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The Holidays Are For Box Sets: Finding the Future Through the Past

MachineHead_BloodstoneDiamonds“I wish I could have seen The Cure back then,” my friend Xio said to me the other day. “When I was 13 in 1996, my diary was full of crush notes to Robert Smith.” Xio went on to see The Cure a couple of times, and Depeche Mode too. Of course today, both bands have achieved a legendary status, enough to justify multiple box sets of singles, rarities, remixes, live performances and such. And right now, the holiday gift giving season is the time for the latest avalanche of super deluxe box sets in the physical realm.

With so much of our business moving to digital and especially streaming, you’d think the days of these pricey coffee table heavyweight packages would be over. But as art objects in and of themselves, box sets bring an immersive fan experience that is qualitatively different than streaming some of those same tracks on Spotify. They are an excuse to celebrate our inner geekdom and obsessiveness to the smallest details. Like Jimmy Page’s more prominent acoustic guitar in the Sunset Sound Mix of “Stairway To Heaven” on Led Zeppelin’s just reissued/remastered IV Deluxe (aka ZOSO), or the instrumental versions of some of your Zep classics on I-IV before Robert Plant added his vocals. Really? I never heard John Paul Jones’ keyboard part in there before! Or the improved stereo imaging and fine sonic detail in Bruce Springsteen’s classic The River, just issued this week (as part of The Album Collection 1973-1984.)

But it’s not just a question of sharper bass with more low frequencies or a kick drums that you can feel in your chest vs. fairly HQ 320 kbps MP3s that are easy to purchase. Let’s face it, no one reads 20 page liner notes by veteran Rock writers like David Fricke or Greil Marcus online about all the minutiae involving The Velvet Underground Super Deluxe with its 3 different mixes of the same album or Bob Dylan & The Band Basement Tapes Complete with multiple versions of the same song in different tempos or styles. It’s a different listening experience sitting at home on a Saturday afternoon reading the book while the music plays than rocking some tunes on your smartphone on a bus or a subway on your way to work. Something vinyl lovers have long known as well.

As the physical realm continues to adapt to the realities of the modern niche market place, box sets are where record labels can recoup on long-term investments and trend setting cult artists can finally grab some of the mainstream attention they’ve long deserved. Like British Invasion-influenced Pop masters Big Star finally getting their due with multiple box sets, reissues and a fine documentary, “Nothing Can Hurt Me,” after years of only being acknowledged by fellow musicians and indie trailblazers like The Replacements. Today, the simple act of physically compiling brings streaming attention to the new classics, such that Paul Westerberg, Tommy Stinson and company can play their college radio “underground hits” to packed stadium sing alongs decades later, as many of us witnessed in Forest Hills, NY this past summer.

In the last few years we’ve seen a wide range of large box sets from icons like The ClashWoody Guthrie, Johnny Cash and even Judas Priest. The real question is who are today’s musical heroes that will be compiled in the years ahead? Will LCD Soundsystem ever merit a reissue like Underworld’s 5 CD Super Deluxe Dubnobasswithmyheadman including live rehearsals by an Electronica group in the act of composition? Are Machine Head destined to become the next Judas Priest or Metallica? Or will they be this generation’s Diamond Head spearheading the mostly under the radar NWOBHM (that’s new wave of British Heavy Metal) and thereby influencing every major Thrash/Speed Metal act in their wake? Will Eminem and Jay Z ever be anthologized like James Brown was on the 4 Funk-filled Star Time CDs? And can the Foo Fighters, Maroon 5 and even Nickelback transcend their mass appeal to reach Journey’s guilty pleasures God-like status for stadium anthems? “Don’t Stop Believin’…”

The Compilation: From an Artist’s Perspective

recordsI got a call recently from a fellow songwriter, who is based out of Arizona. He was asking for my advice about hiring a PR person for his upcoming album release. It’s his 4th album, and he wanted to do it right this time and plan ahead. He mentioned a PR agency I’d heard of here in NY. They seemed to have an okay reputation, but they wanted to charge him $3,500 a month. (!) It was a hefty price tag for an artist who, despite having great music, is still not well-known enough to compete with Ryan Adams in the eyes of the press or the general public. I ended up talking him out of it and recommending some other more affordable options.

