How It Otto Be
Three years ago, producer/engineer Otto D'Agnolo was of two minds about the decline of originality and forward thinking in the record industry, so he did something about it. He split himself in two -- literally.
Sick of being told by A&R people with the musical impulses of a hand buzzer what makes a hit record, he created a fictitious recording artist named Caesar Bach, a stubborn visionary with no patience for formulaic music-making. Bach's music is included as a free musical companion to the book D'Agnolo's written about why you won't find this music on the radio or signed to a major label anytime soon. Throughout The Music Business Is Burning Down, Thank God (Trafford Books), he maintains this duality, which lets Otto the producer/author give an objective, track-by-track account of why Bach the musician's artistic choices (a gorgeous mash-up of Beatlesque pop with Adrian Belew-meets-Prince execution) would never pass muster with the A&R people at Universal or BMG. It also allows the author to rant about how the industry's current downfall is a mess of its own design, and to outline what it needs to do to survive with the peer-to-peer music-sharing iPod generation.
During an interview with New Times at his Chaton Recording Studios in central Phoenix, D'Agnolo gamely continues to refer to Bach as a client. Having recorded actual clients ranging from DMX to Kenny Rogers to Nils Lofgren at this facility, D'Agnolo has seen firsthand "the inevitable death of traditional record companies and a future full of legally free music."
Says D'Agnolo, "The CD, which came first, was my allergic reaction to the way I've had to make records in order to placate A&R people. Every one has his own brand-new set of rules. 'It's gotta be 30 seconds to the chorus.' 'You can't have two choruses.' A big-time country music song plugger stopped a tape and said to me, 'Is that a pre-chorus? That's a pop device I don't want to hear -- anything with a pre-chorus.' That's all you hear in country music now, but for him, a song couldn't have one. Aiming at the lowest common denominator makes commercial sense, but that's not where new and interesting music comes from."
When D'Agnolo, without missing a beat, says, "That's not what the '60s were for," it's not a boomer battle cry for old music, but more an indictment on how the music industry once had a model of how the whole art and commerce and radio thing worked beautifully before everyone started second-guessing themselves. The Music Business Is Burning Down reads like a more hopeful Hitmen! (yep, he covers current record industry payola scandals, too), offering viable scenarios of record companies embracing free downloads, promoting an artist to generate fans (not sales), and then sharing in other streams of revenue, like merch, publishing, and tour receipts. Artists will also have to make their records more of an event, whether it's through eye-catching graphics (Tool's new album contains a collection of edgy 3D art and glasses) or charging fans an annual subscription fee that entitles them to exclusive perks (see Prince's Web site).
D'Agnolo's full of ideas, and he gives one away right here that isn't even in the book. "If AOL put one or two free songs by new artists on one of the 20 million or so CDs they give away each year, more people would at least be tempted to at least put the disc in their computers. Because who doesn't want free music? You could pay the artist one or two cents per CD and he'll make more than he'd ever make at a traditional label. Hello? AOL to artist -- you got royalties!"
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