Lookout’s Outlook

For anyone who may be wondering how you can sell more than ten million records and still go out of business, see “Kerplunk!” in the East Bay Express. It covers the impending doom of Lookout Records, now that Green Day’s yanked their back catalog. Even though Ted Leo’s “reinvested” some of his royalties, so many bands have pulled out due to non-payment- including as much as $2m owed to Green Day- that Lookout’s been forced to drop to a skeleton staff.

So how do you go bankrupt on millions in sales without buying racehorses? One word: promotion.

With Pansy Division’s star rising, unaided, in a similar arc, the next step seemed obvious. Appelgren sums up the post-Dookie Lookout mentality: “We created so much success not doing any of these things — not doing these marketing and promotional efforts — what would happen if we did start to do these things?” So Pansy Division shot a video that cost more than the recording budgets for its first three records combined, and Appelgren took out a costly ad in Spin. As an added oddity, the band hooked up with a Canadian minor-league hockey card manufacturer, which produced a limited-edition set of Pansy Division cards, the traditional stick of gum replaced with a condom. Total estimated promotional budget: $10,000. Total sales of Wish I’d Taken Pictures: roughly $15,000.
[…]
For [Lookout co-founder Larry Livermore], [The Donnas are] the epitome of Lookout’s wasteful, overpromoting, quasimajor ways: “They threw so much money at the Donnas, it might have been more efficient for Lookout simply to send a $15 check to every kid in America and tell them to use it to go buy a Donnas record.”

Then he goes on to point out that The Donnas never even had a gold record. Ow. Read the whole thing here.

The take-away here is that “post-Dookie Lookout” is a phrase for the ages. And that “indie” doesn’t mean “upstanding”. Even if you sign to Harry Shearer’s new record label, it’s entirely possible you’ll end up sobbing in your coke while Derek Smalls explains non-recoupable expenses.

And, in case you want to buy something from Lookout, here’s a song I like from Troubled Hubble:

Troubled Hubble – “Where Racoons Don’t Live” MP3 Link Expired