Thursday, December 25, 2003

On JM Marketing

As I see it, the JM industry needs to reassess the way it has been marketing its products. I believe that it needs to do this on two levels.

The first is the fact that the methods used to market product to the community – whether it be an artist, a concert, or a recording – have devolved to a lowest common denominator approach of false or misleading advertising, half-truths, and misrepresentations. I believe that many in the business who conduct themselves in line with the current standards are simply going along with what everyone else is doing, without thinking too much about it. It's become viewed as the way to get the message out to the public. These practices are wrong and should be changed.

As I pointed out in an earlier post, it is possible to put the same message in the same medium and obtain the same effect, without resorting to the guile that has become commonplace. I cited Ari Goldwag's promo piece in Country Yossi magazine as an example. Ari chose to write an article describing his thoughts about his album and what was meaningful about it to him. The same audience was reached, and I'd bet that his sales were the same for that album as if he'd opted for the fictitious article that most artists have been using.

I think that for the most part, the producers and artists who are engaged in this sort of behavior simply haven't thought about this too deeply. They're just doing what everyone else is doing. But the notion that "everyone else does it" doesn't justify what's been going on. The status quo is unacceptable and needs to be changed.

Also, people regularly go on the record in print and on the radio, decrying the pernicious effect of secular influences, while at the same time recording, promoting, or performing that very same music. The hypocrisy of pandering to the "frummies" by spouting platitudes about the evils of secular influences while at the same time producing music aimed at their market segment that uses those influences ought to stop.

If someone legitimately believes that secular influences are wrong, that's fine, but then it should be reflected in the music they release and promote. When in the context of promoting a new release, the producer or artist publicly makes statements about the negative effects of secular influences and such; sentiments that are contradicted by the music on the album being promoted -- as is regularly happening these days-- then it indicates that the sentiments are insincere and are simply being cynically used to lure people into accepting a false impression of what the artist/album is about. This needs to stop. And, such statements need to be publicly challenged.

The second is that the industry needs to reconsider what it markets to the community. For example, I've posted several times about Blue Fringe and my disapproval of the fact that they are being marketed to the "Yeshivish/Chassidish" community. I have nothing against the band, they do their thing well, and I think they would be a great band to book on college campuses and the like to increase Jewish awareness and pride. I just have problems with the aspect of their marketing that has been targeting the "heimish" community.

Here's a thought example to illustrate the problem as I see it. Firstly, let's set aside the fact that many in the "heimish" community –and many others as well – would have a problem with the concept of the song "Flippin' Out" or with the lyric "my parents will kick my 'tuches'." Is it reasonable to assume that a yeshiva kid who buys this CD in Eichler's, for example, might visit the band's website? If he did, a pop-up window informing him of the band's upcoming performance in a NYC bar could greet him. Is it reasonable to assume he might then go? For a teen from a sheltered background, going to such a venue and being introduced to the NYC nightlife scene could easily have a strong negative influence on his religious development, more so than on someone from a more "Modern" background who has the savvy to negotiate in such an environment. And, even if he didn't attend the concert, he would still be exposed to the cover versions of pop/rock tunes the band has on their sound clips page, something his community doesn't approve of. The current version of the website has the band's cover of "Rapper's Delight" from the concert on it. In the past they've had covers of "Mrs. Jones", "I Will Survive", "White Room", and other secular songs on the site.

Artists, promoters, and especially distributors need to be sensitive to the values of the community they are marketing to!

There are many "Jewish" bands I haven't taken to task despite the fact that their material is much less suited for the 'Frum" community then groups like Blue Fringe and the Moshav Band. However, they aren't marketing themselves towards the frum community. In a similar vein, there are many Jewish groups who are clearly using secular influences, i.e. Metallish, whose music is marketed towards the Yeshiva community with whom I have no issue with (aside for questions of musical taste) because they aren't luring kids in to inappropriate venues.

Third, the industry also has to work hard to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

A recent "Live by Request" concert will illustrate this point. At the Avraham Fried concert at Queens College last month, there were eight requests made by a total of six requesters. Five of these requesting songs were music business insiders. At least one of the requesters has confirmed that his "request" was stage-managed and orchestrated by those in charge. Whether or not all of the requests were staged, the impression many have is that they were.

In the U.S. when a company runs a sweepstakes or contest, its employees are not eligible to win. The reason for this is to avoid any impropriety, or even the appearance of such. The JM industry should consider adopting similar rules and practices.

Also, frequently, promoters/producers go on the air to announce that either an upcoming concert was "sold out" or that the lower priced tickets to a given show have "sold out" even when this isn't true. Also, sometimes, after the fact, they'll make claims that a concert was "sold out" when in fact it wasn't. Such behavior is unethical and needs to be stopped.