Todd Durrant’s Random Thoughts
Follow the efforts of a creative, crazed entrepreneur.

Follow-up To The Synthpop / Industrial Question

Wow, thanks to everybody who contributed comments on the last blog posting!   It is very interesting to read the different points of view from people who come into the music market from different backgrounds and angles.   My own thoughts are of course from a guy who was a teenager in the 80’s and who loved early synthpop and new wave.   The perspective is noticeably different from people who came to love what I call “synthpop” later, in the 90’s or even in the last few years.  To them, whatever the music is now, that is what it always has been, and that’s great too.

Also, I wasn’t necessarily expressing any dismay about the borrowing of musical elements from synthpop to industrial and vice versa– it is true that both styles have borrowed quite a bit from each other over the years, just like synthpop has also blended nicely with trance and other dance music styles.   I actually love the fact that different styles borrow artistically and blend one with another.  That is a natural evolution of music.  It’s fun to hear.   I also love the fact that a lot of more mainstream pop and rock is now using synths / keyboards / computers as regularly accepted instruments.

My observations were more focused on why, in the 90’s, synthpop suddenly became part of the “dark music underground” along with gothic and industrial, when so much of synthpop was stylistically very different from those genres, and not particularly “dark”.   I loved the comments about Depeche Mode being the one to blame.   Depeche Mode indeed is a huge influence on the scene, and the fact that they were more brooding (jokingly called “Depress Mode” to many of my friends) did tend to pull the entire genre along with them into perhaps a darker mood.   But there was, and still is, an entirely different side of synthpop that is not Depeche Mode influenced, but went right into the industrial scene along with them.   I suppose some of those less-edgy bands did manage to keep a more mainstream following without  needing the industrial market’s support– Pet Shop Boys or Erasure comes to mind– and that may be because they were warmly welcomed into the gay club market.   When I posted my comments, I was thinking particularly of the newer generation of bands who are more influenced by the stylings of Erasure or Pet Shop Boys who woke up to find themselves necessarily playing to a gothic or industrial club scene, even when it didn’t feel like a natural progression or audience for them.

I loved the comments from Andrew, who is very involved in the modern scene.   As part of IRIS, he is in one of those bands that has blended styles from many sides of the pop music world, creating a very mature sound that has a potential appeal across many genres.  I don’t know exactly how well Iris sells to the indie rockers, but I believe every Iris show I’ve heard of over the past 15 years has been in an industrial / gothic venue.   I still see the band’s albums licensed to a primarily industrial label in Germany, and marketed within the “dark music underground” just like the other bands who play any cross-breed of what I call synthpop.  When they tour, it is with industrial crossover bands, like Seabound, and not indie synth rockers, like Playradioplay.   I certainly believe that Iris would fit easily into the indie rock or indie pop audience and has more appeal than some of the very successful synth bands that have sprung from the independent rock scene.   I just imagine that they, like so many other bands from our scene, would LOVE to know whatever promotional formula exists that could carry them to that broader audience.  I’d love to know the secret which could put any number of bands from A Different Drum’s label into the general indie pop market.

I look at Leiahdorus as a band that has had some success in that transition back into the general audience.  It has come with some effort on their part to simply play gigs with other rock bands.   They take ANY opportunity to play a live show, regardless of what style of music is the focus.   Still, we’re talking about a success that means selling 2000 CD’s instead of 1000.    So, nothing big.  But I would wager that half the Leiahdorus CD’s currently sitting on shelves in homes are resting next to Coldplay and Keane CD’s, rather than next to VNV Nation or Front 242.   That’s a pleasant thought in my mind, not because I wouldn’t WANT to see Leiahdorus next to Front 242, but because it means that the music is in some way spreading back to a general audience that simply enjoys good music, regardless of the scene where it’s been consigned.

Whew!  Now, maybe onto a different topic to start off the week?   Hmm…I’m running out of time today, so mayb e I’ll have to revisit this blog later in the week on a new topic.   For now, I’ll just copy what I wrote in A Different Drum’s blog over the weekend, addressing the ongoing theft of music and the financial AND emotional toll it takes on those who create it…

ANOTHER KICK IN THE PANTS

Here at A Different Drum, I’m always trying to think of new ways to keep the products interesting.   The label has released limited editions with bonus discs.  We’ve released CD singles (something that has been suffering in the market, but will always be precious to collectors like myself).  We’ve recently even released vinyl again.

We know that MP3 file sharing and piracy is pretty much unstoppable in today’s market.  It’s just so easy to take music for free, and no matter how much the artists or labels raise the outcry over the theft, most of the public doesn’t care.  They’re going to take the music because they want to– it’s easy, and they refuse to believe it is wrong.   One of the things that is worse, and even more damaging to the music business and to the spirits of the artists, is the illegal SELLING of MP3 downloads under the claim that it is OK.   There are download stores usually based in Russia which sell illegally copied MP3’s for pennies, keeping the loot from the selling of stolen goods.   No matter what they claim on their “information” FAQ’s they are thieves in every sense of the word.

