“drivers license” – A Case Study on Why the Song Topped the Charts

A TikTok recipe for smashing records and achieving the #1 spot on Spotify’s Global Top 50

If you haven’t heard the song “drivers license” by Olivia Rodrigo you have probably been hiding under a rock somewhere. Since Rodrigo’s official debut single came out, the song has accumulated over 160 million streams in just 2 weeks. The love song even broke a Spotify record for the most streams in a day for a non-holiday song with over 17 million global plays. We might expect these record breaking streaming numbers from big stars in the industry such as Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, or Ariana Grande, but it seems as though Rodrigo has sky rocketed out from obscurity, the majority of her prior releases being the soundtrack from Disney’s High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. So how did this happen exactly? My take on the matter- a story, melody, culture, rumor… and Tiktok.

“drivers license” is an intimate narrative that follows the journey of a young teen who grapples with getting her drivers license alone, rather than with her, now, ex-boyfriend. The ballad begins with the sound of an ignition starting that blends into an intense, steady beat. As Rodrigo describes her plans for their future being crushed by her love moving on, the song continues to build with a palpable energy and strong belting. The ballad reaches its pinnacle at the bridge with layered, breathy vocals which admit to still being in love with the one who has moved on. Undeniably artful, the song channels the lyrical mastery of Taylor Swift and the sound and production quality of Lorde. Without a purely beautiful song, there would seldom be a hit. 

However, there are over 50 million songs on Spotify– what makes this one chart topping? 

There are a few factors at play here, the first and foremost being the power of the increasingly popular video-sharing social media app TikTok. TikTok currently has over 1.5 billion total downloads, making it the seventh-most downloaded app of the 2010s. When users create a video they can choose any song as their soundtrack as well as create their own audio for videos. This is what makes TikTok the perfect place for music artists, as you allow others to evangelize your music organically. When a song on TikTok gets associated with a trend or dance that others recreate and share on their own profiles, the song naturally spreads throughout the TikTok community. TikTok’s nature also makes you want to get in on what is popular and trending. If you hear a song more than three times on your “For You” page, you are going to want to do a little search to hear the whole thing- just a quick switch to the Spotify app.

“drivers license” was a perfectly positioned spark that ignited a wildfire. 

Olivia-Rodrigo-1610556343To date, “drivers license” has been used in over 1 million TikTok videos, that has helped aid in its Spotify fame, showing that fans are not only engaged in listening, but also in the narrative of the song and how it is incorporated in their own lives a.k.a in their TikTok filmmaking. This is a testament to two factors in particular: Rodrigo’s young fanbase being the main users on TikTok, 32.5% of users being ages 10-19, and the culture of todays youth who resonate with the messaging within the song. Although it might seem like a stretch to connect the two, according to the American Psychological Association, Gen Z is 27% more likely than other generations to report their mental health as fair or poor. Couple that with months of isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a prevalent, casual “hookup” culture in young America, this song is used by those on TikTok for a reason- it not only relevant to them, it resonates deeply with them. 

One aspect of our culture that defies age, however, is the love of gossip and rumor. What undeniably helped the song propel itself to the top of the charts are the breadcrumbs that Rodrigo gives the listener. The ballad’s descriptive lyrics have led mega-fans to pull out their drawing boards and get to work. It isn’t a far leap to guess that the ex-boyfriend within the narrative is Joshua Bassett, Rodrigo’s rumored ex-boyfriend who worked closely with her on the High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. Yet, going even further, news outlets and Rodrigo’s TikTok fans began immediately speculating about the connection between the lyrics “that blonde girl” who is “so much older than me” and Bassett’s current girlfriend Sabrina Carpenter. This interest undoubtably increased engagement, not only in TikTok hypothesis videos, but online searches and internet investigating. And the best PR move Rodrigo could have made is not saying a word about it.

“I totally understand people’s curiosity with the specifics of who the song’s about and what it’s about, but to me, that’s really the least important part of the song,” she says. “It’s resonating with people because of how emotional it is, and I think everything else is not important.” she mentions in a Billboard article. The rumors and intrigue go on. 

What can I say? “drivers license” is truly a perfect storm, but a storm that could not have been possible without such perfect alignments. A beautiful song, a viral-inducing marketing platform, some gossip, and a primed audience that has finally found the words that speak for its broken heartedness. I give that three words. 

Well played Olivia. 

Prashant on Becoming a Music Producer and Getting 1 Million Spotify Streams

Get the first interview exclusive of Prashant- the Spotify beat maker. 

Making music never seemed to be in Prashant’s plan. Although Prashant has always had a passion for listening- cutting holes to wire up his sweatshirts to listen during High School classes- science has always been his primary focus. While majoring in biochemistry in college, Prashant happened upon music production by what seemed like fate. His freshman college dorm room is the birthplace of Prashant’s first exposure to music production, after a friend shared a track he made on Garageband. Intrigued by creating beats himself, Prashant started playing around with the Garageband music creation software. As Prashant’s interest quickly grew, he found that he wanted to take his basic knowledge to the next level, installing a bootleg version of FL studio to get him there. Sitting on the bus, on his way home for holiday break is where Prashant first opened the software and thought to himself “wow, now that’s a lot of buttons” 

Prashant has surely come a long way from unknown switches and toggles to audio engineering and producing music in the hip hop, pop, R&B, and EDM genres, clocking in over five years now. His journey to becoming a self-taught producer has been the accumulation of years of hard work. For two summers, Prashant mentions that he made “hot trash,” however this didn’t stop him from spending hours in his dorm creating beats. Prashant made it a point to make as much music as possible during any free time that he had, whether it be during breaks in his internships at the lab or even during class. 

