I'll start off with a small apology. I'm a bit of a dunce with technology, and last week I decided to put my polemic into blog form, in order to avoid all those pointless, circular arguments that would come if I put it directly onto a bulletin board or social media site. However, I've never really done a blog before, and I'm unfamiliar with the etiquette and mechanics of blogging, so if I'm supposed to have done things like follow back or befriend or what have you, I apologise for my negligence. If I've broken any unwritten codes of internet fraternity, it's only because I don't know what they are. Feel free to put me right on that front.
It has been an interesting week, however, and I have had a fair bit of feedback. I've had messages of support on various other bits of webspace, I've had texts and calls, and even one or two offers of money (some more ironic than others, and none of which I accepted). I've also had a fair few counter-arguments thrown at me, enough to warrant a few answers and clarifications regarding my position. Some of the counter-arguments have also given me a firm idea of what I want the second (and much more ambitious) 'No Packet Required' project to be.
Firstly, although I used some specific examples of projects I believed were particularly cynical and exploitative, for illustrative purposes only, I named no names. Of course, it didn't take Sherlock Holmes to discover their identities, and names have been mentioned elsewhere - particularly: 'One Song a Week' girl. I want it made clear I used this as an example, and took it as a workable model for demonstrating certain excesses, but I don't want to get fixated on some personal vendetta against her. I'm sure she's perfectly charming, and I'm not out to get her, even if I do find her project morally and artistically lacking. Saying that, by tweeting that she's finding it difficult to get up and dressed in the mornings, found time to bake raisin bread, and intends to base her second song on a new instrument she received only the day before, she's really not helping her own case. Inexpert, distracted fumblings on a new toy hardly inspire confidence that something is about to be created to give Beethoven's 9th a run for its money.
Ah, Beethoven. "Beethoven and Mozart both received money from rich patrons, so that they could concentrate on the art." True enough, though they did also receive it in the form of commisions for specific work, toured constantly, took on students and produced some of the greatest music ever achieved by homo sapiens. Not a hastily dashed-off whimsical tale about toenails to be found in their entire canon. If Beethoven had been given access to fundraiser sites, what joys may we have now? We could have hundreds of rubbish Beethoven symphonies to enjoy, instead of the nine astonishing ones we currently have to make do with.
I'm not against art patronage. If they were used responsibly and morally, I wouldn't even be against fundraiser sites. It's the excesses and the exploitation of what could be a decent system that annoys me. Working on the idea that they are to fund an artistic endeavour that couldn't be realised without funds, how can it be right to fund a project that requires no money to complete? Why doesn't the project fund close automatically as soon as the funding requirement has been met? If it's more about thinking of something to justify asking for money than it is about having an artistic vision which is stymied by lack of financial backing, how is that even art? It's profiteering. It may allow the 'artists' full control of their art, without the 'men in grey suits' getting their claws on all the money, and that would be a good thing, if it wasn't for the inevitable swing towards the artists actually becoming their own men in grey suits, or even men in grey suits cutting out the middle man and becoming the 'artist' themselves. Inside so many of todays 'artists', there's an accountant trying to get out.
Which leads me to another argument I heard, that paying one's dues by touring scuzzholes and wrangling roudy drunken crowds is no place for a lady, that the Rock 'n' Roll lifestyle is difficult and fraught with dangers. So many great artists have become casualties of the lifestyle, exploited by unscrupulous sharks, fed substances to keep them going, etc. etc. The tragedy of the '27 Club' and if there's a way of being a working musician without all that, especially for a woman, open to sexual exploitation too, it must be worth pursuing.
Now, apart from being massively patronising to women, the main flaw in this reasoning is that ... erm ... that's kind of the job description and kind of the point. Teaching would be much easier without having to deal with children; firefighting would be safer if they didn't have to go anywhere near fires. Paying your dues is also learning your trade. Rock and Roll without the Rock and Roll lifestyle is bland, asinine and banal. And it will -and does - make itself evident in the music. Jimi Hendrix sitting at home doing mp3s and the odd safe, local coffee shop gig? If Keith Moon had spent his days in his PJs posting stickers and baking raisin bread, I'd have killed the bugger myself, and he'd have thanked me for it. The idea of these people being wide-eyed babes-in-the-wood, mercilessly corrupted and destroyed by the machine is one I find difficult to swallow. Maybe that kind of habitat just attracts that kind of animal.
As for sexual exploitation, look at who raises ten times more money on these sites than everyone else, and how hard they fight against it. To quote Chief Wiggum: "Why's it always the pretty ones?" The internal grey suit kicks in again, eliminating the need for any external exploitative influence.
The froth around my mouth suggests I'm ranting again. There are other arguments to answer and clarifications to make, but I'm keeping them back for now, as I think they would be better answered within the context of another post, when I outline my plans for the second 'No Packet Required' project.
But I will quickly clarify one thing before I go. I can scarcely believe I have to reiterate this, but apparently I do. I am not against musicians making money from their skills. I earn a living playing music myself. I travel around and perform for money; I sell CDs; I take commisions to write specific pieces of music; if I believed I could do the job with any degree of success, I would take students. I'm not saying I'm the new Beethoven or Mozart - that's for you to decide on for yourself. ;0)
Seriously though, I'm not advocating that all music should be free, and all musicians should feel honoured to perform. That's obvious hogwash, designed to undervalue the hard work musicians put in- and it is hard work. I believe in a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. But I think these spurious fundraising projects detract from that and damage that idea. They make virtues out of greed and indolence; they make a musician's lot look easy and undemanding, by highlighting the side of things which is traditionally not the side you're paid for, and neatly sidestepping the actual hard work bit. They appeal to vanity, delusion and self-indulgence and roundly ignore the dedication, industry and professionalism required to make a go of a real musical career in the real world.
Keep music live, brothers and sisters!