11 August 2012

Burning bridges

The-Postures-09There's been a lot of smack talk directed towards local bands lately and it's making me a little mad. So instead of internalizing it, I thought I'd use this week's post to address the issue in an attempt at free therapy.

The bands in question tend to be mainstream bands, who have had varying degrees of commercial success locally. They are generally bands who have been around a while, and have received government funding in various forms. And this is what seems to be getting people's backs up - that these mainstream bands have received significant amounts of funding, when other bands get nothing.

And that's where I have a problem. The bands themselves aren't the ones to blame here, rather it's the funding system and criteria that's the issue. Unfortunately people, including some in other bands, seem to see the bands as a legitimate target for scorn and derision, because a)they received large amounts of money, and, perhaps more importantly, b)they often have little to show for it.

Yet, the bands took the initiative in applying for funding, and under the criteria that allocates money to those most likely to achieve commercial success, were given a grant towards making albums, promoting themselves, touring, music videos or whatever. It's an economic decision on the part of the funding agencies, not an artistic one, and that's the point that people seem to be missing. You can give a band $100k to record and promote themselves, but if their music is only ever going to appeal to the 100 people who are into doom-trance-hardcore-jazz then it's not the best use of the limited money (again, economically speaking).

Sure, I might not like what these bands play either, but the fact is, many people do. And that, along with the bands themselves managing to build a decent sized fanbase through whatever means, is what gets them funded. It's the system that doesn't work (although it's definitely fairer than it used to be), something the bands in question have no control over, yet have managed to figure out how to work to their advantage.

The way the system is structured at the moment means that it has become a popularity contest of sorts, a competition to prove you have the support to make funding a worthwhile investment. Unfortunately, some bands will always struggle to meet that criteria, and will have to rely on other means to survive artistically. But isn't that how the music industry has always worked? Any larger sized label is only going to spend time and money on a band that they feel has some commercial value and will provide a return, leaving supporting bands for artistic reasons to the boutique labels. How is this any different?

Seeing other bands wading in with negative comments only serves to cast those bands in a bad light. It looks to the casual observer like pettiness and jealousy, rather than the response to the unfairness of the system that it actually is. Doing so in public forums only makes the issue worse, and in such a small industry, can lead to bridges being burnt. Musicians should be working towards building a system that is equitable and supports bands for commercial as well as artistic reasons, rather than expending energy attacking each other.

What do you think of the debate? Should bands be funded based solely on their commercial prospects? Should there be a system that supports bands who may never achieve a mainstream following? Have you been involved in these issues personally? I'd love to hear what you think, so please comment away.


  1. think you have ignored some facts, like annabel fay got funded and no himan likes her music at all. and some bands get money endlessly, over and over and over again by a point they should be self supporting or just break up, like the feelers

    1. Good points, but it does come back to the funding process, rather than the bands themselves. What band is going to turn down money to make music? And if people want to keep giving them money, then why wouldn't they keep taking it. I'd love to see smaller bands, that are working just as hard, if not harder, get funded, but the process is unfortunately stacked against them. But perhaps you're right - there should be a point where a band has to be self supporting, and if not, then they need to look at what they're doing.

  2. i think good bands that are tight and can reach the audience should be funded - but im only one man with a say. bands who reherse very hard will get results just like everything else in life you dont see footballers getting somewhere by playing fifa on playstation.

  3. Great post, Alistar. For me I guess it comes down to the objectives of the funding body. If they're looking at it like a business, which I suspect they are, then it make sense for them to back potential winners (in a popularity sense) most of the time, with the odd punt on an up-and-comer.

    Having said that, continuing to back a band that's delivering diminishing returns should be reconsidered...you know, the band that was super popular 10 years ago, playing major venues, that now no longer churns out mainstream radio 'hits' like they used to, but takes the funding and delivers mediocrity. And now plays smaller pubs in regions who don't see many bands, under the guise of a 'summer tour', rather than the town halls which they once packed.

    1. From what I've seen and heard, it is handled more like a business, which makes sense for those providing the funding. I think it has become a bit fairer, in NZ at least (can't speak for other countries), with recent changes. The music industry has always been notoriously risk averse, and this is just another aspect of it.

      But it would be great to see some sort of funding stream for up and coming bands, and perhaps tighter limits on how much any one band can get over time.

      But at the end of the day, the bands are only trying to make music that (hopefully) they're happy with and/or make a living, so why should they be attacked for doing what any other band/person would do in the same situation? If people have a problem with it, direct it constructively towards the funding system.