Saturday, 8 January 2011

And The Same Old Beat Goes On...

In keeping with the perpetual trend of music sales depreciating year on year, it came as no surprise when BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor discussed new OCC figures that show the UK's physical and digital album market slumped 7% in volume last year. Despite a big uptake in digital albums representing almost one fifth of the album sector in 2010, the market for CD albums dropped 12.4% to 98.5m and dragged the whole sector from 128.9m in 2009 to 119.9m in 2010. Taylor pounced on the data as further evidence of the damage illegal filesharing is doing, saying: "Despite unprecedented demand for music, and strong innovation offering consumers new ways to access music online, legal downloads are unable to offset the decline in CD sales because they are dwarfed by illegal competition."

Hoping for a much needed shot in the arm to ensure 2011 bucks the trend of wavering record sales, some 22 year old chick from Essex called Jessie J has topped the BBC's Sound of 2011 list. Jessie J, previously a songwriter, has already enjoyed chart success with her debut single Do it like a Dude, which reached number 15 in the UK, selling almost 100,000 units on the way.

Everyone in the Jessie J camp is doing cartwheels right now, all anticipating she will get consumers buying into a home grown diva who balances a freakish style with innocuous rhythms. Darcus Beese ― co-president of Island Records, to whom Jessie J is signed ― was quick to extol the brilliance of his artist, saying everyone at Island had done a fantastic job in launching the singer's career. Austin Daboh, music manager at BBC 1Xtra, compares the impact Jessie J has made to that of Tinie Tempah, saying: "From the minute I saw a homemade video of Jessie singing her head off, I knew she was a talent." He went on to say: "I think she combines a unique charisma with great songwriting, and to top it off, she has an incredible voice."

All this conjecture is nothing short of the British music industry giving surreptitious hand-jobs to one another in the hope consumers will fail to notice that Jessie J is shamelessly emulating the already hackneyed talents of American singers like Lady GaGa. Whatever talents Jessie J may possess, they are dissipated by an eager acceptance for her to reproduce current music styles, eschewing personal creative exploration in favour of exportable sonic trends that have been quantifiably successful in international markets. Jessie J's signature tune Do it like a Dude ('Dude' being an American colloquialism, not in any way British) quintessentially demonstrates the derivative framework of her sound and image; also producing a music video that brazenly steals imagery from Rihanna's Disturbia, Christina Aguilera's Fighter and Lady GaGa's Bad Romance. There is nothing to suggest Jessie J is anything other than hot air being expelled by a knackered music industry that's already on its knees wheezing.

Probably the single biggest factor verifying Jessie J's shitness was when Simon Cowell told the BBC last month: "I just love that girl. She's one of the best artists to have come out in years." Cowell's reasons for endorsing Jessie J have little to do with creativity and everything to do with business. Jessie J reproduces a successful model and formula, doing practically nothing that neither embellishes nor evolves the tired British pop music scene. Jessie J is apparently skilful at playing many different instruments and her primary interests were initially seeded in jazz music, but the music industry knows that there's more coin to be made by conforming to expectations. After all, counterfeit hip-hop will always sell better than serviceable jazz music.

Richard Manners is Warner/Chappell Music's managing director and he claimed this week that "the key thing is not to look at the UK as a separate entity but to see where it fits within Europe and the world as a whole. It's all about our artists producing big hits, wherever they are from as this is now a global industry." Manners also said he cannot envisage publishing signings in 2011 being radically different from those in 2010, saying: "There is still an awful lot of pop and R&B that will be signed to Warner/Chappell [and] in addition to that I can see there being more dubstep signings as the year goes on too. The market is constantly evolving and we have to make sure that we are in line with that."

That's cool but can UK artists not produce big hits that don't pander to a cheapened zeitgeist? Hasn't dubstep been around for over a decade and yet it's only now that music executives feel it's something that's marketable. If anything this just shows that executives have no serious idea of how to prosper and develop new music trends that consumers will value and invest in.

Returning to Geoff Taylor's remarks it seems that nobody else is to blame for the UK music industry's woes other than the industry itself. The cost of illegal downloading is an easy conclusion to make but the real reason why music sales are down is because record labels have given up on new sounds. It's become a lazy industry and the arrival of Jessie J further validates how the music industry is adamant on sticking to plagiaristic models that exacerbate problems rather than correct them. It shouldn't just be about innovating new ways to access music online; the UK music industry must issue more exciting types of music and take more risks with the range of artists they publish.

The day the music industry stops blaming downloading for its mistakes the better it is for everyone. You can't blame the public for not buying music when you don't release anything that's worth buying. I'm looking at you Jessie J.