Friday, 7 January 2011

Simon Cowell is NOT responsible

A recent letter from an old acquaintance – once lost, now re-established, albeit by email only at the moment – contained this…

The music industry seems so strange, a lot of the stuff I see on TV now is such boring and utter rubbish. More about posing in bling than about the music and singing as far as I can tell. I hear people's stuff on Soundcloud, and it just sounds so much more passionate than the manufactured dross.

From my response…

“The points you make about music are so valid, but unfortunately very, very few people put two and two together. The problem is somewhat ironic – even paradoxical.

Obviously, artists need to eat and drink and have a roof over their heads, need to produce their art and disseminate it. All of this costs money. The spending and earning of money for whatever reason falls into the category of ‘business’. Because ‘business’ essentially controls the money, it has come to control the art. The skill sets needed to be a good businessman are almost totally exclusive to those needed to be an artist.

As soon as business considerations begin to govern the creative process, limitations of time and space begin to constrain that process. Mistakes are made in the production.

Further to that – and there should be a thesis to be written on this some day – the moment business considerations and financial motivations begin to control, the art dies in the artist. There is nothing left save technique. The pictures, the shapes, the words, the music all wither to become the sum of the parts.

So, yes, your observations are very astute. The stuff you hear on myspace is often created for the sole purpose of being created and being heard. The stuff on tv has no purpose other than the preening of the ‘star’ and the gleening of the cash.

In the music business, this has been ongoing since the 1950s. As the skills of the artist have improved and evolved, so have the skills of the businessmen – but unfortunately the latter has had no empathy with the former. The artist to the modern music businessman (in the vast majority of cases) is nothing more than a tin of baked beans, a brand of underpants, a service (supplied by another) to be delivered.

Simon Cowell and the like are not directly responsible for this phenomenon, but they are the latest brick in the walls that separate the artist from the music and the music from the audience. Scrawled hastily on these walls are the two-dimensional representations that the business world would have us think are music. And the vast majority lap it all up, mistaking mechanics for music and celebrity for talent.

The problem with trying to ‘do something’ with music is precisely this. The money is in the illusion of music and what people expect it to be – and people’s expectations are overbearingly restrictive.

I organise an open mic night at my local pub every Thursday. I often do a couple of my own songs, but people simply aren’t interested. The moment you start playing something they don’t know, the audience switches off. The only way to progress in the rock and pop worlds is to work the circuits and hope that someone picks up on what you are doing. The reward is to be placed into the mincing machine that feeds the public's expectations.

On top of this, you also need to work with other musicians, which is a difficult, angst-ridden, unpredictable environment at the best of times.

For me, the future lies in solo efforts. I don’t know if you listened to any of the ‘auraloramas’ such as ‘Relaxation’, ‘Hillside Wind’ or ‘Twilight to Night’, but these are all spontaneous pieces, sometimes partly planned, but always improvised and recorded live – just me, a guitar, and a bank of effects pedals. They utterly rebut the idea of ‘commercial’ music in terms of intro/verse/chorus/bridge/middle eight/coda, which, combined with the improvised nature of the pieces means they begin from a point of making expectation redundant. No-one, not even the musician, knows exactly what is going to happen.

From the musician’s point of view, it is a very exciting way of making music. The looping of sounds means that whatever you play will come back at you in a few seconds – you have to take responsibility for everything you do. Mistakes have to be used and blended to become part of the music. I find it totally absorbing and very thrilling.

Trouble is, of course, is that the moment you turn your back on the ‘expected’ you leave yourself out in the wilderness in terms of performance and audience. This is one of the many tasks I shall be taking on this year: trying to find venues and audiences that would be open to such a music.”

And so begins 2011…