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Exploitation in the Music Industry – A Candid Interview With Mark Boardman

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Article by: Naomi Rose and Altersaside

Mark Boardman, UK-based showbiz journalist and founder of the website MarkMeets, got his start in the entertainment industry early. He began meeting celebrities at a young age, showing up to football academies and theaters to get autographs and later began writing gig and theater reviews for newspapers before moving on to radio for film reviews.

He decided to start markmeets.com to give the public access to celebrity information they may have had trouble finding on their own, including celebrity sightings and film premiere dates. He was invited to album parties, listening parties, and other show business events and nowadays covers red carpets, writes press releases, and works with Netflix and Apple. This week, Boardman chatted with No Stunts Magazine to discuss the issues artists are facing in the music industry, what changes need to be made, and how to achieve those changes.

The music industry is notoriously competitive, and competition breeds individuals that are eager to succeed and make it to the top. Where there is drive and dedication from one individual, there is usually the opportunity to profit, coerce, and control for another individual. When asked what needs to change in the industry, Boardman answered “There needs to be more protection for artists. The moment you sign the contract, you give away your rights and the ability to go to court because you can’t pay for it.” Elaborating on this statement, Boardman explained that an artist typically can’t access the money they make because it is run through the people controlling them. An agent makes themselves the director and from that point forward maintains control of the money and as Boardman said, “They aren’t going to give you money to hire a lawyer to sue them.” 

Not only that, but Boardman said with more money and fame comes more pressure, and often investment advice for the artist from the very people controlling their money. No Stunts Magazine then brought up Harry Styles’ recent investment in Co-op Live, a new arena in Manchester that is currently being constructed by Oak View Group which was founded in part by Irving Azoff of Full Stop Management, who represent Styles. To this information, Boardman responded with an unsurprised, “How convenient.” 

Harry Styles was also the first performer at the grand opening of the UBS arena in NY, co-owned by Irving. Styles team added the show at the very end of his LOT 2021 US tour, for Thanksgiving weekend. 

Recently, various artists have spoken  out about the abuse they have faced at the hands of the powers that be in the industry, notably Katie Waissel and Rebecca Ferguson (read more on Rebecca’s story here). Both found fame on the seventh series of The X Factor and have been passionate leaders lobbying for industry reform and laws to protect artists. Katie Waissel has hosted candid Twitter Spaces, a live audio broadcast on Twitter where anyone can listen and ask questions, discussing her experiences and what changes she’s trying to make with fans, a large portion of those fans also being from the One Direction fanbase. This platform serves to educate people on the secret abuses in the industry, as well as allowed fans to become involved, share information and ideas, and have questions answered.

When asked about the exposure to the One Direction fanbase the spaces have brought and how they are benefitting the cause, Boardman said, “I had never been on a Space before. I was curious to learn why the One Direction fanbase was there. I was pleased to see a lot of journalists there in the beginning… I think it’s a safe place to offer their stories, carefully, with each other and offer ideas on how to get more done.” The spaces have been a wealth of knowledge for all involved, and have inspired a lot of fans to become involved in whatever way they can to help artists being stripped of their basic human rights. Boardman went on to say, “The more we can organize the fanbase per skill the more will change,” and organize they have.

Many fans effectively utilize their resources, ranging from writing to spreading information to their followers (with some accounts exceeding followings of 10- or even 20 thousand people), to spread information gathered in the Spaces about the hardships of the industry. To put it simply, fans are mobilizing in droves in an attempt to garner real, tangible change. Waissel certainly has a captive and passionate audience, and Boardman fondly described her as articulate, honest, and caring.

So why isn’t the general public hearing more about this? It’s certainly not for lack of trying. On the third of October, Boardman sent out a tweet stating that he, along with five colleagues, had sent out over 1,000 emails to various media outlets asking them to cover exploitation in the music industry, but not a single one responded.

Boardman gave insight into why this might be when asked what he feels the responsibility of journalists are and how they should be holding the industry accountable. “The worst thing you can do is lose the relationship with the PR or agent. It’s a very small network, [and] the fear is a factor. If journalists are just trying to keep their jobs, they’re not out for a cause.” No Stunts Magazine is a nonprofit and was created to fight against the practice of burying important stories. Our main goal is always to support artists and shine a light on the harsh truths of the industry, which is the reason this interview is able to be published.

According to Boardman, the biggest problem in the industry at this current moment is lack of information for new artists being brought into the scene. “For younger people going in they don’t know how it works or what they are getting into.” So, these artists just entering the industry sign a contract, not fully understanding what they are agreeing to, and are then held in said contracts whether they want to be or not. Many record labels often provide lawyers to the new artists and discourage the use of outside (expensive) lawyers. Artist cannot afford an outside lawyer and use the “free” one provided to them by the record label, who obviously has an agenda as the lawyer is paid by the record label or is on retainer.  The artists likely don’t get sound advice that puts the artist’s interest first, often putting the record label’s interest first. 

