NPR had a news item the other day about the cost of making a hit today, using Rhianna's recent single "Man Down" and her album Loud as an example. As you can see from the chart on the left, the major cost wasn't so much actually creating the music as marketing it. While this hasn't changed all that much from any period in music history, what really jumped out was the outright manufacturing of the song.
Writing the song is the result of a "writer's camp"strictly intended to crank out a hit. According to the article,
"At a writing camp, a record label hires the best music writers in the country and drops them into the nicest recording studios in town for about two weeks. It's a temporary version of the old music-industry hit factories, where writers and producers cranked out pop songs."Man Down" didn't do that well, reaching only #58 on the Billboard Hot 100, proving that you still can't craft a hit no matter how much talent and money you throw at it. Loud did a lot better as it ended up selling about 3 million worldwide, but it's not what you'd call a critical success. But how could it be? Rhianna isn't an artist; she's a singer-celebrity. She'll be a concert draw as long as she has a song on the charts and be immediately forgotten thereafter, which isn't how you build a long and sustaining career.
"It's like an all-star game," says Ray Daniels, who was at the writing camp for Rihanna.
Daniels manages a songwriting team of two brothers, Timothy and Theron Thomas, who work under the name Rock City. "You got all the best people, you're gonna make the best records," he says."
"Here's who shows up at a writing camp: songwriters with no music, and producers toting music tracks with no words. The Thomas brothers knew producer Shama "Sham" Joseph, but they had never heard his Caribbean-flavored track that became "Man Down."
According to Daniels, the brothers listened to the track and said, "Let's give Rihanna a one-drop! Like, a response to 'I shot the sheriff!" They wrote the lyrics to "Man Down" in about 12 minutes, Daniels says.
To get that twelve minutes of inspiration from a top songwriting team is expensive — even before you take into account the fee for the songwriters. At a typical writing camp, the label might rent out 10 studios, at a total cost of about $25,000 a day, Daniels says. The writing camp for Rihanna's album "had to cost at least 200 grand," Daniels says. "It was at least forty guys out there. I was shocked at how much money they were spending! But, guess what? They got the whole album out of that one camp."
As I always say, "Art is something you do for yourself. A craft is what you do for everyone else." That certainly applies here. Read the entire article, including the enlightening section on "marketing" the record, here.
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