Simon Napier Bell: the Dodgy Business of Popular Music: the Beginning . . .
Simon Napier-Bell (who previously managed Wham, Marc Bolan, Japan and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page (during his Yardbirds phase) returns to the Skrufff team this week with a short series of excerpts from his must-read new history of the music business book ‘TA-RA-RA-BOOM-DE-AY- the Dodgy Business of Popular Music’. (Click here to download/ buy)
“It was America that kicked the music business into high gear and turned it into a multi-million dollar industry, but it was Britain that started things off.
The first big step was in December 1810 when Samuel Chappell, who had a piano store in Bond Street, signed an agreement with Johann Baptist Cramer, England’s best-known concert pianist and composer. Chappell and Cramer would set up a joint publishing company that would print and sell all of Cramer’s music, including his best-seller, the definitive work on piano technique, ‘84 Studies for the Pianoforte’.
Cramer then wrote to all his musician friends telling them about the new company and asking them to publish their work with it. One of them was Beethoven, who, because he considered Cramer to be the world’s best pianist, let the company publish his new piano concerto, which Cramer named the ‘Emperor’.
Cramer’s contacts brought in top classical composers from all over Europe and Chappell was soon considered to be amongst the top music publishing companies in Britain. But after seven years Cramer decided he was doing more for Chappell than Chappell was doing for him, so he left and set up on his own.
In 1834 Samuel Chappell died and in due course the business passed to his son Thomas. Tom was a moderniser. He wasn’t as stuffy as his father. He wanted to publish popular music as well classical. Classical music sold only on the reputation of the composer. For a new work to sell better than the last took a very long time – concerts had to be arranged and played and the time needed to turn a classical work into a hit was often several years. Popular music was totally different.
Popular songs could be engineered into hits in a matter of months. But it was a tough business. The other top publishers were Novello and Boosey. Novello published only classical music, but Boosey had moved into popular ballads for the middle classes – genteel love songs and broken-hearted laments. Tom Chappell decided to do the same.
Promoting new ballads wasn’t at all genteel. Publishers fought to get the best songs from the best writers, and then they had to be made popular. Nobody wanted to hear songs they didn’t know so new songs had to be force-fed to the public.
The best way was to persuade top ballad singers to feature them in their concerts. To persuade them they were bribed – from the very beginning, that was the nature of the music business. No song was played till someone was paid.”
TA-RA-RA-BOOM-DE-AY- the Dodgy Business of Popular Music: “click here to download/ buy:
‘Japan & Self Existence’, “Mick Karn’s autobiography, was self published on lulu.com. A personal insight into the life as a musician and artist spanning more than 30 years. The book takes us into the world of Japan, from the band’s formation during school to the truth behind their split at the height of their fame . . .”