I was asked to write an essay on Power Pop for an upcoming magazine issue which is a Power Pop Special. As always, I took the side of the artist and was told today that the piece wouldn't be accepted because the Magazine was not the right forum for it. So it is published here, unedited, in its entirety.
It may upset some people, but it is what I think and I know many many others do, but wouldn't have the balls to say it. It is about Power Pop, but applies equally to the Indie scene. I won't be responding to comments in the short term on social media, via email or messaging. I will be posting it on every relevant Facebook Group that I am a member of later as I hope it will be read and considered.
It is not personal nor score settling, but it is a honest opinion. I don't expect some to agree with it, but it does look at the genre from the artist's point of view. It is a long read at 1800 words, but as I said, I decided not to edit it........................................
When I was asked to write a piece about Power Pop, my first reaction was to write about the joys of the genre. It has always been really good to me throughout my listening life. As a young child, I was brought up on Merseybeat and The Beatles due to my parents’ love of both. After discovering my “own” music from Glam Rock onwards, Power Pop appeared again towards the end of the Seventies with the UK New Wave. I was confused by Punk at that age, so it was nice to hear something catchy and riff led again. Then in the late eighties, after an interesting flirtation with Death Metal, I became engrossed in the US Power Pop scene, mainly as a reaction to the Techno Beat nonsense that dominated the UK airwaves.
Finally, when I began writing more with the advent of the internet and Anything Should Happen, I met lots more Power Pop fans and realised that it wasn’t just a few who liked the same music as I did. I Don’t Hear A Single developed out of ASH as a reaction to Power Pop fans constantly bleating about how all new music was crap. I never expected to become a type of door opener for the new or reminder of the talented but lost old. It was then that I started to become really irritated by the genre. It isn’t the music, it is as good as it has ever been, it is people’s attitude towards it and the practices of the scene. So I figured that other people writing for this Power Pop Special would be talking about the joy and so I would be a counterbalance by looking at the problems.
None of this is personal. I did two versions of this article, one solely about the music, but I felt that these things should be discussed. I don’t say that I am right and it is skewed more to the now than the then. I’ve always spoken openly and in defence of the musician and most of what is going on at the moment is not to the benefit of the musician. If Power Pop does not change, it will be end with our generation. How many younger people do you see on the Power Pop Facebook Groups? There are certainly plenty that could fit into the genre. However, these newer artists either don’t know about it, see it as an old man’s thing or have contempt for the way they are treated. They are more likely to class themselves as Indie Pop or Rock, Guitar Pop or Pop Punk than want to wade through yet more posts about The Beatles or Raspberries.
There are points that I don’t cover because they aren’t exclusive to Power Pop. Streaming for instance and the battle for inconsequential likes being two. Firstly, Power Pop has to get over its fascination and obsession with The Beatles. They are the greatest band there ever was, but other bands are available. The same applies to Badfinger, Raspberries, Big Star and Jellyfish. Comparing everything to these bands helps no one. Everything will sound inferior to them. They were different times. Big money could be spent on promotion, so everyone heard them on Radio Stations that played them. You can love The Beatles and new Power Pop artists, the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
Home recording has become more professional, cheaper and easier to use, so there will always be the good, the bad and the ugly in all music. Just trust some of the people who write or play it. They have done the sifting for you. More on that later. There is also a tendency to compare everything to something older. Power Pop is always likely to sound like something else. After six decades, there is no new sound to be discovered, everything will be at least a bit like something else. I personally would rather hear something that sounds like something else done well than some algorithm inspired rubbish written by 15 different people.
Now we get around to earning money. No musician is expecting to become a millionaire. They love what they do and just want to cover costs or earn enough to make the next album. There is however something particularly wrong with a scene were the only people making any money are Promoters and Pluggers. As the lockdown subsides, there has to be a way to pay bands even if it is via a tip jar or streaming the events simultaneously. The days of charging at the door, but the bands playing for free have to end. Playing live is what most bands enjoy and there is an opportunity to sell Merch. But when the promoter is the only person earning money on an event that would be nothing without the artists, something isn’t right.
