To keep record sales in tune with the growth of a singles-driven music business, the major labels began releasing that now-infamous, Now That’s What I Call Music, compilation series. We’re currently on disc number 24 of the series, and they (obviously) sell incredibly well. Mission accomplished. So, now, it’s time for the indie-rock labels to get into the game. Vice Records is prepping a similar compilation (rumored titles include Now That’s What I Call Indie Rock) for a July release, including singles from such acts as Bloc Party, The Shins, M. Ward, Ted Leo, and more. Plus, there’s a solid chance that other indie-rock labels like Sub Pop and Matador (who have artists on the inagural compilation) will take the reins for future editions… if this one succeeds. Will it succeed?
Regardless of the massive industry made from Now That’s What I Call Music releases, I think the indie-rock labels may be on to something. Indie-rock has become just as singles-driven lately, thanks in large part to MySpace, MP3 blogs, Internet/satellite radio, YouTube videos, and iTunes. The idea that someone can buy a large sum of music by like-minded indie buzz bands in one swoop, will probably only attract the casual listener who recognizes names like “The Shins,” but is willing to take a chance on its counterparts.
It’s too soon to tell if an 19 year-old club kid will throw down $15 for this disc instead of just having their friends’ mix CDs or their BitTorrent bookmark. Though, I wouldn’t be shocked if the late-20s/early-30s music fan (who remembers things like 120 Minutes on MTV) decides this could be an easy method to do one-stop shopping on new music recommendations. But, this is not a release for the avid music fan or record collector, which arguably makes up a large chunk of these artists’ fans. The only way these albums can survive is if they pepper each with brand-name acts such as Bright Eyes or Cat Power. Because if they only represent bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, your average Wal-Mart CD-shopper is gonna say “who who who?” and “no no no.” This would be a marked change from the original Now That’s What I Call Music releases. They work in the opposite fashion: throw together as many Top 40 hits as space will allow, and then sneak in a more obscure (but no less pop-radio) selection to boost awareness for an up-and-comer. Hopefully the opposite strategy doesn’t result in opposite sales figures.
One other possible pitfall: A big part of the indie-rock fan scene is built on the idea of discovering unknown acts, and this compilation will be fueled by “hitmakers” (these are relatively big names for this genre) that will likely only appeal to the more mainstream audience. In other words, while I myself may seem like a perfect audience for this release, I won’t buy it. Odds are, I will own all these songs already. That’s okay, though, because I believe this compilation wasn’t made for me, or my friends. My parents, on the other hand, who have heard one or two Shins or Cat Power songs… may be willing to take a chance on the rest. These compilations aren’t for the audiophiles prone to getting their music news from Pitchfork or blogs. This is for the people who consider People Magazine or Newsweek a reliable music-recommender.
What do you think?
RELATED UPDATE: Someone reminded me of this recent blog post, which addresses the same kinda questions.