THE LASTING POWER OF MUSIC BACK CATALOGUES

By Hans Ebert
@hanseberthk

And now Keith Emerson is no longer with us. Was I a fan of Emerson, Lake and Palmer and their “Prog Rock”? Not in the slightest. It sounded contrived and ponderous despite the undisputed talents of Greg Lake, Carl Palmer and Keith Emerson. But as a music fan, I followed all the back stories about the band, how Mitch Mitchell was their original choice for drummer, went back and listened to their previous lives with The Nice and King Crimson, loved many of their album covers, especially those designed by Hipgnosis, and respected their influence on artists like Koji Kondo, the first composer of Nintendo video games, and Nobuo Uetmatsu, possibly the most influential composer in the video game industry.

Back in the day, being a music fan took on many shapes and sizes and the need to know everything about a band or artist and the degrees of separation. It was a holistic experience that went much further than stopping at the music recorded. It was like attending a very different kinda school or college, where you learned everything no one else could teach you. You were student and teacher. You were another brick in some invisible wall that needed tearing down and with those remarkable back stories teaching you so much and often taking you on a completely different musical journey.

In the midst of everything else going on in the world out there today led by all the anger and hate and the Great Divide caused in America by the Donald Trump presidential campaign- and the thought of this man in the White House should be of concern to the entire world- one by one we are losing our musical heroes. Age catches up with us all and no one lives forever, but instead of mourning these losses, perhaps it’s time to start celebrating and acknowledging their legacies.

Other icons will soon leave us, and we’d just better get used to it. If that musical baton is being passed on to a new generation, let’s hope it lands in the right hands. Let’s hope and pray that these musical legacies are never lost or fall through the cracks.

Jimmy Fallon recently joked that more and more young music fans are listening to their parents’ music because more and more of their parents are listening to their music.

There’s some truth to that, and what has never gone outta style- just like Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band- is that everything old has always been new again- fashion and, especially music, and, often, both.

There was recently a small music industry story that Alistair Norbury, a name from my past, had been hired by BMG to, basically, market its back-catalogue- and make it new again. Make it relevant.

Good to see this being done, but my old friend when at Universal Music-Max Hole- had this idea decades ago- and in a far more creative way through the setup of a separate division to resurrect the careers of artists who were either with no recording deals, or else, had recording deals with Universal Music and its very many labels, but had been lost in the shuffle. It’s how the great Michael McDonald came to record the Motown catalogue and sell over 15 million records in the process. Prior to this, he was languishing on one of Universal Music’s more obscure labels recording things like big band versions of “White Christmas”.

In that constant pursuit for the New, we were sitting on some gold mines- but these gold mines were not being properly mined. They were gathering dust because either Universal Music had a flawed business model, or else the music company had the wrong executives on board with no A&R abilities, thanks to those useless hires, ironically, in what is still referred to as “human resources”. Who hired these geniuses in “human resources”, who often didn’t even know what the A&R process is and the type of music executive who would be good at it- really good at it.

The same can be said about every music company- even those today: All have too many piss poor executives without a deft knowledge of a music company’s back catalogue and what to do with it.

It shouldn’t take the death of David Bowie or Keith Emerson or Glenn Frey or Natalie Cole or Ben E King or Sir George Martin to see an upsurge in the sales of their recordings.

The marketing of any music company’s back catalogue should be an ongoing process- that passion to keep the torch burning and finding new ways to make everything old new- again and again- through remixes, new vocals added to an old backdrop, and through working with, for example, an ancient organisation like the BBC and make them release all those classic pop programmes in their vaults just gathering dust. Why are these programmes just gathering dust? Either no one cares, or else some archaic contracts are stopping these programmes with so many historical ‘live’ performances by artists no longer with us from seeing the light of day.

Meanwhile, YouTube seems to be alive and well and living in some parallel universe through consumer generated content, and online laws no one can understand. And thank Gawd for that.

But getting back to the music companies, they have the Rights to so much music, so many outtakes, hell, so many artists who music fans are yet to hear, so much music that an entire new generation would buy into and be able to see and hear what was produced decades ago and long before music was put on Remote and vocals were laid over beats and cookie cutter pop music was produced and fed to the starving millions hoodwinked into thinking that this is the only music around. It’s not. Somewhere along the way, the actual process of producing music- and going as far out as possible to create something DIFFERENT has either been lost or sabotaged- and almost two generations of music fans don’t even realise this so that they can learn through lessons from the past.

This is why many today accept mediocrity in music so readily- and turn mediocre talent into mega stars. That learning curve has been bent outta shape. Well, don’t look back in anger. Make that effort to check out the back catalogues out there even if it’s because you like the album cover. Look back in awe and be inspired at a musical past where so much greatness was produced with such ease, with such consistency, and with so little- except for that little something called talent.

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