The Truth About Mainstream Success
Ever wonder why so many artists become one hit or one album wonders? Music consumers over the past decade have adopted the idea that the majority of artists are brought to fame using the “boy band” formula. This formula that label executives simply have an idea of an artist molded, find the talent to fill the requirements, and then easily market them to make lots of money sounds like a wonderful idea. However, that rarely is the way that an artist reaches fame. Unless the artist is connected to an already established celebrity, there is a long and sometimes strenuous journey that lies ahead of them and their business partners. This journey is known as the pipeline of events that must happen in making any ordinary musician with recorded songs into a successful main stream well-known artist.
There are many departments and people who will work hard on the development of a successful artist. Much like the many parts used in putting a car together on an assembly line, each part of the music industry pipeline must be properly put in place and work well in order for the ending product to be productive. A new artist, much like a successfully put together new car, must be then well maintained and closely cared for in order for success to continue. If any steps are skipped in the development process or with maintenance, failure is likely to happen. This of which is quite common. Hundreds of artists a year are attempted to be marketed and brought to fame, but fail due to missing or malfunctioning parts in the pipeline.
In this pipeline there is the Artist, Artist and Repertoire, Marketing, Distribution, Retail, Publicity, and Media personnel, all of which are working to get the artist efficiently to the consumer. Each member of the pipeline needs to stay well informed, and aware of the current status of the developing artist. Any malfunction in the communication process could lead to failure. Even Jimmy Iovine, chairmen of Interscope Records once said “if this company (Interscope) is about anything, its about discipline and staying focused”.
The first step an upcoming artist must take is to get noticed. There are millions of bands in the United States, from little jam bands who have never played in public, to huge top selling artists that are featured on covers of Billboard and Rolling Stone magazines. On a yearly basis, each of the major record labels and their imprint labels (Sony, EMI, Universal, and Warner) receive over 10,000 demos of aspiring artists. Of these 10,000 artists, only between 5 to 40 of them will actually be signed. The job of finding and sifting through these artists would go to the Artist and Repertoire person or team, depending on the size of the business. Since the 1960’s, it has been the sole purpose of the A&R personnel to research artists, go watch the artist perform, talk with the artist, the artist’s manager if they have one, and get an overall feel for them. The A&R person is looking for an artist that shows potential to be able to endure the process of becoming a successful part of a label’s roster. These attributes include, having an already stable fan base and marketability at the grass roots level, some sort of history in successful touring and recorded music, and the overall determination to cooperate and work hard with all the departments in the pipeline. The last point is very important. This being because once the A&R person finds an artist they believe is worth their time, they then must work hard in convincing the label executives they work for, and every member of the pipeline that this musician will be an asset to the label.
Looking from the artist’s point of view, the search to getting signed is a grueling and nerve racking process also. Some artists get so caught up in the idea of being signed that they will do anything to get a record deal. Many young aspiring musicians, who haven’t had any experience in the industry and are naive to contracts, sometimes find themselves with the record deal that has a ball and chains attached. Kevin Czinger, the founder of Volcano Entertainment said “In this business, the first rule is, never act out of desperation, because there is always someone out there looking to sucker you.” Many bad contracts will take away all rights of the artist to their music, and leave them with little to no credit or money for their hard work. But let’s say an artist was spotted by an A&R person from a credible label, was offered a decent record deal, and they accepted.
Now with that process over, the real path to success begins. From the A&R department the artist is handed over to the marketing team. The marketing team has the biggest steps to take in getting the artist up and going. The marketing team will analyze what the artist has to offer, what they have already accomplished, and what they are capable of in the near future. The marketing team is responsible for making the artist seem extremely appealing to distributors, retailers, radio and other media. The biggest factor in making an artist look like an asset is to show that they will make the business money. For retailers money means the artist will bring in sales and increase store customers, while for radio it means that the artist being in rotation will increase listeners. For other media like magazines newspapers, and online outlets it means the artist will create a buzz, and increase readers, hits and again sales. The marketing team can always make the artist seem more appealing by giving incentives to the businesses by adding deals, discounts, and promotions if they agree to take on the artist.
While the marketing team is working hard, they will usually hire an image consultant to work with the artist or band on creating an image that will catch the eye of their demographic. Ever since the debut of MTV and large color music magazines, the image and style of musicians has become one of the most valuable and important selling points. Many artists will despise yet go along with image changes and adopt certain character traits to fully create the persona their label and image consultant believe will work best for them.
Once an artist has their image ready and a solid album recorded, the next step is to physically get the artist out to the public. This process is much more difficult than most would think. It involves an important middleman, the distributor. Most major labels have a distributor of their own, and many smaller labels as well as independent labels, will rely on the distributors of the majors because it is not an easy job. When a label has a completed album they will send the master to a duplication factory with an order of how many pressings they need. That factory will then pass the CDs on to the distributor. The sole job of the distributor is to hold the albums safely in their warehouse and to efficiently ship out albums when a retailer requests them It comes back to the marketing department whether or not there will be a demand from the retailers for the albums. If no stores want the albums they will sit in the warehouse collecting dust and the label as well as the artist will loose a lot of money.
