—She’s a music superstar, but by working with Facebook’s Oculus, Eilish is staying ahead of the music industry autocrats, says Craig Redmond—
I was fiddling with my breakfast on the veranda of the Casa Del Mar Hotel overlooking Santa Monica Pier, and nervously girding my loins for the biggest commercial shoot in my career.
It was a monster $1.7-million production, wrought with technical impossibilities and, more frighteningly, threatened by a temperamental celebrity front-woman potentially rejecting the script lines written for her.
She was clearly having second thoughts about selling out and endangering the credibility of her burgeoning jazz career. A dance with Mammon so many music celebrities have tripped over at one point in their career.
Then, almost as if by divine intervention, I opened the Los Angeles Times in front of me to an interview with one such musician who has reinvented himself more than most: Gordon Sumner, better known as Sting.
Sting had just come out with his latest album, and despite his protests—and no doubt the payola offered by his record company—the few corporations that own all the radio stations in America refused to include his new music on their top-40 playlists and relegated his record to the graveyard of “Adult Contemporary.” The record would no doubt fail, and his illustriously raucous career would likely end with a whimper. But Sting would not have it.
Instead, he leapt at the opportunity to have his single “Desert Rose” and its music video adopted by Jaguar, another aging British brand in need of a jumper cable boost. The campaign was hugely popular. So much so that the top-40 stations started playing that single and Sting was rewarded with massive sales around the world.
Sting’s success immediately legitimized advertising as an alternate delivery channel for music release. And many musicians followed in his dance steps.
Moby has often been criticized for selling his music to everyone from Adidas to Volkswagen and Maxwell House Coffee, but that hasn’t stopped the electronica musician from selling 20 million records worldwide.
Then along came the ads for Apple, which became an instant music conduit for all the kids plugged into their iPods, rather than listening to radio. The platform launched the careers of so many young artists who happily evaded the stifling control of the record companies and the cookie-cutter, hit-single demands of the radio industry, and found their audiences—and enormous success—on Apple Music and YouTube. Our own national treasure, Feist, being one of the vanguards of that trend.
Then along comes Spotify and its own prescriptive algorithms that insist that if your song doesn’t have an earworm-worthy riff or catchy lyric in the first few seconds, listeners will hit the dreaded “skip” button. The result is another placid sea of sameness composed by artists today.
And it might explain why a music mutineer like Billie Eilish might choose an entirely alternate stream to expose her new album, tellingly named Happier Than Ever. In what might describe as an unholy alliance with Facebook and its Oculus 2 promotion of the game Beat Saber, Eilish is using the platform to release 10 new songs and defiantly stay ahead of the music industry autocrats determined to control her and her fellow musical artists.
Oh, and if you’re wondering, that jazz diva did indeed refuse to read my script in the end. So, we just had her smile mutely to camera. And it was the very best part of our spectacularly lavish spot.