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It was around his Junior year in college that Prashant started to take his music production more seriously, as he began publishing his music online. Prashant cites inspiration from artists that he listened to growing up, such as Linkin Park, The Cure, and Seal as much as his current muses like Young Thug, Lil Uzi Vert, SAINt JHN, and Future. Every 3 to 6 months, Prashant made sure to publish the best music that he could make at the time. In doing so, Prashant was able to tangibly see his growth as an artist. Before doing this, Prashant mentions that felt he was in a vacuum, without any outside references to how much he had learned over time. And this is one of Prashant’s favorite aspects of being an audio engineer and music producer- seeing the evolution of his craft over time. This also allowed him to see how valuable the time and effort he put into learning, and how it adds up to a real payoff in the sound he creates. What else does Prashant love about doing this work?

“Every now and then you get a beat that you know is going to change some things,” cites Prashant, which is just what happened last year.  

A particular beat that Prashant made in class one day happened to make its way onto a beat tape that he released on Spotify. This wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, and to him it seemed like just another beat made like clockwork. While he thought that the beat was O.K., six months later it got picked up and put on a Spotify playlist with over 150,000 monthly listeners. Being featured on one playlist, turned into being featured on many playlists and it just snowballed from there. When Prashant hit a personal milestone of 100,000 streams, he humbly doubted the possibility of reaching half a million streams. Soon, Prashant hit this milestone too, and then hit the 1 million stream mark, a feat he never dreamed possible. Prashant’s increasing popularity on Spotify has opened many doors for him, as he has been able to work with new artists and on a slew of new projects. 

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Prashant’s advice for artists and producers aiming to make it big in the music industry is to work hard. “There are no shortcuts to accumulating 1000 hours in the studio and until you experience something with your own two hands, you won’t appreciate that lesson of learning.” Prashant also warns not to be too hard on yourself and your progress as an artist. “You have to fall in love with the process, the journey more than the destination. You have to learn to appreciate the little moments, because if you don’t appreciate those, you won’t be able to appreciate the bigger moments. They will be cool for a moment. But it won’t last long. The moments are only made up of how much value you assign to them,” the reason that Prashant has always made it a point to practice gratefulness with every coming achievement. When he got picked up by the Spotify playlists, he had 24 monthly listeners at the time and was excited to even have that many people listening to his music after not releasing any new material in months. 

Prashant notes that the best advice he has received himself was from his mentor who said to him “whatever music you are making, but don’t make it for who is listening now, make it for someone listening in 3 years. Play the long game,” which has always stuck with him since. One of the reasons Prashant has been so proficient at what he does is because he has taken a considerable amount of time making beats and putting out his best music, believing the first impressions are paramount in the industry. “You only get that curious click from a listener once,” Prashant says.

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In regards to the future, Prashant has a lot of exciting projects that he is working on. As of late, Prashant is less worried about what others think and more worried about whether he likes it and if he is excited about the sound. “2020 was a lot of leg work and now I have a lot of music to release. Give me time and I am a dangerous man” Prashant notes. In 2020 alone he made over 240 beats, yet this year he is focusing more on making some special beats for his listeners.

“A lot can change in a year,”

Prashant says, reflecting on just one year ago when he only had 24 monthly listeners, “I can’t wait to look back on this year to see what more has changed”.

Conclusions for the Music Entrepreneur

So, who breaks out to become a star?

It is clear that there has never been such a necessity for musicians to become entrepreneurs, a result of the sudden changes within the music industry landscape. Extreme competition, an increased accessibility to tools and platforms, financing, and the difficulty of accessing opportunity costs, are some of the biggest problems artists face currently. Now, musicians have to learn how to navigate these challenges by being proficient in a host of business roles that are tangential to music; they must learn how to balance art and entrepreneurship, an extremely tricky feat. Yet, it is evident that the more one views their venture into the music industry as a business venture, the better off one will be, using the start-up model as an outline for their activities.

Through the qualitative interviews I conducted within my thesis research, I was able to gather in-depth information about emerging musicians. Interestingly, every artist I spoke with revealed that, despite their demographic differences, they identify themselves as entrepreneurs, showed entrepreneurial attitudes, and undertook entrepreneurial activities. One specific artist, played a crucial role in outlining the difference in perspectives regarding music as hobby versus as a professional pursuit. In observing his transition from the former to the latter, it became clear that business and the recognition of entrepreneurial attitudes and activities is crucial in realizing music as a career. This is the first crucial step: recognizing that being an entrepreneur, to some extent, is necessary.

The understanding in the importance of entrepreneurship transcends race, gender, education, and socioeconomic status, standing as a unified idea. The subjects understood the value of identifying as someone that is business-minded in the industry and who would comfortably take on such a label, despite the fact that business and art have an inherent tension. All of these artists tapped into the different facets of business that they engage with the most that cause them to identify as entrepreneurs, such as promotion, opportunity evaluation, sales, marketing, networking, and financing.

Kendall Jenner Returns to Instagram With 1,000,000 Likes and Counting (1)The music entrepreneurs interviewed have gone about navigating the industry in both similar and different manners. Throughout the study, it is revealed that musician-entrepreneurs’ attitudes are what will guide their venture and provide it with meaning. For example, passion or a compulsion to pursue music is not merely important, it is necessary because it is what progresses the musician despite the obvious hardship they will face. Additionally, honing in on one’s authenticity, what is going to distinguish them as an artist, is critical. Creating an unreproducible message that is alluring to fans and industry executives alike is important because it is a rare quality in such a concentrated industry. In terms of feasibility, proof of concept is significant in terms of validating a musician’s passion and authenticity, granting the artist an objective opinion on their decision to pursue music. Experiencing a moment of validation will serve as a strong reference point in the future, when their convictions may falter. Overall, it is musicians’ education that seems to guide their decision-making process extensively, forming the basis for how the artist goes about the process of pursuing music. Consequently, a background or education in business might be the most beneficial in terms of opportunity evaluation, value creation, resource management, and self-awareness of core competencies, all common business practices.

