Here I sit typing away on an old computer whilst my newer computer is working away on processing video and uploading some recently mixed live tracks from our gig at the Bury Met earlier this year.
When I came back to writing and recording music some 8 years ago, after a hiatus, I knew I was walking into an arena of change. The term DIY slowly became an increasing moniker for those of us unsigned in the industry whilst conferences often focussed on the change in the ‘industry’ and the impact it had on those of us out there creating and performing.
I often hear fellow musicians bemoaning their lot in life – they just came into this world to write and perform music, why must they do all this other dreary stuff which is a distraction from their calling? This line of thought led me to thinking about the recent debates on the state of English football – a preoccupation which fights for column inches alongside the signing of players from all over the world to the tune of the national debt.
Recent columns by Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Frank Lampard have highlighted the difference between the youth academies they were brought up in as footballers and those that exist now. They argue that getting a bus to your local training ground, mopping floors, cleaning players boots and taking the inevitable ‘stick’ as an ‘undergraduate’ at a football club enabled them to develop a mental toughness and a broader perspective as human beings. They go on to argue that in protecting young footballers from reality so that they can solely focus upon their talent we inevitably produce poorer quality footballers and poorer quality people.
This line of thought got me thinking about how this applies to the musician, out there plying their trade, coming through the ranks and creating in its broadest sense. DIY musicianship harks back towards the days of those football trainees mentioned above, and the steel, grit and necessary broader skill set required to make a success of the experience.
If you had asked me 8 years ago, I would have been amazed at the skill set I have amassed alongside my development as an artist. From navigating the back reaches of England to lonely acoustic gigs and making conversation with random strangers in pubs and clubs to developing the diplomatic skills of Kofi Annan in managing difficult promoters, disgruntled band members and precocious fellow musicians I have learned a set of skills which apply to all of life. In my time I have programmed websites, organised small scale gigs and multi-stage festivals, set up a music co-operative, debated and implemented business models, directed and edited videos and made friends from a variety of walks of life I would have never met otherwise.
Naturally this range of skills has contributed to my overall life in a positive way but has it helped me as a musician or would I have been better having others do this for me, enabling me to focus solely on my art? I would argue that I am more well rounded as a person in having all of those experiences and this has contributed to my ability to write and perform. It has meant that I am tougher when it comes to dealing with the inevitable naysayers but wise enough to listen to all around me and carefully weigh their input.
In my opinion, young musicians, like young footballers are open to a society which aims to monetise and capitalise on their product. The ‘industries’ of football and music wax lyrical about the sublime art of its exponents, but ultimately the aim of this waxing is to generate income from the product that these industries deliver. If people are going to survive in this world and maintain their creative process then a grounding in the grass roots of their profession and a development of skills which run alongside their chosen art form may just be one way of ensuring strength and well-roundedness in the future.