The Model Is Broken

It’s very well-established. You take your time to record an album and you keep it alive on terrestrial radio. In the best of circumstances you dribble out track after track, keeping the album alive for years.

But that was then and this is now.

The “Billboard” chart has become irrelevant. It’s completely manipulated. Want to go number one? Sell vinyl. The real action is in streaming, but the chart includes sales, which are de minimis, to the point where the chart is completely untrustworthy.

So who is the chart for?

The industry itself.

Yet it is publicized in media every week!

But this is the media consumed by oldsters, not youngsters, the active music streaming/buying audience.

And insiders know the chart is a joke, you can brag to your client you made them number one, but everybody on the business side is snickering.

But that’s the least of the industry’s problems.

Today you can make an album and it can be gone in a week. I don’t care how much publicity you’ve garnered, makes no difference. The active fan base buys it, and then what? Crickets. Maybe you can go on the road and sell some to concertgoers, but at this point tickets are so expensive that no act dares go on the road and not play their hits. The idea of playing most of the new album is kaput.

So it’s like the album never came out. You can see it in Discogs, but the fact of its existence is greater than the music itself.

Meanwhile, major labels keep pursuing terrestrial radio, which means less than ever before, which the younger generation does not listen to. The old paradigm is you go where the most people are, but if that mass is declining, what does that mean? I’ll tell you what it means, you’re missing most of the audience.

So if you have Spotify Top 50 music, it’s easier. It can be seen and heard there, as part of a playlist if nothing else. But if you don’t make it to the list, or if you don’t qualify for the list, not making hip-hop or pop, then what?

Oh, that’s right, you want to get on a playlist. Sure, some passive listener might hear your song and save it, but the business is based on active listeners, ever heard of the 90/10 rule?

And then the whole paradigm is disrupted by TikTok. Disruption always happens, especially when you’re asleep at the wheel. Turns out watching the hoi polloi is more interesting than watching dressed-up, media-trained bozos on YouTube. (As for the YouTube music subscription numbers, don’t believe them, an incredible percentage are just paying to get rid of the interminable video ads.)

So the major labels try and control TikTok. But this is playing from the rear as opposed to the front. And the truth is most acts make music that isn’t TikTok friendly. If it’s long and slow, forget about it.

What about that music?

The majors don’t sign it.

So, the majors are losing control of new music production. The story isn’t how TikTok stars can go forward without a label, but how the major labels don’t want to sign most music, and acts making these tunes are forced to go it alone.

As for the big TikTok acts going independent… Almost none of them can resist the huge check, the better deals the majors will proffer just to keep product in their system, and influencer culture is ridden with overnight successes who turn into nothings almost as fast. Make it in music as a social media star? Sure, there are examples, but there are exceptions to every rule.

And the music business continues to detach itself from the public.

I was watching this Netflix comedy special last night, Jeff Ross and Dave Attell looked like they’d just stumbled out for a pack of cigarettes. Bill Burr was wearing his Nikes. This is why you used to want to be a rock star, to break cultural norms, to do it your own way. Now all the stars and wannabe stars have stylists, want to break into the world of fashion, do you think this resonates with the average person on the street? No, for them it’s about the music first and foremost. You shouldn’t need clothing or production to sell it.

And I think it was Jeff Ross who said he lost his sense of taste during Covid. Yes, he bought tickets to a Dave Matthews show! I’m laughing just writing this. Irreverence, it used to be a hallmark of rock music. But the dimwits coddled by the industry can’t even make a joke, never mind take one.

Is the above depressing?

Of course!

But when things are in the doldrums, that’s when disruption occurs. People who think outside the box triumph.

Want to think outside the box?

Fire your lead singer who has got a mediocre voice, I don’t care that he wrote the lyrics, find someone who can sing, who the audience wants to hear.

Write one song so good that it goes viral. That should be your goal, to write individual great songs, forget the album, unless you’re one of those Patreonites bragging that you’re making money selling to an ever-dwindling number of hard core fans. Patreon is not the game, it’s a paper route.

Yes, it’s a hits business. It’s always been a hits business.

Or forget the recordings all together. Make it about the live show. But then it’s got to be different every time you come through, if not every night, and it’s got to be spectacular.

No one wants to hear the above, because that would mean they have to change their thinking. Not do it the typical way. Raise money, book a studio, record an album, pay people to promote it…straight to the dumper.

And it would mean you’d have to reach higher, stop letting others tell you how great you are and measure yourself against…

The Beatles.

That’s right, you’re competing against them every day, they’re right there next to you online, and Paul McCartney is even on the road, hoovering up dollars, that could have gone to you.

In addition to that great voice, maybe you want songs with changes, bridges… Worked for Paul!

Not that that’s the only way to break in. But if you don’t do it the traditional way, you’ve got to be even better than the rest, to bring people to you.

I’d say it can’t go on this way, but it has for over a decade, getting worse and worse.

And what has changed?


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