Fork in the Road: It's good, you say?
Credit: THE MIRIAM AND IRA D. WALLACH DIVISION OF ART, PRINTS AND PHOTOGRAPHS: PHOTOGRAPHY COLLECTION, THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY. "BLIND STREET MUSICIAN, WEST MEMPHIS, ARKANSAS" THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY DIGITAL COLLECTIONS. 1935.
Not all popular musicians are good and not all good musicians are popular.
This time around, my adversary and I got onto the topic of the current state of the music business. I commented that we live in interesting times in that so long as one is equipped with access to the Internet and the right computer software and technology, irrespective of whether or not the individual has actual talent, they can release a record and skyrocket to Internet fame, which as we all know, is a lot more fleeting than the real thing.
I remember when MySpace was all the rage. I was watching one of the last decent broadcasts on MuchMusic and I found great humour in the fact that the VJ on air was trying to convince me of the popularity of a new act based solely off of their MySpace friend count. To me, the notion was ridiculous.
For starters, I believe it’s a fairly well known fact that you can buy Internet popularity and inflate your views through bots and algorithms designed by hackers. In fact, in the case of YouTube, not so long ago it came to light that the view counts on the music videos for some major label artists were not so legitimate. Not to mention, other research has indicated companies that guarantee an increase in your online following have gone to great lengths to create upwards of 20 million fake accounts that they sell to unwitting takers desperate for online recognition.
In my experience, for a musical group to have achieved status in the industry, they need to have sold an impressive amount of their content, acquired a dedicated fan-base, be regularly gigging and are well versed in obtaining publicity. Having a zillion followers on any form of social media does not necessarily dictate any of the above.
For example, I happen to have a good friend who is the keyboardist and female vocalist in a hugely popular metal band that tours all across Europe and regularly plays to soldout audiences. When she was brought on as a member of the group, her social media following instantaneously catapulted. However, despite her apparent following, when she released an EP of her own material, it took her three years to sell a measly 300 copies. For the record, the opposite situation can also be true.
I am friends with an extremely well known American singer and dancer. She’s opened for countless major names and has been given her own stage for the past 10 years on one of the most well known North American music festival circuits. She sells a lot of records. Despite this, she’s lucky if she receives 2,000 views on any of her music videos.
How this all ties back to my recent debate is as follows: the fellow with whom I was having my argument with told me that he believes if something is good, it will achieve popularity.
Of course, it goes without saying that the concept of goodness is entirely subjective and based on one’s personal preferences. For example, while Band A may be incredibly skilled at writing and performing industrial metal, because I happen to dislike that genre of music, I would in no way consider that group good according to my own standards. That’s not to say they’re not good at what they do.
So goodness begets popularity? I struggle with this statement for similar reasons I struggled with the VJ’s assessment of the popularity of a band based on their MySpace friend count. Reason number one: I think we can all name at least one viral video that in no way consists of content that any reasonable person would consider good, talented or even beneficial to one’s life but instead, the video went viral solely because it was downright ridiculous, silly or offensive. Again, the opposite can be true.
So popularity indicates goodness? Now this may sound like I’m simply reiterating my last point but it’s not quite the same thing. What I’m getting at this time is the lemming mentality. If we continually hear about the next big thing, we are bound to check it out eventually to see what all the fuss is about ourselves, in turn making it even more popular.
Now, what this whole equation fails to take into consideration is how much marketing dollars were spent generating the initial buzz. In other words, if we go by my debate partner’s perspective, a grassroots, non-funded, good video should equally be capable of achieving a million hits. That is simply not the reality, at least not the majority of the time.
If you have several million dollars at your disposal to pay for advertising, prime placement and even fake views, you can make your content spread like wildfire. But does this actually mean the content was any good to start with or was it simply marketed effectively?
Of course I’m not suggesting that everything that is popular is undeserving, I’m merely getting at the fact that your content can be topnotch and go nowhere. In other words, you can be good and remain unpopular or worse, you can be not so good but have incredible marketing behind you and become a worldwide phenomenon.
What I’m hoping you’ll gather from all of this is that while popularity and goodness are frequently related, they’re certainly not synonymous terms. More importantly however, the next time some must-see or must-hear item comes your way, I urge you not to simply jump on the proverbial bandwagon because everyone else has. Have a sincere look. Have a sincere listen. If you dig it, that’s cool. If you don’t, that’s cool too. Just decide for yourself.