While no doubt Carrie Underwood will bring a smile to the face with her rendition of the “sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t” jingle, otherwise you can forget about chocolate, Charlie, Willy and Wonka.
What we need to talk about here is spaghetti. (Not to be confused with the little known and even less loved Guns ‘n Roses album, The Spaghetti Incident, or with the delightful chewing-gum-for-the-mind Panorama radio hoax, “The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest.”)
As in: What if it cost $1,000,000 to make a bowl of spaghetti and then only 3 people liked it?
That’s pretty much what the old music industry does every day.
In The Future of Music, David Kusek and Gerd Leonhard’s fascinating tome on, well, the future of music, we find this enlightening fact:
Approximately 32,000 new cds are released each year. Only about 250 of those new discs will sell over 10,000 copies. Fewer than 30 of those 32,000 discs will go platinum (ship more than 1M).
That, according to Kusek and Leonhard, means that only 1/10 of 1% of new artists is likely to hit it big.
1/10 of 1% . . . that’s .001. That’s so miniscule, Power Point probably explodes if you try to display that as a pie chart.
Clearly, as our music futurist friends write:
Most record companies today market artists based on a “see if it sticks” approach. They put a hundred different artists on the market, knowing that less than five of them will ever break even. They hope for that one act that will hit the big-time so that they recoup the entire investment across their whole roster of acts.
Rolling Stone, under the gloomy title “Record Biz Still Sinking,” quotes industry suits noting that budget cuts have led to cuts in the number of people working to promote any given album. Just like with movies and television shows these days, the execs have much, much less patience with records that are slow to develop a following.
It used to be a movie would hang around for a while while word-of-mouth percolated.
If the seats aren’t filling in the first week of release, the flick gets yanked and the studio plays its next lottery ticket.
In other words: spaghetti.
Cook it. Throw it up against the wall. If it sticks, it’s done. If it doesn’t stick, cook a little longer and throw the next piece up against the wall.
Now. What, precisely, does this have to do with Bo Bice and every other artist that is discovered through our lovable American Idol discovery machine?
This: I’m quite sick and tired of the stodgy, lumbering music industry (and its archaic and teetering-on-obsolete subset, Old Radio) giving some pretty talented, unique and magnetic singers (and their fanbases) the snob treatment.
Just because they were formerly the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful gatekeepers of the charts (i.e., The Establishment), the fact remains that “they” were unable or unwilling to find and sign multi-platinum artists such as Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, and (peering into the idolhabit crystal ball) Carrie Underwood and Bo Bice.
Again, this is an industry that has a success rate of .001. I will briefly review: out of the approximately 32,000 cds released every year, only about 250 will sell more than 10,000 and fewer than 30 will sell more than 1 million.
By contrast, let’s look at the American Idol success rate:
In four seasons, American Idol has produced 46 finalists, including 4 runners-up and 4 winners. This group of 46 artists has released at least 22 full-length solo albums. (To restate, this figure does not include singles or compilation discs.)
Of these 22 albums, 6 have sold more than 1 million copies. At least 14 have sold more than 10,000.
The top two sellers—Kelly Clarkson and Clay Aiken—alone are responsible for over 8 million albums sold.
With Ruben Studdard and Fantasia Barrino, the three American Idols plus Clay Aiken have sold over 11.6 million discs.
Counting a platinum album as “success,” this means that the American Idol discovery machine has a success rate of 6 out of 22, or approximately 36%, compared to 1/10 of 1% for the music industry as a whole.
Yet, the suits—including the hilariously self-described Credible Rock Radio (whose diss of Bo Bice I discuss at length here)—continue blythely to nurse the illusion that there is only one right way to develop artists and that is their way. Credilbe Rock Radio went so far as to pronounce that it “wouldn’t go near” (!) Bo Bice, seeing as he was discovered on—gasp!—American Idol.
Pardon me while I laugh my brains out.
I have much more to say on this point than I can cram into this one post. But check this out: in June 2005, industry bigwigs reportedly were breathing a sigh of relief and exclaiming “We’re saved! We’re saved!” when Coldplay’s X&Y sold 737,000 copies its first week and held the number one spot for three weeks.
Interesting, but . . . no similiar “he’s Saving The World!” sentiments were expressed when Clay Aiken sold 613,000 copies of Measure of a Man in its first week and held the number one spot for 2 weeks. (Measure of a Man fell, barely, against Outkast and Rod Stewart in week 3. However, by week 3, it had sold 979,000 copies.)
Nothing against Coldplay or Gwenyth, but I was under the impression that all money talks.
The good news is that we’re on to them. I once asked: whose music is it anyway?
Well, it’s ours. Like it? Buy it.
Perhaps that sounds rather revolutionary to an industry that likes the odds in producing 32,000 discs in order to find about 30 big ones that people really like.