Connect With Us

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner


« Aiming to please a few big clients versus aiming to please lots of little clients | Main

People are like sheep. To market music, the appearance of celebrity momentum matters.


“It’s on the radio, it has to be good.”  Of course you don’t agree with that statement, but the average person thinks it, says it and acts like every artist in heavy rotation is the second coming of Christ.  Moreover, once an artist is on the radio, the time it takes to go from lame to fame is shorter than a London summer.  

Song quality is not the major determining factor here.  Radio, among other methods, has the ability to demonstrate the appearance of celebrity momentum.  People are like sheep, or perhaps I should have said people are like primates.  

According to researchers at the Center For Cognitive Science at Duke University, “primates will perform a variety of behaviors, including pressing levers or moving their heads into a viewing channel, to gain visual access to other [powerful and attractive] individuals.  Moreover, primates will sometimes forego food rewards to view videos of [these] other individuals”.

I don’t think it matters if we are talking about oceans of fans or puddles.  If the people in your puddle think you are on your way to becoming a celebrity they press levers, move their heads and forego food to help you.        

What else generates the appearance of celebrity momentum?

  • Does having studio-quality recordings give off the appearance of celebrity momentum?
  • Does the use of a famous or legendary studio give off the appearance of celebrity momentum?
  • How about your selection of a producer?
  • What about being featured on numerous film or television soundtracks?
  • Opening up for an a-list act gives of the appearance of celebrity momentum, doesn’t it?

It seems to me, that it doesn’t matter how good your songs are.  If your celebrity momentum starts to diminish, fans go back to eating again.  What do you think?

Thanks to Jake Halpern (WSJ, Oct. 4th, 2007) for pointing out the Duke research.


Reader Comments (18)

This is what good PR does - builds a perception. Perception is everything - you don't actually know any of the bands you like, everything you know about them is based on what you have read or seen or heard.

You must appear to be 'powerful' or 'happening' etc for people to take you seriously. And then as you, suddenly that band you never really 'got' you gradually decide you like - peer pressure.

There is also the fact that repeated listening breeds familiarity which leads to adoption.

Not sure if you read it, but on my own blog I flick through a book called 'YES! The science of persuastion.' The main tenet of the book, and most PR and sales techniques, is that people like what other people like.

And it goes even deeper. People like what they THINK other people like. The use of linguistics can tap into the primate in all of us, and these techniques are used everywhere from press releases to PR campaigns.

So if you want to talk to people's inner Gorilla, it's worth learning about bananas.

"baaaaa, baaaaa"

I hear those sounds a lot when flipping through the channels on my telly. Mostly when flipping past stations like "E" or "MTV".

It is "who you know" as much as it is anything...always has been, and not just in music.

Kind of sucks.

BUT: Thanks to the $2000 studio I really don't care anymore because now I can accomplish what I want to!

I get to make music I never thought possible just 10 to 15 years ago. That makes me very happy.

If anyone besides me likes it that is just peachy...but all that really matters to me is that I can make it and I like it.


PS - I don't care much for bananas.

May 2 | Unregistered CommenterMilton

Much truth in it. But what do I do with that information? Can I apply this knowledge, and if, how?
Repeated listening creates a bond - for shure. Ask film composers that have gotten a video with a temp track from the director. The film team has become so familiar with the temp track that it is hard for the composer to satify them with his original music.
I'm learning a bit about bananas these days.
The indie scene is a microcosmos that works with the same mechanism as the mainstream world, I think.
If suddenly you are reviewed in a lot of high quality / important blogs at the same time, people will "move their heads and forego food to help you."

Maybe that is the way it all works. I hope I can understand, work and live with it without becoming cynical.

May 2 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Blue

Peter: re temp tracks - just one of the joys of scoring to picture groan

Originally posted by Peter Blue: Repeated listening creates a bond - for shure. Ask film composers that have gotten a video with a temp track from the director. The film team has become so familiar with the temp track that it is hard for the composer to satify them with his original music.

I recall the story about how Stanley Kubrik became so fond of the classical music they used for the temp tracks of 2001 that the composer's original music was actually scrapped in favor of the temps for the final cut. It's enough to make me wonder what the movie would've been like with the original music in place.

As for the topic at hand, it seems to me that there is a class of music listener who find themselves liking a musician or band specifically because the band is out to do their own thing. Call me a social outcast or a loner if you want, but if everyone in my history class is listening to some "hot new band", that makes me want to avoid giving that band a listen even more. As for me, I've been listening to old Bruce Haack a lot lately. He didn't exactly have a huge fanbase.

I'm with Peter: "Much truth in it. But what do I do with that information? Can I apply this knowledge, and if, how?"

Most of us monkeys recognize the hype for what it is, but it's kind of like an automobile accident. You are compelled to check it out because of your innate desire to know what's going on, to not be out of the loop.

