29 March 2012

This music biz malarkey / Why do we do it
About a week or so ago, would-be-trend-making magazine 'The Quietus', twitted the following:
'Was a time when a track-by-track preview of an LP involving Jack White would bust a site. What's changed, readers?'
There's a pretty easy answer to that:
- Nothing has changed, while everything has changed.
The music industry is driven by a single non-stop motion: churning forward.
Jack White was the man of the moment, about, say, 5 years ago?
We haven't stopped loving him or his music, it's just that now there's this new guy in town, you know the one, Jack Red?, or Black? or whoever. Now, he is the one we all wanna read about.
Nothing profoundly wrong with that, it's just the nature of the entertainment beast, but it does pose the question: why do artists keep releasing music and remain willing participants in an incongruous carousel that, as the years go by, will inevitably throw them further and further to the back of the fading queue?
Why do we keep doing it?
To understand why we do it, we need to unravel the reasons why we don't do it.
No - I can safely say, fame is definitely not the reason why we do it, as most artists are quick to realise the weak nature of this animal, and disregard it as a mere offshoot of your desire to release and share your works with the public.
I used to be on the vip list at Damien Hirst's Pharmacy restaurant in Notting Hill (yes, go ahead, Isabel, you name-drop it like it means something) - but, my point is, what does this mean?
Does this have any tangible meaning?
None whatsoever, only that some PR person, who probably never even heard my songs, one day came across my name and decided I was cool enough and deserving to be on that list. Well done.
Your music, your universe, made of real sweat and real blood, now reduced to the bottom of the formaldehyde who's who c-list. Pitiful.
I never went, as eating fake fish'n'chips from a medicine cabinet didn't quite appeal to me.
And it proved particularly useless when I was down and out, and could barely scrape enough for a portion of chips at my local Mile End chippie.
The only vaguely good thing about fame I can think of, is that it will make your parents feel proud of you. Yes, you - the rebel nothing-good-can-come-out-of-this-one has finally found something to do with his wasteful life, and we have printed articles and newspaper photos to prove it. There! - I knew he was special.
My mother used to collect magazines cut-outs and it makes me happy to know that all those mostly irrelevant, long-forgotten reviews and write-ups brought her some joy.
But ultimately, fame is feeble, all forgotten, amounts to very little.
Money - now we're talking, right? Katchinnng!
Sure, it's good to be able to pay bills like normal people do, and not have to dread that knock on your door, and hide away from the bailiffs. But most artists I know will indeed have chosen to live for their art, and make whatever sacrifices necessary to do so.
It's not martyrdom, it's a life choice.
It's wanting to spend as much time as possible doing that which comes naturally - that's not entertainment, that's fulfilment, and how can you put a price on that?
And for many the road ahead will be tough and unpredictable, a gauche and broken path, with no certainties or clear direction.
It's also pretty obvious that so very few make any real money in this industry - only the fat dinosaurs, people like Lady Kaka or Madonna - but for most, the chances of making a fortune this way are so slim and remote - that I can confidently say that, if it's money you're after, then you'd be better off digging for gold in your neighbour's back-garden.
It baffles me that most of humanity seem to be fixed on this idea that money is where it's at - as the High Establishment discreetly laughs away at our own stupidity: 'Yep, we got the suckers where we need'em: quietly working their asses off into oblivion.'
No - money is certainly not the reason why we do it.
But you do get free drinks, though, which, I suppose, is a nice incentive.
Now, perhaps you're thinking, maybe you're tempted by that whole ego-trip-mind-bling: dozens of strangers loving you, telling you're the greatest thing in the world, cute guys wanting to sleep with you just 'cause you managed to rhyme alone with heart of stone.
Surely, that's got to be where it's at, non?
Well, from experience, let me tell you - I really don't think artists need their egos boosted at all - not an inch. But why?
Because in order to cross that line, to take your work into the public arena, you need to have complete belief in yourself and be totally confident that what you're doing is worth doing.
Otherwise, you just couldn't do it.
The only way you can overcome the many pitfalls, the heartaches, the setbacks, is by having this innate, near irrational faith of Kierkegaardian proportions in your work.
And I really don't think this is a trait particular to Monteiro or Drugstore, but something secretly shared, but often not acknowledged, by most artists.
It's not arrogance, but sheer belief.
We don't do it to be loved by others, we do it, because we love what we do and believe in it wholeheartedly.
So, if it's not fame and fortune or ego-stroke that get us going, what in the name of Don Quixote is it, then?
I have long suspected that all artists suffer from this common creative disease, this little bug that bites inside, and from which we can only recover by fulfilling the ideas that keep cropping in our heads.
For once you've seen it as an abstract tugging at your thoughts, you simply have to succumb to it and bring it to life.
You just have to do it.
I once wrote, right at the beginning of this 'anatomy' process, just as I was starting to write the 1st songs for the new album, jokingly, that an army of naked Venusians armed with rayguns could not try to stop me - cocky, huh?
Guess I was trying to get across this feeling, this drive, this need to do it and not be in peace until it's done, no matter how many or tall the windmills ahead.
In a funny way, artists have much in common with house-builders and painters-and-decorators, we both have the drive to get things done, and once the dust settles, and the work is finished, there's that precious moment, when you finally stop, sit and stare, quietly thinking:
'Yep, I've done that, and it's pretty much how I pictured in my head.'
It's a real nice feeling, and that I believe, is one of the genuine reasons why we do it.
I cringe every time I hear a musician state that: 'Well, if other people like our stuff... that's a bonus'.
What?! Are you seriously telling me you went through all this trouble, heartache, effort and pain, and you don't even care what others are going to make of it?! Why bother releasing it, then?
It simply doesn't make any sense - for keeping it locked inside the cave would certainly be an awful lot easier and way less stressful by the hundred-load.
The sole reason why we put our stuff out in the open, is in hope that someone else will get something from it, make some sense of it.
Everyone's got a story to tell, but a story remains dead and quite redundant if there is no one else to hear it.
That is a primitive and natural human instinct, to share, to talk, to get feedback - it's at the very heart of what it means to be human:
w-e -- c-o-m-m-u-n-i-c-a-t-e.
And whether we do it for thousands of people at the peak of our musical lives, or a few hundred, and even a single dozen towards the end, it really is totally irrelevant.
As long as the drive and need to write and share is still kicking inside - I believe it is your god-forsaken-given right to do it.
And when eventually someone else makes a connection with your work, it feels like the project has at last reached its ultimate conclusion, and the long line of fairy-lights you've been painstakingly stringing along, finally gets switched on.
And that is the other real reason why we keep doing what we do, regardless.
For when it fully lights up, it never fails to be a pretty sight - worthy of all of our efforts.

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