Friday, October 12, 2007

Will the last Famous Musician to leave please turn out the lights?

The business side of the music industry has been getting heavy coverage the past few days. From Britney’s video adventures with the vertical brass cylinder, to Radiohead’s groundbreaking (groundbreaking, I say!) new strategy and Madonna’s new school all-in-one deal with Live Nation. There has been plenty of hype, but …

The Britney thing? Next.

Radiohead and Madonna are intriguing because these are about new ways of music getting distributed and money being made off the music, tours and celebrity fragrances. The self produced digital-only record is definitely the direction of DIY music careers and I also think that (at least on some level) Madonna and Live Nation (LN) represent the way that “labels” will look in the future.

I have no idea how these experiments are going to work and remember that no one else does either. No matter how many orders Radiohead got the first day or how sure someone is that Madonna took LN to the cleaners – these are massive, complicated deals that cannot be classified as successes or failures for years to come. What they are, for now, is a new direction – and that is exciting.

I am always one to be skeptical of hype, a side effect of being in the hype business. Both Radiohead and LN employed the power of the press release to perfection these last weeks. They got massive coverage for their new ventures, with very little outlay for newspaper or TV ads. Free press is great and there has been lots of it over the past few weeks.

That being said, we all need to take a chill pill. Remember the iPhone launch? That was madness. Surely the world was about to end. My favorite story from then was the Mayor of Philly getting caught camping out on line (what, no assistant?!?) to get a glorious world-changing cellular thing-a-ma-jig. Well, time has passed and many people have an iPhone, more don’t – the world continues to spin. The cell phone marketplace is different, but no one in that industry thinks it is all sorted out yet. That is where we are with the “game changing” Radiohead and Madonna deals, it is still very early.

These new ideas are intriguing but you know who they work for? Established megastars. Say again – established acts with massive pre-existing fame.

The Madonna deal is all about concerts and other merchandise – so that kind of thing could work great for Dave Matthews or the Eagles – not so much for Talib Kweli or Kelly Clarkson. The Radiohead model of self releasing (heh, heh – self releasing) on-line might work for Linkin Park, but probably not for a new act.

These strategies are a refreshing change from the tired label group-think, but they are (at least so far) strange new directions that don’t really apply to most of the music industry. Selling your own record on your website happens all the time already (though the “name your own price” part is kinda new) and by and large no one cares.

All kinds of acts you have never heard of are already doing things very similar to what Radiohead is trying with this. Thousands of bands sell their music for nearly nothing on-line 24/7 – so why is it a big story now? Not because the strategy is so new, but because a very, very famous band is doing it. This is actually not a story about a “bold new direction” for the record industry, it is a story about a beloved band and their music that everyone is eager to hear.

The Madonna signing with LN is similar – not all that new. The deal that 19 Management strikes with the American Idol finalists is similar (I believe) regarding the sharing of various income streams, though the dollar values are much, much lower for Ruben Studdard and Fantasia than they are for Madonna.

Radiohead and Madonna are doing something new-ish – but what happens with their experiments is largely meaningless for the real future of the record industry. Maybe if Madonna cleans up then John Mellencamp and Mary J Blige may want/get similar arrangements – but what happens when all the famous musicians are gone?

U2 and Usher could find audiences releasing their own “digital only” recordings – but even if it works perfectly, what does that mean to a new band no one has heard of?

Everyone that can truly benefit from these deals (at least in a way I can imagine in the present day marketplace) is already super-ultra-mega-famous. Only the most established and renowned artists need apply.

Telling a new band or a newbie singer that self-releasing and all-in-one manage-labels are the future – is like telling a poor family struggling on food stamps that they need to make money – by purchasing an apartment building. Buying a nice six-unit building IS a good investment – but you need to already have a big bundle of cash to even make it into that game. Your friend’s band who plays down at the corner bar/roller-rink/basement is probably struggling to afford a twelver of beer. The idea of owning rental properties as a “solution” is pure fantasy land for them.

These “new strategies” are great things to try, especially if you are already wealthy from the old strategies of the traditional record label. Without the backing of Capitol, can Radiohead get every major newspaper to write about their website? People are eager to hear Radiohead’s new music because Thom Yorke is very talented AND because their “old” label invested lots and lots of money to make that talent into fame. Capitol got rich too, far richer that the band ever did off Yorke’s songs – but ask Radiohead if they want to start again at zero without major label support.

Like people that remember V-J Day, the artists that were made super-stars by the old label powers will die out and slip into unimportance. Can these new business models make stars, or just profit off and enrich existing ones?

What happens when all the famous musicians are gone?

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Originally the middle man was the quickest way to get to the public. Now, however the middle man is so large, you HAVE to go through him to get to the public.

But if you could skip it, that would in fact be the fastest way.

If enough musicians, who are already celebrities, bypass him in the same manner, then it will make it easier for the average musician.

The celebrities can afford to leave, they're already celebrities and that's the whole point of the record label. It'll cost them, but they'll get to pocket much more in the end.

Once they leave, the labels will need to replace them, and viola, you've reset the cycle and they really are the middle man again.

Go rich people, go! ^^

It'd be good for the fans, the poor musicians who actually have talent, and the celebrities.

But really, you're right. It's just to soon to tell, and someone even bigger and hotter will have to really drive the concept home for me.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?