22 March 2010

I've lost that loving feeling...

The music industry is a funny one. Similar to acting, there appears to be much hype surrounding image and publicity. That music has its own Oscars is reflective of this. You don't see such shenanigans with visual artists or poets. Writers are apparently meant to be neurotic, angry and self-loathing, so people don't generally ask more than that of them. Musicians, on the other hand, are somehow meant to be sexy, stylish, distant yet engaging, talented and yet consumable. Not many other creative arts industries - apart from actors - even conceive of making a living from what they do. Musicians - and there are SO many of them now, it seems - do appear to believe a career is inevitable.

With all the hype dedicated to the music industry, I've found that everyone wants to be a part of it. I've had friends state to me that they wish to become music bloggers purely because they will get free passes to gigs; they don't seem to hear me when I tell them that I buy my tickets to 90% of the gigs I write about. They don't care about giving an honest and unbiased opinion about a band's performance; they'll do anything to get access. And that, to me, is the flipside of blogging; sure, it gives everyone the opportunity to express themselves, but it can also be a part of the problem. Fans who blog are giving assurances to their idols that anything they write will be positive; it's like unpaid PR.

When I began writing about music, I was in the throes of studying part-time for a journalism degree that I thought might pull me out of my aimless government job and throw me into the world of Hunter S. Thompson and John Pilger. I thought the music journalism experience would be a key to gain entry into the wider world of journalism. How wrong I was.

Writing for free for the many music publications that are out there can be demoralising at times. You are thrown crap music to write about and you do your best not to tear shreds off people and destroy their dreams of becoming an artist. (And yes, some people ARE that sensitive.) You constantly ask to cover gigs of musicians you really like, only to be turned down because someone closer to the editor got the gig. You get asked to write positive reviews about bad albums, yet your positive reviews about good albums don't get published because the editor has an 'issue' with that band. In some cases, editors are even personally abusive and, when you're writing for them for free, that's REALLY not on! THEY depend on the contributors, and the more editors who realise that and stop disappearing up their own arseholes with self importance, the better. You start to meet musicians at gigs who seem really friendly...until you realise many of them only speak to you because you can promote them for free. Like one guy in a local band who acted like a really good friend for a couple of years until I stopped writing for Faster Louder, when apparently, I ceased to exist. I've come across more users in this industry than I care to admit, but on the other hand, I understand their desperation: it's a nasty race with far too many competitors on the same track.

Since I began writing about music - it's been six years now - I've begun to feel that I don't LOVE music as much as I used to. I find that, after listening to so many albums, I have become desensitised to the formulas many musicians depend upon. Like a porn addict, I am now in search of more and more unusual and confronting music to get a rush. And 9/10, I am disappointed and left feeling empty and unchallenged, as a listener.

When I began writing about music, I was also a dabbler in music. I could play piano, drums, a bit of bass. I'd been in a couple of bad bands in the '80s and had never quite thrown those aspirations away. Since I've been writing about music, I've mentally turned to the other side of being a voyeur instead of participant. And this saddens me. I would rather be creating than writing about people who are creating. Does any of this make sense?

So, yes, I started writing about music because I loved it, but after six years of doing it without any kind of remuneration just because I don't like Lily Allen or Lady Gaga - watching other people make money from the writing that I and countless others do for free (and there will ALWAYS be someone out there willing to do it for free) - I've reached the point where I've thrown my dreams of writing for one of the big publications to the wind. I've watched people who've just started writing sky-rocket into the paid music journalism racket, writing for Rolling Stone, J Mag and the like, because they have the right image; funny how the image 'thing' trickles into the businesses at the edge of music as well... You begin to wonder: what am I doing wrong? why that person and not me? And it's a pointless process because you either have what people want or you don't. My music writing appears to land in the latter group.

I have decided, for the time being, to keep things simple with My Aural Fixation and to learn from the musicians who I admire not only as creators of something wonderful, but as famous people who have some integrity and substance. No more news updates or excessive tweeting; I've found Twitter, for me, to be the single biggest time waster in the history of the internet! Useful, for other reasons, but bloated offerings. I mean, how many times can something be re-tweeted before it loses its value? I will only tweet if I have written a new review, or have written something interesting about the industry. I won't be engaging as much with musicians on Twitter who, let's face it, rarely respond anyway. (Although, ironically, I will get responses from very famous people like former Duran Duran member, Andy Taylor, and Slash, but a local musician will ignore me. Funny.)

