Play the Hits! How Artists Get Trapped By Their Singles

Posted one year ago by
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If a platinum-selling artist  does a concert in a major city, I expect there to be tons of press. Which is why it felt strange watching Keyshia Cole perform for a packed-house at Orlando, Florida's House of Blues on August 11, and there only one photographer be on stage. Perhaps my reaction has a lot to do with the fact that I was born and raised in the large metropolis city that is New York, where anytime a major-label act comes to visit, it's kind of like a big deal. Such wasn't the case for Cole's "Point of No Return" tour date though. And the two-hour experience on that evening taught me a few lessons about radio, the internet and an artist's core fan-base. 

Larger markets like NYC break all the new sh*t first, while smaller cities are used as test areas to see how consumers react to that new material, and I got to witness that scenario play out first-hand since I started covering events for The DJBooth. ‎ Seated in a corner on a balcony elevated above the stage, as DJ Mars dropped Keyshia's Juicy J-assisted "Rick James"and "She", it felt as if I was the only person in the venue who could be heard reciting the lyrics. Not until hit-singles like "I Should Have Cheated" and "Love" echoed through the monitors was I able to physically see and hear others join the night's headliner in unison. The response to Republic Records' Adrian Marcel was even less receptive (despite having came out with that "Killa" from his well-received street album 7 Days of Weak), until the 30-minute set concluded with "2am".

At that moment it dawned on me that an artist's core fan-base is what really matters in niche markets. Never mind that this record is blowing up on the interwebs, or that another one gets played ten times a day on radio; its about what people connect with.‎ It's the same reason why folks in my city would rather see Waka Flocka go "Hard N Da Paint" when he touches the stage more than anything else. In fact, I remember vividly Waka at a Spin Magazine party on the Lower East Side to promote Triple F Life two years back, and witnessing the audience go ham for "No Hands" and "I Don't Really Care"; but when those other tunes dropped, the entire atmosphere at The Bowery Hotel turnt down for what.

I'd bet similar occurrences happen elsewhere too. In the Midwest, where the likes of Big Sean, Chance The Rapper and Danny Brown command the most attention right now, for an artist with a much smaller following such as Jeremih to have a good turn out, he'd probably need to configure his set list to include his biggest performance records: "Birthday Sex", "Go To The Mo" & "Late Nights".

Which begs the question, how do artists get fans to listen to new music, when all they want to hear is what's currently on the airwaves? Does it really matter if marquee names like the Keyshia Coles of the world release new music when their previous hit records are what bring sizeable crowds to see them on tour? The hits may get people in the door, but in order to build a successful touring career, they need to get crowds equally hooked on songs they might have never heard before. Navigate that transition successfully and an artist will be around for years. If they don't, and they'll be just another one hit wonder, playing that one hit over and over and over again. 

[By Ru Porter. She's doesn't want to be successful, she wants to be legitimate. This is her Twitter.]


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