Oct 042009
Authors: Erik Myers

Since Shawn Fanning used his file-sharing code to work on the Web, we find ourselves in an era where music can be taken for free without consequence at any given moment, even before we’re given permission to hear it. Maybe we’ll go pay to see the concert, but if it sucks, we’ll write about it on our blogs and Facebook notes for the whole world to see. The past decade has been a good ride.

Them Crooked Vultures is here to change that. The supergroup might not strip us of our bit torrents, but their new approach to promotion might just drive me absolutely insane. Should they find success in building hype, don’t be surprised when other high-profile musicians follow suit.

The band — made up of vocalist Josh Homme, drummer Dave Grohl and Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones — has played a handful of live shows around the world so far. A limited North American tour begins this month.

Little else is known beyond that. No details have been given regarding an album; the full set lists at recent performances provide vague promise that it’ll even happen. As far as audio tracks, don’t bother looking. I already have. They’re not there. Nothing has leaked in the time between their secret show debut last July and now, so we can only assume the group a workable system to prevent leaks has been developed.

In the past, a band would release one full-length single to hype up fans for an album. TCV, instead, is releasing crumbs. The only way to get a taste of the trio’s sound is to try out one of three instrumental snippets on YouTube, each under a minute in length. No vocals anywhere; just high-octane stoner riffs that burn and stomp and tease. It’s the idealized meeting of Queens of the Stone Age and Led Zeppelin come to life, and it’s as amazing as one could imagine.

There is YouTube concert footage that showcases full songs, but I haven’t found a single one with tolerable audio quality. Even if I were desperate enough to forgo a quality first-listen experience and watch past the 10-second mark, I can’t even make out the lyrics. All I have are my snippets.

This kind of promotion is not healthy. It’s really better described as torture. A song is not a movie, it shouldn’t be butchered into a preview. We first-world citizens have not been made to wait to enjoy a song in the full since the advent of the vinyl disc; why would they change that?

With the capital value of music on the decline, it makes sense that one band would eventually push back against the listeners who have taken it for granted. This is a band in total control of the information in the Information Age. They exist with neither back story nor release date. They could, at any given moment, simply disband without releasing anything and we listeners would be left with our pitiful clips.

Guerilla promotion of this sort has been seen before. The Raconteurs shocked the music world last year by announcing the existence of a new album a week before hit shelves. The band had finished it in the studio two weeks prior and no promotional copies were sent to media outlets.

Meanwhile, Green Day has taken to releasing albums under two different pseudonyms in the past six years. And then, in February, Dr. Dre showed off a classy instrumental beat, no longer than 20 seconds in length, from the long-delayed Detox on a Dr. Pepper commercial in February.

Only high-profile acts can pull off this form of torture promotion because only so many fans are capable of paying attention. But I worry more musicians will limit their promotion of upcoming work to these 30-second “sprinkles”, at which point psychologists will observe an across-the-board plunge in the sanity of Western civilization.

We deserve it, I guess. We listeners have reached into the cookie jar before snack time one too many times. Now they’ve found a perfect way to keep our attention while keeping the lid locked tight, and there’s nothing we can do about it except click on our snippets.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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