The Demise of the Record Industry through Aggressive Music Marketing

Back when I first heard about Napster, I didn't know what to make of it... it just seemed far to good to be true, a place where you could get music... for free??? It definitely took some getting used to, but I'd cite Napster as one of the major reasons I am as obsessed with music as I am these days as through downloading was the first place I was exposed to many of my now favorite artists.

I remember a conversation I had with my father about the record labels suing 12 year olds, the elderly and the dead, and all the controversy over "illegal downloading". After much discussion I finally just said: "They're going to kill it, they're just going to kill it if they keep acting like this"... I was referring to how the record companies were reacting towards Napster and music enthusiasts and how the kind of mentality they were taking (towards the entire industry, not just Napster) would literally kill the record industry. Unfortunately, as I think many are now realizing, that statement of mine was far more prophetic than even I would have first anticipated.

If you happen to read Rolling Stone Magazine's website (there is actually, an occasional interesting post), you may have caught an interesting feature the other day called: "The Decline and Fall of the Record Industry." You can read that article here in two parts:
Part 1: http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/15137581/the_record_industrys_decline
and Part 2: http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/15152483/the_fall_of_the_record_business_what_next

I read through this article and thought it was very well done and really seemed to highlight one of the major factors of the decline of the music industry, namely that the labels have done this to themselves by missing a series of opportunities. I agree with this wholeheartedly, but I think there is one interesting point that the article kind of glanced over and it has to do with music marketing. I believe it is safe to say that music marketing has changed at least a little since the industry exploded. Promotional techniques have moved from radio to MTV through to the Internet, with thousands of different ways to further promote artists. Some are good techniques... others are less than ethical... including what I would refer to as "Aggressive Music Marketing".

Anyone who follows music has probably had a inkling of what I'm referring to, although there is probably no actual proof that it is occurring, especially when it comes in varying degrees that range from simple coaxing to complete overhauls. "Aggressive Music Marketing" is when a record label specifically grooms a band towards a specific market using image and music and as I said, it ranges from subtle to extreme. Since the beginning of the modern music industry record labels and producers have been carefully selecting what songs make good singles and what songs will be hits and what ones won't. That seems reasonable, why not consult people who are working in the industry to see what they think is good music right? There has been guidance from record producers about musical direction since the very beginning so I'm sure nearly every record in existence has had some tweaking to make it slightly more palatable to it's market. Still, I've come to suspect that this has grown to be more than subtle changes, into full fledged crafting and convincing of bands to do nothing but sell, and it is this fact that I think was glanced over a little in the Rolling Stone article as at least a partial cause for the decline of the music industry.

As I said, anyone who follows the music scene even a little has probably thought this kind of practice was taking place from time to time... there certainly have been enough rumors floating around about "built bands" etc. The fact that much of the music that is being heavily promoted now sounds like a rehash of a rehash of a rehash to my ears is a big sign to me that this is occurring as marketers aggressively try to milk the markets current trends and styles that have sold in the past. Instead of new music being promoted based on quality, the music, image and band itself is crafted and molded to be marketable to a specific trendy audience and reap the benefits.

We'll probably never know the scope of exactly what is going on, whether it has been as subtle as a simple coaxing, as aggressive of completely overhauling bands based on "marketability" and not on musical value or even if in some cases the bands themselves are the ones making the changes to make more money.

In any case, the fact is that many people hear it immediately and recognize it as marketing ploys, and I think that is something that the record labels didn't expect.

From a purely marketing standpoint it makes perfect sense. "Lets find a band to mold to our whim...oh I mean politely make suggestions to... until they are the perfect band to sell; a virtual marketing dream... to better hone in on what our audience wants and in turn increase sales by playing the trends." As a musician, an artist, and a fan of music though, this is the worst sin imaginable as it takes all creativity out of the music and replaces it with stale marketing with the only goal to sell. I don't know about you, but I think I can hear it in the music the record labels are trying to push down my throat.

Now, let me clarify by saying that I don't believe that every band is being coerced like this as there are some truly amazing bands out now doing immensely creative work. Also, I can't really gage how extreme the marketing has gotten as the industry has declined...

Do I think that is happening to bands or that bands are being crafted from scratch to sell?

Not really...

Do I believe that some bands are at the very least being subtly swayed by their labels to produce "trendy" music and that high musical quality bands are being passed over simply because they're not the what's "currently hot" or they aren't "pop friendly"?

Absolutely...

And I think it is this kind of aggressive marketing that has really driven a major nail into the coffin of the record industry and spurred on the indie movement (in terms of independent music, not whatever musical connotations are now associated with the term "indie"). Music enthusiasts aren't looking for the music designed to sell. We want to hear music that is creative and we can related to, bands breaking new ground and not the same riffs, emotions and clichés again and again.

Maybe the record labels should have realized that if you're going to do nothing but feed us marketing in band form, of course we're going to lose faith in mainstream music, revolt and go find music that is actually worth listening to, specifically music that we know is coming from the artists, aka independent artists.

Again, as I said, I don't think we'll ever know exactly how much "Aggressive Music Marketing" has taken place in over the years, but I definitely think it has gotten worse... or maybe just the number of bands that aren't involved in it has gotten smaller or have moved out of the mainstream. Still, I think the music consumer's reaction to this type of practice has been at least a partial cause in the decline and eventual death of major labels.

Am I sad? Not really... had they been truly good at marketing and understanding their audience, they should have anticipated a backlash...

Or perhaps Rolling Stone was accurate in overlooking this in their article because it doesn't take place at all?

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