I have just started a new blog which I’m working hard to publicise and make known to people.
You can find it at:
Please take a look and see what you think.
Let me know your thoughts.
I have just started a new blog which I’m working hard to publicise and make known to people.
You can find it at:
Please take a look and see what you think.
Let me know your thoughts.
Rationalise the reasoning for fear and it becomes apparent that it attests to a fracturing of confidence. A person who holds a diminished certainty of their own standing transgresses into someone whose inspiration burns weaker by the day. This in spite of it not always being immediately perceptible to our senses. What was buried into our sub-conscious develops into our state of mind. An entity which can be a danger to the democracy of a nation.
Gaging the undulations of a public’s level of confidence, on a political scale, is a recurring process. The difficulty is in comprehending from an individual’s logic at what degree reality contradicts belief. Do we perceive and understand events through facts and statistics or base it on opinions and tradition? As we know, one person’s perspective over a specific issue can differ enormously nation by nation. This is in part how factions and protest movements are shaped.
More significant than confidence, however, is the ingredient which is most utilised when devising governmental policy (particularly that of right wing origin). The ingredient of ideology. Which over time is prone to penetrating our own consciousness and way of life.
During the five year reign of ‘Her Majesty’s Government’, a concoction of MP’s, cabinet ministers, party officials and sympathetic media outlets work to inflict their train of thought onto the mainstream. The ambition, though, is not to secure cross country support. For example, The Conservative Party recognise the futility of attempting to win support in boroughs such as Bootle. Some regions are loyal, or blinded, by decades of traditionally voting Labour. Whilst others are staunch Tories. The objective, then, is to appeal to those who view the party’s credentials as indicative of their own beliefs. Whether that be on one particular policy or a broad range.
Concerted effort has been exercised in Westminster over the past twenty years to create a singular electorate that houses as many bodies as attainable. We know it as ‘The Middle Class’. A high concentration of people all frequenting the same ground means for a greater share of voters and less of a need to be distinguishable. It is far easier now to discern the differences between Conservative and Labour by the hue of their rosettes than on the basis of policy. A vote for either is a stronghold of tradition in many counties.
Conservative ideology over the last five years has grown in intensity. The rich are rewarded and safe guarded, the poor penalised and lacking aspiration. What manifests out of that is a continual stream of rhetoric to substantiate their position. Some will wholeheartedly agree, others vehemently oppose. But it is to what ratio you gain support compared to gaining detractors that matters. If enough buy into the Conservative position that welfare claimants are a cancer that need cleansing, and private enterprise is the route to economic prosperity, the votes will materialise. But buying into that belief does not make it reality. Belief by its nature is subjective. Who we allow ourselves to be influenced by bears huge significance on what we decide to place trust in.
As we near the general election, politicians and commentators will once more advocate the importance of utilising your vote. A spoilt ballot paper or non-attendance at the polling station remains language for the undeserving. ‘If you don’t vote, you can’t have a say.’ A naive defence of an institution that only calls upon its subordinates when the time comes to preserve their state funded careers. Dissension in the run up to an election is encouraged by some, whilst others consider a vote for a less established party as a wasted show of democracy.
Where the argument for voting falls short is when apathetic members of the electorate, despite their misgivings for politics, are still prompted to draw an X in the box. ‘You may not like it,’ a friend might proclaim, ‘but it is all we have and it’s the only voice we’ve got.’ On this logic, you may think that shunning the main parties and opting for an alternative – The Green Party, SNP, UKIP – is a vote away from tradition and for a brighter, more democratic parliament. Parties unaffiliated (in public at least) with corruption, deceit and broken manifesto pledges. The appeal to rebel is clear, if you believe it.
One reason not to believe it is to realise that a vote for a fresh outlook is still an endorsement of the party political system. A system held captive by centuries of tradition that bears no relevance to the world we inhabit today. Men and women dressed in robes and ingratiating themselves, confined within a structure that is designed to keep out the very people that they are supposed to serve. As voters, we are not privy to their world. Nor are we invited. So why endorse it? A house of 650 MP’s comprised primarily of Green, SNP and UKIP members may by appearances be refreshing but not in terms of parliamentary etiquette. A prised entity that would be conserved.
It is at this point that members of parliament and its sympathisers duly ask, ‘What’s the alternative?’ As of writing, there isn’t one. Not a clear, defined path for which disaffected citizens could support in favour of Westminster. But surely the worst form of democracy is one where people feel uninspired to take part but persist in doing so. This attitude, coupled with the duplicitous conduct of MP’s, is what has caused severe damage to our freedom of expression. We accept what we are presented with and remain on our best behaviour. That is not democracy. Not when mutterings of discontent and a desire for an alternative are smothered with falsehoods and fear.
A vote for any political party is a complete validation of that party, and as well the system to which it is bound. Therefore, the decisions made in the chamber, particularly those that are to the detriment of the poor and to public services, are as much the responsibility of the electorate as they are the politicians. It matters not whether your vote was cast for the victor. The fact is, it was cast in accord with the values of parliament. Each cross gives every MP license to make judgements on your behalf. After it is made, we hold no right to abdicate accountability.
Testament to the wellbeing of British democracy is how MP’s were exposed by The Daily Telegraph for fraudulently claiming subsidised expenses. Only a year before the 2010 election. Here was a picturesque illustration of our lords and masters flagrant abuse of power and treating the electorate with contempt. But, dutifully, we returned to the ballot box 12 months later. In tolerance of their corruption. It makes you wonder what exactly this institution would have to do to precipitate a public rebellion. Abuse of expense claims was clearly not sufficient. Perhaps the growing evidence of paedophilia within Westminster is the scandal that finally initiates the confidence to reject this façade masquerading as democracy.
Many millions of people across the world will feel trapped within a loveless relationship. The husband and wife who know that the relationship is broken. The lustre having dissipated long ago. Whilst some will actively escape their spouse for a life elsewhere, others will remain. Enticed by the stability, the routine. It may be without affection but staying ensures, to some degree, survival. By not forcing a change, we can falsely maintain that all is well. To do otherwise instigates unrest, separation, perhaps violence. The fear of these repercussions is what keeps millions of men and women bound to their misery.
Come the general election, votes will be cast as expected. The highest share awarded to The Conservatives and Labour. And with it the great unspoken truth of our democracy will lie voiceless.
The question remains: What will inspire us to act?
Let’s take you now live to a scene developing in London where there’s been reports of a disturbance at an apartment complex on Havenshaw Street, for which the emergency services have been alerted.
Our correspondent Graham Medlock has been in the area since this morning covering the Fendlehome by-election and is down there for us now. Graham, quite a large gathering has amassed behind you there. Are you able to give us any indication of what exactly is happening over your shoulder?
Graham: Well, as you say, Michelle, about a few dozen people are standing with me across the road here from Merecliffe Court. That’s the big apartment block you can see to my left. And we understand police, fire and ambulance services have been called to investigate what we believe to be a disturbance of some nature. Of course our news crew were stationed only up the road because of the by-election taking place here later tonight and we were notified by a passer-by that something was afoot, although we don’t yet know what precisely. But to help us try and understand what is going on I’m joined by several people who were at the scene when we arrived.
Guys, if I can just ask you to gather round in front of the camera. And while we wait for the emergency services, Michelle, we’ll see if we can piece together anything for our viewers at home. So if we can start with you, sir, what can you tell us about what’s occurring?
Citizen 1: Yer all right mate? (points) See where me finger’s pointin’, upper left corner. I reckon about 15, 20 floors up from the ground.
Citizen 2: Higher than that, bud. Gotta be.
Citizen 1: Well, I dunno, do I? I ain’t measured it. But before we had, like, all these people gather I was walkin’ down towards the block, the direction I’m standin’ in, and I heard this, like, wailin’ comin’ from above me, and I thought, ‘That don’t sound right, that. That sounds like someone in a predicament’. Yer know what I mean.
Graham: So when you heard what you describe as ‘wailing’, what was your initial reaction?
Citizen 1: Um..
Citizen 3: Where’s it’s comin’ from I were wonderin’.
Citizen 1: Yeah, like the woman says. I wanted to know where it were comin’ from. So I looked up at the flats, slackened me pace, and it’s still goin’ on this wailin’ sound. Looked to me like a woman in some sorta distress.
Graham: So you actually saw who was making the noise?
Citizen 1: Oh, I saw her, yeah. I saw her. And the fella she’s up there with. I only saw the back of him though. His bald head.
Citizen 4: Excuse me. Sorry.
Graham: No, that’s fine. You go ahead.
Citizen 4: Just it were a kid makin’ that noise. They were cryin’.
Citizen 1: Say what, love?
Citizen 4: It were a baby cryin’ you heard.
Citizen 1: No, no, it weren’t. I saw, she came out standin’ on the balcony.
Citizen 4: Yeah. But holdin’ a baby.
Citizen 1: Were it? Were it a baby she was holdin’? Anyone?
Citizen 2: (smokes cigarette) She looked over edge didn’t she? Over balcony.
Citizen 4: So who was that bald geezer? Did anyone see him?
Citizen 3: I didn’t see him but I heard a man’s voice shoutin’ her back in.
Citizen 4: See, this is why I called the police ‘cause you just never know what she’s doin’ up there with a baby in her arms. It didn’t feel right to me.
Citizen 1: ‘cause youse were with me when yer called ‘em weren’t yer?
Citizen 4: Yeah.
Graham: Ok, so just for the purposes of our viewers at home, what we know so far is that there appears to be a woman and a baby in one of the far side flats to my left, several floors up, in some state of distress. Now the man you made mention of, sir, you said he was bald in appearance.
Citizen 1: Yeah, he was. Er, is. He’s bald.
Graham: Indeed. And is that all we know about him. Nobody else here saw him in greater detail?
Citizen 2: I saw somebody walk back inside but–
Citizen 1: Fuckin’ hell. (points) That come from up there? Sorry for swearin’, mate.
Graham: Yes, I apologise to viewers watching for the language used there and any offence it caused.
Citizen 3: Oh, my god. Was that a gun?
Graham: Everyone, I think we’d all do well to move back a bit to a safer distance until we establish what that sound was. It did sound very much from standing down here like two gunshots spaced three to five seconds apart. But we can in no way be certain of that at this stage.
