Music newbies: Starting out in the music industry

Image credit: Billboard

Synth-pop artist gobbinjr is the latest to be featured on Stereogum's Band to Watch section. It's a column designed to boost publicity for new artists in the industry, and to give potential listeners an idea of the quality of their material – before it's released. Last week, James Rettig superlatively described gobbinjr's latest EP vom night as "powerfully intoxicating" and "as perfect as can be" – high praise indeed for a record that, at the time, had yet to see the light of day. Only time will tell whether Rettig has given gobbinjr a helping hand up with his lavish praise; or indeed, whether he may have involuntarily damaged her prospects. 

In a world in which keeping up with popular trends increasingly translates to being ahead of the times, music critics tend to provide premature evaluation of new artists and records, before potential listeners are given the chance to listen and judge for themselves. Many of us can deeply sympathise with the difficulty of being given high standards to live up to by others; and for musicians at the beginning of their careers, peaking too early in the eyes of the critics can be just as toxic as condemnation.

Indeed, many artists have waved the white flag after just one stupendous record. The La's, Wu Lyf, even the Sex Pistols - all built up huge listenerships with just one album, before not-so-quietly winking out of existence. Others have swiftly dive-bombed out of the hype on sophomore efforts that simply failed to meet the expectations demanded after their debuts: think Duffy, the Smashing Pumpkins, the Klaxons (whose second effort, Surfing the Void, was initially – and optimistically – given an 8/10 review by NME).

But it's not only the fault of the critics that so many seemingly stellar new artists fail to sustain the fame they're deemed to deserve. Too long spent on hiatus, too drastic a change of artistic direction, being usurped of the top spot by younger, newer, more 'original' artists – all can terminate a new artist's career, and all too quickly. It seems there's no formula to ensure a long and fruitful career in the industry – so how does anybody manage it?

The chances of longevity and success are certainly heightened by favourable opinions from music journalists, alongside sensible publicity and marketing. But it's also helped significantly by awareness of what listeners want to hear, what they'll enjoy hearing next. After being famously told that ‘guitar groups are on their way out’ in response to a demo submitted to Decca Records in 1962, The Beatles went on to revolutionise pop music on an international stage. In 1985, Freddie Mercury returned to Queen after a questionable electronic solo venture to achieve the band’s first UK double-platinum record, ‘A Kind of Magic’. And folk-punk singer-songwriter Frank Turner has now released a book on his journey from the demise of his band Million Dead in 2005 to selling out Wembley Stadium himself, 1,216 gigs later.

Success can be immensely difficult to attain in any competitive sector, and the music industry is certainly one of the toughest. But the critics aren’t always the enemies, and failure isn’t always inevitable. Artists like gobbinjr don’t have to have reached perfection to be thoroughly appreciated – often, it’s the journey there that’s far more entertaining.

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