Friday, May 20, 2005

All good things must come to an end sometime, even for dmb

Stand Up, the Dave Matthews Band sixth major release in their decade-and-a-half of existence debuted at number one on Billboard's Top 200 among a lackluster cohort of new-releases (the most prominent being Weezer--yes, apparently the garage band that reminds one of regrettable junior-high days is extant still). But it's opening week performance was hardly stellar by comparison to the band's other releases, as the groupie site nancies.org explains:

It sold 465,000 copies in its first week, short of Busted Stuff's 622,000-strong debut in 2002, and way short of Everyday's sales of 733,000 in the week of its release in 2001.

It even underperformed Some Devil, Dave's 2002 solo release by a few thousand copies. What is the culprit? It only slightly outperformed Before These Crowded Streets debut, the album that really launched dmb into the front-and-center mainstream. Two prominent explanations come to mind. First, the record industry is in free-fall. Industry sales have dropped about 10% each year for the last three, a figure that understates actual unit declines, as CD prices have risen during the precipitous decline in inventory movement to cover the losses, even as complementary items have become dirt-cheap (CD-Rs, CD/DVD players, etc). File-sharing, digital downloads, a myriad of "artists" available via the internet from every corner of the globe, and a shift in cultural values, among other things, have certainly contributed to the industry's imbrolgio. Maybe MTV and the three-minute ditty was the beginning of the end. Dmb is not immune to that kind of systematic shift, but with its putative super-loyal fanbase it's hard to have imagined it would hit the band this hard. It doesn't appear to be an exhaustive explanation.

Unsystematic changes comprise the second set of factors; these are more open to debate. Certainly the band's recent music has become less idiosyncratic and the songs have decreased in both length and complexity. The albums seem to be made for radio--the best Crash and Under the Table and Dreaming songs are not the tracks that got the radio play (Too Much, So Much to Say, and Crash vs. Two Step, #41, and Lie in Our Graves, etc), but with Before These Crowded Streets that changed. Of course these are generalizations, but for the most part long-time fans would tend to agree. The "Dancing Nancies" and the "#41"s are a thing of the past. This shift has decreased the band's salience to unique sound-seekers looking for something less conforming.

Fans who followed the band early on have left their adolescent and college years behind and consequently listen to less music. No doubt Dave's political opining turned some people off as well. While the record industry, like the rest of the entertainment scene, is a bastion of liberal-progressive thought, people from all over the political spectrum like music. It wasn't scientific, but a nancies.org poll showed a sizable minority of visitors supported George W. Bush in the 2004 Presidential election (unfortunately nancies.org restricts archival access to the webmasters, so a link is not possible). The South African came out against the operation in Iraq before it had even begun, leaving an impression of political subterfuge. Dave's flummoxing rhetoric in the notoriously anti-military magazine Rolling Stone didn't exactly contain inspirational prowess, but no doubt it did turn some people off:

We've got to get somebody new in the White House. Being from South Africa, I know how much the rest of the world fears the United States right now. It's like if the world is a room, and everybody is in there, and suddenly somebody walks in who is seething and has headphones on, and the music is playing really loud, and he's armed. That's the way the world sees us. Everyone is on tiptoes, afraid of what this country might do. It's bound to scare everybody.

Aside from "the world" apparently not including Japan, Taiwan, Israel, Mexico, Colombia, India, Australia, Great Britain, and Poland, his indictment of America for taking preemptive action (philosophically supported by most Americans) against two of the world's most ruthless regimes on moral grounds was too much. While the toppling of the Taliban and subsequent rebuilding have gone relatively well, Iraq is another story. Economically it has been just short of disastrous, the western intelligence agencies have been irreparably embarrassed, and American boys have paid the ultimate price. But for those who have seen Buried in the Sand: The Deception of America the parallels between the United States prior to the Iraq invasion and the UN's handling of the Rwanda situation (see Hotel Rwanda) are unavoidable: Iraqi civilian's tongues being torn out with pliers, bound men thrown off five-story buildings by the Ba'athist guard, children executed in front of their mothers, etc). Regardless of the odious motives of the two powers (see the seismic Oil-for-Food scandal that demonstrates a big-business hunger for profit that dwarfs Halliburton's price-gouging), it's hard to say that continued acquiescence would have been anything but turpitude of the worst order. Most of Dave's fans probably agreed with his assessment, but many did not. It was too vague an attack and did not offer solutions. Boyd Tinsley's criticism was more tempered and rational, and likely did no damage to the band's reputation.

