Thursday, November 5, 2009

QUESTION OF THE DAY - The Disney Monster - November 5, 2009

Chris Vaughn asks:

I know that a ton of young artists get a start through Disney. However I also know that Disney runs things like a Nazi and takes most everything the artist earns. A friend of mine is managing his two younger brothers and a girl who is a close family friend of theirs and they are talking to Disney a bit, I'm pretty sure they even have a music video on one of Disney's new channels. Do you think that they should pursue any talks with Disney as a great career starter that they can later branch off from, or should they try to go a different route?

Hartmann responds:

Careers are like fingerprints; from a distance they all look the same, up close each is different. Every genre and style has an appropriate avenue to travel in pursuit of popularity and success. American Idol does afford an opportunity for certain artists to get exposure and initiate their careers. Disney films, television, radio and record labels provide many artists with a testing ground for their talents. The process is more about "celebrity" than music.

Talent TV provides quick access to the public view and more often than not comes with a speedy exit attached. Considering the thousands of artists who have participated in the various reality shows about the music business a relatively small number have achieved sustained success. Most Idol contestants achieve brief notice and many enjoy a few weeks of attention, most learn that they have no commercially viable talent and slip back into the obscurity from whence they came.

Those that rise to the top become ensnared in a web of contractual obligations that place their careers in the hands of third parties. They end up being owned and operated by the producers of the shows that made them attractive to the public. These artists have management and record companies imposed on them and their music becomes the property of the producers. They are usually paid a small salary and told what material they will record and what personal appearances they will make. The truly talented will have enduring careers and eventually outlive the original contracts.

I expect that Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson and Mylie Cyrus are not complaining about the role television played in their success. Undoubtedly there were circumstances they had to overcome and undesirable options they were forced to endure. Fortunately personal services contracts cannot exceed seven years in California, so there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There is also the ability to "renegotiate" when leverage is gained. If you are making Disney a lot of money, and they need your cooperation, you do have the ability to ask for a larger share of the profits.

The Disney machine is content specific. The Mouse House has an image and style that is popular among the younger demographic. They fiercely protect their reputation and keep a wholesome, family oriented array of content. The integration of their contract artists into the various media outlets they control has enabled the rise of performers with a certain look. These acts are funneled into formats that impose the Disney style on the artist rather than being allowed to demonstrate original music. Such artists will find it difficult to shake off that image in later years.

The postmodern record business is in a state of decline and it will not likely survive in its current form. A digimodernist paradigm is emerging and with it comes a new sensibility about who artists are and what they represent in today's society. If an act is attractive to Disney, they must be presenting certain characteristics that fit the Disney formula. This most likely focuses them on the preteen demographic and these same qualities will limit their appeal to other age groups.

The power of Disney's radio network, and American Idol's massive audience can be valuable in the early stages of a career. The multi-media exposure they can offer guarantees a certain amount of noteriety. Good looks and a modest sexuality can carry an artist a long way quickly, but only quality music and practiced performance skills will build an enduring career in entertainment.

The object of personal management is to build longevity into the act. Audiences grow up fast and as they become more musically sophisticated their tastes change. They will demand more from their musical heroes and the corporate based artists will lose their allure. It is doubtful that
a manufactured attraction like The Jonas Brothers will be working in showbiz a decade from now.

The use of celebrity television to gain popularity is a judgement call that artists and managers must make when the opportunities present themselves. This stairway to heaven comes with the obligation to understand the depth and term of the commitment and requires an evaluation of the artist's long term goals and native talent. If one chooses to join such a system, read and understand the array of contracts that will govern the artist's professional activities.

Personal managers must be conscious of the need to build a team of players, from the eight core professions of entertainment, that will carry on the artist's career when the obligation to their corporate masters expires. When signing the requisite pile of contracts the TV producers will submit to the potential winners, consider doing so without using legal representation. This can provide a legal safety net that leaves the door cracked for a possible renegotiation. When fame accrues everything changes. The power of the artist, which is minimal at the beginning, is greatly enhanced when the public embraces the rising star.

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