Arty Business Futures, Volunteers, and Perceptions of Success…

I have recently been taking my own advice and seeking to make money less from the business I run, in order to help it grow. It’s something I advise new acts I work with to do – get jobs, look for other revenue streams, pay bills, make money. Music is a very romantic game, and it’s tempting to throw everything behind your dream. I do understand this attitude and love the success stories but these are few and far between and I prefer a more pragmatic approach. There’s one “success” story here which is my point.

I love Sir Ken Robinson and his messages (one being that we can and should find what we love doing and do that), but I also love how this piece from The Onion is not so much funny, as pretty sound advice (OK it’s very funny but there’s decent enough advice in there too!).

I went to What Next‘s biggest event in London so far this Monday and came away pretty fired up and excited about a movement which could yet be a model for the way an arts council looks in this country in the future. It seemed less like something being led by a shadowy elite, and more like something which was growing organically. It was nice to feel like I had an open line with some of the finest arts organisations and leaders in the UK.

One of the most striking presentations was from a chap from Voluntary Arts. He made the point about how there are thousands of people who make art and form part of groups on a purely amateur basis and we had a chance briefly to discuss this afterwards. It reminded me of a book I own but have only half read – The Hidden Musicians, a study of folks who just make music for fun, and fulfil all their ambitions in so doing (ie not looking to “make it” – whatever that means). We are preoccupied by employment status in music and the arts (society as a whole?), and somewhat obsessed by notions of full and proper recompense for our/an artists work. What IS success?

I am very positive after listening to and taking part in the discussions of Monday last. I do feel however, that funding from government can dominate these discussions and as a result there is a danger that things become party political. I was heartened to hear more than once, a commitment to not leading this in the directions of party divisions. That said, I think there was still very much an expectation that MORE funding is necessary.

I want to suggest that arts leaders go to Maria Miller with a radical suggestion in response to her request that the Arts and Culture prove their economic value to her: Ask for LESS, and make up the difference by being smart, being entrepreneurial. Ask for a stronger bargaining position at the table next time round. I get the feeling that so many more successful business models were not at the event on Monday. From all sectors, tech as well as the arts, business, banking, insurance, property, whatever. Learning from other sectors is crucial. An awareness of how businesses can collaborate, and co-operate, using technology intelligently will serve the arts sector well. This was something of an exciting beginning I think, with the suggestion of an organic online “grid” particularly exciting, yet a good deal more needs to be done. I’ll be glad to help!

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AC/DCification

A couple of things have made me write this today.

Kraftwerk and My Bloody Valentine are all over the place and am sure that’s all brilliant.

Erika Elizabeth wrote this //  John Rogers wrote this

Last week I was speaking to an oldest and best friend who I rarely see. He was telling me about how his young son can now sing along to selected Iron Maiden songs, and an AC/DC one (Run to the Hills, The Prisoner, the Trouper, and You Shook Me All Night Long if I remember correctly).

I joked that he had become a classic rock reading guitar head, teaching his kids all the rock stuff. He replied that all the shellac, slint, and even smog/palace have too much swearing for the youngun. I was pleased that this little fella would soon graduate to better stuff, as soon as his head could deal with the swears.

I’ve long berated some folks and heard others make reference to the fact that those magazines like classic rock exist, and in fact the Mojos and Uncuts of this world have your Jimis and your Vans and your Bons on the front, as a result of this failure to fully embrace the new, and only to trust the old. (I went to see the Rolling Stones too and enjoyed it very much. They did play I think TWO (count em) new songs.)

I haven’t listened to the MBV record nor did I go to see Kraftwerk at the Tate. I saw some of Kraftwerk on telly and it looked a bit daft actually. Sounded lovely. I’ll go and take a listen to my records later.

My point is that although our new generation might think being cool, by returning to the cool stuff by our OWN ageing heroes. But there is BETTER stuff being made by these NEW ARTISTS who in turn have been influenced by all the same folks as we were, and then even MORE.