Citizen 1: I’m doing what Graham says. I’m movin’.
Graham: Ok, so we’re now on the corner of Havenshaw Street some 250 – 300 yards away from Merecliffe Court.
Citizen 3: Has she killed him d’you reckon?
Citizen 1: Eh? The bald fella?
Citizen 2: (puffs cigarette) Sounded quite measured like it were meant.
Citizen 3: Oh, my god.
Citizen 4: I’m gonna ring 999 again. They’re takin’ forever.
Citizen 1: Yeah, but whoever fired the gun they gotta still be up there ‘aven’t they? Alive, I mean.
Citizen 2: 2 shots weren’t it? I’d be guessin’ he’s killed her or vice versa.
Graham: Well, we don’t yet know the circumstances behind what we heard so we’d be better not to speculate, but um –
Citizen 2: I know, but – (puffs cigarette) we all know what a gun sounds like don’t we? Him or her’s fired it twice and killed them and the kid.
Citizen 3: Jesus!
Citizen 2: Or shot twice at the same person. Could be that. If he missed first time.
Citizen 3: D’you think that’s what she’s done?
Citizen 2: I’ve no idea, love. For all I know it were one bullet for him or her and the other for themselves. Kid might be up there on their own.
Citizen 3: I feel useless just standin’ ‘ere.
Citizen 4: Right, I’ve told ‘em what we heard. That we think it were a gun.
Citizen 1: Did they say ‘ow long?
Citizen 4: Any minute.
Graham: So as you just heard from the lady there, the emergency services should be here at any moment. It’s extremely likely that we’ll all be asked to vacate the area with the street cordoned off while the police in particular investigate.
Citizen 2: (puffs cigarette) I’d find it more re-assurin’ if we could hear somethin’ like screams or cries or what have yer.
Citizen 3: Oh, no, no. Stop it. I don’t wanna think about it.
Citizen 2: Well, we can’t do much else stood round waitin’ can we? Can’t see owt.
Citizen 3: The bloke said not to make assumptions. We don’t know what’s happened from down ‘ere.
Graham: Well, that’s right madam. We should leave this to the emergency services really.
Citizen 1: Yeah, but it don’t mean everyone’s been killed though does it? Coulda just been a warnin’ to get her to shut up.
Citizen 4: He’s got a funny way of makin’ someone shut up if that’s what it is. Blimey.
Citizen 1: Well, yeah. Not like us. We’d probably, like, politely suggest it wouldn’t we instead of toolin’ up.
Citizen 4: (laughs) Yeah.
Citizen 2: Oi, oi. Reinforcements!
Graham: Indeed, if we pan the camera over to the right there’s 2 police cars speeding towards us with sirens blaring. I imagine they will quickly be followed up by an ambulance. Of course it’s difficult for them initially given they don’t yet know the severity of the incident they are dealing with. So the cars race past us now and over to the other side of the road.
Citizen 1: Fuck, does that mean we can’t go anywhere now? They gonna wanna interview us?
Graham: Once more, apologies for the use of language there.
Citizen 1: Yeah, sorry mate. I’ll bite me lip.
Graham: Now a policeman from the second car, Michelle, is running over to us.
Policeman: (shouts) Can you all move back please off the street?
Graham: And as I suspected we are now being asked to move a safer distance away.
Michelle: Graham –
Citizen 1: So, what, they don’t wanna speak to us?
Citizen 2: Don’t know about you, bud, but I reckon priority’s findin’ out what’s gone on before talkin’ to you.
Citizen 1: Yeah, all right mate. No need for the sarcasm.
Citizen 2: (puffs cigarette) Just tellin’ it ‘ow I see it.
Citizen 4: Come on. Get a shift on. We can’t stop ‘ere.
Citizen 3: They’re goin’ in look.
Graham: Sorry. Go ahead, Michelle.
Michelle: Graham, we’re just going to have to cut away from the scene momentarily and cross over to our sports correspondent, Jacob Andrews, who has some breaking news for us about England’s world cup squad. We’ll return to you as soon as there’s been any developments, Graham.
Is there time enough in your schedule to part orchestrate a mutiny? To commit to a movement resolved in dis-empowering a political, corporate elite? Can you dedicate a share of your life into seeing that day arrive?
The answer is that while some may wish to, it is not considered a proposition that is plausible in reality. Or should that be palatable?
Initiating a change of such magnitude requires unconditional commitment, steadfast application and an in depth knowledge of what it is you are revolting against. The inescapable consequences being unrest, instability, confrontation and outbreaks of civil disobedience. Ructions being inevitable when challenging social inequality. All in the quest for a change to the balance of power.
If we analyse these eventualities, it is clear why the prospects for a rebellion are slight. You wouldn’t forcibly instigate disharmony to this scale amongst family and friends (unless you had an acute taste for intentionally causing trouble). We aim to keep our personal lives as far removed from discord as can realistically be possible, within an environment that is both rewarding and prosperous. And the reason we do this is because we care. We are invested in the sentiment of family. We have a stake. Every effort is made to assist a sibling in need, given the bonds we share.
Whilst that is true, it makes it no less susceptible. Personal revolutions occur every day across the planet. Take the disenfranchised husband or wife seeking solace in the arms of another soul. As individuals, we are all capable – every one of us – of setting into motion what will one day unravel into full blown discontent, resulting in separation, divorce and custody battles. Nevertheless, some of us are prepared to accept the risk. As treacherous as it is to betray a loved one, the temptation it affords unearths the opportunity to imagine a life beyond what we have accustomed ourselves to. It evokes mystery, possibility, a belief that what leaves us dissatisfied does not have to be everlasting. For better or worse, we can change the course we are on.
But can the same train of thought be applied to matters outside of our personal realm?
If we witness a family member being bullied for example, or treated in a manner we consider unjust, it encourages us into action. We will call the school, lodge a formal complaint, pester those in question until something is done about it. Out of love and a duty of care.
Now imagine a scenario whereby the person being victimised is a stranger to you. The sole aspect you have in common with them is their functionality as a human being. Ask yourself whether that is sufficient. Is the impulse to act still prevalent?
Some people’s careers are fashioned on supporting those who are unfairly treated. Take campaigners or union reps. But a proportion of the motivation here is money. Workers would not undertake a job for free. A pre-requisite to life is earning capital, else we reside in squalor and cannot enjoy the materialistic comforts we expect.
So instead, let’s remove occupations and financial benefits, and concentrate on voluntary intervention. How many of us are inspired to personally intervene over acts of injustice? Whether it be political or social?
To respond to that question, it is important not to lapse into generalisations. One person’s ignorance to a situation does not befit an entire nation. What we can say, though, is that a measure of how much a country cares about subjects outside of the personal is evidenced by our level of obedience. Mass gatherings are now a rare sight in modern British democracy. We have seen demonstrations over the past eighteen months regarding both the NHS and austerity. But has there been sustained pressure applied to the powers that be, a momentum to keep the causes we purport to care about at the forefront of our minds? No is the short answer.
Why is that? Consider that for vast proportions of your life you share space with people unfamiliar to you. Whether on the train, the bus or queuing outside a venue somewhere. If you as an individual cannot resonate with a stranger and, more importantly, his predicament, then is it any surprise how matters of global inequality are met with widespread nonchalance?
Since the turn of the twenty first century, the population has increasingly been steered towards personal growth. If something is not of direct benefit to me, or if I’m not getting something out of it myself, then a shared reticence takes hold. Society today has been shaped towards individualism. Doing what is right by you. Working to get ahead in life. To do that, you inevitably have to compromise others and scupper their ambitions. In the name of competition. But that is the accepted norm now.
The prospect of a revolt against the upper echelons of world order rests on the premise of a socially engaged population, striving for equivalent ideals. For class to be consigned to refuse. Where a man of privilege can share the same ground with a man of destitution.
An idealistic vision it may be, but it is what must happen for the planet’s ideology to change. Life now is too contained. It does not breed openly in the wild, nor inspire communion. Where is the platform to retaliate against the policies implemented by the men and women we validate into power? By enchaining ourselves to class, we are wilfully discouraging populations to co-exist.
We can no more instigate a revolution against politicians any more than we can artificially inflate our bank balances (an act of charity reserved exclusively for patrons of wealth).
The fear of a stranger’s hand, and what it might transpire into, is what keeps us at bay. A fear that is perpetuated through national media, of which a high proportion of us are influenced by. The one and perhaps only time we will seek out the unknown is when we identify a shortcoming in our personal lives. The want of a partner or a broader social circle.
We can easily talk about a rebellion, debate the rights and wrongs of the topic, but is this as far as we’re ever likely to achieve? The lack of a concerted effort today migrates over to the next, forming the weeks, the months and the years. We abide by a deceptively stabilised world structure, no matter the scale of inequality, with thoughts of jeopardising this designed to feel unsettling. All because it could endanger us and the life we have built for ourselves. The Middle Classes have blossomed under this logic.
It will not be global warming or financial rupture that ultimately imperils the planet. Rather our diminishing compassion for one another. Acts for the greater good are of little to no curiosity when you cannot resonate with the cause. If the effort to champion those far worse off than ourselves fails to grow beyond chatter, then division will continue to ravage the poor. Maybe that is how we prefer it. The selfish gene within peering down on the impoverished in a puerile vindication of our own lives.
If consensus were to turn, if those classified as being the lowest of the classes were, for once, acknowledged, it would represent a time when people look to more than government sponsored media outlets for their education. Or the self-induced distraction that is everyone’s Facebook news feed.
We end where we began. Is there the time to revolutionise the world’s perception of inequality? What with jobs, family commitments, leisure activities and so forth? Yes, but only if you are willing to make it.
You need only ask yourself this question: how much do you value the world you live in when judging it beyond your own life? Are you still as motivated?
In a climate of individualism, the decision is yours.
Dear Passer By,
Work and Pensions secretary Ian Duncan Smith rejoiced this January after it was revealed that unemployment has fallen 58,000 to 1.9 million. Satisfied with the latest set of contrived figures, he exclaimed:
“It is only right that in return for government support – and in return for their benefits – jobseekers are expected to do all they can to find work. Although on benefits, they still have a job: the job is to get back into work.
