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March 15, 2008 11:46 PM   Subscribe

20 Biggest Record Company Screw-Ups of All Time from Blender Magazine. "They include MCA Records’ decision in 1989 to pass on a Seattle upstart band called Nirvana while also betting big on “Leather Boyz With Electric Toyz,” the debut album of a hair-metal band called Pretty Boy Floyd."
posted by plexi (50 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
#1 should be every single record company that passed on the Beatles.
posted by GavinR at 11:52 PM on March 15, 2008


MetaFilter: Unintended consequence: Fedoras and bullet­proof vests become essential urban-fashion accessories.
posted by not_on_display at 12:09 AM on March 16, 2008


Surprising they went as far back as Thomas Edison! That guy was a clueless idiot when it came to music, for sure.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:13 AM on March 16, 2008


That guy was a clueless idiot when it came to music, for sure.

And yet if Trent Reznor made a film of an elephant getting electrocuted, the damn kids today would eat it up!
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:15 AM on March 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


These really aren't in any order, are they.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:18 AM on March 16, 2008


I should think that Columbia should rate yet another mention for how, by releasing five singles from their first album all at the same time, managed to torpedo Moby Grape's future and reputation all at the same time.
posted by y2karl at 12:36 AM on March 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


Oh by the way, which one's Pretty Boy?
posted by hal9k at 12:37 AM on March 16, 2008 [5 favorites]


In 1996, Warner Bros. signed R.E.M. to a five-album contract for a reported $80 million. It was the most costly record deal in history and elicited one of the lowest returns. Warner needed R.E.M. to sell at least 3 million copies of all five records to come out in the black, but sleepy folk-rock albums like 1998’s Up moved a fifth of that.

So Warners should have been able to gaze into a crystal ball and predict that Bill Berry would quit the band?

As usual with these Blender lists, very hit and miss. Seriously, any mefite could probably think up a dozen more interesting record company failures than MCA signing Pretty Boy Floyd and Columbia "losing" Alicia Keys.
posted by blucevalo at 1:13 AM on March 16, 2008


Yes, a lot of these seem to be blaming people or companies for their unability to predict the future. Hindsight, and all that...
posted by vacapinta at 1:42 AM on March 16, 2008


There's no telling whether some other record label would have put The Beatles into the hands of a label rep who mismanaged them into the ground. How legendary would Nirvana would have been if MCA put them into hair metal costumes and hired Jeff Lynne produce their album? The inability to predict the future is part of the problem. The other part is knowing how to use what you have.
posted by ardgedee at 2:41 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Is it just me or is that some of the shittiest, least intuitive page navigation on the web?
posted by dersins at 2:55 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Putting articles across multiple pages in order to boost ad revenue makes the baby P.Z. Meyers cry.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:57 AM on March 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


Well, I've seen worse. At least they didn't put one item on each page, as I've seen a lot of sites do. 20 items over 4 pages is almost forgivable in comparison.
posted by Jimbob at 3:09 AM on March 16, 2008


Yeah, but with no "Next | Previous" links? Just "1 | 2 | 3 | 4" with no indication of which page you're actually on?
posted by dersins at 3:15 AM on March 16, 2008


"For myself, I can only say that I am astonished and somewhat terrified at the result of this evening's experiments: astonished at the wonderful power you have developed, and terrified at the thought that so much hideous and bad music may be put on record forever."
- Arthur Sullivan to Thomas Edison, 1888 (after the invention of the phonograph)
posted by nasreddin at 4:12 AM on March 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


Adding insult to injury, this page caused my browser to crash.
posted by pxe2000 at 4:41 AM on March 16, 2008


Hunh. I totally remember the Carly Hennessy fiasco, and I had no idea Carly from American Idol was...her. That's actually pretty weird.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:56 AM on March 16, 2008


This really is stupid. I have seen any number of performers with more talent than Nirvana (just for instance, not that YFBS) who lived and in some cases died in obscurity. I have also heard any number of very popular acts produce monumentally bad performances.

Whether your act flies or dies really has more to do with having one of the right people hear you, on one of the nights that you're playing well, and when they happen to be in the right mood, than it has to do with any intrinsic destiny.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:14 AM on March 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


What's talent got to do with it? Have you ever wondered why Yngwie Malmsteen probably lives in a caravan?
posted by fire&wings at 5:42 AM on March 16, 2008


Luckily, the internet has allowed us to bypass those dumb middlemen and discover all that great hidden talent ourselves... ha ha ha hahahahahah. I crack me up.
posted by pracowity at 5:46 AM on March 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


How legendary would Nirvana would have been if MCA put them into hair metal costumes and hired Jeff Lynne produce their album?