The band's zenith came somewhere between Before These Crowded Streets and Everyday. Debuting at number one does not demonstrate a nadir, but it must be admitted that the apex has come and gone on account of various forces. Still, in the foreseeable future most shows should continue to sell out, and the band's unique sound has become a permanent part of American music's history.

Example

26 comments:

woodmb said...

Very interesting article I believe there is a lot of truth to it. As far as DMB peaking in between BTCS and Everyday I would have to look at the 2000 tour as their zenith. I personally thought they were heading in the right direction as they had many of the Lillywhite tunes in the mix. After that tour it seems they took a u-turn.

I really think DMB should jump onto bonnaroo.com and read their own bio. It starts out quite impressive as they created a fan base (as we all know) by word of mouth and onlying trading. Of course signing with RCA was a good move, but DMB has had both Live at the Red Rocks and Luther College sell over a million copies without the record company promoting them. Not too many bands have that power. They shouldn't be trying to cater their music into radio crap, we have way too much of that already.

Just some of my thoughts on the issue, I just hope they play some good setlists this summer, when they use to play a show two or three nights in a row at one venue they wouldn't repeat one song, but now I tend to hear 3 or 4 of the same tunes the next night. With the song catalog they have that is pretty weak.

boiler_41 said...

Quote:
Originally Posted by woodmb
when they use to play a show two or three nights in a row at one venue they wouldn't repeat one song, but now I tend to hear 3 or 4 of the same tunes the next night. With the song catalog they have that is pretty weak.



I really think that with the exception of the 2003 tour, they have always repeated songs at consecutive nights at the same venue. This isn't something new, it is the ordinary. 2003 was an exceptional tour in that way, but with no album to support it was sort of a "tour for the fans" instead of a promotional type tour.

And a large number of entertainers do the same setlist every single night. I'm not saying that DMB is like other entertainers, or that they should be judged based on what others do, but I think they do a pretty good job of mixing it up. You have to think about it on the basis of them trying to please all fans, and not necessarily trying to please the fans that travel to multiple shows.

As far as DMB peaking, I would say that 2001 was there peak. Everyday might not have been well received by the fan base, but it sold very well. In addition, the sold out stadium tour can be looked at as a peak of overall popularity.

bigsam said...

meh. I found this article unchallenging and not particularly well thought through.

What caused the decline in album sales?
There are a couple thousand people who work for record companies who would love an answer to that question, too. CD sales are down. Period. Across the board. So the fact that Stand Up didn't sell as many copies as previous records is really a moot point. It was still the top seller, even if you don't think that "demonstrate(s) a nadir" (we're all so very impressed), it's the best way to gauge the band's popularity. Relative to other acts, DMB's popularty has not declined, or at least not significantly.

The author acknowledged this, but still seemed to think Stand Up's sales were reflective of a DMB phenomenon. I see no conclusive evidence that this is the case.

The war:
First of all, is this an article about Stand Up or is it about your foriegn policy views? It's not fair to ask us all to go along with your critique that Afghanistan has gone well but Iraq poorly — some people will point to the extreme violence in Afghanistan, as well as its recent ascention to the No. 1 opium-producing nation on Earth, and say it's going poorly, and others will point to elections in Iraq and say it's a success in the making.

