July 14, 2019

Yacht Rock

At a recent conference, I mentioned that those who worship at the altar of metrics squeezed all of the creativity out of businesses over the past decade. Well, not all of it of course, but way, way, waaaaaaay too much of it.

Creativity matters. And those who initiate creativity may not get compensated, but somebody will get compensated.

Nearly 15 years ago a group of guys created a web series called "Yacht Rock" (click here). These folks, led by J.D. Ryznar and Hunter Stair, noticed that there were a lot of "smooth" songs between 1976 and 1984. By reading the liner notes associated with various albums, they "connected the dots" ... a lot of the music at the time was connected to Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, various members of Toto, Steely Dan, and a handful of musicians. These folks collaborated, creating their own sound.

You can read an oral history of Yacht Rock here.

A decade later, SiriusXM created their own version of the channel, also called "Yacht Rock". They kept "many" of the core songs that Ryznar/Stair deemed worthy of being on the boat, but they added their own songs to create a broader playlist that might be commercially acceptable. Of course, Ryznar/Stair weren't fans of what SiriusXM did, and who could blame them?

But when you make elements of the original theme available to 30,000,000 subscribers, you might evangelize your version of the genre, right? And then SiriusXM invited people like Bill Simmons to DJ last year, and he offered his "rules" for the genre, which were instantly mocked by Ryznar/Stair (given that they invented the genre and here was this sports guy telling the world what the rules were/are). 

They'd created a genre and lost control of the script.

I was in the UK a month ago, and the BBC televised a special about "Yacht Rock", including songs that were from the mid-80s and had absolutely nothing to do with the original theme (click here). Duran Duran isn't connected to the Southern California collaboration environment of the mid-70s, but who's to stop the BBC from deviating from what Ryznar/Stair created?

Amazon has their version (click here).

Spotify has a version (click here).

Ryznar/Stair have their "Certified Playlist" on Spotify (click here).

But the cat is out of the bag, there's no going back to their original playlist. It's over. Bigger, more powerful forces take the genre in the directions they want to take it in, in an effort to commercialize/monetize it.

How much did Ryznar/Stair make for ultimately creating a movement? Virtually nothing.

And how much do all of these playlists resemble the "Certified Playlist"??  Somewhat. But frequently they've diverged to the various interests of those curating the new playlists.

So it is with modern catalog marketing. There was what catalog marketing was, and there's what catalog marketing has become. Those in the industry remember what it was, and still try to promote "what it was". What did catalog marketing become? Amazon. Big box e-commerce, Stitch Fix. Not the catalog part, but everything else about direct-to-consumer. It's now fundamentally different, frequently unrecognizable. And the modern folks, the Amazons and big-box e-commerce purveyors and the Stitch Fix's of the world get all the credit.

Times change, and the world evolves, not in a fair manner, and not in a linear manner.

But the fun part is in trying to create something new. Maybe the evolution of your business will set sail in a new direction. Maybe you'll create your own version of Yacht Rock. Just don't expect others to request permission to come aboard.

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