You are listing my broken dreams.
posted by neustile at 5:59 AM on March 16, 2008 [7 favorites]


The entry for Clive Davis was awesome for it's operation foot-bulletness.
posted by Mitheral at 6:43 AM on March 16, 2008


I wonder all the time why Yngwie Malmsteen probably lives in a caravan. I have never looked up whether he does, but I have always thought that he probably does. And then I wonder: why?
posted by The Loch Ness Monster at 6:47 AM on March 16, 2008


Well, you're way ahead of me, who is still wondering who the hell Yngwie Malmsteen is.

I suppose I'm going to have to sacrifice some more of my remaining life-force to Google.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:33 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


OK, now I know he "Anglicised his given name Yngve to "Yngwie"." Good move, that.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:36 AM on March 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


Yes, a lot of these seem to be blaming people or companies for their unability to predict the future. Hindsight, and all that...

Adding to this train of thought, I listened to this weekend's Sound Opinions and they interviewed Butch Vig, the person that produced Nirvana's Nevermind. He said that the record label was very excited about the album and were quite optimistic that they had an underground hit record on their hands. They were expecting to sell 50,000 copies of the album.
posted by NoMich at 8:17 AM on March 16, 2008


Is it just me or is this kind of stuff just plain irrelevant irrelevant irrelevant. I mean, who cares what record companies do (anymore)? I imagine they'll just keep doing what they've always done, and I'll continue to do what I've always done, and never the twain shall meet.
posted by loiseau at 8:24 AM on March 16, 2008


Shortly before he officially changed his middle name to "fucking".
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:25 AM on March 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


#19 The industry kills the single—and begins its own slow demise
[...] Then, since it costs the same to manufacture a CD single as a full album, they ditched the format almost altogether. But they forgot that singles were how fans got into the music-buying habit before they had enough money to spend on albums. The end result? Kids who expect music for free.


That's a very interesting take on the idea, but I think they missed it by one step. Singles cost the same to produce as full albums... so sell the full album for the cost of a single. They'd have lost short-term profitability, but if albums were that cheap, nobody would have bothered with downloading.

All goods tend toward the marginal cost of production (that is, the cost to produce 'one more' of a good after the first one is made.) The music industry has a very weird setup where their marginal costs are nearly zero, so they needed to be working steadily on getting the price down. They failed to do so, and they're in deep trouble as a result.
posted by Malor at 8:37 AM on March 16, 2008 [2 favorites]



Well, you're way ahead of me, who is still wondering who the hell Yngwie Malmsteen is.

*unleashes the fucking fury*
posted by jonmc at 8:38 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Do you know who is awesome?

No, really. I'm asking, "Do you know who is awesome?"
posted by oddman at 8:56 AM on March 16, 2008


The music industry has a very weird setup where their marginal costs are nearly zero, so they needed to be working steadily on getting the price down. They failed to do so, and they're in deep trouble as a result.

I don't think I'm following you here. If they were unable to protect their profit margins (after the internet and cheap replication killed their monopoly on distribution), how would voluntarily giving up those profit margins help them?

I guess the answer might have been to replace the lost margins with new margins from somewhere else. But where?
posted by notyou at 8:58 AM on March 16, 2008


There's more than hindsight here. Clive Davis seems to have been successful wherever he was.

And this about the Beatles:
Epstein begged Rowe to reconsider, so Rowe hopped a train to Liverpool to check out the band live. When he arrived at the Cavern, he found a mob of kids trying to force their way into the club in the pouring rain. Annoyed, he smoked a cigarette, went home and signed Brian Poole and the Tremeloes instead.

Kids mobbing to get into a club in the pouring rain--it doesn't take hindsight to see that there might be something here, unless you are an annoyed, ignorant record producer.
posted by eye of newt at 9:27 AM on March 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Missed the point: It's not that they gave REM 5 million it's that they gave REM 5 million for product that did not yet exist. Any A&R person worth his salt would have loved to have that 5 mil to sign several undiscovered bands.
posted by Gungho at 9:54 AM on March 16, 2008


If there's a better way to Anglicize 'Yngve,' I'd love to hear about it.
posted by box at 10:14 AM on March 16, 2008


If they were unable to protect their profit margins (after the internet and cheap replication killed their monopoly on distribution), how would voluntarily giving up those profit margins help them?

If they had dropped the price aggressively enough, the other distribution methods wouldn't have become nearly as popular. If albums cost $5 each, why wouldn't you just pick up a handful anytime you were near a place that sold music? Why bother downloading when songs are as cheap as potato chips?

Their ridiculous margins ($18 for a 50 cent package?) are, I believe, one of the strongest drivers in the advent of song sharing online. I hadn't considered the absence of singles as being part of it before. That makes sense, but I think it's a special case of the deeper problem: music costs too much.
posted by Malor at 10:17 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Is it just me or is this kind of stuff just plain irrelevant irrelevant irrelevant. I mean, who cares what record companies do (anymore)? I imagine they'll just keep doing what they've always done, and I'll continue to do what I've always done, and never the twain shall meet.

Then maybe this wasn't the article for you?

