Musicians have thrived on the patronage of young listeners attending concerts, buying CDs and collecting memorabilia. Music marketing has adapted to this niche and evolved along with record labels in order to appeal to the cookie cutter listener through MTV, hit music stations and other popular media conglomerates. Most record labels aim and select their target market – teenagers who don’t know very much about music.

While artists and producers can create catchy melodies that can be danced to, it is harder to create music that actually means something. The “Top 40” artists reflect this trend, making a hit out of blinged-out mega-star rappers and pop bands that have pulled the music industry through low CD sales and into the digital era. While this marketing scheme has been incredibly successful, launching careers for hundreds of artists, the music industry’s marketing departments need to realize that there are listeners who want to hear music with substance and not just repetitive corruption.

Marketing departments carefully manipulate and control the image of their artists. They create powerful images that thousands of people read about, admire and seek to emulate.

Unfortunately, it is the marketers who are responsible for shaping the image of the artists who promote violence, degradation toward women, drugs and alcohol. Music can be a powerful tool if used correctly, and can create wholesome ideas that can benefit the record label, artists and consumer. Marketers sometimes forget that the listener is the one buying the CD, and they ultimately control the success of the artist.

The challenge to marketers is to bring substance into an artist’s image rather than commercialize the artist by playing off of popular, yet culturally damaging, trends. While marketers bombard young audiences with endless ads, demos, annoying pop-up ads and billboards, it is important to realize that the consumer cares about quality, which inevitably will reflect on the artist and label.

While Billboard Top 40 hits will continue to reign supreme over the popular commercial markets from coast to coast, I ask the savvy college student to reflect on where their money is actually going. In the short run, with your money Fifty gets a new necklace and Kelly Clarkson buys a larger studio apartment overlooking the park. In the long run, record labels see the success of this contrived image and continue to spit out American Idol winners destined for a commercial makeover. Record labels, marketing and creative departments often manipulate, polish and airbrush artists to fit the ideal mold of the MTV superstar.

Most college students don’t think critically about mainstream music and automatically ingest popular Clear Channel stations without blinking. In order to reform the industry we have to change how we look at music in general. Support your local music scene, record stores and independent labels that provide a contrast to the corporate “Big Five” that run the music business. Inevitably it is us, the consumers, who control the market and our decisions reflect the quality of music heard today.

Harris can be reached at

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