To Market, To Market | Letters | Chicago Reader

To Market, To Market 

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Dear Reader,

Confused? Well, I am now. I thought the point of Bill Wyman's latest Liz Phair column (16 December) was the inevitability of Whip-Smart's commercial resurrection through the release of the single, "Whip-Smart." Evidently, terms like "secret weapon," "as bubblegum as it gets," "pop crossover potential," and "part of Atlantic's marketing plan from the start" led me astray. Still, I would bet when an artist's hugely anticipated new album is a commercial failure, the artist's label would appreciate this kind of shilling, er, reporting.

Beyond that, why would anybody use Smashing Pumpkins or Soul Asylum as case studies to argue the beauty of a record company's promo policies [Letters, January 6]? The Pumpkins' album debuted in the top 5 and stayed in the top 20 for quite a while--the kind of action usually associated with bands that have built up a large, loyal fan base through touring. If you think some genius record creatures broke this album with their slick marketing plan, I've got a Fleetwood Mac song for you to cover. Bill's use of Soul Asylum is even stranger. Their label virtually ignored them for a year until the group's constant touring schedule broke the record. Very little of what either label did had anything to do with both bands selling a lot of records.

As far as the cool new rules go ("release a harder-edged, credibility-maintaining track before going for the crossover hit single"), again my mind soars. The alternative artist appears before a group of label execs and implores, "Please, please please. Let me maintain my alternative credibility just a while longer. At least until my crossover hit destroys my hard-earned credibility and makes me a million." In reality, this supposed promo policy needs no greater damning than that offered by the sales figures of Whip-Smart.

I certainly do appreciate Bill's mention of Dick Holliday and my salad days in the 80s. Who says show biz doesn't remember? But something Bill wrote--"the surefire hit"--really kick-started my memory cells. That phrase was on a list of bullshit terms we used to hear record people use all the time, right next to "The check's in the mail" and "Boston's not a big college town." Boffo, Bill, really boffo.

And thanks for the encouragement "to keep tuning in." I occasionally will. As long as it's free.

Yrs (wow),

Pat Brennan

Chicago

Bill Wyman replies:

Pat Brennan is misrepresenting what I wrote. What he calls the "point" of the article is concentrated entirely in four sentences in the first half of the last paragraph. The other seven and a half paragraphs thoroughly detailed the opposite thesis.

"Why would anyone use Smashing Pumpkins or Soul Asylum as case studies to argue the beauty of a record company's promo policies?" Well, because Soul Asylum sold more than one million records for Columbia after three years, two records, and no success on the hapless A&M. Brennan's version of the band's breakthrough--relentless touring in the face of record-company neglect--is quaint but fictitious. An essentially failed act (which is what Soul Asylum was after seven years of record making and, yes, relentless touring) on a label the size of Columbia doesn't get to make videos or high-profile tours unless the record label pays for it. I did a Hitsville article in the first week of 1993 detailing the surprising amount of industry muscle that was coming to bear on the band's behalf: gushing small feature in Rolling Stone, incessant hyping in Billboard, repeated guest hosting of MTV's 120 Minutes. Later, the label got Soul Asylum a coheadline slot on that summer's extremely successful MTV Alternative Nation tour; and of course more than a few people were surprised later that year to open their mailbox and see the band's mugs staring out at them from the cover of Rolling Stone. Pat Brennan thinks the stork must have brought it.

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