Music making has a rich history of anti-establishment, subversive and counter-cultural creativity. I’m not simply talking about throwing TV sets out of hotel room windows or smoking pot, I’m talking about the core motivator for many great songs and acts. Many people used music to ‘stick it to the man’ and demonstrate our liberal artistic credentials to society. We sang of everything from ‘Teaching The World To Sing’ to ‘F*ck The Police’ and everything in between those two polarities.
It seems the number of record stores closing is in direct proportion to the increasing number of people we let near a home recording system… weird. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those people who thinks ‘recording should only be allowed to be done by an appropriate adult with a licence’, 85% of the crap hitting the charts is being created by so-called professionals, but it is perplexing that the more freedom we give for people to create music, video and pictures, the less live places there are to go and listen to it and outlets to buy it from.
Like a scene from the barricades in Les Misérables, many thought they were doing the world a favour by fighting against the ‘evil money grabbing’ record companies. In some ways their crusade was justified, some record labels operated with such poor ethics that they deserve to have gone.
The only problem is, that now we’ve replaced twenty record labels with one mega label, where bands are now commodities and lines on a balance sheet, or even worse a SKU. You can say what you like about the ‘bad old days’ of record labels, but at least the A&R guy knew what music he was listening to, in some cases the new breed of execs don’t even know the genre, let alone the songs of some of their acts.
However, we wanted things to be different, we wanted a more democratic way to sell our music, we wanted to remove the middle man, to take control of our destiny, to not rely on the record label. We wanted things to be faster and cheaper, so more people would buy our music. We wanted a song we made at 9:00am in London to be on the iPod of a fan in Tokyo 10 minutes later.
Queen put it on these word…
‘Listen all you people, come gather round
I gotta get me a game plan, gotta shake you to the ground
Just give me what I know is mine,
People do you hear me, just give me the sign,
It ain’t much I’m asking, if you want the truth
Here’s to the future for the dreams of youth,
I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now,
I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now’
Then technology delivered it to us; the home studio, the cheap, or in many cases, stolen software to make our songs with. We got the hi-speed internet connection to upload it, the free website to show it off and the social media to shout about it. We got everything we wanted, oh what a dream, who needs record companies, stores and gigs anyway?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m neither anti-technology or anti-progress, Steve Jobs is my hero for heaven’s sake. You also don’t run a site like this, with hundreds of hours of free training videos and support, if you don’t want to empower the next generation. But, despite the fact that there are vastly more people and opportunities for making and expressing creativity, there seems to be far fewer choices of how we share it and even worse, from making a living from it.
Forget money for a moment, more ways to be creative in the hands of the masses should provide more variety and yet most of the output from radio and TV is derivative. I don’t subscribe to the notion of manufactured bands, that’s been happening since the beginning of pop, but what I do object to is the painting by numbers song writing and production. You can be sure if the suits are running the record labels, then as long as an idea is working they will keep churning it out, they will take the line of least resistance, rather than take a punt. Creativity never flourishes in a risk averse culture - by it’s very nature genius is a risky business and the word risk does not come into the vocabulary of the suits running major labels - the accountants have taken over the asylum.
Perhaps nostalgia has got the better of me and that there never were the ‘good old days’ we talk about? Perhaps it is better to have one universal record label, or simply one way for most people to get their Tunes? Is it really better to have men in suits pouring over SKUs on a balance sheet, being the custodians of the world’s creativity?
Perhaps I’m overstating my case, in what may seem to some a dystopian view of the state of the music industry? But one can’t help thinking that instead Of ‘sticking it to the man’ perhaps we handed it to him.
To be honest, anyone can write articles about what is wrong with the world, it takes a little more to come up with some solutions. I have few answers, but one thing I know deep in my bones, we won’t find the solution by just trying to replicate what the record companies have done in the past. It is said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, so perhaps our creativity needs to extend into new and disruptive ways of creating real, risk taking, music communities, that are as counter cultural in the methods of music distribution as the they are in their music creation. If you’re already one of those people doing things differently and seeing positive results then we would love to know. Discuss…