Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Saturday, November 17, 2021

As the music industry’s business model dissolves in the digital age, Digital Music News’ Paul Resnikoff sees a fragmented future that can’t sustain the development of broad-based superstar performers:

Just take a look at any one of the millions of bands on MySpace, iTunes Radio, or eMusic. Or simply stroll into any club, subway station, or cafe in thousands of cities worldwide. Most of these artists will never achieve mega-stardom, and larger-than-life stars (and disasters) like Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, and Guns N’ Roses are probably a thing of the past.

For a band starting out, that puts a whole new spin on 360-degree thinking. How many artists can pack an arena like Madonna? In the present, the answer is precious few. And in the future, without a major artist development machine, the answer may be virtually zero.

This strikes me as too much in-the-box thinking. Because recording labels have been the driving force for talent development for so long, Resnikoff sees their eventual demise (at least in their current form/role) as leaving a permanent vacuum, and thus no way to build a mega-popular musical artist.

But that “major artist development machine” doesn’t have to follow what’s been the status quo. Ultimately, fostering an entertainment act comes down to marketing. Having a limited number of media channels through which to direct the communication campaigns makes it easier — versus the seemingly wide-open online future — but it’s not a prerequisite.

And in fact, there’s a good example from the century before last on how to make it work. Long before he founded what’s now the world’s most famous circus, American showman P.T. Barnum made an opera diva known as the “Swedish Nightingale”, who’d never been heard of or from in the United States, into the 19th Century equivalent of a media frenzy:

“Jenny Lind’s story is perhaps Barnum’s single most extraordinary accomplishment,” [Barnum Museum executive director Kathy] Maher said, “because he took something that was absolutely nothing in American society and created a frenzy, a mania, very much equivalent to today’s rock stars.”

For six months before her arrival Barnum used every marketing and advertising means at his disposal to whip up a fever of “Lindomania.” He filled newspapers with articles of her beauty and piety. He ran Jenny Lind poetry contests. An entire merchandising industry sprang up to churn out Jenny Lind hats, Jenny Lind parasols, Jenny Lind face cream and the Jenny Lind crib, which you can still buy today.

When her ship pulled into a dock at Canal Street, 30,000 fans were there to cheer her. Another 20,000 lined the streets to her hotel. On Sept. 11, 1850, she gave her first American concert at Castle Garden, now Castle Clinton in Battery Park…

With Barnum manipulating a bidding frenzy, the top-priced ticket sold for an astounding $225 — almost $6,000 today. To his relief both critics and audiences loved Lind’s voice.

All this was well before the appearance of the concentrated media landscape that became so familiar by mid-20th Century. In some ways, access to mass audiences was as fragmented in the 1850s as it is now, with the Web and other digital media chipping away at old-media and retail outlets. Barnum knew how to exploit the existing channels, and he made his mark. The perseverance of that Jenny Lind crib, while hardly ubiquitous, is a lasting mark of the success of this decidedly old-school marketing campaign.

Comparisons between Jenny Lind and Madonna might not be immediately apparent, and indeed it’s a bit apples-to-oranges to measure up different eras. But as long as there are willing audiences — which, through social networking attractions, will easily encourage the growth of broadly-popular acts — there’ll always be superstars on the pop horizon.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 11/17/2007 08:47:31 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Celebrity, History, Pop Culture
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