So here’s a weird thought experiment for you to play with, one that might force you to re-evaluate some of your thinking if you’re so inclined to take it with me. I think we can largely agree that social media is fundamentally a bad thing for politics since it leads to echo chambers and makes it really hard for people on different sides of the political spectrum to see each other as anything other than crude caricatures. I mean – that was a driving factor in this last election and has forced us all to come to terms with something a little grim and twisted. So – whose to say that this selfsame echo chamber isn’t negatively impacting our music consumption? Who isn’t to say that we are at a point where everyone invested in music is so lost in their little subgenre that to be truly popular is really just a pipe dream. Obviously the days of platinum selling bands are all but over, but I’m talking about something more than that. I’m talking about a world where only the most extreme ridiculous versions of subgenres make it out of their bubble.
I feel this way, for example, about my clients in Tengger Cavalry. They were able to break out of the relatively small folk metal sphere by being something so weird and unexpected that they managed to garner the interest of folks across the globe. People who never would have listened to a folk metal band tuned in and started coming to shows for no other reason than that it as an extreme example of the genre. Its the same with pop music, the videos that seem to trickle down and be the most relevant to the most amount of people are the ones that are utterly ridiculous. Just look at Psy’s Gangam Style. No one cares about the song or the rest of Psy’s career – but by god did that ridiculous fucking video get seen by pretty much everyone on the face of the earth. After about a month everyone went back to not giving a shit about K-Pop. Sure he probably won enough lifelong fans to ensure a life of luxury, but that’s how it works now.
In the twenty first century it is. for all intents and purposes. impossible to stay relevant in the public eye on a high level and not fall apart. There are too many scandals and inquiries brought on by social media for all but a select group of pop stars to be able to survive. Countless stars blow up and then fall to pieces for no other reason than that they made the wrong type of social media post. More and more people are blowing up to the top of the charts, charming ten thousand people into being life long fans and then fading away, with their handful of fans funding their art for the rest of their career. I’m not saying that’s wrong per say but merely reflective of the times. And why do these bands become popular? Because they pushed through the echo chamber, and it’s that echo chamber which makes the music industry so hard to succeed in at a high level these days.
The echo chamber is the single most frustrating thing you have to deal with in music because it’s so limiting. It’s relatively easy to appeal to the hundred thousand odd people who are really invested into your niche subgenre. Getting out of that and addressing fans who go beyond is the struggle. That’s why people like Katy Perry have these lavish videos with all sorts of ridiculous props – it’s the only way to keep people clicking. Hell, that’s the same reason why Metallica put out a video ever two hours for 16 hours straight earlier this week – they wanted to push the extremes and try to get people outside of their core group of fans talking about it. That’s why creativity from a management perspective is the single most important thing, because it allows you to push those boundaries and find where you fit in as an artist. For most bands you need to kick down the door and then make off with what you can before it all blows up in your face.
I’m not saying its impossible to have a long career in music, or more specifically a long career as a primary force in your genre of choice – both of these things are in fact very possible and relatively easy to do without much pressure. That is just established through longevity and not being an asshole. It’s the rapid rise to fame though that can be a struggle sometimes. Going viral is both a blessing and a curse but it’s not impossible to go viral multiple times in your career. Just look at how an artist like Prince mastered it before it was even a term. On a similar note (And fellow 2016 death) David Bowie did it for even longer, constantly reinventing himself and showing us that you can maintain your core sound and still grow as an artist. There was a lot that both of those great men did that kept their music and image fresh, but they made certain to keep renewing themselves in order to ensure that their success wasn’t just the flash in the pan thing that so many of their peers suffered from.
In many ways we’ve always had the echo chamber, it’s just that in the era of social media we have so much more of a vocabulary to describe it. We see it happening because suddenly the amount of likes our Facebook page gets starts to stagnate. Suddenly it doesn’t seem so easy to dominate the charts because we’ve hit our upper limit of fans. It’s something every artist must deal with and they must reinvent themselves if they want any hope of managing to find a place that makes sense and remains authentic. Otherwise they are just another brick in the wall. It’s easy to get lost in it and caught up in the lies that’s why we need to look to our heroes, folks who remained fresh and realized that just because you’re big you don’t need to stop working.
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