Being a Fan is a Losing Battle: Pearl Jam, Selling Out and Sell Outs

I’ve been told by many people that I like music too much. My usual response is “that’s not possible.” But today I think they may be right. If I don’t like music too much, I definitely expect too much from the people who make it, the people who give me one of my few sources of joy and happiness (in case you’re wondering, my other sources of happiness are kung fu movies, sushi, root beer and vodka – sometimes all at once).

I love a lot of bands and I don’t really have a favorite, but whenever I’m pressed to pick on I usually say Pearl Jam, although my fandom with Pearl Jam kind of came about in an odd way.

I was in junior high when Ten first came out and I liked it enough, but by the time Vitalogy was released I had pretty much lost interest in the group. That’s about when I discovered electronic music, and that consumed my popular music interest for a few years.

I didn’t fall in love with Pearl Jam until 2000, when they released live albums for all of their concerts in an effort to combat high-priced, shitty sounding bootlegs. I borrowed a few from a friend who was a die-hard Pearl Jam fanatic and quickly re-discovered the group. By the time I was done listening to all the albums my friend had, I was floored.

I was amazed to hear how different their setlists were from night to night. I loved how open they were to fan interaction and spontaneity. They always sounded like they were having a blast no matter how late into the tour it was. Most importantly though, they sounded fucking AMAZING. I couldn’t believe a band like Pearl Jam, a band that really had nothing left to prove, could consistently hit it out of the park almost every night.

It was then that I became hooked. I bought as many of the live CDs as I could. I joined Ten Club, the official Pearl Jam fan club. I even followed them on tour whenever they came to my neck of the woods. Since 2000 I’ve seen the group over 10 times, far more than any other band.

I have a framed copy of Yield on my wall in my living room for fuck’s sake. It’s an unhealthy obsession.

And Pearl Jam wasn’t just a great live band that put out great records (Binaural is a great, underrated album, check it out) but they also seemed to care about important shit. While so many other bands of the 90s seemed to sell out their indie ideals as soon as the money started to roll in, Pearl Jam seemed to hold on to them as best they could. They released their concerts on CD not to make money, but to save fans from buying crap bootlegs; they played important benefits shows and spoke out on important causes; they never wrote songs that objectified women or glorified violence. It’s a hard quality to quantify, but they seemed to “get it.”

In 2009, they got a lot of shit when they announced that their album Backspacer would be a Target exclusive release. It sounded like they were selling out their ideals for a quick buck, but when the band had a chance to explain themselves it didn’t look nearly as bad. (I even defended the band for doing it.)

It turned out that the album was only a “big box” exclusive for Target. This meant that while other national chains like Best Buy and Wal-Mart wouldn’t be able to carry it, local independent stores (and iTunes) would have the album for sale. And of course you could still get it at the band’s official website on both CD and vinyl. Pearl Jam gets paid, indie stores don’t get screwed, and the fans get the CD at a fair price. Everyone wins. And the album was pretty damn good too, their best in years.

Pearl Jam turned 20 this year (and I feel old). The band had a lot of festivities to celebrate. There was the huge PJ20 concert in Wisconsin, a small Canadian tour, and a movie called PJ20 directed by Cameron Crowe. It had a super-limited theatrical run, so I was excited to buy it when it came out on Blu-ray, which I was sure would have a ton of bonus features. Eventually, a special “Limited Edition” 3 disc Blu-ray set was announced at the website for $80. I didn’t mind that price, but at the time I was still financially recovering from Outside Lands and couldn’t afford it. So I decided to hold off for a bit.

Mistake on my part, because, unlike many of the other products Pearl Jam markets as a “Limited Edition,” this actually was. Now they are both sold out. Why the hell the band would decide to make THAT limited and not the 80 billion other things that they say are limited but actually aren’t just doesn’t make any sense. It’s even more confusing when you consider they announced the very expensive set right after the PJ20 concert and the Canadian tour, so die-hard fans who follow the band on tour were probably strapped for cash.

This is manufactured rarity and I hate it with every fiber of my being. It’s quickly becoming a problem in the music industry that’s driving me batshit bonkers. I get that some things are only going to be available in limited quantities, but it’s not the sort of thing that should be purposely planned if the band or label can avoid it, because it accomplishes nothing. All it does is anger fans who are unable to buy something the second it is announced, and create a sick secondary market where assholes who bought multiple copies can pawn theirs on eBay for hundreds of dollars over the original price. It also takes money away from the band, don’t they want supply to meet demand? That means more money! I’m sure someone out there thinks that it helps fight piracy by encouraging fans to buy physical products, but guess what? Since I can’t buy that three-disc set I’m most likely going to download it off a torrent site or borrow it from someone who does have it and rip my own copy.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, and the aspect about the PJ20 Blu-ray release that bothers me least.

