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The Monkees, Marketing & The Instant Gratification Music Business

Last week my music buddy Frank pinged me about a special deal on Amazon for a live album by the remaining Monkees — Mike Nesmith and Mickey Dolenz — for more than 50-percent off.  The album documents the so called “Mike & Mickey Tour” from a couple years back, a wonderful concert which I saw (many of the live images here are from that Mountain Winery show in Saratoga, California). 

When the live album came out early last year — called The Monkees Live: The Mike & Mickey Show — my only disappointment was that it seemed priced a little high at nearly $40.  So… I decided to wait a bit.  And then Covid happened, so my focus on buying the album fell from my immediate attention. 

Fast forward to last week and the texts from my friend Frank, and all those memories rushed back into my head. I realized Frank was right and that I needed to move on this quickly as a $15 price tag made it a “no brainer” purchase. 

Click “Buy.” Done.  And I figured I’d have to wait a couple weeks to get the album, all things considered.

Onward through the fog.

Much to my surprise, the next day I get another text message from Frank that his copy of The Monkees Live: The Mike & Mickey Show — which he had ordered the day before mine — had arrived already! And just about at that same moment I received a separate text from Amazon that my copy had been delivered as well!  I thought, this has to be a mistake.… But, sure enough I went downstairs and there was an album in a plastic baggie (no box) waiting for me.

Talk about instant gratification!  I texted back to Frank. We talked on the phone. We were both a bit gobsmacked by the whole purchase experience, which got me to thinking about some bigger ideas. More on that in a moment…

The performance on The Monkees Live: The Mike & Mickey Show is great and the two LP set sounds generally excellent, mastered by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio. While I doubt this is an analog recording, Christian Nesmith — who did the mixing and who also played guitar on the tour — did a fine job sculpting a nice organic sound for the music which rings true. Kudos also to producer Andrew Sandoval who I’m sure had a hand in this authentic pop aesthetic.  

The point is, don’t go into this expect any sort of attempt at “current” production flavors on this album, an approach which marred some of the Monkees’ 1980s reunion albums. This is a very good thing, mind you.  The band is tight and the harmonies are spot on.  Ok, we’ll talk some more about the album a little later… Now I want to share those bigger ideas with you, Dear Readers and perhaps friends in the music industry.

Lets go back to that overnight delivery magic that happened for me and Frank. So… I paid $15 on Wednesday evening and received a physical album hand delivered to my door the next Thursday morning. That is a pretty remarkable feat when you stop to think about it. 

Now I don’t know if anyone has really tried to do this intentionally with a new release yet (if they have please let us know in the comments below) but it seems like there is a golden opportunity waiting here for the music industry to riff on.

It is especially stunning when you consider that one of the factors which many fans of digital downloads and streaming relish is the ability to “get” the album almost instantly. Instant gratification. Its the essence of the impulse purchase psychology. You see a cool thing at the check out in a favorite store and you get it without any heavy mental considerations. 

Boom. Its done. For the purpose of this article, I’ll call it the “Instant Gratification Factor” or IGF.

In the recent past, physical media hadn’t really been able to “compete” with this IGF, save for buying an album at an artist’s concert before it hits the market. So called “pre-ordering” aimed to address it but even that has become an issue as pre-ordered titles don’t necessarily show up early or even near release date. Heck, even many of us writers who get advanced copies of albums for review purposes don’t get the physical versions until the brick and mortar stores have been serviced! 

That said, imagine if there was a different IGF model put in place leveraging the giant that is Amazon (and maybe some of its competitors… more on that in a moment)? Lets start with major artists who have achieved a certain level of success…. lets say… Justin Bieber or Black Pumas or Lady Gaga or Cardi B or even Madonna and Dolly Parton for that matter.  Lets say they want to put out a new album in a physical form first and make it available to those fans before the digital and streaming versions…  What is stopping them now? Nothing, it seems… 

They could ship off adequate quantity of the product to the key markets where these artists are popular. Then, announce the album’s availability — at a reasonable price akin to this Monkees album, a loss leader promotion effectively in a limited window of availability — via text, email and social media promotions. Then fans would log in to their Amazon accounts. Click “buy” and within 24 hours the artist would have in place a passionate instant “street team” of serious fans who will be telling the world about their great pre-ordered new physical vinyl record album.  

A day later traditional radio gets the release serviced to them at the same time as the streaming services. And of course key retailers get their stock to accommodate the general public who are starting to hear all the buzz about this new release and want to check it out. 

If the record industry doesn’t want to deal with Amazon, they could probably set up their own “instant drop” delivery service via an affiliation with Fed Ex, UPS or even the good ‘ol US Postal Service! 

All of these key mechanisms would (a) sell recordings, (b) make money for the artists and labels and (c) stimulate word of mouth street buzz, one of the most valuable forms of advertising which can’t really be purchased.  

For those of you who may still be questioning the viability of vinyl (and physical media in general) consider these details from a report in Billboard at the end of December:

“As predicted, U.S. vinyl album sales hit another historic high, as 1.842 million LPs were sold in the week ending Dec. 24, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data. That’s the largest week for the format since Nielsen Music/MRC Data began electronically tracking music sales in 1991. The previous high was set only a week earlier, when 1.445 million were sold in the frame ending Dec. 17.”

Those are some significant number. And to recap, the appeal of the large scale physical vinyl format to many customers is generally better sound than the most popular streaming services such as Spotify and a more engaging listening experience — I suspect there is a tendency towards more focused whole album listening (vs. individual tracks on playlists running in the background while doing something else).  For the artist, they make more money selling physical products than they do on streams and there is a stronger opportunity for artistic expression with the large format media size (as opposed to a mere JPEG file on a stream or a CD sleeve).

Food for thought…

Anyhow, getting back to the review, The Monkees Live: The Mike & Mickey Show is a great way to catch up on how this influential group sounds in present times — great vocals, great band, great arrangements!  While the versions of classics like “Last Train To Clarksville” and “I’m A Believer” are fabulous, the real stand outs for me are previously rarely (if ever) performed tracks like Carole King’s “As We Go Along” from the movie Head and Mike Nesmith’s “Tapioca Tundra” (B-side to “Valleri,” also appearing on the 1968 album The Birds The Bees & The Monkees).  It is kind of amazing to hear obscurities like “St. Matthew” (from 1969’s Instant Replay) performed live.  

Also, hearing the newer Monkees songs in concert is a fantastic thing, so look forward to the epic “The Birth Of An Accidental Hipster” and the beautiful acoustic version of “Me & Magdalena.”  I only wish there were more of those new songs on this album.  

To that, if you haven’t heard The Monkees’ fantastic 2016 reunion album called Good Times, you owe it to yourself to listen. Click here for my review of the album and here for the companion 10-inch EP of bonus tracks. It is a superb collection with new songs written for The Monkees by Andy Partridge (XTC), Rivers Cuomo (Weezer), Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie), Noel Gallagher (Oasis) and Paul Weller (The Jam) as well as new classics by Carole King and Neil Diamond!  The title track is even a duet with Harry Nilsson! 

Good Times, indeed!

Original Resource is Audiophile Review