there is 1 post from August 1996

August 01, 1996

An Astral Theory of Rock

In the music industry there is life before Soundscan, and life after Soundscan. Life on the Billboard charts before Soundscan was a prototypical Scorsese movie, dominated by the sleazy triumvirate of radio programmers, record chain executives, and Casey Kasem. Life after Soundscan is blissfully bit-driven, with record sales instantly beamed through the ether from record stores straight to some air-conditioned, Halon gas-protected computer room.

Like any new technology is bound to do, Soundscan has spawned a new job category at every major label - specially-trained spreadsheet jocks crunching the raw album sales numbers to tweak market share here, mind share there, and wallet share everywhere else. Their ultimate goal: maximize the lifetime value of any particular artist.The result? Reconstituted adult rock masquerading as hip hop.

But I’m going to put all of those data-massaging monkeys out of business. Not with any new harebrained tracking scheme or business model, but with an entirely new methodology of b(r)and scenario planning. Think of it as the place where David Geffen meets Carl Sagan. It’s the new Astral Theory of Rock.

During literally days of research, I’ve discovered that the life cycle of a star mimics that of, well, a star. This flash of brilliance has led me to believe that those Excel worker bees could someday be replaced by a few, highly-paid quantum physicists, or at least some folks who took Physics for Poets at the local community college. In order to predict the lifetime value of a star, they’ll just need to follow the easy-to-remember, five-step life cycle of a true celestial body: Birth, Radiation, Exhaustion, Collapse, Black Hole.The Birth of the star is easy to predict, and shouldn’t concern our new breed of record industry knowledge workers. They should be focused on future record sales, not how the star got there in the first place. All A&R schleps worth their salt know that some combination of bloodthirsty local fans (“I knew them first!”), sleazy record producers (“Sure, pal. Full creative control. Whatever you say.”), and alcoholic managers (“But I landed you your first paying gig, asshole.”), mixed together in a crowded, humid club in some Godforsaken part of town, usually creates enough pressure and mass to form the infant star. The new science of star tracking, however, will prove that what happens “before” a star is born is irrelevant, since “before” is merely a temporal concept, and has no discernible effect on future record sales.

During most of a star’s lifetime, nuclear fusion in the core generates electromagnetic Radiation. In other words, the star just plain shines. The Radiation phase is the most profitable period of a star’s life. The highly perceptive star tracker will need to keep tabs on the quantity and quality of a star’s shine. Michael Jackson’s sequined glove shines. Paul Simon’s bald spot shines. Paula Abdul’s lycra does not shine. Furthermore, new “astronomers” should be wary of the “Glistening Effect.” Glistening should not be confused with shining. Case in point: Kenny G’s saxophone glistens. Michael Bolton’s hair shines.

In outer space, a star survives by balancing the outward force of shining with the inward pull of gravity caused by the star’s mass. Back in Los Angeles, entertainment physicists should note the “balance of fame” practiced by Madonna, a perpetually radiating star. She always seems to have an equal number of bodyguards (a show of outward force) and basketball players (an inward pull of gravity) at her beck and call.

If the balance of fame is upset, the star begins the Exhaustion phase. During Exhaustion, the star stops shining, gravitation compresses mass inward, and the star starts feeding on itself. Van Halen is in a prototypical exhaustion phase. The core of the star has contracted (Sammy’s out), and it is allowing their remaining nuclear material to be used as fuel (Dave’s back, but only for the greatest hits record).

Exhaustion inevitably leads to Collapse. The Collapse phase may last over a period of hundreds of Entertainment Tonight segments, during which all remaining fuel is used up. Sting has been in Collapse for years. I’ve traced the precise beginning of his collapse to the Police song “Mother,” which prompted millions of people to learn to accurately program their CD players. How far the star collapses, and into what kind of object (VH1 spokesperson, singer of country tunes in odd time signatures, role in touring company of Grease) is determined by the star’s final mass and the remaining outward pressure that the burnt-up nuclear residue can muster. Or, in Sting’s case, how many jazz musicians he can fit on the head of a pin.

If the star is sufficiently massive, it will collapse into a Black Hole. The rocket scientists among us will immediately recognize the KISS revival tour as the largest black hole the industry has ever seen. In the center of the black hole lies the singularity (Gene Simmons’s tongue), where matter is crushed to infinite density, and the curvature of spacetime is extreme. Which explains why millions of people keep expecting to hear “Beth” on the radio, and to be reunited with their 7th-grade car pools.

Any 12-year old with an Einstein t-shirt can tell you that stars surrounding the Black Hole run the risk of being sucked in. But when the geek with E=MC^2 blazened across his hollowed chest happens to be toting an HP 12-C, look out. Because a single Black Hole could suck in an entire star system, creating revenue potential unheard of anywhere else. (Imagine Carl Sagan saying “billions and billions,” and you’re somewhere in the ballpark.) It’s not a coincidence that the KISS tour spawned reunions of Foriegner, Styx, Kansas, the Scorpions and REO Speedwagon.

Finally, the labels have always struggled with the issue of star retirement. Do they ship them to Vegas? Set them up in rock operas? Or simply send them on some endless talk radio tour? If the Astral Theory proves correct, their problems could be solved. Certain physicists believe that if a star survives the whirling vortex of the black hole, it may find itself in an alternate, parallel universe.

Like Europe.

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