Icons: Don’t Talk to Me About Heroes!
Too many years have passed where no-one has launched themselves out of the underground and into the history books. 2004 has to produce some icons and music stars in their own right (rather than these famous by association, rather than adoration, types from soaps and talent shows). There’s a generation here that doesn’t have a figurehead, let alone a bunch of people wandering around the edge of the mainstream, saying the things we think and feel.
Record companies should be looking back through the history of pop and giving us something more than Dido and Stacie Oricoco. Find us some heroes, villains and deranged geniuses you buzz-chasing, history recyclers. Bowie, Prince, Dylan – anyone?
Inspiration: Scene Not Herd
Identikit bands, across all genres, are seriously killing music. You can’t seriously tell me it’s healthy for every band in your record collection to look and sound the same? You can’t seriously say 400 eMo/garage/nu-metal bands doing the same thing, is in any way better than 40 pop bands doing the same thing? Something’s gotta give.
There are exceptions to this problem, exceptions which are opening musician’s eyes (we know this, cus they’ve repeatedly told us) and twists going on culturally which are creating something different. The Mars Volta record last year for instance, truly struck a nerve throughout the music world and presented some fresh takes on old ideas and reminded the world about the idea of a concept album. Even the Saves the Day album was a twist away from the typical, expected, emo-formula. 2004 needs more bands to do this and more of these releases to hit around the edge of the mainstream, to inspire as many people as possible – although there are a few things which are nearly there. Inspirational sentiments from all corners need to be thrown out there too. It’s time for less negative reaction against something and so many more positive reactions to everything.
Opinions: Where did they go?
Just how many taste-makers tails do we have to chase? Why does no-one have any balls? Sheep will never a vibrant music scene make. We hear Everett True (Careless Talk..) is launching Loose Lips in the coming months, which could well do some good if it veers away from the bespectacled, elitist, back-biting, hell on earth that is this country's underground ‘scene’ – at least CTCL had some opinions and brought people together and reminded the music world what music journalism is all about. Also Logo and The Fly both have had circulation boosts in the past few months and the mags are now available, for free, in the major chains. There’s also a new mag called Bullit (not that we’ve seen a copy!), another called Vice (not out yet) and apparently some change in direction from some of the style-mags to become more music-focussed. Things might happen. But opinions and personalities need to saturate these pages to bring some life and vibrancy back into the media. Risks and chances need to be taken on amazing new bands, and not just because the marketing campaign is in place. Following suit just isn’t exciting.
Live Scene: More Venues to Save
Petitions and moaning after the event of yet another business, going out of business, isn’t going to solve anything. It may not be all your fault, but by opting for the over-hyped and over-priced shows, people are killing off live music, placing the power in the hands of major operations who dabble in a few things here and there. Then again, the difficulty with which you can spread the word about a tour, a show, a club or even a festival, is increasing. Major chains don’t allow posters and flyers for local events. Local papers employ ageing dim-wits who never go out to a gig unless it’s Beth Orton or Status Quo. And above all people aren’t willing, on the whole, to catch a band they’ve not read about in the NME or seen on MTV2.
Solutions? There are many. Advertising shows can be done on simple local scene sites or even on photocopied sheets, handed out at every show, with previews or even monthly/quarterly sampler cds (if a bunch of local bands were clever, they’d work out it’s cheaper than pressing loads of their own demos up!). Putting on your own gigs if there aren’t any good ones near you isn’t THAT hard either. Getting hold of good bands, however, is near-on impossible, as either they’re hard to contact, can’t co-ordinate a tour which takes in your area or an agent is only going to make £5 from a £50 band fee, so it isn’t worth him returning your phone call. The problems and downfalls here are endless, yet it’s such a vital part of the music scene, especially now that selling cd’s is getting harder, yet live music revenues are on the up, yet British acts aren’t breaking through because there isn’t the space to do the groundwork.
A&R: Scrums, Hype, Buzz, and Bidding Wars
This may sound like something boring, but the A&R world is getting filthier and filthier. Bands aren’t allowed any breathing space anymore and if you play some flavour of the moment genre, you may be about to win and lose a million in less than 12months.
From what we’ve seen, many bands are forced into hibernation for fear of being seen ‘too early’. There are no real second chances. And then when you are ‘so hot right now’ every label under the sun will traipse, on masse, from West London to Cornwall or the deepest depths of Wales, to see a band that ‘everyone is talking about’. The madness of directionless crowds takes over. Bands are sucked up to and offered huge sums of money. Lawyers, who cost a bomb, encourage bidding wars to ensure managers get a bigger cut of the advance, and then all sense of logic flies outta the window. What the band is capable of is exaggerated, the budget is blown waaay out of proportion and then, said band, gets signed to a deal which has such a huge expectation, that if within 12 months they’ve not had a Top 10 album, they’re dropped (to the disappointment of all their newfound fans), tarred with a brush, with a big debt (which was once the advance) and little hope of another deal, forever forgotten. The last thing we want is for great bands, with bags of potential, to fall by the wayside before their debut album is even released.
