Goodwill Ambassador

What Macklemore's breakthrough says about the state of the music industry.

To understand the impact Macklemore’s commercial breakthrough, The Heist, had on local music this year, you only had to be sitting next to my 12-year-old son during a recent conversation.

“Dad, can I ask you a music-industry favor?” he asked. As my offspring, he had met a slew of rock stars, so I wasn’t sure if he was going to ask for Keith Richards to show up at his next show-and-tell, or something more mundane.

“OK, what?”

“Can you drive me and a few of my friends to Goodwill so we can see where Macklemore’s ‘Thrift Shop’ video was filmed?”

This was one “industry favor” easily arranged, so the next weekend I set out for Goodwill with a station wagon full of suburban junior-high-school boys, part of Macklemore’s central demographic. My son had been to Goodwill numerous times before—half my house was furnished from there—but “Thrift Shop” had changed the way he thought of the place. 

“I wonder if Macklemore will be there?” he asked.

“Uh, sure,” I said. But my son wasn’t half as starry-eyed as the other kids. “I bet a lot more people are going to Goodwill since that video,” one said.

“I’m not sure people go to Goodwill for the glamour,” I replied.

“I’m going to buy a big fur coat there, like Macklemore,” another boasted. “Do you think I can get that for $40?”

“Yeah, I’m certain.”

“Do you think they have a section of Macklemore merch?” another asked. The very fact that a 12-year-old would use the word “merch” gives you a picture of how today’s music audience understands marketing, and prefers buying T-shirts to CDs. My son had in fact asked if he and his friends could watch the “Thrift Shop” video on my phone as we drove—which they did repeatedly.

I waited in the car while they “shopped,” which in their case meant running through the store, in love with being young and with what Macklemore represents to them. To a degree, it was the same thing the Sex Pistols meant to me growing up in a different era: music that made me feel sophisticated, powerful, discontented, and slightly, but not actually, dangerous.

In the end, they bought nothing at Goodwill. These boys, like so many music consumers, were content to watch the streaming video all the way home.