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Listening

How My Chemical Romance Will Save the Record Industry

Depending on whom you ask, the business of buying and selling music is or is not in the toilet. I propose that not only is it down there, but that we go ahead and yank the handle.

The argument goes that many people treat file-sharing services as listening stations, and when the music passes muster, they then purchase the downloaded work. The problem, however, is that unprotected digital files are ineffably easy both to acquire and trade, and so even the best intentions scare the pants off those who depend on those profits to pay their Malibu mortgages. To contain the effect all of this could have on their bottom line, record companies have shot back with lawyers armed with cease-and-desists and programmers churning out newer and more foolproof versions of “digital rights management” code. This has hardly quelled the trading, and for those out there who now have with hard drives full of music the question has to be: What’s the value of this music itself, anyway? Reduced to so much data, it retains little of the aura compact discs once had, which is likewise less than what vinyl once offered. But like it or not, it only stands to reason that digital music is eventually all we’ll be listening to. So if all music will eventually be worthless, how then to stop the bank from foreclosing on those mansions in Malibu?

The answer, at least temporarily, may be found in Life on the Murder Scene, the new CD/double-DVD package from goth-punk dreamboats My Chemical Romance. The band’s success is nothing to snort at, and can very much be credited to their rabid fan base, at whom this collection of rarities and live performances is very much targeted. After all, who else wants the non-album tracks? Multiple, exhaustive live versions? But favorite bands have a way of doing that to people, and the MCR devout are no different. They emulate the band in clothing and cosmetics application, they plaster their MySpace profiles with photos of the band, they footnote emotive blog entries with MCR lyrics. But: Do they buy the music? Today they could just as easily not. Or maybe they choose to save their allowances for something even better than an album, something more difficult to download—say, hours upon hours of “behind-the-scenes” footage, music videos (and the making of!), and filmed moments of introspection from each band member? To a true fan, the answer is clear.

And after all, for now video—at least DVD-quality—is more difficult to trade than audio. Because the files are larger, it takes longer to move them across the internet. But as faster connection speeds grow in number and, indeed, speed, someday trading video will be just as easy (and rampant) as it currently is for audio. All of this means that packaging DVDs with new albums is hardly like a throw-in poster, and has come a long, long way from the “enhanced CD-ROM albums” of five years ago that contained little more than a hyperlink to the band’s home page. DVD packages may hold off the inevitable for now, but once file sharers hop that hurdle, what’s left for the labels to sell?

Image, of course, and My Chemical Romance has more than enough to go around. Enter their impressive online store, where you can of course purchase a wide array T-shirts, but more interestingly, you can also throw in a skinny, printed necktie, a belt, even a military jacket—all at reasonable prices, all similar to items worn by the band.

This is hardly an indictment of the store; it’s everything a diehard fan would desire most. And if you think of how many collarless jackets Beatles manager Brian Epstein could have sold in 1964, it may come as no surprise that My Chemical Romance’s store is hosted by Warner Bros. The way it looks, at least one record label may have figured out the one channel downloaders will never be able to disrupt.

biopic

Andrew Womack is a founding editor of The Morning News. He is always working on the next installment of the Albums of the Year series at TMN. More by Andrew Womack

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