Monday, August 20, 2012

The Great White Hype - Beck's Sheet Music

Who will be the next Great White Hype? Well in this case, Beck has taken to the publishing world, to hype his new album and Bob Lefsetz has done quite the interesting write up on it. 

Opportunity exists where talent, luck and skill rendezvous in a dark abode. Call this dwelling the soul and you will be on the right path, as it is where true character is born into existence. Now imagine, as you the craftsman, look into the mirror each day and know, that the achievements to be earned, will be from never giving up and never going back.

Can you do this and not lose momentum? Should everyone do this and reflect on what they want to accomplish? Well, that is entirely up to you and the journey for which you are seeking the map to the calling of your desired destination.

The other day I was speaking with a buddy and he was telling me about seeing Springsteen the other night. He said he was taking notes as the show was in his top five of all time. The chemistry on stage, the music and most of all his charisma lit up the stadium like a Christmas tree. Springsteen is a dude not resting on his years of hard work, but continuing to cultivate his work as a true music craftsman and fellow musicians look on in awe. 

Bruce Springsteen on stage in Foxboro, Massachusetts 2012, photo by Jo Lopez
Now let's get to the nitty gritty of Bob Lefsetz's write up as he digs calling a spade, a spade. Read through his diatribe below and think on what he is saying. Without fire, there is no smoke. So if ya want your music to be heard, it's got to be damn good. This goes along with your stage show, your presence and every single aspect of what it is, that you represent. Fans don't have time for ego or petty bullshit as they will leave you for someone else with true character at a moments notice. If you want to last, you have to be better than the last show you just played. Don't ever forget that music comes from the soul, but fans come in the front door and pay for the experience.
Beck's sheet music album

"It's a publicity stunt.

Unable to sell an album, people no longer interested in what he has to say musically, Beck has made an end run around the music business and gotten his old fans and techies excited, and has them spreading the word better than any major label campaign publicity would be able to.

Josh Freese started this.

Radiohead capitalized on this.

Kickstarter institutionalized this.

And now Beck is employing the same paradigm.

Let's separate music from publicity. The dirty little secret is if you're nobody, publicity doesn't count and music is everything. If you're nobody, if you've never broken through, if you have no toehold, you've got to create at least one track so good it's passed on virally to everybody.

Yes, the track can be good in a train-wreck way, a la Rebecca Black's "Friday," but it's got to be noteworthy. And this is much more difficult to do than to create a genius marketing campaign.

But if you've already got traction, if people already know who you are, then it's time to put your thinking cap on and come up with a left field marketing idea.

In other words, that old newspaper/magazine/interview game doesn't work anymore. Unless you say something truly astounding, like you were humiliated by a famous paramour, like John Mayer did, traditional publicity doesn't go viral. Everybody shrugs their shoulder and sees it for what it is...hype.

And we've become immune to hype.

Of course, if you can get your song on the radio, that pays dividends. Radio is still the dominant way to expose music, but contrary to the blowhards employed in it, radio's power is fading and will continue to diminish. These are the same self-satisfied pricks who said the CD was forever, that no one would want to buy an MP3. Just wait a few years, when there's Internet in the car, hell, there's already Internet in Audis, radio's mindshare will decrease. Just like network TV ratings plunged in the wake of the advent of cable and the resulting hundreds of stations. Talk radio is vital, on the pulse, music radio is not. Which is why MTV got out and now relies on longform shows. Music is an on demand item. You can hear it whenever you want wherever you want with a mouse click or a finger touch, ever hear of YouTube? Sure, people need to know what to listen to, there's room for trusted filters, but most commercial radio is beholden to advertisers, it's anything but trustworthy. As for satellite... What we've learned here is people are cheap. And satellite will never become ubiquitous. But Pandora is free. As are many other Internet music options.

Which brings us back to the issue of fame and exposing new music.

These old radio station wants to play their music. None that mean a damn. So, these acts can either work with Max Martin or Dr. Luke or stop making music or realize they're journeymen. Ironically, it's these old acts who will triumph most as radio declines, people no longer care if an artist is signed to a major label, an indie is just as credible, being on the radio won't be the end all and be all in the future.

Great music will still count. And we can debate whether these old acts can still create great music all day long, but one thing they have is their fame, can they leverage their fame?

That's what Beck Hansen has done here. He's a known quantity. Furthermore, he's known for cutting edge innovation. So people are interested in what he's doing. And he was smart enough to get them interested without the music! People haven't been talking about Beck for years, but with this one little stunt he's become part of the discussion. And what's even more interesting is the word was not spread by the music press, or traditional mainstream media, but "Forbes." ( In other words, if you want to go viral, you're better off being featured in "Wired" or on Gizmodo than in the "New York Times" or "Time." Because the former outlets have no b.s. images. They're not known as bastions of hype. People trust them. It may not be true if it's in the newspaper, but if it's in "Forbes"?

What Beck is doing is no different in theory from what Trent Reznor did years ago. What artists do every day on Topspin. They're upselling. Selling products that have nothing to do with the music itself. Like books. All Beck has done is push the envelope.

Name your own price is dead.

Sheet music has now been taken.

How will you get the public's attention in the future? How will you go viral?

It depends entirely on creativity. By the book, pardon the pun, does not work online, does not work with today's generation.

So Beck gets some notoriety and some coin. Maybe this stunt even drives people to his show.

But it is a stunt and it's not about music and it's no different from having some has-been movie actor appear on a sitcom. If the sitcom sucks, it's just a payday. If the sitcom is great, it burnishes your image.

It all comes down to the music. And creating great music is almost impossible.

And we're only interested in great. Good just ain't good enough.

But "Loser" was phenomenal! You only had to hear it once and you needed to hear it again. It made Beck's career. It set him up so he could employ this sheet music stunt and people would care. Have you written "Loser"?

It not, better keep your day job."