Jumpin’ On The Hobby Horse

I read a very good short article on Matt Stevens’ blog the other day. It seems to have garnered quite a response, looking at the comments page; all of which are in agreement. Basically, Matt has encountered a few people (one suspects they are rock traditionalists, but I could be wrong) on the internet who are laying criticism at the feet of semi-pro or, for want of a better word, ‘amateur’ musicians. Basically their point is that the quantity of these musicians is ‘ruining’ the ‘market’ for seasoned pros, and that the music of these hobbyists is somehow inferior. The term they are using is “hobbyists”. This word is not being used in a complimentary capacity, you understand. No, it’s classifying semi-pro musicians as inferior, lumping us in with people who like to ‘dabble’ at the weekend; like anglers, train-spotters, DIY enthusiasts (which we are, kinda!). By the way, there’s nothing wrong with these pastimes; it’s just that they’re not an art or a means of expression. They’re not cultural. They are, indeed, something with which to pass the time.

Now, I’m not sure whether Matt has met these people in person, or whether they’ve posted a comment or tweeted somewhere; or indeed whether they’re established ‘names’ in the music sphere. But it did rankle with me that someone, out there somewhere, was classifying me (because I am one of the hobbyists they’re referring to), yes, me, and my contemporaries, as mere dabblers who don’t understand the medium.

OK, so let’s look at what’s being said.
Argument one: Semi-pro/DIY musicians create music which is not worthy of being part of the ‘market’.
I find this unbelievable, in the 21st century. Music, whether pop, rock, jazz, orchestral, avant-garde, or whatever, has always moved (eventually) to embrace new technologies. Musicians who have not sought to ‘get a deal’ with a record company (s’funny how we still call them that) or distributor, have now got the means by which they can sell or at least distribute their music without a middle-man. The internet has allowed that to happen. As have computers and the advances in recording software. The music of the part-time or semi-pro musician has as much right to be heard as the biggest-selling established artists’ music. It’s the way the world is now. What the musicians who have denounced the DIY culture are doing is to bestow more importance on their own music than the actual medium itself. Like their music transcends the idiom of music completely. What they’re also doing is to expose their own insecurity and fear at what the DIY culture means to their livelihood. But, really, is it making that much difference to them?
At the end of the day, to the individual listener, there’s good music and bad; music which you like and music you don’t like. Not ‘signed’ and ‘unsigned’…how does that make any difference to the quality of the music?

Argument two: DIY musicians haven’t ‘paid their dues’; they haven’t taken the knocks, or experienced the pitfalls of suffering for their art.
Now, let’s get this straight. Regardless of what you think of my own music; I have been making music for 20-odd years. I started out in bands, played some rough gigs, and played some good gigs. We got hundreds of rejections when we sent demos to record companies. We split, then we all formed new bands, and the cycle continued. I was unemployed for some time, had to sell some instruments (and other stuff) to stay the slightest bit solvent; I had support from family and friends, so I was lucky as I was never really poverty stricken. I got jobs, I bought new instruments, I got up and dusted myself down, I used my education to get better jobs. But all the while I never lost sight of the one true and steady thing throughout: I love making music. I also love for other people to hear my music. I love sharing it, I love collaborating. I’ve never doubted it. It’s been the one constant in my life for 20-odd years.
Now, I’m using myself as an example because I can talk about it with authority. But every DIY musician has a similar (ish) story: some more extreme, some less so. But to stay true to doing what you love takes will-power, and nerve and devotion.
I, and many like me, haven’t got a deal and lived out some out-dated dream; but we’ve stuck with it all the same. The benefit of that is that, ok we may not be making pots of cash (well, some are), but we’ve got complete creative control, and our integrity.
Besides, did these pro musicians suddenly go from total obscurity to fully pro? No, of course they didn’t; they played gigs and toted demos around like everyone else. Some of them held down day-jobs in the meantime. Hmm. What’s the definition of semi-pro again?

Argument three: The DIY culture is ruining the industry.
Yeah, well…thank fuck for that!
This is such a hackneyed argument. I mean, every time something new comes along; whether it’s a style of music, or a technological advance; some ‘commentator’, or ‘professional insider’ has a coronary. “Home taping is killing music”. “The internet will encourage piracy (“Ah-hharrrgh! Jim lad!!!”)”. “CD will kill vinyl”. “Synthesisers will put real musicians out of work”; etc, etc, etc, ad infinitum.
It never happened. Piracy, yes…but the financial losses incurred, if any, never put anyone out of business. The recession did that. Bad business decisions did that.
It’s like punk and acid-house all over again. The old school of rock/pop considered punk to be a threat to music itself, a dumbing down, a lack of respect for the medium. What it actually did, ultimately, is add to the medium of music’s richness and diversity, then culturally died a death when the next big thing hit.

So, there it is. Basically, the argument of the ‘Pro Purists’ is this: “It’s not as good as it was in the old days, we used to sell loads of music because we were the only ones doing it. We were special. We are not any more, because people have realised that there is quality music out there which you can have for a low price, or even for free. I’m afraid for the future.” It’s a special kind of nostalgia; a hankering for a better time when the audience just wanted to listen and would unquestionably follow everything you did, and when you believed you were unique because you felt you had the right to be.

That’s all finished now. The thing about DIY music is this……we answer to no-one but our audience and ourselves. We may not always make great music, but then, neither do you. In fact, my best music may be just on a par with your worst, but at least I give it away for free. Rather than charge for it, thinking ‘They’ll swallow any old crap’.

Disclaimer: These views are my own; no facts have been used in this blog

2 responses to “Jumpin’ On The Hobby Horse

  1. Right on. All excellent points! I think you both may have something here: the established music industry seems to be more than a little paranoid about “semi-pros” siphoning off their income. That usually leads to ugliness in most economic arenas, and the music industry is no different.

    I for one, welcome our new Hobby Band overlords, and, as a blogger, can do much to lure people in to toil in their musically interesting sugar-caves!

    Thanks for posting, great article.

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