By Hans Ebert
Let’s try to make some sense out of all this. Or at least find solutions. We know the problems. One major problem: Unless a (Sir) Lucian Grange, or a Simon Cowell, Jimmy Iovine, Jay-Z, perhaps Daniel Ek- or any of the other big Poohbahs in the music business- and those established artists who were complete unknowns with no direction of home until plucked from obscurity by those with the intuitive A&R skills to hear something special in their music, many very good artists fell through the cracks. Or else didn’t become as big as they should have.The band Low Millions come to mind. And Athlete. Starsailor. Placebo. Moriarty.
So many great talent from Denmark led by Nephew.
What about artists signing those “worldwide recording deals”? Where did these lead? If not signed in the US or the UK and blessed by a very senior A&R person and then doubly blessed by the Chairman of a major music company and being anointed a “global priority act”, nothing much happened. Their records gathered dust on shelves.
Think Norah Jones would have happened with her debut album without the late Bruce Lundval, who then headed up Blue Note, not personally signing her to the label? Someone passed a cassette of her demos, he liked what he heard and the rest is a chorus of Don’t Know Why.
That record happened organically. One of the very few that has. That album cover had me at Hello. It held me in its spell. It drew me into her music. A whisper is always better than a shout.
Of course, no one sings a song like Norah Jones. She also loathes crass marketing. She’s always been in music for the right reasons. It’s why she’s the person she is.
Bruce Lundval was a great music executive. A legend. He was a music guy. He was smart. Had wonderful stories. Worked with arrangers like the great Arif Mardin. Signed some of the greatest artists. Signed other excellent young talent like the brilliant Woods Brothers purely because he loved their music. He believed in them. He wasn’t a number cruncher.
Having reached retirement age, he was accorded the respect he deserved. At those worldwide marketing conferences he would regale those of us too young to know with his wonderful stories. Those stories about legendary jazz musicians and his interactions with them were life lessons. The music world misses him.
Someone like Bruce Lundval helped cover up the pockmarks and cracks appearing in the music industry. He was experiencing talking. Through the side door, too many were suddenly becoming music executives. Too many who knew nothing about music. Especially how it evolved. And why: Music fans.
Those cracks we see today are not just an abyss. It’s a void. A black hole. It’s a dangerous place to look into. It could just draw you in.
The feeling that all the time spent creating and producing music might not be reaching as many as it should, or that their work was done, could have caused some to snap and call it a day. That feeling of hopelessness is a dangerous one.
Of course artists giving in to hopelessness and flirting with dangerous short term “cures” have always been with us. We’ve lost so many great talents along the way.
But there’s a different kind of hopelessness these days. It’s hopelessness mixed with confusion and anxiety. Mediocrity being accepted. Too many thinking that because there’s nothing much out there that’s any good, they’re better. It doesn’t help. Stupid is as stupid does.
This means more and more mediocrity promoting themselves on social media and believing they’re Ready For Prime Time Players. All they’re doing is feeding the online sloth. Lowering standards.
Not that long ago when it was mainly about gimmicks and solo performers aimed at a young market and television audiences wishing to be entertained by something innocuous. Nothing with any depth. It was Coca-Cola soda pop, celebrity judges and pretty faces.
It was just after the Spice Girls happened. A spillover effect. Spice Girls was a Barbie concept. Marketing a different favourite for mainly one in every five little girls. Dressed to please. In different colours. Categorised. Sporty. Ginger. Baby. Scary. Posh. And “articulately contrived” videos with choreographed dance steps. The music? Repetitive. Lotsa cheese. Really not important. Style over substance. Think I didn’t find Posh Spice hotter than a chicken vindaloo? Twirling around that Wannabe double decker in her short tight black dress? And that was about it.
It was a formula repeated and bludgeoned to death. From other sausage factories came all those boy bands. Around a decade later came One Direction. A more hip boy band but based on the Take That/Spice Girls model. Harry Styles was the new Posh Spice. Zayne Malik was the young Robbie Williams character. Simon Cowell is no Svengali but the idea of putting this band together for especially teenage girls worked. It was smart business. Made millions.
Some might even point to the Beatles and maybe the Stones as the original boy bands. But both were not cookie cutter bands. Their images might have been created- The Cute Beatle, The Quiet Beatle etc- but they had the musical chops. They were overflowing with creativity.
The Glimmer Twins might have taken a little while to start writing originals. But once they hit their stride, they rocked and rolled the world.
Lennon and McCartney meanwhile had already changed the face of Pop music through their songs.
All this created an explosion of creativity- the artists on Motown, Joni Mitchell, Dylan. Well, you know the roll call.
Video and MTV killed the radio star, but the music companies didn’t see where this would lead. Led to, yes, some ground breaking music videos. “Cry”. “Thriller”. “Sledgehammer”.
