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Essay/Term paper: Can manufactured bands ever be classified as 'good' art? the effect of the market on the construction of music

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Culture

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Can Manufactured Bands Ever be Classified as 'Good' Art? The Effect of the Market
on the Construction of Music


Introduction
Manufactured bands now make up a major percentage of chart music today,
not least of them Take That, Boyzone, Bad Boys inc., East 17 and other all-boy
pop bands. In this essay I would like to discuss how the standard of art has
been lowered by the capitalistic system of the music industry, using a specific
example - "Upside Down", which is maybe the latest addition to this genre of
music.

By this genre of music, I mean the all-boy bands which have been
specifically manufactured and targeted at the 'teenybopper' age class (and also
the gay market?).

Personal Opinions
To argue that this form of art is 'bad' art, one must have a reference
point - a set of values by which to judge. This is almost always a personal
opinion, and I would first of all like to explain my personal opinion.

I believe that 'good' art has something to offer to the individual
perceiver, be it painting, book, film, dance or music. These are all different
forms of art, but one thing binds them all together - the fact that they are
creations, created and crafted to the personal specifications of the artist.
This makes the product original.

Two values by which I judge music are creativity and originality. I
believe that good art provides 'food for thought' - that special something which,
after the tape has finished, after leaving the cinema or closing a book, leaves
an 'aftertaste' - something to think about, be it, 'how did he/she play that' or,
'what was he/she trying to say with that piece,' the list goes on.

Basic Market Analysis
For the purposes of this essay, I want to split marketing into two
general strategies. The first of these is where the designers make a "product"
to their own specifications and then look to see where and how they will be able
to sell it in the overall market. The second strategy is the opposite of the
first - the designers examine the general market, target a certain area and
tailor make a product to fit this area exactly.

The latter of these strategies is the one employed when a band is going
to be manufactured. The designers have studied the market and worked out what
they think they can sell a certain group of consumers.

Hirschman's 'three market segments' model (see figure 1) can be used to
explain which type of bands fall into which category. The first segment is
titled "Self-orientated Creativity." The primary audience is the person who
creates the piece and the primary objective is that person's self-expression.
This is art for the sake of art and is sometimes called "selfish" art. The
second segment is titled "Peer-orientated creativity"; the primary audience are
peers and industry, the primary objective is recognition and acclaim. The third
segment is "Commercialised Creativity "and focuses on the general public with
the primary objective of money and profit.

The people who create art for the sake of art may not even approach a
record label, as it is solely for themselves. This approach is focused on the
product, made their way, not taking the commercial aspect into consideration.

The people who fall into the category of peer-orientated creativity do
want to publish their work but do not tailor their product to increase its
marketing potential. An example of this could be any band that has its own
distinctive style, e.g. Led Zeppelin, which when it was first published,
definitely did not fall into the category of pop music. Although they became a
success and sold millions of records, they did not compromise their music to do
so.

The third group are one hundred percent commercially based. Any music
made by a band in this category is produced for a pre-specified area of the
market with the sole intention to make money. The product is tailored according
to what the mass audience wants, therefore any aspect of art is compromised.

Case Study - Upside Down
Upside Down fit perfectly into the third category in Hirschman's Three
Market Segment Model. Put together by two managers, they use the second of the
general strategies I have described above - first check the market to find an
opening and then tailor a product to fit it.

In this case young girls aged roughly between 11 and 16 have been targeted.
Having decided this, the next part of the process is, based on what the managers
think the consumers want (or what they think they can tell them they want), to
tailor make a product to suit the market. In this situation, the question is,
"What do girls aged between 11 and 16 want to see when they go to a concert?"
The answer is, having experienced the reaction to Take That, Boyzone etc., that
they want young boys, in nice clothes, very good looking, very sexy looking, who
are going to look great on their bedroom walls when they get their posters out
of Smash Hits. So this is exactly what the managers design and produce for them.

The four boys that were eventually chosen were picked from the
applicants who had responded to this advertisement:

"Are you between 17 and 21 and good looking? (We're only looking for
the best!)"

"Do you want to be in a teenage all-boy band sensation?"

"Do you want to follow performers like Take that, East 17, Bad Boys inc.
and Boyzone into the covers of Just 17 and Smash Hits?"

"Do you want to be part of a band selling millions of records?

From the seven thousand applicants, a shortlist of 250 was drawn up from
their photographs alone. These 250 were auditioned in one day, each audition
lasting about as long as it took for the managers to discuss how the individuals
looked.

Once the four boys had been trained by a voice trainer, the next step
was to find material for them to perform. Their first single-to-be was bought by
the managers from a firm selling previously unreleased songs. Several different
potential hits were played to the managers before they eventually picked one to
record in the studio.

Upside Down's first studio sessions yielded a different sound than their
released single. It was described in the documentary as having nearly a white
soul-music quality, but the managers were not happy with it at all. They
proceeded to record the single again with Stuart Levine - well known for his
success in achieving a more 'commercial' sound for music of this type, and his
was the recording that they finally used.

Upside Down's first public performance took place on the Smash Hits Tour,
which, not surprisingly, was attended and practically consisted only of girls
aged between 10 and 15!

Evaluation
Figure 2 is a diagram which can be used to define the difference between an
object or work of art in the traditional sense (art for the sake of music) and a
cultural industry (art for the sake of making money).

