Will Starbucks Music Matter To Torontonians?

As you may have read in the Globe And Mail, Starbucks is planning to expand their "Hear Music" operations to Toronto. Maybe they've kept a hawk-eye on sold-out Rolling Stones shows and rising coffee sales in our financial buildings, wondering how they could capitalize on our middle-aged population. Maybe they're naive enough to think our young population will care. Maybe they just want to drive competitors like HMV to insanity and the brink of extinction. But likewise, although we have Walmart Super Centres in Canada, small trendy shops still thrive. While reading all the bland articles about "secret negotiations" between the Canadian Government and Starbucks, I thought I'd offer my two cents, examining several different angles.

From A Retailer's Point of View:
Starbucks is the pompous bratty rich kid in the sandbox. Waltzing in with a fat wallet and unpleasant arrogance, other retailers can't help but lash out and wag their green-with-envy tongues like hyperactive gila monsters. "[The Alannis Morrisette deal] was a betrayal," says Tim Baker, head music buyer for Sunshine Records. "We're upset about the fact that it's being made available on an exclusive basis to a chain of stores that doesn't really sell music and we've been selling Alanis Morissette records for almost 20 years. We've helped to make her a household name in this country," Baker complained. Likewise, Bob Dylan's surprising sell-out to corporate enterprises pissed Canadian retailers like HMV off so much they yanked "Live At The Gaslight" off their shelves. What's an honest, hard-working record store to do?

Clearly they're missing the point here. Starbucks music is comprised of songs for dinosaurs and the "soulful intellectual coffee connosieur". Have you walked into HMV lately? It's teeming with teenagers and recent college grads! Ninety-five percent of HMV's audience is not going to push elderly and infants out of the way in a desperate scramble to be the first kid on the block with the new Sheryl Crow CD. Nor are twenty-somethings going manic over Elvis Costello, the Beach Boys or Miles Davis. Let's face it: no one even cared about Alannis Morrisette until there was that huge clamor over her controversial Starbucks deal.

From A Canadian Consumer's Point of View:
Starbucks boasts that patrons can "mix and match songs to create customized burned CDs" and "download entire albums" (for a small fee). Wow! That is so amazing! Let's go hang out at Starbucks this Friday night so we can be the coolest! In fact, let's also pay to hear new music on their $20/day wifi internet service while drinking our $5 lattes! While this kind of fad may actually go over in yuppy-infested locales like Miami or Santa Monica, I sincerely doubt Torontonians will fall for such a stupid "luxury" that pretty much everyone has been doing at home for the past five years. The fact that Starbucks is taking the next step of media savvyness still doesn't change the fact that their coffee tastes like charred ashes soaked in formaldehyde.

From The Government's Point of View:
Don't you think it's cute how the Department of Canadian Heritage pretends to tiptoe around the topic, looking out for Canadian artists' best interests? They were already demonized for raising the bar of Canadian radio content from 30-40%. (Is that really such a drastic move?) They're declining all comments now "due to confidentiality" but I think we all know what that means. If there's one withstanding truth, it's that Canada consistently gets raped blindfolded by American trade ventures. Nevermind more CD releases for Canadian artists. If we're lucky, they'll talk Starbucks into hiring five more Canadian workers and adding Avril Lavigne, Shania Twain and Rush to their "mix and match song list". Who knows, maybe we'll be lucky enough to get an exclusive Bryan Adams album out of them! ... Are you sweating with excitement?

From an Indie Canadian Artist's Point of View:
Yes, Starbucks would like you to think they're YOUR friend too. Ken Lombard, President of Starbucks Entertainment, recently announced their plans to integrate unknown, underground music into their program. "Customers want to discover new music and, based on their comments, the company seeks out the kinds of music it believes will appeal to its customers," Lombard tells CIRPA.CA.

I dare you to do a Google search on Antigone Rising (Starbucks' first "unknown" artist) and you'll see how underground they really are! Call me cynical but I'd venture to say any band featured on A&E's "Breakfast With The Arts" is probably not that uniquely sought out by Starbucks.

Ken Lombard also hastily adds that they're not releasing details for the next indie CD available because they're looking for "quality opportunities", rather than working around a "set timeline". Is that not code for "we're not announcing anything because we don't HAVE anything"?? They put out a sub par CD from all-girl band Antigone Rising and suddenly Starbucks is elevated to hero status by grovelling publications like Market Wire and small localized newspapers like the Beaver County Times in Pennsylvania.

Canadian Recording Industry President Graham Henderson comments, "The more digital channels we can open to the customers, the better." Yet this will only aid mainstream-friendly artists and all scenes will not be represented by Starbucks. But hell, would we even want our beloved indie artists exploited by Starbucks and promoted on their website right next to a compilation containing Christina Aguilera, Paul Simon and Sting?

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