My songwriter friend is not a novice, nor is his situation unique. Like many lesser-known artists, he’s not backed by anything except his own hard work. He’s not behind the times, he’s just doesn’t live in a major metropolitan area. He’s also one of many talented artists I know just like him: trying to figure out how to keep making music, and moreover, to get people to hear it.

The point here is not to depress anybody, but to present yet another way for my friend here, and artists everywhere, to be heard: the resurgence of the COMPILATION, brought back into our lives as the modern mixtape.

The point of a physical music compilation in the record store days was for labels to introduce their new artists. Sometimes these compilations waited like hidden jewels in music store bargain bins, or got mailed out with magazine subscriptions. They presented a grab-bag full of new ear morsels for us music nerds everywhere to cut and paste and put on our own mixtapes for friends. It was a point of pride to come up with a band nobody had ever heard of before, especially in my hometown of Oklahoma City. To us Midwestern kids, unknown bands were like exotic rare birds that had flown in from the land of cool to save us from hearing Garth Brooks all day, every day.

But now the choices are so vast, there are so many SoundCloud and Bandcamp artist profiles, that as both listeners and artists, the thrill has changed. Word of mouth is not merely helpful, but we rely on it. We need the tastemakers and the music journalists to filter the choices for us, otherwise it’s too overwhelming. Long gone are the days where we listened to THE RADIO to determine what’s good for us. The phrase “alternative music” came about because people wanted an alternative to the mainstream Top 40 programming. Now we almost have too many alternatives to the mainstream, a lot of which have been lumped into one big unclear channel called “indie.” And so the question remains, how do smaller artists get their music heard?

Unlike an expensive PR budget, having a song on a compilation does not cost the artist $1,000-$3,500 a month. Nor does it have an expiration date of a typical 3 month PR campaign. It’s the new breed of mixtape, but the sky is the limit with how many ears it can reach. A well-curated compilation album also has more weight to it than a simple streaming playlist, yet it has all the equal benefits when it can be transferred onto a streaming service. So for someone more under the radar, finding ears to hear your music is no longer limited to who has heard of you and feels like buying your album. If you’re on a compilation with 20 other artists, the fans of those artists will be introduced to you, and the snowball effect occurs… without paying an additional dollar for publicity.

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Christmas is Compilations Season!

Christmas Compilations!It may still be October, but it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas here at The Orchard Compilations Department, because for us, the Holiday Season is Compilation Season.

It’s no secret that the gift giving season is one of our most productive times of the year. Right now, we’re preparing our strategy to make the most of it by putting together the very best custom compilations, and we’d like to invite you to be a part of that.

The territory we cover in the Compilations Department is as vast as it is varied, designing custom compilations in genres as diverse as Classic Rock, Hip-Hop, Country and Western, Classical music, Blues, Heavy Metal, Electronica and more. Finding the perfect match for your music is what we do best, and we’re confident we can create the perfect digital stocking stuffer to reach your audience this shopping season.

But time is running out! To ensure new compilations appear on stores in time for Christmas, they’ll need to be delivered in the next few weeks, and we’d love to include your music to make the best compilations of the season. Sign up to take part in this golden opportunity to get your content virtually repackaged in new and dynamic ways — just talk to your client rep to find out more. It’s really not too soon to say ho, ho, ho!

Welcome to the Compilation Era

chill out

Rumors of “The Death of the Album” have been greatly exaggerated. Sure, comparing this week’s SoundScan numbers to those 20 years ago is good for a laugh (or a cry), but it bears remembering that the album, as we currently think of it, has only existed since the late-’60s. Before that, it was really more analogous to a photo album — a collection of pieces packaged together more out of convenience than any sense of artistic necessity. The LP had been around for about twenty years before the real beginning of “The Album Era,” which, interestingly enough, is about how long the MP3 has been around today.

