Is the rise to rock star still the same? In this digital world, must upcoming musicians walk the traditional path of improving their art, signing with a label and touring in order to reach commercial and critical success?
Nope. Not at all. It’s a whole new game.
Massive change in the industry and career of the recording artist was the resounding message of luminary-packed digital music panel today at the Seattle Interactive Conference. Musicians Sir-Mix-A-Lot and Death Cab for Cutie’s Nick Harmer joined industry insiders Tim Bierman (Pearl Jam Fan Club Manager) and Aaron Starkley (KEXP).
Harmer explained, “The model used to be to make an album, then go on tour to advertise the album. Now the model is to create an album to get people to go to the concerts.”
Sir-Mix-a-Lot express a similar sentiment. “When I produce a track now, I don’t think about selling music to people. I think about using that music as a giant advertisement to sell something else. To be a new artist, you have to be very aware of what publishing is worth.”
Nick Harmer backed this sentiment up. “I spend as much time thinking about my music as I do trying to tie my music to something happening online in order to make people pay attention to it.” His advice to new musicians, “Think twice before hiring a manager and a record label. Hire a marketing firm.”
“You spend as much time trying to market yourself as you do making your music”, added Bierman.
Artists are required to have a great deal of marketing savvy. Band members are expected to actively participate in social media and willing to generate content beyond music. There are both up and down sides to this shift. Artist have a great deal more control and power in promoting themselves. As Sir-Mix-a-Lot said, “I can define myself. The perception you get of me is the one I wanted to present. Now how musicians are seen can be controlled by the individual, not the label. This is new.”
However, Sir-Mix-a-Lot also details the down side of this new transparency. “I miss mystique. I was a big Prince fan, but I never wanted to hang out with him. That would mess things up! Maybe I’d see he eats BBQ chicken and I’d have to tell him to eat grits! That’s not the way it is anymore. People want to know which leg you put in your pants first. This generation has never seen mystique, so maybe they can care a damn.”
Despite the new energy and effort demands of self-marketing in the digital age, all the panelist agreed that the art form and pure experience of modern music is still intact.
“As long as there are people making music and other people having moments thinking they can’t believe they’ve heard this new thing, that it’s the best song ever, that’s what matters,” said Harmer.
What do you think? What changes to do you see in the music industry? Do artists have more control or less? What power do fans have in the digital era?