odesza _) 10_2_18 _ smichalowskiOnly when artists fully understand themselves and what is demanded of them can they learn to evaluate their entrepreneurial activities. Relating to the undertakings of the entrepreneur, the musicians within the study recognize four key elements to running their music venture: sales, marketing, operations, and finance. When looking at sales, it is important for the music entrepreneur to increase their visibility by providing one’s music on as many platforms as available. These platforms also provide data that can aid in helping the artist make informed decisions in terms of music releases, music quality and content, and marketing. The key here is to ensure that creative integrity and business decision making are well balanced. Similarly, marketing has never been more important to the artist. Marketing on every social media site is important; however, creating a brand should be seen as the overarching aim, highlighting the authenticity and value proposition of the musician. Relating to operations, persistence in finding a network is crucial because industry insiders have the most useful information to help musicians make informed decisions. Additionally, having a support system that is informed enough to guide a musician through their music journey, such as a business professional or savvy family member, has proved to be useful to the subjects. Lastly, because financing a music venture can be capital intensive at the outset, it has shown to be ideal to diversify one’s income with other music related activities, if necessary. This will enable the musician to utilize their music talents, while also increasing their resources within this field.

Understanding the value of a record company, if it applies to how one sees their venture scaling, could also be crucial, seeing that record companies can be both financial and opportunity resources as large conglomerates. Overall, an artist needs to understand the individual landscapes of every facet of their business in order to learn how they can best navigate. As we have seen, when musicians are able to understand where their core competencies lie, how they can be leveraged within certain activities, and apply these skills, they are able to further the reach and quality of their venture.

High_Fidelity___A_Hulu_Original_Soundtrack_LP_Vinyl_Record-removebg-previewFinally, it is important to acknowledge the underlying tension between artistry and business, given that entrepreneurship and musicians seem to be such a counterintuitive duo to begin with. The objectives of these two professions are always at odds: marketability and staying true to oneself, profitability in mass versus niche markets, artistry and mainstream, outsourcing and personal authenticity. There are a lot of trade-offs in maximizing business growth and profitability, while retaining artist integrity. Being a true entrepreneur requires the ability to holistically evaluate opportunities, understand one’s proficiencies, compensate for deficiencies, remain steadfast regarding the original vision, and iterate these steps in order to continue growth.

So, who breaks out to become a star? No one can be sure, but those who are crazy enough to engage in the journey of entrepreneurship are headed on the right trajectory.

Who is the 21st Century Music Entrepreneur?

When the going gets tough, the musicians get tougher.

“The marriage of art and commerce has always fascinated me – they can’t exist without each other – yet the concept of creative freedom, and the need to control costs in order to have a business, are eternally locked in a Vulcan death match.”

(Passman, 4)

The labels “musician” and “entrepreneur” have become so closely intertwined, following the “digital revolution,” that one might say they are inseparable. Along with streaming, the Internet has brought a whole host of functionalities that musicians can use to their benefit, in order to develop themselves as artists independent of labels; “Ultimately, as the encrusted shell of the old music business disintegrates, digital technology has made the music business an entrepreneurial one once again” (Baskerville, 16). The Internet has created a democratization within the industry, granting the tools of the music trade straight to the artists, causing the barrier to enter this industry to be lowered. Investments and profits are not only being made by the big stars, now, they are also coming from smaller and medium-sized artists in the industry. 99% of the growth of the United States streaming market in 2019 was generated from the mass “second-tier” artists outside of the top 10 staple musicians (Ingham).

Yet, because entry into the industry has become significantly easier and the attractiveness of this profession has melting-vinyl-record-_-3d-render-of-vinyl-record-melting-canvas-print-e280a2-pixersc2ae-we-live-to-changeremained high, a misconception has been created that anyone can become a professional musician and fulfill their dreams, for “the same way that it’s easy for you to set all this up, it’s easy for everybody to set this up” (Passman, 76). The industry has never been more crowded with novices, professionals, and everyone in between. This has only intensified the competition. There are over ten million artists on SoundCloud and Facebook alone, creating an industry where talent and passion are not enough to cause an artist to stand out amongst the crowd (Passman,76). Additionally, the Internet reduces barriers of entry to musicians but does not necessarily increase musical diversification or social democratization. For instance, just because the music is available does not mean it will be consumed. Major music labels still hold a certain degree of influence in the current music sphere and can more easily leverage popular music downloading services to have their music and advertisements featured on their websites (Mazierska, 259). Digitization, despite its democratic promise, has still led to a concentration and solidification within a fragmented industry.

Now, more than ever, musicians have had to learn how to produce, promote, and distribute their music – and do it on a high level. “In the post-Napster era, pop stars could no longer rely on album sales to generate income. They had to transform themselves into what communications scholar Leslie M. Meier calls ‘artist-brands.’ In the twenty-first century, pop artists have to sell themselves – the more an artist’s brand refracts and engages different identities, the more the artist can command attention and profits”; so, what does this mean for the competing individual artist (Sloan, 110-111)? Who is this person? What do they look like? The current musician benefits from embracing an entrepreneurial mindset and takes ownership of being both a musician and an entrepreneur. The need for entrepreneurship has become an industry function.

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According to Babson College, “entrepreneurship is about the ability to organize resources, and provide the leadership, to act on opportunities to create social and economic value…,” and, therefore, an entrepreneur is someone who takes charge of accessing and organizing resources to create said value (Lopez). Now more than ever, a musician is demanded to suss out from the plethora of resources which will benefit them the most, while taking finances into consideration. The musician must also have enough self-awareness to understand which activities are better outsourced to others, yet still align with their vision. In being a musician, the artist is creating their own sound, brand, and identity that fills a void for listeners; maybe this artist speaks to them and for them in a way that others cannot. Then, when all of the activities are arranged, can the musician be confident in their odds of being heard by audiences and their value communicated. This increasingly close tie between product and producer is often challenging to balance, but, when the artist, music, brand, and business all align, it becomes an electric, unstoppable force.