Now that we all have basically every song ever recorded in our pockets at all times, the signal-to-noise ratio can be overwhelming, and people need new ways to consume and engage with music. To that end, the digital compilation might just be the “capital-A Album” of the post-MP3 era, providing a fresh listening experience based more on real-world utility than genre, era, or perceived cultural capital.

There are countless ways that repackaging can breathe new life into a piece of music. A compilation that features your best-selling artist and your 20th best-selling artist will benefit both — further driving track sales for an established hit, while also using that hit to attract fans and buoy sales for under-performing catalog — but this doesn’t just work for two artists within the same label or genre. With compilations that focus on moods or activities (“Music for Dinner Parties,” “Music for Road Trips,” “Music for Writing Long-Winded Blog Posts,” etc.), anything goes, provided it flows well and fits the stated function of the collection. For example, “Chill Out: Mellow Music for Relaxation” (pictured above) is a mixture of underground Hip Hop, Jazz Standards, ’70s Psychedelia, Classical Guitar, downtempo Electronic music and Reggae. These seemingly disparate styles can all be packaged together in the right context, introducing the consumer to new music they might have otherwise dismissed.

As genres splinter into smaller and increasingly arbitrary sub-genres, and established catalog continues to outperform new releases, it is clearly time for a new way forward. Spotify‘s front page has a list of curated playlists where “Workout” and “Focus” are listed between “Pop” and “Latino;” and Songza (recently purchased by Google for eight figures) has built an entire business around curating playlists to compliment any situation, and recommending them based on what you’re likely to be doing at any time of day.

More and more each day, this seems like the logical next step for an industry in constant transition. Welcome to the Compilation Era.

SXSW Panels: Get Your Vote On!

logoHere at The Orchard, we love a good roundtable chit-chat about what’s going on in the industry. So, as you might’ve guessed or already know, we’re really big on conference panels! Next year’s SXSW is no different (yes, we’re already deep in planning…). For the occasion, we have two very important topics to discuss, along with killer speakers who’ll knock your socks off with their knowledge. We just need YOU to get your vote in by September 5th so that we can make these hot-topic discussions come to life.

Vote to see my session at SXSW 2015!Everyone is on YouTube these days, probably even your grandmother. It’s one of the best places out there for new music discovery, and can also be a great tool in an artist’s revenue-making back-pocket. But lots of artists and labels keep getting caught up in the same YouTube conundrum — which is more valuable: making a profit off these videos, or reaching worldwide glory status through exposure? Do we even have to choose? In the panel we’ve pitched, titled “Exposure vs. Revenue on YouTube: Must We Choose?,” our own Sarah Caliendo, VP of Video Services, along with YouTube’s Elliott Walker and Bob Lugowe of Relapse Records will lead you through the ins and outs of creating your own YouTube strategy. Exciting, informative stuff, right?!

Vote to see my session at SXSW 2015!Film distribution is another heavy-hitter in conversation these days — think day-and-date release rise — and we’re all over it with plenty to say. In our suggested panel, which we’ve called “To Window Or Not To Window: Film Release Strategies,” we’ll talk about all the different elements to consider when releasing a new project. From release platforms to distribution strategies, each film needs its own, specific implementation process, and who better to take you through them than our Senior Manager of Film Distribution, Danielle DiGiacomo, along with Adam Klaff of VHX and Harmontown Director Neil Berkeley. Together, they will discuss and give concrete examples of all the windowing opportunities out there and, depending on the film, audience and genre, determine which tactics to use.

Hopefully you’ve already gotten your SXSW badges and are all set for the big shindig. We hope you’ll support our panel picks and will choose to be part of the conversation by voting away (just click on the “vote for my session idea” icons above!). Don’t delay — voting ends September 5!  See y’all in Austin.

About The Orchard

The Orchard is a pioneering music, video and film distribution company and top-ranked Multi Channel Network operating in more than 25 global markets. Founded in 1997, we empower businesses and creators in the entertainment industry.

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