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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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.