While I’m in huge danger of sounding like a cantankerous old fart (which would be an accurate representation), when it comes to music, I really miss the ‘good ol days’. When I say that I guess I’m primarily talking about the 90’s, when I really started to become utterly obsessed with music and associated culture. Quite ironic considering a lot of my future work would be part of the shift that I’m about to malign.
Let’s get cosy and nostalgic, and lament the past for a bit shall we?
Do you remember just how exciting it was to sit down after a day at school and watch Top of the Pops and countdown to that number one spot. It was genuinely one of the highlights of my childhood week and I’d often do so eaten beans on toast. There was genuine anticipation back then, because it meant something. People actually sold lots of records/CD’s/Tapes, and it felt like a real fight secure the top spot, a fight well worth battling in.
I’d love it when some acts were chosen to perform on the roof of the building, with the BBC trying to be arty with the aerial shots showcasing the concrete jungle backdrop. During the studio performances I’d always try and spot the over eager fans in the audience drooling over the star on stage (the type that would go home and say he was looking at them when they voiced a certain meaningful lyric) and the terrible dancers who were clearly asked to keep moving and clapping enthusiastically while the camera was on, whether it looked forced or not. It was also very entertaining to watch those that tried to stand next to the presenter who was introducing the next track, either trying too hard to look nonchalant, or making it very apparent that had zero chill staring frenzied down the lens.
Back then you actually felt that if you went down to Woolworths, WHSMITH’s, or Our Price, that you were making a difference, and contributing to the glory of your fave band should they hit that pinnacle. You owned a bit of that number one spot, and that felt great. Again…because back then it meant something. You would used your lunchtime school break to walk into town to see what offers were on, and where your single was placed on the shelved charting system.
How good was BBC’s The Ozone in its day – hosted by Zoe Ball and Jayne Middlemiss. While both pretty, they were relatable kinda off-beat pretty, hearty girls who were clearly hired because they could create a great rapport with the varying artists they sat down with. They were fun and cheeky – well actually according to history and the media’s reporting they were in fact ‘ladettees’. As a plain looking tomboy who liked music, they really made me adore it even more, and made me think it was an area perhaps I’d work in one day.
When I was a young, as a fan you kinda fell into two categories – you were either one of those screaming girls that you see in all the music documentaries desperately chasing after the tour bus clutching merchandise, sometimes homemade, that you hoped to get signed, with the logo painted on your cheeks smeared from tears and excess pubescent sweat. The type that also camped outside the band member’s mother’s houses and talking to the press about how perfect their hair was (if you’ve seen the Bros Documentary you know the ones I’m talking about). The type that was a member or even chairman of the official fan club. Or you were the type that was similarly obsessed, who tip-ex’d their pencil case, and who would go to sleep imagining which member you might marry and learning their stats via the annual, but was resolute about the fact you probably wouldn’t ever meet them or have any sort of real communication with them.
I don’t know if everyone realises it, but there can be more thrill and excitement in the mystery of your idols. Sometimes ignorance is bliss, or at least a bit more interesting. I liked being able to imagine and make up stories in my head about what they may be like, what they’re up to, who they’re dating etc. While of course there’s still a slight mist due to social media manipulation and careful editing, we just know far too much now. There’s just not enough room for creating the image in our heads, but a whole lot of room for attempting to create the truth from social media stalking.
The mystery is largely gone now, aside from a few artists like Kendrick Lamar who is an anomaly who can have a vibrant career without selling this private life to do so via social media. You can actually get replies and even DM’s from your biggest inspiration. You can actually work out where they are in the world after a few clicks.
The expectation that you should be able to meet the artist whose music you love is a particularly sad one to me. I think it’s such a shame that someone should feel disappointed from leaving a spectacular live gig just because it wasn’t gilded by some sort of meet and greet whether it be informal or arranged. I totally get that it’s a thrill to meet someone you admire and can create some wonderful life moments (and selfies), but if witnessing your favourite songs within a heart swelling atmosphere and singing along with strangers who have been similarly beguiled isn’t enough to leave you feeling soul satisfied , then thats a real shame. Perhaps indicative of celebrity culture and the constant need to share life triumphs with others for validation. It’s no coincidence that the shots of you with a band member always perform well on Instagram. Sure you might just want to share the joy of the experience…but there’s also a chance you need people to be impressed by it to fully enjoy the moment you had.
