The Alarm / Bob Lefsetz Letters
The hugely influential American columnist Bob Lefsetz has written this piece about The Alarm in his latest email rant to the American Music Industry which is read by thousands of people everyday.
Mike Peters has already written back to him (see further below) prompting Bob Lefsetz to forward Mike’s reply to his subscribers. If you feel like responding, I’m sure Bob would love to hear your views on the subject.
From: “Bob Lefsetz”
Date: April 11, 2006 11:13:44 PM PDT
Subject: The Alarm
This is what’s wrong with the music business.
I hate CDs. They’re inconvenient. I’m a mobile person. Moving from room to room. I’m not about to cart my skipping Discman with me, the iPod ELIMINATED that problem. Yet major labels still send CDs. What’s next? Car companies delivering containers of STEAM? Hell, the Stanley Steamer was only a HUNDRED YEARS AGO!
We pay people to be filters. People like Mike Marrone of XM radio. I was sitting in the kitchen partaking of some Dannon coffee yogurt, the best elixir on the PLANET, listening to his station, the Loft, and I heard a magical track. Oh, I knew it was magical because the previous dozen numbers hadn’t quite reached me the same way. It was by one Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek, from his new solo album, “Run Away Girl”.
I went to the dude’s Website. Figuring I’d be able to download a sample, at least HEAR IT! But no such luck. Oh, there’s a clip on the iTunes Music Store, but… Don’t these pricks realize the game has changed. That it’s not about enticing us with scant airplay to drop a zillion bucks on something upon subsequent hearing we might not like? God, this behavior ENCOURAGES one to be a casual customer. Think of the dues you’d rack up at the iTunes Music Store if you actually LIKED music. It would bankrupt you. You keep hearing new shit, want to check it out further, but can’t AFFORD IT! It would be like being unable to afford HBO, salivating over “The Sopranos”, but not having the cash. But TV’s a flat fee model. Oh, we’ve got flat fee in the music world, with Rhapsody. But don’t you know it, they didn’t have this Sean Watkins record. I wanted to hear it, now. But I felt I was at the bait and switch shop. I don’t want to marry someone on the first date, I want to get to KNOW THEM!
But this isn’t about Sean Watkins, it’s about the ALARM!
The reason I’m railing against CDs is because I was in the kitchen, catching up on my reading, and foraging through the detritus on the table for the remaining printed materials I came upon a dozen packages with discs asking me for my time, to listen to them, to take their purveyors into the stratosphere. And I didn’t want to get UP! Dust off the Discman and bring it into the kitchen. Where there was no outlet for it. I was having a good, relaxing time, I wanted to multi-task, but the old wave purveyors wouldn’t LET ME!
Ultimately, trying to make headway, I moved into the living room, where I slipped the Alarm’s new disc, “Under Attack” into my Mac.
I bought that original Alarm record, with “68 Guns”. But on a whim in Borders at the end of the nineties, the cash burning a hole in my pocket, I bought the band’s greatest hits album, “Standards”. And got COMPLETELY hooked on “The Road” and “Marching On”. What exuberance, what ENERGY! Oh, but wasn’t the best track on that record STRENGTH?? And then there was “Sold Me Down The River” and the MTV staple RAIN IN THE SUMMERTIME! Oh, I played that disc for a WEEK STRAIGHT! It was the essence of rock and roll, it made all my problems FADE AWAY!!
The lead singer ultimately made one or more solo records. I was unimpressed. He needed the band. And then there was that bizarre story last year about them having a hit in the U.K. under another moniker and then that story on hitsdailydouble the other week that they had reunited and had a new album. I e-mailed the PR guy and ASKED for the disc. That’s what you do when you’re interested (and hell, I e-mailed Marc Reiter at QPrime for the Sean Watkins track too…) It was one of the pile. Along with that Matthew Sweet/Susanna Hoffs Beatle album and a disc sent by Rocky Del Balzo and a billion other albums. But I decided to play the Alarm album first.
And I thought how this was not my job. They PAY people to do this. To sort through the crap to find the good stuff. And I’m reading the “Times” and the WSJ, moving over to “New York”, the tracks are floating by, boy do CDs sound shitty, bring back vinyl, and then I HEAR SOMETHING!!!
The Alarm was always labeled a U2 rip-off. If only there was something as good as “Be Still” on “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb”. This is the Edge’s guitar sound. A fucking BUZZSAW! But the drums pound more than Larry Mullen, Jr.’s do. And the other guitar is not from Edge’s canon. The track sounds like something that came before. But oh, it feels so NICE!
