1. People Want To Belong
We’re tribal, we abhor a vacuum, how can you make us believe in you?
The lesson of the Internet age is that traditional media may not reach the target audience. In other words, just because it’s in the newspaper, that does not mean everybody knows about it. Even worse, just because it’s on TV, that does not mean everybody’s seen it. Individual television rankings have been tanking ever since the advent of cable television, your jaw would drop if you knew how lousy the ratings for “Breaking Bad” were, despite all the press plaudits. Furthermore, it took years to achieve this level of press success. Bottom line, most people don’t want to dedicate the time. Because we’ve got little of it. How do you convince someone to spend time on what you’re creating, especially when the big boys are having trouble getting people to pay attention to their stuff?
2. The Big Boys
A self-congratulatory circle jerk. Beyonce sells a million albums and you’d think she landed on the moon. Like television, reach of music has declined with the advent of new outlets, i.e. the Internet. We used to be addicted to terrestrial radio, then everybody watched one channel, MTV. Now many people don’t pay attention to anything other than their Netflix queue. There are so many outlets competing for attention that potential listeners tune out. This is a music industry problem which is not being addressed because the heads of public corporations have to congratulate themselves in order to justify their salaries and the wannabes believe they are entitled to be heard and if the hits get more mindshare that means they won’t. But we need a short, approved list of tracks that are jammed down people’s throats, that they will listen to, to feel included. Doesn’t even matter whether they love or hate ‘em, it’s just that they must be aware of them.
There’s only one iTunes, one Amazon, one Google, but in music we delusionally believe there are going to be multiple streaming services and that Songza can compete with Pandora and Spotify and we’ve got room for Beats. We’ve only got room for one, and that’s the one everybody else is paying attention to, and since everybody’s playing to Wall Street, not Main Street, they don’t get it. We don’t want a ton of playlists, but five, or seven. Ranked. So we can tell all our friends how much we hate or love what is on them. If it’s on the “Voice,” most people still have not heard it. You may hate TV singing shows, but they’re essentially irrelevant, you’re railing against the inconsequential, the biggest hits of the year had nothing to do with them, i.e. “Get Lucky,” “Blurred Lines” and “Royals.” But one thing those three had was penetration. We need to promote fewer tracks that reach more people. That’s the way we’re going, it’s already happening in news. You think that everybody gets their news from different outlets?
The truth is the only U.S. organizations with boots on the ground are the “New York Times” and the “Wall Street Journal.” All the news derives from them, especially the former, with its foreign bureaus. You may see talking heads bloviating on television, on the web too, but the roots of their rantings are all based in these couple of news outlets. It’s the blockbuster theory on steroids. When everybody else cut their budgets to make their numbers, the big boys reinvested and now own the sphere, the fact that most people don’t know it doesn’t deny that it’s so.
We’re gonna see this consolidation in music. The Grammys should have fewer than ten categories instead of a hundred. They’re pleasing the wrong people, the wankers with tiny audiences who made this music, but the organization is really about the TV show, which has the power to close those watching, turn them on to great new stuff. But the Grammys don’t do this, because the Grammys are too busy being democratic when the truth is we live in a dictatorship run by the truly talented with money behind them and if you believe this is not so, you’re too busy playing sandlot baseball without a glove with no smartphone and no television set.
Has a power no other medium possesses. It’s hotter than film or TV, but it’s become a backwater because those involved in making it and selling it don’t respect it. If you don’t believe in it, how do you expect anybody else to do so? Music is only trumped by sex, and many people have sex to music, very few want to get laid to episodic television. So stop trying to sell out to sponsors and start realizing the music is enough if it shoots for the stars and arrives there, unlike the lame Beatles tribute featuring a reunion of the Eurythmics. Huh? No one wants to see that act reunite. If you can’t respect the Beatles’ arrival on our shores, if you can’t deliver the attendant gravitas, give up. It’s kind of like the People’s Choice Awards.
