For reasons I can't go into right now (besides complete embarrassment), I've been listening to a lot of '80s hard rock and metal lately. I wish I could say that it's been a steady diet of the "good" and "credible" stuff, but in addition to my Slayer and Metallica, I've been indulging in Skid Row, Shotgun Messiah, Yngwie Malmsteen, Dokken and the like. (I even had a flashback to an adolescent mix tape that included a White Lion song. Now it's official: I have no secrets.) This stuff was kind of uncool when I was a teenager, unless you were a complete hesher, and time has made it little more than a punchline.
But in my Aqua Net flashback, I came to a few realizations. The first is that Pyromania is the apotheosis of analog production techniques for rock records. Even as a 160 kbps MP3, this album sounds like the ultimate rock & roll audio experience. It's epic and shiny but, unlike today's Pro Tools perfection, this sonic excellence was the result of mixing-board manipulations and endlessly edited tape reels. It's calculated, but it oozes with the warmth of a rock band, albeit one with the luxury of overdubs and multitracked vocals.
The second realization was that this stuff was great. Not "not so bad" great, but "I see why all those chicks were into it" great. We all know that Real Metal never lost its cachet, but these "poseurs" never had any. And I don't understand why not. These bands were less metal-lite than they were a combination of '70s glam like The Sweet and party rock like Van Halen. Plus, they were just dudes who wanted to dress up in women's clothes, get wasted and craft mildly raunchy rock songs weighted down with stadium-sized choruses and pop hooks as infectious as the clap they spread to groupies.
As with any genre, the second-, third- and fourth-generation copies paled in comparison and were worthy of all the mockery heaped upon Jackyl and their ilk. But the best of the bunch were responsible for some of the last fun music heard on rock radio. After this, it was grunge, then nü-metal and, what, My Chemical Romance? Depressed, dour and introverted all. Wouldn't it be great if rock radio were fun again? (Edit: Wouldn't it be great if rock radio existed again?)
With the whole wide world of downloads providing revenue streams for labels everywhere, the notion that's being touted is the "discovery of new music." Thing is, it's been proven that it's rather difficult for new, unsigned artists to get their music into places like the iTunes Music Store. It's possible, through various electronic distribution deals, many of which wind up being financially untenable and rights-restrictive. Despite that, many artists sacrifice their potential income (and more importantly, their rights) in order to get their music heard.
Up until now, the best way for a band to get their music online was through a plan offered by the fine, upstanding folks at CD Baby (www.cdbaby.com). Their plan is exclusive (meaning you couldn't use any other digital distribution service) but exceedingly artist-friendly: CD Baby lets the artists retain all rights, cancel with 30 days notice and most importantly, they only take a 9 percent cut of sales quite nice and very fair.
The recently launched Tunecore (www.tunecore.com) looks to be even better. Artists only pay a one-time "delivery charge" of 99 cents per song, which gets it uploaded to the U.S. version of the iTunes Music Store. For an additional 99 cents per song/per store, it gets uploaded to international versions of iTMS and Rhapsody (www.real.com/rhapsody). There's a yearly maintenance fee of $7.98 per album; you define your "album." The deal is nonexclusive and artist-friendly, as far as rights go.
Tunecore may not be sweet enough to get those currently on CD Baby to switch, but if you're stuck with one of the many exploitative services that are out there (and you can get out of your restrictive contract) or are preparing to dip into the digital distribution pool for the first time, Tunecore might be the one to go with.
NO, DOWNLOAD THESE
This week's make-your-own teenage-hesher podcast:
Def Leppard: "Billy's Got a Gun"
Whitesnake: "Slow an' Easy"
Cinderella: "Shake Me"
Michael Schenker Group: "Rock My Nights Away"
Black Sabbath: "Trashed"
Yngwie Malmsteen: "Liar"
Ozzy Osbourne: "Spiders in the Night"
Twisted Sister: "Like a Knife in the Back"
Shotgun Messiah: "Dirt Talk"
Manowar: "Violence and Bloodshed"
Skid Row: "Sweet Little Sister"
Def Leppard: "Die Hard the Hunter"