French Adventures: Part One
January 31, 2011 § 1 Comment
I’ve just come back from Cannes. Unwillingly, I might add.
I was lucky enough to get to attend the MIDEM music industry conference this year, which was – well, it was eye-opening. To say the least (I can’t help but say more than the least). And, priding myself on being a cynical sort, I was surprised by how shocked I felt.
I went and stayed with incredible soul musician and old friend Elsa Chapman – it’s a strange, but very pleasant experience to be an enormous fan of someone you used to mess around in Chemistry class with. I think the differences between our two styles, both personally and musically, can be summed up best by this picture:
Beneath the obvious differences, though, we have a pretty similar approach to the musical profession – that you get into it because you honestly couldn’t do anything else. And that doesn’t mean being naive or unrealistic – but it does mean that, as much as you can, you put the music first. You work at it like a bitch, you make sacrifices, and you do it gladly (maybe with a little whining sometimes) because, well, it’s music, and how can you not? I understand that it’s an industry where people expect to make money, and some people expect to make a LOT of money, but I still hoped that the majority of those in the music business felt something close to what we feel.
Would I be writing this if I had been proved right on that point? What a silly question. I hope I never have to hear the word ‘monetize’ again. I can’t decide if the highlight was hearing the EMI spokesperson telling the assembly of their plans to give their music aural thumbprints so as to regulate youtube usage, possibly even in personal videos, or the executive from Mattel expressing total bemusement at the idea that an artist might NOT want their music being used to shill sexist toys, or that they might want to have some say in the negotiation. Hearing your vocation spoken about in such soulless terms was, despite the protective shield of misanthropy, a depressing experience. Thank god for the (very) small number of engaging speakers who had managed to combine their love of good business with their love of good music. But it wasn’t a large enough percentage to make me feel particularly hopeful about the industry as a whole.
It made me feel like some kind of strange leftover – thinking that a person might expect to retain artistic control over their own art.
And the second big shock – urgh – the bigotry. Again, not that I wasn’t expecting it. But the scale of it was breathtaking. I would say around 95% male, 95% white, and whilst statistically there must have been some LGBT people there, well – I felt like something of an oddity. Not an attack against people who are white or male (I myself fall broadly within those two categories) – but when there’s so little diversity it feels appropriate to start asking why. Luckily (think of the time we saved!) we didn’t exactly have to ask – they just kind of told. The mansplaining, the confusion, the leering/sneering, the open declarations of racism: “Blacks aren’t smart enough for this industry, and Asians are too lazy”. I did an awful lot of super-heroic meting out of justice…in my mind.
So, back to feeling lucky. Because I do. Three reasons:
- Better the devil you know. Really.
- There were just enough good people, with just enough wisdom, to really feel like I’ve learnt something valuable about how the business works, and how you can work with it without losing your moral compass.
- It was the kick up the arse I needed. Let me explain:
I, like a lot of artists my age, grew up with the old myth of the music industry – the magical fairytale that you could work hard at your craft, slowly build up a fanbase, and with a little luck would sign a record contract that would let you concentrate on the music whilst someone else took care of the business, respecting your right to control your art and ensuring that you earned a living wage.
Maybe for some people it can still be like that. But I’m not convinced that it will be for the great majority of us. Particularly for those of us who don’t fit the parameters of what the kyriarchy consider desirable. Which I don’t. And having that finally laid out in such an obvious way was incredibly liberating.
So, 2011. Yes. I’m going to be recording my first full length album. And releasing it on my own. And it’s going to be totally awesome. God, that feels good. Really, totally, insanely good. My darlings, I shall see you at the launch party.