Internet killed the radio star

Carlo Wittek

How the music industry needs to learn from their youngest audience. 

First of all, I’m not really old yet. But in terms of rock and pop music hall of fame, I’ve reached the pinnacle. The year I should say farewell via overdose (which I can’t do because I don’t do drugs), gun to your head (quite difficult this one as well, as German laws on guns are very strict) or alcohol (ok, I do drink, but I never take any medication with it). I don’t see it happening, which means in half a years time I will enter the old peoples home of music. It’s not bothering me too much as all of the people in my office are older than me and most of the people I’m dealing with are older than me (exceptions are proof of my point). But isn’t it weird that the music industry is full of old people telling the young audiences what they want? This has always been a phenomenon of pop music. Behind the famous closed door of a record company, some industry executives sit down with a ruthless or down-and-dirty manager who just snapped up a teenager from the sunday mass church choir he’s been to and together they plan the future carreer of said kid. Then they get some (or in other cases shitloads of) songwriters in (who the fuck invented the term songwriter camp??), employ some market research to see what’s hot out there, polish the shit out of it all of and with the help of plenty of marketing Euros (sorry US, dollars would work too) a new star is born.
It sounds really easy and in fact, most marketing plans labels deploy are formulaic. I doubt they have changed much over the last three or four decades. Mind you, there’s Youtube advertising and playlist advertising and playlisting and social media marketing and all that stuff. But that’s basically just the outlets to throw money at not disimilar to the old outlets. Back in the day the money was spent on billboard and print media advertising to get awareness. Today money is shifting to the so called new media. Wow. You’ve got to be a genius to figure that out…

Taylor Swift is connecting with her fans better than most stars.

Anyway, this is the way the industry apperently works these days. And I think we’re coming to a point where these mechanisms are just not good enough any more. Not for the artists, not for the labels and especially not for the audience. They audience has grown more aware. They want to be involved with the star, with the music and with the creative process too. I have to admit that I don’t get the youtube folk completely myself. Even though I’m supposed to be a millenial and I should understand what they are all about. But if I meet teenagers I can’t get my head around why they are fascinated by flashy videos made by overly tacky people who are doing nothing else but filming themselves in front of their computer. When you’re a little older, you know that’s just bollocks. You can see through the scheme. Kids are young and are not yet able to comprehend the complexity of product placements and sponsored content. Yet Youtube and its advertisers have long understood how valuable these channels are. Every fucking youtuber has a management company and does anyone really think these shopping haul videos are not branded and payed for? It’s cringy advertising. Unlike television it is not regulated yet and the old folks are too slow to understand. As is the music industry. They have just realized the potential and are now increasing their efforts in this playing field. The major labels know that there is a lot of potential. And they know if they don’t act, they lose power to people outside of the industry. And that is not acceptible.

But that’s not my point. There’s a whole generation of young people growing up with an awareness for the audience. Everybody is used to it. We all share private images and thoughts on Facebook or Twitter, we tell our online friends what we are doing, where we are and where we are going. All while fishing for likes, retweets and more friends. We’re all living our lives in the public sphere. And the crop of young popstars and artists have perfected the formula how to benefit from it. Justin Bieber led the way and others are following suit. Troye Sievan was introduced to me last year with the words: ‚he’s got 1.5 million fans already‘ (he hadn’t released any official music then and he’s got more than 3.5 million subscribers on his Youtube channel now before his debut album is dropping). Halsey, a 20-year old singer who’s album reminds me a lot of German popstar Lena, has topped the US charts with her debut after creating a massive fanbase on twitter.

Halsey performing for SiriusXM

It’s easy and simple for any label to sign someone up who already has such a huge audience. You save yourself a lot of money when you don’t have to send your artist on the road for years until they have amassed enough fans for the third or fourth album to become a hit. Label execs are not like that. Not since casting show success made them delirious. Not since the introduction of the CD made the whole industry rich. But those days are long gone and so are the days of casting shows. So they are looking for new indicators of instant success. Welcome social media figures, followers, subscribers, plays and whatever. Just follow the easy path – take what is working already and throw some money at it to make it even bigger. This is old school thinking. And what worries me is that even the young people at the majors don’t really understand what’s wrong about this way of thinking. Even worse, they prefer to sit their artist in front of a television camera on morning tv than do something creative online which directly transfers to their audience. Take a look at the majority of artists facebook channels. They are dead unless there’s a release coming up. Facebook has just become a sales channel that labels are taking care of thinking it’s a brilliant tool to connect with their audience. But it’s not. Not when you use it that way. I guess that’s why a lot of young people are leaving facebook. It’s not their language anymore. But the industry doesn’t believe it’s dead so they keep throwing money at facebook for promoted posts because otherwise they can’t reach the people who actively said they are fans. They are getting screwed, fans are getting screwed. But if things don’t change, I’m sure there soon will be artists who start thinking about why they would need a label anyway. Apart from the money they offer, where is the real value? Please don’t get me wrong here, I’m talking about the big pop stars. And the soon to be stars. The situation for everyone else is a lot different. But think about it. Has anyone figured out how to create a dedicated and interactive following better than the kids who use it day in, day out? Why should they listen to any corporate big cat who has just joined snapchat, when young people will be leaving it soon? Maybe we should let young people rule the business for a month and see where we’re going. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of wrong decisions. The lessons we could learn would be indispensable though. And we’d look differently at a lot of things.