Vinyl for sale at a record fair. Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
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In music today, it’s all or nothing – rich at the top or languishing forlornly at the bottom

Would I want my children to go into music? I do have to wonder, just as my parents wondered.

When he was little, our youngest asked me one day, “Mum, how much do you have to pay to be a fireman?” He was astonished to discover that it was the other way round – that when you’re a grown-up, people would pay you to do things like drive around on a bright-red fire engine, all flashing lights and clanging alarm bells.

Even after he’d grasped the basic principle, he would still check up on it from time to time, referring to different jobs. “Do they pay you to do THAT, as well? ...And that?” Adulthood seemed to him some brilliant dreamworld where you spent all day in a uniform being allowed to do fun things and then were given money for sweets.

I worry, of course, that the real world will disappoint him horribly, not only because most jobs aren’t as much fun as he thought but because by the time he comes to do one, his original assumption – that you have to pay to work – will be true. According to a recent article in the Guardian, “On average, people completed seven placements before getting a job”; another feature described existing internships in the US that do actually cost money. In the world of creative work, it has almost become the norm to be asked to work for nothing. Or, sorry, not for nothing, but for profile, the idea being that you will appear here, or write this, or sing that for nothing, on a path to some mythical destination where your work once again has monetary value.

It’s commonplace to state that in the music business no one can earn a living any more because of piracy, Spotify and cheap digital downloads. However many cheerful pieces we read about the vinyl revival, it seems unlikely that it’s going to make anyone rich any time soon. These complaints must puzzle those who note the continuing presence of pop stars who seem to be doing very nicely, thank you – the Kanyes and the Coldplays, the Sheerans and the Adeles, who all seem to sell plenty and earn plenty. To anyone on a minimum-wage or zero-hours contract, it must grate to keep hearing pop celebs bemoaning their income stream.

The point is that while music is as lucrative as ever for those at the top, what’s diminished, as in so many jobs, is the comfortable middle, where once upon a time musicians who never quite hit the big time could nonetheless make their living: not super-rich, but doing fine and enjoying a certain stability. In essence, the middle class, with long careers, funded by record companies to make numerous albums even if none were million-sellers. What we are left with now is a kind of all or nothing, in which you either scale the dizzy heights or languish forlornly at the bottom.

So when people ask me, “Do you want your children to go into music?” I do have to wonder, just as my own parents wondered. I’d been the first ever in our family to go to university and when instead of heading for a respectable job in teaching or journalism I formed a band, they were understandably anxious. It looked like I was throwing away the kind of security they could only have dreamed of and passing up opportunities that seemed golden to those who had left school at 15 with not much in the way of qualifications or prospects.

It turned out better than OK and so Ben and I will at least be able to help our kids while they find their own way. We’ll encourage them whatever they choose and discourage too rose-tinted a view of creative work. For Take Your Kids To Work Day, so far we’ve arranged for them a stint at Ben’s Buzzin’ Fly Records offices, putting CDs in Jiffy bags and taking 12-inch dance records down to the post office, a spell behind the counter at a Rough Trade shop and a morning learning how to mike up a drum kit.

But who knows where they’ll end up? One has already veered off into science, doing a week’s work experience in a lab, as thrilled and inspired by test tubes as I was at her age by seven-inch singles. What we wish most for them, like all parents, is to find something they would pay to do and then be fortunate enough to be paid for it.

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her latest book is Naked at the Albert Hall.

This article first appeared in the 01 May 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Scots are coming!

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Theresa May dodges difficult questions about social care and NHS in Andrew Neil interview

Prime Minister was on message but on the back foot.

Theresa May was interviewed for 30 minutes by Andrew Neil on BBC One this evening, and she managed to say next to nothing. Whether you see that as skilful politics or shameless dishonesty, there was very little that came out of this interview. Here’s the little we did learn:

The Prime Minister is assuming victory - even if she says otherwise

Although the Conservative party’s campaign has been based on trying to convince voters that there is a chance Jeremy Corbyn could be Prime Minister (to spook them into voting for May, and against a Corbyn-led coalition – a very unlikely scenario in reality), Theresa May revealed just how strongly her party is assuming victory. For example, when pressed on her plans for funding social care (means-testing the winter fuel allowance, and taxing the elderly on their assets), she could only answer that her government would hold a consultation to iron out the details. No matter how hard she tries to push the message that Corbyn is en route to No 10, if her policies are not policies at all but ideas to be fleshed out once she returns to power, this remains just rhetoric. As Neil asked about the consultations: “Wouldn’t you have done that before you came out with the policy?”

The Tories won’t lower themselves to costing their manifesto

It has always been the case that Labour has to work much harder than the Tories to prove its economic credibility, which is why in the Ed Miliband days it was decided that all policy proposals had to add up. But never have the Tories been so shameless in taking advantage of that political fact. For all the stick its received for being idealistic, Corbyn’s manifesto is more costed than the Tory effort, which May herself admitted during this interview is a set of “principles” rather than policies: “What we set out in our manifesto was a series of principles.” Where is the money going to come from for £8bn extra for the NHS? “Changing the way money is used”, “The strong and growing economy”, and “a variety of sources”, of course! At least Labour could patch together something about corporation tax and cracking down on tax avoidance if asked the same question.

Playing politics

Neil went in hard on May’s u-turn on her plan to fund social care – asking repeatedly why the Tories are now planning on bringing in a cap on how much the elderly have to pay, when originally there was no cap. All May could offer on this was that Corbyn was “playing politics” with the policy, and “scaremongering” about it. This deflection was flawed in a number of ways. First, it provided no explanation of what the policy will now be (what will the cap be? When will we know?), second, if Corbyn has been “scaremongering” it means he must have influenced the policy change, which May denies, and third, all it highlights is that May is herself “playing politics”.

Brexit is always the answer

As May cannot answer a single question about the specifics of policies or spending, Brexit is the perfect topic for her. It is a subject defined by its uncertainty and lack of detail, therefore something she can get on board with. She answered almost every question on every subject broached by Neil by asking who voters want around the Brexit negotiating table after the election – her or Corbyn.

Why are the polls closing? “...I’ve set out my vision for that strength in negotiations and that stronger plan. And the choice is who’s going to be doing those negotiations, me or Jeremy Corbyn.”

Are your policies uncosted? “...I think it is important that the country has certainty over the next five years, has the strong and stable leadership I think it needs, as I’ve just explained, particularly for those Brexit negotiations.”

Where is the extra NHS funding going to come from? “...Crucial to that, is getting the Brexit negotiations right, and that’s why this is so important. That’s why who is sitting around that negotiating table, 11 days after the election it’s going to start…”

Will National Insurance go up? “...Fundamental to that of course is getting the Brexit deal right and getting those negotiations right and having both a strong hand in those negotiations but also the strength of leadership in those negotiations…”

Will you break the immigration target promise for a third time? “...The question that people face is who do they trust to take this country though the Brexit negotiations..?”

But the soundbites must be working

A few seconds in to the interview, May had already used the phrase “strong and stable” and “my team”. While political insiders will groan and mock the repetitive use of such banal phrases, and emphasis on Brexit negotiations, we must remember the “long-term economic plan” slogan of 2015’s Tories. It worked, and clearly behind the scenes, the masterminds of the Conservative campaign believe these soundbites must be working. Theresa May is miles ahead of Jeremy Corbyn on the “who you trust to be Prime Minister” metric, which is why the Tories repeating how “strong and stable” their government would be, and running such a presidential campaign (“my team”, and May versus Corbyn) must be working.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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