We don’t want to know what the public thinks, we want to know what the talented think. We don’t want Scorsese and Spielberg to make films by committee and we don’t want our musical stars to do so either. Did Jimmy Page put his finger to the public wind to decide what kind of music Led Zeppelin should make? Of course not, because people don’t know what they want, giving people what they want is artistic death, cultural bankruptcy, art is about opening eyes and ears, both reflecting the human condition and liberating people from it. We’ve got to head into the wilderness to regain our purchase upon the public pysche.
That’s why television is so successful these days, producers realize it’s not how it looks, but what it says. Whereas in music we’re so busy getting the sound right that we forgo the emotion, which is the essence of great art, after inspiration. Sure, it’s great if the vocals and notes are perfect, but not if said perfection eviscerates the soul. Most of our music sounds like it’s made by machines, which is why we can’t relate to it. If it’s gonna be machine-like, let’s all listen to Kraftwerk and make the computers our servants instead of the reverse.
They make hits. They got everybody to watch “Gangnam Style,” illustrating you can be ubiquitous, if you’re cool enough, if you’re running on the aforementioned inspiration. Screw the gatekeepers, we want something with rubberneck effect, you know, the thing you can’t help but slow down and look at on the freeway. If I’m not instantly drawn to your music, you’re doing it wrong. Don’t ask me for more time and more dedication, I’ve got none, I’ve got a list of stuff I’m already not listening to, watching or accomplishing longer than I’ve got time left to live. And it’s not only me.
Everybody knew “Saturday Night Fever.” Because that’s how good the Bee Gees songs were. Come on, have you ever heard “Stayin’ Alive”? How about “I Want To Hold Your Hand” or “Satisfaction”? All sounded completely unlike what had come before. They were novel and inspirational. With attitude. That’s what made “Royals” such a hit, the attitude, as well as the sound. Same deal with the Avicii track “Wake Me Up.” Music is like a Balkanized nation where we’re so busy fighting in our own backyard that we can’t see that there’s a whole world out there. We should unite and promote the great hits of our day to those not paying attention. Instead we’ve got country music singing about church, babies and brands. Who in their right mind would care about that? When you shoot so low, most people shrug their shoulders and tune out. We’ve got to shoot higher.
Not everybody can play, not everybody can make it. If you’re five feet tall you can’t play in the NBA and if you weigh three hundred pounds you can’t drive Formula One. If you can’t sing, chances are you won’t make it. Own it and do something else. Sure, there are exceptions, but very few. Bruno Mars made it because not only could he sing, but write and play. We’re looking for triple threats, with something to say. Unfortunately, Mr. Mars doesn’t possess this skill. He could develop it, but right now he’s a showman. Will he close those watching him at the Super Bowl? Probably not.
We need a Michael Jordan, a player so good that those not truly paying attention will have their eyes bug out and will immediately go to YouTube to watch the presentation again. Yes, can we all just own that YouTube is where music lives? Can we stop talking about iTunes and CDs? Can we stop talking about curation so much when it turns out people have no problem finding what they want to listen to on YouTube? Sure, curation would grow the pot, but it’s the cherry on top.
8. The World Is Getting Smaller
With more choice, more options, we want very little, and we want it to be the best and what everybody else is utilizing. All that press about CES. Can you name one reasonable product that was introduced? I can’t, and I’m paying attention! We’re ready if you’ve got the new iPhone, if you don’t, we’re not. We’ve got people waiting 24/7 to spread the word on what is great, assuming it truly is. But the sausage factory is so busy turning out links, that we’d rather starve than partake.
We’re moving to a world ever smaller with just a few winners. There will be fewer hit acts than ever before, we will want to listen to fewer of their songs, but they will be so much bigger than what came before… If we just get our heads out of our rear ends and realize this and promote that which deserves it to those who’ve tuned out. There are untold riches to come, but they will flow to very few, monetarily. But the public will be wealthy beyond belief. People want music, but it’s got to be better than TV, which already killed the movies. Don’t try to get your song in a show, try to create something so great people will want to turn the show OFF!