Music videos also led to the technique becoming the idea. The music was being pushed further and further into the background.
This led to all those vapid television singing competitions. It was MTV for a more mature and less discriminating audience. Those happy to hear, especially young fresh faces, singing songs they knew. It was television karaoke. It was more cheese. Sometimes, a freak show. With no winners.
The music industry was thriving, however. Many music executives became fat cats. Why? Not really sure. Reputation for being associated with certain Big Name artists? Good PR people building up the brand.
Ahmet Ertegun, below, Jerry Wexler, Jac Holzman, Berry Gordy, David Geffen, Chris Blackwell etc deserved their legendary status.
These gentlemen were pioneers of what became the music industry. The problem were the settlers who were to eventually invade this landscape that they had created.
The more recent brand of music executive didn’t need to be effective. It was mainly a CD market. New releases by name artists sold themselves. With a little help from MTV and shelf space at HMV, Tower and other record stores.
New international artists wanting to break into this region depended on the more savvy A&R executives who could see and hear that they had something special. But by then, priorities had shifted. Things had become formulaic. Release a CD and work something out with MTV and depending on creative accounting. Working for a music company and hanging with artists had become cool. The real priority. Enablers are never cool.
Partying and travelling first class aside, it was about making the numbers. And there were tricks to this. Like flooding Europe with big international releases cheaply manufactured in China and Malaysia. No one cared. Some feigned indignation when many of us knew they were actually the ones and twos who owned these manufacturing plants.
Number crunchers and lawyers were running music companies- and the creative process and the creative product.
Human Resources had the power to bring in more clowns and misfits from technology companies. Knowing nothing about music, music companies quickly lost their USP. They became as irrelevant as MySpace and websites.
Many, especially in this region, got very rich running these new dangled and lost music techno companies- and which they parlayed into side businesses like artists management and fed via different bank accounts. This has gone on for decades. It goes on today.
With Head Office knowing that sales from this region amounts to around two percent of worldwide sales, anyone will do when it comes to running a music company out here. Even Dumb and Dumber. It’s sad.
There are HUGE opportunities for music and new music related business streams in this region, especially either in or from Mainland China and Bollywood and bringing Asia together. All of Asia. The indigenous music from Nepal. Mongolia. Sri Lanka. Call it the New Asia.
It will happen. And it won’t be another faked out television singing competition with overpaid celebrities judging another round of hand-picked contestants warbling covers.
It will be about exporting brand new music produced in Asia to where it’s never gone before.
It should have happened much earlier and there were some great starts with East-West collaborations. But too many were busy feathering their Canto and Mando “Popaganda” nests with cronies by their side. Those shell games must end.
Speak to these people still hanging in there in the so-called music industry in Asia, and the inner Laughing Gnome needs to be suppressed.
It’s all been said before. But by much smarter people who were speaking from the heart. Original thinkers. And when the music industry was not beholden to anyone. Except music fans.
Music fans don’t change. Not really. But, for whatever reason, like the Pied Piper of Hamlyn, they’ve been led over the cliff.
Music fans no longer know what to believe. Or how to go to get back to the garden. And so they parrot what they think everyone wants to hear. Wrong.
Not everyone wants to listen to “reach” and “awareness”. Some of us heard enough of this crap from all those research companies with their charts and graphs and qualitative and Mary quantitative findings. The number crunchers nodded in agreement.
Those of us who joined music companies to be part of the music making process, well, we listened and saw something very wrong happening.
This pseudo academic approach to marketing and promoting music is not what we signed on for.
Too many today are trying to turn music into an exacting science. It’s why everyone with GarageBand believes they’re musicians.
Music is undefinable. That is its magic. It comes from within. This “within” has and is being manipulated. And many urchins have been sent out by Fagin to do his bidding.
More and more, however, there are those music fans rebelling against falling in line and being part of the Sheeples. They’re turning their backs on whatever is supposedly “trending”.
They’ll make up their own minds. Not because of Twitter. Facebook. Instagram. Spotify.
Music is not an algorithm. The popularity of music cannot be guaged through social media. Nor can it be force fed through social media. It becomes intrusive. Music is something extremely personal.
Perhaps we’re sharing too much and doing too little. We seem to be following instead of leading. And stumbling along the way.
It’s time again for those days when Punk blew everything to bits, Anarchy In The UK was welcomed and that Indie spirit showed that big isn’t better. It’s just big. And often, limp. Let’s get dirrrrrty. Let’s go crazy.
#music #musicindustry #LucianGrange #SimonCowell #BruceLundval #NorahJones #SpiceGirls #Spotify #Asia #MusicinAsia #MainlandChina #Bollywood #EastWest #HansEbert #IndieSpirit