An Accidental Songwriter ….and Moors, Music and Meditation. The challenges facing emerging singer songwriters today in the Music Industry.

I am probably not the first and I certainly won’t be the last to point out that the music industry comprises two word denoting two paradoxical strands: “Music” and “Industry”. They have probably always been uneasy bedfellows but combined  with the pressures of digitalisation and an immediate pay back kind of economy then the polarity in this relationship is even more pronounced. There are also some unconscious assumptions held by the music industry that need to be challenged in order for there  to be more equality of chance for those trying to be heard. And, we live in an age where “Equality” is a kind of a buzz word, so it is important that these can be addressed. All the views put forward here are based upon personal experience and are not validated by empirical research.

“Music” is about empathic communication: it is all the myriad facets of being alive. It is an art form that reflects our thoughts, culture, belief. It is also a place where we can show the meeting point of ideas, cultures, philosophies. It is therefore a form that melds and changes – or can be. As a creative artist I am drawn to creating beauty, reflection, using  a fusion of instruments that are  old/new/ and geographically from different places, to create a completeness in a song that speaks of feeling/archetype/soundscape that the spirit or soul can connect to. Each composer/songwriter/performer has an individual feel and wish and this shows in the incredible diversity, down the ages and from different cultures of what we can listen to. This is to be celebrated as it is a mirror of our humanity and can also be used as a mirror for ourselves ….to reflect deeper, create change, be positive or  as a catharsis.

Industry is about profit and loss. and creating goods for us to consume. It is based as everything is in the west, on the capitalism of todays society. Profit and progress amount to the same thing in this mode of thinking and accountability and assessment criteria  are the signposts upon which things are judged.

How can these two, music and industry  go happily together? I recently went to a talk held by a very important person in the music industry where I heard that new artists/music are  being developed upon the basis of Spotify trending. I actually could not quite believe my ears. Having been raised in a creative family where I have been encouraged to create something unique or different or thoughtful , then what I heard is a total anathema to this( and my family have been successful doing this). Making new music based on Spotify trending will only create homogenisation and a narrow market and genres which do not allow for the quirky, the different, the left of field which invigorates the world of ideas and art forms. That is the beginnings of a flattened and grey artistic landscape rather like mono food culture.

Digitalisation and the rise of things like garage band and youtube also creates less diversity and quality of music production and consumption. Artists can produce a fair enough song on garage band- but it can not compare with the artistry and ears of a producer. If one one wants quality and artistry then one needs all the component parts of creating a song to be there, you can not do without a good producer. Also, listening to music on youtube -on one’s phone or laptop means you can’t hear the artistry and sound properly as the speakers are too rubbish! And, it means artists are not being paid their dues, as it is free.

It is supposedly has never been easier to ” get out there” as we have the internet. But, I really do wonder about this. It feels like everyone is clamouring to be heard/seen/noticed in the  big narcissistic  tower of babel that is social media. Is this really where one can be heard??? So much noise, so much, so much ……an endless stream of “connectivity” but to whom and how does that help? I don’t think you can beat making real connections; eye to eye, heart to heart and to really spend some “slow time “in connecting.

So, I am not sure if digitalisation is such the plus that is proported to be. Sure, it has it’s uses and it is a way of connecting in a very loose way and checking what it out there.

 

As an emerging singer songwriter, I think it is fair to say that ones needs a number of things in place in order to progress. A quick list would be: talent, other people on the same wave length as yourself to collaborate with, an ability to use social media- even in a small way, venues that want you to perform, audiences to hear you, producers  to help you create  artistry  in a recorded form and managers to help get all these things together. Apart from talent, the rest requires money and so we enter into another dualistic relationship- rather like that of the dynamic between music and industry.

 

There are definitely those things  out there but having “talent” is just simply not enough these days.  And, what happens to artists who cannot access these things? I have gone round and round in circles trying to identify grants/people/organisations that will help. But, I appear to fall between all the cracks. Without realising it, the grants, organisations and development programmes etc are geared up to help: youth, defined genres, people living in urban situations, those who  have already a profile from performing and also online. Even if one is in all these categories it is still hard to be noticed and get enough funds together to develop as a new artist and have the team required above to make even a relative success of it. What about rural artists or older artists who have something of value to add or those who don’t fit any genre? Talent and  quality are not defined by age or demographic location or sex or musical genre.

I think that the “industry” and those who put together programmes of help and grants need to look at their unconscious assumptions. Equality in accessing money or targeted help means  that help  needs  to be diversified so that talent from anywhere, expressed anyhow and at any age can be developed.

I happen to be an older emerging artist who is rural, female, of extremely limited means and have found that there is almost no real help available to me to develop. There are no venues locally  to perform my cross genre reflective music in, no programmes that are set up to help someone like me, the other musicians want paying (understandably)- so the chances of collaboration are few. There are only two grants in the whole of the UK that I can apply for that are open enough for me to fit the criteria and that fit the things I need help with. One I have tried unsuccessfully, and the other I am waiting to hear from.

Asking organisations for advice is a difficult process: 90% don’t reply and if one is blessed with a reply then the advice is usually not pertinent to my situation. I had a funny exchange with one lady from a certain arts organisation. She did, Kindly reply. I had asked advice about a number of things: one of these was about gigs. I had already explained my rural location in the north east of Scotland and how I had no spare resources for development and had to work into the evening to put food on the table. She gaily told me to go and gig in Edinburgh and Glasgow and Inverness ( which is the only one of this list I could do, but the venue was for rock bands not quiet reflective unusual music). Her advice would be like telling someone from Cornwall to go and gig in London for the night!!

I have come to the conclusion that there is not really the creative infrastructure to support emerging artists- particularly those with those added challenges which I happen to represent. I hope, that perhaps someone involved in artistic decision making will read this and think about how help can be diversified and how “Equality” of opportunity can be created a little more rather than just talked about.

If you are reading this you probably wonder why I bother. I have bothered because it is my talent I can use in the world, my artistic life that I feel has a value and a purpose and because I have also been given reason to believe that I have something of value to offer. Mick Glossop- who has Kindly mentored me for the last two years, Wildkat Music PR company, my step mum- Dame Emma Kirkby (singer ) are all people whose musical opinions are to be respected and they have all told me in their different words that what I have to offer is of value and worth and sincerity.

But, without resources or someone taking a flying leap of faith in believing in me…..then there are no routes forward. There is only a blog and a few social media posts in which I can “put myself out there.” ” Will this be seen and heard in this tower of babel? Will someone who believes in artistry and music as a force for good and creative life read this?

I hope for more than homogenisation, I hope for equality of opportunity, I hope for creativity and music to be allowed  a space to grow. That means supporting people, supporting them no matter where they live or what age or sex they are or what genre they express  their art in. It means going beyond the box ticking, assessment based criteria and not just making and supporting music that is based on a Spotify trend. It means being just a little bit brave.

Having pried under every stone, and tried every conventional  route for development `I can now only trust that if I am meant to do this- that help from a more unconventional source may appear.

The ultimate challenge for a new artist, facing the above is disenchantment, dis empowerment  and disillusionment. None of that very surprising in the above climate. However, creativity is how humans move forward, grow and express themselves and it is fantastic that we still do create…..I think we always will – but it would be great to get a little help along the way and not be isolated and dis -spirited too.

 

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