In his recent blog post, Eric Beall (Berklee Music) quotes Jason Flom (Lava Records) as follows:
“Where have all the musical geniuses gone? Why has this generation not produced even one musical genius on the level of Dylan or Sly Stone, or John Lennon, or Prince?”
Within his post, Beall offers a sensible answer to Flom’s question. However, I want to try out an alternative explanation. Here it is:
The ‘geniuses’ still exist, but ‘genius’ can no longer be manufactured.
When Jason Flom talks about genius, no doubt he’s talking about widespread adoption, unbounded adoration and enduring commercial success. Now think about this in terms of the song adoption formula I wrote about two weeks ago.
Fans = Listeners * Optimal Frequency Rate * Social Situation Rate * Resonation Rate
- Listeners - a song obviously needs as many listeners as possible.
- Optimal Frequency Rate - a song needs maximum spins (plays) within a compact span of time.
- Social Situation Rate - a song needs maximum socialization during that same time period.
- Resonation Rate - the percentage of listeners that a song easily resonates with.
(Note: in this post, I updated ‘conversion rate’ to ‘resonation rate’ in the formula.)
The formula stipulates that for a song to achieve ‘genius’, all the variables in the formula have to push up and max out. If you plug the formula into a spreadsheet and play around with scenarios, you will notice (it’s all multiplication), that a single low variable sinks a song. In other words, you need ALL the variables to work for you to achieve (or to manufacture) Flom-genius.
Labels could manufacture genius in 1995.
There was a time when record labels could assert control over every variable in the formula. If A&R felt they were sitting on an artist or song (a rocket) that lots of people would (or potentially would) fall in love with (high resonation rate potential), the remaining variables could be pushed up and maxed out through promotion, specifically through FM radio. Radio delivered a large number of captive listeners, the highest optimal frequency rate, and it was very social.
Labels can’t manufacture genius in 2009.
Nobody can control the song adoption equation. It’s a perfect storm:
- Modern music consumption happens via the Internet.
- It happens through handheld devices.
- It happens through thousands of different channels.
- The power of radio is obviously diminishing.
- Audiences are more fragmented than ever.
- You can’t control spin-frequency in an iPod.
- You can’t force individuals to spin a song within a social setting.
- There’s a limited quantity of, and intense competition for, mass-exposure slots.
- The per-unit price of music has dropped to almost nothing.
- Competition for listener attention is intensifying.
- Every artist is a promoter now.
And in this perfect storm, it has becomes a fool’s risk to overly invest in attempting to influence the rate of repetition and socialization; the failure rate is too high and the ROI is too low. (Digital music can’t be marketed.) As a consequence, influence over repetition and socialization is going organic. In 2009, the best promoters and labels can do, outside of obtaining a rare mass-exposure slot, is to ‘help’ consumers virally promote (spin, share, socialize) artists and songs for them.
So where have all the geniuses gone? They still exist, but ‘genius’ can no longer be manufactured.
Control what you can control.
Fortunately for everyone, there’s a variable in the equation that you can still control. It’s Resonation Rate (the percentage of listeners that a song easily resonates with). Nobody can manufacture genius. There’s not enough return on investment to do anything but let consumers promote for you. However, you (the real geniuses) can develop artists and iteratively improve songs until they resonate with your target audience.
Shorten the feedback loop - drive your resonation rate.
Anything you can do to shorten the feedback loop, which is the time between creation and actionable feedback, is something that enables you to iteratively improve more rapidly.
Think about the feedback loop in 1995. Music was expensive to make and distribute, and actionable feedback was difficult to obtain. It took months, if not years, to obtain fan, target market, mass-market or industry feedback.
The great thing about the perfect storm described above, it produces lots of rapid and meaningful feedback. In 2009, you can go from creation, to distribution, to feedback in under sixty minutes. Moreover, there are new sites (Trendrr, BandMetrics, and RockDex come to mind) that will supply you with a continual stream of trend and feedback data as you and/or your songs zigzag through the marketplace.
Let everything else go organic.
I will wrap this up by saying that if you trust the song adoption formula; if you trust that everyone is loosing control over most of the variables in the formula; and if you trust that songs are going to get easier - not harder - to find in the future, then place your emphasis (your bets) on patient artist development and thoughtful song improvement…and then let everything else go organic.