Record industry promotion

Elle s'appelle © Ste Lucas

How do artists such as the Beatles and Madonna become global stars and have an impact on audiences all over the world?

In many ways, how pop stars are created has followed the pattern set by the creation of film stars. In the era of silent film there were no language barriers. The West Coast of the US was a good location for making films and the Hollywood film industry quickly came to dominate film production around the world. Cinema audiences are captive audiences - they sit through 'trailers' or advertisements for forthcoming films while waiting for the main feature. As the film studios became wealthier they began to exploit new forms of advertising to support these trailers. Billboard and newspaper advertising were added to the marketing of new films. Finally the studios hit on the idea of providing journalists with stories and pictures regarding the actors in new films. This came to be called promotion. As the emphasis in promotion turned to the lead actor rather than the film itself, the 'star system' was the result.

There is a key technical difference between pop music and cinema. It took only one film projector in one building to entertain thousands of people every night but it took the arrival of the cheap record player to create a truly mass audience for pop music. Once records could be sold in their millions the marketing and promotional methods of the record industry followed the pattern set by Hollywood studios. In fact two of today's four major record companies, Universal and Warner Music, trace their origins to the studios of the same name.

Record companies began to open offices in major music markets around the world, and their needs and activities began to shape music-making around the world. For example, local musicians who hoped to become stars used local rehearsal rooms and recording studios. Local record shops became points of sale for new releases. Local radio stations supported local talent but also broadcast international chart hits.

The new and sweeping impact of digital technology has begun to disrupt this pattern. The emergence of the worldwide web has created new opportunities for local acts to reach global audiences. The Liverpool-based band Elle S'appelle, for example, use the blog section of their MySpace profile, as well as the news and message features on the Facebook portal, to promote their live shows and radio appearances and the release of their recordings.

Even so, investment in marketing and public relations by a major record label continues to be necessary for international and global success. The major record companies have been harnessing the power of the internet to reach music fans more directly, promoting new music and announcing new releases on websites such as Youtube. They are also using mobile phone networks to sell music. At the same time however many local musicians are not interested or caught up in the 'star systems' and are finding their own ways to connect to audiences beyond their immediate geographical area.