The number of people who consider themselves to be some form of artist is growing. The barrier to entry is lower. More people than ever have access to the equipment which allows them to create work that is indistinguishable from the demands of the industry. Side hustles are now a serious career option. Creative talent is in oversupply. Talent is competing among itself to be discovered.
This creates a marketing opportunity for agency. Instead of having a focus on retaining talent, agency has arisen around the indiscriminate distribution of the work. The strategy of this agency-by-quantity is to encourage this new class of creatives to submit their work for distribution in order to gain extra exposure and draw on the power of the network of like-minded people doing the same.
First, agency takes advantage of the oversupply by attracting ‘disposable talent’. The aim is not the quality of the work, but large user numbers. As long as agencies with big numbers of users are perceived to be possessing a higher overall standard of work, consumers of the work will enable this somewhat flawed strategy to persist. When we see large play counts, we assume that it must be good without having to make our own minds up about it. Agency exploits this core insecurity in the average viewer’s artistic taste.
At some point thereafter, agency rebrands to align itself with the leading figures in its game. The promise of an open, artist-friendly platform morphs into a walled garden, where hopeful users are kept at the gates like a nightclub manufacturing a queue. Like gold and diamonds, the balance of supply and demand for the resource is kept very finely tuned. The resource is now creative input. The artist’s mind has never been bigger business.
The challenge for agency is therefore no longer finding the talent, but persuading it to submit work. The relationship initially benefits both parties, but isn’t really symbiotic. The agency’s survival ultimately doesn’t rely on the creation of new content by any one artist, while the individual artist’s rate and quality of output is heavily influenced by how much attention it receives.
So, a message to artists:
The more energy you put into finding agency, the less you’re putting into your work.
Agency is not responsible for finding you. Their options are wider open. They’re playing a simple numbers game.
You need to have completed a body of work and found a creative way to communicate this to an agency for any relationship to begin. The relationship should ideally begin with agency finding and approaching you, not the other way around. Make that happen.
Or better yet, build your own agency. Or label. Or collective. Your own website. Your own distribution channel. Your own method. Mine? To distribute our music only on WhatsApp in order to reach fans in a way that is 100% relevant to them and uninfluenced by unimpressive play counts. It all starts with writing and shipping a lot of music.
Forget the follower numbers. Play the long game. Own your work.