The Stairway To Heaven
In a recent lecture you talked about how an artist can make it to the big top through an alternative means, through climbing "the stairway to heaven". What are the advantages of taking this route as opposed to other more "conventional" methods. Is one way more preferable over others in order to ensure an artist long run success?
The ancient music industry has evolved a system of mechanics and protocols that govern its traditional activities. The performance of live music in front of paying audiences can be as simple as one person singing in the street, for donations, and as complicated as tens of thousands crowding into sports arenas for major music events. The singular difference is measured by gross box-office potential. The dollar bills and loose change that land in the troubadour's guitar case are just as vital to his survival as the million dollar pay days that superstars take from larger venues.
The street musician is providing the very same service, from rock bottom, as the major artists provide from the big top. The primary difference is how many zeroes follow the number of dollars earned from the performance. The concert production business is the primary activity of the music industry and provides the core infrastructure around which the rest of the game is conducted. Every performing artist is in competition with all the other artists great and small.
Singers, musicians and bands seeking fame and fortune in showbiz must overcome the gravity in the elevator to the big top. There is a natural resistance from those in power to relinquish the rewards to the new contender. The baby band is competing for the same entertainment dollars as the established artist. Those earning the most, at any given time, fiercely resist the emerging artist's success by holding on to their spot in the ever changing music market place.
The competition is conducted by entrepreneurs and the creators of music through the traditional relationship between artists and personal mangers. Regardless of the nature of their financial arrangement this marriage of careers makes the manager the CEO of the artist's corporation.
The pursuit of their shared goals creates the commercial activity that generates box-office receipts and ancillary income streams through marketing of branded merchandise and recorded music.
Although every management team faces the same challenges in overcoming the circumstantial resistance to their success, each career has its own unique set of characteristics. Some are enabled by extraordinary talent, beauty and charisma. Often fledgling artists are supported by circumstances that have nothing to do with their inherent talent. They have access to the big top through one of the pathways on the stairway to heaven. Accessing these alternate routes is more about luck and natural selection than the artistic or entrepreneurial skills of the core team.
There are five paths on the stairway to heaven. The most powerful is "nepotism." If your father is an established star with proven talent and popularity, you as his offspring will be given an opportunity to demonstrate your craft. If you reveal prodigious creative and technical ability the public may embrace you as a star not having fallen far from the parental tree. Such public appreciation can lead to instant access to the star making machinery and insure your success.
A second route to the big top is "personal wealth." If you are a trust fund baby with deep pockets, you can invest your capital in the development and maintenance of your career. During the postmodern era the costs of mounting a live act were traditionally born by the record companies. With the advent of digital downloading the major labels can no longer justify huge investment in new artists. The loss of this financial source does not effect an artist who can fund his enterprise.
Corporate "sponsorship" can also provide an alternate route to the big top. As the digital convergence continues to erode the traditional systems for marketing and promotion, more and more business enterprises are seeking a direct connection to their customer base. By providing vehicles, cash and equipment to musical attractions many companies are actively engaged in the growth and development of new artists. This will increase as Internet advertising proliferates.
The fourth pathway is the slippery slope of "talent TV." There is no question that the talent contest television format has catapulted a handful of artists to the top of the charts. A few of them have even built what appears to be enduring careers. Conversely, it has brought the dreams and aspirations of many thousands of aspirants to a dead halt. Regardless of how far into the process one evolves, the careers produced are more about celebrity than talent. The notoriety accumulated in a few television exposures does not form the basis of an enduring career in music.
There is a long established tradition in showbiz that performers can sometimes "sleep" their way to the top. This is probably the riskiest and most painful method of building executive access to the people, systems and mechanics of the music industry. However, its efficacy cannot be denied. If you are an artist married to the president of the record company, it is reasonable to assume that you will get productive attention from the vice-presidents and staff, thus ensuring a concerted effort. There is a recent case that proves even in divorce such an artist can come out well ahead.
Regardless of how one gains a place in the elite fraternity that occupies the top ten percent of the music industry, surviving there is a daunting process. There are no guarantees in showbiz and in a game where duration is the primary goal, very few careers last a lifetime. The ones that endure are built one performance at a time by establishing a personal rapport with their fans through the concert arena. Artists starting their careers on the stairway to heaven must build the same management team, to stay on top, that would have been required to get there in the first place.