There was a time when record labels committed themselves more seriously to developing the careers of their recording artists. Today it’s much harder to find a record label committed to this goal. Up until the late 1980s most record labels had a department that was called Artist Development, and the job of that department was to support their acts’ creative side while steadily developing a customer base for them. When sales of records increased with each release, the label stood by their acts, believing that the more the public heard their music, the bigger their popularity might grow, and the greater their popularity, the more records they would sell. Most of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s bands that dominate today’s classic radio format are examples of the old school version of Artist Development.
By the early ’90s, most labels had changed the name of their Artist Development departments to Product Development. In other words, the emphasis changed from nurturing the growth of artists and their music, to developing high-pressure sales tactics and strategies. Product Development today usually means putting the label’s energy into creating sales for a new release and doing so quickly. If they had three strikes in the past, they have one strike now, and if they don’t get a solid hit, their acts will probably be forgotten in favor of some other act waiting for their one at-bat.
You can still see some cases of labels that are committed to Artist Development and Product Development when you look at the careers of bands like Radiohead, The White Stripes, or even the Dave Matthews band. This approach is also behind the success of most rap and hip-hop artists, who are truly doing their own street marketing version of Artist and Product Development. Also, today’s pop acts that dominate the top of the pop music charts are a result of Artist and Product Development. If a label can get the public to embrace a new release, the labels and the music publishing companies will collect revenues from dozens of new releases over the (potentially) long careers of these acts.
In today’s competitive music business, for the most part, the responsibility for Artist and Product Development has changed hands. Independent labels and entrepreneurial artists have inherited the responsibility of nurturing new talent by fine-tuning their artistic and business development, and by slowly growing their careers over several album releases. Developing a music career for the long haul is all about controlling your own destiny.
Artist and Product Development go hand-in-hand. They should work in combination and coordination with each other, whether it involves traditional methods or using the Internet. When a balanced approach to developing your music and your business affairs are respected equally, you create a more realistic opportunity for achieving some success with your music. Art and commerce are both equally important for musicians today.
Christopher Knab (copyright 2010 All rights reserved)