According to a Pitchfork Media interview with Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, the seminal '90s rock band plans a compilation album for Starbucks' Hear Music label. Apparently, the compilation will consist of celebrities' favorite Sonic Youth tracks, and each celebrity will have written a note about the song he or she has chosen. In addition, the band will offer up one new, exclusive track as well. (I know -- cynics can easily cry "sell out," and from a fan perspective, compilation albums usually seem like a cop-out. So what?)
I found the deal a bit of a relief, as both a Sonic Youth fan and a Starbucks customer. Honestly, I was dreading the Paul McCartney debut. I knew that Starbucks stores would be plastered with his image and blaring the album, although I also had to admit that a musician with such widespread appeal -- particularly to the Baby Boomer demographic -- was a big coup for Starbucks and Hear Music. It appears the album has been a resounding success -- first-week sales of Memory Almost Full were 161,000, putting it at No. 3 on the Billboard 200. Even more interesting, according to Billboard, the data suggests that 47% of the CD's first-week sales could be attributed to Starbucks.
In contrast, Sonic Youth may be indie legends, but the band's historically noisy fare isn't for everyone. I saw them live in the late 90s, and I was extremely amused to notice a kid in front of me, at least 10 years my junior, with his fingers in his ears against what might be perceived by some as an auditory assault. When the band left the stage, he said to his friend, "Man, I really hope they don't do an encore."
One of Sonic Youth's most recent releases, Rather Ripped, was way too mellow for my old-school taste, but it's timely that the band is also reissuing of one of its classic albums, Daydream Nation, as a "deluxe edition." The nostalgia factor seems to be at work now.
Starbucks' careful forays into media can work in its favor, as long as it doesn't blow its brand by focusing too much on mainstream hits. When it announced its Hear Music label, Starbucks said it would focus on established acts as well as emerging talents, and that the label will advocate for artists' creative control while encouraging them to take risks.
In his Pitchfork interview, Moore joked that Starbucks is the new record store. We'll see how that goes; I'd rather see it stick with coffee and a few carefully selected products with a critical, hand-picked feel. It can always augment those albums with its powerful ties to sources of widespread distribution and exposure like Apple's
As the music industry continues to face massive changes, it's interesting to see Starbucks aiming for an enviable niche that complements its brand, despite the tough climate.
Pour yourself some related Foolishness:
- Rick Munarriz commented on the Paul McCartney release.
- Starbucks' cup runneth over with criticism?
- Starbucks got labeled back in March.