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Saturday, March 01, 2008

UP YOUR'S RICHARD BRANSON: A rant about the music industry

For the music 'industry', these are the only notes they care about

I have been thinking a lot lately about the music ‘industry’. Despite the fact that I live for my music, it seems that the ‘industry’ live on a different planet to me. A good example would be to take a look at the recent Brit Awards. 2008 and Take That win not one but TWO awards.. What the hell is that all about? The judges really need to get out more.

Although, perhaps it is a case that they are out too much, being wined and dined by the ‘industry’, everyone slapping each other on the back, lining each others pockets and laughing all the way to the bank after another good year of ripping off the spoon-fed record buying public.

I always have trouble with this, these artists sell millions of records, am I an elitist snob, deliberately liking outsiders purely to demonstrate how cool I am? Do I have the right to criticise what other people want to buy?

I don’t think I am a snob. Look in my record collection, you will find Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Bob Marley, the Stone Roses, Paul Weller, Goldfrapp, Groove Armarda… all mega selling artists. If something is good, I will buy it. But the vast majority of crap shoved down our throats by the industry is at best a watered down and sanitised version of what is going on out on the ‘street’; at worst, manufactured, plastic tripe.

The problem for me is that music is an art form, NOT an industry. Music comes from the heart; it is an expression of emotion. Music can make you want to dance, lie down, laugh, cry, make love or get up and fight someone. All the ‘industry’ is interested in is making you put your hand in your pockets. The heads of the big record labels are not interested in creating a piece of art that will be remembered for years, they are business men and want to create something that lots of people will buy.

I recently read ‘Rock Stars at Rockfiled’, the story of the legendary Welsh recording studio. I enjoyed it, there have been a lot of class acts that have passed through the doors and it is only a few miles up the road. It gave an insight into how some of the records in my collection were created, with the added bonus of (for me) local interest. But it struck me how much influence the record labels had in the making of some of the albums. There were tales of bands spending months making an album, sending it to the record company only for them to send it back saying “wrong, do it again”. How can it be wrong? It is what the musicians wanted to make. Obviously it is wrong because the record company don’t think it will sell, artistic merit counts for nothing.

The irony of it all is that no new music trend has ever come out of a record executive’s office. Artistic imagination comes from the street. Soul, jazz, punk, reggae, techno, drum ‘n bass, hip hop… you name it, it came from kids coming up with ideas themselves and making music themselves in the garage, the shed, the bedroom, the local church hall. Only after it has been designed and tested on the street will the ‘industry’ touch it. They are out there all the time looking for the ‘next big thing’ and occasionally try to create it (remember Cool Britannia and Cool Cymru?) but executives sat in the boardroom will never understand what it is really all about.

More often than not when the ‘industry’ gets hold of something they quickly milk it to death and it becomes so sanitised it completely loses its meaning. ‘Indie’ music, on a major label… what’s that all about?

Suicide Bid, mates making music for the fun of it.... and making it well

What IS it all about then? Well for me it means being in a sweaty little club experiencing a band up close and personal, where the boundary between band and audience is broken down; listening to music created by musicians who are more interested in making music than making money; bands being original and experimental.

It is about networking and making friends. I have put on gigs with bands like New Model Army. I was paying them a substantial wage for the night, but they did not even talk to me, I had to deal with their manager and they whinged about everything from the ryder to the dressing room. I have put on gigs with bands like the Tofu Love frogs, PAIN and Inner Terrestrials, they did not complain about anything, they crashed out in my house after and are now big mates that always make a point of saying hello; they have put me on to other bands and promoters helping extend the Iguana circle. That is what it is all about.

It is NOT about paying through the nose (if you can get a ticket) to sit down ten miles away from the stage, being ripped off for drinks and t-shirts, pushed about by bouncers to watch a band through binoculars. It is NOT about boring derivative music created by people who will do whatever they need to do to become rich and famous with the music being an after thought.

Good music can become popular, not all big names are plastic, but that is more by accident than design; it is the exception rather than the rule.

Is this all snobbery? Does ‘keeping it real’ mean putting up with bands that are only ‘underground’ because they are crap? Quite simply, NO. Just take a look at the Peppermint Iguana website, or Organ, or any number of webzines and you will find hundreds, probably thousands of wicked bands doing it themselves for people like themselves. Yes, among all the brilliant bands there are shed loads of crap bands, but at least they aint ripping you off.

That’s another thing… even if a band are crap, they are usually real people and if you are all rammed into some crappy little dive you can find yourself having a laugh at the bar with the band, the DJ, the promoter or whoever, they tend not to lock themselves away back stage. I once had the ‘honour’ of doing some back stage work with one of my all time favourite bands, Stiff Little Fingers; what a bunch of premadonas, I have not spent a penny on them since. The camaraderie on the DIY scene makes up for the musical failings of any of the bands, the bands are growing up in public, everyone has a good night out. As far as I am concerned, you can stick the industry up your arse.



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