I miss that you used to have to wait for a special documentary or live video to be able to watch your band talk or perform. I’d put them on my birthday or Christmas list or save up pocket money till I could afford it. If I had a friend who loved them one of us would buy it and we’d share it, taking turns to borrow then of course reuniting to do the dance routines together using with the window reflection to ensure we were in time, and to check out just how cool we were looking (Take That in my case). One of us would always take it a bit too seriously and get annoyed when the other didn’t perform one of the moves quite right or wanted to be the frontman/woman.
We had to have patience back then, which is a useful trait to have and severely lacking these days. We want every right now. Instant EVERYTHING. YouTube delivers uploaded mobile footage an hour after a gig, Intsastories streams gigs live. I know, there’s some fantastic benefits to this. Music is more accessible. People who are unable to attend gigs for whatever reason can enjoy live music along with those lucky enough to be there in 3D. But I still think for most people it’d be better to watch it with the sound mixed, beautifully shot so you can experience it with optimum quality rather than a shaky video with someone screeching over the top of the music you love.
With some many people having access to bands for interviews for YouTube again we don’t have to wait for that eagerly anticipated behind the scenes insight documentary to come out, there will be numerous interviews from each campaign, you’ll start to recognise certain tropes and phrases reused by the bands to answer those generic questions, which inevitably only leads to your questioning the authenticity of the band. How much of what they say is practiced or choreographed answers? The Lady Gaga – There can be 100 people in the room….speech is a fine example of this. Although I must say I love her, and believe that here and Bradley genuinely had an amazing connection and belief in each other and she just wanted to let people know about that in a clear way.
I think that’s why chat shows used to be big rating hits back then, because sometimes you didn’t really know what someone sounded like when they spoke, what sort of demeaned they had when they weren’t their onstage persona.The little quirks, ticks and idiosyncrasies you didn’t show when they were performing. It was fascinating to see them occasionally court off-guard by a rogue question from the host, sometimes clearly intoxicated, and sometimes alarmingly different form how you imagined them to be.
I miss the excitement about a new video too. You’d know from the previous week’s episode to tune into a show for the premiere. You’d set record on your VCR or leave a note to your parents to ask them to do it for you. I never had MTV back then, but there would always be that kid at school that had cable or sky who you were intensely jealous of who would have seen it first and multiple times since who would revel in telling you so. The video would inform you about what outfit you needed to have next, what new haircut you needed to ask for on your next trip to the salon, or what dancer/video girl you were currently jealous of (remember the girl with braids in the Rollin’ video?). You’d call your friends on the house phone and dissect it bit by bit. Discuss whether you liked their new look/sound. Whether you noticed an errant glance from one of the band member to the other which might suggest a rift or a romance. You might be at logger heads about whether it was as good as their last song. Some videos even had the power to awaken something within in you…but that’s a whole other blog post.
While I don’t condone bitching, arguing, jealousy etc The Britpop era was great for the rivalry aspect. That tension made every chart countdown that featured Oasis and Blur a Gladiator style battle. It was a war of North versus South, working class versus middle class. Pretty Boy verus extreme eyebrows. Obviously I want us all to get along, but it was fun to debate the merits of both in the playground and jeer if our favourite was the victor of the most recent chart fight.
