Ask not what the middleman can do for you, ask what you can do that’s so good it eliminates the need for a middleman.
Yesterday I went to the Houdini exhibit at the Skirball Museum. Other than astounding me with the number of Jews in magic, I was struck by the technological changes that wreaked havoc on the art form. Movies, silent and sound, radio and television, they’d killed vaudeville, you no longer had to leave home to see the show, it came to you.
Begging the question of whether concert ticket prices will ever come down. Maybe going to the gig will no longer be a regular habit, maybe concerts are a special event and most people experience music at home, or on the go in their own little world.
Suck on that for a while…
Don’t be distracted by the muckety-mucks trying to jet back to the past, just concern yourself with technological advancements and keep marching into the future.
In other words, "American Idol" and radio are positively old school. Dying art forms that still have some power but will mean ever less as the years go by.
Radio? You mean I have to sit there and listen and wait for my song to come on? When I’ve got an iPod and I can watch TV programs on demand on screens both big and small, even my iPad? Music radio is history. Talk radio will sustain. It unfolds in real time.
As for "American Idol"…who was the winner again? That show was about competition and advertising, music was featured, but stars are not being built because that’s no longer what a star is.
A star is not someone who is hyped by money into the hearts of America.
A star is someone who creates something by his or her wits that is so intriguing that it’s forwarded to millions.
Don’t make a record to get a label deal. Don’t make a record to get on the radio. Make a record that makes those who listen to it want to tell everybody they know about it.
This is much more difficult than the old money-focused way. Because it depends on creativity and quality.
Sure, you can dedicate your 10,000 hours and become really proficient. But that’s not the only reason we love the tracks of yore. We love them because of their creativity, because of their insight, how did Frank Zappa come up with those ideas?
Maybe you’ve never heard "Status Back Baby", from the second Mothers of Invention album, "Absolutely Free". It’s a jaunty number that sounds like twisted Top Forty music that recites the frustration of one’s spot on the teenage totem pole. Zappa died before his time. Not enough people heard "Status Back Baby". They would have had to buy the album, which contained no radio hits, they would have had to have a friend who owned it.
But a friend turned me on to "Flower Punk" from the subsequent album. He made me put on the headphones and listen to the two inane commentaries competing in each ear. That made me a Zappa fan.
That’s how you make fans today. By making something so creative or good that people pay attention. That’s the major label formula. They want to sign you AFTER you’ve gotten everybody to pay attention. But if you make that deal you’re shortsighted, because all the label can do is get you on radio and TV, two dying media, meanwhile taking too much of the upside and paying very little in advance.
In other words, one Funny Or Die clip is better than hours spent working with Dr. Luke. That’s the secret of OK Go. The videos were so creative, they were passed from hand to hand via e-mail, IM and the Facebook wall.
Yes, the words of the poets are written on the Facebook wall, the subway’s passe.
So instead of handing out fliers, e-mailing everybody you know to listen to your music, the game is to stay home and create something so good, so interesting, that when it’s posted online, people won’t be able to stop sending it to their friends.
It’s not even about genres. There are no limits online.
And catchy is catchy. I may have only heard Rebecca Black’s "Friday" one time through, but the chorus is stuck in my head.
So stand back, take a deep breath and change direction. Don’t play by the old rules. Today you’ve got to be really good or really creative or both. Your song must connect in one listen.
That doesn’t mean you can’t keep trying, you can’t keep uploading songs and videos, but the sheer mass, just staying in the game, won’t help. You’re now an inventor, looking for that one breakthrough product. When you succeed, your history is unlocked and your fans can wallow in your past. This is the opposite of the major label paradigm. There’s the hit and..?