Interesting use of the word ‘hypocritical’ by David Keenan in his Collateral Damage essay (The Wire 329). He tells us how awful it is that a festival might be made possible through the use of arts funding. David himself has of course been very involved in numerous funded festivals over the years, and recommended various others through his Volcanic Tongue mailouts. As I write this, I see he’s tweeting about an event at Glasgow’s heavily funded Tramway venue. Apparently, his shop will have a stall at an event there.
I often enjoy reading David’s proclamations but he’s let standards slip here; his assertion that funded festivals are essentially government approved is just petulance. I’ve worked on numerous projects over the past decade that would not have been possible without some kind of funding support; and in the process, have brought to the UK a lot of artists that otherwise would never have made it to these shores. David sells a lot of these people’s records in his shop, so I’d guess he’d support that. After all, that funding is benefitting him. Last year he wrote a large article on The Los Angeles Free Music Society for The Wire (issue 320) – he was commissioned to do that because the Lowest Form Of Music festival was taking place in London, an event only made possible by the support of Sound And Music. Guess where SAM got the money from to support it? Yes, arts funding.
97 per cent of all arts funding in the UK that goes to music is automatically given to the classical sector. So I think it’s perfectly legitimate for people like us to try in some small way to redress that balance and support acts that we admire, helping them develop as artists and expand their audiences. That’s not hypocritical at all, but I think I spy someone who is. Lee Etherington TUSK Music, Newcastle-uponTyne, UK
The assertion made by David Keenan in his Collateral Damage essay that “digital downloads – not to say Wikipedia entries, music blogs and even sites like Ubuweb – encourage a superficial engagement with culture” offers more insight into the writer’s cultural prejudice than any substantial critical evaluation of online culture. In fact, one could ironically observe that such a statement is a perfect example of superficial engagement, a pursuit the writer appears to deplore.
David Weinberger’s Everything Is Miscellaneous, a book that explains why “we have to get rid of the idea that there’s a best way of organising the world”, contains an explanation of how Wikipedia works and a rational, balanced comparison of Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica. Guess which comes off looking most reliable? Yep, Wikipedia. The naysayers largely represent the uninformed, the suspicious and the active defenders of a besieged anachronistic hegemony.
As for music blogs, the medium was never intended to be more than a mix of opinion pieces, magazine-style articles, interviews and pointers within a vast mediascape, serving a purpose very much like The Wire. Does The Wire encourage a superficial engagement with culture? Not for this reader.
I am keenly following the unfolding digital music debate and find it both perplexing and fascinating in equal measure; consequently, at this time, I have nothing to add. However, as a trained information professional, I am compelled to comment when I read ill-informed, sweeping generalisations that attempt to lump together vastly different entities when the only common factor is their digital nature. Each issue contains its own particular attendant debate and the last thing we need is further obfuscation of already recognised complex issues. John Heighes Wellington, New Zealand
In response to Joshua Mouldley (Letters, The Wire 329), I had an epiphany recently that if I jump over the turnstiles at tube stations when nobody’s looking I can travel for free! Why should we have to pay for travel? So what if the tube system collapses? We should all be riding bicycles anyway.
Well, not really, and in fact I find it reasonable enough to pay for food, housing, travel and yes, even music. I went to see The Vandermark 5 at London’s Vortex a few weeks ago and bought their excellent new CD from Ken himself after the show. Tours like that operate on very tight budgets and every little bit helps. In Chicago a couple of weeks ago I saw bluesman Jimmy Burns at Rosa’s and bought a couple of his CDs too. The money goes directly to him and the small label who thankfully issue his records.
You would perhaps view these purchases as a waste of money – my evenings would be better spent staring at a computer screen and downloading hundreds of free files – but the truth is that I actually like to pay for records. OK, maybe not if they’re on Universal, but most of the records I buy are on small labels which for sure need the money and I’m happy to contribute. I like to shop in independent record stores and from specialist websites too – I’m glad they’re there.
On another subject, do you really think it’s a good thing that there were 106,000 new albums released in the US in 2008? Please, Joshua, think this through. Charles Taylor via email
Living in the past
It’s not often I feel the need to write to a magazine, but Chris Cutler’s piece on file sharing has pushed the right buttons (Collateral Damage, The Wire 328).
