Music News

Against All Odds

Two recent developments have me thinking about the Davids of the music industry and whether they have any chance going up against Goliaths, both local and national.

First, two local promoters have joined forces, and you can blame it, at least partially, on the Format.

The local pop duo scored a deal with Elektra Records last year on the strength of a five-song demo. The demands of that arrangement an album due out in July, plus promotion have left band manager Mike Jarmuz sucking for wind. Jarmuz co-owns AMJ Concerts, which last year promoted and staged 26 to 36 shows a month, mostly in the Valley, Tucson and Albuquerque. Jarmuz and partner Will Anderson were beginning to drown in a sea of paper and demands from venues about security, ticket collection and other headaches.

"It's tough, man," says the 21-year-old Jarmuz. "It's a battle alone just to get the show. It's a battle and struggle just to win that war. And that's only 2 percent of the fight."

That's where nobody in particular comes into the equation. Or rather, Nobody in Particular Presents, a Denver company that promotes local shows through its NIPP SW division. Nobody and AMJ struck what Tom LaPenna, NIPP SW's director of operations, calls a "strategic alliance" earlier this month. Each company will maintain its own contacts and relationship with bands, but when showtime hits, the two will combine their resources. NIPP SW will handle a bulk of the paperwork and grunt work for AMJ's shows. In return, AMJ will help promote NIPP shows and book NIPP SW's new Marquee Theatre, formerly the Red River Music Hall in Tempe, scheduled to open in mid-March. Jarmuz says he's tentatively booked bands such as Subhumans, Millencolin, Reel Big Fish and RX Bandits for the new venue. Jarmuz used to book those bands regularly at the Nile Theater in Mesa before that venue closed last fall.

"I have all the respect in the world for what they've been able to accomplish as AMJ," LaPenna says. "We've definitely tried to align ourselves with like-minded entities that do what they love to do . . . it's a marriage that works for us."

Jarmuz says that with the alliance in place, he expects AMJ and NIPP SW to collectively book 350 shows this year.

Why should anyone really care, you might ask? Here's why: With the swell of contacts and bands that Jarmuz, Anderson and LaPenna a longtime promotional player in the Valley have built in a relatively short amount of time, the alliance gives them a spitting chance to fight Clear Channel Communications, the entertainment behemoth that swallows radio stations like pills and, locally, holds exclusive booking rights to Cricket Pavilion. The youthful Jarmuz boasts he feels the AMJ-Nobody alliance can eventually win exclusive rights to more than one venue and beat Clear Channel.

That's quite a bold statement, given that Clear Channel does business in every major venue in town, including nearly every show at America West Arena. For now, though, the new arrangement may thrive. Clear Channel does not yet own a rock station in Phoenix, meaning AMJ and Nobody don't have to worry much about losing artists to a Clear Channel squeeze (i.e., "Play our venue or else we pull your song off the air"), something Nobody alleges is happening in Denver in a lawsuit against Clear Channel.

Is this the year the music industry dies, as various digital revolutionaries and pundits claim? Um, no. But increasingly, it looks like the major labels may never get a clue as to what ails it.

Three weeks ago, Interscope Records rushed rapper 50 Cent's blockbuster Get Rich or Die Tryin' into stores to head off a wave of file-sharing that had preceded its widely anticipated release. And although the music was widely available through the 'Net, the album still sold 872,000 copies its first week on the shelf, according to Billboard.

Without a doubt, people want to be consumers of music. They still want to hold a product in their hand, even if they're tempted to download a sample before slapping down substantial coin on a CD.

And yet the recording industry continues to treat the post-Napster file-sharing software programs as a threat, and carps that declining sales have more to do with piracy than with the lack of a solid pop music trend. Rather than concede a place in the world for free music offered by third parties and get a grip on the future, the Recording Industry Association of America, the labels' chief lobbying arm, sues its perceived enemies while offering no viable digital alternative and charges a ludicrous $20 for new discs in the meantime.

The RIAA's latest target is Kazaa, the most popular of the file-sharing services. A California judge last month allowed the RIAA, along with the Motion Picture Association of America, to proceed with a lawsuit looking to shut down Kazaa, which also enables users to download movies, documents and other software. The company is owned by Sharman Networks, an Australian company with virtually no presence here in the U.S., save for spokeswoman Kelly Larabee, who, curiously enough, lives and works in Phoenix.

Although Kazaa's argument that RIAA's lawsuit should be heard in Australia, not the U.S., failed miserably, Kazaa didn't take the ruling lying down. In late January, the file-share company countersued, accusing the RIAA of unfair competitive practices.

Kazaa is taking the position that it's trying to build a legitimate business model, and that the industry's real agenda is to keep the entire pie for itself. While most of the files that pass through Kazaa unquestionably do so without copyright protection, Larabee says Kazaa has any of six options to track and manage the content that passes through its servers it would like to bring to the negotiating table. One of those options is to create a compulsory licensing system monitor the songs being traded and make payments to artists. Napster proposed that and got blown off.

But unlike Napster, Kazaa won't go down without at least waging an aggressive legal fight of its own. Larabee says she expects the court fights to drag on through the expensive discovery phase all year at least. The RIAA is expected to respond to the counterclaim next week.

This'll be a fight to keep an eye on.

Got a problem with Kick & Scream? Let's hear it. Contact the author at his online address: [email protected].

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Christopher O'Connor