Or is it?
What friend would “curate” a selection of music and then insist you buy it from them? And then send you letters threatening to take you to court if you don’t pay?
So are Album of the Month clubs more like having a slightly menacing, litigious, overbearing bully of a friend who insists upon imposing their musical opinions on you?
This certainly sounds less good, and consequently is an unlikely by-line in any advertising materials for such clubs.
So what’s the truth? And what makes a good or bad offer?
Having tried out a few of these clubs in recent weeks and months, I feel qualified (in a completely “I’m not in the slightest way qualified to do this” kind of way, but we’re all fed up with experts, right?) to advise on the pros and cons.
So if you are thinking of setting up your own Album of the Month Club, here’s a cut-out-and-keep guide of the Five Golden Rules of Album Clubs:
1. The main, slight drawback to offering an album every month to subscribers is that The Entire Concept Is Fundamentally Flawed. But Don’t Worry, No-one Seems To Have Noticed.
Sending out stuff to people that might not want it is intrinsically worse than sending out stuff to people that actually do want it.
There are few things that annoy people more than being forced to buy something they don’t want.
It’s bad enough at Christmas buying gifts. We’ve all seen people fake a smile upon opening an underwhelming present. That they haven’t paid for. Now imagine if we had to pay for the gifts people gave us at Christmas…
In other words,
2. People Don’t Really Like Surprises. Especially if they have paid for it. (Don’t Worry About This Either. They’ll Get Over It)
Even people who say they like surprises don’t really.
Think back to the last time someone threw you a surprise party. Oh, sure, you’ll have happy memories now it’s all over, but what about when it was actually happening to you? That unexpected sea of gurning, smug faces. Your feeling of utter horror. Then worrying you didn’t look happy being ambushed. Despite the fact that nobody likes being ambushed. Ask General Custer.
When was the last time you saw anyone who didn’t have to feign delight when a surprise party was organised? Let’s be honest, anyone who has been the
victim lucky recipient of a surprise party has had to fake the most stressed smile whilst all the while thinking “I’m not properly dressed for this, they’ve basically all lied to me for weeks, I’ve been mugged off, and it would have been nice to look forward to it, and organise it in the way that I would have done it”. Most people’s first reaction is the most honest: a horrified grimace at this real life Jack in the Box filled with sixty giggling people already three sheets to the wind.
The next flaw in the model is this:
3. People Don’t Like Making Decisions or Saying “No”. (Too Bad. Ignore)
Over the years one learns to spot the obvious traps and avoid dangerous questions.
Questions such as “What do you think of this dress?” “How old would you say I look?” and “Do you know how fast you were driving?” All of these questions have one indirect intention: to incriminate the person being questioned.
An Album of the Month forces its
victims members to incriminate themselves each month. What does their decision to not buy that album by Dr Dre say about themselves? Does this mean they are narrow-minded? Too old? Too young? And what if they do buy it? Mid-life crisis? Faking being hip? For the 90% of the population with a nervous disposition or chronic self-doubt these are awkward questions. At least when you flip past the album in a record shop you aren’t making a proactive decision to Forget About Dre.
The trouble is, the alternative is worse…
4. No-one Likes Being Lumbered With An Album They Don’t Want.
Now that boffins have shrunk people’s music collections onto something the size of a postage stamp, having records in your doubtless “carefully curated” collection that you are never going to listen to and which you overpaid for is just going to grate, especially when you try to file a much loved album in your Kallax shelving and you tear the cover because everything is too tightly packed.
But perhaps the thing that the new breed of Record of the Month clubs are most guilty of is this…
5. The Essential But Ludicrous Cross-Sell
We get it.
You can’t compete on price.
So one way to differentiate your offer is to do something a bit (to use the parlance of commerce) “value-add”.
This quest for value-add allows you to charge a slightly higher price (“You’re getting something in addition to the record!) and stand out from the crowd (“nowhere else will you receive this Peruvian poem!”)
When done well, this can be genuinely welcome. Jack White’s Vault offers an album, a single and an extra item. Some of these novelties are perhaps more crucial than others, ranging from USB sticks to photo books to tote bags and DVDs.
Other clubs’ additional items appear to be less compelling. Like cocktail recipes, for example.
One such Club is a wine merchant, who shall remain nameless because I’m about to be rude and it’s someone’s business and hey, good luck to ’em.
Their bright idea is to increase sales of their wine business by sending out a vinyl LP with a matching bottle of wine in an admirable demonstration of
The selection of LPs includes such obscurities as Prince’s Purple Rain, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Sticky Fingers by The Rolling Stones and Bowie’s Hunky Dory.
There are no special editions. It’s just the re-pressed album you can buy in the shops. Sure, you get wine. It’s hard to knock such a compelling product.
But… there appears to be a pretence that the wine somehow “goes” with the album in question. An Aussie Shiraz called “Love Grass” with Prince’s Purple Rain. A nice Tuscan red with Sticky Fingers.
But why? What makes those wines go with music?
Now sure, wine labels are prone to a bit of exaggeration. In general, even the cheapest bottle of supermarket plonk will sport a label describing what food the wine best accompanies usually in very flowery language that has little resemblance to the sweetened tooth-dissolving paint stripper contained therein.
But never have I seen a wine label that described the contents as “hints of damsons and blackberry. Accompanies red meats, blue cheeses and Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours”.
There’s some vague theory behind this, perhaps. Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Appetite For Destruction probably wouldn’t go with a 2005 Rioja quite so well as it might with three bottles of Thunderbird.
James Bond noted with distaste when Red Grant ordered red wine with fish in From Russia With Love. But Bond’s smoking out SMERSH agents by disapproving of their drinking a ’58 Claret whilst listening to Dusty Springfield is notable by it’s absence in Ian Flemings books.
Where will it end? Will there be a record club pairing clothing and vinyl? (“A leopard-skin pill box hat with every Dylan LP!”)
Or perhaps we could pair other items? Why not a subscription service that pairs a different album with various species of rodent? We’ll call it “Vinyl and Vole Club”. Or perhaps superhero costumes and cassettes? We’ll name that one “Capes and Tapes”. Or maybe kitchen appliances and CDs? Yup, that one’s “Compact Discs and Handy Whisks”…
It’s all very well my making snide comments of course, but none of this matters two hoots if, in fact, Prince’s Purple Rain is demonstrably best listened to when drinking a bottle of Australian Shiraz.
So I took it upon myself to “match” Prince’s Magnum Opus to various bottles of alcoholic beverages, purely in the interests of scientific research, you understand. I have come up with the following scientific conclusion:
After the tenth glass of Shiraz, there’s a real risk you might fall over, especially if dancing to “Let’s Go Crazy”…
*”Curating” is so much better than “compiling” because er, it sounds like they have taken a bit of time to carefully choose it whereas of course if you compile something that’s just the equivalent of throwing a bunch of tunes in the air and seeing which ones land in the bag. Probably.