I felt the article reflected the same tired arguments made by major labels over the last decade, and there was an almost overwhelming attitude of entitlement in Chris’s tone. Labels need to realise that we the public don’t owe them a damned thing and they shouldn’t have any expectation that we should want to buy their product. With the advent of sites like Bandcamp, artists don’t even need labels to be able to sell their music. If anything, labels are nothing more than PR machines, helping artists get noticed in a grotesquely over-
saturated market: there’s just too much music out there, simultaneously a good and bad thing.
Don’t get me wrong, though: I do understand fully what Chris is saying, and as a musician I feel the pain of making no money from my work. I pay for music, but I also download a lot, and I give a lot of my music away. Whether it’s a form of redress, or the fact that I feel that, past a certain point, it makes no sense to try and monetise out-of-print releases, is something I’ve not worked out yet!
As for the problem of downloading, if albums were available for 50p I’d be all over buying music again. Micro-payments, well implemented, would sort things out. That no one seems to have tried to work out this business model is a mystery to me.
And why do I download music? It’s because I have no money. I work in a soul destroying service job, and wish I had the spare income to spend on records – sadly, I don’t. But that doesn’t mean my desire to hear artists written about in The Wire goes away! I absolutely agree that downloads hurt small acts/labels far more than large ones, but complaining about it doesn’t actually solve the problems. No one is going to be shamed into buying records by an article in The Wire. The problem is that Cutler’s piece, and the variants on it I’ve read over the years, are trying to turn back the clock. Unfortunately that horse has bolted, and there’s no way of getting it back into the stable.
So how do we deal with it? My personal response was to make my music as scarce as possible, releasing in runs of less than 20 most of the time, with only a tiny percentage of the sold-out releases being put online to download. Pace David Keenan’s comments in his Collateral Damage essay, I also make the artwork for each release by hand, making the item itself something people want to own. Ask yourself what you can do that can’t be downloaded, and there’s a source of income (if you can persuade people to buy your work, but that’s a different issue altogether).
Finally, look at the positive: if people stopped paying for music it would weed out a lot of the ‘artists’ who do it for money
Next month with the September issue of The Wire
8 | The Wire | Letters
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Or better still, take out a subscription: for details turn to page 96 or point your browser at thewire.co.uk/subscribe – fewer sub-Killers/Doherty types clogging up local venues can only be a good thing – but those who make music because they love it would still do it, and they’d still make their music available. It’s like Momus said: in the future everyone is world famous for 15 people.
We can’t make things go back to how they were, no matter how many articles we write. What we have to do now is figure out the next move. I’m sure there’s an answer out there, but looking to the past isn’t it. Alex Botten theemoths.co.uk, via email
New ways to pay old debts
Re: Chris Cutler’s Collateral Damage essay. A level-headed response from a person like Cutler is appreciated, and I’m in agreement with him on some points, and I have a huge appreciation for his career and his work on ReR. However, I find his response drifts off course when he states: “And those costs can only be recovered through sales.” This, precisely, is the problem. In terms of the whole of music history, the funding of artists by sales of recordings is a blip, and this blip is in the process of collapsing, which is problematic for artists and listeners – or, let’s say, for any artist-listener system that resembles what we’ve become accustomed to in the last century.
The challenge, it seems to me, is to find new arrangements; there are a variety of potential models that could form the beginning of a new paradigm in terms of funding something like a new Henry Cow record, which Cutler estimates would need £9000 of upfront risk. Web-oriented funding platforms like Kickstarter and Flattr have promise. The music blog world is overflowing with energy, and only lacks places to be plugged in to other pieces of the system (this is getting better day by day). The agriculture world has developed ways of sidestepping some of the problems of unbalanced risk and upfront cost via community supported agriculture (CSA) programmes. The art world has a wealth
Roy Harper iley)
leyHampton lters( Harper);Ash
JakeWa of funding models that sustain numerous career and part-time artists and gallerists, while distributing economic risk much more evenly and allowing (arguably) a lot more general freedom with regard to the creation of works. The art world is, perhaps, the best place to look – it’s based not on one calcified-but-functional model, but on a complex and ever-expanding network of adhoc solutions and strategies. ReR is itself responsible for a great deal of important thinking with regard to these issues.
In the end, the onus is on all of us who are invested in music in general to experiment, spend energy and money, discard assumptions, and take risks, in order to stake out new territory based on the world as it is now, rather than on inherited and collapsing models. Scott Carver via email
In his review of Wiley’s 100% Publishing (Soundcheck, The Wire 329) Nick Richardson wonders if the MC’s “worldview [has] been reduced to... record deals, profit margins and anxiety over digital distribution”. Part of Wiley’s relevance and charm is his role as Grime documentarian from a vantage point of being both influential vanguard and paradoxically removed from the scene (by being neither superstar chart topper à la Dizzee/Skepta nor street-corner thug in the mould of Tempa T/D Double E).
