Friday, September 18, 2009

Is Pearl Jam A Sellout For Partnering With Target To Release "Backspacer"?

Pearl Jam is releasing their new album, Backspacer, exclusively at Target and at independent record stores across the country this Sunday. A decade and a half ago, to my teenage self, knowing that Pearl Jam would enter into a (sort of) exclusive partnership to distribute an album with a huge corporate retailer like Target would have been interpreted as nothing short of high treason. At the time, the word "sellout" was generously peppered into my everyday conversation.

Presently, however, I find myself totally unaffected by this.

Maybe the idea is made easier to swallow by Backspacer being sold concurrently at independent record stores as well as Target. After all, indie record stores have always been a retail venue championed by the band as well as myself, having worked at one for five years.

Or perhaps it's the fact that Pearl Jam is merely pursuing this business model out of necessity and, unequivocally, on their own terms. After all, they're the biggest independent band in America (they're no longer under contract with any record label in the US), so they had to pick a feasible strategy to distribute the album. Target is certainly a capable mass distributor (not to mention that it's way classier than Wal-Mart) and offers itself as a powerful partner.

And while both of these are alleviating factors, perhaps more than anything I'm just not as uptight as I once was about this sort of thing, and neither is the current musical climate for that matter. The stigma once tied to rock bands with corporate partnerships is all but dead; just barely moribund in select niches. Even your average hardcore indie-rock fan could care less with whom a band chooses to ally itself to finance, promote, and/or distribute their music nowadays. This is quite a recent development, but perhaps not as an alarming one as once thought.

I mean, the following ad would have been enough to make my blood boil when I was 16:

But now, I'm actually happy to see it. This ad will reach millions of households and perhaps some kid will go out and buy a Pearl Jam record because of it. Is that really so bad? Isn't the point of making records for people to listen to them?

It took nearly a couple of decades for Pearl Jam, as well as many of their contemporaries, to figure out that, as a band, it's impossible to control who listens to your music, no matter how hard you try to limit your exposure. If you're not comfortable with the spotlight, maybe you're in the wrong business. You might as well embrace it and see where it takes you. You might be happier for it in the end.

I'm certainly pleased that I don't have to waste any more thought on the idea of "selling out". I've got bigger fish to fry...

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