Music has been and continues to be a universal language, unifying people, telling stories, furthering cultures, bringing excitement, and healing people. The essence of what music is to a twenty-first century society has not changed; however, what has changed is the way that we discover and consume music. Technology and social media has made for easy discovery and direct audience engagement but when companies use their expertise to alter the perception of success in order to beget more success and notoriety for artists that is an issue that cannot be ignored.
Hip Hop music originated in New York in 1970s. Hip Hop began as a form of self-expression and art intended to give a voice to black culture. It did just that. As time went on, the influence and audience of Hip Hop shifted from underground and local to the mainstream and main-stage. Hip Hop and its nuances, its culture, and uniqueness could be monetized and it was indeed. Endorsements to tours around the world, record deals, merchandise to billboard advertisements. Hip Hop has become part of the pulse of the world. Today, Hip Hop music generates more than $10 billion per year. Today–artists and businesses utilize social influencers and strategic marketing to “create” socially engineered buzz that erodes the integrity of the music industry. To highlight this issue, lets consider the rise and success of Lil Pump.
Hip Hop is big business. According to SLMG research, a customer base of 45 million Hip Hop consumers has approximately $1 trillion in spending power. There is a code of ethics and professionalism that governs all facets of business, whether it be known to the public or not. For example, it is expected that business is conducted in good faith or at the very least in compliance with state and federal law governing the deal. With private contracting, the good faith bit is pretty much tossed out the window. As long as the parties agree, just about anything goes—so long as the terms are not egregious and seriously one-sided so as to make the contract unenforceable. However, this practice puts artists at risk of being manipulated and exploited. There is a rich history of artists wishing they had not zealously gone forth with record deals, in hindsight. However, that is a completely different issue from what is at hand here. It does relate to the matter addressed in this post, however. From close analysis of the industry, it appears that as the artists become more knowledgeable and empowered as business partners in their dealings, the manipulation and exploitation that was once inflicted upon the artist is shifted to the audience. The music industry in general, and any genre in particular, can survive minor audience manipulation, a few “Milli Vanilli” artists are good for industry balance. There is nothing wrong with fun, care-free music from artists that lack talent. It’s fun and harmless, in moderation.
However, today, artist like Lil Pump threaten the very essence and integrity of the Hip Hop genre. The implications of the practices set forth by his label and team may have broader implications beyond the Hip Hop industry.
Speaking of young audiences, NPD Vice President, Russ Crupnic, stated that “there’s a huge battle for a share of their wallet, eyes and ears.” The battle is on. The competition is fiercer and the industry is wide open. With independent success stories like that of Chance the Rapper, one can only dream of the possibilities at cracking the code and reaching the peak of their career and the top of the Hip Hop food chain. But when you are talking about an audience with $ 1 trillion in spending power, the artistry and integrity may become compromised; and it has.
Lil’ Pump (Pump) is a 17-year-old teenager that has seen an amazing 2017. He closed out the year with 7.7 million followers on Instagram and a distribution deal with Warner Bros. Records (Warner). Pump started with a handful of songs and a following of 100k on Instagram. The followers and the deal with Warner were powered by music and entertainment company, The Lights Global (TLG). TLG signs music artists and then they “utilize their influencer and marketing businesses to perpetuate them into a new world of media consumption.” Pause right there, we don’t have to look much further than TLG’s action statement to define the issue that plagues the artist’s process of being discovered, growing, and striking it big—the issue is the “strategic perpetuation” of the artist in a way that amounts to social engineering. “Gaming the system” occurs when rules are manipulated or exploited to gain an advantage. Companies like TLG are more of a social media agency than a music and entertainment company. In essence, TLG is effectively gaming the system and corroding the music industry one fabricated hit at a time.
Social media influencers that are implored to spread a song or share an artist for a marketing goal is less than disingenuous—its cheating. If Pump is not on the Instagram explore page because of some organic algorithm directly from Instagram, that is cheating. This practice is effectively creating a lane for artists to stir interest, build a buzz, and leverage deals when their popularity is manufactured. Now, TLG and Warner are seeking streaming deals and distribution deals to expand the success of Pump’s “Gucci Gang” single. Pump’s self-titled debut album launched at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and on the December 9, 2017 Hot 100 Gucci Gang spent it’s second week at No. 3.
Before, artists would create a buzz and stir controversy by dissing another hot artist or getting a feature with a popular labelmate. Now, full-blown social media campaigns are pushing artists into stardom with the support of social media influencers and marketing teams that are gaming the systems. This spells gloom and doom for the industry. Should this continue, the truly talented artists that would have had a small chance to rise to popularity and success by means of organic growth will be stomped out. At this rate, the Grammys will be awarding Best New Artist and Best Hip Hop Album to artists that have been socially engineered fame with little context to contribute to the culture. We live in a century were talent is obsolete, all you have to do is show be me your buzz.
The music industry has to ban together to reject social engineering and social influencer marketing for the sake of salvaging the integrity of the industry. Allowing record labels to use their own discretion as to whether they engage with artists that reach fame in the way the Pump has will force the entire industry to follow suit but the benefits and revenue of dealing with the “hottest” artists (whether organic or not) are enough to put non-participating labels out of business. It must be a consorted effort of industry players to find and perpetuate talent and music that will further the culture not feed the people with peanuts.
Social media engineering, social media influencer marketing and social media agencies stand to corrode the integrity of the music industry from the labels to the down to the academy.
Photo cred: YouTube/Lil pump