One of my favourite anecdotes has Peter Cook asking a party guest what they’re up to.
“I’m writing a book,” says the guest.
“Ah,” says Cook. “Neither am I”.
Which is brilliantly witty, because most people who say they’re writing a book aren’t really. Or if they are, it never gets published, or they never finish it. I know, because I’ve been there, not done that.
Well, now I am writing a book, and this time I have to finish it, because it’s commissioned, and scheduled for publication. Although it might appear as an iTunes app, because that’s where the action is these days. Don’t ask, because, no, I don’t understand either.
The book is a guide to making a living in today’s music industry, which brings me to….
The pop star who lives in my house, for whom it’s been a momentous fortnight.
Not that she realises it.
She’s become a fully signed-up songwriter member of PRS, the agency that collects money for songwriters and music publishers from broadcast and live performance.
And we’ve registered eight songs as her sole work (which they are; just saying), and the registrations have been accepted and confirmed. Those are eight giant steps to being taken seriously as a professional songwriter.
You’d have thought she’d be jumping for joy, but she’s not that impressed.
Anyway, the pop star who lives in my house – we’ll call her Grace, ‘cos that’s her name – is entering a very different music industry to the one I encountered at first hand for 20 years from 1967 on.
For a start, she has to learn to deal with instant reaction in the online world: “Dull”. “Voice lacks originality”. “Looks Forced”. “First Line Soooo Cliche and Cringey”. These are verbatim YouTube comments about her.
I remember taking my music to A&R men at record companies. I developed a sixth sense for those not paying attention. I’d rather they’d stopped the tape and said, “Rubbish”. But face to face, people are not so keen on confrontation.
In the digital world, they’re on you like lions on a wildebeest.
In the book wot I’m writing, social media looms large and Grace has to learn to deal with that.
You won’t want to believe this, but it’s true. Radio One looks at social media stats when it’s preparing the week’s Playlist. Record companies are unlikely to pay any attention unless you’re a) huge live, or b) have thousands of Facebook ‘Friends’ and followers on Twitter.
At the moment, Grace works alone. The YouTube comments I quote above are about a song she wrote when she was fourteen. Of course it’s cliched, kwaku Mason (whoever you are, with your ridiculously lower cased first name. What have you done lately?).
On his YT channel, kwaku has posted a song by Tiana Major which he says “jams” (that’s ‘jolly good’ to you and me). But Tiana Major has had 2,349 views in two months. Grace’s “dull and cliched” song has had 6,631 views in under two weeks. Which of the two do you think a record company is likely to take more interest in? Tiana has had 100 “likes”. Grace has had 196.
Not that I’m being protective of the pop star who lives in my house. In the world she’s about to inhabit, 6,660 views and 196 likes don’t even count as chicken feed. One video alone for Lorde’s Royals has had 338,905,434 views. In case you think you didn’t read that right, that’s three hundred and thirty nine MILLION views, give or take.
If you look at the lyrics to Lorde’s song, it’s really impressive to think that a 16-year-old wrote it. It’s not incredibly profound but it is interesting.
Thing is, almost as soon as she was signed, Lorde was ‘paired’ with Joel Little, a Grammy-award winning songwriter and producer. So she didn’t, as such, write it – not alone.
Collaboration is the byword today. No-one is going to sign Grace Carter and start releasing her solo efforts. What they will do is get her to collaborate with more experienced writers, who can look at her primitive efforts, and then start helping her to make them more interesting, more sophisticated. The way Guy Chambers did with Robbie Williams.
And when her first single is released, no-one is going to say, “Dull” or “Cliched”, because – although she hasn’t yet found a surefire way to channel it – she has an interesting take on the world, proper angst-filled reasons for the way she feels and a natural way of performing. This is what she was born to.
And her future development will be nurtured and overseen in ways that never existed when I was 30, let alone 17.
People say to me, “Oh, it must be great for her to have you around, with all your experience”. So let me tell you how much help I’ve been. When I first met her, she was full of X Factor shit – “it’s my dream”; it’s all I’ve ever wanted”. That’s what Simon Cowell’s taught today’s thirteen-year-olds.
So I called her bluff. I bought her a (very cheap) guitar. I taught her a bunch of chords. And then I said, “Go and write a song”.
Now unless you’re someone who thinks they can write a song (and Grace didn’t), that’s a really daunting instruction. I told her how to get started. Most of all I said, “Don’t go writing love songs. You’ve never been in love”. Six months later, aged 14, she stood on a stage in front of 500 people and played and sang three of her own songs.
And that’s the kind of thing that sorts out the wheat from the chaff.
I’ve been a bit of a help here and there since then. But the most significant thing I’ve done for her lately is sign her up to PRS and register her songs. In other words, her bloody secretary.
Anyway, see for yourself. Sixteen when she did this; 17 when they put it up on SB.TV.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the pop star who lives in my house.