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Big Brother truly is watching. With news feeds, tweets, and IPhone videos providing a constant interaction between Artists, Actors, Authors and their fans everyone can see the little man behind the curtain now. You can find out what Ashton Kutcher had for breakfast or where Britney Howard singer of Alabama Shakes buys her glasses, or that Taylor Swift just loves watching old John Hughes movies in an instant, non stop. In some way, this is great. The connection breaks down the perceived barrier between artists and their fans, they get to see the real person (sort of- at least the real person the artist wants you to see) frailty and all; likes, dislikes, what ticks them off, little odd idiosyncrasies. All designed to make the fan feel two things 1) Familiarity with the artist- “I know that guy” and 2) build brand loyalty- “Not only do I love her music but she owns a Siberian Husky just like me… that’s my girl.” Unfortunately, what is lost for the fan is the reverence and mystique that artists, authors, and actors once had. The larger than life side of performers had an upside as well. What are lost for the artist are privacy and sometimes the safety of their families or themselves. There used to be an unspoken covenant between the media and the artists; the artist would give access and interviews and in turn, the media would protect the artist from the public knowing about their dirty little secrets. This created an aura of being larger than life. While on the positive side the tearing of the veil allows the public to know that artists are not perfect or glamorous and that their lives are often nothing to envy, it also allows the public to know that artists are not perfect or glamorous and that their lives are often nothing to envy. In any trade off there is something gained and something lost and the mystique and aura of artists being “larger than life” has been lost in the same way as the beauty of album cuts and album art. So how do we allow access to fans with trying to regain some of the aura? How is this to be taught in music business classrooms (should it be)? Where is the balance? It will never be the way it was again and that is probably for the better but the pendulum should not swing to far in the other direction; artists should want to interact with their fans. The artist is the brand and the brand is now the product not the music so interaction with fans is selling, however the discernment to where to draw the line is one that is ever blurring.
How do we teach college students how to solve questions in an industry where the answers change quicker than the questions can form in the collective industries mouth? How do we transform in an industry where the very cornerstone has eroded to the point where it cannot bear the fiscal weight of the industry itself? Where the product itself no longer has any value in the market place, yet there is more interest in that product than in any time in history. In plain terms what will the music industry be like in 5, 10, 15 years….or for that matter in 6 months? Truth is no one knows, we all know that and have for a while but the truth is the answer lies in paradigms of thought. Paradigms of new business models, or old business models that become a new in the cold light of the changes taking place; while there is no “one size fits all” business model out there for the music industry and I don’t think there ever will be again, there are new business models and concepts that will work for a vast majority of the time (at least for now), but more importantly the music industry as a whole (especially the new generation) must learn how to think strategically, in new ways. The answer is not in following a rote set of principles but in discovering new ways to think about the music industry. The challenge in being a music business educator is by the time we get a good text book (or any book) for that matter out and into the hands of students it is pretty much obsolete. For me the real solution is to teach them how to think. What I mean by that is teach them how to assess and discern their situation in the current marketplace and then decipher which levers to pull that will bring the most impact to their situation. We must teach them how to be dynamic thinkers, not conditioned responders. This is the greatest skill a student can have in the new music business- not great accounting skills, or being a great social networker, or great player, or producer, etc. because all of these skills and talents alone do not in and of themselves pave the way towards monetizing themselves, but adding dynamic thinking to one or more of these skills does. This is the key.