Exploring Indie

By James Pew

I’ve been away from writing posts on Studio Manifesto for a little awhile. And I have really enjoyed the coverage of new music happenings by Duke, Phil, Connor, and Skeleton – (all brilliant new music interns at Euphonic Sound) Check out our authors page to read posts from these new music bad asses.. I have been doing a lot of writing though, I’m working on a book called Studio Manifesto: Exploring the Possibilities of Indie, and I’ve decided to start posting sections of the book here on the Studio Manifesto Blog.

One aspect of the book is a consideration of Marshall McLuhan’s media theory applied to the culture and dynamics of the new music world. The books other main aspect functions as indie musician survival guide.

Since the book is still in writing/editing phase please leave your thoughts in the comments section, any help in shaping this work-in-progress will be greatly appreciated. Thanks for reading.

The Vision Factor

The problem with vision is two-fold;

1) Without it you sell yourself short, and with too much of it, you oversell your abilities to pull off success.
2) If your perception of the world looks like the previous age (the age of the radio star, MTV, and music as a corporate commodity), then you may be visualizing things that are much to hard to actualize in the current age of the social web.

First lets deal with number 1. An example of lack of vision, is the common stance taken by indie artists on the need to record demonstrations, or demos, or their work, instead of a tangible finished, non-demonstration, piece of work. In no other art-form do we see demonstrations of what an artist could potentially do, under the right circumstances, in place of the artists actual work. In other words Stop Recording Demos! And Start Recording Songs!

When the artists recording goal is likened to an afterthought with tones of defeat and deflation all centered on the fact that the recording budget is low and the marketing/distribution budget is non-existent, he is effectively sabotaging and limiting the potential of the project.

An example of to much vision is the artist who hasn’t finished writing his first song – but is already planning the world tour, merchandising and a spin off clothing line. By all means think big. But don’t lose focus on the small steps that get overlooked when your head is in the clouds. If you are in the studio making a record put your energy into that.

And number 2 deals with forming a better understanding of emergent cultural practices (via the social web) and how they effect the musician.

This amazing age that we are living in just recently evolved to a stage where the independent artist is more empowered than ever before by unlimited access to the following:

Affordable quality sound & video production

Unlimited free or cheap access to network marketing & distribution channels via the internet.

A music industry rooted in the mediums of CDs, FM Radio, and TV (MTV era Broadcast Video), has been completely turned on its head, primarily because of the irritation coming from the new media…the internet, or more specifically the hybrid medium commonly referred to as the social web.

We either choose to view the empowerment of internet users (soon to be everyone without exception) to openly access musical works as unfair, devastating and tragic – or see it as a movement, driven by community (a natural behavior indicative of the re-tribalizing movement brought about by the most pervasive of electronic media), and the tribal ordering of all people on the planet into a global village.

Later chapters of this book will explore in greater detail the application of Marshall McLuhan’s media theory to the indie musicians conception of the world he makes music in. For now let me interject my personal belief that the current age is a much more desirable and exciting age to be living in then the previous. Specific reasons for thinking this will become clear later, but the fact remains that today we see an “uprising of the people” … it is a good thing when peoples level of involvement in culture increases.

The culture of mash up & remix, social media, blogger, youtube, user generated content, twitter etc, sees people being actively involved in culture through numerous democratized media. This empowerment is a new-age catalyzing cultural force without comparison, it is indeed a Brave New World.

The peoples movement rejects the establishment of Corporate entertainment elites.

At some point Western popular music became dull and commodified. When Radio was the dominant music medium, popular music was at an artistic high point. It can be argued that it was the appearance of video that uprooted the culture of popular music from this “renaissance period.” In any case, it is always the appearance of new mediums that effect the change. What Video is to radio, internet is to video. The MTV era where “Video killed the Radio Star,” is over. The problem is many indie musicians still have one foot (or sometimes both) in the previous age (the age of the radio star).

Tune your vision to the current age

The current age, of the social web, sees a new situation of human association. Virtually everyone on the planet connected together through digital media. In the current age, the artistic high point seems without reach. The sheer quantity of music openly available is one result of this cultural explosion (brought about by new media) that is bursting outwardly at a speed and trajectory we can barely comprehend.

The indicators of de-commodified music

Pre-mega corporate music or pre-commodified music has, and much of the top ranking modern pop music (still stuck in a MTV era Never-land) does not have these two characteristics:

1. An authentic viewpoint from a talented and unique artist(s). Their viewpoint felt real and was often based on real human experience. As opposed to a contrived view point that could not possibly have come from the artist themselves given obvious circumstances such as the artist being a young kid. These people haven’t had the time to develop, nurture, and hone their craft. Weather or not their viewpoint has anything to do with the truth or not, it just doesn’t feel real. In the past, artists, even if they happened to have been young, had an authentic view point coming from real human experience, and it felt real…felt like art. And often they got better with age – the mass audience had a connection to them as fans and observers of their development. Weather any of the artists of the mass marketed pop music, like the Mickey Mouse Club types, have experiences or not seems almost irrelevant when the majority of their music is designed to be sexually evocative or deal with adolescent and/or grossly immature subject matter – or my favorite, melodramatic emotional manipulations…does that stuff ever feel like art? Sure a lot of artistry goes into the production no one can deny that…but many would agree that the material and performer themselves are really not worth the trouble.

Corporate music production tends to homogenize the bands that comes through their doors – couple this with the fact that many of these bands are their because they are similar to a previous homogenized success. I used to argue with people that all rock bands do not sound the same – But the people I argued with were not fans of the music I loved, they hated it – the true fans had no trouble discerning the differences between the bands they loved – but present day it’s harder for me to make the argument and defend my beloved art form – weather you believe that popular rock music is homogenized or not – you must recognize that there are corporate forces at work who thirst for predictable result and return on investment. Their mantra is what worked in the past should work again. If every business completely reinvented itself every year than we’d have chaos, but this corporate business model does not work for the new age. It does not encourage or enable the contribution of quality artistic musical content for popular use. Down with the cookie cutter bands!

2. The loudness war. This one is a little technical but very easy to understand – both the technical side – and the why record companies and even the artists themselves are motivated into loudness action – to the point that much modern pop music now only has one discernible dynamic – loud. Where pre-mega corporate production had more natural dynamic range – much less fatiguing on the listeners ears.

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