Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Commentary: It's Not About The Band

This past weekend, I was able to indulge again in one of my guiltiest of pleasures - MTV's Making the Band 4. Since taking over the series from Lou Pearlman and O-Town, Diddy has brilliantly turned MTB into another force in his media empire. Last season, Diddy took his three MTB artists - Danity Kane, Day 26, Donnie Klang - for a ride on his yacht and admitted that he was not even making money from the music business. While other moguls are scrambling now, Diddy long ago realized the potential for music to be a loss leader for other ventures. Having now created three groups and one solo artist over several seasons, Diddy has turned MTB into its own recognizable brand as well.

Last season ended with Diddy firing two members from Danity Kane - a move which seems to have lead to the band's breakup. If so, it would be the second MTB band to meet a premature end. In the case of Da Band, the group was never successful, but Danity Kane was a multi-platinum selling success ... why would Diddy be so quick to dismantle the group? After asking myself this question, it occurred to me that Making the Band was is at all about the "bands" being "made" - it is a lesson in branding. Diddy has used the show not only to sell CDs, but also to sell arena tours, a dumb catchphrase ("No Bitchassness") posted on t-shirts (pictured above), and his other business ventures (cuts to a Sean John billboard in Time's Square are frequent on the show). Diddy doesn't need the band to be successful for Making the Band to be a success.

The music business is floundering, but reality shows about music - Making the Band and, even more dramatically, American Idol - are doing rather well. Manufacturing drama on a reality television show proves more important than manufacturing a successful artist. American Idol winners come and go (anybody seen Taylor Hicks or Ruben Studdard lately) but the show remains relevant. Essentially these shows are not about selling music, but simply about selling television. Besides, both shows have taught us that manufacturing stars is easy - if one band breaks up, there are many more potentials ready to take their place.

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