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Lady GaGa: Role Model

January 30, 2010

I never thought I’d be saying this, but Lady GaGa is a fine role model, and more of the music industry should be following her lead.

No, not for the youth of America in general.  Heavens no.  Rather, she is a prime exemplar of success in the music industry.  The trick: vast self-awareness.

What are the lessons Lady GaGa has learned, you may ask.  If you want to read a 6700-word explanation by one of the greatest thinkers on the subject, you can read Larry Lessig’s latest take.  Or you can just read the next 350 words.

1) Don’t try to “own” your music. It will never be controllable once digital. Instead, embrace the free distribution platform the internet provides and see your content and its consumption spread as much as possible. This is the lesson that the music industry is only starting to understand and use (led by Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, etc.).

The corollary wisdom is that digital information (which any intellectual property can be reduced to) will flow and reproduce itself freely since it is a non-scarce, non-rivalrous good with costs of reproduction approaching zero. Therefore, in any competitive market, that is roughly the price a supplier will be able to charge for ownership of the digital content.

2) Make money from actually scarce and material services, not just resale of the content itself.

She is a product of a new kind of recording contract which goes beyond just selling records to encompass everything from touring, merchandise–even her make-up deal.

Concert experiences are not something that can be digitally reproduced, and sponsorship is a scarcely available good.  Artists just have to realize which markets are actually viable to tap for revenues. As Mel Brooks once put it, “Merchandising, merchandising, where the real money from the movie is made. Spaceballs-the T-shirt, Spaceballs-the Coloring Book, Spaceballs-the Lunch box, Spaceballs-the Breakfast Cereal, Spaceballs-the Flame Thrower.” There are plenty of things that people are willing to pay for in the non-digital world because those things are scarce and have costs of sharing involved. Digital communism works, but artists should take advantage of its utter failure in the physical world.

3) Pull beats push. If you want to be a commercial success, you should make content people want to take and steal and share with all of their friends. If you’re an actual artist, you shouldn’t be creating for widespread commercial success, but don’t let that deter you! Niches that appreciate quality are growing bigger every day in the globalizing economy; culture is saved by bigger markets for smaller goods that are more easily reached via the Internet.

Basically, just don’t expect people to gain a new sense of high taste and class once you push your art at them.  Amer’cans don’t want art. Lady GaGa knows; they just want to dance.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Jax permalink
    January 30, 2010 10:31 am

    Two things:

    1) When you say “don’t try to own your own music,” I assume you are referencing the sound recording (i.e. the “Masters”), but I think your whole article might be different if you were discussing publishing rights.

    2) Lady Gaga is an amazing role model for the youth of america. She is a strong female figure, a brilliant businesswoman, and an amazingly talented performer. Trust me, if more Americans had the drive and intelligence of Lady Gaga, our nation wouldn’t be so in the toilet.

  2. slickricks permalink*
    January 30, 2010 10:45 am

    On the first point, I wasn’t referring to the Masters. I meant that the music industry shouldn’t try to control the distribution through copyright infringement claims or expect to make its revenue by forcing people to buy the music. The music will be free for anyone who wants it.

    I fully agree on the second point. Hence the post. I was just taking a pot-shot at her “show” persona.

  3. Curtis permalink
    January 30, 2010 11:13 am

    I would add re: 3) that making a truly good pop song is probably much harder, and in my opinion more appreciable, than making “art” music. Compare “Bad Romance” or “Since U Been Gone” or “I Want It That Way” (great pop songs all) to whatever track you want to pick from the most recent Flaming Lips album, or Animals-era Pink Floyd, or any of the beeps and groans that Animal Collective keeps producing. I would submit the former are not only more enjoyable to listen to, but much harder to make, and much rarer. So the end lesson for Lady Gaga might be to keep making great pop songs, and the money will come — digitally or otherwise.

    To bolster my point, you can listen here:

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/blogs/browbeat/archive/2010/01/21/track-of-the-week-m-i-a-s-space-odyssey.aspx

    to MIA’s new song. “Paper Planes” was incredibly catchy and original, but this new “song” is obviously self-indulgent, artistic nonsense. Should we be baffled when her new material doesn’t do as well as Kala? Has the market changed? No — she just didn’t make as good a song.

  4. Craig permalink
    February 2, 2010 12:33 am

    While I 100% agree with the comments about Lady Gaga’s business savvy and amazing abilities to massage the taste of the American public, I disagree with Curtis, for a few reasons:

    1) I agree that creating a pop song is an incredibly difficult task, but I do not agree that we should be hoisting the Backstreet Boys over the Flaming Lips because they cater effectively to the lowest common denominator. I think that finding the perfect aesthetic for a pop song is an incredible accomplishment, but I have real trouble putting people who don’t write their own music in this conversation. It is not fair to compare what strikes me as almost purely noise/art rock to populist music. You have to have a balance to be successful, which is why anything else in their catalogue is a better discussion point than Pink Floyd’s “Animals.” Bands like the Beatles that have managed to create incredible pop songs while advancing the music industry are the people we should talk about here.

    2) Lady Ga-Ga does not belong in this group. I find her to be incredibly successful businesswoman and mediocre at everything else. She has found the way to manipulate our 24/7 news cycle with just enough outrageousness to be in the news without overwhelming people. God only knows how her music has become so popular. You ask me after a few drinks, I’ll confess to singing to the occasional Kelly Clarkson or 90’s boy band song if the circumstances are right; I don’t even find Gaga’s music to be a guilty pleasure. Her beats are irritating and I can’t stand her voice. If anything, there’s a cacophonous edge to her music that keeps her from being as mainstream as the pop you’ve listed above while allowing people to think she’s slightly more “legit.” She’s a moderate improvement over Britney Spears at best, a shrewder heir apparent at worst.

    3) Just because she’s too smart to be an excessively self-indulgent one-hit wonder like M.I.A. does not make her a great artist. Let’s talk about a few good albums in a row before we get there anyway.

  5. Bryan permalink
    March 22, 2010 7:16 pm

    Craig, I cannot help but feel like your second point is spot on, just not about Gaga. I think just about everything that you said there can be applied more aptly to Ke$ha. Although she is not as “out there” as Lady Gaga, she makes far more irritating music, has a far inferior voice, and in general just seems wholly unattractive on every single front (When was the last time she showered?). The only reasons she has been in the news recently were for bashing other singers that are worshiped by her same fan base (Justin Bieber and Britney Spears) and a sub-par performance on American Idol, in which she wore a Native American headdress, which is not outrageous enough to become acceptable as Gaga has done so many times, but strange enough for people to ask, “WTF, mate?”. Basically, while I am not a big Lady Gaga fan, I can at least appreciate her unique style and determination, where I feel like Ke$ha is just riding her coattails and trying to ca$h in before people realize her lack of talent.

  6. May 12, 2010 6:55 am

    I truly adore Lady Gaga with her odd costumes although she really let herself down this time being seen out in see through undergarments.

  7. July 26, 2010 5:32 am

    I love Lady Gaga and wish I could have watched her in the Toyota Center. Her dresses are marvelous and she truly rocks out.

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