I've started reading a new book. I have a horrible tendency to skip between novels before finishing any of them but have recently completed three in a row, so feel as though I'm on a small run of form. My latest 'thing' is books which help give me ideas. 'The Long Tail', despite being unnecessarily drawn out in places, and Chris Anderson's follow-up, 'Free', both helped with that and nights spent laying in bed with my paper companion more often than not descended into hours of me tapping away notes and possible solutions to problems in multiple text messages, stored away in my mobile phone's drafts folder. A couple of weeks ago, as I first began to embrace my new-found addiction to the US DIY culture, I bought a few books and a couple of DVDs to try and give myself a better insight and perhaps learn a little more about the forgotten concepts of a pre-broadband music industry.
The first of the new set of books to get the once-over is called 'DIY: The Rise Of Lo-Fi Culture' and begins by talking about zines.
The concept of a fanzine is a straight-forward one and something I'm very well aware of, having spent a few weeks writing my own one (and printing all of 30 copies) well before the label began. It's a passionate job with little or no financial reward, put together by a non-professional writer, typically in their teens or early-mid twenties, seeking to share their love with the world and maybe build/join a community.
But doesn't that sound like a blog to you?
It got me thinking about zines in 2009 and realised I can count very few now. The days of the quickly slapped together, cheaply photocopied and stapled publications, which are as likely to leave your hands covered in grubby black marks as they are to leave your head filled with new information and inspiration, seem to be behind us, as everyone has turned their attention to the easy solutions; Blogger, Wordpress, Tumblr, Twitter and the rest. Those easy-to-start yet quickly forgotten online diaries, of which there were 112 million as of December 2007, with only a small fraction being updated on anywhere near a regular basis.
Am I just being an old fool, reticent of change and desperately trying to cling on to old, romantic notions, or has the real sense of community died with the printed product? Has the internet, for all its good in uniting people from one side of the world with the other, and giving us previously unthinkable tools for publishing and promotion, actually stolen the heart out of what was once a thriving market? Have the local, niche scenes, once fuelled by an incredible sense of passion and pride, lost their disciples to the noise of the world's diverse and ever-expanding array of distractions?
I'm not saying that everyone with a blog to their name need throw their keyboard out of the window and reach for the nearest Prit-Stick to start hand-crafting their outpourings, I simply use the zine example more as a symbol of the overall problem than a single issue which needs consideration. Where has all of the creativity gone?
Bands: When did it become ok just to poorly record a song, upload it to Myspace and sit back waiting for the majors to come knocking? Has that ever, just once in the history of the internet, actually worked? Get out there, play some gigs, stand at your merch table and shake the hand of everyone who buys your CD. Thank them for their time and let them know you mean it. Stop looking for the quickest route to success and start thinking about what you're doing and what you're hoping to achieve with it. You have more control over your career than ever before. You literally need nobody else. You make the decisions, and you reap the rewards. Man up.
Managers: How many new bands from the past 10 years will go on to build sustainable careers? It's hard to look past people such as Muse, and they only just scrape into the decade. So why insist on sticking with the same old, constantly failing formula of a limited 7" single on a 'cool' indie label before looking for investment to make a big splash with the debut album and be forgotten by the sophomore? You're a manager, by definition you are leading these people. If you don't inspire creativity amongst the ranks, who will?
Labels: Sales are declining, we get it. So why not do something about it? There's no sense of achievement in simply copying others; find your own style, your own niche, your own ways of doing things. The press tell you that digital sales are difficult to harness but have you really tried? In my mind, there's a world of possibilities there. Make one work for you.
Magazines: Like with labels, your sales are declining. More and more people are realising they can find the same bog-standard information about their favourite bands for free on Wikipedia, rather than paying to read your by-numbers interview, and they trust their friends opinion of new albums over your unknown writers. Re-build your community. Give your contributors identity and let readers know who they are and why they can be trusted. Make yourself a tastemaker with a quality control radar to help guide fans through the minefield of new music. And don't portray bands simply as musical equipment carrying monkeys, tell us more. Who are these people really? What do they listen to? What makes them tick? Much like us labels, you need to find a way to mix the physical and digital world before you lose both.
Obviously it isn't just that easy. It's not a case of sitting up in bed one night, throwing your book away mid-sentence and crying out "by George I think I have it" - the music industry cannot and will not be cured by one person, one night, but that doesn't mean you can't play your part. Stop mindlessly accepting the current state of play and start to remember how things used to be, back when only the most creative could survive. Maybe it's time we took a step back to take the next two forward?
PS. Sorry about the rant