The past two days have found me in conversation regarding the marketing of music in today’s increasingly difficult economic climate. The first time was with my wife, Cathy; we were debating whether or not it was more difficult to market a musician given the Internet. The second time was on the way to work this morning, when an officemate (who carpools with me) and I had a conversation on the nature of the music business in light of piracy.
Cathy and I first came across this discussion as a result of what happened with Susan Boyle, whose Britain’s Got Talent performance has taken the online world by storm. In a matter of days, the erstwhile unknown British charity worker was propelled from underdog to odds-takers’ overwhelming favorite to win the competition, with her video now receiving over 12,000,000 hits. (No fast cash payday loans for this lady; she’s unemployed!) When a video goes viral, that’s great news for the video’s subject (and, hopefully, the video director). It is a golden opportunity for a struggling artist to get her/his foot in the door.
However, there’s the flipside: what happens to the artist who doesn’t take the world by storm?
Take Mandisa, for example. My favorite Contemporary Christian female singer’s sophomore album, Freedom, sold 5,000 copies, which was 12% less than the previous week, but good enough for 154th best-selling album in the United States this week. 5,000 copies is nothing to sneeze at, especially given today’s difficult financial climate.
Then there’s Avalon’s Melissa Greene, who recently released her solo debut, Next Step. She noted in her blog that she and Koch Records had released an initial press run of 5,000 copies as well. Mandisa has sold 5,000 in a week; Melissa hopes to sell 5,000 in time! (Meanwhile, Rascal Flatts’ latest album, Unstoppable, debuts at #1, selling 351,000 copies in its first week. To equal that, Mandisa would have to sell 5,000 copies a week for 70 weeks. That’s more than a year and a half.)
Both Mandisa and Greene have great back stories. Both women have terrific voices and well-produced albums. (It’s a well-known fact that 19Entertainment has produced more winners’ debut albums that are lemons than ballpark winners.) Yet, they’ll probably never come close to making the kind of numbers that Paul Potts registered with his debut, or what Boyle will undoubtedly sell when her album is out. 12,000,000 people haven’t tuned in to watch their videos, I’ll tell you that. 12,000,000 people have seen Susan Boyle stun 3,000 people in an auditorium in Scotland.
The world is full of terrific singers who’ll never get their due.
An important facet of author Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book Outliers then comes to mind:Â a person can work 10,000 hours to develop the skill necessary to become amazing at what s/he does, s/he can have the resources, be born on the right time, have the right looks, but without that “luck” factor, it’s over. (Actually, the book has so much more than that; it is an interesting read, although I wouldn’t necessarily advise anyone to subscribe fully to what he has to say.)
Susan Boyle didn’t have any of what Gladwell wrote about. She didn’t have privilege, didn’t quite have looks, didn’t have the breaks… or did she? What was it that swept over Susan in her 48th year, that ordained her for critical and hopefully commercial success? Can we say Miss Boyle had a “right place, right time” moment? Was it the hand of God, or fate, or luck, that she had talent, but never had a chance, until in 2009, there so happened to be a TV talent show that didn’t care how a person looked? What afforded her the good fortune that she would be able to audition, and pass, then come onto the show, and as Philip Henscher puts it, thrust everyone into Stendhal syndrome?
At first glance, she would be an outlier!
Of course, this begs the question: what happens if Susan Boyle does not win?
This is Melissa Greene, singing “At Your Feet” from her debut album. Pretty girl, pretty voice. I love her, and wished she would achieve success. But she is not Susan Boyle.