There are a lot of phrases you learn to dread when you’re the guy at the inbox end of a record label’s email address. Some of the PR spin is hilarious and there is a lot of repetition (I’ve learned that pretty much every rock band these days has “searing guitars” for example – in fact the word “searing” has ceased to hold any meaning for me now) but there are two phrases I hear and read so much that they have begun to induce a Herbert Lom-style eye twitch.
“THIS ARTIST IS READY FOR THE NEXT BIG STEP”
Really? As far as I’m concerned it’s just an infinite flight of incredibly small ones. If the path you have chosen has steps as big as that then, frankly, I think you’re probably on the wrong side of the mountain. And people who start scaling mountains without first looking at a map and deciding on which side is the most suitable for climbing generally aren’t the ones that get to name the mountain after themselves.
[Oh, it’s going to be one of those metaphor-stretching articles is it? I’ll try to keep them on a short leash]
“THIS BAND HAS PAID THEIR DUES”
Since when do you stop paying dues? Dues are not the entry fee, they are the cost of continued membership. I hear this phrase all the time and, believe me, I know how it feels to be going round in circles but this just smacks of lazy thinking. Indeed, if there’s one thing I’ve learned since I decided to go full time at this, it’s that it doesn’t ever get easier, you just get better at doing it.
I don’t want to come across as unreasonable (I’ve written loads of press releases and I often read them back and think “oh god I sound like one of them”), I know a lot of these words are just conversational shorthand, a sort of aperitif before getting to the meat of the pitch. The fact that such sentiments have become so familiar, however, and so seemingly instinctive, makes me wonder whether they might not be at the core of the problem.
It is almost as if these people are expecting some sort of Headmaster figure to look at their end of term report and say: “right then, let’s see… band-name that responds well to google search… tick… ample social media interaction… tick… press photo taken in a disused quarry… tick… decent youtube stats… tick… free download in exchange for email address… tick…” before getting his official green stamp out of the top drawer and giving this artist the go ahead to MAKE IT IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY.
I wish so-called creative people would stop thinking they’re waiting in line. That’s what X-Factor contestants do. There’s no outside and inside, no steps up and down, just get on with doing your best to create something that makes sense on some shared emotional level and then build from there. Too many people are waiting for someone to give them permission. Who exactly? If you have the technology to send a spammy email about searing guitars I’ll wager you have the technology to make a record and release it globally without anyone else’s help. And as for the marketing side, well it can be as simple as this: if you’re a musician you have a truly enviable capacity to make friends – music is the most universal and inclusive art-form there is (unless you’re one of those morons who thinks it’s all a big popularity contest).
I know it’s comforting to believe there is someone out there that can make life fit some sort of enviable narrative template. And it’s particularly handy to have that phantom figure on hand to blame when you don’t end up with a bathroom full of Grammys (but then you would have to ask yourself the question “was that really what it was all about?”).
Celebrity is a religion with its own set of martyrs and devils. Its miracles, however, are no less farfetched than those of any other confused dogma.
At times such as these, art can be a welcome heresy. I just wish these artists would stop thinking about “making it” and get on with creating it.
FIRST PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 2012