June 06, 2007
So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star
Posted by Christine Hurt

In writing a symposium piece tentatively entitled "Initial Public Offerings and the Failed Promise of Disintermediation," I have been doing some superficial (but very interesting) reading on the effects (or noneffects) of Internet disintermediation in various industries.  My basic thesis is that disintermediation has not lived up to its promise in many areas because of the necessity of creating demand networks for consumers to see the right flower when thousands are blooming.  I'll talk more about that later.

This project gave me an excuse to read a book that I've been wanting to read for a long time:  So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star, by Jacob Slichter, the drummer for Semisonic.  Semisonic had one big hit, Closing Time, in the mid-90s.  The band was not the normal band; they were already in their 30s when their band was formed, two of the three had met at Harvard, and they paid attention.  Slichter writes an expose of exactly how much money a record company has to spend to get even a great song played on a radio station enough times to become a hit and how that money is then charged against the band.  I met Slichter's parents last year here in Champaign.  His father is a professor emeritus of physics and chemistry here at the U of I, where he has spent his prestigious career.  Slichter grew up here before going to college and then moving to Minneapolis.

If you are interested in the recording industry, then you should check out this 2004 book.  Slichter chronicles the way that money changes hands without violating payola laws and how some laws are blatantly violated.  As an aside that payola scholars would find interesting, Slichter does note that without legal and illegal payola, playlists at radio stations would be even shorter and narrower.

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