As most of you probably do, I spent more time than usual watching TV over the holidays. It is a good time to re-connect with some old favorites. Several networks have been running “You’ve Got Mail” with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. It really is a great romantic comedy. It is a story about a guy who owns a book superstore company and the threat he poses to a neighborhood book store that has been on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for decades. They have a personal anonymous email relationship without knowing that they are in fact rivals. Eventually they discover the truth and you know the rest.
It struck me as ironic that things have changed so much in such a short time. The superstore era may have reached its peak. Especially in the book business. In the 90s, the world was all about superstores. Costco, Sam’s Club, Home Depot, Lowes, Barnes and Noble, Borders etc. These companies were destroying local independent neighborhood establishments by the score. It was like a plague crossing the country.
Borders is history and it seems Barnes and Noble is struggling mightily. About 7 years ago, when E-Books were beginning to surface, a quote from the CEO of Barnes and Noble in the New York Times caught my attention. He said E-Books were not a threat, because people will always enjoy spending time browsing in a bookstore, reading, drinking over-priced coffee. He felt it was an experience that could not be replaced by the E-Book. I remember screaming out loud…HAVEN’T YOU BEEN PAYING ATTENTION TO WHAT HAS BEEN GOING ON IN MUSIC RETAIL!!!! The guy was clearly out of touch and he is paying the price for it.
Now, it is all about niches. People will pay extra for quality (if they can). Lots of experiential supermarkets have shot up. Whole Foods and a franchise that is a total rip-off of their style, Fresh Market. Whole Foods is doing amazingly well. Lots of gourmet markets have sprung up around New York. Independent movie theaters, which were a thing of the past are now seeing a resurgence. Either by showing classics on the big screen, or by running films with smaller distributions than the majors or independent films. Near us there are two theaters that we attend frequently. They are packed. But there is no hassle parking and you don’t have to wait 20 minutes to pay $20 for popcorn and Junior Mints. There is a movie house in Manhattan called IFC that has several theaters within it. Some of them seat as little as 20 people. But there are First Class Airplane seats or the equivalent to sit in. They tend to be the only place in the city to show certain films. It is great.
Local hardware stores are still around. Because, do I really want to walk a few hundred yards and have to ask three people (because only 1 speaks English) where to get a lightbulb? Smaller gyms are popping up, giving folks personal attention, for only slightly more than they would pay at NYSC for the privilege of posing and using the machines improperly.
TV is probably the best example. I remember when there were only about 7 channels and one was PBS, which didn’t exist for me until Monty Python came along. Now there are niche networks with niche programming. Let’s see their is tuna fishing, lumberjacking, cooking, eating, cooking competitions, gay channels, Women’s films, hockey, cooking Italian, preparing dinner in less than 30 minutes (it would take less but Rachel looks like she has been stopping to eat along the way) and many, many others.
The exact same thing is happening in the music business. The business model of the “Majors” is over. Unless you are a pop act or an urban act, there is no point being on a major label. Even that model will end soon. It is all about niches.
This makes it even more difficult for young acts to break. There is little or no financial support, unless you can find investors. You can promote your music through Youtube and if you are great you will eventually surface. It takes a long time. It is very difficult and expensive to get your music played on the radio. It takes a special (some say idiotic) person to continue to starve for a long time, just on the hope that they will click. But quite honestly, it is the only way to do it at least for now.
Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis have been slogging it out for ten years. It paid off for them when their album debuted just behind the Mumfords album at #2 earlier this year. They are the #1 most downloaded act in Spotify and they have over 46 million view on their latest Youtube clip..
I often get approached by young artists. Several of which are very talented. They come to me saying they have just recorded their album. My first question is, “WHY”? No new act should be recording an entire album. Certainly not if it is on their own dime. Songs can’t be just good anymore. They have to be awesome to get noticed amongst all the shit that is on the web. I have rarely seen a new act with more than one or two really good songs, let along great songs. Record a track or two. Save the money for other things. You will definitely need it later.
It is all about target bombing these days. It is next to impossible to get a broad audience out of the box anymore. You have to do it by degrees. Take your time, make great music and take it to the market place. Be prepared for it to take a while.
In summation, forget about the superstore or the super success story right away. Build the “Shop Around the Corner”. Find your audience, play to them and offer them great quality every time out. Don’t show them your failures only your best. Strap your crash helmet on for a bumpy ride. But talent will ultimately prevail.