Category Archives: Editorials

Back Catalog CD Prices Must Go Down

Why are back catalog CD prices so high, years and even decades after an album came out? This is a question many music fans have asked and still the prices never come down.

While it is true that some independent labels have trouble recouping their investments, major record labels have amortized numerous recordings, specially rock, jazz, blues, reggae and world music classics from the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

Rather than reducing the prices of old albums, major labels keep coming up with gimmicks that artificially keep the prices high. Albums are “remastered,” repackaged, or bonus tracks are added.

Sales of CDs would probably skyrocket if fans could purchase classics by Bob Marley, Osibissa, Tito Puente, Baaba Maal, Salif
Keita, Paco de Lucía, Celia Cruz, and many others.Instead of mid price CDs at $9 or $10, how about $5.00 or $6.00 a CD? There are no more recording and marketing expenses to recoup. Adding manufacturing and royalties, major record companies and retailers could still gain a nice profit. Wouldn’t that give a boost to lagging CD sales?

Share

Bye Bye Santa Baby

For those unfortunate souls in the United States trying to make their way about the business of living and shopping this time of year, there is no safe refuge from the constant bombardment of the dreaded onslaught of Christmas music.  Malls, grocery stores, coffee houses and even the local gas stations and convenience stores have gotten the Christmas spirit by cranking up the volume and raining down a holy host of holiday-inspired, solemn hymns and chirpy ditties onto their patrons.  This year’s burgeoning bag of rehashed old favorites and sparkly new offerings were playing a full week before Thanksgiving, making me want to reach out and smack the person closest to me which just happened to be my husband. For some I imagine the icky, screechy strains of “Santa Baby” are a welcome harbinger of the festive holiday season. However, I worked in a large department store attached to a mall years ago so I have a profound loathing of the syrupy audio goo that oozes out, following me wherever I go and permeates all my Christmas shopping.


Defenders of this holiday-mandated jinglethon cite the warm, fuzzy feelings of nostalgia that envelope them, resisting the argument that the endless loops of “Jingle Bell Rock” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” is nothing more than a not-so-subtle attempt at marketing. I imagine that somewhere deep in a dusty filing cabinet of some long since fired marketing manager is a memo detailing some dubious research correlating the playing of Christmas music at full blast and increased sales. I guess there might be a connection for some listening to “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and remembering to buy Uncle Doofus a battery-powered nose hair trimmer in the shape of a tiny chainsaw. All this despite a recent German study stating the playing of seasonal ditties had little to no effect in sales.


The constant torturous assault of this cutesy Christmasy clutter doesn’t inspire goodwill toward men and in fact has, on occasion, caused me to beat a hasty retreat. Saying that might just include me in the Scrooge category but I won’t be alone and here’s some proof:



  • A labor group for Austrian shop workers has proclaimed Christmas music a ‘psychological terror’ and has suggested shops only play the Christmas music for a few hours a day to reduce aggressiveness in their employees.


  • A British union representing shop workers has proposed an ‘alternative Christmas carol collection’ as a means to alleviate violence perpetrated against retail staff. Yes, I said against retail staff.


  • I might be stretching the point here a little but the World Health Organization came out with a study citing that heart disease and hypertension might be exacerbated by the prolonged exposure to chronic noise and may be a contributing factor in mental disease.


  • The Royal National Institute for Deaf People in Britain authorized a study which found that background music and muzak can cause ‘pain, discomfort and unnecessary distress’ for deaf or hard of hearing citizens. The point being that store personnel may have a harder time understanding a hard of hearing person with imperfect speech. Hearing aid devices amplify all sounds, add to that a blaring version of “Winter Wonderland” and you’ve got an annoyed, confused hard of hearing person.


  • Also from the Royal Institute for Deaf People study. One in ten 35-44 year-olds hated Christmas music and one in ten 55-64 year-olds hated Christmas music.

