Spinal Tap played the Ryman last night. How messed up is that?” producer
CJ Vanston says with a laugh, driving over to Blackbird Studios on one of his
many Nashville stops to see old friends. “It was a sign of the Apocalypse! Tap
at the Ryman? Think about it. Just too bizarre, but it felt perfectly right.”
Okay, so it wasn’t Spinal Tap. It was Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry
Shearer—Unwigged and Unplugged—performing the material a generation came to
know and love, along with some new tracks from this month’s release, Back From the
Dead. You can read all about the making of the album in this month’s pages, and you can
watch some exclusive material at mixonline.com. As you do, think about these guys—
much as their characters might dispute it—as the embodiment of today’s music industry.
They are living what we talk about.
There’s a tour leading the way, they’re ’80s rock stars reborn, there’s a record release
and cross-country promotion. There’s big, loud guitars and quiet, acoustic emotion.
There’s a 25-year anniversary, and there’s even a drummer who might last the year. And
then behind the scenes, there is an intelligent, well-laid-out plan to distribute the music,
the message and the goods. While we’re not exactly expecting a Spinal Tap videogame
for the holidays, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to soon hear “Big Bottom,” “Stonehenge”
or “Sex Farm” screaming—loudly!—out of Rock Band dens or Guitar Hero garages in the
And then talk about built-in community—the province of Facebook, MySpace and
Twitter—the Tap has it in spades. So when it came time to seek financing, rather than fall
back on the conventional label route, the members of the band self-financed the production
and struck forward-thinking deals for their label imprint, The Label Industry Records,
most notably with A2M (Artist to Market) for physical distribution and INgrooves for
digital distribution and marketing across any and all digital media platforms, including
Of course, there’s a deluxe physical version due out June 19 in diorama form, complete
with bonus video commentary on each song, pop-up action figures and a proportionally
sized Stonehenge. There will be radio performances and late-night TV, probably
even a morning show or two. The traditional routes. But the real action will be watching
the social networks and the digital downloads during the next few months. While Tap’s
existing community may not include the 16- to 24-year-old demographic we so often
associate with viral marketing, it’s important to remember that last month, Facebook
announced that its fastest-growing segment by far in 2009 is men and women ages 35 to
54—a tailor-made demographic for the band. And who wouldn’t sign up for Tap Twitter?
In the rush for new music-business models to counteract declining physical sales,
the industry needs to take into consideration that not all acts are created equal. Established
artists with established community may have a leg up on emerging artists, but that
doesn’t mean they can sit back and simply do things as they’ve always done. By pushing
forward and making deals where they may not have looked before, Tap got the word. Let’s
see how it works out.