Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bloated Corpse: Parasites & The Music Industry

He really says it all.

Working in the music industry, the first thing I was struck by was the sheer amount of parasites, ahem, people in the employ of artists. Trying to get in contact with bands I found myself wading through an industry swamp, seething with managers, agents, publicists and booking agents, all this on top of label reps, A&R staff and whoever else had managed to leech of their creativity.

I understand artists often don't want to have to deal with the business side of things, but these small armies of industry types, none of them in possession of anything other than a fat email contacts list to justify their fees, seemed not only unnecessary but essentially damaging and counter-active for the artist. Like Albini pointed out, these people have a vested interest in the artist getting paid, not in their music being appreciated or their image being protected. The best of them might approach bands with the idea of promoting them as a whole. More often than not though, if faced with an opportunity which pays well or one that will see the band gain exposure playing to a friendly audience, these people only think about the revenue. Just think about how many times you've seen upcoming local bands playing rubbish festival slots to no one?

What this has then led to is on one hand the proliferation of these types of people, but also the proliferation of disposable, fame hungry artists to feed the industry's need for flesh on which to leech off. For every successful band there are 9 unsuccessful ones, and for each of those 9 bands there is a small swarm of people who lined their pockets out of what little success the bands had. These people don't care if you fail, by the time that's happened they've moved on, hungrily exploiting the next lot of bands eager to succeed and naive in believing that these people have their best interests at heart.

I do understand that for some bands, doing everything yourself isn't going to work. Whether because the band aren't good with business or just that they're too lazy to handle it, not every band is cut out to have to deal with the crushing grind of the music industry. Still in such cases doesn't it make more sense to employ one person who handles all of your business as an artist. If your agent, manager, publicist and booking agent are all the same person, and they work for you and you alone they only have your interests in mind, because you and you alone are their source of income. This is pretty much the 360 music management model and it has worked wonders for artists. Building such a mutually dependent partnership is far more effective than employing the services of a company which deals with a whole roster of different acts. Just think about Jerry McGuire.

If you're not one of a company's highest earning act, most of the work they do for you will be an afterthought, as these companies tend to work with quite large rosters of artists. Getting you an interview in the street press, securing you a slot on the side stage of some mid range festival, these companies are very well practiced at keeping a long list of artists happy by doing the bare minimum.

There are certain examples where working with an outside company can be beneficial I'll admit. If you were making post-punk music in the early 80s, getting picked up by Factory Records would have grabbed you a whole bunch of fans you might not have otherwise found, and it's hard to imagine The Beatles having gotten as far as they did with Brian Epstein and NEMS Enterprises behind them, but these are rare examples where a bands artistic objectives match up with the approach of the companies, and most companies nowadays don't conduct their business in the same way. All they look at is the bottom line.

While getting some tour supports or media exposure might be hard without these people on your payroll, the fact of the matter is that the music will speak for itself and it's only the most artistically bankrupt of bands who have to rely on such industry professionals to maintain their popularity. It is because of such professionals that so much sonic tripe is made popular in the first place. Management companies and booking agents can make a lot more money in the short term promoting several mediocre bands than they can by nurturing a few very talented artists, and with the industry now collapsing under the weight of it's own bloated parasite riddled corpse, the short term is all these companies can afford to think of.

Like Albini points out, it's almost pure mathematics. These company's don't have the interests of the artists at heart, all they care about is how much money the band can get, regardless of how that money will be made. Consider how many bands have been convinced to have their songs used in advertising or bad television shows. Sure Jet getting on the iPod ad made them, or should I say their managers, agents and record labels some money, but in the long run does anyone care about Jet anymore? I think not.

I don't mean to say that no bands can succeed under this model, bands have in the past, and I'm sure they will continue to do so in the future, but for the vast majority of bands being fed through the system their limited success will only serve to further propagate the exploitation of other musicians. It's time those musicians who are serious about their music, and want a career with longevity realise you are better off working with individuals or organisations who believe in your music and not just your profitability.

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