Saturday, March 31, 2012

Inspired By an Inspired By

We are now just over a month away from the release of the highly-anticipated Avengers movie. And we are about one month away from the release of the less highly-anticipated Avengers Assemble "inspired by" soundtrack. Actually, I thought a snarky comic book blog hit it on the head with a post entitled: "Tie-In Album For The Avengers Would Make More Sense If The Film Was Set In 2002."

Obviously, this snark is mostly as a result of the tracklist, which features Bush, Buckcherry, Evanescene, Papa Roach, Scott Weiland, and Soundgarden. I'm actually interested in hearing the contributions of the latter two, but I have to admit that the list has an anachronistic feel. I just can't imagine a soundtrack album from 1992 that features so many bands that were prominent in 1982. But it's not just the list of artists that feels anachronistic to me. The idea of an "inspired by" soundtrack feels like such an outdated concept.

Of course, nobody ever believed that the songs on such albums were inspired by a particular motion picture. Perhaps in rare instances an artist was commissioned to write a song that would be featured in a film, but in most cases, such songs, when original compositions, have been studio outtakes and orphans without albums. So everybody always knew that soundtrack albums have always been cynical attempts to cash in on a brand. But at their best, they did offer a legitimate reasons to make a purchase. In the era when people primarily listened to music on CDs, especially in the era prior to easy CD-burning on personal computers, the soundtrack album offered a ready-made mixtape. And now that we can easily create our own playlists on any number of devices, we no longer need record companies to team up with motion picture studios to do it for us.

But I think there was another level to the appeal of the "inspired by" album. When I was in college living in the dorms, a company came by at the beginning of every school year selling posters. Prior to that, I had no idea such an entrepreneurial enterprise existed, but it made perfect sense when I first saw it. A market was ripe for the tapping; students had walls that needed to be filled with temporary decorations, and somebody was willing to step in with hundreds of options. While browsing the selection, I saw a lot of sports and music posters. This seemed reasonable to me, since I can imagine a lot of people wanting to use their wall space to declare allegiance to athletes, teams, or bands.

But I was struck by the number of movie posters for sale. While I didn't buy any, I noticed many dorm walls that were adorned with advertisements for films. And this seemed strange to me. Usually, it wasn't a case where a particular actor or actress was featured, but the poster was usually a promotional image for the film itself, including casting and production credits. I wondered why someone would feel the need to declare allegiance to a two-hour block of entertainment. It just seemed to be so transient of a thing to be regularly engaging with on any kind of a regular basis.

But upon further reflection, the transient nature of that particular media may be precisely what drove the poster market... as well as the demand for soundtrack albums. It was a time when media required time, effort, and money to access. And by nature of having to invest time, effort, and money, those doing the investing assigned a premium value to that which they accessed. And since the payoff for such an investment was only two hours of life experience, it became incumbent on the investor to find ways to stretch out the investment, to make the experience last. By viewing a poster or listening to a soundtrack album (even if such media required their own additional investments), the consumer could accomplish just that.

But now that there is such a proliferation of free and/or easily accessible media in the Neflix/Spotify/Youtube world that we live in, I've got to think that the premium placed on any particular media experience has diminished, and with it the demand for ancillary media. So I will not be purchasing Avengers Assemble. But I do hope to see The Avengers the day that it is released.


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