We are actually wilfully BECOMING older and grumpier by indulging all this vintage stuff when we could be encouraging and supporting new stuff.


Festival Ghettos

I’m mindful of something Tanni Grey Thompson said on Newsnight a few weeks ago, in a discussion with Will Self, that athletes care little about the legacy of the games. It reminds me of a time when I became interested in the power of music (and the arts) to change lives, and to be able to see what it was I did as part of the wider arts community, rather than isolated little events for me and my peers.

Maybe this co-incided with a realisation that the music I made, and the music I loved, was hardly going to be filling any great stadium or festival any time soon. (for proof my finger’s not ENTIRELY off the pulse see Bloc Party, The National, Animal Collective, more). Perhaps it’s just a survival instinct kicking in, or more likely, the beauty of seeing something in the round.

The idea of festival ghettoisation first hit me a couple of years back when I had been invited to an (excellent) festival in France with a somewhat protectionist programming policy. All acts had to be French. This was in fact the first year that they’d allowed singing in English. This is typically French and quite funny if it’s possible to turn a blind eye to the connotations of having a policy like that. I had enjoyed the festival very much. Watching Malicorne a life highlight, plus Dominique A, countless others I forget their names. Phoenix were the headliners, and I saw Charlotte Gainsbourg too. I blogged about it here

Leafing through a magazine in the hotel foyer I saw countless ads for festivals in the different parts of France, some in Germany. Pavement was the main US headliner that summer. They were everywhere. And then there were the usual suspects all over everywhere. You can kinda guess who I mean. It wasn’t very exciting.

Last summer I went to Reading (and Leeds) for the first time in maybe ten years. Some folks were like “eeeewwww” and maintain that attitude. I thought it possible to see a bunch of bands I actually wouldn’t normally see, and maybe I didn’t like them all, but it was an excellent chance to see a bunch of stuff I knew by name but not in person. I remember seeing a gazillion people singing along to Pulp and thinking how this was a special and important event, especially for so many people who maybe go to one festival per year.

At one festival I worked at this summer, I got into a conversation with a couple of academics from a redbrick uni. I got asked what the target demographic was, and what importance it had. It’s just wealthy people isn’t it who can afford £150 or so to spend a weekend in a field watching other wealthy people and eat nice posh food right? There’s no great social experiment going on.

This summer, I worked at a couple of different festivals in London. Community, and Olympic in size and stature.

I had acts play at some of them, and they were very much for the people. Free, or dead cheap. It felt good to be doing something which wasn’t just self- ghetoisation and peer group ego boosting. Bands are in some ways responsible for the problem making the Beeline that they do to the honeypot. We all like to spend entire weekends, and more (they start Wed and finish Monday these days) in the company of our aspirational peer groups. It would do us all good to venture out of our comfort zones from time to time.


Cancer

Cancer’s all around me just now. Not just in my folks and my mates folks. It’s actually in my friends these days. It’s not just something I hear about happening to other people anymore. It’s probably because I’m now OLD. And so therefore are my mates and their wives and husbands and sisters OLD. The real OLD boy living downstairs, my nosey neighbour. He’s got it. A couple of years ago my dad had it. He had this blokey cancer: Prostate Cancer.

Prostate Man

Like a bloke he dealt with it by not really talking about it much and cracking on. This website here: http://prostatecanceruk.org/information can help blokes just keep quiet and crack on and give loads of info so they don’t need to talk about it much. The people do good work and we can support them by sponsoring MY sorry fat ass to do the Berlin Marathon on Sunday 30 Sept.

Please sponsor me here: https://www.justgiving.com/Howard-Monk

If you’re in Crouch End, the worlds actual EPICENTRE, tonight, Friday 21 Sept, you can come and listen to folks SING THREE SONGS about CANCER, and then give money to ME! Info here: http://www.facebook.com/events/468508836505031/

OK, it’ll not be all about the cancer, but it will be fun, and worthy, and good. So come down. PLEASE.

If not, then SPONSOR MY ASS!


