Beg, Steal Or Borrow — The Sorry State Of The Music Industry

June 14, 2011

Recently, a few of us at Fast Horse were given the opportunity to develop a marketing plan for a local rock band with the goal of growing their national following and creating new and interesting promotional tools. We’re still in the early stages of planning. To inform our brainstorms, I’ve been turning over this simple question: “What makes an artist or band popular?”

I used to think I understood the music industry, but the further we get from the original success metric — album sales — the more difficult it has become to define success and popularity.

  • Consider: Lady Gaga is the biggest pop star on the planet. Her latest album, “Born This Way,” sold 1.14 million copies in its first week — the largest first-week total since 50 Cent’s “The Massacre” in 2005. However, the album was sold for $.99 on Amazon during the first week, leading to 440,000 record sales. In other words, Lady Gaga basically gave her album away to inflate album sales. Two weeks since being released, the album as fallen to No. 2 on the charts behind Adele‘s “21,” which was released on Feb. 22.
  • Earlier this year, “Glee” surpassed Elvis Presley’s record for most songs to chart in the Billboard Hot 100. The problem? All of those songs were covers. Now, the cast of Glee is on tour selling out arenas for nearly $100 per ticket and the show has led to record deals for several of its stars.
  • On a smaller scale, the musical duo Karmin has earned 56.2 million views and more than 332,000 subscribers on YouTube by putting their twist on hip-hop and R&B covers. In fact, Karmin recently recorded a cover of Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” with members of The Roots and landed a major recording deal. Though both musicians studied at the reputable Berklee College of Music, they cashed in on the creativity of others.

The biggest problem, as I see it, is music has been downgraded to a conduit, a byproduct, an excuse to put a buxom bombshell or dimpled-and-six-packed crooner in front of a crowd. It makes me long for the days when music was the product, the thing. (I was born in 1984 — such an era probably predates me.) Imagine how self-indulgent it must’ve seemed the first time an artist or band put their image on an album.

Back to our band — whom we will name at a later date — our planning has focused entirely on the music. We want to bring their music to life with ideas that are creative, artful and honest. We’re aiming to create a fully immersive listening experience that’s inspired by and respectful to the process of writing and performing music. As music purists, it’s easier to sleep at night knowing we’re not peddling snake oil.

We believe the band’s music will make them popular. We only want to make their megaphone a little louder.