Start-Ups and Entrepreneurs vs. New Music and Emerging Musicians

For many reasons, musicians operating in the music industry are, in fact, very similar to entrepreneurs operating within a startup ecosystem. Start-ups rely on sales, marketing, operations, and finance acumen in order to turn their idea into a reality and the Internet has disrupted what it looks like to be a business owner; now, anyone with an idea can start their own business. An entrepreneur can independently contact vendors, sell their product online, and market and promote their business through online ads, social media, and influencer networks. This business can be funded through venture capital firms, banks, and angel investors, as well as friends and family. Similar to how a passion for music compels the artist to embark on their professional music journey, passion drives the mission of the business as well. This passion in addition to the uniqueness of the product offerings are critical to the business, differentiating the venture from its competitors. The nature of the competing entrepreneur, we see, is not so different than that of the starving musician. As a result, the more one views their venture into the music industry as a business venture, the better off one will be, using the start-up model as a blueprint for their activities.

aesthetic - green is growinHowever, it might seem distasteful or disingenuous for a musician to reveal stardom as their end-goal, to discuss brand development, or use the terminology that entrepreneurs use when they are in the business of selling a good or service. Brand, profit, sales, and business are common terms that are more likely to be used by entrepreneurs when talking about their start-up, then they would be with a musician, whose main purpose is to create art. What one learns in business naturally has a tension with what one’s art might say.

Nevertheless, the most surprising finding from my thesis study is the fact that all ten musicians interviewed, despite their demographic differences, identified themselves as entrepreneurs and undertook entrepreneurial activities. The subjects understood the value of identifying as someone that is business-minded in the industry and who would comfortably take on such a label. All of these artists tapped into the different facets of business that they engage with the most that cause them to identify as entrepreneurs. The musicians mentioned doing the same concrete tasks that entrepreneurs also engage in, such as promotion or marketing, diversified financing, establishing partnerships, having a product, and forecasting. Additionally, the artists mentioned facets of the entrepreneurial mindset, like creative problem solving and recognizing the need for outsourcing, goal setting, and acute self-awareness.

But, nothing about being a musician says that one is going to be good at any of these things. This is where a musician must rely on their experiences and education in order to formulate good decision making skills that will help in their venture. An individual’s experiences shape their understanding of the world and, consequently, an evaluation of their opportunities. In harnessing their core competencies and iterating through failure, a musician can become more adept to entrepreneurial thought and action. 

Stay tuned for next week’s article on “Conclusions for the Music Entrepreneur”


Citations

Baskerville, David, and Tim Baskerville. Music Business Handbook and Career Guide. 11th ed., SAGE, 2017.

Ingham, Tim. “US Streams Topped a Trillion Last Year. But Is a Superstar Recession Looming?” Music Business Worldwide, 9 Jan. 2020, www.musicbusinessworldwide.com/us-streams-topped-a-trillion-last-year-but-is-there-a-superstar-recession-looming/.

Lopez, David, “Intro to ET&A” , 06 September 2016.

Mazierska, Ewa, et al. Popular Music in the Post-Digital Age : Politics, Economy, Culture and Technology, Chapter 12, et al., Bloomsbury Academic & Professional, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/babson/detail.action?docID=5607552.   

Passman, Donald S. All You Need to Know about the Music Business: 10th Edition. Simon & Schuster, Incorporated, 2019.

Sloan, Nate, et al. Switched on Pop: How Popular Music Works & Why It Matters. Oxford University Press, 2020.

How the Music Industry Came to Be: 1970s to Present

The music of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Historically, the music industry has been shaped by its means of consumption. In the 1970s, when the vinyl record was predominantly used, the music publishing and recording businesses gained widespread attention for their profitability. Large companies began to buy into the industry and made large investments in this creative sector, considering it to be “an acceptable risk” (Baskerville, 9). Investments in music enterprises continued into the 1980s, as the invention of the compact disc or CD overtook vinyl and consumers quickly replaced their record collections with CD releases (Baskerville, 10). During this time, the recording music business saw its peak in terms of profits as a result of high margins in music purchasing. Consequently, there were heavy investments in all aspects relating to the musician, such as scouting, development, production, promotion, touring, and management; everyone wanted to become involved in the artist life cycle to take their piece of the profits. The musician exerted the majority of their energy into their craft, while various business-related roles were outsourced.

Summer Nights & City LightsThe invention of the MP3 in the 1990s was the first format to begin to disrupt the traditional music order. What made the MP3 unique was the fact that it could be “compressed into files that could be distributed over the Internet freely (in every sense of the word), a new form of mass media became, in part, a medium controlled by the masses” (Baskerville, 10). Consumers could share and duplicate their music themselves using a computer without needing to even go to the store or shell out extra money. This illegal form of digital distribution was done by peer-to-peer networks, facilitated by companies such as Napster and Grokster (Baskerville, 13). With music being listened to, copied, and shared for free, “global recorded music sales dropped by nearly half in the following decade,” causing the music industry to cut costs and look for alternative methods of profitability (Baskerville, 13). Labels lost their ability to control this underground market and take their fair share of the profits.

The Internet soon became a thriving hub of fans who were distributing music and sharing their opinions about it. For, “[i]f the 20th century was about discovering new audiences, the 21st may prove to be about finding new, better, and… profitable ways to connect with them wherever they are and through whatever medium they desire” a new challenge for artist and record companies alike (Baskerville, 10). As communities and cultures quickly formed, artists were eager to become a part of connecting with these audiences in an intimate way like never before. Music streaming services such as Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music and YouTube, which require a paid subscription for use, were soon popularized and would regulate online music listening.

