Thoughts on John Seabrook’s “The Money Note: Can the Record Business Be Saved?”

25 Aug

In every business, especially those that contain a medium that shapes our culture on a timeless yet everyday basis, it becomes imperative to deliver the product to the demands of the customers. The tragedy is that sometimes in the interest of making the almighty dollar, business executives extract the soul; it’s meaning, of the medium and takes away from the impact that can be had on people. This can be said with an extreme certainty about the music industry as in recent years, it has become a priority to make record sales higher, to market to ever-changing tastes, and keep up with the current trends of the day. As a part of this process, quality is lost in the search for greater quantity and maintaining a kinetic pace to evolve with the times in both medium and product. In his article originally published in the New Yorker magazine, The Money Note: Can the Record Business Be Saved?, writer John Seabrook describes the emergence of a new artist named Cherie and in turn how it continues the music industry’s method of producing cheap products in order to turn a profit, thus losing sight of the quality of musical acts in favor of flavor of the month trends.

A big motivation for this desire to bring in huge revenue is as Seabrook puts it is “that their corporate owners would use the cash generated by monster hits to pay for other parts of their operations, and the companies would be able to survive their stiffs, thanks to their corporate backing” (269). As a part of this corporate machine, Jason Flom, a record man for Atlantic Records and his interviews and interactions with Seabrook provide the backbone for this article as Flom builds up his latest discover, an 18-year-old Italian Jewish singer named Cherie’ and the marketing around her. Like Whitney Houston and Celine Dion before her, Cherie’s specialty is a “belter” or “as they say in the business—one of those singers who doesn’t hold back” (265). Through the marketing and recording sessions being built up around Cherie, Seabrook takes the reader through the process of creating a commercial act in the midst of music piracy rising and online downloadable content on the rise with record sales falling. With the need “to get rid of the lottery mentality” of not only selling music, but also discovering and signing talent, can the record industry survive?

As a music buyer, I continue to have my doubts as to whether record executives truly have any idea what their customers want anymore as well as if the mainstream audiences have become so used to the garbage that is produced and put on the radio currently that they take what they can get in terms of entertainment. Granted, not all record companies and executives are greedy and some actually desire to make good music as well as to make a return on their profits, those men and women are far and few between. Music has mostly lost the appeal of being an art form artists have become “acts” as Flom illustrates by telling Seabrook “The nice thing about Cherie is she’s portable, she’ll go places and do stuff if we think she should do it” (272). This input from executives in the end results in watered down products and radios being clogged with soulless corporate pop music. To answer Seabrook’s question in my best attempt, I believe it is possible to save the record and music industries if less input from the executives is taken and artists are signed for their talent and not for how easily they can be marketed.

Works Cited

Seabrook, John. “The Money Note: Can the Record Business Be Saved?” Common

Culture: Reading and Writing about American Popular Culture. Ed. Michael

Petracca and Madeleine Sorapure. Sixth ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice

Hall, 2009. 263-87. Print.

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