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can manufactured bands ever be classified as

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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