Our Essay on Rebecca Black
Without dispute, Rebecca Black and the song “Friday” have taken the world by a storm. The video was made in January and uploaded to YouTube on February 10th. Up until mid-March, the video hardly drew attention, receiving only about 4,000 views. The success of the video took a drastic change when comedians Daniel Tosh and Michael J. Nelson posted it to their websites, and overnight, it received more than 200,000 hits. As of April 13th, “Friday” surpassed 100 million views– a feat that has been achieved by less than 50 videos on YouTube.
“Friday” was created by vanity record label Ark Music Factory (AMF). The LA-based company was founded by producer Patrice Wilson, in an effort to give aspiring singers a taste of life as a superstar: working with a songwriter, recording a song with a producer-engineer, and shooting a professional music video. AMF charges $2,000-4,000 for their services and keeps the publishing rights, while the singer retains the master recording rights.
While it may seem innocent to provide young dreamers with this opportunity, the glimpse of fame comes accompanied by all of the negative aspects associated with being a celebrity. Black, who is only 13-years-old, was certainly not prepared for the serious cyber bullying and emotional trauma that resulted from “Friday.” During an interview on Good Morning America, she revealed the most hurtful response: “I hope you cut yourself and I hope you get an eating disorder so you’ll look pretty, and I hope you go cut yourself and die.” Ultimately, Black is not a professional, and neither are the rest of AMF’s juvenile clients. They are teenagers who are unprepared for the media attention that could result from their relationship with AMF. “I feel bad that Rebecca has been getting so many people criticizing the song because it was me that wrote it,” said Wilson.
“Friday” is only one of several productions by AMF. Each song utilizes a typical formulaic pop structure, with its main focus on achieving “catchy” quality. Each video strives to create a glam star aesthetic. Most of the other videos have received thousands to millions of views, but nowhere near the 102 million that “Friday” has amassed. If each song and video is based upon the same structure, then what set “Friday” apart?
Wilson recalls, “I remember writing ‘Friday.’ It was on a Thursday night, but I finished it on Friday morning. And I knew it was silly, you know?” Each of AMF’s productions have a similar sound, so why is it that the “silliest” is being offered management and record label deals? Black is pursuing these management and label deals, but the fact that she purchased the song, the production, and the music video, from AMF makes it difficult to imagine what value she actually provides- other than her current “flavour of the week” status. Yet, some argue that Black’s voice actually holds merit. During Black’s appearance on Good Morning America, she sang a few lines from “The Star Spangled Banner.” Following the performance, Rolling Stone noted, “She did fine, or at least as well as your average 13-year-old theater enthusiast.” Has “average” become the standard for being a profitable musician and superstar? It would seem, from this point of view, that the targeted marketing and glitzy packaging that AMF provides (and that labels desire) outweigh the actual quality of music as an artform.
Lady Gaga defended Black during an interview with Google, although she admitted she had not seen the video. “I think it’s fantastic,” Gaga noted, “I say Rebecca Black is a genius and anyone that’s telling her she’s cheesy is full of sh–.” Unlike Black, however, Lady Gaga did not receive management and label offers after a few weeks. Like most musicians, she struggled to maintain a sustainable career in music. She worked diligently at New York University’s Tisch School of The Arts and was dropped from Def Jam Records before she began receiving any significant exposure for her craft. Granted, it is truly astonishing that “Friday” YouTube plays and digital downloads have earned Black and AMF over $200,000 in only a few weeks. However, it would seem that Black has skipped several steps and danced around crucial experiences that factor into a more traditional artist’s development. Perhaps Black is serious about turning this success into a sustainable career in music, having announced a follow-up single and a cover on Glee.
Regardless, Black’s future in the music industry will be far from painless. Black and her mother are suing AMF for copyright infringement and unlawful exploitation of publicity rights. Initially, AMF served as a record label for Black. They handled her distribution and promotion, all with her mother’s consent. The extreme success of “Friday,” however, was not foreseen. As soon as the song and video began making a large sum of money, the arguments over exploitation and ownership began. Allegedly, AMF never transferred the rights of the master recording to Black. AMF is being accused of exploiting Black across the Internet and creating a “Friday” ringtone without Black’s consent. Of course, Wilson denies the allegations claiming that the original agreement holds true – Black retains 100% ownership and control of the master recording and video. Still, these disputes over “Friday” have placed a 13-year-old at the center of intense litigation.
As for the entire industry, “Friday” raises the debate over the consequences that the Internet has on music. Granted, YouTube and several other online mediums are great resources for exposure. They increase the potential for management and label deals that would not have been obtained otherwise. However, the most complicated problem with the Internet is that there are little to no filters- allowing anyone to upload a song to YouTube, Facebook, blogs, etc. Consequently, the standards for music have been lowered significantly. There is a vast difference between someone covering a song and posting it to YouTube, and a professional artist trying to make a living playing their music as their sole career. Unfortunately, it would seem the two sides of the spectrum are being smeared together and confused. And it is no wonder that the value of music is plummeting—for, in the marketplace, the work of a professional artist, with a team of managers and agents, seems now equivalent to the efforts of a hobbyist. This is a contributing factor to why less than 30,000 musicians are making a full living, a statistic provided by Topspin creator Ian Rogers.
By no means should the industry double back to save itself. Quite honestly, there is nothing to save – rather, the industry is evolving and moving forward. Taking a conservative approach and refusing to adapt will surely leave any business in a similar financial debacle as the major labels. The Internet has so much potential for music, but higher standards and stricter filters must be reinstated. Music like “Friday” that is “silly” or “average” made by an inexperienced artist has its place, but that place is not on a pedestal amongst serious musicians.
By Nick Susi
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