Walter Meego -- Usually. and reputable influencers
Walter Meego -- Usually
Sometimes you get an email that makes it feel like Christmas. Sometimes that email comes from Walter Meego.
Said email might start off like this: "Hello. Will you listen to this track?" (which, if you're me, prompts the mental response "I don't know. Maybe. Keep going"), and might follow that up with a mention that the song will be released soon and that if I like it I can post it. Direct and to the point. So I go to the URL and download it and give it a listen. It starts off with some fragile percussion, an approaching warbling noise, a rumble of conversation, and what sounds like a young Jimmy Stewart (is that right? I can't place the dialogue)--then up with the distorted guitar, the bouncy drumbeat, the delirious horns. At 1:25, the filtered vocals: a feel of old-school jazz (think 1930s and 40s) melded with electronica and shoved out onto the dancefloor.
Walter Meego is (or "are," depending on your location) a band consisting of Justin Sconza, Colin Yarck, and Jarrett Spiegel. Davis Jones (the band's manager) tells me their press agent describes the song as "about yearning, about brand new love and butterflies in stomachs," which is a better description than I'd had, so I'll thank them and lift it shamelessly. The band has had some press already (coverage on German radio) though I can't work out from their "news" page where they are or are from ("Chicago," says their Myspace page. Also, "We're a three-headed monster of musical mayhem. We're a freakish, axe-slaying, beat-crushing pack of disco ninjas.")
The Walter Meego website has an acoustic version of the track offered (ripe for additional remixes? I think so) as well as other tracks for download. It's a well-designed site and, thankfully, it's too damn sensible to use Flash for everything. No. It is like that email: simple, direct, and clear.
Walter Meego's Myspace page
Then, sometimes, you get an email that you don't know what to do with.
I've been informed by someone who works for a PR firm that I am a "reputable influencer"; following through to the link in the sig I see that the firm is looking to start "grassroots marketing," claiming it places products in the "hands of influential tastemakers and trendsetters" and "develops and manages groups of 'Brand Loyalists' that become micro-marketing armies."
All of which gives me roughly the same feeling you might have when eyeing the dinner meat just after watching Leolo or reading Portnoy's Complaint. Which is to say, an instinctual revulsion. I'm not sure I'm a tastemaker, or a "reputable influencer" (or, for that matter, a reputable anything), but this PR firm thinks so, and wants my help, and after pondering it a bit I decided I shouldn't shoot the messenger for the delivery. The DVD they want mentioned looked cool, so I'll mention it. I've often enough been in a situation where I didn't understand all the social conventions, so I shouldn't hold it against anyone else when it happens to them.
I've emailed some other musicbloggers to get their take on it and there are a range of reactions, from the gently amused to the purely pragmatic, but one reaction that I didn't see was an agreement with the PR firms that we are or should be "tastemakers." If anything, I think people like what they like and sometimes just haven't yet been exposed to. I remember the first time I heard Sister Rosetta Tharpe, A Band of Bees, DJ Shadow, The 188.8.131.52's (and, earlier, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Cure....) Some bands take warming up to; others you like immediately. No one made you do it; if anything, it was a pleasure to find something new, something that hadn't been dumped out of a can and heated until it was lukewarm.
Where I am, at least, Clear Channel is the tastemaker--lukewarm canned spinach, day in, day out, then the music industry wants to act surprised when people say something like "damn! but I'm sick of lukewarm canned spinach." For someone who loves music, starting a musicblog is only the natural response to boring redundant monolithic programming. If it's the carrot and the stick, fine, so be it, and if I've got the carrot, that's because Clear Channel chose the stick.
I think we musicbloggers mostly just post what we like, and if others like it too we're always stoked about it, but sometimes there's not any response, which can leave you wondering if anyone gives a damn. Of all the musicbloggers I know, I think John Seroff consistently gets the most comments, and that's because he posts questions each time. Even a huge site like Said the Gramophone will sometimes get only a few comments. That's a microscopic percentage of their visitors, so it's hard to know what anyone thinks--silence could mean any number of things. We all love comments; we sometimes ask for them, or write about them, or pose questions to provoke them, but for the most part they don't happen. Which, coupled with just doing what we love anyway, even if it doesn't get a response, gives rather a different impression from that of a PR firm telling us how important we are.
Which brings me back to the uneasy feeling, the instinctual revulsion, the uncertainty how to respond. I won't speak for all musicbloggers because I'm only one of them, but I'm posting here because I love music. The songs might be ones I've known for decades and ripped from an LP that's out of print; they might be digitized from a movie playing on the VCR; they might be from an email I got early this morning. The source is entirely incidental to the music, and if any certain product goes up amazon's rankings, that's great, but it's not my primary concern. I'm happy to help out musicians who put out music I like, but first and foremost I need to like it. Which is by way of saying, for me at least, flattery is not required. Show me something cool instead.
As for the "marketing armies," if I wanted to be part of someone's "army" I would have, well, joined the Army, and I'm fairly certain that I'd rather be spoken to plainly than to be eyed like a pawn on a chessboard.
In [cough, cough] completely unrelated news, The Concert for Bangladesh DVD (the celebrity musician concert held in the early 1970s with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ravi Shankar, Klaus Voorman(!), and Billy Preston) has been re-released. There's the older release with some details in amazon.com's catalog about features and then a new deluxe edition which I would assume has more features than the earlier version, though there's no evidence of it in the item description.
See anything good for Halloween? I've been watching film noir--The Blue Dahlia and then Alphaville.
What do you think of the Dawn of the Dead remake? I haven't seen it.
Big Bad Bit: I've been approached by artists and PR people before, I've posted things I've been sent, and I'm happy to keep doing it providing I like the music. But this email and the site it was from just struck me the wrong way. Probably the situation will "get worse," as you say (or get better, if you're a company hiring out promotion), over time--I just prefer everything be straightforward and plain: "here's this; if you like it you can post it"; "here's this I was sent, I liked it, I'm posting it."
Something about the site linked in the sig reminded me of astroturf campaigns, which is probably what put me off more than anything.