There has been a noted shift in Grime’s primary distribution format from vinyl to the prolific CD based mixtape era to digital. The genre’s tastemakers – Logan Sama, Butterz, Terror Danjah et al – may feed a latent vinyl habit with their specialist 12"-only pressings, but the main artery of dissemination is indisputably the internet. Thus, Wiley is no longer flogging white labels from his car in East London, and to rhyme about doing so would be misleading. The context of each Wiley release, from Zip Files to Treddin’ On Thin Ice, is integral to its interpretation. 100% Publishing was recorded away from East London, in Canada, and so, from here, Wiley’s only possible connection to the ‘Grime scene’ at this time would have been via the internet. Some of the tracks from Zip Files cover the ‘authentic’ part of the MC’s persona/experience because they were probably inspired by current events (a spike in contact with ‘the road’ on which Wiley always keeps one foot placed), just as the pop/Trance/R&B-influenced cuts are likely products of interaction with that culture. Each successive Eskiboy release, be it limited 12", one-shot MP3 giveaway or fully fledged, label-anchored album, is reflective of its purpose, location and place in time – a sonic diary entry, if you will. Thus, to find the lyrical content of 100% Publishing too businesslike is surely larger testament to the condition of the rapidly crumbling music ‘industry’ than that of the MC’s inspiration. I see little to find “troubling” on 100% Publishing, a solid statement from a prolific, influential, energetic British artist. Simon Gould via email
Flying the freak flag
Thanks for such a compelling article on the most enduring of beautiful freaks, Roy Harper (The Wire 329). Though my primary interest musically tends toward the experimental and exploratory, I have a soft spot in my heart for Mr Harper. I remember my first listen to HQ, a statement of intent both politically and sexually that was frightening in its personal poetic political muscularity! And he continues to inspire to this day. Hats off to Harper is not enough of a tribute. Here is an honest poet who, in this age of half-truths and continuous sins of omission, is brave enough to tell the ugly truth beautifully. John J Potter via email
Please can pieces written in this fine paper not refer to the writer as ‘The Wire’ (Roy Harper, The Wire 329): “... He settles down in a giant leather armchair to take The Wire on a journey...” It suddenly felt like some editor had decided to ‘push the brand’ or something. It’s a small thing, but it dragged an average piece of writing down a few levels.
Other than that, keep up the good work – especially liked the People Like Us Invisible Jukebox! Joe Foster via email
Re: Rich Rahnefeld’s letter in The Wire 329. As a US citizen I have to endure streams of frankly ridiculous horseshit from Tea Party types who insist on parading their embarrassing ignorance
Wiley for all to see. Endlessly they claim that this overwhelmingly white, middle aged, conservative, male movement is really just a super great rainbow coalition. Uh huh. With this in mind, if I ask nicely as a longtime reader, could you please refrain from publishing any more missives from these folks? They have an ample number of forums on this side of the pond. The Tea Party works itself into a lather about pennies of their tax dollars going to fund NPR. I don’t want half my tax dollars to get hoovered up by the Pentagon. Can I stop paying? Nathan Duin Minneapolis, USA
Far be it for me to glorify the curse-riddled ramblings of football supporters, but I think Chris Bohn (The Masthead, The Wire 328) is being unfair to the supporters of Tottenham Hotspur. In chanting “you’re just a shit Barcelona” at the Real Madrid fans, he claims Spurs supporters are evidently “not strong on geography”. Perhaps instead it is Mr Bohn who is not strong on football. Barcelona are Real Madrid’s biggest rivals – but despite their undoubted talent, they have this season and in a number of seasons before it fallen well short of the dazzling, continent-dominating brilliance of Barcelona. Hence the taunting chant. Robert Rowlands Welton, Lincolnshire, UK
Corrections Issue 329 In the Soundcheck review of Wiley’s 100% Publishing a subbing error stated that “Wearing My Rolex” appeared on Race Against Time. The track actually appeared on See Clear Now. Apologies to the writer of the review, Nick Richardson. Also in Soundcheck, the title of Andy Stott’s Passed Me By was listed incorrectly (as Execution); while the label that issued Music For Children Of All Ages Vol 1 should have been Turned Word, not Turned World.
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