Students and the music industry: an explosive mix?


Following on from Example’s sudden withdrawal from the Grad Ball – and once many students had woken up – a tirade of comments, criticisms and questions were thrown at the artist, emphasising the huge public presence some of the bigger names in the music scene now hold. Initially remaining professional and relatively modest, the artist went on to disregard any interactions as purely “moaning” before suggesting that any potential refund could be spent on “a loada Pot Noodles and MCAT”. Many of his tweets have now been deleted but is this just scratching the surface of the bad reputation that students are branded with in the music industry?

Additionally, Wiley’s initial announcement that he would play at The Cube in January was also mired in controversy following evidence sourced by The Edge that he had “better things to do” and “didn’t like students’ attitudes” at previous student events. So how have these opinions come to persist?

The stereotyping of students is an all too common affair and I don’t think any of us need reminding that the reputation of our antics are less than gleaming in a broader context. There is of course a great deal of truth in the fact that on any night out the event tends to be generally about your friends, rather than the DJ who will be putting out generic club tracks. Drink is inevitably a part of your evening. For some, drugs might be too. But once again painting students with this brush is hugely unhelpful.

Wiley and Example were both headline acts of their respective events so to disregard the very group they are meant to be playing to is not particularly smart. Not to mention the fact that students are a sizeable chunk of their overall demographic (what a great way to increase already dwindling sales). Perhaps they themselves are trying to play into this mythical student culture of apathy; nobody will really care if they cancel last minute. Yet students fork out a lot of money (which we don’t have a lot of in the first place) to see these ‘big names’ so it’s fair enough to be quite touchy on anything financial. However, our command of social media adds fuel to the fire, easily exacerbating the problems.

Secondly there appears to be this rather bizarre perception that the student body as a whole has rather hopeless music tastes, don’t know anything outside the top 40, and just want to hear the act’s ‘hit’ at any given event. Then there’s the other complete polar opposite that students like only edgy, alternative music. While there may be some truth in the former – especially when attempting to cater to such a large, diverse audience – students are some of the biggest consumers of music and our knowledge and eclectic mix of tastes would probably pleasantly surprise a great deal of people involved in the industry.

Committing to a multi-act event such as a Freshers’ or Graduation Ball also contains with it an implicit acceptance for acts that not everyone attending is doing so just to watch you perform; I worry for their egos, I really do. As opposed to hundreds of fans dedicated to your music, they are battling against thousands of students who probably think you’re distinctly mediocre. I suppose it’s easy to get bitter when you want to play to your core fanbase, but artists shouldn’t accept a gig and then moan about that. Maybe it’s the money keeping them interested. And perhaps it is this problem that makes it so hard for student organisations around the country to secure acts without paying outlandish prices.

I reckon a great number of acts see student performances as a ‘step backwards’ from a career that is quite often in the ascendancy stage (let’s ignore Chesney Hawkes and Stavros Flatley for a second). From a place in the limelight with regular radio plays to yet another student ball could, I suppose, be seen as a bit of a let down. It’s this disparity between  students who may well be attending the biggest event of their student life and the relative disdain that seems common place for many acts which filters back and reinforces a negative stereotype.

So there’s no doubt that big-name acts don’t seem to applaud students and their attitude, some of which is justified but is often a clear exaggeration. However professionalism has to be at the core of any performance and disregarding an entire demographic is at best naive, and at worst, poisonous.


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  1. As usual it’s the noisy minority that ruins it for everyone. They were in fine form on Example’s twitter and you can see why acts perceive us to be entitled louts (a surprising number of students really are). Why would anyone want to play to a bunch of middle class keyboard warriors; they were never going to enjoy the show and would prefer a bit of notoriety for getting blocked by a minor celebrity. I have significantly more respect for Example now. Everyone seems to be saying “It’s bad for business” like that’s a bad thing. I’d much rather someone said what they think than worry about losing money by offending people who go out of their way to tweet abuse at them.

    The other thing is that it doesn’t really matter to them. Student gigs are essentially massive pay days where the bands get payed 50-100% over their usual fee and no matter how much they slag students off, there will always be SUs willing to book them. SUs seem to book any act at any cost and then charge £50 a ticket to cover it–which is disgraceful, I know both myself and a bunch of others who couldn’t attend our own grad ball because it was stupidly expensive. Acts will always care about their actual fanbase, but there’s no reason to be loyal to a corporate event.

    Also, Example was really funny.

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