“What Happens Now For Music?” is a growth area of exploration, both for academics and industry analysts, consultants and representative bodies.
The old machine that has controlled things for the last 40-50 years have their lobbyists and their clumsy, internet-ruining political agenda, but for the rest of us who give a shit about little things like ethics, art and culture, the questions are WAY bigger than ‘how can we pretend we’re making less money while actually making more money so that we can make EVEN more money, and still blame the internet for our made up failure?’
No, the bigger questions start with challenging the foundational principles of what the relationship is between a culture and its soundtrack, and how we can define success for those musicians who are somehow meaningfully engaged in the process of creating that soundtrack.
Because, as we’ve explored here many times before, the old model was wholly unsustainable and unsuccessful in any meaningful measure for the vast majority of musicians who engaged with it. Even for many of those that we perceive as successes, it took them acquiescing to a wholly alien notion of success as defined by the worst excesses of Late 20th Century hypermodernity. One completely at odds with their reasons for making music in the first place. In oh-so-many cases, a career in music became a shit day job that stopped them making music that they cared about.
So when we start exploring what ‘success’ might look like, or who the success stories are that are emerging from the new music ecosystem, we need to throw out discredited notions of success that somehow link success to abstract metrics of ‘reach’ and ‘audience’, and certainly quash any notion that fame was a meaningful indicator of anything related to success.
As Nik Kershaw so succinctly put it on an episode of Trisha years ago – Fame was the downside to success.
I tweeted a list of possible metrics for success a couple of hours ago, and I’ll repeat them here:
- Sustainability – can I keep doing this?
- Independence – creative, economic and strategic independence – what music am I making? How am I funding it and how is it making that money back, and what’s the bigger plan?
- Progress – linked to strategy – is my own artistic and personal progress happening in a way that I’m comfortable with? How would I measure that?
- Fun – seriously, being a musician is the greatest privilege in the world, whether or not you get paid for it. The joy of making music should never get obscured by the slog that getting into the position of being able to make music for other people often becomes. How do I define my own satisfaction with the Big Project of my music life?
Those are the big questions, and none of them are helpfully answered by looking at chart positions, stadium appearances, TV credits or numbers of Twitter followers.
They change from artist to artist, and given that ‘success’ can now exist quite happily and sustainably with a core audience of only a few hundred people, and can even be enhanced by the performer having an outside source of income, we need to be looking at some much more foundational defining questions before we start trying to match like for like in the process of building alternatives to the myth machine of the 20th century.
So, musicians, what is success for you? Did you have to let go of a long-held dream of super-stardom to find what you were looking for? Do you still – deep-down – actually want to be a rock star? Is your future so bright you gotta wear shades, while playing to 30 people in a friend’s living room? Answers in the comments, please :)by