“The claimant commitment, which is deliberately set to mimic a contract of employment, makes this expectation explicit.”
What was missing from Duncan Smith’s vitriol was the fact that hundreds of thousands of people are signing off from jobseekers allowance due to sanctions. And as mainstream media and commentators are mindful of not reporting, a person who is not receiving any money from the DWP is not classified as unemployed. News bulletins and Conservative media attribute the reduction of claimants solely as men and women who have found somewhere to work.
Seldom is it questioned where people classified as ‘economically inactive’ abscond to. The luxurious surroundings of a food bank perhaps? A doorway? The bottom of a canal? The truth is, to the mainstream, it matters not where they may be. If you’re deemed ‘economically inactive’, then the argument turns to what function you play in society. What use are you? What do you contribute? After all, we are the age in which material possessions account more towards a person’s personality than the person themselves.
Of the 1.9 million people apparently not in work, 867,000 (apparently) are claiming jobseekers allowance. People who have no option but to sign on are forming orderly queues outside their nearest job centres. Balderdash, surely? Swearing at people as they pass in the street and flicking fag ends at them. Sounds more like it. The rotten face of ‘The Feral Underclass’. Bastards.
Snide, uneducated responses to JSA claimants see them as feckless scroungers milking off tax payers and living a life of state funded luxury. Generalising each single person into a pre-conceived identity is more convenient to the media than reporting the facts. The political agenda of multi billion pound corporations is of far greater significance than the lives of those in need. In its most simplistic and clichéd terms, it is pitting the workers against ‘the shirkers’. Another astonishingly compassionate snippet there from the Tory Etonians.
As it is, few people today dare to display an open sympathy and understanding for those without employment. Is that because they have no knowledge of what it feels like to be without a job in 2015, or because they allow their favoured publication or news channel to fashion their way of thinking? Which is that being unemployed equals not being aspirational. Some believe it is akin to a lifestyle choice.
For those who fortune has been bestowed, and have subsequently avoided having to use a job centre, their perception of claimants is often riddled with vilification. The system now is gradually being converted into The Conservatives’s prized policy: Universal Credit.
To summarise, new claimants in designated parts of the UK (designated meaning The North) can no longer apply for jobseekers allowance. Universal Credit is, on paper, designed to simplify the way you claim benefits, amalgamating with other ‘state handouts’ such as housing benefit. Instead of receiving money every two weeks, you are now paid once a month. In line with the way the majority of employed people receive their wages. One week of jobseekers allowance comes to around £72, meaning roughly £288 every 4 weeks if you’re not entitled to housing benefit. Remember, now: it’s a life of luxury. The broad demographic that encompasses unemployment means for differing levels of ability. For example, some will struggle knowing how to budget for a single payment a month, instead expected to just get by. Changes are forced onto claimants without the slightest consideration given to their lives.
Gone is the set number of job search examples you had to show an advisor at each sign on (9 a week as of March 2014). Instead, Universal Credit claimants must sign a ‘Claimant Commitment’ stating they will spend no less than 35 hours a week searching for work. 17.5 hours of this can be spent volunteering if it is deemed beneficial to your chances of employment.
In essence, the unemployed are now employed to look for work for the same amount of hours as might someone be working full time. Failure to comply with your commitment will see your benefits cut by £10.30 a day (£72 a week) for a set period of time. Could be two weeks, could be three months. The severity of the punishment is dependent on what you did. Neglect to document a job search on your Universal Jobmatch account for example. Incidentally, £72 is exactly the same amount of money you would normally receive. And, as we know, no money equals not officially unemployed.
Monetary sanctions are an automatic punishment for contravening the commitment, even though committing a minor wrongdoing in a place of work will seldom result in a loss of readies. Nor has a student ever been stripped of his or her A grade due to swearing at a teacher. Put in detention perhaps. But not compromised. No warning systems are in place here. One slip up, even if you forget to look at the non-existent job ads in the local paper, a task that may be set out in your commitment, will result in what for some will be a catastrophic financial penalty. Lasting weeks on end. Never mind that you honoured the previous 34 hours perfectly.
Job centres now work to specific targets for sanctioning people. The first priority is not the wellbeing of the claimant or their advisor trying diligently to find them a job. It is to sanction people and save the government money. The DWP are imploring you to make a mistake because doing so means that, for a time, the unemployment figures will appear that little bit more palatable. The very real truth here is that some of those no longer counted as unemployed are also no longer alive, having committed suicide.
How has a system that should operate to improve an individual’s prospects been allowed to transgress into one that is designed to catch you out? It would be unfair to generalise all job centre advisors as being primarily motivated to inflict misery onto people. Some recognise welfare as a corrupt system that no longer puts the interests of the claimant first. And those same advisors undertake the job through the fear of themselves becoming a statistic on the national unemployment register, given that performance standards and claimant sanctions are now irreversibly tied.
Let’s look at this idealistically for a moment:
The Job Centre is re-designed as a centre for training and development, recognising each person in receipt of welfare as an individual and not a statistic. That means distinguishing between differing skill sets, personal circumstances and their work history. Universal Credit is disbanded with jobseekers re-introduced into a tiered format: The first tier for those with limited/no formal education, qualifications or work experience. They follow a programme that is specifically designed to work with those occurrences, guided by trained professionals.
Then you have a tier for young people, one for graduates, the over 25’s, 30’s to 40’s, 40’s to 50’s and so forth.
The derisory payment of £72 a week is increased to a minimum of £100, and increased again as life becomes ever more expensive to live. Because unemployed or otherwise, every citizen has the unconditional right of living a life without worrying how to feed and clothe themselves. Without those necessities, how can anyone expect someone to successfully apply themselves to job searching? That’s before you understand the necessity for computer access, a printer, ink, money for public transport and interview attire. All of which come at a significant cost.
With jobseekers reintroduced, money is invested to employ highly skilled advisors who have first-hand knowledge of unemployment and working within a multitude of industries. Claimants do not just simply attend to sign on. They actually come to be educated, guided, shown genuine compassion and sympathy. But most of all, they no longer fear attending the job centre. Because fear is the reason why so many people’s lives are being bludgeoned by the DWP.
You cannot diligently search for jobs in fear of losing the money that represents the barest form of survival, any more than you can work within your full capabilities as a sales assistant if a colleague is bullying you. Abilities such as concentration, motivation and timekeeping will become affected, all of which are critical if you’re unemployed. And even more so if claiming Universal Credit.
Of course, The Conservatives have no intention of devising a welfare system that caters to the individual. The argument in public would fall squarely on resources, how they’re isn’t the money to invest in a considered jobseeker structure. Those under 25 are seen as the core group of claimants with the best prospects for employment, given they are still young enough to be seen as desirable to employers. From 26 on it is a demoralising tale of thousands of men and women being subject to crass generalisations.
But the responsibility for this is not exclusively down to The Tories. ‘New’ Labour’s ‘New Deal’ for the unemployed, chiefly targeted at the under 25’s, represented an insult to an entire generation of people, of which many will never recover. What was manifesting then is only being exacerbated further. The Job Centre is now no more than a transaction between a nameless advisor and the latest statistic sitting in the chair. Where once they would print out a list of jobs for you to consider applying for, that facility is no longer available. All the emphasis now falls on the claimant in every respect of their claim. Advisors do not advise. They scrutinise, line by line, your job search history over the past 2 weeks. A palpable sense of distrust stifling the air.
The abject cruelty here is not simply the way some are spoken to or made to feel. It is realising that the welfare system has turned from an institution meant to help people to one where the unemployed should earn their keep (all £72 of it). Claimants are the modern face of revulsion, orchestrated by Tory ideology. Evidence for this rests with Conservative policy of restricting benefit growth to 1% a year. No longer is it linked to inflation. So as living becomes more costly, the amount you receive stays virtually static.
Further cuts within welfare are expected after the election. Should The Conservatives gain a majority, life will become that little bit more miserable for the men and women without a job. And, with that, an identity.
Here’s a couple of Haiku’s I wrote whilst on the train home this evening. Thank you for reading.
On hills seeping sun
Clouds mass to paint a veil
Blackening the day
In honour of night
Does the fire singe my eyes
As the sun sets west
Manoeuvre a trolley full of groceries down the tinned food isle of your nearest leading supermarket and you will find what is perhaps one of Britain’s most revered traditions.
Hunger Breaks All Day Breakfast boasts the prospect of baked beans, sausages, mushrooms, pork and egg nuggets and slices of bacon. All packaged into a single can. Simply decant this little marvel into a saucepan and five minutes later you will have yourself an authentic full English breakfast.
Whilst the prospect of eating this congealed dish of expediency may either entice or revile you, the fact it is available to purchase at all, and so cheaply (ASDA sell it for £1), makes it a subject of intrigue. Who exactly is a product of this nature marketed at?
Hunger Breaks have eleven other tinned food meals in their range. Everything from Chilli Con Carne to a Mixed Grill. All possessing the same level of convenience as the breakfast option. Flanking these is a choice of eight flavours of hotpot. Its company mantra reads ‘Great Tasting, Quick Filling, Meal or Snack.’ It expands on this tagline with, ‘Taking ages in the kitchen: who wants that? That’s time you could be spending eating. Our Hot Pots, Bean Meals and Chilli Meals are three tasty routes to satisfy any hungry hero in no time.’
So, essentially, they are after the people who cannot or will not make the effort to cook a meal from the outset. He or she who is disinclined to locate each individual ingredient that makes up a full English breakfast. The person who is not particularly concerned by a food’s nutritional merits, more the fact it is cheap and satisfies one’s immediate hunger. A heat it, eat it, carry on with your day approach.
There is little doubt that Hunger Breaks will understand their consumers. They will know from their own market research who is purchasing their products. If you felt inclined to generalise its customer base, speculative demographics would likely comprise the unemployed, students and the elderly. Evidence enough of how easily a tinned breakfast can manifest into a class issue.
But whether you are one of Hunger Breaks customers or not, the analogy still remains relevant. It comes down to two key aspects: the ease at which the product is accessible and the convenience of consuming it. Given less consideration is the actual quality of the output. Not to mention the damage inflicted to your perception of food.
