22.4.11

a triptych of co-dependency

For some time I have been mulling over the nature of creative endeavours and in many ways this blog is the main output for my feelings toward and about creative industry and pastime.
I predominantly write on music but many of these ideals and theses can be applied across the gamut of creativity.
One of my main concerns is the creative’s contact with appreciation and fandom. The way in which the symbiotic relationship of output to consumption, and conversely the necessity for validation and on some occasions income can be affected on both sides.
How much power does a fanbase hold over and artist? And how far can an artist continue without the recognition and/or justification of their peers?

It seems that the relationship of fan to artist comes in a three phase cycle, capable of collapse or expansion at each stage dependant on a multitude of factors too diverse to construct any true prediction of success.
Ultimately the business of soothsaying for fame is where the music ‘industry’ has driven its greedy little wedge and has come to be perceived as a goliath of infallible information and, until recently, has held the monopoly on the perceptions of success. In opponent to this it has recently been speculated that in comparison to the computing and film industries, the music industry is a mere minnow and could in fact be bought up in its entirety by the heads of google tomorrow should they so wish.
I’ll leave you to contemplate and discuss whether or not that would be a useful move in the eyes of music lovers and return to my point, the very nature of the fan/artist relationship.


The beginning of any creative construct is usually based on a want to delve deeper into an art form you love, inspiration in its rawest form. We are by nature easily influenced beings and with that we can only be thankful for our capacity for either determination or disappointment. The past glories of the masters of a creative trade wrap your world in a voile of sound or imagery and somewhere, while you are swimming in that sea of dreams and ideas you spot a gap, a place where you can imagine yourself, another voice in the cacophony of human creation. And why not? It is well noted that creation is one of the key features in human happiness and (achievement willing) a worthwhile weapon to stave off depression.

I began making music because I wanted to hear a different sound, there were bands doing what I wanted to hear more of and I thought the best way for that to happen was to make it. I do, in a shameful narcissistic fashion enjoy listening to my own music and that is because I am at stage one of the fan/artist cycle. I am making music for my own tastes; there are no expectations on what I produce and aside from a few comments from those who listen to what I put out on the internet there is very little criticism to undermine what I believe to be good work. 


This lack of initial interest is both a blessing and a curse. If the creative process itself is reward in and of itself then there is no reason not to continue on into obscurity. It also accounts for the inordinate number of bands who produce spectacular debuts never to be bettered.
Many bands are at their greatest when unfettered by the constraints of outside influence. Granted there is the case for complete self indulgent collapse but that scenario usually plays out once an artist begins to accept the adoration of a fan base. At its very inception a band draws more reliantly on their personal and combined musical biography, the tracks, bands and genres that have shaped their individual styles. These often disparate musical identities when combined in a band help to produce a sound that is unique in the way that it draws on the cultural histories of the musicians as a whole.


Basic promotion and social networking plus the inclusion of entertaining live shows can easily push a band from the lowly garage band to the next stage in the game. 
A band with a small following shifts dynamic considerably, there is now a subconscious need to impress and the underlying idea of expectation. A band can either continue to make the music they want to hear and trust/ hope that people will follow them or succumb to the necessity for fans in order to push the success of the creative output further. At this stage this is not the vilified 'selling out' it seems, a creative identity has been formed and accepted by those outside of its creation, playing into a continuation of the initial ideal is just a shrewd move at maintaining the recursive buzz of glory. Is it nobler to continue to in a line that allows you to be appreciated or to produce innovative work which never sees an audience? What use is a great album to the deaf?
On occasion innovation and a minor disregard of ones fanbase allows a creative succession to a new level of acceptance under the flag of kooky maverick, Bj√∂rk and Beck for instance seem never to have pandered to an audience and have consistently created original work and a place for themselves on the highest rung of fan adoration. Sadly for most any disregard of the voice of a fanbase can drop you back into the blissful doldrums of the first stage, rendering your momentary glimpse at achievement all the more bittersweet.


Beyond this, the final stage is either the most gruelling or soul destroying to reach. You have either bought into the notion that the only way to succeed is to follow what your audience wants or you have toiled for years at the peak of the lower level until your fanbase reaches critical mass and you fall over the line into the glory of so called 'fame'.
Apart from my distinct lack of knowledge and experience in anything beyond the lowest level at this point, there are a myriad of ways in which this stage can play out. Tantrums, overdoses, labels, reclusion or stadium tours, there is no real way to tell suffice to say that at this stage it is easy to spot those who have sold artistic integrity to the masses. Following the lead of what will sell to your audience is increasingly likely to alienate them, while deciding to tout a schizophrenic new direction is move that will put you on a see-saw of respect and longevity. Keeping that balanced is a skill that requires some mastery.
Few artists manage to change greatly at their peak, the difference between Radiohead's 'Ok computer' and 'Kid A' was, in my opinion, the most bold and successful in recent years, but a surprising payoff nonetheless.
For many at the height of their creative career the comparison between public appreciation and new pressures to innovate with a set boundaries can only be shouldered for so long. I can imagine the nostalgia for simpler times when what you produced meant a lot to a few as opposed to little to so many. 


But I suppose in the end it is a cycle after all... 
  





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