Could this be demolishment of print or the liberation of free media within the music industry?

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1995 NME cover. Source: NME

THEN As people often say, “back in the day” years ago, no matter your age or hometown, you would always count down the days until the new release of your favourite music publication, be it NME, The Rolling Stone, or Q. It would cost from 3-5 quid, and would be worth every penny (so we thought). This would answer all of weekly questions: who’s the coolest artist on the block right now, who’s making music, is it any good, who’s touring and where can I go and see them? Our own personal fix of music news. These established music magazines were the hub of all the up-to-date news and the ultimate trendsetters within the music scene, regardless of taste.

 

 

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2015 NME cover. Source: NME

 

NOW things are slightly different. For the answers to all of these continuously urging questions we go to our phones, our laptops, or our favourite venue. You rarely see people paying for a music magazine at their local shop anymore, and this has been such a drastic drop in demand that one of Britain’s most established publication, NME, has recently had to re-release as a free magazine distributed publicly on the streets and at station, just when it was seemingly going to go on forever at £2.50 a piece.

 

What has cause this dramatic change in the world of music and media? And more importantly is this a positive move forward or something we should fear?

 

As we all know (and if you aren’t just look around you and witness the sea of screens before you), we now live in a world of fast-paced, constantly delivering technology. The demand for information has changed. We want it all, and we want it now (sometimes regardless of quality); so much so that we are more likely to watch 50 8-second, instantly-loading videos of recurring jokes like “what are those?” than watch an hour long documentary about something we actually care about. We also want everything for free, and are becoming increasingly stubborn against paying for services that we use regularly.

 

So as a result, dominating magazines like NME quickly went from being respected sources of media and information, the first to deliver all the latest and greatest, to an antiquated, out-of-fashion magazine. The fact that NME was driven to stop charging for the publication just demonstrates how powerful this shift is. The idea of it is great: have larger, cheaper distributions in order to gain a bigger influence. But have you given it a read lately? It is a sell-out shell of what it once was. From having the majority of the pages filled with mainstream adverts, to covering the latest hot pop-star that they would have previously mocked while boasting about discovering the new underground must-see.

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2016 DIY cover. Source: DIY

NME has disappointingly sold-out its identity in order to simply stay afloat. But this is not the case with everyone.

Lately there has been a rise of brilliant, independent publications such as DIY and Upset that have been built upon the idea that it should be free to join a music community. With their magazines being distributed to local music venues to encourage people to go to gigs, and a prominent passion for discovering a range of fresh talent from across the scene(s), there is a feeling of authenticity and genuineness when reading these magazines, and this honesty has been rewarded with an ever-growing group (with myself included) of committed readers.

 

 

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2016 Upset cover. Source: Upset

There has also been a recent flourish of blogs, and good blogs. Real journalism, honest discussions and uncompromising exposure of artists that editors are actually passionate about. You can also see artists and bands embracing this change on traditions by becoming more creative and resourceful when releasing music, making announcements and doing their promotion campaigns. We need to stop complaining about how things have changed and learn to incorporate the new order of things. Media and music are no longer emerging from the top down, it is coming from every which-way due to the Internet and other innovative ways of distribution, bringing about a new level of diversity within the music industry and levelling the playing field for everyone.

 

 

So while some institutions and organisations have fallen into the trap of the changing market within music consumption, by selling their front-page spreads to the highest bidder, others have embraced this head on. There is now a new generation of artists, journalists and media enthusiasts with fresh ideas and an eager attitude to bring people together into a community of people who just love all kinds of music, regardless of their income.

 


Check out DIY and Upset magazine.
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Baker out.

IN RETROSPECT: Rush – ‘Clockwork Angels’

Words by Dan Tull

 

With the relatively recent announcement that Rush will be ceasing to do any more live tours and seemingly confirmed reports of the band’s overall retirement, the 2012 steampunk concept album of ‘Clockwork Angels‘ will become the final entry in the twenty-album strong discography of the prog-rock powerhouse. This has lead me to approach the album again, four years on, with a significantly different mind-set. In 2012 it seemed as though Rush would continue producing albums and touring until they were being propped up onstage with intravenous drips to provide them with necessary sustenance. Thankfully, this is not the case.

 

Instead, they have gracefully retired from the monumental live shows they became famed for with an appropriately gargantuan final tour, R40.

 

 

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Image: noisecreep.com

 

So now that ‘Clockwork Angels‘ may well be the last studio record the band will produce, was this always the case? It may well have been. The record presents itself initially as a steampunk concept album, which is probably about as prog as you want to go before devolving into Gabriel-esque nightmares. This is not the first time steampunk has featured prominently in music, with bands such as Abney Park and The Men Who Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing being heavily dedicated to the movement. This was however the first time that Rush had ever attempted a full-bore concept album from start to finish. ‘2112‘ and ‘Hemispheres‘ certainly contain elements of this, but it took twenty albums for Rush to fully delve into it, and ‘Clockwork Angels‘ definitely delivered.

