I wouldn’t read this article if I were you. And if you’ve spent any of your own money getting hold of it, then more fool you. Am I being a bit negative? Perhaps, but I’m just borrowing from Elvis Costello, who this week kicked off promotion for a limited edition box set of his work by slamming it as an “elaborate hoax”. The Return of the Spectacuar Spinning Songbook features a Costello CD, DVD, vinyl EP, coffee-table book – and a price tag of £212. “The price appears to be either a misprint or a satire,” said Costello, advising fans to buy the 10-album Louis Armstrong box set, Ambassadors of Jazz, instead. “Frankly,” he said, “the music is vastly superior.”
The “don’t buy my music” school of promotion might seem a strange tactic, but Costello’s rant is not the first case of a musician committing what looks like career sabotage. Trent Reznor, Katherine Jenkins,Morrissey and even American Idol winner Adam Lambert have all, in recent years, urged fans not to buy their material.
Normally this has less to do with the exciting world of pricing strategies, and more to do with airing grievances with former record labels. Lambert was embarrassed to see his pre-American Idol recordings being rush-released. Jenkins, meanwhile, vented fury at her old label Universal for releasing too many compilations. “Considering that I haven’t recorded 4them since 2008,” she tweeted, “there is NO new music & it’s stuff u already have. Don’t want u 2 feel conned. Pls RT #DontBuyOneFineDay.”
Jenkins was playing a simple but effective trick here, placing herself on the side of the fans and against the evil labels, who try to make money out of innocent old ladies who don’t know how to buy records despite having lived through a world war and that. It’s a balancing act Morrissey, for one, hasn’t mastered. Two years ago, he warned fans away from two singles box sets on the understandable, but less empathetic, grounds that he “receives no royalty payments from EMI or any back catalogue”. His flirtation with career hara-kiri recently went a step further when he banned Morrissey fansite editor David Tseng from a show he’d flown halfway across the world to attend. Rapper Lil Wayne had gig trouble earlier this year when he told a group of girls to stop buying his records or coming to his gigs. Their crime? Not being quiet enough during a recital of his “poetry”, apparently.
All these artists have one thing in common: wanting to be taken more seriously, or to gain greater control. There are other artists whose negative comments about their own work seem genuine and rather more self-destructive. The La’s frontman Lee Mavers showed his gratitude for a rumoured £1m spent on recording the band’s debut LP by announcing: “We hate the album. It never captured anything that we were about.” The Beta Band also dismissed their debut, telling NME it was a “crock of shit”.
Discouraging people from buying your work doesn’t always have a negative effect. Many of these artists created an aura around themselves: in Mavers’s case, that of a Spectoresque perfectionist who would never realise the sounds he heard in his head. The Beta Band gained cult status thanks to their Gerald Ratnerisms.
There are, of course, more productive ways to sabotage a career. When indie R&B star Frank Ocean grew frustrated with his label Def Jam earlier this year, he went to Tumblr and posted his entire Nostalgia, Ultra album online for free, along with a lengthy (and hurt) rant. The result? Blog frenzies, masses of publicity – and a high placing on a lot of critics’ end-of-year lists.
Tim Jonze, The Guardian