Music in the digital age
Despite changes, ‘wow’ factor still needed to help new artists stand out in a crowd
“Don’t go into the music industry for money. There are much easier ways to get it. Go to medical school. Go to law school. Become a civil engineer.”
That’s the advice Mark Chubb often gives his students in his music classes at Cal Poly Pomona.
The assistant professor heads music industry studies at the San Gabriel Valley-based university, and has just completed his fourth year of teaching there.
Chubb says people should go into the industry because they are passionate about it, and it is the only thing they feel driven to do.
That said, it must be understood that getting into the music industry and making it your livelihood in 2011 is much different from how artists broke into the business in 1981, or even 1951.
“There has been a significant shift; a seismic shift (in how people get into the industry) and the transition is still ongoing. The model is still finding itself, and that’s what makes the question fundamentally very difficulty to respond to. It’s in a state of transition and flux. I think the pathways for the future are very much wide open,” says Chris Sampson, associate dean and professor in charge of the Popular Music Performance program at USC.
“First of all, music as a profession has always been an entrepreneurial endeavor. There is no traditional job marketplace like other industries; no want ads to apply for,” noted Sampson who describes the traditional entre point as a process that had a very, very tight gatekeeping system.
According to Chubb, it took knowing somebody, who knew someone who was connected at Sony or Motown and other record companies. It also required artists with good music and the ability to perform.
“Record companies were highly selective,” added Pomona’s Sampson. “A significant investment was going to be made. They needed to trust that it was going to be a worthwhile investment.”
Today technology and the “so called” digital revolution have burst the gates nearly wide open and given anyone with the right software and a little technical knowledge the ability to put out their own music. Various platforms have been established on the Internet that enable artists to take their music directly to potential consumers with their work. These include iTunes, CDBaby, Myspace, Rhapsody, betarecords.com or unsigned.com.
A number of artists have even put up their own websites, and then creatively drive traffic there.
“There are so many pathways, it’s hard to generalize,” said USC’s Sampson. “A lot of them (bands) are not selling their music. They provide it in some form free to generate an audience or fan base, and then try to capitalize on the buzz created.”
The head of USC’s Popular Music Performance program particularly recalls the clever way one of his students—Kina Gennis—is beginning to cobble together various projects that he feels could help her make a nice living as a musician without reaching that mega-stardom like a Beyonce or Justin Beiber.
“She was so smart about it. Her thinking and her success can be a little of a summary of the number of ways people can approach getting into the music industry. She entered a national songwriting contest and voting was done online. She (Kina) was a very natural aficionado of the online community. She loved it, and she particularly has a passion for the Internet community digg.com.”
Sampson said about the time online voting was to happen Gennis went to her only audience, wrote a tribute to digg.com and that catapulted her to the top of the digg website. The song then went viral and the people who appreciated it turned into voters for the online song she entered into the contest. She went on to win that competition, which Sampson said was sponsored by Doritos.
The prize? A 60-second video after the first quarter of the Superbowl and a recording contract with Interscope Records.
But the story didn’t stop there, added Sampson, because Gennis and Interscope didn’t connect. So she took her act independent again, and by this time has built up such a fan following that she was able to break into the Billboard top 200 for independent records. One of singles also snagged more than 5 million hits on YouTube.
“She then used all of this to create her own tours, that went from small to larger, and now she is touring Europe.
The openness of the Internet has been a key driver of opportunities like this, but according to Chubb, there is also a downside: “Anybody can get out there and do their thing. The downside is anybody can do their thing, and don’t know what is good. How to you get to a website where they just put good stuff.”
How do you stand out in the crowd, asked the Cal Poly Pomona instructor and composer.
Reggie Andrews, a longtime music educator at Locke High School, who taught such notables as Tyrese Gibson, Patrice Rushen and Ndugu Chancellor, and who in the 1980s co-wrote the Emmy Award-winning song “Let It Whip” for the Dazz Band, is in the process of relearning the music business after a 30-year lull and points to the reality of television as another force driving the music industry.
He agrees that shows like “American Idol,” “The Voice” and Simon Cowell’s “X-Factor” have seemingly stepped in to do the artists development that many of the major record labels used to do—particularly Motown.
That also points to another shift the music industry watchers say has happened. Now, instead of taking in raw artists with no recognition, record companies are often looking for artist who have already built up a following. And now, instead of trying to sell records, they are trying to bring people into their live shows.
Although Chubb said there is also sort of a nostalgia move back to vinyl.
He also noted that like the rest of the economy the music industry has been buffeted by financial hard times. That too is impacting the development of a standardized and broadly accepted path, platform or other way for new artist to get in.
But he and Sampson are sure that something is coming . . . and soon.
Randy Jackson, the last original “American Idol” judge, announced Thursday that he’s voting himself off the hit singing competition program after the current season ends.
“Yo! Yo! Yo! To put all of the speculation to the rest, after 12 years of judging on ‘American Idol,’ I have decided to leave after this season,” Jackson said in a statement, released through his representative.
Along with Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul, the musician and producer was one of three judges when the Fox show debuted in 2002.
Simon Cowell’s “The X Factor” might not be the only Fox singing competition headed for another season of change.
The Hollywood Reporter heard whispers from sources in the know that the network’s “American Idol” was considering swapping new judge Mariah Carey for former judge Jennifer Lopez.
Lopez departed the competition along with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler in 2012 after two seasons aboard the series, but THR notes that she did cultivate a solid fan following.
Billed as “the biggest night in music,” the Black Entertainment Television (BET) Awards has evolved since its start in 2001 into a major effort to celebrate the accomplishments of musicians, actors and sports stars.
All told, there are … persons/acts nominated to receive honors in 20 categories at the July 1 event, and the music category is loaded with the majority of recipients. Actor Samuel L. Jackson, declared the highest-grossing movie actor of all time, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, will be this year’s BET Awards host.
Music direction is the story of Rickey Minor’s life, and he somehow keeps taking new steps to higher achievement.
But if you’ve been the musical director of the Grammys, “American Idol” and now the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” what other heights are left to climb?
If you’ve been musical director for the nation’s most incandescent artists, such as Whitney Houston, Christina Aguilera, Ray Charles, Beyonce Knowles, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Hudson and many more, who else is there to work with?
Seven of television’s hottest and most sought after musicians and more importantly musical directors, took the stage last week, not to perform but to spotlight their accomplishments and celebrate Black Music Month.
These contemporary music pioneers, assembled for the first time, spoke candidly about the industry, particularly their role in shaping the music television audiences worldwide have come to enjoy.