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The Simon Cowell biography Tom Bower should write

Wednesday February 23, 2011

A number of people in the music industry will be fielding potentially uncomfortable phone calls over the coming weeks.

Tom Bower - fiercesome biographer of Mohammed Al-Fayed, Richard Branson and, most recently, Bernie Ecclestone - has his sights on one of our own, Simon Cowell.

He wants you to spill the beans.

Having spent an hour talking to him, what struck me was still how under-served the music industry is in terms of serious analysis.

When it comes to data - particularly chart data - we are superserved. When it comes to information - everything from Gaga's meat dress to Cheryl's battle with malaria - there's more than any sane person would want to read.

But when it comes to analysis of the fundamentals - why some things work better than others, why some executives like Simon Cowell succeed and others do not - we're far less clear.

Of course at a basic level, it's crystal clear: artists are successful because more people like them. Executives are successful because they somehow work out better than their competitors which formula will work best.

But that's not hugely helpful: as to the whys and wherefores, there's still a huge gap in understanding - and one that's true of both film and games too.

Popular culture is always a meeting place and conflict zone of art and commerce. Sometimes one is in the ascendant, sometimes the other. Pop music began as anexpression of singles-led commerce with Tin Pan Alley that was hijacked by the album-as-art brigade of the Sixties and continued so til the 90s. Simon Cowell is the ultimate expression of the revenge of commerce.

The resentment towards him expressed by the proponents of pop music as art misses the point that after 10 years of falling album sales, if commerce wasn't to the forefront, pop music really would be stuffed.

(He's the man of the hour in more ways than one. Terrestrial TV has been facing similar declines to music. His great success has been in throwing a lifeline to two declining businesses at once.)

It's true that few Cowell productions will enter the canon of popular music - although Leona Lewis's Bleeding Love has a fair claim - but that misses the point: were it not for the 3m or so albums sold by X Factor and Britain's Got Talent contestants last year, the market would have been down yet another couple of per cent, and it's unlikely those sales would have been made up by Caribou or Foals or These New Puritans, or other critical favourites.

Which brings us back to Tom Bower. You can't blame him for wanting details of conflicts, secrets, potential scandal. He is subject to the same commercial pressures as Simon Cowell. And it's those elements which sell.

But wouldn't it be a more interesting book if he were able to isolate the X-Factor which has really made Simon Cowell so successful?


Posted at 15:27
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