Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Sex, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll…Maybe

A Tiny Pirate Blog - PrinceI’m going to tell you something. But you have to promise to keep it between us because it’s the dirty little secret that musicians don’t want anyone to know for fear that their cool factor will be shattered. Understandable really, as rock n’ roll has to be one of the most fantasised about careers that anyone could dream of, right?

Well, the secret is this. Being a musician is not all it’s perceived to be. Sure, there are huge benefits if and when you ‘make it.’ The riders -hospitality requests that management demand for their artists appearing on shows- become more outrageous, perks grow increasingly extravagant, groupies reach supermodel status and Dr. Feelgood is never far from the party. Oh, and people listen to your music. Well, for the relative few that attain the mostly elusive god-like status.

For the vast majority however, there is an increasingly long and arduous battle against the mainstream’s entitled belief that music is somehow free, the ever decreasing functioning labels and industry investment, and an indifferent and fickle public who move on to the ‘next big thing’ quicker than swapping partners at a Killing Kittens party. (If you don’t know about this look it up. Actually, please don’t. I don’t want you judging me!). That’s just for starters. There are also additional obstacles such as ‘age’ and ‘image’ as we tend to prefer our rock stars young, hot and styled to mannequin levels. But it’s not all bad.

A Tiny Pirate Blog - Rock´n Roll  A Tiny Pirate Blog - Rock´n Roll

Have I mentioned the funnest part about being an artist? It’s the touring. That is what everyone signs up for! But guess what? No-one tells them that most of the day gets taken up by less amusing aspects until they get their glorious hour or two performing their material on stage. For every high point there are relentless hours travelling cross country in glorified ice cream vans that are supposed to resemble a hotel-on-wheels. The reality could not be further from the truth. There is no privacy, rest, decent food or home comforts. Musicians enter the tour bus with hope and exit, days or weeks, even months later with reprehensible habits, Victorian diseases of the poor and newly acquired nefarious friends. The light has gone from their eyes and they’ve made no money, but the experience of playing live to an audience becomes their reason for living. Even if sometimes they are just performing for an old man and his dog in a backstreet pub in some forgettable town.

And, if a musician hasn’t starved to death through all the producing, practicing, performing and no pay, the industry and public maybe- just maybe- start to take an interest in their music. Imagine that. The music! The beats that connect everyone globally on a deep, cerebral and emotionally intelligent level and transcends language, race, culture and gender. This powerful glue that can bind communities together has become pretty much secondary to what the artist may look like, how many followers they have across their social networks and how many ‘celebrity connections’ they may have.

A Tiny Pirate Blog - Rock´n Roll

But I’m slightly digressing from my point. Greater minds than mine have struggled for decades with ways to resolve the obliteration that the music industry has continued to suffer from. I’m not here to even begin to attempt at a solution, I’m here to share with you the trials and tribulations of artists we all take for granted. I’m going to make you fall in love with musicians.

My first love was (and still is) a working musician. Still in my teens and with aspirations to be a dancer, crippling stage fright and a lack of talent rendered my future more suited to a behind-the-scenes role. We met at a Christmas panto where I was one of the genies and he was in the orchestra. He influenced my life in ways that dictated my career path, but which I didn’t connect with until I was old enough to appreciate the things I had subconsciously learned from him. I was young, impressionable and saw first hand his passion and dedication to his work and his schooling, whilst barely being able to sustain a basic lifestyle. That clearly bought out my nurturing instincts.

A Tiny Pirate Blog - Rock´n Roll

Recently I’ve been able to once again spend more time with world-class musicians who continue to inspire me beyond words. And it’s been so heartbreaking to see that for as many successes I’ve been honoured to share in, there seems to be an even bigger struggle to get heard than ever before. Musicians are no longer able to be ‘just’ artists, they are also expected to be master social media content providers, PR gurus, marketing strategists, label managers, stylists and more. Before they even get to write a single note. And I’m not quite sure where they are meant to find the extra hours in the day for that... when they also need to have other means (i.e. jobs) to be able to exist.

When I first started working in music as an event and tour producer on the record label side, I frequently witnessed the excesses of rock n’ roll, but equally the depressingly predictable way that some execs, managers and many others would take advantage of the talented artists that were creating the content that allowed us all to make a living. Musicians are some of the most sensitive and vulnerable people on the planet, which contradicts with the very confidence and arrogance that they need to enable them get up on a stage and perform. That dichotomy can put them in a very precarious position; the little fish in the big musical pond that is teeming with sharks.

A Tiny Pirate Blog - Rock´n Roll

Imagine if you had to go into work every day and had people judging you on your appearance, your personality, your social media presence and your very essence before they even listened to your ‘product.’ A product that oftentimes details deeply personal lyrics- one person’s intimate diary that is essentially used for our entertainment. And then this piece of music gets put through the mill of critique by many others whose opinions make or break your career. And frequently your spirit and raison d’etre. And you are not being paid for this ‘privilege.’ Not unless you are one of the very lucky few to have received an advance, offset from any future sales of your music (haha!), your box office sales, your merchandise/image rights and probably your first born’s school fees.

