Don’t get me wrong, Jay-Z’s ‘American Gangster’ looks promising. But we all know Jay is the master of disguise, in that he knows how to cloak a marketing strategy behind artistic integrity and has been doing this since his second album, Volume 1. This approach to the marketing of music and thereby its creation is the biggest problem with the music since the late 90s. You see prior to 2000, most artist would release their first album and musically (which is all that should matter) the artist would recount a very personal reflection of their life creating a “unique” and “individualistic” experience. (Listen to any rappers first album that dropped in the 90’s). You know that feeling when you think an artist is talking to you, and feel like the music is “yours”, that’s what I’m talking about.
However, sales wise, if they did this well (you know making songs), they would barely break gold if even that. And as this is the music business, the artist would feel a certain pressure to craft a second album that related to more people. This is where the music becomes “ours” and begins to describe a collective experience. If your like me, you hated when an artist would make “your song” into the next big single because the over saturation of that song through radio and video would make even more people like it. I know it’s a catch 22, of course I want to see my favorite artist do well, but it’s like in high school if you see some geek rocking the same shirt as you (never happened to me..I swear) you vow to never rock that shirt again. Same thing with music, the more geeks that listen to the same artist as me the less that artist is talking to cool people like “me” and more to the geeky people like “them”.
The problem for record labels is that catering to the individual experience of the artist like Talib does, only gets you gold or less. Pandering to the masses (i.e. white girls), as if your album was a cereal commercial that goes through months of testing by focus groups is what record execs think gets those platinum plaques. This emphasis on pleasing the shareholders has taken its toll on the artistic experience of this generation of mic checkas forcing these guys to create the formulaic “radio” song for the girls and the “club” song. Ever notice how most new artist first single will be either one of the two.
The tastemakers like me, despise that formulaic approach, although we do respect the business sense of it when the music is actually good (See 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” and “21 Questions”). But what labels need to do is allow their artist to do whatever they want, and artist need to not give a flying F what the masses want (particularly the token white girls and “clone” black kids) and thus the music will be pure again and maybe even cool again. This is the only way to build up a loyal fan base. You’ll be financially well off in time, so stop stressing about becoming a 100 millionaire of the first album. Talib is a millionaire. If you really are hot you will get there too. Don’t sacrifice the music for money, in other words, product before promotion. In my next post, I’ll go more into the importance of product over promotion. Stay tuned.
Also check out this deal for 500 free songs from Itunes (only for U.S residents). It’s good to stock up on some hard to find music, not to mention legal downloads that support the artist. Plus, Itunes makes it easier to find the damn song anyway.