Has Simon Cowell really destroyed the music industry?
Here’s a phrase I hear and read often in different variations:
“Simon Cowell has single handedly f***ed the music industry.”
Let’s explore this idea!…
First of all, let’s try to define the “music industry”. It’s not that straightforward, because the music industry is different things to different people. We’ll take a simplistic view for the purposes of this article. To the major labels and artists it’s about satisfying the masses and getting their tracks to the Top 10 and maybe even to Number 1. To the independent labels and artists it’s about finding a niche in the vast musical landscape, building a loyal following and holding onto your integrity. If you’re reading my blog then it’s fairly likely that, like me, you identify with the latter. We could use the word ‘alternative’ to describe this side of the music industry.
Asides from my early music listening days, when my favourite artists were Jason Donovan (yep…), Guns ‘n’ Roses, and commercial dance acts like 2 Unlimited, I have never been able to rely on the music charts as a way of finding music that I wanted to hear. Instead, over the years I have relied on recommendations from friends, cassette tape swapping, browsing the A to Z section of the Virgin Megastore, using my local library, spending many hours at my local 2nd hand record dealer, going to gigs, going clubbing, spending many more hours at underground dance music outlets (all of which have now sadly closed down) and of course, the Internet (praise be!). So forgive me if, while Simon Cowell is filling the Top 10 with his own artists, I don’t really see how this affects me, or indeed anyone else who is into their alternative music.
For fairness, I should admit at this point that as an angry teenager, watching the Top 10 countdown on Top of the Pops did have the potential to fill me with intense rage. Things are better these days…
Whether it’s obscure indie-rock bands from the USA, or underground dance music producers from the UK – nearly all the music I buy and listen to these days is released by independent music labels, who will continue to plough on, against the odds, releasing quality music regardless of what happens in the charts. Can you imagine what the music world would be like if these labels gave up purely for the fact that they weren’t getting into the Top 40? They wouldn’t exist. Thankfully, they have something different on the agenda – to sign, cultivate, promote and release quality music from real artists.
For a few years I had a show on an independent Internet radio station called NSB Radio. The station is backed up by a thriving community of underground music fans on the forum at NuSkoolBreaks.co.uk. Radio shows are streamed in from all over the globe. DJ’s use their shows to promote themselves, their self-produced tracks, record labels and events. It really is a very positive, prolific community.
What I’m about to say only applies to a few individuals and not the NSB Radio community as a whole… but with such a positive music community to be part of, why is it that some of them are so hung up about Simon Cowell’s takeover of the Top 10? This attitude is in no way limited to a few members of NSB Radio – I also see it on Facebook quite often – I simply use NSB Radio as an example where a thriving underground community doesn’t seem to be enough for some people; they actually care about what happens in the charts.
I think the most negative comment I ever read by someone in relation to Simon Cowell is that “thanks to him music is dead”. This seems totally untrue to me. Real music is not dead. Real music lives! It lives because of the hard work that independent artists, labels and fans put in to it. Music lives because it’s happening down your street, at a house party, in your local music venue, at that squat. Music lives because your mate is a DJ and he’s producing his own tracks and he’s about to have his first release on Beatport.com. Let Cowell have the Top 10. We’ve got better things to be getting on with.
Rage Against the Machine at Christmas 2009, and Jeff Buckley at Christmas 2008, were both reaffirmations that there are a lot of alternative music fans out there, and when we really want to we can stick our heads up and say “look, we’re here!”. But it’s a testament to our diversity that in 2010 we couldn’t agree on what song we wanted to get to Christmas Number 1, and thus none of the tracks we campaigned for even made a showing in the Top 10. It’s time now to go back underground and get on with cultivating our own independent music scenes.
So, to round it up: if you’re into mainstream music you’re probably happy with the state of things and don’t really care too much. If you’re into alternative music, the Top 10 really shouldn’t be of any concern to you. If Simon Cowell really bothers you that much, I have a very simple remedy: just stop watching X-Factor!
What do you think?
What’s your take on the whole Simon Cowell and X-Factor thing? Do you think I’ve missed something from my argument – that Simon Cowell really is destroying the music industry in ways I haven’t appreciated yet? Perhaps you agree with me that this is a lot of fuss about nothing? Let me know in the comments.
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