Just as a modern politician’s job is to deliver seven second soundbites, [Maroon Five]'s job is to deliver seven second audio clips which will encourage young-ish people with a high disposable income to turn a little red knob at least 180 degrees clockwise. No wonder they look so stressed.
... Why does most music sound the same these days? Because record companies are scared, they don’t want to take risks, and they’re doing the best they can to generate mainstream radio hits. That is their job, after all. And as the skies continue to darken over the poor benighted business of selling music, labels are going to cling to what they know more fiercely than ever.
One of the largest risks involved in producing any kind of creative work for a mass market is not the creation of the work itself, but its promotion and distribution. There's only so much shelf space in the physical world, and in the online world, there's only so much time to grab someone's attention and convert that into a sale. In the end, it's the boys who run the pipeline who win; they have many more opportunities to seize peoples' attention and let them know about something they don't.
Various attempts to find a technical solution to this problem have come along. So far the most promising ones seem to be projects like Goodreads, something focused specifically on consumers of the media in question, and designed to get them to participate in the joint project of enjoyment and promotion. But even that has bottlenecks. A number of my books have landed on peoples' to-read lists, but I would scarcely call the momentum that's resulted from that a viral phenomenon. There's only so much time in any one person's life to read, and only so much time to spend pawing through something like Goodreads recommendations lists.
The easy way to draw attention to something is to just produce something that sounds, or reads, or looks like everything else out there — or enough like everything else out there that you can leverage the existing mass of material to get it promoted. This is not the worst idea, actually: few people are able to recognize what makes something interesting without being able to recognize how it connects to other things in their experience. But too much of that, and you're at risk of losing your boots in a bog of sameness, one where people aren't able to figure out why everything has suddenly become so boring.
It's tough to get people to pay attention without throwing tons of money at the problem, and it's tough to throw tons of money at the problem without worrying about hedging your bets. If someone else has an answer to this dilemma, I'm all ears.
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Other Lives Of The Mind