With enough money, time, label backing, the right publicist, a crafty manager, and a sharp stylist, any band can become famous. Or so they say, but is that really a certainty? Only up to a certain point, I'd like to believe. Marketing can only get you so far. Definitely, any band can benefit from the vertical boost but as soon as the band takes off, it has to fly on it's own power or it will quickly crash and burn.
If a band's music doesn't have merit, no amount of publicity can ever make up for the deficiency. Even celebrity power cannot carry a band farther that it deserves. Case in point is one particular band that is fronted by a TV and movie celebrity. To me, it's a funny coincidence that their band's name is highly suggestive of the fact that all they essentially have to offer is hot gas. Well at least their frontman's earnest attempts at trying to win the crowd over during live gigs come off as entertaining - for the hilarity. But enough of confused celebrities.
In musicdom, it is the labels that are the traditional center of power and influence. It is they who make or break stars. That of course is bound to change. In fact, it slowly is with the current restructuring of the music world brought about by many slow but sure changes: The CD as a format is dying, alternative music distribution is waiting to burst into the scene, and traditional media is losing its undisputed dominance and power to alternative and niche media outlets. Slowly, the power is shifting to the artists themselves, now, more and more empowered to market themselves especially with the Internet.
Waning influence or not, labels still bank on their power even more than they trust in talent. Some even go to the extent of manufacturing bands themselves to create new cash cows believing they can pull it off with savvy marketing. Others, lacking imagination, go with formula and sign up any band sounding closest to the latest music trend. It always is a risky thing to throw money on unproven talent.
To be fair, talent is hard to finger much less predict even for labels. There is no such thing as a sure thing. So if you're going to throw money on an investment, it helps to be assured, accurately or otherwise, that you have some amount of control in the outcome. Marketing offers this assurance being a game labels can play and play well to win. Most of the time, in fact, they do.
As long as there is money to be made in music, it will always be subject to corruption. To be truly honest, musicians then must go after the music and not the money to be made. This becomes the exact problem then, the moment the musician depends on the music to be his sole source of livelihood. In point, one of the smartest advices I ever got from veteran indie musicians has been to never lose your day job. Living off your music is sucking the life out of your music. It's that simple. How some bands manage to pull it off is simple: creative compromise.
So until traditional music distribution dies in obsolescence, labels will still be labels; and until they get signed up, indie bands will still be indie bands. One tries to make money from music while the other tries to make music without money. Labels can't afford to be artists. Musicians can't afford to be businessmen.
Yet although labels and indie artists are polar opposites, who says they can't marry and have children.