Friday, 24 February 2012

The Game of Fame

I've been following the usual post Brit Award naval gazing exercise in the media with some wry amusement. As ever, TV and newspaper editors use the opportunity to fill their empty slots with endless waffle about how it does or does not reflect the state of the modern music industry - like that really matters or even interests most of us.

This year, of course, it's turned into an Adele vs Blur shouting match and I must say I have rarely seen such strong sentiments expressed on both sides in the forums! Depending on your point of view (or more probably your age, if we're honest about it) either Adele is an undeserving flash in the pan and Blur are true musicians, or Adele is a hard working and shining talent of the modern age and Blur are a bunch of ageing has-beens.

Well far be it for me to comment. In fact I really don't care. Blur have done a few numbers in the past that I really like, and Adele undoubtedly is a remarkable singing talent. But equally I could easily be very disparaging about both as well. Because we all have our own preferences. What they have in common, and what we all have to acknowledge, is that they have both managed to achieve sufficient fame to be mentioned in a blog post by an aspiring artist such as my good self, who has not managed that level of recognition. YET, of course.

But how did they get that recognition, fame, celebrity, whatever you want to call it? Is Adele more deserving of that award than, say, a friend of mine who has, I would argue, a superior singing voice (gasp! sacrilege!). Are she and all the other winners really more talented than every one of the the thousands of unknown musicians, bands and singers out there? One tends to assume that they must be. But the truth is, they are not. In pure talent terms, every "star" has a large number of equals/betters out there who are not stars.

Now before their lawyers start charging the famous great chunks of their royalties for writing threatening letters to me, let me point out that I do not in any way resent their awards nor, (in most cases) deny their talents. I pat them collectively on the pack and say "Well Done!". You cannot win awards without some sort of ability, that is for sure. You can get the fame easily enough (just hang around with footballers in bars and pay Max Clifford your life savings) but in general the Brit awards and other similar events do fortunately maintain some degree of integrity with respect to talent.

But these people did not get there without some serious corporate assistance. In fact, that is a point spat at the whole event with vitriol from a number of quarters. Um, yes. Of course that's the case. If you don't like it, don't watch it then, and don't buy the records. As I have discussed in a previous post, if that was not the case, there would be no "stars", and no-one would be trying to become one. I also suspect that the corporate bashing is often the politics of envy rather than idealism. The bottom line is that there is no other way of having a top tier of artists for the rest of us to aspire to.

So why are these people singled out over the rest of us for promotion? Good question. Assuming you have some reasonable talent and you are not a clone of an existing established star, its as much about who you know and being in the right place at the right time. It seems to be that what happens is that there is some kind of covert agreement between top record companies, broadcasters and promoters that a particular act is the "next big thing". The resulting overwhelming exposure that we all get to that act results in us believing the same, and buying the product. Pretty much all of the famous acts that have emerged from nowhere in the last few years have achieved their status this way - I shall not name names for fear of reprisals but I am sure you can identify a few with a minimum of effort.

The proof of this phenomenon is the existence of what I call the "doomed middle layer" of fame. These are the musicians that have a long history, many albums, a loyal "cult" fan base, and that the average music fan may have just about heard of but probably can't name or bring to mind any of their music. These poor guys will never be "discovered" by the corporate music industry, but if they are lucky, may be "discovered" every now and then by a new fan who then buys up everything they've ever produced. But they will probably never be accepting awards on national TV. Occasionally there's an exception to the rule (I am thinking specifically of the recent award for P.J.Harvey's latest album - nice one, Polly) but otherwise this is the top layer to which most of us can realistically aspire. Because when you get to this point, the corporate machine does not want you because you are probably too old and set in your ways to be of any use to them.

To be honest, that is all fine by me, because in this day and age of web networking and relatively cheap music production technology, there are far too many people out there for them all to "make it" in the traditional sense. This "middle ground" status give us all the space we need to do what we love doing, and we are far more likely to still be doing it in a few years time than. But that's not to say I, like all others in my position, don't secretly fantasise about accepting awards on national TV for my music. It's an ego thing. So if anyone knows who it is that maintains that secret list of "next big things" and how to get on to it, let me know and I'll make them an offer they can't refuse.

They can cut my acceptance speech short if they like, I don't mind, in my case it'll probably be a good thing. As you'll probably agree if you've managed to read this far.

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