In an appearance at the House of Commons before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Dec. 12, Nile Rodgers – best known as a member of Chic as well as producer for a plethora of popular artists – criticized the state of the music industry and declared that even David Bowie, his former collaborator on the latter’s Let’s Dance album, would have a problem making it in music in 2023.
Also sharing the "stage" with Rodgers: Professor David Hesmondhalgh, Professor of Media, Music and Culture, University of Leeds; Merck Mercuriadis, music industry executive, artist manager, and entrepreneur; and Dr Hyojung Sun, Lecturer in the Business of Creative and Cultural Industries, University of York.
“I called David Bowie ‘the Picasso of rock ‘n’ roll,’ just to piss him off,” Rodgers told the committee with a laugh. “When I said it, he absolutely hated it. But I thought he was an absolute genius. Do you know, if someone like David Bowie came along today, and it took him all those albums to finally make Let’s Dance with me...”
Rodgers trailed off as an adjoining thought suddenly occurred to him.
“I don’t know if anybody else in this room knows that David Bowie paid for that album himself,” Rodgers revealed. “He was dropped after he did Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). He had no record deal. They gave him all that time to try and make a [U.S.] hit, he never made one. He called me up, we made one. But those days of music lovers and supporters... The fact that they took on this financial responsibility and they would carry the artist that they believed in, that at some point in time might finally break... Those days, honestly, are truly over.”
“I’m 71 years old, I’ve been doing this for 50 years of my life," said Rodgers, who is also the chairman of the Songwriters Hall of Fame. “In 50 years, you would have thought with the advent of all the new technologies, people like me would have a much better life, things would be easier, we’d all profit together, and that’s not the case. There’s something dreadfully wrong with that.”
Rodgers leveled criticism at the business of music streaming, noting that while the rise of streaming services has been a boon for music discovery, they have "changed things, and not for the better" when it comes to payment for artists. “Whenever people say streaming they think that is the one thing that we’re talking about, [but] streaming is just the process by which the music is moved from one place to another. The business surrounding streaming is what is really is important."
He also discussed the trickiness of navigating record contracts, memorably noting that music is the one industry where, "even after you pay off the mortgage, they still own the house."
Rodgers' full appearance before the committee is currently unavailable for Q to embed within the piece, but it can be watched by clicking right here.