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AltSounds Head to Head - UK Music Industry v US Music Industry

AltSounds Head to Head - UK Music Industry v US Music Industry

Are the Brits Still Tastemakers? Does America Still Tend to Sleep on Bands?

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Last Edited by: Glen February 23rd, 2012.

This is a new feature comparing different aspects of the music industry from bands to musical concepts.

A while ago I came across a quote from The Killers frontman, Brandon Flowers. In an interview for GQ, Flowers claimed that The Killers were the last band to get their foot in the door before the music industry began to fall apart. By that measure, the music industry began to fall apart around 2004 when The Killers' music first came to light.

"Ooh, it's all downhill after us, boys..."

While you can always argue the "falling apart" began even before that, Flowers has long been an outspoken opponent of how the music industry works and keeps his issue with the industry at the forefront at any given opportunity. The closest he has come to an outright attack was his claim that Americans are so "obsessed with Led Zeppelin and Nirvana, those sort of bands, that nobody else is allowed [to grow]" (NME 2009).

For Flowers, too many innovators were being immitated.
Though, those sunglasses never did catch on...

This statement was made in the context of Brandon Flowers' belief that the British Music Industry had embraced The Killers in a way that the American Music Industry never has and never will. Personally, I've been mulling over that comment for the past three years and it has always stuck in my mind until, lately, it became my shared opinion and staunch belief. For well over a decade, the evidence has been piling up that Flowers speaks the truth.

It's amazing that he was so insightful about an issue that has presented itself since music became a truly, internatioanlly marketable, and widespread world industry throughout the 20th century. Time and again, the truly talented [whether The Killers fall within this spectrum, I don't know] receive the accolades and recognition they deserve in the UK months, years, or decades before they receive the same comparable recognition in the United States.

The focal point of the difference in quality between the UK and US Music Industries is that gap. The main issue throughout the mid to late 20th century was not an issue of an artist being ignored but rather a failure of recognition until what had once been a simple horse and cart became a bandwagon.

Bob Dylan, like many American acts, had to cut his teeth in the UK first...

Consider Bob Dylan: today he is considered one of the foremost singer/songwriters in US history. But if you compare how well he did popularity-wise between the US and the UK, one can see that he was almost immediately popular in the UK. His debut album, Bob Dylan, peaked at #13 on UK Album Charts in 1962. It never charted in the US in spite of it not having to make an arduous trek across the Atlantic.

By 1963, when The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan was released, the album went straight to #1 in the UK. Conversely the record peaked at #22 in the US From 1963-1970. Bob Dylan's albums consistently charted in the Top 5 in the UK. charts but it wasn't until the 1965 release of Highway 61 Revisited that he achieved the same feat in the US.

Today, Americans will clammer for Bob Dylan as one of America's greatest treasures but for a long time, the American Popular Consciousness either failed, or refused to recognize such a feat.

Meanwhile, the UK. spotted his talent from the start. Today, the problem of ever recognizing true talent, even retroactively, is more dire. A trend that once affected dozens of artists in any given year now affects an entire genre of music.

Independent music is one of the final frontiers of great music. It serves to define as music made of experimentation and creativity. Those two concepts are the focal point of independent music, but seldom of mainstream music. In the mainstream world, the term "indie" has become sullied in as the people who are controlling radio play, distribution, and advertisement of artists regard this type of music as either unmarketable, unlikely to boost the coffers. and not particularly worthy of people's time/money.

"By the time America takes notice, we'll be fully-grown!"

The independent music scene itself is so colorful and consists of dozens of sub-genres. It caters to everyone! However, any artist labeled as independent immediately alienates a majority of the American Public whether they intend to or not. Today, lacking support by a major label is admitting that as an artist you're willing to forego a certain degree of popularity for independent status. What's more, it's no longer feasible for independent artists to think that widespread recognition from the American Population will ever be realized.

In the end, independent artists are less likely to face that choice in the UK Music Industry simply because the culture encourages and supports every type of music, including "indie" [as it has been stigmatized]. Bands that take years to garner recognition in the US can receive that recognition almost immediately in the UK. if they are talented enough. Just to name a few examples...
  • Fleet Foxes
  • Kings of Leon
  • Maroon 5
  • The Killers
  • Bob Dylan
  • White Stripes
  • Pixies
  • Pavement
  • Foo Fighters
  • Nirvana
Each of these American bands became truly popular in the UK first. It's not that the American Music Industry doesn't recognize great independent artists... we have marginalized music publications for that...the problem is that the time between release of a record and recognition of its quality is too great. That gap is too wide and it's worrisome to realize that the chasm may never close.

Zane Lowe: Heir to John Peel? The hypnotic stance would have you believe so...

I realize that UK and US charts are incredibly similar but the UK, at least, has its own rays of hope. People like Zane Lowe [heir apparent to John Peel?] are still tastemakers, champions of the unsigned, and have a voice in mainstream radio. Who are America's tastemakers? MTV? Pop radio? Jimmy Fallon? Some part of our individualistic nature is always nagging at us to fight authority and yet when it comes to our music, most people are lackin in such individualism. American music, the music of the radio, has long been repetitive and formulaic.

"Please help. Your cameo cheques can help pay may latest bail
count towards my community service hours."

have become too complacent in their approach to music. Most people will accept anything with a catchy beat, vaguely rhyming words, and no substance. The single is more powerful than the album. And yet, the concept of longevity beyond first single is dead unless you can pay for Lil Wayne to cameo on next record. There's something deeply wrong when we must admit that money is the force behind who becomes immortal and who is forgotten in the American Musical Consciousness.

This pretty much sums it up.

And so, in the battle of the UK Music Industry v the American Music Industry the verdict is...

UK Music Industry: TKO!

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