Music, Opinion

Things I think I know about music and commerce

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!

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A Very Skingasm Nightmare

[Edit: “Skingasm Halloween 2014 – Finding the Perfect Venue“: A film of the whole experience made by the outrageously sexy Screen Wives]

5:30pm

Let’s pick up this story at a happy moment – a pack of slightly nervous idiots parked up in the command-house carpark eating chips off the roof of Daz’s car.

Very soon they’ll be attempting an audacious break in to an undisclosed location (which will remain so – we’re not beaten yet!).

6:00pm

Skip forwards 30 minutes and the same pack of idiots is feeling even more nervous as they stand guiltily over their half-unpacked drums as a police car pulls up directly in front of them and it’s inhabitants commence to eating sandwiches and staring at them.

  “How could they have known?”

  “What do we do?”

We pretty quickly agree that we’re just stopping of to swap some gear around on the way to a gig, have a quick fag and get away. After five minutes which feel like five-hundred Dan bravely asked them to move their car out of our way so we can leave – they politely acquiesce and we roll out, confused as hell about if we’ve just been beaten in a non-verbal game of chess by two Machiavelli’s in uniform or just got spectacularly unlucky.

Back to the command house to rethink….

Plenty of alternatives a suggested, but Daz and Pete go rogue [Not “rouge” – thanks Dan, you pedantic butthole ;)] – they are going back to see if the police stayed there and if there a way in the back of the venue.

(Note: it is at this point that your narrator fell off a fence, fucking his ankle and nearly breaking his neck in the process… I lack the detachment to describe this in third-person – it fucking hurt!)

7:15pm

Sneaking back to the scene of their earlier confrontation our brave scouts discover no police – but a heavily tarred fence on the way in and a light on the back of a nearby building…. the portents are looking black. Someone knew they were coming, or at least expected someone to try something.

7:30pm

Old enough and tired enough to know when they’re beat, it’s about time to give up… except it’s not cause the next thing is that our idiot-heros are flying down to Capstone to look for a quiet field or glade to play in (I know, I fucking know – we were desperate, we’re not hippies, alright?) – another hour of searching yields nothing then suddenly, the phone rings again…

  “We’ve got the upstairs at the Alex”

Thank FUCK….

8:45pm

Broken Banjo take to the “stage” to a room full of grateful music lovers and a few VERY relieved Skingasms.

The end…

The gig itself… well either you were there our you weren’t – it was magical in a way no-one expected, but that’s not really the story, Any time you get such great bands (and Bear vs Manero) in a room you’re going to get magic – that’s as typical as rain… what happened before that though – once in a lifetime,

Thanks for believing in us enough to allow us to at least have that crazy little adventure.

We hope you enjoyed the show as much as we did.

Love – Skingasm x

P.S. Everyone’s up for trying again sometime soon though, yeah?

Music, Opinion

Why downloading is NOT hurting music

“Downloading is killing music” – I’m so fucking sick of hearing that. It’s ridiculous.

Firstly, let’s get one thing totally clear: “ART IS NOT A FUCKING PRODUCT” – or at least it’s not supposed to be.

Art is an idea, a thought, a puff of air. It only barely exists at all, and when no-one can remember those lyrics any more – well they no longer exist.

Secondly – if we’re talking about making money from music, what we’re talking about is making art into a commodity to be bought and sold.

Now if we insist on doing that, we must at least accept that commercial music is therefore subject to all the same market forces as every other commodity in the market.

It’s important to keep that in mind. Whatever we may think of selling art, there are certain facts about how economics works which can’t be avoided – first and foremost is that: “The market” decides on the monetary value of a commodity (even if you’re anti-capitalism, this is still true within our economic framework).

Thirdly – Who ever said artists were supposed to be rich?

The stereotype of the penniless artist is a cliche for a reason after all – And god knows how many truly great bands we lost to their successful “Careers” over the last 30 years

Enough of that for now – first a little history:

Somewhere along the way (in the 50s or 60s I guess) it was decided that recorded music had a value. As the record companies and the radio and TV stations had a monopoly on the means of distribution and given that people REALLY fucking love music – that’s how things went. You want a record? Then you’ll have to pay for it or make do with an occasional, low-quality version on the Radio which you couldn’t own (sound familiar? Spotify/youtube anyone?).

As nothing really changed and media remained effectively read-only for the next 20 years or so, the industry blossomed and we got from the simple ditties of the hit-parade to the multi-platform extravaganzas of Pink Floyd in no time – meanwhile a few people got VERY VERY rich indeed.

Then along came tapes and the industry shit itself. “People can copy their own music? No way – that music is our golden egg”.

So it did what all industries do in these kinds of situations – closed it’s eyes, started windmilling it’s arms and hoped to knock enough teeth out to nip it in the bud.

They failed of course, people were taping like crazy – recording the charts on a saturday was a right of passage for a whole generation – but still, somehow sales kept going up. How could this be?

