Well I know it sounds funny
But I’m not in it for the money, no
I don’t need no reputation
And I’m not in it for the show
I just want a hit record, yeah
Wanna hear it on the radio
Want a big hit record, yeah
One that everybody’s got to know
"Overnight Sensation" was not. A last hurrah, a final attempt for renewed chart success, this Raspberries track was a complete stiff. In the radio arena. But in the world of rock criticism, in the world of credibility, it was MORE than a hit record, it turned out not to be a period piece, but a sensation that lasts until this day. It’s what brings people to Raspberries shows in the twenty first century. Sure, they want to hear "Go All The Way" and "I Wanna Be With You", but when that "Overnight Sensation" piano intro begins, when the backup vocals start cascading in waterfalls, you get that same hit you do when you listen to "Good Vibrations". You’re reminded of listening to this record alone in your bedroom, sans a date, but knowing this music is enough to get you through. You look at the other people in attendance and you feel a bond, you know they had the same experience as you, not only listening, but growing up. You feel you could be friends with each and every one of them. Whereas if it was a multi-act oldies show and the big radio hits were the only ones being played, all you’d have in common would be your age.
Eric Carmen wanted a hit record in an era when AM radio was floundering. Don’t read the Joel Whitburn books, sure there are Top Forty charts from 1974, but they were almost meaningless. Those acts couldn’t do shit on the road. The same way most of today’s radio acts can’t play much more than clubs on the road now. All the action was over on FM, where the CAREER BANDS HUNG OUT!
AM was a cultural wasteland in the mid-seventies. Today, Top Forty is not only a cultural wasteland, almost no one’s paying attention!
Oh, don’t quote me listener statistics. What we know is career acts are rarely built on the radio today. A hit record won’t buy you much. And an overnight sensation is just that. On the radio and vapid television shows for a few months, and soon thereafter, the band members are back working at K-Mart.
If this is so, why are you SO desirous of being an instant success? What makes you think it’s that easy? What makes you think that kind of rocket into space doesn’t splat on earth not long thereafter?
Everybody e-mails me trying for a leg up. Wanting me to listen to their music, to give them an instant ride to the top. The desire to make it eclipses what’s in the tunes. Because if it’s really in the tunes, I’ll find out about it from someone else. Even though it might take years.
Years? I haven’t got years! My parents want me to go to law school! I can’t delay my professional career that long! My dad gave me TWELVE MONTHS!
Or maybe you want to give up your day job, which is keeping your wife and kids in food. You want relief. But the kind of relief you want will only be momentary. Want that kind of relief, go on a reality television show. Millions of people will suddenly be aware of you, maybe even tune in to see your shenanigans, and then laugh at you when they see you shopping at the supermarket, broke, only months thereafter.
If you’re into fame, instant success, do me a favor, don’t e-mail me, go knock on the door of the major label. That’s the only entity that can deliver this kind of instant musical fame. The fact that your sound will be processed and oversold and they won’t care about your career…that’s the price you pay.
There was a fascinating story in the "Wall Street Journal" this week:
They can’t sell overpriced "IT" handbags anymore. The kind that Sarah Jessica Parker utilized on "Sex and the City", that tons of women, attempting to be hip and cool, overpaid for. The luster has worn off. There’s no exclusivity. And all the money is in exclusivity. Hell, the new, hip bag maker doesn’t even advertise, and I haven’t even heard of it.
If you want to last in the fashion world, you need a coterie of people who are willing to overpay for your designs. Same deal in the music business. You need people willing to give you more than fifteen bucks for a CD. They need to go to multiple shows, they need to buy multiple t-shirts. And they’re only going to do this if you’re exclusive, if only your fans own you. And, if you’re good, if you put on a great show, the world will spread. Just like it has on that Italian handbag maker, Marni.
Don’t focus on the fences, concentrate on the infield. Seth Godin’s got a post about how the LAST experience is the one that sticks with you:
Don’t worry about people buying your music, worry about keeping them involved by giving them unexpected stuff AFTER they’ve been hooked. The free MP3 AFTER they’ve become a fan. The great concert tickets. Play to THIS audience, not the temporary, casual fan.
This is why your audience must be able to get good seats. It’s not about maximizing scalper revenue, trying to out StubHub StubHub. More important is making sure your core audience sits up front for a reasonable price. Focus on this, not the extra revenue momentary fans pay to attend shows up close at the last minute.
Well if the program director don’t pull it
It’s time to get back the bullet
So bring the group down to the station
You’re gonna be an overnight sensation
That’s how the business used to be run. How do you goose it, how do you get a bullet? And, how do you prevent things from going in the wrong direction? How do you get the bullet BACK?
You don’t want a bullet. If you’ve got a bullet, you’re moving too fast. If you have to regain your bullet, you’ve been moving way too fast. Slow and steady. It takes that long for the word to spread.
I’ve been tryin’ to write the lyric
Non-offensive but satiric too
And if you put it in the A-slot
It’s just got to make a mint for you
Top Forty is a ghetto, with rules. Eric Carmen was trying to bend them, to get a chance. Meanwhile, everybody on the FM band had THROWN OUT THE RULE BOOK! The rule book has been gone for years. Just ask the major labels. They don’t know what the fuck is up, as their revenue tanks. Now is not the time to listen to ANYBODY tell you what to do. Now is the time to follow your own muse. And to make a mint for yourself.
I fit those words to a good melody
Amazing how success has been ignoring me
I use my bread making demos all day
Writing in the night while in my head I hear
The record play
Hear it play
It was so much different back then. You had to please the gatekeepers. The labels, to sign you, press up records and work your single. You felt like you were harassed by the system. If you still believe this, that everybody’s against you, then I’m laughing. Nobody cares. Because everybody’s busy doing their own thing. As should you. Make your demos. Put them up on the Web. Spread them to your buds, if they’re good, they’ll tell others. You’ve got to have a personal relationship with those spreading the word. Not me, I don’t know you. I can’t help you. But the kid from school, from work. He can give your MP3s to his friends, people you don’t know, he can encourage them to come see you live. But people won’t come back unless you’re good.
Bruce Springsteen built his career on the road. He was just that good. Took three years for everybody else to notice. But imagine if there were no viable radio format to air "Born To Run", it might have taken even longer.
Bruce was electric. You could see this was not a way station, a stop on the way to medical school. You believed that he believed. That the only thing important to him was this music. That the power of this music was enough to convince you. That’s how Bruce broke, by you telling everybody he had to be seen!
Do you need to be seen? Do you need to be listened to?
Chances are no. But you don’t want to hear this. You want an easy road, where if you bullshit people enough, e-mail enough people blindly, manipulate your MySpace and YouTube numbers high enough, the world will take notice and you’ll gain instant riches and fame. Rolling in the big city, partying and screwing celebrities.
You’ve got a false goal. That’s an empty world. Filled by people who are here today and gone tomorrow. Who don’t care about you. They’re fodder for entertainment. You want to see Britney wig out, but you want to see Bruce Springsteen PERFORM!
So go back to the drawing board. Create something different, straight from your heart. Don’t worry if you don’t gain instant success. If you’re not willing to eat ramen, you’re not willing to make it. It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll. But if you set your course and stay on the road, if you work on your craft, if you believe you truly have it, that you can hold your own with Springsteen on stage, go for it. But know that it won’t happen overnight.