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Behind the scenes at an indie record label. Gloating. Venting. Desperate pleas for help. Reality TV without the TV.

19 October 2006

I chose this life, and I'm sticking to it. Does that mean I've given up the right to bitch? Maybe. But it does allow me the right to embrace blogging. And gossiping. Which essentially is veiled bitching. So welcome to our jungle.

I work in the music industry for an indie called Toucan Cove. I can hardly call it the "music business" without choking on my own tongue. Music exists by the grace of actual, gifted artists who power on to create even if for their own satisfaction. The industry exists in spite of itself, and by itself I mean the same delusionals who might otherwise go into politics, drug trafficking or Fortune 100 companies. Truly there is so much crazy it astonishes me how anyone makes money at it. So I'm here to share that with you - the sad and the funny, the creative and the crazy.

Most names have been veiled to protect my paycheck, but if I run into you at a show or something, just ask me, I'll probably tell you. But what I've done is invited the people I work with to participate, so while it starts black and white, assuredly it'll end colorfully. A&R, radio, sales, marketing, management, booking, talent - the door is open. Until A&E produces its reality show about a record label, this little diablog should provide a behind-the-scenes of the craptastic world of music.

The topic I'd like to open with is getting your "industry friends" to provide professional services on favor. A bad idea , but one that always slithers forward when decisions always need to be made within a nanosecond. These blips in critical thought get worse when no one else knows your friend and doesn't bother to find out about your friend, and as it turns out, your friend is barely qualified to professionally deliver the goods. Then basically, everyone but the friend is screwed.

Case in point here at the label: On a number of occasions, and sometimes even politically motivated (oh yes, calculated 11th hour deals are not just for CSPAN anymore ), we approve the friends of band managers to produce music videos for said bands. They claim to be offering substantial discount to their fees with no substantial decrease in video quality. Yet, three out of three times, we've been delivered videos that don't meet standards to be shown on most recognized video shows. We've gotten depictions of underage drinking, narrative discrepancies, bad casting, wrong locations, lippy directors with snotty attitudes, drunk PAs, unmet deadlines and no Plan B. When visual has become as important as the aural in this arena, music videos are as critical as the records, and should be considered as deliberately. Except here.

It happens the same way each time. First, the producer/friend appeals to the cheap nature of the indie label mentality by saying, right out of the box, "I'll do it on the cheap." …which when loosely translated by another TC exec means "We can work you over a barrel and just when you regain consciousness, we'll kick you into the river of deceit where the current of deliberate circle-jerk speak will yank you under to rest among the soddy algae on the shoes of Jeff Buckley."

Then, the label is provided a treatment about 12 hours before the first shot is supposed to go off, and the treatment is so vagued up that the imagination has to kick in to make it better. The producer will then cast neighbors that he only has to pay in beer, or an "actress" he wants to f*&k, or a student. Permits for good locations won't be applied for in time, so inappropriate settings are used (the director's living room, the studio parking lot or a warehouse with insufficient electricity, an open field in a neighboring state), thereby distracting from the bad cast. Add in lackluster band performances and the whole thing is tied together with dyslexic editing. Then you've got something you didn't pay all that much for (what's $20,000?), but is worth a million bucks for the laugh it gives content directors at MTV.

As I write, I'm waiting the director of our latest visual mess to provide a final copy of something he shot two months ago. Yes, he was cheap, but also just way too busy to complete the project in a timely fashion, what with all his COMMERCIAL clients. Yep, he's not a music video director - he shoots cereal ads.

Poor band. These are the same guys who used a "friend" for their photo shoot and had a 30-year old shag rug as a backdrop.

Talk amongst yourselves.