“Can I just get us to stop for a moment so I can say a few words in appreciation of bad music?”
A hundred or so people – academics, actually – looked at me as if I’d asked them to consider Hitler’s more positive contributions to geopolitical stability.
We’d been talking all day at the Severn Pop conference in Bristol about independent music online, the ways in which fans can connect with the artists they love, the different models for music business, and some of the creative and interesting ways in which thoughtful and innovative musicians could rise above the crowd and start to connect their art with a willing and sustainable marketplace.
“I don’t necessarily want to listen to bad music, but I want to point out that one of the really wonderful affordances of the current media environment is that it enables – even encourages – participation. It’s not all a question of professionalisation. Music isn’t just a job, and commerce isn’t its only necessary context. Of course, I love it when great music is made possible or supported through the redistribution of capital – but the barrier to entry is much lower now…”
“Yes, but to be a musician requires a lifetime of practice and skill,” offered one delegate, “and we need to honour and recognise that…”
Now, I’m all in favour of talented and highly skilled artists making wonderful and moving pieces of music. And I am definitely in favour of them being able to do so in a way that allows them to put food on the table. But one of the conversations that kept coming up today was about how those people can ‘rise above the noise’ of all the music that’s now out there. What to do about all the ‘crap’…?
But I like the ‘crap’, and I felt I should say so. Or at least – I love that it exists. Besides, your measure and mine of what constitutes terrible music may differ…
The fact that more people can make, release, promote and distribute their own music means that more people get the opportunity to engage with creative expression in ways that are meaningful and satisfying to them. It means they’re not just passive consumers. And they get a chance to get better at it.
Not necessarily Albert Hall better or 1,000 True Fans better – but better.
“Substitute the word ‘cooking’. There is no tension between all the people making meals at home and those professional chefs creating masterpieces in fancy restaurants. It’s not a perfect metaphor – but it’s a nice parallel. Giving them the tools and skills to make more and better meals at home makes food better in general. Likewise music.”
“Yeah, but we have Health and Safety laws…” (laughter)
“Like I said – not a perfect metaphor, but a useful analogy.”
Besides, nobody ever died of dubstep poisoning.