Did you read that article in today’s "New York Times" about Microsoft’s response to the Apple "Get A Mac" ads? Deep in, at the bottom of the second to last column, it says this:
"On Madison Avenue, they say that the more hands that touch an advertisement, the worse it becomes."
That’s the beef, but the article continues:
"Microsoft felt differently. ‘They thought the more people saw it and gave an opinion, the better it would be,’ Mr. Musser said. ‘That’s how you develop great software. It’s not how you develop great creative.’"
EUREKA! This is it! The essence of what’s gone wrong in the music industry!
The problem became there was too much money. So much that the acts had to be steered, sales had to be guaranteed so the demands of the mega-corporations who now owned the labels, who depended on the revenue of the labels, would be satiated. Execs had targets. They were fearful of not meeting them. And when they succeeded, they were showered with not only cash, but stock options, use of private planes, lifestyle perks in many cases trumping those of the artists they reigned over. Furthermore, the executives had contracts that guaranteed not only a term of service, but income. They had a bit of elbow room the acts did not. The acts had to get it EXACTLY right. So the executives meddled, telling them who to work with and how to record. The act became a second-class citizen. Who had to hit the ground running, delivering an instant hit, platinum on the first release. Less than gold and you were dropped.
No wonder the music sucked! Rather than experimenting, testing limits, trying to come up with a unique expression of what you were feeling inside, you had to look a certain way, cowrite with Diane Warren, and work with a multitude of proven producers. Does Timbaland work on every track? You wonder why the public has tuned out Top Forty radio… Trying to insure success, the labels have ended up with lowest common denominator music that most people can live without.
PC versus Mac is a perfect example. People don’t testify about PCs, they’re cheap, they get the job done. But no one shrugs his shoulders when asked about his Mac, people TESTIFY about their Macs. And sure, Macs might only be 8% of domestic sales, but they’re to the people who count, who drive the culture, the hipsters, the digerati.
In other words, you’re better off having a relationship with active music consumers as opposed to those who are listening passively, in the grocery store, on the elevator. People are passionate about their Macs, they use iPhoto, they make movies, they buy iPhones, it’s a revenue juggernaut. And one less than stellar product does not tarnish the brand. Apple Hi-Fi, Apple TV…did they cause one less person to buy a Mac?
We’re in the Mac business. We turned into the PC business. We thought everyone wanted the same mediocre product. That we were entitled to sales. But once computing moved to the Internet, once it was about the browser and compatibility issues evaporated, the Mac flourished.
Everybody needs a computer. Everybody does not need to own music. So, computer sales will continue. How many will be Mac, how many PC? Depends on the quality of the product. For all the hoopla of the "I’m A PC" ads, it’s Apple that’s burning up the sales charts. Yet, Microsoft does have a chance with its upcoming operating system, Windows 7.
But Windows 7 has a problem. It’s built upon the underpinnings of the old, it must be compatible with what came before. Whereas Apple threw the baby out with the bathwater earlier this decade, switched to a whole new operating system based on Unix, which was much more stable and efficient.
The old music industry thinks it can migrate into the new. That it can adjust. That’s like using your Apple II to watch YouTube clips. Impossible, there was no browser and certainly not enough computing power. Sometimes you’ve got to start over. Hopefully, remembering where you came from.
Jefferson Airplane sounded nothing like Jimi Hendrix. But they both sold well, along with soft balladeer James Taylor. What did they have in common? Testing limits, following their vision to the utmost in their chosen genre. Furthermore, people were fans of all three, they could see the excellence in each.
Now that MTV is history, maybe we can forgot MTV marketing, lowest common denominator, oversold crap. If there’s no artistry, there’s no business. The usual suspects, writers and producers, can’t do something new and different, you need new people to blaze new paths. But the old music industry doesn’t want to take chances.
But art is about taking chances. Oftentimes, big ones.
Who knew you needed a smartphone? Wasn’t a regular cell enough? Original iPhone buyers could not even foresee the App Store, but not only is it driving iPhone sales, critical mass is making competition difficult, Pre and Android are struggling, Windows Mobile is moribund.
We’re selling creativity in the music business. Yes, it comes from artists, who not only don’t have MBAs, but oftentimes didn’t graduate from college, who don’t even read the "New York Times", who own no stock. You derided them in high school, as these art nerds followed their own path. But while we were busy selling out, they were questioning, and now we can see they were right. The mini-conglomerates, whored out to sponsors, trying to grab revenue, they’re trying to get what we’ve got their own way. They’re saying you can win in the business world without a degree. Who cares? That’s boring.
We care about what John Lennon has to say. We care about the individual, whose ideas might be shepherded to success via the efforts of others, but is not told to compromise, but to reach for the stars, to try and capture lightning in a bottle, so we can all be enriched by what they produce.