Can Manufactured Bands Ever Be Classified As

‘Good’ Art? The Effect Of The Market
On The Construction Of Music Essay, Research Paper

Can Manufactured Bands Ever be Classified as ‘Good’ Art? The Effect of the Market

on the Construction of Music


Manufactured bands now make up a major percentage of chart music today,

not least of them Take That, Boyzone, Bad Boys inc., East 17 and other all-boy

pop bands. In this essay I would like to discuss how the standard of art has

been lowered by the capitalistic system of the music industry, using a specific

example – “Upside Down”, which is maybe the latest addition to this genre of


By this genre of music, I mean the all-boy bands which have been

specifically manufactured and targeted at the ‘teenybopper’ age class (and also

the gay market?).

Personal Opinions

To argue that this form of art is ‘bad’ art, one must have a reference

point – a set of values by which to judge. This is almost always a personal

opinion, and I would first of all like to explain my personal opinion.

I believe that ‘good’ art has something to offer to the individual

perceiver, be it painting, book, film, dance or music. These are all different

forms of art, but one thing binds them all together – the fact that they are

creations, created and crafted to the personal specifications of the artist.

This makes the product original.

Two values by which I judge music are creativity and originality. I

believe that good art provides ‘food for thought’ – that special something which,

after the tape has finished, after leaving the cinema or closing a book, leaves

an ‘aftertaste’ – something to think about, be it, ‘how did he/she play that’ or,

‘what was he/she trying to say with that piece,’ the list goes on.

Basic Market Analysis

For the purposes of this essay, I want to split marketing into two

general strategies. The first of these is where the designers make a “product”

to their own specifications and then look to see where and how they will be able

to sell it in the overall market. The second strategy is the opposite of the

first – the designers examine the general market, target a certain area and

tailor make a product to fit this area exactly.

The latter of these strategies is the one employed when a band is going

to be manufactured. The designers have studied the market and worked out what

they think they can sell a certain group of consumers.

Hirschman’s ‘three market segments’ model (see figure 1) can be used to

explain which type of bands fall into which category. The first segment is

titled “Self-orientated Creativity.” The primary audience is the person who

creates the piece and the primary objective is that person’s self-expression.

This is art for the sake of art and is sometimes called “selfish” art. The

second segment is titled “Peer-orientated creativity”; the primary audience are

peers and industry, the primary objective is recognition and acclaim. The third

segment is “Commercialised Creativity “and focuses on the general public with

the primary objective of money and profit.

The people who create art for the sake of art may not even approach a

record label, as it is solely for themselves. This approach is focused on the

product, made their way, not taking the commercial aspect into consideration.

The people who fall into the category of peer-orientated creativity do

want to publish their work but do not tailor their product to increase its

marketing potential. An example of this could be any band that has its own

distinctive style, e.g. Led Zeppelin, which when it was first published,

definitely did not fall into the category of pop music. Although they became a

success and sold millions of records, they did not compromise their music to do


The third group are one hundred percent commercially based. Any music

made by a band in this category is produced for a pre-specified area of the

market with the sole intention to make money. The product is tailored according

to what the mass audience wants, therefore any aspect of art is compromised.

Case Study – Upside Down

Upside Down fit perfectly into the third category in Hirschman’s Three

Market Segment Model. Put together by two managers, they use the second of the

general strategies I have described above – first check the market to find an

opening and then tailor a product to fit it.

In this case young girls aged roughly between 11 and 16 have been targeted.

Having decided this, the next part of the process is, based on what the managers

think the consumers want (or what they think they can tell them they want), to

tailor make a product to suit the market. In this situation, the question is,

“What do girls aged between 11 and 16 want to see when they go to a concert?”

The answer is, having experienced the reaction to Take That, Boyzone etc., that

they want young boys, in nice clothes, very good looking, very sexy looking, who

are going to look great on their bedroom walls when they get their posters out

of Smash Hits. So this is exactly what the managers design and produce for them.

The four boys that were eventually chosen were picked from the

applicants who had responded to this advertisement:

“Are you between 17 and 21 and good looking? (We’re only looking for

the best!)”

“Do you want to be in a teenage all-boy band sensation?”

“Do you want to follow performers like Take that, East 17, Bad Boys inc.

and Boyzone into the covers of Just 17 and Smash Hits?”

“Do you want to be part of a band selling millions of records?

From the seven thousand applicants, a shortlist of 250 was drawn up from

their photographs alone. These 250 were auditioned in one day, each audition

lasting about as long as it took for the managers to discuss how the individuals


Once the four boys had been trained by a voice trainer, the next step

was to find material for them to perform. Their first single-to-be was bought by

the managers from a firm selling previously unreleased songs. Several different

potential hits were played to the managers before they eventually picked one to

record in the studio.

Upside Down’s first studio sessions yielded a different sound than their

released single. It was described in the documentary as having nearly a white

soul-music quality, but the managers were not happy with it at all. They

proceeded to record the single again with Stuart Levine – well known for his

success in achieving a more ‘commercial’ sound for music of this type, and his

was the recording that they finally used.

Upside Down’s first public performance took place on the Smash Hits Tour,

which, not surprisingly, was attended and practically consisted only of girls

aged between 10 and 15!


Figure 2 is a diagram which can be used to define the difference between an

object or work of art in the traditional sense (art for the sake of music) and a

cultural industry (art for the sake of making money).

