Sunday, 24 May 2015

Eurovision - where do we go now?

So after another memorable night of Eurovision, people are saying the UK failure is a disaster, that it’s all political and nobody likes us, that there are blocks that vote for each other, that we should quit this club that doesn’t want us as a member. And we pay for it all FFS!

But hang on just one minute and think about it.

The song was performed by a Voice contestant who didn’t make a single chair turn and a bloke from a Rolling Stones tribute act. It was written by two guys, one of whom is in his late 50’s and who’s only real claim to fame is that he wrote the theme to the National Lottery and another who’s music can only be found on free sites. What did we expect!

The music industry is huge in Britain, we utterly dominate worldwide (if you think the US holds that mantle then you don’t understand the industry) and the fact that almost all the acts speak English and write/sing in English tells you everything you need to know about what happens in these countries on the other 364 days of the year.

But our dominance, the fact this country has a vast music industry engine, that many people have worldwide reputations for production and writing, has it’s consequences.

I’ve been lucky to earn my living in the music industry all of my life. I’ve written a number of hits here and in the US, but they have also been hits all over Europe. In fact I had a song that made number one in twelve EU countries a few years ago and never charted here. The pressure on me and others like me (there are lots of us) is to find what is new.

Who would have thought two years ago that kids in clubs would be dancing to country and western music, or that Caro Emerald would suddenly make jazz fashionable. Here, writers have to be constantly refreshing what they do, we have to be at the front if we want those in the industry to listen.

In the 60’s and 70’s the vibrancy of the music industry came from bands who wrote their songs, they created new sounds and the world listened and copied. The 80’s were about the obligatory chorus key change, the 90’s about weird timing signatures and acoustic dominance, this century has been about introducing older styles of music with modern twists.

So it’s no surprise that the Swedish entry merged the country influences from a year or so ago with the constant Eurovision need for a catchy, pumped up chorus. It was a new development wrapped around a winning formula; but it was behind where the industry is in the UK right now.

Our difficulty is getting writers to create stuff that is out of date (in their heads anyway) when the industry is always demanding the next new thing.

In the last five years we’ve seen disco, electro pop, Country, bluegrass and jazz form the basis of worldwide hits (I probably forgot something here so apologies) and this year and next we will see traditional R&B making a big comeback with the disco feel finding slightly better forms than Niles Rogers can create - the reinvention of Deacon Blue will also see effects in writing.

But Eurovision will always reflect what Europe likes right now. And we are the innovators, we are currently writing what Europe will like in 2017, and there lies the problem.

I wrote for Eurovision a lot of years ago with varying success, but I wouldn’t do it now. If I dare say it we need to hand that job to somebody who is living and working in continental Europe not here. There are plenty of those and I have no doubt quite a few of the songs last night will have been produced by Brits (it is production that makes hits not writing), it may be some were written by Brits too, but I don’t know that.

So let’s not beat ourselves up. The biggest selling tunes in Europe in 2015/16 will, as always, be British. British acts will continue to dominate the thinking of the business and, even when stuff is from Belgium or Holland (the other big dominators of European charts) the guys who do it work here or operate within the UK music industry.

We do just fine, Eurovision can be a huge platform for European artists (the Swedish guy who won last night is a big hitter across much of Europe) but it adds nothing to British acts who tend to break Europe as a function of breaking the UK and without a great deal of effort to be honest. Europe craves British music, they are followers of what we do.

It is rare to see any innovation within Eurovision simply because European writers tend to follow not lead. The one possible exception last night was Latvia and that song may well surface in UK clubs after a bit of production by a decent brit. The rest will never be played here - they are out of date and simply not where our musical tastes are.

That doesn’t mean we should leave Eurovision, they need us to keep the momentum going. But we should let younger songwriters and unknown artists use it as a platform. In fact we should force those running our entry to limit the ages and experience of those involved.

Let’s look at who wrote it this time.

Dave MIndel writes jingles and is in his 50’s. His most famous tune is the one used for the National Lottery.  But at least he has some ‘success’. By contrast his (younger) co-writer Adrian Bax-White can only be found on free music websites. An old bloke and a trier - do we think that’s going to work?

So maybe the selectors limit the age of writers to 25, look for some new talent and the industry could then support that with yet to emerge artists who are equally young and enthusiastic. I am mentoring a 13 year old girl at the moment who will be a huge country star in the next few years - there are many like her about, let’s give them the platform.

But what do I know. I just work here……