Motown was great, amazing, iconical and everything else you can think of. Why hasn’t anyone copied their success in over 60 years? How hard is it to gather a collection of talent and make a bunch of hit records? Apparently impossible, if you look at the results.
#motown #musicbiz #MusicBusiness
Here are some of the things that made Motown great and which others failed to take heed to and emulate with their own labels and rosters.
1) Great writers
Where are the writers? Oh yeah, every artist wants to write their own material because they earn more dollars from publishing. This is a huge mistake and it’s evident. Every “hit” you hear is gone as soon as the next one comes along and it’s hardly ever because of prolific lyrics. Motown had a bevvy of great writers such as Berry Gordy himself, Ashford & Simpson, Smokey Robinson, The Corporation, Smokey Robinson, and Stevie Wonder, and they used those writers to write hits for other artists as well. They kept it “in house”.
2) Great band
The Funk Brothers are as famous as the artists they played for. Can you name a studio band? Over the years, producers have stepped in these roles. Even then, the 80′s had a lot of good writing/production teams such as L.A. & Babyface, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, & Full Force. Not to say there weren’t great bands in the 80′s, but we’re talking strictly house bands that only played music, not performed as a group and made albums. Companies started using software or hiring cheap producers. You really need musicians on staff to keep your sound consistent.
3) A steady roster
Motown kept groups and acts forever. Record companies started getting impatient and dropping acts after a poor initial record sales performance instead of nurturing them and establishing them as stars in order to eventually sell records. You have to invest in the artist in order to see a return. Companies are trying to sign ready-made-acts and YouTube sensations, foregoing the A&R development. It’s too much about the bottom line and making money than creating a legacy. Guess what, labels? Those acts are only as good as their last hit and most have no experience and aren’t ready for the limelight and big stage and you’re wasting money having to replace them over and over. We, the audience, aren’t given enough time to get to know the artist before you’ve upped and replaced them.
4) No stage presence
Motown had a finishing school, grooming department, and etiquette lessons. Guess what? It showed. Everyone looked the part, everyone spoke the part, and Hollywood took notice. Motown’s artists were constantly on television, even on their own variety shows. They played Vegas, which was unheard of back then, and did tons of tours. They were a sight to behold. EVERY act had a show. Not only were the songs hits, but you enjoyed dancing with them as they performed. Never boring. These acts are stale and one-dimensional. I hate loving a song and then watching it performed only to be bored and lose interest with them and the song altogether. Although, it’s rare to see a performance these days because artists spend all their efforts creating a video and then sitting back waiting for sales to pour in. Those said videos are deceiving because of the camera tricks and effects, it makes the artists look more visual than they would during a live performance where they’re basically just standing there.
5) Get exposed
Like I said, Motown acts were everywhere. You always saw them on tv, heard them on the radio, and knew who they were. Not every act performed everywhere, but the top acts were well known for sure. This was enough to draw attention to the other artists as well. You hardly ever hear about R&B music tours these days. You don’t see them on variety shows. They may make an appearance when their album drops, but that’s it. They go back into hiding or sit and wait for something to happen. People barely even know what most artists look like because they never really get to see them. Not having album covers doesn’t help. MP3 art isn’t the same.
6) Make movies
Motown only marketed its biggest names in the movies, but at least you remember those movies. Def Jam started off dwelling into movies, but not towards the end. The idea here is to get your artists exposed on the soundtracks. Do I have to spell it out? It’s called branding, people.
7) Develop images and styles
Motown artists were known for their coordinated looks as well as their music and dance routines. Each act had its own style which also imitated the hottest trends out there. They didn’t dress off the rack. They looked like stars. If you’re wearing t-shirts and sneakers, you look like the rest of us and are nothing special to look at. Some artists have tried to dress causal and sell the clothes they wear as a clothing line. Why? To make more money? Nobody’s going to remember that stuff when your career dies down. Your music can last forever if it’s good enough. “It’s corny to dress alike in a group.” OK. That’s why we don’t remember you because you didn’t look like a group and were nothing special.
8) Family-like atmosphere
Motown created a family atmosphere. Its artists traveled together, had cookouts, wrote songs for another, and sang background sessions for one another. They didn’t go in the studio record songs and disappear until it’s time to record again. A lot of artists on the same label today have never even met.
9) Nurture the talent
Some artists come in and get hits right off the bat. Other artists need to experiment and find something that works for them. The Supremes and The Temptations couldn’t buy a hit in the beginning and now we can’t stop naming their hits. These labels today don’t want to spend any money on artists. They put the artists under tremendous pressure to come out the gate with a hit with barely any budget to speak of. How fair is that and where is the logic?
10) Keep the roster varied and fresh
Motown had girl groups, guy groups, kid acts, doo-wop groups, bands, duets, and everything else you can think of. They were never lacking for talent. Apparently everybody in Detroit could sing because it wasn’t like they were auditioning all over the world like “American Idol” (who still can’t make any stars even with all of that work, time, and money). Motown had a knack for finding talent and knowing what to do with it. Did they pass up a bunch of gems? Sure. These labels have a lot of the same kinds of acts and even those acts are forgettable.
Truth be told, the record company is almost a dying entity because acts don’t need record companies, to put out material, promote it, or distribute it anymore. Just ask Kim from “The Housewives of Atlanta”. She never had a record deal and yet she put a song out, made six figures, and got gigs. Go figure.