Drowning In The iPool

Once upon a time music journalists walked around with an air of superiority, as if we were somehow better than the mere mortals we interact with. It was the delivery of advance music, often on a daily basis, that spawned this attitude of being bigger and better than everyone else. Visions of blister-packs danced in our heads each night before bed, the promise of promotional CDs stuffing the mailbox like a too-small Christmas turkey come morning keeping us warm with the knowledge that the game of Stroke My Ego would continue in our favour….

Not anymore.

Nope. At some point a select number of my fellow “journalists” – you motherfuckers know who you are, may you rot in Celine Dion / Kenny G. hell – decided they would offer up promotional music online as a public service to anyone with a computer, trust of the record label, promo people and artists be damned. As a result the industry was forced to experiment with ways of preventing the advance music from being posted online, or at least make it unattractive to keyboard warriors with no conscience. Mid-song audio tags, merged tracks, watermarked CDs… methods varied from label to label, each one a surefire way of annoying the living shit out of honourable journalists who were just trying to do their jobs as well as the asshole file”sharing” minority.

At this point in time most record companies have done away with promo CDs entirely, opting instead to make the music accessible to journalists via the dreaded iPool. I say “dreaded” because the transition from physical copies of advance music to digital files has effectively sucked some of the excitement out of my journo life. The almost daily occurrence of finding things loud and proud in my mailbox – along with numerous albums that probably should have remained a fantasy in the creators’ minds – has been reduced to once a week, and that’s if I’m lucky. Now I receive notifications via email saying “Dude, go to the iPool and download the new, totally sick and headcrushingly awesome album from so-and-so…”

Clickety-click and I’m there, with the option of downloading bio material and pictures as well as the music, all to be stored on my desktop as yet another file amongst the dozens that are offered up by other labels forced to do business in similar fashion. Often with a warning attached to the new album claiming “You have two download attempts left; if it doesn’t work, well, SUX2BU. Have a nice day.” Then I have to pray Mega-Therion (my computer) has enough mega-memory to store the new music while I try and find a damn memory card, USB stick or CD-R so it doesn’t (a) sound like shit on sub-standard “No, I do not have $500 to spend” computer speakers, and (b) slow down the steam-powered Pentium -2 rattletrap to half the speed of a crippled snail.

I don’t blame record labels for going this route, though. Not for a moment. They’re being forced to protect their investments from a group within a collective they need to work with, and have no other way of weeding out the bottom-feeding maggots that are abusing their trust. There are also financial reasons in that the labels stand to save some money by not having to go through Bag ‘Em And Tag ‘Em promo sessions a couple times a month, but I still blame the disrespectful South Park-weaned newbies within my realm for the changes forced upon the music industry.

So do post offices everywhere, who have also taken a financial hit as a result of this Nu World O(r)der…

Sadly, for all the supposed security and reassurances the iPool method offers, it’s at the point now where the media coverage artists deserve or would otherwise receive with real world promo material is starting to suffer.

It wasn’t uncommon for the larger record companies to send out three and four promo CDs at a time. More often than not I’d like or at least be aware of three of the bands featured, while the fourth would be a newly signed newcomer act. Playing the familiar material first was a no-brainer but the unknown band’s CD would float at the top of the pile, particularly if it came with eye-catching artwork. It didn’t matter if I’d heard nothing but bad things about the album from my fellow press people; a well-endowed cover model, a “We wish we were Iron Maiden” logo, or post-apocalyptic über-metal graphic would eventually yank my peripheral vision to attention. I’d at least make the effort to give them a shot, figuring what I’d hear could be as cool as what I was seeing in front of me.

Artists that are just starting out have become faceless for many of us in the promo world, reduced in my case to a nothing more than pixellated boxes sandwiched between my BW&BK to-do list for any given month and PhotoStudio 6. I suppose being aware of the situation is a step towards making sure they don’t get lost in the shuffle, but there’s something to be said for having the music in your hands rather than pulling it out of the ether. It isn’t about watching my CD collection grow beyond its already ridiculous proportions – although my ego begs to differ – it’s a case of knowing some great music is falling by the wayside through no fault of my own.

