By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
So many questions come with the bounty, questions exacerbated by the bigger transformation currently under way in the music biz as discs give way to digital. With so much music available at the click of a mouse, with Rhapsody offering millions of tracks, and vast servers filled with the entire world’s recorded output, why do critics need a hard copy? It’s much easier to search a database than a dozen crates of discs. But still, they come.
I’ve got piles of promos arranged in ways the outsider wouldn’t understand. One pile is for bands coming to town, one is filled with so-so stuff I may or may not want to burn onto my hard drive. Another stack contains reissues by California bands. Yet another stack is stuff that doesn’t interest me in the least.
And then, of course, there is the shockingly large accumulation of discs that I’m sure I need for my own collection. That pile comprises a lot of classical music, odd, obscure reggae and disco reissues, and everything that my favorite labels and artists have ever released. Ultimately, these chosen discs end up in majestic piles in the corner of my apartment, where they bask in the dust of specialness.
These groupings move around constantly, from office to bin to trunk to back seat to computer to home (to buyer’s trunk to warehouse to Europe and Asia). Ever in flux, the 5-by-5-inch chunks of plastic are little questions in need of solutions. What am I going to do with this second copy of Hercules and Love Affair’s new CD? Keep it, just in case I lose the first? And this advance of the new Lindsey Buckingham CD? Will I commit to loading it into my iTunes, then onto my iPod? What differentiates this CD from the other 150 I received this week? What label is it on? Does othermusic.com recommend it? (I don’t trust Pitchfork.) Which publicist is working the record? Does it have awesome artwork? (Yes, artwork matters.) Or, just as valid, do I merely have a gut feeling?
Okay, now multiply that by the 200 other CDs sandcastling on my desk on any given day, then add the 500 on the shelves in my office, and the 25 in the back seat of my car and the 50 more scattered in my trunk. It’s enough to make you long for the days of the LP and the years of a mere 800 new releases instead of the estimated 30,000 this year. But even then, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the notion of “tastemakers” amounted to skeezy stoner DJs and wonky-geeky music writers, the labels doled out LP promos.
Then, as now, the goal was the same: to bring the obscure into focus. In this world, an unknown band is a zero, pure darkness. Sending a physical CD is one little point of light.
“You have to shove it in somebody’s face in order to get anyone to pay attention,” says Daniel Gill, owner of Forcefield PR. “That means sending the actual CDs to them in the mail. I could send you digital links until I’m blue in the face for some of my younger bands, but you’re not going to listen to it. And I can be realistic about that. So I feel like if I at least send you the physical CD, somebody at some point has to open that envelope and look at the CD and decide what pile it goes into. If the artwork catches your eye, maybe you’ll listen to it, or something about the band name is cool — or just that it came from me — maybe you’ll actually listen to it.”
And in my case, he just might be right. The stacks surrounding my chair and computer are always at arm’s length, just in case, on a whim, I want to listen to, say, the new Tussle CD. There are piles at my feet that I knock over once a week. They sit next to my iPod, which I usually carry and which is loaded with new tunes that have graduated to a spot on my home computer, and are necessary for travel and exercise time.
The average indie-music publicist has an e-mail list in the thousands and divides his promo mailings according to some sort of hierarchy. Bigger fish get better worms. “Some bands are, like, just go for it, send out 500,” says one veteran indie publicist. “We just want to get it out there, make sure that everyone who’s a potential tastemaker gets a chance to hear it. Sometimes we’ll send out 100 copies to a select list. And sometimes we’ll only send out real copies to the A-list — Spin, Rolling Stone, Blender, Pitchfork and [a few] others — and the rest of the people will get digital. It depends.”