The scene: June, 2008. Two RECORD COMPANY EXECUTIVES are having lunch in a trendy L.A. restaurant. EXECUTIVE #1, an older guy, is pretending that “cold gin” and a martini are the same thing. EXECUTIVE #2, a young go-getter, is pretending to like kombucha, like people do these days.
EXEC 1: I just don’t know what to do anymore. It’s getting so hard to find good acts these days. Anyone who’s got any talent gets snapped up right away, you know?
EXEC 2: Well, it seems to me that you’re going about it all wrong.
EXEC 1: How do you mean?
EXEC 2: Back in the day, you went out and tried to find great acts who could really sing, really play their instruments, people who had stage presence and charisma and appeal. You signed ‘em, you put out their records and crossed your fingers that the audience liked ‘em.
EXEC 1: And that’s not how it’s done anymore?
EXEC 2: Jesus, no, Tony. It’s the year 2008. Finding actual talent is so 20th-century.
EXEC 1 (“Tony”): So how do we do it now?
EXEC 2: Well, let me ask you something: do you really think we’re in this business to help people find and buy great music?
EXEC 1: I don’t know anymore.
EXEC 2: No, it’s not music. It’s product. You’re doomed to fail if you’re relying on the public to decide what they want. These days, you’ve got to tell them what they want before they have a chance to think about it.
EXEC 1: How do you mean?
EXEC 2: Okay, you’re not going to convince 30 or 40 year olds that they want what you want ‘em to want. So you have to start them early. Condition them. Like, y’know, Chekhov’s dogs or whatever.
EXEC 1: Chekhov’s Dogs? What are they, punk rock?
EXEC 2: No, no, no. I mean that you have to start with the kids when they’re ten or so, get them used to the idea that they want the product that you’re offering. Kids don’t get a $20 check in their birthday cards from Grandma anymore, Tony. They get a $20 iTunes giftcard, and they’ll have no idea what to spend it on unless you tell them.
EXEC 1: So, how do I make them buy what I want them to buy?
EXEC 2 (sips his kombucha and tries to conceal his “Jesus, this stuff is awful” wince): You remember Titanic? Shitty movie, right? But it made a billion dollars because every 13-year-old girl in America went back to see it ten or fifteen times because they loved Leonardo DiCaprio.
EXEC 1: So…?
EXEC 2: So, the point is: girls with nothing better to spend their money on will throw it at anything that features a boy who they find attractive in a sexually non-threatening way. Boyish and dreamy, right?
EXEC 1: So we need to find boys who can sing and who teenage girls will find attractive?
EXEC 2: Fuck no, Tony. Jesus, try to keep up, okay? Remember what I’ve been telling you: if you’re letting them decide for themselves, you’ve already lost. You don’t try to guess who teenage girls will think is attractive, you tell them who they think is attractive. You call up the crew over at Tiger Beat and Seventeen and say, “Hey, we need you to get our boy on the cover.”
EXEC 1: Seventeen? I thought we wanted 13-year-olds?
EXEC 2: Yeah, and they’re the ones who read Seventeen.
EXEC 1: Okay, so you don’t have to find someone who’s attractive. Just someone who can sing.
EXEC 2: Why would you need someone who can sing?
EXEC 1: Because we’re selling records? Songs, you know?
EXEC 2: Autotune, Tony. Autotune. You think the target audience has the slightest idea whether the music they’re listening to is actually any good or not? You think they care?
EXEC 1: They don’t?
EXEC 2: Have you even read any of those marketing research reports I’ve been sending you? Look, our research indicates that all you need is 6.3% of the girls in any average suburban junior high school to be listening to any act, and bada-bing-bada-boom, herd mentality, domino effect and you’ve got 88% saturation inside six weeks.
EXEC 1: But…you still haven’t answered the original question. How do you know what talent to pick? Who do you sign?
EXEC 2: Anyone.
EXEC 1: Anyone?
EXEC 2: Anyone. Look…
(EXEC 2 waves the BUSBOY over.)
EXEC 2: Take a look at this kid, Tony. What’s your name, kid?
BUSBOY: Justin, sir.
EXEC 2: Can you sing, Justin?
BUSBOY: Not really, sir.
EXEC 2: Can you dance?
BUSBOY: No, not really.
EXEC 2: You play an instrument? The guitar, the piano?
BUSBOY: No, sir.
EXEC 2: You have a lot of girlfriends, Justin?
BUSBOY: No, sir. Actually, the girls at school say I’m goofy-looking.
EXEC 2: Thanks, Justin, that’s all for now.
(The busboy wanders away.)
EXEC 2: Well…?
EXEC 1: Him?!
EXEC 2: Sure, why not?
EXEC 1: I don’t believe it.
EXEC 2: We make up a backstory. We say he’s from…I don’t know, Canada or some shit. Pretend we discovered him on the internet, YouTube or something. We get him on the cover of Tiger Beat, put him on a couple of TV shows…and we’re wipin’ our asses with hundred-dollar bills inside two years.
EXEC 1: I don’t believe it.
EXEC 2: I’ll bet you a thousand dollars that he’s multi-Platinum two years from today.
EXEC 1: You’re on. Easiest thousand bucks I ever made. The music business just doesn’t work that way.
EXEC 1: He’ll at least need a haircut. Girls won’t go for that done-with-a-Flowbee hair-in-the-eyes thing.
EXEC 2: Oh, Tony, have you heard nothing I’ve been trying to tell you?