I recently watched the documentary DIG! on DVD. It focuses on two relatively unknown rock bands -- the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre -- and the volatile friendship/rivalry between their respective frontmen, Courtney Taylor and Anton Newcombe. The Warhols are a band who were signed to a major label (Capitol Records) but never sold many records, at least not in the U.S. Part of the reason for this may have been timing; their major-label debut The Dandy Warhols Come Down was released in 1997, when alternative rock had lost its novelty and was about to be eclipsed by boy bands and pop tarts. By contrast, the Brian Jonestown Massacre were a band who refused to sign a major-label record deal; frontman Newcombe insists that he will never sell out. The BJM prolifically released six indie-label albums between 1995 and 1998, three of them in 1996 alone. The film's director Ondi Timoner filmed much footage (both personal and performance-based) of these two bands in the seven years between 1996 and 2003. DIG! is a 107-minute movie culled from over 1500 hours (!) of her filmed footage.

This movie is loaded with insights about the music industry, indie labels, and the differences among musicians in terms of goals and philosophies. Director Timoner has an exalted view of both of these neo-psychedelic bands' talents and importance; I certainly don't agree with her view that BJM's Newcombe is such a noble musical genius that he deserved to have his life filmed for seven years. But both bands and their stories are useful examples for illustrating the state of the rock music scene in recent years, especially in the years since the '90's alternative revolution faded.

One quote from the movie was amazing to me. Adam Shore, an A&R man from the indie label TVT Records, claims that 9 out of 10 albums released on major labels never recoup their costs, while one out of ten makes enough money to pay for them all. Shore says that major labels are the only businesses in the world he knows of that can have a 90% failure rate and still call themselves successful.

He may be exaggerating the "90% failure rate" part, but if his statement is anywhere near accurate, then it's no wonder so many albums go out of print.