I have a load of time for David Bash, who has at times kept the Power Pop Flag flying single handedly. The International Pop Overthrow event at The Cavern gives artists the opportunity to play at an iconic venue, something that they could never arrange on their own. Plus The Liverpool IPO is a chance for artists to meet each other face to face from around the world. But surely there is a way to pay the bands something, even if there is a permanent admission fee. The artists are invited, but that isn’t a reason to not pay them. I know many who won’t play IPO because of it which is a shame. Plus the other shows around the States cry out even more for artists payment. Big Stir pay the artists for their monthly showcase. The Power Pop Weekender in London sells out with a daily ticket price approaching £20.
Whilst on the IPO subject, I am also a critic of the annual compilations. I can’t see how a payment of $300 gets you on the compilation. It seems very Pay To Play. If this charge is necessary to fund IPO, then there must be some other way via increased sponsorship or such. As it stands, 60 bands / artists subsidise the rest on a project that someone like Wayne at Icecream Man does for free. He could easily produce a physical version for considerably less if there was the demand. No one is arguing that David needs to make a living, but does it have to be on the backs of Musicians. Many of us do it for free, there has to be a balance.
These days everyone is a Music Journalist. But there are surprisingly few dedicated to Power Pop. As always, there is good and bad writing, but what irritates me most is the spoon feeding. Most of the reviews are spoon fed. They’ve been sent out to everyone, few writers seem to try and discover stuff themselves. Dennis at Poprock Record, Jeff Shelton (as a DJ) and a few others are exceptions rather than the rule. Also maybe the time is right for a collective of writers to have one place to listen to Power Pop Releases that would bring greater variation that would work after cutting out the irrelevant. Reviewers could download the ones that interest them and visit as time allowed.
Radio wise, I really do have a problem. I have been critical in the past of Internet Radio and it has been taken the wrong way. I applaud anyone who starts their own show whether they have 10 or 1,000 listeners. They are never the problem, they love what they do and give artists a chance to be heard. The problem is the pluggers who feed off them. A perfect example of the wrong people getting the money. I have a real bad taste in my mouth about the activities of some of these. They charge artists $250 to get airplay on stations that anyone could send music to themselves free of charge. The type of stations that say send us your song and we’ll play it. Surely artists must be suspicious of the quality of the station’s output.?
Radio Candy seem the worst. They own some of the stations they charge musicians for getting airplay on. They are also the prime movers behind the ridiculous Radio Indie Alliance Chart. 12 of us writers did a straw poll looking at one of their Top 75 charts. There is a lot of experience gathered in those 12 and the best we could come up with was knowing 15 of the artists. Most were lower. So there is something fishy about such a chart. You have to suspect people paying appear there, maybe with rich parents. To confuse the issue, a few known acts are thrown in who haven’t paid and also a few bigger names. High placings are always there for The Tearaways, Rumbar Records and Jem Recordings artists who coincidentally pay Radio Candy for promotion.
Social media isn’t as vital as it used to be, but there is still a weariness with artists not following up on reviews and promoting them accordingly, just as there is with writers, labels and artists who promote too much. Having a Twitter account that just posts thank you Radio X for playing……….., Thank You Radio Y for playing is soon gonna lose followers. I Don’t Hear A Single used to get over 80% of its hits from social media, now its less than 30%. Learning Google Analytics or keywords is the key.
Finally, many albums are self-released now and that’s great. There are some fine labels out there too. Labels such as Big Stir, Spyderpop, Tapete and Wiretap amongst them. But most albums are self-released. There is a problem with reviewers asking for physical releases and then not reviewing or playing them. Another unnecessary expense for the artist. It gets even worse on Vinyl releases. The cost of manufacture and sending an album is high for it not to be covered. I am a big music collector and as obsessive as the next collector. But I separate my hobby from my writing. I am not trying to build my collection on the backs of hard up musicians. Also what is the point of a three line review? What is the point of everything appearing in an end of year list? 2021 albums are being covered in 2022.
I know I’ve strayed off the Power Pop point a bit, but it is all relevant. I also assure you that I am not settling scores or hitting personal targets. I always write honestly and I’m more than happy to take criticism or for people not to agree. I’m someone who speaks their mind, but also listens to counter views that follow. It really is time for the Power Pop Community to get together to look for ways around these problems and make the musician central to everything they do. New Power Pop wise, it may be time to open a Facebook group just covering that and finding a way to link to the Indie and Pop Punk scenes. I love Power Pop, I just don’t want to see it die with us.