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Friday, September 02, 2016

Tarkan is Still a Winner

Editorial by Mark Mayhey reporting from London, UK

Tarkan is a winner. To his fans he will always be a winner. It doesn't matter how many setbacks his career suffers, or how nasty people get over his private life, the pop icon is forever interwoven with the fabric of a country that has had its fair share of comebacks.

As with every music artist in the world, what matters is their musical output. And Tarkan has enough of a back catalogue that, even if he were never to produce anything listenable again, his faithful fanbase will go back to the albums that forever endeared him into their hearts.

Right or wrong has nothing to do with emotional bonds that inexplicably and inextricably bind the fan to their star. Distance does not defy the intimacy. Disappointment only makes them reach back into the past to remind themselves of their emotional investment.

Knowingly or not, for the truth of this you only need to look at Turkish streaming lists online now to see Tarkan's old albums appearing in top lists - right at a time when the icon has been struggling to capture the attention and the hearts and minds of a public bruised by violence.

And struggle he has. But his backers have stood by him despite the current decline in public opinion, because Tarkan means more than money to his industry, he means growth. Investments made in last year's Harbiye shows thanks to Tarkan's engineers, for example, mean that other celebrity events will benefit from hired production teams taking Tarkan's live performances to the next level. Everybody wins.

No doubt that is why, unable to sell out shows on his diminishing star allure this year, sponsors and backers are using tactics to push tickets. Adding an extra date not because of demand, but to give the impression there is demand. Bombarding news wires to advertise Tarkan's shows. Doing their utmost to fill seats, which previously would have been filled by Tarkan's name alone.

This September, his Harbiye shows will be jam packed as in previous years because sponsors will make sure of it. Come September 3rd we will all see the pictures we have become accustomed to see; fans holding foot long banners, an open air stadium filled to its brim.

However tarnished an image, it's the music and the performances history remembers. Using the poetics of Plato's probable truth has helped to write many a celebrity a glittering career. And the Tarkan brand is being protected, as well as the man, because a loss in his personal income means a loss all around.

Eventually, rather than the hard facts of Tarkan struggling to generate demand for his shows this year, it's the Platonic truth of those shows packed with adoring fans, which will remain with the music buying public. What will matter solely is what the photographs capture, and it will be irrelevant how many of those tickets were bought or sold behind the scenes.

Going on this basis, Tarkan is a winner. It's a sure bet that the Harbiye shows will not disappoint. There is no other option. Failure is not permitted. Regardless of how much money he will lose this year, the icon needs to look like a winner, because no one backs a loser for long. Not even one like Tarkan, who has so successfully turned his fails into fortune since the nineties.

Understanding the Music Industry of Today

Losing is immediate and infectious, and undeniable, in this interconnected century when your every epic or fail is just a click away. And when your fails go viral, especially in these economically turbulent times, being able to adapt quickly is the key to staying in the game.

Enter into this game a music industry which has seen some great changes since the 1990s; a hearty tale of survival, bracing against one tidal wave after the other. From homebased piracy to downloads and now streaming, an artist's income has slowly dwindled to subscription percentages - making ticket sales more important than ever with each technological advancement.

New technology brings new challenges. As with CD sales of yore, in the past two years sales of music downloads have peaked and already tipped into decline, thanks in part to the rise of a range of streaming services, from Spotify and Pandora to YouTube and Soundcloud. Being online 24/7 means streaming playlists rather than stored files - so why buy, when we can subscribe, or, even better, listen for free?

It's a fact that YouTube’s role in the digital music industry, and the threat that it poses to subscription services, is real; music streamers won't pay for music because they get all they need for free from YouTube. It's what makes it so lucrative and lousy for artists at the same time.

So, what does this transition from sales to streams mean for artists: the songwriters and musicians who make the music being streamed on Spotify, YouTube, Beats Music and other services?