That pretense aside, Stand Up ain't that political. American Baby is about unity, and pushes no agenda other than America. Just because Dave is a liberal doesn't mean any time he mentions politics, he's spouting liberal ideology. EWU is pretty political. YMDT is about activism — he never says what change he wants to make. I imagine most conservatives would agree that it starts with one step.

Furthermore, you can't just assume that because you don't like Dave's political views, other fans have been turned off. Who says the early fans have left? And if they have, why are these boards so full of people who act like they're "better fans" because they were around from the beginning? It's not as if Dave was supporting some tiny minority idea — almost half the country agreed with him. Sure, that half lost, but that doesn't mean they changed their minds.

And once again, you don't cite any evidence that ANYTHING has driven fans away from DMB. Stand Up is the most popular album in the country, they're mounting another large summer tour, and shows are beginning to sell out already. So if politics drove people away, how come people aren't missing?

Basically, I crack up this article to the ramblings of someone who doesn't like Stand Up and supported Bush, and is trying to use ten-cent words to trick us into thinking his or her opinion is somehow fact. I can use big words, too, but there's no reason to say "political subterfuge" when you mean, "I thought it wasn't very thorough."

Everyone's entitled to an opinion, but you ought to be able to support your opinions with more than a thesaurus.

crush41 said...

woodmb,

I agree with your "best-tour" assessment. The 2000 circuit was wonderful.

boiler41,

To be even more specific, perhaps the day following Everyday's release was the peak!

bigsam,

Conclusiveness is impossible in the social sciences, and I certainly do not claim to have reached it. This is conjecture but it is not baseless. And forgive me for being didactic, but the personal shots do not aid anyone.

The drop in sales for Stand Up as compared to Everyday represents a 37% decrease--more than that of the record industry as a whole over the same time period. Given that dmb has (or had) a ferociously loyal fanbase, we would expect dmb's decrease to be less elastic, not more elastic, than the overall industry. However, that is not the case. Consequently, macroeconomic/systematic forces do not provide a complete explanation.

I'm not trying to analyze Stand Up--I do not own the CD or know the lyrics, and have only listened to parts of the album. My interest is in why Stand Up, despite an enormous marketing push (I received several emails soliciting a purchase even though I am not a member of the Warehouse or any dmb mailing lists) has faired worse than Dave's solo album released only a year-and-a-half prior.

Of course many who do not agree with Dave's politics have not left. However, if from nothing other than anecdotal evidence, I know some have. It is sensical to assume that political opinions from non-political figures are usually damaging. If your parents ever told you "don't talk about politics at work", there was a reason. If someone dislikes you for a substantive reason but then hears that the two of you share some beliefs, it is unlikely that person will suddenly warm to you. But if that person did take a favorable view of you prior to your spewing of pungent political opinions, it is more likely than in the previous situation that they will be turned off to you.

When Dave came out against the Iraq war prior to military action, it appeared to be more than a knee-jerk reaction--I stand by the interpretation of subterfuge by some.

Most shows will sell out this summer, although they are keeping vacancy much longer than in the early part of the decade--when I bought tickets for my first show in 1999, the show was sold out by the end of the day. Same venue six years later and tickets are still available a month after they initially went on sale.

Alecks said...

When Dave came out against the Iraq war prior to military action, it appeared to be more than a knee-jerk reaction

I really don't think this is giving enough credit to Dave, or anyone who disagreed with the war prior to the military action. I heard that 60% of American now believe Iraq was a mistake (not sure about that, just what I heard) - you appear to be dismissing those who used foresight, and predicted many of the problems America is now facing.

Alecks said...