I found this article more interesting than most Blender articles. And for those complaining that these are just failures of record labels to predict the future, well ... predicting the future is exactly what an A&R guy's job is. When you're spending 1 million dollars on a band that's played eight shows, you are making a bet on what is going to happen in the future. If you're wrong, you failed.
posted by Bookhouse at 10:21 AM on March 16, 2008


If there's a better way to Anglicize 'Yngve,' I'd love to hear about it.

"Ian"?
posted by notyou at 10:36 AM on March 16, 2008


Well, there's the first half anyway. What he needs is a mob-style nickname. Ian "Gooey" Malmsteen.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:44 AM on March 16, 2008


I mean, who cares what record companies do (anymore)? I imagine they'll just keep doing what they've always done, and I'll continue to do what I've always done, and never the twain shall meet.

So you've never listened to music that came out on the big record labels? Cool. What is it like not to know what the Beatles, Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra, Thelonious Monk, Nirvana, Bing Crosby, Madonna, Robert Johnson, Radiohead, Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, and Ella Fitzgerald (to name a very few) sound like?
posted by pracowity at 11:08 AM on March 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


I've listened to the Decca audition, it's been out (on P2P, bootlegs, etc) forever. It's not exactly the White Album, that's for sure.
posted by matteo at 11:22 AM on March 16, 2008


Well, for that matter, the Minnesota Hotel Tapes are not exactly Blonde on Blonde, either.
posted by y2karl at 1:08 PM on March 16, 2008


I wonder all the time why Yngwie Malmsteen probably lives in a caravan. I have never looked up whether he does, but I have always thought that he probably does. And then I wonder: why?

If I could earn a living by unleashing the fury, I might just live in a caravan (that means this, not this, right?) too.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 1:31 PM on March 16, 2008


And yet if Trent Reznor made a film of an elephant getting electrocuted, the damn kids today would eat it up!

LINK PLZ.
posted by rokusan at 2:13 PM on March 16, 2008


These guys can snark with the best of them:
Unintended consequence: Around 1992, the Sunset Strip pizza-delivery scene gets a fresh infusion of talent.

Unintended consequence: “Sausage spokesmodel” proves a less embarrassing resumé entry than expected.
posted by A-Train at 4:57 PM on March 16, 2008


"($18 for a 50 cent package?)" is only true if what you're selling is a blank CD.

More like, a hundred grand in recording costs, at least that in tour support, even more for marketing, publicity, stylists, TV dates.

The ignorange of the actual economics of what it takes to put out a record when used as an argument about why piracy is okay is astounding.
posted by softlord at 6:41 PM on March 16, 2008


Softlord, that's irrelevant. What I'm talking about is the marginal cost of production. All goods, absent outside intervention, tend toward that price.

No matter how much it costs to create a CD, the fact is that making a copy of it -- the marginal cost of production -- is almost zero. So that's what the price tends toward. The record company business model only works when records are hard to make and distribute.

This has nothing to do with morality or should/would/could... it's just what happens in a market with an overpriced product. Substitute products will show up to meet demand. The record companies could have taken a great deal of energy away from alternate distribution methods if they'd been more aggressive with their pricing. They failed to do so, have lost an entire generation of kids to free downloads, and probably will ultimately die from their own greed and stupidity.
posted by Malor at 8:15 PM on March 16, 2008


What? Putting Buddy Holly on an airplane didn't even make the list?
posted by geekyguy at 9:54 AM on March 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


a hundred grand in recording costs, at least that in tour support, even more for marketing, publicity, stylists, TV dates

well, there's a lot of unnecessary fat in the kind of budget you're describing, and markets are supposed to punish inefficiency in production chains, so maybe it only makes sense the majors are taking a beating.

in the early days of the record industry, singles were often produced in studios at a day rate of $50 or less. despite improvements in studio technology that should have driven recording costs down, the costs just kept increasing--the majors still frequently have recording sessions catered, just to give you a sense for how little regard is sometimes given to the economy of the recording process--but the real kicker is this: all of these kinds of expenses are paid for on the artist's dime in the typical record contract. in most cases, such expenses are still considered recoupable costs, or basically advances to the artist that ultimately come out of the artists' share of future sales royalties.

so the labels' risks, except when it comes to major artists (who probably enjoy more generous contracts), are still pretty minimal despite the staggering budgets some recordings have had. but major labels have typically made their profits on an artist already through cross-promotion and licensing deals before a new record even hits the shelves. and last i checked, TV shows that feature live music pay their talent, not the other way around. plus, there's tons of money--far more than can be made through CD sales--to be made in performance royalties whenever a syndicated television show features an artist performing an original song.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:02 PM on March 17, 2008


I guess the answer might have been to replace the lost margins with new margins from somewhere else. But where?

Isn't it obvious? Screw the artists out of their royalties so the executives can still get their raises.
posted by mike3k at 12:50 PM on March 31, 2008


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