The Last Hypocrite

Apparently, Godspeed's contract with Kranky had run its course, and the band decided they were tired of their CD profits "lining the pockets of a couple of guys in Chicago." More importantly, though—and this is where Tom Petty should be paying attention—the move back to Constellation was an easy way to lower music pricing to a more affordable level. Petty talks about bringing the price of CDs back down to $8.98, but Godspeed is well on the way to doing just that: When the CD hit the streets in some Canadian cities, it was available for $11.98 Canadian, or roughly the same price you would have to pay to get the new Tom Petty album used (never mind new, where the album will cost you nearly $30 if you go for the ultra-deluxe version with the DVD). Thanks to the miracle of a weak Canadian dollar, that works out to about $7.65 in good ole U.S. currency. For a brand-new CD. It's worth noting that Godspeed You! Black Emperor is a nine-piece ensemble—one piece more than the number of names listed in bold type on The Last DJ, one of whom is just a famous guest who appears on only one song. And yet the band feels this is enough money not only to keep going, but to invest back into their label.

The indies have had a long history of doing things on the cheap, however. You don't have to look much further than Dischord, who have released virtually everything with a legend on the back that tells you what it will cost you to get that item sent right to your door. Though the label celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2000, it finally got around to celebrating that milestone this year with the release of a three-CD retrospective featuring not only highlights but a disc of rarities; despite the inclusion of a 134-page full-color booklet and a sturdy cardboard slipcover, you can have the item delivered for a measly $25. The most recent album by Fugazi, who almost certainly generate the lion's share of the revenue for the label, will magically appear in your mailbox if you send Dischord $10. Whack about $1 off of that for the postage, and you're at Petty's magic price—a price which still somehow seems to keep the label operating. And with many of the Dischord acts, it's not as if they're making their money back with steep ticket prices, because the concerts tend to be all-ages shows (so much for the beer-swilling masses that irritate Petty so much) with a fairly low cover price.

Still, given the drawing of battle lines with many of Petty's promotionally driven statements about the sorry state of the music biz, most notably his blanket condemnation of the "stupidity" of hip-hop lyrics (and, by implication, all of the genre's fans), a lot of people are managing to miss the fact that his deeper point is true at its heart: Artists can still connect with the fans while avoiding the commercial star machine—witness Aimee Mann, who formed her own label in order to better control her own destiny, and who has reported that she's making a better living now than she ever did while under contract to the majors. You can even tour the country and play to people who've been your fans since the beginning. Of course, all of these things mean giving up your major label expense account and some frills that go along with the rock star life—something only the most established of today's stars get anyhow.

In a puzzling recent Rolling Stone interview, Petty confirmed that $150 for a concert ticket was way too much, but that oh, say, $65 was OK (not coincidentally, the top price Petty charges for tickets). Theoretically, if he were serious about connecting with music lovers again, he'd sever ties with the major labels, self-release his albums, and play smaller venues where charging more than $20 for a ticket would be seen as a gratuitous cash grab. Sure, he'd have to play more shows that way, and he'd earn less money per show. But it's all about the music, right Tom?




Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers play Madison Square Garden December 13.
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