Remember when the tunes used to play and you had a shiteating grin on your face? When you thought music could at least change YOUR WORLD? That’s what I started to feel.
I threw down my reading material and fired up Safari, I had to go to the band’s Website.
Turns out this CD isn’t coming out for MONTHS!
And the CLIPS! None of them are “Be Still”, because you know record company pricks, they don’t pick the BEST TRACKS to emphasize, just the most OBVIOUS ONES!
And here’s where the truly fucked up part comes. This is where we go positively LAST CENTURY! I’m dying to write about the record, but I realize it’s RIDICULOUS, because you can’t HEAR IT!
That’s not how they do it anymore. We live in a land of IMMEDIATE GRATIFICATION! Nobody trusts a writer anymore, they don’t lay down their money based on what some asshole says, but they DO CHECK WHAT HE SAYS OUT! If it’s AVAILABLE!
And the Alarm’s “Be Still” IS NOT AVAILABLE!
What kind of fucked up country do we live in when records are held back after they’re finished for MARKETING PURPOSES! It’s not about FIRST WEEK SALES, but LONGEVITY! The Alarm were good enough for me to want to check out their new shit TWO DECADES LATER!
I’m going to Rhino tomorrow. I’d love to play this track on my podcast. Do a whole piece about the Alarm. But I CAN’T! Because licensing issues are too tough. Because everybody IN the business is functioning by the old rules. Don’t they realize I’m trying to HELP THEM! We don’t want to STEAL the music, we want to USE IT! We want to turn all our buddies on to it! We want the world to be a BETTER PLACE!!! We’re not criminals, we’re FANS! Loosen the restrictions, let us do our work, don’t make us pay all that money up front, charge us a flat fee. Let us take all we want and then divvy up the cash after the fact. Like ASCAP, like BMI, like RATINGS! Let the MUSIC TRIUMPH!
And I’m contemplating all this and the CD slips into the NEXT track, which is a slow burning number, but JUST AS GOOD! “This Is Life (Get Used To It)”…I repeat myself, there aren’t two tracks this good on EITHER of the two previous U2 albums. They’re SAFE! Whereas the Alarm is fighting for SURVIVAL! Either they deliver, or it’s back to the bars, to their DAY JOBS! And in these circumstances, you can’t micro-manage, you’ve got to LET LOOSE! And that’s when the best music results.
It’s the difference between Madonna, the choreographed shows, and the ones in the club, where the band takes the stage sans backdrop, sans costume changes, and reaches into your heart and GRABS YOU! You leave the building thinking you were privy to a unique experience, a RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE!
Who’s fooling who here. The Alarm ain’t gonna get on Top Forty radio, not here in the States. This is music that’s got to be SPOON-FED to the core demo. Gen-X. From thirty to forty five, who were there the FIRST TIME THROUGH! And with enough people listening, with enough hoopla, maybe the word will spread downstream, to YOUNGER PEOPLE! It’s all about buzz, and the major labels want to kill it. They don’t want to let the conflagration BEGIN!
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From: Bob Lefsetz
Sent: Wed, 12 Apr 2006 17:26:30 -0000
Subject: Mike Peters from the Alarm calling……
This is what’s good about the music biz!!!
I’m sitting here drinking my morning cup of tea in Wales when all
my mates from the USA send me your rant about The Alarm.
What I don’t understand is why the hell you can’t play the tracks in your
Go for it I say…….. We need people like you to stand up and tell the USA
about this record.
It’s been out in the U.K. since March (play them as an import) !!!!!!
Just in case you don’t know. The reason for the release delay in the USA is that
I got hit with Leukaemia in December last and I’m in the middle of round 5 in my
boxing match with chemotherapy. I’ve managed to play some shows (One a month
here in the U.K.) and keep my hair…… (Don’t know if that’s a good or a bad
thing!!!!) but I want to be there when it comes out in the USA.
I’m getting the sucker under control now and my docs say we are going to be in
NYC at Irving Plaza on May 19th for Joey Ramone’s (God Bless Him) Lymphoma
Benefit Concert. (Come along as my guest if that’s where you live).
Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for brightening my day and hopefully we can
meet at some point in the future.
I look forward to hearing from you,
P.S. Seriously, if you want permission to play The Alarm then you can use this
email in court!!!!!
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