Remembering when money flowed like water in the music industry

There was a time before MP3s, file-sharing, and streaming when an insane amount of money flowed through the music industry. Much was spend on OTT promotional campaigns. To wit:

  • Journalists and radio people from all over the planet were flown to Rio de Janeiro just to listen to a new REM album.
  • When U2 released an album, radio folks from all over were invited to Dublin for a weekend of drinking at the Clarence Hotel, which is owned by the band.
  • It was common practice to stage big album-release junkets and artists interviews in LA, New York, London, Nashville complete with fine hotels and good meals.

Tons of cash was also spent on crazy promotional stunts. A minor example would be when a record rep once had an ancient Chevy Vega towed into the parking lot of the radio station and faked an accident with my car just to promote the new released by a band called Crash Vegas.

On another occasion, Korn drove a tank through downtown Toronto. And the Red Hot Chili Peppers played a free daytime show from a huge temporary stage on Yonge Street. Then there was the time Green Day played a gig in the alley behind the big HMV store at 333 Yonge.

The cost of doing all this was charged back to the artist, of course. But because everyone was making so much money on the sales of CDs, these sorts of things were considered just to be standard operating procedure.

All this began to come to an end when the bottom fell of the CD market with the rise of MP3s and file-sharing. The Guardian looks at the rapid decline of those crazy stunts.

“In the pre-streaming era, no stunt was too absurd for the fourth quarter, AKA Q4, the money-spunking climax of the pop year. Rihanna kidnapped 150 journalists and drip-fed them booze on a plane; Lady Gaga launched a flying dress; Taylor Swift’s face was splashed over your 14-inch Papa John’s pizza. Pop divvies up the year into Q1, Q2, Q3 and Q4, lasting three months apiece, and in the CD era, an album could triple its sales if released during the shopping bonanza of Q4. It led to a bottom-heavy release calendar, as if pop’s golden goose had been fattening up all year to pelt fans with gleaming eggs. Or, in Katy Perry’s case, a big shiny lorry to promote her 2013 opus Prism.

Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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