Stars have been pretty forward-thinking in experimenting with new music industry models over the past year. I had a discussion with some friends recently which stemmed from talking about the strategies that Stars, and their independent label Arts&Crafts, have been using lately, which turned into a discussion on the transformation of the music industry. I thought it was kind of interesting, and so I thought, maybe I’d share some of the thoughts here:
In releasing their fourth LP, In Our Bedroom After the War last year, Stars chose to make the album available electronically months before the physical album hit stores, in an effort to beat internet leaks, and offer fans a legit alternative to bootlegging. Radiohead obviously brought a lot of press to this new approach with In Rainbows later in ’07, which has been used by bands and artists in some shape or form repeatedly through 2008. Last Friday the Stars pulled a Raconteurs and announced that on the other side of the long-weekend, they’d be dropping a new EP – the Sad Robots EP – with 5 new tracks, and one live version of fan-favorite “Going, Going, Gone” from their first album Nightsongs.
It seems like bands and labels alike are starting to realize that the old industry model of building hype for an album over the course of months and years can be damaging:
1. Media and fan expectations start to go through the roof (see: Dr. Dre “Detox” or Guns and Roses “Chinese Democracy”);
2. Leaks and demos continually surface and are given ample distribution time prior to a record’s actual release, which means that people have plenty of time to poke holes into an album and get tired of it, before it ever sees the light of day (see: 50 Cent, Linkin Park, or the Smashing Pumpkins);
3. The rate at which new bands and music are popping up and being shared, thanks to the Mp3, MySpace and cheaper recording technology these days, has meant that a band that no one’s heard of one day, has a platinum record within a few weeks (see: Vampire Weekend or Arcade Fire) and can become the new hottness that kills – or at least competes formidably – with a carefully crafted blockbuster music release by a major label (see: Lil’ Wayne vs. Coldplay in the USA).
The speed at which information is now passed around is fast enough that hype can be built-up even more, overnight or over a week and a half (See: Radiohead) for a new release. What’s more is that in the short amount of time between annoucement and release, the odds of a leak occurring go way down, and people’s expectations for what an album should live-up to tend to not climb as high – which is nice because artists can go back to focussing on just making an album about the music (See: Kevin Drew), rather than having to make the best album of their career from a commercial and critical standpoint (See: Outkast “The Hard 10”).
So after all that, let’s go back to the EP. I like it, don’t love it. If you’ve liked the Stars in the past, chances are you’ll like them again on this EP, full of soft and gentle love songs about a man who doesn’t think he’ll be able to love again … til tomorrow. Torque and Amy sound really great, but the instrumentation and ambiant noise gets a little lazy at parts. And if you’re looking for another “Your Ex-lover is Dead” you won’t find it here.