Only a couple of weeks ago, A Different Drum teamed up with Rename to put out our first 7-inch vinyl single.   It comes with an autographed and numbered sticker and includes a b-side mix not offered digitally in legal stores.   So far, we’ve shipped about 30 of these records to customers.   It is now being offered, including that exclusive vinyl remix, from an illegal Russian download store, and they’re trying to make money off it.   This track has NOT been offered digitally, anywhere, so it means one thing is certain– a customer of A Different Drum’s store went through the effort to record the vinyl onto their computer as an MP3 and then SHARE it with a network of illegally shared files that ends up being sold as stolen goods.  Ironically, that single is called “The Hack”, inspired by those who use technology to commit crime and profit at the cost of others.   It doesn’t just happen to Rename, but to everybody, including established names like Depeche Mode, who has the promo radio mix of their new single “Wrong” offered for sale on these sites before it is even released in the market.

“Cool, I can get exclusive stuff,” the pirate exclaims, “and for only 15 cents!  What a deal!”  Thus, they feed a few more pennies into the music mafia’s pockets.  The artists get nothing.  Nobody gets anything, except the thieves.    Then the person who is sharing the files thinks, “but it doesn’t hurt anybody– after all, Depeche Mode is rich, right?!”   Yes, it hurts them, and everybody.  Do you think it doesn’t hurt a band like Rename who puts a thousand dollars into making a cool collectable, then to sell 30 copies and watch the tracks spread around for nothing?   Yep, it hurts, and it hurts on a personal level.   Might as well just steal a guy’s wallet.  Punch him in the face while you’re at it.

OK, now I got that off my chest.  It’s not something I haven’t said before.  I went through the same thing last year when A Different Drum had sold only 5 copies of a fan-only CDR by Red Flag before the contents showed up on illegal Russian sites.  Again, some “fan” spent a few dollars so they could throw the music creations they claim to love out to the dogs.

I wish I could say that all the free spreading of music around the internet were harmless, and that it amounted to extra promotion which results in additional sales for the artists, but that’s not the case.  Over the last 10 years we’ve seen sales drop, drop and then drop some more.   The “fan base” would even appear to go up, up and up, with people packing into clubs to watch the bands play live.   How is it that a band can travel across the world and play to a packed house of 1000 people, all singing along with the songs, yet have less than 1000 CD’s sold worldwide?  Obviously, those fans aren’t all investing in the music.   Sure, we love the support at the live shows, but the numbers don’t seem to add up.

OK, I’ll shut up, because I’m beating a dead horse.  I’m just more thankful every passing day for the people that place legitimate orders.  Wow, those are the truly special supporters!   The people who are buying music…but,   I just wish I know which of those buyers was the traitor that is then going through the effort to assure that fewer and fewer people buy that same music.   Maybe they want to be the first and ONLY person to buy that rare release, so they give it away free as fast as possible?  Hmm, I can’t figure it out.  There is no logic in this behavior.

-Todd

PS.  As a fan of the Spanish synthpop band, OBK, I have not had any luck buying their latest CD, “Ultimatum”.  The thing seems increasingly impossible to find, yet I’ve heard it is probably their best ever.  I don’t know why it isn’t on shelves anymore.    If you find it still in stock, it sells for what amounts to more than $30.   I kept waiting for the price to drop, and now I’ve probably missed my chance.  But you know what?  I haven’t heard it, except the one track on Youtube.  I haven’t downloaded it, despite the Torrent searches that come up when I Google the thing.   I’ll never heard the album (not even buying the downloads) until I find that CD.   That’s because in my own mind, I understand completely that just WISHING you had something doesn’t mean you have the right to take.  It’s not worth the cost, and by that I mean the cost of one’s own integrity.  That is something once lost, is nearly impossible to recover.

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4 Responses to “Follow-up To The Synthpop / Industrial Question”

  1. Just my opinon – music (and video) MUST be available to purchase online, easily, for a reasonable fee. My 1000+ CD collection sits in my crawlspace, and I have not bought a CD in ages. Everything I have is ripped, and I now purchase through Amazon or iTunes. I was excited when I could pre-order “And One Bodypop 1 1/2” on iTunes, and also the DM all-access-pass, even though I’m not a huge DM fan.

    I am careful to keep backups of everything. A few hard drives take up a lot less space than 1000’s of discs, records, tapes, dvds and is a hell of a lot easier to move.

    Of course, I say that and I can’t seem to find a legit digital download for Fiction Factory – Feels Like Heaven.

    I was excited for the ADD digital store — too bad it could not continue.