So, I lost the chance to buy the Deluxe Edition, okay, so can I buy the standard edition Blu-ray at their website?

Nope.

How about at an indpendent record store, or online at Amazon or another store?

Nope.

Where can I buy it?

Best fucking Buy.

That’s right. The Blu-ray of PJ20 is a timed Best Buy exclusive. If you want it before Christmas then you have to go to Best Buy to get it. No alternatives.

Let’s go back in time a bit, back when Pearl Jam announced that deal with Target. In an interview on the matter, Eddie said this:

“”We’ve put a tremendous amount of thought into this, and we’ve done it in a way that we think will be good for everybody. I can’t think of anything we’ve ever done without putting it through our own personal moral barometer. Target has passed for us. The fans just have to trust us.”

The band’s manager, Kelly Curtis, also had a lot to say on the topic:

“We’ll have a lot of partners…Target ended up allowing us to have other partners. We’ll be able to take care of all levels of the Pearl Jam fan…Target was cool enough to realize that little independent record stores are not their competition.”

“I make decisions around the band’s business that are consistent with their overall philosophy,” said Curtis, “which is to sell music in a way that’s accessible and affordable to their fans, on every distribution platform that their fans access music, and in a way that takes care of the little guys. I wanted our plan to be multi-dimensional to address old and modern ways of fans accessing music. It will allow all of our fans to have the same access.”

Who is this deal good for? It’s good for the band, of course, because they get money. But independent record stores get fucked, They miss out on a huge music release during the holiday season. And fans who actually care about corporate responsibility (something the band used to spout about a lot) and don’t want to support Best Buy because of all the sick, disgusting and horrible things they have done to consumers over the years, then they’re just fuck out of luck too aren’t they? They pass the band’s moral barometer? A company that has actually been fined by the government for illegal business practices is okay with Pearl Jam? What the fuck happened to their morals then?

But wait, there’s more!

Earlier this year the band released an amazing Super Deluxe box set of Vs. and Vitalogy. It had both albums on CD and vinyl as well as bonus tracks, a live concert and so much more. It’s a great set for both hardcore and casual fans alike. I, like many Pearl Jam fans, bought it the second I could afford to.

Well, apparently the band had some extras lying around that they wanted to get rid of, because they re-released the box set with this added bit in the description:

▪ THE FIRST 500 TO ORDER, beginning 10/19/11, WILL RECEIVE THE “LIVE FROM THE MOORE” VAULT SHOW #1 CD THAT MEMBERS RECEIVED AT ALPINE VALLEY
▪ YOU COULD RECEIVE ONE OF 8 SIGNED SUPER DELUXE COPIES (RANDOMLY DISTRIBUTED)

So hey, if you’re a die-hard fan then you’re a sucker! You should have waited a few months so you can get even more music (in the form of a super-rare CD!) and a chance of an autograph! Loser! But hey, if you want to buy it again no one is stopping you!

What. The. Fuck.

In one hand you have the Blu-ray and DVD box sets. If you didn’t order them right away then you’re an idiot. You’re never gong to get that again (unless the band re-issues it AFTER the Best Buy exclusive deal for the single-disc version ends). You know, after everyone bought it so they can double-dip.

In the other hand, you have this box set. If you ordered that too soon then you’re an idiot and you won’t get the really cool and hard-to-find content.

Ugh.

When people say I care too much about music, I think this must be what they mean. I care about not only the music, but the people who make it. I want them not to be the scum of the earth, or at least be consistent about it.

If Aerosmith did this, no one would care; because they’ve never ranted about the evils of corporate greed and the importance of independent record stores. When you have no ideals, then you really can’t sell out.

But when you do have ideals, or at least make it appear that you do, then I guess the only place you can go is down.

No music tonight. I was going to put up some rare Pearl Jam (because I have TONS) but I really don’t feel like listening to a bunch of hypocrites right now.

14 Responses to “Being a Fan is a Losing Battle: Pearl Jam, Selling Out and Sell Outs”

  1. mc says:

    The PJ20 documentary will be broadcast tonight (Friday, October 21) in America on PBS, and again early on Sunday. Check your local listings.

    Regarding the limited blu-ray, it was limited.

    And as for the free cd and possibility for a signed deluxe edition, you got what you wanted at a price that was ok with you when you purchased the box set. Now they’re giving away some extra swag. That’s just the way it is. It’s similar to paying full price (or more) for a brand new car as soon as the new model year arrives and then complaining next year when the year-old models are on discount. Maybe they had extra CDs after the alpine valley concert and decided to share them with the fans.

    Anyway, enjoy PJ20 tonight, and share the rare PJ soon!

  2. Lost Turntable says:

    Nice to see that some fans are still blind in their devotion.