Bruce, I respect your insights or I wouldn't be wasting 15 minutes to reply. But how is this relevant or helpful to us, your readers? We all know already that major labels use all of these methods (radio, soundtracks, name producers, pairing acts for tours) to build hype and get our attention. And it works... for them. But 98% of artists don't have the option of applying any of your bullet points.

Sorry, but this is another example of what really pisses me off about music industry blogs. Please consider putting the great minds here at Music Think Tank together to really provide relevant, helpful insights that are useful for us. I know you guys have it in you - I'm just not seeing it.

May 2 | Unregistered CommenterClif


It's a two-way street here. I thought I was asking questions and not giving answers on this post.

OK, here are my thoughts on putting my "question" into practical use.

To all artists - implement a Celebrity Momentum Strategy. If you don't maintain the appearance of having celebrity momentum, your fans may think you are becoming stale toast. Momentum means one-upping whatever you did last week. The Hip Hop industry wrote the book on Celebrity Momentum. You don't need a lot of money to execute a Celebrity Momentum Strategy, you just need to know how to write persuasively/convincingly and you have to be able to open doors and shake trees. It's called generating an ongoing string of good/positive news.

The rest will have to come later. It's Friday afternoon and I am off to the pub.


Surely the point of many of these posts is to create a discussion, ask questions, and see if anyone has the answers and if not, come up with some, or at least a vague notion of some.

I can safely say that I learnt nothing from your own blog post Clif - you just added to the chatter.

However, I do agree with cutting the bullshit, talking less about the science, talking more about practicalities and avoiding generalities at all costs. On the other hand, you do have to read a lot of this stuff and see how it applies to you and come to your own conclusions. There are no answers, but these discussions can on occasion take you down a road you may not have though of taking.

This place is called 'Music Think Tank' and not 'Music Truth'.

Regarding this particular topic - it just reminds me how important a PR strategy is. We're doing everything else ourselves, and PR is yet another thing to learn. It's never ending.

Here's a truth though - if two people with no budget and no contacts created a fake band each, and had a race to see who could make their fake band newsworthy the quickest, the person who had boned up on his PR would win every time. PR is free, is about ideas, and can be great fun.

Do a search for PR companies' blogs and stick them in your rss reader to get into the mindset.

It's not cheating. It's getting your music to people who would love to hear it in a fun and creative way. It's about getting them to call you. Which is much nicer than horrible and largely useless blanket marketing.

Guerilla PR is the mainstay of my independant ethos.

From Tom Hingley's Blackberry to me..

"I must say that speaking as someone who a long time ago experienced a small degree of musical fame and a very brief period of 'heavy rotation' on Radio that it was fleetingly enjoyable. I am not sure that the whole process is totally Pavlovian or Behavouristic. Our successful singles were the ones we recorded cheap, and a lot of the populace didn't get what it was we were doing. I think the creation of demand is more complex and random than you previous message suggested"

Tom Hingley

I agree with Julian that Clif's blog was simply a rant and contributed less than he accused others of NOT contributing (did that make sense at all??)

I also agree with Mr. Hingley's message.

Random is king right alongside "who you know".

Here is a link to my crappy blog that should not help anyone do anything.


May 2 | Unregistered CommenterMilton

Thanks, Bruce and Julian, for your replies.

Julian, my post was not directed at musicians. It was directed at bloggers in hopes of pointing out the gaping void (and opportunity) of relevant information that has value to the main population of aspiring artists. So maybe you learned nothing, but maybe someone will learn from it and the next time they write a post, they'll think a few seconds more about rather what they're writing is providing value to artists who desperately need it, or just creating polite conversation between the same 10 bloggers.

Bruce, I appreciate the conversation starters, and I think it is a great use of this forum.I just hope in the future we can utilize the immense brain power and experience available here to start solving the problems of today's truly independent artists. Unless I've missed the point.

Thanks for putting up with my general frustration.

As for the appearance of celebrity, I think there is much opportunity for web-savvy artists to make this work for them within closed web communities with a high level of success. In reference to Julian's fake band exercise, there was a recent controversy on one site that I frequent over a user who used bogus press releases and fake profiles to prove just that. The result was high chart rankings and the views and plays (and likely sales) that go along with a successfully crafted illusion of celebrity momentum.

Now obviously, I don't advocate such behavior. But it does show that an artist can pick a relatively small community (if 20,000 is small) and quickly rise to prominence, attaining micro-celebrity status within the bounds of that community. This is especially true, and time-proven, with early adopters. A lot of times all it takes is consistent, positive interaction with community members, which most artists simply don't do.

Focusing on one community or social network at a time will yield better results than trying to spread your efforts over a dozen. Once you have some momentum on one network, it is relatively easy to get folks to follow you to other sites (hey, new video on youtube... or check out the live recordings from our latest show on MySpace) helping to distribute awareness over multiple communities.

