They have been used to sell everything from washing powder to New Labour. But now it seems that even Madonna has woken up to the power of focus groups.
The most successful female artist in chart history has chosen songs for her next album after secretly trying them out on nightclubbers.
The tunes, with her distinctive vocals removed, were played in clubs from Liverpool to Ibiza throughout June. The reaction of the crowds were filmed and used by the 47-year-old mother of two to determine the final track listing for Confessions On A Dancefloor, her 10th studio album.
Details of the unorthodox track selection have been disclosed by Stuart Price, 28, the DJ and producer who is collaborating with Madonna on the record. Price, who is originally from Reading, revealed rock music’s first flirtation with market research in an interview for the singer’s official website. “Whenever I was DJ-ing I’d take dub or instrumental versions out with me and test them at the club that night,” he said. “I had my camera with me and the next day I’d tell Madonna, ‘This is what a thousand people in Liverpool look like dancing to our song’ .”
He added: “You can work on a song for 12 hours but I guarantee you’ll know within just 10 seconds of putting it on at a club whether it works or not. So these songs were tested on unwitting subjects throughout Europe.”
The idea of Madonna seeking affirmation for her work before it has been released has surprised many in the worlds of advertising and music. After all, she has sold more than 175 million albums and 75 million singles worldwide.
Claire Beale, the editor of Campaign magazine, said the research could be seen as a crisis of confidence for someone normally known for their business acumen.
“This is a new one on me,” she said. “In the advertising world, creative people tend to distrust focus groups precisely because they can undermine originality and bring everything down to the lowest common denominator.
“Having said that, people in the advertising industry are becoming increasingly reliant on them because there is a growing lack of confidence about what people want.
“Madonna is obviously running her material past a very niche audience rather than a focus group. But it still suggests she feels a need for endorsement. Like a lot of people who work in advertising she is far older than her target audience. She may feel this is a useful way of reconnecting with a younger generation.”
Price, who also performs under the name Jacques Lu Cont, appears not to have told the clubs about the Madonna tracks.
Jezz Caldwell, promoter of The Barfly in Liverpool, where the DJ performed recently, said: “There is no time to chat, it is just music and dance.”
Madonna, who has 16 albums to her name, believes that a return to her dancefloor roots will re-establish her as one of the world’s most successful artists. Her last album, American Life, topped the charts in 14 countries including Britain and America, but ended up as her lowest-selling release, selling just four million copies worldwide. Too many ballads and the lack of any credible dance hits were cited as reasons why it failed to emulate the success of previous offerings such as Music, which sold 15 million copies when it was released in 2000.
Others in the music industry, however, are not convinced by the new approach. Paul Rees, the editor of Q music magazine, said: “It all depends how honest they have been with her. Have they just shown her the positive reaction from the clubs? Or have they said, ‘Look Madonna, here is some film of one of our songs emptying a dancefloor?’ I somehow doubt they will have done that.”
Warner Music, Madonna’s record label, is said to be delighted with the new album and has scheduled it for a November release. Hung Up will be the first single release from the CD.
Madonna, who sustained several broken bones after she fell from a horse two weeks ago, is expected to be fit enough to carry out promotional work for the release.
Her spokesman declined to comment further on the club sessions. A spokesman for Price also declined to give further details.
source : telegraph.co.uk