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Are the reality shows really killing the music industry?
By Trevor Krueger - 11/29/2009 - 02:07 PM EST

The British newspapers are currently full of criticism of the UK reality talent shows. For as programmes such as “The X Factor” and “Britain’s Got Talent” continue churning out the majority of acts presently dominating the U.K. charts, regular home grown talent is allegedly losing out.  Artists such as Susan Boyle, Leona Lewis, J.L.S., Alexandra Burke and Opera singer Rhydian Roberts are amongst those benefiting from this modern day phenomenon.

I have to confess I personally actually enjoy these acts and have no wish to deny them their success. I genuinely applaud what they do and hope the fickle public continues to support them through long careers. Each of them share having broken some retail market record of some sort, earning the titles of best selling artist, fastest selling single or in the case of Susan Boyle, the highest ever presold album ever. What’s wrong with all that we might ask?

Well, it’s argued that such individuals and groups have an unfair market advantage over “regular talent” who make the effort to create following and demand through conventional routes. It’s a fact that no one can expect anywhere near the advantage exposure of such high visibility showcases. Even established acts have little chance of competing with the latest conveyor belt offering created by public votes. It is this unfair advantage that courts criticism. Even “Sting” has recently been quoted in the Press as having said that he believes these reality creations are relatively untalented and unworthy of their market share. He claims they are killing the music industry. He has a point. At the time I write this, no less than four of the top ten places in the UK singles charts are held by contestants or judges on the shows, with a fifth place held by a band recently featured as a guest on X Factor. In the album charts there is a similar story with three of the top ten originating from Pop shows, a fourth was a recently featured guest artist and a judge is resting just outside at number twelve. The download charts virtually mirror that situation. Tonight, when the new charts are published both Susan Boyle and Rhydian are expected to take top ten places as a direct result of TV competition exposure and the resulting TV coverage. Is this fair on conventional acts who put in the effort to work hard and tour,  promote themselves, often with their own money at risk and little chance of an eventual million dollar record deal? Probably not. A recent TV documentary told how the excellent “Elbow” took 18 years to achieve their dreams - and their work is incredible.

My own future daughter in law is currently studying at the Royal Academy in Birmingham. She is working hard to become a professional singer and aims for a career in opera. She has a natural talent but knows only too well that the level of quality required at the height of her chosen profession demands much more than that. The best way I can illustrate this is by recommending you to a clip on YouTube of a fantastic performer who sets my heart jumping every time I hear her voice.Luciana Serra, the Italian Sopranoperforms the aria of the Queen of the Night from Mozart’s The Magic Flute.  Quite frankly you will never see such talent on an amateur show. This is vocal dexterity at its absolute finest. Even if you did, would the judges have the knowledge or wisdom to recognise it anyway? Such talent is developed and crafted over years and is by far removed from what some refer to here as “Popera”.

So are the talent shows killing the raw talent that comes through the ranks into the music industry? Maybe in part. For it creates a false illusion of what is achievable. Ordinary talent will rarely achieve the meteoric rise to fame and fortune the express route talent show types enjoy and this, in turn, could put the “press button for fame” lightweights off doing the due diligence required to get where they want to go. Certainly, if they are motivated by money and not by the joy of pure musicianship.

But there could be another development to consider. British manufacturer Linn Products announced this week that it will soon cease the manufacture of CD players in favour of digital streaming equipment due to falling demand. They believe the market will simply not require them as we turn away from CD’s in preference of downloads, something I personally find entirely abhorrent. But while the big stars will continue to make their money from live events surely the retailing of music tracks will enjoy a more level playing field. With albums and singles increasingly being created on home systems, new and unsigned acts now have a real chance of entering the marketplace using exactly the same route as the “named” acts. Having cut out the record company contract they can now actually take their product to market and with use of social networking sites they can market themselves for free. Revenues are lower but so are overheads and potential market reach is literally global.

So does it matter that the TV shows are currently ruling the charts? Probably not. They will eventually lose their audience appeal as viewer’s tire of the format and become cynical of the voting system. That fact has already been proven in the current series of X Factor. Tuneless Twins “Jedward” from Ireland reached sixth position in the show as viewers voted for them just to upset the infamous Simon Cowell. He hated them and the more he complained, the more viewers voted to keep them in, spurred on by Cowell’s promise he would leave the country if they actually won the contest. All very funny except for the poor talented contestants who were forced out early as they became victims of the “joke” on Cowell. Jedward however are not complaining as they are predicted to make millions from their notoriety for being crap!

It seems to me that once the market settles down music will somehow be back on track. How consumers buy it may have changed along with how musicians promote themselves but, essentially, music is back in the control of the musician. The losers? Will almost certainly be the record industry itself as they become more and more removed from the required marketing mix. Similarly the retailers will undoubtedly disappear as more and more listeners choose to download from the net. Less than a hundred years ago the only way to hear music was to go to a live performance. Seemingly music has gone full circle, except you can at least buy your recording direct from the artist on line and take it with you wherever you want to go.

As with nature, natural selection will determine the evolutionary path of music and the strongest will survive and like their reptilian namesakes the music industry dinosaurs will inevitably become extinct. Unless they think of something – fast!

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