Major Labels

The New Music Business Is For Grown-Ups

This post is by Robin Davey of The Hoax and The Bastard Fairies.  Interview.

image from Although the accessibility of YouTube has opened up avenues to exploit the seemingly prophetic abilities of Justin Bieber and his ilk, the truth is, the only people that are mesmerized by his skills are the young and naive. The rest of us, consciously or subconsciously, equate it to the same entertainment value as a dancing monkey, or a robot that can successfully navigate a flight of stairs. This is because there is entertainment value in mimicry.

We are fascinated by something out of the norm, which resembles the things we have become accustomed to. However, our attention to this is fleeting; as soon as we've seen it, we are familiar and want the next thrill.

Cheap Knockoffs

We are bombarded with endless products offering up a faux alternative to the reality we once held so dear. Spring fresh detergent, pumpkin pie aroma candles, imitation leather jackets, cinnamon flavored coffee. Many seem satisfied with the replacement, but couple it with an experience of the genuine article and we realize how far apart they actually are.

Sure, the decline of the music industry is in part due to piracy and the death of the CD as a primary format, but it is also due to the major labels finding a formula that marketed faux soul, faux ability, and faux songs as the real thing. When products are fake, they have to carry a disclaimer, warning of their impurity. The music industry would market everything as the real thing and go to great lengths to prove its authenticity. Thus, the skill of the major label became bullshitting.

Finding artists that could be quickly packaged and bumped onto the assembly line, out onto the shelves, next to the scented candles, and knock off clothes.

They would put their bullshit machine into motion. Paying whomever they could to jump on board, with the hope that their Stevie Wonder, Beatles, or Madonna scented product, would connect in some way with the masses.

E = MC Hammer

The mistake they made was to think they could control the market. That by following a formula they could mastermind hit after hit, but disrupt one essential element of that formula and it no longer works. The CD sales were that element. Good racking could be obtained in stores such as Best Buy by paying large fees, sometimes as much as the record itself cost to make. These were not because they were actually pick of the week and deserved the space. It was because the space was bought, to continue the lie that you were being confronted by the real deal – something that had been singled out for its authenticity.

In fairness to the labels, it did serve as a much-needed filter. The market is now over saturated by band after band bombarding you with requests from every social network available to them.

It's Evolution Baby

We are now entering a point in music, which is akin to natural selection and survival of the fittest. What makes an act survive is the strength of their music, not of the machine around it.

The dinosaurs could have overpowered all of us, but they were powerless to the meteor that wiped them out. A meteor has certainly hit the music business and it's the cumbersome dinosaurs that are falling.

There is no better example of this than the 2011 Grammys.

Arcade Fire taking album of the year was a big statement. However, it was the show stealing, no frills performance of Mumford and Sons, which was the real example of survival of the fittest. On a stage barely bigger than them, with no elaborate lights or embarrassing dancers, their authenticity shined through.

Their mainstream popularity has been due to natural selection, not some lab experimentation.

Catching the Rat

This is why the new music industry is for grownups, people who have matured through these hard times and used it as learning experience. Those who have treated their craft like the nurturing of kids.

Understanding that it takes time for songs to reach their full potential, and it's through life and lessons learned that mistakes are prevented from being made.

Our instincts need to be honed and understood. Artists like Justin Bieber and Willow Smith have been surrounded by influence from a young age. This has certainly helped develop their musical instinct, but they are simply kittens chasing a ball. Sure it's cute and all, but sustaining a career means you have learn to catch the rat.

Christina Aguilera has been finding out the hard way. If you are thrown into things at too early an age, the only place for you to start making mistakes is in the public eye, and that is disastrous for your career.

When there are lions out there – you don't want to be a wildebeest.

Listen To Your Parents

Mick Jagger didn't just catch a rat at the Grammys. He caught a bunch of them and fed the whole audience. His energy and vigor showed the prepubescent performers of the evening that – one genuine article expels the need for the safety blanket of fifty back up dancers.

Jagger was the perfect musical father figure, and the children need to be spending more time listening and learning from their parents and spending less time messing around with their peers.

OK, it's time to leave the kids with their major label baby sitters.

Let's go out and get this party started. It's going to be on a tiny stage in some skanky bar that the real future is being born.

And that is a place for grown-ups.

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  1. The music industry would market everything as the real thing and go to great lengths to prove its authenticity. Thus, the skill of the major label became bullshitting.
    Paramore came immediately to mind as I read this.
    Someone may have a huge marketing machine to bloat and inflate their career, but all it takes is one Ashley Simpson SNL moment to deflate it. When it all falls down, what will catch you? Your well crafted songs or a new social media strategy?

