Overnight Sensation

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”
The Raspberries

I don’t stop hearing about Kamala Harris. Since the debate, she’s not only the talk of politicos, but the country. In just one little exchange she got traction. She was waiting in the wings for her moment, hadn’t gotten a lot of attention, but when the lights were on she delivered and became an overnight sensation, literally.

We don’t have those moments in the music business anymore.

Yup, at first I was gonna write about delivering each and every night, especially when the lights are upon you. You hear that story from managers all the time. They tell their acts to give it their all, no matter how many people are in the audience, and then it turns out some bigwig was there one night that was underattended and they proffer an offer and…

One of the biggest movies last year, which debuted on HBO last night, was “Bohemian Rhapsody.” And consensus is the highlight of the flick was Queen’s performance at Live Aid. We haven’t had a show with anywhere near that impact since Live 8, but that was in 2005. It was the last gasp of the old world. The highlight was the reunion of Pink Floyd. What could a concert feature today, the reunion of *NSYNC?

But Live Aid came during the height of MTV. It cemented the outlet’s place in the firmament. It had started as a derided AOR TV station that was unavailable in many markets. But then Duran Duran became overnight sensations with its videos and the station broadened its playlist to include Michael Jackson and if you didn’t have MTV before Live Aid, you certainly signed up for it after.

Actually, it was free. Like radio. As long as you had a cable account.

But in the nineties MTV became a caricature of itself, and then at the turn of the century Napster came along to blow a hole in the paradigm, and after the last gasp of MTV/VH1 dominance at the beginning of the 2000s, breaking Coldplay, Radiohead and Dave Matthews, it’s been all niche all the time.

Not that they’re not trying to convince us otherwise.

Then again, if Chance the Rapper or Kendrick Lamar got that level of exposure, would they become household names too?

Actually, Kendrick appeared on the Grammys. It did not cross him over beyond his core audience.

Then again, the Grammys don’t mean what they used to. Remember when it would supercharge careers? Notably with Bonnie Raitt and then Lauryn Hill? That doesn’t happen anymore. Maybe because we live in an era of streaming as opposed to sales, but I’d argue the Grammys don’t have the impact of the debates, there’s nothing at stake. Acts self-promote and appeal to their niche, and there it stops.

So I checked the ratings.

Night two of the debates was watched by 18.1 million viewers, as well as 9 million streamers.

The 2019 Grammy Awards had 19.8 million viewers, but only a 5.6 rating amongst adults 18-49, which was actually a decrease from the year before. Meaning the Grammys are a show for oldsters, turns out youngsters are streaming or doing anything but watching CBS at that hour.

But even if they were, when was the last time someone made it via a Grammy performance? Especially when you’ve got all these mash-ups/duets…instead of special Grammy moments, they’re turn-offs. It would be like in the middle of the debate Harris and Biden reenacted Kennedy’s inauguration speech. Nobody cares!

In other words, music has given up its stranglehold on the American public.

Not only was there Live Aid, but late night television, which featured musical performances. A great performance on late night Letterman could truly boost your career. Word of mouth would spread.

And then you’ve got the Beatles nailing it three Sundays in a row on “Ed Sullivan.” Almost everybody tuned in, especially youngsters, who can still wax rhapsodic about the experience.

All this proves that politics is the story of the age, with so much on the line.

And somehow the music industry is not resonating with the public. It’s more like governors and state legislatures, which are either red or blue, the south being red and…that’s right, you’re a monster performer in one state, amongst one demo, but not another. How did we get so far from the garden?

So I ask you… Who is out there, plying the boards, who you believe is one exposure away from going gangbusters. The last person who did this, was Lady Gaga. Who made it on EDM-based tracks but then broadened her purview to include Tony Bennett, she went on tour with him. And then, not having a hit in eons, she scored in “A Star Is Born” and now she’s a legend. Beyond hits. Kinda like Barbra Streisand.

Then again, Gaga can convey her message, her essence, just alone at the piano. She’s the act, she needs nothing more.

And in the first decade of this century, all the hipsters were railing against “American Idol.” But it did yield Kelly Clarkson. Now TV music shows get lower ratings and don’t break stars whatsoever. Then again, they’re singing shows. Lady Gaga does more than sing.

So we don’t have the acts and we don’t have the opportunities.

But I’ll tell you, acts are not born fully-formed. Managers and labels help mold them, give them their shot.

The Allman Brothers were a live act with little impact in recordings. Then they recorded “Live At Fillmore East” and became instant legends.

So Harris, Gaga and the Allmans were all hiding in plain sight. And when they got their moment they delivered. Can you say “Whipping Post”?

We need acts with this potential.

And we need opportunities to expose them to a broad audience.

But we don’t have these opportunities either.

When the Raspberries released “Overnight Sensation,” if you were on the radio everybody knew you.

Today, you can be #1 on radio or Spotify and a great swath of America is clueless.

This needs to change.

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