The OWH and a matter of perspective…

Category: Blog — @ 8:31 pm August 26, 2008

Interesting story in the OWH this morning about the perceived decline of Saddle Creek Records (read it here). The story is a reaction to Oberst going to Merge and The Faint self-releasing Faciinatiion, with the premise: “Without a strong Saddle Creek and its nationally lauded stable of groups, Omaha’s musical skyline could look just like any midsized Midwest city.”

Really? The last time I checked, The Faint still had a studio near downtown Omaha and Oberst still owned a mansion in Fairacres. The bands haven’t gone anywhere. The only member of Creek’s big three to head for the hills (as in Beverly Hills) is Cursive’s Tim Kasher, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up right back here. Creek is an important part of the Omaha music scene, but it certainly doesn’t define it. Not when there are so many good, successful bands around here that aren’t on that label.

The key here is defining what “success” means. For whatever reason, the story didn’t provide any sales numbers, which are an absolute must to give OWH readers some sort of perspective. Most people who are only familiar with pop FM radio music (i.e., the vast majority of OWH readers) assume “success” means a million-selling album. That’s what they see on E! and Entertainment Tonight and MTV Cribs. Imagine how surprised they’d be if they realized that Saddle Creek has never produced a gold record. Not one. Not yet. Still, in the eyes of the indie music world, Creek is remarkably successful. I’ve said it a million times, I’m saying it again — you could take every record that Saddle Creek ever sold and it wouldn’t equal the sales of one Eminem album. Eminem (when he was still performing) sold out arenas. Most indie bands (and almost all local bands) live in a world where a successful show is selling out a 300- to 500-seat venue. A huge success is selling out the 1,400-capacity Sokol Auditorium. And the biggest success of all is being able to quit your day job and do music full-time.

I have to believe technology has and will continue to have a bigger impact on Saddle Creek’s financials than the loss of The Faint. It comes down to cash flow. How much money has Saddle Creek and every other record label lost due to downloading over the past five years? Forget about iTunes, I’m talking about stealing music right off the net. I continue to run into teen-agers and 20-somethings who tell me they don’t buy CDs. They don’t have to. Stealing music from the web has become common-place for a large segment of the next generation music “consumers.”

As for Omaha’s reputation “waning a bit,” no one expected the “New Seattle” designation to last forever or even this long. By the way, name the city that’s taken Omaha’s place on the New Seattle throne. Is there one? (And what about those recent SPIN and NYT articles lauding the city?)

Finally, there’s Creek’s recent signings. Tokyo Police Club could replace The Faint as a member of the label’s Big Three, especially on the heels of the Weezer tour (though Weezer has seen better days). Beyond TPC, well, I have no idea. Before Creek signed them, I never heard of Land of Talk or Sebastien Grainger (though I’d heard of Death from Above 1979). Time will tell if they can break through. Does Creek really expect these or any of their second-level acts to ever get as big as Bright Eyes? Yeah, it would be nice, but those days are probably gone.

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