ElvisCostello Takes Stand Against Prices
Earlier this week, longtime rock ‘n roller Elvis Costello wrote fans amessage urging them to pass on his forthcoming box set The Return of theSpectacular Spinning Songbook in favor of Louis Armstrong’s 10-LP strong Ambassadorof Jazz setdue to overpricing. His songbook set, which has been priced at $329.95,is due out next week. Costello wrote in a blog post that the price”appears to be either a misprint or satire.”
Whilenot the first time this has happened in the record business, yet somehow everytime it happens it seems refreshing.
The Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook is a limited-edition (1,500copies) three-disc set that includes a book and a card signed by Costello. The set covers Costello’s two-night stand at the Wiltern Theater in Mayof 2011. Armstrong’s Ambassador of Jazz is an impressive-looking set thatcomes disguised as a suitcase and contains ten albums from the legendaryAmerican musician. Its price: $150.00, or a reasonable $15 per disc. The self-depracating Costello,who was inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, also contends that Armstrong’s music is “vastlysuperior” to that of his Songbook set.
Other notable artists have battle with the music industry over prices inthe past. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers threatened to either stallthe delivery of 1981’s Hard Promises or rename the album Eight Ninety-Eight in protest of MCA’s desire to hikethe price of an LP to a then-unheard of $9.98. In 1994, Seattle band PearlJam famously waged a war against Ticketmaster over service charges. The 2002 Grammy Awards were overshadowed by a brief series ofconcerts staged by artists like Billy Joel, No Doubt, the Dixie Chicks, EddieVedder, John Fogerty and Emmylou Harris to protest the industry’s shoddybusiness practices. This past April, F.B.T. productions in Detroit suedUniversal to realign digital music royalties.
The integrity of musicians like Costello, Petty, and Vedder may appear old-fashioned in a music business that hasseen a steep drop in sales for a decade, butit goes a long way in fans’ memories. Pearl Jam has always been conscious of album and ticket prices, andtheir loyalty to their fans has been rewarded over the years. Even thoughthey have seen a drop-off from their early boom in popularity, they will alwayssell arenas and albums because they have shunned the extra dollar and anyperception of greed.
An example of how a band can keep prices down comes from one of thisyear’s biggest tours: The Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light Tour. I know theFoo Fighters have popped up on Long After Dark frequently enough, buttickets in the lower bowl of arenas were set at $54, t-shirts cost $25 and their CD is currently just $9.50 on Amazonand not much more in record stores. They could have jacked the prices upafter the disc hit #1, but they didn’t. They could have raised priceson gear and ticket up because they are an even bigger band, but they didn’t. They could have turned in an average performance, but instead theytreated their audience to up-and-coming acts and veteran openers before turningin a three-hour performance where they held nothing back. Artists likethe Foo Fighters and Costello look out for their people (who says “Don’tbuy my box set that I bothered to autograph 1,500 times”?) and that is whyI will always continue to come back to them.
|(L-R, Steve Van Zandt, Dave Grohl, Bruce Springsteen,
and Elvis Costello at 2003 Grammys)