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How to make a boy (or girl) band...........................


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The golden rules of Pop Babylon ... A cynical insider's guide to manufacturing a boy band


By Anonymous

Last updated at 10:24 PM on 14th June 2008



For anyone thinking of putting together a boy band or a girl group, there are three golden rules.

First and foremost, being able to sing is not essential. But looking good while appearing to sing is.

As long as you have one or two good voices that can carry the rest of the group, you are halfway there.

The ones with little or no talent - Victoria Beckham in the Spice Girls, Jason Orange in Take That or nearly all of Boyzone - are known as 'passengers'.



Enlarge article-1026464-019CA4D300000578-181_468x306.jpg Famous five: Take That - Jason, Mark, Howard, Robbie and Gary - in 1992, complete with advice for pop managers from our secret insider

Golden Rule Number Two is: Make sure your band has five members. The accountants prefer four as they are cheaper to shove in one taxi. But don't listen: five is the magic number.

This way you're covered when one of the band members leaves. It means you can carry on regardless, like Westlife after their bust-up with Brian McFadden.

Take That are actually doing better than ever now they don't have to carry the increasingly heavy weight that was Robbie Williams.

Sadly, Boyz II Men, a quartet, didn't look the same after one of them left. They carried on as a three-piece but never quite filled the stage in the same way.

And finally, Golden Rule Number Three: Hire working-class kids who will do what you say.

As my business partner Paul says: 'What you want are working-class boys from council estates who want to be famous and who are prepared to put in the work.

'You don't want stage-school kids. They're too clever and not at all sexy.

'You don't want rich kids. You don't want spoilt kids. You don't want middle-class kids who answer back.'

Tony Mortimer, the songwriter and singer with East 17, couldn't even afford the bus fare from Walthamstow to his manager Tom Watkins' house in West London. But he was so desperate to become a pop star that he walked there - about 12 miles - clutching his demo tape.

Before becoming a manager, I wanted to be a pop star. For years, I played bass in a band until I realised I wasn't talented enough to make it.

I spent my late 20s managing my friends, and then, eventually, in my 30s I struck lucky, presiding over the rise of two successful groups. They made me a wealthy man.

And despite all the predictions of the demise of the music industry, there is still money to be made: you just have to know how to go about it. So here is my step-by-step guide to manufacturing a boy band.



article-1026464-019CD7A500000578-79_233x722.jpg Pop product: Geri Halliwell




Paul and I recently held auditions for a boy band in a church hall in West London. We also brought along Esther, a choreographer who has worked on The X Factor and Pop Idol, to help us pick out those who could dance.

The last thing we wanted was another Gary Barlow - a man with the voice of an angel, the talent of George Michael and the moves of my gran.

Paul had leafleted the local council estates and we had 75 hopefuls waiting for their moment.

For an hour-and-a-half we were treated to an appalling lack of singing talent. Not one of them could hold a tune.

Then we saw a boy called Nick who smiled and said: 'Good morning.' He was good-looking and had charm. He showed us some moves. Things were looking very hopeful indeed.

When he sang it was a different story. He had a voice that only a mother could love. He was a definite passenger.

We had the beginnings of our band. It took us the rest of the day to weed out the dross, the tone deaf and those who wanted to be famous for being ' themselves'.

Finally we got two other handsome passengers and a couple of lads with good voices. That was our five.






Once you've chosen your band members, you ignore any ideas they might have of their own musical direction and you find them some music to sing. The Christmas No1 is the Holy Grail, but these days Simon Cowell is the Grinch who ruins Christmas.

The winner of The X Factor is more or less guaranteed the top slot. It was Shayne Ward in 2005, Leona Lewis in 2006 and Leon Jackson last year.

Paul assures me the whole thing is fixed. 'They don't fix the vote,' he says. 'But Cowell makes sure the one he wants to win gets the best clothes, the best backing singers and the best songs.

'Anyone who has the full gospel choir, plus the flame throwers and the falling-petals finale is the chosen one.'

But, even if Cowell has got the No 1 slot sewn up, the festive season is still the best time of year to put out a debut single because there is so much media hype before Christmas.

Music publishers start touting Christmas songs around soon after the previous year's have bitten the dust.

Come March most of the best songs by the best writers (such as Cathy Dennis, who wrote Can't Get You Out of My Head for Kylie, and Savan Kotecha, who wrote for Westlife and Gareth Gates) have been snapped up.

