About a year ago, Clive Davis made a comment that fell in line with an old conspiracy theory of mine. He told the Billboard Music & Money Symposium that singers should focus on what they do and not feel pressured to write their own songs. He also stated that over the 40 years he has been in the music industry, 80 to 90% of the artist he had worked with had written their own material but in recent years more entertainers who do not write have gained stardom.
This brings me to my conspiracy. Record labels in the nineties wanted to maintain the power and control they had over artists so they began to sign less musically talented performers instead of complete artists. They did not want artists branching out and forming their own record labels or putting their music out independently and messing up the status quo and the record labels’ profits. So they plotted to lower the talent level in the industry. This way the company had the power to easily replace a particular singer, rocker, or rapper if they did not want to do things the company’s way. I understand people always have used, and should use songwriters, but artists were more self-encompassing and unique so you had to have that artist to have their particular music. This is the prime reason the record companies began to push cookie cutter artists on us.
It used to be that they looked to sign acts that were creatively different from current acts, now they want acts capable of emulating proven hit makers. This leads to us getting water downed uncreative music, but the record company is in complete control of the artist. If a song plays on the radio and you are not sure which of a number of similar sounding artist it is but you like it, it shows most of the drawing power is in the song and not in the artist. That is the reason there are so many artists who do not stick around in today’s environment. They come out with a hit song, but the song could have been by anybody so people like the song and download it but do not really support the artist. Artists have no artistic integrity because they know you play ball or you are replaced.
The record companies had to have a lower level of talent to employ this strategy. You are not just going to go to the mall and find the next Whitney Houston, Steve Perry, Pat Benetar or Luther Vandross. These are just a few of the many unique talented artists who brought their own voice to their music. People wanted to hear their voices. Can you imagine “Saving All My Love for You” or “Love is a Battlefield” being sung by anyone else? I would tend to think not. Can you imagine anyone else singing “Birthday Sex”? Yes, The Dream and R. Kelly come to mind immediately.
This is not a knock on any artists of today even though I feel for the most part they are far less talented than their predecessors were. If someone came knocking today to offer me a recording deal I would take it knowing I cannot sing a lick. So I do not blame the artists, I knock the record companies and A&Rs who are signing them. Many of the artists of today would be better suited for background work. It could be in songwriting, back up vocals, choreography, or whatever. Not everyone is suited for the spotlight, but of course, you strive for it.
Mark Sanchez, newly signed quarterback for the NY Jets put it best when he said no one grows up dreaming of being a backup quarterback one day. Truer words have never been spoken and yet more than half of the quarterbacks playing professional football are backups. That is just where some people belong. It is the record company’s job to put people where they are best suited to contribute to classic, timeless music that will be around for generations, instead of allowing them to make lackluster songs because they can dance or are attractive. Record labels need to stop thinking about who looks on the outside to be a star and start focusing on talent and quality.