Manufacturing the Pop Star

The above video, part of a promotional campaign for the movie “Before the Music Dies” (Link) and found over on Gems Sty (Link), beautifully illustrates why I selfishly and emphatically argue against shortsighted activities like downloading pirated content and gleefully supporting the mindless cracking of DRM which, while often poorly implemented, is no more “bad” than any piece of code. As I’ve said before, the corporations whose music – signed over to them by willing creators – is being downloaded illegally, will still figure out a way to make money off of people’s Attention. In fact, quite a lot of the business world is driven solely by an attempt to get consumer Attention; over a half-billion dollars now famously up for grabs just to get our Attention for Wal*Mart. So while the mentally-unimaginative mistakenly believe they’re stickin’ it to the Man, guess what? You’re helping him.

The band Tool once eloquently pointed out the kind of cluelessness of which I’m speaking in a song about some kid who, though branded with the trappings of capitalist activity, somehow managed to accuse them of selling out:

And in between
Sips of Coke
He told me that he thought
We were sellin’ out,
Layin’ down,
Suckin’ up
To the man.

Well now I’ve got some
Advice for you, little buddy
Before you point your finger
You should know that
I’m the man,

‘n if I’m the man,
Then you’re the man,
And he’s the man as well
So you can point that fuckin’ finger up your ass

Before people go thinking they’re somehow exacting their due by downloading stuff for which they don’t pay, think again. And realize that those of you doing so are in reality funding the activity and promoting the adoption of the practices on display in that video… because that’s how the Man is going to ensure he stays on top. By tracking your downloads, by observing your spending habits, by collecting and collating and analyzing everything about you which they can gleen from brick and mortar statistical data to information purchased from the social websites you join, they will figure out what the masses will accept and feed it to you like Soylent Green. From the movie clip (which you should watch):

Who gets signed are the ones who fit the existing formula, because they’re the most likely to have a hit the quickest, the most immediately, and the most risk-free” – Alan Light, Rolling Stone writer.

That’s the name of the game today. And the one’s who lose in this game now being played out on peer-to-peer networks will be the indy bands trying to go it alone without the financial backing and support of corporate overlords, and all of us, the consumer collective too unimaginative and uninformed to realize we’re shafting ourselves.

It’s only after we collectively become sufficiently selfish to understand

– 1) our Attention has more value than the no-cost replication of content being illegally downloaded, and

– 2) our Respect for the creative effort has the power to embolden creators to remain independent,

that a true reordering of the current, lopsided System can occur. Only when and if this happens will the formulas and the people who use them finally be broken and unbridled creativity {potentially} flourish.

6 thoughts on “Manufacturing the Pop Star

  1. Of course, outside of the upper echelons of the recording companies – the people who make the noise and tell the lawyers what to do – file-sharing and so on is seen as an advertising and market research medium, not a threat. The best result for an up-and-coming A&R person is being able to successfully introduce a new band into social media and file-sharing; they know that sales will come from that, and that the old methods just aren’t working any more. I’ve had that explicitly said to me years ago by industry bods; they constantly monitor what is popular for “stealing” and sign on that basis. File-sharing is the new “taping things off the radio and lending the tapes to your friends”, except it’s even better, because the quality doesn’t degrade, it’s easy and it’s monitorable.

  2. I’d not think that the upper echelons are so unaware now. They’ve had time to figure this out; it’s now an old threat. That we’ve not seen dramatic changes in behavior is no real surprise to me; not like they’re in any rush to shift business models and they still can milk the old way of doing things for a bit.

    it’s easy and it’s monitorable

    That last part is what I don’t think most people fully comprehend.

    I happened to catch the evening news tonight and they applied that same tracking scenario to supermarket purchases. Wait til the potential uses and abuses of that kind of information sinks in to the public consciousness (assuming it ever does).

  3. Oh, it’s not monitorable to anything near the degree that supermarket purchases are, particularly if you are careless enough about your information security as to use loyalty cards. What I mean is that the general flow of who is downloading what and looking for what is detectable – and that’s what they’re most interested in, determining trends, checking the zeitgeist, seeing what sort of combination of styles they should be looking for to get the best sales next month. There are programs that can do it from the current hits; best to run those on the upcoming hits and get in early.

    And it would really surprise me if the upper echelons were at all aware. I keep looking for signs but none arise. They still just don’t *get* it, any of it. They’re still on “home taping is killing music”, it’s just that the legislators they want to influence don’t get it either, and don’t care for that matter.

  4. Naw. I’m aware of that. Hard to beat loyalty cards and CC data. But I have seen a video demo of one of those download tracking systems. It’s enough.

    As for the higher ups, I’ll assume they know. I’m always hesitant to assume I’m more aware than others who *should* know better than I. I’d rather be surprised they didn’t know, than vice versa.

  5. I’ve been beating this drum for over a decade, long before file-sharing was a problem, and the problem is that the people we most need to convince to stop handing the labels the ability to regurgitate tripe that sells instantly are *utterly uninterested in music as art*.

    It’s a vicious circle; people buy sh*te, the labels learn better what sh*te people will buy, the labels churn out sh*te2.0. I’m not sure that mainstream music consumers will ever be convinced to pay for something when they can get it for free, because they psychologically place little or no value on the products in question in the first place – it’s entertainment, a frivolous throwaway.

    I think the best we can hope for is some sort of understanding emerging among those who *don’t* listen to commercial pop drivel that if they don’t pay for what they *do* like, no-one will be able to make it any more. There is some hope to be had, in that (here in the UK at least) the live music circuit is still pretty healthy. But it will also take those bands facing up to reality and deciding not to bother chasing a major label deal to make their smaller careers viable – and in some ways a hegemony of bland MTV crap might be the only thing that makes them realise creative integrity is the price of unwarranted fame and riches.

  6. I’d go further to include pretty much everything people consume, but we’re sufficiently on the same page.

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