This Musical Ramblings is a text version of my recently released YouTube video, for those who prefer the magic of the written (well, typed) word
One of the principle reasons that bands split up is down to ‘musical differences’ which, as you and I both know, can mean just about anything.
It can, of course, mean just that, which is often the most surprising thing of all. It can also, now I come to think of it, come down to girlfriends imposing themselves upon the rest of the band and sleeping on a mattress while the rest of the guys are trying to get some work done in the studio. Thank you very much indeed.
If that’s all right with you, John.
But many of the reasons that culminate in the eventual disintegration of any one band falls to this one word: money.
There’s nothing that makes a musician feel as unloved as not getting a fair shake.
It’s all about credit. It’s about the land grab, isn’t it? Once those starry young fools, the same silly sods who can’t do enough for everyone involved at the beginning and “we’re just glad to be here”. When those self-same kids wise up and realise that they’re being taken for a ride by the record labels and suddenly understand that its the song writer who makes all the money and they’re subsisting on pocket money and they’re all getting older and “Am I destined to be a homeless derelict with a few memories and 10 ex wives?” Then the conversations become serious.
This increasingly nagging subject. This talk about the source of monetary wealth for the lucky few song writers attached to successful bands. This growingly important matter. Money has caused more arguments and court cases and the fracturing of bands and personal relationships than just about anything else.
Isn’t that right, Pink Floyd? And to some extent The Beatles? The Smiths? The Jam?
Is this why the members of Queen always looked so calm, collected, happy and content? Because they split the cash four ways? I would wager that yes, that was the case. Actually, I don’t know the exact details of the cash split. I do know that the likes of Blur, REM and U2 had the sense to look around them before they jumped into the murky world of rock music management and rock music contracts.
All three, so I’m given to understand, give 20% of the money to the song writer. After that, the remaining 80% of the income is evenly split between the band (including the song writer who is now seen as a musician in the same band). This means that everyone is getting a fair slice of the pie.
And why not? Writing the song is incredibly important but so is the arrangement of that song and its final composition which often features incredibly important contributions by the rest of the band. Shouldn’t they feel valued and part of a team in such circumstances? I think so.
Let me ask you this. I wonder how Herbie Flowers feels. Herbie Flowers, the long-standing, much respected and highly talented guitar player who has appeared on his own records and many others. An industry legend is Herbie. How does he feel when his iconic bass line on Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side results in exactly zero monetary-based credit? Reed is quoted as the songwriter but surely, where would that song be without Flower’s bass line? Hmmm?
If Herbie had said, “OK, Lou. I’ll just sit here, shall I? You record that song with your acoustic and I’ll wait. No rush ol’son.” That song would have been a shadow. Flowers deserved a formal credit for his part in the arrangement. And I don’t know, did he have anything creative to say in songwriting terms relating to that bass line, perhaps?
How about Come Together from the Beatles? Where would that song be without Ringo’s drums? A much aligned musician is Ringo but he’s critical on that song. Critical.
And this is all down to tradition and a pre-group way of thinking. It’s a Tin Pan Alley mindset. A Brill Building way of doing business.
That is, “…my friend and I are the the song writers. We’ve just finished it. Here it is. Now, would you like to sing our song, Mr Singer? OK, you get paid for doing whatever you do, we get paid for writing that song. For selling the sheet music.”
That ‘us and them’ structure never changed when the revolutionary popular group/band became a dominant form. When band members began to write their own songs in and around the early 60s.
At that time, a hit record was suddenly more than ‘just’ the song. The song was bespoke to a particular set of musicians at that time and no other. And that group contributed the house sound that turned that song into something unique.
Trouble was, the trad way of writing songs was never changed or updated.
So, when your favourite group splits. You know who to blame. A conservative music industry who, when faced with change, rather than innovate, runs screaming back to a secure template that they know works…and pays.