Anyway, you won't get A-list songs for a new, unsigned band. Who'll give you their highest earners when they could get Madonna to sing them?

She's rumoured to ask for a writing credit and 50 per cent of the publishing money. She changes an 'a' to 'the' in the lyrics and takes half for her creative input. Yet still songwriters queue up to work for her.

Even so, if you're astute, you'll find a few good tunes.



article-1026464-019CD79C00000578-457_233x736.jpg Pop product: Leona Lewis




After the songs have been found, the focus shifts to rehearsals. Many bands use Pineapple Dance Studios on Langley Street in Covent Garden, London.

Even if it's just a question of jumping up and down to the beat and sliding three steps to the right, then three to the left, the band members have to be able to move at least a little.

Yet it's amazing how many of them struggle to manage even that. That's why they need to be drilled relentlessly.

Pineapple's sprung floors and large mirrored walls have seen more exhausted pop stars than the lavatories at China White.

Anyone who is anyone has had their routines honed here: Westlife, Boyzone, Kylie. Even Gary Barlow.

'He's worked his a*** off,' said Esther, who worked with Take That the first time they became famous. 'I think he's looking quite good these days.'

Of course, the Take That boys are all a bit older now. As soon as they come off stage, they jump into ice baths to stop the build-up of lactic acid.

There's far too much money involved these days to risk injuries.





As soon as the band members have perfected their routines, they are booked into a recording studio to get a demo tape and a backing track together.

The band have to pay for their own recording costs, recoupable against any future royalty payments.

But, in a quirk peculiar to the record industry, it is the record company and not the artist that owns the masters. It's like the bank still owning the house after the mortgage is paid.

The members of a boy band are typically paid around £50 a week - so they have enough to get to and from work, buy a sandwich for lunch, but not enough to get drunk.

The tradition is that you keep your band just above the breadline, so they will behave like good worker bees and turn up to sing and dance.

Shower them with cash and they'll be down China White and knocking on the door of Boujis before you can say 'one-hit wonder'.

In fact it goes back even further than that. It all stems from the days when the music business was an extension of the old variety shows.

The idea was to find as many malleable young kids as you could, or some of those newfangled 'teenagers', change their names to Billy Fury, Marty Wilde, Lance Fortune or Johnny Gentle and exploit the hell out of them.

article-1026464-019CD7A200000578-406_233x711.jpg Pop product: Ronan Keating


Managers such as Larry Parnes, 'Parnes, shillings and pence' as he was known, would pay them a few bob a week and watch the money come rolling in as they shelled out on another Rolls-Royce.

Of course, not everyone in the band will contribute to the demo tape. In fact, 'the passengers' are usually on dead mikes.

Half of Boyzone are supposedly off playing golf when they record their albums; someone else does backing vocals. But I think that's a good deal.

There are plenty of big names who are excellent lip-synchers; just ask Madonna, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and 50 Cent.

A music executive I know recalls going to the Spice Girls gig in Istanbul. He had a chat with one of the sound engineers who showed him the six mike feeds for the show: one each for the girls and one for 'live studio' atmosphere - to make the recorded songs sound live - that was to be played over the bits when the girls weren't really singing.

'They'd book-end each song with a bit of live chat, cut to the recording with live studio atmosphere, then cut back to the girls at the end. It's an old TV studio trick used the world over,' explained the engineer.





School tours are a vital part of launching a boy band. Some head teachers, particularly those at private schools, are a bit sniffy about it, but most bill it as a treat for the pupils.

A schools tour usually means between three and five gigs a day for a week. Each will last for ten to 15 minutes and the lads might be asked to take some questions after the show to tick the 'educational' box.

What you're after is email addresses so you can get the girls while they're young and bombard them with information about the band.

Tony, a tour manager I use, has another little trick up his sleeve.

'I usually get the lads to put a sock down the front of their pants before they perform,' he said.

Tony is a fund of music industry stories. 'Freddie Mercury's party was the best I've ever been to,' added Tony. 'They had these shaven-headed dwarves handing round the cocaine on little silver platters like vol-au-vents.

'There was piles of the stuff, and they handed you this silver straw to help you snort it.

'By the end, Freddie was telling people to do it off the top of the dwarves' shiny heads.'





One way of attracting the attention of record labels is to 'showcase', which is where A&R representatives from all the big companies come to see the band run through a couple of numbers.

I favour Nomis Studios, where the Spice Girls showcased. It is a huge warehouse in West London.

Hopefully your band is up to scratch by this time and can perform two or three numbers without any cockups.

