Upstairs at The French House pub was the perfect setting to meet a very top gentleman by the name of Andy Mackay. This is a man who has been there, seen it, done it and still continues to do it!
Andy is the perfect person to discuss and share his views and opinions about the current situation of music. This genius musician has had a colourful and exciting career that has spanned over fifty years and vibrantly continues today.
Imagine experiencing the 60’s, 70’s, 80′ and 90’s to the present day and seeing the major changes within the music industry. Andy explains to me “the biggest change in music from the 60’s and 70’s is that it was entirely driven and controlled by record labels although he adds there were lots and lots of good independent record labels. The pattern of music could only really make money by selling records. Touring was always the loss making or breaking even to sell records. There was always someone, somewhere making money out of music publishing.
If you didn’t have distribution set up or a record company making the records and giving you access to a studio (which at that time there were not many studios and they were very expensive to hire) it was very difficult. That’s what has completely changed now and most music is now streamed or downloaded. That’s not a bad thing it spreads everything round a bit more it reduces or changes the roles of record labels. Today you do not need a record label you can release your work independently. There are distributors like Kobalt and AWAL that you can approach and they will sell your product and if you can get anything on Spotify and I-tunes thats a good and fair thing.”
I asked of his thoughts on the days of advances for bands Andy tells me “the advance was never enough its no secret that bands in the 60’s and 70’s didn’t recoup what they were spending on touring and making records so the record company would only really advance you the money to make a record which they actually owned so you sort of paid for it and they would recoup that money so you really never got any money from it. Even on a moderately good deal and touring they would put in a tour support to pay any losses but again that needs to be recouped. merchandising was crude and again you didnt make any money from that. We would do television and radio all over the world and they all had their own Top of The Pops versions but you didnt make much money or enough for your air fare. Every one was paid the standard union rate.”
So in reality even back then it didn’t matter how famous you were and what appeared as a glamorous lifestyle was not always the case.
The money only came in for Andy in the late 70’s with his first hit record “Rock Follies” which luckily was a number one album unexpectedly. That was the first time Andy started to get independent money. With the invention of CD’s everyone bought their record collection again. A new generation of people in their early 30’s bought their new Hifi and Walkman. Cassettes were gone and new technology embraced the revolutionary CD. Established artists sold their whole catalogues to the CD and that evened things out a bit in terms of making a decent living.”
CD’s are now a thing of the past and I agree with Andy our generation are very lucky to be able to download music for free. We both agreed there is something quite lovely about the physicality of vinyl.
Roxy Music have recently released their first album on a deluxe package which includes four Cd’s and something Ive never heard of a five one mix!
I asked Andy about the present climate of music and how he could advise and inspire musicians today…..
“I think there are a lot of ways of doing music. Its easier now to be a semi pro musician because back in the 60’s and 70’s you had to have a job really and of course you still do but people can play their music around their jobs. They can make money from gigging and merchandise and if they are with independendant distributors they can make money too. Selling an album through somebody like AWAL means every album sold at £5.00 will make the band £3.50. Back in the earlier days an album sold at £5.00 would make the band 11 pence.”
Andy’s son Percy like his father is an extremely talented musician. He works and plays with his band “Sticky” at every given chance. They make a small living but they are out there doing it and the rewards are starting to appear especially with some pretty hot gigs.
Busking is also a great income and Andy says with a smile “There’s some good buskers out there!”
Andy is not impressed by record labels today. “With all of the billions of pounds they are making they are not investing enough in new bands. There is alway a historical issue with copyrights. The label always owns your record that you paid for just like back in the 70’s and they continue to reap the rewards from that. Even if you change to a different label they keep your product. There is an argument thats been going through the courts that after fifties years your copyright should automatically revert to you. This is when you can resell or redistribute them. The legal side of the music business has been incredibly slow to change. Europe are making significant changes with the issues of performance rights (PPL) and people are making more money through PRS from radio play and other forms of play which are immensely helpful and can provide a pension.”
I asked Andy his thoughts on how important art/music lessons are within the school curriculum…..
“It is extremly important to have art/music in schools the art schools and musicians have made a huge contribution to the English economy. The fact that you could go to art school without any particular high O Levels helped produce this fantastic number of musicians, filmmakers, creatives, restaurant owners.”
When Andy was at school you were only allowed to listen to classical music and he had a little card saying NO JAZZ! He was allowed to practice at lunch times. In his school like most schools you were banished into the playground where it was cold and you wern’t allowed back in until the bell rang unless you had a reason. So if you wanted to stay in you could practice and if the teacher heard any trace of Jazz he would bang on the door! The positive side is they learnt notation, how to write music and they were played popular classics. They sang which was good. Later the music curriculum got a bit soft, down to you could play a three note tune on a synthesiser and then submit that as your O Level piece.
I asked how do working class bands/budding musicians survive? There are lots of bands that are financed by their families. Andy compassionately replies “a half decent saxophone you can get much cheaper. But its still going to cost you sort of upwards of four hundred to five hundred pounds and probably closer to eight hundred to nine hundred pounds for good sax, flutes, violin. A cheap drum kit is still fifteen hundred pounds. The industry should have instrument loan schemes and help families that struggle with buying instruments for their children.”
Going back to the state of affairs within the music industry Andy informs me “there is still an old fashion concept called the charts, the charts have always been rigged since day one. All the pluggers and labels are in on it and they all knew that. Things would break through that you couldn’t stop. Everyone knew you could have a hit record just outside of the charts and if it didnt get on Top of The Pops it dropped but if it did go on as a Top Ten Number you were in which was quite unfair. In the earlier days there wasn’t as much radio play whereas now you can hear all of the music on radio shows. The record labels again are rubbing their hands. They have the view if you can sell 5,000 copies you can sell 50,000 copies and you could probably do a million somewhere. That’s why you read Adele has sold more records than the Beatles. If you take the Classical Charts you have opera singers singing popular songs with an orchestra but no electric instruments are allowed. Film scores can get into the Classical Charts but it can only be orchestral which is totally ridiculous.”
Which brings us to Andy’s new adventure. It’s his Psalms project with an orchestra. He’s setting three Pslams with voice and choir, string orchestra, sax and synthesiser, bass, a little bit of drums and mostly percussion which sounds extremely exciting and very original.
So what’s Andy’s closing advice to Musicans?
“If you decide that you want to earn your living playing music you can do it all sorts of ways. Pianists can play clubs and pubs. Drummers can get a job in the theatre. There’s still music recorded. There’s session work. Live music is very strong at the moment. Festivals are still very strong. They don’t pay very much but you know there are people that get to see you. There’s merchandise. Selling your product and making money. If you don’t need a record company don’t pay them anything!”
Words: Celine Hispiche
Images: Jeff Moh