The young recording engineer looked in some pain. Tennis balls were being smashed into his body at full speed, in front of a crowd of people. This wasn’t what he’d signed up for. He had been hired to work on one of the most expensive albums in New Zealand music history – the debut by internet entrepreneur and fugitive from US justice, Kim Dotcom.
When the group weren’t recording, though, they indulged in hijinks and hazing. On this day witnesses describe the engineer as being dressed for tennis in a penguin costume. The hitter was an excellent tennis player. According to witnesses, Dotcom looked like he enjoyed the episode.
The young man went to work the next day covered in bruises, pulling up his shirt to show colleagues the blossoming patches of tender purple flesh. It wasn’t an isolated incident. He’d also reportedly vomited after being told to drink a cup of soy sauce during a recording session. Pranks and dares were hazards of the job. Making Dotcom’s Good Times meant enduring some pretty terrible times.
I was told stories about the sessions which featured dwarf strippers and golliwog dolls, uncomfortable casual racism and celebrity cameos.
This is the guy some on the left saw as a hero.
By almost any conventional measure, he failed. The New Zealand Herald called the album “a musical mess” in a one-star review, while Elsewhere.co.nz described it as “utterly sexless”. Sales weren’t helped by Dotcom giving the album away for free on his website, but remained mediocre. Good Timesdebuted at number 20 in the New Zealand album charts in late-January, peaked at 8 and dropped out of the top 40 in early-March. It sold about 1000 copies at JB Hi Fi according to an industry source, despite getting blanket advertising on stores’ front windows. The Warehouse didn’t sell many copies either.
The album cost a million or so to produce and flopped. I guess in music, like in politics, money isn’t enough.
It wasn’t for lack of promotion. Record company sources say Tucker spent at least $100,000 of Dotcom’s money on radio ads, a digital campaign and, most memorably, plastering the album’s awful cover on buses, bus stations and billboards.
That estimate may be low. A representative from iSite Media – the company that booked the bus advertising – says Dotcom took out ads on between 80 and 140 buses over a month-long campaign. Tucker may have got a better deal, but Auckland Transport says it costs about $200,000 to place ads on 80 buses for a month.
In any case, Dotcom’s promo budget was “far in excess” of what Universal spent marketing the launch of Lorde’s album Pure Heroine. Record companies rarely spend $100,000 on promotion, and if they do, it’s for a hit album and 80 percent of the bill is for TV advertising.
I recall seeing the adverts on lots of Wellington buses only.
An interesting comparison to what Universal spent on Lorde. She has tweeted:
so pretty much identical to how we made pure heroine, minus $980k or so, ‘racist days’ and forced soy sauce-drinking https://t.co/CyGAZAnnIt
— Lorde (@lordemusic) April 21, 2015
The mainstream media was an even bigger problem, Tucker says. He claims there was collusion between record companies like Sony, Universal and Warner and radio stations to keep Dotcom off the air. Record execs called radio station bosses, asking them not to playlist Dotcom’s songs and threatening retribution if they did, he says. A friend, an insider in the industry, told Tucker that radio stations caved in to pressure. Dotcom wasn’t playlisted on ZM, The Edge or any major pop station.
The blacklist is bullshit, radio executives say. Leon Wratt, the content director for MediaWorks – owner of The Edge – says the station tried to test out Dotcom’s songs with audiences and received “95 percent” negative feedback.
I think I know which story is more likely.
Christian Boston, content director for 91ZM from 2000 to 2013, says the decision not to playlist Dotcom’s singles had nothing to do with record bosses or politics. His team at ZM thought the music was terrible, he says. “It just got a unanimous ‘No, it’s a crock of shit’, so we didn’t play it.”
And more delusion:
Tucker’s noisiest complaint is reserved for the Herald, which he claims is a mouthpiece for Dotcom’s enemies – John Key and the National government.
A mouthpiece? 81% of editorials and columns (that take a position on an issue) on National have been negative and 19% positive.
He says Good Times deserved more than the one star Chris Schulz gave it in TimeOut, the paper’s entertainment magazine.
“It’s just the journalists that always take the same cheap shots to sell that shitty publication,” he says. “The album was probably a three-and-a-half out of five.”
The review was more than fair, according to TimeOut editor Russell Baillie. “I can’t think of an album in the past year or so more deserving of a few cheap shots than Good Times. It was comedically awful and TimeOut didn’t exactly go out on a limb by saying that.”
What do they think happened? John Key got Tim Murphy to instruct the reviewer to give it one star?