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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Coming Closer

Editorial by Mark Mayhey reporting from London, UK

Tarkan showing off his fur in Come CloserAfter having rewritten his own definition for success, with his album Metamorfoz being discussed in every Turkish media outlet since the start of 2008, Tarkan is riding on a high wave he helped to stir in the Turkish music industry.

However, just a few months ago, it had been a completely different story. In fact, many of my own articles questioned whether Tarkan would be able to make a comeback so quickly between the disastrous reception of his domestic crowd - and the lukewarm approval of the international community - that had welcomed his English album in 2006.

Come Closer is the artist's continuing blip on an otherwise clean radar for 2008, as it has the Asia-pacific arm of animal rights' movement PETA campaigning against Tarkan because he appears wearing fur on the cover of the troubled album.

Not Good Enough

Which ever way one looks at it, Come Closer was the most successful English language album ever released by a Turkish artist. It was professionally produced, capturing strong names and even a world renowned music artist in its productive net. And in Tarkan's strong fan bases across Europe, his English single "Bounce" managed to get into most of the music charts, with the artist just about squeezing an international tour out of the dividends.

But was it good enough when compared to Tarkan's success in Europe with his Turkish tracks?

Simply put with one word: No. Even before Europe had a chance to meet Tarkan's English persona, the Turks had seemingly rejected it outright, though possibly for different reasons. The incompetencies of Tarkan's PR team that helped to fuel the destructive fire between Tarkan and his domestic press, his reaction to go to the courts against the pre-release leak of some his English tracks causing some in the music community to snub his songs, and the fact that no domestic sponsor was willing to openly promote his 2006 tracks were a just a few of the reasons why Tarkan seemed to be on a downward trend in Turkey.

However, while most confuse the international and domestic sales/promotion of Come Closer, the album's ripples in the Turkish music industry are a separate issue from it's international outing. And arguably, had Come Closer really taken off outside of Turkey, the Turks would have re-evaluated their opinion on the back of any such success.

So, let's stick with Europe and Come Closer in 2006. Some stress that Tarkan's licence in Europe, Universal Music, did not fully back the album on release. But can this factor be the whole story behind the "write-off" to the European version of his English songs?

Art vs Sales

The lack of promotion for Come Closer by Universal wasn't a personal attack on Tarkan. With the advent of digital music, the musical giants are in trouble. For example last summer, record label EMI was purchased by the private equity firm Terra Firma, following the label's disastrous £260 million loss in profits. The new owners are expected to announce job cuts and massive structural changes, not least the suggestion that the promotion of a new record be directly proportioned to how hard the artist in question is willing to work in support of it. The new boss was quoted in the Financial Times complaining that, "Some [artists] unfortunately simply focus on negotiating for the maximum advance... which are often never repaid".

And for those outside of the industry who think that Tarkan can call the shots, or easily change music companies, then George Michael's cripplingly expensive battle to leave Sony, for similar complaints, set a precedent for all other artists that now need to think twice before breaking their contract by citing unreconcilable differences with their music labels.

What is important is that music companies have someone in the digital sphere capable of doing the job required. Former EMI artists Radiohead proved that giving away one's album free on the net could still result in massive physical album sales – on both sides of the Atlantic. The gimmick, masterminded by the band themselves, would clearly be something Tarkan might want to try. His recent sales surge with Metamorfoz and his domestic campaign to bring legal digital downloads to Turkish music listeners proves that his fans are no less trustworthy; Tarkan fans will pay to download Tarkan's music digitally.

Separating the issue from the ego, musicians can't expect their paymasters to be sympathetic to their 'art'. It's called the music industry for a reason – it's an industry. Their job is to sell products, nothing more. And you don't get very far in business promoting products that all evidence suggests are unpopular.

The familiar complaint that the record label didn't support the record is usually the refusal to accept that no one liked the record enough for them to bother. Did the Come Closer album sell badly (in comparison to his other albums) because those given the job of selling it failed, or were its relatively poor results (internationally and domestically it still shifted nearly half million copies*) because people didn't like what they heard?

However, fans are also right to question Universal's treatment of Tarkan. The music industry is a huge, slow, lumbering beast, run by people that have structured the business so that no one can afford to take risks, which creates a situation of stagnation and repetition – only daring to embrace change when the bandwagon is parked outside their door honking its horn impatiently. Who knows what genius sparked in the CEO of PolyGram (now Universal) to take a chance on Tarkan in 1998?

But this is not news to Tarkan. He has been in the industry long enough to know that if you want total control of your musical output then keep total control of your musical output and release it yourself.

For the most part, after his Karma release, most of his works have been produced by Tarkan-owned music ticket HITT, though practically Tarkan had been calling the producer shots at his first music label Istanbul Plak ever since the mid-1990s with the success of his second album A-acayipsin.

Does the music industry need to change? Of course it does. Is it making the kind of insane, panicked decisions seen only during the crumbling of empires? Without a doubt. Labels spent so long running scared of downloads they're too far behind to catch up. They're now at the mercy of shareholders who have no tolerance for the small, money-haemorrhaging division of the multi-national corporation they invested in – hence the jobs cut and acts axed.

In part, the perceived sales failure of Come Closer could have been to do with timing, and the state of the music industry outside of Turkey as it stands, but examples show - as with Tarkan's own hit success in 1999 - if a song catches the imagination of the public, then it creates its own opportunities for success.

Coming Closer without Come Closer?

Tarkan could have hidden away in a villa in Istanbul like this oneAnd Tarkan has acted accordingly. He hasn't gone off to sulk in one of his villas and become a recluse in Istanbul - as some might have done after the backlash to Come Closer - but has listened to the criticism and is working on a re-production of the album, albeit now with the release of Metamorfoz, an album whose future is undecided.

Yet, with the apparent success of Metamorfoz showing that Tarkan is coming back on track, it doesn't look like fans are going to lose too much sleep about the missing sequel to Come Closer. The artist's site reported that the Turkish language album would be given limited release across Europe in February to "test the commercial waters", instead.

Though fans of Come Closer should not dispair. There is every indication that if or when Come Closer Part II is released, it will be much better than its original. As Metamorfoz has so clearly shown, Tarkan is the exact opposite of Hollywood sequels and the law of diminishing returns. In the Turkish music genre at least he gets better - not worse - with every succeeding album.

Pictures courtesy of HaberAktuel (added by Adelind Osmanlı).

The views in this article are those of the author alone.
Read more Mark Mayhey articles on Tarkan >>

* The Turkish Society Mü-YAP published figures for 2006 foreign album sales in Turkey, showing Tarkan coming second with over 100,000 copies moved. Separately, sales outside of Turkey in other countries of release, including single sales, tripled that amount.

Editor Note Update (June 2012): record label DMC head Samsun Demir revealed the figure for Come Closer album sales in Turkey to be 308,000 on his official Twitter account.

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