Damn, Son... Here's The Only Guide to Making Money in the British Music Industry
What a time to be alive, lets make this paper, lets make this money.
Look at the music industry as though it's a cake. On the top layer, there's the frosting and the sprinkles: top tier artists who shine bright like the diamonds Rihanna sang about on her smash hit 2012 single. The accountants, the lawyers, the publicists who sit in big glass buildings keeping everything together are the glue in the middle. And in and around it all are the A&Rs, the emulsified eggs of this mixture, who make everything happen - and sometimes do the opposite.
For those unversed in the lexicon of the music business, A&Rs - or Artists and Repertoire, if we're getting fancy about it - are the people who sign acts. They smooze their way through lunches like Billy Zane in Titanic, offering to make fresh-faced teenagers dream come true. Ultimately: it is their job to find the next big single, or else the music industry will crumble and they will be fired from their position quicker than they can say "your album is coming out this year".
The thing is: A&Rs are finding it difficult. Sure, they still have an expenses card. They eat out more than is necessary for any one stomach. But their job - which mostly consists of telling their acts they want a song that "sounds more Soundcloud-y" - is increasingly under threat. Those who sign good artists often fail to make a commercial dent anymore. Big acts like Chance the Rapper don't even want to talk to them. And, as of today, the biggest selling new British album of the past twelve months is a collection of cover songs by a man who used to star in Coronation Street.
Presenting, exhibit A: Bradley Walsh, the music industry's next gargantuan and chiselled hope, the real sound of 2016, the beautiful tug boat riding down the superhighway of monumental success.
Walsh, who is pictured above in all his sauve, demure, dry yet moisturised glory, completely bodied the competition for best selling album of 2016 by a debut artist, having shifted 111,650 copies of a record featuring little more than a collection of songs made famous by better looking and better people than him. By comparison, Zayn's cleverly titled album ZAYN only managed to sell 65,000 copies, and BBC Sound of 2016 winner Jack Garratt only pushed 62,954. In a moment of either triumph or depressing realisation, Walsh's album was released in October, meaning he managed to sell more copies than anyone else in 2016 in just two months of the year.
Now, A&Rs have a huge decision to make. Their shit is clearly no longer hotter than a sewage facility in Death Valley. Do they rip up the book and start again, crafting whole new ways to create major new British acts? Or, do they see the success of Bradley Walsh as a sign, and begin to re-fashion their working ways around the modern climate? Here's some advice on breaking a new act in 2017 from your old pals at Noisey.
Find Someone Old and Recognisable
In the antecedent, speedy era of the music industry, it was necessary to find a young and attractive star - some sort of street urchin, really, who could be modelled into a backstory adequate enough to set-up a three album career. Someone pliable – like a Jake Bugg or a James Bay – but with cheekbones reaching into the heavens. Someone who looks good in a hat. Someone who rarely eats solids or says no. But that is the past and this is now. The year is 2017AW (After Walsh). The best place to find new music talent is now the TV Guide. Lots of attractive and becoming humans are always waltzing out of those pages and into the television screen and then onto gold selling records. Ed Balls sure can dance – why not make him re-record "Gangnam Style" for real, with a brand new video to boot? Graham Norton has an unusual voice… could he be the next King Krule? Noel Edmonds already has a radio station... why can't he be the next Pete Tong? Think outside the box people.
Find Some Classic Songs to Cover
One of the basic tenets of being an A&R is that it's extremely crucial to find something fresh and new. But if that doesn't work, there's another rule: find something that sounds exactly like something else. Heard a good song on the radio recently? Get the writer or producer behind it into the studio or find someone else who can knock up something similar enough to make a dent but different enough to not get sued.
This age-old technique can also be applied in the AW era by looking into the past, only not to find songs to plagiarise but to cover. That extensive collection of pop ballads your Grandmother owns on CD? Find one and present it at your next A&R meeting along with your hot daddy of a new signing and a whiteboard on which you've written "My idea = the future".
Repackage all of the above into a compilation album, like NOW 47 but for OAPs
Remember that old gameshow in the 1990s where the contestant stood in a windowed room as piles of money fell from the ceiling? This is you, when you come up with this shit hot genius of an business plan. Aside from Bradley Walsh, the best selling non-debut albums of 2016 were the NOW collections. Get a few artists that fit the above criteria on the go, package their releases up, and do it all over again because the golden days of making £12 profit off each sale are still all yours. For bonus points, become the Louis Vuitton don of this shit and enter your compilation record into the vinyl market, make sure it's stocked in all major chains, and start counting up the funds for your second house.
Rinse and Repeat until You Die
There will come a time when you're bored of bands. You're bored of telling people you'll "live" with their track "for a few days". When someone mentions the Hype Machine you want to forcibly insert the charging wire for your Macbook Pro into the deep cavities of their anus. You don't want to talk about campaigns, the build up to the campaign, how the campaign is going, how the campaign can be kickstarted because it's burned out and no one wants to premiere your artists track, how the campaign needs to resemble something that looks more like a campaign. You are literally sick of this shit but you don't know how to do anything else, do you? You came here in the golden days of the music industry when it was possible to find four kids from New Cross with glow-sticks hanging around their neck, give them a record deal, call it a scene, and laugh all the way home to the bank. This is what you know; this is who you are. But that time is over.
So please, rinse and repeat the above steps from here on out. Nothing else seems to be working and we all want you to do really, really well.
You can find Ryan Bassil on Twitter.