 

The album contains 12 songs with a running time of 1hr 6min. Whilst the songs are sequential, weaving a story of a young man who runs away to join an adventuring caravan and that of a dictatorial Watchmaker, they also offer parallel meanings in the bands own life experiences.

 

The lead single ‘Caravan‘ opens the album, immediately demonstrating a refined approach to the style the band had experimented on their previous album, ‘Snakes and Arrows‘. The song moves through several time signatures, syncopating the choral vocals with bass and drums. It’s a strong opener. This is perhaps the most literal track, describing the world in which we are to inhabit as we listen to the album. However, it does suggest an attitude expressed by the band. “I can’t stop thinking big” forms the simple chorus line. Is this Rush explaining their origins?

 

From this point the album can be seen as a biographical history of the band, with the ominous Watchmaker representing the inevitability of time, an aspect Rush have touched on before in ‘Time Stand Still‘. The second single, the massive ‘Headlong Flight‘, is a celebration of their time as a band. “I wish I could live it all again!” cried Geddy defiantly. By the time we reach the end of the album, we have what I consider to be the perfect final endevour for a band as huge as Rush. It ticks all the correct boxes. Quality musicianship? Yep. Extravagant songs? Yep. An eight minute single? Yep. The whole thing is as much a celebration of Rush as it is a celebration of prog rock in its entirety. Is this Rush’s greatest album? Quite possibly, but that’s a discussion for another time. In regards to finales though, I find it difficult to point to an album that signs off a forty-year career with this level of grace.

 

DT

MUSIC IS DEAD (Except it isn’t)

Words by Dan Tull

Every time a pop star celebrity drops an Instagram photo of themselves pouting shamelessly with the hashtag “no filter”, the internet laments the slow death of music. Pop has killed it. The over commercialisation of music has finally taken its toll. Creativity is dead, and with the rise of music streaming, we can all but watch as music crumbles to ash around us.

 

That is quite dramatic. Probably a bit over dramatic, all things considered in the world. I take some umbrage with these sweeping declarations that music is dead. Particularly because I myself am allegedly a musician and am currently alive. I understand the feelings people have though, shows like X-Factor, The Voice, and Britain’s Got Talent certainly support these thoughts. But yet, I have to say that in my experience music couldn’t be more alive. I suspect that those stating that it has died have not tried hard enough to check for a pulse (That was a cheesy but nevertheless a good analogy).

See, technology has its part to play in the state of music these days. In the “good old days” musicians were forced to master their craft in order to produce music of any decent quality. Even then some clangers came out. Genuinely though, it was much harder to produce an album in the sixties, an effort made harder if none of the artists could actually play. Nowadays this talent and skill can be added in post much the same way a CGI dragon might be placed in Game of Thrones. If an artist is attractive, likeable and more importantly: marketable, their talent can be conjured through a series of algorithms and button presses.

There’s also a real shift in the attitude stressed by the types who appear on X-Factor-esque shows. The cries of “I’ve wanted this my whole life” are echoed year on year by the same deluded 19-year-old wannabes who have more infatuation with the lifestyle of a pop star than the artistic merit of contributing to music’s great tapestry.

 

Seems rather bleak, right? Well no…no it really isn’t. All that’s happened is the criteria to being a meaningful music artist has shifted. Yes, the market is oversaturated with copycats, saccharine coated money machines and soulless industry moulded wannabes, but all that means is that when the genuine, real talent shines through, it does so with fierce intensity. x-factor

I think we should rapidly write off any contributions from those X-Factor shows, as they represent a distorted image of music. The music industry as presented by X-Factor is about as accurate as the business world presented by The Apprentice (Complete b*****s).

Remember when Adele’s 21 first arrived? Like it or hate it, it, that album was incredible. Not necessarily in terms of the content, but in what it did. The album mostly consists of subtly produced piano ballads with a few massive singles dotted around. The focus is solely, unwaveringly focused on Adele’s voice, and rightly so. This is someone who absolutely does not fit the industry mould, and yet here she is smashing record sales records (hah), challenging the perceptions of body image and demonstrating that the industry still holds some respect for genuine talent. This isn’t a review of Adele and her success, this is a statement about the life still pulsing through the weary veins of music.

maxresdefault1However, even Adele has her opinion on the “death of music”. She has famously not released her latest album to stream, echoing a similar move by America’s sweetheart, Taylor Swift. Streaming is controversial, mostly due to the small amount of royalties they pay out. Well, both Adele and Taylor Swift are worth millions, both personally and as platforms. I’m sure they are struggling with those feeble royalty payouts.

The artists that should be complaining are the unheard of indie musicians who have just about got around to putting together a four-track EP. They’ve managed to get it on Spotify and aren’t getting paid fairly. That’s pretty unfair right? Well…no. Making an EP is easy these days, as I said before. Anyone with a copy of Garageband can put something together that sounds reasonable. And I sincerely, somewhat cynically, doubt that anyone is subscribing to any streaming service to specifically listen to some obscure, self-made EP by some lads in Brixton.

