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Dear Rock Stars…

January 6th, 2010 | 27 Comments | Categories: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians |

Pete Waterman holds a press conference, yesterday2010 is – rather tragically – shaping up to be the year when Rock Stars (and old-industry millionaires) complain about the state of music on behalf of ‘the little people’.

Here are three examples:

Peter Waterman, in an interview with The Times, said that Spotify was a terrible thing. It, he says

“devalue[s] our artists, they damage this country economically, culturally and morally”

Why’s that then, Pete?

“The big stars are a tiny percentage; the rest are broke, including a lot of well-known faces. Who is developing new talent? Without money, new acts are strangled before they mature. We all suffer.”

This, from the man who made a multi-million pound career of writing and producing ‘hits’ for soap stars – his company were ‘The Hit Factory’, FFS. It was he who, in the land before autotune, realised that multitracking someone with a then-really-crappy voice like Kylie would make it passable, enough to sell mediocre music off the back of a TV career anyway… (notice how good she got when she stopped working with SAW?). Yup, he’s been a bastion of the process to find new talent. A fine supporter of grass-roots music. No double standard there.

And to answer his question, ‘Who is developing new talent?‘ – the talented people are, you idiot! We don’t need ‘developing’, we can just get on with it, without you, and services like Spotify remove the gatekeepers and friction from people hearing us. It HELPS us. Stop speaking on our behalf.

Case-study #2, is DJ Shadow, who, in a rant on his website, suggests that the lack of perceived money in music has removed the incentive to create art (any of you who play music as amateurs, feel free to be MASSIVELY offended by this patronising bollocks now). As an example, he says

“how many young rap artists are grinding away these days in New York, trying to get a deal? Not too many, certainly compared to the ‘80s and ‘90s. There’s no allure, no pot at the end of the rainbow.”

Perhaps it’s because no-one needs to ‘grind away’ any more? You can make music at home, release it, find interesting places to play without the ‘grind’? What was the ‘grind’ for anyway? A record deal? Screw that. Gigs? Do them yourself. And has he actually looked at the relationship between the history of hip-hop and the political climate? It changes, it shifts. And post-bling, if rappers have become cash-obsessed, they’ve only themselves to blame. Long gone are the days when Hip-hop was ‘CNN for Black People’ as Chuck D called it, and it’s ain’t the fault of Bit Torrent.

Finally, Here’s Bono claiming that the world needs to learn from China about the joys of internet snooping, if Hollywood is to be saved the fate of Big Music. He says this, on the same day that it’s announced that Avatar is the ‘Fastest film to ever gross a billion dollars.’ Yup, Hollywood is REALLY hurting right now. Any INDUSTRY that grosses a billion dollars in 3 weeks is doing fine, let alone a SINGLE FILM.

And what does he say has happened in music?

“A decade’s worth of music file-sharing and swiping has made clear that the people it hurts are the creators..”

  • Despite sales this year breaking records,
  • Despite Lady Gaga SELLING 20 million downloads,
  • Despite Lily Allen shifting 4 million albums in a career that started long after BitTorrent rounded the curve of its growth spurt,
  • Despite U2s’ own planet-raping biggest-tour-of-all-time selling out around the globe.

So, dear Rock Stars – the problem here is not with the internet. It’s not with how it ‘hurts’ the little people. WE LOVE IT! It’s you. You and your expectations of wealth-beyond-measure are screwed. And I don’t care.

Here’s a headline for you – in the 3 weeks since I made ‘Behind Every Word’ available for free download, I’ve sold more CDs and downloads that in any one month since 6 months after it first came out.

This a four year old album. I’ve done no gigs in that time, I’ve taken out no ads, I’ve not given away a single bit of physical anything that cost me money. I’ve just talked about it, and invited people to listen to it. And guess what? They listened, and those who really liked it THEN PAID. And they paid more for the ‘free’ download they they do on iTunes.

I couldn’t possibly have done it without ‘free music’, without the internet, without sharing, without streaming. Nor could I have done it within the insanely restrictive copyright terms of a standard recording contract.

Headline number 2 – Indie Cellist is so successful, the mainstream industry don’t believe her when she tells them:

On Twitter yesterday I was chatting to Zoe Keating – awesome cellist, composer, looper, and massive indie success. So successful that ‘the industry’ don’t believe her when she says how successful she is! They only believe their own statistics – so only report her sales figures as measured by Soundscan. They don’t like that Zoe has done it all without them, so aren’t interested in developing newer more flexible ways of measuring success. But as I pointed out to Zoe, who has 1.3 MILLION twitter followers, she has a bigger audience than Billboard Magazine. So screw them and their outdated measurements, just do your music cos you love it, and bypass the nonsense of pre-millenial bullshit notions of success. (I also wonder just how influential people like Zoe can be in promoting other indie artists – using their platform as a discovery source… we’ll see, in time, I guess :) )

So, Rock Stars – stop it, let go. Your half a century in the sun is done. Pete, Bono, Joshua, you’ve got more than enough to live on for the rest of your lives. If you’re struggling, downsize. Maybe you’d get something out of reading the greatest blog post of 2009 about the music industry, by Danny Barnes.

