Back before his passing last year, the great David Bowie famously mused that today's music industry would never have signed someone like him. Now well it may sound like he was talking about his ambitious clothing choices or musical styles, he was actually referring to the fact that he was a working class kid. And while those words were spoken some years ago, it is becoming clear about just how right Bowie was to make that statement. Over the past few decades, the number of middle class artists breaking through to the mainstream has been on the rise, while those from poorer backgrounds tend to stay out of the limelight. That is not to say that poorer artists are less likely to succeed, it is just that the path to fame and fortune within the industry has now become focused on what the artist is prepared to pay into that dream coming true.
In the heyday of the industry, record labels fronted the bill on pretty much everything. They paid for an artist's studio time, record pressing and even promotion and sales for their release, Leaving the artist more time to focus on making more songs and thus, earning the labels more of an income. But as budgets in the industry continue to stretch because of our lack of willingness to pay for music in the age of streaming services, labels are far more likely to hedge their bets on an already finished package. Nowadays, if a band or singer wants a label to sign them, they need to already have that dedicated fanbase in place first. Which means that artist will probably need to self-finance at least one EP or album release, as well as probably tour their country a couple of times over before a label will even look at them twice. And obviously that kind of self-financial burden isn't really something all of us could do, which is why we are seeing a lot more acts begin to take matters into their own hands.
The DIY-approach as it is known is basically an artist releasing their own music without the need for a label. Most of them organise their own tours and generate income that way. This has proven to work through the UK's grime scene, which is predominantly made of inner-city artists who have grown up on council estates with very little to their name. Wiley, Skepta and Dizzee Rascal all set up their own labels in order to release their music, and despite their huge success, have continued to be self-made in the industry, growing their personal brands alongside their business ambitions. But while this ethos works well in that community, where fans are easy to hunt down and gather, the pop music world still suffers from a disparity of middle class musicians over working class ones.
With the exception of Adele, most of the pop charts seems to be filled with UK artists that have kind of walked in to their success. And while it seems like an organic growth from humble beginnings to worldwide fame, the reality is that plenty of cash has gone into these names to make them what they are. And most will have contributed a fair share of their personal income to make that happen. Which of course, makes the image of success twist in favour of those that have already had the financial help over those that couldn't afford it. After all, when there are millions of hopefuls currently working their fingers to the bone to become the next big thing, it hardly seems right that those in a better financial position should end up at the front of the queue.
But just like all things in the world, this too shall pass. After all, the industry is still in a state of flux due to the arrival of the internet. Record labels are finding it harder and harder to define their purpose in the industry, especially now that most acts can create their music on a laptop and post it online themselves. The labels think they have a capital on promotion but as we have seen from grime music, grassroots fandom is becoming the more solid base in which an artist can grow and develop. So while the wealth divide in the UK's music industry is growing, there will no doubt come a point in which the biggest artists are also running the show themselves. And when that happens, expect to see a whole new ranges of artists from all walks of live flooding into the charts.