BAMM UK is a regular look at music/digital issues from our London-based correspondent. This week: Kids In The Hall …
You can usually find about one a week.
Seriously. It’s easy. Go searching, and you’ll stumble across it – the story, one which perfectly highlights the ailing state of the old-school music industry in the face of the digital revolution. Think of the constant headlines about declining CD sales, or Prince ‘s laughable hissy-fit about the internet being ‘a ‘fad’, or the latest multi-million pound lawsuit being levelled against a 16-year-old in Oklahoma for illegally downloading a couple of Metallica tracks …
Not that this is anything new. Stories about the misfortunes of giant record labels in the online age have been around for ages – ever since Napster was a hot new word-of-mouth phenomenon and 90% of message board content concerned the glimpse of Scully’s bra in last night’s X-Files. But … there’s always a new one, popping up with clockwork regularity. This week, I thought I’d found it when I stumbled across the following: a piece on supergroup U2 and their upcoming tour which will net them a cool $717 million.
It’s all there, isn’t it? Dinosaur rock group on dinosaur label make dinosaur-size bucks. The whole ‘more-money-in-touring-than-record-sales’ vibe. The creeping notion that bands with such godlike influence and wealth were just a forty-year cultural anomaly, and we’re entering a more down-to-earth era of the music industry. Everything that’s outmoded and outdated about the trad music biz, wrapped up in one neat story.
So. I was going to write about U2 … but then I happened across this. At first glance it’s a relatively innocuous subject: Manchester, England, is to get its very own ‘Music Hall Of Fame’. Heartily endorsed by Noel Gallagher and Peter Hook, it will feature such luminaries as The Smiths, Oasis, New Order, The Bee Gees and The Stone Roses. And then it hit me. This – rather than the U2 piece – is a story which perfectly flags up the stagnant nature of the mainstream record industry.
You see, I’ve always had a slight suspicion about such ‘look at how awesome we are’ enterprises, be they the UK Music Hall Of Fame or the long-standing Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. What are they, essentially, apart from self-aggrandising slap-on-the-back-fests by gigantic record labels? Just take a look at the bands mentioned above. Any of them strike you as lacking in critical praise or recognition? As for the inductees into the other Music Halls – we’ve got Elvis Presley, Bob Marley, Queen, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles among others. Anyone actually need reminding that The Beatles were, y’know, quite an influential little band?
It seems obvious to me that – at least in part – these Halls Of Fame aren’t so much about ‘celebrating’ big artists as establishing the status quo. The major labels are saying “stick with us. We’ve got the big boys. We’ve got the billion-sellers and the nice shiny gold discs to hand out to ‘em. DON’T LOOK ELSEWHERE.” They don’t seem to realise that their efforts are being met with a massive shrug from an entire generation-and-a-half who’d rather spend their time discovering exciting new music than re-evaluating Sgt Peppers for the 600th time. It doesn’t need re-evaluating. Leave it alone.
Which brings me to the overall point: couldn’t the money ploughed into a glitzy exhibit entitled ‘Hey Guys, Exile On Main Street Is Still Really Good, Check Out This Pointless Reissue’ be better used to expose and develop young new artists? Should the creaky establishment take precedence over an evolving (and commercially riskier) music scene? I can guess what the massive record labels think. But – increasingly – their opinion matters less and less.
And that’s why stories like this aren’t going away anytime soon …