Music Industry Prediction: Rise of the Personable Geeks

I know I have been on a bit of a hiatus, but don’t let the tumbleweeds fool ya.  There has been a lot going on in the world of music and culture.  I know if you are not getting your fix here, then you’re getting it elsewhere.  C’mon, it never stops, right?  We might get weary of the onslaught of material, especially as it gets repetitive, but it never ceases to be produced.  That is one of the reasons why I took a break.  The big question of “why am I doing this?” had to be addressed and it was not taking shrugged shoulders for an answer.  I am back though and ready for duty!  I hope you will be rejoin me.

tumbleweedAs the Peer Pressure Cooker, it seems to be my personal calling to sift through the items on the conveyor belt, survey them and give an appropriate marking to categorize its use.  Taxing as it is, gratification has come from a lot of unexpected places, which keeps me at it.  I have been most interested in the seemingly-distraught music industry as it tries to find its way again to financial prominence.  While the big guns (Universal, Warner Music, etc) have not found anything that they are cool with shooting yet, there are some smaller pistols that are liking these new targets just fine.

In recent weeks, there has been a lot of talk of the “new business model” for music professionals, which requires a throwback approach – and I do mean throwback… like pre-1950s – where artists actually have to connect with their fans in personal ways.  Instead of expecting a label to manage your interaction with fans you barely know, the job is now more the artist’s responsibility.  I was inspired to finally break my web silence on the matter after reading a blog about Imogen Heap’s usage of SM tools (nice piece written by Colette Weintraub of Deep Dive Marketing) to keep her fans engaged with a two-year recording process for her upcoming album.  Ms. Weintraub goes through a comprehensive listing of everything Heap’s done to build an organic following, which includes a Twitter following that is bound to hit 7 figures at any moment.  I want to make an emphasis on the word “organic” as that is the key component to the steady build in Heap notoriety.  However orchestrated her marketing process may be, it is not done in a mechanic or robotic way.  It seems that Ms. Heap personally has been at the helm the entire way.  More artists need to take such control of their existences.

The thing about Imogen Heap though is that she benefits from being the lead singer of an already-established band, so it is hard to motivate lesser-knowns with her success when they know she already had a bit of help.  Not to mention that her record will be released on a major label, I know we cannot get indies too excited about things just yet.  Although, I have one case study to share that may aid in quelling their anxiety levels.

Mayer Hawthorne (photo by Doug Coombe)
Mayer Hawthorne (photo by Doug Coombe)

Mayer Hawthorne (Stones Throw Records)

If you have never heard of this guy, that is not a big deal.  You were probably hanging out in your silo and news had not quite got to you yet.  Here is the deal – one of the things you hear a lot on the internet is the idea of “going viral.”  If you are an upcoming artist, then you should long to be some sort of virus on the internet because that means you’re infecting, er, affecting people.  While Hawthorne’s web buzz is modest, it is not to be overlooked.  As his record label as of a couple weeks back had not spent a dime on promoting Hawthorne’s first two singles, sources tell me.  It only took a YouTube video of a turntable playing the a-side of his red, heart-shaped vinyl 45 to sell 1000 copies in less than a few weeks.  Mind you, before this, no one really knew who this guy was.  In a way, most still do not know.  All they know is that they like the music.

I could go on about how I know the man you and Justin Timberlake know as Mayer Hawthorne as DJ Haircut of Athletic Mic League and Now On or Drew, my old record collecting buddy, but I would be digressing.  The fact of the matter is, someone I know is experiencing the power of the internet firsthand.  It is whimsical.  It is erratic.  It is unknowing, but what it is not is boring or predictable.  Mayer Hawthorne looks to be the next flagship artist for a boutique label imprint out of Los Angeles, California.  His buzz is so strong that, if played right, he may just be on easy street – Imogen Heap-style.  Google or Bing him and see for yourself.  The YouTube numbers do not lie; his sold-out vinyl singles do not lie.

Now you can find Mayer Hawthorne on Twitter.  He is not as personable as Ms. Heap is, so the question then would be, will that be to his detriment?  As a guy that made a couple doo wop songs for fun under a porn star alias, it is understandable that he is not as organized as Heap.  If he were more engaged with his newfound fans, would he gain more of a groundswell in interest for his upcoming debut album?  Let me know what you think in the comments.

While you’re at it, check out Hawthorne’s latest video for his cover of The New Holidays’ “Maybe So, Maybe No.” A Strange Arrangement is going to be released on 9/9/09 on Stones Throw Records.

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