Well – there’s a couple of factors here – firstly tapes were SHIT.  The quality was never great to begin with, the content degraded with each copy, you needed special equipment to achieve duplication (at least a twin deck) and it took aaaages! Next to the polished,”official” product this just couldn’t compare – no lyrics sheet, no artwork, no “feeling” (turns out there’s more to recorded music than the music! of which,also, more later)

All the same, those mix-tapes we were making for teenage crushes and furtively recorded chart rundowns were introducing us to music we’d never have heard under other circumstances – that in turn meant more record sales – funny huh?

So then one day in the late 90s we all figured out that we could turn music into digital assets which would never degrade, and never break and copying them was something anyone with a computer and a clicking finger could achieve in seconds – and guess what? we fucking LOVED that – Napster was the most popular app of a generation – FREE music for everyone? Hooray!

Suddenly all those obscure 12″ we never could afford were a click away – a record collection worth thousands of pounds could be amassed in hours. Now this is where we get into the argument about stealing – see those mp3s never cost anyone anything to produce and unless I was somehow missing out BIG TIME – back then no-one could afford a record collection worth thousands, so they just didn’t have them. So what is lost here? I’m not sure?

Anyway – turns out that all this time the commodity we were all purchasing was worthless and at the same time priceless – what kind of product was this?

Well – no product at all, As we’ve said before: Art is not a product – it’s barely anything at all.

What we were paying for all those years was the delivery mechanism for that music – All those 12″ and tapes had a value – someone had to make them for us, distribute them, record them etc.

As soon as we separated content from delivery – the market judged the content as being worth just very slightly north of fuck all!

Now one may not like that – but let’s be clear – if you want to get involved in capitalism then that’s great, fill your boots – but don’t start complaining when no-one wants to buy your product anymore – live by the sword, die by the sword!

At the same time as all this was going on, in  he world of Television a completely different model was evolving – TV was always years ahead of radio.

Television is free – or at least the programming is.

Did you ever pay directly to watch a TV show? (Sure – there’s PPV, but it;s rare relatively speaking)

All of the content we’ve ever consumed from TV was ostensibly “Free” – now of course we know that’s not quite true – we sure paid for our TV: first with licence fees but very soon we paid by agreeing to sit through adverts. During the 50s and 60s in america for instance television programming was almost uniformly designed solely to sell products to consumers. Over the years that softened and the TV produced some great art, amazing comedy, gripping drama and socially conscious current affairs programming but it still also had tons and tons of meaningless shite who’s only purpose was to get eyes on the screen during ad breaks. But what we didn’t do (until relatively recently at least) was pay for the programming itself.

More recently we’ve added pay-tv – but even there we’re paying for the platform (Satellite delivery systems etc) and the cost of it’s distribution – never individual bits of content.

Now what has this to do with downloading music?

Well – it turns out this TV model where the content is fee and you pay by watching adverts (or paying a premium for some ad-free service)  is exactly the model that all web-based services would work since the internet first started making it’s first fledgling dollars. Look around at any of the major internet operations – let’s take Youtube.

Youtube daily spits out several lifetimes of content – encoded, hosted and served at humungous expense to the entire world all day every day – and they give you it all for free.

How on earth can they afford it? (If like me you work in tech, you’ll understand just how truly mid-boggling a thing what they do is! – if not take my word for it)

They can afford it because the free content attracts attention and the attention attracts advertising dollars – it’s that simple.

So – finally to get to the point – If you want to make money out of your music in the modern world then you have to accept that it isn’t worth anything in and of itself.

What value it has is in it’s ability to attract attention and then monetize that attention.

In such a model the more exposure an artist can get, the more money they make

Downloading is keeping music alive!

It also turns out that when people don’t have to spunk £20+ on a CD of mostly filler – they can afford to go to more live shows, buy more t-shirts and special editions.

Here’s an opportunity for the artist to make money – Actual hard products and services exchanged for money – heaven forbid.

I guess the best counter to all this I’ve heard is that artists want to make art and not products. That’s a fair argument – and here’s my response:

If you want to make money, make products.

If you want to make art make art.

Quit assuming you have the god-given right to both – you don’t.

Philosohpy

Anarchism, Libertarianism and Adulthood

I’ve just finished watching Russell Brand’s recent interview on Alex Jones’ “Infowars” show – and was really taken aback by how courteous were these two men who clearly exist on very different ends of the political spectrum. As a European and nominally Anarchist-leaning in my politics I was fairly interested to find out how much time Mr Jones has spent talking about the evils of Communism and Socialism which in turn brings up a question which has been nagging at me for years. namely:

Why do we insist on wasting so much time making these political “left” and “right” distinctions, even though they lost all meaning at least 30 years ago?

Even those of us standing on the peripheries, looking in skeptically at “mainstream politics” seem to spend a great deal of our time pointing fingers at “those” guys peering into the middle from some other narrow political precipice of their own. From the American right’s derision of the liberal-socialism of Europe to the euro-liberal’s derision of American right-wing conservatism, all we seem to see are the differences – when we should be embracing those things we share in common.

For instance it seems to me that the only difference between the Anarchists and Libertarians is what they intend to do with their freedom when they get it.

