I was recently asked to do an interview about the music industry (or whatever is left of it) , it covers a lot of the bullshit I’ve been saying recently – reprinted here in full. Thanks Tom Atherton
Please can you give me a brief background of how you started in the music industry and where you are now?
My own start in the “industry” really came when my band (Bear vs Manero) needed a record label and we realised that asking a commercial entity to take a risk on an unknown entity in this day-and-age is ludicrous, so we decided to do it ourselves. Over the last couple of years we’ve slowly expanded from a one-band vanity label to representing 6-7 bands all from the same noise-rock scene in Kent and London. In that time we’ve moved from cold-emailing bandcamp pages to having our bands do live sessions on Xfm etc – so we’re doing ok I guess!
Was there a particular point where you broke through/ or were able to quit your day job or was it a gradual process towards making a living in music?
For us there is no “quitting the day job” nor will there likely be. The music industry as it stands is split into two distinct streams: There’s the Lady Gaga/Taylor Swift/Miley Cyrus’s of the world and there’s everything else. Given that we represent post-hardcore and noise bands we’re realistic about the fact that we’ll probably never make a living doing this.
Do you think that would be possible now?
Following on from the previous point, basically – no. The pool of spaces for artists and labels making serious money has long since been swallowed up by the majors. However I think the argument to be made here is that the idea that real art and commerce are compatible is largely absurd. I’m sure if all one ever wanted was a “career” then one could have one, same as in any other industry – but there’s only a few viable places to do that now and none of them will encourage one’ creativity – they’re just office jobs like any other.
If not, what would be your strategy now to break through? How do you think artists break through these days? Is it easier or more difficult?
I’m not sure they do “break through” any more – and I don’t think they ever really will. The monoculture which supported the industry through from the 50s to the end of the century no-longer exists – technology has utterly destroyed it. Again, either you’re a Lady Gaga, or you’re a niche concern. It is my opinion that this is a positive – less average bands get forced down the public’s throat.
Specifically in relation to modern technology and the internet, have you had to alter your approach to your career in order to continue making a living?
Everyone’s has been forced to change, because the free-market has decided that the value of recorded music is pretty much zero – therefore if one wishes to profit from it then more innovative and/or supplementary revenue streams need to be pursued. That could be anything form a small cottage-industry label making t-shirts and artwork to sell all the way up to 5-night residencies at the O2 – depends on your level.
What’s your take on streaming and record deals at present? Are they viable for artists or making it harder to make a living and how?
Streaming is vital because in a world where music has no intrinsic value – it’s role has become that of an advert of sorts for your brand (band or label) – therefore it is imperative that as many people as possible can hear that music with as few barriers to their doing so as possible. Bandcamp, Youtube, Spotify etc have made that very easy. Has piracy devalued recorded music?
Do you think this has made it harder to have a career?
No – the open, free-market has “devalued music” because it was never a viable product in the first place. When customers used to by a 12” record, they were buying a piece of art (or a bottle to hold your water use an analogy stolen from Ian Mackaye), but as time has progressed and we’ve moved into the digital realm, it has become clear that we were paying for the delivery system, not the music itself. As music can now be freely (or so close to zero-cost it’s insignificant) distributed and copied in an instant, it’s ubiquity renders it valueless. This has made it harder for the industry to exploit rarity to turn a profit. It has also democratised the music world, reduced the barriers of entry and made it possible for everyone to co-exist on an even playing-field.
Do you feel there is more competition now due to more people having access to the means to pursue a career in music because of technology compared to when you began? Is that a good thing?
Massively – except that I would correct the use of the word “competition” – because this is art, not a foot-race. More people having access means more music is being made to a much higher level all across the board, which is great for art, great for bands and great for listeners. The only people who’ve lost out are executives who never added any real value anyway.
How has the ease of access to tools for making music changed things overall/ made things easier?
As I mentioned before – it’s completely democratised the industry. In fact this is an object lesson in what happens when the means of production are available to all – suddenly these behemoth corporations can’t compete properly, because they can’t react to customer demand fast enough (they’re only *just* now coming to terms with digital – which after at least a decade is pretty shocking. This is remnant of an industry which once had a licence to print money with very little effort – it has taken them a while to figure out how to actually do a useful job – one may argue they still haven’t “got it”
Would you say having access to a worldwide audience due to the web has enhanced your career? How so?
Certainly in the sense that we’ve made friends and fans on the other side of the planet we never could’ve accessed before. However this is true in all walks of life in the modern world – I think that much is obvious. What is new and useful about this is that niche concerns are much more able to find the audience which is out there for their particular area. This is how concepts like ArcTanGent running a 3-day, 5000-person festival for purely Math and Post rock could evolve. This would’ve been impossible even a decade ago.
How would you say self-publishing has changed things? Are record labels needed anymore?
As I think I’ve already covered – Record labels (as we’ve known them) are almost irrelevant to music at this point. Their only value is to their own shareholders, so indeed self-publishing has changed everything.
Would you say overall that it is easier or more difficult now to have a career in music due to technology?
It’s easier to get involved because of technology – anyone can learn to produce in their bedroom now for example – however actually monetising those skills is much, much harder. It can be done of course, but it requires much more conviction and passion than ever before. Perhaps a shot-in-the-arm this industry requires.
Do you have any other observations about how technology and the internet has affected people’s ability to have a career in music?
Yes. Art and Commerce have almost nothing in common. Music is supposed to be a method of communicating concepts, thoughts and feelings to other human beings in an aesthetically pleasing way. Having a Job/Career is the opposite of that – it’s the things which have to be done so that art becomes possible. In my opinion the confusion of these two ideas is ultimately harmful to both of them. I believe this is a positive change – better a music-world of a thousand Silent Front’s, Run The Jewels, Cleft’s and Death Grips than one even a single Reef inhabits!
Front’s, Run The Jewels, Cleft’s and Death Grips than one even a single Reef inhabits!