When I heard that Hong Kong singer Sandy Lam was asking HK$700,000 to perform three songs using MMO- Music Minus One, I had to ask for a bucket while friends helped me off the floor.

Sandy Lam is my favorite local/Hong Kong singer and has been for many years as she can really sing. She is not just some Hello Kitty cutie dependent on designers and outrageous stage paraphernalia to make her successful. And though this was a private gig while the singer is in the middle of a “World Tour”- think of all the Chinatowns around the world and the money to be made- the penny dropped and I realized why and how so many Chinese singers are so obscenely rich and landlords whereas Western artists in Hong Kong are lucky to make HK $15,000 a gig and live in some hole in the wall.

Racism? A little, but mainly localism, and with those holding the marketing budgets totally in the dark about Western music except for the usual suspects- Katy Perry, Lady WaWa etc- and whose idea of who is good being to get on YouTube and check out “views” or else to do some favors for a friend working in the local office of a major who has a new artist in town from somewhere like Norway for one of those promo tours where these artists perform for, well, the exposure.

Forget, this exposure rubbish. Where’s the commitment and where’s the phrase, “Show me the money?”

One of the main reasons I got back to writing about music is that it’s pissed me off no end to see artists being screwed, the wrong people being “lauded” and applauded in a industry in tatters and all the “right people” having had enough of creative castration- it hurts- and who have upped and left and now watch from the sidelines and gently weep at what’s going on like George Harrison’s guitar being played by Prince.

Speaking of which, I recently had an email from someone in India whom I have never met or heard of before who had gone through some back issues of my blogs and was lamenting the fact that the great Bhaskar Menon has been so overlooked by those who are playing at “saving the music industry”, but clueless how to really go about it ‘cos they have no idea where to start.

For those who don’t know, Bhaskar Menon is the ONLY Asian to run a major recording company- EMI- when it was a vibrant and relevant music company and who brought together George Harrison and Ravi Shankar which resulted in the magnificent Concert For Bangladesh long before it became fashionable to save every country in this mixed up, fucked up world by staging a music concert.

I can list Bhaskar’s credits, but there is Google and Wikipedia for that suffice to say that a music conference in India that is as yet to honour this incredible human being whom I am proud to call a friend and even mentor as his knowledge of music and musicians and stories brings out the groupie in me, is a shame.

Sorry if this hurts or insults those who are simply trying to make a living by working the business side of this so-called music business, but trying to make a living by being what one is not and staging bogus events and sending e-letters about another upcoming MUST attend music event just turns me right off. It comes back to the fact that those talking and thinking of “doing” things for music haven’t a clue about music. And those trying to make Asia a “music market” are just pissing in the wind. Which brings me back to Sandy Lam, the HK$700,000 woman.

As I have said, I am a fan of Sandy Lam, she has strong management and it’s their job to get the best deals for her . If someone, somewhere thinks $700,000 for three songs is a good deal, well good on old Sandy and her team as it’s all about supply and demand. But, what about all the other very good singers in Hong Kong and around Asia who are lucky to get a gig in some five-star hotel lounge and be nickled and dimed to sing Norah Jones covers and the tortuous frequent request for “New York, New York”?

I still remember when at EMI having to entertain one of those Terra Firma private equity “Terrarists” that the imbecilic Guy Hands had put in charge of the company. A group of us were with this Terrarist at a hotel lounge in Hong Kong when, upon seeing the attractive resident Filipina singer attacking some Oletta Adams cover, was so moved in his crotch area and drunk on his new title and for being in the “glam world of music biz”, screamed out, “I have the POWER! I can sign you to Blue Note!”

The singer ran away and the Terrarist was soon given the boot and went back to another non-music related gig.

This is what I mean: The infiltration of businessmen, some groupies and opportunists into the music world while, sadly, many who were passionate about music and musicians Rights having left for greener pastures and where there is some real money to be made. No can live on pipe dreams.This is why the so-called music business is no business at all and why this industry needs to partner itself with other businesses with real money, strong consumer bases and venues for it to be resuscitated like any ailing economy.

By this, I don’t mean old school “sponsorship deals” and fawning over “music marketing directors.”

