If you care about “the current conjuncture” in the music industry, the “death” of majors and “renaissance” of vinyl, you know there is precious little writing like Earles’ to machete through the reigning horseshit and sentimentality. The piece is roughly divided into two parts: in part one, Earles goes after received wisdom about record stores and Record Store Day of both the hip/chic and wide-eyed varieties. He continues by tracking the fate, on Ebay, in real dollars, of several large and small RSD releases.
The results speak leaflets, but not volumes. Only a little older than me, I think Earles feels rushed to declare major labels “dead” and feels hot to shuffle on their mass graves. Actually, majors still play an outsized role in controlling and limiting vinyl manufacturing, which a consensus of record store owners I’ve polled informally consider the major driver of costs AND the major ceiling on possible production.
In other words, majors are dead so long as supply and demand - forces and relation of production - don’t enter your picture of the music industry.
Thus I hope you’re all psyched for the coming Beatles reissues - individually in stereo and mono in a box - cuz they’re the reason the next Ty Segall or whatever will probably cost $23. The Beatles albs will be way more offensively priced, of course, and that’s pure profit. The Ty record will be priced much closer to cost and to the formulas actual indies - not Jack White’s vanity blah-blah, which Earles hails, oddly - have cobbled into a mode of sustenance.
I found a crate of DJ’s 12”s at the thrift store today and, just like Ralph Kramden, fancied I’d get on discogs and “go large” with The Game. How different am I from the people I’m afraid to sell my Clean album to, who’ll sit on the vinyl like it was gold bars until the market’s peaked and they’re ready for Freddy?
The record industry’s dead because record geeks sell their records now. Record stores are closing but every indie kid’s her own record store. Pressings get smaller and prices get higher but we don’t care, because we’re in the biz and we smell a profit. Where are you now, Dischord? Somebody’s gotta enunciate a better way than droves of us wage-working by day and nightly coming off like virtual salesfolk. (OF COURSE there are advantages, but those have been heralded to death.) It’d be a shitty consequence of the nullification of the “music industry” if the work continued in our own hands, “personalized” and unpaid like much domestic labor. Those who make killings or make livings or make a twenty buck profit on an early Saxon record are as neoliberal as us characters who wade on to discogs and end up buying more than selling.
With punk rock and roll, as with all: once we were asked solely to consume by institutions that pressed prizes and set prices. Around that we sought self-realization, we fought or avoided fights and we lived and worked and tossed wages at records. Now
we’re being asked we desire a place in the relations of production beyond consumption. Working both to live and to pay for the stuff of life meaning something is, by hook or by crook, ceasing to drive a meaningful patch of rock/punk fandom. It’s not that selling and buying are novel as rock acts - starting one’s own label is a seminal tactic of the previous era - it’s just that this formation severs the selling from production, and blurs the production/consumption distinction all the way. Pressing records and getting them sold is a damn bit different from buying records and selling them to others: it’s a difference between use- and exchange-value, I think. A Record Store Day trifle left sealed and sitting in a climate-controlled room until Ebay harkens is not, in fact, a record. Not until it’s opened up and played, I suppose.
I took shit some place for asking after Maggio of Gern Blandsten, remembering the great pains he always took to keep Gern LP prices low ($6.40, I recall?). I hear he sells his records on Ebay and at the WFMU fair, these days. Good on him. Changes in the political economy don’t involve judging but a few persons, and lord knows the singer from Rorschach is not one.
But again I want to ask if the entrance of the fan/collector into the selling end of the marketplace is helping to drive vinyl prices so high. When I joined discogs, I (however feebly) through my hat in with an idea of records as other than what they have always been to me. I continue to doubt my decision, but maybe I just haven’t reeled in enough cash as yet. Maybe then I’ll see how the market actually facilitates a sexy communion of art, security and lifestyle. Maybe.
But if nothing else, we should agree: this is neoliberalism. This is capitalism after the accumulation of raw materials, the exploitation of workers on the clock and the seduction of workers into consumer life were no longer seeming robust enough to gird growth or to fully colonize the spare time, nightmares and desires through which we see and we distinguish ourselves.
This colonization is called privatization. It is an ironic echo of indie rock’s “bedroom” trend from the 90s. It also seems to be, and might be, empowering for a lot of people, just like organizing concerts and pressing zines might have been and might still be. I don’t recall the profit motive, or exchange-value, animating these sorts of commodity-production as they do in some scenarios involving the new sales-punk. He can swagger both ways walking down the street: he’s got more money than you and, until he meets a worthy investor, he has a better record collection than you.
So if this is taken to extremes and prices spike and sales-punks hoard, can they claim an authenticity we cannot? They’ve got the 7”s, after all. They cared enough to do what it took to get them. They cared enough and worked enough to end up on top. How isn’t that like Black Flag? You think their behavior’s a perversion of previous standards? How isn’t that like Black Flag?
There’s revolution in the markets, that’s true. There’s lifestyle revolution, surely (markets can have that heinous concept in form and content.) But the larger earth-shakes necessarily involve revisions of the relationships that comprise making, buying and selling. In particular the salespunk model and the new neoliberalism of record geekery have to ensure that their is a surplus of buyers to underscore their coolness and capital, but also to ensure that vinyl stays “back.”
Why must vinyl be maintained? Not because we all love it and it all stays better (that’s why some indies have fought and continue to fight for it, though.) Sans evidence, I wonder if vinyl is one of the last remaining areas for fat labels to mine their vaults and those of their subsidiaries to pull material for bloated “deluxe reissues,” many of which I of course want to buy or (totally legally) download.
If that’s not true, then vinyl really has a niche magic and for now, it enjoys a substantial audience that is prepared for many more go-rounds of price hikes on new albs. It’s also prepared for the ignominy and degradation of web-commerce waged against better-positioned, better-experienced sellers who can be the nicest folks in the world if they choose.
If this process offends you or costs too much, it seems like there’s always illegal downloading, learning to fall back in love with the compact disc (been thinking a lot about this), or collecting a form of music that is not yet inflated in vinyl form.
How masses of punk consumers could or should interrupt the privatization of the music industry remains an open question. One bright spot is that, not unlike earlier Dischord days, there are some labels who care to keep prices down but suffer from hiked manufacturing prices. (A $20 Ty Segall LP is no doubt offensive, but not like a $37 reissue that is often valued over an original that’s impossible to find.) One dark spot is that over time many record stores have seemed to come to rely on these idiot repressings as a major growth area and a pushback against downloading and probably the success of salespunks and their ilk via the facilitating institutions of Ebay and discogs and such. Why not just sell nitrous, I wonder?