I will continue to seek out interesting music from across the globe, and let you know about it when I come across something special. But I would like to stop and think about the actual craft of writing and my love of music...I need to fall in love with music again.


Anonymous said...

When I was young, I reasoned that the purpose of my getting a job was to eat crap food and live in a tiny apartment, BUT, spend all my money on books, music and going to the movies. That was all I seemed to care about. I wanted the stories. All of us are stories waiting to be told, captured or run through with a pin and categorized. Everything we do, say, hear or think is a story.

That passion has changed. As I type this, I can find any album I want within MINUTES, and MAYBE I'll pay for it, odds are I don't have to. I've got Amazon for my library, and Netflix for my theater. My appetite is gone. Rarely do I find something that sates me, a virginal concept, an unwritten storyline, an unheard note.

But I continue to search for those moments when something bright blue and glowing walks out of the dusky forest and says, "Look at me, listen to me, read me, and do it NOW."

I hope you will too.

Darragh said...

Really good blog here. I often feel the same way. I blog haphazardly, more for the love of trying to improve my writing. I do love music and I think this blogging is a great way to do so.

I do share some sentiments. Bit of a stream of consciousness here, but I feel that attempting to find new angles to write on 'new music' makes me feel often disconnected with the industry, particularly locally. I've been wracked with the feeling that, particularly in Brisbane, that there is nothing of interest (for me) out there. Perhaps its because I'm getting older and my tastes change, but perhaps not.

It is funny you talk about J mag and Rolling Stone. I read lots about music, but always read it online - mostly in blog format. I never read J Mag or Rolling Stone. I'm going out on a limb here but I doubt the 'true' music fans do - they recognise the writing as processed tripe devoid of any 'real' opinions.

ed said...

Good post. It's pretty cut-throat, just a combination of who you know and being in the right place at the right time and even then you're only an editor-changing-jobs-away from being squeezed out.

It's probably even worse for photographers as the skill level is fairly low, effort required is minimal, everyone these days has a camera, everyone covets what you do.

There are a lot of photographers who seem to be doing it mainly for the kudos - updating their Facebook status with "...is photographing *insert name of mega-famous singer* tonight and who have no interest in the local scene or going anywhere there isn't a photo pit and a huge lighting rig. It's never bothered me if it all ended tomorrow (so to speak) as I'd just do what I used to do (and still do from time-to-time) and pay to see small/local/interesting-sounding bands in places where they let you take your camera. Music has always been about separating the wheat from the chaff, the trouble being that there's just music overload in the modern age. Plus (maybe it's just me) but there seems to be a bit of a lull in the Brisbane scene in the last year or so, with very little new coming through that's really grabbing me, with the odd exception - Hunz, DZ, Velociraptor for example.

Andrew McMillen said...

Good post, Amanda, and thanks for sharing.

You're oversimplifying to suggest that you've spent six years of doing it "without any kind of remuneration just because I don't like Lily Allen or Lady Gaga", though. This suggests that the only way to become a paid music journalist is to write about pop stars.

After reading this, I'm left to question - what do you want out of this? You thought that music journalism could be your key into other fields of writing. What are those fields? Are they more competitive than music journalism?

adam said...

You've described my experience in the Brisbane music journalism scene almost exactly. I was drawn into the machine and fortunately learned very quickly (this was mid '90s). I won't say too much more, other than doing it for the love as a fan of music is far more satisfying because integrity is really important. While writing about music is creative, your other creative outlets may suit you better at this time? I'm not sure. In the brief time that I've been reading your posts, I have enjoyed your writing here and at Twitter also (even with the stupid word limit). I hope you don't abandon it altogether. also, I don't agree with the prior comments that there's a lull in Brisbane's scene - there's plenty of unusual and unique music (all arts actually) on each week, you just need to look beyond the usual venues (as I'm sure you know).

Musojourno said...

RIngs a pretty close bell here, actually. As someone who writes about music for a living on a daily basis, I can relate to the dampening of the previously all-consuming passion and have admittedly written a small bunch of stories about bands that don't really interest me - albeit in pilot mode, without much fire being injected.
To solve the issue, I would suggest laying off writing about music for a while and delving a bit deeper into actual music - ie listening, playing, researching, recording all that. There's always that trusty guitar when you need it :)