[sic] Magazine

Editorial: Are the major labels stifling creativity?

Think music is a dying art? Tired of facsimile bands, genre revivalists and album re-issues? You’re not the only one. It must seem that originality and vitality are waning but it certainly isn’t true. Wonderful music exists. It’s out there. It’s [sic] Magazines raison d’être to bring it to your attention.

But why isn’t it already on your radar? Putting it quite simply, the industry doesn’t want you to know. A small number of major labels control the market and it doesn’t suit their interests for you to discover that The Boxer Rebellion are better than Coldplay , Snowden are out in front of the Killers or Exit Calm blow Kings Of Leon away. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? Why would they suppress better music in favour of safer, generic acts? It’s because they’re playing it safe. They know they can turn a safe buck out of certain bands.


Innovation and creativity are being stifled by many of the major labels. The likes of NME, Uncut and Mojo won’t help you. They’re all in the industry’s pockets. To get the news, features and exclusives with the ‘name’ bands they’re forced into compromises over reviews etc. I can remember when Coldplay were unknowns. This was before ‘Yellow’. The NME featured them as ‘ones to watch’ for the forthcoming year. Yeah NME got one right. But add some perspective. They also mentioned Terris in the same article. Who? Exactly. We’re missing the point here. Where did NME get their list from? Was it:

a) Months of hard work by professional journalists, scouring the country to find us the best crop of unsigned acts.


b) EMI told them what to print.

See how easy it is? A self-fulfilling prophesy. Now do you think Coldplay were even signed because somebody thought Chris Martin was a talented songwriter? The truth is, some Suit in London probably told his A&R people to ‘find him a Travis’ This is indicative of today’s scene. The industry is far too reactive. It needs to be proactive. Music is art. Art is innovative. But creativity and innovation don’t always equate to inspired genius. They take hard work and nurturing. Not everyone is Mozart or Hendrix . The nurturing is sadly absent. If you don’t hit your target margins by album no 1 you’re pretty much finished. And this is the industry’s big mistake. Accountants are running the show. Since when did accountants have the best ears?


Now, before you say it, I accept that there’s a place for financial and managerial advice in any business. The difference is, you don’t usually see the accountant being the decision maker. There’s a good reason for this. The personality type and profile of an accountant tends towards caution. Indeed caution is part of their profession. Innovators and entrepreneurs are not accountants. Risk takers are not risk assessors. There’s a place for a good financial adviser and that is standing behind the CEO giving guidance. God knows Factory could have done with this when they were blowing millions on the Hacienda and Happy Mondays . But when you let the bottom-liners dictate everything you get….well, you get what we’ve got now. A jaded, generic industry where re-issues spark more interest than debut acts.

I wish the major labels could behave more like the major pharmaceutical companies. Some pharmaceutical firms play it safe; copying hit rival products as soon as it is legal to do so. However the leading manufacturers maintain a healthy Research and Innovations department. Revenues from their leading brands allow them to do this. It’s a risk like any investment but do you think they drop projects at the first setback? Of course not. Why don’t the major record labels do the same?


Once, a scientist tried to formulate the strongest super glue of all time. He failed. The resultant adhesive was so useless you could attach it to any surface and peel it harmlessly away afterwards. Thus, by accident, the ‘Post-it’ was born. The finance guy would never have sanctioned the research in the first place.

If Radiohead hadn’t written Creep, they’d have probably been dropped on the back of Pablo Honey.
No Kid A. No Ok Computer. No The Bends.

That’d be my message to the labels. Trust your ears. If a band is obviously special but their debut doesn’t sell, don’t just drop them. Take a good hard look at your own marketing and promotion branch. And if you don’t trust the ears of your A&R people…


Honestly the [sic] writer team would make better A&R people than most I’ve met. And we know what sells .

It isn’t just music. Fiction is in a similar malaise. Have you browsed the new book publications lately? Notice how many Da Vinci Code copyists there are? And how many celebrity authors there are? Going back to music I’m just tired of magical bands being let down whilst the mediocre, lowest common denominator acts are propelled towards the heavens. Keep your boy bands, keep your talent show winners and dinosaur acts by all means. Those are your Brand Names . Those are your revenue certainties. Just don’t forget the innovation. Creativity needs to be nurtured. That security blanket that the majors cling hold to must not be allowed to suffocate creativity.