And the Spotify Top 50/”Billboard” Hot 100 are like network.
Actually, we might have already experience the breakthrough, with “Baby Shark,” which was so successful it’s now on tour. Yup, if you think about this song and the hit parade, the only one that will survive fifty years from now is “Baby Shark.” Do you think they’re going to be playing all the hits with the 808? The bland pop songs, the evanescent Ariana Grande numbers, the hip-hop cuts with their diss tracks, with everybody trying to appear down and dirtier than their contemporaries, with no melody extant?
This is where we have arrived.
The modern music business began with the Beatles, back in ’64 in the U.S. Then we had the experimental free-format FM, then the codification of FM into AOR, then MTV and then the internet.
So, before the Beatles, you were either on the radio or you weren’t, you were known or you weren’t, if you happened to have a hit, just one, you could tour for the rest of your life on it, albeit in smaller and smaller venues. You had broken through. You’d gotten a record deal. This was long before DIY, when you had to record in a studio and distribution was locked up, never mind radio airplay.
The scene expanded with free-format, i.e. FM underground radio. Anything could be played, if it was perceived by the deejay and audience to be cool. Could even be classical.
Then the scene was tightened up by Lee Abrams. So we had two scenes, FM and AM. The latter was forgettable ditties, the former was a relatively wide breadth of rockers, but not as wide as it had been in the free-format era.
As for MTV… It blasted acts to the moon. Forget that they fell back to earth almost as quickly. If you were on MTV, you were known by everybody all over the world. And with the advent of the CD, more money than ever was rained down on labels and artists, this was a golden age, before piracy, before the techies and their internet broke big.
Then came Napster.
And everybody who had traction previously bitched about piracy and payouts, even though they were charging ever more money for their concert tickets.
Then hip-hop decided to give it away, with their mixtapes and Soundcloud and now we’re in the present. With the aforementioned Spotify Top 50/”Billboard” Hot 100.
The industry, the media, they still believe it’s the MTV era, that there’s a thin layer of hits we all adore, that it’s a walled garden that they control.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
So in the old days, there were only three networks. And then ultimately Fox became the fourth. Shows had insane ratings. Twenty to thirty million people could watch a show in prime time. Sixty or seventy million could tune in for a finale.
And sure, in the seventies we got HBO, but that was mostly movies and comedy specials, until the nineties.
Then HBO and Showtime started original programming. You remember “Dream On,” don’t you? How about “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” where Tom Petty was Garry’s neighbor? No? Well, maybe you didn’t have HBO, never mind Showtime, but then came “The Sopranos.”
Anybody who watched Tony and the family knew this was better than anything else, possibly ever, on television. Suddenly, people were talking about the show, the noise got louder, and soon Sunday night was for HBO.
Network show ratings went down. (Sure, they went down with the advent of basic cable, but a lot of that was pure dreck.)
Then Netflix flipped the switch to streaming and…
You had options.
But everybody didn’t watch “House of Cards,” everybody didn’t watch “Orange Is The New Black.” Amazon Prime won a Golden Globe for “Mozart in the Jungle” and I doubt most of you have even seen it.
It became a news story. How many scripted shows there were on TV. 300! 400!
Meanwhile, network ratings kept on going down.
“The Sopranos” was pitched to network, it was just too dangerous and too different.
Don’t bother pitching anything other than hip-hop and pop to the major labels, they’re just like the aforementioned networks. But the networks ultimately purchased the cable channels. If they were smart, and they’re not, the major labels would get all acts under their tent. But after Napster, when not a single soul at the Big Three has an ownership interest, everybody’s playing it safe. Can you say INNOVATOR’S DILEMMA?
