Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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In a Perfect World: The Music Industry Would Operate More Like Professional Sports

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 2, 2007

The Glory Days could last forever

I don’t follow sports. Not that I don’t like them–in fact, there was a time when sports was all I followed, and in my pre-adolescent days, I was as geeky about jersey numbers and box scores as I am about Billboard charts and TV ratings today (and yeah, I played little league in just about every sport I could at the time, though I don’t recall being particularly adept at anything but free-throw shooting). But then around 2nd or 3rd grade, my brother introduced me to Magic: The Gathering, and then in 4th grade I spent a day at my then-best friend Jason Hoffman’s house watching MTV, and that was it–every year I lost interest a little bit more, until I completely lost the basic knowledge necessary to follow sports at all (and of course, my friendship with Jason never recovered).

It’s too bad, though, because so much of what sports about still totally speaks my language. Not so much the rush of athletic competition, which I definitely recall feeling and loving once upon a time, but which I’ve become too physically incompetent to still experience, even vicariously. But the culture–everything about sports besides the actual sports, so to speak–is something I really wish I could still be a part of. Really, I don’t think sports fans realize how lucky they have it–sure, there’s a mainstream culture around music, but sometiems it feels much more marginalized to me and much less fun than that of sports. What was the last paper you read that had an entire section for music? Where was the last city you lived where the entire population, regardless of age, race or creed, seemed to be breathless in anticipation for a home artist’s newest album? When was the last time you turned on MTV and they were actually showing music-related programming?

Sports fans never seem to have these types of problems. Therefore, I have outlined a series of ways in which I would like the music industry to transform in order to make it as exciting as professional sports, so I can have all the fun of following sports in a culture I can currently relate to. Here’s what I suggest:

  • Trades. Contract signing doesn’t seem that different to me between major labels and pro-sports teams–both have multi-million deals for either multiple albums or multiple seasons, and both have their fair share of contract disputes and free agents and such. But the one thing that pro sports has that pop music doesn’t in this regard is the concept of trading. Let’s say Capitol was disappointed with the first week sales of Interpol’s Our Love to Admire–why shouldn’t they be able to just ship them off to Geffen in exchange for say, Angels and Airwaves, Sigur Ros, and an artist to be named later? It might be unfair to the artists, sure, but it probably wouldn’t be nearly as life-disturbing as actual trading in the majors, and athletes seem to be able to deal with it most of the time.
  • Gigs Aired on AM Radio, With Critics and Ex-Musicians as Commentators. One of the most common experiences of my youth: I’m driving home with my parents and brother from going out to dinner or to a movie or something, I want to turn on the classic rock station or at least the blues show my dad likes to listen to on public radio on Saturday nights, but my parents say “Hold on, we just want to hear how the Philly game ends,” and that would invariably be our radio etnertainment for most of the trip home. Fair enough–after all, classic rock radio is classick rock radio 24 hours a day, but these games begin and end at very specific times. However, if I could’ve said something like “Hold on, I want to hear the encore of the Built to Spill gig,” or “Hold on, I want to hear Andy Gill’s post-game wrap-up of the Rapture’s set,” I felt like I could’ve gotten my way at least every once in a while.
  • Trading Cards. I’m sure someone’s tried this before, and superfans of sensational groups like KISS, The Monkees or The Backstreet Boys almost certainly have had Ace, Davey or AJ cards in their possession at one point. But I’m talking about a full-scale effort here, with participation from all labels and artists, so that when you bought a pack of cards, you’d have no idea if you’d be getting ones for Ratatat or for Pretty Ricky (or both!) And of course, debut album cards and cards with misprinted lyrics or incorrect chart positions on the back would be worth up to hundreds of dollars. The possibilities are endless.
  • Fantasy Leagues. This is one of the main differences between the way music fans appreciate music and the way sports fans appreciate sports–music fans often don’t even care how well their favorite artists do, and most of them couldn’t care less how successful artists they don’t like are. Few, if any, music fans sit around wondering what artists are going to be the best-selling of that season, or predicting who is going to be the most well-received critically. It seems to me like doing this for music would be easy enough–say there was a fantasy league where there was a list of the major artists who were going to be releasing albums in the next fiscal year, and you had to pick ten for your team, based on either who would have the highest first-week sales or the highest aggregate score on MetaCritic. Tightness would almost assuredly ensue.
  • All-Star Games. C’mon, imagine how much fun a mid-80s gig battle would’ve been between, say, the heavy-hitters of SST and Twin/Tone, or Factory and Rough Trade, or some such? Or even better, if the Blur vs. Oasis feud had turned into an all-out Food vs. Creation brawl? And of course, there’d have to be Home Run Derby / Slam Dunk Competition-style battles for the individual musicians before hand–freestyle or DJ battles, solo-offs, karaokeing, etc.
  • Fines. Occasionally, musicians need to be kept in line, just like everybody else. Red Hot Chili Peppers decide to show up 90 minutes late to a gig and then note do an encore? $5000 fine. Radiohead decide they want to delay the release of their new album by yet another year? $2500 right there. Nickelback want to unleash a seventh single off of All the Right Reasons on the general public? Sure, it’ll just cost you an extra 15k. We don’t except this extravagance or irresponsibility from our athletes, why should we from our msuicians? And obviously, club owners, record labels and CD stores would be kept on a similarly tight leash. Before you know it, gigs would only take 15 minutes in between sets, rap LPs would be kept to a three-skit maximum, and no one would be calling anything less than four discs long a “box set”.

It’s gotta happen, guys. Either that or I’m gonna have to start watching a shitload of ESPN.

5 Responses to “In a Perfect World: The Music Industry Would Operate More Like Professional Sports”

  1. Funny you should mention Fantasy Bands. At Rock Town Hall we conducted a fantasy band draft. Here’s one of the final reports from a process that stretched over a couple of silly weeks:

  2. bassman08 said

    C’mon dude, you know that Creation would totally dominate that one. Food’s got, who, Blur and Idlewild? Vs. Oasis, MBV, SFA, Primal Scream, etc… No fuckin’ contest. But I would be interested in a matchup between SST and Dischord (again, Twin/Tone is totally outclassed here aside from the Replacements…I mean, come on, Soul Asylum?)

  3. Jonathan said

    When I was in sixth grade, one of my friends and I totally wanted to produce music trading cards. I think our business was going to be called “Bars.” We had special series planned out and everything, though the one one I can remember was one featuring deceased musicians. It would have been awesome. I wish my sixth grade self was slightly more entreprenurial.

  4. Visitor316 said

    I have visited your site 551-times

  5. […] more into pop┬ámusic than I was into pro┬ásports, I wrote a likely-cringeworthy article laying out several ways I wished that the pop music industry operated more like pro sports. One of the six items listed, of […]

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