The music industry can be construed in just as disconcerting a manner.
How important to you is the role of a music corporation when deciding to purchase a record?
In September 2013, The Arctic Monkeys released their fifth studio album, ‘AM’, which entered the UK charts at number one. A feat which they also accomplished for the four albums preceding it. They are the first band in British history to have had five consecutive number one albums released under an independent label.
Since their first album, ‘Whatever People Say I am, That’s What I’m Not’, they have been signed to Domino, a company based in London which also has a wing of the label located in New York that handles all American releases. Added to this is a German and French division called Domino Deutschland and Domino France respectively.
When the band first came to prominence eight years ago, the likes of Franz Ferdinand and Kaiser Chiefs were already breaking into the industry. Franz Ferdinand released their debut on Domino, Kaiser Chiefs on B-Unique (which at the time was an independent label before becoming a division of Atlantic Records in 2008).
Prior to Arctic Monkeys releasing their first record, Mel Armstrong, then rock and pop manager of HMV, said, ‘They’ve built up a massive word of mouth following. You can’t keep a lid on it now. It’s exploding.’
This was at a time when music downloads were starting to take ascendancy. A tactic used by the band was to offer fans free tracks through their website as a way to help generate a following. At gigs they would routinely hand out complimentary copies of studio demos. As a result, the mainstream music press began to take notice of their growing popularity, most notably NME who pronounced Arctic Monkeys as ‘the most talked about new band in Britain.’
But with this growing exposure came a cavalcade of interest from major record labels. All of which the band rejected, deciding instead to sign with Domino.
‘With a label like that, you’re talking to the person who owns it’, said lead singer Alex Turner. ‘If he likes us, you can’t really go wrong. He’s really passionate about his music and that. It just seemed right.’
The ‘he’ Alex was referring to is Laurence Bell, co-founder of Domino. Speaking of their latest album, he said, ‘It’s very rare for a band to come out of the traps so big and then have another massive moment. It reminds me of The Who and The Stones. The Monkeys are in a whole new era.’
A critical point in Arctic Monkeys career came after releasing their fourth album, ‘Suck It And See’. The band’s deal with Domino had come to an end, meaning they were now free to begin negotiating with other record labels. Columbia, a subsidiary of Sony Music Entertainment, were believed to be very keen to acquire them to their roster, but the band’s manager, Ian McAndrew, was insistent that ‘Domino has been a great label for the band and afforded us fantastic support and therefore will be at the front of any future discussions we may have about further albums.’
And so it proved to be. They re-signed with Domino and turned a hand at the major music corporations. It is a rare occurrence to see a band this commercially successful unwilling to join the ranks of the majority of their peers.
Asked by Esquire magazine in 2014 how Arctic Monkeys had managed to sustain their success, Alex Turner mused, ‘I suppose working with good people, and a bit of luck, really. We’ve got a great manager and we made a good decision there to sign with a label that was going to encourage us to flourish. It’s built on a friendship that goes back to when we were, like, seven years old or whatever.’
In an interview with The Daily Star, Alex said that ‘Sheffield primates put their success down to the creative freedom independent record label Domino allow them.’ Which is a testament to the band’s desire to maintain control of their material and to produce music that they themselves have ultimate influence over.
Although Arctic Monkeys are commercially a resounding triumph in the UK, widely regarded as the pinnacle for any band is whether they have what it takes to succeed in America. With ‘AM’, it is the first album from their catalogue that has managed to breakthrough in the US. This is thanks in part to supporting The Black Keys during a tour of America in 2013. Representing a unique opportunity to play to a much wider audience, they quickly accepted their offer to go on the road with them.
It should be noted that The Black Keys are signed to Nonesuch, a subsidiary of Warner Music Group, and are known far and wide across America. The exposure granted from touring with them cannot be underestimated. It allowed the band to plant themselves further into the consciousness of mainstream USA. So whilst Arctic Monkeys remain an independent act, to become renowned stateside they needed an endorsement from a band under the control of a multi-billion dollar corporation.
They also required the support of an organisation called the Alternative Distribution Alliance. The ADA are an independent music and film distribution arm of Warner Music Group, designed to concentrate on the independent scene. All of Domino’s music is distributed throughout America by the ADA. A Canadian company named Outside Music releases Domino’s music in Canada.
It is an effective marketing strategy for some independent artists to sign with a label that distributes through one of the major corporations. The way it works is straight forward: ADA sign a deal with Domino giving them the right to sell their music to record stores that have an account with ADA. ADA take a percentage of income from each album sold and then pay Domino the remaining money.
A further but slightly more complex example is Adele. Signed to XL Recordings (a subsidiary of Beggars Group, a British company), her music is also dispersed by the ADA in America.
But this is not all: her award winning second album, ‘21’, was released in the US under the Columbia label (a subsidiary of Sony) as opposed to XL Recordings.
Radiohead’s latest album, ‘The King Of Limbs’, was initially self-published through their website and then given a wider digital release by Kobalt Music Group. The physical issue of the record, though, was through XL.
Returning to Adele, her music is distributed by PIAS Entertainment Group in Europe. PIAS are a Belgian company that distributes for over 100 other independent labels (including Domino). But for Adele to become more exposed to the American market she undoubtedly needed the influence of the major corporations.
Beyond America and into Japan, Adele is signed to Hostess, the label that represents Beggars Group in that country. Sony issues her music in Japan whilst Warner signed a deal with Hostess to distribute their label throughout South East Asia.
‘21’ was commercially a phenomenon. It spent 24 weeks at the top of the US Billboard, the longest of any artist since 1985. Would this have been possible without the ADA and Columbia? Highly doubtful.
Now, you may think that if the ADA are responsible for distributing her music in the US, under the Columbia label, then would it not make more sense for Adele to seek a recording deal with either Universal, Sony or Warner to simplify the process? Some eventually embark down this avenue, but one of the most alluring aspects of an independent label is the level of creative control they often afford. In clichéd terms, it becomes the best of both worlds. You’re making the music you want and having it distributed to its fullest potential.
In spite of their notoriety, Arctic Monkeys continue down the same course as they began nine years previously. So how have they managed it? In all manner of success there is an element of fortune, as Alex Turner himself has alluded to. But to place it squarely on luck would be to discredit what they have achieved. Word of mouth became the driving force behind their ever growing popularity. The initiative to make available, free of charge, random tracks and demos through fledgling gigs and the internet was in defiance of tradition. They recognised the industry was rapidly swinging to the era of downloadable material, a realisation of which they capitalised on. But not at the expense of sacrificing their identity. They can only be applauded for resisting the temptation to sign with a leading corporation and instead remain where they began.
‘There’s loads of things we’ve backed away from or not done that maybe would have made us a bigger band but weren’t necessarily that credible or something we could live with ourselves for,’ said drummer Matt Helders to Esquire, ‘Even if that’s just a song idea that’s a bit dishonest in a way. It’s quality control. As long as we all agree on stuff, then I think we’ll be alright.’
Tune into a live edition of The X Factor and there’s a high probability that the ever present Louis Walsh will exclaim to one of the acts, ‘There’s got to be a gap in the market for someone like you.’ In 2006, Arctic Monkeys filled a breach and, in doing so, rose against conventional wisdom. They found themselves in the right place, at the right time, and with the right material that, for many, defined the present day.
In spite of their sustained success, be in no doubt that the music industry continues to be polarised by three leading corporations.
At the start of December 2014, the top 100 singles chart in the UK consisted of only 3 artists that are not affiliated in any way with Universal, Sony or Warner.
• Wretch 32 of Ministry of Sound, a private company whose revenue in 2013 reached $100 million.
• Noel Gallagher of Sour Mash, an independent label created by the man himself.
• Mr Probz of Left Lane Recordings, also an independent.
The other 97 acts were signed to labels that are either direct subsidiaries to one of the leading organisations or have their music distributed through the ADA.
It is much the same story in the top 100 album charts. The first week of December saw just 2 artists represented that have no connection with Universal, Sony or Warner.
• Michael Ball of Union Square Music, a leading reissue and compilation specialist.
• Daniel O’Donnell of DMG TV, a parent company of the BBC.
If we combine both the single and album charts, the labels that are most prevalent are:
• Capitol, Polydor, Republic, Interscope, Island and EMI
o Subsidiaries of Universal Music Group
• Columbia, Syco, Epic and RCA
o Subsidiaries of Sony (Syco is a global joint venture with Sony)
• Atlantic, Asylum and Parlophone
o Subsidiaries of Warner Music Group
At first glance you may think that 13 labels represents choice and variety, given that they cover a multitude of artists (including Ed Sheeran, Take That, Taylor Swift, One Direction, Sam Smith and Ella Henderson).
But what must be remembered here are the corporations that are representing these labels. None of them exist independently.
In today’s industry, Universal Music Group are the world’s biggest recording company. In 2013, they reported revenue of £4.1 billion. They own upwards of 50 labels worldwide and hold more than a million copyrights under its control. They also possess what is termed as ‘Umbrella Labels’, these being Capitol, Interscope Geffen A&M, Island Def Jam and Republic. Each of the four own a multitude of labels of their own, creating yet further subsidiaries.
But what is less documented is the fact that Universal themselves are a subsidiary. In 2006, French multi-national media corporation Vivendi took 100% ownership of the label. Vivendi also own the Canal + group and, for the year 2013, reported revenue of £14 billion.
Artists under the control of Universal represent some of the biggest names in the industry: Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Gary Barlow, U2, The Rolling Stones, Lady Gaga, Cheryl Cole. In total, over 930 acts across the world are signed to Universal.
Contrast that with Sony Music Entertainment, who revenue wise are the second biggest recording business at £3.1 billion. They are naturally a subsidiary to Sony Corporation, which altogether last reported over £38 billion in revenue. Their biggest and most profitable label is Columbia, a parent company of SME carrying over 100 artists. Lagging slightly behind is RCA, founded all the way back in 1901, with over 90 acts. Then we have Epic Records, originally created as a Jazz label in 1953, who boast up to 40 musicians. And this is before you take into account the dozens of less established labels that Sony have to its name.
A further revenue raiser is Sony’s involvement in distributing music for independent labels. At present, they do this for over 30 companies.