As I said before, the criteria has shifted. Streaming is here, it’s great for consumers and ultimately that is what leads the industry. I’m sure some hipsters somewhere are quick to declare their hatred for streaming, and that it is the soul invention that has destroyed music, but I offer a counter argument.

Streaming has provided universal distribution for artists. Ignore the payment, that isn’t something to be concerned about unless you’re Adele, and if you’re Adele you have other, far more lucrative income streams. No, let’s ignore the monetary aspect and look at streaming as a platform. Imagine this scenario. You’re in an up and coming band, you’ve had a few gigs, got a few loyal fans and things are going well. You record an EP, it sounds great! It launches to Spotify, iTunes and every other possible platform available. Suddenly, your band is on a radar. Admittedly, at this stage, the band is a small blip on the radar, but that can change. The band is tangible outside of a local indie music venue. The music is simultaneously everywhere, and that is far more important at this stage.

Before any musicians reading this leap into the comments and declare me an idiot for assuming that musicians shouldn’t worry about being paid by streaming sites, calm right down. Other income streams should already be apparent for an artist or band (merch, physical media etc). Streaming is simply something to increase your presence.

I’ve gone on a right rant there….

Back to the point…music being dead and stuff. Look, music literally cannot die. As long as we have people who care enough to declare it dead, it will conversely never die. Confused? Counter-culture will often surpass mainstream culture as mainstream culture becomes oversaturated. It’s happened throughout history, and we are simply experiencing our generation’s version of it. You can see musical progression everywhere if you look for it. If you want to resign yourself to the early death of music, then go ahead. Read a book, watch a film, destroy all your tapes.

Music couldn’t be more alive, and that’s the simple truth

 

DT

Bigger is not always better – The Importance of Small Independent Venues

Every committed fan and connoisseur of music will have a collection of memories from small, independent venues that they can roll off the top of their head. Their first gig, their messiest gig, that one gig years ago where you saw today’s biggest band for the first time in a room with 100 people in. In a world where ‘bigger is better’ in regards to just about everything: TVs, companies, houses, among other things… music venues represent an important and timeless exception.

Why are small indie venues so important?

For me – and I reckon a lot of other people – it’s about the unique experiences you get with them. Instead of a polished, overly uniformed arena with structured seating, anonymous crowds and lacking personality, you have a room small enough where you can meet people, chat to the bar staff about mutual tastes in music, try an obscure craft beer, and be close enough to the band that a real connection can be made between you and the artist(s). You don’t have to pay an extra fortune to get close enough to the stage to actually see someone’s face, you just have to be committed enough to get in there early. It’s all about what you put into the night, not how much you pay for it.

Lydia from the Boileroom, Guildford, agrees. “Each one is different, and is ran by people passionate about music and the artists that come through and play within their hallowed walls.”

 

So it’s quite evident that independent venues have been suffering from a collective, nationwide struggle for some time now. Suddenly you find yourself more interested in saving up to go to one big gig at the o2 arena instead of four intimate gigs at the tiny club at the end of your street, and becoming increasingly less interested in the leaflets going round going on about who you should be seeing and listening to.

And why is this?

Well, as always, the government has its role in this game.With funding for the arts on an annual decline. Ambivalence for the creative arts often spreads from the top down, just as enthusiasm grows from the bottom up. The ongoing battles between indie venues and unwelcoming neighbours, staggering property values, and difficult laws that see great places being shut down nationwide seems to be a rarely discussed, unsurprising reality rather than a devastating misfortune in recent times. As towns are becoming more heavily populated, and reactive licensing regulations and environmental health agencies are putting on more pressure, it’s only getting harder. Indeed, of the 430 music venues that operated within London between 2007 and 2015, only 245 are still open, according to the trust.

So has all hope been lost?

Definitely not. There have been several developments in the last few years in terms of safeguarding music venues across the country. Lydia from the Boileroom, Guildford explains “Music Venues Trust have set up trade union TAMVA, and have been making headway with regards to PRS licensing fees…reducing business rates…as well as giving general advice and creating a network of grassroots venues that can support each other”. And that is when needs to continue to happen, networking and support.

There is something special about small indie venues that people still cherish, consumers and artists alike. Many bands still take the opportunity to play the smaller town venues when they could easily get 10 times the amount of customers in a bigger venue. For instance, last year youmeatsix played the Boileroom for Independent Venue Week (and it was an awesome night), and Wolf Alice stated in an interview for the guide2surrey that they will always remember playing the smaller venues before hitting it big with the likes of Glasto Festival.

So what I’m mainly trying to say is that small indie venues and grassroots venues are still as important to the music industry today as they ever were. They often represent the community in an all-inclusive, welcoming way and are a place to make incredible memories. They are the places that hosted today’s biggest headline bands way back in the beginning when they were still growing and developing as artists – just as we are still developing.

And they will continue to do this, if we are still committed to supporting them.

Baker out.