Record labels struggle to craft a new generation of pop stars
The Future. The business of turning musicians into superstars is harder than ever, according to industry insiders. That’s thanks to a fractured culture, an overwhelming number of artists, and few outlets that actually guarantee success. But with artists finding a fanbase in niche subcultures, it may be more beneficial for labels to redefine what “breaking out” means.
It’s becoming harder for artists to break out these days. According to Billboard, there are a few reasons for that:
- There’s just too much music. The sheer volume of people uploading tracks daily and its ease of accessibility means it’s only become harder for anything to break through the noise. Even Sony Music Group chairman Rob Stringer told investors recently that “If there are 80,000 tracks a day being uploaded on major [digital service providers], then [major-label] market share is going to be diluted by default.”
- The cultural tastemakers aren’t touchstones anymore. Both radio and late-night TV don’t hold the power that they used to, so having a #1 radio hit or being the musical guest on Late Night doesn’t ensure you’ll find success. And being featured high on a popular Spotify playlist doesn’t even do the trick it did a few years ago.
- TikTok is chaos. Industry insiders note that what takes off on the platform feels random, so everyone is trying to craft a viral strategy… but the algorithm seems to reward star power less than any other platform. Manager Justin Lehmann says, “And without breaking there, it’s difficult to say what else can cause a big moment to happen for anybody.”
While label executives may look to overall streaming numbers as the break-in metric, Billboard writer Elias Leight notes that from 2001-2004, over 30 new artists were in the top 10 of the Hot 100 list annually. It’s declined nearly every year since, with only 13 cracking the top 10 in 2021.
Is there a “mainstream?”
Crush Management founder Jonathan Daniel says that the decline in new stars is because our culture is now incredibly fractured. “Everybody’s feed is siloed, and in a way, that’s awesome — you have unlimited choice. But it makes it harder for something to be mainstream.” And Nick Stern (manager of acts like Metric and Djo) says that “the recipe to break is like 45 ingredients long.”
So what do labels, managers, and, of course, artists do? That’s the million-dollar question, especially as Gen Z doesn’t even believe in “mainstream” culture anymore. Other than artists making great music and managers identifying them, the labels seemingly need to rethink their relationship with talent.
That’s something that outgoing Warner Music Group CEO Stephen Cooper pinpointed at a conference last month, saying that the label has “reduce[d] our dependency on superstars” and are pivoting to investing in “artists at the beginning of their career.” Expect every label to follow suit.