I worked in nightclub security from 2004-2010, so I pretty much went off all mainstream music when hearing the same cheesy requests and chart dance or R'n'B night after night turned my brain to mush. I liked what the local DJs were doing in their own time much better, and the mashing-up of existing tunes to create new sounds, sometimes on the spur of the moment, never to be repeated. I go on Soundcloud nowadays and look for artists like Dominatrix Rmx and Reaps (Reaps/reaps007 on Youtube) mashing up my favourite old tunes by Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails. Daft Punk are one of the few current bands I like, and that's mainly because of their remixes and alternative versions (they also started out before the internet was a big wahoony too).
But when there was nothing on TV yesterday morning and I was trying to do my physio exercises, I switched over to the music channel and caught a few news clips of the Grammy awards ceremony. And I was really startled by how alienating it was.
This didn't appear to be the music industry as I recalled it. It was the money industry. Patting itself on the back and applauding its own adopted politics and talent. I've seen kids on Youtube with two sticks and a bucket who have more talent.
If you're passing him in an Australian mall and don't stop to listen, I would so swap places with you...
I found myself looking at all the 'industry' professionals in the Grammy awards audience, and wondering what place the fans have in all of it (you know, fans, those lowly lumpenproletariat currently waging war against gig ticket hidden charges). That show wasn't about the fans and what the youth masses are thinking about from day to day. It was about money and politics and the bling that Madonna wants to pimp out her kid's teeth with.
Maybe they brought the first-world politics into it because they're so far removed from the real world that they need some lifeline to claw a way back into the empathy of the viewers. But it didn't disguise the bizarre members-only club that the upper echelons of the music industry has so transparently become. Not helped along by all of these 'talent shows' where the money industry now openly stamps its brand on some hopeful in order to make a fast buck.
I have a teenager a bit younger than Madge's eldest, and she's never engaged with what's on the TV unless it's stand-up comedy or Top Gear. She gets all of her music from Youtube inspiration, watching manga fan videos made by children her age all around the world, and the music that they share which isn't shoved down their throats by today's chart-topping marketing moguls.
Over 34.5 million views and comments still being uploaded - that's a real-world fan-base...
Last week I retweeted a friend's Twitter post about his band getting mentioned in Kerrang! magazine, and suddenly my Twitter follows turned into a MySpace stampede. Instead of chirpy indie authors adding me with the tag line "Here's my author page on Amazon, please leave me a review" suddenly it was bands and artists deluging me with "Our new single is on Youtube!" and "Latest album out now on iTunes!" Don't get me wrong, I bloody love it (and their music!) but it makes me realise what a tiny little miniscule petty self-satisfied corner of the 'music business' the Grammys are, and they're only on TV because they've got most of our kids' pocket money.
The latest video for "Happy" by Pharrell Williams (LOVE it, in spite of my ranting!!) is a demonstration of money spent on something to fit in with what everyone in the real world is watching anyway. Fatboy Slim did the same as I recall, back in the day - who can remind me of that song? Moby is probably another one...
Pharrell's feelgood tune from 'Despicable Me' promo emulates Youtube home videos and fan videos
Meanwhile, the rest of the money industry seems to think achievement is all about strutting around dressing and behaving like an actual pimp, male or female. Which doesn't seem to fit very well with the first-world news and politics right now.
As an indie writer it made me think about the book publishing industry in the same way. Major publishers can't deliver books at the same rate and quality that the indies and self-publishers are uploading them (rapidly approaching 50,000 new titles per week at present onto Kindle, Smashwords and other platforms). What appears on the foremost shelves of Waterstones and other stores has been paid for, its prime positioning guaranteed by one of the Big Six publishing houses - the readers don't get a say in what they see first as they walk into the store, and neither do the store management.
But what writers have to face is that readers move on quickly from one book to the next. Yes, they may get 100 readers keen on their story and few knock-on recommendations, but once a book is put down, the reader wants another adventure. The writer can't (and shouldn't) expect that handful of readers to do their promotional work when the reader has his or her own life and interests to get on with once they've put the book away (although I know one or two individuals who can't move on from one book or another *snorts inappropriately*).
Good music is different. Those four minutes of heaven can trigger off an unlimited number of adventures in the listener's mind, so favourite songs are revisited and shared far more often than a book ever will be. And that's because the listener's imagination is in complete charge. They can plug in a set of headphones and get on with enjoying their life at the same time.
Also - the singer and songwriter isn't looking over their shoulder saying 'This is what I want you to be thinking about when you listen to my tune. Here are some discussion topics and questions to raise when you hear my song out in a nightclub with your friends, or with your 'listening group'. And I would appreciate it if you would leave me a review on Amazon...'
The best music doesn't have the musician's agenda attached. It just has a little bit of their soul. The rest is for the listener to interpret, and to go away and play with in their own imagination and inspire their own creativity.
But when I see first-world money-industry artists acting like entitled tits (Adele's early rant over her £4m tax bill comes to mind, thanks for all the NHS treatment by the way) they seem to have lost the joy of just sharing something now it's become their new branded lifestyle, and they're finally in that tiny little industry country club at the top of the TV mountain. I forget about their nice music because all I see and hear is their spoilt whining.
I wonder when any of them are going to experience being noticed for any skill, kind word, good deed, receive a spontaneous compliment, without a sense of political obligation or the media pointing at them first? And is that what any of them wanted when they started out? To be a puppet for the industry's marketing agendas?
And what's with the culture of wanting to be "known for something" whether it's a skill, an art or a job - what's wrong with just being known as yourself, as a person who does a few things? And why are we putting the ones who send out the most extreme mixed messages on pedestals, combining 'Dress Like Pimps & Hoes Day' with sexual equality politics? I'm sure this year's Grammys was the first time Madonna has put the bottom half of her suit on in about thirty years. No wonder she needed a stick, the unfamiliar chafing must have been insurmountable... *wanders off topic*
I remember Ye Olden Days when you could draw a picture or play a little guitar for yourself and feel like you'd achieved something. Now you can go online and see any number of youngsters with more talent than you can conceive of.
And the fact it's even there tells us that having talent of any kind is not that unusual. Not every talented child's parent is putting videos of them on Youtube. One of my brothers could find and change a spare wheel on a car aged six. That's a skill.
What is unusual is that a bunch of marketing experts and fashion sponsors exists with ways of convincing us it's so rare to have any talent whatsoever, the money and attention they suck up for it is justified. And they do this by only showing us the extremes next to one another on these talent shows.
Encourage your creative peers and your kids in their own right. Don't teach them that being the next double-standard, branded piece of merchandising is the future. Let them share what they want to share and find enthusiasm for it in ways they can appreciate as real people. Being creative is rewarding, but then so is doing a regular job that people respect you for. And that's without being asked to represent an entire sexual and political movement while being trolled by fake fan user accounts on social media.
Even big celebrities now want to get closer to these guys who are able to share their talents online with the world, or other passers-by discover them for us - the ones who just do something for fun, without a big management team taking 80-90% of their income. People doing what they love creatively, and others love them just for doing that...
The Darth Vader Unipiper is corralled onto TV, so they can check if he's really real...
I guess in summing up I just want to say, enjoy what you do creatively and artistically. Don't compare it to what the money industry, members-only club is doing. If you want to share, share. If you want to go out and perform in public, go for it. But do it for yourself first. Don't let the fun drain out of it in pursuit of what you imagine that other thing might turn out to be.