We’re not sure exactly what can be done to change this. But we’d really like the music industry and bands to be more aware of this and rethink, before too much more damage both financially and culturally is done. Give bands more time to develop (these development deal singles are a good start), take the foot off the gas a little, perhaps give the indies more of a chance and sooner or later, with some organic development and reasonable expectations, everyone’s dreams will come true, without too many job cuts or missed potential.
Promos: Legal Contracts for the Media?!?!
Many labels spent 2003 putting incredibly expensive research and development funds into action, in an attempt to stop people copying pre-release records and putting them on the net. But why didn’t any of them realise they could send out promos on tape or vinyl to overcome this problem? They were adequate enough formats for decades…
Downloads: No More, Shock and Awe!
Some record labels have woken up and discovered the internet is a great way to get music to people, for very little cost and also achieve some data capture. Others haven’t changed. What is truly needed is for labels to make video’s and single streams available, online, so that potential fans can check a band/record out, in much the same way they do at listening posts in record stores and on mtv. Giving people what they want and creating an arena to sample and buy music should be a much bigger priority than closing down p2p and demonizing music fans – you need only look at the success of the don’t jump the fence campaign for Glastonbury to see how this situation should be treated.
The launch of corporate sites is interesting, but a billion miles from what is needed. The biggest problem there and with p2p as a whole is that there isn't anyone using it properly to guide music fans to new music (or quality older music for that matter!), so all labels are doing is creating demand for music is available for free. It's always all been about owning and controlling the means of production for the big boys and once again they’ve realised this (see iTunes, Mycokemusic, Pepsimusic). And the beast is almost back on top, with no idea what to do at the top of the skyscraper. p2p was fun whilst it lasted.
Playlists: Can’t Get You Outta My World
How many times a day can you hear the same song on various different outlets? Just how many of the same songs are rotating on playlists on MTV through Radio 1? And before a big single hits the shops how do you avoid hearing it so many times you’ve heard it enough not to wanna buy it?
It seems that at any given time there’s no more than 30 artistes given exposure to the public with a sprinkling of the most debased acts from each genre. Yes the mainstream shouldn’t be inspiring or invigorating, but what of the millions of other acts with expensive tv and radio pluggers? How can a band's career and labels' life-spans be sustained with so much being spent just to get very close to being on the nation's menu?
Playlists really need to be more varied in 2003 so that every show or every hour isn’t filled with the same songs, even the songs themselves don’t benefit, as the plummeting-to-the-point-of-death singles sales show. And then, why is it that an act like Ryan Adams can play to so many people (who obviously like his music enough that he sold out the Forum in a day) without really getting any exposure? Then again, do we need any more Americans on British radio? For once I feel close to agreeing with Prince Charlie.
British Terrestrial Tv: Music Vids or Rather the Lack Of…
It costs a bomb to make a music video. So howcome, for all that expense - unless you’re one of those people with Sky or digital tv – you can’t see these videos unless the song is at number 1? CD:UK shows mere seconds, 4:music gives about a verse whenever Channel 4 decide to put their music shows on, TOTP is all about the mimed performance and Jools Holland is only for about 10 episodes a year, which comes at the cost of the licence payer, to help advertise products, you guessed, right back to the licence payer.
What TV needs is something like ITV's Chart Show brought back, with specialist corners for various types of music. Or, at least some late night video show or even a show for labels with great acts that can’t really afford to make videos..
Media: Over-hyping STOP/Don’t Stop!
But really, the whole media-copying-media thing, just stop that! There are more than five bands in the world! We live in an age where one hype saturates every publication. Belief is somewhat dead.
Overhyping does have its pros and cons though. Although it puts genuine music fans off and turns bands into self-parodies, whilst also creating such a narrow doorway for any new music - whereby so few bands and labels are given the opportunities to reach an audience – it does, conversely, bring things to the point where the audience starts up its own media (look around you). The trouble is, 20 million websites (as they're so easy to start), half-written in text talk, that only get updated once a month, really aren't really going to change anything. There needs to be more collectively between the 'alternatives', especially when it comes to offering advertising packages to bands/labels/promoters, otherwise the music industry will continue to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on print media advertising and absolutely nothing on the web.
...then there's the small matter of media ownership, but that's another article altogether.
Over to you for more ideas, solutions and any areas you believe need to change… Comment below.