The A&R men rarely give anything away on the day. Normally they make a beeline for the exit at the end. But if you're lucky, the next day, you'll get a call from one of them.



article-1026464-019CD79F00000578-894_233x787.jpg Pop product: Victoria Beckham




Once you have snagged a label's interest, the next step is the deal.

Record companies are now especially keen on so-called 360-degree deals, which Robbie Williams famously signed with EMI for £80million.

With the 360 deal, the record company isn't just buying the artist's music and performing rights, it's buying them as a brand.

Beyoncé is a good example: she's a singer, an actress, a fashion label, a perfume; she endorses Pepsi, L'Oréal, Armani, American Express, Ford, McDonald's, and Walt Disney theme parks dressed as Snow White.

There are many who think the days are numbered for girls such as Beth Ditto, the 15st singer of The Gossip.

What the labels really want is a pouting pop star who is pure product and can endorse a range of duvets and knickers, like Kylie.

Even if you are signed, that doesn't guarantee success. Nine out of ten acts never make any money.

Thanks to the internet, the bottom has fallen out of the CD market and most teenagers now download their music free from illegal websites.

What's more, of the revenue that is generated by CD sales, only a small percentage goes to the artist.

Take the price of a CD album, let's say, £10. The record company immediately takes 15 per cent for 'packaging'. Packaging will really cost a maximum of five per cent, so the label pockets ten per cent straight off.

The remainder of the tenner is divided between the label, the publisher, the distributor, the retailer, and finally the sucker who sang it.

The sucker then has to give 20 per cent of that to his manager, and if there is more than one sucker, then they have to divide the pay between themselves.

Out of that £10, £1.50 is packaging, then the retailer takes about 30 per cent, the distributor has around nine per cent, the publisher has six per cent, the label bags 30 per cent, and the artist gets about ten per cent.

In a five-member boy band's case, they would make £1 per CD minus their manager's 20 per cent, which leaves 80p. Divide that by five, and each one will pocket 16p per CD sale.

Even if they sold 10,000 albums, each band member would make only £1,600.

Of course, you can't feel too sorry for rock stars. John Taylor from Duran Duran was doing an audit of his accounts when he came across invoices for a lock-up garage he couldn't remember.

When he went there he found two DeLorean cars he had forgotten about, each with eight miles on the clock.





Once a record label has signed your band, it takes over, providing marketing and promotional expertise and stylists.

Half the problem with trying to break a new band these days is that there is nowhere to promote them.

Top Of The Pops is dead and Saturday-morning childrens' television is no more; the days of rock bands staying up all night taking drugs only to be interviewed by Phillip Schofield are over.

Those television spots were so important. They ranked up there with getting your band on the front cover of Smash Hits.

Somehow a spread in Heat just doesn't quite cut it.

This explains the undignified scrum to get your act on shows such as Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway and Strictly Come Dancing, or in a guest slot coaching contestants on The X Factor.

When your record is about to hit the stores, you need to generate a bit of media coverage.

'Get one of the band members to sleep with someone,' advises Danny from a successful plugging company. 'Or at least pretend to. You can do a whole Geri Halliwell-Chris Evans thing. That got her some badly needed Press.'

Any old hype will do. Boyzone, for example, once had a bit of a rough landing in New Zealand and someone in their camp leaked a story about a 'near-death plane crash' just to get them in the papers.

Getting photographed with an evictee from the Big Brother house is another popular strategy, although they usually want quite a lot of money.

Use the email addresses you've collected from schools to tell fans when the band are going to be turning up to a record signing. That way, your boys will be mobbed by a gaggle of screaming schoolgirls.

It's an extraordinary feeling when you watch the tide turn, the moment when a band reaches critical mass, when their faces are frequently in the papers and their record is being played on the radio and, eventually, they get into the charts.





With a bit of luck you will have a few hits, but these days you make the most money from tours and merchandise.

It's not unusual for fans to pay £75 for a concert ticket, £45 for a T-shirt and £20 for the live CD.

But make hay while the sun shines because eventually the band will start drinking and taking drugs and turning up late for gigs.

Then they will fight, fall out, get fat. And finally break up.

Of course, all is not lost. Within a few years, there will be a 'rapprochement'. And then the reunion tour. Followed by the comeback album...

Names have been changed.

Pop Babylon by Imogen Edwards-Jones is published by Bantam Press on June 30 at £12.99. To order your copy with free p&p call The Review Bookstore on

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