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Internet Keeps Big Musicians Big, But Doesn’t Launch New Acts

In music, a few superstar acts are making all the dough, and the rest are blaming the Internet and Spotify for decimating their finances.

But the truth is, most people are lonely, disconnected. They want to belong, and therefore they partake of what’s popular in order to have a basis of conversation.

In the information economy, it’s simple to ferret out what is a quality product. It happens in phones, it happens in social networks. Facebook succeeded not because of advertising, but because unlike MySpace, it just worked, and therefore people gravitated to it and spread the word about it.

And that’s the ultimate success — word of mouth. Which is why you can have a huge advertising campaign that results in a dud. Kinda like last year’s Tom Petty release, and definitely like this year’s Keith Richards release: incredible PR efforts with no one talking about the underlying product. And there’s new product every week, so why should we spend time digging deeper on the mediocre?

Unless you’re going to put out incredible music, you’re playing to your fans only; your audience isn’t going to grow. People are constantly exposed to great new stuff, and they’d rather listen to that. In fact, it turns out we all want the same thing.

So the tail is wagging the dog. And it hasn’t been this way since the dawn of advertising. You can make people aware, but with everything available instantly, with quality assessments easily accessible, and the ability to communicate with the world at your fingertips, it turns out the public is in control. This is not the way it was supposed to be. The Internet was supposed to level the playing field, let the cream rise to the top. Allow everybody to begin from the same starting line, and let the best person win.

Well, the starting lines are now staggered. Unless you have a head start, you’re almost definitely going to fail. And when we reach the finish line, we’ll find only a few men and women standing.

You can’t tour because no one wants to see you, not because expenses are so high. You’re broke not because streaming services don’t pay well, but because no one wants to listen to you. You can’t get ahead because you’re not in bed with the usual-suspect powers, with all their connections, not because your music isn’t good enough. You need the A-level manager, agent and label to push you.

You may be mad that everybody knows Bieber and Gomez, Perry and Swift, and not you. But the former are playing the game most people are paying attention to. And they’re the beneficiaries of committees of the best people creating and pounding their product.

You can play to your niche; there’s nothing wrong with that.

But to rail against music by committee, to agitate against streaming payments, is a fruitless effort. Wanna make change? First be a success. Create something as good as Max Martin does. Max not only helped add to Taylor Swift’s international pop phenomenon, he pushed the Weeknd into the top ranks.

There are fewer new stars than ever before. But that does not mean they will all sound the same forevermore.

Innovation works. We’re looking for the new and different. “Straight Outta Compton” proves this. But no review said “Compton” sucked. “Compton” had to vault a high bar. And once it did, its fans got the rest of America to go too.

We’re in the midst of a great consolidation. You can either obey the new rules or get left behind.

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