Wednesday 16 March 2011

*Routes into the Music Industry

I've been following music many years - and very closely the past few. It never ceases to amaze me...! Puzzling over why some artists may receive 'huge critical acclaim' yet not the publics endorsement - while others the reverse! I attend many big event festivals here in Scotland - as well as live gigs by both major artists and up-and-coming artists in Glasgow mostly. .I recently attended Celtic Connections Glasgow, which attracts people worldwide. I try to make the Danny Kyle open mic stage for new artists and the festival club. I've been to many rock, folk and pop gigs here the past years.  

I watched X Factor a bit last season.. and what is there to say! It seems a very limited here-today-gone- tomorrow- route' into the industry. I am just listening to Adele's soul voice singing Dylan's 'To Make You Feel My Love'- who says his songs are depressing (!) they need to listen.... I love Adele's new song 'Someone Like You' and her new album is full of co-writers on both lyrics and music. Yet other young artists I follow can get criticised if they haven't written their entire album? Adele came through the Brit School of music in Guildford - and I've seen her perform on Jools Holland several times - and it occurred to me there is a ton load of 'politics' in music.

*There are several main routes into the industry. 
I Popstar. Firstly the reality route via X Factor, Idol or other tv shows. Leona Lewis, Britney, Justin Timberlake, Kelly Clarkson. All hghly Americanised rather artificial shows, where the performers are tightly controlled and artists are signed to major labels and it all feels highly superficial. Artists who come top on these shows are marketed usually to a clear niche market - 10 year old girls often - or the mature granny. It's the gran and granddaughter audience! (the boys are too busy playing video games!)

II Pop Label Route: Justin Beiber, Clare Maguire, Ellie Goulding. Labels pick up young artists via A & R men and online networks. They are then 'groomed' over several years for hit 'stardom' via music magazines and by working with LA writing teams. Sometimes for the huge Tweenie' market - the 10 to 12 year old girls.  Image is also carefully developed.

III Music College. Amy Whinehouse, Adele, Keane, Newton Faulkner.  Through the Jools Holland route and via music college. In particular the Brit School at Guildford and a lot of networking goes on between these colleges and the music industry itself. While of course music colleges get invited to the reality shows too. Clearly a lot of coaching does on here also, but in a more sophisticated and expensive way.
V Folk Festivals. Julie Fowlis, Cara Dillon, Kris Drever, Karine Polwart,  Thirdly the folk music scene, where young artists can perform 'Open Mic' stages and the many low key festivals. The folk artists tend to use smaller labels. With the live gigs bringing more revenues in music these days, this must be good news for the folk scene- although there is still less money in folk as it is often older tunes compare to the royalties in pop/rock music. 

VII Publishing. Many iconic artists have broken in this way - Elton, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, more. Oddly I was thinking many are piano players and the piano is possibly the best instrument for songwriting on. Keys can also be awkward for a band onstage though, when the keyboards can't moved be around in confined spaces and also be often a block between artist and their audience - compared to the favourite guitar. Publishing deals give artists the much needed time to develop their writing and also performing skills.  

V Online. New route. Some artists build a following online through one of the networking sites - simply by putting up a few songs.
VII Rock band. Radiohead, U2, Coldplay, more. Lastly the Rock band route via NME or Q tours etc. Things start through small venue gigging - the 'Breaking' stages at festivals, where the A & R men hang about eyeing up the new talent for the next big thing. Most indie bands prefer to sign to indie labels where they are allowed more creative freedoms.  In today's music world there is now no longer room for mistakes in the public eye the way there used to be, even back in the 90s. Once you are 'online' on Youtube or myspace etc. it is make or break - and things have to be exactly right with image and sound.

And who are the reviewers (myself included) and judges of music? My impression is that some follow what is considered 'cool' 'sophisticated' or 'hip' regardless. I try to ignore the 'hype' - and certainly there are many artists out there who are 'pushed' at us. I've studied and listened to music all my life (and I'm not so young, I have lived through the decades of pop) and I play and write myself. I try to follow my heart in the first instance and I'm a big fan of what works live.
As the genres are blurring more and more - I often wonder as I watch rocky folk bands at Celtic or pop singer songwriters what is the 'real' difference between these routes into the music business. Often it is one of perceptions - and the Jools Holland and rock band routes appear to lead to a wider ranging and longer-term audience.  
PS Sometimes in art the slate need to be swept clean, in order to make way for the new. Towards the end of the seventies we had 'over-stylized glam-rock' - and along came punk in the early eighties to strip things back to basics and renew things.