Why We'll Probably See a Lot More Indie Bands Faking Sex Tapes and Pulling Trashy Stunts
Tuesday, Yacht reached for the internet's heartstrings — and then tore them out.
On the band's Facebook page, leaders Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans told fans that they had been victims of a crime. A sex-tape of theirs had been stolen and leaked to the web, and they asked fans not to watch it. Later they changed their tune and, determined to be "as Yacht as possible" about the leak, decided to sell it themselves.
At first it seemed like an empowered stroke of genius, the kind you can only come up with when you're backed against the wall with only cunning and internet savvy to help you push through; but it was all bullshit.
There never was a sex tape — at least, not one leaked against the band's will. Top to bottom, the whole story was a stunt the band conceived to snake a little extra publicity for a music video release, and it spat in the face of those who have been victims of revenge porn.
But in a way, the band felt backed against a wall, and they took worst path forward. Their original Facebook post admitted it: "It's hard for bands generally these days. We make music in a time where album sales are at an all-time low. Tours are a formidable expense with no guarantees that we'll make the money back. Not even T-shirts sell the way that they used to. Music isn't art anymore, it's just content."
Unfortunately, many of these statements are true — and because of this, we're going to be seeing even more elaborate publicity grabs like this.
Much has been said about the fragmentation of the music industry following the digital revolution. Since 2006, the music industry has lost billions. Album sales hit historic lows in 2014, and they haven't risen much since. Streaming is slowly filling that void, but it's not doing so fast enough for many artists, especially those who aren't household names.
"It's harder today for musicians than it's ever been," said Dan Hill, president of Ervin Hill Strategy, a communications company known for helping artists, athletes and brands manage their image. He's had clients actually suggest leaking sex tapes like this before as a way to generate buzz. "There's a lot of competition and a lot of platforms. That makes it easier in some ways, because on one hand it gives more artists an opportunity to get their stuff out there, which kind of floods the market, if you will. It [works] for or against you depending on where you are in your career."
Artists on the upper echelon are still finding ways to cut through the noise and reach audiences for the most part, but it's creating a wealth and audience inequality. In 2014, the Atlantic found that "the top 1% of bands and solo artists now earn 77% of all revenue from recorded music." These artists have built-in fanbases, near-certain press attention and they're making music that's far more familiar to most audiences. It's resulted in an industry in which "the 10 best-selling tracks command 82% more of the market than they did a decade ago."
In a way, one could consider stunts like Yacht's akin to an Occupy demonstration — Occupy Billboard, if you will — executed via incredibly inconsiderate and offensive means.
Besides the straight dollars and cents, there are other factors that would lead a band like Yacht to choose the boldest route possible for getting press. And not all of them are necessarily isolated to music.
"In a world dominated by the likes of Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump — where train wrecks make news and turn into TV series or White House bids — the ante of what it takes to get attention in today's world is going up," said Steve Rennie, former senior VP at Epic Records, long-time artist manager and founder of music business mentoring platform Renman Music and Business. "If you were betting high or low on whether the world is going to get more outrageous or more subtle, I'm going to load up on it getting more outrageous."
"If you were betting high or low on whether the world is going to get more outrageous or more subtle, I'm going to load up on it getting more outrageous."
Artists at all levels are attempting to tap into it. It's the mentality that leads artists like Lil B to write diss tracks out of the smallest perceived slight. It encourages an artist like Meghan Trainor to possibly fake a Photoshop scandal in order to grab herself a slew of body-positive headlines.
But while these kinds of things may snag a headline in the short term, they won't reserve any artist a seat in the hall of fame. Only talent can do that, and at this point that's likely the only thing that could save Yacht's credibility.
"Please folks out there, while you're concocting some outrageous stunt, please take note that Adele didn't have a stunt," Rennie said. "Unless you call a great voice and a great style and angle a stunt. Getting people's attention is one thing — and how people do that sadly is getting warped a little bit. But the music side of it is actually pretty straightforward: you write good songs and people will stick around. It's that easy and that tough."