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Big George's Guide To Commercial Success: Lack of MU power By Big George
Published June 2001


Big George's continuing mission: to seek out new codes of practice and fairer methods of distribution, and to boldly say what no‑one has said before...

It is my contention that the political North/South divide in this country is three miles south of Luton. If there were a North/South divide in the entertainment industry it would be 50 yards north of the white cliffs of Dover. The inequality of wealth and power in this, one of the most important industries in the world, is nothing short of criminal. And, what's worse, there is nowhere a dissatisfied customer can go.

Who You Gonna Call?

If you have a problem with your local water supplier, you go to OFWAT. If your phone company is mucking you around, there's OFTEL. We have watchdogs for trains, electricity, and gas — there's even a body overseeing the advertising industry, for heaven's sake. But when it comes to the entertainment industry there's nowhere for musicians, singers, producers, composers, performers and punters with a grievance to turn.

At this point in my ranting, a dozen Musicians' Union activists are diving for their pens, to write and berate me about the fact that my Union is there to protect the interests of its members, and that my subscription lapsed five years ago. I would feel threatened by their power, if they actually had any. (And here I would advise anyone reading who is not a member of the Musicians' Union to join immediately, while those of us who used to be members and haven't bothered paying up should dig deep, pay our dues, and become active as members.)

Fair Dues?

Having said that the MU have no power, I admit that they do provide valuable assistance to all their members in the way of equipment insurance, free legal advice, workshops and benevolent funds, while at the same time striving to maintain decent conditions and wages for all working musicians (even if that means a lot of the orchestral work that used to be done in this country goes to Eastern Europe). But what protection do we really have as music makers against the industry at large — against rip‑off contracts, stranglehold cartels in retail and on the airwaves, and chemically confused egotistical executives who think they know more about our music than we do? None!

Actually, that's not strictly true. If you do get shafted by any company within the media, you can always take them (along with their legal department) to court and slug it out. It will only cost you a fortune up‑front in court deposits — a cost which will increase with every adjournment — and after a few years you might get justice. During this time all your assets (and none of theirs) will be frozen and you will be prevented from trading in any other guise.

On the other hand, say you do get a break and release a record which creeps into the charts, or produce a soundtrack for a successful programme or film. Guess who will be in control of your work? Not you, that's for sure.

Bleak Prospects

We — and I'm talking about me and you — are a powerful force in this industry. We make the music that others build empires on. I doubt that there is a record in the charts, or a piece of music on TV, radio or film that was made in this country, whose creative and technical forces were not SOS readers. Trouble is, we've allowed that power to diminish in the hope of a few crumbs from the number crunchers' table.

Over the past few months of researching the industry further than my own interests for this column, I've become increasingly pissed off at how the circus is run. Recent events, some of which — notably the Hear'Say feeding frenzy — have dominated the UK tabloids in the name of the music industry, have made me determined that I shall not let the trend go on unhindered. So, for as long as it takes (until I get bored, or Sony or BMG either pay me off or hire a hit man), I will poke my nose in where it's not wanted. I'll be addressing such issues as why selected new, groomed bands get immediate recognition by the entire media, when the vast majority of them show no real talent, and other artists whose ability shines out can't get a single local radio play. And why, when there is so much money sloshing around in the music business, so little money is invested in music education (at all levels). Why are there fewer artists signed to major labels today than ever before? Why is it so hard for independent labels to compete in the market, until they are bought out by a major?

I've been saying for a while that there is a revolution coming in the music business. If we don't watch out, we (and I mean all but a select powerful few) will be refugees in an industry that is based on endless re‑releases, manipulated pap, and the occasional talented artist who will burn too bright for a short space of time and then burn out, rather than be nurtured and developed. That's what I think, anyway — what about you?

Contact Big George

If you'd like to look at any of Big George's previous scribblings for SOS, go to his web site,, and click 'ARTICLES'. George can be emailed at You might want to send him a copy of your latest demo (it's what he lives for); if so, the address to send it to is PO Box 7094, Kiln Farm MK11 1LL.