Saturday, November 28, 2009

MUSIC Q + A - Talent v. Timing - November 28, 2009

MUSIC Q + A - Timing v. Talent

N. Safdari asks:

You mentioned in lecture that there are different methods for an artist to reach success in the music industry. An artist can fit in the category of "Lucky 7", where in, good timing, being at the right place at the right time, can often lead to success. An artist can also obtain success through climbing the stairway, meaning, a grassroots approach is the key. Through maintaining an egg yolk and egg white fan base, the popularity can grow into fame. My question is, do you think the majority of recent artists that have found there way up to the top have been a result of timing or talent?

Hartmann responds:

Talent comes in many shapes and sizes. Digimodernization is redefining how we classify the various skills and techniques employed in the production of recorded music. Pro Tools has enabled anyone with a Mac, a Mic and a Song to make a record. Auto Tune and other digital manipulations can even make those records sound pretty good, if not technically perfect. The low threshold to entry has given millions of artists an opportunity to present their music to the public.

The postmodern record business resulted from the marriage of FM radio, and 331/3 RPM albums. The Beatles drove the format to unprecedented sales and prosperity as an entire generation dreamed of being in a band. But access to the professional arena was an awkward and unpredictable process. The record companies held rigid control over radio promotion, marketing and distribution.

New artists were forced to labor long and hard on their repertoire and technical skills. Only after years of practice and extensive live performing did a new act develop into a commercially viable business entity. The prevailing system put the power into the hands of the labels who maintained expensive A&R divisions to sift through the contenders and decide which artists would get to compete.

Selected singles were offered to radio and the public decided which ones they wanted to hear again. And, if they loved the song enough, they might purchase the artist's album. Ostensibly, they bought ten or more songs to get the one they actually wanted. This created an artificially high profit margin for the record business. Songs that rose in the charts created opportunities for touring acts. The artists kept the box-office receipts and the labels took the lion's share of profits from record sales. Timing played a major role in the game.

Getting signed to a record company was a controlled process that allowed only a fraction of the performers to participate. The managers, agents and producers in power pushed their selections into the system and a formulaic approach dominated the music scene. Originality surrendered to emulation and labels scrambled to clone the latest success offered by their competition. Unable to build a management team that could penetrate the resistance of the status-quo, most artists gave up and went home to resume their day jobs.

The Music Renaissance that has resulted from the marriage of digital distribution and Internet promotion has adjusted the timing involved in the pursuit of careers in music. No longer does an artist need a large advance to make a record. Costly radio promotion campaigns have become irrelevant since the iPod generation has abandoned that particular delivery system.

Today's artist no longer needs to gain the approval of the music industry elite to participate. A free myspace page and a video on youtube gets you into the game. The timing bubble has burst. Careers are instantly established and personally directed. An artist can learn everything he needs to know to build an act at and through thousands of recording arts programs at colleges across the country.

Expertise and experience are no longer mitigating factors. If the music is good and the act motivated a band can generate its own career and build a business without the support of a record company. By owning their masters and controlling the publishing and other income streams artists can reach the profit level sooner. They can start their professional careers when ready and without obligating themselves to managers and labels that promise much and deliver little.

It is important to remember that every song you write is not a crystal tear from the eye of Zeus. It is the nature of music that the players find their work beautiful, but the only true judge is the customer. No matter how great you think your band is, without earning public support and stimulating them to pay for your product, you have no business. Most artists who achieve long term success have been able to consolidate a myriad of factors into the creation of a performing act. Talent TV can produce instant notoriety, but popularity derived from TV exposure does not carry the same weight as a well built fan base gathered over time.

An abundance of one requisite ingredient can compensate for a lack of another. Image can stimulate interest and beauty can overcome a less than great singing voice. Passion can often out run talent allowing the confident, enthusiastic artist to surpass a more gifted peer. No two careers are exactly alike, but playing the percentages and reducing the failure factors can provide some insurance.

By mastering your craft and learning how to mount a live act you can participate. If you build a support team, play the game perfectly well, have an abundance of native talent, and get lucky, you can win. It is more about ability and hard work than time. If you have the talent, the Internet is waiting. The timing is up to you.


Anonymous said...

What if the product is very good and has a high profile producer attached to it, but radio stations and press will not hear it because it's not on a major label, do you really need a major label for added support?

Hartmann said...

In my 50 years in music I have never met an artist who didn't think his product was very good, or better. If a "high profile producer" is attached there may be some assurance of having a quality record, but that depends on how high, what profile and who did he produce. Terrestrial radio is part of the postmodern record business and nobody is listening. The Internet is bigger than AM and FM combined and it is free. Forget the record companies. The future artists will be born on the Internet. The record companies will try to buy the ones that rise on their own, but you won't need them by the time they want you. A great live act is imperative. Recording and merch sales replace the record company support. The music is easy. It is the business that makes the difference.