Why No Hit?

May 28th, 2018

Last night for her birthday, I took my mom to see my friends Lawrence at their sold out show at Lincoln Hall in Chicago.

They killed it (natch) and even gave her an on-stage shout-out. Totally made her night!

On the drive home, she was commenting on how much she enjoyed the music. “Why aren’t they super famous? They should have a hit song!”

This is a reasonable question from an older adult my mom’s age, who grew up in the age of vinyl and radio. But an answer requires a huge amount of context, explanation, and assumptions on the part of any given artist.

An independent band with a solid and loyal fanbase, a few million plays on Spotify, 500-1,000 tickets sold per show in major markets, and lower-rung spots at major festivals (like Lawrence) may seem, to someone like my mom, like they are destined for the mainstream.

It’s not an easy position to reach and implies a TON of hard work on the part of the artist and their team (manager, agent, publicist, etc). But the leap from that comfortable middle tier to the upper echelons of pop hitmakers is Richter-scale algorithmic in magnitude, and is exponentially harder to achieve for any given act.

Of course, growth and success is always the goal. But unlike in the heyday of the “traditional” industry, approval of gatekeepers such as labels and radio is unnecessary (though that isn’t to say undesired) for acts to succeed on their own terms today.

With few exceptions, a “hit song” in 2018 goes through a gauntlet of writers, producers, label execs, marketing experts, radio pluggers, playlist makers, sync supervisors, and a whole lot of other BS in order to reach true ubiquity. Songs are heavily workshopped, focus-tested, and engineered precisely to achieve market penetration. And that’s fine!

But with all of the direct access to listeners available through independent means, it’s a contemporary blessing that a band with a unique sound and a loyal fanbase doesn’t have to shackle themselves to the pop machine in order to reach an audience, if they don’t want to.

Of course, it’s a shame that the charts aren’t more diverse in terms of sound, and that some songs that surely deserve to be heard by the masses never will be.

But when I see independent acts succeeding on their own terms, I’m thrilled by the possibilities that are emerging for musicians and artists to make a living. Good riddance to a “one size fits all” view of the music business, hello kaleidoscope of alternatives. Who needs hits?

Listen to Lawrence’s new single, “Try” !