Imagine a world in which music didn’t work as a glorified pyramid scheme, a world in which achievement (and by that I mean the sad common trope of capitalism, money) didn’t create the success apartheid in which the music industry exists at the moment. Imagine if an act of god, say for example, a global health crisis that the neoliberal ne’er-do-wells that control every aspect of our life confronted with world-beating incompetence, aye imagine that came about, yet grass-roots musicians weren’t the first to be cast adrift in a wave of self interest-
I think it would be presumptuous to talk of utopia, insulting even given that what I view as utopian could be quite easily achieved, given the right set of circumstances.
I am a musician, first and foremost, the current restrictions on my art have led me into giving up one type of keyboard for the kind of keyboard that brings you this ill-researched diatribe (I lie, I’m a guitarist and can’t play the piano for shit, but I liked the analogy). As a musician who writes left-field, acoustic tunes about societal inequality, nationalism, class, pirates, police brutality, and many other themes that my half-dozen monthly listenership clearly can’t get enough of, I realised that instead of just propagating my own music through the standard practice of sending it as a dropbox file into the void, I would focus on the music of my peers.
The aforementioned success apartheid system makes grass-roots musicians look up, a one-way route of approval in which rewards individualism at the expense of the community. Artists at the bottom of the pyramid have not only grown accustomed to these crumbs of approval, they have learned to fight for them too. I personally do not see how this is sustainable over the long run.
Now, one might ask what the alternative to this system is. Years of a society lived at the coal face of neo-liberalism has left us with a grim appreciation of ourselves as mere human capital; individualistic and therefore isolated. This subconscious servitude affects grass-roots music as much as any other aspect of life. Emailing influential people, playlist rejections, pay-to-play gigs, endless self-promoting on whatever social network is popular that day. Sound familiar? It does to me.
A good metaphor for the situation might be the alien toys in Toy Story. Eagerly they await selection from ‘the claw’, a chance to leave the masses and be selected for greater things; the unknown. Yet, from my hazy memory of the film, the so-called chosen toy ends up as the chew-thing of a sociopath’s equally unpredictably violent dog. Sure, they escaped the seemingly meaningless masses, but did their new-found popularity pay off? I would argue no.
Approval ratings from people further up the chain serve for nothing but to further divide an already fragmented community. The extreme talent and variation that exists in new Scottish music is there to see if we look around, not up.
A musical world in which musicians, reviewers, promoters, venue owners, engineers, fans, and writers all exist on the same level is what I want. Mutual support is how great musical scenes flourish. It’s a world in which new music can be made instantly accessible to the musical community, who in turn can help to make a success of said music. There is no ‘claw-like’ approval rating, just solidarity through a symbiotic community. A writer writes about a new single for the benefit of fans. A venue owner need fans to buy beer, thus books bands they know through the community promoters who read the writers. Other musicians attend gigs and are inspired to record, leading to engineers working with musicians safe in the knowledge that they’re not ‘taking a punt’ on anything. The system is cyclical: it perpetuates itself.
Call me what you will, but I am sick of the limitations of acknowledging that I am being idealistic. The music industry is huge and draws on the kind of wealth and power that laughs in the face of alternative visions for a sustainable musical future. But that isn’t going to stop me.
You should send me your music if you believe in the prospect of musical power through community; if your lyrics push the buttons of the powers that be; if you’re sick of shouting into the void and hearing only the distant echo of a noreply@ email response. You can send me your music no matter what. I might not like it sure, but if it hits the right notes (sorry…puns), I’d happily do a write-up.
As a community, Scottish grass-roots music is strong. Let’s start looking around ourselves and make that strength our foundation for success.
Get in touch with me for write-ups or more pseudo-political waxing here.