Comment permalink

How To Create A Pop Music Star

Even selling your soul may not be enough

It was only a few years ago. I was sitting in a recording studio with the owner/producer. He had a sweet deal with the artist development office of a major label. His job was to take new talent into the studio, craft a couple of sweet pop songs, and then prepare the artist for review by the label's A&R department. He would search for a female singer with talent, produce a couple mindless pop songs (at somewhere between 130-150 beats per minute) then take his new-found, almost always young female talent into New York City.

Once there, they would find a hip clothes designer and makeup artist to create an image for his artist. After that, they were off to lessons on stage presence, including how properly hold a microphone while singing and how to talk to the audience between songs. "New York, How you doing tonight?" "You guys are the greatest fans in the world!" "I LOVE NEW YORK!" Yes Virginia, there are coaches for everything.

Once the basic package was put together, a photo shoot was arranged: Head shots, black and white, full body shots in the designer clothing, hair and makeup perfectly coiffed. The label would suggest the designers, the coaches, the photographer, the practice venue, and the type of pop music they were looking for. There was a strict budget and my producer friend received a percentage of that money for his time and expense.

He would prepare a presentation package for his label contact and then the emails would fly back and forth. Her eyes need to pop more, would she agree to changing her eye color from brown to blue? Her fair complexion is might alienate Hispanic and black audiences, what if were to bronze her skin to give her an international look. Let's lighten her hair color and add some bold streaking to bring Emo-Goth into the equation. She looks great in the photos, but would she be able to lose 20 more pounds? If the artist were to mouth the words "no", her artist development would be brought to fast closure

No wonder Britney Spears shaved her head.

But wait, there's more. A dinner meeting with the producer, his label contact, and others involved in the development would be scheduled. The label representative might be one to two hours late. Once at the table, the cool, hip label rep would talk about how much he loved the artist, but now it was the artist's turn to represent. An initial investment by the label could exceed one million dollars. What bank would lend a young artist that kind of money with no collateral? Not a single bank in the world. The label has to be absolutely certain that this new artist will not walk away, change her mind, and cost the label their investment. The artist will need to spend six months playing gigs, developing more music-this time at her own expense- and prove to the label that she is serious and committed to her career. No matter what she may have heard, labels do not offer contracts on a napkin at dinner.

After six months, if her daddy had deep enough pockets to pay for the musicians, the studio, more clothes, more coaching, and equipment for the gigs, another meeting would be scheduled. At this meeting, the reality and perhaps the futility of achieving stardom would become awfully clear. The label representative would explain that he must pitch her and a number of other artists he has cultivated to the A&R Department. Sitting at the conference table would be four of five other representatives, each with their own artist projects. There could be as many as 30 different artists being pitched for only 5 or 6 slots.

So where is the music? Have we been discussing music? There had better be some kick-ass music and vocals that could win both American Idol and The Voice. That would help, but there are some variables that go into decision-making that the label rep might not have mentioned. Imagine you are the artist and you agreed to everything. You've lost 20 pounds, you changed your style, your hair, your clothes, your eyes, your skin, and your soul. It's a no-brainer. You've got this.

Now imagine if your competition had previously landed a starring role on Disney or Nickelodeon? Now imagine if the competition was the daughter of a famous rock star? Now imagine if the competition had already prepared a full CD of music, had been playing gigs for over a year all over the United States, and has already sold 3,000 copies? Now imagine the competition posts a silly video on YouTube singing about Fridays and it goes viral. Now imagine your daddy just wasted fifty thousand dollars and you never had a chance to be chosen- yet everyone who helped you got paid.

There are some very talented artists who succeed at the highest level. You can count them on one hand. But for the rest, the path is actually an Ocean full of sharks and you, the artist, are the bait- you are the chum. Everyone is feeding on you. You better have some hooks if you hope to catch stardom, and you better taste great, you better have your soul on the hook. Because that's how the industry creates pop music stars- by eating them.