Monday, 14 May 2018

He Don’t Hang Around with the Gang No More

In 1949 I went to the cinema about three times a week, a compulsion which had little to do with the merits of the films I saw; Rank cinemas at that time, showed a healthy profit. In the late fifties, as my attendance at the cinema declined, I became aware that my thoughtless change of habit had created a crisis in the film industry, not only Rank losing money but I had even caused severe cuts in production at major Hollywood studios. (Richard Hamilton)
Richard Hamilton is right to point this out: we’re not only slaves to consumer trends; the market follows us. I should know. Just as Hamilton triggered economic shifts in the film industry mid-20th century, I bear a responsibility for music consumption today.
            There has been a turn away from bands towards solo artists. Adele and Ed Sheeran are prospering (they are numbers one and two in the latest Sunday Times list of the UK’s richest musicians under 30), while the group-oriented genres of rock and indie music are in decline (the Arctic Monkeys have recently been described as being ‘virtually the last indie band standing’). This change has, of course, been driven by record companies, as well as by artists themselves. It simply makes more sense to be a solo act. From the record companies’ perspective, solo artists are easier to market. Today’s industry is focused on social media and brands; it requires global stars. This situation does not favour locale-based groups who are cultivating underground notions of ‘cool’. From the artists’ perspective, it is obviously more prosperous to go it alone. In today’s climate there are fewer royalties to spread around. So why spread them around at all.
            This policy would not be effective, however, unless there was public demand for solo performers. And this is where I come in. I hardly ever buy music by groups any more. I don’t consume music by Ed Sheeran either (I’m one of the multitude who remain mystified by his appeal), but I do relate to the questing music of St Vincent, John Grant and James Blake, and I enjoy the big personalities of Beyoncé and Taylor Swift. It is solo acts that suit me now.
I think I know why. To become a fan of a band is to take on the ethos of their gang. You buy into the group’s notions of comradeship. The older I get, the more unsuitable this feels. I don’t hang around with gangs any more. Consequently, I can’t imagine what would prompt me to have any interest in the latest guitar group. And I’m not alone in being more alone. The popular music audience is ageing. There are large swathes of us who are no longer out on the streets, running with the pack. We haven’t given up on our music, though. We’re isolated in our homes, listening to solo performers.