Monday, 4 March 2013

It's all about the money, money, money

This week's seemingly unrelated comparison brings me to my two favourite things (after my daughter and my wife), football and music. As a young football fan I fondly remember the days when the then First Division was, to some degree, an open book. Within the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal and (later into the 90s) Man United, the likes of Watford, Everton, Spurs and more could challenge for the top and come close if not be successful. Not winning the league wasn't seen as a devastating indictment of the manager or team, even relegation (and as a Man City fan you got used to that) wasn't the end of the world. How things change.

Strangely, the alteration of music and football seem to have run in parallel. Britpop forever changed the expectations of what an 'alternative' band should manage, the Premier League similarly ruined the idea of skill and teamwork triumphing over money. Where Watford could achieve a second place with Graham Taylor in the 82-83 season, Swansea, who strike me as their modern equivalent, will be aiming for 8th or 9th. Post Britpop every new band was either 'destined to be huge' or chucked on a scrap heap, the days of My Bloody Valentine not grazing the charts but being respected are long gone, the same could be said of football players.

Listening to Radio 5 in their hysterical build up to yesterday's North London derby, probably a fight to the death for who finishes somewhere between 3rd and 6th (!), an interview with Theo Walcott brought this all into focus. Walcott was, like so many indie bands, heralded as the future, in footballing terms somewhere between the second coming of Christ and George Best at the age of 17, brought into the England squad for the World Cup to sit and watch. He's never truly recovered because, even in this excellent season, expectation will always run ahead of what he can do. Any reader of the indie runes will recognise this as a pattern that repeats endlessly for bands, I still recall someone telling me that The Twang's debut album sales in excess of 200,00 in the UK must have been a 'disappointment' given the hype with which they had arrived. Beggars belief doesn't it?

This led me to consider a debate that is once again whirling around my circles, why do so many bands fail at the second album? Partly, as well documented, this is down to pressure and that age old trueism that bands first albums tend to be made up of songs that they have had time away from the glare of public expectation to write and refine but it occurs to me that a pattern seems to be in place that is not often discussed.

As with Premier League football, the team around a successful first album band are often poached before the second album comes into view. Thus second album artists can find themselves in a room of unfamiliar faces come second album time, all those who were instrumental in building their public profile and advising them on how to negotiate the perils of being in a band departed to a new 'club' and the chance of more 'titles'. This may explain why we currently look to the likes of XL with their settled management team (the Man United of the record industry if you will) as paragons of best practice. Further, as with football as any Chelsea fan in particular will be aware, no one is allowed to fail. All this hype around Bowie and yet we seem to forget that the career we are lauding would simply not be possible now. Given his up and down critical path he would have been dropped before he even became famous.

Quite how you change this I don't know. Certainly a little more proportionality across the board would be a start, the space hogged by the five or so 'must see' bands could be apportioned across a lot more acts of interest (and this applies as much to radio as print and online) giving a better picture of the music scene. More focus on allowing musicians to create and experiment, to fail and recover, is a necessity if you want to create any more long terms artists. You can't expect people to turn down better jobs in a climate of instability but, again, perhaps a little less 'shit or bust' and a little more career long perspective from those in the labels wouldn't go amiss. If that culture was more prevalent then you have to believe that some would forgo the bigger pay packet to create something long lasting.

In Loudhailer world Spring seems to be here with a lot of the acts already on tour or putting in dates.

Velcro Hooks, whose exceptional video for 'A Love Song For TS Eliot' premiered on Artrocker Tv last week come to London with the Howling Owl massive on Thursday and The Joy Formidable end another massively successful UK jaunt at the Roundhouse on Friday in the company of Night Engine. The coming weeks and months bring newcomers The Elwins to the UK for the first time, Mary Epworth tours in the wake of last year's very well received 'Dream Life' debut and there are dates for Glasvegas and Editors in the pipeline. More on those when they are confirmed.

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