Friday, March 6, 2009

Music biz books

Keeping score of industry's devolution

Here are a few books reporting on the state of the late great music industry.

Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age. Steve Knopper. Free Press. 320 pages.
The demise resembles the Last Days of Pompeii or maybe the dis
appearance of the dinosaurs; it's gradual and involves the accelerating extinction of giant behemoths with tiny brains. But then, big record companies have often been their own worst enemies.

In his new book, journalist Knopper tries to document their mostly self-inflicted death spiral, drawing from published interviews, memoirs and other books on the subject. He also conducted numerous interviews with the usual (and unusual) suspects as he attempted to construct a narrative detailing record executives' resistance to technologies that might have helped them and their embrace of others that have hastened their demise.

Knopper has a fair grasp of the big picture and decent knowledge of the industry and its
jargon but gets sidetracked in unnecessary minutiae, such as a far-too-detailed profile of Napster creator Shawn Fanning. His research is admirable, and some of the revelations are surprising — like the fact that executives thought iTunes wouldn't be a threat because of Apple's relatively small market share but hadn't anticipated a Windows version of iTunes or the iTunes music store — but a bit more focus and editing might have made this book truly great instead of just merely good. Overall, it's an entertaining and enlightening chronicle, though far from the last word on the subject.

Bumping into Geniuses: Inside the Rock and Roll Business. Danny Goldberg. Gotham. 320 pages.
He simultaneously worked as a publicist and a journalist, an ethical no-no at the least, and later signed Nirvana to a management contract without ever seeing the band perform. But at least give Goldberg credit for writing a book revealing several of his lesser moments, a welcome change from the usual onanistic executive autobiographical exercises. In some ways, Goldberg is an old-school record guy though his career track, from the Age of Aquarius through the grunge era and beyond, provides an interesting narrative with plenty of intriguing, though mostly sanitized, nuggets.

But events are subject to interpretation. I caught a televised interview with Stevie Nicks, whose first album was issued on Goldberg's label, Mo
dern Records. She recounted an anecdote that contradicted at least one of Goldberg's recollections. Oops.

Hit Charade: Lou Pearlman, Boy Bands, and the Biggest Ponzi Scheme in U.S. History. Tyler Gray. Collins. 320 pages.
To most adults, the boy-band phenomenon is an annoyance to be endured. But the periodic phenomenon that induces hysteria among adolescents usually results in piles of cash for promoters, producers and sometimes even the performers (though usually not). Late 1990s models Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync were no exception to this rule.

Gray began following the trail when he lived in Orlando, reporting the story as a journalist for several newspapers and music magazines. The progenitor of both acts, Lou Pearlman, presented a colorful and archetypal incarnation of the proverbial corpulent and sexually ambiguous huckster, and Gray's fine reporting and witty writing result in an appealing and engaging tale of greed, glitz, hustle and — shockingly — talent, though its pre-Madoff title has been soundly superseded.

published 1/27/09 in The Miami Herald

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