Why we’re losing poor kids in music
At this year’s Brit Awards Foals’ frontman Yannis Philipakis said of the state of music “I feel like there’s a lot of dressing up in parents clothes and acting out relatively pastiche tropes that have happened before.”
With a few obvious exceptions it’s felt recently like music is becoming a sport of middle class children. A recent Goldsmith University study found that 90% of creative industry respondents came from a middle class background and nine out of ten had been made to work for free at some point in their career.
You see, it used to be that artists would play local shows in dive bars and then sign onto a deal based on the quality of their music and this investment would fund their development and allow them to make records.
But music increasingly favours long-term investment, which doesn’t bode well for people with little money in the bank. A&R’s rarely attend shows now and if they did, labels want to sign artists with a significant fan-base with which to sell through because they can no longer justify the long term risk.
And touring is tough. The rise of the cost of living means that covering van hire, petrol and food costs is a struggle when small venues are only able to often pay a contribution towards expenses.
London, especially, is a microcosm of a much wider issue of gentrification, with music venues and local businesses being shut down to allow property developers to build high rise blocks of apartments worth millions of pounds to be sold to overseas investors.
So what are we missing in our cultural narrative? Bands like Nirvana and Black Sabbath were formed in a state of poverty and obscurity and the grittiness of their reality is what made their music so transformative. You have to wonder whether bands with that little prospect and zero finance could have sustained a career in the modern era and spent two years developing a loyal fanbase.
Fat White Family, aside from making great music, are a gratifying exception in music currently. Their legends of mischief and debauchery proceed them. One promoter said of the band: “They were late, unreliable, erratic, broke things, made a racquet, half trashed the gear and then demanded early payment so they could go off and buy more drugs.” It’s good to see that rock & roll isn’t truly dead.
Frontman Lias has been outspoken on the situation saying “there’s a class war being wages and we’re all in it regardless of whether you know it or not.”
Now the internet, whilst driving down the cost of music and revenue to artists, has also made it easier and cheaper to record and distribute music without investment. The problem however is that this has created a huge amount of digital noise which the vast majority of music will be unable to cut through without a huge marketing budget and at the end of the day the actual financial yield of digital music is poor.
The result is that even the music that is immediately successful is not making any real money. We have to ask what voices are being missed. Traditionally music was a seen as a pastime of the wealthy in society and when that thinking was decimated we had the golden era of the 60’s and 70’s.
Culture is more than just a hobby, it is often controlled by dictatorships because it has the power to unite the masses, fight wars, sway public opinion, encourage protest and destroy propaganda. Now more than ever as the wealth gap continues to increase, we need a variety of cultural voices to fight the tide of austerity, corporate greed and pro-war narratives that being injected into society by the mainstream media and that is being lost along the way.