I haven’t released any music since the 30th of October, 2020. That’s not to say that I haven’t been making music in the intervening time, but in the world of evidence-based existence via social media, it would appear that I have done absolutely nowt since then, musically speaking anyway.
This dearth of social media self-promotion, in addition to a consistently low Spotify listenership (shout out to ye local 142 people worldwide!), means that algorithmically I don’t exist any longer.
In this topsy-turvy world full of inherent contradiction, my lack of ‘being’ on the world wide web would probably lead to even less public interest regarding the music that I have already made, given that I am not promoting anything, or even revisiting back catalogues. I haven’t sent anything to any playlist or radio for a long while, and other than to check the inbox for this here review site, I would have assumed that I would be getting little in terms of direct communication.
Not so. Far from it in fact. Never in the time that I have been ‘professionally’ recording and releasing music have my inboxes been so filled to the brim.
The first was predictable, a month of relative inactivity and the direct messages from hitherto unattainable Russian women brandishing bad grammar and abbreviated URLs were very forthcoming, as if a month of the non-production of niche music about politics and Scottish culture would be somehow alluring to the robots of the east. Speaking from an algorithm’s point of view, I suppose my lack of online activity would in this day and age represent some form of extreme loneliness, the strength of which might just push me over the edge into divulging bank details with a bot that takes the forms of an imaginary Slavic goddess. I don’t think that xxxSveta79;) or oxoxOlgalovesyou34 are that interested in my take on the welfare state, or class inequality in Scotland, but I suppose I might be generalising.
Anyway, further on from the serried ranks of seemingly insatiable Slavs, came something altogether more sinister. Attempts to buy my music.
In an age where the processes of making, writing, recording, marketing, and consuming music are perceived as being without cost to all those bar those in the grass-roots music industry, the idea that anyone would actively buy your music has tragically become a novelty to a generation of musicians brought up on pay-to-play concerts and Spotify percentiles. With this in mind, why rail against the prospect of having someone give you money for the music you made?
Well, the dynamic isn’t quite as straight forward as what was once called ‘buying music’, a dated concept in which a member of the public would purchase merchandise in the form of a CD or MP3 in order to consume music, who in parting with money would thus recognise the investment and work of the artist. I’m sure that the economics were far more evil than that, and sure, record companies probably kept the lion’s share of public investment etc. Still, the dynamic was quite straightforward in terms of the transaction.
What my inbox is full of currently of are not offers to buy my music in the traditional sense, but rather to buy my music outright; a one-time transaction in which the thing that I made is now no longer mine. This idea of not owning your own music is as old as time immemorial, and long predates the arrival of the Internet as a force for musical transmission, indeed stars from Macca to Prince were renowned for their fight for the right to party (in a purely mechanical royalties based sense). However, these mega spats were the prerogative of dodgy record company contracts and a lack of understanding by the artists themselves. Now, it is a legitimate option for musicians.
High profile cases of ‘musical investments’ on the part of mega-corporations include, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Shakira amongst others; mega stars who have taken one giant payout to offset a variety of facts; inheritance, taxes, oppressive touring etc, and of course the fact that evidently even artists at the zenith of the profession struggle to actually make any money under the current industry model.
So back to my inbox. As previously stated, from an investor’s punto de vista, my stats make poor viewing; a couple of hundred people scattered across various, badly-maintained platforms does not represent much of an opportunity. Well no, but this is what it’s come to. My inactivity flags up, at best, the very real prospect of having completely given up on music, or at worst, no longer being ‘of this earth’ so to speak. Therefore the algorithm trawls the dregs of our stricken industry, as opportunists might look to liberate copper wiring from a tip in order to turn a small profit. This is what my my art has become, the musical version of used copper wiring.
Bob Dylan got about $300 million
Stevie Nicks got $80 million
I think given my listenership and reach, I would be looking at a mathematical investment of about £7.82, minus tax.
Desperate times brings out the best and worst in humanity, and we are living in desperate times, both musically speaking and in general. There is much to commend musicians on during this pandemic; their ingenuity in reaching new audiences, embracing new technology, and mutual support has been heartwarming. However, the situation for grass-roots music is one of great vulnerability, something that hasn’t escaped the attention of the powers that be that see any lack of power or knowledge as a way to make money. Ah capitalism, you gotta love it.
I won’t sell rights, not because of the hilariously small fiscal reality that they represent, but because of the power that ownership symbolises. It may be small-fry in the grand scheme of everything, but to sell the rights to art is to negate the message of the art itself, a message that is intrinsically bonded to the values of the artist. A severed bond breaks the connection, it breaks the agenda, it takes it out of our hands.
It is an isolated time for grass-roots musicians, god knows I know, but we can seek support in those around us, and by that I mean other musicians. Artistic isolation isn’t alleviated by an unsustained payoff, nor do Russian dudes digitally masquerading as ladies better suited to the predictable tired tropes of a Roger Moore era Bond film claim to be supportive of any independent Scottish music (with the possible exception of the Dunfermline Balalaika Orchestra*). The key to our survival is in community action through the music we make, in supporting and listening to other artists, in forming musical bonds and sharing musical ideas, albeit digitally at the moment.
I won’t finish on some inspirational one-liner, such jargon serves little purpose in the long run, but I will say that as grass-roots artists, the message our music conveys is the most powerful things that we have collectively, and this power will be essential in rebuilding an industry in which we are treated like scrap. Stand up for your rights.
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*At time of going to press, sadly the Dunfermline Balalaika Orchestra remains a figment of the author’s imagination.