Is The Music Industry In Distress? Maybe it’s time to get back to basics.
By Martine Ehrenclou
Something is afoot in the music industry. There’s a drought of up and coming pop stars who used to release big hits. And it has managers and A&R executives plenty worried. “The market is dry as fuck,” an A&R executive turned manager said to Billboard. “The front-line label business, signing new artists, is in trouble,” he added. There are too many songs and not enough hits.
Just about anyone can be a pop music artist, whether they have talent or not. You just need a laptop and Pro Tools. Unlike in the 60s, 70s or 80s, there aren’t nearly enough gatekeepers (record labels) now to sift through aspiring artists, weeding out the not-so-good and the downright bad. Now, they’re all on Spotify and other streaming services, obscuring some of the better artists.
There’s a glut of music uploaded to Spotify and other DSPs. 100,000 songs every single day. Only 18 months ago, the daily number was 70,000. If this trend continues, it’s not going to get better. The pop music market is diluted. How can any new song by an aspiring artist rise to the surface with that kind of competition?
“Due to the sheer number of things coming out, songs that were shoo-ins for being hits five to ten years ago, now have to fight to see daylight,” veteran producer Warren “Oak” Felder (Usher, Demi Lovato) told Billboard.
Part of the problem?
Maybe the masses are tiring of the soulless, homogenous pop music manufactured by technology. If there are 100,000 songs uploaded to streaming services each day, they can’t all be Taylor Swift or Harry Styles. That means that water is being poured into the cream, and we know what happens then. It doesn’t rise to the top. Whether you think pop music is cream at all is another story.
It’s a harder road now for music industry execs and managers to push their up-and-coming artists’ music into view. TikTok is considered the hit-maker for pop music. Why something takes off is a mystery to music industry insiders. They can’t seem to orchestrate hits that go viral like they used to.
Even with the aid of TikTok for exposure and marketing, it’s the same aforementioned principle. More than 1 billion videos are viewed every day on TikTok. How do new artists compete with 1 billion?
None of that spells “good” for music industry executives who rely on superstars to pay their bills.
Maybe it’s time for the music industry to get back to basics —find real talent with real musicians and grow with them, instead of focusing on molding artists so they produce the next big hit. Perhaps it’s time to rethink the process and instead nurture highly talented artists from the ground up. Let me add, that maybe it’s also time to focus less on image and personality and on actual true music talent.
It doesn’t hurt that blues/rock guitarist, singer Ana Popovic is very attractive as is rock guitarist, singer Orianthi. But both are extraordinary musicians. They have the goods to back up their appearances.
Some believe that certain ground breaking rock bands or singer-songwriters from the 60s, 70s and even 80s will never surface again. People claim that there aren’t bands/artists now like the Allman Brothers, The Who, Pink Floyd, Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt, Creedence Clearwater and others.
But maybe there’s more to that story.
I interviewed blues and blues/rock artist Jeremiah Johnson today and he brought up an interesting point. He said, “There was a time when a band would spend six months to a year working on an album. A lot of those great records from the 60s and 70s is because record companies were allowing the artists plenty of time to work on those records to make them the best they can possibly be.”
Johnson brought up Led Zeppelin and how they worked on and perfected those songs for a long period of time. He added, “There are exceptions obviously–the first Black Sabbath album. They went in and did it in a day or two and it’s a legendary record.”
Isn’t there something to that? Investing in an up-and-coming artist/band and growing with them? And allowing them the time to create a batch of outstanding singles that are part of a great new album?
If the music is great, if the artist/band is great, they stand a better chance of dazzling crowds at their shows, right? That’s very different than a pop artist whose voice was Auto-Tuned to sound a whole lot better and performs to concert attendees who respond with “WTF?”
Look at blues and rock artist Christone “Kingfish” Ingram. A major talent if I ever heard one. And it isn’t image that’s selling him. In pop, it’s your image, your personality, and maybe some talent. But with Ingram, it’s his massive talent and soulfulness, his mind-blowing guitar chops, rich vocals and inspired songwriting.
Ingram has a solid, highly respected record label behind him that invested in him from the beginning. Alligator Records president Bruce Iglauer discovered him. He brought in a Grammy winning producer Tom Hambridge, great musicians and the label released truly outstanding Christone “Kingfish” Ingram albums. The old school way. Believing in an artist and nurturing him/her along the way.
Ingram has won a Grammy Award for his latest album 662 in the Best Contemporary Blues Album category, and his debut Kingfish was nominated for a Grammy. All this at age 23.
But Ingram is not just blues, so you can’t go down that road of “blues is dead” and “for old people.” Ingram just released “Another Life Goes By (Mississippi Remix)” with hip-hop artist (Big K.R.I.T) and it’s outstanding. He blends rock, funk and jazz into his music. More to come of that, I’m sure.
Maybe back-to-basics also includes loosening the tight grip on music sharing by fans without the threat of copyright infringement. So fans can once again be part of the momentum with word of mouth, which in my opinion, certainly helps promote the artist’s music. I’m not suggesting that music pirating is okay in any way.
Now, music streaming is siloed. If you stream blues/rock then Spotify recommends more of the same. That’s how their algorithms work. Because of that, how can you be exposed to new music in a different genre? If you grew up in the 60s, 70s and even 80s, think about how you and your friends shared all kinds of music—from Carlos Santana, to Led Zeppelin to whatever.
For me, I was exposed to a number of artists’ music in different genres. My mother played James Taylor, Neil Young, Bill Withers, and James Brown. My friends shared Alice Cooper, Aerosmith, Parliament-Funkadelic, Grover Washington Jr, Weather Report and more. That’s a varied list.
Do you get that kind of variation on Spotify?
I realize it might be too late to un-ring the bell. The music industry has changed so much. And executives like their million dollar incomes. If those are threatened, and pop music becomes less popular and creating hits becomes even more challenging, maybe they’ll rethink their approach. I hope so.
I welcome your thoughts and comments below.