Marketing Run Amok

I’m sick to fucking death of the marketing plans.

That’s what’s wrong with the major labels today.  Fuck the product, that’s irrelevant, they’re more interested in how they’re going to SELL the product!

Did you read that inane story about Epic’s band Cartel recording its new album in a huge transparent bubble on the Hudson, with the act entering said "biosphere" live on MTV?

Ever heard of Cartel?

Not me.  But I’m sure they can’t be making music I’m interested in.  Music comes from inspiration, not marketing plans.  Whoever convinced the act to be involved in this stunt, whether it be their manager or Charlie Walk or somebody else, should be exiled from the business immediately, made to live in said biosphere WITH the band, sans BlackBerry, sans dinners at Peter Luger’s, sans ANY of the creature comforts of modern society.

Better yet, Cartel still has time to back out of this misguided stunt.  Rather than become the David Blaines of music (and it’s not like Mr. Blaine gets any respect from magicians), Cartel can only save itself by issuing a press release REBELLING against such crap.  Would the Sex Pistols listen to their label?  Would they be playing it safe?  Would they be tools of the marketing machine?  Certainly not when they mattered, back in ’76.

Imagination.  That’s why the Ramones were so great.  In an era when we had classical virtuosos on stage in capes (yes, you Rick Wakeman), this band of boroughmen all donned leather jackets and made two minute ditties, in some cases with the stupidest lyrics of all time.  It was kind of like abstract expressionism…ANYBODY could do it, but nobody else could THINK of it!

That’s what kept rock and roll alive.  The constant innovation.  The unexpected.  Alice Cooper beheading himself on stage.  David Bowie on the cover of his album as a dog.  The artists were testing the limits, they were LEADING the company, they weren’t being towed around town on leashes by execs who couldn’t play a note.

Here’s a revolutionary idea for you, MAKE IT ABOUT THE MUSIC FIRST!

The music comes last today.  You’ve got to be pretty, you’ve got to be poised.  We’ll get one of the usual suspects to write a hit for you, and then we’ll promote you as the fuckable human of the moment all over the media.

Oh, you indie bands aren’t much better.  You sing poorly, and your material isn’t catchy, but you’re coming from the right place.  Not being sold out is not enough for anybody but a small coterie of people to care.  You’ve got to make music that works even if you’re NOT a fan!

Maybe you’ve got a good voice and a knack with a melody.  Well then you can twist the formula like Harry Nilsson or 10cc, so the obviousness of your music is leavened with humor.  Why the FUCK did you put the lime in the coconut and mix them both together?  And, a Beach Boys-esque number about a PRISON RIOT?  How did people COME UP WITH THIS STUFF!

That’s how you break through.  By surprising, by CONFOUNDING the public.  By making people stop and think, not bump their asses as you try to convince us you’re bringing sexy back when no one believes it ever went away.

And after you create your music, you don’t sell it with stunts.  Stunts are how you get the old wave media to pay attention.  A stunt is Lonelygirl15.  Heard anything about HER lately?  Now you’ve just got to put your stuff up on the Web, and wait for people to find it.  Oh, service music blogs, and provide your friends/family/fans with free MP3s and other goodies, but you’ve got to let the public do the marketing.  It’s cheaper, and if you gain momentum, it LASTS!

The foregoing is anathema to the old wave players.  They need insurance.  They worry about radio, they think about television, they’ve got to get a pass from the gatekeepers.  Hell, I’ve got to tell you, the only gatekeepers who even matter now are the authors of music blogs.  THAT’S where so many records get started.  But really, an act is now its OWN gatekeeper.  You have to figure out how accessible you are online, to what degree you pressure people to pay attention.  You’ve got to be available, but you’ve got to get others to PULL!  You need infrastructure, but you can’t fire up the machine until the public DEMANDS IT!

We haven’t got a new Frank Zappa.  And, even though Yes is oftentimes pilloried, their sound was a revelation back in ’69.  And it was sheer perseverance that allowed the band to break through  in ’72.  Their music got FURTHER OUT, they tested the limits MORE!  If you don’t succeed at first, you don’t compromise, you don’t do what everybody else does, you STAY THE COURSE!

EXPAND upon the music with your identity, don’t make the identity primary.  Yes, create a whole culture around your music.  Don’t come up with stunts/marketing plans, come up with enhancements of your ART!  Those last.  Marketing efforts evaporate.

7 Responses to Marketing Run Amok »»


  1. Comment by Chris Black | 2007/04/23 at 23:48:26


    My name is Chris Black – I manage the band Cartel. As soon as we were approached to do this promotion i knew we would get ripped in the media. The band and i had many long talks about how this could affect them – we ultimately decided it would be the right step. I have total confidence in the songs that Cartel writes. In this day and age with labels strapped for cash and moral at an all time low we needed a way for these songs to reach as many people as possible. Yes its a reality show, but it gets Cartel in every home in America. Instead of crossing our fingers and hoping for the best we have decided to take fate into our own hands. If this record flops we cant blame the label, agent, or lawyer. Corporate partners are a huge part of this business, I’m not afraid to use them. We maybe crazy but at least we are proactive, it wont get done any other way.

    Great songs aren’t enough anymore. MTV doesn’t play videos and radio promo staffs are bored and unmotivated. It is instant recognition to a degree, but this band has been touring for 4 years and gone through plenty of music business horror. The band and i felt that we could control our own destiny in a way. They can control how they act/look on TV all the while recording music. It wasn’t the easiest decision, we all come from an indie back round and knew what sort of response we would get. We wanted to take a chance.


    Chris Black

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