COSTLY MISTAKES: What is a costly mistake made by an artist or band that affected their career?

Timm Davison, studied Media Communication at University of Washington (2017) replies:

For a rock band, bringing it to the stage is supremely important, as much so now as ever before (there could be an entire post about how touring is really the only money-maker these days, as streaming has taken precedence over physical sales, there are more indie or self-distributed records meaning there is less up-front money or per diems given to a band while recordings are taking place - not to mention recording contracts are generally much less favorable to bands than they were in the past, and in the past, they were never really that favorable, etc).

However, it was assumed, nay, expected, that a ‘rock’ band signed to a major label would go on tour, every year, so as to promote their latest album, and also, to make some much-needed tour and merchandise money. One band that decided ‘nah, not gonna do that’ is post-punk legends XTC. Here’s a band whose career grew slowly but steadily, from their early White Music and Go 2 herky-jerky new wave albums, released in 1978, through the twin-guitar noise-pop of Drums and Wires (1979) and Black Sea (1980), and finally, their double-album masterpiece English Settlement in 1982.

At the time of English Settlement, all of XTC’s albums had come out on Virgin Records in the UK, and various ‘carrier’ labels in other territories. XTC had been around for 6+ years at that point, and had become a solid live act, performing as headliners and openers with bands such as The Police, Wire, and Blondie. Certainly, they were in the company of punk and post-punk royalty, and that kind of association only helps a band’s career chances. And with English Settlement, the band seemingly amalgamated all their previous styles of music, along with some new acoustic flourishes, into something fully of the ‘now’ of 1982: largely accessible guitar-pop music, ripe for MTV and a crowd hungry for a more adult post-punk sound.

But then…disaster. Andy Partridge decides he has stage fright. Says he can’t perform live. It upsets him. It’s frightening. It’s not what he wants to do as a musician. So, 9 dates into the English Settlement tour, a tour that started in Germany (at the time West Germany), he says he’s not touring any more. Actually walks offstage after the first song is played. XTC had been planning on heading to the US after this tour date. This, as many industry insiders said, was expected to break the band to a wider record-buying and concert-going audience. This was expected to put XTC into the same category as the Police and Talking Heads - post-punk superstars. This, of course, did not happen.

Now, let’s look at the numbers: about 30–35 dates in 1981, US and UK. So many dates in 1980 and previous that I’m not even going to try to number them all. The point being, I’m absolutely not surprised that Andy Partridge was getting burned out, and that he was tired of the album-tour-album grind. But hey, that’s how the game was played. Making good on the promise of English Settlement would have probably put XTC on the road for another 2–3 years solid, with some kind of album appearing during that time as well. Less time for breaks. Less time at home, with family. However, a lot of fame, a lot of recognition, and a lot of money.

Instead, Partridge opted to be a studio-only musician, turning his band members into studio-only musicians in the process. This, coupled with his desire to make quieter music, didn’t sit well with some of his band mates. Drummer Terry Chambers quit a couple songs into the making of their follow up album, Mummer. Bass player Colin Moulding and all-around utility guy Dave Gregory stuck around for the long haul (until 1998, when Gregory bailed). Moulding wrote songs, so he at least got some royalties from album sales, but Gregory was only a player, and figured he could at least make a better salary as a touring musician.

Now, did XTC continue to put good records…yes…some great, some good, a couple not-very-good-at-all. They often did this with increasingly poor royalty rates, and little promotion from their record company - because hey - if you’re not gonna take your product on the road to promote it, you get what you get from your label. Is mental illness and phobias such as stage fright a real thing? Of course. But, it’s totally the right of the record company to renegotiate a contract if a stipulation is ‘tour’, and the artist decides ‘no tour’. The point being, XTC is still considered a great band by people who really know good music. But, the point also being, had they just kept it going for a bit longer, they could have been considered a great band by the casual listener, the ones who maybe don’t delve deeper than the chart hits. A cautionary tale? Probably. Oh, and if you don’t know who they are, now’s a good time - please go check out XTC. Start with English Settlement.

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