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Music industry must change definition of talent

Date: 15/08/2014

Millions of aspiring musicians are being denied the chance to develop careers in the creative industries because companies, colleges and the media haven’t evolved their understanding of talent for the digital age, according to a new report.

The Channelling Talent report, published by the Royal Society of Arts, concluded that “these days David Bowie probably wouldn't make it past the X-Factor auditions” and recommended that during a time of flux for the industry, that executives, educators and journalists would do well to take a critical look at what they mean by talent.

The report was funded by University of Manchester and the AHRC through the Music Communities ‘pilot demonstrator’ project.

Examining the mechanisms that generate, develop, promote, recognise and reward talent in music, it came as no surprise to many of the research participants that being wealthy, well-connected and good looking provides a fast track to success. Yet others pointed to a worrying set of consequences for young people aspiring for careers in music. One study highlighted that 95% of front covers of NME in the last two decades featured men; a former NME editor responded saying there were no women of note. The University of Manchester sociologist Susan O'Shea said that gender and ethnic inequalities are perpetuated through the images the music industry relies upon.

The RSA found the potential for financial reward for ‘bedroom musicians’ is limited as live music becomes the only remaining profitable part of the business. This fuels fears that only the already affluent will be able to pursue music as a career - despite growing evidence of the broad benefits to all of participating and practicing music.

The report called on the big and the small players in the music industry to do more to live up to their own standards of supporting creative expression and commercial success, taking steps to ensure that norms of talent are constantly questioned.

Commenting on the research, RSA Senior Researcher Jonathan Schifferes said: The internet presents new challenges to understanding how social networks affect industries such as music. For example, many musicians are concerned with what data activists call the ‘filter bubble’ - the algorithms used by YouTube, Spotify, Facebook and others which recommend music based on the trail of data you leave when you listen. We're being channelled towards consuming certain music online and very few people understand the complex formulae which sit behind.

The report, Channelling Talent warned that huge changes to the music industry are changing the type of artist that we recognise and reward, and called for increased transparency in how key institutions decide to host or promote different types of music.

Find out more and read the full report on The RSA website

For more information contact Jonathan Schifferes (RSA) on jonathan.schifferes@rsa.org.uk or 020 7451 6966 or Alex Pryce (AHRC), a.pryce@ahrc.ac.uk or 01793 41 6025

Notes to editors

  • The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. www.ahrc.ac.uk
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