Monday, September 21, 2009

QUESTION OF THE DAY - MAKING IT BIG - September 21, 2009


Lindsay Stanger asks:

It seems as though... 30 years ago when a band got signed to a major record label they were bound to at least be a one hit wonder if not a superstar. I have some friends that are either solo artists or in bands that were signed to major record labels and even offered a pretty hefty signing bonus...why is it that nothing ever seems to happen for them after they are signed?? Does the record label give up on them even after originally seeing potential? Is this common?

Hartmann responds:

The postmodern record business was born of the marriage between AM radio and 331/3 R.P.M. long playing albums. The Beatles were the superstar attraction that exploded this format into the global popular culture. Their extraordinary songwriting talents, combined with unbridled charisma and social upheaval all contributed to rocketing the Fab Four into an international phenomenon that came to be known as Beatlmania.

Initially successful in the United Kingdom, The Beatles were slow off the launching pad in the United States. The catalytic event that launched their early success was the assassination Of JFK. In the beginning almost every major record company passed on them. However, they were steadily building a cult following in America in the early 60s. When Kennedy was killed, the baby boomers took it personally and rejected the materialistic values of their parents generation and embraced those mop tops from England. The Beatles replaced the leaders and the rest is history.

The record industry infrastructure that was created by unprecedented album sales was nourished by the British Invasion that followed. One after another the great musical attractions emerged and albums sold like never before. Every major music genre was effected and the record business grew to be a multi billion dollar enterprise. What followed was the most productive era in the history of popular music. An entire generation embraced music as its driving force.

Major international corporations were quick to recognize this highly lucrative business where fans would purchase albums as badges of honor and personal identification with their musical heroes. A counter culture was born in resistance to the Viet Nam war and this rebellion further fueled the growth of a music driven society of youth. The entire movement was driven by an anti-war mind set and the ubiquitous use of cannabis, psychedelic and eventually hard drugs.

Many observers and participants attributed the burst of creative expression to the throwing open of the doors of perception that massive drug taking provoked. The Hippie movement that resulted in the demise of the war was inspired by the protest songs of The Beatles and their emulators. Universal drug abuse led to the deaths of three of musics greatest talents in 1969.

Superstars Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison all expired from accidental overdoses as experimentation transcended drugs as tools and turned to narcotics as fuels. Many other artists lives were cut short and careers interrupted by the insidious use of cocaine and heroin. There were other climactic moments when drug induced behavior led to the murder at Altamont and the Manson tragedy. Suddenly excessive drug use lost its charm and music has not been the same since.

The myriad of record labels condensed down to four major companies. In the 80s, sales of their vast catalogs of masters were reinvigorated by the invention of the compact disc known in the vernacular as the CD. This new technology inspired the greatest boom in recorded music ever. Entire record collections were replaced with the new digital format at no additional cost to the manufacturers. The music was already owned, controlled and paid for and now presented as brand new product. The power slipped away from the artists and accrued to the music giants.

What followed was unprecedented prosperity and tighter controls on the system. The formulaic approach ultimately led to a decline in musical quality and the birth of the independant record lable movement. Companies that had previously embraced artistic integrity and long term development of artists surrendered to the hunt for instant success and platinum status. New originators were left by the wayside or confined to micro-labels and limited success. If an artist didn't achieve an immediate hit they were abandoned by their record companies and declared instant failures.

What the record companies offered was a large recording budget and a one shot attack at radio. The artists they signed were mostly copies of yesterdays successes. The free form expression once offered by FM radio surrendered to the limited product offered by the labels and promoted primarily an AM. No longer was the concept of career building a consideration.

As the digital age progressed and universal, high speed, Internet access prevailed, the other side of the digital sword surfaced. Peer-to-peer file sharing abolished the label's dictation of what music was avaialable to compete for popularity. The fan base is now empowered to choose from the vast array of music from every extant genre now proliferating on the world wide web.

Today the power is with the people, who can acquire music freely from the Internet, which offers a promotional medium infinitely more accessible than broadcast airwaves. The cost of promotion is negligible; and with digital recording, so is the creation of recorded music. This has brought the postmodern record industry to its knees and thrown open the participation to anybody with a Mac a mic and a song.

No longer will artists be dependant on the approval of A&R committees. Now they can build their careers from the cyber-grass-roots up and own their masters, publishing and the lion's share of the income. Talent is still the primary criterion for success and survival is the challenge. Only ten percent of the artists will make a profit and ninety percent of the money will be earned by one percent of the acts. Only the most driven will reach the professional realm and only the great ones will prevail.

No comments: