I’m a subscriber to the Lefsetz letter, and todays post made me think of The Hip.
So Iâ€™m opening up the daily mail and I come across a CD Pro for Kim Richey. Yup, the label has picked a track to be featured on radio, as if sheâ€™s got a chance and anybodyâ€™s listening. But sheâ€™s got one of the best labels going, and it made me think of one of their marquee acts, Ryan Adams, who just released an album. Which came out with a thunder and hasnâ€™t been heard from since. Is it a stiff?
Well, weâ€™d have to check the grosses for that.
Yup, thatâ€™s how you know if youâ€™ve got a career today. Whether anybody wants to SEE YOU or not! Album sales? You canâ€™t sell any albums unless youâ€™re the rapper du jour or a mainline country act. Look at Kelly Clarkson. Her albumâ€™s a joke and now sheâ€™s playing theatres. How does that old song go? Sheâ€™s going DOWN DOWN DOWN DOWN DOWN!
And maybe sheâ€™ll have another Clive-manufactured hit to bring her up again, but it will only be momentary. Sheâ€™ll smile on TV, sing some national anthems, go on a tour, and then sheâ€™ll be back at base zero, thinking of guesting on sitcoms. Or maybe sheâ€™ll give up the rat race, go back to her native Texas and duet with Tracy Nelson, trying to reinvent herself as a blues mama. Sheâ€™s got the pedigree! Strong woman unlucky in love sings the blues! Hell, thatâ€™s a HELLUVA lot more interesting than wannabe starlet with a weight problem battles septuagenarian label head over fate of her stardom.
What is a star? He or she used to be ubiquitous. Someone everybody knew. Who was respected. You donâ€™t respect the people with publicity these days. Kanye gets the mic and expresses such arrogance you turn your head. Heâ€™s not THAT good! And Fitty is so angry youâ€™d rather he go to counseling than make music. As for the starlets all over the Web? Hair and makeup. Drinking and drugging. What does this have to do with music?
Are you a musician? A musician sings and plays. A star is a coddled item manufactured for consumption. But, itâ€™s almost impossible to become a star these days. Certainly a music star. Either you sell your soul to the devil, the machine, losing everything that makes you attractive to begin with, or you start off from rock bottom.
I mean who would you rather be? Kelly Clarkson or Ani DiFranco?
DiFranco never went platinum. Was never plastered all over billboards or MTV. But, her fans still buy her records and want to see her live. So, theyâ€™re just a fraction of the overall population? WHO CARES! Do you really want the momentary people at the gig, talking on their cellphones, yelling out the name of the radio hit? Do you want to dilute the essence to such a point that thereâ€™s nothing left?
Records are no longer a path to riches, their release no longer makes a splash, theyâ€™re just another totem that the fanbase has to collect. See them that way. Donâ€™t focus on them, run your career by them. Itâ€™s too disappointing. You take a year off from the road, hire a publicist, buy ads and what happens? ALMOST NOTHING! Because after the core purchases the album, no one else cares. In a world of endless diversions, do you really think youâ€™re going to have an impact?
Oh, the labels just lay it on heavier. Weâ€™re gonna FORCE the public to pay attention. If you think that works, youâ€™re probably some asshole I donâ€™t know e-mailing me about your unsigned band trying to get me to listen and spread the word. Thatâ€™s the KISS OF DEATH! You just show me you work harder at selling than playing. Because if youâ€™re THAT good, a FAN will contact me, with no desire other than to turn me on. The fan is your audience, not me.
MTV is not your audience. Nor the “New York Times”. Not “The Today Show”. Not “Rolling Stone”. None of them are about you, theyâ€™re about advertising. Your fan isnâ€™t about advertising, heâ€™s just about you. Solidify THAT relationship. THAT will pay dividends for decades if you play it right.
Ryan Adams returned to form. Not as much as the writers would have you believe. Then again, he was never that far off the mark, that far gone, as they want you to believe. I donâ€™t want to read another fucking article about how he battled his demons, just give me the fucking record. That article about him in the newspaper, thatâ€™s not WRITTEN FOR THE FAN! It looks like heâ€™s stunting, playing the game, Iâ€™M TURNED OFF!
The fan knows about the new release. Because he CARES!
And the only way you can get SOMEONE ELSE to care is if they donâ€™t hear it from you, but from someone they trust, who is a FRIEND! Whether it be an individual or a Website. Itâ€™s about the TRUST, not the HYPE!
If you do it right, that album you just made should sell FOREVER! And you donâ€™t have to worry about people cherry-picking singles on iTunes, because they will want everything you ever do. The demos, the live tapes. And, theyâ€™ll pay for them even if you give them away for free. As a badge of honor, as a hallmark of BELONGING! You want to turn a blind eye on THESE people and get in bed with the MACHINE?
The machine didnâ€™t do well by John Prine. Heâ€™s been doing it himself now for twenty years, quite well, thank you. And heâ€™s not that good-looking, and he doesnâ€™t dance, but he can write songs.
Hate to tell you, but thereâ€™s an ENDLESS SUPPLY of good-looking people in this world. In the time it takes you to make it, the machine can find someone else younger, who wonâ€™t talk back, to start paying attention to. And now, in the studio, via auto-tune, it can be made to appear that ANYBODY can sing. But not anybody can sing live, not anybody can write a song.
So, if youâ€™re a musician, you want to focus on writing and singing/playing. Thatâ€™s it. If youâ€™re good, and youâ€™ve got a Web presence, people will find you. And these people will do ANYTHING for you. They wonâ€™t care if your single stiffed on the radio, in their heart, YOUâ€™RE ALWAYS NUMBER ONE!
Youâ€™re a cottage industry. Your product is you. Make it as good as you can and guard it very closely. Donâ€™t grow too fast, you wonâ€™t be able to keep up with your success. And donâ€™t be afraid to try something new, to risk. If you want instruction, study Silicon Valley companies as opposed to major labels.
The old yardsticks are irrelevant. Donâ€™t pay attention to SoundScan. Music fans donâ€™t watch MTV, and neither should you. Go where your people are, both physically and online. Connect with them. Make it about the essence, not the sheen. Be in it for the long haul. Talent is at most fifty percent, the rest is pure desire. If youâ€™ve got both, itâ€™ll take you a long time, but youâ€™ll make it. Youâ€™ll have a career in music. Youâ€™ll be able to quit your day job. As for being featured on “Cribs”? Itâ€™s whatâ€™s on the inside that counts. Not the bling. And the bling never lasts. The same car wonâ€™t run forever, not without a ton of upkeep. And that mansion has expenses. You can lose it all. But you canâ€™t lose yourself. Focus on yourself.