Let us take a minute to recall the viral horror that was Rebecca Black’s “Friday.” In its time, “Friday” generated a slurry of hatred and mockery for Rebecca, something that it’s hard to say wasn’t deserved, but should Rebecca herself been the target of the digital assault?
“Friday”, and Rebecca’s career as a whole, was birthed from a horrid little thing called ARK Music Factory. ARK is a company that seeks to discover and promote up and coming pop artists by means of taking their parents’ money, honing an image for them, writing them a song like “Friday,” and retaining rights to royalties and publishing of said song. ARK is not unique in doing this. Soulless collectives like this can be found all over New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville, all of whom output material just as forced and trite as ARK.
To say companies like this are “ruining music” would just be inflammatory. ARK and their ilk don’t have enough sway to even output anything that finds success beyond status as a meme, but they do serve as an extreme example of a larger problem in the internet age of music. The global platform that the internet offers aspiring musicians can only be described as miraculous, but there are certain downsides to the opportunities it provides.
Before the internet, success in the music industry was dependent entirely on landing a record deal. This grueling process tended to weed out those whose heart wasn’t really in it, with the exception of a couple cases of nepotism and the like. Now that the trailhead of the path to success is widely accessible, however, it’s easier for people who seek out music careers for the wrong reasons.
Now what, you may be wondering, could possibly be a wrong reason to pursue a career in music? The answer to this question comes down to the ratio of an artist’s focus on image and promotion to their focus on the actual music they make. ARK Music Factory for example attempts to mask their low-quality musical output by focusing their efforts on marketing and image-honing. This results in their artists being the musical equivalent of a set of headshots. Again though, ARK is an extreme example of this problem. Where the real menace lies is in the shadows of droves of artists, some even residing in the Top 40.
It can’t be denied how crucial image is to success as an entertainer, but inflated focus on it dilutes the quality of popular music. Image can absolutely make or break an artist, so when its power is abused, talent can be wasted on sub-par material. Ariana Grande, for example, is widely regarded as a very talented vocalist, but her most recent release, “Dangerous Woman,” saw her lyrics and music sway toward a BDSM-chic persona that feels hollow and more like an attempt to market her than an actual representation of the music she wants to be making.
Marketing can be just as equally abused. The Chainsmokers are perhaps the most prominent example of this. They speak openly of their formulaic approach to music making, with market research and trend tracking taking the place of thoughtful or inspired songwriting. Behavior like this, while taking them to the top of the charts, only encourages more popular artists to take a more calculated approach. The influence of this business-like style of artistry can be seen in artists like Ed Sheeran, who, even after reaching massive success with his own organically crafted sound and image, decided to musically sell out with “Divide.”
At the end of the day, artists like The Chainsmokers leave a legacy of irrelevance, which is to say, nothing. Time tends to reveal which artists in a given time period are the most important, but it is still a shame that so many people are distracted enough by Top 40 banalities that many incredible artists go underappreciated in their time. The music industry has become a machine, and it can’t be expected to be anything other than that, but the value it places on artists and their music should have less to do with brand and more to do with actual creative output.