Monday, September 7, 2009

Do we really want people to cut their chins off?

I was at a meeting recently discussing the promotion and career of a talented, sincere and heart felt singer songwriter. The topic came up how the new management team wanted this person to appear much younger, thinner and hipper. I was disheartened when the description of the musician as a “friendly neighbor who plays the guitar” was dismissed and the new image was one where he was to be "tough, hip and cool". The manager, well intentioned, mentioned he spent a lot of time using photoshop on the musician’s photo and cut off his extra chin, making him look years younger, and hardly like himself.

This meeting followed me into this weekend, I was hanging out with a close friend in upstate NY at a little farmhouse with tractors bailing hay, discussing this scenario, wondering if I should talk with this musician about my insights, or leave it alone. While gazing up at the stars, my friend said, “flip it”.

OK, flip it...? What does that mean? He went on to describe the concept, and how flipping things makes you see conventional wisdom, trends in business, you name it, in a new way. I always like to have down to earth examples, so he handed me this one. For example: conventional wisdom is something many of us rely on, we build companies, create relationships, build our goals upon it, but we are only using the information we have gathered from the past. But what happens when we flip that? For example, conventional wisdom tells you in the music business “It is who you know, not what you know” “Be young, sexy, know the right people, name drop, cut your chin off…”

Well I decided to flip that, so “It is not who you know, but what you know…” What is it that I know these days about the music business?... well, the few people who are successful are doing things differently. For example the popularity of Susan Boyle. She has become a huge success just being herself. A middle aged, "unattractive" to societies standards, singer has people already signing up on to buy her new unreleased CD. Susan Boyle's debut album already a bestseller, in this article that came out today, her photo has all her chins included. :)) see photo above

In an article "Susan Boyle Knows something you don't" the author Scott Monty states this:

  • Assumptions can limit your creative output
  • It's okay to take risks
  • Know your audience and connect with them on an emotional level
  • Exceed expectations
  • When we're constantly hit over the head with polished, branded, uber-cool ads, campaigns and come-ons, it's refreshing to see a down-to-earth, humble approach. It gets more attention

  • I am not saying these older "polished, branded, uber-cool" tactics do not work to sell music, they have in the past, but at what cost? And more importantly do we still want to be selling "illusions" to our fans? Sales are beyond dire in the music business. The trend I am seeing, where musicians are actually selling their music, are definitely not selling out themselves or their image, but rather using the new tools we have gained in the past decade (Twitter, Facebook, Online Distribution, etc…) to connect with their fans and are providing the strong need for authenticity so many of us crave today.

    If we were to compare the popularity of “reality TV” today in the TV world to the music world, why would this desire for "reality" not spill over into the music world? Music fans are craving “reality music” and "reality musicians" (especially after a good 20 year stint of force fed Lolli-Pop-songs most of which were not even tasty enough to suck on.)

    Some excellent examples of “reality” music, is the very marketable and forward thinking approach of Imogen Heap. As of today she is one of the top-selling musicians online. Her whole business model was innovative and interactive with her fans. She twitted her whole way through the writing, recording, and process of finishing her album. She asked her fans to listen to her unfinished tunes and share their suggestions, and thoughts. She made an environment where both musician and fans were co-creating the music, therefore making the fans feel a part of the process, and product, because they were.

    Great Article to read on Imogen Heap by one of my favorite music analyst Bob Lefsetz.

    The music world has changed, and yet we are still using old tactics, old strategies which may have won the “war” in the past, but we are engaged in a new frontier. I see musicians coming from a forward thinking place of “this is me, come join me, let's connect, let’s relate, let’s create” as a possible "flip it" model. There is no need for a god-like status for musicians, it is not what people want, or connect with. Religion is going out of fashion, let's take that as a hint.

    I believe there is a new effective model for the music business in a new connected online world. This model is "it is not who you know, but what you know" and how you take into account the use of this knowledge to connect and market an authentic product.

    The big companies, the big labels, the big powers of music with the help of the Internets "Yellow Brick Road", have show us they are no more powerful than a small man hiding behind a curtain. Yet there still seems to be a hiatus of musicians skipping down the yellow brick road hightailing it straight to Oz, forgetting that the cornfields are full of listeners, the forest is alive and ready to connect, and ignoring that those ruby red slippers are just plain tacky.

    I think hanging out in Munchkin Land, might be a better use of your time. But the majority of musicians still brainwashed believe they don’t have a way home, not to mention a heart, the brains or the courage to make it on their own. I know this, cause I was one of them. I skipped all the way to Emerald City, was let in to see the Great Oz. All I have to say is that Munchkin Land is way cooler, but ultimately Kansas is where it is at, cause there truly is no place like "home”.

    "There is no place like home" say it three times and then twit your fans and ask them what they want to hear, forget about pleasing all the “Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs” of the world (too many names to drop anyways).