How long is a ball of string? It’s always something going through my head when around experienced creative types with proven track records and being challenged to think differently. Come up with ideas. It forces one to be at the top of their game. It’s not the time to play a hand with Jack high and pray to hell it’s high enough.
It happened last weekend in Sentosa at a Think Tank session comprising a couple of people in music, a few from technology, others in marketing aka “social media”, and sports and sponsorship marketing and management. No HR people needed. No need for those who have a new idea every nanu second and hope something sticks.
It’s like music festivals. There are so many around these days that music fans are spoilt for choice. There’s also a pecking order attached. The bigger the flapjacks appearing on the bill, the greater the magnet to be there. Very often just to say that you were there. An Instagram moment.
Glastonbury, Ibiza, Roskilde- it’s about the music and the vibes and the people and the location. And in what is a downturn in the economy, it’s also about value and who provides music fans with more bangs for their buck. More of everything, please, but without that price tag to attend ever becoming exorbitant. Pricing out the good times.
There was a time not really that long ago though time often flies on unexpected wings at a worldwide music conference in Munich when us executives listened to a panel of young Facebook execs explain how we could use the social media platform- very new at the time- to sell more music. To work closer with music fans. Introduce new music much more cost effectively. And with more pinpoint accuracy. How MySpace was finished. But never ever thinking that this thing called “social media” would get off the ground, we never listened.
Ignorance and arrogance came into play and most of us saw their presentation as a break to grab some chocolate muffins and chat up one of the Facebookers.
We -the music industry- had successfully sued illegal file sharing site Napster and co founders Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning and believed that nothing was going to change our world. The six star lifestyle was going to continue. So much for that dream.
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.
My daughter Taryn was fortunate enough to work for Simon Fuller. It was for what was then his fledgling artist management company called 19. This was when the company was busy trying to break the very poppy UK group SClub7.
Actually, the pop group had made it. Kinda. They had their own television series. Rachel Stevens especially looked like making it as a solo artist. She had the looks. Something like a young Victoria Beckham.
And so “American Idol” and “The Voice” had their finales a day apart from each other. Who won? Anyone care? Really?
Having watched each sporadically and appalled at the lack of talent on both shows, the programming/content/whatever proved just how much the world has changed and as Pete Towshend wrote, We Won’t Get Fooled Again.
When one of the very very very few people you respect and with a globally proven track record writes to say, “The music industry has never been in such a mess”, one not only listens, there’s a certain sense of vindication- that what you have been saying and questioning for years isn’t just talk from Sleepy Hollow and how so many have allowed themselves to be bamboozled for so long that they’re utterly burnt out, desperately clutching at straws and believing this is taking them somewhere. Please.
Social media might be a nice place to show off that you’ve made yourself a nice salad and show some happy snaps from a holiday, but as platforms to market and sell music, especially if an unknown, please don’t embarrass yourself by uploading mawkish self-promotional jive on Facebook and Instagram even if you’re wearing a hibiscus behind your ear and wobbling trying to stay in tune. All this does is highlight the terminal deficiencies when it comes to having actual talent.
Writing this with a repeat of Britain’s Got Talent flickering in the background and some random Spotify Playlist playing what could be described as “coffee shop music” while thinking about one particular well-known name dropping music blogger who is clueless about the world outside of America writing incessantly about embracing new technology and The New, but then goes on and on about the need for artists to tour and how touring gave the Grateful Dead their loyal Deadheads shows just how unfocused, hypocritical and confusing trying to make a career out of music has become. All the excitement and enthusiasm seems to have been sucked out and replaced with bland clutter and speaking in the vagaries of circles.
Trying to make a livelihood out of music today is almost an impossibility. Or so it seems. To those who’ve worked in music companies run as successful businesses by visionaries like Ahmet Ertegun and Chris Blackwell and grown up watching, and even getting to know, unknown artists become legends, it’s easy to come across being know-it-all windbags and dreadful bores in the process.
It probably started with Chris Cornell: Slowing down an uptempo song and giving it a new twist just as he did with his amazing version of “Billie Jean”.
Michael Jackson and producer Quincy Jones had given the world a slice of slick, danceable pop aided by a hugely important music video during those early days of MTV which helped enormously in breaking a black artist into the mainstream consciousness when Sony Chairman at the time- Walter Yetnikoff, below, played hardball with the new music channel: Put “Billie Jean” on Heavy Rotation or else you don’t get any other video by Sony artists- Springsteen, Journey, Billy Joel, Cindi Lauper etc etc.
It was only a matter of time before #MeToo broke the sound barrier and entered the music industry though I must say that from where I was, I never saw anything untoward going on, certainly not in the UK and not in the Asia Pacific region. The U.S. I can’t talk about because it was foreign soil. But #MeToo continues to “trend” and one has to wonder what other industries will be swept along with what has mainly been a Hollywood created red carpet product and whether there will be some surprising U-turns and curve balls and where it’s all going to end.
The world can’t afford to be walking on eggshells and looking over one’s shoulder. It’s not the way to get on with life. It’s not providing any answers other than creating an environment of fear.