Love and Affection: Ode on a Sunny Day, a Song and Hope

I am not in love,
But I’m open to persuasion

With the launch of Apple’s streaming music platform there has been much talk about the value of music. Many musicians are worried at the rise of streaming culture as it will impact on their earnings and ability to fund making more music. Music is more than commerce and more than a recording. Culture is not just a thing of the present. It is a web that spans time, links people together and defines us through our tastes.

I recently found a video of Joan Armatrading performing Love and Affection at Glastonbury in 2008. The performance is on the Jazz/World Stage on a sunny day, and it has stuck with me. This captured moment from seven years ago has become my version of Keats’ grecian urn.

This four and a half minute video sends me spinning off into a web of thoughts, looking back to 1976 when it was recorded, seeing the contrast between the Joan Armatrading then and the woman performing the song 32 years later, looking at the resonance the song has on the audience in that sunny field in Somerset and seeing them as a visible indicator of the power of the song and the woman. Continue reading Love and Affection: Ode on a Sunny Day, a Song and Hope

The Panopticon of Sales Culture is a Millstone on Innovation

The attempt by Ms Kardashian and Paper Magazine to “break the internet” didn’t quite live up to billing, but it did seem to break the common sense and discernment of millions of people. In a sense Ms Kardashian is little but a brand. Her existence is so mediated that it cannot exist outside of the frame of a photograph, video or article.

We're all here to see Khloe Kardashian smash a wall filled with vagina euphemisms by Yusuf C licensed under CC BY 2.0
We’re all here to see Khloe Kardashian smash a wall filled with vagina euphemisms by Yusuf C licensed under CC BY 2.0

The phenomenon of Ms Kardashian, and celebrities in general, is largely irrelevant to me, but the existence of this culture as an epiphenomenon to the globalised market economy is an indicator of a deeply worrying trend. Continue reading The Panopticon of Sales Culture is a Millstone on Innovation

Being a professional indie musician isn’t for everyone: Lessons from Charles Ives and Shellac

Charles Ives, 1913
Charles Ives was a very good insurance agent but he was also one of the finest American composers. His work is extraordinary and he created almost all his wonderful music while holding down a full-time job.

If you’re trying to make even a partial living as an indie musician you’re a businessperson, and the news gets worse… You’re a small business. That’s a tough row to hoe as it’s unlikely you’ll have much support. You’re going to have to fill lots of roles all by yourself, publicist, customer relations, sales, accounts and legal for starters. That’s all you. If you know a bit about any of those roles that’s great. If not get studying.

Talent and even producing wonderful music is only a component of success. There are lots of talented people and as a consumer it feels like there’s lots of music out there to listen to and quite a lot of it is really good. The way to garner an audience is to be good at publicising yourself and managing your relationship with your audience. The way to prosper (or at least survive) financially is to be good at selling stuff and managing the money that earns you.

This isn’t for everyone, but just because your music might not be your job doesn’t devalue your music at all. It might even be the best path you could take. You might be better off keeping your music as a hobby in the sense of something done for pleasure rather than for financial compensation. This can be a great liberation. Music doesn’t have to be your career, and choosing to make your living elsewhere doesn’t make your music any worse. In fact it could make it better.

Upsides to not making a living from your music:

  • Freedom to create whatever you want
  • No worries about pleasing anyone else
  • No stress about sales and income

Downsides to not making a living from your music:

  • Music becomes your second job
  • Time and energy may be hard to find
  • Difficult to be taken seriously as a musician

There are two interesting and very different examples of musicians who have taken this path in Charles Ives and Shellac. Continue reading Being a professional indie musician isn’t for everyone: Lessons from Charles Ives and Shellac