One thing I can confidently say - Victory Records' president Tony Brummel is very good at drawing attention to himself and his label. The most recent round of media-grabbing behavior began with his assault on iTunes as "stealing music's soul." I reported on this screed in last weekend's blog roundup and suspected the timing so near the release of Hawthorne Heights latest was a bit more than coincidental.
Then...word came out about Brummel's label Victory trumping up a supposed rivalry between Hawthorne Heights and Ne-Yo whose solo debut just happened to be coming out in stores the same day. At this point it seemed that all of this was mostly a case of over-zealous independent record label putting its band in a regretfully unpleasant place, but it would all soon be forgotten.
Then...another shoe dropped...in the form of e-mail from the head of Victory Records street teams advocating Hawthorne Heights fans to do things that, at best, seemed a bit unethical...judge for yourself:
As for Ne-yo, the name of the game is to decrease the chances of a sale here. If you were to pick up handful of Ne-yo CDs, as if you were about to buy them, but then changed your mind and didn't bother to put them back in the same place, that would work. Even though this record will be heavily stocked and you might not be able to move all the stock, just relocating a handful creates issues: Even though the store will appear to be out of stock, the computer will see it as in stock and not re-order the title once it sells down and then Ne-Yo will lose a few sales later in the weekThe e-mail closed with this signature line that some find disturbing:
Victory at all costs, Victory in spite of all terror, Victory however long and hard the road may be; for without Victory, there is no survival.
After all of this blew up online...Tony Brummel released a statement saying it was all a joke. Hmmm...people like Trent Lott tell unfortunate public jokes, too.
After reading all of this I sat back to try and make some of my own sense of it all. First, it seems Brummel and company are more than a little desperate. Weeks ago the label began bragging that the new Hawthorne Heights album If Only You Were Lonely would make history as the first album on an independent record label to debut at #1 in 15 years. It would be nothing less than the savior of rock music. Unfortunately, for Brummel, along came Ne-Yo and his smash hit single "So Sick.". The song roared into the pop top 5 setting up a very strong debut week for Ne-Yo's album In My Own Words. Suddenly, a #1 debut for Hawthorne Heights seemed less than assured...even highly unlikely.
It also seems to me that in setting up a false battle between rock (Hawthorne Heights) and r&b (Ne-Yo), Brummel misses the real reasons Ne-Yo will debut at #1 and Hawthorne Heights is struggling with High School Musical for #2. DefJam Records, and label president Jay-Z, have very successfully pushed 2 new artists, Ne-Yo and Rihanna, by breaking down genre boundaries and appealing to a young audience that are more diverse in their personal musical and cultural tastes than most previous generations.
Ne-Yo's "So Sick" is successful in large part because of the Norwegian production team StarGate that use their studio magic to help create a record that is not really pop and not really r&b, but is, instead, a genuinely appealing blended sound. The same is true of Rihanna's new record "SOS" that rocks out to that hard synth line from Soft Cell's "Tainted Love" while she reels off vocals that are more than a little influenced by Jay-Z's main squeeze Beyonce. This isn't about rock or r&b, it's about recognizing a young demographic that wants something new that reflects their own multi-cultural background and not a tired lockstep of screamo vocals and power chords.
Fortunately, parts of the music industry are paying attention to these swift changes. Last year Kelly Clarkson gained kudos for showing she could also rock, Gorillaz found a sweet spot triangulated by rock, dance, and hip hop, and Mary J. Blige sang with U2. This year is no different - Rihanna's rocking out with Soft Cell, Shakira's hanging out with Wclef Jean, and the black girls on American Idol are singing country. Just wait until the kids hear the metal guitar freakout in the middle of Hasidic Jewish reggae star Matisyahu's new single "Youth." I suspect the Victory label sound that has made Tony Brummel a richer man could soon be left in the dust.