By Hans Ebert
Some of us would have our favourites. There were however those artists who fell under “Global priorities” and “Regional priorities” with all us music executives feeling the heat to come up with those dreaded “numbers” and “chart successes” to be in the good books of Head Office. It wasn’t that different to what goes on today when a major artist like Taylor Swift drops a new record and the spinning goes into overdrive with social media so instrumental in banging home often false messages of success for the gullible and earaches of rumourmongering. Paul might have been “dead” for a while, but music never became a scattergun of tit for tat and open vindictive musical warfare that today has become part of “marketing”.
Say it enough and people buy it with the online world drip feeding childish back stories that everyone accepts as real and which dovetail with release dates. And there’s plenty riding on this latest musical soap opera from the increasingly tedious Swish Swish.
It’s a different time these days to when there was only MTV and Radio AirPlay and when Rolling Stone was the Rock bible with brilliant writers and music fans made up their own minds. They weren’t easily led and didn’t believe everything they read.
When at EMI, the global priorities were Norah, Robbie, Coldplay, Gorillaz and a few others on the list like- huh?- Stacey Orrico whose inclusion surprised many of us. But when orders came down from Head Office that there was interest in the singer in Japan, we did what was told and found various ways to make the numbers. We were basically pussies not wanting to make waves.
While others used their executive roles and designer suits to feather their nests and make early retirement plans, those of us who joined the music industry to be closer to those who made this music, were blissfully ignorant about all the shake your moneymakers going on around us and behind our backs. We lost our way and forgot about believing in the music. It was all about holding onto the job and keeping the title on the name card.
As for making the numbers, the easiest way was what we called “wings”- ship out hundreds of thousands of records manufactured on the cheap in Malaysia and Mainland China to one particular buyer in Europe. The buyer made his numbers and we made ours. The rest was really some lazy promotion work with MTV as the heavy lifting had already been done.
Those of us who joined music companies because we were music fans had our favourites and who usually never made it as global priorities. Mine were Low Millions, Placebo, Athlete and, pictured below, Starsailor.
Of the four, Starsailor was my favourite ever since hearing their song “Alcoholic”. The vocal by James Walsh was stunning, as were the honesty of his words. The song cut straight to the heart of the matter. “Alcoholic” was the third single off a million selling debut album “Love Is Here”, and I was backing Starsailor over Coldplay. Ok, hit me with your rhythm stick for doing that, but taste is an individual thing.
While Coldplay’s success kinda crept up on the world, for whatever reason, the second Starsailor record, despite tracks produced by Phil Spector including the brilliant “Silence Is Easy”, didn’t receive the promotional support it deserved. But you do your small part to rectify this and we went out on a limb to bring Starsailor to Singapore and Hong Kong. They were terrific- a brilliantly tight outfit with very good songs and who should have been huge.
At that time, EMI simply had too many British bands led by Coldplay and Radiohead. Starsailor, Athlete and a few others fell through the cracks and fell out of favour with executives often influenced by the more successful A&R men. There were groupies even within music companies.
By now, being in a music company was only about survival as even the home of the Beatles was bought and sold to a rich fat Englishman who had made his money by restoring nursing homes in Germany and owning toilets on the autobahn.
On top of this, there was the digital revolution and which led to where we are today- a dumbed down numbers driven industry where nothing adds up and very few of anything makes any sense. It’s Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake.
Thinking back, us underlings were as weak as piss to just become well paid robots and forget why as music fans we had been so happy to join a music company. It was all for the music. But the more one is surrounded by bean counters and executive musical chairs of politics, everything becomes more and more blurred whereas you let fear and loathing into your life by not being a very nice person.
The wife finally tires of the sex, lies and videotapes and makes the right decision that this is not about the promise to get older together. One side wants to be Peter Pan and live in this alternative Never Never Land while the other continues to believe in family values.
Still, put all this down to life experiences and which might come out in a song or a book or a movie and think about all those artists you helped along the way and if lucky those you worked with, those with whom you created some very very good music.
Sure there were the priority acts and working on remixes for everyone from Bowie to Robbie, but there was also the satisfaction of thinking back to the young Singaporean band Parking Lot Pimp and their one and only record for EMI that was just so good, especially the song, “Blow”, which was so ahead of its time.
And then there’s still the music of Starsailor. No longer with EMI, the band is now with Cooking Vinyl, we’ve reconnected, they have a new record coming out. With almost everything returning to a more sane time and the Wolf of Wall Street just a blur, perhaps we can return to music and, this time, make a difference by learning from the mistakes we’ve made and be true to ourselves.
Honesty is always the best policy, something learned by living a lie and allowing in the wrong people. Do yourself a favour and let in the new Starsailor record. You won’t be disappointed. You might even be inspired. Welcome back, lads.
#Starsailor #Alcoholic #JamesWalsh #EMI