10:35 AM GMT 25/04/2013
What we're already missing about "dinosaur" record labels and their coke-addled "parasites". By MOJO's Andy Fyfe.
IT'S NOT EASY being The Man. When your beleaguered multinational record company bleats about lost revenue because some kids in Tonga P2P your legitimately copyrighted wares you're a corporate bully. Artists you've invested vast amounts of money in hate you for doing what they asked and selling them like a commodity. And upstart start-up companies have convinced everyone else that the very way you run your business is a knuckle-dragging anachronism, bloated by cack-eared blood-suckers crazed on cocaine who squander bags of money on backhanders that would give an arms dealer the vapours.
Some, or indeed all, of these things may be true, but the decline of the record company has had one very dramatic effect: the removal of the A&R man as a filter between artist and consumer, someone to ask the question "Where the f__k's the single?", means there is more utterly awful music available than ever before. Unfortunately, as artists take ever-greater control of their means of production, the aural tsunami is only going to gather pace, and with it comes the shortening of careers and the break-up of any residual tribal musical community who need artistic longevity to justify their emotional buy-in (but that's a whole other blog).
In two celebrated instances, both The Jam and Blur were asked "where's the f__king single" about, respectively, All Mod Cons and Modern Life Is Rubbish. The results? Paul Weller was jolted out of his writer's block and realised that the album they'd handed over to A&R man Chris Parry, dominated by Bruce Foxton songs, wasn't much cop, went back home to mum and dad's, listened to some Kinks albums and wrote Down In The Tube Station At Midnight, Mr Clean and English Rose. When Food Records' Dave Balfe and Andy Ross asked Damon Albarn the same question 13 years later, he went home, listened to some Kinks albums and wrote For Tomorrow and Chemical World. With respect to Ray Davies, if it hadn't been for those A&R interventions it's arguable we would never have heard of Weller or Albarn again.
The fact is, few musicians, or for that matter artists in general, have the emotional detachment to know whether their work is actually any good or not. It's why authors have editors and publishers, painters and sculptors agents and gallery owners.
One of the loudest advocates for artist control has been Radiohead, pioneers of internet-based releases after they'd made enough out of EMI to secede from the company and become a musical republic. "They sell us like a commodity," they mewled, as if they hadn't knowingly entered into the Faustian pact of a record deal. OK Computer eventually gave them the power and money to cut the infernal record company out of the game, but a question remains: do you want to listen to The Bends and OK Computer (filtered through a record company) or In Rainbows (filtered through Phil Selway)?
Meanwhile, the internet's musical oil slick is spreading, but more in this case definitely means less. Making music for your mates and posting it on the internet doesn't give you a career, although if you're lucky you'll become an internet phenomenon. Until the second album. Because you did it "on your own" last time (chances are you allowed a record company to pick up re-recording costs and tour support, though), you don't want some corporate goon tampering with your shit, so you ban them from the studio (actually your laptop). When the record company refuses to distribute the album and drops you, you can make all the noise you want about now being free to talk directly to your fans through your own label, but when it tanks (just as the label said it would) an empty life grumbling to all-comers in the pub awaits.
Lawrence Arabia, a musician who overcame the geographical handicap of being based in New Zealand by posting his quirky videos on the internet and securing traditional licensing agreements around the world with the likes of Bella Union in the UK, believes that the internet is a case of musicians being less than careful about what they wished for.
"For a long time people have strived to make and release the music that they want to make without the industry," he says. "There's probably exactly the same amount of talent out there but for the consumer it's so much harder to pick through. I find it so daunting that I tend to shy away from the thousands of new bands you read about on Pitchfork every day and just end up listening to Revolver again."
So, there it is: hope for The Man after all. As Mr A&R's expense account is ripped from his cold, drug-seized fingers, his once less-sexy colleague Mr Heritage Catalogue Controller might just be about to enjoy his day face down snorting coke off strippers' arses. Meet the new boss...
Posted by Ross_Bennett at 8:00 AM GMT 26/02/2010