It becomes very apparent how closely linked each department in the pipeline is and how much one effects the success of another. Now the demand from the retailers, that is go greatly wanted, will depend on the overall success and growing popularity of the artist in the public spotlight. A retailer will not buy a bunch of CDs from an artist just for them to sit on their racks, take up shelf space, and eventually make the effort to send them back. (In which, yes, retailers have the right to send back albums that do not sell, and for a full refund too.) Therefore a buzz in the media that is reaching the consumers must be on going. No matter how big of a scale or little of a scale the label is working on, the artist should be doing interviews for press, magazines, and newspapers on whichever level they are in. For example if a major label is working with the artist on a big budget, appearances and interviews could be done on widely known media outlets like SNL, Billboard Magazine, late night shows and big radio stations. For a smaller budget and label, local newspapers, smaller magazines, and college radio stations should be having coverage, as well as an efficient online campaign.
The media is a very important factor in an artist’s success in the mainstream world of technology today. A growing attribute in media has been the Internet. The Internet has become the most popular medium for consumers to receive information as well as find music and videos. This transition has also brought the record industry into a different realm for the first time since physical recordings could be mass-produced. The digital recording or the mp3 originally gave the record industry a big scare with significant decreases in sales. This was due to large amounts of illegal downloading, allowing consumers who usually would have paid anywhere from 15 dollars to 25 dollars for a CD, acquiring the same material completely for free. This left the record labels with less income from sales and many distributors piling up returned or unsold albums. The industry has since found ways to use technology to receive a handful of new streams of revenue. Sales in cell phone ring tones, online mp3 stores, such as iTunes and Amazon as well as many online streaming radio formatted stations have become extremely helpful in making up for lost sales. Atlantic Records back in 2007 even announced that, “more than half of its music sales in the United States are now from digital products, like downloads on iTunes and ring tones for cellphones.”
The online streaming stations like Last FM, Pandora, and AOL Radio offer thousands of popular as well as upcoming artists for consumers to listen to and also offer spotlights and capabilities of purchasing songs listeners like. Along with the Internet buzz importance of an artists personal website as grown as well.
Two departments, some that work right within the label, and some who are independent and work on retainer for a label are the Promotion and Publicity companies. Both of these companies are two more important factors deep within the pipeline. The job of a Promotion company is to get radio stations to add artist songs to their rotation. In theory, but not always, it is suspected that a largely played artist on the radio will bring in lots of revenue by touring. The publicity company has what could be a never-ending job. Their duty is to dish out human interest stories, some a little stretched from the truth, and enlarge the public buzz of an artist. As an artist becomes more famous the demand for insight into their lives and their background will grow. Sometimes like we have seen in cases like Britney Spears, the demand can grow to an unacceptable level.
If every member of the pipeline has worked hard and the artist has received a profitable release of an album, a following of more singles being released and music videos will usually occur. Along with a successful release will also usually come a large tour with big ticket sales. Once all of this has happened, the artist and the label will then turn into the maintenance part of the pipelines job. Maintenance is a crucial part in any artists career and will indefinitely determine the longevity as well as the stability of it. Along with this new success an upcoming artist will experience a change in personal relationships with friends and family as well as adapt to the new relationship with their newly found fans. Artists will work closely with their publicist as promotions team to make sure everything stays on track.
Soon after the tour or even sometimes during, the artist will start to work on their next album due to the fact that most contracts bind the artist to a three to four album contract. In most cases this is to ensure that royalties are being paid and all recoupables have been fulfilled. Recoupables are the monies that an artist owes back to the label. The majority of albums will cost thousands of dollars start to finish. The label will pay for everything upfront, but once revenue from the album starts to come in, the artist will usually not receive any more money until all the debt has been paid. In the meantime the artist will usually have received an advance of money when signing the record deal and hopefully was smart enough to ration the spending of the money until they could ensure the album would be profitable.
Royalties are monies earned from songs or sound recordings that will come in from many sources like CD sales, digital sales, and synchronization to commercials and movies. Royalties are given to the entity with the copyrights to a song. In most cases the label will demand that they hold ownership of all songs recorded; however many musicians that are also songwriters will fight for their right of ownership to their music. The RIAA, the Record Industry Association of America is the trade group that represents the U.S. recording industry in Washington. Their mission is to manage and enforce US copyright laws and to make sure the owners are receiving the proper income. Almost 90% of all professional sound recordings produced and sold in the United States have been created, manufactured or distributed by RIAA members.
The function of maintenance will be ongoing for the rest of the artist’s career. They must now keep a good relationship and work with their managers, publicist, and label to sustain a solid career and credible view from the public. Main stream success is almost impossible to reach and even more impossible to maintain through the years, with so many eyes watching, people pulling for their side to have the biggest say, and struggle over rights, it is definitely not a joke. As your grandmother always said be careful what you wish for!