Not only did the Internet change the method of consumption for music, it changed so much more, as this digital revolution provided aspiring musicians with high-quality tools for producing music with inexpensive methods of personal promotion. The Internet also created access to self-education in areas such as marketing, production, and networking, where an aspiring musician can learn a host of information from online resources. Whereas there used to be many gatekeepers and an extremely high barrier to entry, those walls have been lowered and a music digital democracy was formed. Yet, this shift does not come without many challenges for the artist. Currently, anyone can put their music online, significantly increasing competition within the industry and making it difficult to become noticed amidst all of the noise. Musicians have also needed to take on business roles that they may not be accustomed to handling, such as their own marketing, promotion, and music distribution. This will take away from the musician focusing on their art itself, the core of their work. Now, it is not enough to be talented, one must know how to curate themselves as an artist in order to make a living as a musician and to become recognized by significant players within the industry.

The Watching shared by Lucian on We Heart It

Similar to how the digital revolution has changed the musician, it has also altered the music consumer. Consumers of this new generation expect instant access to music, which is often “perceived as being free of cost” (Baskerville, 20). Fans, who were never used to purchasing CD albums or songs in the iTunes store, view music listening as their right, without a willingness to pay for what they are receiving. Subscribers to Spotify, for example, can pay as low as $4.99 a month or listen for free with advertisement interruptions (Music). Consequently, labels have poured money into creating merchandise and massive world tours for artists, to re-engage the listener and have them invest in music experiences over virtually free, passive listening (Naveed).

21st Century Record Companies

Record companies play a new role within the 21st century music industry, given that the traditional use of the record company has been regarded as expensive and unnecessary. Whereas before labels focused their energy on scouting, developing, and creating a star, all costly tasks, musicians can now do this themselves. Consequently, record companies have shifted their strategy to “an increased concentration of the ownership and control of the market for recorded music. Another, and connected, strategy consists of shifting the costs of producing records to musicians and other actors involved in the creation of music” (Mazierska, 7). Now, the value that record labels can provide are their financial resources as large conglomerates and extensive networks, two key components in the musician’s venture. “The record companies have the resources to get your music heard above the noise of all the other artists out there,” including experienced marketers and relationships with streaming services and radio stations as well as massive amounts of data, which can help with artist’s strategy development (Passman, 77). Every platform requires a pitch and record labels have access to every platform. Record labels also have the funds to provide artists with exposure or help in funding large tours, yet are now more selective with whom they invest in because there are lower margins to be made in a given artist. Everyone is taking a risk. Consequently, record companies have shrunk their artist development efforts and A & R divisions. Considering that artists have the ability to grow a significant repertoire and following, to mitigate risk in artist investment, record labels invest in promising, emerging industry performers and a “common pattern is for an artist to get to a certain level, then move to a label because they feel they need the company’s resources to take their careers to the next level” (Passman, 77).

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As a result of this “do it yourself” revolution, musicians can often undervalue the continued importance of the record company and their role in artist success. If the musician is undertaking so much on their own, why would a large corporation need to become involved? This may be true for smaller artists, where, “[i]f you’re a niche artist and you’re happy with selling your music to a small niche group of fans, you don’t need a record company and if you can make a living doing gigs promoting yourself directly to your fans and selling your music (genre limits your potential audience) you will make more money doing this on your own” (Passman, 76). Yet, for those who strive to have a broader group of people hear their music, record companies still have a crucial place in helping achieve this success.

We’ll see if this still holds true in the future. My bet is that the industry is on the precipice of a massive shift, just waiting for a disruptor. 


Stay tuned for next week’s article on “Who is the 21st Century Music Entrepreneur?”


Citations
Baskerville, David, and Tim Baskerville. Music Business Handbook and Career Guide. 11th ed., SAGE, 2017.
Mazierska, Ewa, et al. Popular Music in the Post-Digital Age : Politics, Economy, Culture and Technology, Chapter 12, et al., Bloomsbury Academic & Professional, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/babson/detail.action?docID=5607552.  
“Music for Everyone.” Spotify, www.spotify.com/us/premium/?utm_source=us-en_brand_contextual_text&utm_medium=paidsearch&utm_campaign=alwayson_ucanz_us_performancemarketing_highsubintent_brand+contextual+text+bmm+us-en+google&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIveiQ3bDZ6AIV0-DICh2eKACCEAAYASAAEgL9iPD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds.
Naveed, Kashif, et al. “Co-Evolution between Streaming and Live Music Leads a Way to the Sustainable Growth of Music Industry – Lessons from the US Experiences.” Technology in Society, vol. 50, 2017, pp. 1–19., doi:10.1016/j.techsoc.2017.03.005. 
Passman, Donald S. All You Need to Know about the Music Business: 10th Edition. Simon & Schuster, Incorporated, 2019.

Claudia Hu on being a Professional Pianist

Inside the world of a lifelong professional musician.

There is a saying that goes “consistency breeds perfection,” a saying that professional pianist Claudia Hu truly embodies in her work. Starting her piano career at just 6 years of age, Claudia has refined her craft of piano through thousands of hours of practice, which resulted in invitations to play in renowned music halls, such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York City, as well as famous performance halls across The United States and Europe. Claudia recently graduated from Manhattan School of Music in May, majoring in Classical Piano Performance, and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Classical Piano Performance at her alma mater with her teacher Nina Svetlanova.

Growing up, Claudia’s passion for piano was more than a hobby. Despite winning competitions and being invited to play at recitals, for Claudia, it was never about winning, it was about doing something that she loved. Interestingly, Claudia always thought that she would become a doctor, like many members of her family, yet she knew that if she went the academic route, she would never be able to play at the same level again. When she decided to apply to the Manhattan School of Music, she had the chance to meet her interviewer, by chance, before her audition and they just so happened to “click”. This allowed Claudia to feel more comfortable in her final audition, which landed her a place at the college among some of the most talented musicians in the country. 