Yes indeed, I miss the days of opening a package, having my synapses choose between “Oh, cool!” and “A profit seeking entity is releasing this?!” and slapping it into the CD player. Five seconds from door to stereo. I mourn the loss of painless discovery and having my curiosity satisfied with the touch of the “on” switch, volume control, and the “skip” button.

And let’s face it, I miss being the kid that owned the candy store.

4 thoughts on “Drowning In The iPool”

  1. Ah Carl, these are the things we have been lamenting about for many months but I don’t think any changes back to the old ways are coming anytime soon. The Ipool has become cost effective to the record companies and while it has become the bane of the traditional journalists like you or I, it is fantastic to those bloggers who are considered the new voice of the people these days. Don’t get me wrong here because there are some terrific Metal blog sites out there, but I am lambasting those who merely think creating a wordpress or blogger account that puts up two photos and a crappy CD review makes them press. Gone seem to be the days of building ones network and credentials up by constantly dealing with resources and being counted on by them as much as one used to be.

    What I think the Ipool era has done is gotten rid of a lot of the writers who used to just do this because they loved it whether paid or not because they at least had the physical CD or DVD in their hands as a “give”. Sending these same journalists ten emails a week per record label makes it homework and endless toil for many who don’t earn a dime from their words. With magazines going the way of the Dodo bird, who would buy any of these narratives or images anyway? Yes there are a few hundred thousand websites that reply to potential submission inquiry with “oh we can give you credit”, but to that I say “no thanks, I have my own website for that”. It’s amazing.

    Some labels are still sending physical stuff out and while one that I have worked with for 6 years no longer gives me a physical release citing “oh what we had needed to go to national print press” it makes me laugh knowing that outside of Decibel and Revolver there really isn’t much in the states that are even addressing their artists wares. I have also experienced some of the common view from press peeps of late where they discount a writers efficiency if only a few dozen are following them on Twitter or they are not a blogger. Personally I have used both mediums for my work, but really don’t feel their usage upgrades my relevance more than the continual adding of searchable content to my domain space. As you well know, there is much more to this stuff and it comes from the objective and insightful viewpoints that we wish to impart on the readers. That is much more the core of how this needs to be looked at again, but with so many of the press resources jumping from company to company nowadays I feel that they hardly care about such things.

    This practice did make sense in some regards based on how hard it is to find physical music in brick and mortar outlets nowadays. We already lost Circuit City and Virgin Megastore, and while Best Buy still sells physical music, unless its pop drivel like Justin Bieber or a hits package you will not find much. This also hurts those up and coming bands that you mentioned earlier. Oh well. Let’s see what happens next. I will be awaiting the next change with curiosity as I filter through the five dozen legally downloaded albums that are all marked with my surname and enterprise in the event I wish to upload them to whatever the hell is being used nowadays.

  2. Interesting point about how these changes are likely resulting in less promotion for the unknown and newly signed artists.

  3. We have to accept the fact that we are all just a bunch of squirrels trying to survive on nuts. Journalists, artists and record labels in the metal industry all have to work hard to survive. If we shit out hundred dollar bills like Justin Bieber, then the game would be totally different. But no, our fuel for that survival is the love of the music. And now the crumbling economy compounded our industry’s pain.

    Drastic times call for drastic measures and digital promos are a biproduct of that phenomenon. Artists and labels obviously want monetary credit for their blood, sweat and tears and journalists want to be recognized for their hard work as well. Once again, the common denominator is that deep love for the music and the industry – which is what keeps us all going.

    I understand the “turn your back” to the industry mentality that many journalists side with now a days. For the last ten years, you’ve gotten wrapped Snicker Bars in the mail and now with the digital age, you feel like the labels are dropping a couple M&Ms on your lap. I say, although there is an obvious change in delivery, you still should have enough to get your chocolate fix on.

    Digital is where we are headed. Labels can’t survive without the promotional writings of journalists and journalists won’t have content for their sites/blogs without new music coming out. As we share our love for the music, let’s try to get along and happily coexist.

    Besides, do you “really” like having tubs filled with promotional CDs in cardboard sleeves stacked around the office?

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