Back then I really cared about reviews too. I bought Melody Maker, NME and Select in my lengthy indie phase when I was obsessed with Manic Street Preachers, Suede, Manson, Sleeper, Elastica, Placebo, Oasis, Blur etc. In the days where I felt overwhelmingly confused because I fancied Brian Molko and Brett Anderson who looked kind of feminine, and also kinda Fancy Justine who looked boyish. When I’d buy books about Richie Manic and hope I might be the person to solve the tragic mystery. When I became obsessed with Nu-Metal Kerrang! and Rock Sound were an absolute must, particularly when they had one of their complication CD’s glued to the front cover. The bonus being I could roll that bit of glue between my thumb and second finger and keep myself occupied while I listened to their amazing selections and find my new favourite bands. This is of course when I wasn’t having to squeeze the puddle water out of my huge baggy jeans and convince mum that Marilyn Manson wasn’t going to make me do very bad things. I listened to what the reviewers said, and cared enough to be annoyed if I disagreed with their opinion. These days I hate to say that I rarely read reviews or pay them notice. Perhaps because I know all too well the mechanics of the music industry or perhaps with age your put more trust in your own opinion and need to rely less on those of others.
When I first got channels that surpassed the number 5, I was obsessed with the music channels. I I’d watch them for hours on end, it was such a novelty. Prior to that my only experience of Music TV had been on a family holiday to Florida and the house had US MTV. Sadly it informed me of Aayliah’s tragic plane accident and I spent a signifiant amount of time crying in the toilet – I adored her.
Every advert break between my parents depressing crime dramas I’d drive them mad by using it as an opportunity to watch a ‘unpleasant’ loud songs on MTV2 (back when Zane had his Gonzo show). I used to tape lots of the alt channels, so I could rewatch my favourite videos when I wanted, the same went for Glastonburyy and V festival – as I write this post I can see a VHS tape labelled V99 on my shelf – I can’t bare to part with them. I also vividly remember an NME sponsored show that that I recorded late on channel 4 which featured Mogwai and Unkle which introduced me to their unique genius.
Fast forward to now and the thrill of going to HMV, and the stores I mentioned earlier has long gone. Perhaps it takes a little more to excite us these days? Perhaps we are lazier? Perhaps we’re too impatient ( I think the fact that the 5 second advert in front of youtube videos feels painful says it all). I actually think we are more impatient, but more importantly we are time poor and looking for convenience and ease where possible. If we choose to use our time to shop we want to experience to be pleasurable, easy or fun. We are also strapped for cash, particularly young adults, who are working long hours for not much reward in an attempt to afford rent. To listen to the vast amount of music old and new, Youtube, Spotify and Apple music etc are there for us. From the privileged access we have to music we can then decide which ones we think we can justify giving our money to via buying a physical copy,
It’s not all doom and gloom now though. We’ve cottoned on to the fact that we do actually miss having something tangible when it comes to music. We like being able to hold something of impressive size, like a big glorious square vinyl package We like to admire the glorious artwork in the flesh rather than via cold pixels. We like to glide our fingers over the cover to feel if it has a texture, to shift its angle so that light reflects and tell us whether it’s matt or glossy. We’re even seeing bands do tapes, because we all feel warmth when we can reunite with things from the past that brought us happiness…and boy did our Walkmans and the tapes we slotted in them on the school bus home do that. We love that perhaps less perfected but more atmospheric sound a vinyl can fill our rooms with.
There’s more gigs and festivals than ever for people to create memories at, with many offering payment packages to make it doable for those who used to have to opt out and therefore feel left out. There’s better and constantly improving accessibility at events, Download being on at the forefront. Due to the internet there’s so much music content for people to enjoy, with videos being so accessible that they have the power to influence and force power change and make timely political or societal statements. I can’t help but think of childish Gambino’s This is America, and The Fever 333 prolific messaging. The accessibility is positive in terms of escapism too with fun and uplifting videos offering much needed distraction. Due to social media the music icons who are opening up about important things such as mental health, chronic illness, gender, sexuality and so on, much needed focus is being shone and conversations are given emphasis. Kids have always found comfort and a feeling of belonging via music and fanbases, but now it’s even easier for fans all over the world to become friends online and even eventually meet and become IRL pals.
But it’s undoubtedly harder for bands unless they’re in the top tear (the Ed Shearans, Taylor Swift, Muse’s of the world) to stay afloat let alone make money – relying mainly on merchandise and gig sales. I’ve seen first-hand how hard through my partner and through many friends who despite great material, talent and even Billboard chart number 1’s, have found the traditional label way of doing things a disheartening one.
