The start of a conversation…

After over a decade in the music industry, I feel like now might be a good time to share a few honest thoughts about my experience:

Every day, I wake up grateful for the life I have made through music, particularly at the moment when so many people in the industry are suffering in the immensely disruptive wake of Covid-19. Every day, I set out to think about how I can keep pushing the limits of my role as an artist. Still after all these years, I have an innate desire to delve into the depths of the internet to find new artists pushing boundaries in music. So many musicians will recognise this urge, this drive because this is what we do. Yet, ‘the industry,’ and its current state, saddens me.

I sit and wonder when the industry stopped reflecting the impulses that drive us as musicians. I sit and wonder when factors such as industry relationships, internal politics, and magazine covers started being rewarded before the music itself. I sit and wonder about the ways in which artists in other fields — fine art, dance, film — are identified and praised for their notable bodies of work, not because their notable bodies or working relationships.

In the least philosophical way possible, the idea of awarding someone is interesting. When a boxer knocks out their opponent or when a scientist discovers a break-through, it’s fairly black or white on whether they are awarded for their achievement. When looking at ‘art’ those waters muddy.

In most artistic fields, awards seem to come off the back of great critical acclaim, but in today’s music industry such ‘acclaim’ can have varied sources. People are being awarded — in the form of both nominations and category wins — for reasons that are hard to decipher. If both the most globally popular artists and most critically revered artists are not being recognised, how do we, as artists, go on? Would a runner start a race if they knew crossing the finish line first wouldn’t necessarily win them a gold medal?

When peers and friends get nominated for a major award, I am so, so happy to see them rewarded for their hard work and especially for their brilliant writing. From my perspective, there is nothing greater than listening to a song or an album that has saved you, inspired you, evoked deep emotion in some new sort of way… and then see it get the attention and award it deserves. At the same time, there is always a crushing, horrible feeling for my peers and friends who don’t get acknowledged, by the very same system, for their work year-after-year despite making music I and many others believe is ground-breaking.

When this crushing feeling returns each year, I turn to my loyal fans. Through the love and relentless support of these fans, along with an enormous amount of luck, I have amassed what I see to be a notable body of work in this industry — in the form of many millions of album sales, many billions of streams, and three platinum albums and hopefully many more. But — while this gives me so much to be positive about and, so importantly to me, a platform to make change in this world — it still, apparently, does not qualify me, or my peers with the same reception, for formal recognition from my industry.

So, my question to you, the music industry, is — and I ask this humbly to open a discussion — what constitutes the worthiness of an award? This is not rhetorical; I would love to know an answer. I would love to know if what I have done throughout my career, and what so many other artists have done throughout theirs, in receiving a certain level of critical reception, does not qualify for some sort of formal recognition, then what does?

Another big question here is not what, but who is it that decides this worthiness? There appears to be a greater lack of transparency in our industry’s process of award nominations and voting — maybe those who are privy to the process, are able to take advantage of it? Before I go on, I just want to add one thing that is incredibly important for anyone reading this to understand: I am writing this on behalf of artists and I am directing it at those with a control of the system. I am not, for one second, pointing a finger at any artists who have been nominated or won awards. I, and so many others, just want some transparency.

It appears that artists of every level are finding it so hard to navigate the politics of the industry, even posing these questions will raise eyebrows. How often is someone’s social media presence outweighing their artistic merits? This way of measuring success is, of course, not only in the hands of the music industry, but society at large. But at the same time, are Olympic teams now chosen based off which players get the most ‘likes’? By which players grace the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition? What makes the music industry so confusing is the dichotomy between being a true creative and achieving commercial success. But in the end, who really deserves the award?

The last thing I want to say is that if you are a hard-working musician or writer, or aspiring to be, I send my love and respect to you. In this confusing time where people seem to have to grasp at anything to catch the attention of an otherwise distracted world, I applaud you for continuing to pour yourself into something that relies so heavily on your emotions and plight — still writing away or tirelessly recording in a studio.

To all those artists and creatives, who push on without a nod, wink or pat on the back, I respect you. And in this time — stage designs still being drawn up, lighting still being experimented with, instruments still being played, and beautiful, moving, powerful lyrics and melodies still being written every day — I say this to you, and to myself: keep going, keep doing what you love, keep the faith, keep knowing what you do is more important than you will ever know.

And at the same time, music industry, I say to you: it is time to have a bigger discussion about where we are going and how we acknowledge and reward those who are, frankly, the reason this industry exists in the first place.

Back to the studio.

Ellie xx

Written by

Elena Goulding is a London based singer, songwriter, producer, philanthropist and musician.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store