Are record labels pushing artists too hard?
Michelle Corbett

Wayne Rooney’s Press Officer”¦ Katie Price’s Botox administrator”¦ Simon Cowell’s dentist”¦ Can we all just spare a thought for those poor hard-working folk whose services are in near-constant demand?

This week Simon Bobbett – the manager of Merseyside pop-punk band The Wombats ”“ has said that record labels are pushing some artists so hard they are risking their health.

Talking to Newsbeat, he also added that Matthew Murphy – the band’s lead singer – became addicted to anti-depressants because of a punishing touring and promotional schedule.

This might be a bitter pill to swallow for hard-working teachers, paramedics and frontline soldiers fighting overseas in Afghanistan. Hell, even for those of us who are chained to our desks nine to five spurred on only by the promise of the weekend.

Should we ”“ can we ”“ really sympathise with artists who are ”Ëœliving the dream’”¦ People who get paid to make music, play it to adoring fans, trash expensive hotel suites and bed starry-eyed groupies?

Or is the notion that rock stars ”Ëœhave it all’ hopelessly misguided?

There can be little doubt that today’s artists exist in a pressure-cooker environment. Success is so fleeting, so precious, few artists feel comfortable in turning down opportunities ”“ even if criss-crossing the globe and surviving on zero sleep is the pay-off. With the advent of social networking fans expect their idols to be 100 per cent accessible whether it’s on Twitter, on their iPod or in front of them live on tour.

Shockingly when Lady Gaga collapsed on-stage from dehydration and exhaustion in January, the juggernaut that is her ”ËœMonster Ball’ tour rolled relentlessly on. She collapsed once again on stage in March yet she is still feverishly promoting her latest album ”ËœBorn This Way’, demonstrating a frightening disregard for her future well-being.

From Michael Jackson to Britney Spears”¦ Brian Wilson to Kurt Cobain”¦ the annals of rock and pop history are littered with stars who became victims of their own success.

Caught up in a non-stop cycle of touring and recording is it any wonder artists turn to both illegal and prescription drugs to cope? Fifty years ago The Beatles took amphetamines to survive their punishing schedule in Hamburg. Today The Wombat’s lead singer Matthew Murphy admits: “I was off my face,” having taken anti-depressants for two years prior to their first single ”ËœKill the Director’ being released.

Drug use is endemic in music circles – fuelling excess and creativity in equal measure. Very few employers would turn a blind eye to drug-taking outside the cossetted world of the music industry. I very much doubt that artists would want the same restrictions and behavioural expectations imposed on them that we, the rest of the working world, accept without question. So is it really fair to expect record labels to demonstrate the same duty of care you’d expect from an employer in any other field?

Actually I would say yes. Musicians are a record label’s greatest asset. Without them their ability to make any income would be massively impeded. They owe it to their artists to look after their well-being ”“ both physically and mentally – otherwise there will be many more black holes where our stars once shone so brightly.

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  1. I heard the interview and although I agree up to a point surely a hefty part of the managers job is to ensure that his artist is not driven into the ground.I think its fantastic that the group are highlighting the issue but it was shameful that Fearne Cotton completely swerved the issue during her ‘interview’ for their live lounge appearance.

  2. I think that absolutely labels need to have serious concern for their artists, they aren’t just our greatest assets but in the case of indie labels where label reps/managers are often on tour with their artists, they are our friends and even our quasi-family. I think too that the culture around tolerating heavy drug use in the music industry needs to be reconsidered. As a label head, I want my artists here for a good time not a long time and that’s why I have a zero-tolerance policy for hard drug use and all drug use which prevents the artist from carrying out their responsibilities. If the only way that one of my artists can produce or create or even just be is to be high of their face all the time then I have failed them. I haven’t made sure that their touring schedule is reasonable, that they have support both at home and on the road and that they are given what they need to feel secure in their situation.

  3. Hi,

    I’m not a famous musician, My band is not signed, and we don’t make any money at all. Yet we still strive for enough success to be able to make our living doing what we love – rocking out.

    But this question sits in the back of my mind: if by some crazy chance we were to become successful enough to make a fulltime living playing our music, does that have to mean that the automatic trade off is that we don’t get to see our kids grow up because we’re constantly on tour? Why does it seem that “success” ends up meaning becoming estranged from the rest of life?

    Don’t get me wrong, I love playing live and that’s a huge piece of what I consider to be the magic of rock and roll. But I see even the most successful acts, the ones who would seem to be able to control their destiny, spending 6 to 9 months of the year on the road? Putting aside things like family, how can that have anything but a negative effect on the creative process that is so critical to being successful for the long term?

    Notes from the outside looking in.


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