Claudia admits that the prospect of attending the Manhattan School of Music seemed a bit daunting to her, however, she was more excited than anything, having the chance to study alongside some wonderful musicians. In college, Claudia viewed herself as a small fish in a big pond, which she saw as a positive, considering she wanted to learn the most that she could around high performing individuals that have the same love as she does for music. 

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One of Claudia’s favorite classes that she took was a conducting class, explaining that she loves conducting and views conductors as being the most intelligent in terms of both music and music history as well as art and life. Claudia was also eager to understand the theory and technical aspects of what it means to conduct. Another class she found to be particularly interesting was Historical Recordings of Great Pianists, which consisted of listening to old piano recordings. Claudia especially enjoyed listening to piano from the Golden Age or mid 1900s, as those pianists would play pieces that are not part of the typical repertoire and diverged from what we hear today. 

Claudia mentioned that some of her most memorable piano experiences came out of her college recitals Sophomore and Senior year. These recitals were the first times that it was just Claudia playing, with everyone coming to watch her perform the music she has been playing for the past two years. Claudia also enjoys these recitals because they act as milestones for how much she has learned in addition to how she can improve for the future. 

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Her experience playing has not always been smooth sailing, however, having suffered a physical injury two years ago. Claudia mentioned that she wasn’t too familiar with the “right technique” as a pianist and, as a result, her arms and back got so tense that she physically couldn’t play piano because it was too painful. This moment led to Claudia asking herself a lot of existential questions about her life without piano. Luckily, Claudia was able to see a physical therapist to correct the tension in her shoulders and breathing exercises. Now, Claudia is a more relaxed player, which has had a tremendous effect on the sound of her music and what Claudia regards as an overall triumph. 

When asked what Claudia finds as the most important quality in a pianist, she responded that being a good pianist is more than just reading music and playing it, it’s about a mental state of mind and your whole characteristic as a person. To be an incredibly proficient musician, you must work on being calm and introspective, getting to know the background of the piece and life of the composer. “A lot of composers were inspired by their political states or the popular literary works of their time, that is reflected in their music. I try to think about that while I am playing. It is a lot of mental work as well as physical,” Claudia points out. 

What excites Claudia most about the future is observing the shift taking place within classical music. The big question that is being asked nowadays in the music world is: Why do we keep sticking with the classical repertoire? A question that Claudia is eager to hear the answer to. Claudia is equally as compelled by the fact that modern classical musicians don’t have to follow one route in order to be a recognized pianist. She notes “you can find a career outside of that and with social media it becomes easier to become recognized”. It is my hope that everyone has the chance to hear Claudia’s music, a transportive experience, where sincerity and thoughtfulness can be both heard and felt. 

CEO Sit Down: Ernie Valladares on The Lucrative Youth

(Passion + hardwork) timing = magic

If there ever was a time to break free of convention, it would be now. Name an even better time? Yesterday, which is exactly what Ernie did, timing the opening of his business The Lucrative Youth perfectly, with the increase of digital and recording services for musicians being on the rise. Through the decades musicians have needed to shift their music venture strategies, making them extremely entrepreneurial individuals. From physical music formats to digital and from live performances to livestreams, musicians have had to adapt to ever-changing circumstances. Ernie is someone who is working with a new wave of upcoming artists, who are navigating this time, identifying how they will continue to progress in their music careers. Ernie offers some great advice to artists in our sit down as well as an overview of his company and how he became a lucrative youth through The Lucrative Youth.


Ernie, tell us about yourself! Also, why not share your favorite song. 

Hey Ursula! I first wanted to thank you for giving me this opportunity to be showcased on your website! I’m just a kid from Miami who is blessed to be living my dream everyday. I recently “virtually” graduated from Babson College and have continued working on my company, The Lucrative Youth. My favorite song is probably one of the hardest questions to answer cause it changes every week! Most of my favorite songs are actually unreleased songs from the artists I work closely with, but I’ll give an honorable mention to Cash by Product Of The City Ft K.Charles.

What is The Lucrative Youth and how did the company come about?

The Lucrative Youth is a music and entertainment company that supports independent artists and creatives, we continue to grow and expand every day and it’s been a great ride. We started in 2018 with an original interview series “Into The Mind Of” with local artists and built upon those interviews, hosting and co-hosting events as we grew our community. Fast forward to today and we now have our own creative space, which includes a recording studio, photography room, interview lounge, community shop and much more. We focus on artist development and work closely with our clients to offer a wide variety of creative services.

What kind of artists do you work with and what kinds of services to them come to you for help with?

I mainly work with local and upcoming independent artists. I’m based out of Miami so most of the artists I work with are from here as well, but I have worked with other artists and producers across the country. We just opened our recording studio at the end of June so the main services clients have been coming for is studio time. Beyond our studio, though, we offer video production, interviews, and even allow artists to sell their merchandise at our location and on their own personal shop on our website. 

What do you think differentiates you in the market and makes your company stand out?

A big value we bring to our clients is the ability of being a one stop shop! A new client can walk into our studio one day and by the time they leave can have a song recorded, cover photo shoot, recap video of the session, a video interview, and much more done. We also focus on building our community and connecting artists & creatives to work together. We understand that one hat doesn’t fit all so we try to create the perfect personalized experience for each client and give them what they would need most. 

What are some hot new music trends that you have identified?

The hottest trend is the move towards independence! Back in the day, artists believed the only way to “make it” was to sign to a major label. Today, we live in a completely new world where technology has flipped the game upside down. An artist who is completely unknown today could be the next big thing simply by going viral on TikTok off a song recorded on their phone!

