It doesn’t matter whether I like it, it’s whether the public will accept it, whether it will connect with the general marketplace, or those it is targeted for.
Music is a professional business. Since it requires no CV, no education to get involved in, everybody thinks they’re an expert. Never mind the false information that flows freely.
Today I got e-mail from a reader up in arms because he heard a writer on a podcast complaining about royalties on a successful streaming song. What he didn’t take into account was THE WRITER HAD SOLD HIS PUBLISHING, ALL OF IT! The remuneration the writer was quoting was probably public performance fees, never mind they were split with multiple writers and there was no discussion as to whether this was streaming radio or on demand.
But never let the facts get in the way of a good story.
But, if you think you’re a better programmer, a better promotion person than the one at the label, HOW COME YOU DON’T HAVE THAT JOB! And these are jobs that are held by both men and women. Some women run promotion departments. If you’re so good, why don’t you have the gig?
Well, first and foremost you didn’t try. And it’s very hard to get your foot in the door, never mind move up the food chain. Maybe you can be a security guard or an usher at the amphitheatre…then again, you’d be surprised how many people with music business gigs started out at the absolute bottom, like this, BECAUSE IT’S ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS!
So, a label has to pick a track it believes it can get on the radio. Not the best track, not the track the station should play, BUT THE ONE IT WILL PLAY!
So, you’ve got to know the format, and you’ve got to know the personnel. Oftentimes the relationship is more important than the record, so just knowing a record a station should play is not good enough.
And stations are influenced by outside forces, what other stations are playing the track, what its streaming numbers are.
As for streaming…do you have the relationships to get the track on a playlist? What about TikTok, can you help it there? Does the act have a social media presence? Not only do these factors increase the odds of success, they are markers that help gatekeepers, from radio to print to even streaming services themselves, decide whether to push the button or not.
Oh, you love a track that requires five to ten listens to get. Fine, I’ve got no problem with that, but a track like that is hard to promote. Maybe there will be a groundswell for it after it is accepted by the public, sometimes after decades, but in a world of skippers, gatekeepers are looking for something more immediate. And yes, the more immediate the better these days, since there are so many options for a listener/viewer’s time.
But there are still the delusional. Who believe a country rock song performed by fiftysomethings with a bad singer deserves attention? In a world where good singers are a dime a dozen, why? As for the lyrics…you can have an imperfect voice if you write as well as Bob Dylan, but so far, we haven’t found someone that good.
Doesn’t matter if your parents like it, your girlfriend or boyfriend, do those with no investment cotton to it and want to spread the word? If no one wants to spread the word, you’re dead in the water, it’s a definitive marker. So, when someone sends me a link to a YouTube video with under a hundred plays, under a thousand plays, I wince, especially if it’s been in the marketplace for a while. They just think they need someone to recognize their greatness and push the button. But no amount of button-pushing will push a song like that over the top. I have never ever found a hit in these circumstances, NEVER! If something is great, people want to tell others about it, it’s human nature.
And maybe you’re pissed someone else is making it and you’re not. But maybe you’re a jerk and no one wants to work with you, did you ever think of that? Or maybe they work in a completely different genre with different precepts. Even if you make great klezmer music, traditional avenues of exposure like commercial radio are closed to you. Accept your fate. Be happy anybody is interested at all. But oh, I get it, YOU’RE AN ARTIST! WHO SAYS? Just like I get e-mail from people who say they’ve put in their 10,000 hours. That’s 10,000 hours of HARD PRACTICE! Read the book “The Talent Code” for instruction. Furthermore, and I hate to inform you of this, it’s harder for older people to learn new skills and become experts in them, it’s not opinion, it’s science. Look at it this way, if you want to be a great skier, 10,000 hours on the bunny slope, 10,000 hours on the groomers alone won’t do it. No, you’ve got to be willing to charge down the 35 degree slope in crud strewn with trees. And believe me, NO ONE is great at that the first time down. It’s about challenging yourself.
But people hate economics. They believe if they build it, people and money should come. Why? Because you say so? The landscape is filled with failed products, failed singles, but since you call yourself an artist it’s different for you. NO!
And sometimes you’ve got to put down a hit, just to demonstrate your superiority, your judgment. And I’m not saying that all hits are great, but usually there’s a reason why a track is successful, better to investigate why, to become a student of the game, as opposed to denigrating it.
This is what I mean when I say my e-mail bugs me. People telling me I’m wrong because they don’t like it, they know better, even though they oftentimes have the raw facts wrong. And now with everybody available 24/7 everybody is bombarded with those down the food chain punching up. I’ll tell you a little secret, if you want to move up the food chain BE NICE! And/or HELP those on the next rung of the ladder. Send them a track you know will be a hit, not one you think will be a hit, or believe should be a hit, but one the recipient will immediately be able to tell his circle about, burnishing THEIR image. As for promoting the work of your children…there’s not a single person in the business who doesn’t wince when they hear this. Because even if the act is good, and that’s almost never the case, the parents want to be involved and tell the experts what to do all under the rubric of “protecting their progeny.” Well, if you really wanted to protect them you’d tell them to stay in school, graduate from college, form opinions, be able to analyze and then try to make it. But no, you want them to make it because they deserve it and it will burnish your image.
Oh, and then there are those who will feed on your hopes and dreams. Producers who can no longer work in the big leagues but will take your cash to make professional work with your kid, which almost never goes anywhere. Or the website that will charge you for a hope of success, which never arrives. Yes, there are scoundrels in the music business, more than most other businesses, and the internet has only made it worse.
As for you hating a success, fine. But if you tell other people you look bad, it’s sour grapes. Also, in today’s world, where there’s a constant slew of product and a five year old track or video can be new to many, no one cares about your opinion, that’s so last century. Quick, name an influential music critic from today…NAME ONE! There isn’t one, that job has been eliminated by the internet. Used to be the writers had access, to the music and those who made and marketed it. But now everybody has access to everything, they don’t care what others have to say, and “music critic” was always a self-anointed moniker anyway, it’s not like you needed a degree.
But stuff does become successful. VERY VERY LITTLE OF IT!
Look at it this way… Imagine if I sent you all the links, all the music that is sent to me every day and forced you to listen to it from beginning to end, all of it, YOU’D SCREAM! And my point is this is how the consumer behaves…if they don’t like something, they click off it. Have sympathy for consumers. Furthermore, all that b.s. about short attention spans is just that. Did you ever watch these kids play Fortnite, FOR HOURS! Or stream “Friends” from beginning to end? Or listen to a podcast series of something they’re interested in?
The truth is great art breaks the mold. That’s what makes music different from regular commerce. People need milk. They’ll buy it. But they don’t need new songs. They may want new songs, but if there’s nothing that appeals to them, they won’t partake. So, either you can give them what they want, and there’s a business in that, or you can dig down deep and deliver something people truly need, but that’s a long, hard slog. First and foremost, you’ve got to deliver it, which is uber-hard. And then you’ve got to find people who believe in it and then wait for the word to spread. Look at music history, those outside the mainstream artistically never broke immediately, never ever. They might have had four albums under their belt before it all clicked. And now it’s harder than ever, because everybody can play but it’s harder to reach members of the audience.
So, think of the above when you evaluate a track, when you give your opinion, assuming you consider yourself a professional, wanting to make it in this business. Despite no formal course of study, there’s a lot to learn to be successful in the music business and stay that way. And just like with artists, if business people don’t evolve they’re left behind.
My goal is not to make you feel bad, but to have you question yourself. You can hate something, no problem. But if you’re doing it to make yourself feel good, to shore up your identity, you need therapy.