The “Raconteurs Model”: Is It Aimed At Preventing Leaks Or Muzzling Music Critics? (Or Both?)

Mar 18th, 2008 // 18 Comments

racon.jpgIn the press release heralding the imminent street date of the Raconteurs’ Consolers Of The Lonely, the band explains part of the reason for rush-releasing the album as follows: “[We] are forgoing the usual months of lead time for press and radio set up, as well as forgoing the all important ‘first week sales’. We wanted to explore the idea of releasing an album everywhere at once and THEN marketing and promoting it thereafter. The Raconteurs would rather this release not be defined by it’s first weeks sales, pre-release promotion, or by someone defining it FOR YOU before you get to hear it.” Those last 11 words struck fear in the hearts of a lot of people who make their living by defining (or at least trying to sorta-explain) music for potential consumers, as evidenced by rumblings in our comments section and at still-allowed-to-write-at-length outlets like the Guardian. But is Jack White really trying to clamp down on music critics specifically, given that the combination of “leak culture” and the post-Yelp society has resulted in everyone being elevated to the reviewer’s platform?

In a post topped with the not-at-all-inflammatory title “Is Jack White trying to kill music journalism?,” David Bennun posits:

Despite the obvious drawbacks for any reviewer in not being able to audition the record in advance – one might even see this as a direct attack on the very existence of music journalism – I have to say that, like a turkey who can see the merits of Christmas, I quite like the whole idea. Whether born of innovation, boldness, spite, or some combination thereof, it strikes me as an effort to put the clock back rather than forward.

Given the band’s recommendation that the release is best heard on vinyl, and their wish that digital services might consider offering it for sale without breaking it up into its component tracks, their principal aim would appear to be protecting the integrity of the album format (reports of whose death are greatly exaggerated) as a cohesive piece of work rather than something to be nibbled at, piecemeal.

It gives one a warm glow to read that: “The Raconteurs feel very strongly that music has worth and should be treated as such.” This privileging of artistic vision over marketing is so unusual in the music business as to be quite startling. It’s a shame that it’s only really viable for an act which, including as it does Jack White, already possesses both presumed financial security and an existing audience. If nobody had heard of the Raconteurs, then without pre-publicity, they might as well shoot the album into space as release it to an oblivious public, regardless of format, date, content or the best of intentions.

So I guess the answer to the headline’s question is “no”? Well, never let it be said that the upper-crust British press can’t get as sensational as its tabloid compatriots. And really, I’d think that those people “defining it FOR YOU” that Jack White and Co. are talking about don’t just include music critics, since nobody seems to really pay those folks too much mind. (Unless they write for a certain Best New Music-bestowing outlet.) He’s probably talking about blabby bloggers and comment-section denizens along with those more-marginalized-than-ever critics.

If anything, the way the Raconteurs album fares will be a much better bellwether for how rush-released albums that haven’t been promoted via traditional press fare in the current marketplace, where hostility to paying for recorded music is the norm–even among people who don’t have access to the Internet. Of course, as Bennun points out, these sorts of anti-marketing strategies are currently only really working for artists whose initial profile was elevated by the promotion apparatus of the old-school record biz–am I really the only person in the world using the term “the Stars model”?–and it’s somewhat troubling to think about how that little detail might, in fact, result in even the middle class of rock and roll semi-unwittingly becoming shaped by the now-crumbling top-down infrastructure of large labels down the road.

Is Jack White trying to kill music journalism? [Guardian]
Earlier: Jack White To Industry: Oh Yeah? Well, Watch This

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  1. dreamsneverend

    So music journalism is purely based on writing up crap on stuff they get to hear before a street date?

  2. SneakingThroughTheAlleyWithLalley

    I’ll take two of the one in the vest, please.

  3. Lucas Jensen

    Well, release dates are used as much as an excuse NOT to write about stuff as to write about it. I think the entire release date obsession/pissing contest must be thoroughly dismantled if print is going to survive.

  4. Doug Llewelyn, Court Reporter

    Just as long as more artists don’t start using “The Starr Model” and touring with Sheila E. and Peter Frampton, I’m cool.

  5. SuperUnison

    He’s maybe hurting print criticism because of lead times etc. However, I almost guarantee that if it drops on tuesday it’ll have its 85-93 on Metacritic by Wednesday (Unless there’s a backlash to offset the slavish 100s that a few people are bound to pile on.) Maybe Pitchfork will take a week to crank out their review like they did with “In Rainbows,” which they can do because they are Pitchfork.