Technology has broken down the barriers of entry and has created an interesting opportunity for artists to be independent and still grow.

This is incredible, in my opinion, because ever since I started The Lucrative Youth we have always promoted independence.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to anyone looking to make it big in the music industry?

I’m in the middle of the process myself and I genuinely believe there is no perfect answer to this question. Each artist or creative will ultimately have their own path. The best advice I could give is to stay true to yourself and your vision and keep moving forward no matter how many setbacks you may encounter. As cliche as it may sound, before you can succeed you must fail. The lessons you learn from each failure and how you react to those situations is what will allow you to thrive. 

What has been your biggest challenge in starting your new company?

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Like any journey, we’ve encountered many challenges throughout! But, if I were to pinpoint the biggest challenge, I would have to say separating friendship and business. This is always easier said than done, but I cannot emphasize how critical it is. Especially in the creative field, it becomes complicated because you tend to grow close to clients and build relationships that are not strictly business. However, there comes a point where business and friendship must be separated to ensure everything runs smoothly. Leaving emotion out of certain situations will lead to much better execution.

Can you tell us about any exciting projects, artists, albums, merch, and releases that you have coming up?

It’s always been a dream of mine to distribute my own music and now that we have our recording studio up and running we are in the process of doing exactly that! Stay tuned for our upcoming LY Community project, an album including various artists we have worked with ever since we started The Lucrative Youth back in 2018. 

What does the future of music look like to you?

If you asked me a year ago my answer would be extremely different based on the circumstances we’ve been living through these last couple months. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, most musicians made a large percentage of their money on touring. Now, there realistically won’t be any big concerts happening again until at least 2021 and we still don’t even know how they will operate. Currently, the future of music looks like a lot more online visual content and music streaming based. However, the truth is,

those who are able to adapt the best to constantly changing circumstances are the ones who will be the future of music. 


Find The Lucrative Youth here:

Website

Instagram: @thelucrativeyouth 

Twitter: @lucrative_youth

Youtube

CEO Sit Down: Kyla Christie on New Art Collective

The New Art Collective, a company making a positive impact on the performing arts industry in Indonesia.

Photos taken from the New Art Collective Website

Having grown up in the performing arts, I know just how important it is to provide creative opportunities to young children. Through performing, I have learned the importance of dedicated practice, how to overcome failure, and true grit, which I have mentioned in greater detail in a previous post of mine. When I found out that a fellow Babson College student was working towards improving opportunities in this sphere, I knew I had to share the incredible work she is doing with New Art Collective on the blog!

Kyla, tell us about yourself!

Hi! I’m 19 years old and I’m the co-founder of New Art Collective, a performing arts company based in Indonesia. I was born in Indonesia and currently attend Babson College on a full ride scholarship. I have founded over 5 businesses during her 19 years of life, including my non-profit initiative Sing to Build where I rebuild houses and communities destroyed by natural disasters. 

What is New Art Collective and what is your connection to the performing arts?

I have been a singer for 15 years, and back then, aside from performing at small events, I noticed that young and passionate individuals couldn’t get a chance to be fully immersed in the arts. New Art Collective started out as a theatre company but now we are a youth platform that builds and elevates the performing arts ecosystem. We offer classes, content, and internship programs for youth on all performing arts aspects, including modeling classes, social media marketing, and business development. New Art Collective’s original inspiration was just for a 15 year old to find a stage to sing on, and now it’s become a change maker within the industry. Our vision is to give arts opportunities for Indonesian youth in every aspect.

What is the problem that your company aims to solve?

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Growing up in Indonesia, I noticed a lack of performing opportunities. There is still a prevalent “starving artist” mindset! I built New Art Collective originally to be a place where students and other young people could perform, but we have grown into a community that delves into the industry a lot deeper than just singing, dancing, and acting. We’ve trained young people to learn how to put on their own shows, all the way from creating a sponsorship proposal and marketing plan to set and lighting design for the stage. That way, the financial and technical ecosystem around performing is elevated and people can start seeing the industry as a thriving one, not a starving one

What has been your favorite performing arts project you have worked on?

My favorite project has also the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced! I remember three weeks before our first show, I had my team of 100+ people quit, leaving only me, my co-founder, and three other people. They quit because they thought the show was never going to happen. So our team of five did everything possible to prove them wrong. It was never about starting a business, we just wanted to put on a show. What we didn’t realize was that putting on a show is a business. I handled everything from ticketing, marketing, and sponsorships all the way to costumes and lighting design. I remember plotting out the seats on an excel spreadsheet and coloring in the tickets people bought. At the end of the day, we never sat down and created a business plan, or gathered up a board of advisors, or made a website. We sold through people Whatsapp-ing us for tickets! What we did was start. Anyone can plan, but what set us apart was that we just went for it. Now, of course, after gaining a lot more experience, we now have a board of advisors, we have a website, we have teams but without that first experience     we would never know what to do next! 

How has your business been impacted by COVID-19?

Reflecting a lot on the pandemic and business choices I had to make for my theatre company, this pandemic has forced me to evolve and adapt. I was honestly getting too comfortable in my niche. We were putting out production after production but I was not thinking about the scalability & sustainability of our company. 

In order to be pioneers and lead youth-based change in the industry, we needed to be more accessible and create more sustainable forms of entertainment. I sort of lost sight of that and lost my hunger to constantly challenge the status quo. The pandemic turned out to be a good wake-up call for me and my business. ⁣⁣ 

How will your business pivot or adapt to the changing environment, where live events might not be happening for a while?

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I started noticing that the entire theatre industry is elitist! Most people can’t afford to watch shows, and language barriers for Indonesians are issues that my company should be addressing. 