  2. Well, you are one of the precious fans who BUYS the downloads. I have nothing against that. I can understand why many people prefer downloads. I DO have problems with the notion that downloading anything you want for free, or buying it for 10 cents from an illegal Russian site is OK just because it’s there. People like you who pick a legitimate source, like iTunes or Amazon, are the ones who are able to pick a preferred format, and still contribute to the artists who create the music, rather than trading in integrity simply because there is more space on a hard drive that a crawlspace 🙂

    So, thanks for your support! The downloads will be there legally for anybody who wants to buy them, and I hope you find that Fiction Factory for you. I’ll just email you my mp3. HA! [joking]. I only have the MP3 because I have the CD, and I ripped my entire collection for convenience.

  3. Hi there, how goes it? Well, I was in middle and high school from 1983-1990, and going out to clubs and parties. I had been to my first synthpop concert (DM Black Celebration) at 13 years old, and had my blacklight, strobelight, vinyl and cassette stereo system set up in my bedroom…those were the days! I would ride my 10 speed schwiin to the record store, saving my allowance for weeks to buy the latest 12 inch LP or single. Originally I am from Houston, and I’ll never forget going to NRG Dance Club at 15 years old (we only had to be 16 to get in, 18 to drink; it was a very different time), and experiencing the full-on explosion of dancing, lights, etc. My life became an obsession of buying records, “making tapes (cassettes)”, and going out to dance in clubs. There was a predominance of lighter, sing-songier tunes from 1985-1987 in the clubs (think Dead or Alive, Erasure). My experience is that from 1988 to 1990 the “darker, more industrial” tones began to blend with the more melodic, bouncier, “happier” electronic-based synthpop (think Cetu-Javu, Info. Society).

    Then the 90’s came, and my quest became to find clubs that still played the club music from 1986 to 1989. By 1992, during college, I realized my collection of albums was quite robust, and I decided to learn to DJ, if for nothing else, to have a reason to keep the dream alive of keeping the late 80’s alive, at least in my apt. and life. I still kept up with the local trends, giving grunge and the more rap-like dance and “pop” from the mid-90’s a fair hearing. I learned to enjoy house, trance, and the like for a few years. I got my DJ skills going pretty well by 1996, and had a business. I played at weddings, parties and the like. The problem was I had 80% (!) 80’s music, and people wanted more variety, like stuff from the 70’s, 90’s, and other genres depending on their themes.
    I never stopped liking the 80’s stuff, though, and through some collaboration with friends, worked to collect as much rare or obscure late 80’s synth-pop / club / industrial music as I could. There are only a few songs, maybe 10-20, that I can’t find, and don’t yet have. Most of it is on records, some on CD’s of course.

    Back to the original question, how, when, why the shift occured, I offer this: popular rock and roll was product of the late 50’s early 60’s, right? Like it or not (I don’t), towards the late 60’s, early 70’s, there were softer versions of rock, and eventually disco. Now, I abhor, as in detest, disco, and country music. No big deal, many people feel the same way about happy synth-pop music. However, from a chronological by decades point of view, we could say in very general terms, rock and roll (60’s), and grunge (90’s) share some similarities, like guitar chords, real drums, strong male vocals usually. I don’t know what the 70’s disco scene could be compared to from the last 9 years, since I stopped listening to current music for the most part, but where I am going it that some rebirth of the 80’s style music should occur in the teens, and in 2010-2019. Boy, I sure hope so! It’s kind of like the markets, 30 year cycles…it’s a loose correlation, but it works for me. I think the fact that so many people born in the eighties or even nineties are listening to, seeking, and collecting the stuff is a huge testimony to it’s allure and value. I used to think people liked whatever they were listening to in middle and high school, as I happened to, but that clearly isn’t the case. It’s much easier to speak of when the shift occured, which I believe is 1988, but why is harder, and generally, I think we were just getting out of the happy go lucky synthpop days and heading for grunge, for the cyclical reworking of the 90’s rock and roll.

    Long live synth-pop – thanks for reading!

  4. Hi, Todd. Long time synthpop fan, long time customer of ADD.

    I’ll cut to the chase – I don’t buy many CDs anymore, not unless I’m actually at a show looking over the bands’ merchandise booths. It’s a much more effective use of space to rack computers or storage media with a higher information density than an audio CD, like hard drives or DVD-ROM disks. Much of the music I listen to I download directly from the band (usually one or two free tracks, with the rest bought from an on-line vault if I really like it, as in the case of Abney Park) or buy from a service like eMusic or Amazon. My partner is a devotee of iTunes for the same reasons.

    However, why do I go out of my way to buy just a few CDs these days? If I can, I get them autographed by the band after the concert. Try as you might, you just can’t get an .mp3 file signed by InSoc, Iris, or the Cruxshadows. Buying a download is one thing, but actually getting to hang out with Kurt, Jim, and Paul is quite another.


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