So the question that begs to be asked is where is all this Christmas music coming from? A short search found that everyone and their uncle has done a Christmas album or track for a holiday CD. Everyone from The Pointer Sisters, John Mellencamp, Randy Travis, Cassandra Wilson, Chick Corea, Cesaria Evora, Papa Wemba, BB King and Earl Scruggs have done their holiday duty by offering up a carol or twenty. There’s Celtic Christmases, Norwegian Christmases, Acoustic Celtic-Norwegian Christmases and wacky send-up CDs with the likes of “Santa Brought Me Clothes” and “I Got a Cheese Log.”


I guess it comes down to a singer or musician sitting down with a producer one day only to be told, ‘Look here, you need to do a Christmas CD. It’s in your contract!’ The utter avalanche of Christmas CDs premiered each year makes me wonder if it’s actually included in their contracts; something along the lines of ‘all artists shall comply with the one sappy Christmas CD rule with the penalty of ignoring such rule being a forced appearance in green pointy hat and slippers with jingle bells while singing three verses of “Santa’s Coming to Town” at the Thanksgiving Day Parade.’


The other question that begs to be asked is – When will it all end? With new singers and musicians emerging every year will the Christmas CD go on and on in perpetuity or will the next marketing/holiday songbook include the Easter serenade, the Flag Day jingle or perhaps the Ides of March dirge or maybe the Groundhog Day ditty?


Just remember, while you stand in line, finally making it to the register to encounter that surly salesgirl with frazzled hair and a Christmas wreath pin announcing “My Name Is Carolee” that this poor girl in the six weeks of Christmas shopping has heard “Jingle Bells” approximately 320 times. Be kind.

Share

The US Ban on Cuban Musicians

In 2003, the United States’ government denied visas to all the Cuban
musicians -or their agents- that applied. The general public was led to believe that stricter
border controls, implemented after the September 11th terrorist attack, was the main reason for
delaying and preventing the entry of individuals from certain nations. However,
that was not the real motive in the case of Cuban musicians. Indeed, the reason was the anti-Castro policy of
the US government.

Even
though Cuba is not a threat to the national security of the United States, nor
is it home to any terrorist groups, anti-Castro elements that are well connected
with the Bush administration have
managed to affect the cultural relations between the citizens of the United
States and Cuba. The “anticastristas” have determined the United States’ policy regarding the entry of Cuban musicians. And that
policy is that any Cuban musician based in Cuba will not be allowed entry into
the United States, regardless of their merit.Mixing the arts and politics is never a good idea. Cultural exchange brings
people together and allows for better mutual understanding. It exposes traveling musicians and their audiences to new ideas and different perspectives.

Cuban musicians
happen to be very well respected abroad. They are skilled at what they do and they have
preserved numerous traditions that are popular outside its borders. US citizens have the
inalienable right to enjoy the performances of high quality musicians from any
country. Most Cuban musicians
have very little to do with internal, or external, Cuban politics. And even if
Cuban musicians support their current government, there is the matter of freedom
of speech. 

The person behind the U.S. State Department’s current Cuban policy is a hardliner named Roger
Noriega. He’s an ex-aide to retired Senator Jesse Helms, well known for his
right wing extremism. Bush appointed Noriega as Assistant
Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Noriega detests Fidel
Castro. In a meeting with the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee on October 2 of 2003, Roger Noriega said: “The president is determined to see the end of
the Castro regime and the dismantling of the apparatus that has kept him in
office for so long
.”

Furthermore, Noriega met with the uncompromising Cuban Liberty Council in
2003 and said: “Castro sends hundreds of performers to the United States to earn dollars to
send to the regime. Castro’s cash cows will not be grazing through the
United States under this administration
.”

Unknowingly, some booking agents and promoters that work with Cuban musicians
are still applying for visas. They do not seem to know that any applications, regardless
of their merit, will be rejected. There are countless news articles about
cancelled tours and even disgraceful stories about non Cuban artists whose tours
are ruined because they employ a Cuban musician in their band [read


Homeland Security Forces Cancellations of Paco de Lucía Concerts
].

It is time to end this shameful situation. The citizen’s best weapon is the
vote and the US is having elections in November of 2004. Citizens should keep in
mind who is supporting extremist policies and hurting the arts and cultural
exchange.

The following is a list of links related with the Cuban embargo from well known news sources:

[Photo: Cubanismo]

And here are a series of news stories and editorials our Web
site has published: