limited to $5,000 worth of purchases from CBS for the entire month.  The product we would have had to stock for the in-store, nothing but Third World mind you, would have chewed up up to one-third of that amount.  The sales rep and the store came to an agreement— we would accept the product and right after the in-store, the rep would take the product to a rival store and trade for albums we could sell.  Strangely enough (or not so strangely), after the in-store, the rep had to have it okayed by management (which had purportedly been done before the agreement was made).  Week after week, Third World product collected dust while the rep evaded the store’s question regarding the trade.  After a month, one of the reps let it slip that the CBS rep was sitting on the product at the behest of managers higher up the food chain.  Incensed, I told the rep to get in and out as quickly as possible from then  on and to not ask for any other favors.  It wasn’t the money that pissed me off.  It was the lying.  Like I said, it is part of the culture.  And it’s complicated.

I know it sounds like I’m rambling here and, truth be told, I am.  I’m tanked up on caffeine, have no idea what I’m writing and the demons from my past are passing before my eyes like migrating geese back in the Fifties.  Back then, there were moments when it seemed like they blocked out the sun, there were so many.  When I think about it, all I can think is what have we done.  And we’re still doing it.  Sigh.

The Seven-Second Rule…..

Jay Frank, in his book Futurehit.dna, brought up an interesting point that I’m not at all convinced of— that if you want people to listen these days, you have seven seconds to connect or they move on.  We are living in a high tech click-now-or-be-bored culture, are we not?  But seven seconds?  I know hits from the Sixties that I’ve heard ever since then which need more than seven seconds to recognize.  Sometimes I think I’m an exception, though.  I have been to concerts where the crowd starts cheering after the first note.  I always thought they were cheering just to cheer.  Maybe not.

Anyway, the disturbing thing about this whole seven second thing is that certain musicians and record company people have taken it to heart.  They have let it change how they listen and they try to dumb down the music— the first seven seconds, anyway.  I have to laugh at that.  The music business was always about the music to me.  I guess I’m an exception.  I would say that it was about the money except there doesn’t seem to be that much money in the business anymore.  Not according to statistics.  Not according to numbers crunched by people not in the music business.  Not according to the bean counters and legal eagles who run the majors these days.  According to them, they are sailing sinking ships (and are making decisions accordingly).  Some of my favorite songs— new ones— have a minute or more lead-in.  Seven seconds.  Ridiculous.  And when did they start allowing the inmates to run the asylum anyway?

Music As Education…..

Remember a couple of years ago when the State of Texas wanted textbook publishers to rewrite history?  I think in that case it had something to do with Thomas Jefferson, who had co-habitated or at least had conjugal activities with a slave.  Well, Texas being what it is (and no offense to my many Texas friends who are intelligent and passionate and pretty darn swell, even if they live in as backward a state as they do when it comes to education and legislation), they apparently threatened to buy their textbooks elsewhere unless history was adjusted to their whims.  I have no idea what the outcome was, but a bit before that I discovered Stace England & The Salt Kings.  I mean, what do you do when the powers that be alter reality to their liking?  England and the Kings sing about it.

It started with the small unobtrusive release of Greetings From Cairo, Illinois back in 2005.  England somehow stumbled upon the history of the town and was stunned by what he found— bigotry, falsehoods, violence— everything which was neither written about nor taught in the schools.  As far as the kids in Illinois were concerned, whatever problems there had been were everyday problems and handled in the American Way, thanks be to God, and you’d better salute when we tell you.  When England started his research, he found quite a different story— a White-dominated area full of lynchings and bigotry and  everything else to keep the poor and non-Whites down.  So he wrote about it.  More specifically, he wrote songs about it.  When he was done, he had an album full of songs which contradicted the somewhat-accepted history of that time.  It was quite the project.

Since then, England has upped the number to at least three rock/history albums that cut through the chaff— the aforementioned Cairo, Illinois, 2007’s Salt Sex Slaves and a musical biography of an African American filmmaker titled The Amazing Oscar Micheaux.  They are all eye-opening, telling the stories of White-dominance, slavery, prostitution and greed, all of it documented and turned to music

My point is, this is how we can get around those assholes’ historical propaganda.  We sing about it.  Who needs textbooks when truth is music?  And why didn’t I think of it first?  England has to be rich… rich, I tell you!  Actually, he is not.  Not from his music, anyway.  He should be.  Texas probably wouldn’t buy them, but those albums could be musical gold for the states which actually believe in a semblance of truth when it comes to history.

How good are the albums?  Pretty darn good if you like Americana-ish country and rock and soul and gospel.  Damn good when you throw in the subject matter.  But don’t tell them idiots in Texas— not the ones who came up with the anti-Jefferson idea in the first place.  They would just try to find some way to legislate music.  Or, if the budget was tight, tax it.

Disclaimer:  The people I know in Texas were as outraged by this attempt at propaganda as others who found it disgusting, at best.  I do not hold them responsible for what their State does or attempts to do and I would hope that they would reciprocate when it comes to the travesties proposed by the State of Oregon.  Still, I wonder about the drinking water around Austin sometimes.  And I definitely wonder about the same in Salem.  Some of the things those crazy politicians do and say, huh?

Well, if you made it this far, you can take solace in the fact that there is not much further to go.  This is what happens when your brain takes a vacation— rambling non sequitur ideas and sentences and paragraphs with no seeming sense of reason or purpose.  I am recharging my brain right after this is put together, though, in the hopes that this week is an aberration and that the future will produce nuggets of wisdom so profound that your lives will change.  With that, I give you…

Notes…..    I wish I could clone myself.  In the Indie world there is so much music and so little time.  But here goes anyway.  Please try to keep up…..  My album of the week this week is Shelly Fraley‘s Hush (The Secret Project) and I guaran-damn-tee you that it won’t remain a secret for long.  Fraley has this sense of Pop that is catching me off-guard, not because no one else is doing it but because so few seem to be doing it quite this well.  Depending on the track, I am being transported back to the Fifties and Sixties (think female-fronted vocal groups and, on occasion, Brill Building) or the anthemic eighties where rock ballads ruled FM.  Why, there are songs on here which would be hits if radio had anything like that anymore.  Click on her name and head to her web page.  If the music player has I Won’t Forget You or Crush, start there…..  This just in (and I mean, just in)— Walkabouts‘ drummer, Terri Tarantula, has just released her second video from the up and coming Night of the Leapist album.  More subtle, keyboard-dominated coolness.  She has found a sound, folks, and it is very pleasant to these ears.  View it here.  And if you missed her first video of Paraffin Man, I suggest you check it out as well.  Click on this.  It has robots and everything…..  Picture the Ocean, the artists formerly known as Jesse Dee & Jacquie B, have posted a couple of preview tracks from their soon-to-be-released project.  Check out Erehwon and Being Me by clicking on the titles.  I am still entranced by Jesse and Jacquie’s Our Ghosts Will Fill These Walls album.  Oh, the places they went…..  Ireland’s The Riptide Movement has just released a new video promoting their new album, Keep On Keepin’ On, as well.  Thieves in the Gallery is a softer approach than they are known for, strings and acoustic guitars in place of the amps and electric, and they do a nice job of it.  A tale straight out of the Jane Austen novels (coming from someone who has not read Austen for decades).  They aren’t always this sedated.  At one time, there was a movement in parliament to have them sedated.  Here is what I have been used to.  Stop by YouTube and give them an eyeing…..  It’s hard enough trying to gain attention in the music world today, but Beth Wimmer has outdone most in the making-it-harder category.  Beth, coincidental to her marriage (belated congratulations, Beth), moved with her husband to Switzerland— not exactly the center of the music world (and then again, one beautiful country).  Here is a peek at her video from her latest album, Ghosts & MenFor the Living, the chorus straight out of the Stevie Winwood/Chaka Khan playbook.  I miss that sound.  Makes me wish Stevie would make a comeback…..  That damn Segarini’s always trying to beat me to the good stuff and he did it again with The Bloody Five in his column this week (I’ll be happy to plug the video here as well because I love watching a solid drummer work), but I have a few in my closet also.  If you want drumming, I have found no better (but a few as good) than Ticktockman‘s, who is a real driving force in that band.  I call your Bloody Five with this video, Seg, and raise you Colorado’s The Big Motif.  Where does all this good music come from, anyway?…..  And in case you thought musicians started selling out fairly recently, here’s what Cream didn’t want you to hear…..

Frank’s column appears every Wednesday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

Frank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.”

2 Responses to “Frank Gutch Jr: The ACMA’s, The Majors, The Seven-Second Rule, and Music As Education…..”

  1. Frank,
    Love the rant about the majors. The indie label market is skewed much differently….well, at least while I was running an indie label. The pie chart looked like this: Label (mine) 25%, artist 15%, distributor 15%, retail 45%!!!! My product was going onto store shelves at 400% of wholesale…a disc I sold to my distributor for $6.98 was being sold to retail for $11.25….and was showing up on store shelves between $29 and $32. Then the product was being returned to me 6 weeks later because it didn’t sell while sitting beside the latest $12.99 Shania album. So I told retailers to go f*ck themselves and sold my CDs off my website directly for $15.99…allowing the artist to share 50% of the gross with me vs. 15% through regular retail. The reason I could offer so a deal to the artists is that the music was usually licensed FROM them. Once the small advance was recouped (usually within the first 6 months), we split sales equally. You’d NEVER see the majors offering such a deal….because it wouldn’t allow them to rob people.

  2. Jesus, Jaimie, I knew the numbers were a bit skewed towards the majors and against the artists, but those numbers make my head spin. It’s no wonder I and people like myself go on vinyl rages now and again. All I can say is, thank the gods for the Indies. At least with them, whether selling through a distributor or selling them off of your own site, an artist has a chance.

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