Music

The Vanishing Album Junket

Back in the days when people still bought albums and money flowed like gold-flecked water through the offices of record labels, there was The Junket.  This involved flying in media people from all over the world to interview an artist in the weeks leading up to a new album.  Journalists were picked up in limos, driven to nice hotels, perhaps offered a dinner or a concert and, of course, time with the singer/band.

I’ve heard stories about the 80s and 90s.  U2 has a new record coming?  Let’s fly everyone to Ireland and put them up at U2’s Clarence Hotel.  And before everyone leaves, give ’em all a big bag of swag.  A new REM album? We should schedule the media event for Rio de Janeiro.  It’s a little far from Georgia, but so what?  Everyone will have a good time.  And these examples paled in comparison to the bacchanalia that apparently was enjoyed in the 70s and 80s.

The golden age of the junket was almost at an end by the time I was established enough in the industry to be considered for such things.  Managers were getting smarter, realizing that the costs for such events were recoupable from the proceeds of the sale of whatever album was being feted.  Budgets for promotion became more sensible for new and mid-range acts, although they tended to stay in place for superstar acts.

The best junket I was ever on was in 1998.  I was sent to LA to talk to Courtney Love and Hole about Celebrity Skin, which was the much-anticipated Widow Cobain’s follow-up to Life Through This and Hole’s first record since Kurt famously checked out of this universe. Three days in Hollywood at a great suite in a hotel off Sunset in the company of writers and broadcasters from as far away as Singapore. Second best was a Morrissey interview in Bungalow 22 at the Beverly Hills Hotel.  My room–a giant fuchsia abomination on the third floor–was an excercise in decorating excess.  Good room service, though.

I also had good fortune to fly to the UK (the Cure, the Gossip, the Killers), New York (U2), Nashville (Three Doors Down, Cage the Elephant) and a few other places I’ve forgotten. Someone I know was delivered via chartered plane to Madison, Wisconsin, to talk to Garbage about a new album.  (Calm down.  That’s not as crazy as it sounds.  A chartered flight from Toronto was cheaper than flying on regular airlines.)

Yes, the record companies covered the basic expenses for these trips.  But it was all part of their marketing plans. They needed to get the word out about the new release and as with the introduction of any new product, money was set aside for promotion.  It was often cheaper and more advisable to bring journalists to the artist than to drag the artist across a couple of continents doing press.  

Besdies, very few radio stations–if any–had it in their budgets to foot these travel bills.  These trips were the only way local radio stations could bring big stars to their listeners.

The crucial thing to remember was that there was never, EVER any agreement–unspoken or otherwise–that a positive and flattering review/interview/album release special was expected in return for access to the artist.  Full editorial control–including the right to express a negative opinion–always rested with me.  And I didn’t take every junket offered. If there was no point in me taking a couple of days off work to traipse off to talk to an artist that didn’t stand a chance of making it onto my radio station, I said no.

Album junkets are all but extinct now xcept for a very few superstar acts.  And even then, they’re very modest by past standards.  Album release specials–a former staple of late-night radio–no longer help boost first-week sales enough to make the time and expense worth it.  Access to artists in most markets are restricted to phone interviews or Skype calls–maybe.  Or stations will have to rely on a sister station in a major market (or some kind of syndication service) to get the interview and pass it along.  

I find this sad.  There’s nothing like face-to-face alone time with an artist n a hotel room to get a proper story and to have a candid conversation.  I always approached these opportunities acting as the proxy for every fan of that artist that might hear the interview. I never wanted the standard story.  i always looked for something new, undiscovered and fresh.  You can still do that with a phone interview, but it’s much, much harder.

Just another example of how so much in the music industry has changed in such a short period of time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ 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.

Alan Cross has 38542 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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