In the Guardian today, Alexis Petridis sneers at the new digital musicians union for urging artists to take control of their careers and embrace creative freedom. Apparently, it’s a well-known fact that record company interference guidance helps the talent to produce much better work than allowing them to “self-indulgently” pursue their own muse unchecked. Petridis backs this up by countering widely-recognised classics like Sergeant Pepper and What’s Goin’ On - produced respectively by one of the greatest pop bands and soul singers of a generation - with tawdry rubbish by giants like erm…Lauryn Hill and Finlay Quaye. Oh, and conjuring the faint spectre of Terence Trent D’Arby again (jeez, that clinches it).
So presumably, although you might be able to handle all that freedom if you’re a bona-fide artist with complete mastery of your craft, the calibre of today’s pop stars (discovered, promoted and guided by those wise old birds at the record companies) means that letting them go their own way is too risky (i.e. it might expose the fact that many of them couldn’t even snort cocaine unless an A&R advisor rolled the banknote first and told them to breathe in, not out).
Petridis blames this “ridiculous idea” on the “cerebrally inclined rock star” Peter Gabriel - he appears to feel that Gabriel’s rather novel use of intelligence in his work makes this whole scheme suspicious from the start. (He also notes that Gabriel wants to encourage apes to communicate via the Internet, perhaps implying that this new scheme is merely an extension of the same thing.) Why, it’s positively elitist! Just because Peter Gabriel is capable of producing thoughtful, stimulating music unassisted by Virgin execs who “know what the kids (and their parents) want”, why should he assume that other acts are blessed with the same ability? And even if they are, they may, like Prince, lose their way, fall prey to ego and be overcome by their own genius (rather than collaborating with a suitable producer like perceptive musicians do) - that wouldn’t happen with the record company in charge, would it? They always keep their charges’ feet planted firmly on the ground, instead of indulging their childlike fantasies of being “rock stars” - look at Oasis (unless you’re eating right now). Freed of creative and promotional support, and forced to run their own affairs, they can only go off the rails. Christ, some of these misguided souls even resort to “pandering to their fans” (you know, releasing more material like “official” bootlegs that totally have no place in any proper marketing strategy). I mean, come on, look at the amount of crap weblogs produced by ordinary plebs lacking corporate oversight, exclaims Petridis. Too right - and besides, think how much better and less dreary OK Computer would have been with some smart, snappy pop songs written by a top team of hitmakers hired by EMI - maybe the same ones who did all that great work for Atomic Kitten!
Petridis is bang to rights here - we must never “give music back to the musicians” because they clearly can’t be trusted with it and standards will dip (imagine the horror of a bad Coldplay album). Next thing, it’ll be “power to the people”. Or “editorial freedom to journalists” (even the useless ones). Huh.