Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Be like Ed?

Want to be more popular? Ask yourself: what would Ed do?

If we acknowledge that the current criticism of Mr Sheeran may be, at least in part, due to jealousy, is it better to wonder what lessons Ed can teach the music industry and musicians generally?

He is clearly the right man for these times, one who can straddle pop and ‘RnB’ whilst keeping a semblance of credibility, hanging with the right icons and failing to offend the majority.

That’s the superficial stuff. He is a singer-songwriter in a singer-songwriter dominated industry. One who understands the power of song to make connections, a story teller with a populist eye.

His songs resonate with a wide audience, old and young. Universal themes and generic melodies that are standard and traditional. The big selling stars of the current music business are those who have cross-generational appeal, something achieved by acknowledging the past-masters.

To some people, I know that will seem like an apologist’s summary for trite and all-too-familiar songs and structures. It is no exaggeration that I listened to ‘Divide’ once and recognised similarities with many pre-existing hits.  Accusations of plagiarism are best left to lawyers, for now we only need note that Ed rules the roost and that should be good news for British music.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Familiarity breeds content

“If you recognise an animal or plant, then it hasn’t killed you yet.”

 
In Derek Thompson’s new book, Hit Makers: How Things Become Popular, he explains, in evolutionary terms, why we prefer things that we already know. It’s an interesting lesson in how the familiar will always triumph.

Ed Sheeran’s domination of this week’s singles chart  has provoked much chatter, most of it about whether the charts are ‘broken’. The inclusion of streaming stats, meant to reflect the growth of hearing over owning – following in the footsteps of airplay stats, has led to Sheeran owning the top five and the bulk of the top 20.

Streaming was included to give stability to a chart that was adequately reflecting the death of physical product purchases. I’m slightly more interested in what Sheeran’s domination means for the album format. On one hand it shows that, for those who are popular, it is valid. If people are listening to all the songs then the album has a future. Conversely it suggests that for some others, failing to dominate the singles chart in a similar way, possibly means that few people are consuming the whole album however famous you are.

 
It’s all Ed’s fault

There is a certain strand of commentary that seems to be blaming Ed as if it’s a crime for being popular. In this instance, it should really be a case of don’t hate the player, hate the game (to adopt popular parlance).

Ed Sheeran has simply proven, as has Adele, that it is still possible to be a huge recording artist with significant impact – and sales.

As far as I know, on one listen and a quick scan of reviews, Ed set out to make a huge hit album. He nailed it.

If ‘Divide’ is commercially crafted and predictably populist it’s hardly hurting anyone, no-one expected free jazz. Sheeran isn’t pretending to have artistic pretensions or a desire to be the new Leonard Cohen. Aside from that, he has time to develop that artistry and to diversify should he choose to do so. He could also now afford to give away his artistic experiments if he goes in that direction.