Boardman’s sentiment holds the belief that if artists were armed with knowledge of what all their contracts entail, and the power over them it gives to others, the problem could be solved before it ever begins. “In music, it’s great, you can sing but you need to find the right people who can support and guide you. The people who come to you are not always acting in your best interest … You have to know your value and your worth in the music industry. There’s no one to ask for HR in the music industry.”

In relation to this topic, “Elvis” (2022, dir. Baz Luhrmann) the new movie starring Austin Butler that shows the struggles Elvis Presley faced with his controlling management, was brought up. Boardman was asked if he saw the movie and he responded, “I saw it four times. I was sent a link to review the film and went to a premiere event. It was the manager milking Elvis. The story is representative of major names in the music industry even to this day.” One major artist that comes to mind when talking about controlling management is Harry Styles. 

Fans of Styles have long speculated that he is victim to an overbearing and exploitative team ever since his days in One Direction. Boardman has met all of the members of One Direction, Styles included. He attended their perfume launch, and was personally asked to walk the band down the red carpet for their first movie premier, “The PR person knew I would be able to get them papped for TV, so they asked me to take the boys down the carpet.” 

When presented with the parallels between the movie “Elvis” and what fans have noticed of Harry’s career, Boardman said “Harry will have to make many commitments from his contracts. Just like One Direction had with Simon Cowell to make a minimum of four albums, Harry has had to promise a lot of commitments per contract. If fans keep on going to shows or movies then the management teams will add more gigs.” This isn’t to say fans shouldn’t go to a concert or buy a ticket for a movie, but it does shed some light on the never ending cycle of control in the industry. Elvis Presley ended up making 50+ movies that he absolutely loathed making but was bound by his contract and an overbearing, greedy manager to keep doing them. This could be a foreshadowing of what we might end up seeing with Styles. The more an artist achieves, the more they will be expected to achieve in the future. 

So how does management keep artists in line? Apart from controlling their image, and finances, management teams will also control their schedules and get to decide when, where, and what an artist does. For example, when Styles’ residency tour that he is currently performing was announced, he was scheduled to perform in Chicago from October 6th to October 14th. Yet, when the London premier for My Policeman, a story of a gay and closeted police officer in which Styles plays the lead role, was announced for October 15th, fans quickly saw a new date added to the Chicago residency for the very same day.

It was a move that was disappointing but not surprising to a lot of fans, and speculation began to circulate that it was very much an intentional move to keep Styles from attending the premier of this particular film. The stark contrast between the priority My Policeman is being given versus Don’t Worry Darling, another film Harry recently starred in, was evident. Styles was very present for multiple DWD press releases. He flew all the way to Italy just to make a quick appearance, only to fly all the way back to the USA for his residency shows. 

Boardman took to Twitter to discuss the scheduling conflict and raised questions about why it happened.

Boardman clarified the situation, “My Policeman premier ticket prices dropped by 40% when it was confirmed Styles wasn’t coming. The team tried 3 times to reschedule and Styles had a day off. They had him booked for his day off and announced the film premiere. Then Harry got booked for another show.” He further explained, “I get calls two to three times a week for gigs to get people to go out. Artists are expected to record, film, perform, and travel during the day then do these gigs at night for paps and promotion. The gigs are booked for after shows including: meet and greets, dj sets, showing up at clubs for drinks, and more. Management charges for the stars to be there. Harry will be turning down hundreds of requests a day. Jeff [Azoff] decides what he does and the PR decides who he speaks to.” Many super fans are already aware of this fact, and compare it to a succinct lyric from Just Like You written by Louis Tomlinson, another member of One Direction, “25 and it’s all planned, night out and it’s ten grand, headlines that I can’t stand.”

Another example of this control is Adam Lambert, a popular artist who found fame after appearing on season eight of American Idol. Lambert is signed to different management teams in every country. One person in the UK decides who can talk to him, when, and what the narrative will be. They attempt to protect the artist, but their loyalties ultimately lie with the management teams and record labels who employ them. Draw your own conclusions. 

Boardman also warns, “You will see deletions, retractions from magazines in the coming years about major stars and their management.” Management teams have the power to threaten journalists with withholding access to their clients (musicians, actors, etc.) unless the journalist and magazine prints what they want said to the general public. It’s not uncommon for a less than favorable review to go missing, impossible to find, and it has led to fans of many artists to take screenshots of every article for safe keeping on the chance that it could be gone any day.

