It's been a varied and interesting week, this week. Did some good work, had some fun, particularly filming footage for the video of 'We Always Will', the first single from the album to be released in a few weeks. We spent the day on the beach at West Wittering, Jack the boy et al, and shot some nice things. More of that another time.
What has engaged me more than anything though, have been a couple of conversations I've stumbled into with some friends. These friends are people who have been in the 'business of music' for as long as I have. They are bright, perceptive, creative types, who have experienced some significant success along the way; all still in there punching. I am always happy when we meet up, chew the fat, predict the future and talk about our past glories. This week though, something irked me. I realise that I have become tired of the way in which music business types struggle to define what it is they like about an artist's work. It appears that there is no way to discuss the merits of their newest signing, without relying heavily on likening it to something else which is already successful. I do understand that defining musical style can be challenging, the need for category helping the would be consumer, to navigate the choppy waters of all musical output. It's pop, it's rock, it's country. Easy!Or is it? What if it's pop/rock with flavour of country thrown in? Perhaps that's a new category right there? Who knows? Often not the music companies who have been most responsible for culture of 'labelling'.
In some ways this argument is mildly amusing, fun almost, but there is a more insidious aspect to it that I find difficult to swallow. I'm not young, nor am I any more particularly impressionable, but I am fully plugged in to the memory of times when I very much was. It's not easy faced with the opinion of record company executives, managers, publishers, pluggers, you name it, to stand your own ground. Often acting out of well intentioned motives, (sometimes the worst), the artist is inundated with opinion on how to improve his or her work. Typically reams of views on it's merits and deficiencies fly around. Even those who have developed no distinct impression of their own will speak up loud and clear, because it is their job to do so. If they're being paid to have opinion they need to be seen to have one, even if they actually don't. So be it, nothing new there.
What fires me up though, is the self defeating language of this focus group. My friends this week, discussing their new latest finds, have all the answers. It just needs to be “a bit more Ed Sheeran”, to be successful. “A bit more Ariana Grand meets Taylor Swift, and we'll be away”. These professional opinions are all the more curious, because they only serve to undermine the credibility of the very people authoring them. What is actually being said here is this. I don't have a better idea than you, (artist), but Ed Sheeran probably does. I sure as Hell don't have a better idea than Ed Sheeran, so best bet is if you, (artist),continue to do everything you're now doing, but in a way which is a bit more Ed Sheeran. We'll all be picking up Grammys in no time. Except, that by the time your artist delivers something that that you think might have come from Ed Sheeran, the world has already moved on. Ed Sheeran-ness has by and large now been fully satisfied and someone, (usually not so much like Ed Sheeran), has arrived and is the new thing to aspire to.
To all music business creatives. By all means support, encourage and patronise aspiring artists. Give them room to develop and breathe their own air. When constructive criticism is required, look for the right words, pertinent, stand alone. We could do with more, highly individual artists, and less who are a bit like Ed Sheeran (incidentally, really like Ed Sheeran).