There has been a lot of talk, for quite some time now, about the fragile state of the live music scene. This is a particularly hot topic in a desperate independent circuit facing venue closures and lower turnouts than a Tory conference on welfare, but it is all so affecting bigger venues and internationally established artists. Worse still: the problem seems to be transcendent of genre and geography (with the exception of inner city development forcing venues out of towns and into less accessible places).
A lot of fingers are being pointed at very real concerns and undeniable contributing factors like over development around venues forcing closures, market saturation and clique formation (bands and punters creating very small factions within what could be a much larger and more vibrant community), digital saturation and the ease of consumption devaluing the music. All of these problems are real and none of them are likely to go away, but the real concern can no longer be where to point the blame so much as how to address the needs of the scene as it stands now.
A culture of apathy.
With an apathetic consumer base as the real death knell for local music, the answers, yes there are answers, are not comfortable. I for one believe we are seeing the culmination of a social threshing, where the chaff is left to rot and only those with real substance (not to mention sticking power) are likely to survive. Let me be very clear on one point: there is still a wealth of talent around the country that is genuinely a astonishing and an honour to count myself a part of. Unfortunately some great acts will not survive this musical tribulation, and some stalwart supporters, promoters and other stalwart supporters will lose faith too. The first factor in the postmodern renaissance is time. Culture is cyclic as are most trends. There is a limited variety of ways people can interact in the manner they crave and music is among the most potent so it is inevitable that a culture of live music will return, but is there anything we can do to shake the apathy and speed up the process? YES!!
This is not an especially comfortable process either, neither is it fair. It will start with the bands.
A culture of quality.
Why is it always the bands’ fault? Actually in this instance it isn’t. It is about fault at all, it’s about changing a culture, and changing a culture that revolves around music must surely start with the musicians. Yes, you may work all the hours God sends to fund your band and all the time you should be sleeping or keeping your family happy in rehearsals or on stage. I get that. It is a huge imposition, it is as I said, an unfair burden but it is also a responsibility. Looking at how successful long-term music scenes have functioned throughout history it starts to become clear what can be done:
First, nurture talent. Nobody is born a rock star, they have to learn the craft and experiment with ideas and they almost always need guidance to do so. Are there young acts on your circuit who could benefit from being mentored by more experienced ones? I don’t doubt it for a minute, and taking this responsibility seriously ensures the continuing growth and quality of grassroots music. It is in fact one of the key factors that contributed to the growth of the jazz scene in the 50s/60s that became an institution developing new artists, collaborations and ultimately affecting the way we approach most contemporary music forms. This kind of culture also helps to build and strengthen the musical community, preventing a glut of terrible gigs run by unscrupulous promoters looking for easy money. It’s been a long road out of the common assumption that local gigs are rubbish and I couldn’t bear to see a return to it.
Creating a change in culture.
Second, leading a paradigm shift. Groups of people are fairly easily lead, as has been ably demonstrated time and again. How they are lead depends on whatever example there is to follow. In music, people look to musicians as an authority on the subject whether they mean to or not. When we as musicians are buried in our work, creating new music and rehearsing the best show we’ve played yet, all the scene notes is our absence. I’ve mentioned twice that this observation doesn’t include fairness, that isn’t about to change, yet. People will notice when bands engage with the wider scene, and over time they will follow suit. What I mean by engage is make a point not only of going to your local venue to support other acts, but of getting stuck in and helping to spread the word. You’ll be surprised just how quickly people will be talking about the gigs rather than sitting in the bar adjoining the venue complaining that there are no gigs. We’ve all seen it happen, and probably all had a conversation along the lines of:
“Hey you do know there’s a gig on downstairs right now?”
“No, there is?”
“Yeah great bands, dead cheap, you coming by?”
This is a soul destroying conversation to have, but I can’t stress enough how important a conversation it is to have. Remember any kind of buzz starts with one person talking to another, but it’s not until this becomes normal again that things will look after themselves with minimal badgering from us as they used to. Right now our culture needs a kick start.