The Noise Cycle

Is Beyonce’s album already done?

Looks like it. Hopefully Sony will be able to eke out a few hit singles, but the publicity burst is over and we’re ready for the next thing. Springsteen’s album is teed up. I give it until February 1st to be gone.

How did this happen? How did the world change and the music industry not? How did acts keep making albums that came and went when everything online is continuous?

The same way television usurped the role of movies, by realizing it was important to build a national culture that kept everybody talking.

Miley Cyrus tried this. But her stunts eclipsed the music. Only those not truly interested don’t realize she’s executing a series of stunts, employing marijuana, tattoos and scatological behavior.

So either you’ve got to go underground, be happy with the niche audience you’ve got, or our entire business needs a rethink on how to make, manufacture, distribute and promote music.

Once upon a time there was radio. You were addicted to the airwaves more than any particular act. If you liked that act, you could purchase their music for private play.

Then came MTV, which got the entire nation excited and talking.

And then came the Internet, which killed music video, put a dent in radio and made everything hearable by everybody the day of release.

And you wonder why the music business is challenged.

It would be great if there were an outlet everybody became addicted to, one with soul, beholden to the music. That certainly isn’t terrestrial radio. And every Pandora station is unique.

As for music video… Every year there are a few clips that catch our eye, otherwise they’re ads that mostly go unwatched.

So in the future:

1. The game goes on every day.

2. The single is your way to stay in the game.

3. Blockbusters rule. I.e. “Get Lucky,” “Blurred Lines” and “Royals.” They’re the heart and soul of the business. When they hit, they can impact the culture and last for months. They don’t depend on radio, they don’t depend on video, rather they rise upon their intrinsic goodness. Either you create one of these, or your project will be forgotten. This is what Beyonce’s album lacks. How many can name a single song from the record? As for Springsteen, he tried this gambit with “We Take Care Of Our Own”… The only problem is, it was no “Blurred Lines.”

4. We live in the era of blockbuster singles. Most people didn’t buy the Daft Punk, Robin Thicke or Lorde albums, they don’t need them. But they do need another track just as good. None of the albums featured a track even close. Which is why the albums didn’t matter.

5. Touring is about making money, it’s rarely about growing your audience, especially at today’s inflated ticket prices. That’s one thing Kid Rock got right, letting looky-loos in at a low price and trying to close them at the gig. It’s a strategy abandoned by the business that needs to come back. You’ve got to be so good live that you gain new fans. This can be done via TV, it’s what Prince did at the Super Bowl and has been touring in the wake of ever since, but there was Prince at the Super Bowl and…

6. Short term billing… As long as the record industry focuses on this it’s doomed. TV shows are famous for negative financing, investing for future syndication, whereas in recorded music it’s all about the now, how can we squeeze out the most money today, the public and the act be damned. Streaming is inherently long term, and even the acts don’t understand this, but we’re entering an era of one hit wonders and long termers, which one do you want to be?

7. We have to agree that most people don’t need most music. Record labels would be better off signing fewer acts and focusing on getting them right and promoting them. We live in an era where quality rules. Cars rarely break and computers are nearly idiot-proof, certainly the burgeoning tablet. What makes us believe the audience has got time for mediocre music, made at length? Then again, it’s easy to record crummy music, it’s actually quite hard to make a crummy car.

I don’t expect anybody to tackle the above issues. The labels are run by old men who want instant paydays and the acts are all chasing the bankers and their private planes and the unwashed wannabes want it to be easy, like reality television. As for the techies, they were never about the music, just extracting the revenue of what exists. And believe me, we don’t have a technology problem, we’ve got an artistic problem, married to a marketing problem.

So this is what’s gonna happen. We’re gonna continue to plod along until someone does it differently. It will probably be an act. It might be a new genre of music. The tunes will come first and the money second. The choices made will not align with those of today. And when it arrives we’ll all scratch our heads and say…THAT’S IT!

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