And just to add - how is initial opposition to a movement any different from initial support, in terms of being a supposed "knee-jerk reaction"?

typicaltimes said...

to state that their popularity was at its peak after btcs, despite that not being a radio friendly release (many longer non radio friendly songs), then they have 2/3 radio friendly releases with shorter songs, etc is a contradiction.

if anything, based on the logic used in this article, they should be more popular now that they have released more 4 minute radio friendly songs.

the declining sales are obviously not a result of this, it is more a market trend. compare how many albums were sold during a given week or month and see how dmb's "share" has been affected. they have probably sold a greater share with this album than they did with any album, maybe other than everyday.

woodmb said...

boiler 41-

Good point. I guess I just enjoy it better when they are not touring to support an album such as 2003 and even 1999 they had a pretty good mix. I just don't understand why even when they are supporting an album they have to repeat songs at the same venue. They usually play 4 new tunes so you would think over a two night stand they could get in 8 new ones and mix up the old stuff. Yes, a lot of acts play the same songs each night, but not too many bands can sell out the same large venue twice or three nights in a row and expect to have many of their fans show up all three nights. Those bands that did or can like Phish Grateful Dead, String Cheese Incident, etc. all seem to play a new original setlist each night, which makes to want to go two or three nights in a row. Also, they have the wonderful taping policy, and it would be nice to hear more unique setlists being traded, after all trading was a big part of DMB's success in the early years so why not get more creative with the setlists. I can't believe they are selling more Everyday albums by play "I Did It" back to back.

crush41 said...

Alecks,

That is exactly my point. Knee-jerk "conclusions" on both sides of any issue are bound to be driven by ideology, not a thoughtful assessment of the thing in its entirety. Pacificist beliefs probably prompted Dave to speak out publicly before military action had even begun--to those generally supporting the US military, such an abrupt reaction was likely seen as trying to undercut the US war effort.

I am not making a value judgment that what he did was wrong--as you state, only 45% of Americans now believe the operations in Iraq were a good thing. He may have hit the nail on the head (although I'd venture to say it could have been done in a more eloquent manner). Instead, I'm trying to look at how some people might have interpreted what he did.

typicaltimes,

I'm not sure I follow. The Stand Up to Everyday decline represented a 37% decline in sales versus a roughly 32% decline in the overall record industry. Presumably, acts with larger loyal fanbases would be less effected by the systematic shift, not more effected. In addition, if they were becoming more popular instead of just retaining a certain level of popularity, the downward trend of the industry should be less damaging still.

You seem to be equating radio-friendly songs with album sales and sustainable popularity. I'm not sure that is necessarily the case. To use an accounting analogy, I see the radio-friendly albums as a form of channel stuffing (A company pushes sales at the end of the period by offering discounts, etc, saturating its customers with product. This allows the company to meet short-term expectations, but the next period they are in trouble because their customers already have more than enough product). The loyal fanbase will buy the new album because they love the band, and "marginal" listeners may pick it up because they liked one of the singles heard on the radio. But can this last in perpetuity? Everyday was that point where the fanbase and the larger culture gobbled dmb up--a similar strategy today is not fairing near as well. This is not solely explainable by declining record industry sales.

Alecks said...

I'm not sure I follow. The Stand Up to Everyday decline represented a 37% decline in sales versus a roughly 32% decline in the overall record industry.

Is that it? I imagined the difference (ie the relative decline of DMB) as much larger than that. The fact is, every band has fluctuations and an eventual decline. It is, of course, inevitable that DMB has a decline, and I think it's entirely unconnected with politics. American Baby simply didn't get them the TRL market like I Did It did - the song is as poppy and obviously catchy, and the video is less grabbing.

You presume that it was politics that lost DMB some long standing fans - perhaps it was the comparative low quality of the band's previous two efforts?

crush41 said...

Alecks,

I suggest three things, in order of magnitude: 1) The record industry's struggles, 2) The deteriorating quality of dmb's musical genius, and 3) Dave's political opining (and to a much lesser extent the rest of the band). You may be right that the drop is completely devoid of political considerations. Anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise, but accurate numbers are impossible to come by.

Sean said...

Well aren't you just an insta-expert, in our insta-pundit world?

Its easy, take opinion, add air of expertise, let foment, and give thoroughly uninformed opinion.

The jumps in logic, and the leaps of faith require a reader of your 'opinion' to be an Olympic athlete to get through.

