CEOs at record labels probably aren't sleeping too well these days. Not because they're having second thoughts about rejecting your demo...again. Not because Clear Channel has a lock on radio playlists. Record label execs are now counting sheep due to a new wrinkle in their marketing plans: Consumer Choice.
Of course, this is mostly due to the MP3 revolution, and it's a beautiful thing. Those of us who love music can now listen to music of our own choosing. What a concept! No more spending your hard earned dollars on albums with only one decent song. No more lamenting over long lost records that are out of print because the band was dropped from the label when their LP didn't sell 500,000 copies. Now we can go online and create cool soundtracks for our lives. Because we have easy access to MP3s, we can find live performances of a favorite band doing obscure covers that their label would have never allowed them to release in a million years. One can argue that consumers always had the power of choice. But record labels have employed their marketing machines to blanket radio airwaves and other mediums with their chosen songs since the dawn of this business. Before we knew any better, can we really say that we were immune to their persuasion?
Historically, one thing that the record industry has always done well is put consumers into little boxes. If you're a girl under 17, labels know how to market a teen pop star to you, a la Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera. If you're a college-aged guy, they also know how to market Maroon 5 to you. The problem for the labels starts when consumers get to choose for themselves, via alternate means, and that has the record industry just a wee bit spooked. Without a new business model for success, the record industry is scrambling to regain a foothold. But as fans have other ways of hearing music from new artists, the industry's old ways no longer fit.
For example, I'm a black woman with copper red dreadlocks that reach down my back. Do I look like a musician? Perhaps. Can my music purchases be predicted by the cashier as I enter her store? Not likely. Just because I'm black doesn't guarantee that I'm looking for something by P. Diddy or Usher. Even if I look like a female singer/songwriter, it doesn't mean that I'm looking for Sarah McLachlan. My wide range of tastes may be hard for a focus group to pinpoint, but I'm not the only person out there with eclectic tastes. I'd bet my last guitar pick that your music collection has lots of things on it that defy standard ³convention.²
As a musician, songs on my new CD Supernova can range from soul to country to jazz and still find a home in that huge category called ³pop.² As a consumer, my tastes can range from XTC to Beethoven to Van Halen to Stevie Wonder, sometimes over the course of a day. And lots of music fans feel the same way. Due to the success of digital music websites like Rhapsody, Napster, and even iTunes, we can own the songs we really want without buying the crap that we don't. That's democracy at its best.
To this day, I still have not seen an episode of American Idol, only because I've chosen not to have a TV in my house. But I'm a fan of it anyway, because the audience has the power to choose. Idol winners like Ruben Studdard or Clay Aiken did not make the record industry short list of superstars before they won, or we would have heard of them before now. But to win on Idol, they had to handle intense competition and immediate public opinion. Their talent has been honed over the years by rejection and persistence. A so-called ³loser² like William Hung also gained a place on Billboard charts because his fans love his underdog status. American Idol became another way to sidestep the industry's mandates. Ruben and Clay couldn't get in through the front door, so they used the window. This kind of ³out of the box² thinking will take an aspiring musician far, and closer to the success they seek.
Since the early days of this industry, record labels had (and still have) the ultimate power to determine what we heard on the radio. They have the money to put the machine in motion, and there is lots of money to be made. That means that labels look for recording acts who they, in their collective wisdom, believe will make money. That's well and good, but this also means that many great and worthy musical talents have been overlooked if they were unable to prove their potential to a label.
So my question is: What if we take record labels out of the equation?
Online, we can find cool artists that a label would never touch -- not because they weren't talented -- but because a label didn't know how to market them. Some of you have had music rejected by labels for that reason, so you know what I mean. We also have the opportunity to personally connect to those artists, to reach out and tell them that their song meant something to us. You can't do that with Britney, or any major artist on a record label. There are too many hands involved.
I bet a lot of you reading this right now have amazing music. You may be a solo performer shedding on your guitar for hours in your room, or maybe you have a strong regional following with 5,000 email names in your fan database. Or maybe you're somewhere in between. Regardless of where you are, marketing your music on the web can level the A&R playing field.
Please get a website, or even two. Learn about marketing your music on the web, and do it right. Go ahead and give away MP3s from live shows. The potential of music of the web has the record industry shaking in their boots. Go ahead and start a revolution.
Let your music be heard, and keep the music industry awake.