THE HAVES & HAVE-NOTS

/August 11, 2016

An extraordinary disparity has opened up between the musicians with recording budgets and those with barely two cents to rub together.

Why there isn’t more investment in music by Australian record companies, government and private enterprise is quite beyond me. Some of the best music I’ve ever heard in Australia is currently withering on the vine.

Record companies have turned into banks that require guarantees and sure bets before any of them move a muscle. Somehow I suspect these label owners think they’re still pretty cool… bankers in denim.

It’s almost criminal to think that 99% of bands spend less on their whole album these days than the remaining 1% do on their recording session’s catering budget. That’s right, some acts provide meals during recording sessions (as well as the occasional narcotic). I guess there’s nothing new in this fact, but one thing’s for sure, the gap is widening.

I was out seeing a gig in a local Melbourne venue the other night, and in between sets I was out on the street talking to a bunch of friends of mine. They were all smoking – I guess I was too… passively at least. The night was warm, the air thick with carcinogens.

Anyway, during one of the conversations a very well-known musician with decades of performing and recording experience behind him pulled his new solo album out of his pocket.

“I’ve just finished this actually… all recorded and mixed in my bedroom by yours truly. I was thinking of getting it mastered too but…”

“But?” I blurted out in astonishment. “You didn’t get it mastered?”

“Yeah, in the end a friend of mine offered to do it for free, otherwise I was just going to use Ozone. The presets get the job done just as well apparently.”

If I’d been sitting down I would have fallen off my chair in amazement. Instead, I stumbled into the street.

Here was a guy who’s probably recorded in just about every studio in Australia, who’s played on every stage in Australia, and worked with countless well-known producers, thinking in some strange way that doing all this work in his bedroom was a good career move.

And to think he was only one helpful friend away from mastering it himself too, with a bunch of promise-laden presets.

Now while I’m paraphrasing this incident a tad, the essence of the story is accurate… and mind-boggling. What was even more amazing was that I’d just had a similar conversation with another person on the street barely a minute earlier…

‘Has everyone gone stark raving mad?’ I thought to myself, as I walked back into the pub for the second set. ‘Where is the support for the grass roots of this industry, and how can someone with so much experience be so naïve about the production process?’

 

DEATH BY STUPIDY

There’s something going on here that I loathe and detest, and it has nothing to do with the artists themselves.

The idea that all these musicians, who have collectively made rich men out of certain individuals in this industry, can’t get so much as a dollar back from the fat-cats to invest into their new work, is both callous and bereft of all loyalty… and ultimately quite stupid.

In America, these types of older musicians become ‘legends’. Younger stars and the wider population of that country view their old brigade as cultural treasures, celebrating their achievements at awards ceremonies and in some cases elevating them to almost demigod status. These artists become wealthy men and women, as do the people who support, promote and manage them.

In Australia, our ‘legends’ are dumped on the roadside like McDonald’s wrappers, forgotten even by their own record labels in many cases – companies that are either too narrow-minded or incompetent to understand the financial rewards they’ve squandered, or in some cases ignorant altogether even of their own business history. It’s pathetic.

 

GREAT ALBUMS, NO SUPPORT

There are great records being made by all sorts of people in this country today – many of them former household names, some of them up-and-comers, and others still with great potential who have no way of capitalising on it.

Perhaps as a culture we’re just too busy being cringers; always looking to import things from overseas – music, cars, TVs, microphones, you name it – rather than investing in our own talent. As long as it’s from somewhere other than here, right?

It’s a pathetic joke I’m tired of trying to ignore. It’s our cultural Achilles’ heel, and we must do something about it.

But everything seems to be flowing in the opposite direction. Major record labels are too busy running Karaoke shows or writing their own autobiographies – works of fiction most of them – to look at the train wreck they’ve left behind. And to think they’re proud of their achievements. Most of them are nothing more than self-serving con-men with not a shred of decency about them. Worse than that, companies like Apple et al, give quite literally nothing back.

 

ONWARD & BACKWARD?

There are great musicians, songwriters, engineers and producers all over this country, most of whom do what they do in the face of genuine economic depravity, and with a superannuation nest egg the size of a peanut to look forward to when their hearing or fingers finally give out. Yet still they persist, and in this regard I’m full of admiration for them.

But after so many years of neglect, these older collections of ‘working musicians’ are struggling to imagine new ways of funding their own projects. Rather than seeking out new capital, they’re choosing instead to put out inferior (and in some cases downright amateurish) new releases that cost far less. This starts a downward spiral that eventually either kills off the band completely or pushes the fan-base away.

It’s understandable of course; to some degree or other these older artists are the product of our throwaway music industry.

Frustratingly, other methods of revenue raising do exist – most notably crowd funding – but most artists choose not to explore these options, primarily out of fear or ignorance.

I would urge anyone reading this who was once in the musical limelight, who now lurks in the shadows by virtue of their age or circumstance, to consider crowd-funding their next album, either wholly or in part.

For many of these artists, there’s a small but loyal fan base out there hidden behind a wall created mostly by the passing of time. Given the opportunity, many of these older fans would be willing participants in any future recording project by their favourite artist.

Some might pay good money to pop into the studio one night during a future recording session for a meet and greet, or for a front row table at the launch, signed copies of the album… there are just so many ways to get the fan base involved.

The key is to understand that fans would kill for these sorts of experiences. Many older rock stars don’t properly appreciate how green the grass appears from the other side of that fence.

This is not exploitation either, just economic reality. Nobody gets hurt, everybody wins and pride should play no part.

The time has come for Australian recording artists to look at new ways of funding their recording projects. The record companies disappeared up their own orifices years ago, and their replacements are even worse. But that shouldn’t force artists down the slippery slope to mediocrity. That’s defeatist thinking, as harsh as that sounds. Time to tap into the fan base and get this party started.