  3. Brad says:

    to add to the overabundance of ‘Pearl Jam this and Pearl Jam that’, Dogfish Head released a limited beer as a tribute to PJ Ten 20th Anniv., called Faithfull Ale. I’m a big fan of craft beer, especially dogfish head. Looks like it is available within the next week in your neighborhood (they dont distribute to wisconsin anymore 🙁 ) the artwork for the label is pretty slick. check it out on dogfish heads website.

  4. Lost Turntable says:

    Yeah, well that’s more “good intentions gone bad” than anything deliberate, I’m not going to hold that against them.

  5. zack says:

    Again… well done.

    I am a serious PJ fan, and have spent more time and money one them than I care to let my family know.

    I feel your pain and pleasure with each release. I made my self crazy trying to find the best version of the reissues last year.

    Thanks for making me feel less like a lone obsessed fan.

    I’ll be hunting for the documentary soon.

  6. Lost Turntable says:

    Oh, if they don’t make it available legally don’t worry, I’ll make sure everyone knows where they can download it.

  7. Sean says:

    Pearl Jam has always been a terribly overrated band. Yes Eddie Vedder is a great vocalist, and some of their songs are classics but as a band they’re just… meh. I saw them in ’98 and was yawning through a good part of their set.

  8. Lost Turntable says:

    They’re probably my favorite band of all time, so I disagree.

    Also, if you’re dozing off at a Pearl Jam show you are doing something wrong.

  9. Kat says:

    We want no parts of cheap and ungrateful fans at the 10C. Hopefully you didn’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. Spoiled brat. All they do for you and you have the tenacity to publicly blast them for wanting to make as much money as possible. Bye.

  10. Lost Turntable says:

    Ah, the most worthless of Internet comment. Two years late and offering nothing of value.

    And by the way, if they wanted to make as much money as possible then they wouldn’t release limited edition products. That’s not how that works. You make money by selling things.

    Furthermore, “making as much money as possible” isn’t exactly fan-friendly thinking now is it?

  11. Matt says:

    Kat’s been working for 10c for a long time. Kat, please, stop. I’ve never received a 10c ticket for a show worth a damn…floor, all the way in the back=lame every time.”But you have the possibility of getting up front!?!?!” Right, again, like a few fans have written, those are spur of the moment outside the venue handouts at random to a few. Most go to executives and their kids and the ticket agencies. How many hoops do I have to jump through and how many tickets must I buy? 10c member from the get go and ZERO to show for it. Oh, and the xmas singles are almost always garbage(and I’ve received some warped ones as well! well done KAT!). Like LT says, we scramble and buy and buy and buy and it’s still not enough for you people. Some get this, some get that. The lazy are rewarded etc. I remember be stupid enough to empty my account for them but after the last 3 albums, that will no longer happen. Look at reviews for the last album alone on itunes. people are unhappy. WHAT exactly do THEY do for me Kat? They could try and master a live album correctly for one and then they could come over to my place and paint the house if the suggestion box is still open. Limited editions? Didn’t they want to stop people from auctioning off LIMITED edition things to gouge people on Ebay? LImited edition articles create further buzz and overspending but usually yield only further disappointment from MOST of those not lucky enough to receive or have the cash flow to buy “live wherever” for the 4th time just to receive the limited edition rubber band bracelet that had been blessed by the band over the phone. Something the pj liberals should be aware of in this economy. Or maybe Ed(take Jeff with you please) can walk off into his indie/non sellout/platinum parachute sunset with his righteous self involved attitude to Hawaii cause Lord knows, his voice and words are gone. But they’ve got our money and insist on digging deeper in our pockets(sounds like we might have a DTE part deux ironically featuring the boys as the antagonists! sans stone, I still have faith) so even a little internet bashing by me means nothing to him or them. Those beds of cash sure feel good 😉 Didn’t even respect Dave A enough to mention him by name in pj20. shameful. Yeah, you guys can keep your gimmicks, your horrible t-shirt designs, etc etc ,overpriced this and that…shills to the bone. Nothing wrong with getting paid but …. well….bitter? nah, just disappointed.

  12. jess says:

    Ran across this article by chance on google, I know Im late but had to chime in. Kudos to the author, great band, obsessed myself, but yeah… deff need to reform their merchandising for the hardcore fans. Shame on us for wanting to collect their music, but if you are devoted enough to join the tenclub then you’re not going to buy burnt cdrs of the band’s shows from bootleggers on ebay, offer unlimited downloads of the shows for tenclub members for a flat fee, not ten bucks a damn show. Maybe Id like to check out a new show every week on my drives to work, does $500 a year for songs that we already have studio versions of on cd, mp3, and in most cases vinyl really fair from a band that is “giving so much”? Again its our fault for wanting to collect it, but when it comes down to being a month’s mortgage per year just to collect the audio merchandise a year alone thats a bit much..

  13. jess says:

    ps.. sorry for my typos, this junk phone autocorrects and its too much of a pain in the butt on here to scroll back and proof read

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