Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Hit From Out of Nowhere

Songwriter Paul Nordquist sent along this item about a threshold moment in pop music:

I predicted years ago that stars and hits would eventually emerge from the free-music world, and here it is, in a totally surprising form.

Rebecca Black’s teen-pop song “Friday” is a huge breakout hit, thanks to its YouTube video and social networking. It’s quite a phenomenon. The buzz is that the song is incredibly bad, the dumbest song ever written. And yet people can’t stop paying attention to it. It’s an iTunes chart hit, and it’s gotten 120 million plays on YouTube.

“Friday” was created by an independent production company on a commission from Rebecca’s parents. That may sound funny, but that’s the production company’s business model. For the price they charged (reportedly about $4000), it’s a decent job. The nominal goal of the whole project was to deliver the video to YouTube so the kid could have her four minutes playing the role of a pop star.

People have blasted the production company for preying on people’s pop-star fantasies, but what they do is more honest and less predatory than the usual record deal.

The song is basic catchy teen pop, not the worst song ever, but easy to mock. The imperfections are what make it interesting. The song and video were done in a rush and on a low enough budget that people can sense there’s something amiss. It almost has the feel of a parody.

This article sums up the story pretty well:

What interests me most is that this is yet another way that music can get funded — by parents, as vanity projects for their teen kids. I’m delighted that this low-budget song has gotten so much attention at the expense of the big-budget record companies.

“Friday” is a big hit. Songs never get 125 million YouTube views. By comparison, “Born This Way,” a more conventional pick for the big pop hit of the year, has 43 million views. Using television as a point of comparison, American Idol is a big hit, but its average audience this season is “only” 25 million. And while “Friday” is musically controversial, that doesn’t explain its success. On YouTube, for example, it has 2 million “dislikes,” a phenomenally large number, but still tiny in comparison to its number of views. “Friday” is a legitimate pop hit that succeeds using the record companies’ own pop-hit approach, but from the record industry’s point of view, it came out of nowhere, from a previously unknown singer who isn’t even trying to make money. She spent less on the production than it takes to outfit a rock band for its first basement rehearsal. Most alarmingly from the record industry’s point of view, she spent nothing at all on advertising or promotion. It doesn’t mean money no longer matters, but perhaps it brings us one step closer to the day when money no longer drives the music industry.