Hardman's Thoughts

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Eurovision

I love Eurovision. I remember finding out Emma loved Eurovision too, I was delighted. It was one of those so-called dealbreakers. I couldn’t be with someone who wasn’t prepared to spend three evenings at the beginning of May listening to the best of Euro-pop.

We are too dismissive of Eurovision in this country. It’s not British, it’s too flashy. It’s not what it used to be. All are used as arguments to cover the truth: we can’t deal with having just a little bit of fun. In truth, there have been some absolutely awful songs entered into Eurovision (arguably, mainly by us), but then there have been some amazing ones too. And it’s those to which I dedicate this blog. Remembering the incredible songs, ones I still listen to all year around.

But first, when Britain inevitably do badly tonight (we have a good song – but that won’t matter), how many people do you reckon will blame European politics, Brexit and the like? How many people will actually realise that the problem is far deeper than that? We don’t take it seriously enough. Ireland haven’t qualified from the semi-final for a few years now, and yet they are supposedly loved on the European stage. The fact is that Ireland are stuck in the 90s, entering boy bands and power ballads willy nilly without truly understand how pop has evolved since Westlife had just taken the mantle from Boyzone.

Yes, politics plays a part. I’d be stupid to say it doesn’t. But the fact that we don’t win, in my opinion, is more to do with the fact we don’t enter the semi-finals. As part of the big five countries (France, Italy, Germany, Spain and us) who contribute the most money to the EBU, we are allowed to enter the final directly. But it hinders us. Since the semis were introduced, only one of the big five entries has won. In 2015, we finished ahead of France and Germany, the two most loved countries in the EU. If the EU mattered to Eurovision, that wouldn’t have happened. Brexit may have a small effect, but I’d be surprised if it means we lose tonight.

Turkey have stopped entering because they oppose the big five idea. I do too. But mainly because we don’t have the chance to perform the song to a full audience (it makes a difference to the competitor), the public are only voting for us once and the song doesn’t have a few days to sit in the minds of the people who watch it.

But enough about that, let’s look at some of the best tunes from recent years. In my opinion, 2014 was the best year Eurovision has ever had (in my lifetime). Rise Like A Phoenix, Calm After The Storm, Silent Storm, No Prejudice, La Mia Citta, Something Better and Undo are all songs I listen to pretty regularly. Indeed, Emma and I have since bought both of the The Common Linnet’s albums.

After the success of that year, our expectations were high for 2015. It wasn’t as good, but that isn’t to say there weren’t good songs within it. Belgium’s Rhythm Inside (see up) was the best, followed by Norway’s A Monster Like Me and Estonia’s Goodbye to Yesterday. Wars For Nothing, De La Capat and Love Injected are also worth a listen from that year.

2016 wasn’t as good as the two that it followed, but it still contained the brilliant If Love Was A Crime (complete with excellent dancing) and If I Were Sorry (which I heard being played by chavs in the arb). My point is that we shouldn’t devalue the competition, it is a serious music contest and has genuinely good songs if you actually look away from all the dodgy jokes, awful hosts and fun of the occasion. But enjoy the fun, the fun is amazing. We should have more fun in our life.

So I haven’t posted videos of all the songs listed here, just a selection of my favourites (and a couple of others from earlier years). If you want more to check out, look at New Tomorrow, Standing Still, Alcohol is Free and I Feed You My Love. For now, enjoy these songs and enjoy the contest. You might be surprised by how much you like the music, I can guarantee there is something for everyone in it tonight.

 

 

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Modern Music Formula

I love music; I don’t go a day without listening to it – in fact I rarely go half a day without listening to something and my favourite moments are when I’m listening to music for hours. I’m not restricted to one genre either, with pretty much everything from metal to classical music on my iPod including some R&B but with everyday that goes by, the music industry annoys me more. It has now got to the point where I want to vent these frustrations by writing them down so here it is. I’m nowhere near being an expert on the industry part of the music industry but I know I like music and bands to be.

First of all, I hate how selfish people can be when it comes to music. They hear a track on the radio, and maybe YouTube the band. Then a lot of people, not all by a long stretch, go and illegally download that track. You get the track for free, where is the harm in that? I’ll tell you where. When record labels and artists run out of money so much that they can’t produce new records. You’ll be sitting there thinking this will never happen but it is an unavoidable consequence of illegally downloading. If you truly like what someone has made you wouldn’t illegally acquire it. It’s like that advert they used to put on the start of films – “you wouldn’t steal a handbag” one – music piracy is hurting the music industry the same way film piracy continues to hurt the film industry. I don’t get the people, who say that the music industry is so big it can survive all this downloading; nothing has infinite resources – and especially something that gets knocked back every day by people illegally acquiring their produce.

