Sometime in the nineties it became about the track, not the act. THAT’S what’s killing the labels, not the purchase of single hits at the iTunes Music Store.
After "Rubber Soul" we WANTED the album. We believed artists were making a statement, that we needed to hear to be clued into society. We didn’t even GIVE A SHIT about the single. Oftentimes the best track was something that was not obvious or catchy at all. Can you say "Can’t Find My Way Home"? Never mind "Tales Of Brave Ulysses" or "Whipping Post". And to see one of our heroes perform their music live was such a desire that we lined up to buy tickets when it was still dark out and shows used to sell out with one ad, if not only a radio announcement.
But those days are through.
The paradigm changed.
You see the labels figured out if you HAD a hit on an album, you could get airplay of said track, whether it be on the dying AM band or the nascent FM band or ultimately MTV, and this drove casual buyers, the uninitiated, to the record store. At first this extra revenue was gravy. No one felt that "Rumours" was made for a market. But as Top Forty resuscitated on FM in the eighties, as the kids of the baby boomers came of age, everything flip-flopped in the music business. In control of the business ropes, executives started dictating to artists. And what they wanted most was hits. And those that didn’t deliver…they were either dropped or their albums were deep-sixed. You either played ball or you were history, taught a lesson like George Michael. The label was all powerful, do what it says or you’ll be working a day job.
It is this ethos that single-handedly caused today’s burgeoning indie label scene. After all, artistry is about being independent, speaking your mind, not kowtowing to a suit. Despite Clive Davis’ protestations that he’s the man, that he knows best, and the press eating it up, he don’t know shit. The public is all wise. And it feels it’s been sold a bill of goods. Acts refined to fit the system as opposed to artists exploring their muse.
Yes. To be on MTV you had to be good-looking.
And to get on the radio you had to have hooks, that did well in callout research.
Didn’t matter what you looked like in the late sixties and early seventies. And everybody was too stoned to research, it was all about vibes.
But now the aforementioned Mr. Davis, and Charles Koppelman and Tommy Mottola, ruled, and they dictated that artists must fit the formula, or ELSE!
You needed one track. That would be supported by a tour-de-force video. And the whole enterprise would be launched by the gratis efforts of the media, who need SOMETHING to sell.
It’s just that the foregoing left the public out. And as soon as they saw an exit strategy, they took it. Via the Net. Whether it be P2P, IM, e-mail or even MySpace. It was a way to stick it to the man. Which is what the music was in the original heyday decades back, if you think about it.
Forget the teeming masses, the unwashed. They don’t get the fire started. Rather it’s a hard core of addicted fans. Who build a Fleetwood Mac. An Eric Clapton. An Allman Brothers Band. The labels cut these people out, they went for the casual buyer first, and turned away the CORE! And, in the process, cut out the heart of their business.
But things are changing. In order to survive in the twenty first century, you’ve got to flip back to the old paradigm. You first and foremost have to sell the act. And you have to start with the music. How you look, what you have to say in interviews, what you WEAR is secondary!
Yes, people care what others wear. But that’s MINOR in comparison to what people say in their art. In OTHER WORDS, you can sell records via image, but how many?
The key is to create an act people can believe in. And then the dirty little secret, which the raping and pillaging RIAA companies don’t want to admit, or are possibly too ignorant to know, is that these same people will buy EVERYTHING the act puts out!
Oh, there’s a singles business. It’s not insignificant. But it’s DWARFED by a business wherein people are fans of ACTS not TRACKS!
The album, as a set number of tracks released every few years, is dead. Please, know this is true. Just like the 33 killed the 45 and CDs contained almost twice as much music as 33s. The medium DOES affect the message. Songs themselves might not be longer, but you can release as many as you want WHENEVER you want. And, if you have believers, they’ll take everything you can offer. As long as it’s not too expensive.
Mm… But isn’t recording and breaking records expensive?
Well, recording has gotten MUCH cheaper. Sure, you can’t do in a small room what you can in a big one, but if the old way was so successful, why are studios dropping like flies?
And breaking records… Today’s methodology is so scattershot and so inefficient as to be laughable. In the future you must target a small audience and then let THEM do the work, FOR FREE!
Of course what you’re purveying must be good. People don’t spread the word on shit. At least not on more than the occasional train-wreck.
But should all this music be FREE?
OF COURSE NOT!
But the price of acquisition must be very low.
Think of it this way. If you like ONE track, you should be able to acquire more, to check out the artist, VERY CHEAPLY! The public believes that only the hit is any good, so why should people risk the same price, 99 cents, for an album track? Shit, album tracks haven’t counted in excess of a DECADE! But, if it cost you nothing additional for the album track, and you liked the original, wouldn’t you want MORE?
That’s the Internet distribution paradigm. You’ve got to throw in more than the cost of a single track every month for access to ALL music. So, having taken ONE track, you’ll take MORE! And, if the acts are credible, you won’t only graze for the hits, you’ll go deep, discovering more and more artists. Which is why Internet distribution is a BOON to the recording industry. People can check out stuff cheaply and will ultimately own more music and be fans of more acts and spend money on touring, merchandise and other ancillary products. Because, as stated previously, if you believe in somebody, you want EVERYTHING they purvey!
Make it easy. Don’t lock up the wares. Let people browse. Let them take.
Artists will have full-bodied careers once again. The fact that they won’t release ten tracks on a disc every other year? IRRELEVANT! They’ll be making music constantly, which fans will want to own. It’s a panacea. If you think about it. But it appears no one controlling the rights does. Then again, these are the same high school losers who were envious of drug-addicted rock stars who could get laid whenever they wanted. Pissed about it, they exerted control, and killed the goose that laid the golden egg.
It starts with believable artistry. Forget that and you’re fucked.