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Opinion Take: Are Established Artists Being Pushed too Hard?

Some of you may not have heard about this yet, but rapper Rick Ross (Def Jam) was headed to a gig in Memphis recently. His plane had to turn around and make an emergency landing in Ft. Lauderdale, FL because he’d had a seizure on the plane – apparently not something he’s accustomed to. After several hours at a hospital, and a clean bill of health, Ross hopped a private jet to Memphis only to force another emergency landing in Birmingham, AL with yet another seizure.

According to Digital Music News, Ross’ ex-girlfriend, Elise Neal, said she saw a health scare coming. She claims his label Def Jam pushes him too hard and doesn’t really seem to care about his overall health condition. She also points out that Ross isn’t in his 20’s anymore, implying that the same can’t be expected of him like it could be of somebody younger (Ross is 35).

In response to the incident, Digital Music News asks the question, are labels running artists into the ground?

I really had to think about this for a minute. It reminded me of an opinion piece I wrote back in August “..Why the ‘Old Guys’ Are Still Kickin It”. There’s a reason why many of the more successful touring acts are in their 40’s. Rick Ross notwithstanding, the older artists are experienced professionals who often put on better stage shows, as well as those who have better developed songwriting chops, and often better songs to boot. And, yes, they also have a broader loyal fan base simply because they’ve been at it longer. But, do you blame a guy like Ross for pushing himself and having a strong work ethic, or do you have to blame the labels because it’s the popular thing to do? Could we take it a step further and ask “… are fans responsible for this because they create demand for an artist’s product and the artist is compelled to meet that demand?”

At IPR we’re constantly seeking answers to these types of questions, and though the answers aren’t clear yet, we’ve got a good head start on the subject matter.

For my purposes here, let’s make the labels our whipping boy!

Christian Blog Photo

Labels want a sure thing, always. They don’t want to play stupid when it comes to music economics. In order to make it worth their while, a label needs to think about what it’s going to cost for them to make money off an artist… but they don’t like to develop artists anymore, they’d much rather sign an artist that has already proven him or herself via the DIY method. Meaning, labels prefer new artists who have self-released their music, who have tour experience, who know how to perform, and who define what they do as a means to a paycheck. When they can get this from a talented new artist, it requires less of an investment on the label’s part because said artist is past the infant stages of their development, and all the label has to do is improve on the established brand. It’s smart business. But labels often treat these types of artists as if they’re disposable, giving them the “one good song” kind of treatment. The label wants somebody who’s proven, but wants to market them like they’re not. As long as a label can make their target market believe they’re offering them something of value, the market will buy what they’re selling, even if it is crap. So a lot of crap gets released, and a lot of real talent gets treated like crap… it’s the way of the new music business. Incidentally, IPR can teach you how to navigate the craziness… if you’re interested in learning how…

For many new artists, insiders know label producers and engineers are primarily the ones making the record. It’s amazing what can be edited into “perfection” these days. Just ask the IPR faculty (let alone the students) and they can give you an earful about this very subject.

So when a label does decide to “develop” an artist, now it seems they’re actually more interested in creating one. In this sense they throw as many created artists out there they can to see if any of them will stick… They don’t care about culture, the arts, the quality of the work that’s being released, etc…… At the end of the day, the label just wants to make sure everybody goes home with a paycheck.

But, I suppose it would be appropriate to mention that the music industry isn’t really about the labels anymore. They’ve pretty much made themselves irrelevant by caring more about the quick fix than real artistry. Pop radio can still sell records, but it’s only a small group of the record buying public that even knows who’s popular, and even a smaller percentage that are paying for their music via physical units (despite wishful thinking and sales numbers that might illustrate the converse). And, according to Lefsetz, radio is the last bastion about to fall. He claims they’re the only thing keeping major labels in business. And, those artists who still benefit with strong major label relationships are probably still the ones making the most dough. And, the irony of ironies, in many cases there is still real art involved in creating a great pop song. For example, regardless of how you feel about her musical style, Lady Gaga is truly talented, and she’s huge… I probably should’ve checked to see if she’s still on a major.

No matter whose fault it is that Rick Ross had a seizure, somebody had to blame his label, even if it was the fans that created the demand. And that’s why it’s hard to conclude a piece like this. The music business is simply a business, just like any other. The competition is ferocious, everybody has to use a business model that works for them individually, and nobody knows if we’ll get to a place where the Rick Ross’ of the world will be able to live a less hectic professional life. It’s still kind of a mystery why 94% of the top-touring artists are over 40. And getting an answer to why the industry requires established artists to sort of “pick up the slack” by working themselves to death isn’t easy either. This, however, is where the IPR community comes in.

We’re made up of like-minded industry professionals who have combined their talents to create one of the most important media arts colleges in the United States. They’re asking tough industry questions and using their networks to seek the answers the industry so badly needs. From Audio Production and Engineering and Sound Design for Visual Media, to Music and Entertainment Business, IPR is looking for students who want to make the industry a better place by contributing their voice to answers for the future.

If your goal is to pursue a career in the media arts fields we might be the best college match for you. Please visit our information request page to learn more. Either way, I’d love to hear your take on the above opinion peace. Please leave your comments below.



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