I was reading a XXL magazine (hip-hop music) feature on Jay-Z (if you don’t like him, don’t stop reading- this post is about the music industry in general), and he said several things during his interview in relation to hip-hop that I thought could be applied to the music industry in general.
Gimmicks, Patterns, Formulas and Trends.
Jay was making the point that hip-hop has taken over mainstream music and culture and it runs the risk of losing its position to other genres as things have been become rather predictable and generic in terms of style and sound. “When a trend becomes a gimmick, it’s time to get rid of it…I saw everyone, because it was successful, following one path…We’re going to open the door for another genre of music. Same way when rock was doing hair metal, it opened the door even wider for hip-hop to come through and put rock in trouble for 10 years or more. Right now, a lot of indie bands are coming out, making rock more interesting...You keep messing around, making generic music, people are going to start turning off one at a time.”
This idea can be applied to the whole industry. In the music industry, it has long been a practice to massively reproduce any one thing that’s a success (i.e. a particular sound or trend like extreme auto-tune or blonde hair). It’s considered a smart business practice, but in regards to art, it makes things redundant. Over the last ten years, the “practice” has turned into religion: EVERYTHING is being recycled and reproduced. This is the reason why so many new artists aren’t lasting; they’re designed to deliver a recycled gimmick, make some quick money for the recording label, then disappear. This is reason why the same “heavyweight” artists don’t have any competition and continue to dominate. We as consumers have to get smarter to improve music. The record labels count on us being stupid enough to buy the same thing over and over, and unfortunately, we often are. For example, we already know that everything with auto-tune sold like hotcake. Or take the songs “Irreplaceable” (Beyonce`), “With You” (Chris Brown) and “Tattoo” (Jordin Sparks). All 3 have a very similar drum and acoustic guitar pattern (It’s no coincidence; they were all produced by Stargate. They changed the same track just enough for them to not be identical). All 3 songs sold like hotcake. We bought the same song THREE times. This “smart” business practice to recycle/reproduce will no longer be smart if we stop buying into it.
Aging in the Industry and Marketing.
In regards to marketing and being criticized for being a nearly 40 year old rapper Jay said: “I think people should make music as long as their heart is in it….If the target market is 15 to 25, that’s too narrow. What am I going to listen to at 26 and beyond? That’s a quarter of my life…We have to expand the genre. I would love to listen to hip-hop all day...everyone is speaking to the kids, thinking that’s the key to success…it’s the lack of growth that will keep us in certain place…you have those guys who are 35 years old trying to make “LOL smiley face”, competing with Soulja Boy.”
Again, his ideas are relevant to the entire music industry. Whatever the genre, once you turn 40, people treat you like you should disappear and stop putting out music. Music is an art and a form of expression. So, what, if you’re 40, you’re too old to express yourself? And if music is who you are, I guess you should stop being who you are. It’s disgusting how we discard artists after years of great music just because we think they’re too old to love music. A couple of different crappy things happen to you when you get older in the industry. If the record label keeps you around, they try to “update” your sound and make you “current” to compete with Soulja Boy (which just makes you look stupid). OR, if they let you keep your old sound, they barely promote you. You lose either way, because the audience ends up not buying your record.
Furthermore, in regards to the target market ALWAYS being 15 to 25, Jay is so right. What do you listen to at 26 when nothing relates to you? Why focus on one target audience? Focusing on one target audience is another practice that’s considered “smart”, but to me, it’s really stupid. Why milk one cow, when you can milk two (In this case getting money from more than one fan base)? Is the music industry A.D.D.? It seems as if currently, there is a pattern of doing one thing at a time. An artist will explore one genre at a time, target one fan base type at a time, either have an “artistic” album or a “commercial” album, or be JUST a great dancer or JUST a great singer. Yet, ironically, in order to have longevity, an artist must be multifaceted, multitalented and multitask.
The “one at a time” approach to marketing may make QUICK dollars for music execs, but it does nothing for the artist. It cuts their longevity short. For example, with focusing on just one fan base at a time, you alienate whoever you’re not focusing on. This will keep an artist from building a fan base that follows them long term. An artist will NEVER have the complete package doing one thing at a time, and therefore will get lost in the dust. But the record execs don’t care whether the artist lasts or not, even though the longer an artist lasts (and is successful), the longer they’ll make money for them. And yet, the execs are supposed to be the smart ones….
MUSIC SUCKS RIGHT NOW. What the hell can we do about it? We can be smarter consumers. It may SEEM like the execs run everything, but the truth is, we DRIVE the industry. We DICTATE the market. We ARE the market. What we buy helps them decide what products to create. For example, if we all bought ONLY oranges, fruit sellers would stop selling apples and only oranges. In music, if we ONLY bought Mariah Carey albums, then they would fashion all artists after her to try to get us to buy it. When it comes to purchasing music, only buy what you want to see more of.
#2, stop falling for the record execs’ games and gimmicks. Don’t be so shallow as to fall for someone with great looks, but doesn’t have a great voice. Don’t play into publicity stunts, gossip and hype. Stop listening to music that you feel is “just ok.” Don’t tolerate “just ok.” Raise the bar. Only buy what you think is “amazing.” Own your power as a consumer.