My next frustration is actually with the music industry itself, something I’m calling the Modern Music Formula (yes – that’s a deliberate play on a Biffy Clyro song title). The first part of this is where you make it big through TV, release an album or two and then get dropped by the record labels because someone else has come along who is more exciting than you are. I don’t like the X-Factor, I’ve watched a couple of series of it but what it does, in theory, shouldn’t be a bad idea. Take an artist who can really sing and turn them into a star but the harsh reality is that it just doesn’t work. Very few from the X-Factor ever make it big and I can almost guarantee that none will have the lasting success that artists such as U2, Tom Jones and Bruce Springsteen have had. Most of that is down to how fickle the record labels are these days. They don’t accept failures anymore, one bad album and you are dropped. Record labels don’t care about whom you are, they just want to make money. It seems to me that the best way to ensure you stick around is to set up an independent record label, but if everyone did this then it would beg the question – what is the need for record labels anymore? In fact, that question should be considered right now. They are useful for artists who want to start and get their album heard because they can provide proper studios and public exposure but then you are in the public’s mind, why not leave? If you can set up a way to produce your own music, you will be much more long lasting than bands are these days. So I guess the artists should turn the tables on the labels. Either that or set up a deal that ties the record label down to a certain number of albums then see how successful you have been after this. I mention this method because I know that’s what Muse did initially, and no-one can really say that they haven’t been successful. There will be more on Muse later.

Something I briefly mentioned in that paragraph is how music artists make it big these days, most do it the old fashioned way of playing gigs in their local town to gain attention then finding a record label to produce a debut album. But some, as touched upon, use the modern methods available to them. One of the biggest ways to get heard about is the internet, either through social networking (one of the biggest faults I had with MySpace in the end was the amount of bands requesting to be your friend just because you were friends with a band similar to them – it was bound to happen at some point) or through YouTube. Apart from these ways being annoying to users of the websites, they are actually a very effective way of improving your fan base and I actually would encourage more bands to do this. Making it big through TV is something I have a slight issue with. Like I said earlier, this shouldn’t be a problem – if you can sing or play an instrument well then TV is an awesome way for people to get to know you but inevitably these shows turn into popularity contests and the talented artists who aren’t controversial usually get forgotten about. I can’t think of a way to change this but it is ridiculous that Jedward still get airplay and cultural references when bands such as Kaiser Chiefs have been all but forgotten.  

The second part of the formula is overexposure. Too many artists are being put at every TV event, at every big event and being expected to write hit after hit. It’s not humanly possible for anyone to do that. Even the biggest and best artists have released bad songs in the past. The TV companies and radio presenters who love these bands now will have moved on in the future when the next winner of the X-Factor can release stuff. Once the exciting talents now release a bad song, that’s it – they have been forgotten about. Yes, loyal fans will stay with their heroes as long as they can but most of the artists I’m thinking about here have fans that will grow out of their music eventually. Another point to consider is the artist’s health. If they are flying here and there playing gigs, raising money then brilliant but what happens when they are forgotten about? That can’t be easy for anyone to deal with and their health will probably suffer, causing them to be both unemployed and hurting. That is maybe a bit extreme but is definitely something to consider, they are after all human beings just like you and I.

The third part of this formula is how artists are set up these days. They are set up to raise as much money as possible, most really popular artists use auto-tuning to make them sound better than actually are. It’s about releasing singles and gaining money from that rather than playing gigs. I’ve never been to a gig of an artist who I consider does this but I can imagine that they wouldn’t be as brilliant experiences as my gigs have been. Muse are the Kings of live shows and they manage to sound like they do on the album while adding a proper show. They don’t have dancers on stage with them, undermining the performance of the songs – they let the music be the focus of the show while trying to make it sound like it does on the album and adding riffs to the end of the songs. I can imagine the artists I dislike will just stick a backing track on and do a lot of dancing while funnily never sounding out of breath. I don’t understand how you can make music without the intention of making it sound good live. One of the beautiful thing about music is how you can take a tune you’ve made and adjust it so that it sounds even better live, like changing or increasing a solo or adding a different verse to it. But most of these artists wouldn’t know how to add verses onto their songs because they haven’t written them. I don’t understand how you can feel passionate about music when you haven’t written the lyrics yourself. Surely, the lyrics are the most important element to a pop or rock song – why pass this responsibility to someone else, music should be about emotions you feel, situations you have experienced or matters you feel passionate about not what anyone else feels.

 My final gripe with the music industry is with the artists themselves. More specifically the artists who come on late to the stage while playing gigs. I’ve heard a lot of stories of this, most recently Bieber being late to his London show on a school night. The most ridiculous I’ve heard is that Nicki Minaj was an hour late to her Manchester show because her inflatable car wasn’t blowing up. Does any of your audience give a damn about a bloody inflatable car? No. They are there to hear your music and see you. Not see an inflatable car. Apparently Bieber was suffering from something, which is fair enough but it was ridiculous that no announcement was made and no apology from him during the show. And it isn’t just something that pop artists do. Rock artists do it too, with many of them being cut off halfway through the set because they came on too late. I’ve seen one band do it and a combination of that and one of the singers having a sore throat meant they didn’t play one of my favourite songs, which I was a tad annoyed about. Axl Rose of Guns N Roses is probably the most famous for being late onto stage, and then he acts like the world is against him when fans and organisers react angrily to it. It does my head in. I like going to gigs and I pay a lot of money to go see bands I like live. I don’t really think about it twice, I want to do it so I do. But if I paid a lot of money to see bands come two hours late onto stage then I would be the first to complain. It’s not rock and roll, it’s selfish and annoying.

I’m not afraid to say that I’m an idealist in pretty much all walks of life. I know this blog won’t change anything in the music industry but I want to get it out there to put my view across. I believe music should be from the heart and for the people. I believe music should be something you wrote about and care about rather than being something you were told to do by a boss or shown by a writer. If you get into music you should care about your fans, no matter how big you get.