Oh For Art’s Sake…
As my grammatically suspect ramblings are now monthly (as I treat you to a podcast every four weeks as well thus meaning you get a bi-weekly ‘fix’ of either words or noises) I sat to write this month’s prose and struggled to think of a subject. So I went to where we all go in this day and age when we’re in need for a bit of inspiration: the Twitterverse. Alas, it didn’t let me down and I received the following from a member of the indie rock group The Trestles:
“[You should write about] Bands letting commerce rule their art. You should never be thinking of how you’re going to be selling something as it’s being made”.
This made me ponder over my popular high street coffee shop chain beverage for quite some time which I therefore saw as justification for it being a suitable blog topic, so thank you Mr Trestle for that.
Firstly, I would argue the above statement is a bit muddled really, if I’ve interpreted him correctly then it should simply be:
“Artists shouldn’t let commerce rule their art”
This comes back to the great “art for art’s sake” argument which I would hope everyone reading this blog would thoroughly agree with (but please, do inform me if you don’t, I’m always up for a discussion) – art; be it a song, a painting, a sculpture, a poem, a play etc should arguably ideally be created by the artist without anything but their own muse and/or inspiration as the main catalyst. Did Van Gogh paint Sunflowers because he thought the bright yellows would match the colour scheme of prospective buyer’s bedrooms and therefore sell well? You’d hope not. Do you think when Kipling wrote ‘If’ that he was hoping one day it’d become a popular greeting card print a century or so in the future? Doubtful. Did Damien Hurst really bedazzle a skull with a shedload of diamonds to pocket a tidy profit from some gullible millionaire? Moving on…
On the contrary, the music industry is rife with songs and artists that have been created purely to make money and nothing more. Do you think the people behind Westlife actually want to create a song that will stick with a generation and go down in history in a similar vein to ‘Yesterday’? Of course not, that’s why SEVEN out of their last ELEVEN singles have been cover versions. A fact that genuinely baffles me and surely proves that the lovable take-home-to-your-parents Irish gents view what they do as nothing more than ‘a decent living’.
Not that there is anything wrong with writing a song or honing your art in order to make you bucketloads of cash; it all comes down to the artists’ prerogative at the end of the day. If you were lucky enough to have an inherent skill in writing pop songs that although were vacuous and ultimately meaningless, had the nifty ability to stay at the top of the charts for weeks on end and had Reggie Yates so excited to announce it as the weekly number one it sounds like he’s on the verge of crying, then surely you’d utilize that said skill? I know I would.
A beautifully crafted song is an easy thing to romanticise; there isn’t a soul reading this who wouldn’t utterly love to be able to create a piece of art that is of equal, if not better, greatness than that hewed by someone they respect dearly.
When asked what I believe makes a truly great song, for me it comes down to one main thing: Timelessness. Will the song sound as good as it does now in 5, 10, 20, 50 years’ time? If so then it probably is a truly great song.
For example: I think the Arctic Monkeys are an amazing band and their first album clearly was an ‘event’ within the industry, but for me the lyrics are too reflective of the time when it was released and therefore won’t age well. In 20 years’ time SMS (texting) will probably be long defunct and Tropical flavored Reefs certainly already are. Whereas the songs on their second album, (such as the outstanding ‘505’ regarding the inherent rubbishness of being in a relationship with someone you’re not in the same city as) although they might be less popular now, will stand the test of time better in my humble opinion due to the subject matter of love which is (hopefully) a timeless concept.
(I realise a few of you may be scoffing here due to the fact I’ve used a band for the example that are only three albums in and are arguably still in their infancy compared to other acts, but that’s the point of the example; although the first album tops polls for being an ‘album of the decade’ etc, the songs on the following LP’s which although sold less, are arguably better)
So to return to the question; should artists let commerce rule their art?
In an ideal world you should be able to make the music you want to make and others should appreciate it enough to give you money in return for CD’s/MP3’s, live shows, t-shirts etc. But this world often isn’t ideal, and if you’d rather make loads of money working for Xenomania and writing songs for the likes of Kylie and Girls Aloud then working at McDonalds then I wouldn’t blame you.
But then of course there is the fact you’re most probably not good enough to write songs for Xenomania because writing seemingly vacuous and ultimately meaningless pop songs is incredibly difficult. If the lyrics to Love Machine mean anything other than the carnal visions I interpret them to be then please do let me know, but blimey, it’s a great song isn’t it?
To summarise; just write the music you want to write, but don’t judge others who do otherwise.
What I’m reading this week: The Twitter stream of Liverpool Sound City to keep abreast of what is happening there