What's Wrong with American Idol?
Four Music Business Experts Say the Popular Talent Show Is Misleading
Tens of Thousands of Aspiring Musicians ... and the Public at Large
By Bob Baker,
Idol" is no doubt one of the most popular TV shows of recent years,
drawing millions of viewers every week. But, according to four music
business experts, the program is doing a disservice to aspiring
musicians and distorting perceptions of how the music industry really
"The show may be fun to watch, but it's the last place
I'd recommend anyone go to learn how to succeed with a music career,"
says Bob Baker, author of "Guerrilla Music Marketing Handbook" and
"Unleash the Artist Within." Baker compared notes with three other
music business pros: Derek Sivers, Peter Spellman and Danica Mathes.
All four agreed the show has created widespread misconceptions about
what it takes to succeed as a musical artist in the modern world.
They have identified five myths perpetuated by American
Idol and are on a mission to set the record straight.
Industry talent scouts actively look for singers and
musicians to develop.
"Shows like 'American Idol' lead viewers to believe
that there are hundreds of people like Simon, Paula and Randy out
there searching for talent they can mold into the next big pop star.
That's an Old World view that simply doesn't reflect reality these
days," Baker says.
Danica Mathes, a St. Louis, MO-based entertainment
attorney, who has worked with artists such as Nelly and Anthony
Cosmo (of the band Boston), admits that record companies employ
A&R people whose job it is to sign and nurture new artists. "But
as major labels consolidate, cut staffs and get nervous about the
bottom line, they no longer have the time or money to develop new
acts," she says. "Instead, they look for artists who are already
developing themselves, attracting fans and selling CDs on their
"It's easy to forget that in the music business, like
any other business, a record company's investment and risk on a
newly signed act can mean the end of several careers -- not just
the artist's -- if it doesn't work. So a label is much more likely
to invest in someone who has a proven track record."
Most aspiring musicians lack talent and are delusional,
struggling and starving.
The "American Idol" auditions, in particular, create
this illusion. "That's a huge misconception," says Derek Sivers,
founder and president of Portland, OR-based CD Baby, a web site
that in 2003 sold $4.6 million worth of CDs (more than 400,000 units)
by unsigned acts.
"I'm blown away by the tremendous amount of quality
music being produced outside the mainstream," he says. "Many amazing
musicians have decided they're happier selling 10,000 CDs on their
own and making a hundred thousand dollars, than selling a million
CDs and being broke on a major label. That's the reality of today's
You need the approval of industry insiders to make
it in music.
Another misguided notion is that getting an industry
big shot's approval will make or break your career. "Sorry, you
don't need Simon's or anyone else's permission to be worthy of a
career in music," Baker says. "If you wait for someone to give you
the green light to create and perform music, you may wait a long
time. Artists should use their inner conviction and the response
they get from fans to fuel their progress."
"Every major label in the U.K. passed on both the
Beatles and the Rolling Stones in their day," says Peter Spellman,
director of career development at Berklee College of Music in Boston,
and author of "Indie Power" and "The Self-Promoting Musician." "That
gives you a sense of what label gatekeepers know about an artist's
potential. Who knows what talent they're passing on today?"
Landing a major recording contract is the ultimate
sign of success.
"While major label deals have a purpose in the industry
for some musicians, I definitely preach the independent gospel,"
Mathes says. "I've heard countless stories of bands that got signed
and never went anywhere, or bands that had record deals and ended
up falling far short of their expectations. Unfortunately, Kelly
Clarkson, Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard are the exceptions, not
According to Mathes, only about one in 30 signed acts
reach significant enough sales levels to warrant a second CD release,
which means nearly 97% of artists with recording contracts fail.
"Getting signed often means the kiss of death," she says. "Yet,
I talk to aspiring artists every day who still believe they need
a major label deal. The smartest musicians understand that there
are other options that give them much more control over their careers,
and they aren't afraid to put their all into making it happen. Artists
who realize success does not happen when you get signed to a major
label are the ones who will make it in this industry."
Without widespread nationwide exposure, you're doomed
Most musicians would love to get the high-impact TV
exposure that "American Idol" finalists receive. But nationwide
media coverage is not a requirement for ultimate success in music.
"When most people think of successful artists, they mainly think
of who they've heard on the radio or seen on MTV," Baker explains.
"However, there are thousands of lesser-known artists who actively
write, record and perform great music under the radar. And, contrary
to popular belief, many of them make decent money, have large armies
of devoted fans and are quietly, but steadily, building careers."
Baker adds, "It's misguided for artists to think they
need the massive exposure and approval of music industry honchos
a la 'American Idol' in order to succeed. The musicians with the
best odds of success take their careers into their own hands, promote
themselves relentlessly and create their own lucky breaks."
| MusicDish Bookstore
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the Artist Within"
by Bob Baker
Work from the trenches with little or no money; Overcome
the "starving artist" mentality; Build up a client base
one customer and fan at a time; Use often-overlooked
techniques to give your craft wider exposure; and Use
each small success as a stepping stone to a bigger and
more significant success story.
by the MusicDish
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It 2004 - Republished with Permission