Music industry tries too hard, again

By Amy Armalis

Music labels are trying hard to replicate the mammoth success of pop stars Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. In one of many industry-wide efforts to find the next star, record company MCA spent $2.2 million on 18-year-old Carly Hennessy.

Her debut, “Ultimate High,” sold 378 copies, according a recent Wall Street Journal article.

Naturally, MCA put a whole lot of money into her. There was the $100,000 advance for the album along with separate costs for her living expenses, which included rent to an apartment in Marina Del Ray, Calif., where she resided for two years while recording and promoting.

Totaling all fees for studio time, the apartment and salaries for those assisting with the album, MCA blew $350,000, which is “typical for a first pop album,” said the article. But, the label felt “Ultimate High” was too serious. The Dublin, Ireland-born Hennessy considered herself more of a rock ‘n’ roller, but initially conceded to the pop image.

“This was my big chance,” she told the Journal. Based on the label’s opinions and Hennessy’s “edgier” style, it was back to the studio, starting from scratch.

“I’m Gonna Blow Your Mind,” the album’s first single, cost $250,000 for the video alone. Then, the label tacked on $200,000 for independent promoters to get radio airplay and $150,000 for a four-week promotional tour. By then, MCA had spent nearly $1 million. “Beautiful You” was the second release, even after a less-than-spectacular reception to the first single. “Beautiful You” cost MCA another $600,000.

Records stores stocked about 50,000 copies of the two singles, but only sold 17,000. Hennessy and

the label were looking forward to the October release of “Ultimate High” finally to deliver success.

But, as Murphy’s Law would have it, what can go wrong will.

Retailers only purchased 10,000 copies of “Ultimate High.” And even more deflated was actual number of 378 copies sold to customers. MCA barely made $5,000 from Hennessy’s efforts.

“It’s obviously a waste of money,” said Leslie Kammes, a junior pre-physical therapy major. “They put all that money into her and it didn’t turn out.”

Music executives at MCA believe the album failed because her music was “too serious for its target teen audience,” said the Journal. The first single’s sound was too adult for the pop crowd, yet too pop for the adult crowd.

“I can see why she wouldn’t catch on with the MTV ‘TRL’ audiences,” said Maggie Hochstein, a senior physical therapy major, after she listened to Hennessy’s first single. “It’s just not what is normally on those shows.”

Perhaps MCA should have ditched efforts to force Hennessy into that pop mold. Her voice is mature and soulful, but the music and songs do not seem to match her true style. Even while Hennessy penned four of the album’s 12 tracks – a feat most pop artists aren’t allotted on their debut album – and performed one written by Sheryl Crow, she doesn’t seem to be presenting herself. Instead, she held an image of what MCA tried to create.

“Obviously, they didn’t base their expectations on her talent,” junior art major Ray Pecora said. “The music industry should be about the music.”

And when it is about the music, the albums usually sell more than 378 copies.