No matter what changes in our world technology-wise (for better or worse), one thing seems like it’s never going away: the list obsession of the media (or whatever the media is in the process of being replaced by). Whether it’s a list of the best novels of the 20th century or the most affordable vacation getaways, opinions seem to have more credibility if they can somehow be parsed as databases. And nowhere do these lists seem more pervasive than in how the pundits write about music.
Everyone, no matter the genre, gets into the act whether it’s the 100 Greatest Classical Composers (when last I checked, I was disappointed to find they were still all dead) or Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (originally published in 2004, but recently updated although of course Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” is still on the top). I have a soft spot for Tom Moon’s 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die , (not to be confused with the irritating 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, which implies that the only culture that exists is pop culture) since Moon’s list embraces John Adams, Aphex Twin, Fred Astaire, and Albert Ayler alongside the expected ABBA and AC/DC, and that’s just the As. I must confess that even I have entertained the idea of publishing a list of the 100 Albums That Don’t Exist But Should, although I’m happy to say that in the years since I started compiling data for it, several of the albums on my list have actually been released. There’s hope for the world.
Anyway, the reason I got all worked about lists is that I finally caught up with Billboard‘s September 24, 2010 list of the 25 best ways to generate buzz as well as sales for musicians seeking fame and fortune. It’s a peculiar list of corporeal and virtual promo tips—getting on the homepage of YouTube is better than getting a tour sponsored by a national retailer or a performance at a major sports event but not as good as getting a spot on Saturday Night Live, American Idol, Glee, or The Oprah Winfrey Show. Apparently we’re still not over the era of the couch potato. And while placements related to iTunes account for 3 of the 25 slots on Billboard‘s menu, only being given away as a free single on iTunes is better than getting endcapped at a Walmart, and Oprah still beat ’em both.
However, the biggest surprise is that they claim the best guarantor for selling massive amounts of your recordings is performing on the Grammy Awards television broadcast. Here I thought it would be getting your recording on one of those best-of lists! That certainly seems a more plausible goal considering that any genre falling outside the telecaster’s notion of the mainstream won’t get airplay. So if Billboard turns out to be right, none of us are going to be all that rich and famous anytime soon.