Start with the culture glut, because most things do.
Because of the internet revolution, all culture, pop, classical, digital, analog, is a glut market. There is a gnawing and growing disconnect between the spiritual and societal worth of new music, new literature, new moving images and new objects and their economic value.
On the one hand, there is the individual artist drawing on a lifetime of insight and craft, taking personal financial risk, facing the world with the kind of uncompromising courage and unswerving determination that it takes to be heard, and on the other, there are 60000 and rising new songs uploaded to Spotify daily. This is a glut market. It goes a long way to explain why it is estimated that it would take a UK artist 366,000 streams a month to earn minimum wage by Spotify rights alone.*
The common, instinctive response to the culture glut is to fight. Drawing on the farming metaphor, if there is a glut of apples, and there are too many good apples to eat, how do you still get your apples to market? Are your apples locally-sourced, artisan, organic, heritage apples? Is their quality and long life assured by the logistics and marketing of a multi-million pound industry? Are you university qualified in apple-growing or have your family have tended these orchards for generations? What does Country Life have to say about this? What about the apple bloggers? What about the apple bobbers?
The culture glut illuminates societal conversations about who possesses authority. In a world full of authors, who has authority? Not me. I made a choice to embrace the glut.
This blog works on the assumption that everything you read in it will have been written about sooner, better, and deeper by more experienced, qualified and articulate writers. I don’t have an inside track to new music. I’m basic. I find new music in the same places as everyone else: BBC 6music, Pitchfork, The Guardian, Twitter, Spotify’s algorithm. I work in a warehouse in a city without a strong music infrastructure.
The work radio plays the canon of Greatest Hits of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, and I’m constantly alert to the comforting glow and the poisoning smoke of embracing nostalgia. It feels like urgent business to search out and celebrate new music; preferably not in a mid-life crisis grasping my faded youth like a copy of Melody Maker kind of way, but I can’t make promises. I want to resist interpreting the scattered, fractured light of the third decade of the 21st Century through a half-remembered, airbrushed, chewed shapeless 20th Century worldview.
Embracing the glut and confessing my limitations releases freedom to approach writing in a healthier, humbler way. I am encouraged by what author Marilyn McEntyre writes:
All we can honestly do is offer what we see from where we stand, acknowledging the limits of our visual field, but also offering the particular insights that may be obtainable only from that particular place on earth.Marilyn McEntyre, Speaking Peace in a Climate of Conflict, 2020, p.74
Speaking about the culture glut frames everything in negative terms. Think about it long enough though and a subtle transformation occurs with a realisation that there is an analogy between the proliferation of digital culture and the glorious abundance of nature. No one pays the sparrows, the blackbirds, the magpies, the gulls, the pigeons that circulate around our neighbourhood to sing in their varying states of tunefulness, but they sing anyway and we acknowledge it. You’re not the only person who saw the dawn burn through the morning mist, but you did see it.
Last year, as part of a process of regeneration that has been happening for the last 10 years, a block of houses the size of two football pitches was knocked down in front of our house. For the first time since my family have lived here, from our back door we could see to the river. Fierce amber sunsets repeatedly lit up the sky and our city revealed itself in a completely new light. New houses will soon obscure the view again, but our perspective has changed.
We could see to the river is a metaphor. As would a good witness to the abundant beauty of the ordinary natural world, I hope to celebrate the achievements of musicians, to converse with and learn from them. I’m joining in the bird song. For anybody reading, thank you for joining in too.
Simon Travers, Spring 2021.
Photo by A. Travers
*I am currently a Spotify subscriber. I appreciate the unprecedented access streaming provides to music I love. For the audience, Spotify has the potential to be a great democratising force that allows anyone regardless of background to receive a broad and deep musical education. I also firmly believe that musicians deserve a better deal from streaming.