Those under Sony’s direct power include Beyoncé, Foo Fighters, Kasabian, Meghan Trainor, Calvin Harris and John Legend. However, it is One Direction who at the moment are dominating this franchise. From their breakthrough on The X Factor came a recording contract with Syco Music – a subsidiary of Syco Entertainment jointly owned by Simon Cowell and SME. One Direction have since signed to Columbia, but their albums are still being released through Syco. Each member of the five piece group are said to have a net worth of £15 million, thanks to an extensive world tour, DVD and record sales, advertising endorsements and their escalating popularity in America. Simon Cowell, meanwhile, is wealthy to the tune of £300 million.
An interesting aside to Mr Cowell’s wealth is that of Clive Ian Calder’s. He is the man who co-founded the Zomba music group, which was rendered defunct and renamed Jive Label Group whilst under the ownership of SME. Jive closed down in 2011 with all its artists moved over to RCA Records. Mr Calder has an estimated fortune of £1.4 billion.
Third place in the corporate rankings and with revenue of £1.8 billion is Warner Music Group. Formerly owned by Time Warner, they were bought out and privatised in 2011 by Access Industries. An American conglomerate that has investments in natural resources and chemicals, media and telecommunications and real estate. Total revenue? Some £63 billion. The owner of Access Industries, Len Blavatnik, a Ukrainian, has an estimated worth of approximately £14 billion.
This of course means Warner are a subsidiary, one that enjoys acts such as Coldplay, Bruno Mars, Biffy Clyro, Green Day, Ed Sheeran and Kylie Minogue. And as with Universal and Sony, they too have a wealth of labels to their roster. Upwards of 40 including Atlantic Records, Rhino Entertainment, Parlophone, Warner Bros Records and Asylum. Atlantic Records is the lynch pin holding over 30 additional labels, including Elektra Records who back in the sixties and seventies famously represented The Doors. Taken together, this equates to up to 130 artists. Overall, Warner represent around 400 musicians worldwide.
Combined, the three most profitable music corporations have in excess of 1,600 artists under contract. A figure that fluctuates year on year as new acts emerge and others fall by the wayside.
Just as we are liable to question how and under what conditions a product is conceived (food being a good example), should the same not be said of the records we purchase?
A person who is Vegan is principled in not eating meat or dairy, and shows compassion for the pain and suffering that animals endure. This extends to other lifestyle choices such as not wearing leather and abstaining from cosmetics tested on animals. Advances in food creation means you can now buy the likes of Vegan cheese and egg replacer ingredients, and also substitute cow milk for Almond and Coconut milk. A growing number of businesses are investing in the Vegan market as more of us question our beliefs, meaning you can widely enjoy alternatives to the meat and dairy industries but in a more ethical manner.
Someone who does not share the same principles makes the conscious decision to eat meat and buy products with disregard for how they are produced. This is either in full understanding of the nature of their conception, which they are complicit with, or they are simply ignorant of the facts.
Neither stance contravenes any legalities. What it narrows down to is choice and whether you wish to find an alternative to what is readily available at any supermarket or corner shop.
Today in the music industry, new singles and albums are released every week for our entertainment. The majority through major online institutions such as Apple and Amazon and high-street retailers and supermarkets. But what is the outlet that first draws you to these acts? What persuades you towards them?
Radio plays a significant part in promoting an artist to the mainstream. The BBC is the airwaves equivalent to the three dominant corporations. Their network revenue for 2012/2013 was £5 billion. The company’s audience share nationwide stands at over 50% across all radio stations. Here are the percentages of listeners for each leading frequency taken at the end of November 2014:
• Radio 1 – 7%
• Radio 2 – 17%
• Radio 3 – 1%
• Radio 4 – 12%
• 6 Music – 2%
All of the BBC’s local radio stations combined had a listening share of 8%. Presenters such as Zane Lowe, Fearne Cotton and Chris Evans carry a considerable amount of influence over what is deemed popular and current. Indeed, the BBC have only just recently held their first ever Music Awards Ceremony, hosted by Fearne and Chris, attracting nearly 4 million viewers who witnessed Pharrell Williams and Ed Sheeran win awards. Pharrell was named best international artist and achieved song of the year, while Ed was crowned British act of the year. One Direction were also a main attraction on the night with a live performance of single, ‘Steal My Girl.’
Beyond the BBC, it is a more fragmented marketplace. The second biggest audience share belongs to a business called This Is Global Limited. A private British media and publishing company which owns Global Radio. Over the years Global have acquired Chrysalis Radio, GCap Media, Real and Smooth (these two were formerly of GMG Radio).
So how does their percentage of listeners compare to the BBC?
Capital, which is dubbed ‘The Number 1 Hit Music Station’, and predominantly plays chart music, has a 4% audience share.
Heart, a mix of contemporary and nostalgic rock and pop, bears the slogan ‘More Music Variety’, enjoyed a 6.6% share.
Smooth, ‘Your Relaxing Music Mix,’ and known for its slower numbers, held a 3.5% share.
Gold, advertised as ‘The Greatest Hits of All Time’, had a 1% share.
Curiously, the one station belonging to Global Radio that plays alternative music and tunes from unestablished artists, XFM, had around a 0.5% share of listeners. It is not as if the station is a digital only format. For London, Manchester and Scotland they have an FM frequency. You can also stream content through their website and access the station on a DAB radio, anywhere throughout Britain.
After This Is Global Limited comes Bauer Media Group, who for 2013 earned revenue of £1.9 billion. Bauer are a European based media company, with headquarters in Hamburg, Germany. They manage a large portfolio of magazines, digital products, radio and TV channels.
Bauer Radio, as it is known, had a listening share in the UK of 14% across all their stations.
Absolute Radio, who specialise in popular rock music and carry the moniker, ‘Discover Real Music – The Home of the No Repeat Guarantee,’ possessed a 3% audience share.
Kiss, who play hip hop, R&B, Urban and Electronic Dance, held a 3% share.
Magic, a station that is found region by region playing largely 60s and 70s music (the London station tends to play music more from the 80s, 90s and into 2000) had a 2% share.
Bauer also own multiple other local stations like Radio City in Liverpool, Rock FM in Lancashire, Key in Manchester and Hallam FM in Sheffield.
What we can deduce from this is that all the leading radio stations in the UK are controlled by three corporations, and that over 80% of the listening share is contained within them. Their ease of availability is a contributing factor, as is their championing of today’s most popular acts. The remaining 20% of listeners are confined to smaller, localised radio stations, some with a share as little as 0.1%.
Out of all the stations listed, XFM has a strong record for helping to promote artists that are signed to independent labels and, with that, struggling to get a foot hold in the industry. The bands who have to scratch and claw to be heard.
It is the afternoon of Saturday, September 20th, 2014. Emerging from the entrance of Sound Control in Manchester, a small live music venue on Wakefield Street, is Exit Calm lead singer Nicky Smith. He looks over towards The Thirsty Scholar pub opposite, seeing my partner and I outside who he recognises from previous gigs in Liverpool and Manchester. After a wave and brief but friendly standoff, he wanders over and says hello, asking how we’re keeping. He then asks if we would be interested in coming over to watch the band sound check. The offer is gratefully accepted.
Whilst the sound technician is busy with drummer Scott Pemberton in rigging up the drums as he wants them, guitarist Rob Marshall and bass player Simon Lindley make themselves known. Rob met us at a gig earlier in the year at The Deaf Institute in Manchester – the debut of former Verve guitarist’s Nick McCabe’s new band, Black Submarine.
After sharing a few stories, Simon goes off to sort out his bass guitar, getting it as in synch with Scott’s drums as possible. Then it’s Rob’s turn to set up shop – flicking dials here, tuning strings there, before signalling all is well. Nicky is shouted for -‘NICHOLAS’- and quickly joins his bandmates on stage, which is no bigger than an average sized front room, tucked away in the corner.
The next fifteen minutes sees us sitting quietly at the back – observing, listening, taking in this most rare and genuine of moments. After a test drive of ‘Holy War’, a track from their second album, ‘The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be’, Nicky leaves the stage and wanders back over, making sure to say goodbye to the same two souls he saw by chance an hour earlier.
Come nine o’clock, Exit Calm play to a sell-out crowd of around a hundred and fifty people.
Our latest excursion to watch them play live came at The Underground in Barnsley in December – Exit Calm’s hometown. The intimate nature of the venue, of similar size to Sound Control, meant we had the opportunity to once more say hello to the band before and after the gig. Taken aback that we had travelled from Merseyside to go and see them, and booked overnight accommodation, guitarist Rob donated to us the plectrum he’d used throughout the set list. A purple Fender 1.14mm pick. Frayed and rough around the edges. Before leaving, singer Nicky and bass player Simon chatted to us and expressed sincere gratitude that we had come to support them.
Perhaps the most revealing part of the weekend, though, came the next morning. On checking out from The Premier Inn, we came across Rob by the lifts. He too had stayed in the hotel overnight. ‘Welcome to my home,’ he said on greeting us. Not the sight you expect the morning after the gig before.
Formed in 2006, the Barnsley born quartet have been regulars on the independent circuit. Prior to releasing their self-titled first album, they signed a deal with London based label Club AC30, and ever since have been playing in small venues across the UK and in select locations around Europe. Their music is sold through the label’s own website, as well as through all major online record retailers, both digitally and physically. From their very first single release in February 2008, they have specialised in making a limited run of 7 inch vinyl for collectors. A trait that is common amongst independent artists. Both studio albums were also available on vinyl.
If you’d attended their Sound Control gig you would have seen a fold away table at the back showcasing a limited range of T-Shirts and copies of their latest record. At their gig in Liverpool in December 2013, members of the band helped to assemble the table holding all the merchandise before they were due on. Because of a support act that turned up late, they didn’t start playing until after 11pm. Come midnight as the strains of Rob Marshall’s guitar ebbed away into the night, less than 10 people were left to bear witness to it. The last trains and buses home forcing the majority to leave early before a single note had been played. For those who managed to stay, the band put every last bit of energy into their performance as way of a thank you. Their motivation to carry on, regardless of numbers, remained intact.