Most “music marketing directors” know bugger all about music marketing or music and are only there through a bad hire by that other overrated species called the Human Resources person.

By the way, who hires the Human Resource person and what is THEIR qualifications?. Anyway, this hire remains fleecing the company and those fawning over them until a higher up eventually finds out that their Use By date is over and shows them the door. Until then, they’ll take the freebie trips, they’ll make tired and untrue speeches at music events that have sprung up like a bad case of the crabs and, if transferred to Asia, they’ll live an expat life with a wife at home and a Sarong Party Girl on the side until Quasimodo rings them bells and they’re out for the count.

Here’s the real problem: Many of those who might actually be able to help get the music industry back on its feet- myself excluded- have moved on. They have passed the baton or just passed out from fatigue and disappointment. They have also been to “the other side’ and have seen how the other half live and, suddenly, the music business is no longer seen to have any relevance or power or glamour. They have finally seen the forest for the trees and how insular one’s thinking can be when “in the business”.

These are people that, somehow, need to be inspired to return to their roots- their love of music and appreciation and respect of musicians- AND their knowledge of the businesses side of music. Music needs them, the music BUSINESS them as without the business there is no music industry.

In Hong Kong, I see and hear a number of very good musicians- world class musicians like Saxophonist Blaine Whittaker, singers like Tess Collins and Nicole Russo who was with Brand New Heavies. But, where are they going and who’s leading them there?

Sure, we all need to eat and none of us can afford to be choosy these days and pick and choose gigs, though I wish we all can. Especially in music, taking almost everything that comes along devalues music. What also devalues music are those who say they’re singers but are actually celebrities or pseudo celebs who are paid as singers, but actually just there for the cameras. This, again, devalues that wonderful art and joy called music.

In an ideal world, every unknown artist who is struggling for their craft needs a direction. It can be an A&R direction or a career direction. But when living in a bubble and happy to be a big fish in a very small pond and singing the same old songs over and over again, the rot sets in even for the big fish. There’s just so much of the same thing and the same shtick one can take. It’s like listening to the same punch line until it has no punch left. So what’s the answer?

As with anything in life, teamwork. As I still say today, take away the team and all you’re left with is work. And if this work isn’t bringing you even a quarter of the dollar value attached to someone like Sandy Lam, something is very wrong. That and the fact that some very wrong people who might really mean well are leading an industry that’s already tottering or else have crashed into a giant abyss from which there is no return.

At least in Asia- and maybe elsewhere- what the region doesn’t need are more laundry lists of famous singers, managers, producers and la la’s coming through and being paid to talk about their experiences, recite their cvs, answer some questions, have lunch with some industry types and then leave. What’s the point of that? What do artists gain? A sense of being inspired? A sudden rush of blood to the head? Are artists even in attendance? And if not, why not? If these people with the long cvs actually pick an artist from this region and work with them on a record or a show and we see some RESULTS and not just some token exercise before moving to their next project, great. But no false promises and no hyped up press releases, please. We have seen too many of these.

Also, the god person helps those who help themselves so there is no point artists waiting for someone to make things happen for them. Those salad days of the free lunches, dinners, drinks and girls are over and managing artists is not only a thankless task, it’s not worth the hassle and not worth the moola and nervous tics. Like sistahs, artists better start doing it for themselves and realize that when opportunities do present themselves to make themselves available. Reply to emails, reply to SMS messages, return phone calls and simply communicate before the other party just thinks it’s a waste of their time and stop calling.

Again, for too long, many artists without even a minor hit to their names have worked to their own schedule and when finally ready for their close ups, CB had fucked off from being tired of waiting like a Ray Davies song.

Also, if all these music conferences are largely for industry types, someone from the artists camp better come up with the antithesis of these and put together something more Mork and Indie.

In a city like Hong Kong and more and more cities around the world, the “music” industry has become a celebrity industry and where there are the Haves and the Have-Nots. It MUST change and the lunatics must take over the asylum at a time when not only is it hard to make a buck selling music, even paying gigs are becoming tougher and tougher to come by or are nickel and dime one-timers.

Unless you’re someone like Sandy Lam.

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