Smoke and mirrors

Mysticism keeps men sane.  As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity.  The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic.  He has permitted the twilight.  He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland.  He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of today) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. GK Chesterton

I’ve spent the last 40 years working in the music industry behind the scenes as a tour manager, starting out in the spotlight as a performer.  I’ve met a lot of great people that sincerely care about music. Fellow musicians, producers, labels, and publishers that want nothing more than to release and create good solid tracks.

Although, I may not be a cynical as Michael Musco, he has some interesting points worth considering: “There is a common fear that has come up over the years in this community. Talk of “long tail” of music being lost. Basically, what this means is you’re either making tons of money or none at all. It pretty much mirrors society as a whole. You have an elite group, the 1% that dominate over the 99%.

You might think well, that’s show biz for you or that the 1% has that “it” factor. What most people don’t know is there are only 3 major labels, with tons of subsidiaries and vanity labels. The big 3 are Sony Music, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group and they control roughly 80-90% of the music market.

They work like a bank, and could care less about music. The only thing that matters is profit and they’ve figured out that in the new music economy, it’s better to release formulated tracks with marketable faces. They recruit new additions to their roosters from musicians/bands that have succeeded on their own at developing a following, sign them to 360 deals, and scale them.

Solo artists work great in this situation because it makes it so much easier to create a pop star. In the world of reality tv, social media celebrity and fake news, if they have a strong following they are marketable. Talent doesn’t really matter because if the track doesn’t hit, they drop them for the next person with stars in their eyes.

As far as the ability to actually write music or sing, that doesn’t matter either. They’ll get someone to write the song for these faces. All they have to do is provide the voice, and with a little auto-tune, they’ll sound good. No one will know the difference anyway because it’s not like they will ever really sing live.

To boost buzz for this up and coming artist the major labels will implore little tricks of the trade to get press and publicity. They’ll fake play counts, buy up their own release to get it to chart, create beefs and outright pay for ink. All of this to get a return on investment, ROI. It’s manufactured celebrity.

Now as far as trying to make the track hit, the labels need exposure and repetition. That’s where commercial radio comes into play. Modern day payola works by using a third-party system. The major labels pay indies to pay the owners of radio stations to spin the tracks. Don’t get it twisted, they aren’t paying small independent stations, you need to think bigger like Clear Channel and market share leaders. Once the track is on the playlist it’s hit or miss time.”

As I said, Musco’s views may be a little cynical for my tastes, but to go into this business blindly can lead artists into a very rude wake-up call, but I hang on to that very slim chance there may be gold at the end of some of our rainbows 🙂 To loose our wonder is a very flat life.

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