Streaming 'killing music for artists', says Sharkey
Feargal Sharkey, the former singer with punk band The Undertones, has rounded on today's music industry for failing to encourage and nurture new talent.
In an interview before his 60th birthday tomorrow, the Derry vocalist, who found fame with songs including Teenage Kicks and My Perfect Cousin, says the music business is so obsessed with marketing and online promotions that it is stifling creativity.
The Northern Irish musician, who for many years worked as a music executive, claims The Undertones would not have made it in today's industry, adding that songwriters were likely to make more money "flipping burgers" than getting paid for writing a well-crafted song.
Explaining how the band he joined as a teenager in 1975 relied on the simple but effective marketing strategy of sending the "good song", Teenage Kicks, to John Peel, the radio DJ, he said real talent was getting now lost in the "gazillion" songs on the internet.
"In the modern world we think that because you can make a noise, that noise has some sort of intellectual, creative or artistic depth and integrity attached to it. It hasn't - it's often a noise," he said from his London home. "For those who have some innate talent and ability, it's become more difficult because there is a much greater volume of noise and static that they have to push their way through to get noticed."
Sharkey, who had international success and a UK No 1 in 1985 with A Good Heart, added: "Young artists think they have to develop their marketing campaign, have a podcast, Facebook and YouTube presence.
"When I talk to young artists, I say, 'Why are you worrying about all of that?'
"How do you have a long, successful, productive and creative career in the music industry? The answer is if you write utterly fantastic music. So I say 'Stop worrying about your Facebook page and go and write a better song.'"
He said "digital utopians" who claimed the internet would "democratise music" had been proven woefully wrong, in part because music streaming services pay so little in royalties.
"A songwriter now will be better off working in a hamburger bar on a minimum wage because they will probably make more money. Streaming is killing the ability for songwriters and artists to make a living. And, that may impact on their desire and capability to make music."
Explaining how most computers have a built-in recording studio programme offering everyone the chance to record music, he said: "In many ways this utopian world we were told would give us a level playing field where we could record our own songs has not turned out that way. Throughout the 1970s and early '80s, all kinds of record companies were signing up a huge range of artists.
"So, The Undertones got a chance. But most major labels are no longer in a position or willing to take that kind of risk and make that kind of investment to develop cutting edge artists exploring the fringes of what is possible creatively."
However, Sharkey still thinks the next great musical talent is most likely to be found in these islands.
"I'm an eternal optimist and think there's some 17-year-old somewhere about to create the most incredible piece of music anyone has ever heard."