Not that this is news for musicians. Nothing has really been the same since digital technology arrived, the internet appeared and file sharing became a way of life for an entire generation. Maybe 2 or 3 generations now. The record labels – those bloated, myopic dinosaurs – in equal parts arrogance and greed, decided that rather than embrace the new technology and find a way to make it work for them – which means continue to make the ungodly sums of money they were used to – actually had the temerity to believe they could stop it.
Fear and intimidation is a great way to build a business relationship. Guess they figured those tactics had worked on their artists for decades so why not try it on the customers. While they were busy pointing fingers and crying about being robbed by the technology, the world moved on without them. Good riddance. I, for one, do not weep or mourn their ignominious fall. Not that they have completely vanished from this earth. Yet.
They will most likely survive and continue to do what they do best. Crank out an endless array of manufactured pop tarts & American Idols.
Same as it ever was.
What so many musicians pine for – the golden age of rock in the 60’s & early 70’s- when it seemed bands had unfettered creative freedom – was an anomaly in the history of the business. For a brief moment, the lunatics ran the asylum because the industry had no idea what hit it. The labels were busy cranking out the scrubbed up, shiny, happy hit makers and foisting the same disposable crap on the public it always has.
Musicians who bemoan the style-over-substance vacuity and borderline porn marketing of mega-stars like Lady Gaga or Katy Perry or Myley Cyrus (and whatever the fuck a Justin Beiber is) as some recent sign the apocalypse is nigh seem to have forgotten their history. PussyCat Dolls anyone? Spice Girls? Madonna, for fuck sake? This is nothing new. And the industry delivers what the audience wants. which does not mean it’s the only audience that exists. More on that in upcoming blogs.
The labels have never been anything more than controlling parents, with exacting standards for their children. Holding onto the purse strings and doling out the money if the kids toe the line. Look like this. Sound like that. We’ll pay for med school or a law degree. But no child of mine is going to a liberal arts college. Don’t forget the Beatles were rejected by several labels in the UK before signing their deal. Capitol Records in the US turned them down initially as well. They didn’t look or sound anything like what the parents wanted.
Things have changed. Mom & Dad are no longer in control. And it’s the best thing that could have happened to musicians. The vice grip on an artist’s career the labels once held has been broken. Musicians now have more tools at their disposal than ever to create, promote and distribute their art. As an artist, you are truly free to create without restrictions. No parents to please or cow-tow to. Which also means, there’s no one to blame but yourself if you fail.
So now what? Getting your head around the new tools and responsibilities that have now landed squarely in your lap is only part of the job.
The first step is not just accepting, but embracing the idea that this is a business. The business of selling a product – your art. And the rules of business apply. You need a product. You need to find a market for your product. Build awareness that your product exists. Create demand. Deliver the product you’ve promised. Help spread word of mouth.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
But it’s one thing to acknowledge you’re in the business of selling – and knowing about the concept of creating demand, building a fanbase but quite another to understand how to do it…even with all the tools at your fingertips. Having a database filled with email addresses and a Topspin or Bandcamp account doesn’t mean you’ll be successful finding the audience for your music any more than owning a pro-tools rig guarantees ending up with a hit single.
The key to success in the new world order is studying history and realizing one simple truth.
The more things change – the more they stay the same.
Next blog: Develop a Marketing Mind or Die a Slow Painful Death.