One of the biggest tricks the free music movement is missing at the moment is one which is all too often barred to us by the very mediums we chose to use. I’ve noted before, fairly bitterly in fact, the near absurd preference the scene seems to show for electronic and experimental music and, for what it’s worth, I maintain that the balance we maintain genre wise is an unhealthy and all too often self-indulgent one. But I also concede that beyond almost pleading requests for labels and artists to diversify and start really delving into the opportunities offered by a cultural model which has the capacity to indulge absolutely any style of music or concept (not just the efforts of determinedly experimental bedroom producers), there’s little I can, or would want, to do to redress the imbalance we have. What, however, does fall within all of our remits is the task of opening this movement up to the alternatives that we would want to see.
The potential talent base that could be invested in free music is one of those things which, when considered, just leads to head-aches as the vast number of people who could and should be releasing their music through CC licences becomes more and more evident. We are, after all, far from the first ‘alternative’ strand in music and from the DIY ethic of Punk to the insularity of various local/World Music sub-genres the will, or at least the necessity, to operate outside of the boundaries of the commercial mainstream is a well ingrained and respected ideal. It’s even safe to say that taking in the near infinite flow of shite MySpace pages, low level pub gigs and even experienced musos just looking for a new way of doing things having been worn out by the aggressive commercial model we’re actually accounting for the minority of alternative and even free music distribution. Even if the paths have been radically different from scene to scene the concept of independent, musician controlled distribution is a fairly common arrival point and yet almost blind to each others actions we all focus doggedly on our own immediate model of culture.
The trigger for this article came when, sitting, slightly pissed, in a pub I found myself talking to an old Punk who reeled off a portfolio which even I with my third rate knowledge of the genre could see was actually quite impressive (which is to say that I actually recognised at least one band he mentioned having worked with). Of course being the self-indulgent type that I habitually am I immediately set about lecturing him on the glories of free music with all the fire and fury of an Evangelical street preacher and, mercifully, he even seemed interested enough to hear me out. Not that any pub conversation should ever be considered to be a concrete statement of intent of course, if that were the case then my life would have been infinitely more interesting than it has been but regardless of what comes of his sudden knowledge the experience did highlight, not for the first time, the abundance of talented and experienced musicians who’re philosophically already doing the same thing as we are only without the practical support and enthusiasm which our ‘mass’ movement offers to those who become directly involved.
Sure, for all the talk of promoting artists to listeners there seems to be far more negligible efforts to promote the system itself to new musicians. The general way of things seems to centre on an indifferent approach, where people are expected to somehow stumble across the scene without any concerted effort being made to draw them in. Perhaps a vaguely effective approach in some cases (just look at those who did find it) but when it comes to people whose focus has never and will never bring itself around to online distribution, in many cases the ones with the most to offer, just hoping that they’ll trip over the free music concept is optimism to the point of redundancy.
There are, perhaps, some obvious, collective ways to try and draw from the unaware alternative string of musical culture, such as focusing CC and open culture promotion on musical institutions and genre specific circles whose exponents are most likely to be interested in the distribution system on offer (Punk, World Music, Underground/Urban) but the more immediate and achievable task is simply one of mentioning free music whenever and wherever you think it might be of interest. Not just to fans, as I think most people already do, but to musicians themselves and more importantly not just to those people who we feel would easily fit or adapt to the culture we’re creating. Advocation which can’t just be limited to random pub ramblings but which offers some genuine and practical way into the scene, even if that does seem like far more effort than a lazy bastard like myself at least would like to put in.