Sean

SpotInTheMiddle said...

I think it's actually very simple: Better songs would have translated into more sales. Plain and simple.

People that know me still can't believe I have no desire to buy this record. I have been a pretty obsessed fan for many years and my distaste for the record has nothing to do with political views and I could care less how it compares to BTCS or anything else. I just think this particular album sucks. I listened to the VH1 stream many times and never liked it from the first listen to the 10th. I have to assume there are many other fans that can relate to this.

mi_subie said...

Spot is absolutely correct, it's all about the music, always has been with DMB, and the new album just isn't very good. I bought it almost by habit (as I think lots of people did) and I was severely disappointed. I don't want to hear drum machines and processors on Dave's voice, I want jams and lyrics that provoke some thought and that actually have meaning. Some songs (Stand Up in particular) I can't even finish. I'll be sticking to live shows from now on.

umchamp said...

I agree with the Spot and Mi_Subie 100%. Stand Up is just not a very good album. I listened to the VH1 stream 3 or 4 times and it never grew on me. When I first heard BTCS, I didn't like it, but it grew on me and now it is probably my favorite CD by any artist. I bought Stand Up, basically to fill out my collection, listened to it once through and it hasn't seen the CD player since, and may not see it again. I know some like it, but It just hasn't grown on me. I get much more satisfaction out of a listening to ED. Can't wait for Alpine though, I always love the live shows.

crush41 said...

Sean,

If you'd be specific I would be happy to defend how I arrived at my conclusions. Vague attacks on the framework because you disagree with the conclusion is sophomoric and doesn't help anyone.

jdbartener said...

This album has so much potential, however it just seems to fall flat.

IMO, "YMDT" has a "two step" like quality to it. The song could be just as powerful, however, it sounds unfinished. The beginning is very ear pleasing, and the lyrics are pretty decent, however the chorus is dry and lacks in creative luster. It seems as if Dave now believes that all you have to do is repeat a songs title a bizzillon times, and you've got yourself a chorus. (ie Stand Up... Stand Up... Stand Up... Stand Up... Stand Up...) The songs needs more changes, it needs a climatic ending, it needs to be finished.

SAWG also has amazing potential, however, it is too short. I could see the song speeding up a little at the end, and breaking into a jam like in #41. In my mind I can hear carter doing one of his amazing jazz rhythms and butch jamming out on the keys, or maybe boyd could do a classical violin solo like in "Seek Up". I don't know what the song needs, I am not a musical genius. However, I can recognize the fact that this album seems rushed. I heard that they created 30+ songs in the studio for this album. Maybe instead of worrying about the number of songs they could write, they should have taken the time to polish the ones that were going to try and sell.

41anthing said...

I disagree---2002 shows had way more energy than 1999, 2000 and 01. 03 was a great year for variation and energy and 04 released some great new tunes but they played them every dang night except GGT. 04 is said to be the most repetitive year ever. I hope 05 is better.

gerber said...

Any idiot with a web site becomes a journalist... I love the Internet. Some valid points regarding music but totally went of on a tangent with the war.... The biggest rock album of the year was arguably American Idiot.. Greenday, hardly a bush-loving group, has sales figures that are stellar. If your going to review music based on music, then go for it, but it just seemed like this "writer" was using Dave’s protest of the "war" as a justification for the decline of DMB. I found it rather amusing!! Half of the article is about the war.

kim#41 said...

I think it's actually very simple: Better songs would have translated into more sales. Plain and simple.

People that know me still can't believe I have no desire to buy this record. I have been a pretty obsessed fan for many years and my distaste for the record has nothing to do with political views and I could care less how it compares to BTCS or anything else. I just think this particular album sucks. I listened to the VH1 stream many times and never liked it from the first listen to the 10th. I have to assume there are many other fans that can relate to this.