Speaking on the abusive treatment of One Direction, Boardman commented on a few things he was aware of. When it came to Niall Horan, he had a bad knee and was given painkillers so he was able to still perform, and was often photographed and videoed in obvious pain on stage. (x) Styles was seen on more than one occasion struggling to breathe or finish solos, and frequently didn’t have access to an inhaler right away. In the cases he did, he would quickly use the medication and continue on with the performance. Many fans debate the cause of this; whether it was asthma or an illness has never been confirmed by the singer himself. Regardless of the cause, the videos taken in these times show that he was clearly having breathing issues and didn’t have the option to rest and recover. (x,x

In a candid interview with The Diary Of A CEO, Liam Payne opened up about his struggles with alcoholism stemming from his time spent locked in hotel rooms by management and security with access to mini bars and not much else to do. In the interview Payne stated, “… although we could do anything we wanted, it seemed from the outside, that we were always locked in a room at night. And then it would be car, hotel room, stage, sing, locked.” Zayn Malik, for his part, was marketed to be the “bad boy” of One Direction, more often than not being called the mysterious one when he was really just soft spoken and dealing with anxiety in the face of fame.

One occasion documented in their movie, One Direction: This Is Us, shows Mailk awoken after only ten minutes of sleep, while in the middle of a demanding tour schedule, and asked to go record vocals. Boardman stated that Malik was the one who needed someone around him and was the most vulnerable of the group. Louis Tomlinson has also briefly spoken out and disclosed that he had sleep paralysis due to stress while touring with One Direction, stating “That’s what happens when you get overworked in a boyband…” and if you take a closer look at his Just Like You official lyric video, the articles he chose to showcase in the background are very telling, including an article on people in the entertainment industry being controlled by their management teams. 

While many artists are often unable to speak out or give the full story on the treatment they face. It is written into many of their contracts that they cannot speak negatively of their management team, record labels, or anyone else they deem fit. Some contracts even require that you speak positively about them at any possible chance. If they try, the articles are often blocked from publication or watered down as explained in the Rebecca Ferguson article linked above. Many fans believe that artists are silently fighting back in whatever way they can. On Thursday, October 6, 2022, Styles canceled the first show of his Chicago residency and his ever-clued-in fans (as Styles himself once described them) realized there may be something bigger going on. After looking deeper into it, fans realized multiple large artists canceled shows the same day.

The list of talents who didn’t appear on stage included the likes of Demi Lovato, Ringo Starr, Paramore, Stevie Nicks, and Justin Beiber, to name a few. Some fans even started keeping track of who was canceling and what reason was given for the cancellation. They then noticed the reasons given were all similar, mostly citing lung infections, COVID-19, or a lost voice, and questioned what the likelihood was of all these performers falling ill on the same day, with very similar symptoms. From there, rumors began among fans that it was some type of artist strike, most specifically a “sickout”, which is a form of strike used by workers who may be prohibited by law or contract to strike. Some pointed out that the illnesses listed are all conditions that would make it difficult for an individual to speak, and wondered if there was a deeper message. 

Touching on these cancellations and theories, Boardman said “For this to have happened is incredibly unusual, no one knows the answer. Not many people are willing to ask the question within the inner circle so no one is talking about it. Nearly every artist is linked to the same label. [We] might need to evaluate days off and how long they have been with that label. I don’t think we’ll ever know. We could ask every one of them and they will not speak.” With few answers, and a small chance of receiving them, many people are just finding it hard to believe that the situation wasn’t planned.

Boardman also commented on how the cancellations were handled, with little to no warning for fans who planned to attend the shows and said “Agencies like Ticketmaster will notify fans too late for show cancellations, and all the fans are there already. They cancel so late and it’s unfair to fans.” By the time they are notified, many fans have already paid for hotels, flights, rental cars, taken off work, and have arrived in the city the show is meant to take place in. Some fans even camp outside a venue for days before the show, only to be told an hour before doors are scheduled to open, by email, that the concert isn’t happening. Boardman mentioned again that there needs to be better legal practices for both the artist and the fans benefit, “When management and ticket agencies start respecting fans, that’s when fans can make a change. Until then the only thing we can use is legislation.”

All hope isn’t lost, though, and he did list a few ways concerned fans can help. He advises them to understand that what they are told, or see in an interview, should never be taken at face value. “Appreciate that watching an interview doesn’t mean it’s an honest take.” He also asked fans to respect the artist’s privacy and time constraints, but to use their voice. Social media has given people the ability to spread information at a speed like never before, and he encourages fans to tweet, email, and educate others on what is happening to those in the industry and show solidarity. Public pressure brings change. 

You can find Boardman on his Twitter where he often speaks out about the industry, or read his consistently-updating article Why TV Reality Shows Need to Change for Contestant Welfare on his website.

You can also join Katie Waissel on a Twitter Space via her profile, where she announces and hosts Spaces. 















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