This guest post is written by Elliot Mazer, a producer, executive, technologist, and project leader. Mazer produced multi-platinum albums for artists including Neil Young, Janis Joplin, and Linda Ronstadt. He was the recording engineer of the live Last Waltz Concert. Meanwhile he has also built, designed, owned and operated audio recording facilities in Nashville and in California. (source Wikipedia)
We were at a minor league baseball game. One of the between innings entertainment events was a dance contest between two boys both of whom were around 8 years old. The dance music was recorded. One boy grooved with it. The other boy looked like he was in an aerobics class. He didn't keep time with the music. The crowd voted and the aerobic kid one. The music got him going but he didn't dance or groove to it. That is typical of how music has been valued the past few years.
We have always had hit singles and that goes back to every form of popular music: Ragtime, Vaudeville, Boogie Woogie, Cajun, Big Band, Rock, Folk, etc. People gravitated to common tunes that excited and/or stimulated them. The McRecord is about instant gratification.
We had seen young artists develop and wind-up having careers that last for decades too. Today, only a few new artists get a shot at a major label. The music business is mostly about McMusic. Many of the great and uniqie musicians that do not play McMusic will have to go it alone or abandon their aspirations. A few might get signed to a label that will help them. There are musicians that never have hit records and fund their careers playing local gigs, house concerts and supporting big artists on occasion. The evolution of digital music, inexpensive gear for recording and live performances has helped many musicians create small and limited careers. Very few independent artists establish long-running careers.
This is how I group musicians:
- Amateurs: They only play in private, maybe to family or friend.
- Semi-Pro: They do in-house concerts and play any gig they can get, busk.
- Professional Musicians: They make money and have a career playing music.
- There are 2 subgroups:
- Artists that have to work second jobs to exist
- Artists that can support themselves with their music.
- There are 2 subgroups:
I wonder if people know how much hard work goes into becoming a "great" musician. Most artists that I've worked with spent years practicing and perfecting their skills. They still practice intensly before recording or going on the road.
Let's compare baseball to music...
- Backyard: Play catch with friends and family - pick up guitar and learn the chords
- Neighborhood ball, stoop ball: Play with friends, maybe compete with them - play along with radio, records
- Little League: You know how to play your guitar and maybe have some friends you can play music with you.
- High school teams: if you are good enough you get on the team. Form a group and practice
- College teams: Are you good enough to compete? Play in groups, fraternity parties.
- Sandlot: Fun or career. In both cases, if you are really good compared to others, you mgiht consider a career
- Minor league: play at parties, house concerts, small clubs, any place where you can play in front of people
- Majors: Only a select few get to the majors.
In each of the above examples, there are obvious places where one would know to stay where they are, bail or continue.
The major labels will be around for many more years. They'll only sign artists that they're sure can sell music. Very few new artists get signed. This was the case before the mid-sixties. Labels recorded stuff they believed could be hits.
The LP came into the market in the 50s. Before then artists cut singles (78s). If the single was a success, they cut another one. Great care was given to the choice of song and those recordings were done live in the studio. Many labels such as Motown, Cameo, Parkway, Fire, Fury and others only recorded singles. If an artist had 4 or 5 hit songs then they released an album.
It's presumed that a label will spend the equivalent of the recording budget on marketing, promotion, radio and press. That's not the same as putting your music on bandcamp or thinking you are promoting on Facebook or Twitter. The outlets that really help create mass demand normally cost real money.