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

noah | March 18, 2008 1:20 am

In 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