Six Sigma in the Media Part 1: Music

Welcome to a three part series where I, Frantic, break down the business concept known as Six Sigma and how it relates to the industries we discuss here on Frantic Talks.  Let’s begin with Music.

First I must explain what Six Sigma is to those of you who don’t necessarily have a background in Business or Engineering or something similar.  Well to put it simply: 3.4 defects per one million products.  That means a manufacturer makes one million of some product and on average 3.4 of them have a defect.  Pretty hard right?  Well plenty of companies follow a Six Sigma mentality for efficiency, productivity, and profitability.  I’m more focused on that last one: profitability.

I’ll admit it’s hard to apply productivity to music. That’d be more focused on the CD manufacturing instead of the music itself but I want to focus on the music.  Let’s take the businessman’s mentality of “I need return on investment.  If I pay $50,000 to a band to make an album, they better make that much money back off of sales.”  Simple right?  Well the biggest implication surrounding it sometimes predefines its destiny.

Make it sell

Again, seems simple right?  Well what sells?  That’s sort of a philosophical question in its own but let’s look at the top artists to figure it out:

  • Katy Perry
  • Iggy Azalea
  • Meghan Trainor
  • Should I go on?

Assuming the artist you hired is making a pop album you find these artists and then you understand what sells: 3 minute songs following a simple structure of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus.  Make sure it is catchy and viola! Build 10 songs and put them on the album. You’ll do fine.

I sound like an elitist right?  Well I’ll tell the truth, I can’t tell the difference in many artists on the radio.  I ask my girlfriend if Katy Perry is the current artist and it turns out to be someone I’ve never heard of.

But pop music isn’t the only one.  Progressive Metal, my favorite, suffers from stuff like this too.  Dream Theater is the leading Prog Metal giant and they spawned hundreds of imitation bands that use their jazz-influenced chaotic time signature changing music.  Some are good and others are just laughably bad. But those bands aren’t fully the problem, Dream Theater is too.  They’ve played the same style since 1985 when they formed.  What’s the band doing wrong? Not evolving.

I’ve always thought that wanting an artist to top a masterpiece they’ve previously released was like asking a student in school to write better than an A+ paper they’ve already written.  Well, I was wrong.  Music should evolve or else we lose interest and laugh in the face of bands releasing the same song on a different day.  Grading a paper in school is just saying “here’s the minimum requirement to be smart” or whatever you’d consider it.  Write that or better and you pass.  In music we’re more interested in the “better” aspect because we can get passable anywhere.

“So bands aren’t evolving. Tell me something I don’t know.”  Well, the masses keep buying their albums.  Five Finger Death Punch has released the same album 3 different times and more and more people have bought it each time.  What’s that have to do with Six Sigma?  Produce a product with little to no defects that will sell for a profit based on a proven process.  Or in music terms, make an album that is similar to the last because it sold really well (or copy an artist who sells well and put a slight spin on it to call it your own) and make some return on investment. How many Mumford & Sons copycats emerged when they made it big? I don’t have an exact number but as soon as they hit mainstream, that folk-style was all I heard. They had proven their music works.

Obviously there are exceptions. There are bands who are doing innovative things and making a living but if you want the big bucks, you need to follow the Six Sigma mentality of using proven methods to achieve efficient and profitable results.  What can you do to combat it? I’d say change your taste in music but you’re going to like what you’re going to like. Maybe understanding that the music world is copycat after copycat might help broaden your perspective.  Nonetheless just try and be aware that you’re being exploited by many artists and record companies who care more about the money than the music.

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