Trading Off Between Artistry and Commercial Success

by Global Brand Appeal (GBA)



Trading Off Between Artistry and Commercial Success

By: Anthony Villiotti


commercialsuccessThe biggest piece of your career as a music artist is your passion, dedication, and desire to express yourself through your art.  As an artist, you do this by writing songs that have meaning to you, performing in your own style, and building your brand to represent yourself in the public eye.  However, while this industry is about providing art, it is important to realize that there is a tradeoff between the amount of artistic freedom you can have versus the amount of commercial success you will experience.  How should you apply this tradeoff to your music making journey?  Well, there are a couple of positions which artists can take, depending on what they’re truly trying to seek out of their career.  Think of this in percentages.  Say you create your next song with a mindset of 50% artistic expression and 50% commercial success.  This would mean that you are creating a perfectly balanced song between commercial success and your artistic expression – note that this is VERY difficult to do since artists do not know how the market will respond to their music.  Yet, you can keep the notion in mind that you do not want to over express yourself, nor do you want to deliver something that the market wants (that you yourself do not like).


Now, what drives commercial success of a song?  A number of things: memorable chorus, good performance of the song, appealing lyrics, well-produced – all the obvious components.  However, there are some indirect factors that help to determine the commercial success of a song.  For instance, are you creating a song that may end up in a movie?  Are you creating a song that a hot nightclub is going to want to play?  Are you creating a song that will strengthen your brand?  These are all questions that will help to determine the commercial success of your song.


I want to focus on Christina Aguilera for this example. Go back to her debut album, “Christina Aguilera.” This album was released in 1999 – the era of pop songs.  Take “Genie in a Bottle” and “What a Girl Wants.”  This is a little bold, but it is almost safe to say that RCA Records was the artist of that album, not Christina Aguilera.  Think about the rest of Christina’s songs throughout her career: “Ain’t No Other Man,” “Fighter,” or “Beautiful.”  They do not sound anything like the songs on her debut album.  Here is an example of Aguilera trading off some of her artistic expression for commercial success.  She played her cards right (well, RCA played their cards right, that is).


It’s important to remember that, in the beginning stages of your musical career, you’re going to have to tradeoff here and there – especially if/when you are presented with a record deal.

Global Brand Appeal (GBA)

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