On Monday, a day before its official release, I finally received a promo copy of PJ Harvey’s mediocre new album, White Chalk. This promo arrived two and a half months after the album’s release date was announced, one month after I first requested it from the singer-songwriter’s PR firm, and ten days after the same firm told my editor that Harvey’s label, Island, would be mailing promo copies on September 25th.
The package I received was postmarked September 28th.
This incident wouldn’t be such a big deal if it were isolated. But it’s not. Back in the ‘90s, when I started writing about music, major-label PR folks would either be impossible to reach, or they would be competent and professional. But they would never, ever just string me along. Nowadays, the attitude toward anyone who isn’t calling from the New York Times, Rolling Stone, or—chrissakes—Pitchfork is one that is most generously described as arms-length.
This, of course, has everything to do with what one of my colleagues describes as “leak culture,” something that didn’t exist back in November 2000 when WCP ran its last Harvey review. The maddening thing is, I don’t steal music off the Web. Anyone with loose ethics and a good Internet connection can get way more free music than I ever receive in the mail. Major labels, it seems, expect music fans to steal, which is just another reason why they treat you so poorly if you’re not calling from New York Times, Rolling Stone, or—chrissakes—Pitchfork.
Alt-weeklies might be bearing the brunt of this. They certainly can’t beat the blogosphere for the refresh-button newness of “leak culture.” Neither can they turn around, say, a 1,200 word PJ Harvey review in just one day.
I was never one to buy into the sentiment on the old SST bumper sticker that said “Corporate Rock Still Sucks.” (I’ll take Hüsker Dü’s Warehouse Songs and Stories over Zen Arcade any day of the week.) But, given that I’m not going to go trawling for leaks that major labels say they don’t want me to hear, what other conclusion is there?