The Anarchist brought up as he is on a diet of Marxist theory, by and large seeks to live a collectivist existence – peacefully sharing with members of his society. The Libertarian in contrast seeks a more isolated, self-sufficient life – perhaps informed by the rugged adventurism of Theroux.

But need these ideals (or any others) be mutually exclusive?

If we are truly free as a people then surely we have the choice to live as we please? Surely it is in our power then to join whichever society will have us, to pick and choose the rules we care to live by; I’ll share with my neighbour, you trade gold with yours – fill your boots my friends!

Perhaps it all sounds rather utopian? A naive idea with no grounding on the real world?

I’d argue that if simply choosing to take responsibility for ourselves seems fanciful – we’ve fallen a long, long way from grace!

Is it really so unreasonable that we, capable intelligent adults might possibly be able to take care of ourselves?

In my opinion it’s simply a matter of choosing to cast of the perma-adolencance our culture has showed us in and taking responsibility for ourselves like adults.

Adults are supposed to take responsibility for themselves and be mature enough to look outside of themselves to the environment and people around them and take their own share of responsibility for those too. If we want a world we’re happy to live in then we must own that desire and be the agents of the change we perceive as necessary or we’re just back to being children waiting for mummy to fix it for us!

When Aleister Crowley said “let do as though wilt be the whole of the law” – he didn’t just mean that you’re free to do as you please whoever you please (though you certainly are) he meant that each of us bears total responsibility for how we act in the world.  If I don’t want a tyrannical government telling me how to live my life, the flip side is now I have to take responsibility for EVERYTHING it used to do for me. I want to drive a car on the road – then I have to make sure there’s a road to drive on. More importantly I have to work out a way to drive without hurting people as I go too – cause now there are no traffic laws.

And this where I feel the whole crux of the matter rests. These are complex issues with no clear, fixed solutions – what they require is co-operation of some kind. Not the kind of co-operation when some state tells you “these are the rules, get on with it” or even “these are the rules, obey them or die”, but the kind where sensible, rational adults reach consensus though discussion and reason.

I ask again, does that really sound so unreasonable?

So then if we are responsible for creating the world we wish to live in, and we do not wish that world to contain poverty, starvation and stuffing – then WE must take responsibility for solving those problems.

Here’s where we’ll start to diverge again I imagine – Do we enshrine those solutions into laws, do we rely on individual philanthropy?

Yet again – if we’re free to do as we please, we’re all free to follow our own path – so long as we’re all trying, who cares why!

Whether your motivations are socialist, christian or humanitarian – the medicine works the same, and clean-water is every bit as life-giving.

When Robert A Heinlein wrote “There is no greater tyranny than to force a man to pay for something against his will, simply because *you* believe it to be good for him”, he was correct – but any “man” who given his freedom doesn’t choose to use it to help others is no kind of man at all.

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Feminism is for everyone but it shouldn’t end there

Just recently I got into something of debate about the right to vote. My friend insists that as the Suffragettes fought so hard for that right we should all feel obliged to do so. I in turn argue that if they fought for the freedom to vote, they also fought for the freedom to not do so if there’s no appropriate representative. My friend continues that if one party is marginally less draconian than another then pragmatically we should use our vote to ensure the more progressive party wins. I contend that if selecting the lesser of two evils is the pinnacle of our ambition we have let ourselves down spectacularly.

Now what does this have to do with Feminism? Well broadly, not a lot beyond the fleeting mention of our good friends Emeline and the Jetts – but it does set me to thinking about the struggle for gender-equality in similar terms.

Is merely chipping away at the abuse and oppression of women in our culture enough?

It worries me that perhaps we’re not being ambitious enough, that perhaps rather than specifically focusing on the issues around women’s rights what we should be aiming at is a genuine Humanism which would contain within it by definition not only Feminism, but all kinds of racial and social tolerance.

Because we have created a society which subjugates women, of course we must continue to fight for their rights. And because we’ve chosen to build up such arbitrary social barriers along gender lines we must continue to work hard to break them down – but let’s not allow these pragmatic struggles cloud us to the bigger-picture.

That women are equal to men is clearly, ontologically true and historically it is clear why Feminism has existed. Let us never forget the efforts of the Pankhurts and Davisons, the Greers and Steinems who’ve shattered windows and perceptions all across the world.

But let’s also be careful that by isolating the struggle for female equality, we don’t isolate women, that we don’t allow the cultural group-think to put this school of thought into a little, pink, gender-specific box marked “Women’s Rights”.

If we’re to redefine Feminism for our modern circumstances and frame it in such as was as to be inclusive to men too, we must be extremely vigilant that we don’t allow ourselves to be distracted from the wider point; that all people are equally deserving of tolerance and respect and that once we’ve learned that lesson, Feminism will have no more use to us than…. a bicycle to a fish.

[Republished from http://pinuppayback.com/2013/11/08/bear-vs-maneros-peter-bevan-feminism-is-for-everyone-and-it-doesnt-end-there/]