Two things I love:
- A contrarian viewpoint
- A good fight
So imagine my glee as I get to enjoy both at the same time with the recent brouhaha over the Radiohead "pay what you want" download concept and Madonna's $120 million "360-degree" full service deal with Live Nation.
Both deals saw headline performers eschew their longtime record labels for an independent route, which last week's Entertainment Weekly called in a cover-page shout out:
"The Week That Changed Music."
Meanwhile (here comes the contrarian and fight part), over in last week's Billboard Magazine, Exec Editor Bill Werde writes a very heartfelt and headsmart piece entitled:
"Contemplating Two Weeks
in The Music Biz--
That Changed Nothing."
While reading the full piece is time well spent, here are some of the highlights:
"It's true, the majors are in a bad spot...the big four still lean heavily on the blockbuster, and as contracts for legacy artists expire, many will be tempted by other arrangements.
"But while the mainstream media churns out articles explaining how the Internet enables artists to go labelless, the situation is more complex. The Internet doesn't make celebrities. The Internet is a distribution platform. And now that celebrities are reaching the end of their label contracts, it makes financial sense for them to take their celebrity out the door.
"If Radiohead were a new band, how much attention would they have received for their efforts?
Werde makes a valid point. Some things easy to do when you're backstopped with money and recognition. But to those tens of thousands of bands plugging themselves on their MySpace sites, it may be noble for them to buck the system...but it doesn't make it any easier for them to make a real living.
Werde goes on to use the ubiquitous Tila Tequila as an example. The self-proclaimed "Queen of My Space," with over 2 million friends in her social network, could only muster less than 1,000 downloads of her new single the first week of its release. Christ, even my off-tune rendition of Green Day's American Idiot (and there ain't no link coming, folks) could do numbers like that with a banner ad or two here at Pow!...
Look, despite my love of the music biz and a jaw-dropping collection of recordings ranging from Edison cylinders to MP3s, I'm no expert in it. But with a history in selling stuff to an audience--both at Just For Laughs and with Airborne--I know that the most important driver of any consumer-touching company is a hit.
Be you a restaurant, a seller of waste-paper baskets, a fashion designer, a blogger or a monopolistic software behemoth (Microsoft's Steve Ballmer, at the recent Masters of Marketing Conference, bemoaned: "We need hits. Whatever a hit is, we need it!"), a hit product drives your business...and eventually gives you enough power to "eliminate the middleman" a la Radiohead and Madonna and so many more to come.
If the record labels go away, someone's gonna have to find a way to make musical hits. And I ain't talking languishing on the Long Tail with a few hundred sold here and there; I'm talking mass-market, on-everyone's-lips, soundtracks-of-our-lives songs.
Without them, there won't be anymore aging superstars to give their music away for nothing or for Live Nation to sign.
And no more knockdown debates over game-changing deals.