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Phew! Tila Tequila isn't the future of music

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Reg readers, like Reg writers, can rarely agree on anything. But one thing that probably unites us all is the future of the big record company.

They're doomed...and good riddance is the consensus view. For the past 30 years, the major labels have served up mediocre manufactured fare, and screwed artists and consumers alike. Their lavish cost base is no longer sustainable, and cheap product and distribution methods enabled by the internet make the major an anachronism. Last year, Peter Jenner explained how in vivid detail. What's to disagree with?

So we're sorry to bring you a tale that should gladden the heart of the most beleagured pigopolist: the story of pinup model Tila Tequila.

Getting to the truth here is not straightforward, but the kernel of the story is simple. As little as two months ago, Tila Tequila, born Tila Nguyen, was being hailed as the future of music. The performer had used social networks to amass a fanbase of more than 1.8 million MySpace friends. She'd also generated huge mainstream publicity, and with four years of pinup modelling behind her, was no stranger to the public. She rejected large record company advances to retain total control over her output. She would instead make her single available for digital download through Apple's iTunes store. In short, she'd bypassed the system and looked like the first artist to achieve a global breakthrough digitally, without major label backing.

It all looks rather different, today. Tequila's iTunes single sold only 13,000 copies, netting her around $8,500. It failed to crack the iTunes own Top 50. That's not bad for a single, but it's a poor return on the efforts, and nowhere near what she might be enjoying with the advance from a major label. With no advance to fritter, her chance at the big time might now have passed.

So here's where we must add the important qualifications hinted at earlier. Tila Tequila is firmly in the novelty bimbo category - she has the greatest difficult keeping her clothes on, as you can see from her NSFW MySpace page. Tequila had already featured as a pin-up model.

Then there's the backstage help she received, which suggests anything but grassroots support. In the words of HecklerSpray blog's Stuart Heritage:

"Being the feisty little rebel she is, Tila Tequila is doing it completely by herself. Completely. Except for the bit where she got giant global production company Endemol to help her out. And the bit where she got represented by the talent agency in charge of Harrison Ford and Johnny Depp. And the bit where she's included on the roster of the Universal Music Group's MySpace page. Those aside, Tila Tequila is doing this completely by herself."

So the DIY myth is simply that, a myth. And it could simply be that even by the standards of bimbo popstars, Tequila's I Love U isn't very good. But since when has quality ever been an obstacle to a major label before? The Tequila saga certainly lends weight to the view that digital, on its own, is not a challenge to the global marketing operations of the majors just yet. In other words, the major record company isn't quite as undead as we'd like to think.

So where does this leave the rest of us? It's worth having a look at the misleadingly named "Long Tail". This is typically drawn as a curve. Music sales actually resemble something that looks like an "L" - with a tall, very thin stem, and a very long even thinner arm.

While the Long Tail supposes that sales from the "tail" aggregate to larger volumes than the "head", this is true only in certain situations. Sales from iTunes actually increase the "head" at the expense of the "tail". It takes quite an investment in curatorial talent to boost sales of the "tail" - eMusic being the best example.

While the big label model is almost certainly doomed, as discussed here recently, the global marketing function of the labels doesn't look like it's going away any time soon. It serves both a demand and a supply. The demand is people who buy only two CDs a year - perhaps from a Tesco petrol station: the vast market of people who don't like music very much. The supply is from Bono-sized egos, who need global brand-style marketing to feel like they have a place in the world. ®

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