For the most part, music has basically become free to some extent. I mean, it shouldn’t be but the price of listening to music is lowering. Streaming means we can listen to our favourite artists whenever we want and buying albums seems to be a thing saved for music enthusiasts - luckily there’s many enthusiasts! But even this group are only buying particular albums, so what makes these albums worth buying?
The more I look at cultural products, the more I find the marketing and consumption of these products so interesting. The reason we buy these products are often completely hedonistic. We want them, we don't need them. So what adds value to these albums or a particular artists work over anothers’?
1 – The feels (affective impact).
I think this one is particularly obvious when we look at the top selling albums and songs, ever. Adele is one of the bestselling artists in the world right now, her album ‘25’ sold 7,441,000 copies in 2015. You wanna know why? She takes us on an emotional journey, she gives us them feels. As much as we try to not look soft, we’re all looking for something that makes us react emotionally or something we can connect to on a deeper level. That is what art is so good at providing, we all crave that feeling when a song just hits you in the gut or puts a silly smile on your face. When you have a memory that’s connected to a song you almost never get bored of it! The world’s most popular artists are selling albums because they’re selling an emotional experience. A feeling. If you watched Beyoncé’s visual album “Lemonade” from start to finish, you’ll know exactly what I am talking about and why it was so smart for her to release such a project, despite little direct profit. Beyoncé is phenomenal at getting her mass audience to feel like her songs are connected to each one of us on a personal level, we felt the betrayal, anger, and forgiveness, with her. I for one was an emotional mess for at least 24hrs after that bombshell of an album - I loved every second.
2 – Being in the know (cultural currency)
Sometimes, the most random songs can become extremely popular. With the growth of the Internet, social platforms such as Vine or ‘Gram allow new artists or singles to break-through as many users continue to repost snippets of these tracks. When everyone can’t stop talking about a song, wether it’s a banger or providing amusement, you can’t help but join in and check it out, who wants to feel out of the loop? I was confused when that track “Gangnam Style” was so popular but that’s what happens when you're the talk of the town. Look how easy it is for a ‘diss track’ to go viral, everyone’s captivated by the latest gossip. But you know what really works? Dance moves. A good ‘dance’ can make a (sometimes average) track a hit. Knowing and pulling off a new dance is an amazing social currency. Firstly, dancing is social, secondly, doing it wrong is kinda embarrassing and not knowing what’s new is just dead, especially when the whole club is turnt. Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot N*gga” is a tune, don’t get me wrong, but a lot of it’s popularity was based of the fact that artists like Beyoncé, Chris Brown and many other celebrities were hitting the ‘shmoney dance’ too and sharing it - Vine will get you popping. However, social media has allowed us Millenniums to be often accused of just following trends. I disagree, I think popular culture doesn’t dictate what we like and don’t like, but it rather dictates what we are thinking about and are interested in. We can’t get away from viral trends - even when we’re critique them, we're promoting them. This often translates into sales, though probably for a completely different consumer rather than those looking for an emotional hit.
3 – The cool club (tribalisation)
People have come together because of music for many years, for instance, the Mods, B-Boys, Beliebers, Hipsters are all ‘tribes’ of music. In our segment GARMS we talk about the link between fashion and music, this link is so strong because we all use fashion to express ourselves and we all love to align ourselves with our favourite artists, or our music interests, to feel apart of a ‘tribe’. There’s nothing better than connecting on musical taste or finding a blog that shares your niche or personal tastes. Music seems to be less about the song these days and has somewhat shifted into some of us investing more into the Artist and their lifestyle or values. When a group of fans realise they share the same outlook on life it allows us to form little ‘tribes’ around that Artist. It all started with band merch (tees, hats etc.) and has expanded into various ways of which we can subtlety express who we are through our artistic choices and tastes. It’s super interesting that the smaller or more lowkey a band or music genre is, the more intense the supporters tend to be. These fans are more likely to buy all the merchandise, make remixes to their songs and set up fan pages for their favourite Artist. Importantly, these fans will form connections with other fans and not just the Artist. A good example of a collective that did this in someway is Odd Future - They were very good at creating this non-mainstream ‘tribe’ by collecting ‘outcasts’ and winning loyalty through allowing these people to belong to something, whilst not becoming mainstream. Each ‘tribe’ has different ideals and styles but it’s that sense of community.
The way we consume music is so interesting because we have become a society where we get to choose. Option is in abundance, so do we want to pay, or not? In a lot of ways it’s becoming an industry that relies on the ‘pay what you can’ or ‘pay what you think it’s worth’, these are the same techniques that are used in some lowkey gigs or comedy shows, without even purposely setting this pricing strategy on it all. Today, for many people, if you buy a song or an album rather than scoping it for free online, it's because you feel a strong connection to the music or artist. What we all love about songs is that we can listen to them over and over again and they don’t lose quality. When we buy singles I think we want something that’s current and fun but when we buy albums it feels like we’re buying for life and there’s only a few select items us Millenniums want for life. We are the ‘throw away culture’ generation after all.