Monday, July 16, 2018
  • Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017
Host Stephen Colbert speaks at the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Musings On Music: Heads In A Cloud

I’m sitting here alone at the bar in The Smith, about to order dinner.  Don’t want to feel like a loser sitting by himself, so I check my iPhone, like there will be crucial messages and updates requiring my response.  But no texts, no emails.  This sucks.  Everyone else is speed typing with their thumbs—what the hell?!  “I’ll have a cheddar burger, medium rare, no onion, no fries.  Thanks.”

Critics of the 2017 Emmy Awards, hosted by Stephen Colbert, noted that its ratings were close to the record lows for the annual ceremony and that Donald Trump seemed to “dominate” the proceedings from afar.  Yet, as Colbert observed, Trump absolutely dominated the conversation on television for the past year, from news programming and pundit panels, to comedy (uh, SNL).  So no surprise there from my comfortable chair.  And the ratings?  11.4 million viewers.

For a 3-hour network broadcast basically honoring non-network programming.  Not bad considering the competition: Monday Night Football!

Emmy ratings.  Why were they hovering low?  Well, most of the nominated shows were from streaming/pay channels and the Emmy’s were broadcast on CBS - a traditional network.  So most viewers have literally not seen most of the content up for awards… as so cleverly harpooned by Seth Meyers and James Corden.

Television and film programming are occupying similar space in the “cloud” to music.  We can pick and choose from an ever-expanding menu and, increasingly, not have that shared experience around the water cooler.  (“What’s a water cooler, daddy?”  “It’s like a phone booth, honey, but it’s filled with water!”)

Show of hands:  How many have been watching The Great British Baking Show (click here on Netflix?  Ha!  It’s my new coma-inducing drug at bedtime when I can’t take the noise-I-mean-news.  

Now, back to the music.  Both Spotify and Apple Music claim to have 30 to 40 millions songs available on their streaming services.  Figure the average song length is 3 minutes.  That’s about 1,500,000 hours worth of music, or just over 155 years—so, kind of challenging to listen and “share”.  (Let’s imagine a museum with, say, 30 million paintings hung on its walls and a minimum of 5 sq. ft. of floor space per.  That’s over 3,700 acres, not counting restrooms, gift shops and cafes!  Fine, make it a 5-story museum—now it’s only 740 acres...not counting parking.)

So.  In the music space, I’m frequently asking myself, How does an artist get a career?  Being amazing is not enough with a talent pool as big as an ocean.  Performing your amazing music is one starting point—building your audience one show at a time (hmm, is that like “experiential” marketing?), getting your “fans” to connect with you on social media, buy your merch, walk around the world wearing your T...being super charismatic and provocative in your disturbing/hot/violent/puppy-filled video.  Some version of that may have worked for Cardi B—an artist you might never have heard of 3 months ago—“Bodak Yellow,” her debut single for Atlantic, entered the Billboard charts at #1, displacing Taylor Swift!  

Do all of the above over and over again for a few years and something might happen (like, maybe you'll go back to school and discover the joys of dentistry).

BBC Radio interviewed a number of professionals in the music industry last year to get their take on what the future looked like.  One, Justin Young of The Vaccines, said “I don’t really listen to records anymore.  I only listen to songs.  It’s that “gimme culture of instant gratification: the second I hear a track I like, I want it.” Hmmm.

Composer and former member of the UK girl group Girls Aloud, Nicola Roberts, asserts that “Everyone is talking about making songs ‘Spotifyable.’  Spotify analytics can tell labels when a particular track isn’t making it onto any playlists because it’s skipped after a few seconds.  Which is starting to dictate how writers and producers create have people putting the chorus at the beginning because it has to be so entertaining from the get-go.”  Which weirdly reminded me of my experience as a copywriter on P&G business years ago, when the research folks dictated that we had to grab the viewer’s attention in the first 5 seconds of the spot or it would never air.  Which reminded me (of course) of a column I wrote 18 months ago called “Skip This Ad In 5...4...3...”

Now I’m seeing YouTube pre-roll spots that are literally 5 seconds in length.  The advertiser, like the artist, is facing a big challenge: Yea, I can be virtually anywhere...but how do I get people to care?

As I sit here, finishing my burger, I have an epiphany (the secular kind).  It’s a newly found recognition of the importance of creativity in the quest to be heard and seen.  Not simply the timeless mission of making the spot “awesome”—hey, we’re pissed that you even interrupted this program, this video, this whatever!  But the mission of making the consumer WANT to engage with you, come to you, learn more, experience you.  This is hard.  But it’s never been easy.  I love this thing that Ogilvy Chicago did with their client Morton Salt and the band OK Go to promote the ancient brand’s Walk Her Walk initiative (click here).  It’s a cool song, incredible video and now I’m thinking about a brand I’ve taken for granted my entire life.

Another striking creative coup (now “old news”) that snapped my head back was a multi award-winning promotion of the Van Gogh Exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago called called Van Gogh Bnb.  In brief, client “partnered” with Air Bnb to recreate Van Gogh’s bedroom (memorialized in the artist’s famous painting “The Bedroom”), literally matching the colors, furnishings, patina of said bedroom and offering it for rent on Air Bnb’s website.  Result:  the room was fully booked for weeks, free PR was off the charts, the exhibition pulled in record numbers to the museum and Cannes bestowed its Creative Effectiveness Grand Prix (click here) to the work.

Can every car, detergent, sneaker, insurance, pharma and beverage brand find that kind of love?  With all heads in the cloud, that’s the new imperative—everything’s up for review.  Brutal.  But maybe that's the reason this is possibly the most amazing creative era in our history.

“Check please!”

About the author

Lyle Greenfield is the founder of BANG Music and past president of the Association of Music Producers (AMP).  Greenfield has been a driving force behind the AMP Awards for Music and Sound, which debuted in New York City in 2013.

Contact Lyle via email