The Music Industry Is Only Skin Deep

MEGAN KENNEDY: Even bands that you wouldn’t expect to be drawn in have turned to the ever expanding Skins franchise for a career boost. Now even you can be on the soundtrack to the lives of the protagonists by sending in your demos. Good work, Channel 4 ad men.

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If, like mine, your essay writing technique involves challenging your college’s bandwidth limits with copious amounts of 4oD, chances are that you will be aware of the brand new series of Skins. An awful lot has happened since its original transmission. Over five series the programme has become something of a cultural phenomenon.

Fans of the show don’t just have a show to enjoy- they have a franchise that spans both television and internet. Want to find out more about the characters you have just watched on screen? Read their ‘realistic’ social networking profiles! Want to find out whether the shirt Freddie wore as he was beaten to death by a jealous psychiatrist was the one you had seen at Topman? Check on the fashion blog! Want to find out what music was playing as the credits rolled up? Well, you’ve come to the right place…

If there’s one thing that the creators of Skins want you to be aware of, it’s their commitment to the importance of music. From track-by-track playlists of each episode to articles and interviews in NME, Skins has infiltrated the music industry in an impressive way. Even the knowing choice of Arcade Fire’s ‘Ready to Start’ to accompany the overly elaborate advert premiere was a well planned move; featuring on the critically acclaimed album ‘The Suburbs’, the song is just alternative enough for viewers to flock to Youtube to find out the name (guilty…)

Arcade Fire do not necessarily need the assistance from Skins, but the boost is not to be looked down on as many artists have already discovered. It certainly helped draw attention to The Gossip in Series One. ‘Standing in the Way of Control’ had had some airplay and success beforehand, but the association with house parties and teenage rebellion helped raise the song’s popularity to epic proportions, allowing Beth Ditto and co to bask in the limelight without having to consider releasing any more material ever.

Even bands  you wouldn’t expect to be drawn in to this world of suburban hedonism have turned to the Skins brand for a career boost. From Foals to Crystal Castles, cameos on both the show and spin-off versions (I’m trying to refrain from saying ‘webisodes’. Just failed) have seemed to help rather than hinder, whilst brilliant live bands such as Pulled Apart By Horses had opportunities to play slightly larger venues under the banner of the Skins Tour 2011. And now, in a breathtakingly calculated move by the show’s ad men, even you can soundtrack the lives of the protagonists by sending in your demos.

On one level, Skins is the perfect show for younger fans of alternative music who don’t necessarily have the opportunity to find it for themselves. After all, for the majority of the British youth a night out is unlikely to involve an illegal rave headlined by somebody too cool for you to have heard of somewhere down Brizzle way. However, the show’s style of advertising at times seems like a flimsy cover for what is ultimately a big business brand; as if just behind the chief music guru- more than likely wearing a Ramones t-shirt and claiming it’s ‘all about the sick beats’- a grey suited businessman sits at his desk, while money pours into his lap. Probably listening to Scouting for Girls.

The association with Skins generally proves to be fairly lucrative for musicians: in the current musical climate, the traditional way of distributing new material via the medium of the live touring circuit is incomparable to the instant exposure created by transmitting the latest single straight into the living rooms of thousands of wannabe Effys.

For bands who don’t want to buy into the brand, it becomes increasingly difficult to compete with this form of popularisation. The pleas for viewers to send in their own compositions must be frustrating for career musicians too. For artists who view music as a source of income rather than a pastime, an opportunistic kid with a laptop and demo version of Garageband now entering the competition for airtime must be pretty exasperating.

The effect of these is for the show to be in danger of reducing the value of music in an environment where it is already appearing more disposable by the day. The human equivalent of a Skins episode would probably be the kind of teenager who has added all of the tunes they have ever heard on to Spotify and is already bored of the playlist- they won’t be happy until they find something new to get really excited about, and then predictably disenchanted with. The promotion of this attitude, while lucrative for the producers, is ultimately highly damaging for these bands that are struggling to compete for popularity and make a living from making music.

Unlike the unruly on-screen protagonists that the audience feel they should be mimicking, the people behind the programme have motivation and aspirations beyond crashing house-parties. The Skins machine ploughs ahead through the British youth scene, encouraging both teenagers and the music industry to keep up with its cultural and stylistic musings. And when even Napalm Death are chasing its tracks, it’s apparent that the brand is unlikely to falter any time soon