Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I’ll have a tall skinny half-caf Maccaccino, please

In the post below, Trip laments Paul McCartney’s introduction as the flagship artist for the new record label founded by Starbucks, fearing that the towering pop icon might be reduced to a high-profile pitchman for high-priced coffee. And while I understand the concern, I don’t see it as a problem. Some people want to fill the world with ‘nilla lattes. What’s wrong with that? I’d like to know.

There’s also this larger sense that Macca’s only doing it for the money. Of course he is. The man is cash-strapped. Reports indicate that Sir Paul is poised to give his formerly beloved Heather $56 million in their divorce settlement, leaving him with roughly fifty-six-million-less-than-infinity dollars. It’s either this deal or play two nights at Giants Stadium and two at Wembley. Let’s see you play four stadium shows when you’re sixty-four.

Seriously, though, couldn’t this be a good thing? Trip’s point (and one I’ve heard stated elsewhere) reflects an unease with cultural homogenization and the cruel edge of mass markets, but this isn’t a choice between big and small commerce. It’s not like Paul was going to sign with Yep Roc (though that would be cool) or Kill Rock Stars. It was either this or sign with Sony or Capitol. And what have they done for you lately? The majors have shown a remarkable incapacity to adapt to unstoppable changes like file-sharing (thanks for hiding that anti-security software on the My Morning Jacket disc, RCA!), a short-sighted resistance to developing artists, and an utter impotency in marketing acts over fifty. Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Paul Simon and Elton John (the closest things McCartney has to peers) each released new albums last year, but did you hear them anywhere on commercial radio? Why does John Mellencamp’s new single serve as the soundtrack to a truck commercial? Because you can’t hear it anywhere else.

So enter Starbucks, a company that seems to care about its product, and which has a keen sense of how to sell it. They’re undoubtedly thrilled to have Paul on their roster, and I’ll bet he’s excited that they’re thrilled. Will that translate into a creative shot in the arm? I don’t know, but I’m quite certain it won’t hurt.

The bigger issue, though, is the effect that a powerful new entrant to the market could have on the industry overall. The majors seem to be out of ideas about how to grow sales and please fans. Maybe what they need is a potent competitor with fresh, innovative thoughts. Maybe they can learn something in the process and tweak their antiquated business models. Mabye, if forced, they can stop giving us what they want, and start giving us what we want.

Maybe what they need is a big jolt of espresso.

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