The 2nd part of my ramblings on music, my perception of it, and whether it is becoming a throwaway commodity…
To some music is a calling, to others a gift… Many are so fascinated with it they simply need its presence to the extent that they want to become a part of it, by creating it… Not everyone can be successful at it, sadly… Some have a natural feel for constructing tunes, beats and words that will attract the most listeners, while others can get lost in the process, leading to epic swathes of virtuoso technicality (that the everyday listener simply won’t grasp when simply looking for a thumping beat and a phrase to repeat)… The former will get media coverage and sales while the latter will have a niche following that appreciate their craft but are not enough in numbers to sustain it.
Almost all Metal musicians have to hold down day jobs (especially in South Africa). Why should it be an expensive hobby rather than a career? Live shows can’t keep an alternative band afloat – there are only as many venues, as many supporters, and playing 3 times a week is impossible (unless you have a cover band on the side).
Album sales are essential to enable a band to develop into an established act. Is that possible on our turf? And is it possible if hundreds of people rip and upload it to be accessed for free by all, downloaded to thousands of other listeners who can also do so until it’s saturated? Terminatryx discovered some locations like one in Russia that had our “Shadow” album up almost the same week of its release! – its download counter racking up eye popping amounts that outweighs our actual sales.
On a related illustrative issue, the quality of many porn companies’ output dropped dramatically because of on-line piracy – they simply cannot plough money back into new content because that stream is drained…
For a band, if they can’t at least break even on their current album, how do they fund the next one? (let alone pay rent or eat). Racking up more debt for people to hear their music? Does it make sense? No wonder so many bands go as quickly as they come. Would you blindly agree to work for your employer without compensation?
Some would say: “If you can’t draw enough listeners, then you suck and shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing” – It’s not that simple.
Would you feel offended, violated, outraged if the same guy that made the new Carcass album available for you to download for free hacks your computer or smartphone and rummages around your personal files, taking it and making it available to the rest of the world without your permission?
I’ve been in Metal / Alternative / Industrial bands since the ’80s (incl. Moral Decay, Metalmorphosis, V.O.D – Voice Of Destruction, K.O.B.U.S., Terminatryx, The Makabra Ensemble, my solo project F8) – I’m no accountant and haven’t done a debit and credit spreadsheet of the last 30 years, but I reckon it’s safe to say that I’ve put more into it than I got out (in financial terms). But, because I love the music, I keep doing it, resigning to the fact that here in South Africa that seems to be the norm (although it shouldn’t be). Most bands get despondent and give up. Would it be a different story if they could sell their music like any other product and get fairly compensated for it? Or get equal radio spins like that which everyone deems to be acceptable or “normal” music?
It is also interesting how people outside of South Africa seem far more enthusiastic about our music than the locals – don’t get me wrong, we have die-hard local fans and love each and every one of them, but foreigners on the one hand find the location intriguing, but are even more impressed when the music actually speaks to them (as we found with our IndieGoGo supporters on our Terminatryx “Shadow” album). We’ve had people who initially grabbed an illegal download of our music, but then ended up ordering hard copies and merch from us afterwards – Granted these are isolated cases, but encouraging.
When everyone grilled Metallica’s Lars Ulrich for lashing out at Napster, I understood where he came from, having struggled in bands for many years up until that point (but hardly reaching their level of popularity). Sure, they were millionaires and wouldn’t technically miss the income, and he did go about it in his somewhat arrogant ‘Lars’ way, but that’s not the point. The oil companies of the world are some of the biggest money spinners (not musicians or movie-makers) – does anyone drive in at a gas station, fill up and leave, telling the attendant not to worry because the oil companies make enough money? That would be a conversation with the cops or the hot end of a bullet a block down the road…
While his bank balance was not exactly in jeopardy, Lars in effect spoke up for all musicians, including the smaller struggling bands whose music was also being shared without their permission – bands who are struggling just like Metallica did when they started out. If a band says: “Sure, here it is, do with it as you please”, that’s fine – it is not however a declaration of carte blanche for all music.
When Taylor Swift recently had a mini furore with Apple regarding musician remuneration (whether it was a marketing ploy or not), she was hailed a heroine… but Lars was deemed a whining wealthy pariah who just wanted more money…
So why is it so easy to grab someone’s music (or movies) from a file-sharing location or elsewhere at no cost? Is it because these files are virtually invisible (and not tangible and packaged like a CD), that it seems harmless?
Has music become worthless? Or at least perceived as such? It is hardly a scarce commodity. Shouldn’t musicians be able to make a living with their craft? (whatever genre). It is the norm with every other job, isn’t it? From truck drivers to video store clerks or insurance salesmen. The starving artists schpiel is not a romantic notion. And to create original music can be even harder – A friend from a prominent ’90s rock band recently revealed he’s made more money playing just a few shows in his new cover band than his entire early band “career”…! Fucked-up or what?
So, there are hundreds of different ways we justify grabbing a song, an album, a movie or TV series from somewhere on-line, but deep down, does our conscience gnaw at us? If not, should we be worried that this is having a global effect on our moral compass? And can this expand to other parts of life? Just like we won’t stroll out of a record store with a stack of CDs or DVDs, is it that faceless anonymity that makes it so much easier to do via the internet?
Is a new generation growing up expecting their music to be free at all times?
Sure, the music industry is going through serious changes and large exploitative labels that cashed in on artists for decades have to reconsider their approach. Whether the musicians will really take it back, we’re yet to see. Marketing seems to have outweighed the actual music, so those who reach the people wins…? Some bands eventually have to resort to gimmicks to get attention amid the clamouring horde, or bending their identity to sound like the flavour of the moment – Selling out is relative, and I won’t condemn someone who decides they want to adapt their music to get more listeners – It’s their business (literally!). But they run the risk of losing their hardcore fans that may have been with them since the beginning – Celtic Frost and “Cold Lake” anyone?
Vinyl’s resurgence has added a tangibility to music. I loved the gatefold sleeves, large format artwork and details you got to peruse while listening to your brand new album for the first time (and if it strikes a chord many more spins thereafter) – and the smell of those import sleeves and vinyl still lingers – an all round sensory experience. Even if this resurgence is just a fad, a hipster trend, or another way to cash in, in one way piracy in that particular format is not as easy as ripping a file.
By playing a vinyl record, you regain a physical connection with the music. An iTunes playlist on random becomes mere background wallpaper and can drone on for weeks non-stop. With the records you peruse the shelf, pick out what you want to hear (to fit the current mood), physically cue it up, and at the end of side A, you have to get up and turn it over. Lazy asses would scoff at this laborious, antiquated task. But, I feel this reconnection brings you closer to the music again.
Sure, we live in a world of fast-faster-fastest, more convenience, quicker this & that. Sometimes you need to kick back and take it easy. When you go out to see live bands, you get ready, drive out, link up with friends, maybe queue outside, have drinks, chat and catch up – only several hours after your journey began do you get to see the band, starting when they’re scheduled – the entire night’s experiences wrapped around this group and their music, sometimes resulting in indelible and lasting memories. This could be the moment you fall in love, meet someone who will impact your life forever, or simply have an experience you can think back on as “one of the best nights of my life”.
That’s surely worth something…?
Drop us a reply if you agree or disagree with any of these ramblings…
To be concluded in the 3rd and final part