And that's just accounting for talent shows on this side of the pond. It will be interesting to see if Sting decides to blacklist his songs from the cleared music selections for such programs, now that he's spoken so vehemently against them, saying specifically of X Factor: "It is a soap opera which has nothing to do with music. It has put music back decades. Television is very cynical."
I understand where Sting is coming from--some of the aforementioned Police/Sting covers were appalling, to use his choice of words, and quite possibly could have put Police music back decades. But really, I am kind of tired of musicians soapboxing about how shows like X Factor and Idol are "ruining" the music industry. Newsflash: The music industry is already ruined. Artists and music biz staffers alike are getting dropped in droves daily from record labels. Superstars who used to effortlessly sell millions of units right out of the box are now struggling to even go gold. Institutions like Tower Records and the Virgin Megastore are shuttering their doors. Radio station playlists now consist of maybe seven high-rotation songs, leaving placements in car commercials and CW Network shows as the only real outlets for new music to be widely heard. And MTV pretty much hasn't played music videos on a regular basis since Martha Quinn was still a VJ. So Sting and his ilk have a lot more to worry about than just X Factor. That show isn't messing up anything that isn't already a hot industry mess.
Sting specifically addressed Britain's music industry troubles in his Evening Standard interview, admitting himself that traditional venues for talent discovery are going away. "The real shop floor for musical talent is pubs and clubs. That is where the original work is. But they are being closed down on a daily basis. It is impossible to put an act on in a pub. It has become too expensive through excessive regulations," he said, although he didn't seem to think reality TV is the solution to this dilemma. "The music industry has been hugely important to England, bringing in millions. If anyone thinks The X Factor is going to do that, they are wrong."
Then again, The X Factor did bring Leona Lewis to the limelight, and someone like Scotland's Susan Boyle would probably still be a socially awkward shut-in without Britain's Got Talent. Sure, those contestants may be the big exceptions to the rule--thousands of singers, in all countries, audition for these shows and go nowhere in their careers. But for some lucky performers, these talent shows were their only opportunity to get ahead in a shrinking, increasingly competitive industry.
Furthermore, I argue that reality programs like X Factor are actually helping music in another way: Aside from video games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, shows like Idol and X Factor are perhaps introducing older music to young audiences more than any other pop-culture phenomenon. Whether it's Allison Iraheta belting out Janis Joplin, ZZ Top jamming with David Cook, or Idol hosting a Motown or Rat Pack or Bee Gees Night, these shows do introduce kids to music from before their time. (It's no wonder that veterans like Kiss, Cyndi Lauper, George Michael, and even Prince have scrambled to get a performance slot on an Idol finale. Sting might have even had a shot to perform on X Factor or AmIdol--after all, he does have a new solo album, If On A Winter's Night, to promote--but he's probably blown that opportunity now.) Additionally, lesser-known, newer artists like Ray Lamontagne, KT Tunstall, Mutemath, Swell Season, Gary Jules, and the late Jeff Buckley have had their profiles--and iTunes sales--boosted by popular Idol covers.
- Simon Cowell