To add to the struggle, a musician can spend weeks, months, maybe even years perfecting their craft and producing their music, to then have people stealing it, (I refuse to use the term ‘downloading it for free.’) Unless a musician has given something away themselves, anything else is simple theft. Have you ever thought about the time, the money and all the people that it takes to get music released? In spite of technology having given artists the freedom to record without the expense of professional studios, there are still basic marketing, promotional and creative costs associated with a release. And let’s not forget the hours spent on the actual production and subsequent lifetime of rehearsals. All of that is WORK. Unpaid work.

A Tiny Pirate Blog - Studio  A Tiny Pirate Blog - Rock´n Roll

A musician friend of mine recently worked out that in order for him to be able to buy a £1 cookie from the supermarket he would need to have one of his songs streamed 500 times at the royalty rate of 0.002p per stream. In normal societies this would be illegal and called slave labour, yet we accept that musicians can work their whole lives and its somehow ok for them to be starving or on the breadline. Or- what I find even more laughable- is the thought that they should somehow get ‘proper’ jobs. Why? Would we say this to a struggling lawyer, teacher or architect?

If all of us could do what musicians do, we would surely expect to be suitably remunerated. But we can’t. Because being a musician is a gift that also takes talent and dedication. Think of your favourite songs and how they make you feel. I’m thinking about singing alone to ‘Nothing compares to you,’ rivers of black mascara running down my face, somehow being comforted in my emotional pain by Sinead O’Connor’s mournful vocals. She was my bestie and sister that night, all rolled into one. Remember how you’ve felt singing at the top of your lungs with your friends, watching your favourite band at a festival or gig- and the joy that the music gives you as you connect with your tribe.

A Tiny Pirate Blog - Rock´n Roll

What about feeling like Prince (or whoever is your all time idol),is singing just for you even though you are in a stadium with over 100k people? THAT is power. Who else but musicians can move you so deeply with simple music and words? Now think about every single musician that struggles to live even in a basic manner because their music is not being supported by anyone, in spite of music being an ever-present part of our lives. Everything that we experience- adverts, gadgets, games, movies…are all enhanced by music. When was the last time you saw and advert or a film that didn’t have a musical component? Something is very wrong and very immoral in the world when the content creators are making money FOR other people and corporations but not for themselves.

A Tiny Pirate Blog - Prince

When I produced international events I knew that so long as the music was great, there was no language, social or cultural barriers that couldn’t be overcome. And I always used local artists to support, as we had as much to learn from them as we had to offer in return. For me, music really was the one universal language that we could use to share our most intimate moments with, and connect with new friends.

Musicians are scientists. They also possess mathematical brains to read, write and compose music. They document history, fashion, politics, moments in any given time and so much more through their soul, observations and their work. Songs are a mirror to our emotions. And music is art. And we need to once again start to value their art because this is a dying industry that would make all of our lives so much sadder and emptier if they stopped playing. Financial constraints have homogenised our musical spectrum, and marginalised so many incredibly gifted musicians who are now being prevented from sharing their unique talents with us.

A Tiny Pirate Blog - Rock´n Roll  A Tiny Pirate Blog - DJ

Think about that when you next listen to the bland cookie-cutter music that is being fed to us like sedatives. Think about that when you next get the goosebumps when you hear a piece of music that pervades into your very core. We grow, fall in love, fall in lust, make out and make up to music. We grieve and rejoice to its rhythm. It is literally the soundtrack to our lives. More often than not, it is our last wish when we leave this earth to have a meaningful song played at our funeral.

This much importance on music and we don’t give it’s creators the love and support they deserve?

Start by taking an interest in your local artists and venues. Then buy their music and maybe a drink (or three- performing is thirsty work!) Then buy their favourite artists’ music. Then go and discover more. And if you are feeling really rock and roll and willing to go the extra yard to back these colourful bunch of characters, make friends with one, ask to go back stage and let’s see where the night takes you! No need to thank me, making musicians happy has been my first career love and will continue to be so until Superfreak, Tiny Dancer and Sometimes it snows in April get played at my cremation.

A Tiny Pirate Blog - Claudia  A Tiny Pirate Blog - Rock´n Roll

Can I also suggest that as soon as you stop reading this you go and put on your favourite record that springs to mind, and sing with wild abandon at the top of your lungs. See how good that feels? And you have a beautiful set of musos to thank for those endorphins….

Toodle pip until next time you newly-appointed musical groupies!!

Claud xxxx

 

Photos by Claudia Avila-Batchelor, copyright 2015

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