Since JC is busy practicing for the upcoming tour I am doing some housecleaning. As you know, many of our chats are heavily edited. Usually this is just to get to the point. I cut out lots of our ‘ummms’, gaping pauses and lewd humor. And then there are the times JC will drop into some made-up scene from some sci-fi movie that never got made in an alien language that should’ve been in an episode of Star Trek. And then there are the ad hoc songs. To give you an idea of the literary quality we’re talking about, here’s an example from the unedited text below.
I’d rather think of you and me
Than my next colonoscopy
But I can’t seem to put my fear behiiiiiiiiiiind mmeeeeeee!
I know I should hold back these tears
It’s only once ev’ry five years
But I can’t seem to put my fear behiiiiiiiiiiind mmeeeeeee!
We also have had about a hundred chats that have never see the light of day. Sometimes we talk and it goes nowhere. Sometimes we get started and we mean to finish up later but get sidetracked. Below is just such a conversation, which we started on June 28, 2011 right after Songs From Detroit was released. Since then, attentive readers will note that we keep meaning to get back here and never seem to. So I’m pasting that original fragment and the finishing with a chat we had this week. plus ça change!
June 28, 2011
Roger CortonSo record sales seem pretty good?
JCHYeah, I’m actually pretty stunned. I sold out the first run and now I’ve sold out the second run. What is interesting to me is that it’s pretty much exactly following the sales curve that you’re supposed to expect.
Musicians don’t believe this stuff. Nobody cares what I think because, frankly I do such a crappy job of marketing myself. But stats don’t lie. And it’s it’s kinda frustrating that you see so many guys who just don’t sell as much as they should.
RCYou’re saying this stuff is predictable? Even for you?
JCH(Laughs) even for me. They say that you get about 25% of your interest the week before your album drops. Then you get 25% of your interest in the first week. And then it’s all downhill from there. And apparently this pattern works whether you’re selling 2,000 or 2 million. Now, how much of that interest gets converted into sales is up to you. But it completely goes against the notion that everyone has that you’re going to sell CDs at your gigs or on a long tail kind of deal. That just doesn’t happen anymore.
RCI find that hard to believe.
JCHI know. Part of it is, we don’t want to believe. For a number of reasons. We want to believe that if we put on a great show that will sell CDs. Or that you can “build the buzz”. But a lot of that just isn’t true. Human nature isn’t as good as we’d like to think. I mean it did for a short time, like with Amanda Palmer, but that model only worked for a short time. People don’t realize that you can’t extrapolate the future because of what has been happening. I sold 60,000 CDs from out of my garage over the past ten years. That will never happen again. It was a unique moment.
Another thing: Musicians don’t believe this stuff. Nobody cares what I think because, frankly I do such a crappy job of marketing myself. But stats don’t lie. And it’s it’s kinda frustrating that you see so many guys who just don’t sell as much as they should. But again, who am I to talk. I still eat Ramen (laughs).
RCSomething I will never understand. You gas on about ‘fine dining’ all the time and then go home and eat Ramen.
JCHAll the time. And on the topic of cheapness: I’m running out of back catalog. Something that always happens after I release the new album is that a certain number of people will express an interest in the older stuff. I’ve only got a few left of all those CDs. I doubt it’s worth it to do another run.
RCWell what about those just in time services that make them as you go?
JCHI’ve decided that those are a really raw deal. Those kinds of CDs are “burned” CDs. They aren’t pressed like “real” CD.
JCHYeah, a real CD is pressed kinda like a vinyl album. The ones and zeros are literally cut into the plastic and then it’s coated with a silver layer. On a burned CD, the information is only in that layer of metal. What were learning now is just how impermanent real CDs are. Real CDs are starting to break down, that is have errors after only a few years. They had a good article about that on NPR a while back maybe we can search for that and put a link. Anyhoo, burned CDs are even worse. To my horror, I’ve got burned CDs and DVDs that are three and four years old that no longer play. The metal layer really starts to break down after a couple of years, especially if it’s exposed to sunlight fingerprints you have normal day-to-day handling. It’s ridiculous.
RCYou’re telling me that CDs are not permanent.
JCHExactly in a very real way they are less permanent then vinyl. Far less permanent then a photograph. The only really permanent way to preserve digital information is to keep electricity running on a hard drive someplace. There is no way to store information digitally that is anywhere near as good as photography or vinyl. Ironic no?
RCWell that’s all I can say why.
JCHSo, I’m not gonna sell somebody something that I know is going to break down in a couple of years.
RCMaybe you should sell vinyl? After all, progressive rock is from that era.
JCHIt is. I’m not a big fan of vinyl per se. I’m not one of those guys who gets all moist opening up a record sleeve. Laughs. But, I do think there is a point to be made about vinyl. I do love the artwork and the physicality. I get it. I think in the future, I need to find some way to provide some real extra value.
RCSo you’re saying the songs aren’t valuable enough on their own?
JCH(Laughs) well, they ought to be, but the truth is that people like getting something “special”. There has to be some thing to make it worth it for people and that thing has to be physical. I don’t know what it is. Because I’m a totally lame a marketer. But I know there needs to be something something valuable. Something that will look cool cool. Something people will remember and treasure.
RCSomething you can do dirt cheap.
July 26, 2011
Roger CortonRemember when you were talking about running low on CDs? Shouldn’t you be ‘out’ by now?
JCHWell, I didn’t count on CD sales tanking quite so precipitously. But it’s funny you mention that because now I really am down to literally the last box or so.
RCSo like less than a hundred of each?
RCNo chance you’ll run more?
JCHI dunno. It depends on sales of new CDs. People tend to buy the new CD, decide they like it and then hopefully they become indoctrinated.
RCWe need a secret handshake.
JCHThe password is SWORDFISH! Frankly, I wish these things could be unloaded by having a Crazy Eddy Sale! But that doesn’t work of course.
RCPRICES SO LOW YOU’D BE CRAZY NOT TO GET THE ENTIRE COLLECTION!
JCHJesus you scared the shit outta me. But really I’d like to have CDs ready for anyone who happens to want them. It’s just weird having them laying around for years. But the way it works for me is that most people who want them already have them. It’s a niche market.
RCSo how do we increase that market?
JCHThat is the question.
The answer, my friends is in our next action-packed episode!