  2. I’m not exactly sure what the point of this article is?
    You’ve somehow drawn a line in the sand the pits major label acts against independent acts like Arcade Fire and Mumford & Sons? To devalue Justin Bieber’s musical ability and talent is a misstep at this point.
    Very few people would argue that someone like Justin Timberlake lacks genuine skill and talent at this point but if you took what he was when he was just a member of N’Sync you could draw the same conclusion that he’s a “child.”
    I think the general sentiment of this article makes sense, that in order to succeed you’re going to have to have some semblance of talent that people gravitate to without a hype machine driving your record sales but isn’t that subjective.
    To me this seems like the same old, “pop music is watered down shit.” That argument doesn’t hold water. Katy Perry and Justin Bieber are popular because people like their music not because they have a ton of dancers and are told the like their music.
    I think there’s a coherent point behind this article but the grown-up vs. child analogy isn’t doing it.

  3. Hey Noah
    On the evidence presented by the Grammy performances, it would seem that many artists have a lot of catching up to do when compared to the more experienced performers of the evening. Pretty self explanatory really.
    Maybe if Bieber had played a song with just an acoustic guitar and one light, people would have called him the star of the evening. But he is part of the major label set up, so they need the bullshit dancers, the bullshit lights and the bullshit guest stars to sell the essence of something else.
    It is only experience that will give Bieber the balls to take the lead and do something daring, and that is when his true talent (or lack of) will shine through.

  4. I think your point is sort of making Robin’s point. I think he’s trying to say that major labels are focusing on disposable pop to their detriment because the “artists” are interchangeable and in order to keep the machine running they have to replace the parts frequently because the parts (acts) wear out quickly with fans.
    When you say people like the music of Katy Perry and Justin Bieber, I think that’s true. But Robin’s point would be if you replace Katy Perry with, say, Katy Jones who’s attractive and has tracks written and produced by Dr. Luke, then people would like the music of Katy Jones. The fans of Justin Bieber do like his music…but they also have a crush on him.
    I do agree with you that comparing teen pop to rock or folk isn’t really fair. Justin Bieber is necessary for little girls to get interested in music. 10 year-olds are not going to get excited about Mumford or the Black Keys…but they might when they’re 15 or 18.
    Whether Bieber becomes the next Timberlake or fades away remains to be seen. To major labels as they are configured now, it’s irrelevant. They’ll find a replacement to go to pop radio and daytime TV and capture the hearts of pre-teens around the world.
    Unfortunately for them, by narrowly focusing on one facet of popular music, they are ignoring legions of fans and many artists who would sustain their business for years to come if they changed their business model…but that’s another story.

  5. Kyle, did you really call Mumford and Sons “authentic”? Mumford and Sons are *selling* authentic the same way Bieber is selling the other stuff. Do you think growing up they normally wear garb seen on blacksmiths in the 1880s? They’re an act just the same as the others, only their “act” is being old-fashioned and simplistic. And you (and lots and lots of other people) have bought it.
    You are right about Mick Jagger though. Best performance of the night.

  6. This article is flawed on so many levels. Mumford and Sons were signed to Universal in the UK. The American indie label rode on their investment.Christina Aguilera is going through a rough time but only a fool would say she isn’t talented.There are plenty of talented artists on major labels and plenty of overrated artists on indie labels.It’s just that the public like to drink coca cola more than champagne.

  7. I said Mumford and sons performance was authentic because the didn’t need any of the gimmicks that the other acts needed, including even muse with some embarrassing revolutionary dancers. Mumford and Sons sales were the ones that increased after the Grammys and their sales numbers are now close to Katy Perrys.
    I did not say Aguilera had no talent, I said she is going through a tough time.
    So on the points you said I was flawed on it was actually your commentary that was flawed.

  8. Isn’t Mick Jagger the authentic blues singer with the band who embraced disco just as punk rock kicked in? Isn’t he the same bread head, Loog Oldham disciple who wanted to out-free-festival the Californians back in nineteen Altamont nine? Just because he thought he could?
    Are you saying, because he still manages to get about on his legs, at his age, that he is somehow more genuine than Master Bieber? Well, yes, you are and it’s hilarious.
    Just as it’s hilarious that you somehow think that Mumford and Sons, in their Morris Dancing costumes are somehow more authentic because they didn’t have ‘dancers’.
    The age group who bought rock n roll, back when it was, you know, really authentic, fresh out the cradle were all a damn sight younger than you – perhaps there’s a midlife crisis thing going on here – and it’s always been the young and naive who have kept it fresh. Lay off the young and naive!
    People have always messed with authenticity – Mick Jagger’s blackface singing veers between homage and outright racism, as do his lyrics. If he were to be truly authentic then he would only ever be seen using his LSE training to count his shekels. He was only ever as bad as his crew gave him scope to be. No need to be burying his heart at a crossroads – when he’s got his niche in Westminster Abbey, he’ll be staying right there.
    You’re not talking about authenticity, you’re just talking about what you like and don’t like and, with an opinion piece like that you deserve to be judged the same way. Are you ready for that? Are you ‘authentic’?

