Magic Man might make it. I wish I knew more about the band development machine. Although really famous artists are basically constructions – by labels, agencies, and master businessmen – with identities tuned precisely for mass consumption, I suspect that due to the pure nature of music itself, bands that come out of nowhere really do so organically.
I read an article in the New Yorker last year about a singer who writes the hooks, and more, for songs that are eventually sold to worldwide superstars, like Katy Perry, Beyonce, and Rihanna. This lady was paid well, but obviously nothing like the aforementioned superstars. I can’t even remember her name, and since the story’s more important than the person, I won’t look it up. Also because I’m lazy.
The way she works is weird. She only works with a select few, elite, well-known producers that are responsible for beat-making. Every day they preview different beats for her, and she picks a few and goes into the recording studio. She closes her eyes, listens to the beats, and begins to sing not songs, no, not even phrases. Just words. And sometimes just sounds. Sometimes she likes the sounds or the words, and she keeps them and begins to piece them together. Eventually she ends up with a hook that she likes, and gets bids from female superstars. Those superstars re-record the hooks, and millions of people listen to demonstrations of lyrical genius like, “Come on rude boy, can you get it up?” That’s right. Rihanna didn’t even write that. Maybe that’s a good thing.
So there’s obviously THAT kind of mechanism for popular music production. But how do you get to that superstar level, where companies will pay you millions of dollars and coddle you like a king or queen, and even write and produce the songs you sing?
I also read in the New Yorker last year about how K-Pop (Korean pop music) bands are almost entirely agency-driven. Agencies groom and develop young teenagers, package them together in groups, and try to make them famous. I’m sure this also exists in the U.S., but it’s fairly under the hood. I do know that after the Backstreet Boys got famous, ‘N Sync was 100% a shrewd business maneuver to try to capture some of BSB’s market. Some old dudes got together, figured they could make a better Backstreet, recruited Justin Timberlake and the other band members, styled them, and helped them produce the hits that made them rich and famous as hell. N’Sync was a startup competing with the incumbent Backstreet Boys.
One of the most important achievements for a startup is to find product-market fit. That is, to know that people want what they’re building. American Idol and The Voice are basically startup incubators for singers, where viewers participate in season-long customer development surveys. It’s amazing that the show’s producers have gotten so many millions of people to give them free information on how to make money. What a business model.
Obviously inorganic construction is powerful and has lasting impact.
But sometimes a band like Magic Man comes around, whose members seem like like a ragtag crew, whose Facebook page is filled with photos of the band playing in a basement, to an audience of 20. And you listen to their music, and it’s damn good. They clearly know how to make music, and they’re not bad at marketing themselves. When do they get picked up by the band development machine? What decides if they ever will, no matter how good they are? They need to create their own customer development surveys, and it’s hard. It’s hard for them to tell exactly what people want, if they’re not already touring and performing for big crowds. They can proxy survey their potential customers by looking at their Twitter followers, likes on YouTube, Facebook friends, and SoundCloud likes. But they can’t do much better. It’s really hard to find a bright line where a band can say, “Shit, we’re famous.”
What I’m implying is that there should be a music agency that is focused on the digital world. I’m sure the big labels already try to stay on top of digital, but they don’t control the means of distribution. Who did? iTunes. Who does? Well, it’s a battle between YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify, and Rdio. After Netflix has produced, and succeeded with, “House of Cards,” I think you’ll see one of the music distribution channels try to create an agency by signing promising young artists and getting exclusive content. It it really wants to be like Netflix, where there is a paywall, then it can’t be YouTube, because people expect YouTube to be free and shareable. But Spotify and Rdio could do it. If I were Spotify, I would throw “promoted tracks” on a playlist or ticker in the player, sign a few up-and-coming artists, and see if I could market well enough around those musicians to bring in new customers. That would turn Spotify from a tech company into a music company. It would be a big gamble, and I haven’t actually thought much about the idea (I had it earlier today), but Max Frost (I wrote about him in my 13th post) is who gave me the idea. The guy is REALLY GOOD. But so are lots of artists. Uniquely, though, he is also REALLY MARKETABLE. But he only has 1,000 Facebook likes and 1,000 Twitter followers. I’m certain Spotify could offer him $100,000/yr (less than they pay an engineer, probably) to sign a contract that gets him massive exposure and also lets Spotify play around with self-marketing exclusive content.
Anyway, I got taken on a tangent. I have a lot more thoughts around the music business. If you ever want to talk, hit me up on Twitter @cjl49.
Back to Magic Man. I hope they make it. They well deserve to, so we’ll see what happens. In the meantime, I’ll shut up, and let’s let the music do the talking.