The Art of Winning While Losing

Cue the basics and they are clear: streaming services pay money to labels, publishers and collecting societies, who pass that on to musicians according to the terms of their contracts.

Unfortunately what is less clear is the terms themselves. YouTube is famous for its non disclosure agreements, for instance, and tied up in this musical murkiness is the relationship between advertising revenue and viewing figures.

Next comes another can of murky worms entirely: the question as to how the money is then passed on to songwriters and artists. Complaints from musicians about their streaming income is more than just low royalty cheques, but also about the music industry's ignoble history of artists getting screwed whenever there's a big format change.

The fact that an artist with a fanbase of 30,000 fans, who might ten years ago have relied on half of them to buy their album, can now only rely on 10%, while 50% to 70% will stream their music means less buck for their bang. Streaming will not make much monetary sense to arists who have seen significantly less money coming from downloads and CDs over time, until subscription levels reach the hundreds of millions.

What this means is that only those who figure out how to forge sustainable careers through streaming will win whilst losing. The collateral damage will be those who find it difficult to adapt, and it will be harder for those in the music world before this change, than it is for artists born into this world.

Harder, but not impossible and not without benefits. Having a larger number of your buyers engaging with you directly means more chance of getting your audience to do other things to make up the shortfall from record sales. You can cut out the middle man, or make him work for you.

Overall, it means a new generation of artists who are essentially having to behave like mini-labels themselves in their early career, to first prove they have an audience. They're going to be much better equipped to forge sustainable careers out of music, particularly compared to artists from the 1990s.

It's true that starting from scratch is never easy. Tarkan knows this only too well; after all, he has been his own mini-label since the late nineties. But as hard as this new world might be for old-timers, there is clear evidence the pop icon is adapting to the new changes.

Streaming his talent to subscribers, the artist prefers uploading his videos to his own YouTube channel, rather than a more popular platform, to keep every penny earned from his output and to prove he has an audience. That shows streaming savvy. When "Cuppa" failed to make money on subscription, he uploaded it on YouTube a week later to recoup his losses.

Futhermore, statistics show that while his other social accounts have lost followers during this time, subscriptions to his YouTube channel have risen. And whether his audience like his latest track or not (and his YouTube stats show they don't) "Cuppa" has attracted figures of 11 million and rising - so he's winning even when he's losing.

It's true the figures and consequent revenue his channel attracts is lower than compared to the tens of millions of views he could gain, say, if he made use of Turkish YouTube channel NetD Müzik, but the artist's reasoning is based on the basic understanding that it's better to be a big fish in your own little pond, than a small fish in a large one.

NetD Müzik is a big stream; a global success story and proof that lightning does strike twice. Back in 2013, Turkish music channel Mü-Yap was one of the most popular on YouTube, before it was shut down abruptly in 2014 and disappeared from the service.

In August last year the popularity of YouTube in this regard was back in the sun: Turkish channel NetD Müzik shot in to Tubefilter and OpenSlate's chart of most-viewed channels, with its 433.6m views making it the third most popular channel on YouTube that month.

Strong statistics in an age where YouTube takes its viewcount policy very seriously: From third place NetD Müzik shot to first in September and October 2015, with figures rising month to month. The channel has continued its top slot well into 2016, consistently beating the likes of The Ellen Show, Katy Perry, Eminem and One Direction for viewing figures.

Having this powerful Turkish streaming platform - formed by the parent company of Tarkan's current music label DMC and incorporating 51 major music companies - at your disposal and not use it, is evidence that the singer is aware streaming directly to his own audience is a win-win situation.

Everyone that watches a lot of online video will know YouTube creators are more influential than traditional celebrities. The influence of YouTube stars compared to the influence of stars of TV, film, sports, and music is more widespread and relatable. It heightens the immediacy and impact of the ties that bind the fan to their star.

Doubtless it's this reason, as well as any other, that means Tarkan will always win, even when he is losing. Or at least appear to be winning, which online is usually the same thing. A Platonic truth of the digital age.

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

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