Online label manufacturer Data Label have looked at the biggest record label companies and the highest recorded sales by their top selling artists and you can see from artist listed aren’t contemporary ones. Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga etc noticeably absent.
Main Record label companies
Warner Music Group – Founded 1958.
EMI – Founded 1973.
Sony Music (known as CBS Records until January 1991) – Founded 1929.
Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG) – Founded 1972.
BMG – Founded 1987.
ABC Paramount Records – Founded 1955.
Island Records – Founded 1959.
Virgin records – Founded 1972.
PolyGram – Founded 1962.
Red Hill Records – Founded 1995.
Top 10 most successful bands by record sales
The Beatles – 178 million sold.
Garth Brooks – 148 million sold.
Elvis Presley – 136 million sold.
Led Zeppelin – 111.5 million sold.
Eagles – 101 million sold.
Billy Joel – 82.5 million sold.
Michael Jackson – 81 million sold.
Elton John – 78 million sold.
Pink Floyd – 75 million sold.
AC/DC – 72 million sold.
Top 3 music artists record label history
The Beatles – Originally signed with Decca records, they were rejected after their audition that took place on New Year’s Day in 1962. Decca records stated “Guitar groups are on the way out” as the reason why they declined to take them on. Three months later, producer George Martin signed The Beatles to EMI’s Parlophone label and the rest is history.
Garth Brooks – First auditioned for Capitol Records in 1988 in Nashville, but they rejected him. A few weeks later, Brooks performed in a writer’s round at the famous Bluebird Cafe, where a member of Capitol Records saw him perform. Realising their mistake, they spoke to him after his performance and said: “Maybe we missed something here. Come to the label tomorrow. Let’s talk”.
Elvis Presley – First signed with Sun Records and went on to record hits that included “That’s All Right” and “Baby Let’s Play House”. However, due to a financial situation at Sun Records, Elvis joined RCA records in 1955. Label producer Sam Phillips from Sun records had to sell Elvis’ contract due to being financially obligated to.
Speaking of the research, Philip Carlyn, Managing Director at Data Label, said:
“The record industry has long been built on finding the right person at the right time. Decisions of one person can lead a company to miss a lucrative opportunity such as Decca Records passing on The Beatles, or others getting a second chance such as Capitol Records securing one of the biggest country music recording artists.”
If you’ve seen the alarming 30 Seconds to Mars documentary Artefact you will have seen the bleak reality of even the seemingly hugely successful acts, and just how labels can put bands in a very scary financial position. The huge debt bands may end up facing when signing these contracts full of bright eyed hope, enthusiasm and more than a sprinkle of nativity makes going down the independent route an attractive one. Sure, it may mean band members taking on many roles they’re not necessarily educated in or equipped for and a daunting workload , but you likely maintain more control over what you’re doing, and feel an even bigger sense of pride should all your work pay off. With the internet being the biggest tool for releasing and marketing music, being an Independent is a more viable route than ever.
But what I’ll say to conclude this piece is what I believe works, for both artists and the traditional music shops, is respecting the past but being aware of where things are going. I think a lot of the older shops would have survived if they hadn’t been so stubborn, accepted where things were going, and found a way to merge it with their existing strengths. For band’s it’s about realising that you need to graft, but the graft will be in a different form in 2019 (you or your teams need to drive traffic, create hype, be social media savvy). We (music fans) love artwork, and if we are going to spend money on music we’d love it to look or feel great, and add value to our collection. We want to feel like we’re getting added value via social media, whether it’s just showing frequent appreciation for a fanbase, giving an insight to their private life or offering interesting or creative content. We love live music and a crowd pleasing sets, and bands to do what they do best (showcase their USP’s and strengths). We want things to be quick and easy, so stores have to be functional or offer something that an online store doesn’t – great knowledge, outstanding customer care or interactive element – ideally incorporating an online element too.
I’d love to hear about what you miss about being a music fan in the past, and what you love about the music industry in 2019….let me know in the comments.
Collaborative post with www.data-label.co.uk