So with little cash in recordings, acts took to the road. Hip-hop was more of a recorded medium, with pop if you don’t have hits you can’t even tour, but every other genre…
Suddenly, we have acts selling tickets all over the country, all over the world, who sound nothing like the Spotify Top 50/”Billboard” Hot 100. We’re almost at the tipping point. Many listeners don’t like the “hits.” There’s even a jam band-based festival, Electric Forest, and pure electronic festivals, and we’ve got Americana and all sorts of genres burbling. In most of them you cannot get rich, but you can make a living. It’s all pre-Beatles, when you were either a star or you were a musician. If you’re not on the Spotify Top 50/”Billboard” Hot 100 you’re first and foremost a musician, and wear this badge proudly, it is not about corporate gigs and clothing lines, you’re only selling your tunes, with credibility.
Now Billie Eilish is a harbinger of things to come, but she’s not quite “The Sopranos.” Her music sounds different from the Spotify Top 50/”Billboard” Hot 100, but it’s something the younger generation, very younger, is eating up, she has not been anointed by everybody, Eilish is not a quantum leap forward. But what happens when an act comes along that is?
Yup, in the future, not the very near future, but within five years, an act is gonna come along that sounds nothing like the Spotify Top 50/”Billboard” Hot 100 and yet will be as big as anything on those charts. That’s what “The Sopranos” was. And “Stranger Things.” And “Game of Thrones.” Network would make none of them, wouldn’t spend the money, isn’t interested because the perception is there is not a wide enough audience for them. Meanwhile, shows like this boosted us into a golden age of television, to the point that only cartoon heroes triumph in movies, when TV is the king of all media.
And the spoils fall down to everybody. Now there is a place to watch documentaries, you don’t have to go to theatres, people eat docs up.
And just like the album killed the single in the sixties, the all at once dump has killed the weekly drip paradigm. That’s how we want it, all at once so we can dig down deep. The oldsters still think they’re the gatekeepers, they’re concerned about water cooler moments. But the truth is when you binge a show you become passionate about it, tell everybody about it, you become an evangelist, you feel like you’re the only person watching this show, you want to spread the word!
And we all want to spread the word about non-hip-hop/pop acts. This isn’t about denigration of these genres, even though I did so above, but the truth is “hits” reach fewer people than ever before. Just ask someone to sing two songs off of any album, other than hard core fans, most people cannot.
Now the only people aiding this process are agents and promoters. They’re interested in what sells tickets, they’ll glom on to anything. They broke Maggie Rogers, so many other acts…Rogers is playing Radio City Music Hall! But that’s about as big as these non-“hit” acts get. They play theatres.
But they’re gonna get bigger.
It’s gonna be one act at first. And it’s probably not gonna be brand new, and it’s probably not going to be made up of people under twenty, it will have paid its dues, have its sound and vision honed. And then word will spread slowly and then burst into a supernova.
This is positively guaranteed to happen.
Never in the modern era have hit playlists been so narrow, so one-dimensional. Never have hits spoken to fewer people. The internet broadened distribution yet hit music got narrower? No! It’s just that hit music is still the largest audience, the biggest slice of an ever-growing pie. Kinda like the networks. They got the most eyeballs as their audience was shrinking.
Distribution has been figured out, music is miles ahead of every other artistic medium. Now it’s about content.
And musical content can come straight from the gut, it can embody humanity better than almost anything. I’m not saying you can’t do this with twenty writers, but chances are you won’t. With all those writers you’re trying to polish a hit, you’re playing by the rules. In your basement, quite possibly alone, the rules don’t apply.
And it’s when the rules don’t apply that we become intrigued.
This is why YouTube influencers are so successful, it’s straight from their heart to yours.
But most of those “influencers” are in it for the money. They chart statistics. Statistics come last, they’re evidence of success. You can have fewer than fifty million streams on Spotify and be very successful on the road. The two don’t necessarily align, not right now.
But they will.
We’re looking for acts that break the rules, that don’t hew too them.
Right now it’s all about me-too. (As in just like you, not sexual harassment.)
But the new hit acts will be so outside, so exotic, so great, that we’ll be running to pay attention, we’ll tell everybody to listen.
Because like “The Sopranos,” they’ll be nothing like what came before, that which is offered by the usual suspects. They’ll be creative and dangerous and truth-telling.