Feature Article

Style and the Music Industry

By: Kate Ashton-Butler

Nostalgia would have you believe the charming idiom: "it's what's on the inside that counts". Whether you heard this delightful saying from the porcelain knee of your now divorced mother, or the unwaxed lips of a woollen-clad ethics teacher, the harsh reality is unambiguous: in the music industry, looks are everything.

Admittedly, in 21st century pop, musical talent took a minor role from day one. Take the abomination that is Britney Spears: a glorified porn star who, thanks to a digital voice mixer and a hand crafted push up, has been masqueraded as a "singing sensation" while simultaneously transacting as a terrific role model for all girls in their teens… Okay, so thankfully the world of rock and roll hasn't been degraded to this extent (…yet) but facts are facts; style and appearance play a huge factor in the success of the underground music scene. And while musical ability is important, at the end of the day it's all about the look!

Is there anything more disappointing than attending one of Manchester's premier alternative venues only to find the stage overrun with middle aged men, painfully unaware of how obese they are? While the majority of the unsigned scene in Manchester might be acne-inflicted teens droning out four-chord Oasis covers, the real issue lies largely with the 'older model': the fatties, the baldies, the hunched; many bands appear oblivious to the sheer importance of exterior in today's competitive business. A guide for the attractively challenged is long overdue, along with a swift extermination of anything with Nike written on it anywhere.

The phrase; 'Fashions fade but style is eternal' has never been more imperative than in the music business and a common misconception is that 'traditional' good looks are necessary in attaining that sweet record deal. Fortunately one only needs to consider the evidence from as far back as the 60's to realise that the 'perfect' wardrobe is hardly compulsory. Even TV's sexy Lauren Laverne admits to experimentation with charity shop buys. For the few women in rock, clothes are rarely a problem, as long as they reflect excitement, attitude and an element of sex. (We don't want the audience to get bored now do we?) Girls in music tend to 'project' effortlessly, but for the lads, attire is becoming an increasing issue. Possibly the most attractive male groups are those self-branded as 'Topman'; Hair Straighteners, skinny jeans and tight fitted T-shirts, while sounding camp in black and white, are surprisingly all appealing, namely to the opposite sex. (Check out Unsigned group Thornton Reed for styling tips – link below) Branching out from 'Topman' is the rough and rugged-another crowd pleaser: Checked shirts, and just the right amount of facial hair can suit almost any musical genre from acoustic and folk to heavy metal. Manchester's Virgin Marys and Trojan Horse stand as the evidence here.

However, looking good on stage isn't just about obeying conventional dressing "laws"; this season alternative music is infested with originality, eccentricity and above all, COLOUR! You don't have to be a genius to work out that the traditional darkness of rock and roll is being gradually replaced with cheerful vibrancy and fluorescent tones where clothes are concerned, coinciding with the joyful arrival of both the credit crunch and swine flu!

Okay, so, we'd all love to believe "it's all about the music" but let's face it, it just isn't. At the end of the day the music industry is nothing but competitive. And when choosing their next signed act, if a record company is handed two equally matched bands, the harsh truth is: the pretty boys are going to get it. Yes, it's unfair, yes, it's unethical, but sadly, it's unavoidable and while there are exceptions that prove the rule (yes, surprisingly I am thinking of Elbow) generally products without attractive packaging never sell.

Not got the looks? Go quirky: Fedoras, thick glasses and 'fros can all easily be pulled off with confidence.


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