Friday, April 10, 2015

Singing Competitions: PR on a Platter for Record Labels

June 1999 - Inception of Napster and online guerrilla music promotion
June 11th, 2002 - The inception of American Idol
August 2002 - The inception of MySpace
February 14th, 2005 - The inception of YouTube

This is perhaps the day that the music industry found their new calling. They found the answer to the answer less questions.  How do we stay afloat in an industry that has flipped on its belly since the inception of Napster. Music being stolen = Labels not making any money. Labels not making any money = no longer taking chances on new artist because they can't afford to market and promote their records to only have them stolen OR even worse have the power of Napster and single song downloads steal the smoke in mirrors power of what a WHOLE album would or could sound like. Leading a listener to decide they don't like the artist far before they buy the album or come to a show.

So, what happened:

Labels drew back funds on Marketing and Promotion for artists that weren't already famous or proven to create powerful sales numbers started to only invest in new artists if they were a sure thing.  If they had already put in the legwork.

What is Legwork:

Legwork is slang in terms of music for doing your own Marketing and PR. Building a perception for your music and for your image as a musician. Legwork was the MAIN job of any record label from their inception up until very recently. American audiences often do not build their own perceptions of musicians and artists or much of anything for that matter.  This is often done through advertising and promotion.  Because there are SO many great musicians and singers their job is to pick one and sink millions of dollars into building an audience perception of the artists talent and their personality.  This connection leads to a major return in dollars.  ONLY if people are buying records.

Whats Guerrilla Marketing?

The most powerful form of promotion is guerrilla marketing and word of mouth advertising.  Building a perception that doesn't appear to be through traditional means.

In steps the power of MySpace (back then) YouTube, and most importantly Singing Competitions

For the sake of this blog I want to talk about singing competitions such as American Idol, X-Factor, The Voice.  This form of promotion is still perceived by American audiences to be versions of guerrilla marketing and artist discovery.  Meaning that the audience feels as if they are discovering the artist themselves. They get the power to say who is good and who is not, they vote people through to the next round.  Unfortunately, the power of these shows are not only the ones that are advertised:  An amazing opportunity a singer to follow their dream.  This is the opportunity for a music marketer to literally TRY OUT an artist from start to finish and dump them with no contract or guarantee.  A few years ago this was called a "Development Deal." The best and most positive aspect of an artist that appears on a singing competition is the Public Relations that has been at work for them throughout their run on the show.  Not only do we get to hear their talent, we get to hear their personal story and we get to see them "live" their dream. Artists on singing competitions perhaps get more face time with their potential audience within a few months than some artists get in their lifetime.  This is GOLD for a record label seeking new artists.  WHY?  Because they don't have to spend the millions building a perception of a new artist as mentioned above.  It's all been done for them.

American Idol and Damaged Goods:

How many times have you heard an artist that didn't win American Idol on the radio within months?  How did this happen? Well, a record label cashed in on the free marketing and promotions produced by the show itself, they rushed an album into stores and onto the radio knowing that the current MASSIVE audience would recognize that voice immediately and perhaps buy their record.  Why?  the audience has a connection already.  The connection that used to cost money and years to create.  But are singing competitions the future of the music business? Are we headed into a generation where thousands of potential stars get herded through the offices of radio executives and the best wins?  That's a competition too.  The same competition it's always been for all the artists trying to make it.

Perhaps singing competitions both exacerbate and accelerate the perception of an artist within the music industry that is called Damaged Goods.  Been there, done that.  You're good, but we tried.  If another label, promotion company, etc spent money on you and it didn't work then forget it. "Damaged Goods Artists" are created faster and more painful than any other mode of promotion through singing competitions.  Labels are looking to cash in on free promotion.  The fastest and easiest way to sell and new artists and records is to hire a artists that didn't get a deal through the show. The artist is easy to pick up (they are still looking to fulfill their dream desperately) and they are easy to drop if it fails.

The long story short is that as the artist a singing competition is something to pursue with caution.  Think about YOU as an artist while participating in a show like this.  Who are YOU? and are you being molded and marketed in a way you don't want to be?  As the audience, recognize that you are being exposed to a concentrated group of pre screened individuals that are being MARKETED to YOU.  This is the future of the music business.  It's important to still take time to look for new artists, go to local shows and follow/support artists who aren't being marketed through a major medium.  Allow artists to create their own fate within the industry once again and force record labels to seek out talent again, force them to NEED to believe in their artist before they are signed and force them to not create damaged goods out of amazingly talented people by pursuing a free pass on a money/time investment needed to thoroughly create a dedicated audience to their artist not to a game show.