Last Thursday night a healthy contingent of the record label that pays my wages descended on the AIM Awards, a prestigious music industry ceremony you won’t ever have heard of and whose gong giving will never enter into your consciousness. It was the third such back-slap-aganza of the week for this struggling sector following hotly on the heels of the ‘Classic Rock’ and ‘Student Radio’ awards.
It’s getting worrying, this proliferation of music-related award ceremonies. In a week when the last bastion of the British music industry (EMI) got sucked into the gaping void of mediocrity that is Universal following several years of financial uncertainty and in a year when the last major high street music retailer (HMV) is no longer Top Dog having let its scraggy old mutt off the leash in favour of a shiny set of Beats headphones should we really be wasting time celebrating when this once towering institution is now crumbling under the weight of underachievement and failure?
When more and more audiophiles are relying on torrent sites, file sharing and cheap streaming facilities for their latest fix rather than stumping up the for increasingly mis-priced physical formats and with more and more artists choosing to do-it-themselves rather than get bound up in unwieldy label contracts; would it not be more prudent to set aside these money-guzzling events in order to invest and innovate? To take brave new steps in actually understanding how the average record buyer wants to consume their music or how best to serve artists as they adapt their methods of distribution rather than mindlessly clap the “Best Difficult Second Album” of the year (Adele’s ‘21’ at the AIM awards for those keeping score).
The pointlessness of these awards astounds me (Adele also won “Most Played Independent Artist Of The Year” – what!? Well done for being the poor choice of disc spinners in radio land! Whilst Deep Purple won the “Innovator Award” at the Classic Rock Awards – for what exactly? Not dying yet?) They mean absolutely nothing to anyone. Not even those in attendance (overheard on Friday morning from one of the attendees: “I don’t even know who won….I was too drunk by then”). I’m not even convinced they are an accurate barometer of the music landscape anyway. My only awards experience to date has been a nomination for my previous position at Recordstore.co.uk for “Online Music Retailer of the Year” at the Music Week Awards up against the behemoths Play.com and HMV.com. No Amazon you might notice. Strange isn’t it? Not really when you consider we had to cross the palm of the organisers with silver to get on the shortlist. A monetary contribution that the leading online retailer in the world was not (and rightly so) prepared to part with. Is this the case with all awards? Does money talk every time? If it does then really, what’s the fucking point of them all? There’s no celebration of actual accomplishment, just recognition of who has the biggest wallet.
There’s an astonishing waste of money on display here. Whether it’s labels, distributors and retailers throwing away cash to market themselves with nominations within a diminishing industry or sending countless delegates to an event that means nothing more than free booze and mutual masturbation sessions or the organisers more comfortable with pepping up a tired and out of touch clique of insiders with empty praise and tin-pot prizes rather than attempting any radical rethinks. This is an industry that props itself up with the morally reprehensible practice of unpaid interns on increasingly long terms (sometimes up to a year), more interested in the schmooze than the necessity of paying someone for a fair days work.
These old ways need to be completely obliterated and the old guard need to be put out to pasture. Their ship has sailed, has sprung a leak and is sinking faster than a post X-Factor career. Their reliance on the 20th Century business practices in an enlightened digital age has already seen knee-jerk reactions to countless new ways of digesting music (I’m as guilty as anyone for this having previously bemoaned the rise of Spotify and prematurely proclaimed its demise) and is culminating in an inability to adapt quickly to the changing landscape.
I recently had the pleasure of receiving an email from the President (that’s right – THE PRESIDENT) of one of the country’s leading live music promoters who, when offered an innovative solution to sell tickets via facebook for an underperforming act he was managing, retorted, “ever thought of selling records in fish and chip shops?”. The unabashed naivety that you can’t sell tickets via the leading social networking platform completely dispirited me for days. How had the industry become so stuck in its ways that it couldn’t see past its own Pinocchio like ego? When did we start telling the punters how to part with their cash rather than let them decide what was best for them? Had music become its own nanny state unable to adapt to the needs of its people?
Award Ceremonies aren’t, by any means, the whole story here. They are merely a symbol of old methodology, of a fertile industry quick to spread its seed regardless of the inhospitable terrain. But if we are going to see the sprouts of recovery blossom into a full-fledged renaissance we’re going to need some of these extravagant weeds stripped away for good.