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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2010/11/23
by Mike Gruenberg

Lord of the Rings Return of the King : Mixing Cinema with Live Music

In My Life

For every sale of merchandise there has to be a buyer and a seller. For the buyer, the process is relatively simple. You need to buy something, so you go into a store or go online and depending on price, size, color or whatever, the product is bought. For the merchant, the process is a bit more complicated. The most important aspect is having products for sale that people want to buy. The tricky part for any business is being able to get buyers to continually return to the store or website to keep buying more products.

The magazine subscription business has a built in formula for getting people to return for more purchases through a renewal system that alerts the subscriber when the issues will cease to be sent. Before the end of the subscription period, the magazine company asks the customer to renew their commitment to buy the publication for another term and usually offers some incentives to seal the deal. The subscription model builds in personal communication with the probability that the buyer will renew. Book clubs, record clubs are examples of companies using subscription based schemes to keep their customers satisfied for as many years as possible. Paul Simon said, “Keep the customer satisfied” and if they are, they will return to buy again.

Most merchants that sell their products from a store however, cannot take advantage of the newspaper and magazine subscription model. They have to come up with other methods to encourage people to shop with them. What many businesses do to try and encourage repeat buying is the age old practice called “slicing and dicing”. That means that they take a product that has sold well and endeavor to create different versions thereof so as to widen the appeal while building on a solid base of customer satisfaction. For example, Burger King/McDonald’s/Wendy’s all sell a basic hamburger. If you wish, you can have a double, a triple add cheese, add onions, etc. and the list of additions and deletions goes on forever. But the basic component is still the hamburger. All they are doing is the “slicing and dicing” of an established product so as to create more opportunities to increase sales from their existing customer base. The Quarter Pounder and Big Mac all started as a basic McDonald’s hamburger.

I thought about the concept of “slicing and dicing” this week when Apple announced that the entire Beatles catalogue was now available on i-Tunes. Well, that’s great, but what about those of us who already have already bought all those tunes on a variety of media? In my case, I purchased all the Beatles 45’s, then progressed to their LP’s, followed by the cassettes and now the CD’s, not to mention the repackaged box sets bought along the way. Did anyone mention that the Fab Four music was available at one time on 8-Tracks? Got some of them too!

At no time did Capitol Records, EMI or Apple Records, say “Hey Mike, since you have already paid for ‘Let It Be” on seven different occasions we will cut you a break on the price of the Beatles songs when we expect you to buy them on i-Tunes”. My friends in London would say, “Not bloody likely” to me for expecting a price break today because I bought every Beatles tune more than once over the years since 1963.

Part of the reason that the record companies find themselves in the financial predicament they face today is that they have used the “slicing and dicing” concept far too efficiently. Once the record buying public got used to the 45’s, the record companies told us to buy the LP because it was a better sound than the 45 and with the LP, you have 12 or more tunes instead of 2. Then they said that the LP was recorded in Monaural and the new Stereo recordings have a much better sound, so you need to buy that too. Then they suggested that you really want mobility for your music, so get a cassette that neatly fits into your car radio or portable player. Then they said that we needed to get rid of the cassettes because the CD’s have a superior sound. Then we were led to believe that our older CD’s were not as good as the newly mastered ones, so we needed to buy “Stairway to Heaven” for the umpteenth time on a remastered CD as part of a new box set personally supervised by Jimmy Page. As a result, we’ve been paying increased prices for buying the same music for years over and over and over again. This demonstrates how “slicing and dicing” led to the whole i-Tunes revolution. I’ll just buy one song, thank-you instead of a whole album that may have only two good songs out of the twelve.

The movie business has not been as overt as the record business in getting us to buy the same product repeatedly although they have tried to do that with the introduction of sequels. You liked Bruce Willis as John McClane in the first “Die Hard” movie? The movie studios made it possible for you to see him tortured again and again as the same character, in virtually the same story, but better torture and more gruesome car chases in the next two chapters of “Everyone Hates John”. Essentially, the third “Die Hard” movie is another version of the first two. Oh, and no break on the admission price even if you saw the first two. We’ve seen far too many versions of Rambo, Rocky, Death Wish and Star Trek. Sadly, in most cases the sequels never really capture the excitement of the original film. I am big fan of Sylvester Stallone, but during Rocky V, I was hoping he would get knocked out early to end everyone’s misery in the theater. These sequels are all bad examples of “slicing and dicing”.

Some movies however, give us sequels that matter and hold our attention. The “Lord of the Rings” trilogy is one series that gave us three excellent movies. So, when I heard that “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” was going to be shown on a wide screen at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts accompanied by a 300 piece orchestra and chorus, I said that sounds good, would love to see it again, but I know the ending. So why should I sit for a three hour movie again even under a starry Virginia night in September?

I’ll tell you “why” and it goes like this. Firstly and most importantly, it’s a great film. Much like listening to the Beatles, “Rubber Soul” album more than once, it is a film worthy of being seen repeatedly. Furthermore, one of the best parts of the Lord of The Rings trilogy, for me was the music composed by Howard Shore. His brilliance as a composer and conductor has so far earned him four Grammy’s, three Golden Globes and three Academy Awards. It would be safe to say that any person who attends the cinema on a regular basis has been treated to hear a movie score either composed by and/or conducted by Howard Shore. So, when I found out that this screening of Lord of The Rings on an ultra-wide screen would be accompanied by a 300 piece orchestra and chorus, continually playing along with the movie, I immediately decided that I needed to attend. Of course, another factor that demanded my presence at Wolf Trap that night of the performance was that it was my tenth wedding anniversary and my wife is big fan of the trilogy. I felt this outing would be a great gift to celebrate our married years together.

On September 10th, the wife and I were magically transported to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth through a very wide screen presentation of the third and final installment of the “Lord of the Rings”. It was a beautiful night and as the orchestra played continuously in conjunction with the film, I couldn’t help but feel what a magical night it was. The orchestra and chorus complemented the film by blending beautifully together. Never overbearing or inappropriate, the live music only served to enhance the story. As we all know, in the end, Middle-earth is saved, the ring is destroyed and the Hobbits return to the Shire and hopefully everyone lives happily ever after (until the next sequel). That night was a great example of “slicing and dicing” an already superior product to new heights.

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