By Hans Ebert
It’s called the “Not Invented Here Syndrome”, and Adam Levine admitting to Howard Stern that after all the bells and whistles have been silenced, celebrity judges have disappeared along with nanu second “mentoring sessions”, and the “good television” of The Voice are gone, how contestants are handed over to music companies where they get lost in the shuffle, won’t be a surprise to anyone who has followed these well choreographed television singing competitions.
Apart from American Idol, none of these shows- and they are, after all, reality shows aimed at entertaining a mainstream audience, and not all about the bass, but all about the ratings- have managed to launch the careers of any of the winners or runner ups. Not really. Idol did it- past tense- with Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Adam Lambert, and a few others, but think about the past few seasons, and the odds are that few can even remember who won what and why and by singing what. The panel of judges are probably remembered more. Or maybe, the only person remembered is Jennifer Lopez. For her wardrobe changes.
Apart from these television singing competitions looking and sounding more and more dated, and, no matter what anyone says, being glorified karaoke competitions, their business model is divided into two revenue streams. The first revenue stream with the celebrity judges and guest celebrity “mentors” is for sponsors and, especially in America, part of winning television’s ratings war. And so, for around three months, there are the auditions, the knockout rounds, and the various finals interspersed with the various back stories about the various struggles of hand-picked contestants. These filmed stories showcasing a contestant’s family and various hardships etc have always been dead giveaways as to who will go the distance. Then, whenever possible, add “tension” between the judges, stir and serve to the world.
After months of this contrived showbiz, the Season ends and a music company inherits those who have been promised recording contracts as part of their win. And here lies the problem: If an A&R person with a music company, inheriting some unknown contestant from a television singing competition has always been an unwelcome addition to their job responsibilities. They know that unless something is rushed out to take advantage of the exposure received on television over the past few months, nothing will happen. Even if a single and album is rush-released, this is no guarantee for success either. Television success for new and struggling singers seldom translates into record sales, or being recording artists, certainly not these days.
These shows are also never ever about bands- and there’s a reason for this: Too much trouble managing 4-5 egos- and no performing of originals as these will be too bloody foreign and weird to a mainstream audience wanting to hear covers. And so, in the midst of a Rihanna or Ed Sheeran or Taylor Swift or Adele, a music company’s smaller label now has inherited some unknown to babysit who really has one shot of making it- and this is by recording a great first single- overnight. But, let’s not forget that these are singers who have been voted winners and runner ups by performing covers. Do they actually have their own style? Can their television personalities translate into becoming recording artists- overnight? Are they young enough to appeal to a YouTube audience?
Ageism and lack of success by a certain Use By Date is rampant with audiences and in music companies and their publishing divisions that, strangely enough, work at loggerheads to confuse things even more. Be hitting forty and still struggling in music, and no music executive will bother. There’s a buffet of young talent banging down their doors along with the safety net of working with established artists who will help them meet their sales figures.
Television shows like The Voice are not created for contestants completely new to music to be nurtured by music companies so they eventually become recording artists. The “gestation period” will take too long with no guarantee that there will ever be a return on investment. This is what Adam Levine was saying. For all their “judging”, these celebrity judges have zero ownership of contestants after the show, and when and where it really matters- the recording studio and, most important of all, management. Management is part of the ball-busting contracts one signs when entering these competitions. It’s the chains that bind and where dreaded legalese comes into play with artists selling their souls and talent for a dull stab at television stardom thinking this will lead to success as a recording artist.
Some might ask, Well, why hasn’t a music company created and owned a television show to discover and sign new talent? Possibly because they haven’t thought about it, but, more realistically, as they already have problems making a profit in their present incarnation, why get into an area of business they know nothing about? Plus, music companies have an allergic reaction to trying anything new.
So, why don’t we do by this ourselves by creating an online platform for new artists- bands definitely included and only performing original music- to make this happen? It depends on who “we” are, and where the funding will come from. Everyone and their mamas have ideas. Making these a reality is something else. It takes funding, and which is why this DIY world must include creative talent and the tools to produce everything needed, yes, but also those who are business savvy and don’t think everything is “easy”.
Nothing in life is easy, and where the music business is at today, one has the established fat cats of the industry who can afford to coast on past glories on one side of the fence, and, to those who can look beyond the obvious, a heap of opportunities. These opportunities need investor groups to make them grow. There needs funding for those truly win-win ideas for all parties to become reality that will see a guaranteed return on investment. Talk about doing this and that is not only cheap, it goes nowhere because it’s just sugar-coated fluff heard thousands of times in every industry by those who’ve been playing with the fairies for too long.
The music industry is ripe for change. But to actually be and own part of this change, it will mean having to bite into forbidden fruit because what’s been “forbidden” for way too long are invisible walls put up by those clinging to the past, scared of doing things differently, and trudging through life with safety valves screwed on tight onto rigid mindsets.
Any angel investors out there, get in touch. We can get very rich together by changing the music business upside down and inside out.