The horizontal axis represents the range of products from works of art
which are aesthetically or artistically orientated to the works of art which are
market orientated. At the right hand side, the product is determined by the
market, and at the left hand side by the artist. The vertical axis shows the
range from prototypes, i.e. a unique piece of work, through to cultural
production on a mass scale.

As I described above, in the context of peer-orientated creativity, Led
Zeppelin became a big-selling band, but did not compromise their music to do so.
On the model, they would be represented by the 'Work of Art' (upper left
quadrant) which would then move down to the lower left quadrant where the work
is still orientated towards the artist, but reproduced because it has become
popular (i.e. moved down the vertical axis).

Upside Down, on the other hand, stay firmly in the lower right-hand
quadrant of the diagram, represented by 'Cultural Industries'. As their product
is tailor-made for the market, and always intended for mass reproduction, it
cannot be said that they have ever produced a prototype.

This whole attitude suggests and promotes the idea that money is more
important than art. This (business) venture is geared towards nothing else than
making money. In the documentary interview run by the BBC, The managers stated
that their aim was purely commercial, to quote one of them, "Launching a band is
launching a product. Identify your market, package your product as nicely as
possible, target your audience and sell it to them." They also stated that only
then would they have achieved anything when "Ten thousand girls are screaming at
the boys on stage, some passing out from excitement and being taken away by the
St John's Ambulance Brigade.

To create an image, the managers put the word out that the four boys from
England's next Mega-band would be in such and such a place at such and such a
time. They then turned up with the band in the designated places and times to
allow the 'fans' to kiss or be kissed by, or get an autograph from the stars of
the next biggest band in England.

The boys, however, are also in it only for the money, if not at first then
definitely now. They were given an allowance (not very much), and told that the
serious money would start rolling in as soon as the records were starting to
sell. In an interview with the boys, just after they had had several thousand
pounds worth of clothes bought for them, one said, "We haven't really got used
to having all these expensive clothes bought for us yet, but hopefully we will."

I find this approach to making music a very manipulative one. The pre-
targeted market of eleven to sixteen year olds must be one of the easiest to
manipulate. In this age, people are trying to find themselves or make themselves
into the type of people that the media tell them they should be - if someone
placed an advert in Just 17 or Smash Hits stating that every cool teenager now
bought their fashion clothes from Marks & Spencer's, this store would probably
record a 300% increase of sales in the Womenswear Department.

On the other side of the stage, however, the boys in the band are also
being manipulated. They are still, after over a year of being signed to the
managers, receiving the pitiful allowance assigned them by their managers. They
have been led to believe that they will be very rich, have given up university
studies and jobs to do so and yet have come no further financially. The records
are selling but until a certain number have been sold, they do not receive any
royalties, to allow the managers to recoup the quarter of a million pounds they
have invested. And when that sum is reached, will they still be around or will
the public have gone crazy about another four or five sexy-looking boys who are
essentially no different, just something new?

Apart from the dubious financial situation, the band have absolutely no say
in what they want their sound to be like. After the recording of the single
(which, incidentally the band had no hand in picking), one of the boys was asked
what he thought of the finished product; he answered, "I liked the sound of the
first recording better - it was less commercial-sounding, but it depends if
you're doing it for yourself or a prospective audience."

With his own recording technique, Stuart Levine obviously managed to get a
more 'poppy' and commercial sound which the managers preferred. This ties in
with one of Frans Birrer's definitions of pop music, "Popular music is music
that is not something else. This ties in, in turn, to the 'McDonald's' Method -
McDonalds actually deflavour their burgers so that less people will dislike
them. In exactly this way, and for exactly the same reasons, Upside Down, or
their managers at any rate, have deflavoured their music - diluted it so that no
one element is too strong for people's musical tastebuds.

What the band have also been led to believe is that they possess a lot of
talent, and have accordingly acquired quite a high opinion of themselves and
what they are doing:

"I think that masterminded bands are much better - it means that the best
talent, from a large area, is brought together and concentrated,"(!):

The performers themselves were obviously not chosen for any musical talent
or creativity, but on the strength of their looks. During the auditions, the
managers discussed the potential of the applicants. Comments ranged from, "No,
absolutely not - I don't like his style," ; "Pity about him, he's got a good
voice but look at his skin - we won't be able to do anything with his acne," to
"Looks great - bad voice, but nothing the studio can't fix," or "Yeah, he's not
bad, but I don't know about his hair. Maybe with some dye and matching coloured
contact lenses…."

If the band were so talented, as they have come to think they are, then
surely the managers would not have needed to send them to a professional voice
trainer, when the only 'live' singing they have to do is in the studio? (All
'gigs' are mimed) The voice trainer also did say,(rather dubiously I thought),
"We-ell, they have hope; they aren't the worst I've ever had."

It seems that the managers have achieved one of the earliest goals they set
themselves - "What we're basically looking for is four or five good-looking boys
who are eager to be moulded, well, guided, you know - given a helping hand to do
what we want them to do."

I want to conclude by saying that, based on my personal opinions of what
'good' art should be, Upside Down are a good example of 'bad' art. The art in
this venture lies not in the music but in the management. The question is, is
management an art.?

References:

BBC Omnibus Documentary on the Process of Manufacture of Upside Down, 1996

LEDA Circuit on New Opportunities for Employment Creation through the Cultural
Sector, 1995

Phil Saxe's Notes on Marketing Strategies


 

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