Exit Calm have no affiliation with any of the three leading music corporations. Nor do they receive any additional support for distribution. They carry on to this day honing their craft, developing as a band as each album passes. They have a core following who regularly attend their gigs. But commercially they are barely a whisper. No national radio attention, no press coverage, no special features in the latest edition of NME or Q magazine. The two albums to their name did not register in the UK top 100 charts.
Anonymous to the mainstream they may be, but they are far from alone in this.
Here is a look at six other bands working tirelessly to become heard. All without major corporate support:
• Black Submarine were originally known as The Black Ships before being forced to rename themselves due to a band in America possessing the same name. A four piece group consisting of former Verve members Nick McCabe and Simon Jones, their first release was of an EP named Kurofene, offered as a free download on their website in 2011. A long drawn out hiatus ensued while the band changed name. They were later given the opportunity to create a soundtrack for the film, ‘Java Heat’, starring Mickie Rourke. The revenue for this meant they could commit to producing the album they had been working on for many years. A deal was signed with AWAL, a UK based digital distribution and label services company owned by private organisation Kobalt Music Group. AWAL has a worldwide distribution network of over 200 retail partners, including the ubiquitous iTunes, Amazon and Spotify. To support this, a campaign on website Pledge Music was launched to help generate interest and sales, and in March 2014 Black Submarine were finally able to launch ‘New Shores’. In a commercial sense the album was unsuccessful, and limited funds and gig cancellations mean they have played only a couple of venues since its release.
• Sulk formed in London in 2011, and released their debut album Graceless two years later under the independent label Perfect Sound Forever. As with Exit Calm, their music is sold through all the major online resources. Piccadilly Records, a shop in Manchester and also an online retailer, advertises their album as ‘well-crafted British infused pop songs, heavily inspired by 90s guitar psychedelia’. It made no impression in the charts.
• Money are from Manchester having released their first album, ‘The Shadow Of Heaven’, in 2013. Their label is Bella Union who have their music distributed by PIAS Entertainment. Bella Union was conceived by Simon Raymonde and Robin Guthrie of Scottish band Cocteau Twins. Since putting out their debut they have managed to play some gigs beyond British shores in both New York and Los Angeles.
• Pusher herald from Barnsley and are signed to Genepool Records. In December 2014 they released their new 5 track EP, ‘10,000 Hours’, and have a further EP and several singles in their catalogue. All of which are available on iTunes. A limited edition of their single, ‘Let It Break’, can also be bought on heavyweight white vinyl. Pusher describe themselves as ‘five disenchanted young men, part of a generation that doesn’t know whether they are infatuated with the past, the present or the future.’
• Two Skies originate from Sheffield and recently released their latest single on Ghostly Figures Records. They sell their music through Bandcamp along with offering limited edition 7 inch vinyl. Lead singer Dan Cutts used to be in a band called Lyca Sleep with Exit Calm’s Rob Marshall. Two Skies regularly play in their native Sheffield as they work towards making an album. A four track EP released in 2014 received an endorsement on XFM at the time.
• Psyence hail from Stoke on Trent and are signed to Salvation Records, a UK based label and management company. In October 2014 they toured with Two Skies in bars and cafes across Britain. Their genre of music is described as psychedelia, but is yet to be widely released. A physical edition of their latest single, ‘Chemicals For Breakfast,’ can be purchased on CD through their website, along with a 12 inch vinyl edition.
For independent acts trying to establish themselves, Bandcamp helps to promote their cause. A privately held company, it provides an opportunity for artists to facilitate a free online presence for their material. Tracks that are uploaded can be streamed without charge. It costs nothing to upload tracks, although the company will take a 15% cut of any purchases made through the website. That in addition to payment processing fees. The 15% cut drops to 10% once an artist exceeds £3,200 in sales.
An attractive proposition is how Bandcamp allows musicians to set variable pricing. So while one may decide to offer tracks for free, whilst encouraging an optional donation of the listener’s choosing, others can put up EP’s or full albums and sell them at a competitive price.
Allowing greater freedom in terms of how an artist distributes their work is an attempt to try and compete with the scourge of illegal downloads. Bandcamp provides acts with data showing how many users are being directed away from pirated content to instead paying for their music. This gives them a fuller picture of how effective Bandcamp is at combating piracy.
A second alternative method of distribution is the use of Pledge Music. Black Submarine effectively utilised this platform in the build up to releasing their debut album. At the time, their page was marketing several different ways to acquire the record. You could purchase a standard copy, a signed copy with bonus tracks, a signed LP and the option to buy a bundle consisting of tickets to one of their inaugural gigs in either Manchester and London along with the album on LP.
Once decided, you then became what is known as a ‘Pledger’. Black Submarine made a commitment to release the record at a specified time, with a countdown ticker showing how many days until release.
The service offers two campaign options. A Direct-to-Fan pledge means you are not charged until the project you are supporting reaches its target. Once it has, the money is compiled into an artist account and disbursed to them. The second choice is a pre-order campaign, which is how Black Submarine sold their record. Here, listeners are charged for their purchase immediately, with the artist being paid directly once the project has been fulfilled.
The transparent nature of Pledge Music allows you a closer insight into how the music you listen to is created. The site does not lay claim to any ownership of music created through the platform, meaning the artist is always in control of their work. Once you become a ‘Pledger’, you receive exclusive updates on how the band is developing. Black Submarine uploaded interviews with the band and a first look at the video for their debut single.
The site also actively encourages acts to include contributions to a charity of their choice as part of the overall fundraising venture.
Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of Pledge Music is how it made Black Submarine more visible. The band members themselves signed and packaged ‘New Shores’ for every single one of the people that pledged to buy it. They documented each stage of the build up to its release. It was a refreshing change from the sense of detachment one is prone to feeling when cueing for a record in HMV.
In terms of the vast scale of the music industry, the independent scene today remains largely in the wilderness, found only by the most ardent of followers who actively seek an alternative to what the mainstream is producing.
The dominance of Universal, Sony and Warner transcends beyond just sales and air time. It is routinely on open display during the summer festival season.
Over six events in 2014 – Glastonbury, T in the Park, V Festival, Reading and Leeds, Isle of Wight and Download – fifteen of the seventeen headline acts were signed to one of the majors. Only The Arctic Monkeys and Metallica featured as independent bands. Though as we have learnt, Arctic Monkeys have a connection with Warner in that their music is distributed in America by the Alternative Distribution Alliance. Metallica, meanwhile, now own all of their material since leaving Warner Bros, but future releases will be distributed through Rhino (subsidiary of Warner) in the US and Universal elsewhere in the world.
Arguments will be made that headline slots should reflect the most popular and successful artists of the moment. Whilst they in part do this (Kasabian at Glastonbury), the trend has been for nostalgia acts to be called upon to entertain the masses. In 2013 it was The Rolling Stones. Before this there was Blur, The Stone Roses, The Verve and U2. Besides The Verve with their last album, ‘Forth’, none of the other bands had a new album to promote. They were there because newer performers could not command the same level of prestige. There was a demand for acts long since disbanded to be seen again. To resurrect the glory days.
The resurgence of artists reforming in the last ten years has been widespread. Besides The Verve, Blur and The Stone Rose, they include:
• Take That
• The Spice Girls
• The Eagles
• Fleetwood Mac
• The Sex Pistols
• Echo and the Bunnymen
• Simple Minds
• The Stooges
• Led Zeppelin
• The Police
• The Jesus And Mary Chain
• The Pixies
• Happy Mondays
• Spandau Ballet
• Duran Duran
• The Pretenders
• The Boomtown Rats
Take That’s reformation has been by far the most financially rewarding. They are reported to have made up to £130 million since regrouping in 2005.
The task of trying to make yourself heard as an independent artist is made all the more difficult when people are clamouring for a bygone era. For bands to consider reforming there are two key factors: finance and demand. Music corporations can provide the former. And the level of interest from the public has been affirmed through sell out gigs and an upsurge in each artist’s record sales.
Reformed acts are prone to peeking quite rapidly once the effect wears thin, as it did with The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. And then there are groups like Take That, who have carried forward their momentum and are still producing commercially successful music ten years on from their comeback.
Festivals will capitalise on the popularity of nostalgia as it is an easy sell. A generation of people at Glastonbury in 2013 will never have experienced The Rolling Stones before. Promote it as a once in a lifetime opportunity and for many it becomes irresistible.
It is a demonstration of a void that exists within the industry and, equally, within the consciousness of the public. What is current has evidently not been satisfying. And if there is anything more to be gleaned from artists dating back several decades, it will quickly be exploited and milked to its last.
Barnsley bred Pusher played the Saturday at the Isle of Wight in 2014. On The Hey Joe stage. A stage which is neither billed on advertisements or given any press or media coverage. Talented, emerging bands can be found in this environment. But unlike those who came before them, they are not being supported as well as they could be.
Back in 1993, The Verve played a set on the NME stage at Glastonbury. This before they had released their debut album. Festivals have a track record of showcasing new bands, and giving them the opportunity to play in front of a large crowd. Their primary concern now is the headliners, the ones who have long since broken through into the mainstream and are now making a living out of their profession. They need no introduction. They have the weight of corporations behind them, the security of a major record deal.
The Independents made mention of, and hundreds more like them, have been left to look after one another, and to try and create their own following of marginalised music goers.
Social media is playing an active role in their ability to be able to do this.
A point you could raise here is if a band is yet to release an album, how can they be granted a significant slot at a festival? On what basis is that fair when others have secured a following through the albums they have created? To some degree, it depends whether you are a believer in a pecking order, and in ‘paying your dues’.
Rae Morris is a name you will likely be hearing plenty of in 2015. A British singer-songwriter from Blackpool, she released her first single in 2012 and, earlier in 2014, performed on the BBC Introducing Stage at Reading and Leeds. She secured a support slot on Bombay Bicycle Club’s UK tour in the same year (a band that is signed to Island Records of Universal Music Group).
Her debut record, ‘Unguarded’, will be released in January under Atlantic Records of Warner. Her Facebook page has amassed over 40,500 likes.
Were she contracted to a label unaffiliated with a corporation, would her reputation be growing as rapidly as it is? Would she have been afforded the opportunities to headline the BBC Stage and tour with a band that scored a number 1 record in 2014? On the basis of what we have discovered, surely she would not have been.