Posh Folks

I could and maybe will write an entire VOLUME about money and music. It’ll go right back to when I was in a band and folks with money were clearly losing an awful lot of it, just to be releasing band x or band y who they genuinely loved. I remember thinking back then that it was actually down to the philanthropy of some folks, that much of the indie (ie not really making money) music got to be heard.

You could argue that it’s a mirror of labels and promoters and festivals: the bigger acts pay for the smaller ones in many ways. (fuck knows there’s a lot of value put on playing a festival that acts will do anything to get their name on the poster).

Independently wealthy people have been involved making music and in the industry since it began, and that’s not a beef of mine* as I’m sure a lot of my favourite stuff is posh/rich and I daresay some of the folks I work with are too.

What does get on my nerves is that a posh SOUND seems to have developed. It’s all over the place. It’s jaunty, like a Jack Wills advert, and it sings like a pixie. It thinks all it needs to do is sing a bit weird by squashing its tongue to the top of its mouth and pronounce words a bit wrong, and hey presto, a career.

And there are some people buying it, mores the pity.

* even if it is *really* tough right now for anyone without some kind of support to do anything in music – but that’s another discussion


Things I am embarrassed about: Number two in a series. No Pun Intended.

To be honest I can generally deal with the odd shitty band that I have liked in the past and now realise the error of my ways. I can smart a little when I am reminded of one band or other which I have put on who have been truly awful. It’s usually colleagues who mention this, who have done far worse than me.

There’s something way more embarrassing and it’s even not that easy to say it now. I suffer from this Crohn’s/Colitis chronic condition, and it’s the worst kind of annoying and embarrassing thing imaginable.

It basically means I get the shits quite a lot. It means if I fall out of line from a designated diet I have to follow, or get too drunk, or if I am particularly stressed (which can happen a fair bit if you’re me, lately) then there will come a day soon after when I have to stay near the bathroom, and suffer.

I have long wanted to write something down about this, as it does sometimes get in the way and i have to explain again and again. But that’s about it really. I could go into more detail, but it’s not that nice.


Things I am embarrassed about – Number one in a series

“If we’re real music fans, we might even displace a prototype in favor of another based on knowledge that we gain. Take, for example, the song “Twist and Shout.” You might have heard it countless times by live bands in various bars and Holiday Inns, and you might also have heard the recordings by the Beatles and the Mamas and the Papas. One of these latter two versions may even be your prototype for the song. But if I tell you that the Isley Brothers had a hit with the song two years before the Beatles recorded it, you might reorganise your category to accommodate this new information.
Daniel Levitin – This Is Your Brain On Music
Atlantic Books 2008 p159

Having gone on a bit in response to THIS, listing a load of stuff I was not embarrassed about not liking in fact (so fuck you). Like Nirvana (at first), Labradford (who I love), 2001 A Space Odyssey (still yawning)… but those are surely just DEAD OBVIOUS. Sure, there’s a lot of peer pressure when folks who become uber influential mention they’re huge fans of the Houghton Weavers, then everyone’s all over them. So you’ll have these obscure bands being lauded, and mortals like us trying to figure out just what it was that XXXX found in their music.

What’s REALLY embarrassing, for me, given the above paragraph from This is Your Brain on Music, is my knowledge of some of the finest songs, in fact one of my favourites ever, comes from some, well, questionable sources.

I’ll just come out and say it ok. I’ll give you three.

I first heard Motley Crue’s version of Helter Skelter

I first heard Suede’s version of Shipbuilding

And I think it was the GnR version of Knocking on Heaven’s Door that I heard before Old Bob. Ouch.

I actually think I have been more prepared to be uncool in my list. I mean at least Erika was on about some real cool stuff.
I could go on about more embarrassments. Like some baaaad gigs.

But as a friend of mine who shall remain nameless said to me just yesterday: The First Rule of Goth Club – you do not talk about Goth Club.

For the record I still think two of those versions above are alright.

Coming soon… Things I get annoyed about (issue one featuring posh west London bands, and girls (and now BOYS) doing that annoying pixie singing)