Of course, web promotion is just one slice of the pie, but a much bigger one than it used to be. What I'm proposing is really no different than starting out to be a hometown celebrity and slowly expanding your area of operations. But as Bruce points out, it's not easy to keep that momentum going, so you have to continually circle back around to home base to let your foundational fans know that you're still a "rising star."

My $.02

May 2 | Unregistered CommenterClif

Bruce, as a big fan of yours - well ok not so much as to forego food, but i do bob my head - i'm a bit perplexed. While clearly you are spot on regarding the cycle of repetition and celebrity, your statement that song quality doesn't matter directly contradicts what you consistently preach (i.e. focus on great songs the rest will follow, in essence). Further, as others have pointed out, HOW do we use this knowledge? Eager to here more in Los Angeles (Dg)

May 2 | Unregistered CommenterDg.

Check the stats for this site. The conversation between the "ten" bloggers is not only useful, it's observed by a lot of people. Interestingly enough, we are looking into making the MTT conversation more useful to everyone that participates (Music Think Tank V2).

For now, if we could stay on subject "What else generates the appearance of celebrity momentum?, etc. etc.". I believe that would be more fruitful to those observing on the sidelines.

I don't make a living from blogging. I do it to learn. I appreciate all comments, but I learn the most from those that really read the posts and then seek to add value through critical and relevant push-back, or by building upon the points outlined in the post.

For some people (readers), just pointing out the concept of "Celebrity Momentum Strategy" is enough to cause them to create their own Celebrity Momentum Strategy To-Do-List; whilst others would prefer step by step instructions.

I have come to the conclusion that it's better to trickle out a short post about something first, then revisit the subject later with more detail if readers request it or if the popularity of the subject exceeds that of alternative things to write about.

In all cases, thank you to everyone that comments on my posts.

There's something odd about leaving multiple comments on your own post (in a row).

DG - That was the other me. 24 to 26 months from now I believe song quality will generate more celebrity momentum than most things. Recommendation engines, social networks built around music, collaborative filtering, and data analysis will drive songs out of the pile. This will happen on the consumer level, on the A&R level and on the PD (programming director) level. You could say that witnessing songs move up the ladder, due to song quality, on any network or within any system, is akin to observing celebrity momentum, which is all good news that any artist can report (reportable momentum).

As for putting this into practice, see my comment above + plus what I just wrote here. I did not go into specifics for three reasons 1) I don't feel I am as qualified as some of the people (Bob Baker) I could direct you to, 2) just about every artist would need a different plan, and 3) see the comment I just wrote..

I have to get off this computer. I will revisit on Saturday.

Follow this link for more related info:


Great Discussion on this post,

I think how you can start applying "celebrity momentum" to your own music is by starting off small. If you're a newer band you might look into your own scene. Depending on how big the scene is, opening for one of the more popular local bands, gives you a little "celebrity momentum". It's not really that big of a deal when compared to having David Bowie rave about you (see Arcade Fire), but it's a step.

You can keep taking these little steps and growing the size of your celebrity momentum. The next step could be to open for a popular touring band in your genre. Then you could record with someone who has a big name in a your genre of music (doesn't have to be a super big name). There is a band in my town (hardcore-metal) that got the attention of prominent producer in that genre. The guy is nobody to mainstream hit-making music, but in the small niche of underground hardcore, he's got weight.

So yeah, start small, make sure the songs are there, focus on your niche/scene, and build from there.

Have a great Sunday everyone,


Find me at The New Rockstar Philosophy

May 4 | Unregistered CommenterHoover

Clif, I read over your article and I was struck by 2 things:

1) All the Dubber and Warila articles you reference as shallow, simple, and stupid were all explicitly and obviously written for total beginners.

You were simply not the intended audience for those articles.

2) Your comment here made a lot more sense...this was a fairly brief post, especially compared to Bruce's "real" work...but Music Think Tank has been excellent so far and I've been impressed with how it's evolved. Overall, I don't see the same problem you do.

Then again, you clearly know a lot more than me.

Justin, the words shallow, simple and stupid are nowhere to be found in my post, so that's your interpretation of what I wrote. The only posts I attacked directly in my post were Trifon's "Zero Recording Cost" post and Dubbers "How do i even get started" post, and I commented on both of those posts expressing my opinions. Trifon's post was off because it missed the point and was old school thinking, and Dubber's post was just plain wrong, regardless of who they were aimed at.

But I would never call any of these guys stupid - as I said earlier, if I didn't respect Bruce or the others, I wouldn't waste my time in debate and I wouldn't read their blogs daily. And I never claimed to know more than anyone, in fact, the whole point of my rant was that I'm here looking for relevant information - I'm here to be taught something.

I do look forward to reading through your posts at Audible Hype. Any idea or viewpoint that flips that switch is worth reading and sharing. I just get frustrated at times when I can't find the damn switch. ;)

Now let's let this version of this post die. Feel free to hit me up at my blog if you want to discuss further.

May 8 | Unregistered CommenterClif
Comments for this entry have been disabled. Additional comments may not be added to this entry at this time.