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
Many prominent labels have abandoned physical mailings altogether, opting instead to send “digital press kits” — e-mail bundles that include PDF documents, a link to a zip-file download, high-resolution images and, usually, one free MP3 to post to a blog. The problem is, many music writers have come to expect hard copies, and unlike their younger peers, they are having a hard time making the adjustment. Writers respond in far greater numbers to the physical copy rather than a link to a download site, which perpetuates the cycle, says Judy Miller Silverman, longtime publicist and owner of Motormouth Media.
“When I send a note out to 1,000 people, saying I have a digital copy of a certain album available, I might get 20 responses. But when I send out a 300-piece mailing, I might be able to get 30 or 40 things secured. People are responding to the more tactile, physical sense of having it on their desk, seeing it, keeping it in their minds.”
That’s a lot of energy being wasted: not only the mounds of mailing envelopes that litter offices like mine but also the reams of paper used to print the material, the plastic used to create the CD, the energy expended to ship the package that in the end might get the writer $3 in credit at a record store.
Few in the writing community request to be taken off the lists, of course, and labels and bands looking for attention must walk the line between contributing to the problem and getting their music heard.
“I really feel like the writing community — and especially large, unnamed magazines — really demand the same sort of antiquated services they wanted back in the late 1980s,” says Silverman. “‘Can you overnight us two finished copies?’ To me, that’s $50 of waste, when I could hit send and digitally send you a copy you could share with everyone in your office. I can even digitally send you the artwork! So it’s a really fine line between waste, both environmental and financial, and getting the results we seek.”
One former major-label publicist remembers representing a nu-metal act in the early ’00s, when leak-panic was at its peak and labels insisted on having “listening sessions” to ensure that advance music stayed out of the hands of critics who might leak the disc to Napster. “I had just returned from New York and I got a call from my boss, telling me to hop back on a plane in order to play the record for Rolling Stone. That’s the way that it used to be with big records.”
In Roast Beast Music’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed against it by Universal Music Group for auctioning promos, lawyers introduced their argument with a dialogue from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:
Bill Weasley: To a goblin, the rightful and true master of any object is the maker, not the purchaser. All goblin-made objects are, in goblin eyes, rightfully theirs.
Harry Potter: But if it was bought—
Bill Weasley: Then they would consider it rented by the one who had paid the money. They have, however, great difficulty with the idea of goblin-made objects passing from wizard to wizard.... They consider our habit of keeping goblin-made objects, passing them from wizard to wizard without further payment, little more than theft.
The Roast Beast Music Collectibles eBay page is your standard streamlined offering. Nothing special. Each of the seller’s 101 promos up for auction during a recent week boast that the item is an “Industry Edition — Not Sold in Stores!” Augusto, who declined to be interviewed for this article (though he did offer to buy my promos), is an eBay “power seller,” whose business has logged nearly 25,000 sales. His listings all contain a similar claim: “My auctions comprise items I find at record shops and elsewhere here in Southern California! They are NOT provided to me by the record companies!” In his disclaimer, he adds that Roast Beast doesn’t sell bootlegs, CD-Rs or fakes.
Rather, Roast Beast sells advances, many of which contain different, less extravagant artwork sent to catch the eye of critics while keeping the expenses down. Lacking the full artwork and a UPC code, the advances are less desirable to your average retailer, and most stores don’t buy them. But some are coveted by collectors, mostly for the same reason that an Albert Pujols rookie card is wanted by another breed of obsessives: These are official, limited-run documents.
At the very bottom of each of Roast Beast’s listings is the following statement: “NOTE: Sale of this item is SPECIFICALLY ALLOWED under the Copyright Laws of the United States [17 USC 109(a)] which states that ‘the owner of a particular copy or phonorecord lawfully made ... is entitled, WITHOUT THE AUTHORITY OF THE COPYRIGHT OWNER, to sell or otherwise dispose of possession of that copy or phonorecord.’”