I think this pretty much sums it up- to a T. I felt the same way. I didn't buy this record because a friend lent it to me and I didn't like it. I have every other CD and DVD they have made and I have seen at least one concert every year for the past 7 years. I consider myself a pretty big fan. I simply thought this album is just not that great. It's not truly DMB style. Some of the songs sound like R&B music and others sound like Phil Collins trying to make a comeback. I have to agree here that politics simply plays no part at all. As a matter of fact, I agree with most of the political opinions Dave has expressed. That doesn't make me go out and buy the CD though. As a true fan, I still don't plan on missing this year's concert here but I'm really just hoping that not much of this album will be played there (which is not very likely, but the point is, I'll be there anyway for hopes of hearing good old school Dave music). I have to agree with the above post and I am finally glad to see that someone spoke up about not liking this album at all.

Dagwin said...

Yeah, the album is horrible. You haven't seen any of my posts? I've been saying this for quite a while now, to the point where some ppl hate me for it, but oh well. It's a message board.

What scares me is that they may never "return to form" since this album seems to have been received fairly well in the media. I'm sure it will attract quite a few new fans to join the "Everyday" fans. That's not a good thing, by any means. More teeny-boppers. Just what us "old-school" fans need!!!

All I know is that the DMB is a group of highly talented musicians, which, I'm sure, is the main reason we're all on these boards to this day. And based on the songs the band wrote in the Spring of 2004 (Joy Ride, GGT, Crazy-Easy, Hello Again and Sugar Will), we know they still "got it." Why they would spontaneously hire a hip-hop producer and scrap their "summer" songs for Stand Up is beyond me. Talk about deja vu!!! This is eerily similar to the "Everyday Debacle."

I'll give 'em 'til their next studio release to see if us "old-schoolers" are doomed. Three strikes and you're out (Everyday... Stand Up... Next Album). It might be a few years before we know anything, though. Oh well, Coldplay's new album is almost out, and I'm looking for to Dream Theater's new album on the same day.

chicken-n-ham said...

All I know is that the DMB is a group of highly talented musicians, which, I'm sure, is the main reason we're all on these boards to this day. And based on the songs the band wrote in the Spring of 2004 (Joy Ride, GGT, Crazy-Easy, Hello Again and Sugar Will), we know they still "got it." Why they would spontaneously hire a hip-hop producer and scrap their "summer" songs for Stand Up is beyond me. Talk about deja vu!!! This is eerily similar to the "Everyday Debacle."

Not really. They had five songs written over the course of the summer, one of which disappeared by the end of the tour. They wrote new songs, as a group, and decided, for whatever reason, that only one of the songs from the summer tour would be on the album.
That seems like a far cry from scrapping an entire album in progress, then having Dave and a sleeveless producer write complete songs that would have sounded exactly the same if the band never showed up for the recording sessions.

Dagwin said...

You can't argue that the events that took place WEREN'T similar to the 'Everyday' mess, though.

bartendrimalive said...

Crush41, I agree with you about DMB losing that magical auora, but I wouldn't count them out just yet.

chicken-n-ham said...

Are there similarities? Yes, if you look hard enough you can find spurious relationships between many events. The way I see it these two series of events have many more differences than similarities.

crush41 said...

Kim,

I believe you have made my point. You tend to agree with Dave's politics but you admit that doesn't effect your music choice. However, if you are a person who feels a personal connection with the President, the military action in Iraq, etc, it *might* turn you off (especially if you were already down on a perceived musical decline). I assume that "phenomena" to generally be the case--you'll come for the music alone, but you may leave for other reasons.

As I've said in the subsequent discussion, politics has probably had the least impact on dmb's decline, but if from nothing else but anecdotal evidence, I know it has not been completely innocuous.

Gerber,

I'm not sure why you have to bring out the ad hominen stuff. I was just looking at some possibilities and speculating about what may have caused the large sales drop between Everyday and Stand Up, and then giving a personal analysis incorporating anecdotal evidence I've come across and asking others to comment.

bartendrimalive,

I don't listen to music much anymore, but when I pop in #41, I realize that I certainly can't count them out! :)