Is this an appropriate time to be releasing music?
Written by Pete Armitage and edited by Sarah Martin
Our plans as creators have been demolished. Career prospects remain uncertain, and there hangs an unequivocal stench of bewilderment in the air. Any preconceived notions of how 2020 will pan out have been pissed up the wall - the unprecedented knows no convention.
Previous industry smokescreens that conjure an apparent subversion of capitalist norms have been rendered null and void. In a nutshell, when there’s less money, there’s less music. It’s clearer now than ever that if an artist doesn’t have financial backing, they are not going to be as active.
In peacetime, a proliferous release schedule is a rite of passage for emerging artists. For the last months this has been virtually impossible due to the pandemic, with press offices closed, music videos postponed and studios shut for the foreseeable future. Let us not forget that nobody is performing, thus rendering pre-corona ‘success’ out of the question. Artists are releasing music unplanned, often disregarding their labels and just sticking their tunes up on soundcloud for their fans.
Additionally, the protests spearheaded by Black Lives Matter against systemic racism have rightfully spurred us to question ourselves. Why are we creating? As practicing artists we have the privilege to create, so how can we best engender change?
In short, this is a very ‘appropriate’ time to be releasing music, we just have to improvise and make the most of our limited resources; the context in which we are expressing has drastically altered. How can we be felicitous during this time and conscious in our expressions.
Firstly it ‘feels’ outrightly wrong that already-established artists can continue to monopolise at this time. All actors in the industry have to make an effort to consciously recognise those less privileged. Space needs to be intentionally made for People of Colour, who face constant resistance in the industry unlike their white counterparts. This conscious action to strive for equality ought to be earnest, and not just to gain ‘wokeness’ points.
Also to note is deeply entrenched classism which prohibits such a huge proportion of the population from even considering a career in music or the arts these days. Although perhaps not obvious to the casual observer, gaining a solid following as a performer often requires huge investment, impossible without some form of financial assistance. Some have had it lucky in this regard.
In summary of the above points, POC need to be lifted up and actively supported into the wider music community in order to achieve true diversity and fairness in the industry.
When venues reopen DJ fees also need to decrease - it’s a chance to reflect, and for agencies to stop making it impossible for promoters. Self-interest just seems uglier than usual; surely we should be watching each others’ back not fucking people over.
Perhaps the established hegemony of the music industry has dissolved; now everyone is in the red and the newfound equality is inspiring.
Let’s hope the current flavour of independence and rebellion will change the industry for the better and those who have experienced success can share their wisdom to keep those less fortunate afloat.
Bandcamp have made their own effort to support artists by waiving their revenue share on several occasions - an inspirational move which has led to over $10 million spent by the bandcamp community going directly to artists1. It’s fantastic to see such a big player in the industry making an altruistic move to help out the artists.
There’s truly no excuse to not get those dusty experimental b-sides online now!
Hope is an exceptionally powerful cognitive state, and we have the power to inspire with music. Back in 1982, the celebrated German painter Gerhard Richter hit the nail on the head, ‘...Art is the highest form of hope.2’ Throughout the George Floyd protests and the COVID-19 crisis, we have relied on precious modicums of optimism, be it our favourite DJ mixes or films, to help us process our feelings.
If our expressions can inspire faith, we are doing the right thing. Let us practice a little altruism and selflessness during a time of despair.
To quote the Italians, ‘...andrà tutto bene,’ (everything will be alright).
Perhaps now is a time to evaluate our intentions, and take the opportunity to resolve any of our misguided desires for fame and notoriety. The mere fact that the title of this article is relevant evinces our raison d’etre.
Our question is; how can we ensure our intentions are true and we are remaining true to the spirit of art and music? What people need now is healing
Music therapy as a sanative process comprises five ‘modulations’, or in other words, it serves to modify/control these particular psychological phenomena: attention, emotion, cognition, behaviour and communication3.
It has the power to divert our attention from unpleasant stimuli, thus negating stress, and ‘releasing’ us from our negative thoughts. It aids in the regulation of intense emotions, allowing us to experience happiness in the place of sadness. Additionally, it can help us to process our memories healthfully as well as aid us in communicating, even if we are struggling to speak. Truly remarkable.
The honouring of these precepts in our creations is paramount, and congruous with altruistic intention.
One particularly valuable way in which we can ensure our expressions are conscious and appropriate is by representing and discussing complex social issues. There is no better time than to distill our thoughts into our art in order to inspire action.
This period has revealed the sheer privilege that many of us have the time and resources to be able to make music. The least we can do is use our platform to educate others and highlight the pertinent issues which so badly need voicing from wherever possible - social injustice, oppression, racism, sexism and homophobia being just a few issues which need support and the supporting voice of artists.
The truth is, everyone is cognizant of the George Floyd protests and the pandemic. Some more than others. Now let us exercise a little prudence; how can we make our expressions respectful, and insightful? Your nude techno performance at CTM might not resonate as well this year as it did in 2019. Tongue-in-cheek reductivity might not have a seat at the table this summer; the material that will stand out from 2020 will be pertinent and conscious of 2020 affairs.
Celebration just feels a little indulgent at present, expressions of joy only existing within an anguished frame of reference. The sheer power of public sentiment on the individual is brazen and obtuse, its brassy glare enveloping our every move.
To paraphrase Malcolm X, ‘A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.’
Be tasteful. Be perceptive.
More than ever, the last months have given us time to reflect on the sheer futility of our existence. Nothing lasts forever. So what if there’s no big budget music video to accompany your banger? Just roll it out and keep things moving.
We just don’t know how things will be in five years; all we can do is keep creating, respecting each other and sharing without fear. Don’t be a wallflower. Believe in your work and share it for the greater good. We just don’t know how long we have. Let’s savour it.
- Documenta 7 exhibition; catalogue text.
- Stefan Koelsch ‘A Neuroscientific Perspective on Music Therapy’ Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1169(1):374-84 · August 2009