The big secret of the modern music industry


The following blog is from music journalist and Popjustice editor Peter Robinson (inset photo). Robinson’s article originally appeared in the fourth quarter 2019 edition of the quarterly magazine Music Business UK, which is available by subscription here.

A little over a decade ago, when Twitter was still a place where you could cast your thoughts into the ether without feeling like they might have real-world ramifications, I tweeted my take on the latest single from American warbler Jordin Sparks. It was, shall we say, not quite up there with its 21st century cultural highlight Battlefield.

Later that evening, from across the Atlantic came a response from the lady herself. “I can’t please everyone,” she wrote. She added, “:)” which I thought, “Well, you can please everyone, because history has shown that you can release a song as good as Battlefieldand everyone was very happy with it.

But there was something about his benevolent and magnanimous response that stuck with me. The smiley suggested she was happy the song was finding an audience with her fans, but there was perhaps a hint of sadness in what came before it.

What if she had just given her best shot, and she knew full well that the new song wasn’t Battlefield? Was she resigned to this?

One thing we often hear from artists who get bad reviews is that “opinions are like assholes – everyone has one”. It’s always struck me as odd that this dismissal of the critic’s role only seems to apply to negative coverage, while the uselessness of music criticism is mysteriously forgotten when positive criticism is quoted and slapped on billboards. billboards across the country.

But in 2020 the role of criticism in an artist’s breakup is unquestionably in decline. This year’s decision to rename the BRIT Awards Critics’ Choice Award to Rising Star is not a trivial one: it’s a solid example of how the role of the critic has diminished for artists and audiences alike.

“In 2020, the role of criticism in an artist’s breakup is undoubtedly on the decline.”

Reviews are always important, but they are not important. If tweets and Insta stories are anything to go by, for artists, New Music Friday’s coverage looks more exciting than most publications’ coverage.

In other words: if you were working on a new UK release, would you prefer the backing of Britain’s top five music journalists, or the backing of the UK streaming service’s biggest editorial team?

As an occasional reviewer myself, I came to an unwelcome crossroads a few years ago when I came to a very simple four-word realization. I should preface its grand unveiling, which will take place at the end of this paragraph, by suggesting that any music journalist reading this might want to look away now, because when the phrase came to me a few years ago, it did six times my job Harder. But if I have to live with his burden, maybe you should too. Either way, the secret truth at the heart of almost all music is this: everyone does their best.

It’s hard to say why this revelation touched me so deeply. Did I ever feel like the musicians deliberately made bad music, or were just bad at their job, just to annoy me?

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that most things are just bad by accident. What are authors supposed to do? Transfer everything immediately and retrain as arborists? Of course not. They’ll throw it away and hope for a decent response. Everyone did their best.

I don’t want you to think that I’m oblivious to the fact that there are blatant high-profile acts happening every day in the music industry from people whose true passions lie elsewhere, and I don’t think I’m being too harsh when I say that anyone who submits their chosen team for an annual music industry football fan list should be fired immediately.

And, yes, there are a lot of people in our industry who just phone him.

To take just one specific example, consider the recent destruction of Toto by Pitbull. Africawho took the title Ocean to ocean and was ridiculously pushed into DC’s cinematic hi to the damp, Aquaman. In the song, Mr 305 declares himself to be “the lyrical Great Gatsby” and goes on to prove his point by rhyming “Gatsby” with “Banksy” and then, later, “see” with “sea”.

The cut and closed nature of the song means there is no pre-chorus, there is no post-chorus, and there are no eights in the middle. The whole thing is done in less than two and a half minutes thanks to an ending so abrupt that the listener only has to conclude that the studio was unexpectedly evacuated following a tip that the FBI was soon to perform a bust. relating to Pitbull’s involvement in laundering old ropes. .

“It’s such an abrupt ending that the listener need only conclude that the studio was unexpectedly evacuated following a tip-off that the FBI would soon be performing a bust regarding Pitbull’s involvement in laundering old strings.”

I don’t think anyone over the age of three could come across this pop artifact and find themselves able to claim with a straight face that anyone involved offered the song anything beyond the absolute bare minimum. I would even suggest that Pitbull would require printed proof of studio booking, full expense receipts, and one hour of regression therapy to have any chance of even remembering recording it.

I mean, I have to admit that the song is absolutely brilliant, so I’m afraid I’m losing sight of my starting point, which is that a voluntary release of this nature is the exception rather than the rule.

Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP is an album whose legacy is perhaps best summed up by the fact that Gaga recently went viral by tweeting that she didn’t even remember it, but she and we have to remember that at the time she was doing his best, and everyone on his team was doing the same.

In more cases than we care to admit, everyone along the line, from the artist to the producer to the product manager and the social team, will have given something of their best.

Walk through any label, management company, or recording studio today and you’ll find people doing their best. Often everyone involved will know that the resulting song will be creatively disappointing and artistically unsatisfying. Sometimes it will be both at the same time. And all this will be forgotten when it reaches flows of 200 m.

This article originally appeared in the latest issue (Q4 2019) of MBW’s premium quarterly publication, Music Business UK (pictured), which is now available.

MBUK is available through an annual subscription to the physical magazine MBW via here.

All physical subscribers will receive a free digital edition with each issue.The music industry around the world


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