Breaking the barriers of X Factor and the music industry

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From X Factor and All Together Now to pub gigs, Spotlight reporter Oliver Robinson investigates how young musician’s break out into the music industry.

“If man makes the melody, God or the spirit is supposed to make the harmony and that’s not happening on X factor, it’s very depressing, it’s a gentle form of death.” – Damon Albarn.

LEAD singer of Gorillaz, Damon Albarn, has never been one to hide his opinion of X factor labelling the show as “…the rubbish parts of British culture.” In an interview with Sky News Albarn said, “They [the contestants] have a sell by date. I’m sure there’s a filing cabinet somewhere in Simon Cowell’s office with the sell by date for all those people and what happens to them after.” Albarn’s views asks the question ‘what happens to those artists who don’t go down the X Factor route?’

Dan Russell, second year music tutor at Harlow FE College, believes musicians should not feel their careers have to be set in stone saying, “Realistically we try everything, we do everything we can so when they leave, they can do two things, they can go into higher education or they’ve got enough skills to be confident to earn money.”

Dan expressed the importance of his student’s happiness as his main concern. As a tutor Dan wants his student’s to realise there is always a different path and that they will always keep developing as artists. When asked what the toughest hurdles a musician will face in their career he replied, “Self-belief, I set myself ridiculous targets and I wanted to be the best and there is no such thing as best.

“When you aim so high at the people you believe are icons it’s healthy until you start to criticise yourself without giving any self-belief.”

In the 2010 X Factor final, 17.7 million people were watching despite the show being criticised for being misleading but can the X Factor mislead young artists into making it seem too easy? Speaking to Dan he said, “I think it can be misleading, I think the people that win it are generally the easily manipulated and inexperienced and they need people’s help.” He stressed the importance of there being more to life after the show and the impact it can have on that artist’s mental health, he said, “The problem with these shows is it is someone’s job to treat it like a business and someone’s job to treat it like an artist.”

Aspiring artists often take every opening that comes their way, funding opportunities or joining talent shows that could help kick start their careers. Up and coming artist, Bradley Burtenshaw started his career gigging in a band before releasing his own single Telly at 3am in August 2018. He said, “It took so long to do. I recorded in the New Year and did the music video in early May and released it in August.

“We only had a small budget because I was only working 25 hours a week and most of my money went on that [The music video].”

Bradley mentioned how he has struggled to find people to help with his records, initially learning drums, guitar and providing last minute vocals song as he couldn’t find a singer. However, he expressed his passion for his music saying, “I might write a song about something that hasn’t happened to me but it comes from a real place. There is a character in that song, a part I can relate to.”

Music has always had a special meaning to him and his hopes are to have a job in music but more importantly to make music. Bradley emphasis that it is important for musicians not to be blindsided by the monetary value that music can bring as this is not the true value of music. Instead if musicians want people to listen to their music they need to get out there, he said, “There are lots of likeminded promoter’s talk to them. I think there are a lot of talkers, they just need to get on with it.

“If you believe in what you do, at the end of the day your writing something you want people to hear, you’ve just got to enjoy it.”

Joanna Eden, singer-song writer and former Sam Smith tutor, has been quoted saying, “I believe humans have tainted this beautiful gift of song with judgement.” This was after her stint as a judge on the show All Together Now. Joanna openly regrets her decision to be part of the show saying, “By agreeing to be part of this programme, I had to ignore a belief that I’ve held deeply for years: That singing competitions are unhealthy.”

She has admitted that she advises her students to avoid talent competitions and instead imparts on them a creative process that she has developed over her career. Joanna credits The Artist Way, written by Julia Cameron saying, “Yeah I do [have a creative process] informed by The Artist Way.

Joanna herself got a lucky break performing at a hotel in Cyprus when a customer had asked her why she wasn’t famous to which she replied, “Well unless you’re on the board of a record label there’s not a lot either of us can do.” This customer happened to know someone on the board of Black Box label and she signed her first recording contract in 1999.

As well as her singing career, Joanna also has a career tutoring students and through this she met Sam Smith, tutoring him from the age of nine to 18. Joanna recalls her time with him saying, “He had a great voice, a really good voice. You don’t think someone is automatically going to be a superstar because they have a great voice.”

Joanna would use Sam Smith as a model artist, mentioning his incredible self-belief and work ethic saying, “He always got the work done.”

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