Playing for Change features on The Colbert Report
August 14, 2009
Remember ‘Playing for Change’? I wrote a post about it a little while ago (here). I’m really happy that this great initiative is slowly gaining momentum. I purchased the ‘Playing for Change’ CD and it has become one of the musical ‘spiritual ladders’ in my music collection, an amasing ladder to my soul I am not yet even remotely getting tired of (official website here).
Playing for Change’s Mark Johnson made an appearance on The Colbert Report a couple of nights ago (August 12th to be exact). The interview was a typical Colbert one and was followed by a live rendition of ‘Stand by Me’. (Watch the interview here. Watch the live performance of ‘Stand by Me’ here.).
I especially loved Stephen Colbert’s quip about how, in his opinion, a good artist is someone who makes a lot of money. Even if it was made in the spirit of late-night comedy, there is, quite unfortunately, a lot of truth in it. Granted, this truth might have unconsciously crept up on us because of our constant overexposure to cookie cut and mass produced commercial music (think Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers: they are everywhere!), but it doesn’t change the fact that nowadays, the highest grossing artists are mostly commercial.
We have entered something of a vicious cycle, perpetuated on the one side by an aggressive marketing that puts commercial music within easy reach of the population, and on the other by a still-naïve population that equates financial success with quality and talent. After all, it makes sense that: talent + soul + hard work = amazing music = lots of sales = financial success, therefore if the abovementioned artists are financially successful, then it must mean that they have talent and soul.
But this equation is void in a culture where intensive marketing tips the balance in whatever direction it wishes, and usually for the purpose of making money. Nowadays, quality, talent and even soul aren’t enough; you have to have a powerful marketing team behind you to make sure you become the success that you deserve to be (or don’t, for that matter).
Check out some of the theories behind why performers like New Kids on the Block, the Spice Girls, Britney Spears, The Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus have become famous and are staying famous: here, here, here and here.
And a little off topic but still really interesting: go here to read a little about how Japanese schoolgirls (yes, you read that right) are helping refining marketing strategies in Japan.
Reading about this particular strategy makes me think of the concept explained in the book ‘The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t be Jammed’ by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, in which the authors argue that the counter-culture that was created in direct opposition to the culture as defined by the likes of NKOTB becomes, in the end, the culture itself (think Kurt Cobain and Converse…).
Thankfully, we now have the Internet, and although we (too) often find crappy music on it, there are also gems that are waiting to be found.
Playing for Change is definitely one of them.
Follow the Playing for Change team in this series of episodes chronicling their work.