THE FUTURE OF MUSIC? CHOOSE WISELY
It’s looking pretty grim isn’t it. Even if the figures are wrong — 90% of grassroots venues facing closure / 50% of live music industry workforce facing unemployment — we know that it’s grim. Us music lovers, music makers, gig goers, festival aficionados and everyone working in this vast industry — we don’t need the stats, we can feel it. We can feel it not only in the desperate fear of every musician, engineer, roadie, small venue owner, techie, agent & staff member — but in the gaping hole in our soul. The space where the ecstasy of a gig used to be. The transcendental bliss of good music played loud with a beer in our hand and the thrill in our heart. All us can feel it. And it feels pretty damn grim.
But then again, I think it’s easy to forget just how grim it was already. We were all starting to become desensitised to the daily reality of our iconic venues getting turned into flats and never being able to see our favourite bands play live because they just literally couldn’t afford to tour anymore. When the doors of the lock down closed in March, they weren’t closing on an industry that was known for being equal, honest and meritocratic but an industry that has always been perplexingly unbalanced. An industry which after a fleeting moment of digital democratisation was rapidly regressing back to its old ways of complete major label dominance again. The truth is that live music has been a painful struggle for smaller artists and venues for a long time. We can’t blame the pandemic for that, it’s merely putting the nail in the coffin.
I speak as a musician who lived through the last major music industry crash — entering it as a starry eyed newcomer in the era of homemade CDs, club gigs and Myspace; and still hanging on in there 10 years later as a confused old timer trying to understand this brave new world of format-less music and the need for relentless selfies. Most of the venues I cut my teeth in as a musician closed down years ago and that trend has been ramping up faster ever since. When the music industry had its catastrophic collapse in the early 2000’s due to the arrival of digital music (and a completely un-durable business model), a whole generation of awesome artists got lost in the debris. My first ten years in the music industry has been labelled by CNN as ‘musics lost decade’ so personally, I feel like we’ve taken this beating before. What’s happening now isn’t the first time we’ve been through a major blow to our industry and it certainly wont be the last.
So I think we can safely say that the industry will eventually start to recover one day and that going to gigs will become a reality again — but what kind of reality that will be, however, is not one that I’m optimistic about. As with most things, those with the money and the power will be just fine and the rest of us will just have to figure it out or get a job at Amazon. I foresee a dystopian future where the only tours coming to town will be those by a tiny cartel of global mega stars who have enough crowd draw and budget to make it possible. It was going that way already but I think the massive damage done by the pandemic will only speed up the rot. Imagine it if you dare…a world where the only live music on offer is in the form of uber expensive stadium absurdities from a choice of Ed Sheeran, Coldplay or U2.
OR…there may be another option. Each and every single one of us can make a pledge right now that as soon as things start to recover, that we are actually going to support smaller bands and venues — like, properly this time. We live in an age where an album that took a year to make can be bought for less than a Frappuccino and all of us music lovers get to enjoy that reality. Music is practically free now and that’s kind of awesome but also completely unsustainable. If we want a future where we’re still able to stand a few inches in front of next years music legends in some sweaty, dingy underground club on a Tuesday — and loving every damn second of it — then we have to :
1. Actually GO to said sweaty club and PAY to get in (not scab a freebie from the penniless drummer)
2. Support the venue and the other bands by watching them & sinking some beers
3. Buy some damn merch and a CD
4. Spread the word
5. Keep doing it
There is no other answer, we are on our own. We live in the age of uncaring markets. If no one goes to a club, the club closes. If no one buys a bands T-shirt, the band can’t tour. Government help packages are always misguided, short term and given to the wrong regional cliques to misspend. And the music industry only exists to make wagon loads of filthy lucre. We’re on our own. If we want a future where awesome new music can thrive, where we can continue to enjoy the euphoria of a live show without having to wince from row 1056 at whatever generic, PG rated major label product is rinsing us this month, then we — WE — have to make that happen.
It’s going to be a depressingly rough road ahead and it’s likely to be a really long time before live music is even an option. But as it always does, things will slowly start to recover and when they do…I’ll see you down the front at the Dog and Whistle buying merch from Satans Sisters. And you’d better bloody be there.