We are now focusing on creating accessible content and helping aspiring creatives enter the performing arts industry-both in performance and business development-, so they can keep their passions alive during this time! That’s why we opened up an internship program, because we noticed a lot of our friends were losing work opportunities and we still wanted to give those students and young people opportunities to dive into a company that is actively pivoting and changing during the pandemic

Last question, what is the ultimate goal New Art Collective strives to achieve?

We aim to be a company that brings opportunities and new solutions to the performing arts industry’s youth. Changing that starving artist mindset and becoming an industry leader is our main goal, and opening up the accessibility of the arts to those who are passionate

If I Got to Re-Write My College Essay, It Would Look Something Like This…

How taking “The Wired Ensemble” at Olin College changed my perspective on music and life.

When I was a senior in high school I struggled with writing my personal essay for the college common application. And when I say “struggled” that is even a vast understatement. I went through many drafts of different concepts, themes, and analogies to communicate who I was to an unknown entity. I specifically remember wanting to answer the given prompt:

“The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”

At this point in my high school career, my most impactful failures revolved around performing. I had taken singing lessons since I was in the third grade, having a love for performing both on stage for an audience and for myself in the comfort of my own shower. The one thing that always inhibited me from performing for others, however, was my crippling perfectionism and stage fright. Nevertheless, despite how powerful these forces were, nothing could keep me from doing what I love: singing. On paper, the articulation of my passion for singing overriding my fear of an on stage failure was a jumbled mess, becoming an analogy about a chrysalis and an emerging butterfly.

It was not until I took a class my senior year called The Wired Ensemble, a freshman elective being taught at Olin College of Engineering- a neighboring college that Babson students are allowed to cross-register at- that my understanding of music and myself changed altogether. The Wired Ensemble is a course where students learn how to compose and perform original works for instruments and voices, develop a “Composer’s Tool Chest,” and learn how to analyze and reflect upon music pieces. I was one of two seniors that took this class and the only student from Babson College.

The pre-requisite for taking this class was a basic knowledge of music and music theory, however this was a massive understatement. I had been in an acapella group and performed in numerous musicals and performances of my own, which I thought was enough to qualify my music knowledge. Creating, writing, and performing music myself would be a completely different story. I remember walking out of many classes close to tears, not being able to understand some of the most basic concepts and consistently receiving far too many edits on my pieces. Every day in that class I felt like a complete embarrassment. Yet, despite the frustrations I felt, there was something incredibly liberating about starting from zero. I could try, make mistakes, learn from them, and slowly improve. If I made a mistake, it would not be the first one I would make nor the last. Failure became normalized for me in this class, it became no big deal. With this revelation, along with a lot of personal growth since that senior year of high school, I was able to write my final paper for this class, a rewrite of my college essay, one that I had dreamed of rewriting for a long time.


Screen Shot 2020-08-17 at 8.51.02 PMIt had been my first big failure. I was an enthusiastic third-grader, ready to take the stage to sing in my church’s talent show. I had been a bit nervous, but felt the anxiety melt away as soon as I stepped into the spotlight; this is where I love to be. My eyes were glued to the lyric prompter on the back wall, a welcome distraction. I had almost made it halfway through my song when the prompter glitched and, in a panic, I forgot the words. I stood in silence for what felt like forever. Once the prompter righted itself, I finished the song and quickly ran off stage. I sat silently crying in my seat until the show was over, embarrassed for how poorly my performance had been. When the lights came up, I rushed into my mother’s arms as she consoled me and insisted that she didn’t even notice the blunder- but that is never our impression as performers, we notice everything that goes wrong, while the audience remains oblivious. But, I knew my mistake and that was enough to make me afraid of another failure.

From that point on, whenever I got onstage, I had debilitating stage fright. I would write lyrics on my hands, have nightmares of standing on stage in silence, and needed to be pushed on stage before every show. I wanted my singing to showcase my talent, preparation, and excellence and every performance seemed like a disappointment if it did not go to plan. The pressure for perfection overwhelmed and began to cripple me. The only reason I was able to pull myself back on stage was for the thrill of performing, my excitement for taking on challenges, and my true passion for music.

In reality, music sets you up for failure, inevitably, every performance will not turn out how you practiced it. Paradoxically, in this way, music sets you free from failure, it should be expected. This became evident with every show I watched following my talent show disaster. Once on opening night, I saw the musical “Hairspray” and was shocked when the actors began laughing hysterically during one of the comical scenes. The laughter became so uncontrollable that after 10 minutes the entire theatre was giggling and clapping along, a genuine moment exhibiting the joy of the unexpected. One performance after another, I began to witness singers forget their lyrics, sing the wrong harmonies, and have their voices crack and they were always O.K.; they walked off stage, they survived failure. Observing this helped me to remember that if I made a mistake on stage again, I would be O.K. too. My performances could have mess-ups and were inevitably going to turn out differently than I had practiced, and that would be alright. Despite the challenge, every performance gradually became easier. There were still doubts, discomfort, and bumps along the way, but I used my reactions to these mistakes to gauge my maturity in accepting these errors.

The unexpected nature of live performances is what makes them worth watching. There’s a certain authenticity and vulnerability in our failures that make our work truly personal, it makes them ours. I realized that it is not really about the product of the performance itself, it’s about sharing what you love with others and the medium just happens to be the music. This idea fully crystallized when I performed at Babson’s Aman show, my first performance in 3 years. I was so worried to have all my peers and close friends see a different, deeply personal side of me for the first time. However, before I entered the stage, I felt an unusual calmness I hadn’t felt since before that horrible day of the talent show. I had practiced and knew my music- I would be singing in both English and Hindi. There was no prompter, just me and the stage. Stepping into the light, I knew that this performance wasn’t for anyone else, it was for the little third grader inside of me and if I was singing for me, everything would be O.K. regardless of the outcome. And it was.