Move over, and let those of us who value sustainability, artistic freedom and a conversational relationship with our audience over fame, celebrity and selling-millions-of-records-while-still-losing-money get on with what we do, using the tools that make it possible.

And if any of you three want a copy of Behind Every Word, please, download it for free, here – I promise I won’t spam the email address you have to give me in order to get the free version. Alternatively, pay what you can for it. If you’re strapped for cash, just drop in a tenner like you would for one of your much lamented CDs. 😉

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27 Comments so far ↓

  • Jason Parker

    All I have to add is a hearty AMEN!

    As usual, very well said, Steve. I’m glad there’s folks out there like you and Zoe to lead the way for the rest of us and keep the dinosaurs honest.

    Jason
    http://oneworkingmusician.com

  • Martin Austwick

    I find the DJ Shadow comment particularly amusing, as he famously has a 44 second skit/song on his classic album Entroducing called “Why hip-hop sucks in ’96” in which he states “It’s the money” over an r’n’b lite backing. Money corrupts… except for when it doesn’t?

  • Wayne Jordan

    The inclusion of Pete Waterman in this is rather unfair. The debate is after all Payment for the art of Music.

    What he delivered was the aural equivalent of a machine that flings shit across the room to anyone dancing within its proximity.

    It was definitely NOT music.

    • Steve

      I think that actually lets Pete off too lightly – he was actually capable of making some really cool music. It’s sad that the only record SAW did on their own was a rather cynical attempt to prove they could do it (why prove anything, just make the best music you can, all the time!) – but it was a great track.

      He also messed with the careers of anyone who had made music prior to signing with them – Cliff, for all his faults, had never done anything as piss-poor as ‘Just Don’t Have The Heart’, and We’ve Got A Fuzzbox And We’re Gonna Use It went from kick-ass sax-heavy punk indie kids to poorly produced lame-orama, and lost most of their band name in the process…

      Bananarama again got worse under his tutelage – were hip, became bland.

      Pete clearly had a whole lot of musical smarts, but he NEVER applied it to discovering and nurturing talent. He needed faces for the cookie-cutter dull-as-shit inoffensive bedroom production #balls that they were making, and would pull them from anywhere…

  • Heather

    Well said Steve. Just spent some time browsing the web with your linked album above playing in the background and it was quite enjoyable!!

    Also loving all your new stuff about micro-gigs and office gigs. Thanks for being such a great example of someone actually DOING rather than only talking. (I like talking too, but seeing real examples means a whole lot more than a bunch of theories.)

  • Steve thack

    Single sales last year at a record high. And as you’ve shown before spotify pays better per listener than radio. So where are these fools coming from. Remember how home taping was supposed to kill off the music industry? When i was a student most of us had massive collections on old c 90 s. Same folks these days have gone out and bought over priced re mastered cd s of most of it. Only sales to be hurt are of shit ones. And sorry bono heard your last album on line and didn’t bother to buy it.

  • steve uccello

    Well said, as usual the nail is hit squarely on the head, I’m going to send a link to this post to some folks I know who are against the ‘free thing’. I also experienced a pretty cool phenomenon on my Bandcamp site

    ( http://uccelloproject.bandcamp.com/album/symmetria )

    when I offered my music free. I’m pretty sure it’s the power/potential the internet gives to everyday musician’s that makes more established artists feel threatened, sure the ability to easily record/promote on a low budget has created a huge din of mediocrity that’s hard to cut through, but I’d rather have that than a lot of high budget mediocrity and clueless money hungry gatekeepers to cut through! Keep on mate!

  • minifig

    I find the DJ Shadow stuff particularly annoying. I’ve been following the music industry for years now, and to my ears, there’s even more amazing, interesting stuff out there than there’s ever been. And it’s much, much easier to find because there are so many tools out there to find it.

    Although it pains me to snipe at the man, it seems more like he’s harking back to what he though was a golden age of money-making, since it was back then he was at the peak of his talent. The fact is that The Outsider was a pretty disappointing album, and The Hard Sell tour, for all of its promise about being the new Brainfreeze, entirely failed to deliver.

    As for Pete Waterman, I’d be far more interested to read about his views on model railways, since they’d be far better informed than those he spouts about ‘developing new talent’.

    And Bono? Bono is testament to the fact that the more famous you are, the fewer friends you have to tell you you’re talking out of your arse.