  9. I’m sorry but you really are delusional.You cite Mumford and sons as an example of an authentic act and say the major labels are only interested in “faux soul, faux ability, and faux songs”.But Mumford originated in the UK where they are signed to Island records which is an imprint of Universal, the biggest major of them all!Would the American indie label have signed Mumford if they had not already broken in the UK? I doubt it.

  10. I don’t know about that. Paramore has well written songs and hailey can sing her ass off. Sure, the bulk of their fans are under 18 and sure, they may have had the machine behind them but I think this band’s success is driven by their talent and showmanship or in this case ShoWOmanship.

  11. Lol at you. First, Bieber DID start his set playing an acoustic guitar and no other shit. Voice changes threw his voice for a loop thou.
    Bruno mars was by far THE best performance of the night follewed by cee-lo. Mumford and sons were like 4th or fifth best.
    Beiber would bur their ass on stage. He plays drums, guitar, piano, and he can sing VERY vell. Much better than anyone I heard singing in the fake “roots” band

  12. @catullusrl – Mumford have their own record label for which they recorded their album, they then licensed to various labels throughout the world. They are a far cry from the manufactured major label product you are wishing them to be for the case of your argument. I cited their performance as authentic, authentic means genuine and real. They played live with just acoustic instruments, and minimal lighting on a tiny stage, I am pretty sure that can justifiably be categorized as authentic.
    @chivas – RE: The Bieber acoustic intro – Yes that what I was saying, if he just did that without everything else he may have made more of an impact. But like you admit, the fact they went for the full on glitz and glamor of the big show number, actually became detrimental to his overall performance. You are agreeing with my point even though you wish to attack it.
    To reiterate I called Mumford and Sons performance authentic, I was not talking about their outfits or who distributes their albums in a certain territory. This description of Mumfords was one line of an article which encompassed many other points.
    @Tim London – I think you really discredit any valid point you were trying to make by A) using your “opinion’ to discredit my piece for using an “opinion” – thus marking it hypocritical and B) lampooning Mick Jagger as a racist.
    As for if I think I am authentic, that’s certainly not for me to say, but you are right – I fully deserve to be judged by what I say, I am not saying anyone has to agree with it, I am not trying to make friends or sell a product here. I try to be as honest as possible and be able to back up my opinion with experience and research when asked to.
    Thanks again for reading.

  13. Robin, thanks for your reply.
    Well, you’re writing for Hypebot, which tends to have fairly definitive info, even if it is slanted a particular way. Of course I understand you’re here to keep things interesting – it can get pretty dry reading the endless statistics about the end of the music biz. And understanding that I would have thought you would be more inclined to reinforce or explain your arguments.
    Basically, to imply the pop world belongs to an older age group is worrying for several reasons, not least when you apply the Dave Allen theory of ‘the ten year old girl now’ who will grow up expecting music to be free.
    And it’s been proved wrong with every major youth trend in the UK and the USA. What keeps moving music forward is the input from young people.
    Implying Mick Jagger’s a racist? Like Enoch Powell or Jim Davidson? No, of course not. But that he stole blues riffs, mimicked the accent of a black man from across the Atlantic and wrote questionable lyrics? No doubt.
    I’m not saying he’s not a blues fan – lots of people are blues fans. I’m questioning his authenticity, which is, you seem to be implying, the most crucial thing about todays pop artists.

  14. I agree with you on the pared down performances and how they can truly highlight a performer’s talents and/or deficiencies. However, at the beginning of his performance he did go solo with just a guitar.
    Was it the best performance? No. But the kid has enough of those online to prove that he’s not just a processed pop star.
    I liked your article and sentiment I just felt that the analogy doesn’t really hold up. I look forward to reading more of your stuff.

  15. As crazy as this may sound I actually believe that Justin Bieber might hold some clout in this area. By teaming up with artists from other genre’s (hey, the kid has street cred in just about every ent. arena) there’s an opportunity to grow his fan base in multiple areas.
    There’s no question this is a transitional phase for the music industry I just don’t think belittling or dismissing talent because it seems contrived is the best thing to do at this point.

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