It should come as a surprise to no one that the number one selling food in America is McDonalds. They rake in $32.4 billion a year … an estimated $2.4 million per store. Is it because it’s good?
It’s cheap. It’s easy to get. It’s well funded. It’s marketed to the point of saturation. I bet you can sing a few lines from a McDonalds jingle easier than recalling the chorus of your favorite song. Probably easier than figuring out what your favorite song is.
The McDonalds Corporation says that the reason they are successful is consistency. McDonald’s sells more than 75 hamburgers … at roughly .99 cents … every second. The same burger … made the same way. In fact, there is no place in the lower 48 states that is more than 100 miles from a McDonald’s.
Why doesn’t McDonalds make a better hamburger? Because they don’t have to. 75 people every second will settle for the convenience, the price, the message and the consistent experience.
Frighteningly enough, the music industry has adopted the McDonalds business model and we, as consumers, are going along for the ride. Imagine if our bands sold downloads at the same rate that McDonalds sells hamburgers? We’d make $6,415,200 today. $44 million by the end of the week and in 12 months we would be a bigger economy than Ecuador.
But they won’t. And the reason is because consumers have to be engaged. They have to be active and to search them out. They have to bother. Labels like ours don’t have the staffing, budget or influence to physically put them within 100 miles of every person in the country. We can’t afford to place their songs in your face during episodes of CSI: Miami or make them pop up at the beginning of an angry cat video on YouTube. Our bands have to tour, beg for airplay, post on Facebook and hope like hell that you like them enough to buy the music and better still, tell someone else about it.
According to Apple, the most-downloaded iTunes song of all time is “I Gotta Feeling” by Black Eyed Peas. The current #1 song in the country as I write this is “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus. My personal thoughts on these songs are irrelevant. But, do you see a trend? Both of these songs are, at best, as carefully constructed and as fulfilling as a McDonalds hamburger. And, like said burger, easy to get, cheap to buy and you are constantly being reminded that you can have it. Hell, that it’s all that you can have.
According to Billboard the number one selling “indie” album right now is “Blame It All On My Roots: Five Decades Of Influences” by Garth Brooks; arguably the McDonalds of country music. It’s “indie” because he released it himself. It’s #1 because it’s exclusive at Walmart; arguably the McDonalds of retail. Incidentally, Walmart CENSORS the music it sells and BANS certain CDs. So not only are they the only place to get a lot of it … they get to tell you what you can and can’t have and they are influencing the way artists create. Read that last sentence back to yourself. It borders on apocalyptic and, if you love art or music at all, you should be terrified.
Chances are very, very good that every song you hear today via mainstream media was written by one of 4 people. Lukasz Gottwald (Britney Spears, Avril Lavigne, Daughtry, P!nk, Kelly Clarkson, Flo Rida, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry and Ke$ha), Hilary Lindsay (Carrie Underwood, Faith Hill, Lady Antebellum, Taylor Swift, Martina McBride, Sara Evans and Miley Cyrus), Gregg Wattenberg (Train, Daughtry, and Goo Goo Dolls) or Christopher Stewart (Rihanna, Beyonce, Justin Bieber, Mariah Carey, and Katy Perry.)
Not faulting them at all. They found a way to make a living by writing songs and, in the process, shaped modern popular music; not by evolving it, but by determining the path of least resistance and creating songs that will sell based on marketing trends and research. It’s the modern musical equivalent of Andy Warhol tricking the world into thinking that a painting of a Campbell’s Soup can was art. It happens because we allow it. We encourage it. We are too lazy to stop it.
Song mills are the norm. They are the new “Artist development.” What? Katy needs a hit that will appeal to a specific demographic? We have people for that. Huh? Kei$ha needs a song about leg warmers to tie into her clothing line available only from Target? Here … call these guys. $10 million dollars and a media assault (that rivals storming the beaches at Normandy) later and you’re humming “I threw up in the closet, and I don’t care.” while wearing very trashy, poorly made leg warmers.
Now, almost every person reading this will say the same thing. “I don’t listen to Kei$ha, I don’t eat at McDonalds, and I don’t shop at Walmart.” You are a liar. You do. You will. Your kids will. Denial just makes it worse. Menudo sold 40 million records worldwide yet no one owns a copy. Right. Your One Direction t-shirt betrays you.
Can it be fixed?
Ramblings like this tend to end with some preachy “change the World” message where you are supposed to drop everything, make an informed decision and support something you’re not innately comfortable with. I won’t ask you to do that. You wouldn’t anyway.
If you are over 30, your favorite band would not thrive in today’s market and you’re favorite album would likely not exist. If you’re under 25, best of luck. We are creating the musical world we think you want, based on your buying habits, and you will have to live with it. A Xerox copy of a Xeorx copy until all definition is gone but it still vaguely resembles something that used to be great.
When you’re music becomes “classic rock” and then, inevitably, “oldies” will it endure? Will we look upon Justin Timberlake the way we look upon Elvis? Will One Direction be your Beatles? Probably not. You will remember a handful of great meals in your life but you will not remember the first time you ate at McDonalds.
Too late? Perhaps it is. But, nothing will change, nor should it, as long as “You’re lovin’ it!”