If you look up independent bands on Facebook, it gives you a sense of how trying it is to generate support. In December 2014, Two Skies had under 900 likes on their page. Exit Calm were nearing 6,700 after setting up their page in 2009.
None of that is unusual in itself, but what is striking is how one independent in particular is fairing considerably better, and has nearly as many likes put together as the seven bands discussed earlier.
Post punk band Eagulls (not to be confused with The Eagles) originate from Leeds and in March 2014 released their self-titled first album on Partisan Records, a company based in New York with a European office in London.
Before the album was made available, Steve Lamacq of BBC 6 Music named them his new favourite band in 2013, prior to them appearing on the Late Show with David Letterman in 2014. Favourable press attention in the likes of NME and The Guardian gave them further publicity, as did providing main support for Franz Ferdinand on their UK tour.
In the UK charts, the album peaked at number 86 and, as of mid-December 2014, the band had almost 22,000 likes on Facebook.
It should be stressed that the number of likes an artist achieves is not always indicative of their overall popularity. But on this occasion, is there a significant difference with how the independent Eagulls have managed to gain recognition compared to their peers? Have they tapped into something the others have yet to capitalise on?
The answer may lie with how Partisan Records music is distributed. Notably, through the Alternative Distribution Alliance. Which we know to be the creation of Warner Music Group.
National exposure on American television, coverage in the UK media – both are likely to provoke interest amongst readers and viewers.
A second band which is steadily gaining more support is Leeds five piece act Hookworms. 2013 saw the unveiling of their first album, ‘Pearl Mystic’. At the time they were signed to independent label Gringo Records, and had no association with a major. Their next release was a single called ‘Radio Tokyo’, under the label Too Pure. Parent company of Too Pure is Beggars Group, who as discussed use the ADA and Japanese company Hostess is distribute their music.
In 2014, however, Hookworms issued their second record, ‘The Hum’, on Weird World Records, which is a Domino imprint label. These are sometimes known as a project, unit or division of a record label. They are predominately designed to market particular bands to a different demographic to that of mainstream consumers. ‘Radio Tokyo’ forms part of the nine track album.
Hookworms currently have 14,000 likes on Facebook, much more than the majority of their independent counterparts.
A standard way now to discover more about an artist is to follow them on social media. The next logical step is to then delve deeper into their catalogue of music.
How you choose to listen to an artist, though, is an area of growing contention in the industry.
Ten years ago the novelty of being able to download music to an mp3 player was still relatively new. Listeners had become used to purchasing their favoured albums on CD, in the days when Andy’s Records and Our Price were still going concerns on the high-street.
Now, it is a much simpler process. One that is blighted by an indifferent attitude amongst the people who pirate music as opposed to paying for it. The average price for a single track download on iTunes is just 79p. You can pay as little as £4.49 for a complete digital album on Amazon. But the speed at which people consume music has increased exponentially. The notion of parting money for an artist’s work is an outdated concept to some. If they can manage to find it for free, they will.
The value of a musician’s contribution to an already saturated market place is an issue that has become more concerning to performers. Taylor Swift caused a stir in November 2014 when she decided to pull all her material from Spotify.
‘I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists and creators of this music,” she told Yahoo. “And I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free.”
Whereas downloads were once the future of the industry, that mantle now belongs to streaming. Spotify is the leading service in this sector. It has more than 50 million active users and over 12.5 million paid subscribers. Most users will have experienced the disconcerting moment of reaching the end of a track and then being assaulted with an advert for Santander. £10 a month will give you ad-free, unlimited content.
Recent financial results revealed the company made revenue of £593 million. £539 million was from paid subscribers, with the remaining £54 million coming through advertisers. Their research confirmed that the majority of new users had been signing up through their mobile phones.
Spotify also reported an operating loss of £73 million. This tells us that whilst this is a platform that can generate significant money, it is not yet in a position to be turning over a profit.
A transition is taking place that every day is placing greater emphasis on streaming rather than downloading. Large numbers of people are now favouring the likes of Spotify ahead of buying a track off iTunes. The revelation that most newcomers to the service registered on a mobile suggests the way people listen to music has changed irreversibly. Why download and pay money for an album when you can stream the whole thing and thousands like them on the go for a tenner a month? It is the equivalent of having an mp3 with unlimited storage space. With the vast majority of the world’s artists accessible when desired. The one drawback is Spotify only allows you to download a maximum of 3,333 songs to a device for use in offline mode, with the same tracks being available for only 30 days.
The image of people consuming music in this way is not what is greatly troubling artists. According to Spotify itself, they offer between $0.006 and $0.0084 to musicians per stream. This resulted in $500 million paid out to labels and their acts in 2013. Prior to Taylor Swift confiscating her material, her single ‘Shake It Off’ was streamed 46.3 million times, meaning a $280,000 to $390,000 windfall just for the month of October. Evidently, Taylor Swift felt this was not adequate.
This figure, however, is of no comparison when you see how much One Direction have earned through Spotify. 2014 saw them reach the milestone of over 1 billion streams. Judging by how much the company pay out to musicians, they have earned anywhere between £3.8 and £5.3 million.
Other artists have also raised concerns at how much money Spotify pay them for streaming their music. An article on The Guardian website in November stated that their discontent is rooted in the fact that major record labels own in the region of 18% of Spotify through equity stakes, which were granted when licencing deals were first negotiated with the company seven years ago.
There is suspicion that certain unnamed labels are hoarding some of the proceeds from streaming, in the expectation of a big payday should Spotify either be listed on the stock exchange or bought out completely. Whenever Spotify renegotiates its licensing deals, it pays out large advances to the labels in question. The fear is that the money the labels are making is not being shared out fairly to musicians.
‘The real enemy is not between digital downloads or streaming,’ says Bono. ‘The real enemy, the real fight, is between opacity and transparency. The music business has historically involved itself in quite considerable deceit.’
Guitarist and Vocalist of Blink 182 Tom DeLonge has also had his say on the issue, saying, ‘Condoning streaming is like condoning the Chinese that are killing elephants for their tusks and carving ivory statues. It’s cool to put on your shelf but if you really think about what you’re doing it sucks. Streaming music is doing the same thing to artists – might not be killing ‘em but it’s killing the industry. It might be cool for you as somebody that likes music but you’re not really thinking about the effect it has. We’ve got to value our art, you know?’
One act who has not raised any objection to Spotify is Ed Sheeran. Confirmed recently as the most streamed artist in 2014 (Katy Perry won the accolade in the female category, along with Coldplay for groups), he spoke to the BBC backstage at their inaugural music awards ceremony.
‘My music has been streamed 860 million times, which means that it’s getting out to people. I’m playing sold-out gigs in South America, I’ve sold out arenas in Korea and south-east Asia. I don’t think I’d be able to do that without Spotify.’
Asked whether Spotify support artists well enough financially, he said, ‘I think they pay the right amount. We’re just not seeing it, because the labels aren’t making as much as they used to, so they want to keep a lot of the money that Spotify give them, and not pay it out to us. Which is the truth. It is the truth. I get a percentage of my record sales, but it’s not a large percentage. I get the profits from all my ticket sales, so I’d rather tour.’
Where does he stand on the argument of Taylor Swift abandoning Spotify?
‘Taylor has been around for eight or nine years. She comes from an era where you do sell records – it’s only been in the past five years where it’s really deteriorated – so people buy her records and it doesn’t feel too foreign.
Whereas I came through in the streaming generation. All my fans started off being students at university file-sharing my music, so it’s a different generation.
She can sell records and I can get streamed, because that’s the generation I come from.’
The industry is clearly at a juncture where Spotify has not yet become truly global in the same manner that iTunes has (Apple declared revenue of £116 billion in 2014). Over the past twelve months, though, there has been a decline in music downloads through the iTunes store. Streaming is still rising in popularity, and with the increase in competition for some of Spotify’s market share (you can count Google, YouTube, Deezer, Rdio and Blinkbox Music amongst them), the race for supremacy will only intensify.
All of Spotify’s major rivals charge the same monthly fee as they do. YouTube is readying to launch a new service called ‘Music Key’, where £10 a month will give users the ability to download songs onto their mobiles. The emphasis is on keeping up with people and being ever present in their lives. What better way to do that than to target the one device that travels everywhere with people.
SoundCloud, the world’s second biggest streaming service after YouTube, is introducing a paid subscription option in 2015. As with Spotify, the free version will still be made available but with advertising. More interesting is how SoundCloud have signed a deal with Warner meaning all their artists will receive royalties from the venture. In terms of size, SoundCloud has 175 million listeners per month.
The volume of people attracted by streaming in the UK meant that the rules were changed for determining who sits where in the charts. Billboard were a long way ahead of Britain, as in October 2012 they announced they would start counting streams as well as its regular downloads. It wasn’t until the 6th of July 2014 when this country officially started counting services like Spotify as part of the overall rankings. Under the new rules, 100 streams are the equivalent of one single downloaded and paid for. Tracks must be played for at least 30 seconds for it to count as a single stream.
Preparations are clearly being put in place for the day when revenue from streamed music surpasses that of downloads. Whilst this is years away from being realised, whoever creates the business model that compensates corporations the most lucratively and best captures a user’s imagination and needs will become the new figureheads of the industry.
Everything we have learned so far is based on facts. From the way music is disseminated to the ruling corporations that preside over the industry.
What we have today is a situation where the majority of music output is deliberately targeted at a mainstream audience that is under the jurisdiction of the media. Those who generate the most capital are those who can fund and promote their artists to as many people as possible.
For a musician to achieve worldwide acclaim, they must appeal to a singular demographic. And to stand a chance of doing that, they must be represented by one of the three leading corporations. Or be signed to a label that has its music distributed by Universal, Sony or Warner.
It is a disheartening reality to have found only 2 albums in the charts represented by companies other than the majors. Especially when one of them was Michael Ball whose current release is actually a compilation and Daniel O’Donnell whose label belongs to the BBC. Not a single independent label has been able to assert itself and make themselves heard. And that is squarely down to resources. They simply cannot compete in a marketplace that is geared towards the wealth of corporations.
