Traction

Was the new Who album any good?  Maybe we should ask people.  But what was the name of it again?  Ever since we went to CDs, never mind iTunes and iPods, titles no longer stick.  It’s not like we’re studying the cover while we’re staring at the speakers.  Or maybe it’s just that there’s too much information, and that which isn’t utterly vital, like what time to take your medication, your alarm code number, drains out and is forgotten, only to be replaced by new useless information which will then be replaced by…you get the idea.

Let’s say you’re cute and have a manipulative personality and after gathering a core of handlers you get a deal with a major label which gets you all over television and terrestrial radio, are you then a star?

Well, maybe.  But not the kind of star we used to think of.  A star used to be someone who did something great, who we believed in.  Now a star is Anna Nicole Smith, famous for…being famous?

But still, let’s say you do get all that exposure, will everybody know you, never mind your music?

Chances are they’ll know you better than your music, since we live in an image-based society, but chances are they won’t know you either.  Not that mass media will let you in on this.  Because if no one is paying attention, why should advertisers pay all that money to be featured in their rags/programming?

We all know George Bush is President.  But was Iraq behind 9/11?  Or the Jews?  You’d be stunned how many people believe these falsehoods.  But they care, because they’re in fear.  As for your puny little art, that doesn’t even have traction, it’s hopeless.

The paradigm has been to get as much recognition as possible, and then capitalize on this.  But now, anybody can get a modicum of recognition, it’s an endless parade of wannabe famous people, just look at YouTube.  But to stick?  That’s not a paradigm for longevity, just ask Lonelygirl15 or the people who made that video series, they’ve already been forgotten.

But the Who were known once.  Shouldn’t people care?

Why?  The band’s core audience is just too busy now.  They don’t have time to listen to albums and angst about their future, this is their future.  Maybe when they’re in the retirement home they’ll have time.  But will these acts be able to make music anymore, be able to perform, be able to hear?

In other words, almost nobody is listening.  You can spend all that time in the studio, but no matter how great the product, not only do most people not care, they’re not even aware of what you’re doing.

Oh, you could take an ad in a targeted publication.  But that’s just awareness, you can’t hear the music in a print ad.  And the elder audience is used to being turned on by the radio, which they no longer listen to.  And the younger audience is used to being turned on by their buddies.  So what’s going on in the so-called mainstream is really the sideshow.  And the mainstream is so complicated, so full of so many elements, that it’s almost indecipherable.  Or, to put it another way, maybe there just isn’t a mainstream.

And if there’s not a mainstream, how do you get noticed?  You’ve got to get noticed, right?

Maybe by your peer group.  Maybe by the people you know.  Maybe by your fans.  That’s all you’ve got.

Top-down marketing, if not quite dead, is a tiny facsimile of what it once was.  You’ve got to come up from the bottom now.  You’ve got to build slowly, knowing that you may never be ubiquitous.

In other words, fame isn’t what it used to be.  Just doing your job, albeit extremely well, is not enough for everybody to know you.  You’ve got to kill somebody for everybody, well, most people, to know you.  Or get kidnapped.  Or have some personal trauma that has train-wreck value or speaks to the fragility of the human condition.  And what does this have to do with music?  Not much.

So you’re spending all that time creating and marketing your music.  If people don’t really care, then what?  That’s the question.  But institutions don’t want to focus on it.  Because it’s the opposite of their business paradigm.  Institutions are about fronts, consolidation.  But if no one is paying attention, there’s not enough money to fund their operations.

The networks learned this, so they bought the cable channels.  If only the major labels would take heed, and dominate the independent sphere, it’s their only hope against marginalization.

But now advertisers are averse to network TV, the scattershot approach isn’t cost-effective, when you can advertise on Google and only pay for those impressions that count, the people really interested, who click through.

But that’s a pull world.  You’ve got to want to know.  What if you don’t want to know?  How do you reach these people?

It’s very difficult, almost impossible.  They only trust and are interested in the words of their peers.  But maybe their peer group is not large enough to sustain broadcasting, maybe it’s just a niche.  But can’t we goose it?  But if we goose it, we kill it.

So make your record, believe you’re still a superstar.  But know that almost nobody cares.  Hell, the Eagles are going to put out an album and even if it’s as good as "Hotel California" it won’t be a cultural milestone.  Oh, they’ve tied in with Wal-Mart to insure advertising and sales, but even though Wal-Mart is gargantuan, their outlets are not in every city, not everybody shops there.  And most people don’t talk about what they come in contact with there.  They shop at Wal-Mart, but it’s not a hotbed of cultural discourse.

Then you’ve got the fact that no one expects the album to be good.  Because most records just aren’t.  So even if it is good, you have a hard time spreading the message, because people aren’t paying attention.

So, make music if you want to.  But know that it’s no longer an easy way to fame or riches.  Follow your heart, build a following, play live.  And grow patiently.  Fame, ubiquity?  That’s for somebody else.  That’s for the endless parade of instant fame white trash wannabes.

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