For me, one of the saddest things about TV Shopping these days is the lack of music shows. In the 1980’s through the early 2000’s, some of the biggest stars of music appeared on QVC, HSN and Evine Live. On the Q, we had the likes of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Richie Havens, James Taylor, Neil Diamond, Anne Murray, Buddy Guy, Rory Block and so many more.
These days, Internet streaming has seriously hurt CD sales. That combined with TV Shopping’s need for the greater margins provided by Beauty, Jewelry and Fashion, have all but eliminated music sales on TV. I’m not a bean counter, but I think the number of new customers brought in by musical guests should offset the lower margins. Plus, I think there is a way that TV Shopping Channels can use their websites for downloading music.
QVC was a pioneer in selling music on-air. We did our first music show back in the late 1980’s. We had folk legend Tom Paxton sing on-air during a presentation of his children’s book “Engelbart the Elephant.” Our first dedicated music show was a 3-hour special selling everything from Led Zeppelin box sets to Beatles memorabilia.
Phenomenal songwriter and performer Smokey Robinson was our on-air guest. He didn’t sing, but was supposed to be the guest for his own products, including music sets and autographed photos. We also had his autographed biography, which I made sure I read before the show.
Smokey was a great guest. He had so many stories about the early days of Motown. Especially touching were the tales of his performances in the Deep South during those times. What he and other black performers faced in those days was horrific. But they persevered and brought their music to people all across the country in the 1950’s and 60’s.
All of Smokey’s products sold out in the first few minutes of the show. As I was saying goodbye, he asked, “Do I have to leave? This is fun.” I told him he could stay as long as he wanted. He stayed for the entire 3 hours.
We had a great time. It was 2 music geeks talking about everything from Doo Wop to John Coltrane (we actually had a jazz box set). We also sold Billy Joel’s first album, “Cold Spring Harbor.” Smokey was impressed that I knew the original was mastered too fast and Billy sounded a bit like Donald Duck. He had to buy back the rights (for millions) and have it remastered once he was an established artist.
At one point, Smokey wanted to buy a Led Zeppelin box set for his son. Since he didn’t have a QVC account at that time, I told the producer to order one for me while we were on air. We didn’t have bill-to/ship-to in those days, I told Smokey that I would get a mailing address from his manager and send it to him.
Off-air, the manager also got my address and a few days after I sent it to him, a got a check for the full amount. It was about $30 with my employee discount, so it wasn’t a big deal, but I thought that was pretty classy. I’ve heard about how cheap and thoughtless some celebrities are. I’ve also seen examples of it firsthand. Smokey is a class act.
Everything in the show sold out. I’m sure a lot of people tuned in and stayed because of Smokey Robinson. It was a very entertaining show. Smokey is a treasure trove of behind-the-scenes stories about the music industry. No gossipy stuff, just interesting facts and tales of the music business.
The success of the show inspired our buyers to seek out additional musical opportunities. After dozens of successful musical shows, many with incredible live performances, we were the first retailer in the world to sell the first Beatles’ Anthology. We sold almost 20,000 copies in a few minutes. We would have sold a lot more but that was our entire initial allotment. I even received an award from the record company for my efforts.
Speaking of the Beatles, I am reminded of their many live performances I was able to see, an advantage of being 68-years-old. In February 1964, I was able to see both Beatles’ shows at Carnegie Hall in New York. The man who raised me, my Great Uncle Ed, was a huge music freak. He took me to many concerts and Broadway Musicals. And, as a former bootlegger during prohibition, he seemed to know everyone in the entertainment industry, and, oddly enough, politics. Sid Bernstein, the promoter of the Beatles Carnegie Hall shows, was a friend and Ed asked him if we could get tickets.
They must have been good friends, Sid got us great seats for both shows. The shows were great, although the sound was really bad. Of course, there were all the screaming fans which made it worse. The Briarwoods, a folk group from Miami, opened up the show. What a miserable gig for them. Lots of boos and “we want the Beatles” chants, coupled with the bad sound, made it almost impossible to listen. The Beatles played their usual short set. But it was very cool to see and sort of hear them.
Fast forward to the mid-1990’s, the real “Golden Age” of selling music on TV. Sid Bernstein was scheduled for one of our Beatles’ shows. He was selling one of those created collectibles, a limited-edition plaque commemorating the Carnegie Hall shows. It had a photo of the Fab Four and a ticket from the show.
Okay, here’s the deal. Although it was a long time ago, I’m pretty sure they tore the stub from my ticket at the show. The ticket on the plaque was intact. I know he was planning a third show that never happened and maybe these were tickets from that. But the date was the same as the original show.
Although I had a zillion questions, I owed Sid one for getting us seats for both shows back in 1964. I let it go, since we never sold collectibles claiming they would go up in value. Some TV Shopping Channels did that quite often. (Any Tiger Woods rookie cards out there?) The plaque would be a cool thing to own if you were a Beatles’ fan.
It sold out pretty quickly. Sid claimed he remembered me. He knew that my Uncle Ed died about ten years earlier (he was 94). Nice guy, just trying to make a few bucks on a very historic event, which he did.
Although I miss the excitement of live TV, I mostly miss the music shows. I hear that Evine is doing some occasional music shows. As for the QVC/HSN hybrid, the closest they get these days is a few happy dances and a bit of musical improvisation from Isaac Mizrahi. (By the way, his cabaret show is currently one of the hottest tickets in New York.)
© 2019 Steve Bryant – No portion of this or any blog can be reproduced or copied and posted on any online site or read aloud on any audio or video media without the express permission of the author.