Mainstream radio, television, literature – they toe the line and promote prejudiced material at the behest of their proprietors, and in turn rely on their audience to willingly absorb it. In monetary terms, a businessman would say that makes logical sense. An informed man would say that they are regimented to only showcase that which is marketable. Their priority is to reinforce their wealth, and to keep people tightly constrained. An over-arching goal to preserve the musical equivalent of a political middle class. Which is one reason why the musicians that make up today’s chart are as indistinguishable as they ever have been. The music which accompanies them is bereft of individual quality.
How you perceive the statistics throughout this article is dependent on which side of the argument you favour. You may find mainstream music gratifying and take pleasure from it. Or you may find it unchallenging, unstimulating and, worst of all, uninspiring. Songs have become preoccupied with wearisome expressions of love, teen romance, relationships and break ups. Punctuated by a deafening crescendo of no matter the imposition, we will see the light of day. In the words of Alexander Pope, ‘Hope springs eternal’. The ability to enlighten the listener and guide them to seeing something from a different perspective is a skill that has been misplaced.
Perhaps the most cynical weaponry deployed by corporations is how they gear their artists to confront subjects like low self-esteem and escapism. Lyrics consist of superficial references to appearance, acceptance, the need to belong, and an overriding desire for happiness. What they consistently fail to do is portray changing environments – those of governance, poverty, injustice, inequality, addiction and depression.
‘I think artists can influence only through making music that challenges people, excites them and flips them out’, says Thom Yorke of Radiohead. ‘Music that repeats what you know in ever-decreasing derivation, that’s unchallenging and unstimulating, deadens our minds, our imagination and our ability to see beyond the hell we find ourselves in.’
The song ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams spent a total of 4 weeks at the top of the UK singles chart with lyrics that listeners resonated with:
‘It might seem crazy what I’m about to say
Sunshine she’s here, you can take away
I’m a hot air balloon, I could go to space
With the air, like I don’t care baby by the way
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do
Here come bad news talking this and that
Yeah, give me all you got, don’t hold back
Yeah, well I should probably warn you I’ll be just fine
Yeah, no offense to you don’t waste your time
Happy, bring me down
Can’t nothing, bring me down
Love is too happy to bring me down’
The objective here is not to vilify Pharrell personally for the track. It is to show how the sentiment expressed is without reason. It is happiness for happiness sake. For this song to garner such widespread approval, the people consuming it have to be complicit with its intent. The words conjure up the image of a population clearly in need of a lift, and present a means to escape from feelings of despondency. But it neglects to address why we might be feeling that way. It presents itself as a distraction to what is causing you the problem in the first place, and champions the pre-occupation of wanting to create a communal sense of belonging.
Artists conspire in failing to realise that it is not always necessary to identify a remedy to one’s fragility. When Mark Burgess of The Chameleons or Richard Ashcroft of The Verve sung of loss or isolation, they didn’t offer solutions every time. They were wise enough to know that for some it is enough just to understand that another person has felt the same. That fact alone is cause to rejoice. Records today have the tendency to convey false impressions of hope, an emotion that is abused and which people are manipulated by.
If ‘Happy’ is what the wider public desire, if they wish to demand no more from music, then that is how it shall stay. Whilst it is selling, the 3 largest corporations will be content to leave things how they stand.
Detractors of popular music are sometimes branded as snobs for how they listen to bands that require steadfast diligence to locate. Refusing to be swept along in the hysteria can be deemed a futile attempt to appear sophisticated and superior to everyone else who is listening to artists in their millions. Such a juvenile response serves only as a diversion from the reality of where the industry finds itself.
The subjective nature of music means disagreement is inevitable. One person’s praise is another’s disparity. The belief of this article is that mainstream music – albums in particular – do not allow you to find your own path. Albums that matter are those which you discover something new from after each listen. Albums that communicate aspects of life which either re-affirm your own convictions or give you pause for thought and the opportunity to re-evaluate them.
How acclaimed music is recorded today leaves precious little to the imagination. Tracks are compressed into a tight ball that offer little adventure or discovery. The irony here is that whilst lyrics profess the glories of liberty and encourage you to be what you want in life, the records perpetuating such words are encased inside a restricted, cell like structure. Vocals are the dominant feature. High in the mix, suppressing the skeletal instruments around them. Could this be because those same instruments have nothing to communicate? Of real sadness is how lyrics are too often seen as the sole expressive component to a band. Guitar players in particular can no longer be identified or recognised from listening to a record. Save for the players on the independent scene. Where is the room to breathe, to ponder, to think? Why are those freedoms not being granted?
It should be said that an artist’s cause is aided greatly if they are of an opinionated disposition. Every era has bred frontmen who have courted attention. John Lennon, Jim Morrison, Johnny Rotten, Morrissey, Ian Brown, Noel and Liam Gallagher, Richard Ashcroft, Pete Doherty, Alex Turner. All had or still have something to say when apprehended by a microphone. It is the shy, introverted musician who wishes not to position themselves in the media’s glare that will struggle for recognition. Expression by record is one thing. Ravings of the individual are of wider interest and prone to some delicious slice of scandal. Is all publicity good publicity? It is if you can sell music from it and raise your profile.
Of real despondency, though, is our acceptance for national corporations and media institutions to decide the direction of the industry for us. This is precisely what is threatening independent bands livelihoods – the men and women who are trying to fashion an alternative identity away from mainstream music. We invest not nearly enough time in discovering emerging talent that strives for individuality. There is no excuse not to. The resources are there. The bands exist. We are either unaware of their presence because we don’t search for them, or simply fail to identify with their approach. Minds can become conditioned very easily. If chart music is all you expose yourself to, guitar led bands may feel passé. Tracks that run beyond the customary 3 to 4 minutes are predictably chastised as self-indulgent. A sentiment that has more in connection with our reduced attention spans and ignorance.
So will the independent bands of today, the Exit Calm’s of this world – will their time come? Will they and their peers rise to become leading examples in the industry? Will the way we value music be revolutionised?
A tangible expression of hope occurred at the band’s Sound Control gig in Manchester in September 2014. A young boy shuffled forward to the front of the stage part way through, a star fixed gaze glistening his eyes. A European Exit Calm tour t-shirt being worn with pride as his mum and dad looked on. In between tracks singer Nicky and guitarist Rob shook hands with the boy, Nicky giving him a set list scribbled together in marker pen and a pair of Scott Pemberton’s drum sticks.
To witness this boy quietly entranced is at variants with how children of his age first come to learn about music. Exit Calm gigs are frequently attended by people who were championing the cause of The Verve and The Stone Roses when they started out. A generation that was brought up on guitar bands from the north of England. The more gigs you attend, the more you realise how familiar the faces have become. A large proportion of fans follow them round the country, eager to experience their music as many times as they can whilst there is still someone worth dedicating time to.
Upwards of twenty years later, these same enthusiasts have grown from being the children of the family to the one’s presiding over their own sons and daughters. Today, they are playing a vital role in helping them recognise the tunes that defined their childhood years. Whilst you cannot and should not force your musical preference onto others, giving children the choice of an alternative allows them an insight beyond the contemporary mainstream. And the option to reject it or embrace it. The young boy at the gig decided it was for him. As might his friends after he tells them all about it.
Music is fed through the generations by recommendation. The earlier a child is exposed to the bands of history, the more likely they are to want to explore them. If they never learn of bygone years and view populist music as the pinnacle, then the generations that follow are even less likely to look back in time. Such a circumstance would precipitate the creeping abolition of bands as we know them.
Whereas lyrics and melody can envelop an audience in wonder, the painful trait of realism remains prominent. Without the backing of Universal, Sony or Warner, how will independent bands ever be able to reach a wider audience? For it to become a possibility, people’s attitudes and perception of music will need to shift. Their minds will need to become more attentive and open to the unknown. But why would it? Why now? And for what reason?
The fear is of bands like Exit Calm changing direction to accommodate what the record labels want from music today, and becoming unrecognisable from who they are now. This is not without precedent – The Verve’s ‘Urban Hymns’ was marketed as accessible to the mainstream, thanks to its leading singles ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ and ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’. Four years previous they released their debut album ‘A Storm In Heaven’, an alternative, psychedelic venture which passed largely unrecognised outside of the bands stalwart followers.
For now, the musicians frequenting side street venues will carry on for as long as their means allow. They will continue to appreciate every sale, every gig attendee, every expression of recognition. And while they play to an audience of a few hundred, the artists that symbolise the 21st century, those who are secure in the comforts of multi-billion dollar corporations, those who are afforded exposure and given every opportunity to succeed, will persist unabated. Thrilling arenas worldwide.
For Universal, Sony and Warner to have over 1,600 acts between them, farmed out from one subsidiary to the next, represents an industry that is oppressing the marginalised independents. Which is not in itself a crime, given profit is a motive that is widely vindicated throughout society. But the corporations are only partly responsible. We make the choice of what we listen to, and how we listen to it. If we fail to challenge how populist music is produced we have no right of complaint. The fact that piracy remains widespread suggests perpetrators no longer value music in the same way they might have done before the emphasis changed to downloadable content. The ease at which digital files are accessible has meant that songs and the artists creating them have become disposable. We download, we play, we skip, we delete. But worst of all, we repeat the process. Time after time. What was current last month can just as easily be discarded from memory come the next. We have lapsed into a vacuous age where demand has outstripped integrity. Where a five piece group in One Direction, manufactured through reality television, have become millionaires. Our endorsement of this culture means we deserve nothing less.
As individuals, we hold the power to redefine our philosophy at any time. The corporations controlling the industry last reported revenue of £9 billion between them. Without people consuming their material, they are worthless, defunct entities. The ability of these organisations to make us believe that we are secondary to their intentions, that we will consume whatever is presented to us, without interrogation, is how they retain their influence.
‘Wake Up’ was Jim Morrison’s rallying call to the masses over 40 years ago. Spoken to try and stimulate people out of their lethargy towards political corruption and treachery. Challenges that are still being faced to this day. Music is yet another avenue where a large mass of bodies can be manipulated and controlled. By an industry weighted in favour of billion dollar corporations and pop star idols.
Will it remain this way indefinitely? That is a question which every individual listener has the ability to contemplate. Whether they choose to or not will dictate the industry we are left with as a result. The industry we are deserving of.