Note: This post comes with a nifty Spotify Playlist, because we were too lazy to hyperlink everything!
The year is done, and the results are in: Adele is STILL the top-selling musician in America.
21, Lady A's musical chronicle of what is quickly becoming the most profitable rubbish relationship in history, first hit shelves nearly two years ago, in January 2011. In 2012, it sold 4.4 million copies in America, beating runner-up T-Swift's Red by about 1.1 million units.
While we all love Adele here, something about this still feels wrong. Is the music industry so broken that it's impossible for new voices to break through in any significant measure? Is this a systemic problem with the way songs are shared and consumed today, or is Adele actually some kind of magical songwriting golem borne from all the aborted lyric sheets John Lennon and Amy Winehouse dumped in the Thames?
Nobody knows for sure. But we've spent the year studying Adele and other musical successes of 2012, and Rumour Has It being an international superstar today is not as hard as you'd think. With a little help from your friends at SparkLife, you too can become Someone Like Adele! In four easy steps, YOU can Set Fire To Her Reign and crank out the hits until YOU'RE Rolling In The Deep(osit slips)!
All we request is a 60% cut of whatever you make. Here are the four steps to being a musical superstar in 2012 (and maybe '13):
1. Be Un-American
**That's Un-American in the sense of "not from America," not "anti-American." Unless you're PSY. Then you're allowed to dabble in both and still have the most popular YouTube song in history.
But really, PSY might just be the tip of a very ineligible-for-Congress iceberg of international success stories this year. Lots of the biggest hits on American radio migrated over seas and borders; Justin Bieber and Canadian Idol winner Carly Rae Jepsen both hail from the syrupy North; "Somebody I Used to Know" co-nudists Gotye (born in Belgium, raised in Australia) and Kimbra (a lifelong New Zealander) gave the Southern hemisphere some shine; and PSY's K-pop takeover is actually a critique on Seoul, South Korea's trendy Gangnam District. DON'T YOU FEEL SO WORLDLY NOW?!?!
That's not to say there's anything wrong with American music; hyper-patriotic country fare is just too narrow in theme to hit big in Japan. So if you want to dance atop the musical iceberg, you best be dancing the hora, or that…cool, leg-kicky dance Russians supposedly do. Part of being a musical success is "crossing over" to international markets, disparate listener demographics, and finally the spirit realm. The specters and undead of every ethnicity love Adele. How else do you think "Rolling in the Deep" got so huge? Zombie proms.
2. Be Honest
In music, as in life, you can score major points by being real with yourself and with others. Betcha all the wishing-well coins in the world that that dude went home and called Carly Rae Jepsen back right away— because, you know what? She freakin' went for it. "Here's my number. Call me, maybe."
A lyric does not become a legend unless it communicates something so relatable, so true about living life as a human that generations of people centuries apart can find a common meaning in it. Consider, these timeless lyrics of history:
"Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away…"
"Hello darkness, my old friend. I've come to talk with you again."
"I like big butts, and I cannot lie."
Pillars of truth, all!
So whether you're Frank Ocean baring his soul about the pain of falling in and out of love with another dude, Kendrick Lamar recalling the above-average hazards of peer pressure growing up impoverished in Compton, Fiona Apple lamenting her crippling brain farts, or Lana Del Rey rattling off tales of her grody makeouts with gray-haired biker bums, you'd best be honest about your emotions if you want people to respect you as an artist.
Or just sing about your man thong, whatever.
Okay—you've got the words, now time to set them to melody. Easy, right?
Right!! Yes, there are more possible combinations of sound in the universe than there are atoms on Hagrid's backfat, but most of the good ones have already been written. BUT THAT'S OKAY!
Being inspired by old melodies is not a crime. For example, let your sound steep in '60s psychedelia or '70s hard rock (Gary Clark Jr., The Black Keys, Tame Impala, King Tuff, White Fence, Thee Oh Sees, Rival Sons, Sheepdogs,) '80s synth-driven cheese (Twin Shadow, Nite Jewel, Bruno Mars, Sky Ferreira, Bear in Heaven, Yeasayer, Chairlift, Chromatics, Gary Clark Jr. again) or '90s angst and anxiety (Ladyhawke, Japandroids, Ty Segall Band, Cloud Nothings, etc. etc.)
If you're convincing and follow Rule #2 closely, your adoring public wont ever care that they've already heard that same chord progression eight billion times since breakfast.
4. Get on YouTube
The final, crucial step to stardom: get yo'self heard.
Back in the day, if you weren't born straight into a powdered wig full of Austrian chocolates then your chances at being the next harpsichord hero were pretty pathetic, no matter how talented you may've been. That Mozart kid? What a tool. Everyone knows he was just ripping off Deadmau5 chords. Punk only got away with it because his parents had a few bucks, and access to drinking water that wasn't riddled with feces. Snob.
Fortunately today you needn't be wealthy OR talented to make it in music! As televised talent contests like American Idol changed the blueprint for musical success over a decade ago, now the Internet is making even that road to stardom seem snobbish. If you have a webcam, a pretty face, and an adequate knowledge of Justin Bieber lyrics, you too can be the next YouTube sensation!
And from there, who knows? Maybe you'll go viral. Maybe you'll score an agent and some small gigs. You'll talk to music blogs. You'll become savvy at interviews.
Little by little, people will notice you. Then, finally, maybe those people will start paying money for your music. It's not an easy path. But at least you don't need to play Salieri with your buttcheeks to follow it.
So, are you famous yet?
What was your favorite music success story of 2012?
What were your favorite lyrics?Is the music industry broken?
Are you sick of bands rehashing old classic rock and dance sounds?
Or do you love it?
Do you like big butts, and cannot lie?