Mass Is Everything

And niche is nowhere.

Ever since that misguided book “The Long Tail” came out everyone with a keyboard believes they’re entitled to an audience and compensation online. This is patently untrue. Ironically, as more people got access, broadband prospered and mobile reigned the scene started to resemble our nation at large, one of haves and have-nots, of income inequality, of winners and losers, but the great unwashed refuse to believe this.

Like those starting podcasts.

Just because you can do it doesn’t mean anybody wants to listen to it. And Malcolm Gladwell enters the fray years late and goes directly to the top of the chart. That’s the power of name recognition, career accomplishment and talent. When few were podcasting you had a chance. Now, fuggetaboutit.

Why is it everybody gloms on when a medium becomes mature, when the experts know the game is all about the bleeding edge, being first, testing limits, planting your flag on an outpost. But that’s damn hard to do, you have to have confidence, talent and insight. And perseverance. That’s the dirty little secret, most people give up, sooner rather than later.

We see this great inequality, the gap between losers and winners, in the tech infrastructure. There’s only ONE Facebook. And there are a couple of other social networks with traction, Instagram and Snapchat. If you’re trying to compete odds are long, very long. Apple failed twice, with Ping and Connect.

And in mobile operating systems there’s Android and iOS. BlackBerry is moribund and despite the marketing power of Microsoft, Windows cannot compete.

So, if they can’t win, what are the odds you can?

Which is why you’re making so little despite your tunes being on Spotify, YouTube even. Sure, you have 10,000 views, which seems significant to you, but there are unknown acts with 50 million, truly, they just haven’t blown up yet, most of the world is an untapped market.

You see the public wants to belong, be a member of the group, have something to talk about, and those in the music sphere seem categorically unable to accept this, if they acknowledge it at all. People like hits. They want to listen to what everybody else does. They want to be members of a community. They want to go to the show en masse and celebrate.

Do not equate the modern era with the pre-internet one. In the twentieth century five thousand albums were released a year. Just getting a record deal was a near-impossibility. Most people could not play in the game at all. And those that did had a leg up. They got publicity and some airplay and word of mouth was available, there were few competing projects. So when you were niche in the seventies or eighties or even nineties, you really weren’t. You were already an exclusive club member. People knew who you were. You could play clubs, supported by your label. Fans championed you and supported you, but not as much as your record company, which footed the bill before either hitting the jackpot or giving up.

But today the scene is incomprehensible. There’s just too much out there. And labels are businesses, they want to make money. And they can only do this by reaching mass. And mirroring income inequality they’re only interested in that which can truly break through, rain down coin, the middle is anathema. Just ask the movie business, where you can’t get a comedy or adult drama funded. But, you tell them, you can make it for under ten mil, bunts instead of home runs. But home runs score and bunts do not. And with overhead, marketing expenses and opportunity cost, it doesn’t pay to do anything but swing for the fences.

That’s on the side of production.

On the side of consumption…

The public leans toward that which is anointed. Which is what the Grammy bounce is all about. Hell, “Hamilton” just shot up the chart after winning all those Tonys. The music on the album didn’t change, but people’s awareness of it did.

Which is why all these streaming music services will not survive. Because, like bands, mass is where it’s at. People want to be where everybody else is. How do you even share a song on Apple Music? If you’re on Tidal? Can you send it to someone who doesn’t subscribe?

There’s only one Amazon, one trustworthy retailer, which expanded into new territories, kind of like Spotify, which now has podcasts and video.

But Spotify’s model of endless playlists is b.s. The whole playlist canard is b.s. Because it doesn’t serve the customer. The customer wants trusted curation of that which everybody is paying attention to. We don’t only want great, we want great that everybody else is listening to. When all the acts on the playlist are unknown to you, you don’t even bother listening. You feel like you’re wasting your time. Even if you found something you liked you feel no one else would have ever heard of it. But if everybody’s listening to the same playlist, then you know you have a starting point.

I know, I know, this is everything you hate about the old system. But gatekeepers don’t only exact tolls, they keep order, they deliver comprehension, which the public greatly needs.

So don’t tell me about your personal playlist. Or the obscure one you listen to. Doesn’t float my boat, doesn’t satisfy my urges. I need community, something today’s music services do a piss-poor job of providing. Spotify would be better off resembling KROQ more than a record store. Build culture and belief, narrow it down for us.

But, like “The Long Tail,” streaming services have it all wrong, they’re too busy being everything to everybody and satisfying few in the process.

And hustlers muddy the water trying to gain attention for what they’re selling even though no one cares.

Mass adds definition. Look at the Kardashians. Everybody knows who they are. Some love ’em, some hate ’em, others are indifferent. But if you come to my house we can argue about them. We can’t argue about most bands.

But the Kardashians know you gain traction and hammer the message. And the family had the same damn members before they were on TV. And Kim was just a pale imitation of Paris Hilton.

But isn’t it funny we rarely hear about Paris anymore. We don’t need her if we have Kim.

We don’t need you if we’ve got Zeppelin and Bieber.

But at least Bieber and Drake, who releases a mixtape seemingly every time the seasons change, get the new paradigm. That it’s about being constantly in the public eye, with new product, that you don’t rest on your laurels, you keep creating.

Are you a winner or a loser?

First, check your field. If you can’t be at the top, you’re not gonna make it on the internet.

But if you’ve got a shot, utilize the tools. Don’t scream at streaming services, embrace them. Go where everybody else is.

That’s what the public wants.

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