In their book The Victory Project, my colleague Saurabh Mukherjea and his co-author Anupam Gupta talk about the benefits of collaboration in creative fields as well. However, at least in the world of music, collectivism seems to be making way for individuality. Adam Levine, the lead singer of the iconic band Maroon 5, noted recently that there aren’t that many music bands going around anymore compared to when the band started about two decades ago. The author of this article, Dorian Lynskey, shows that is indeed the case noting the disproportionately low proportion of chartbusters, whether the UK Top 100 or Spotify’s Top 50, coming from bands as opposed to solo artists. Lynskey then goes about trying to find reasons for the same. And as in other disrupted fields, fingers point to technology, social media and in some ways reality shows as well.
“Rock and pop now exist in different spheres – even the biggest bands struggle to crack the streaming-driven Top 20 – but bands are on the back foot within alternative music itself. One theory is that major labels avoid bands because solo artists are cheaper and easier to handle. Not so, says Jamie Oborne, whose Dirty Hit label has found success with bands (the 1975, Wolf Alice) and solo artists (Beabadoobee, Rina Sawayama). “We’re actively trying to sign bands,” he says. “I’m desperate to find a really young band that I can help develop.”
The problem is, he says, there aren’t that many around. “It’s more likely now that a kid will make music in isolation because of technology. When I first met the 1975, they were all friends meeting in a room to make noise. So much is done in bedrooms these days, so you’re more likely to be by yourself.”
Ben Mortimer, co-president of Polydor Records, says that cost is more of an issue for artists than for labels. “If you’re young and inspired to become a musician, you face a choice. If you go the band route, you need to find bandmates with a similar vision, you need expensive instruments and equipment, and you need to get out on the road to hone your craft. On the other hand, you could download Ableton [production software], shut your bedroom door and get creating straight away. Culture is shaped by technology.””
Musicians also need to be marketed. Turns out social media has made it easier to market solo artists than bands:
“Establishing multiple personalities in the public’s imagination has always been trickier than selling one person, but MTV and a vibrant music press helped, while TV talent shows introduced group members to millions of viewers across several weeks before they had released a note of music. All three of those institutions have waned, leaving bands to make their own way in the online attention economy. “Social media has filled the hole, creating individual stars who are seen as more ‘authentic’ than anything the retro talent-show format could offer,” says Hannah Rose Ewens, author of Fangirls, a study of contemporary fandom.
Social media is built for individual self-expression. Platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and Twitter – and even the portrait orientation of a smartphone screen – give an advantage to single voices and faces while making group celebrity less legible.”
And finally, fans loved bands for the inter-personal dynamics between different members, which today gets satiated by reality shows:
“Perhaps, too, there is less of an appetite for the interpersonal drama of a group. In the time before reality shows, bands offered insights into group dynamics (if we’re being highfalutin) or voyeuristic entertainment (if we’re not). Even now, new generations of fans enjoy finding out exactly what Paul or John said in 1969, or which messy divorce inspired which Fleetwood Mac song, or how Noel and Liam came to hate each other’s guts. On one level, every band is a psychological experiment in which disparate personalities are crammed into close proximity and thrust into the spotlight. You don’t need bands for that experience now that it is the cornerstone format of reality television.”


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