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
American 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 works.
"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
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 own.
"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
Most aspiring musicians lack talent and are delusional, struggling and
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.
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 music
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 the rule"
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 to failure.
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."
Contact: Bob Baker
Phone: (314) 963-5296
Email: Bob at TheBuzzFactor dot com (please change to proper e-mail format)