Those striving to make their living in the music industry of late are facing the same bleak prospects as a coal miner in the eighties. Although if I recall correctly you weren’t able to download coal in the ’80s, but aside from that minor difference it’s perfectly identical.
The stalwarts of old, i.e. the major labels are falling to the ground with all guns blazing because they’re only priority is keeping their investors happy. There is no one person able to create a convincing enough long term plan such that the probability of success is high and the change minimal. If someone did work that out, they’d be better off going it alone. The only way to even possibly resurrect the structures of old would be for the big hitters to co-operate and instigate unified long term plans, but it’d be naive to think they’d trust each other enough to achieve that. This isn’t just a case of splitting the bill after a meal despite the fact that Luke had three beers and I wasn’t drinking this evening so I don’t see why I should have to fund his liver failure, there are billions at stake. It takes a long time to steer a big fucking ship, especially when there are as many hands on the wheel as on me in that day dream I keep having.
So taking those aside, the great commentators seem to be the those directly affected by what’s happening. Now lets face it, these people are hardly known for their shrewd economic forecasting powers. They’re artists, technicians, journalists, fans, people in pubs, people with “Craig 4Eva” tattooed to their forehead after convincing themselves that their 76 text messages towards the first ever winner of Big Brother was going to be monumental enough that one day people would say to each other “where were you when Craig won?”. They’re successful because of their creativity and localised ability. They’re all happy to conjure up observations on the world around us, but as far as solutions go, you’re so frequently left with the amazing insights of “well, I don’t know” or “yeah, nuke them all in court like we did to Turkmenistan!” or “TalkTalk killed my mother and raped my father”. When it takes the arbitrary voice of Lily Allen to cause a stir, you know that the only people paying attention are idiots.
The supposed benefit from so much more music being easily available to the masses to explore with minimal effort has hardly been the cultural revolution once hoped for either. With so much selection, most get confused and a little scared. The majority of people don’t care enough about music to know the difference between skullstep & technoid, they just want something suitably bland to listen to and say things like “Yeah, I’m into a bit of pretty much everything!” or “As far as I’m concerned there’s only good music and bad music.” or “Eclectic me, everything from Mozart to Metallica!”. They want something to talk about with their friends or something that will make them look cool (i.e. the sweet spot between over & underexposure). When someone at a house party tells me in great detail about a U2 show they recently attended with other listeners smiling with mutual approval, my interjection about the great French Horn Rebellion show I witnessed recently is met with indifferent glazed stares as I end up nervously describing everything in painful detail while they wait for their turn to start talking.
It’s the prospect of big money that gets the great minds to give thought to practical, long term solutions. You could argue that’s already happening when you look at glorified freak shows like The X Factor and Pop Fisting, but I believe the appeal in these shows to be as much about music as WWE is about wrestling techniques. Services like Spotify and Last.fm still seem relatively precarious as their presence continues to grow online with confusing business models. Things are changing, and with a fear for the future people are more inclined to hang on to the past than embrace new things. Music will always continue to be made, but only the determined and flexible will be able to make it their career. Most people aren’t fussy about the medium, they just want to be entertained though the niche of a creative musician will continue to exist as long as grown men develop unhealthy fascinations with specific subject matters.
With all of this doomsaying, you might wonder why I’m bothering to continue with my band Neon Highwire and I’ll tell you why. It’s because I fucking love it. The moment you get a great idea for a song. The slight change you make to a tune that’s bothering you that suddenly helps it all make sense. The fascinated look of an unfamiliar face in the crowd as you play your heart out. These are the borderline erection inducing things which make it all worthwhile. It sucks that we have to work full time jobs to subsidise this, but nobody’s forcing us to do it. We could make it so much easier if we worked solo and adjusted the live show to be as simple as possible, but we don’t. We’ve chosen this, and will continue to do so. No-one has a divine right to their dream job, but with hard work they’re more likely to obtain it.