Is the method of the marginalised musician the future of the whole industry?
To qualify my wanker status I am currently working on a research masters at QUT. The exact nature of the project is still in flux, but having just been enrolled I spent the weekend at the library reading about “The Saints’, “The Triffids”, “The-Go Betweens” and “Nick Cave” circa “Bad Seeds”, “Birthday Party” and “The Boys Next Door”. Aside from being some of my favourite musicians, I am interested in these bands as I believe they represent a continuing failure of the Australian music industry to recognise the “new guard”. All these musicians were forced to work more or less autonomously as the local industry ignored them in their development.
All of these groups are now recognised as an important part of Australia’s cultural heritage but only after they exported themselves overseas and developed a following abroad. Why are we so afraid of recognising the new guard before it establishes an overseas following? Is it a lack of confidence that leads us to wait for a stamp of approval from the US or Europe? I guess it must be.
Trying to survive while being ignored by the local music industry makes an artist more industrious than if he or she was supported by a large network of publicists, managers, and labels. The story of these bands are of artists who quickly learn how to book there own gigs, press their own records, design their own artwork, run their own marketing campaigns. The Go-Betweens marketed their music by dropping in on European record labels and playing their songs to them, live in their offices. Mick Harvey acted as a booking agent and manager while “The Birthday Party” struggled to survive in London. Completely ignored by the local industry “The Saints” pressed and sold their own records at gigs (a long time before such methods were standard).
The industry often makes the assumption that if they don’t like you, that audiences won’t either, but over and over again bands like these prove that there is an audience for the new guard locally and abroad, it’s just that the industry isn’t savvy enough to find the market. It ties into my own experience, where my blog receives about 3,000 hits a month from around the globe, but locally I have been ignored by the mainstream industry. It is a credit to my management that they signed me three years ago and continue to work with me despite zero recognition by the Australian music industry (with the exception of online bloggers and community radio).
Where am I going with this? Well, the good news is that by all accounts the economy of popular culture is dying at the hands of torrents and the internet. The music industry is the first to fall apart (with about three per cent of albums now recouping costs). With the national broadband network and similar being erected around the world, the next to go will be the film and television industry. Probably radio and print media will follow. Following this there is a good chance that the whole economy will experience an apocalypse like none other ever experienced (not due to this alone, but other economic factors I won’t discuss here, Google “The next economic bubble”).
There will always be a capital incentive for artists, I am not speaking of some utopian era of free information, some sort of socialist society where ideas are free (as much as I’d like to see this). I firmly believe that in the next 20 or so years we will eventually see the death of the middleman, and the artistic market will be an interaction between audiences and artists. No other system will determine the flow of culture. This will lead to an expansion of culture, rather than the relatively homogenised one we have now. Where will the method of distribution and creation be found? It will be found in the methods of artists ignored by the industry. Artists who found ways around the mainstream structure, who were the first to self publish and bypass the industry. This is what I am researching now, their methodologies will become more and more important as the mainstream industry collapses.
I’ll keep you posted if the editor lets me.