Throughout history, the commercialisation, or industrialisation of music, has been welcomed by some and defied by others. On the one hand, the commodification of music offers its creators financial reward for their ‘good work’ as ‘creative labourers’ (as theorised by Hesmondhalgh and Baker (2011, p25). On the other hand, music cannot fully fit into the model of capitalisation that Adorno (1941) warned would render the art form of music industrialised, standardised, and ultimately a tool used to condition us specifically for the repetitive nature of work. The reasons music does not fully fit into a perfect commodifiable mode is that ultimately, it is an “art form, an act of creative expression and a communicative medium” (Anderton, Dubber and James, 2013, ch 4). The emotional and cultural nature of music and the creative expression it affords writers and performers would not stop if the financial value of it plummeted (which it has, especially in recent years). The cultural value is greater than its economic one for many artists, and at a grassroots level and beyond, there are innovative ways in which artists and organisations can be seen breaking down financial barriers to get more music than ever made and heard.
Take Off Axis, for example. An offshoot of Unconvention, this innovative scheme takes money out of the equation almost completely. Musicians are ‘credited’ if they play host to a similar band from a different area of the UK, with a ‘pay it forward’ emphasis on sharing audiences and using online networks as a useful tool in tour management. The idea of swapping audiences, skills, knowledge and expertise is prevalent in today’s independent music scenes and a nod to the ‘Do-It-Together culture’ that has been steadily gaining momentum since the dawn of the internet and the demise of the traditional ‘record industry’.
Personally, I am all for a demonetised Do-It-Together sharing mentality in the music industries. The oligopoly of major labels retaining a hold on the mass market as well as grassroots music cultures is a scary prospect. The ‘pseudo-individualisation’ that is made possible by less choice and limited creative expression should not prevail in every sphere of music making and distribution. Whilst musicians cannot live on thin air, which is the danger of removing money from the equation completely, this more tribal act of solidarity is essential in limiting the possibilities of only the elite, or those with financial means to invest in expensive marketing and promotional plans being able to make and proliferate music. A pertinent question would be: does demonetising music also devalue it? In response, I would say it is the cultural value and cultural commodities of music that are ultimately important, and they cannot be devalued, as long as they are practiced with authenticity.
- Anderton, C., Dubber, A. & James, M. 2013, Understanding the music industries, SAGE, London
- Hesmondhalgh, D., Baker, S., Economic and Social Research Council (Great Britain) & University of Manchester. Centre for Research on Socio Cultural Change 2011, Creative labour: media work in three cultural industries, Routledge, London.
- Joseph, P. by, 2014. On Popular Music, by Theodor Adorno [online]. Listen To Better Music. Available from: https://listentobettermusic.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/on-popular-music-by-theodor-adorno/