I watched two music shows on TV. One was a documentary about Jimi Hendrix and in the other Paolo Nutini performed at T In The Park. Paolo Nutini, I was surprised to hear, is a very good singer, even if his music isn’t my cuppa. But it struck me like bolt of lighting just how original, groundbreaking and remarkable Jimi must have been in his day. He was so unique that his work blows people out of the water 50 years later.
I had a conversation with a young band about why so little of modern music breaks new ground, a supposition with which they agreed. The unwillingness of record labels to take risks is often mentioned in this context. Meh…. labels don’t make music. Musicians do.
Besides, there are many like us in the business who actively look to work with weird and wonderful new music. So it’s just not true to say that there are no channels for new music to blossom.
This young band, all recent graduates of music schools, said the schools foster a culture of “being professional” that equates to playing it safe, not rocking the boat, being accessible, malleable. With their emphasis on “the business”, these schools may well feel they are manufacturing astute musical entrepreneurs, except that:
Notice that bit about taking risks. If you’re unwilling to rock the boat, why would kids wanna rock?
I dropped out/was expelled from my music college for refusing to sing Lionel Richie’s Hello the way they wanted it sung. My small act of personal rebellion aside, the important thing I remember from those days is that there was, among my peers, a big drive to find something new. We’d purposefully attempt to do whatever everyone else wasn’t doing.
It’s baffling to hear so little of this desire in new bands’ demos. It’s as if the competition is to create something that “the market wants”. A lot of them actually ask about it, as if anyone had a clue as to what it wants.
Some say that it’s hard to do anything new and original because everything has already been done. Did you know that in the late 1800s people in the science community declared that science had come as far as it would go?
In addition to musical risks, there must be a willingness to take “life risks”, i.e. do things the inevitable outcome of which is that you’ll be broke: something lower than a cockroach on the Richter scale of social status in a world devoted to affluence.
Many a wannabe is able to spend a few hundred quid on a holiday, while not wanting to do a gig that costs them £30 in petrol.
I often hear: “if given the opportunity, we’d quit our jobs and focus on the band”. Not one of the victorious German football team got the opportunity to drop everything so they could focus on kicking a ball. All of them had been kicking a ball for a very long time, playing on shitty pitches fighting against tough people who didn’t want them to get one bit of their meal ticket – all this LONG before they got good enough to be able to compete at “the next level”. It cost a lot of money, time and effort to get there, without any guarantee that it would happen. The life risk was huge.
For those unwilling to take such risks, there are some good news: there is a seat reserved for you at your local where you can pass judgement on guys like Paolo Nutini and anyone else who has made it. Fellow experts on how the music business conspires against true talent will strongly agree with you.
In the meantime, a hungry bunch of crazy weirdos are creating something crazy and weird in a rehearsal room that stinks of beer and sweat. I hope they find me. They won’t if I find them first.