Sod Last.fm, go busk.

I should make it clear that this blog is written by Sean, the label manager at BlancoMusic.com, not by Robin Taylor-Firth, the label’s founder, hence the next sentence.

Sometimes I say things that don’t seem in keeping with the character of working musicians. One of these is that I’m not convinced that all publicity is good publicity. We had some groans from the BlancoMusic musicians when I first suggested taking the music off the streaming sites. I also proposed, and convinced them, to take all our music off all digital retailers except iTunes. Most of the musicians I work with are of the sort that play a gig in a bar, come back for encores, sing themselves hoarse and then walk out of the place having completely forgotten to ask for their fee. They love to play, and sometimes see making music as its own reward. I love them for that, but it’s a trait too easily exploited by an industry that knows its prey better than they do themselves. The same bassplayer who, fifteen years ago was jumping around on Top of the Pops with Olive’s number one single,  ‘You’re Not Alone’ was, last Saturday, busking for coppers on the Madrid metro. Of course there are plenty of sectors of human commerce where people ride the free-market rollercoaster, but the sharks that circle musicians are, on the whole, some of the most vicious and voracious of the lot. So, on my better days, I try to be the killjoy who stands between these artists and the willing audience who wants to hear their music. It’s a bit counter-intuitive, absolutely. But frankly, when they go out and busk, the artists in question a) make more money than they do on streaming sites; b) make more of a lasting impression on the people who listen; c) don’t line the pockets of self-appointed middlemen; d) maintain some sense of distinction and mystique between themselves as artists and the public as audience. If a member of the public likes one of their songs and wants them to play it again, it is entirely in the power of the artist to do so or not, and the implication is that the listener is obliged to pay for the service. Ultimately, I see even the least dignified form of musical performance – busking – as more lucrative and more dignified for the musician than being on Spotify.

I’m not massive romanticist, and having my office space smack-bang in the middle of two musicians’ living room has certainly stripped me of any belief that musicians are some sort of precious jewel that must be polished and protected. But music itself, now that’s different. In the bigger human picture, devaluing music and by default, the artists who make it, is very, very dangerous. Not in tangible ways, but if we’re willing to debase and devalue the most accessible and consistent form of art that we have as a society, bad shit will happen. I could go on about what form that bad shit will take, but I don’t have all day to rant! Suffice to say, there is a very good reason why ‘if you want to dance, you have to pay the band’ is an old, old truism that has been applied for centuries to circumstances much broader than its literal meaning.

Some of the problems I have with the whole ‘new approaches to monetizing music’ strategies and tactics that we’re constantly being pointed at by smug filesharers in a ‘well, they’re doing fine even though they’re being pirated’ tone of voice, is that the hyper-personalised service from, and access to the artists which is expected in said strategies is detrimental to the very isolation from the 9-to-5 reality of most peoples’ lives that all artists need, to some extent, to be able to create relevant art. Some musicians are really good with spreadsheets and new-media. Some are just really good at making music. I don’t wish the musical landscape to be ceded utterly to the former. There’s a sense of mystique attached to musicians, which has always served the audience better than it has the musician in question, but is crucial also. ‘New’ music strategies will erode this too. But mostly, and this is the real killer, streaming sites and holistic access kills desire. I come from an agegroup where Saturdays were spent drooling at the counter of the record shop wanting to know had the record I’d ordered had arrived yet. In pain and yearning! That won’t happen again in any significant way, but a musician has always had to hold out, coquette-like, the promise of joy and satisfaction. You heard the record on the radio, you wanted it. You waited until they played it again, but that took too long. You really wanted that piece of music, so you went and bought or ordered it. And then it was YOURS. And so was the band, at least in your own mind. Because fandom is proprietorial both ways. Now, you have the urge to hear a song, you just google it. Urge satisfied, back to work. Dull. Very.  I do feel some of the more philisophical reasons for why the current new-media approach to music marketing are being underused. In truth, these ungraspable, indefinable reasons to notice and love music are the most compelling because, really, music isn’t rational or empirical, so shouldn’t be treated with such clinical critical tools.

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