You’re not a star and you’re never going to be one.

Now that felt good, didn’t it?

The twentieth century was all about technology putting a few artists in front of everybody. First and foremost, only a few could make and distribute recordings, never mind get on the radio. But deep pocketed labels scoured for talent and the main job was to get the record on the radio. What the act looked like, their backstory, were considerations, but very minor, everything came down to the record itself. And since recording was expensive and primitive, it was necessary to play the song all at once and get it right. In other words, talented people had to be involved, which is why studio cats were hired, you couldn’t risk letting the band itself record.

In the late sixties and seventies, suddenly music drove the culture, technology allowed multiple tracks and effects for recording and consumers purchased high end stereos to get closer to the music.

And in the eighties, MTV came along to make those who were anointed with airplay bigger and richer than ever before. You could reach everybody in the world, and everybody knew who you were.

And the nineties was just the eighties on fumes. Expensive videos with good-looking people.

And then the internet came along and blew it all apart.

First and foremost, mystery was history. Everybody was available all the time. Your heroes turned out to be just like you, but oftentimes uneducated and inexperienced. And going to a show became about the audience as much as the performer. Hanging with your buddies, shooting selfies, posting on social media. And with expensive tickets, acts were forced to present spectacle and perfection. Today’s big concerts oftentimes resemble the circus more than the Fillmore East.

But everybody has the same expectations.

Which are false.

The game has reset. It’s about the music. And this confounds not only the labels, but the creators.

Since the Beatles, songs came straight from the heart, they were personal testimony. But then opportunity cost became so high that the songwriter for hire came back into the picture. The labels try to polish, ensure success. No different from a movie studio making a superhero sequel. How often do the studios risk producing product outside their traditional wheelhouse? Almost never, comedies don’t play around the world and the spreadsheet comes before the creativity.

So now we have all these musicians who want in on a system that no longer exists.

Believe me, the independent artists complaining about streaming payments think they’re one step away from world domination. Something must be holding them back. The game must be rigged. Because they’re so damn good if they just got a decent chance they’d be ubiquitous, and rich.

But this paradigm is fading. Spotify statistics tell us that the percentage of revenue going to superstars keeps declining. If the superstars are reaching fewer people, what are the odds that you can reach many? Very low.

I’m not saying you can’t make a living making music, just that you have to adjust your perspective, how much money you need, not want, and you’ve got to work around the clock. That’s what it takes to get noticed.

Ironically, you should spend less time in the studio and more time promoting yourself. The exact opposite of what technology enabled in the seventies and eighties. If you got it right musically, the system would make you a star. Today you can get it right musically and only your parents are aware of your music.

No one seems to be able to adjust to this new game. The majors keep putting out less product while they slim the ranks of employees. How long til a crash? Well, this is what Boeing did. Rather than design a new plane to compete with Airbus, Boeing cheaped out and remade the 737, a decades old airframe that was never intended for this use. I mean at some point you’ve got to start with a clean sheet of paper, which is what Airbus did.

There’s no clean sheet of paper at the major labels. They’re committing the same crime from the turn of the century, believing if they can just get a handle on distribution, they can win. Yes, don’t pay those with de minimis streams and pay their stars a bonus. But that’s old thinking. Distribution has been flattened, everyone can get their wares in front of the public, the question is how do you make the public interested?

Well, the moribund labels couldn’t figure this out, so just like with Napster, the public took the great step forward, with TikTok. And the irony is those trying to break on TikTok are just the opposite of Lucian Grainge and the insiders complaining about payments. They’re doing it for free, often on a lark, pure inspiration, like the Beatles, et al. It’s about the creativity, and the majors haven’t been able to play that game in decades.

Yes, online creators are smart. They know it’s an attention economy. And to make it you’ve got to create 24/7 and there’s no guarantee of success. These are not the people complaining about streaming payments, those are people inured to the old system. They bought all the equipment, they might have even taken lessons. They saved up to record in a good room with a good producer and they think dividends should be paid when the game they’re playing no longer even exists.

In a world where we don’t even read the same news, what are the odds we’re going to listen to the same music? NIL!

But no one will own this. Not the musicians, the labels or the media. This would require vision, and there’s no vision involved, no planning for the future, no career outlook. Let’s just keep doing it the old way and expect it to be a success.

Want to succeed? You’re going to have to be different. If you’re a voice only, like on the TV competition shows, you’re doomed. The most important thing, as it has always been in art, is conception. The idea. To do what others have done is a fool’s errand. Who cares if you can sing, play and dance. Those people are a dime a dozen. Can you wow us with a different idea?

We don’t need your music. We don’t need anybody’s music. We need air, food and shelter, but we don’t need music. People might like music, but it is their choice whether to listen. Unfortunately, scrolling TikTok is individuated and interesting in a way programmatic radio with commercials is not. We live in an on demand, personalized culture and to ignore this is to be fumbling blind.

How come the influencers have it right and the musicians have it so wrong?

The influencers know you must be new and different and build a core audience and feed it each and every day. And if you’re lucky, you might make a living. And the day you stop creating is the day you stop earning.

Furthermore, not every influencer believes they’re entitled to a living wage. They play and adjust their wares to gain traction. And if they don’t get it, they stop. But I keep hearing from “musicians” doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different response.

If you’re not a good singer... Don’t tell me about Bob Dylan, he’s the greatest lyricist of all time!

You’ve got to have the chops, desire is not enough.

But desire is important, very important. But not as important as inspiration. And if you’re truly inspired and execute you might be able to gain an audience that keeps you alive.


That’s the game we’re all playing. Not to reach everybody, but enough people to stay alive. Why should it be any different in music?

By: bob | 2024/03/31 | Music Business - The Music | Trackback | Comments [RSS 2.0]

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