22 April 2012

You're either part of the problem, or part of the solution

A fellow music writer/critic wrote two interesting things recently on his own blog, one of which I agree with and the other I find contentious.

He stated that we shouldn't be supporting local music just because it's local - rather we should judge each band on their own merits and to the standards we would apply to music from anywhere else.

This isn't a new proposition, but it's one that took me some time to come around to.  When I initially heard it (in response to the annual New Zealand Music Month) I disagreed and felt that we should support local music over music from overseas.

But the more I thought about it, the more I agreed. If we forgive a band their faults and flaws because we somehow feel more connected to them because of location, then we do them, and the local scene, a disservice. We allow the standards to be lowered, and that makes the bands less able to compete globally.

By holding them to the same standards, we end up with a much stronger music scene and enable more bands to succeed on the international stage.

Then things got interesting. A claim was made that being a music critic meant you could distance yourself from any music scene and therefore had no obligation to support a scene, or encourage it.

I couldn't disagree more. By choosing to be involved with music, whether it's performing, promoting, writing, reviewing or regularly going to gigs, you are part of a music scene whether you like it or not, and the greater your involvement the more you are part of that scene.

When you make that decision to start commenting on music, particularly in a public forum, you make a conscious decision to move from merely being a passive consumer of whatever music is pushed to you, to an active participant in the music community, or scene.

The alternative to me is to remain a passive consumer and accept whatever happens in the music scene without questioning it. This is how the music industry has traditionally been structured; large companies decide what will be promoted and marketed, they push music to consumers through media campaigns, and people make music purchasing decisions based on that model.

That's not the way it should be. Music, like all art, should encourage participation, rather than just consumption. It should provoke, encourage or be emotive in some way. But that's a topic for another blog.

Being part of any scene brings with it some responsibility in regards to your participation within it. By dismissing any involvement, by claiming to be just "a critic" is a cop out at best, and an admission that the state of the music scene isn't important at worst.

If you choose to critique music, or write about it in some way, or play in a band, then you have an obligation to the health of the music scene, to provide alternatives to what you don't like about it, rather than be dismissive and negative, to offer suggestions as to how to get the scene to where you think it needs to be.

Instead of cutting bands down when they don't like them, a music writer can point out what they don't like and give bands an opportunity to grow and improve. Only by working together in a positive way can we strengthen our scene.

I think with the way the music industry is going, if we don't provide strong alternatives to the traditional structure and scene, and don't actively support music, and instead choose/claim to be passive observers only, offering nothing back, then we are responsible when the bands we like fail, when the individual scenes we follow fall apart, when we have the ability to participate in music taken away from us.

What do you think constitutes participation in the music scene/community? What responsibilities (if any) do you think participants have to the scene? Where do you think the line between observer and participant is? Leave a comment and let me know.

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