Okay. So it’s the holiday season. I can’t be arsed to prise myself out of the chair. After all, ITV are showing Back to the Future and Jurassic Park I, II and III on three consecutive days…genius. Therefore I have no gigs to write about. My d’etre doesn’t have a raison. I can’t just stick another video from You Tube on here. Too easy. And I ain’t gonna bore you with the minutiae of my life…went shopping, met Hank, picked my nose…you know the sort of thing. So instead I am going to bore you with my poorly researched, factually inaccurate thoughts on the state of the music business and creativity in general at the end of 2006. I make no apologies for the sweeping generalisations and crackpot theories that are contained herein. If you’re bored enough to read it, I’m bored enough to write it.
A few little things prompted this outpouring. Beanos Records (a legendary record shop in Croydon is closing its doors after 40 years), Reddingtons (a kind of Birmingham equivalent) shut down a month or so ago, Tower Records has just gone bust and HMV recently announced a drop in sales of 40% in just two months.
Then, browsing my local Tesco (I know how to live eh?) I came across a number of Mastercuts compilations. Mastercuts is/was a pretty good series of compilations of classic tracks covering soul, funk, blues, hip hop etc, all in their original forms (no shitty edits or pointless mixes). Each one was a triple album, containing 30 tracks. How much? Go on…take a guess. £2.84. I’ll say that again in bold. £2.84. Now, of course these are ‘old’ tracks. You could argue that the music business has already had its pound of flesh from this material, but £2.84? For someone who can remember buying 7 inch singles back in 1980 for £1.15 that’s a pretty shocking sum of money.
So what I hear you cry. The big record companies have had their day. They’ve ripped us off for far too long. Let’s hear it for people power! Okay. I agree…sort of. I’m sitting here listening to a mix by The Kleptones. It’s brilliant. A collection of some of the best tracks of 2006. The cost? Bugger all. Free. Gratis. Buy none, get one free. 100% extra free. I can sit here all day (and believe me, sometimes I very nearly do) listening to and downloading music to my heart’s content. But it’s not just the music that’s free. Do you know how many music blogs there are out there? No, neither do I…but the point is that there’s loads of them. Many, like this one for example, aren’t much cop. But there’s some seriously good stuff out there. Out of habit I still buy NME for £1.99 a week. The journalism is generally pretty poor now, it’s sort of moved to fill some of the gaps left by Smash Hits. There are lonely hearts ads, glossy posters of the poppermost stars, pictures of readers posing with ‘celebs’…even a lot of the reviews end up being nothing more than childish name calling and cheap shots against bands that aren’t considered cool enough. Compare this with something like Fluxblog or Headphonesex for example. Good, entertaining reads, loads of great info and the chance to download tracks for zilch. Locally I’ve been drawn to the Silver Footed Gig Slut (her words, not mine) who handily lists many of the gigs in Birmingham over the next week or so and even rates the acts concerned by listening to their tracks on MySpace. RussL writes reviews that are far more comprehensive than anything you’d find in NME and Pete Ashton’s site is a goldmine of information on music, art, the ‘net in general…
In pretty much every case bloggers blog in their own free time. They don’t get paid. We don’t pay to read them. Looking ahead, where does this leave so called professional journalists? What will happen to all of the magazines on the shelves? Will people continue to fork out money for books? What about DVD’s? Why bother buying or renting stuff when you can get it for free or at very little cost from the comfort of your own home? It’s a scary thought but it seems to me that creativity is becoming something that many of us just take for granted…it’s just there and because we’re now getting comfortable with ‘free’ access, that’s going to be the norm in the future. Photo libraries like I-stock photo now sell high quality pictures that you can use for anything from advertising to album covers for just a few dollars. You Tube doesn’t charge anything to watch a dazzling array of videos (I’m talking here about the music stuff, not mall rats miming to Hit Me Baby One More Time).
I’m not complaining. In fact I’m in hog heaven. I’m not one of those old bastards who pines for the days when you could only buy vinyl or tape at vastly inflated prices. The Internet will be the greatest media and communications tool ever created. I worship at the alter of Mr Blueyonder. However, imagine for a moment a world where a crack team of rich plumbers decided to do plumbing jobs for free…for ever. All of the other plumbers would have to find something else to do. Unemployment city ahoy. This is, for me, the nightmare scenario (not the plumbers bit obviously….I’m doing the analogy thing). A world in which creative people can earn a living being creative is a great thing. It sure as hell beats stacking butters and fats in Somerfield on the Isle of Wight (don’t ask), but who the hell is going to pay them (us) to do it in the future? Will kids in 2010 bother buying CD’s or paying £7.97 to download an album? Won’t many of them just get their musical and literary kicks for free and spend the rest of their dosh on crack?
Anyway…just a thought.