    However, I honestly think, from a reader’s perspective; that having a slow burn of essays, criticism etc. around an album is vastly prefferable to dumping the whole “Record+Review+Number” hype/backlash echo chamber on the release date which is what, I think, this kind of release is trying to prevent. That’s probably the thing I miss the most about Stylus, they weren’t afraid to sleep on an idea and let it turn into something genuineley thought provoking.

    Ideally, an album gets written about because someone was moved to write about it instead of just being scheduled to.

  6. PrinceHal

    @Lucas Jensen: I agree, I think very often people’s opinions are swayed before they hear the music by a prevailing critical sentiment. Also I think there is something to be said for re-evaluating the album some time after the first listen. Not to dredge up the corpse of the sacred music writing cow (gonna do it anyway), but take Lester Bangs’ revisiting of Exile on Main Street. He initially was lukewarm on the album and then gave a really interesting examination of it a few months later, finding his opinion had changed completely.

  7. scott pgwp

    I don’t think the no-lead-time thing will deter music “critics” (including amatuers like me), because that multi-month lead originates in a dependence on print magazines. Guess what: print magazines are dropping like flies, and those that remain are losing readers and credibility. They’re also moving online to keep up with the blogs and the mp3/leak culture.

    If the critics are moving online, where there’s no need for a printing press, then why not give them one or two weeks to digest an album? They can do it. Keep score: how many Raconteurs reviews will be up by April 1? Plenty, I bet. Not to mention a video on youtube and all the banner ads you can click.

    I say it’s a good thing for criticism, because now everyone can hear the album at the same time and, perhaps, a better conversation can occur.

  8. jetsetjunta

    Yeah I mean it’s a very cool idea to flatten out the conversation between critics and the public, to extend discussions about albums over the course of months rather than days or hours. But try explaining that to time-peg-obsessed assigning editors and ahead-of-time-peg-obsessed bloggers, who I don’t think will be swayed to change their worldviews in three shakes of Jack White’s tail. But it’s nice to think of a world where that kind of looseness would be okay. Jeez, I mean you might even get to review two albums with tons of resonance which just happen to come out on different dates. Fancy that!

  9. Vince Neilstein

    Please — the reviewers-getting-music-way-in-advance model is geared towards beefing first week sales. No reason that, for a band who says they aren’t concerned about first week sales, an article in a print rag that comes out a month after street date can’t continue to drive sales even then. The Guardian article just reads like a holier-than-thou critic upset he’s lost his privilege of getting something ahead of everyone else.

  10. bcapirigi

    @scott pgwp: Maybe? Is a review in a print magazine (or online one, or even on a blog) meant to be a conversation, though?

  11. drjimmy11

    Well, it’s either this or make interesting music someone might care about on its own merits.

  12. scott pgwp

    @bcapirigi: Perhaps not in a print mag. But surely there’s potential for a critical back-and-forth online – whether in comments sections, blog-to-blog, webzine-to-webzine, or any variation therein. Not to say it doesn’t already happen – it does – but I think erasing the long lead time would help things along even more.

  13. SneakingThroughTheAlleyWithLalley

    @Maria T Sciarrino: Oh yeh. What’s not to like there?

  14. lukaskaiser

    i think this move proves that they just don’t give a fuck about music critics. It’s not on their radar… they have a fanbase, JW has a fanbase and if they get a single out there, they’ll sell a few more records to boot. If music criticism still mattered, Daughtry and Groban wouldn’t be our country’s top selling artists, hands down. Maybe it could go the way of film criticism and take a populist turn to try to remain relevant… yeah, right, like music snobs will ever do that. PS Meg White has huge boobs.

  15. Charles A. Hohman

    Let us not forget that Jack White owes his career and fame to the very critics/music journalists he’s allegedly trying to kill/inconvenience. Critics were all over “White Blood Cells” nearly a year before the general public/V2 came around to it. (Also responsible: Michel Gondry/Legoanimation). So if anybody knows the benefits to be gained from a long-gestating buzz, rather than the dominant write it up/release it/shelve it/forget it cycle, it would be him.

  16. Chris Molanphy

    @lukaskaiser: If music criticism still mattered, Daughtry and Groban wouldn’t be our country’s top selling artists

    Oh, yeah! Remember, back in the ’80s, how the Smiths and the Replacements were the big sellers across the country, and Whitney Houston and Bon Jovi languished in obscurity?

    Ah, critics were so much more important then…

  17. Jan74

    @Chris Molanphy:

    Those were the days, man.

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