It’s easy to think your favorite pop stars became successful overnight; that they are down-to-earth, bona fide, and cool like you. Regardless of what you might think, that appealing persona is usually made up. In fact, everything about a star – from looks to music performance style – is often decided by their record company. It’s all just great marketing which, in many cases, is more important than talent.
Case in point: Justin Bieber’s rise from YouTube darling to pop’s golden child. Although talented in his own right, his music and personality were designed to appeal mainly to the pre-teen/teenybopper market, which was underserved at the time. He filled a void, which came about after groups such as the Backstreet Boys and N’SYNC had dissipated. Check out how his image has transformed over the years.
Another example is Miley Cyrus, who had already gained fame as Hannah Montana. To make the transition from teen star to young adult megastar, her image and music style evolved to appeal to the millennial market, of which she was now a part of. Cyrus’s performance at the 2013 VMAs (coinciding with the release of “Wrecking Ball”), left many older folks – who watched her grow up on TV – disappointed, but sent her soaring up the top of iTunes as young’uns embraced her. Cyrus herself described the performance as a “strategic hot mess.”
Need more evidence? All of this might seem crazy to you if you’ve never thought about it. I mean, it sounds downright shameful that the pop star you look up to might be nothing more than a glorified puppet.
But if you’re feeling fooled, don’t; it’s a necessary act, so to speak, in order for the artist to create a compelling brand. It’s a manipulation of sorts, but it also helps you figure out who you want to become a fan of (or not).The artist’s brand is simply the story of a group of people heading in a particular direction and inviting you along.
Like running a company, it’s all business, at least from the record labels’ end. Here are three reasons why they call the shots:
- Advances: Starting out on a music career can be hectic for an artist who doesn’t have the finances to pay for stuff such as recording an album. An interested record label might offer a cash advance, which is recouped, if and when the artist gets a big break.
- Music and video production costs: Producing and getting your music out to the public can be another hefty price tag. A record company, however, might be willing to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on a song and/or video, if they believe it has potential to be a major hit.
- Marketing and promotion cost: As it turns out, record labels spend the most amount of money on marketing and promoting an emerging artist. According to this IFPI article, between US$200,000 and US$700,000 can be spent on marketing and promotional activities, in an attempt to break the artist.
With such large financial inputs, it’s little wonder why it is felt that labels control the charts. Morrissey pointed this out in a recent rant to Rolling Stones.
Record labels have had more say in the images and creative output of artists as the music industry has changed over the years. In the past, a record deal meant getting assistance with style and talent. Today, record labels are more inclined to play the role of marketers.