Andy Warhol's prediction that everyone in the future would be famous for fifteen minutes seems pretty generous at this point. In the age of YouTube and reality television, fifteen nanoseconds is more like it. But Storm Gloor, assistant professor in the music and entertainment industry studies program at the University of Colorado Denver, wants to find out for certain. Along with his research partner,Billboard
magazine's Geoff Mayfield, he's just been awarded a $2,000 grant from the
Research Committee (associated with Tennessee'sBelmont University
) to kick-start a study entitled, "Just How Long is Your ‘Fifteen Minutes’? The Length of Artist Careers Before the Long Tail and After."
The project seems promising due in part to Gloor's background. Turns out he has a perspective on musicians who rocket to stardom and then flame out that's based on real-life experience, not only cloistered academia.
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Before coming to UCD, Gloor worked for thirteen years as an executive for Hastings, a nationwide retail chain that peddles music, books, DVDs and more. "I spent most of that time as director of music operations," he says. "I oversaw the merchandising and marketing and purchasing." In this capacity, he got an insider's view of product-pimping approaches that worked, as well as loads that didn't, and his observations continue to pay dividends. "Working with record labels and seeing what happened in the marketplace with artists and their releases has been absolutely beneficial to what we're undertaking here," he maintains. "And it's certainly helped my teaching."
Of course, even casual music fans understand that the lifespan of the typical pop star seems to be shrinking as time goes on. But Gloor, in conjunction with Mayfield, hopes to make strides toward quantifying this process, as opposed to relying on anecdotes. "We can say off the top of our heads that there seems to be a revolving door," he notes. "But we're trying to ascertain whether it really is a revolving door, and if so, how quickly does it revolve? And also what's common among the artists who stay relevant in terms of sales over a longer period of time. That could tell the record industry something about its practices, and tell aspiring artists like the ones in our program how they might approach their careers."
Many observers consider today's music biz to be in a state of collapse, but Gloor disagrees. "The interest in music is greater than it's ever been," he allows. "It's just that the monetization of it is rapidly changing. So in terms of what we discuss in the classroom, students going into the business have to recognize that what traditionally have been the opportunities in the business have changed." By way of an example, he points out that "last year, there were more albums released either physically or digitally than the year before -- and that was the same case for the last five years, even though the overall sales numbers are shrinking. From an aspiring artist standpoint, if there are more records released, there's less room for you to rise above that, especially if you want a longer term career. So what do you do? How do you get noticed and/or make a living?"
No one can definitively answer these questions right now -- but "Just How Long is Your 'Fifteen Minutes'?" could help. Gloor is aiming to complete the project by early 2010, with the grant funding research to get things rolling. He laughing concedes that he's personally achieved "zero minutes of fame" to date, and he doesn't expect the results of his study to change that. But maybe it'll prevent a few performers from going directly from wannabe to never-was. -- Michael Roberts