Today is deadline day at the busy Sounds’ office. Everyone is slightly huffy and crazed by caffeine as paper mountains throw themselves off desks in an attempt to get to the finish line by the witching hour. It’s precisely at these times (when I should be doing something else) that I feel a huge surge of creativity, erupting deeply from a place of rebellious defiance which screams loudly: “Goddddd, do I HAVE to?” with all the might of a spotty hormonal teen.
My primary irk of the day is the sheer number of acts “out there” trying to “make it.” Understandably, we at Sounds are regularly bombarded by demos, tracks, E.Ps and albums at a hefty rate of knots; all crying out for individual recognition and a platform to be discovered from. I consider the digital and social landscape of our modern times and think about the Ulysses-sized ticklist an act needs to sort out before “being ready” – whatever the hell that means.
In the advent of social media and cheap recording platforms, anyone with a modicum of talent can have a bash at pulling a track or two together. Bedroom bands are formed way before they’ve even done their first gig; a kind of backwards induction into the art of performance. It all seemed so much simpler back in the glory days of rock n roll...
If you learned to play the electric guitar in 1957, you may have been lucky enough to be one of a handful of musicians in your school leaver’s year. Enough musicians perhaps to form two small bands. Those two wide-eyed bands could go on to make a shitty tape demo recorded on their auntie’s front porch, and post it off to a local fanzine- or if you were really well connected- to the secretary of a record label. Viva the simplicity of Mersey beat. Fast forward to the 80s...
Now, in the 80s there didn’t even appear to be any real requirement for actual vocal or musical talent, nor in fact any songwriting ability. Watching any old performance from Top of the Pops circa 1983 should clearly highlight this for you. Safe in the knowledge that ‘stars’ would never need to sing live on the big-dialled tellygog, music managers up and down the land rubbed their hands together in glee as they signed the next interesting-young-looking thing leaving Blitz. 70s punk rock had made it cool to be rough around the edges, but this ethos became lost in translation as an emerging breed of new wave romantics appeared to get drunk one night and hop into bed with pop culture. Kim Wilde (real name Smith) is exactly the type of product generated by this kind of strange pairing; a creature of no real discernible talent yet managed to take full advantage of the times in which she found herself.
This entire debacle is pleasantly summarised in the classic 1984 Kit-Kat advert: You can’t sing, you can’t dance, you look awful…you’ll go a long way.
I guess the last gamut of successful ‘demo, gig and signed’ artists were those lucky enough to be born in or around 1967. Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden, Sonic Youth, Pixies—all examples of your classic get-noticed manoeuvre.
This of course was all before social media really fucked things up for everyone.
When Andy Warhole famously said, “In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes,” he wasn’t half wrong. Nowadays, we’re not considered popular until we’ve got 500,000 followers on Instagram and sadly this means a dark day for music.
With everyone, including the postman’s dog, having a bandcamp profile, the truth of the matter is is that there isn’t enough time in the day to listen to everything. There are currently around 30,000,000 tracks on Spotify which would take you approximately 228-years to listen to according to my shoddy maths.
You might have written quite literally the world’s best song, but sorry mate, you’ll have to get in this exponential queue over here. Unless you’ve got substantial backing from a PR Company, record label, plugger or decent management company, it’s highly unlikely you will break into mainstream like your predecessors. It’s too late. Technology has fucked up your chance of being famous.
It shouldn’t be like this but it is. Some of the most successful new bands I know all have their finger on their digital pulse, attending costly seminars and workshops in order to really, ‘maximise their reach.’
The best chance you have as a new artist is not only to keep writing great songs but, to create a stir at the same time. That may help you grow your army but be realistic, unless you want to fall at the first hurdle. At Sounds we don’t buy into all the shoulder-rubbing shit. You’re just as likely to get your demo heard whether you made it in your Mum’s bathroom, or have already been signed by a label and have musical schmoozing monkeys to do the work for you. If we like what we hear, we’ll review it- not just for the mag but for our radio show too. Who knows, we might even invite you on to do a live session. But patience is a virtue. We’re working old school style here to sift for musical gold nuggets and quite rightly too.
Yes, your Twitter and Instagram might break down the boundaries between you as an artist and your desired audience but really, this all comes at a deeply gloomy price. The digital medium is transforming our artistic potential- we’re more visible than ever before but we’ve diluted ourselves in the process. A quick Google of, “how to be discovered musically” brought up this pearl of wisdom:
Viral challenges are your BEST. FRIEND.
Jesus. Good luck.