We all hate banks. Well, we do don’t we? Banks make lots of money. Even in these austere times, the higher echelons of bank executives award themselves huge bonuses, despite the relative commercial performance of the bank. Banks are seen as essentially morally corrupt and unfair. But we need them, don’t we?
Banks invest our money, which they are supposed to be safeguarding, in ventures without our consent, without our consultation. We accept it, we don’t like it, but we see no alternative. Banks make huge profits which are not returned to their customers, other than in the form of relatively miniscule interest payments. And yet they have used those same customers’ money to invest in the first place. This is unfair, no? We often feel helpless in the face of these corporate megaliths. There is no recourse to complaint or redress. We are pawns….we are mugs. But we shrug and say that’s the way it always has been and it’s the way it always will be. Mugs….that’s what we are. Yes, we all hate banks.
Now, substitute ‘money’ with ‘music’ (or “content” as modern, soulless musicos like to now call it); substitute ‘customers’ with ‘artists’. Substitute ‘investments’ with ‘sales’. ‘Loans’ become ‘Advances’. Sound familiar? Well, it does, to me anyway. The ‘traditional’ corporate music industry operates in many similar ways to banks (that’s the same banks we all complain about and mistrust).
Since music began to be a saleable quantity, we (the general public and the media) have entrusted the commerce of music to record labels, mainly large corporate ones. Why? Well, because we believed there was no other way: “It’s always been like this and it always will be the same”. Then smaller independent labels started to spring up around the 70s/80s. Some got subsumed by the big corporations, some survived for a decade or so and then crashed. There was no other way.
Even though many bands/artists still crave a ‘deal’; many now know that they can survive and even thrive by releasing their own music themselves. A combination of social media and free music distribution websites (the most awesomemost being Bandcamp) have enabled musicians to distribute, publish and sell their music with, in some (albeit few) cases, similar success as they would have had with record company backing. DIY culture is back…it’s been back for years actually, but it is now starting to enter the mainstream. It’s great to see so many artists making a moderate living from going the DIY route. It isn’t easy for them, mind. They work hard on every aspect of the music-making and distribution process, from writing, recording, playing gigs constantly, liaising with listeners and businesses, promoting. The overwork and stress induced by this can be all-consuming. They take risks, they gamble with their own cash, they worry about the mortgage and the bills and the family’s wellfair. It’s self-employment in one of the most high-risk businesses in existence. But, all in all, it’s self-empowerment and integrity that keeps these musicians going. Also, it’s a desire not to rip-off listeners/customers which keeps them going. For the musician, it’s like investing in the most ethically-sound bank in the world. One which believes in fairness and sharing. See? There is another way.