Backing tracks and the music “business”

Thanks to Michael from South Africa for this backing track question – Michael sent us a song and wanted a backing track specially created for it. He was mighty disapointed when we couldn’t produce the backing track specially for him for under £10. he’d searched everywhere for the song but no other backing track company had it in their catalogue and he was bemused as to why a) no backing track company had the song in their catalogue and b) even if they didn’t, why couldn’t they produce it specially for him and sell it to him for a few pounds.

Here’s my attempt to explain:

Hi Michael

If we don’t have a backing track of this song and no other backing track company out there has a backing track of this song, then it’s because it’s not a song which will be a popular seller as a backing track.

From your email I can see that you’re quite bemused as to why nobody is producing this song because you think that the song you want produced is a good song (and it is).

But there is a VERY big difference between a good song and a good seller.

You’re probably the only person in the world right now who wants a backing track of this song, so unless you have it produced specially for you, it’s unlikely that we or any other company will be producing it for general release. All backing track companies, not just us, choose the songs they produce in the same way – by sales potential rather than popularity. So if nobody has this song in their catalogue, then it’s because it won’t sell well as a backing track. This is a business decision that backing track companies have to take rather than a reflection on how good or bad the song is.

As I said in my earlier email, we can create your song specially for you, no problem. But to do that we would have to pass the full cost of production on to you because we couldn’t possibly employ musicians and use up 5 or 6 hours of professional recording studio time to produce something that we will only sell one time (to you) for less than the price of a pizza. Yes, it may be a great song, but if it’s not going to sell in large quantities then it’s just not worth us or any other backing track companies wasting hours of their studio time producing it.

Here’s an example, some time ago we created the backing track of a Miley Cyrus song (at the time she was very popular thanks to her hit TV show Hannah Montanna). The Miley Cyrus song wasn’t nearly half as good a song as the song that you’ve asked us to produce. But within 3 days of creating it, we’d sold over 100 copies…and the song only took us 5 hours of studio time to produce, it was fairly simple dance beat type of tune. A little simple arithmetic shows that 5 hours of studio time producing this song ended up earning us £500 GBPounds in just 3 days (and it’s still continuing to sell well even now).

If we spend 5 hours of studio time producing your track, we would sell one copy (to you), earning us less than £5 GBPounds.

So, ironically, we made 100 times more producing a song that wasn’t as good as your song. It has also enabled us to supply hundreds of our customers with a backing track that they really want, so hundreds of our customers benefit too.

Hence, sales potential is the main factor when deciding what backing tracks we produce rather than how good a song is.

I’m a musician and it’s very unfortunate when really good songs need to be left by the wayside to make way for others that are not nearly as good. As a musician I would much prefer to create backing tracks of songs I personally like rather than songs which are just popular good sellers.

But as a businessman I have a duty (and so do all other heads of backing track companies) to use our recording studio time in a way that best benefits the majority of our customers with the tracks they really want. We don’t just cater to the masses however. We DO cater to individual customers recording needs, but if a customer wants special songs recorded for him, then there is a special recording service price tag for this service.

The conflict between business and creativity is is by no means a new debate. it’s been on-going in the music industry for years with artists and musicians constantly complaining of the corporate big-wigs in the recording industry stiffling their creativity and telling them what to play, what to sing, and deciding what songs they should release. Many artists, like George Michael in the nineties, got so fed up being told what songs to record by the recording company execs that they had major splits with their recording companies and just refused to record anything. Personally I think they were wrong. George Michael understands music, but he doesn’t understand the music business – his record company bosses do.

This lack of business knowledge from many of the worlds top artists is understandable. Musicians and singers tend to be very sensitive, creative types who love their music with a passion but they often don’t understand that what they like and what the public like (and will buy) are often two different things.

Yes, the corporate guys in their suits may not understand music, but they understand what music SELLS.

I remember Simon Cowell (from X-Factor, American Idol etc) talking about a problem he had with a band called Westlife. They had scores of number 1 hits but now wanted to release a song that was more uptempo and a bit more raunchy to get away from their boyband image. Simon Cowell told them it wouldn’t work…but let them do it anyway just to prove a point.

Their uptempo, raunchy new song barely made the top 10.

Simon Cowell called them back in to his office and said “I told you so…now go back to making pop ballads which people like to hear you sing and will buy”. T

They did…and their next single release went to number 1.

The friction between musicians versus recording company execs has been a bone of contention between artists and the people who run the music business since music sales began. No doubt the debate will still continue to rage even long after we are all dead and gone…!