  • Richard

    awesome article steve, when i read the times article the other day by pete, i had exactly the same thought, he essentailly was responsible for the popularising of shit music and the creation of the teenybopper wasn’t he? So how he has any idea about what’s happening grass roots wise and can even have an opinion on that is beyond me! Keep it up man.

  • Andrew Lawson

    Linked to this by @roundonefight

    Great post. Very interesting read and some very good points :)

  • Russ Sargeant

    As ever Steve, you have a knack of hitting the nail on the head. I particularly like your comment regarding DJ Shadow’s reference to artists ‘grinding’ away. You’re so right when you say they’re just not there anymore.

    I’ve been in the ‘band-trying-to-make-it’ scenario back in the 80’s, and let me tell you, it stinks. I’m now at the start of a whole new chapter of creativity, being able to network like never before and forging relationships that are far more meaningful than any kind of ‘deal’ would be capable of offering.

    Thank you again for the inspiration.

    Russ

  • Gary

    Awesome article, mirroring my thoughts exactly. Thanks!

  • Sam

    Great stuff – the writing and the music! What’s the mp3 player you’re using in the blog?
    Cheers

  • Paul Whitrow

    Dude, abso-bloody-lutely!!!

    I full and without any reserve agree with your entire post. Very little gets me madder than greed, and that’s the entire foundation of the current music industry, and those who aspire to be part of it. Don’t believe me? Then why do so many people site their reasons for going to X-Factor auditions, as wanting to change their lives financially?

    We would all like to be better off. Hell that’s why I’ve build xFlow! (http://xflow.pwhitrow.com), to try and raise some extra funds. Am I wrong for doing this? I don’t think so. I’m just grateful for any extra funds.

    Sharing should be encouraged, especially in the creative arts, not demonised by the fat cats that made only 10 million this year as opposed to 10 and a half million. Stop bitching, get off your lardy asses and embrace the new era of communication. Touch audiences like never before and see the results.

    Damn, I could rant about this for ever, so will stop now and leave you with this thought: if sharing is so bad, why has the human race advanced so far by doing just that?

    PS, love your music, thank you, and I hope you make millions 😉

  • Mark

    One of the problems with the doomsayers of the music industry is they cite statistics of declining sales of CDs as the barometer for measuring the death of the music industry without citing the statistics of increasing digital sales as the barometer for measuring the reinvention of the music industry.

  • fritz

    Couldn’t have said it better myself

  • Ewan White

    I very much enjoyed this (:
    & your views
    Why oh why can’t other peoeple see as we do.
    Keep at it & nice tunes (:

  • Rob Lang

    Global market forces made them rich. Happily, it’s the same forces that now shares the wealth more evenly.

    What they are fighting against is the poor application of logic. They believe (incorrectly) that if someone downloads something for free then they have lost a sale. Human nature cannot be summed up so simply. As you (and others) have shown, giving something away for free can generate sales.

    Happily, these people are dinosaurs and although it’s sad that they say such irritating things, the power of democracy and consumer choice on the internet is inexorable.

  • Sånt här älskar jag att läsa « Harald Åberg

    […] värd att lyssna på för övrigt, du kan lyssna via hans hemsida eller på Spotify) som har ett klart och tydligt budskap till Bono. Det är ett par riktigt talande exempel och texten i sin helhet är väl värd att läsa, men […]

  • drew stephenson

    Yup, they’re still pedaling out the same old shit (both musically and verbally) and desperately trying to ignore (and make other people ignore) the fact that the world has moved on. I’m currently working with a small start up label but for them (and me) the money comes from the live gigs. The internet, with its myspaces, blogs, and related sharing tools (P2P etc) is our release method pretty much. We still make CDs, but they seem to be largely for people who still like the feel of the article (and like the quality perhaps) or for those who want a kind of memento from the show.
    Good blog

  • Vitaly

    Sharp thoughts and suggestion to “dear rocks stars”..
    Insightful, really interesting and mind-awaking reading.
    I think the purity of creating art got infected by the “rock star” era, It all became about the m0ney, the luxury, the “never work and sing for a living”, the parties, the photo sessions….etc..etc
    and it became less about the music.
    Its just primitive not to see the advantages of today for creating music, and sharing it!
    Us who make music for the passion, don´t want a house in beverly hills, a lear jet or a swimming pool in our bathrooms..
    we want to make a decent (not pompous) living….and thanks to today´s technological means….we have never been closer to it.
    because we are closer to the people, which is the real important thing…..the fans….the people who appreciate what you do…..now they dont have to wait for “the gatekeepers” to let them in..
    the party is more fair now than it has ever been…….and of course……..the “soon to be unemployed gatekeepers” are angry as hell.
    keep it up!