September 05, 2014

Video may have killed the radio star, but iTunes isn't the only thing killing the traditional pop music machine.

It's not just digital distribution methods, but digital production, that's turning the pop world on its head. It used to be that aspiring hit makers had to head into the studio, produce a record, do a big press tour, have all the right marketing, and lure advertisers and sponsors.

Now, though, “the recording studio is a thing almost entirely of the past because of how well and how cheaply you can record at home,” says Sasha Frere-Jones, pop critic for The New Yorker.

The machine that went into making pop stars is now gone, so would-be bands and stars must adopt different strategies. Labels are doing more watching now and less spending money ahead of time, which Frere-Jones says “is good because that money, sending out the grape-scented t-shirts, was always a terrible idea -- and it was always hurting bands because it was money that they had to earn back through royalties.”

Instead, Frere-Jones sees an alternative model rising. “It really all comes down to the jam band model. This applies to magazines; it applies to everything in the world. You find your organic audience and then they keep you alive," he explains.

Ultimately, pop stars won’t have the same meteoric rise that they once did. “Your Beyonce’s, Katy Perry, these people were mostly the same people ten years ago. The amount of money that went into buying a Max Martin song for Katy Perry or putting Beyonce into all the various endorsement deals she has - that money, I think, is gone.”

But the same technologies that killed the machine may breathe new life into music itself, allowing offbeat songs - and artists - to grab the spotlight. Like "Gangnam Style," a Korean pop tune that lit up the Internet in 2012. "You're watching it with that very, sort of, Internet vibe," Frere-Jones says, "of, what, an otter that makes it’s own cupcakes? What? You know, who is this guy?" And yet, it's irresistible.  

Sasha Frere-Jones, pop stars, Culture, music

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