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Brand Trumps Music

Donald Trump By Michael Vadon CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
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Trump has taken this all the way to the Presidency. Ever notice that what he said yesterday doesn’t matter today? Actually, lying is part of his brand, that’s why we all pay attention!

Used to be music developed. Over time. You took baby steps. Tried to get notice, tried to build a fan base. But that paradigm died with the seventies. But that does not mean baby boomers don’t yearn for its return. Meanwhile, the millennials and Generation Z never experienced this heyday, when an act took five albums to break through. Now everything is hit and run. Nothing is built to last. The world moves too fast. So he or she with the brand wins.

If people know who you are, they love weighing in on you. Not only the press, but the public. Ever go somewhere and try to discuss your newfound fave and find out that no one has ever heard of it? Welcome to 2018!

So you’re better off getting face tattoos and posting on social media and making friends with other talent so, like our President, when you release your music you don’t start off at home, but second base. Ever since Britney Spears, we hear about the act before the music, now it’s only worse.

You see it’s next to impossible to rise above the noise. So the same acts populate the Spotify Top 50 while radio waits for consensus and scoops up the poop from the elephants who were barred from the circus before the whole enterprise collapsed. You enter at the top of the chart, you stay there for a while, then you’re done. If you’re expecting your non-hip-hop tracks to gain any attention, you’re dreaming. Then again, if you worked on your brand, if people knew who you were and you kept on making news, then maybe you’d have a chance.

At this point, Kanye the man is bigger than his music. He’s superseded the music, it’s just an advertisement for his clothing and the rest of his shenanigans. And if you’re playing the home game, trying to go professional, you imitate Kanye, not Little Feat. Who wants to be in a band that struggles and makes no money, we’re all about getting rich here, and music is just a vehicle.

And everybody involved has drunk the kool-aid. No one is crying foul.

This is why AAA and Active Rock music never penetrates, these acts don’t know it’s about the sideshow, not the main show.

You’ve got to be in the game 24/7. If you’re not tweeting or Instagramming, you’ve got to put out new music constantly, or maybe both. I know, I know, it took you years to write that song, but online it’s gone in a minute, or maybe a week. Your only hope is to stay in the game long enough until people discover you and the spotlight is pointed at your catalogue.

It’s all forward with no backward, which is the antithesis of great music. Great music sets you free, apart, you oftentimes dream about the past, but if you’re contemplating the past, you’re now missing out on the future. Just ask the upper middle-class kids who work in consulting or finance right after college graduation. They’re not taking time off, they’re not bothering to find themselves, they’re building their legacy from day one.

And for all this tech talk of pivoting, the average person can’t afford to do it. You’re investing in your brand from day one, and if you switch, you’re starting all over again, or close. And you’re lucky to be an employee, the company wants you to be an independent contractor, and how can you get a new job if you don’t build your LinkedIn resume. Hmm… I was a clown yesterday, I’m a computer programmer today? Good luck beating out that person with experience.

Your experience is building your brand. Didn’t you learn this from the Kardashians, famous for nothing, they’re rich! And that’s what the younger generation wants to become. And the joke is on everybody paying their dues in music to ultimately find out no one is listening. You can go to Berklee, but no one wants to hear what you create.

Then again, we’re always open to art.

But art gets a bad reputation in a world where it’s all about the STEM subjects and the liberal arts are anathema.

As for rock stars, Beto O’Rourke is a bigger one than anybody on the hit parade. And for you righties, there’s Steve King, who keeps doubling-down on his heinous statements, did you hear he called immigrants “dirt”?

But King knows the game better than the wannabes. He’s only interested in HIS audience, he doesn’t care about YOURS! You can’t play to everybody, you’ve got to play to somebody.

Now we used to have hype in the pre-internet era and it oftentimes worked. For every failed project like Jobriath, there were other acts that had the button pushed and broke through, many deservedly so. But the funny thing today is the labels don’t build the fan base, the act does. And maybe the act is smart in this case, why depend upon the label which will screw you, better to build it yourself and then cut a better deal, if you want one at all. As for the rockers and those left out…they’re still dreaming of yesteryear, when the label would pay them mucho dinero to play in their sandbox and see what they came up with. Record companies are businesses too, and ever since Tommy Mottola, the executives have been richer than the acts, so don’t expect any change there.

This all is a result of internet cacophony. For fifteen years, the tech game moved so fast we were dazzled, we couldn’t keep up. But now in this endless game of musical chairs there are only a few companies left, and they ain’t goin’ nowhere, and you can’t break their hegemony. So we’re trying to use their tools to greater effect. But now that everybody can message, we only pay attention to the biggest messengers.

But this is not the end. People are starting to realize what is going on, they’re unsatiated. Kinda like Trump. What kind of bizarre world do we live in where politics is ahead of music? Trump consolidated the dissatisfaction and woke up the blue populace, which seems to be doing better every day, hell, Kyrsten Sinema was just declared the winner in Arizona nearly a week after election day. The media had it wrong, surprise? If you take a snapshot, you’re missing the movie, and it’s all about the plot. But everybody’s so busy getting ahead that they can’t get off the moving sidewalk, think about it and chart a different direction.

It’s coming.

And it’s gonna look different.

It’ll be left field. The brand will be secondary to the music. Like Bob Dylan, the performer will have contempt for the usual suspects and will refuse to play the game. What we know is there are always unheralded people waiting to break. We can see their ascension in hindsight, but not while it’s happening.

This vapidity cannot last forever. Music is both easy and hard. That’s what the Berklee students don’t understand. Chops are for classical, popular is about inspiration, which cannot be taught, although it can be nurtured. If you’re practicing all day, you’ve got nothing to say. Meanwhile, today’s “giants” are not practicing at all, unless it’s online.

The horse race is dead. That’s how the media got it so wrong last week. The truth appears over time.

Tech has become ossified, but creativity never dies.

Watch out.

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