The horizontal axis represents the range of products from works of art

which are aesthetically or artistically orientated to the works of art which are

market orientated. At the right hand side, the product is determined by the

market, and at the left hand side by the artist. The vertical axis shows the

range from prototypes, i.e. a unique piece of work, through to cultural

production on a mass scale.

As I described above, in the context of peer-orientated creativity, Led

Zeppelin became a big-selling band, but did not compromise their music to do so.

On the model, they would be represented by the ‘Work of Art’ (upper left

quadrant) which would then move down to the lower left quadrant where the work

is still orientated towards the artist, but reproduced because it has become

popular (i.e. moved down the vertical axis).

Upside Down, on the other hand, stay firmly in the lower right-hand

quadrant of the diagram, represented by ‘Cultural Industries’. As their product

is tailor-made for the market, and always intended for mass reproduction, it

cannot be said that they have ever produced a prototype.

This whole attitude suggests and promotes the idea that money is more

important than art. This (business) venture is geared towards nothing else than

making money. In the documentary interview run by the BBC, The managers stated

that their aim was purely commercial, to quote one of them, “Launching a band is

launching a product. Identify your market, package your product as nicely as

possible, target your audience and sell it to them.” They also stated that only

then would they have achieved anything when “Ten thousand girls are screaming at

the boys on stage, some passing out from excitement and being taken away by the

St John’s Ambulance Brigade.

To create an image, the managers put the word out that the four boys from

England’s next Mega-band would be in such and such a place at such and such a

time. They then turned up with the band in the designated places and times to

allow the ‘fans’ to kiss or be kissed by, or get an autograph from the stars of

the next biggest band in England.

The boys, however, are also in it only for the money, if not at first then

definitely now. They were given an allowance (not very much), and told that the

serious money would start rolling in as soon as the records were starting to

sell. In an interview with the boys, just after they had had several thousand

pounds worth of clothes bought for them, one said, “We haven’t really got used

to having all these expensive clothes bought for us yet, but hopefully we will.”

I find this approach to making music a very manipulative one. The pre-

targeted market of eleven to sixteen year olds must be one of the easiest to

manipulate. In this age, people are trying to find themselves or make themselves

into the type of people that the media tell them they should be – if someone

placed an advert in Just 17 or Smash Hits stating that every cool teenager now

bought their fashion clothes from Marks & Spencer’s, this store would probably

record a 300% increase of sales in the Womenswear Department.

On the other side of the stage, however, the boys in the band are also

being manipulated. They are still, after over a year of being signed to the

managers, receiving the pitiful allowance assigned them by their managers. They

have been led to believe that they will be very rich, have given up university

studies and jobs to do so and yet have come no further financially. The records

are selling but until a certain number have been sold, they do not receive any

royalties, to allow the managers to recoup the quarter of a million pounds they

have invested. And when that sum is reached, will they still be around or will

the public have gone crazy about another four or five sexy-looking boys who are

essentially no different, just something new?

Apart from the dubious financial situation, the band have absolutely no say

in what they want their sound to be like. After the recording of the single

(which, incidentally the band had no hand in picking), one of the boys was asked

what he thought of the finished product; he answered, “I liked the sound of the

first recording better – it was less commercial-sounding, but it depends if

you’re doing it for yourself or a prospective audience.”

With his own recording technique, Stuart Levine obviously managed to get a

more ‘poppy’ and commercial sound which the managers preferred. This ties in

with one of Frans Birrer’s definitions of pop music, “Popular music is music

that is not something else. This ties in, in turn, to the ‘McDonald’s’ Method -

McDonalds actually deflavour their burgers so that less people will dislike

them. In exactly this way, and for exactly the same reasons, Upside Down, or

their managers at any rate, have deflavoured their music – diluted it so that no

one element is too strong for people’s musical tastebuds.

What the band have also been led to believe is that they possess a lot of

talent, and have accordingly acquired quite a high opinion of themselves and

what they are doing:

“I think that masterminded bands are much better – it means that the best

talent, from a large area, is brought together and concentrated,”(!):

The performers themselves were obviously not chosen for any musical talent

or creativity, but on the strength of their looks. During the auditions, the

managers discussed the potential of the applicants. Comments ranged from, “No,

absolutely not – I don’t like his style,” ; “Pity about him, he’s got a good

voice but look at his skin – we won’t be able to do anything with his acne,” to

“Looks great – bad voice, but nothing the studio can’t fix,” or “Yeah, he’s not

bad, but I don’t know about his hair. Maybe with some dye and matching coloured

contact lenses?.”

If the band were so talented, as they have come to think they are, then

surely the managers would not have needed to send them to a professional voice

trainer, when the only ‘live’ singing they have to do is in the studio? (All

‘gigs’ are mimed) The voice trainer also did say,(rather dubiously I thought),

“We-ell, they have hope; they aren’t the worst I’ve ever had.”

It seems that the managers have achieved one of the earliest goals they set

themselves – “What we’re basically looking for is four or five good-looking boys

who are eager to be moulded, well, guided, you know – given a helping hand to do

what we want them to do.”

I want to conclude by saying that, based on my personal opinions of what

‘good’ art should be, Upside Down are a good example of ‘bad’ art. The art in

this venture lies not in the music but in the management. The question is, is

management an art.?


BBC Omnibus Documentary on the Process of Manufacture of Upside Down, 1996

LEDA Circuit on New Opportunities for Employment Creation through the Cultural

Sector, 1995

Phil Saxe’s Notes on Marketing Strategies


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