Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Dart Adams presents Lost In Translation: Jimmy & Doug’s

The music industry as well as the record label model had finally collided with the Information Age as peer to peer sites like Napster and LimeWire let the record labels know that the digital music format and downloading was the wave of the future. Sites like popped up to compete with the P2P sites and torrent sites and they embraced independent music and championed underground Hip Hop and garage bands. The music industry landscape changed as several labels dissolved and got bought out by other labels. The recently dubbed Universal/Def Jam Music Group consisted of Universal, Interscope, Def Jam and all of their associated labels. Two of their executives had an idea on how they could shake up the record label model and profit off of the changing climate of the music industry.

These two executives were Interscope’s Jimmy Iovine and Universal’s Doug Morris, the idea was to launch a record label that was interactive. It was to feature a website in which an unsigned artist could upload his or her music and have visitors come to the website listen to the uploaded music and vote on their favorite songs. A weekly chart would come out and the #1 artist would receive a spot on the TV show which was aired on the USA Network twice weekly. The website and TV show was a venue and showcase for unsigned talent that in turn gave them exposure to the entire A&R staff at the Universal Music Group and it’s umbrella of labels. The show and website hit the air in October 1999 and it was hosted by former MTV personality Matt Pinfield and former Miss USA/model/actress Ali Landry. The label president/COO was Andy Schuon.

Many internet savvy music fans were skeptical about anyone every being able to get signed and/or be successful through this new business model. How in the hell will it work? All of those questions were answered when British club DJ/singer Sonique uploaded her song “It Feels So Good” to and it shot up to the top of it’s charts and stayed there. She earned a spot on the TV show and the response was so overwhelming that her single was put into wide release and she was given a video.

Sonique’s video for “It Feels So Good”cracked the regular rotation on MTV and VH1 and her single sold so well that she was signed to a record deal with the label and he album “Hear My Cry” was released shortly thereafter. What these fans didn’t know was that Sonique had already released the song in Europe back in 1998 and that Universal was going to re-release her single and album in the North American market anyways. The instant fame story angle was a better selling tool, though. People flocked to the website shortly thereafter and the show averaged about a million viewers per episode.

In order to diversify things, Farmclub showed a variety of different acts and genres of music in it’s telecasts. The would have a segment about turntablism featuring the World Famous Beat Junkies and a B Boy demonstration that had a lead in which gave the first publicity to the documentary “The Freshest Kids”. They also featured the new N.W.A. lineup (Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren & Snoop Dogg) in their first (and last) TV appearance performing “Chin Check”.

Notable appearances were made by Busta Rhymes, Eminem & D-12, Ruff Ryders (DMX, Drag-On, The Lox and Eve), Cypress Hill, LL Cool J, Method Man & Redman, Mystikal, Nelly, Bone Thugs & Harmony and Wu Tang Clan. The show was also noteworthy because it didn’t make artists censor themselves when they performed. For some odd reason that was never explained the word “nigga” wasn’t bleeped out during performances.

To the casual viewer, it was cool to see all these established acts nexts to the up and coming acts that won appearances on the show through votes on the website, but what they didn’t know was that while being an open source user based music website it was corporate as it got. The overwhelming of acts and groups that appeared on Farmclub’s TV show were signed by Universal Music Group or one of it’s many affiliated labels on either Interscope or Def Jam.

If they weren’t on any UMG associated label then they were hand picked by Jimmy Iovine or his co-chair at Interscope at the time, Fred Durst. He made sure that Orgy, Puddle Of Mudd and his friends in Staind got a prime position to rock on network television. Another fact that the casual observer wasn’t aware of was that the reason aired on the USA Network was because they all had the same parent company that owned them, the Seagram Company (can you all say “corporate synergy” !).

It became increasingly clear in a short time that the show was nothing more than free promotion for the label and that was just a clever way to make it easier for Universal Music Group A&R’s to find acts to was a built in test market where they could all get instant data and feedback and promote their newest signees.

 The ratings for the show dropped off sharply as the show seemed to get away from it’s original noble intentions to be a new venue for unsigned acts in the eventual “Unigram” record label climate. Another dark cloud that loomed over the show was the uncertainty of it’s stability. The Seagram Company was in the beginning stages of a long and drawn out merger with Vivendi. It was unclear how the merger would affect the label’s and if there would be more labels absorbed into each other or not when the deal was done.

The TV show was scrapped in April 2000 due to loss of credibility, a declining viewership and the impending Vivendi Universal merger. The show only lasted 7 months on the air. The Vivendi Universal merger was completed in December 2000 and the label and website died shorthy thereafter in early 2001. The only remaining legacy of this show are several YouTube and Dailymotion videos and a posthumous release made of music performed on the show (shown above).

The first attempt to modify the record label model was destroyed by the fact that it was too damn corporate to make any real changes. We are all almost 9 years removed from these events but the recording industry STILL hasn’t learned it’s lesson yet. I leave you with the final act signed by, Dynamite Hack's cover of "Boyz N The Hood"



Ryan Holiday said...

You have no idea how big a favor you just did by writing this.

Aaron said...

I forgot all about Farm Club. Ahh... the good ole days before I knew who Iovine or Morris were.

DocZeus said...

I totally remember this show being on after Raw is War back in '99 and I definitely had a thing for Ali Landry back then. And I DEFINITELY remember that new N.W.A. performance! Whatever happened to that reunion album, anyway? Is this another project that Dre dropped the ball on in favor of doing Gwen Stefani singles and steroids.

silva said...

wow. I remember this show. Can't believe I never put 2 and 2 together, re: who Jimmy and Doug were